Patrick Poivre D'Arvor (TF-1): Three years ago you were avoiding France: Paris turned out to be the last of European capitals which you visited when you assumed your office. Today the impression is that French-Russian relations have noticeably warmed up.
President Putin: Yes, indeed, this is so, and it seems to me only natural because we are bound by common interests. Common serious interests, especially those of a geopolitical nature.
Question: Yesterday you signed jointly with Berlin and Paris the Joint Statement, an important declaration directed to exploration of all the avenues for the preservation of peace, to a continued search for a solution in Iraq. How far are you ready to go and how long to hold? For Washington has the means of pressure on large countries, including on your country, financial means in particular. Will be you be able to hold under pressure from the United States?
President Putin: You know, it's not just about Iraq. If I speak to you in the varnished cliches of diplomats, then I can say that the positions of Russia and France practically coincide, because they are very close. But I consider that it's not about Iraq, although this is an important question. An even more important question — what kind of world do we want to build and what sort of world we will hand over to future generations. If we look at the problem from this point of view, then we will understand that if we want the world to be more predictable, more prognosticated, and then safer, it has to be multipolar, and all the participants of international intercourse have to abide by certain rules, namely, the rules of international law. That's, strictly speaking, towards what all our efforts are being bent — not towards shielding the Baghdad regime or making a screen for it, but towards solving problems by proceeding from common interests and in accordance with the rules of international law.
As to Russia's opinion on this issue, this is a separate big theme. Russia always had its own opinion on key issues in international relations. In recent years these relations have undergone substantial transformation, and although we do have our own opinion, it does not bear a confrontational character. It does not lead to any additional crises like the Caribbean one. And I absolutely agree with the President of the United States when he says that Russia and the United States have ceased to be enemies and opponents, but have become partners. I fully subscribe to this and can name with satisfaction the President of the United States, who is a very serious politician and a very decent man, I can name him my friend.
But when we state our opinion, even though it may be quite different from others' views, this does not provoke such a stormy reaction as does the opinion of members of the Western community if they begin to state their own opinion. I think that the Western community members are not only upholding their position on Iraq; they are also upholding their right to have their own position. But the earlier we grasp the depth of the external changes, the better.
Question: Since you don't like diplomatic inarticulateness, let me ask you the following question: Are you prepared to use the right of veto in the United Nations Security Council?
President Putin: We don't see any need to use the right of veto. We are confident that we shall be able to come to an understanding with all the members of the Security Council, as has been the case up until now. We cherish the Security Council's unity. If something that's bound to lead to an unwarranted use of force is undertaken today, we shall do that with or without France.
I would like to draw attention to our joint statement — of France, Russia and Germany — on the problem of Iraq. I guess that not all have yet understood what happened. It seems to me that not all have yet appreciated this step. True, it is about Iraq and about a concrete problem, but I want to draw attention to the fact that this is the first attempt since the end of World War II to resolve an acute, serious international problem, an acute crisis in an outside-a-bloc mode. Outside a bloc an attempt was made to resolve a problem in the realm of international security.
I think that that document is the first building block in the construction of the very same multipolar world of which I spoke. Moreover, I think that in no other European capital could such a document have emerged. In Russia it couldn't have emerged because we would at once have been declared to be trying to drive a wedge between America and Europe, and other European countries are not ready for any such moves. Therefore, if this could really happen, then only in France, and I think enormous, even, perhaps, historic, credit goes to President Chirac.
Question: And what if America suddenly resolves to act against the Russia-France-Germany bloc, if it begins unilateral action in circumvention of the Security Council? Will you, your country, protest? Will you consider this a major international crisis?
President Putin: You said if the bloc does this and that… I would not like to reason in this logic. We — Russia, France, Germany — made a statement not with the aim of creating an axis or a bloc. We aren't working against somebody, but for something. In this case — for the resolution of an acute international crisis by peaceful means. And we very much hope that our opinion is heeded. It would be a great mistake if unilateral actions were taken, outside the bounds of international law.
Question: Does for you a direct link exist between Al-Qaeda terrorism and Iraq? For recently bin Laden called upon the Muslims of the world to support the cause of Iraq. Do you establish a link between the September 11 Al-Qaeda terrorism and the Iraqi threat?
President Putin: You know we received information from our American colleagues about that link between Iraqi authorities and Al-Qaeda only recently, in the UN Security Council, when the relevant statements were made by our US friends. I've been in politics not so long. Before this, you know, I had worked in special agencies, intelligence agencies, and had thought that I was so clever and smart, understanding it all. I thought I knew everything from within. But when I came into politics, I realized that I and my Russian colleagues and my French colleagues who work in special agencies are children in comparison with the politicians; because then in our country it was all simpler in that environment, it was all more straightforward and more open, strange as it may seem. We and our American friends have a good dialogue established between our special services but we never received information of this kind from them. We ourselves have no information confirming Baghdad's links with Al-Qaeda. But we, of course, will carefully verify this information, which we have received lately.
Question: For four years now a merciless war has been going on in Chechnya that terrorizes the population. You justified this war by a desire to eradicate terrorism. Today you have marginalized it. Why are actions continuing against innocent civilians?
President Putin: First, you are absolutely inexact in expressions. You said an implacable and harsh war is going on there. Actually, there is no war there at all. The large bands of terrorists are destroyed. Their infrastructure is destroyed. They can still deliver individual blows and commit terrorist acts, but that's all they are capable of. And this capability will be reduced to naught. That a gang of international terrorists is operating in Chechnya, this I think no longer needs additional proving. Al-Qaeda camps are no longer there, but in Chechnya there is Al-Qaeda money which is working there. In Chechnya there are instructors who are working there. There are mercenaries from a number of Muslim countries there, whom radicals recruit. All of this is still there. And, of course, with those people we will be waging a harsh, implacable war.
At the same time we understand that by provoking us to act harshly, terrorists set up the civilian population. And I do not want to say that such problems never were, nor are there now. Of course, when combat actions are going on, civilians are bound to suffer too. And it is our task to minimize these negative consequences. In this regard, we understand the concerns of our partners, including in France. By the way, the French leadership devoted much attention to the problem of Chechnya in our talks.
But I repeat that the terrorists operating there have links with Al-Qaeda and with international terrorism. This is an obvious fact, among others confirmed by French special services, when in France, then in Germany and Britain terrorists were detained who had been preparing terrorist acts, including with the employment of biological and chemical weapons, and who had undergone appropriate training on the territory of Chechnya.
It is our task not merely to fight the terrorists. Our task is to solve the problem by peaceful political means with the peaceful Chechen people. Lest the Chechen people are used as an instrument for achieving aims that have nothing in common with the interests of the Chechen people. You know that the problem began with separatism, with the struggle for the independence of Chechnya. And with what did it end? It ended with us granting that independence, granting it wholly and entirely. I want to remind you of that.
Question: Will the question of independence be considered in the referendum scheduled for next month?
President Putin: No, we aren't returning to this question because it is clear to us that Chechnya did not get independence: the power vacuum that had emerged was at once filled by extremists from certain Islamic states. And they attempted to use the territory of Chechnya as a staging area for the expansion of this aggression. The issue was no longer about the independence of Chechnya, but about tearing away from Russia additional territories, the whole of southern Russia, with the formation of a new quasi-state — the Caliphate. As we know, this was contemplated as the first little step towards creating a worldwide Caliphate.
No one, I think, will demand of Russia capitulation, even less so to the terrorists. On the contrary, we are all interested in bringing an end to terrorism. But with the Chechen people themselves we should and can solve problems only by peaceful means and only by political means and that's why we supported the Chechen public's political initiative and will switch to processes of peaceful settlement. As a peaceful stage, as the beginning of this process, we plan to hold the referendum on the adoption of a constitution of the Chechen Republic.
Question: Do you condemn the crimes that were committed there? In particular, all those executions and tortures. When you hear these stories, it gives you the creeps… about the so-called ”bundle of brushwood“ technique, when they bind about twenty people together and make them jump, beating them with wooden switches… Are any sanctions being taken against the military, for these are the soldiers of your government who engage in this?
President Putin: With regard to executions and tortures, I can tell you that executions and tortures were used by the previous criminal regime. If you know, there was no judicial system there — in the contemporary meaning of the word. There was no prosecutor's office, there were no courts — people were being tried by a quasi-court and shot on the squares, publicly, including women and foreigners.
With regard to the situation today, we have re-established the system of police, prosecutor's office, courts and lawyers. We are not going to shield anyone whoever has committed crimes in the Chechen Republic, including members of the Russian army. More than 127 criminal proceedings have been instituted against the servicemen who had violated the law. Over 25 persons have been held criminally liable and convicted; the courts' convictions have taken effect. We will continue to act in this manner.
Question: Is it easy to get rid of the legacy of communism three quarters of a century long? Twelve years have passed since Russia ceased to be a communist country. Do you consider that it has today become a democratic country or a country on the road of democracy?
President Putin: That Russia is moving along the path of democratic evolution has long ago ceased to arouse any doubts — and it is also moving along the road of development of a market economy, along the road of development of democratic institutions. Moreover: the mood of society is such that a road back simply does not exist. This is the best guarantee of Russia's stable development. Russian society does not conceive the development of its country otherwise.
As to the question whether this is easy or difficult: it is, of course, complex, and the complexity lies chiefly in consciousness. Because socialist consciousness — not in its best, but in its worst manifestation — of course, is intrinsic to very many people. All want very much, the maximum of what can be received from the state, without thinking from where in market economy conditions the state gets the resources for solving these or other social problems. But we are acting very delicately, very carefully. I consider it would be the greatest mistake to undermine trust in the actions of the Government and President. Trust in the state is the largest resource which can and should be neatly used for the conduct of reforms. The reforms must lead to an improvement of the life of people, not to a worsening. We are doing our best to act in this manner.
Question: I will continue in the same direction: Do you consider Russia a European country? Have you an intention someday to apply for Russia's entry into the European Union?
President Putin: Russia, of course, is a European state, both geographically and in mentality. What is Europe? It is the culture of Ancient Rome, it is the culture of Ancient Greece, and it is the culture of Byzantium — that is, eastern Christianity. Russia is wholly and entirely incorporated in all these three components and does not conceive its development without Europe. We welcome the development of the integration processes in Europe. I cannot say that everything there suits us. We are worried by some things. For example, we often hear that it is necessary to get rid of dividing lines, but we do not want to see new dividing lines appear. Almost 50 percent of our trade is with Europe. With the admission of new members to the European community, where certain rigid rules are in force, our special relations, political relations may be subjected to serious tests. This is the first point.
The second is that our citizens could freely travel without visas to the states of Central and Eastern Europe. Now Russia is deprived of this. Sometimes you get the impression that Russia is being pushed to the wayside of European politics. At the same time, we all the time hear that all want to develop relations with Russia. There are these concerns, but there are also the proposals coming from European politicians how to prevent such a dangerous development. We are interested in cooperation and we hope that the situation will develop in a positive spirit.