President Vladimir Putin: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. I am very glad to have the opportunity to meet with representatives from leading media of the United States. And I thank you for the opportunity to let your viewers and readers know what is happening in Russia. I am sure that this will be a positive contribution to the development of intergovernmental ties. I am at your disposal. I think it will be correct if we concentrate our attention on questions and answers. Please begin.
Deborah Seward (APTN): Mr President, what concrete steps need to be taken to send troops from the Russian Federation to Iraq? And what role can they perform in this situation?
Vladimir Putin: Currently, the Russian armed forces are taking part in more than 11 peace-keeping operations, I believe, under the aegis of the United Nations. You know our position: we believe that the use of armed forces can be employed within the framework of the procedures stipulated by the UN charter, and this should be determined by an appropriate decision of the Security Council of this organization. This fully applies to the situation in Iraq.
It seems that you are aware of the recent statements I made during a visit to Italy. Since then my opinion and the opinion of the Russian leadership on this problem has not changed. Unlike many participants of this process, our approach is quite liberal. We theoretically do not rule out more active participation of Russia in the reconstruction of Iraq, including in the participation of our soldiers in the process of normalizing the situation. It is not important for us who heads this operation. It may be headed by American soldiers. The only important thing is for this decision to be passed by the UN security council, in the framework of which a mandate of these forces would be signed, making it clear what they will do there, how long they will stay, and for other conditions and procedures to be signed, which are usual when a document like this is passed within the Security Council.
This document should take into account the interests of all the sides involved in the process, above all, of course, the interests of the Iraqi people. If this decision is passed, if during its discussion and passing the opinion of the Russian Federation is heard, and our interests are taken into account, then we, of course, will fulfil the document which will be signed by Russia. However, on a practical level, the issue of sending any Russian military contingents to Iraq is not under discussion at present, and has not even been examined.
Amy Kellogg (Fox): If I may, I have another question about Iraq. As far as I know, currently the American and Russian positions on the issue of Iraq are closer than the positions of the U.S., Germany and France on this issue.
I would like to know what Russia has done, and whether it has done anything at all, to build bridges between the camp headed by the United States on this issue, and other camps represented by these other countries. And it would also be interesting to know if the issue has now arisen, when the UN resolution is being prepared and these positions are being developed, that during the pre-war spring period Russia has opposed to a military solution to the Iraqi problem? Do you still believe now that you were right in your approach at that time?
Vladimir Putin: First of all, on the differing approaches of France, Germany, Russia and the United States. You know how the conflict began and what position the main European countries took – Germany and France, and what position China and Russia took. In this sense, virtually nothing has changed. All of us, I assure you, and Germany and France as well – and I know this for certain, because I am in constant contact with the leaders of many European countries, including these ones – all of use wanted to find a solution to this problem. France and Germany did too, I assure you. Of course, there are always some differences in the approaches of all countries, including the ones mentioned. In some nuances, they may differ. But on the whole we essentially had an identical approach.
I don’t want to talk specifically about the position of France and Germany right now – the leaders of these countries know their position better than I do. But I can tell you that there are also leaders of other countries, sufficiently influential ones, especially in this region, who told me personally: there will be no regulation as long as the American and British remain on the territory of Iraq. In any capacity. As you can see, our position seriously differs from what I would call an extreme formulation of the question.
I would like to say that this is not the position of France and Germany. I want to make this quite clear. We not only allow the possibility of regulation and the presence of American soldiers, but as you have heard, we even allow that they may head this operation.
Quite recently, literally one and a half to two years ago, it was hinted to me here and there that Russia conducts a cunning policy designed to divide Europe and the United States. This was said by people who did not understand the profundity of the changes happening in Russia. Russia today is interested in a stable, predictable world. And so we are in favour of the unity of all sound forces in the world, which can realistically influence the development of the situation in the world – in its positive development.
Now you ask me what we have done to establish better contact between the United States and their European partners. I assure you, the United States, like France, like Germany, does not require any mediation to find mutually acceptable decisions. Including such solid mediation as this.
We have our position. In many ways it coincides on the Iraq problem – on key issues – with European countries. It also coincides in some ways with the American position. Our task is to find mutually acceptable decisions which suit all participants of the process. We will work hard on this.
Now for the next part of your question – whether my opinion on Russia’s position before the beginning of the Iraq conflict has changed. Of course, it has not changed. And the situation which is currently unfolding in Iraq, clearly, is the best proof that the Russian Federation’s position was correct.
The conflict is continuing. More and more Islamic extremists are entering the territory of Iraq, who were hardly there at all in the past.
There are also other components which I simply do not wish to name, because I am going to the United States, and will meet with the President there, and on my part it would not be correct to talk about these problems now. We will have the chance to discuss everything in detail with President Bush. We are on good relations and we can tell each other our own opinion quite openly, without any diplomacy. Sometimes we don’t like what we tell each other. But we listen to each other, we listen and look for solutions.
I hope that we will also find a solution to this complex problem – the problem of Iraq. We, at any rate, believe that the quicker we find a solution, the better things will be for stability in the Middle East, for world stability as a whole and for the world economy.
Jill Dorothy (CNN): Another question about Iran. The Russian government says that all nuclear energy deals made between Iran and Russia are in keeping with legislation and international agreements. At the same time, we have heard charges from the U.S. that there are allegedly cases of concealed assistance conducted by Russian companies to help Iran develop nuclear weapons. People say that individual scientists are also involved in this activity. I would like to know if there is any Russian secret service information which could confirm these charges. And there is also another charge in this matter – that Iran allegedly supports terrorists. I would like to know your opinion on this matter.
Vladimir Putin: As for information from the Russian secret service – this is of course an interesting question (Laughter). But I will try to answer it carefully. And this answer may be unexpected for you. But I will start from the beginning.
As for the charges from our partners, including, and indeed primarily from our American partners that Russia is allegedly helping Iran create nuclear weapons. I have actually yet to hear these charges made against us. The issue is cooperation in the nuclear sphere, and from this comes the idea that this cooperation helps Iran in some way to get closer to creating its own nuclear weapons.
Sometimes we hear that certain scientists, specialists of Russian or even of Soviet origin may be involved directly in developing nuclear weapons.
First of all I would like to outline Russia’s official position on problems of non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.
We are not merely signatories and participants of the Non-proliferation Treaty. We are the most active supporters of consistent fulfilment of these agreements. And especially as the appearance of another nuclear power on our southern borders does not at all correspond to our national interests.
I’m not even talking about other extremely serious consequences for the region and for the entire world if Iran becomes a nuclear power. We completely and utterly acknowledge this danger. And in this area, we are prepared to cooperate with all members of the international community involved in this area, and above all with the United States. The U.S., I believe, is one of our main partners. One could say it is a strategic partner on the problem of non-proliferation.
As for work in the area of nuclear power for peaceful goals, indeed we do have a series of programmes in this sphere, including with Iran, where we are building an atomic energy station bloc with a power of 1,000 megawatts.
And of course, we are carefully making sure that this cooperation in no way influences the ability of any power – including Iran – to create its own nuclear weapons.
As you know, this is a very sensitive issue. And here cooperation is very important. We need to listen to each other all the time. We need to reach a certain level of trust. We need, if you will excuse me, to stop talking idly about this matter, and speak in figures, facts and concrete details – because this is a real threat. Then this work will give real results. If we simply continue to stupidly politicize this problem, we will only worsen the situation.
A specific example on this problem is the following. We considered that the arguments of our partners were correct that nuclear fuel, which will in future be delivered to Iran, may be used as a basis to gain weaponry materials. And we are currently working with our Iranian colleagues on agreeing on an additional protocol to the existing agreements, according to which all the nuclear fuel which will be delivered to Iran in future will be returned in full to Russia after being processed at atomic energy stations.
It is very important for all members of the international community to influence Iran, above all MAGATE members, so that Tehran agrees to sign additional protocols to the Non-proliferation agreement.
I think that at the moment this issue has key significance. If Iran really does not intend to create nuclear weapons, then it has no need to hide anything from MAGATE. And I see no grounds for it not to sign these additional protocols.
In a telephone conversation, President Khatami told me quite directly than Iran is ready to sign these documents.
As you know, recently a MAGATE meeting was held on this issue, and the position of this organization was set forth. We expect that this process will be completed, and Iran will join the protocols.
Now for the information from the Russian secret service. According to our information, many western European and American companies cooperate with Iran – either directly or through intermediary organizations – in the nuclear sphere.
This is serious information, and we do not believe that we should have a complete monopoly over it. Furthermore, we are prepared to cooperate with our partners, and we hope that this will lead to definitive results, and remove all the concerns over the presence of a nuclear weapons programme in Iran. But as for cooperation in peaceful atomic energy, Iran is in fact a member of the Nuclear Weapons Non-Proliferation Agreement. And everything that takes place in this sphere is fully coordinated and fully corresponds to international law, from Russia’s side. We would very much hope that the unfounded suspicions about alleged cooperation between Russia and Iran in the weaponry sphere are not used as a pretext for unfair competition on the international market as whole, and in Iran in particular.
James Maseda (NBC): What do you think, is now an appropriate time for a Russian-American summit, especially as both you and Bush soon face elections, and obviously security issues will be of key importance on the agenda. How do you approach these issues, and do you share the concerns linked with security issues?
Vladimir Putin: I would ask you to clarify what you understand by security issues, what do you mean?
James Maseda (NBC): You have already mentioned such security issues as non-proliferation, terrorism and others.
Vladimir Putin: Of course, in December there will be elections to the State Duma, and in spring next year there will be presidential elections in Russia. Then there will be elections in the United States. These are unavoidable “costs of democracy”, elections should always exist. But the costs are that very often, unfortunately, in democratic countries a great deal is subordinated not to solving existing problems in the country and international problems, but instead to tactical problems linked to elections.
As one famous figure said, a good politician thinks about elections, but a statesman thinks about future generations. Life does not stop, it goes on, and of course it is connected to all these pre-election matters. But issues of security and the war on international terrorism, issues of non-proliferation are so important that we do not have any right not to use any opportunity to solve these problems at least to some extent, and to bring our positions closer at least by a millimetre, not just to discuss them, but to find a solution to them. And of course, we will do this together with the President of the United States. I, at any rate, am ready for this, and I know that he is too. It is simply our duty.
Elections are all very well, and whether this is a convenient moment or not, we must deal with the work at hand, this is why we came to the offices we work in today. The people voted for us so that we would solve domestic, economic and international problems. And also, the U.S. President and I have good business and personal relations. This is also a good factor for us to work together.
You said it correctly – I have elections ahead, and he has elections. The way voters decide is the way it will be: either the same Presidents will remain or new ones will replace them. But today we have the opportunity to work together – we need to work and look for solutions. Generally, it is pleasant for me to work with the President of the United States. We have different points of view on many issues. I am sure that he does not always like what I say and do. But I can say for myself that I also look critically at the actions taken by our American partners. But President Bush is a good partner, he is an open, decent person, it is pleasant to work with him.
BESS NOBELl (CBS): Excuse me, I know that this is not your favourite topic, but I must ask you about Chechnya. There will be elections in Chechnya in two weeks, and I would like to ask you two questions concerning Chechnya.
What do you think, what changes should take place in Chechnya, especially as many Chechens do not trust Kadyrov, they think that he is also involved in several unseemly types of activity. And the second question. What do you expect will happen in Chechnya after the elections, what will the “road map” look like, how will peace be restored and built in Chechnya, and what will be done so that terrorist acts do not take place, which have taken place virtually every day?
Vladimir Putin: You said I didn’t like questions about Chechnya. You were mistaken. Chechnya is a part of the Russian Federation. How can I not like questions about Russia? I don’t like provocative questions – that is true. But this does not just concern Chechnya. On the contrary, I thank you for this question, and I will answer it for you and your readers and viewers, and everyone who is interested in this problem.
Since the beginning of the 90s, and perhaps since the end of the 80s, Chechnya has lived in conditions of total violence. I assure you, no one needs this. The average citizen often does not even understand what is happening there, he is simply led by the nose. People simply suffer and don’t even realize what for. As a result of the power vacuum that was formed at the beginning of the 1990s, real power fell into the hands of extremists, who promised everything, but in fact only shot and robbed people, and sold them as slaves.
When in 1999 we faced an attack on the neighbouring republic of Dagestan, it became clear that international terrorism, which had become established on the territory of Chechnya, was no longer satisfied with devouring the Chechen people, this was no longer enough for it; it went further, beyond its borders. You know about this. And who were these people? Who were these fighters who attacked Dagestan? They were essentially people who were closely connected with Al-Qaeda, with other such organisations which trained at their bases and armed themselves on their money. Essentially, the same people who two years later attacked American cities.
I don’t want to talk right now about how the international community reacted to these events. But I want to tell you that even at that time – and earlier, especially in the period beginning in 1999 – the Chechen people themselves finally realised that what people who had seized power in Chechnya were doing had nothing in common with the interests of the Chechen people. Ordinary Chechens were against the attacks on Dagestan. Did they want a war with their neighbours? Of course not.
Yes, at the very beginning many of my colleagues and I were told: better to abandon them, leave them alone, let them sort things out there for themselves, you won’t find any support among the Chechen population anyway, you won’t find a single Chechen on the side of the federal forces and federal power.
Currently, there are a prosecutor’s office, institute of law, Ministry of Justice and Government functioning in Chechnya. In every region, in every village there is a power body headed, of course, by local residents. As you know, several months ago a referendum was held on a constitution, which stated in black and white that Chechnya is an unalienable part of the Russian Federation. This document was prepared in Chechnya itself. And I must tell you that our lawyers argued for a long time with the authors of this document, with Chechens, over the wording. Several wordings were on the verge of the Russian Constitution. This constitution of Chechnya gives very wide autonomous authority to the Chechen republic.
The next step we must take is to elect a president there. And indeed, these elections should take place soon. Mr. Kadyrov, whom you mentioned, fought in the so-called First Chechen war against the Federal Russian forces on the side of the so-called “separatists.” And the fact that we agreed to appoint him as the head of the Chechen administration, I think, is the best proof of our intention to talk and attract people of the most varied convictions to work on normalizing Chechnya.
It must be said that we are continuing this work with other people who have their own views on the development of the Chechen Republic. Some time ago, several deputies of the former parliament of Chechnya appealed directly to the administration of Chechnya and to us. We do not acknowledge the legality of this parliament, but it did function and work. They appealed to us and said that they wanted to take part in the political process which is currently developing in Chechnya.
Just as in the case with Mr. Kadyrov, we not only did not object, we supported their frame of mind and their plans. In accordance with their laws and the old constitution of Chechnya – which, I repeat, the Russian Federation never acknowledged de jure – in accordance with this document they gathered themselves, on their own initiative, the necessary amount of signatures to declare an impeachment of Maskhadov within the framework of this constitution. And they achieved this.
I want to stress that we will continue to expand the basis of political interaction with everyone who wants normal development in Chechnya, regardless of their political views. But, of course, we will not hold talks with terrorists – just as the United States does not intend to hold talks with the leaders of Al-Qaeda.
But as for Mr. Kadyrov, he was not only just an active member of an illegal armed formation at one time, but after the military operations ended, after 1995, I believe, he also became a spiritual leader, the mufti of Chechnya.
As you know, we met almost by accident. I invited him to the Kremlin to a meeting of leaders of Muslim communities of the Northern Caucasus, which included him. Quite honestly, we did not expect that he would come. And I think this was also because at that time this was quite dangerous for him. But he did come. And I talked for quite a long time with representatives of the Islamic church. He was rather obstinate, you know, and kept asking unexpected questions. But I must say that a number of my questions, and my assessment of the situation in Chechnya, put him in a difficult position himself. He did not know how to reply.
Later, when the issue was decided on his possible appointment as the head of administration, I told him directly: we will not object to your active involvement in political work, but you must decide for yourself: this is your life, your destiny and your people. Is this what you need now? Maybe it would be better to do this later? Because the situation is very complicated at the moment. I don’t know if you will be able to organize administrative work, but you will immediately face problems. The federal forces will suspect you of having ties with separatists and terrorists, and the people with whom you recently fought will consider you the man who betrayed them.
I must say that I was pleased with his reply. He said: “Of course, I would like to have some sort of political influence. But you must understand, I have looked in the face of death many times, and was almost killed. And I don’t know what fate has in store for me. But if I can do something for my people, I am obliged to do it now, and the rest is up to Allah.”
So this was his own choice. And everything that I warned him about is taking place. All these dangers have arisen. But he should be given credit – he turned out to be quite a consistent leader, although he doesn’t have enough administrative experience, but where could he get it from? I think that he has the most important quality – he truly wants to normalize the situation in Chechnya, he is truly attempting to achieve the maximum of what can be done now for the people in the conditions of Chechnya. And he doesn’t spare any efforts for this. He is an open, decent and honest person.
A great deal has changed in our relations with the United States in the war on terrorism in recent years. Our special services have begun to work more closely together. Their reciprocal information is very useful. I would very much like for the climate to change at the administrative level, at the diplomatic level, so that the degree of trust increases. Because this is a very important element of our cooperation. The real results of this work reflect on our citizens. Here the degree of trust is extremely important. On the executive level, we need to do away with the old school of thinking, when everything that was bad for the Soviet Union was good for America, and everything that was bad for America was good for the Soviet Union.
Now the United States have voted in the Security Council for a number of individuals to be declared international terrorists. The State Department has announced that it includes several figures in the list of international terrorists. But we know, unfortunately, that on the executive level attempts at contact continue with certain people under the guise of work with the opposition. Even with individuals included on the UN list. These people come and say that they are “political fighters” and try to appear in a good light. But I assure you, I know about this for certain – they maintain ties with their supporters in Afghanistan, including with individuals from the Northern Caucasus in Russia, who fight there with weapons in their hands against American soldiers. These absurd situations should be done away with, and as quickly as possible.
Question: Please tell us, what is your plan after the elections in Chechnya?
Vladimir Putin: The plan is simple. Our position is that the Chechen presidential elections are a very important step, because a legitimate figure will appear, in whose hands all the mechanisms of power should be concentrated, including control of the bodies of law and order. The Internal Ministry of Chechnya itself will be consolidated. It already functions, but it will continue to be consolidated. And as it is consolidated, the federal centre and federal forces will take less and less part in the sphere of law and order.
I do not think that we have the right to ignore any cases of violation of human rights. But in conditions when there are some kinds of military operations, it is difficult to talk about this at all, because people are shot at, and people die – here is a gross violation of human rights. We will prosecute both terrorists and bandits, as well as employees of federal institutions and soldiers, if they break our laws.
Later, the most important aspect, of course, will be in the political sphere. I think that we are increasing work on the treaty that should limit the authority of the federal centre in the Chechen Republic by confirming wide autonomous authority for the Chechen Republic. The next step is the parliamentary election. All this is necessary to change people’s lives for the better, to restore the social sphere, and provide people with work.