Question: Coming back to your visit to India, what do you see as the most important results?
President Vladimir Putin: First, I think it is important that we have reaffirmed the strategic nature of our relations with India. This was particularly important after the change of government there. We had to get an idea of the new Indian leadership’s views on pursuing cooperation with us and to what extent they are ready to keep working together with us. We are very pleased to note that there has been no drop in the level of our relations. Indeed, in the time the new government has been in power, we have made progress and concluded a number of major deals that will enable us not only to maintain but also to increase our level of cooperation. This concerns military-technical, political and economic cooperation.
It is no secret that there was a certain imbalance between our cooperation in the military-technical area and in the civilian economy. The decisions that have been reached will improve and diversify our economic ties. We are beginning now to work more in the machine-building sector, in high technology, transport and energy. This is all the result of this visit. Of course, it is also significant that we reaffirmed our high level of cooperation in the military-technical area, because India, after all, accounts for more than a third of Russia’s military-technical cooperation with foreign countries. Last year, India’s share was 39 percent and this cooperation represents an average $1.5 billion a year. Contracts that have already been signed but have yet to be fulfilled alone come to $5 billion. This is a substantial figure and it signifies not only the continued competitiveness of our defence industry but will also contribute considerably to its development.
Question: I would like to clarify a point regarding military-technical cooperation. It is developing well with India, but how is it progressing with Turkey and with other foreign countries in general?
Vladimir Putin: Overall, we are satisfied. We think that an expanding presence in new markets is a positive element in developing our military-technical cooperation with other countries. We are expanding our presence in Asian markets, including in Southeast Asia, and we are making a return to the Latin American market where we have good prospects. We are continuing our cooperation in this sector with European partners, both selling new products and servicing equipment that we supplied earlier. In general, we are happy with our expanding presence in this sector and with the sales volumes we have. This year we expect to sell at least as much as last year – around $10 billion – and it is quite probable that we will even surpass last year’s figure. Overall then, we can say that the sector shows stable development and is progressing well.
Question: Coming back to your visit to India again, it showed how much importance you and the government place on Russia’s accession to the World Trade Organisation. How is the accession process progressing, in your opinion, and what do you think of the positions taken by our partners?
Vladimir Putin: Accession is a complicated process for any country seeking to join under decent conditions. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I seem to recall that China spent fifteen years in accession negotiations, while we have really been working on it only over the last four years. Before then we spoke about accession but no actual negotiations were taking place. This is why the whole negotiating process is not easy.
If we just conceded every point, it would all be very simple and we would have already been admitted. But we don’t want to join under such conditions. We want to join under decent conditions that are in the interests of our country’s economy and that would make us an even stronger and more reliable partner for all the countries with whom we have trade and economic relations. Russia is one of the only countries with such a large economy that is still not a member of the WTO. We most certainly do want to join this organisation, but I stress that we want to do so under decent conditions, the standard conditions, and we will fight for this. Our partners generally show understanding and we in turn show flexibility. In general, I am happy with the way our negotiators are handling the work. They know how to defend their views, but at the same time, they also know how to make concessions and be flexible when possible. The only thing we would find unacceptable and would not want to encounter is for the negotiating process for Russia’s accession to the WTO to become a political instrument used to gain some advantage in settling issues on the political agenda. I think this would be completely unacceptable and would also be destructive. It would undermine the World Trade Organisation itself, which is based on the idea of being outside politics. That is the most important thing.
As for the pace of the negotiating process, we are generally satisfied. Regarding India, I hope that we were able to settle the problems that had been in the way of signing a memorandum on Russia’s accession to the WTO, and I think that India will soon sign it.
Question: Reading the declaration that you signed today with President Sezer, I saw that the word “terrorism” was used five times in various interpretations. It is known that Russia and Turkey have made mutual reproaches against each other and have had some suspicions regarding terrorism. Has this visit done anything to clear these suspicions? How do you assess the state of Russian-Turkish relations in this area today?
Vladimir Putin: At the press conference I spoke about how cooperation between Russia and Turkey has taken great strides in many areas, but that political cooperation is no longer keeping up with the pace of events. Back in the tsarist era we actively fought each other. For a time after the 1917 revolution we actively cooperated with each other and supported each other. It is like in a family or amongst close neighbours. The most fundamental interests bind us, but at the same time, settling the many issues that arise often creates the potential for dispute. Russia and Turkey are not separated by ideological differences today and there are no obstacles to our building a mature partnership in practically every area. This also concerns the fight against international terrorism. We know that Turkey has itself been a target for terrorists. Turkey knows what terrorism is about and this is why its stand on terrorism is a sincere one. That is the first point I wanted to make.
Second, we are impressed by Turkey’s independent foreign policy. To be honest, I was thinking of how the situation with Iraq developed. Turkey’s independent stand on this issue came as a surprise for me personally, for the entire Russian leadership, and I think for many of my colleagues in the world. Turkey’s stand was dictated above all by its national interests and shares a lot in common with Russia’s own position. As we understand it, the Iraq issue, the situation in the Middle East and a number of the other complex issues today are closely linked to anti-terrorist activities. I hope that the realisation of how close our positions and interests are will have an impact on the way all our special services work. As you can see, the Deputy Director of the Federal Security Service and the Defence Minister are both here and are continuing talks in their respective areas with their Turkish colleagues.
Question: In Delhi, you met with the Indian energy minister. Which precise energy projects is the Indian energy sector interested in? What was Russia’s reaction? And what is the state of Russian-Turkish energy cooperation at the moment?
Vladimir Putin: Like China, India is one of the world’s fast-growing economies and so the Indians are showing interest in all our energy projects. There is no energy project in which they do not show an interest. There are a number of specific projects such as Sakhalin-3, for example. There is also Sakhalin-1, in which they want to continue their participation. There are plans to establish contacts with Gazprom and to carry out a number of projects to liquefy gas and deliver it to India and also to have our gas specialists continue their work on the shelf in the Bay of Bengal. A number of Russian oil company representatives were present in India. There is a wide range of cooperation possibilities open to us and the energy sector is a very promising area for our work together.
Question: What about in Turkey?
Vladimir Putin: We have already completed one major project – Blue Stream. Turkey’s demand for natural gas comes to 16 billion cubic metres a year. Turkey is a very convenient place for developing international energy projects. We are ready to build a gas storage facility for supplies to third countries and to ensure more regular supplies of gas to the Turkish economy and Turkish households. The Turks want to expand their internal gas network and Gazprom and Russia’s construction companies are ready to take an active part in this work. We are aware of the problems with tankers going through the straits and we are discussing with the Turks ways of diversifying our supply routes to third country markets through Turkey by developing routes other than just through the Bosphorus and the Dardanelles.
There is plenty to discuss in this area because Turkey is not just our neighbour but is also our natural partner in settling these issues.
Question: How do you assess the climate for Russian-Turkish relations at the moment and the climate this visit took place in?
Vladimir Putin: Today’s visit took place in a positive atmosphere, an atmosphere that has changed markedly for the better over recent years. I want to say again that our thanks must go above all to the businesspeople, those who are working in the real economy. It is they who have created the conditions we now see today. It is they who reminded us that it is time to break free from old prejudices, and I must say that the Turkish leadership has taken this on board and has done a lost to raise Russian-Turkish relations to their present level. We are very pleased with this and we are grateful to our Turkish partners and are just as committed to expanding our work together.
Question: The agreement that has calmed the situation in Abkhazia is, as I understand it, Russia’s achievement. Do you see this as a victory for Russian foreign policy, and can we talk about Russia playing a part in settling the problems of neighbouring countries?
Vladimir Putin: I would not say that the settlement in Abkhazia is Russia’s achievement. First, the settlement process is still going on and second, it is the people in the territory concerned, in this case, Abkhazia, who have the deciding word.
The agreements reached are above all the achievement of the politicians in Abkhazia itself who have proven able to listen to the people’s voice, put their personal ambitions aside and look for ways to cooperate. I was abroad when all these events took place. I know, of course, that Russian mediators were present, but they were no more than mediators.
We thank them, of course, for their active and fruitful work, but I want to stress that the agreements are nonetheless the achievement of Abkhazia’s political leaders. I hope that they will continue to observe these agreements in the interests of the people of Abkhazia, iron out their differences, look for compromise solutions and work in accordance with them in order not to cause economic and political damage and not to cause problems for the people. They entered politics, after all, to serve the people and not to pursue their own ambitions or selfish objectives. What is happening now pleases me and I hope that it will continue in this way.
As for Russia’s role in settling disputes in the post-Soviet area in general, my position is that Russia is ready to act as mediator in settling any of the complex issues that we have inherited from the empire that was the Soviet Union. We understand the whole complexity of these problems better than anyone else and we have a sincere interest in settling all these conflicts. We want our region to be a region of stability. But there is one point that I want to draw particular attention to, and that is that we do not want and will not take responsibility for completely settling these conflicts. We cannot agree with a situation where one of the parties unloads their own responsibility for settling problem issues onto us.
We don’t want a situation where it would look as though this or that decision was taken under pressure from Russia because this would inevitably lead to the party that feels itself hard done by getting a false impression of Russia’s responsibility for the situation, and we don’t need this, we have absolutely no need for such a situation. We will play a constructive part, but it will be that of mediator.
Question: How do you assess the situation in Ukraine? Does Russia have any plans for further action?
Vladimir Putin: We are not going to undertake anything behind the scenes or do anything destructive. I want to say once again that we accept the will of any of the peoples in the post-Soviet area and will work with any elected leader.
What worries me with regard to the situation in Ukraine is that democracy is one of the absolute values in the modern world but it is also something very complicated. One aspect of democracy is the possibility of passing democratic laws and enforcing them. Without this there can be no democracy. If we constantly allow laws in the post-Soviet area to be altered to fit every changing situation or political force, we will not achieve stability but on the contrary, will risk destabilising this major region of the world. I think this is unacceptable, not constructive, and indeed, counter-productive. I would not like for Europe to be divided as Germany was into east and west, into first and second class people. I don’t want a situation where you would have first class people able to live according to stable and democratic laws, while second class people get told by well-intentioned gentlemen in pith helmets what political course to follow. And if the ungrateful natives object, they will get punished by having bombs dropped on their heads, as in Belgrade. I think this is absolutely unacceptable and it is equally unacceptable to make any kind of threats against people and deprive them of their freedom to make their own choices. The statements made by political leaders about taking power, including by force, no matter what the outcome of elections, is nothing other than an attempt not just to pressure people but to intimidate them. We in Russia cannot support such a turn of events, even if someone wants to call this democracy. I want to stress once more that only the people themselves, in any country, including Ukraine, can decide their future. It is possible to act as mediator, but under no circumstances can there be any intervention and any pressure, and that is the position we base ourselves on.