Vladimir Putin: Good afternoon.
To begin with, I would like to thank you for the opportunity to visit Scotland and Edinburgh, and for the warm welcome.
We have just returned from Edinburgh Castle. It is a wondrous mix of power, greatness and history. We had a chance to listen to children playing, singing and dancing, which was an impressive combination of life, youth, and historical roots.
I have come to Scotland with great pleasure. I was here eight years ago; I don’t remember exactly when, but I think it was about eight years ago. I loved its countryside and the hospitable people I met here. And I could not but return here during my state visit, because a man with whom I have a very good personal relationship, Prime Minister Blair, comes from these parts. But when I asked him yesterday if he can play the bagpipes, he said no, but recommended that I visit Scotland. Indeed, visiting Scotland and Edinburgh is a great pleasure for me.
I am happy to meet with the influential people who represent Scottish society and business. The successful development of relations between Russia and Great Britain as a whole largely depends on you.
But, before speaking about pleasant things and going on historical excursions, and bearing in mind that there are businessmen present here, I would like to say a few words about Russia’s economic development. In the last three to four years, Russia has attained commendable economic growth rates. GDP growth in the first five months of this year amounted to 7.1% and average GDP growth for the past three years stands at6%. This is a good index for Russia.
The budget surplus allowed us to reduce the tax burden. This “liberated” Russian business and created favourable conditions for foreign investors. Today they are attracted by high returns on their investments, modern legislation and the stable political situation.
Of course, we do have problems, but we know how to tackle them. This is why we did not hesitate to set the task of doubling GDP within ten years. We have calculated that to attain this goal we need to increase GDP by 7.2% every year. As I have said, in the past three years GDP grew approximately by 6%. In principle, this is a difficult but feasible task.
Several years ago this would have seemed completely impossible. But Russia is developing dynamically, and I must say frankly that the plans we formulate frequently lag behind real life. Vast opportunities are emerging in the country for Russian business and for our foreign partners, but we must show initiative without waiting for official agreements and treaties to be signed.
Of course, the government and political leaders have their part to play in strengthening the contacts between our countries. But states can do little if such respected and influential people as are gathered here today do not want to cooperate, to find common interests and exchange experience. People of our countries have always wanted this. My respected colleague who spoke before me mentioned this.
Whole Scottish dynasties served Russia faithfully and honestly. Patrick Gordon was the first tutor of our outstanding reformer tsar, Peter the Great. Count Barclay de Tolly led the Russian army in the Napoleonic wars. Jacob Bruce was a field marshal in the Russian army. Architect Charles Cameron, who has been mentioned here, worked in Russia. And I have just mentioned one of the more respected and loved poets in Russia, Mikhail Lermontov, who had Scottish roots, too. His relatives lived in the County of Fife.
People in Russia remember and know many of your ancestors who had played a huge role, without any exaggeration, they played a huge role in the history of the Russian state.
I am very pleased to be here and to speak in this wonderful hall of the law library. Like in the castle, which we visited earlier, one can sense history and see a commitment to law here. Law and legitimacy are the foundation on which states must be built and on which societies must develop. We in Russia have done very much to attain this goal in the past few years. In point of fact, we have largely overhauled the legal component of the state structure, especially the judicial system. We have adopted a large package of laws, which can indubitably be described as fundamental. These are the Codes of Criminal and Civil Procedure, the Administrative and Labour Codes, and a block of laws on the pension system. There is the Federal Law “On the Status of Judges”. I am speaking in such great detail about this because this is a place where one wants to exchange information on these issues.
I think this hall is also appropriate for speaking about the problems of the modern world, its security system and the meaning of international law.
These issues are coming to the fore now. The Cold War page has been turned, but we are confronted with new difficulties, conflicts and threats, such as ethnic strife, international terrorism, organised crime, drugs trade, environmental threats, pandemics, and the threat of the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.
Their scale is growing every year. Globalisation is concentrating capital, information and politics, including threats. And we must respond to these challenges adequately. I am convinced that our solidarity will be the most effective response mechanism.
Only concerted action, mutual respect and trust can help us.
It should be said that this block of issues is always on the agenda of talks with the British leadership. Our views are close on many issues and I can assure you that we see eye to eye on some of them.
We agree that it is of crucial significance to uphold not only the norms of international law but also the moral and ethical principles that were elaborated by many international communities before us.
It is vital to strengthen the authority and role of the UN, which remains a universal instrument of governing international processes.
It would not be an exaggeration to say that the future of the planet will depend on the international community’s choice of how to ensure security.
Ladies and gentlemen,
I have told you already that I visited hospitable and beautiful Scotland several years ago. Since then, I have always remembered the upright and open character of Scottish people. I can tell you that there are many similarities between you and the people of my country, Russia.
This is probably why we can easily find a common language with your Prime Minister and one more prominent Scotsman, who now holds the place of honour in international structures, especially those that deal with security. I am referring to Lord George Robertson, NATO Secretary-General, with whom we have also developed a good relationship. I think we have done much of late to strengthen institutions of security, which also means the integration of Russia into these structures. As you know, we have created a reliable bridge of interaction with the North Atlantic bloc.
I am convinced that this similarity of our nations’ characters will greatly facilitate the development of business contacts and friendly ties at all levels. And I very much hope that together we, including this audience, will successfully fulfil this task.
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Question: The entire Christian world hopes that what is taking place today will help to establish and strengthen good relations between the Eastern and Western churches. I would like to hope that Mr. President will take part in it. Are you going to contribute to this?
Vladimir Putin: I absolutely agree with you. It is one of the main areas of our cooperation in the modern world because one of the problems I mentioned earlier and one we all know about – terrorism – increasingly takes on a religious character.
Actually, terrorism has noting in common with world religions and religion in general. Terrorists merely use religious slogans as a cover, but to establish a dialogue between religions means to establish a dialogue between civilisations.
Our European civilisation undoubtedly has its roots in Christianity. Europe must be open to all peoples – of any creed, skin colour and culture. But I am convinced that European culture is to a large extent based on Christian values. Christianity is very diverse and there are problems within it. We are well aware of them. I think people in the United Kingdom know it at least as well as I do. It is our task to unite religions in general and Christian denominations in particular.
Your hint about bringing closer the positions of the Russian Orthodox Church and the Holy See was not lost on me. I assure you that the secular authorities in Russia are doing everything to bridge the gaps on the remaining disputed issues. I know the intentions of Patriarch Alexy II of Moscow and All Russia, he is very open to change, and we expect that the relations between the Holy See — the Roman Catholic Church – and the Russian Orthodox Church will develop positively.
Question: Will Russia be able to join the European Union during your second presidential term?
Vladimir Putin: Russia does not seek full-scale membership of the European Union. Russia is a large country. In spite of the break-up of the Soviet Union it is the largest country in the world. It has a population of 145 million.
Our economy is emergent. We need to do a lot to create a modern democratic society. We have only started building a multi-party system. It is a fairly long process. And we see some purely formal difficulties. I am referring to the strengthening of our external borders. We are fully conscious that it is a necessary prerequisite in some areas of economic integration. All that requires significant resources and time.
At the same time, as I said, Russia is part of European culture. I am sure none of those present question it. Indeed, European culture would not be complete without Russia, and if so, Russia is undoubtedly part of Europe. Europe continues to the east of the Urals Mountains, because if we take the people who live in the Far East they are little different from the Russian citizens who live in the European part of the country.
That is a very good potential for the future development of Europe, but today we must be realistic about the goals we set ourselves. We should make sure that no new dividing lines appear in Europe, that people are able to communicate with one another, that the rules of the Schengen zone are not perceived as something similar to the Berlin Wall, which divided Europe until a few years ago.
We must do everything to enable Russia and Europe help each other to develop in a harmonious and stable way. We have a mutual interest in each other because even the structures of the Russian and European economies mutually complement each other.
The Prime Minister and I are going to discuss the construction of the northern gas pipeline from Russia to Europe, which will include Great Britain. Experts know the size of gas reserves in Western Europe, including the United Kingdom and Norway. And we have ample reserves at prices that are acceptable for the European economy. It means that if the project is successful, Europe will be assured of gas supplies at acceptable prices over a long historical period – we are talking about decades – and will have a natural competitive edge on the other regions of the world. Isn’t that in the interests of Europe? Of course it is. Likewise, Europe is interested, I think, in the development of cultural links. Russia is equally interested in it. We must do everything to abandon the cliches of the past, clear the logjams and create broad two-way avenues for joint work. We are capable of doing it. It is hard to say what legal forms these processes will take. In any case realistic tasks today are building a common economic space between Russia and Europe and removing barriers in the way of communication between people.
Question: One of the key aspects of your reforms in Russia is the improvement of the vertical power structure from the local to the federal level. Could you share some lessons in this connection?
Vladimir Putin: You know, there is nothing unusual about the processes taking place in your country and ours, they do not contradict each other. The thing is that when we made (insignificant) changes in the structure of the top power bodies in the Russian Federation we did not change the Russian Constitution, and the foundation of the Russian state remained intact. The only thing we did was to change the way the upper house of Parliament is formed.
Present in this room are the heads of the regions who formerly were members of the Russian Parliament. Among them are the Mayor of Moscow, the Governor of the Novgorod Region, and the Governor of the Leningrad Region. I think that when people who are heads of regions and are members of the executive branch of government also sit in Parliament and vote for various laws – that is a contradiction. It runs counter to the interests of both branches of power. It blurs the distinction between the executive and the legislative branches. We tried to put an end to this situation because in practice it was a hindrance as it contradicted the fundamental principles on which modern states are based. I must say that it had a negative impact on the life of some regions. So, it may seem odd that the overwhelming majority of the heads of regions supported my proposal. That provision could not have been implemented without their decision because the upper house voted for the law, that is, the heads of regions themselves voted to change the way the upper house was formed. There were some opponents but, since the law was passed, they were outnumbered by supporters. So, we have introduced a different form of regional representation in the upper house. Nothing else has changed.
As for the federal structure of Russia, it remains in place. No Soviet-style centralisation is taking place or will take place. We have also created the federal districts for the sole purpose of moving the federal functions, Moscow’s functions, closer to the regions because of the huge size of Russian territory. The process of aligning the powers is not simple. But the Presidential Envoys to the Federal Districts have been given clear-cut tasks. Although they sometimes find it hard to rein in their administrative zeal, they are not supposed to interfere and will not interfere in the affairs that are within the remit of the heads of regions. I think it will all jell gradually.
As regards the processes taking place in other countries, including the United Kingdom, I don’t believe I have the right to make any comments. Anyway, federalism, as I have just said, will strengthen in Russia. We feel that it is impossible to run all the regions of the Russian Federation from a single centre, from Moscow. At least it is impossible to do it effectively.
Question: In connection with the new relationship between Europe and the United States, how do you see the future development of the Commonwealth of Independent States, and how do you feel about a possible election of Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko for a third term?
Vladimir Putin: I find your question a bit surprising – asking me here in Scotland about the internal politics of Belarus.
I cannot comment on what is happening there. One thing I can say for sure: there will be no third term for President Putin. That I can guarantee a hundred percent. We in Russia will follow the country’s main law, its Constitution, which envisages a four-year presidential term. A president can be elected for two terms only. As for Belarus, honestly, I don’t know their rules too well and I cannot comment on that.
As regards the fact that Europe and the US are drawing closer together, they are close enough as it is. Europe and the US are close allies and I hope they will continue to be. That is a key element of stability in the world today. Yes, there have been problems over Iraq. We have differences over some serious issues, and there are divergences in Europe too. But that is not what could or might bring the world back to the brink of a confrontation similar to the Caribbean crisis. Thank God, those times are behind us.
Question: What could the Russian President advise his British and American counterparts in connection with the problem of Iraq?
Vladimir Putin: With your permission I’ll do it when I talk with my American and British counterparts personally. But the Russian position on Iraq is well known. It has not changed. In my opinion, the events have shown that it is a sound position. The only thing that now needs to be done is to overcome the differences and think about effective ways out of the situation as it has taken shape, and to act in a coordinated manner in the United Nations. Because whatever government Iraq may eventually have it will only be able to claim legitimacy and international support if the process takes place under the UN auspices. Other options would undermine trust in the new leadership. Afghanistan is a good example. Experts know very well how the process of normalisation and the formation of new power bodies is taking place there. I think it is a good example that can form the basis of work in Iraq.
Question: Do you expect any improvements in Russian-Georgian relations?
Vladimir Putin: There is no getting away from the Georgians, even in Scotland. We have no insoluble problems with Georgia. As a matter of fact we have no problems except one, and the Georgian leadership is aware of that. Unfortunately, there are still insurgents on Georgian territory, some of whom have links with al-Qaeda. People who have been trained in the Pankisi Gorge in Georgia are being detained in West European countries, in Paris, Berlin and Rome; and I am sure that if they go about it the way they do now, they will soon be found in the United Kingdom.
That is a problem. We are aware of the difficulties Georgia faces for a number of reasons, which I will not go into now. What we want is for the problem to be solved, either by Georgia, if it is able to solve it, or with the help of its partners. We are ready to provide all that is necessary: money, weapons, experts and Russian army special units. If that is unacceptable, the Georgian side must do everything itself.
We have recently had a good dialogue with the Georgian leadership. In spite of all the difficulties and terrorists’ threats to the heads of Georgian law enforcers and special units, they have some courageous and competent people there. As a result of their work, several international terrorists have been eliminated and those implicated in the explosions of residential blocks in Moscow have been captured. We are grateful to the Georgian leadership. I hope our cooperation will grow stronger.
Question: How do you see Russia’s role in the future system of international relations?
Vladimir Putin: Russia is not just a UN member. Russia is a founding member of that organisation. Today it is a member of the UN Security Council.
Our country is vigorously promoting its relations with Europe and Asian countries. That is natural because much of Russia is in Asia. As you know, the Russian Federation recently became a fully fledged member of the G8, and I have been telling you about the rate of its economic growth and how the Russian state is being strengthened. But we are fully aware of our weaknesses.
We have the largest territory in the world and we are rich in mineral resources. We have some other advantages because we have a highly educated population, at least as well educated as in Europe. And that is also a big and one might say a natural advantage of Russia. But there are some minuses.
In spite of the high rate of growth, the economy is not developed enough, the infrastructure is poor and people’s incomes are low. And there are other problems. So, while we are aware of our strengths, we are not going to be arrogant and just sit on our natural wealth. We understand that if these riches are not developed, they are worth nothing. What we need is resources, capital and modern management. Proper conditions must be created if our country is to have all this. Of course it takes time, but we will make steady progress along that road. The more stable our country will be, the stronger will be democracy in Russia, the greater will be its successes in the sphere of the economy and integration into the international cultural and economic space. We are sure that Russia will take its worthy place in the world.
Thank you very much for your attention.