Question: In your opinion, what role can the Eurasian Economic Community play in developing the economies of the CIS countries and in promoting integration in general in the post-Soviet area? And, if you will allow, I would also like to ask another question. Yesterday the news came that, citing a Russian intelligence source, the Russian intelligence services passed on information to their U.S. counterparts in autumn 2002 that Saddam Hussein’s regime was preparing terrorist attacks in the United States and against American targets abroad. Can you comment on this information? Is this true, and if it is, then has Russia changed its position regarding the military operations in Iraq and was the United States in fact rightly acting in necessary self-defence?
Vladimir Putin: We have discussed the role of the Eurasian Economic Community on many occasions, including with the press. I think that the Eurasian Economic Community is in many ways a driving force for integration in the post-Soviet area. As you know, this idea was the initiative of the President of Kazakhstan. We, all the representatives of the community’s member states here today, gave this initiative our active support and we were right in doing so. I think that recent events, including the work being done on creating the Single Economic Space, and you know that the four countries involved are moving forward with this, were sparked to a considerable extent by the processes underway within the Eurasian Economic Community.
We are creating a real tool for integration. The results of today’s meeting, more precisely, the adoption of the documents you know about and our common work on the securities market, will give the community’s economic legislation the status it needs for us to be able to approve supranational, direct legislation. This is very important for achieving genuine integration. The Eurasian Economic Community, therefore, really does have great significance and I hope that its importance will increase further.
As for your second question, which concerns a different matter altogether, I have no reason to avoid it. I can confirm that, following the events of September 11, 2001 and up until the beginning of military operations in Iraq, Russian intelligence did indeed receive on several occasions information that official organisations in Saddam Hussein’s regime were preparing terrorist attacks on U.S. territory and against U.S. military and civilian targets abroad. This information was indeed passed on through our cooperation channels to our U.S. colleagues. Moreover, U.S. President George Bush had the chance, and used it, to personally thank the head of one of the Russian intelligence services for this information that he considered of great importance.
As for whether this constitutes grounds for saying that the United States acted in necessary self-defence, I don’t know, that is another matter.
Has Russia’s position changed regarding the military operations in Iraq? No, it has not changed. This information was received by the Russian intelligence services and passed on to our American partners, but we think that international law sets out certain procedures for using force in international affairs, and in this case these procedures were not complied with.
I would like to add a couple more words on Iraq. It is one thing to have information that Saddam Hussein’s regime was preparing terrorist attacks. We had that information and we passed it on. But we did not have information linking his regime to any actual terrorist attacks and really, this is quite another matter.