Question: You are to go on a visit to China shortly. It has a special significance because it is taking place soon after the 16th Congress of the Communist Party of China. What do you expect from the upcoming trip and what are the things that most interest you in China?
Vladimir Putin: It is a planned visit. We agreed with Chairman Jiang Zemin that we would regularly exchange such visits: the Chinese leader would come to Russia and the Russian leader to China.
But this is a very special visit. As you have rightly said it is taking place shortly after the 16th Congress of the Communist Party of China. It is a key event not only in your country. Considering the growing economic potential and growing influence and importance of China in world affairs, the Congress was a major international event. We all understand why it has attracted such attention.
A change of generations is taking place in the top state and political leadership of China. And it is of course important for all your partners to know how China will build its relations, not only with its neighbours, but with other states. To us, it is an issue of paramount importance because China is one of our partners in world affairs, and we have many serious plans in the bilateral field. Besides, we are neighbours and there are many issues connected with our interaction because of that factor.
I have a scheduled meeting with Chairman Jiang Zemin with whom I have formed a very good personal relationship. A year ago I became acquainted with the new General Secretary of the Party Central Committee, Comrade Hu Jintao when he was in Moscow on a working visit. We had a chance to meet personally and discuss some bilateral and international problems.
You know that recently we signed a Treaty on Friendship, Good-Neighbourly Relations and Cooperation with the People’s Republic of China. And I must say that it was mainly on the initiative of the Chairman of the PRC. We appreciate it and we believe that this is undoubtedly a historic event in our bilateral relations. So we have to synchronise our efforts on how the tasks set by the signing of the treaty are being fulfilled.
There are many issues to be discussed in the economic, energy, and military-technical fields. We have things to discuss because we have to co-ordinate our actions on the world scene. I must tell you that coordinated global actions of the People’s Republic of China and the Russian Federation are a substantial factor in dealing with a number of major world problems.
Question: You have referred to the Treaty on Friendship, Good-Neighbourly Relations and Cooperation between China and Russia. We believe that the treaty is particularly important because it laid the foundations for the further development of the relations between our countries in the new century. How should China and Russia strengthen their bilateral cooperation and what are its priorities?
Vladimir Putin: China has impressive plans for development. I must say that the pace of the Chinese economy’s development and the competent way in which China goes about it, especially in recent years, attract special attention to the experience of the PRC. So we will focus attention on interaction in the economic sphere. There are many things to discuss here. I have already referred to energy projects. The Chinese economy is expanding and so is its energy consumption. China has limited resources, but Russia has ample. We are talking about long-term contracts which are of interest both to Russia and to the People’s Republic of China.
I have already mentioned the need to coordinate our actions in the world, but I must single out some priorities. China is a nuclear power and our interaction with the People’s Republic of China in ensuring world stability and nuclear non-proliferation – non-proliferation of all weapons of mass destruction and means of their delivery – is a substantial element of our cooperation and a substantial factor in world politics. So it is a separate package of problems that we will discuss.
Then there are the so-called modern challenges and threats. Among the main threats, of course, is international terrorism. International terrorists threaten many countries, and this worries both the People’s Republic of China and the Russian Federation.
I must say that even before the terrorist attacks on Washington and New York on September 11, 2001 China and Russia adopted documents within the framework of Shanghai Cooperation Organisation warning the world about that growing threat.
Unfortunately, not everyone listened to us at the time. But I think we will pay significant attention to this issue during the course of the visit. Of course, we are very interested in the situation in the Asia-Pacific Region. We will work on the agreements reached within the framework of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation. We have put in place special mechanisms of interaction with the centre in Bishkek and we agreed on exchanging information in a number of sensitive areas. That too will be the focus of our attention.
Question: International terrorism and national separatism pose a serious threat to peace. What role should the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation play in combating that evil? What is the outlook for its work?
Vladimir Putin: It is no secret that since the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation was established it has been growing and its influence and the attention it commands on the part of world powers have also been growing. This is not accidental because its zone of interests includes not only the Central Asian region, which is very important, but the adjacent regions as well. And we know that unfortunately, many of the terrorists’ targets are located in these regions.
Examples are not hard to find. We are aware of the tragedies that happened in the Philippines, Indonesia and some other countries in the region. We are aware of the problems that China encounters. We know that it too is eyed by international terrorists. This cannot but worry us. And we must pool our efforts in order to effectively combat that threat.
Naturally, the zone of our interaction within the framework of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, initially established only to deal with border issues between neighbours, expanded. We saw that the potential of our cooperation is much broader and we will spread it to the economic sphere and to the fight against terrorism. As I said, we have created certain mechanisms for joint work: we set up a centre in Bishkek and we agreed on how to deepen our cooperation within the framework of that organisation and on a bilateral basis, how not to confine it to cooperation between political leaders and to expand it to involve the secret services and law enforcement bodies.
Question: Thanks to your resolute actions a large number of hostages seized by terrorists in Moscow in October have been released. What impact will this terrorist attack have on Russia’s foreign and domestic policies?
Vladimir Putin: First of all, I would like to thank the people of China, on whose behalf the PRC leaders supported their friends in Russia during the difficult and tragic days when hostages were taken in Moscow. They showed their solidarity with us and, I repeat, they acted on behalf of the Chinese people. I would like to cordially thank all the people of China.
Second, the terrorists made miscalculations. They hoped to split Russian society, but that did not happen. On the contrary, they were faced with a strong and united resistance. Their actions proved to be counterproductive: they further consolidated Russian society and gave it new insights into the essence of the ongoing processes. And these processes essentially stem from the fact that international terrorism, under the cover of false slogans of fighting for the independence of Chechnya, is actually pursuing goals that have nothing to do with the interests of the Chechen people. In effect, it is part of a global terrorist network, and their aims are different: to separate the North Caucasus from Russia and then continue on.
The awareness that these were the true intentions came not only to the majority of Russian citizens, but to the people who live in Chechnya. The processes of restoring the political, economic and social spheres received a new impetus there. After the attack, authoritative public and religious leaders in the Chechen Republic raised the issue of speeding up the formation of legitimate bodies of power and adopting the Constitution of Chechnya. We are ready to help them.
I think it is the “threat” of restoring normal life in Chechnya that prompted the terrorist attack. It was aimed at disrupting the peace process.
The aim was not achieved. As I have said, on the contrary, it will speed up the process of consolidating the whole Russian society and the solution of political problems in Chechnya.
Question: How, in your opinion, can the Chechen issue be resolved once and for all?
Vladimir Putin: There is only one way: the Chechen people must be given a chance to adopt their own constitution and form legitimate government bodies that ordinary Chechen citizens will trust and with which they will jointly work to restore peace in Chechnya. We are going to follow that path. And all those who carry weapons, those who do not want to embark on peaceful life, will be held accountable or eliminated.
Question: So a referendum on the Constitution in Chechnya will take place next year?
Vladimir Putin: Judging from the mood during the meeting with the representatives of the Chechen Republic and Chechen public figures, they expect to complete the preparatory process within several months. In other words, we can look forward to the referendum on a constitution by the spring of next year.
Voice: That is, after the final defeat of the Chechen militants…
Vladimir Putin: You know, there are no large-scale military operations there. There are sporadic terrorist acts and attempts to disrupt the peace process. But the terrorists are unlikely to succeed. I think that the process of peaceful transformations in Chechnya is irreversible.
Question: We know that the economic situation in Russia has improved in recent years. The gross domestic product is steadily growing. What measures should the Russian Government take to ensure a sustained economic growth, and especially to attract investments?
Vladimir Putin: Of course, what is needed to attract investments and create a favourable investment climate is stability: political and economic stability, predictable actions of the government at all levels, lack of red tape in decision making, a good administrative environment and an efficient court system. We are going to proceed in all these areas.
You, perhaps, know that we recently passed a package of laws strengthening the judiciary system. We will continue to work to liberalise the tax system and currency legislation. We will seek to relieve the tax burden and of course we hope that the key conditions I mentioned earlier will be ensured.
Question: The CIS countries are a foreign policy priority for Russia. How has Russian policy with regard to these countries changed in the new international situation? What prospects does the CIS have as an international organisation?
Vladimir Putin: We do not intend to be overly optimistic, but we believe it would be wrong to belittle the importance of our interaction with the CIS countries. Not only because we all come from the former Soviet Union, but also we are linked by a vast number of invisible threads in the spheres of the economy, culture, language and common history. Suffice it to say that more than 20 million Russians live in the CIS countries, across the border from the Russian Federation. More than 20 million people. That is a large number for us.
But it is equally important that the overwhelming majority of people in the CIS consider Russian to be their second native tongue. We have no language barriers. That and the fact that we are still heavily interdependent in the economic sphere make the strengthening of interaction with the CIS countries the main priority of the Russian foreign policy. In that respect no changes in the world can influence this priority in Russian foreign policy.
Of course, the world community is developing. We assume that the only thing that does not change is our respect for the sovereignty of these countries and their domestic and foreign policy.
But our priorities remain unchanged.
Question: Belarus and Ukraine recently declared that they were ready to join NATO. What is your reaction to this?
Vladimir Putin: I met the Belarusian President today, and he didn’t tell me about it. Our position is that in order to meet the modern threats – and the main threats today, in my opinion, are international terrorism and nuclear weapons proliferation – one does not need to expand the NATO military-political bloc. The expansion of the bloc does not address the main tasks facing mankind today. But on the other hand, every country has the right to determine its foreign policy priorities, as I said answering your previous question.
We will not regard it as a tragedy. Each country has every right to join any organisation as a sovereign state.
For our part we are also expanding our cooperation with NATO. You know that a NATO-Russia Council has been set up. We are satisfied with the way our cooperation is developing. Indeed, we do not rule out that we can further expand our cooperation with that organisation. But only if NATO itself – as the heads of its leading member states say – gradually transforms itself and adapts to the new tasks and gears itself up to react to the new threats and if the activities of the organisation meet the national interests of Russia. However, to ensure the security of Russia, I am sure that full membership in NATO is not necessary.
Question: An easier question. Since you became president, you have enjoyed massive popular support in Russia. How do you account for the confidence the voters have in you?
Vladimir Putin: You think it is the easiest question? I think it is the trickiest question.
I may be mistaken, but I think there is a Chinese proverb that says: “May God spare you living in the times of change.” Do you have such a proverb?
Vladimir Putin: We have been living through change for 17 years, since 1985. People want stability. They don’t want stagnation because it breeds boredom and apathy, but they want stability in the positive sense of the word. They want to see light at the end of the tunnel; they want to live better; they want their children to have the prospect of a better life.
You know, I have never engaged in political populism, I never make promises that cannot be kept. I set myself and the Government only realistic tasks. I admit that things do not always work out the way we want and we cannot always solve the issues we would like to solve to the fullest extent. But still gradually, very slowly, real incomes are growing, although there are still instances when the payment of wages or pensions is delayed, but it is no longer a large-scale phenomenon as it was, say, a couple of years ago. On the contrary, the pensions are growing little by little and the wages of public sector employees and the salaries of servicemen are also growing.
I think everybody in Russia would agree with me that we want to live in peace and friendship with everyone, not only with our neighbours, but with all the countries in the world, but we expect that our partners will respect the national interests of Russia.
I think the commitment to move in that direction is met with a positive response among many Russian citizens, at least for now. I think however, it would be an unpardonable mistake on my part and on the part of my colleagues if we look at the opinion polls and decide that we have it made and that nothing else needs to be done. On the contrary, I for one believe that if the people trust us it means they expect results that would make a difference in their standard of living, the level of their wellbeing – make a huge difference. Only then would we have good reason to say that we are coping with the tasks we have set ourselves.
Question: You have promised a better life for your people. How will you go about that task?
Vladimir Putin: We have managed to preserve economic growth. This year we have set the target growth at 3.5%. It looks as if we may achieve a 4% growth, perhaps a little more. That is not so bad. Having said that, I know that the Congress of the Communist Party of China set a target of 7% annual growth. If we managed to achieve a 7–8% annual growth I think we could say that we are doing a satisfactory job.
Question: The people of China have very high regard for you and they want to know more about you. Could you tell us about your life principles and your hobbies?
Vladimir Putin: My hobbies are known: I play sports, although not Chinese ones. But I must say that members of my family, my daughters for example, are into wushu, and one daughter has started learning Chinese. So, we pay great attention to the Chinese language, Chinese culture, Chinese literature and history. I hope that considering our closeness, the historical roots of our interaction, and most importantly, the positive development of our relations, Russian interest in the People’s Republic of China will constantly grow.
Question: You work very hard. At the same time you are very lively and energetic. Do you have a special secret? How do you manage to keep so fit and active?
Vladimir Putin: I like what I do and I enjoy doing it.
Question: And the last question. Many books about you have been published in Russia. Do you read them?
Vladimir Putin: I haven’t read a single one of them. I am being quite frank with you, I haven’t read a single book about myself because I am sure that I know a lot more about myself than those who write about me.
Thank you very much.