Vladimir Putin: … I would like to stress again: Russia is interested in an early creation in Europe of a common security space, a common economic, cultural, educational and legal field. We consider France as before to be a key partner in addressing issues of strategic stability. We have agreed – the President has already said about it and I confirm it – we have agreed with President Jacques Chirac to create a security council involving the foreign ministers and defence ministers, and if necessary representative of other ministries and agencies.
Question: Practically all the national media outlets in France have published articles today which do not give an overly positive account of some aspects of Russia’s policy. Some even carry derogatory caricatures. How do you feel about such publications?
Vladimir Putin: The media exist in order to express various points of view. I don’t think we should take offence. I think we should be more convincing in arguing our case on various aspects of policy that raise doubts.
Question: A question to both Presidents regarding Russia’s cooperation with NATO. You have touched upon it today. How does one account for a measure of skepticism among some European leaders, even at the current stage, regarding a possible deepening of cooperation with Russia? And the mechanism “at twenty” discussed by some European leaders has not received universal support. What is the position of the French President? Is he contemplating any concrete steps to improve the work of that mechanism?
Vladimir Putin: There is nothing unusual about that. A guarded attitude is quite natural. It did not arise yesterday. It arose decades ago. And it was connected with the confrontation of the two systems, one of which was embodied by the Soviet Union. Few people are aware of the profundity of the ongoing processes. Apparently it takes time for people to become aware that the world has changed so much that it requires a new configuration in the security sphere, involving all the leading European countries and all the countries of the world to unite the efforts of the whole humankind in order to neutralise the new threats facing the world today. It takes time, patience, persistent and competent work. We are ready for such work and on the whole we have met with understanding on the part of our partners. I am sure that we will cope with these problems.
Question: A question to the two Presidents. You have discussed many things – Afghanistan and other parts of the world – but you haven’t said a word about the Middle East. President Putin said a couple of words about the Middle East. But my question is: have you discussed the topic at all? The situation is very serious, more serious I think than the problem of Afghanistan and the problem of terrorism, which is also connected with the Middle East.
Vladimir Putin: Of course, we paid due attention to the Middle East problem. I have briefed Mr President on my recent talk with the Israeli Prime Minister. Our representatives and Ambassador Vdovin are in constant contact with the leadership of the Palestinian National Authority, and just recently our representative met with President Arafat.
I have discussed all that with the French President. All I can do is to agree with his opinion that the only option is to resume the negotiating process. There are no other options.
You know, I recalled my conversation with President Arafat and I recounted it to the President today. It was when I on my part and the French leadership on its part, were trying to persuade President Arafat to agree to the proposals of the former Israeli Prime Minister Barak. And we were sorry to hear the response: well, in that case Barak had better go, things can’t get any worse. I don’t think President Arafat is thinking along the same lines today. I was reminded of it and I conveyed that conversation to Mr Sharon, warning him that President Arafat today takes a very tough stand. I think that real diplomacy, as we know very well, is about compromise and compromises must be sought. We are ready to take part in it – Russia as a co-sponsor of the settlement process and France and the European Union.
Question: Do you believe that you will have to continue fighting terrorism in Chechnya?
Vladimir Putin: You know that our press and the political circles frequently refer to double standards. What do we mean by that term? Take Afghanistan, where the notorious terrorist organisation Al Qaeda, now declared to be criminal, is active and is covered – or used to be covered – by the Taliban regime. Everybody agrees that it should be fought and we have actively supported it.
Al Qaeda, its members or members of similar organisations were active on the territory of Chechnya. It was covered by another criminal regime under which more than two thousand people kidnapped in various parts of the Russian Federation ended up on the territory of Chechnya. People were executed in public squares without trial or investigation, and they included women. People were beheaded there, and everybody knew about it.
In what way does that criminal regime differ from the Taliban? It is no different, except that it is probably even bloodier. And we have every right to use all available means against it if legal means are not sufficient.
In addition, I would like to stress that it has always been and will remain an internal Russian problem, which of course we seek to resolve. Today we are confronting there international terrorism leavened with separatism, which are now even hard to tell from one another. That is another problem, and it should give all of us something to think about what is happening in the world and in Europe, including Russia.
We do not support separatists anywhere, and the problem of separatism is highly relevant in Russia, in Chechnya. It is relevant in Turkey and other countries. And we know about the Kurdish people’s fight for independence. Have we forgotten about the Kurds? There are forty million of them. Aren’t there problems related to separatism in Europe? Yet, nobody even contemplates supporting that fight. And rightly so, because if we try to do it we will plunge Europe into chaos. Western Europe and even more so Eastern Europe.
September 11 gave the world a jolt because it was indeed a brazen crime against the whole humankind. But Russia shuddered even earlier when hundreds of people died in Moscow and other big cities in explosions of blocks of flats. I assure you that the blood of the Russian people who died in Moscow at the time is of the same colour as the blood of those Russians who died in the World Trade Center, and of course of the same colour as that of the people from other countries and nationalities who died in New York on September 11.
It is our common problem and we should address it without undue fuss or hysteria, with a sense of responsibility to our peoples and states. In our opinion, it should not be the subject of bargaining or speculation. So, unlike many similar situations in the world, Russia is open to the international community regarding all the problems that confront other countries and our country.
Not a single international organisation that has expressed a desire to look into or contribute to the solution of the problems in Chechnya has been denied such an opportunity. They include the Red Cross and the Council of Europe. In fact another Council of Europe delegation is there at the moment.
Political issues can of course be solved by political means alone, but not where unscrupulous gunmen are involved.Gunmen must be in jail or dead. We will continue acting in this manner, establishing a political dialogue with the population and waging an uncompromising fight against terrorists. And if we find out that crimes have been committed by Russian officials, including servicemen, we will prosecute them. I can tell you that more than 20 servicemen of the Russian Army have already been charged with crimes. The judiciary system, the Prosecutor’s Office and other law enforcement bodies have been totally restored on the territory of Chechnya and we will increase that effort.
Question: Ekho Moskvy Radio was shut down in Moscow and now TV-6 is being shut down. Are you worried about the state of democracy in the Russian Federation?
Vladimir Putin: Of course, Russia is in a difficult position because it is living through a transition period. As a wise Chinese saying goes, God forbid you to live in times of change.
We have many problems. I have no doubt that we will solve them. One of them is building a civil society and a free press. Without it there can be no democratic society. The question is how to do it, what exactly free press is and how the state should react to the processes taking place in that sphere.
You know, as I was telling media yesterday, in my country if a person steals a bag of potatoes or drinks too much vodka and starts a fight with his neighbour, he is either a troublemaker or a thief. He is put in jail. And if a person steals hundreds of millions of dollars, he is a political figure and he cannot be touched. During the course of economic restructuring and transition to market relations there appeared far too many such people. In order to preserve their influence on society and on the state the people who have caused a very negative reaction in the West, by the way, for many years and whom the press has dubbed the “oligarchs”, have gained control of the national media. Where it affected the state, the state has tried to retrieve whatever it could. Where a conflict breaks out among the media, including over financial interests, as we currently witness in the case of TV-6, the state does not interfere and cannot interfere. Because if a company has been reporting losses for several years, one shareholder surely had the right to be angry because he has not been receiving dividends. He doesn’t understand why he had invested money in it.
We have not interfered and we do not intend to interfere. As far as I know the company’s management has itself asked the Government and the Ministry to revoke the license in order to enable the journalistic staff to bid for that license. I know many of these journalists personally and I have high regard for them. They are truly talented people. And we will do all we can to support them.
Question: You have again lamented the fact that the level of political and diplomatic relations between the two countries is much higher than that of economic relations. Why?
Vladimir Putin: It is not a lament, it is a statement of fact: there is room for constructive work to which, in my opinion, we do not pay enough attention. But perhaps it is natural because first we had to build the foundations of the relations between our states, which is what we have recently been doing together with the President.
However, there are some positive trends in the development of economic ties. We would very much like our bilateral relations to fit into the system of the relations between Russia and the European Union in the main areas in which we seek cooperation with the European Union. For example, the energy dialogue.
Major French companies are already working in Russia in the energy sphere, for example, at the Kharyaginskoye field. They are now contemplating participation in the development of the Shtokman oil and gas field. We are talking about an estimated 3–5 billion dollars in investments there. If we promote our national interests in the energy sphere, on the one hand, and in the high technology sphere, on the other, we will contribute to diversified cooperation in Europe. I repeat, it is not a lament, but a statement of the fact that much still remains to be done.
Question: What can you say about the Pasko case?
Vladimir Putin: About Pasko, I would hate you to get the impression that we are dodging the issue. It is a purely legal problem. Frankly, I am not that well informed on the issue. All I know is that Mr Pasko faces charges because he has passed on classified documents to a foreign state for a remuneration. Nobody challenges that fact, not even, I think, his own lawyers. But I cannot give you the details, I simply don’t know them. But the content is hardly of any interest to the government. So, I think it is a purely formal matter and I don’t think I need step into the judiciary process.
If we follow that road, we won’t be able to build anything useful, we won’t have a rule-of-law state. Because in my country, like in any other democratic country, there must be a separation of the executive power and the judiciary. These are, fortunately, independent branches of power. If the issue, under the law, is elevated to the level of the President, the head of state, and that may happen if Mr Pasko asks for pardon, the issue will be considered.
As regards the judiciary system, I think that France, of all countries, must understand the problem of the relations with the courts. Whether people like it or not, the courts rule as they must rule under the law. That said, I repeat, that some decisions may meet with a mixed reaction. As, for example, the case of Russian citizen Zakharova, who, very oddly in our opinion, is forbidden in France to talk with her daughter in her native tongue.
That is a little excessive. She is even forbidden to go to the Orthodox Church. We have discussed that with Mr President. He shrugged and said: “At first sight, it looks odd, but maybe they have their own reasons?” Well, I find it hard to imagine what reasons there can be, but I recognise that there is a strict separation of powers in the country and the executive branch cannot meddle in the activities of the judiciary authorities. But of course we will continue, through diplomatic channels, to try to make sure that such humanitarian issues are resolved not only in line with the law, but also in line with common sense.