Question: The upcoming Bush–Putin summit in Bratislava is not only in first place in Russia and the United States, but above all in Slovakia. And Slovaks are probably interested most of all in the question: why did you choose Bratislava as the place to meet, and not, for example, Prague, Budapest or Warsaw?
President Vladimir Putin: It’s a fine city!
We traditionally have good relations with Slovakia, developed relations that are on a good level. Furthermore, I was invited by the Slovakian leadership to visit your country a long time ago. And for the President of the United States, given the geography and schedule of his visit, this place was also very convenient. This is how it happened.
Question: For the first time in history, Bratislava is the place for a meeting between the American and Russian Presidents, and for the capital of Slovakia, this will be a special event. Do you think that the 11th meeting between Presidents Bush and Putin will be exceptional in some way? What do you think, Mr. President?
Vladimir Putin: As you said yourself, this is our 11th meeting. We work at meeting, and send each other various letters and documents, and talk regularly by telephone. We are in constant contact, both personally and at the level of heads of ministries and departments, and at the level of heads of security councils. So this is another work meeting for us.
I don’t think that it will be exceptional in any way, but for me this is an important event, because we have a large volume of joint work with the United States in the economic sphere, in the international security sphere, and fighting terrorism. I think that we will probably talk about all these problems during the interview, we will return to them. At any rate, there are many spheres of mutual interests.
Meetings of this kind are always important, because they do not merely make it possible to summarise the results of joint work over the previous period, but also to plan steps for the near future. And in this sense, this is of course an important event.
Question: As you said, you have good personal relations. George W. Bush has often called you his good personal friend. Yesterday he confirmed this in an interview for Channel 1. But despite all this, there is talk that the Bratislava summit will be a “summit of unpleasant questions”. In connection with this, from America recently, from the United States….
Vladimir Putin: Unpleasant questions for whom?
Question: This is what I want to ask: there has been a great deal of criticism of Russia heard from America recently – for example, comments by Condoleezza Rice or certain senators about the lack of democracy in Russia. And George W. Bush himself also said that he would ask you several questions about this.
I would like to ask: will you simply answer these questions or do you also have some questions for him? For example, will you mention the invasion of Iraq or the torture of prisoners at Al-Ghiraib and Guantanamo?
Vladimir Putin: First of all, I would like to say that we are not going to a restaurant or the theatre, and we are not meeting for pleasurable reasons. Indeed, the President of the United States has often called me his friend, and I also consider him to be my friends, but we are still meeting in order to work – as I already said, to summarise the results of joint work over the previous period and to plan steps for the near future. Of course, various issues may arise in this dialogue.
As for the fundamental relations between Russia and the United States, I agree with the assessment of my American colleagues: they have probably never been on such a high level as they are now. The level of trust is very high, as is the level of interaction on key problems of the modern world: trade turnover is growing – and all these are the realities of our bilateral relations.
Of course, mutual issues and even disputes may arise. You mentioned the problem of Iraq: we have a different approach to this problem, but I think that this page must be turned over. Elections were held there – yes, with all their setbacks – but we need to look to the future. So we will probably talk about the problems of Iraq, the problems of the Middle East, the nuclear programme in Iran, and also the Far East – I mean the problem of North Korea and the recent statement of the North Korean leadership that they have nuclear weapons. All these are very important issues of the international agenda.
Of course, we will also talk about bilateral relations – above all in application to economic problems and trade turnover.
As for issues of democracy, human rights and so on, I should tell you that 14 years ago Russia made a choice in favour of democracy – and not to please any particular people, but for itself, for our country, for our citizens.
Of course, the fundamental principles of democracy and democratic institutions must be adapted to the realities of Russian life today, to our traditions and our history. And we will do this ourselves.
At the same time, our position is that a friendly view from the side, even a critical view, will not hinder us, but rather help us.
I would like to point out to you that in countries with so-called developed democracy, there are also many issues and problems with this democracy. Life goes on and changes, constantly dictating the requirements of the present day to us. When in friendly talks we mention certain problems of this kind in Western countries (this is what we call them generally), even to obvious thinks, to obvious criticism our partners reply: “We understand: yes, there is a problem, but that’s how things are here. Everyone is used to it, it’s better not to change anything.”
You know, there was a political figure in Africa, Bokassa, who ate his political opponents. But we not say, that’s the way things are, let’s not change anything. So these arguments are weak – this should always be a bilateral dialogue, a dialogue of interested people, a dialogue of friends. We are ready for a dialogue like this. But we are against using these problems as a tool to achieve foreign policy goals, or in order to make Russia amorphous as a state formation, to manipulate such a large and essential country, from the point of view of international relations, as Russia. But I do not think that our partners have this goal. At any rate, in dialogue with President Bush issues have never arisen to complicate our relations.
I repeat, we have always had a dialogue of interested partners and friends. I think that this will also be the case this time, although we are prepared to discuss any problems.
Question: The American President George Bush said after his first meeting with you that as soon he looked into your eyes, he understood your soul. American commentators, reacting to this, wrote about political sympathy or even political “love at first sight”. I think that openness and honesty of dialogue between the United States and Russia is a characteristic of strong relations. Or am I mistaken?
Vladimir Putin: No, absolutely right. I think that this is the case, because when I talked about the fundamental bases of our relations, I meant a great deal of things which are in the interests not just of the United States and Russia, but of the whole world.
Let’s remember control of nuclear weapons, problems of non-proliferation, the war on terrorism, the war on poverty and diseases all over the world, because without constructive dialogue between the United States and other countries of the world, including Russia, these issues cannot be solved effectively. So all this is the basis of our cooperation, including, as I already said, economic problems. And on this basis we will build the edifice of Rusisan-American relations.
Question: Your visit to Slovakia will be the first official visit to our country by a Russian President. This is a historic event. And I would like to ask you in connection with this: in which areas do you see the most potential for cooperation? And the second question: how have relations between Russia and Slovakia changed, if of course they have changed, and with countries of Central Europe as a whole since these countries jointed NATO and the European Union?
Vladimir Putin: Quite honestly, I do not see any fundamental changes.
There are problems connected with Slovakia joining the European Union, and they have part of the general nature of relations between Russia and the European Union. I think that Slovakian specialists will understand what I am talking about: certain restrictions on energy resources and on some other issues – economists are aware of this. But in general our relations are developing very successfully and are in keeping with the strategy of development for Russia’s relations with countries of Central Europe, including Slovakia.
Traditionally, we have very friendly relations, and traditionally we have a large volume of ties in the humanitarian and economic spheres. So I think that a positive process can be seen between us. We are developing these ties.
Reply: I asked because a number of experts said that once we were together in one big eastern bloc, and if Slovakia joins these organisations, Russia will be offended. So I asked: was Russia offended?
Vladimir Putin: You understand, the thing is that when people say: “we were together then” – the world was different then, there was a bilateral, bipolar world, where there was a struggle between two opposing systems. Now the world has changed, now there are no longer two system fighting together. Russia has absolutely changed, and in this context our bilateral relations have not seen any noticeable worsening, on the contrary, I repeat, we are developing these relations, trade turnover is growing and contacts in the humanitarian sphere are increasing.
As far as I know, the number of people studying Russian in Slovakia has not dropped. And this is also a very good sign – a sign of your citizens’ interest in Russia. This is a positive element.
Question: I think that Slovakia could also benefit from getting to know the Russian market and Russian people, and you just talked about this.
But still, do you think that we make sufficient use of this opportunity? Or where exactly do you see the possibilities for deepening cooperation between Russia and Slovakia?
Vladimir Putin: If we start with the economy, I already said that economic ties are growing, trade turnover is increasing, and the importance of Slovakia is growing as a transit country for many Russian goods which are sent to other European countries. The volume of oil alone delivered to Slovakia has reached six million tons, I believe.
We have excellent possibilities in high technology spheres. As you know, Russian companies will take part in building several major technology centres, and in modernising military aircraft equipment used by the Slovakian army.
There are also major prospects in developing regional cooperation. Actually, Slovakia already has positive beginnings here: relations with Moscow and Petersburg, with Tatarstan, Bashkortostan and several other regions. There are a lot of excellent examples. So we have something to work on, and we will continue to develop all these areas.
The only thing I would like to say is that since Slovakia joined the EU, both you and we, of course, must constantly fight for our bilateral interests, because the restrictions that have arisen because of this need to be overcome.
Here is one example not related to Slovakia. Last year Cyprus introduced Shengen zone rules. The flow of Russian tourists to Cyprus dropped by 30%. Where did they go? To the neighbouring country where there are no such restrictions. This is just one example in the economy sphere, which incidentally is very close to the humanitarian sphere, as it involves contacts between people.
I repeat, if we deal with these issues attentively and systematically, then serious problems will not arise.
Question: YUKOS owns 49% of shares in the Slovakian oil company Transpetrol. Since YUKOS went bankrupt, the Slovakian government announced that it was prepared to be this share package in Transpetrol. What is the position of the Russian state on this issue? Is a deal of this kind possible?
Vladimir Putin: This is the first I have heard of it. This is primarily the company’s affair, as we say the affair of YUKOS itself. I don’t know whether it is planning to sell this 49% or whether something else will happen to these shares – I know nothing about it.
But one thing is clear to me – the lawful interests of Slovakia must in any case be taken into account. I said that around six million tons of oil has been delivered to Slovakia, and this figure is constantly increasing, the schedule of deliveries this year is being observed in full.
We will continue to work together with our Slovakian partners in the same routine. Russia- our companies and firms – has always shown a high level of reliability. This is the way it will be in the future.
Question: Mr. President, not that long ago the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation was Russia’s military and political opponent. Today Russia is building partner relations with it in the framework of the Russia – NATO Council. What is the Russian side ultimately aiming for in building these relations?
Vladimir Putin: The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation – NATO – was not an opponent of Russia, but the Soviet Union, or as people used to say, Soviet Russia.
After the events at the beginning of the 1990s, when a new Russia was formed, we never saw NATO as a hostile organisation. It’s another matter that we believed – and we continue to hold this belief – that simply expanding NATO will not answer the challenges of the present day. How can expansion of NATO help to solve, for example, the problem of fighting terrorism or the problem of non-proliferation of nuclear weapons? And these are now the key problems of the agenda in international activity.
There are many other questions to which there are no answers. But we do not intend to force the situation here, and every country has the right to determine its own defence policy.
We are developing relations with NATO. As you know, we have created the Russia – NATO Council. We are satisfied with how it works. In the framework of this Council, decisions are made on a national basis, i.e. each participant has one vote – this is equal cooperation. We are quite happy with this. And in this we see a good sign in attitudes to Russia.
Already today, in the military sphere we may not quite have a coordinated policy, but we are bringing our positions much closer together. We regularly hold military training with many leading NATO countries in order to increase trust in the military sphere: with the United States, with Italy and with France. Other events of this nature are also planned.
Together we have developed a plan – an unprecedented plan to fight terrorism. We think highly of this document and expect that it will work effectively. We agreed to work together in areas such as ensuring security at sea, and together we solve other problems on which we have agreed to work together.
As for deeper integration, in my opinion, for Russia to join an organisation like NATO, if this interests you, is not on the agenda at the moment, because joining a treaty of this kind – a military and political treaty – means giving up part of our sovereignty, and undoubtedly means restrictions in passing political decisions. Does Russia need this? In order to ensure its foreign security? At the moment the economic state of the country and the defence potential are such that our security from outside is guaranteed. So Russia does not need this.
But we intend to develop relations with our partners, including with NATO. And I am sure that if we continue to work in this key, this will be a serious factor for ensuring international stability and security.
Question: You talked about the war on terrorism, which probably has a central place in relations between Russia and NATO. I would like to ask: do these relations, these good relations, help to solve issues not just of a military nature, but political issues as well?
Vladimir Putin: Relations with NATO?
Reply: Relations in the war on terrorism. Yes, with NATO.
Vladimir Putin: Yes, of course. Naturally, this is one of the most serious issues of the present day. Many countries in the world suffer from this plague of the 20th and 21st centuries. And I think that for the vast majority of political figures – if not for all of them, for all 100% — it is now clear that this can only be fought effectively by uniting our efforts. During joint work on anti-terrorism, of course, new contacts are made at the level of special services and armed forces.
For example, we made a decision with NATO countries to hold an inspection in the Mediterranean with forces from our naval fleet. We hold other such events, perhaps less noticeable, but not less important for specialists. All this increase the level of trust, and the level of cooperation, increases the amount of contacts, and of course creates a favourable base for the development of relations in other areas.
Question: Many analysts (not just Russian, but also foreign analysts) believe that the anti-terrorist union can no longer act as the “all-purpose glue” which united the interests of Washington and Moscow after 11 September. What is your position on these comments?
Vladimir Putin: This is a very primitive view, in my opinion.
Of course, anti-terrorism is a large joint undertaking between us. But this is not the only thing that unites the United States and the Russian Federation.
I have already talked about this, and I would like to repeat it once more. For example, is the issue of controlling nuclear weapons not important for the international community? Russia, b the way, remains one of the major nuclear powers in the world, along with the United States. We have nuclear weapons which no one in the world besides the United States has: we had a triad – in the air, on land and at sea. And we are developing our nuclear technology, developing our armaments in this sphere to ensure our security.
And is non-proliferation not important for universal peace, security and stability? And is fighting poverty or creating democratic economic order not important? To say that only anti-terrorism unites the interests of Russia and the U.S. is too narrow a view of these problems.
Question: The entire world recently followed the “orange revolution” in Ukraine, and before this the “rose revolution” in Georgia. And it is probably no secret that similar “revolutions” are already being prepared in Central Asian countries, in Moldova, in Kazakhstan and in Belarus – that is in all the countries where Russia’s sphere of influence has always been very strong.
What do you think, how can these pro-western tendencies or revolutions affect Russia’s geographical interests, if one takes into account that Russia is gradually becoming encircled by these countries?
Vladimir Putin: First of all I would like to say that we of course have our interests in these countries, and in other countries, as we say, in countries of the near and far abroad. But I would like to say that we build relations with these countries – former republics of the Soviet Union – as with equal partners. And of course, it is up to the peoples of these countries how to organise their lives – with the aid of revolutions, or according to the law and constitution in the framework of democratic institutions.
We initially talked about democracy. But if democracy does not work in post-Soviet countries – as some believe – then why does it need to be introduced there? And if we introduce it there – these principles of democracy – then why are revolutions needed?
My greatest concern is not that dramatic events are taking place there, but that they are going outside the framework of the existing legislation and constitution. We all need to understand that democracy means, among other things, a sound, correct law and the ability to obey this law and live by it. Why do some countries and some peoples have this privilege – to live by the law and in stability, while others are doomed to permanent revolution? Lev Trotsky had a theory of permanent revolution. Why should we introduce this in the post-Soviet space?
As for the ring around Russia, I do not agree with this. What is the difference for us? There was one, to use your terminology, pro-western politician Eduard Shevardnadze. As a result of the revolution a person came to power with similar views – at least in foreign policy. This doesn’t make any difference to us. We didn’t influence this in anyway. For us, the previous president and the current president are equally attractive partners, with whom we should find a common language, and find solutions in the interests of the peoples of Georgia and Russia, and of the entire post-Soviet area as a whole, to solve general world problems – given that we really do have many centuries of special relations with Georgia. But this has not changed the situation at all? Do you understand?
Reply: This probably can’t be said about Ukraine…
Vladimir Putin: It can.
Reply: And about Belarus?
Vladimir Putin: Yes, it can.
Reply: The changes there can really be felt.
Vladimir Putin: It can be said about Belarus. If we remember the first President of Ukraine, Mr. Kravchuk, he was much more of a nationalist that the current leader of Ukraine, who is pragmatic. Believe me, there are no problems here. The question is different – and I already talked about this – the question is to introduce lawfulness and institutes of democracy in the post-Soviet area – not street democracy, which is also possible, but in the framework of the existing law – and solve, I repeat, problems in the framework of the constitution and stability, which is very important for the entire post-Soviet area. This is our main concern, and not that something will change.
The example of Georgia, I think, is the best and clearest. Nothing has changed for us, but we expressed our attitude towards this. At the same time, I hope that all peoples and countries in the post-Soviet area will be guided above all by their own national interests, and that these tools – the institutes of democracy and principles of democracy – will finally triumph in all of these country.
Question: Mr. President, I would like to return to the south of Russia. What paths do you see for solving the situation in Chechnya? The situation cannot be solved by force alone. And in connection with this, I would like to ask: how do you feel about international mediating missions? Could they help in solving this conflict, what do you think?
Vladimir Putin: What is needed to continue the regulation process in Chechnya? There are currently two main directions. The first is political dialogue involving an increasingly greater number of the most diverse people with the most diverse views on the development of Chechnya as a subject of the Russian Federation.
The second is the development of the economy and the revival of the social sphere. Of course, we (as in the past, and now more than ever) will be grateful to all our colleagues in Europe and in the world in general who wish to assist these two areas of regulation in Chechnya.
As for mediating efforts, it is not very clear who is planning to mediate with whom. I hope that no one is planning to mediate with the criminals who organised the terrorist acts in Beslan, for example, just as we are not planning to mediate between Bin Laden and any western leaders.
But aid and support, moral, political and material, would of course be appropriate. We are, by the way, currently discussing this possibility in the framework of the European Union with certain of our partners. This process is developing.
Question: The 60th anniversary of Victory is approaching. What does this event mean for you? For Slovakia it is very important. This is the first question.
And secondly: recently tendencies have arisen to doubt the success and importance of the war and the Victory. How do you regard this?
Vladimir Putin: This is an enormous event in the life of mankind. Enormous, because the Second World War is the largest catastrophe in the history of mankind, and the greatest lesson for current and future generations. And we must remember this lesson, and make the necessary conclusions from it to build a modern safe world, to build relations between countries in a certain way.
This world must be balanced and democratic, it must take into account the interests of all countries. It must be multi-polar, as we say. This is why, I think, it is an important event. We must pay tribute to the memory of victims of the Second World War. It is no coincidence that the General Assembly has called 8 and 9 May of this year Days of reconciliation and remembrance.
You know, when I was at the German Bundestag, I saw that even in the new, fully repaired building, the German parliamentarians decided to leave the inscriptions made by Soviet soldiers on the walls in May 1945. And I think that the people who made this decision did so correctly, because this is a reminder – and not just to citizens of Germany, but to us all – of this terrible tragedy. But this is also a gesture of reconciliation. And we intend to hold our celebrations under this slogan, the slogan of remembrance and reconciliation.
I would like to remind you that all the peoples of Europe made an enormous contribution to the victory over Nazism, German anti-fascists among them. All the countries of the anti-Hitler coalition made an enormous contribution to victory. It is our common victory.
As for the people who want to or attempt to rewrite history, to disparage the importance of this event and the important of the Soviet Union and the Red Army, the Soviet Army, in the victory over Nazism, we understand the events that this is connected with. For example, the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact is often mentioned, which resulted in a pact between Soviet Russia, the Soviet Union and Hitler’s Germany, and the subsequent annexation of the Baltic States.
What can one say about this? Everything needs to be seen in the context of historic events. And I would ask you to return to the events of September 1938, when agreements were made between Nazi Germany and western European countries, which later went down in history as the “Munich pact”.
I would also remind you that these agreements were signed by the western allies: Daladier, I believe, from France and the Prime Minister of Great Britain, and on the other side by Mussolini and Hitler himself.
The Soviet-German document was signed on a much lower level – on the level of foreign ministers – one year later, in response to the treaty signed by the western countries, which is now called the “Munich pact”. I would also remind you – and for you as Slovaks, this is probably especially important: as a result of the Munich pact, Czechoslovakia was handed over to Nazi Germany, and the western partners, as it were, showed Hitler where he should go to fulfil his growing ambitions – to the East. To protect its interests and security on its western borders, the Soviet Union signed the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact with Germany.
If we look at the problem in this context, it looks quite different. And I would recommend new historians, or rather those who want to rewrite history, to learn to read books before they rewrite or write them.
Question: Mr. President, what would you like to wish the citizens of Slovakia by Slovakian television and Slovakian radio?
Vladimir Putin: At the beginning of our meeting, I said that we firmly believe that over a long time, very warm feelings and relations have developed between Slovakia and Russia. This is shown at the level of what ordinary citizens feel.
This is a very good start for building intergovernmental ties today, in today’s world, in today’s Europe. I very much hope that we will continue to build relations between Slovakia and Russia in this context, taking into account this good tradition. And I want to wish happiness and prosperity to every Slovakian family.
Reply: We spoke on political topics, there was even a brief digression into history. Now, if I may, a philosophical question.
Vladimir Putin: You can ask, but I don’t know if I can answer your philosophical question.
Question: They say that all wars and all human suffering ultimately come from the pursuit of money. I don’t mean just high-level politics, when wars are fought over the military industry or oil. This is also the case in daily life, as money plays a very important role. What do you think, will this every stop, or will these materials considerations in the world or between people every cease to hold sway?
Vladimir Putin: There are many different opinions about the reason for conflicts, wars and confrontations. You just gave one of them. But if we turn to Freud, for example, he had his own view on the theory of crises and conflicts. There are other approaches: there are many of them, and they differ greatly. But undoubtedly, often material interests lie at the basis of conflicts, interests connected with influence – to ensure economic advantages for certain groups of countries, or for a certain country.
I am deeply convinced that if we can build the future world on the principles of democracy and take mutual interests into account (if the world is indeed multi-polar and takes the interests of all countries that are participants of the international community into account), and we can do this on the basis of strict principles of international law, and create and strengthen a system of international law which guarantees all countries against abuses and eliminates the right of the strong, eliminates the right of the fist in international affairs – then we will be able to make the world stable and predictable.
Question: Do you think this is possible?
Vladimir Putin: I think that we must strive towards this.
Reply: Vladimir Vladimirovich, we learned that many foreign media tried to get an interview with you on the eve of this visit, but in the end only Slovakian television and Slovakian radio received an invitation to come here, to the Kremlin. We thank you for this interview.
Vladimir Putin: Thank you very much.