Question: You were clearly disappointed when the Security Council meeting was postponed. Is the military reform marking time?
Vladimir Putin: I wouldn’t say it is marking time. It just turned out that the issue needs further study. The main aim is to make the military organisation of the state more effective and better equipped technically, to make it more mobile, and, among other things, to improve the living standards of servicemen and the prestige of military service.
All this of course calls for highly balanced decisions which should match the country’s defence needs and its economic potential.
Question: How much time will the additional study of the issue take?
Vladimir Putin: Three months. They have already been working for a month and a half. And I have given them one more month. I think that should be enough. It has lasted far too long as it is, without any visible effect.
Question: How did you manage, during the course of a few meetings, to persuade the governors that the State Council would be a much more useful body than the Federation Council?
Vladimir Putin: I had a very good meeting with the governors and members of the State Council Presidium yesterday. That is true. But I don’t think you are right when you say that I have managed within a few hours to convince the governors that the State Council would be a useful and effective body.
This was achieved thanks to preliminary and very thorough work on the issue. The decision on the State Council, its structure and potential, and even its future plans – we had been discussing it all with the regional leaders for quite a long time, for several months.
Yesterday’s meeting with the governors reviewed the interim results of the joint efforts.
As for the substance of the matter, I have this to say. What looks at first glance like another advisory body, can in fact be an effective instrument in implementing large-scale decisions that affect the life of the whole country. Why? Because up until now there has been no forum that would bring the regional leaders together to discuss not only law-making (the substance of these issues is the business of the Duma), but problems of governance.
The State Council can be an effective instrument in implementing major decisions that affect the life of the country as a whole. There has previously been no forum that brings the regional leaders together to discuss not only law-making processes, but management problems. If the issues that will be raised and discussed at the State Council are well enough studied, they can be reflected in executive documents, in the President’s decrees and directives. And that would mean direct involvement of regional leaders in resolving the issues that they previously were not involved in resolving at the national level.
For me personally it can be of great help in my work because it is an additional sieve and filter in adopting decisions both in Government and in the legislature. We have always said that law-making should be given more attention. Such large-scale draft laws could be additionally examined at the State Council so that its members could influence the process. The same goes for major decisions taken by the Government. The State Council can be a very good and effective body.
So, I fully agree with the positive reaction of the governors expressed after the meeting yesterday.
Question: What about the disgruntled ones?
Vladimir Putin: First, we should never be oriented towards the malcontents. We should always work positively, not negatively. For all the regional leaders to be fully involved in the work of the State Council we have decided that the Presidium will be renewed by rotation. Every federal district will send a new leader to the Presidium every six months.
What is particularly important, as we all agreed yesterday, is that every member of the Presidium will be put in charge of an issue of national importance. An ad hoc group will be set up with the help of the Presidential Executive Office, and the member of the State Council Presidium, as the head of the group, will start preparing one of the large-scale issues.
Question: This is a question about Afghanistan. How real is the threat that has arisen there? How aware of it is the West and in general how can we counter that threat?
Vladimir Putin: I think the danger of what is happening there, the danger of destabilisation in the region as a whole, is understood not only in Russia and the countries in the region but in the whole international community. As you know, the United Nations has passed a resolution on the issue.
Of course we cannot but be worried about the continuing escalation of violence. Russia wants that region of the world, which is not an alien region to us, to be stable and prosperous. Unfortunately, this is not yet the case. It is hard to say when it will happen, but we should work towards that goal together.
If destabilisation affects the former republics of the Soviet Union it is sure to have a very adverse impact on the internal situation in Russia. So of course we have taken measures and will continue to take measures to finally bring peace to Afghanistan and in any case to prevent the tragic developments there spilling over into the former Soviet Union.
You know that we are exerting military-political and diplomatic efforts in that direction. In fact, we have no opponents in that sense. The international community shares Russia’s position.
Question: Do such countries as Pakistan fully share our position?
Vladimir Putin: We are also in contact with Pakistan. We probably have different views on what is happening there, but we have the same goal. The goal is to make sure that peace comes to Afghanistan. And secondly, I should stress that the Pakistani leaders also agree that the tragic events we are witnessing in Afghanistan should not be allowed to spill over into the former USSR.
Question: Are you satisfied with the way they see the situation? What sort of interaction on the issue exists with the Central Asian countries?
Vladimir Putin: In principle, the answer is yes. Of course, each country has the right to and does pursue an independent foreign policy. We proceed from the fundamental principles of the United Nations Charter. We are careful not to interfere in the internal or external policy of states, but we coordinate our actions with their leadership. It must be said that on the whole we have achieved a consensus with the overwhelming majority of the countries in the region on all the fundamental issues of Afghan settlement and security in Central Asia.
Question: The outcome of elections in Yugoslavia is a big talking point. Can you explain the Russian position on the issue?
Vladimir Putin: Of course, we know well that Russia and Yugoslavia have common historical roots and are close in terms of religion and culture. We are not indifferent to what happens there. Our position is clear. Our fundamental belief is that only the people of Yugoslavia themselves should determine their destiny, their future without outside interference. What has happened there indicates that the population in Yugoslavia is politically active.
We are categorically against any forms of escalation of tensions in Yugoslavia. All the disputed issues should be resolved exclusively in the framework of that country’s laws.
If a different path is chosen, the legitimacy of the future political leadership of the country will be put into question. And that will prolong instability in the state. We don’t believe it is the best way to achieve the goals that face Yugoslavia. And the goals are clear to everyone. The goal is to put an end to confrontation, to put an end to the isolation of Yugoslavia and to initiate peace processes in the interests of the Yugoslavian people, in order to preserve the territorial integrity of Yugoslavia.
This is in our opinion the most productive and effective way. I can tell you that I would be ready to send Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov to Yugoslavia immediately for consultations with all the parties to the political process in the country. But the decision of course should be agreed with Belgrade. If Belgrade agrees, we would be ready to take a more active part in the process of settlement and hammering out of positions. I can merely express the hope that eventually all the political procedures will be completed and the elections will deliver a legitimate President for a friendly state.
Question: So, you do not believe that the process is completed?
Vladimir Putin: Only the Central Election Commission of Yugoslavia or a law court, if any disputes arise, can declare the process to be completed.
But the alignment of forces is obvious. We see what is happening and how many people have voted and for which candidates.
Question: What do you expect from the upcoming visit to India?
Vladimir Putin: A whole package of documents is to be signed. The documents that should form the groundwork for our relations, and the declaration on long-term cooperation. There will also be some agreements in various fields: economic, scientific, military-political and military-technical cooperation.
We have close or identical positions with India on an overwhelming majority of international issues. India is a vast state which plays an important role in international affairs and it has traditionally been our major partner.
If the whole package of documents prepared over the past few months is signed, as I very much hope, it can give a good impetus to bilateral relations with India in all the areas I have indicated. And that cannot but give hope that the relations with our traditional partner will develop further.