Question: A new UN resolution has been approved. Discussion has already been active on it and will continue. Where does the matter go from here? Not from the point of view as a decision on paper, but from a practical point of view?
Vladimir Putin: No one can say exactly what will happen from here, but I can tell you what I would like to see happen. All the participants in this process, all the members of the United Nations Security Council, displayed solidarity during work on this resolution and this resulted in what I think is very balanced and good document being approved. What I would like to see happen now is for the new Iraqi government, on the basis of this Security Council resolution, to gather strength, establish its authority with its own people and make use of the possibilities the resolution gives it to put in place as rapidly as possible conditions for the holding of genuinely free elections in Iraq.
Only once this has happened will we be able to say that the Iraqi crisis has definitely entered its settlement phase. But I do stress that the UN Security Council resolution creates the conditions for this to happen.
Question: What is Russia’s attitude towards the Greater Middle East idea, and what exactly is this new geographical concept, the Greater Middle East?
Vladimir Putin: We discussed this idea back during my visit to Camp David where President Bush shared his views on the matter. I must say that I liked the idea. I support it and I think it is a timely idea. The question is how to carry it out and what should be our ultimate aims in pursuing this work. Of course, we do also need to define the concept itself more clearly. I agree with you when you ask what exactly is the Greater Middle East. We need to have an understanding of what this means. That was partly what we discussed during this summit. It seems clear to us that the idea itself emerged after we all found ourselves facing a most serious threat, that of international terrorism. We are all fully aware that the main causes of terrorism are poverty, destitution and inequality. But there are also other contributing factors that help terrorism develop, including huge, uncontrolled resources held in private hands. Lack of democracy means that there is no control over these vast financial resources that are comparable in size to the revenues of entire nations. In certain cases this creates precisely the financial base for international terrorism that we so often talk about. But what is important is that this idea and the instruments that could potentially created for its implementation must not become a means for intervening in other countries’ domestic affairs. This is a condition of principle for our participation in developing this initiative.
In this respect, I told our colleagues that Russia would not participate in contributing to the fund that is to be created for carrying out this initiative until we are clear about how the decisions will be made. If Russia will be able to play a real part in the decision-making process, then we will get actively involved. If not, we will not get involved. I don’t rule out that we could become fully involved, but I repeat that we first have to be clear about how we will be able to influence the processes taking place and the decisions made.
Russia has always followed an independent foreign policy, including in the Middle East, and it will continue to do so in the future. We will do this together with our traditional partners in the Middle East. I would like to remind you that we are developing our contacts with the Organisation of the Islamic Conference and we realise the responsibility we have as an associated member of this organisation. We will therefore keep in mind all of these facts during our work together on implementing this idea of the Greater Middle East.
Question: Russia has an indisputable interest in taking part in the G-8 from a foreign policy point of view, but in terms of domestic policy, what does the G-8 give Russia?
Vladimir Putin: I think it gives Russia quite a lot. First of all, the G-8 is a forum for coordinating positions on the key issues in the world today. There are two key issues for Russia: international security – a subject to which we devoted seventy percent of our work – and economic cooperation and developing the global economy. I won’t go into all the details here, but I think you will agree with me that these are issues of immense importance for Russia. Finally, our meeting here gave us the opportunity to exchange views on the state of our respective economies and our plans for developing our national economies. I think that Russia has an undoubted interest in knowing what plans are ahead for the world’s biggest economies because this will have a direct effect on how the economic situation develops in Russia itself. There are also other issues that have a practical interest for us. We discussed not only the situation in the Middle East, which in itself is of importance for Russia in terms of our interests in that part of the world, and we discussed not only Iraq. We know how acute these problems are and how they affect the whole spectrum of international relations. We also discussed, for example, the problems in Afghanistan, the issue of drug trafficking from Afghanistan. This is all of practical importance for us. We also discussed more down to earth matters such as a global initiative that would make available to us quite serious sums of money to finance the dismantling and treatment of old nuclear submarines decommissioned from the Armed Forces. We have already begun this work. Incidentally, Russia has allocated $470 million for this purpose. We allocated this money ourselves and have already received $200 million from our partners. We finalised our positions here with our Canadian partners and signed the according agreement. I think our other colleagues have also become more aware now of how we can continue this work together. From an environmental point of view there is no need, I think, to spend a long time on explanations: we have been keeping decommissioned nuclear submarines at conservation bases since the 1960s, and so this is a very topical issue for us.
That is a just partial list of the grounds for affirming that the G-8 is of use for us.
Question: Is the global partnership a myth or a reality? Will we see some practical results?
Vladimir Putin: We are already working with Germany. The Germans have said they want to take part in work in our Northwest region, and we are working with the Japanese in the Far East. One submarine has already been dismantled and treated and we are now starting on a second contract. Concrete work is underway.
Question: Some experts say that the G-8 has already outlived itself and that the decisions it takes have no binding force. What is your view on this?
Vladimir Putin: The G-8 never did take binding decisions. Remember the G-8 summit in Cologne that decided to write off several billion dollars of Russia’s state debt, and nothing of the sort happened in the end. This has always been one of the G-8’s shortcomings, but this makes it no less attractive and Russia still has good reasons for taking part in it.
Question: What do you think of the proposal made by some of your colleagues to invite, for example, China and India to take part in the G-8? Is this realistic?
Vladimir Putin: I see it positively. Aside from the fact that these are big countries with huge populations, these are also big economies, economies that are undergoing very energetic and intensive development. What’s more, these countries are our traditional partners in many areas of cooperation. I think, therefore, that this is an idea worthy of attention.
We did not discuss all the practical details, but the idea was expressed that we should also involve our friends from India and China in our work.
Question: You did not have an official meeting with the interim president of Iraq, but did you get a chance to speak with him?
Vladimir Putin: No. We spoke only at lunch. He gives the impression of being a man of substance, someone who knows the situation, his country and his people and who has the obvious desire to lead his country out of the crisis it is in. He understands the measure and degree of his responsibility and he makes a good impression.
Question: Regarding Iran, there has been a rapprochement of the Russian and U.S. positions over the last year and increasing caution about what is happening in Iran. But Russia has still not abandoned plans to complete construction of the nuclear power station at Bushehr. Was this question discussed during your meeting with President Bush, and under what conditions could Russia stop work at Bushehr?
Vladimir Putin: Russia will stop work at Bushehr if Iran ignores the international community’s demands to make its nuclear programmes transparent and to expand its cooperation with the IAEA. So far, Iran is complying with these demands and is fulfilling all its commitments to the IAEA, and so we see no reason to stop our cooperation with Iran.
Question: Japan is preparing to mark the anniversary next year of the Shimodo Treaty that established diplomatic relations between our countries and delimited our borders for the first time. Your visit to Japan will coincide with this anniversary. Is this just a coincidence, and how will this coincidence affect the content of your visit?
Vladimir Putin: This is, of course, just a coincidence. The Japanese Prime Minister and I discussed the possibility of my visit. I will be seeing him again at the APEC summit in Chile at the end of this year. Both he and I want for my visit to Japan next year to have concrete substance. I must say that we have a good level of dialogue today. We do not forget the peace treaty problem and we do discuss this question. We also discuss expanding our economic cooperation and our political cooperation on the international stage. We have much to talk about and much to give this visit substance. The Foreign Ministry will work on preparing this visit and I hope it will not consist only of celebrating the 150th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Russia and Japan, but will also be useful.
Question: Could you say something about the informal atmosphere in which you met? Not the atmosphere at the round table. We saw how you went walking with Schroeder and Chirac. Was there more understanding between some of you than between others?
Vladimir Putin: No. What’s more, I can say that it was thanks to President Bush – and I already said this when we said goodbye and ended our work – that we had this informal and very open, frank atmosphere during practically all our discussions, even those discussions that were outside the agenda. I must tell the truth and say that we did have disagreements and we did not all share the same views on all questions. We did not just discuss problems in neat little packages, we discussed things from all angles, philosophised, debated. And the atmosphere was very friendly, one of comradeship and goodwill. Overall, I think the summit was a success and I congratulate the United States on both the organisation and the substantive part of our work.
Question: I spoke with representatives of the U.S. administration who said that Mr Bush raised the issue of the free press in Russia. What was your response?
Vladimir Putin: Back at Camp David we discussed problems concerning the press in general and concerning our work towards creating conditions in Russia that would enable the mass media to create its own economic base for its work. I firmly believe and have repeated on many occasions that the press can only be free if it is economically independent. In this context, President Bush and I discuss this problem and said that we should continue work on this matter within the framework of the group we have. We discussed this subject on a practical level.
Question: To come back to the economy and politics, the United States proposes writing off Iraq’s debt. Iraq owes us a considerable sum of money. Can we take any unilateral action in this respect, without the participation of the other G-8 members?
Vladimir Putin: We will not take any unilateral steps. We are members of the Paris Club and we knew there would be a certain cost to pay when joined. We have an interest in making sure that the Paris Club’s conditions are complied with and the agreements that we reached as a result of the discussions that took place make it clear that the question of Iraq’s debt will be settled within the framework of the Paris Club. We hope this problem will be settled this year. This does not mean this definitely has to happen in 2004, but that is what we will aim for. That is the first thing I wanted to say.
Second, we do think that Iraq needs assistance. The amount of debt to be written off will be decided after consultations with the Iraqi government and after studying the relevant documents. The final G-8 document signed by Russia does not mention the amount to be written off. This will be decided through the negotiation process.
Question: How do your G-8 colleagues see Russia’s progress towards joining the WTO? Did you discuss this subject?
Vladimir Putin: We not only discussed this subject, I informed my colleagues on the state of the Russian economy and told them about our economic and social sector plans because all of these things are interlinked. The country’s performance as a whole depends on the results in all the different areas. I once again confirmed our firm desire to join the WTO on conditions that would be acceptable for Russia. None of the participants had any objections to this, on the contrary, they all declared that they support Russia in this objective and will provide every assistance.
Question: One of the summit documents contains a special point saying that the G-8 welcomes the progress made by Russia towards joining the WTO and it reflects the consensus within the organisation.
Vladimir Putin: I want to thank our European colleagues, of course, for the positive results obtained in work on the final European Union protocol, the document on Russia’s adherence to the WTO. I hope that our talks with the United States and with our other partners will produce similar results.
Question: In two years time Russia will chair the G-8, but the preparations are already beginning now. Are there any plans for where you will receive your colleagues? Will Russia come up with some new ideas for this event?
Vladimir Putin: It’s still too early to talk about it. There is still quite a lot of time ahead. We still need to meet first in Britain. Let’s wait and see first how the situation develops in the areas that are most important and most sensitive for us. We will try, of course, to create good working conditions and to focus our partners’ attention on the key problems that are of relevance to us all. Just what these problems will be in 2006 is something that only time will be able to tell us.
Question: During the summit there were various publications in the American press suggesting that Russia does not deserve to be a member of the G-8. Would you say that Russia has now solidly established itself as a member of this forum?
Vladimir Putin: I don’t pay any attention to these kinds of publications because they are linked to U.S. domestic political affairs and to attempts to put pressure on President Bush on this or that question. I heard that in the run up to the elections his political rivals often criticise him for the situation in Iraq. I think, and I deeply believe this, that they do not have the moral right to criticise him for this because they carried out exactly the same policy. It’s enough to remember the events in Yugoslavia. They did exactly the same thing. And now they don’t like what Bush is doing in Iraq. You know our position on Iraq. That’s a separate issue. What I am saying is that some of the publications coming from this or that side are dictated by internal political considerations. As for Russia, we are not banging on any doors and nor are we running away from anywhere. Russia, as you know, is one of the world’s biggest nuclear powers. This was and will remain the case so long as the international situation and our own national security concerns demand this. It seems to me that resolving such issues as non-proliferation of nuclear weapons and non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction in general — and this was one of the main subjects we discussed – would be simply not serious without Russia’s participation.
Russia has a developing market and developing economy. I would hope that the efforts we are making to ease the tension in the energy market are not just of interest but are of vital importance for our G-8 partners. There are other aspects too that I think make Russia’s participation in the G-8 attractive not just for us but also for our colleagues.
As for the question of whether it is all really necessary or not, that is a separate issue. We have our own views on various international forums, including this one. I already mentioned the G-8 summit in Cologne that was to have written off billions of dollars of Russian debt, but what happened to that decision? So, I think we take a simpler attitude towards such things.
Question: At one of his bilateral meetings the U.S. President said it would be a good thing if the guys from NATO gave some help to the Iraqi people. This idea contradicts the idea that it should be the UN providing assistance to Iraq. This news has been in all the headlines. What do you think about it?
Vladimir Putin: I already said that we do not share the same views on everything. In general, it would not be a good thing if NATO gets involved in this. It would give them an enemy. There would be work to do, and perhaps it would even help the situation in some respects, but I think that if we really want to settle the problem we would be better to do so through the United Nations. The resolution that was recently approved and the work on it that took place show that everyone agrees at the moment precisely with this approach.
Question: You were invited to Ronald Reagan’s funeral and to Bush Senior’s 80th birthday. Did you drink to the memory of the first and the health of the second?
Vladimir Putin: We express our condolences to the entire American people over the passing of former President Ronald Reagan. He was one of the outstanding politicians of the twentieth century. Former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev will represent Russia on this sad occasion. I spoke with him on the phone. He was in Europe but today or tomorrow he will arrive in Washington. We did talk about this sad event and spoke, as I said just now, about how Reagan was an outstanding political figure.
Question: Did you manage to go swimming?
Vladimir Putin: I’m afraid of sharks.
Question: What impressions stayed in your mind? You just made a real marathon trip, 24,000 kilometres, going to Normandy and then Mexico.
Vladimir Putin: Everything leaves an impression. There was really not a single hour that got wasted. I think the commemoration events in Normandy were good and needed. Everyone understood that after the events in Iraq this commemoration could bring us all together and remind us of how almost all of humanity joined forces to fight Nazism. Today we also face many problems and we need to remember this and to join forces to fight the threats we face today. In this sense, the commemoration came just at the right time. We see it in the context of next year’s anniversary, the sixtieth anniversary of victory in the Second World War. For us it will be the sixtieth anniversary of victory in the Great Patriotic War. It was significant that the German chancellor took part. If you recall, when I was in Normandy and met there with our journalists, I said, thinking of what our veterans say, and I am in constant contact with them, that our first allies in the fight against fascism were German antifascists. We should not forget this.
The second thing I wanted to say is that we often hear from various friends that Russia is undergoing a period of renewal and that it is needed on the world stage and so on. I would say the same about Germany. A huge country of 80 million people cannot spend the rest of its life with lesser rights. We must never forget the tragedy of the twentieth century that was the Second World War. Never. We must learn the lessons of this tragedy and ensure that it never happens again in the future. Germany is our biggest trade and economic partner and we are developing our relations with it in every area. After all, we are in Europe and there are certain processes underway there. We cannot act as if Germany is a sort of second-rate country that does not have this or that right because of what happened in the twentieth century. That would be a mistake.
The chancellor’s presence in Normandy was as if drawing a line between now and what happened in last century. I think this is a serious step and I think it is important and beneficial.
As for Mexico, it is one of our partners in the energy sector, a big producer and exporter of energy. The Mexican government is currently examining the possibility of liberalising the oil and gas sector and our companies and Gazprom have a lot of interest in cooperating with Mexico. This was the main issue on the agenda in Mexico.
Question: What stood out most of all from a gastronomic point of view?
Vladimir Putin: I don’t pay attention to this. To be honest, I eat porridge for breakfast in Moscow, and I did here too.
Question: Did you invite your colleagues to the celebrations next year for the sixtieth anniversary of victory?
Vladimir Putin: Let’s see first how all of this will be organised. We will definitely mark this occasion. We should take an objective look at the second front, which did not begin in Normandy but began even before that. The United States provided the Soviet Union with considerable assistance during the Second World War, right from the start. The tinned meat that we received was dubbed “the second front”, but without that tinned meat things would have been difficult. And not just without the meat, but without the planes and vehicles too. And we should also remember the allied northern convoys and the British sailors who heroically lost their lives in them. These are all pages in the Second World War, pages in our cooperation, and we must not forget them. I already spoke about how George Bush, during the events in Normandy, stood up and said that nothing would have been possible without Russia. This is also recognition for the real role played by the Soviet Union and by Russia today. If we can build our relations in this kind of spirit of partnership it will benefit everyone.
Question: Your answers suggest that your philosophy is one of seeking unity rather than playing on contradictions. Is this correct?
Vladimir Putin: Of course. This is precisely what we spoke about yesterday and the day before.