Question: Mr Putin, the Group of Eight (G8) has been a subject increasingly present on the international agenda, particularly recently. The general perception is favourable. And still, how does membership in this club benefit Russia?
Vladimir Putin: You have rightly called it a club. It is not a forum for making decisions or signing formal and legal documents. It is a club of leaders from the industrialised countries of the world. When Russia joined this club a few years ago, it was called the Group of Seven and now it is called the Group of Eight.
The aim then was to restore and build up Russia’s relations with leading financial international institutions, to obtain credits for the Russian economy, etc. Today we are dropping this format of relationship with leaders of the industrialised countries. Our intention is to discuss global issues, just like other club members do: international security, disarmament, and some issues vital for humankind today. These are environmental problems and some of humankind’s achievements in science. A lot has been said lately, for example, about the human genome and its decoding. All this raises the need for legal formalisation of procedures among countries in using these achievements.
Although these meetings do not end in signing formal legal documents, they are very important, because they give country leaders an opportunity not only to meet informally, but also agree on some essential issues, thus giving an impulse to executive authorities. And this is very instrumental.
Naturally, Russia does not want to miss these opportunities. It wants to grasp them. Our intention is to continue our membership in this club.
Question: Can it be said that your recent State of the Nation Address set out the main points of an economic programme that includes all restructuring measures, or the main body of reforms will follow later? In what respects do you expect to receive G8 support at Okinawa?
Vladimir Putin: The Address set out only a general outlook of the country’s development and the main guidelines. It cannot contain all restructuring steps concerned with every sector of the economy. It merely points out the directions. The concepts advanced in the address must be fleshed out by the government in restructuring measures.
And still certain measures are being taken. I am sure you know about them. The Cabinet and the Presidential Executive Office are preparing a raft of economic bills in Parliament, including taxation bills.
I believe that the Cabinet could have acted more energetically. Although Parliament made certain decisions, they could have been more sweeping if the Cabinet had worked with State Duma deputies more persistently and intensely. I am sure they could have persuaded the deputies to make more radical decisions, although what has been done deserves encouragement and raises hope that the ideas in the Address will be translated into reality.
As regards our expectations for help from the industrialised countries on the ideas set forth in the address, we do not hope or strive to get preferential treatment or benefits. We do not ask for, or expect, anything. I would describe my attitude to contacts with my colleagues from other countries as follows. It would be ideal if we could practice most favoured treatment, if all the other developed countries treated Russia as they do their other partners. That would be an ideal situation for Russia.
Question: One of the most frequently debated issues in the world is whether there can be a compromise with the United States on missile defences, and if so, how would it look? Could you say in more detail whether you see the latest Russian proposals as an addition to or a replacement of the American initiative?
Following your meeting with President Clinton the impression is that you have acknowledged the existence of a missile threat from rogue nations. However, some officials, including the Foreign Minister, later said that no such threat existed. Could you please state Russia’s position more precisely? Especially after Mr Ivanov said yesterday that he did not rule out new initiatives from you.
Vladimir Putin: Concerning possible threats and whether we will accept their reality or not, there is no conflict between my remarks and what the Foreign Minister has said. I believed and continue to believe that the position of the US president has some grounds to it. And the grounds are that we should assume that such threats can theoretically emerge one day. But we do not believe that there are such threats now, nor that they are coming from any specific states.
We must, of course, make a clear assessment in every particular case to make it understandable to all. We must assess any threat, its type, size, and source.
The difference in our approaches is that we offer to move further, preserving the level of mutual trust and the balance of strategic arms created by the 1972 ABM treaty, to work together to limit potential threats which in theory may emerge in the world.
This is what our approaches and those of our American partners have in common. On the other hand, we have proposed joint efforts. And these proposals have been formulated in a series of my statements and some statements by the Foreign Ministry. We believe they can also help build a global security system and lower the confrontation levels between the principal nuclear powers. We are ready to open talks on further cuts in our arms down to 1,500 warheads on both sides. What can be better for humankind than a lower threshold of nuclear danger? We invite others to travel along the same road, it is clear to anyone, even non-specialists.
Question: You are going to visit North Korea immediately before the G8 meeting. What do you expect to achieve during your visit?
Vladimir Putin: North Korea is our neighbour. We have had traditionally friendly relations with it. Unfortunately, none of the leaders of the former Soviet Union, or of Russia, has ever been on an official visit there. Some time ago, in the 1950s or so, if my memory serves me right, Leonid Brezhnev, then not yet the general secretary of the Soviet Communist Party, made a visit to North Korea. There have been no official visits by government leaders.
There are many questions that concern both sides.
We want to discuss some international issues, including security, with the North Korean leader. I have recently had a telephone conversation with the President of the Republic of Korea, the country which you call South Korea. We agreed that my visit would also include the Republic of Korea.
In 1999, we had the pleasure of hosting its President. My visit will be a return one. We have maintained dialogue both with the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and the Republic of Korea. We support normalization of relations on the Korean peninsula. And we are prepared to work hard to achieve this goal. For Russia, these are not empty promises.
The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea is our neighbour; we share a common border with it. And we are vitally interested in restoring peace and consent to that region, because this has a direct bearing on Russia. That is another group of questions we are going to discuss with the North Korean leader. We do not doubt that it will be a good impulse for the development of our bilateral relations.
Question: You have been practicing judo since you were a child. Has this fact affected your attitude to Japan? The year 2000 has a special significance for Russia and Japan, heralding a new century. People are seeking to leave old problems in the old century. What is your perspective on Russian-Japanese relations at the turn of the new century?
Vladimir Putin: Of course, it has affected my attitude; I have recently replied to the same question from your colleague. Judo is currently practiced in 150 or more countries. The International Judo Federation alone has 150 member nations. I believe that the Japanese people have made a considerable contribution to the world’s culture, in this case physical culture. It is undoubtedly a martial art which reflects the spirit of the Japanese people. Naturally, having practiced this art since childhood, I could not but show an interest in the everyday life and culture of the Japanese people. Of course, I have a special feeling for Japan.
You need not be told that judo cultivates, on the one hand, a sense of dignity and, on the other, respect for the partner. That is very important, in my view. It is also important in the historical context, because there have been both dramatic pages and pages of rapid development of relations in the history of our peoples.
It seems to me that if we follow the judo traditions and respect each other and each other’s legitimate interests, then in the next century relations between the two countries will no doubt greatly benefit both the people of Japan and the peoples of Russia, as well as humankind as a whole.
Japan and Russia are natural partners, because we are neighbours, just as we are neighbours with North Korea. Japan and Russia need each other. They both have a vital stake in the development of good relations.
It is my firm belief that Japan and Russia also need each other for geopolitical reasons as suggested by the situation in the Far East and in the whole world. Japan and Russia complement each other as far as material and mineral resources are concerned. We are natural partners.
And I am also absolutely convinced that if we stick to the principle I mentioned above, i.e., respect each other’s legitimate interests and understand each other, we will doubtless have a good outlook for bilateral relations.
Question: What is the situation with a peace treaty with Japan?
Vladimir Putin: I think the Japanese leadership and we should work hard, basing on the agreements reached earlier. My colleague, the Japanese Prime Minister, and I have a very good personal relationship. I think it counts, too.
It seems to me the most important thing here is to be open-minded and not to rush developments, but to proceed from each other’s legitimate interests.
I firmly believe that if we work in this direction, if we develop cooperation in all areas, then the problems standing in the way of a peace treaty will stop being the main irritant in our relations. We will quickly see that it is in the interests of Japan and Russia to develop economic, cultural and educational ties, to enjoy what Japan has to offer Russia and what Russia has to offer Japan.
It is only when we travel together along this path that the problems which seem so involved and difficult today will stop playing the determining part in our relations. They will retreat to the background and will naturally be solved.
Question: You said reforms are important in every area of life. What reforms must there be in the political field? How much should political reforms echo the steps to deregulate the economy? What is your view of the changes in Russia?
Vladimir Putin: Your question seems to have a hidden implication often debated in our society: Is there a danger that the measures to strengthen the Russian state will bring totalitarian rule back?
It is my deep belief that a deregulated economy is impossible without democratic government, democratic freedoms or civilian institutions. But do not confuse democracy with anarchy.
Following the crash of the Soviet Union, many in the world still view Russia as a chip off the old block. That is not so. Russia is a completely new state, because entirely new political institutions are springing up in it. They start practically from scratch. Naturally, their birth is painful and difficult. And it is not surprising that many civil society institutions, which are something taken for granted in Japan, Western Europe or North America, are still to appear in our country.
There are, of course, people who feel comfortable in a murky environment. We have a saying in Russia, “Fishing in troubled waters”. There are fishermen who have already bagged a big fish but want the process to last over a longer period of time. I do not think this would benefit the Russian people or our partners abroad, because if we want to develop a liberal economy, the state can do nothing but only guarantee some institutions of this liberal economy. I am referring to property rights, crackdown on corruption, etc.
For example, I have talked about creating a strong and effective state. But there cannot be any strong and effective state unless we have an effective legal and judiciary system. There is one established rule: it is unnecessary and quite unimportant if punishment is hard, severe, or even cruel, but it is important that it should be unavoidable.
This is impossible to achieve without an effective judiciary. Nothing can be done without effectively operating state institutions. But such a state is impossible to set up by suppressing civilian freedoms. So there must be no doubt that by reinforcing these state institutions we will continue to pay attention to civil society and its institutions, such as political parties, media, public organisations, etc. No one should have doubts about this. But we will allow no one to foster anarchy instead of the state, or create a quasi-state. This will never happen. Russia will follow the road covered by Japan and Germany after World War II. Just remember how it all started. Things were not simple or done at first try. Thank God, in our country these changes did not involve such grand tragedies as the Second World War. But they require patience, persistence, and will.
I want to reassure you that Russia will move towards democratic institutions and democratic government.