Question: What are your expectations for the upcoming state visit to Great Britain?
Vladimir Putin: You know, there has not been a visit in this format for 150 years, and of course this does not just concern the protocol side of things.
We see this as is a reflection of the new quality of relations between Russia and Great Britain.
In recent years, our cooperation with the United Kingdom has been raised to a new level. Relations have become more trusting, more pragmatic. They have lost their ideological component, and become a true partnership.
All of us, not just myself – all the members of my delegation expect new breakthroughs in cooperation on the political level and in the economic sphere. And of course, the Prime Minister, Mr. Blair, and I will discuss the most important issues of the situation in various regions of the world.
I will be accompanied by quite a large representative group of Russian businesspeople who work in the energy sphere. And together with the Prime Minister we intend to take part in the Energy Forum of Russia and Great Britain.
Many companies from the United Kingdom are already working in Russia. BP and Shell have already announced that they intend to make major investments in the Russian economy. Many things connect us, but much remains to be done.
As for political cooperation, we know that our opinions do not always coincide. But what is very important is that the nature and quality of our relations allow us to find a way out of any difficult situation, without damaging bilateral relations, maintaining a basis for inter-governmental ties, a basis for solving complex situations, including conflicts, in any region of the world.
Question: In this sense, it is undoubtedly very important that you were able to maintain relations with George W. Bush after the events in Iraq, as well as relations with Tony Blair. When the British Prime Minister was on a visit to Moscow several months ago, during a press conference you said: “So where is Saddam, where are his weapons of mass destruction?” The British press saw this as an attack on Tony Blair. What was it actually: an attack or just a joke?
Vladimir Putin: No, it was just part of our debate. My relations with the Prime Minister are very open and friendly. And we consider it possible to tell each other what we think, and not what we are sometimes advised to say by employees of diplomatic departments. And furthermore, outside what journalists saw, there were other things which were much more important. We only showed that there was a debate, that there was a disagreement of opinions on several issues. But we did not say what we agreed on. But we actually agreed on the main parameters for a possible future resolution on Iraq. This was an extremely important event, but it was premature to talk about it, as it did not only depend on us – it depended on all the members of the UN Security Council. Nevertheless, the positions that we agreed upon during the Prime Minister’s visit to Moscow were made the basis of the Security Council resolution on Iraq, which returned a significant amount of these problems to the UN platform.
And now, as they say, after the event, I can confidently state that his visit to Moscow was extremely useful, timely and effective.
Question: You are right, Mr. President. Do you expect, Mr. President that the new Iraqi administration will fulfill agreements on developing oil fields in the country which Russian companies have already signed? This concerns 20% of the oil reserves of Iraq. Will these agreements be observed? If not, then is that not a kind of penalty for the fact that Russia chose the wrong side in the war?
Vladimir Putin: We must proceed from realities. And the reality is that the situation in Iraq is very complex. And it will become even more complex if we do not understand that we need to combine our efforts to normalise this situation.
To combine our efforts, we need to take each other’s interests into account. If I tell you that a significant part of industry and economy of Iraq is based on Soviet and Russian technology – by no means the latest technology, but nevertheless it is still functioning to this day – this means that the equipment that is used there and which needs to be fixed requires spare parts, specialist support and so on and so on. Russian specialists can provide this in the cheapest and most effective way.
As for major investment projects, such as Kurna-2, for example, we proceed from the fact that the undoubted priority should be norms of law. We agree that indeed, the future Iraqi government should have the final word on these projects. But the obligations taken on by the Iraqi side should be observed in accordance with existing legislation. And, of course, we will insist on the realisation of some of these contracts.
Question: You will insist?
Vladimir Putin: Yes, of course. We think that this is fully justified from the standpoint of existing international legislation.
I assure you that in separate episodes we can fully count on the support of international courts. But I should add that both my partners — the British Prime Minister and the U.S. President – and I do not deny that Russian companies have the right to take part in the development of Iraq. Furthermore, at my last meeting with President Bush, he said directly and clearly that they had no aims of forcing Russian companies out of Iraq. What is more, he said they were prepared to provide conditions for joint work. And I have no reason to disbelieve this.
Question: But what do you think, Mr. President, will George W. Bush and Tony Blair – or the so-called “coalition” – be able to find and capture Saddam Hussein?
Vladimir Putin: You will have to ask the Prime Minister and the U.S. President about that.
Question: But you are far better informed on intelligence than they are.
Vladimir Putin: Perhaps you are right about my knowledge in this special area. But everyone who closely follows events in the Middle East knows how difficult the processes there are.
In my opinion, the issue is not about killing, capturing or imprisoning anyone. I think that to solve this problem, compromises need to be reached; the interests of everyone need to be taken into account, everyone who is interested in the development of the situation in the region or in the country. And it is on this basis that we can count on positive development, not just on pacification.
The situation in Iraq remains complex, but we are prepared, along with our partners, including Great Britain, to do everything to make sure Iraq can “get to its feet”, to make sure Iraq can become a country that is democratic, developing effectively, and peace-loving.
Question: But do you think the occupation forces have been able to take total control of the situation in Iraq?
Vladimir Putin: So far, it is not possible to say that everything is under control. As far as we know, after the end of military operations, around 40 American soldiers have already died, and no one even counts casualties on the Iraq side anymore. So establishing order and total control is still a long way off, of course, but I see it as being possible. I think that our American partners, Great Britain and many other participants in international dialogue are doing everything that depends on them today to normalise the situation.
A great deal will also depend on the UN. We welcome the return of Iraq’s problems to the United Nations platform. It is necessary for the General Secretary representative to work effectively, for the disarmament dossier to be closed. A great deal remains to be done together. We are ready for this work.
Question: To continue our dialogue… We have already discussed that Russian-American relations are developing very positively. Condoleezza Rice even said: “We should forgive Russia, ignore Germany and punish France.” It is very good that you have such good relations again. But don’t you think that in this situation France was simply unlucky?
Vladimir Putin: You know, I don’t think I have the right to comment on the relations of other countries among themselves. I am only prepared to talk about the development of Russia’s relations with our partners.
The fundamental bases of relations between Russia and the United States, Russia and Great Britain have proved stronger than the difficulties which we have encountered. We want to be partners of the United States and any other nation. Partnership implies taking the other’s interests into account, not serving their interests. These are different things. And we talk about this directly, honestly and openly. I, at any rate, talk to my partners in this way.
Question: When discussing Iraq, it is impossible not to mention North Korea and Iran as well. This no longer concerns Iraq, but at one stage George W. Bush called these three countries the “axis of evil”. Do you agree with this term, and are Iran and North Korea really part of the “axis of evil”?
Vladimir Putin: I just said that partnership does not imply complete agreement on everything. We, for example, cannot agree with this terminology. We really do have a common understanding of the threats of the 21st century. This unites us. The question is only in the means used to attain the common goal – neutralising these threats.
As for terminology, we are opposed to drawing up any blacklists. We proceed from the fact that the problems need to be dealt with. The problems are not only concentrated in the countries that you have mentioned.
If we are talking about the main threat of the 21st century, I think that it is the problem of proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. And here, of course, we should not only mention North Korea, not only the Middle East, we should also mention South Asia. We should always remember that the problem of proliferation of nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction is closely related to another threat – the threat of terrorism, because terrorists attempt to acquire certain means of mass destruction. This is particularly dangerous.
This is why we should look into how terrorism is financed, where terrorists hide out, where they find refuge and where they are hiding and where they prepare their crimes; what is the reason for proliferation, where are the loopholes which give the terrorists the hope of acquiring weapons of mass destruction.
And then we will understand that the geography of these problems is much wider. And the most important recent achievement is that we acknowledge these common threats, and have brought our positions closer together; we proceed from the fact that it is only possible to fight these threats together. And in this sense, our positions have a great deal more in common than the things that we disagree on at the moment.
Question: What about the issue of non-proliferation, primarily Iran and its nuclear programme? At the G8 summit, it was stated that no one intends to ignore the development of nuclear weapons in Iran, and everyone supports increasing total control from IAEA, signing additional protocols etc. Judging from your talks with President Khatami, do you think that Iran will really agree to this?
Vladimir Putin: You know, to determine whether a certain country will follow the obligations it has taken on, one telephone conversation is not enough, and neither are personal meetings.
Iran is our neighbour, our traditional partner. We have a certain system and a level of inter-governmental relations. And we do not intend to lose our position in Iran. We plan to develop relations with this country. But we have several fundamental questions, and our Iranian partners know about these problems: we are opposed to the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.
Iran has signed an agreement on non-proliferation, and taken on certain obligations. And in our last talk, President Khatami confirmed that Iran was prepared to adhere to all documents and put all its nuclear programs under control. And in this case, certain procedures and instruments of control will begin to take effect, which do not depend on our telephone conversations or good personal relations anymore. They depend on experts and specialists from IAEA. And we will build our relations not just with Iran, but with other countries as well on nuclear problems, based on their openness towards these internationally acknowledged and respected organisations, whose specialists we all trust.
Question: If that really happened, it would be a serious step forward. Because today, as you probably know, John Bolton, the U.S. Under Secretary of State on issues of weapons control, was recently in London. He was asked whether it was still likely there would be a military operation against Iran. He answered that “although we don’t have this intention, this possibility should not be ruled out, as nuclear weapons represent a major threat, and when you compare the Iran nuclear program with their aggressive attempts to increase the radius of activity of ballistic rockets, more and more countries – our friends and allies – come into the radius of these rockets.” Do you agree that this danger really exists?
Vladimir Putin: I don’t see that I should comment on anyone’s statements, but we are aware of certain information which we receive, including from IAEA circles, about Iranian programmes in the nuclear energy sphere. And of course, we have questions about this.
We know that certain Western European companies actively cooperate with Iran in this sphere, and supply equipment which is at least equipment with a dual purpose. So we will protest against using the theme of nuclear weapons proliferation against Iran as an instrument for forcing Russian companies out of the Iranian market. But to fight the problem of proliferation actively, we should be more open with one another, we could act in a more corporate spirit. And the most important thing – I want to repeat this idea once more – is the readiness of Iran’s leadership to put all its nuclear programmes under the control of IAEA.
Question: In the context of the topic of weapons of mass destruction… Recently there has been active discussion around the world as to which of the two countries – Iran or North Korea – represent the greater danger from this standpoint. Given what you said about Iran… Does this mean that North Korea causes the most alarm?
Vladimir Putin: It’s hard to say. I don’t really even want to answer in the context of the question asked: who poses more danger, who poses less. At any rate, North Korea is in such a state (and we know the context of the historical development of North Korea), that I have no reason to believe that it has any aggressive intentions.
At the same time, the situation is very complex. In our opinion, this problem may be solved by political and diplomatic means. If North Korea has certain concerns connected with its safety, then we must simply bear this in mind, and respond to them.
I am firmly convinced that North Korea needs to be included in the system of international dialogue. This will inevitably lead to a certain change in the North Korean society itself, changes in state structures and principles of forming the state, because it will be caused by the necessity of integration into the international community.
We are also prepared to provide our territory for possible meetings and talks, and we are prepared to provide assistance in any form in order to normalise the situation. We discuss this with our Japanese partners, with the leadership of South Korea, with the United States, and are in contact with the North Korean leadership. I should say that this is a very sensitive issue for Russia due to the country’s immediate proximity to our borders.
Question: Is your country prepared to become a participant in international police forces to regulate the Palestine-Israeli conflict? Is the use of these forces the only method of achieving any kind of progress in this direction?
Vladimir Putin: Your questions just keep getting more and more difficult.
I would say: everything that could assist in solving this situation needs to be used. In this sense, of course, we may discuss the presence in one form or another of international police or military forces. In places where UN sub-units are employed, for example, what task do they solve? As a rule – the separation of conflicting sides. We know this well, because Russia takes part in 15 peace-keeping missions of the UN.
In the case of the Middle East, in the Palestine-Israeli conflict, if you asked me where our troops should be stationed, we would have to think – where is the line of division? So of course, it is probably possible to find places where these contingents can be stationed, but it is not very clear what they will do there. Although this does not mean that I completely refute the possibility of their use, it still requires additional, attentive examination.
And finally, the most important thing – all the sides involved in the conflict should support the possible use of international forces. If one of the sides is opposed to this, the proper effect will not be attained.
You know, I partially understand the position of those who are opposed to this. This needs to be stated directly. Where is the logic? “We – the Israelis are talking in this case – are facing a terrorist threat. It is impossible to control how, where and in what way terrorists act with the assistance of peace-keepers,. But our acts of retaliation which are performed openly by armed forces will be seen as violations. And we will be put in unequal conditions.”
Question: Israel, as Ariel Sharon has said a number of times, would be prepared to extradite Yasser Arafat, to send him out of the country. But don’t you think that it was a mistake to ignore Arafat?
Vladimir Putin: Yes, I do. I think that Arafat cannot be ignored. I talked about this with Prime Minister Sharon. You know, I remember my discussion with Arafat, when he held a dialogue with Ehud Barak, the former Prime Minister of Israel. At that time, Mr. Arafat told me that he did not want to agree to the proposals made by Barak. To my observation that Barak could then be removed from power, and my statement: “You will have to deal with other people”, he replied: “Well let them remove him then, things won’t get any worse.” And now, if I asked Mr. Arafat: Is that the way it is? have things got better or worse – I would be interested to hear his evaluation. But I think that I will have the opportunity to ask him this question again.
Now we hear from the Israeli side: “Arafat should leave”. I am not sure that things get any better if he does. Especially as Arafat is a person of authority in Palestine, many people are guided by his opinion. I think that these circumstances cannot be ignored.
Question: As for Russia as such…. Three organisations come to mind: the European Union, the WTO and NATO. Which one will Russia join first?
Vladimir Putin: You have named organisations which function in different areas and have different significance. NATO is designed to solve problems in the area of international security. We think that the head organisation here has been and should remain the UN Security Council.
At the same time, we intend to develop our relations with the North Atlantic bloc. We see that there are common threats which we can effectively resist together. They are, as I have already said, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, terrorism, sea rescue, peace-keeping and humanitarian operations and so on.
I must say that we highly value the decision which was made; I mean the creation of the Russia – NATO “Twenty”. In this matter, I would like once more to note the special role of Prime Minister Tony Blair. It was his personal idea, which he proposed here, at my house, during one of his visits. And, accordingly, he was also the main “engine”, one of the main “engines” which brought this idea to its practical realisation.
We are satisfied with the way our relations are developing with NATO. And we think that this is a significant element in the system of modern international security.
As for the European Union, it is our major trade and economic partner. The EU accounts for 37% of Russia’s external trade turnover, and after the expansion of the EU this will increase to 52%. Russia is a European country in its geography, history, culture and mentality of the population. And we, of course, count on and will aspire to broaden cooperation with the EU.
This has the full understanding and support of all the leading countries of the EU and the head of the Commission of European Associations. Of course, we have certain problems at the moment, there are disputes, but on fundamental issues our positions virtually coincide.
As for the World Trade Organisation, not only Russia itself is interested in joining the WTO, our main trade and economic partners are interested in this as well. I have absolutely no doubt in this at all.
Question: In March 2000, during our first interview, when I asked you what sort of Russia you dreamed of, you said the following: “Success will only be possible when all citizens of Russia begins to feel the values that we offer them, in their daily life. When they begin to live better, eat better, and feel safer. But in this sense we can say that we are a long way away from this. I think that we are still at the beginning of this path.” And now, three years later, have you been able to advance very far?
Vladimir Putin: Yes, I think that we are, of course, on the right path. I think that the main indicator of development is the growth rates of the economy. Recently (over these past three years), it has been developing with an average yearly growth rate of 6%. And for Russia this is not a bad figure. For the first five months of this year, the growth in GDP was 7.1%. We had (and continue to have) a very high legal outflow of capital in absolute figures – 24.8 billion in 1999. In 2002 it was 11.2 billion. In the first five months of this year alone, investment in basic capital increased by 11%. And also during this period, the real income of the population increased by 14% — I want to stress that these are real figures, allowing for inflation.
We have encountered problems that are probably unknown in Western countries – people did not receive pensions or wages for several months. Now these problems are virtually non-existent. There are still certain delays in regions, but they are not on the same scale that they used to be.
Wages and income of the population have increased by many times, people’s savings in banks have increased significantly, and pensions have grown several times.
This is still not enough, because the level of the population’s income remains very low. But it can be said with full responsibility that the tendencies are positive.
Question: The last time we met, you were in the middle of the Chechen campaign. You had only just returned from there. When, in your opinion, will you be able to take all the Russian troops out of Chechnya, which I think is your goal?
Vladimir Putin: As for Chechnya, all the problems which we encountered there were the result of a large number of coinciding negative factors, including the break-up of the Soviet Union.
I will not give a full analysis now, although I can say separately that in my opinion, the changes that have taken place in the republic recently are quite evident.
There are no military operations conducted there now, as you know. We are still encountering manifestations of terrorism – that is true. And these terrorist acts are directed more and more against the peaceful population. This increased particularly after the Chechen people actively participated in the referendum where the Constitution of the Chechen Republic was passed, which states that “Chechnya is an integral part of the Russian Federation.”
We do not intend to move our troops out of there fully, and they will remain there, as they do on other territories of the Russian Federation. But they will not take part in any military operations. All responsibility for supporting peace in Chechnya and for the law-enforcement sphere will be gradually but steadily entrusted to local law-enforcement bodies to an increasingly greater extent. We have created a ministry of internal affairs there, a prosecutor’s office, a justice ministry and a legal department. And these structures will be strengthened, and continue to develop.
There is also another very important aspect of political regulation. I mentioned the referendum which 80% of voters in Chechnya took part in. Now, on the basis of the Constitution that has been passed, we must help Chechnya conduct presidential and parliamentary elections. And a very important aspect is that we must prepare a treaty together with Chechnya on delimiting authority between the republic and the federal centre.
Question: One last question. It is a very simple one. The term of your presidency is four years. Will you be able to achieve what you planned in this time? Or will you need several terms for this?
Vladimir Putin: Life is very complicated and varied. But one thing I can be certain of is that before the end of my term, I will do the maximum of what I promised to do.
As for a next term, which may begin in 2004, we will have to live to see that first, as we say. The people have a saying: “The day will come and there will be food.”