President Vladimir Putin: Ladies and gentlemen, we have just concluded our meeting with the Secretary General of the North Atlantic Alliance, George Robertson, and we have discussed the most important issues of NATO-Russia relations. We believe that the potential established in Rome within the NATO-Russia Council is beginning to be implemented. That body conducts joint work to find responses to a broad range of threats to both global and regional security and, first and foremost, to the threat of international terrorism.
The recent tragic events in Moscow have become yet another tragic confirmation of the need for the world community to join efforts in combating this evil. In this connection, let me express our appreciation to Lord Robertson, Secretary General of NATO, for the support to the people and leadership of Russia given by him during those difficult days. That solidarity clearly demonstrated that the “20” is exactly the type of instrument that is in a position to combine the political and real resources of Russia and NATO, with a view to strengthening peace and stability and to provide reliable protection to our citizens, protection against the threats of international terrorists. Lord Robertson telephoned me exactly on the day when I met with members of our special forces units; we are now working to prepare a conference to take place in Moscow in December on the subject of the role of the military in the fight against terrorism and Lord Robertson plans to take part in that conference. And, of course, in light of the upcoming decisions to be taken at the Prague Summit of NATO on the expansion of the Alliance, we also discussed these issues.
We hope, and this is something that we discussed also today, that no decisions or steps to be taken will undermine the military stability and security in the common European space, or damage or prejudice the national security interests of Russia. Today, I told the Secretary General that we do appreciate the existing cooperation and declarations that are being issued, but Russian military organisations take their own view of this situation and they make assessments of the possible deployment of forces to the territory that is affected by enlargement. We hope that mutual military restraint and mutual confidence will serve as a basis for the NATO-Russia relationship.
George Robertson: Ladies and gentlemen, this has been a good and useful meeting that I have had with President Putin. I very much appreciate the fact that the President was able to spend some time discussing NATO-Russia matters in what has been a very crowded and important day. I think this underlines the importance that both of us put on the improvement in NATO- Russia relations and I would pay a tribute to President Putin for the energy he has put into that relationship.
As the President has said, we discussed the forthcoming meetings in Prague, including the NATO Summit that will take place there. The President has confirmed that Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov will attend the separate NATO-Russia Council meeting that we will have at Foreign Ministers level in the margins at Prague. And Foreign Minister Ivanov will have to get up very early in the morning since that is when we will be having this NATO-Russia Council meeting. Foreign Minister Ivanov will also take the Russian chair at the Euro Atlantic Partnership Council, which brings together 46 Heads of Government and Heads of State.
I have briefed the President on the different elements of the NATO Summit, which will take place next Thursday morning and the agenda of enlargement of new relations including relations with Russia and improved capabilities to deal with the new threats facing us in the world today. I underlined my strong conviction that the outcome of Prague will benefit all countries including Russia. None of our decisions in Prague will in any way be contrary to any of Russia’s vital security interests. In my capacity as the Chairman of the NATO-Russia Council, I also briefed the President on the work of the Council and on its extremely good collective record. All of the members of the Council can take pride that we have moved substantively to convert the promises and the pledges made at the historic Rome Summit into decisions and activities since then.
We are addressing issues of concern to everybody on all sides of the 20-strong Council. From cooperation in the Balkans through theatre missile defence, search and rescue at sea and sharing experiences on defence reform, that is a very long and serious catalogue of achievement we have to show. As the President said, terrorism was another subject we spoke about, including the recent horrifying events in Moscow. I reiterated NATO’s support, when Russia can count on NATO in its entirely legitimate efforts to stem the tide of terrorist violence on its territory. On the 9th December NATO and Russia will be organising the second seminar on miltary aspects of countering terrorism. I am looking forward both to that conference and the solid work that will be involved there on this very relevant and urgent issue, as well as meeting the President when I’m in his home city.
Question: One of the questions is to President Putin. It concerns the following: after the establishment of the 20 and the development of a new relationship between Russia and NATO, is there a possibility for Russia becoming a member of the North Atlantic Alliance? A question addressed to Secretary General: should the United States launch an attack or war on Iraq? What would the NATO position be, would the Alliance wait for a Security Council decision or would it follow in the wake of Washington’s policy on the matter?
Vladimir Putin: As regards full-fledged or full-scale participation of Russia in NATO, we have never framed the question in that way, we have never raised that matter in that way. At the same time, let me point out that we are satisfied with the way our joint work within the 20 is proceeding. The Secretary General has pointed out the main areas of our development and cooperation, which include our joint efforts to combat terrorism, our joint work on theatre defences, our search and rescue at sea operations, mine clearance efforts, joint cooperation in that area and peacekeeping operations.
Never before have we raised the question of our full-fledged participation in NATO. Nor do we raise that matter today. Should our relationship, should our cooperation continue to develop as it is developing now, and if NATO as an Alliance, as an organisation, continues to transform, to implement its internal reforms, something that we have heard many times the desire to do, and if that cooperation would be in line, would correspond to the national security interests of the Russian Federation, and if we see that the organisation can serve as a tool that could resolve our common problems and help to promote our cooperation, then of course our forms of participation could change and we could consider a broader involvement, a broader participation in that work.
George Robertson: On the question you posed to me, can I point out that the matter of dealing with Iraq lies with the United Nations. On Friday, the United Nations Security Council unanimously called on the Iraqi regime to comply with previous resolutions and to embark on a process of disarmament. I’ve no doubt that the countries meeting in Prague next week will warmly welcome that unanimous call. If Iraq is going to comply with the instruction of the United Nations and of the international community then there need be no question about military action. I make the point that NATO is made up at the moment of 19 sovereign countries, all of whom have got to agree to any action that is taken by the Alliance.
Question: I have a question for the Secretary General: how far does NATO support Russian politics in Chechnya?
George Robertson: NATO is always very clear that Russia has a right to deal with breaches of law and order on its own sovereign territory, and the desperate and criminal tactics used by the hostage takers in Moscow a few weeks ago underlines the seriousness of the situation faced by Russia. It is also becoming increasingly clear that there are international terrorist elements involved in the insurrection in Chechnya. NATO and the individual nations of NATO who have got substantial experience of terrorism have always said that a long-term solution to the problems such as the problems in Chechnya, need a political as well as a military solution.
Vladimir Putin: With your permission, I would like to add a few comments. Of course I informed the Secretary General of the situation in Chechnya and in no way do we intend to avoid resolving humanitarian issues there. Just yesterday I had a meeting with representatives of the Chechen community, the clerical community of Chechnya, and at that meeting they raised the issue of the need to accelerate the process of political settlement in Chechnya, and they suggested that the process be launched to adopt a constitution of Chechnya as an initial stage in a political settlement. After that, a second stage could take place in that process in the form of an election of a Head of the Republic.
We support this process and that proposal. Let me stress one thing, we will not contribute to the participation, we will not promote participation in that process, of those people who have blood on their hands, blood of our citizens. At the same time, we will not cut off those who some ten years ago were misled by the terrorists and acted in the way that separatists indicated. Of course, the situation there is very complex and there is no simple solution. We will do all we can to strengthen law enforcement bodies, authorities, in the Chechen Republic itself. Yesterday, a major step was taken in that direction.
The Minister of the Interior of Russia signed a document establishing the Ministry of the Interior of the Chechen Republic. As that Ministry gets stronger and develops, the Chechen officers will assume greater responsibility for ensuring law and order in their Republic and for combating bandits and terrorists in their own territory. The more they develop, the more combat-ready those Chechen militia units are, the more effective their operations are, the less will be the involvement of our federal troops there, and first and foremost, this concerns the participation of our military in counter-terrorist operations in Chechnya.
One last point: regrettably I cannot watch all the European broadcasts in all the European languages – I have not been given that talent – but at least I can watch German television broadcasts, and therefore I would like to address you as the representatives of the media, please deal with this issue very carefully, be very careful and try to be as objective as possible in reporting what is actually happening there. Just earlier today I have heard from your colleagues that nothing positive is happening in Chechnya that there is no reconstruction under way, no social protection measures are being taken, everything is in ruin and there is no money coming from Moscow.
With full responsibility, I state that this is a complete lie. For the first time for many years, people have started to get their pensions, their salaries and social benefits. Schools, kindergartens and child-care facilities have been opened, something that did not exist in the Republic for many years, many recent years and Chechen kids could not attend school. It was difficult to imagine just a few years ago that higher education establishments would open their doors in the Chechen Republic and this is a reality now in the city of Groznyy, their institutions and university are open and there is a growing number of young people who try to gain admittance.
Last year, about 7 hundred million euros were allocated for Chechnya. And that includes the development of the energy sector, the payment of salaries, social benefits and much other expenditure. Agriculture is being developed, and for the first time for many years, including Soviet times, a record high harvest has been reaped in the Republic. Of course, much has been ruined there and of course we are not proceeding forwards as fast as we would like to. Of course, we firmly intend to reach our objectives, it is very difficult to achieve, particularly in the conditions where we are still lacking a complete settlement. It makes no sense to build today just to see those buildings destroyed tomorrow.
We also face there a major problem of unemployment, particularly among the young. We are fully aware of those problems, we know of them, but there are some positive changes, positive developments and we are firmly determined to build on those positive developments.
Question: First question to Secretary General: could you say that NATO can provide assurances in case of NATO enlargement that Russia’s security will not be affected, and should that be the case, in what form would that take place, when and how? And the second question is addressed to President Putin: in your remarks you took a positive view of the joint NATO-Russia Council. Does that mean that your expectations have been fulfilled and what is your view of the future of this body?
George Robertson: I can give you an assurance now that the decisions taken by the NATO Summit next Thursday morning will not be against Russia’s essential security interests, indeed the contrary: I believe they will be to the advantage of all countries in Europe. As you know, there is an agreement already between Russia and NATO called the Founding Act, of the year 1997, and it has within it a number of direct assurances that were given at that time and this agreement was reconfirmed by the 20 Heads of State and Government meeting in Rome and at the NATO-Russia Summit in May.
Vladimir Putin: As regards the future of the NATO-Russia Council, I think that in answering the first question I have already explained our vision of future cooperation between Russia and NATO. We believe that we have found a good tool to meet our mutual concerns and to work together and we are quite satisfied with the way we work in the Council. It’s gaining momentum and we hope that the agreements that we have reached before this point will be implemented and we will be looking for new areas of cooperation.
Gentlemen, thank you for your participation, goodbye.