Mike Wallace: You look very young and will be 55 after your presidential term. Have you decided what you will do next? After all, you are in the prime of life.
Vladimir Putin: I have not yet decided.
Wallace (showing the book In the First Person): After three years of courting, your wife decided she was not interested in you, and the courting lasted another six months, didn't it? Does your wife have a difficult character?
Putin: She is a firm believer in women’s rights in the family and society.
Wallace: A feminist?
Putin: She dislikes the feminist movement. She thinks feminism stresses women's inequality.
Wallace: In any case you courted her for three years. Please tell me how you did it?
Putin: We first met at the theatre.
Wallace: You walked up to her and met?
Putin: No, we simply sat next to each other. And began to nurture our relationship. She lived in another town, but regularly came to Leningrad — as St. Petersburg where I lived was then called.
Wallace: She was a flight attendant, and had to fly to meet you, didn’t she?
Putin: Yes, she was a flight attendant and was able to come to town — in line of duty as it is now fashionable to say — and use her easy-term travel arrangements for us to meet.
Wallace: Did she court you, or were you not interested in courting her first?
Putin: If I had not been interested, there would have been no marriage, and we would have had no children. It was a mutual attraction.
Wallace: You decided to marry her, and followed up your decision? And you are referring to your daughters Katya and Masha?
Putin: Quite right.
Wallace: They are now 19 and 20, aren't they?
Putin: One is already 20, and the other is only 19. The age difference is sixteen months.
Wallace: One of them wants to be a manager, and the other a furniture designer and interior decorator, don't they?
Putin: They have not yet decided, but think along these lines.
Wallace: Didn't you want a boy?
Putin: I think what God has given us is right and good The main thing is that they are healthy and happy.
Wallace: Are you a religious person?
Putin: You know I think every person should have some faith inside, in his or her heart. What matters is not an external display of this faith, but the inner state of the soul.
Wallace: Was it this that brought you and George W. Bush together during your first meeting — a spiritual feeling?
Putin: Maybe. I do not rule out that this personal chemistry arose precisely during our first meeting, and not the least because of that…
Wallace: And he really looked into your eyes and saw your soul? Did you see his soul?
Putin: He impressed me very positively as a reliable and consistent person.
Wallace: And you still believe this?
Putin: Yes. As you know, we hold different views on some things, but my first impression did not let me down. He is a dependable and consistent man. If he says something, I am sure he thinks precisely like that and will act on it.
Wallace: But you disagreed with him when he sent troops to Iraq. You thought it was a bad idea?
Putin: Yes, I believed it was an erroneous decision. We discussed it directly, frankly and freely between ourselves, just as we did many other things. But it was he as president of the United States that made the decision on Iraq.
Wallace: Was he not disappointed that you thought this decision was a bad idea? You said then that millions of people, perhaps the entire region, would perish in the ultimate analysis. I repeat what you said at the time. Am I quoting you correctly?
Putin: No, it's wrong. I did not speak of millions of people. I said that in my view it was an wrong decision, that it was a mistake, and I substantiated my point of view. I still believe so.
Wallace: Why was it a mistake?
Putin: For several reasons.
The most important thing, in my view, was that democracy cannot be exported. It should be a product of internal development of a society.
And second, it is extremely important to observe the principles of international law in modern society. Only in this way can we build a democratic world order.
There were also other considerations connected with threats or lack of them from Iraq, and unconfirmed existence of nuclear arms and other weapons of mass destruction. But the decision was enacted, and I don’t think we should hark back to the initial point that divided us on this issue.
Strange as it may seem, but I also had discussions with American intellectuals who condemned George W. Bush for this decision and said that it was based on false information. And, no matter how strange it may seem to you now, I, even though I didn’t share his decision, nevertheless defended his position.
Wallace: How did you defend it?
Putin: I’ll explain. The truth is that we all suspected that Saddam Hussein might possess weapons of mass destruction.
Wallace: Suspicions and nothing else?
Putin: Yes, there were suspicions. Besides, we well know that during the Iraqi-Iranian war we had confirmation that Saddam Hussein had such means. The question was how to end that situation, how to resolve the Iraq problem. So, to say that the president of the United States had no grounds whatsoever for thinking that Iraq possessed weapons is wrong. He had grounds.
But we differed in something else: how to solve this situation and how to solve Iraq's problem. We believed that a more correct way of solving it would be through understandings reached by the international community, peacefully, and we imagined that it was a more constructive decision. At the same time — I want to emphasize this once more — I do not consider it worthwhile continually reverting to what divided us over Iraq. The situation now is different, and it is necessary to proceed from existing realities, and look to the future. And here Russia is prepared to help the Iraqi people together with the United States. We maintain traditionally good and friendly relations with our Iraqi partners. Our specialists are now returning to Iraq to civilian facilities, including civilian electric power facilities, which, to my mind, is extremely important for restoring the country's economy. We will work there and work together.
The most important thing is to give the Iraqis the possibility of finding as soon as possible balanced solutions to the involvement of all ethnic and religious groups in the administration of the state. And it is necessary, of course, to think of and fix dates for the withdrawal of foreign troops. I think a final settlement will be difficult to achieve unless this is done.
Wallace: I agree. And how long will it take the United States?
Putin: This is not a simple question.
Wallace: Of course.
Putin: I believed the military operation itself was a mistake. But if everything were abandoned now, leaving Iraqi society unprepared, without self-sufficient public and state institutions for the country to exist as a single sovereign entity, it would be a second mistake.
Dates need to be set for the withdrawal of foreign troops, but also to help the Iraqi people strengthen their statehood and their own security-related agencies that can assume responsibility for the situation in the country.
Wallace: Do you think the U.S. has done enough planning concerning post-war restoration, and what may take place after?
Putin: I see positive changes. An election has been held, and attempts made to establish a balanced political leadership in the country, and we take a positive view on this. Whether these attempts are sufficient can be shown only by life itself, the practice of development. At any rate, we, both at the international level and in bilateral relations with the United States and Iraq, will contribute to this settlement — first of all, in the interests of the Iraqi people.
Wallace: Now back to judo. You’ve said it is more than a sport — it is a philosophy. What does this mean?
Putin: Above all, such sports as judo, in my view, teach people to relate to each other. They teach us to respect a partner, teach us to understand that an externally weak partner can not only put up worthy resistance, but, if you relax and take too much for granted, may even win.
The second point is that the outcome of a bout is decided not only by crude physical strength, but also by the ability to act effectively, to use your head and be a master, a good master, of a set of movements, and holds.
And the most important thing is that you need character and a will to win.
Wallace: You have both.
Putin: We are talking about the sport, not myself.
Wallace: Yes, indeed. So while still young you won a judo championship. How did you achieve this?
Putin: I did not achieve great results in judo, in my view. I was a champion of my city (true, it was no small city — Leningrad had five million people) in the masters’ category..
But I must say that I practiced it for a long time and devoted a lot of effort and attention to it. And in general I think that if you are doing something, you should practice it not for the process itself, but to get satisfaction from the result.
Wallace: I will ask you one question once more. I did not want to embarrass you or create any problems for you, but I haven’t seen any current photographs of your daughters. Is it true that you are now paying a lot attention to your children, and even indulging them?
Putin: I can’t say I am indulging them a great deal. Also, unfortunately, I can’t say that I am giving them enough attention. But I love them no less than before. They are sufficiently grown-up, almost adults — 19 and 20 years.
And I am pleased they do not appear on television screens and do not figure in scandalous news of the media. I have to say that this is their own choice. A few years ago we had a talk, and I told them: either they would be well-known and have no normal life, and would be unable to socialize with their friends and go out freely in public, or they would remain unknown, be modest but live the life of a normal person. And they opted for the second, consciously and independently.
Wallace: How old are you in this photograph?
Putin: I think I am fourteen or so… I don’t remember.
Wallace: You were a very serious young man.
Putin: Not always. You know I was brought up in a very ordinary family, in fact a worker's family. Both my father and mother were ordinary citizens. We lived three of us in a small room, in a so-called communal apartment, without any conveniences. We did not even have a bath or a shower, and they worked a lot. I was actually left to myself and spent a good deal of time with other teenagers in the street…
Wallace: Is it true that you once chased rats with a stick?
Putin: Yes, I did do that once. And drew a very curious conclusion for myself: if a rat is driven into a corner, it turns back and attacks you, and does so very aggressively, pursuing the fleeing opponent. That taught me a lot.
Wallace: Here is a photograph showing a very determined and even angry Putin.
Putin: I do not remember who took it and when…
Wallace: The photo shows a serious-looking guy who may be angry, lose his temper occasionally and be difficult to deal with — all these things combined. Is that true?
Putin: No. I do not remember a single instance in five years when I have lost temper as president of the Russian Federation. I consider this unacceptable.
Putin: Of course, you must be tough and consistent, but the most important thing is to assume responsibility, not to shy away from it, or hide behind your staff, government, security agencies, armed forces and police. That is the central point. And you should be able to find people who are effective in their positions. But, I have to say, that is perhaps the most difficult part of the job of any executive of any level.
Being tough is not the most difficult thing for someone in my position. Perhaps it is more difficult to be lenient and to be able to forgive.
Wallace: That is more difficult.
Putin: I think in the position I hold it is easier to be tough.
Wallace: But such is your reputation…
Putin: Thanks to journalists and press photographers. And this partly seems to fit in with reality. I have already said, and can repeat, that without a measure of toughness it is impossible to discharge the functions of the head of state in a worthy way.
Wallace: Here is the last photograph with which I will bother you. The inscription says: ”Boris Nikolayevich turned to me and said in parting: 'Take care of Russia, look after her'.“ What happened at the time? Were you stunned, happy or troubled? What did you feel?
Putin: This photograph was taken after it was decided that I should run for Russian president. All these thoughts you mentioned had occurred before. And certainly my first conversation with President Yeltsin came rather unexpectedly. When he suggested I should run for the presidency of the Russian Federation, I replied that I was not ready, in my view, for that and considered it to be too hard a destiny. I had never thought of it.
But it should be said President Yeltsin was insistent. He responded by saying that he did not consider the conversation finished and asked me to think about it. And then he took up the subject time and time again until finally I decided to contest the election.
This photograph refers to the post-election period when the people of Russia had already voted, and I was sworn in. These words, I think, came straight from the heart of Boris Nikolayevich Yeltsin. He was perfectly aware that the country was going through a complex period in its development and its history. He was really concerned for the country and its future. But, if he had made me such an offer, then he believed that he was handing the country into reliable hands.
Wallace: It’s surprising that you rose from a KGB officer so quickly? Of course, you had a degree in law. But I would like first to ask you why you decided to join the KGB?
Putin: Ours was a different life, a different country, and the ideals corresponded to them. They were not based on what is now relevant for both our country and the West.
Now we address more frequently the negative aspects of the Soviet Union's security bodies, above all Stalin's reprisals. But apart from reprisals, the security bodies also protected the state. They also did a great deal during the Great Patriotic War and in the post-war period. During the Cold War, too, they fulfilled above all the function of protecting the country's interests.
It is not surprising, therefore, that many young people of my generation wished to follow such examples, which showed how one man's efforts could materially influence the development of some or other event in the interests of your country, and your people. We wanted to be like the heroes that emerged. That made me want to work in the security bodies.
As you know, I did not work in the security bodies as such, I worked in the foreign intelligence service. These were people who were employed mostly abroad. And that milieu had its own views, which were liberal enough if one can speak of liberalism among security personnel.
I think this can be said because people spent a considerable part of their lives abroad, saw the realities of the West and the existing realities in the Soviet Union. And they cultivated specific views on the situation in the Soviet Union and future prospects for the country. After the 1990s, I plainly saw that the function fulfilled by the security bodies was ceasing to play as important a role as before.
All the more so since I was offered a job by my former university tutor, who became city mayor, Mr. [Anatoly] Sobchak, and I decided to resign and accept a permanent post under him. In that way I found myself, strictly speaking, in municipal administration, and then took up politics, although I had no inclination to engage in political activity proper. I was never elected to any post, and I was never either a regional, or a municipal, let alone a federal, deputy. I was a manager first and foremost, I moved to Moscow, and indeed rose within three years from a rank-and-file official to head the security bodies, where I had not planned to return.
Then I became secretary of the Security Council, chairman of the government, and was later elected president.
Such metamorphoses, I think, are possible in a revolutionary period of a country's development. This exactly points out that the country is in process of development, and establishing its institutions. And moreover this was undoubtedly connected with the fact that by that time the elite — I will be absolutely frank — had largely destroyed itself in the course of either the struggle for power, or for property… Strictly speaking, there was lack of people who could in practice assume responsibility for the country, and its development. I think that President Yeltsin saw it perfectly, too. But my working with him for three years evidently persuaded him that the proposal he made to me was worthwhile. Combined, all this led to the situation that shaped up late in 1999 and early in 2000.
Wallace: President Bush says he does not read newspapers. He gets all the news from his aides. Do you read newspapers?
Putin: I read them every day. I read papers, try to watch news programs on television, but, as a rule, recorded. During the day I have no time for that, so I watch something taped. As for the newspapers, I try to get through them every day. Additionally, of course, I look through news bulletins.
Wallace: What makes it so important for you to read the newspapers?
Putin: I worked in intelligence and know how information and information bulletins are made. After all, this is determined to a considerable extent by the political attitudes and bias of those who do it.
Screening of the information may be done in such a way that, this sorting may provide the frames for your opinion in advance. I, for one, want to have my opinion based on independent sources.
Wallace: Have you ever wanted to be a journalist?
Putin: You know journalism, as concerns collecting information, differs little if at all from intelligence work. In my judgment, a journalist's job is very interesting.
Wallace: Do you have to bend and kneel to become a journalist in Russia?
Putin: You decided to address media issues, right?
I will give you some figures now, and you will decide for yourself if you have to kneel before the authorities to work in the media.
Russia has 3,200 registered and functioning television and radio companies.
Wallace: What? How many?
Putin: 3,200 television and radio companies. And only 10 per cent of them are state-owned.
Russia has 46,000 registered and operating print media. Even if the authorities wanted — at the federal or regional level — to control this vast number of media, and those who work in this area, it is practically impossible to do, as you can see. So rumors of the Kremlin’s total control over the media in Russia, as Mark Twain put it regarding his death, are greatly exaggerated.
Wallace: Now, there are political views that can be aired on cable television and by radio… But the only mass media that really carry political weight is three national television channels, right? And they put out their own news.
Putin: I would say we have a minimum of five to six television companies functioning at the national level.
Wallace: I hear there are three news channels and all are controlled by you. When you were installed in office, one channel was run by the state, another was half-state and half-private, and the third fully private. Now all the three are controlled by the state, which controls news flows. One channel even begins its television newscasts by telling its audience what Putin did today, whom he met, and so on and so forth.
It looks like the Soviet Union, China and many authoritarian countries. Your men control news flows on these channels, and the opposition has no access to the news media. Although it is hard to imagine an opposition to you.
Putin: With respect to me, there is an opposition and a big one, to begin with. Second, the opposition is able to voice its opinion openly, which it does.
Wallace: Where is it doing this?
Putin: Everywhere. And in the streets — you should see our May Day celebrations. The opposition is able to do this on all the 3,200 radio and television channels I mentioned, and practically in all the 40,000 publications.
As regards the influence of the national channels, I would not play down the effect of the regional mass media. According to all public polls, people living in the regions primarily trust the regional mass media.
But speaking of the national channels, you were correct in noting that initially one channel was state-owned and remained state-owned. And the state, in my opinion, has the right to possess a mechanism for presenting its official position through official and state mass media. The second channel, which is called Channel One in this country, is a joint-stock company.
Wallace: The second was half-state and half-private, and the third all private. And now all three?
Putin: No, this is not the case. I repeat once again. It is true that one is state-owned. The second, which is called Channel One here, is a joint stock company with a sufficiently noticeable proportion of state capital. Honestly, I do not remember how much, but the state does not hold the controlling stake.
The third channel (NTV) was set up by private individuals with the money provided by joint stock company Gazprom. And joint stock company Gazprom, after failing to recover the loans issued for the project, took its property back. This channel does not belong to the state, it actually belongs to joint stock company Gazprom, in which the state has a 38 per cent stake, with 10 per cent, I think, owned by foreign investors who have their representative on the board of directors. In effect, it is an international company.
So claims that all three channels are fully state-owned are not true. Besides, there are other national channels with no state ownership at all. Incidentally, another joint-stock company — Unified Energy Systems [of Russia] — has a considerable representation in one of them.
The state also has a considerable stake in UES, but nobody ever says this television and radio company is under state control. And the prime reason I think is that the head of UES, which is the de-facto owner of Ren-TV, is part, in the view of Western partners, of the pro-Western section of Russia's political spectrum. And everything is considered okay there.
But in such a channel as NTV, which is owned by another company, the state is believed to control something.
The state in effect is in a position to control whatever it likes. The question is the extent to which internal legislation allows the state to do so. As for the relations between society and the media, they are always somewhat strained. It is because mass media are designed to identify problems and issues and show them to society, while the bureaucratic structures are trying to soft-pedal and play them down.
Incidentally, in my view, this is typical not only of Russia, but also of many other countries. Just recall what happened with the American media when the Iraqi campaign was being prepared and conducted? Were there no problems with journalists?
You just told me there is a view that in order to be a journalist one must have contact with the Kremlin or nearly personally with the president.
Wallace: Oh no. I did not say that.
Putin: Just about. I said that we see such sufficiently rigid relations between state and journalists not only in Russia, but also in other countries. Did we not see in the course of the Iraqi campaign American journalists being sacked from national media for their stand on the Iraqi problem?
Wallace: Do you mean to say the journalists were fired because of that?
Putin: Do you not know that journalists were fired for their position on Iraq, and in a presidential election campaign?
Wallace: Can you give me the specific names?
Putin: There were such cases. This is a fact. It is no problem to quote the names. I simply want to make a point that relations between the press and the government is not Russia’s unique problem. It exists in other countries as well. But I believe that if we want to see the media independent we should primarily make them economically self-sufficient so that they are independent both from the state and big groups that are called oligarch groups here. The latter are protecting their own group interests rather than national ones. We will be definitely working to create the conditions, above all economic and legal ones, in order to ensure the independence of the media.
Wallace: Let’s talk about democracy. Is Russia a democracy?
Putin: Of course, Russia is a democracy. This is a state that has freed itself from the situation where it was for 80 years when one political force dominated the scene and had a monopoly on power in the country. There is no doubt that Russia has entered a completely different stage.
It goes without saying that the development of democratic institutions in this country is at an early stage. But they are growing stronger and asserting themselves. The people have not just chosen democracy. There is no doubt that the main democratic institutions are already in place. Even the mentality of our society has become democratic.
We have a multi-party system. It is still weak and requires consolidation but this is an absolute fact. We conduct very important democratic law-based elections to a representative body of government, the parliament. The head of state, who is entitled to be in power for no more than two four-year terms in succession, is democratically elected as well.
Our judicial system is making headway, even though there have been some problems. I’d like to point out that we have an independent legal system.
We haven’t just created conditions but achieved a real division of power between the executive, legislative (representative) and judicial bodies of government. This fact, as well as the mass media, and the development of democratic institutions and a civil society, are the main indications of the Russian Federation’s democratic development.
Therefore, it is beyond any doubt that Russia is a democratic state.
Wallace: There was a time when the regional governors were elected, correct?
Wallace: Your decision to appoint governors came as a complete surprise. Is this democracy? As I see it, you want to nominate mayors as well. That’s not democracy the way I understand it. Maybe, I’m wrong?
Putin: You are absolutely wrong. To begin with, India, for one, is called one of the world’s largest democracies. Governors have always been appointed by the central government there and nobody doubts that India is the largest democracy.
Or take Great Britain. It has ministers in charge of Scotland and Northern Ireland. As a matter of fact, they are governors of regions. Nobody claims that Britain is not a democracy for this reason. There are other examples as well.
Wallace: Why have you decided to appoint governors rather than elect them? We are being told that now you want to do the same with mayors.
Putin: If you have the patience, I’ll explain everything.
Regional heads have always been appointed in some other countries, including in Europe. Therefore, the principle of bringing governors to power is not the main yardstick for judging whether this or any other country is democratic or not.
Now about what I proposed and what is being done. I did not propose appointing regional governors and they are not being appointed.
The president puts forward a candidate governor for the consideration by the local parliament. So he suggests a nominee and the local parliament can vote for him. But it may choose not to. Importantly, the deputies of the local, regional parliament are elected by direct and secret ballot.
Wallace: Wait a minute! This is very complicated.
Putin: There is nothing complicated. The president suggests a nominee, while the local parliament votes for him or not. If not, he won’t be the head of a region. In fact, regional governors are being brought to power by electoral college. I’d like to emphasize once again that the deputies of a local parliament, who act as electoral college, are chosen by direct and secret ballot. I’d also like to point out that choice by electoral college is used in the presidential elections in the United States. This is not considered an undemocratic procedure.
Wallace: Wait a minute, are you saying that the U.S. president is not elected by the people of the United States?
Putin: The U.S. president is elected by the people but through the electoral college. In Russia, the president of the Russian Federation is elected by direct and secret vote of the whole population. In the U.S., and you should know better, you first elect the electors and then they choose a president. Our system of putting governors in power in the Russian Federation is essentially the same.
The system used in the U.S. at the federal level is considered democratic, whereas some doubt the democratic character of a similar system at the regional level in Russia. Probably, electing a president by direct and secret vote of the whole population is even more democratic but as far as I know you are not going to change your system.
And you have other problems in your electoral system in the United States. You had one of these four years ago.
Wallace: What exactly do you mean?
Putin: I mean the results of voting were virtually decided in court. The electoral system did not prove to be effective enough, and the judicial system had to be brought into action. It means that the electoral system as such has some inconsistencies, some contradictions. But we are not going to “poke our nose” into this system because it is only the American people who can decide what is good and what is bad for them. But when we tell our American partners: “You have such problems as well,” do you know what we hear in return?
Putin: We are told: “This is how things are. We see that there is a problem but this is how things are. People are used to it, so let it be.” In my view this is a weak argument.
There was a major political “figure”, Mr. Bokassa, in the Central African Republic, who liked to eat his political rivals. But we didn’t say: “Ok, this is how things are, let him continue eating”.
There are problems everywhere.
Putin: We see them. We are not against a well-wishing, friendly view from the side. But we are against speculation on the subject and against these arguments being used as a foreign policy instrument for gaining advantages in relations between countries.
Now I’ll explain why it was done. The Russian Federation is a very complicated state entity. America is also multi-ethnic and multi-religious, but in a sense it is a mono-power because nobody there, except of course for the Indians, has their own land where this or other ethnic group has lived for centuries.
Meanwhile in this country, in the Russian Federation people live on their own historical territory with their own traditions and historical backgrounds. A system that is still used in Lebanon has traditionally been adopted in some republics of the Russian Federation. Representatives of different ethnic communities residing in a constituent member of the Federation traditionally replace each other in top-ranking positions in different bodies of government. This is what has taken shape; this is what they have had for the last ten years. In such regions it is not possible to meet by direct and secret vote the ambitions of all people, sometimes living on a small territory.
For this reason what I have proposed boils down to legalizing the real practice that has been established in some constituent members of the Russian Federation. But we cannot allow a situation where various parts of Russia will be governed by different sets of rules.
The main task was to make regional governors more aware of regional problems and help them fully understand national interests.
Moreover, in my recent address to the Federal Assembly I said that in order to develop a multi-party system, I consider it possible to discuss and amend the proposed pattern so that the president will appoint his candidate from among the representatives of the party that has won the elections to a regional parliament. I think this is quite possible. We should discuss it with regional governors and deputies of the State Duma of the Russian Federation. I think we’ll put it into practice.
Now a few words about local self-government, that is, municipal autonomy. Your allegations are totally unfounded. On the contrary, we have adopted a law that will enhance municipal autonomy. It will come into force on January 1, 2006. Municipalities will have their own budgets and responsibilities. A “golden rule” will not allow the higher government bodies, that is, at regional level, to interfere in municipal affairs. This rule is that if regional or federal bodies face a municipality with certain tasks, they will have to pay for this.
Wallace: Let’s turn to another question. Do you read The Moscow Times?
Wallace: Let me read an excerpt from an article in The Moscow Times of January 25. It is about your speech in Krakow, Poland: “Putin said that he considers the situation that has developed in Russia disgraceful.” You said: “In Russia that has suffered from Nazism more than others, that has done much to save the Jews…Unfortunately we see manifestations of anti-Semitism even in this country and I consider it a disgrace.”
Putin: OK, the journalists fired in the United States. Jack Kelley, a reporter from USA Today. He worked for it for 21 years and was nominated for a prestigious international prize five times. As far as we know, he was rated one of the best American journalists. Fired.
Putin: Peter Arnett…
Wallace: Why was he fired?
Putin: Just a sec. You’ve asked me to quote names. You find out yourself why they were fired. This is none of our business.
Peter Arnett, NBC.
Wallace: Why was he fired?
Putin: A correspondent in Iraq.
Phil Smucker, a reporter from Christian Science Monitor, Geraldo Riviera from Fox News Channel, Brian Walski, a photographer from LA Times. I think that’s enough.
Wallace: Fired on what grounds?
Putin: As far as we know, for their views on Iraq and positions during the presidential elections in the U.S. But this is only as far as we know.
Wallace: OK. I know that you were very open, sincere and honest in expressing your feelings about the Jews and Holocaust, when you called anti-Semitic attitudes unacceptable and horrible. Why did you decide, all of a sudden, to admit that anti-Semitism exists in Russia?
Putin: To be more precise, I said that even now we see in this country, sadly enough, manifestations of neo-Nazism, extremism and anti-Semitism. In essence, all three are interconnected. And, it goes without saying, that this is particularly shameful for a country that made the biggest contribution to the fight against Nazism.
You know, I have to say that when I went to the Holocaust Museum in Israel last time (I’ve been there three times), I thought to myself that even though these events are well known, one cannot look at all that without tears. The Holocaust is an enormous tragedy of the Jewish people. But we should not forget how many Gypsies were killed, how many Slavs and other nations perished.
When we see such manifestations, nationalistic, neo-Nazi and anti-Semitic attitudes in today’s Russia, we feel ashamed of course. But I have to say that this is, of course, not Russia’s invention either.
For us anti-Semitism is a greater evil because Russia is a multi-ethnic and multi-religious nation. The moment these sprouts of anti-Semitism, neo-Nazism and national intolerance are allowed to grow, the whole country may suffer from dire consequences. This is a destructive force.
Wallace: We have to discuss something else. Oligarchs. How did they manage to seize Russia’s natural resources: oil, coal, energy, and industries for almost next to nothing? How did they manage to do this?
Putin: To begin with, I’d like to say that a threat of Russia moving along the oligarch road, had of course been there. It was the duty of the state to restore its institutions, to make them more effective, to put the natural wealth and the market system as such at the disposal of the state, that is, the people, of course.
Wallace: The gist of the question is that Boris Yeltsin allowed his friends, the oligarchs, to buy Russia’s natural resources for cheap in exchange for their aid during his last election campaign. This was a qui pro quo situation, correct? A service for a service?
Putin: I wouldn’t simplify the situation. First, after the Soviet Union’s disintegration the forces of decay attacked the Russian Federation itself, and we were faced with problems in the economy and the destruction of the social sphere.
We were faced with terrorism and practically a civil war. In these conditions the state was unable to fulfill its responsibilities to the population. All its institutions grew weaker. Representative bodies, I mean real representative bodies, were in the infant stage. Police, courts of law, and what we call other law-enforcement bodies had been discredited because they were believed to be the offspring of the old Soviet system defending the Communist power…
Wallace: Is there a link between anti-Semitism and the fact that many oligarchs were Jewish?
Putin: I don’t think so. Their nationality is irrelevant here. What is important is that they managed to create such conditions for the birth and first steps of the market economy that enabled them to seize these national resources, above all, the natural riches you’ve mentioned.
Wallace: At negligible prices.
Putin: Absolutely correct. How did they manage to do this? By pushing their men into the bodies of representative power, into parliament, by virtually privatizing the judicial system and the media, which began to promote clan interests, by using their men in the executive bodies, including the government.
Putin: Yes, corruption. Of course, they exploited the difficulties of the developing political system and scared Yeltsin’s entourage with a possible Communist comeback, a possible totalitarian revenge. In this environment they strengthened their positions in government structures and in the economy. But I should say that Russia’s market economy does not consist of the oligarchs alone. When people saw what was happening in the country, the overwhelming majority of the population acquired their own attitude to the oligarch-led development. This attitude was obvious. I’d very much resent the situation where the overwhelming majority of the Russian people would look at the oligarchs and their manner of development as the only possible way of building democratic institutions and the market economy in the country.
A democratic system and market economy are more effective than a command economy or power monopoly of one political force. But all these factors effectively work for society only if the state is capable of carrying out its responsibilities to the people. A state should be strong and effective in order to cope with this.
Wallace: You said that it is necessary to have a parade in order to commemorate the 60th anniversary of Victory in the Great Patriotic War. What’s the idea, what’s the plan? Why do you want to conduct these celebrations?
Putin: I believe that an unbiased knowledge of history helps us understand where we stand today. It helps us to better define the prospects for the development of the nation, the global community, and international relations, to determine the principles of relations between nations.
The war against Nazism, the war against absolute evil, and Nazism was definitely absolute evil, united an overwhelming majority of the world’s nations. This is a very good experience of cooperation.
We should not forget the horrors of that war, the results of it and our common goals in it in order to make better use of all this knowledge today, to pool our efforts in fighting the current threats and to act more effectively in the future.
And, last but not least, we should never forget the victims of World War II.
Wallace: I totally agree. But don’t you see some irony or even hypocrisy in the massive celebrations to take place on the weekend? The Germans have mentioned, and now this is common knowledge, that 27 million people had lost their lives before Josef Stalin nailed Hitler’s coffin 60 years ago, almost six years after the start of the war? So what is there to celebrate? Why have the Germans been invited? What if Hitler were alive, would you have wanted him to attend the festivities as well?
Putin: We are not inviting Hitler’s successors. We are inviting people who share our views and convictions on Nazi practice and theory. We know that both the Allied nations and all nations of Europe fought Nazism. Resistance fighters also struggled against Nazism.
Resistance fighters in Italy and France made their own contribution to the fight against fascism. The German anti-Nazis were the first victims of Nazism. There were quite a few forces in Germany that came out against fascism and Nazism, that fought them. We know what Hitler did with the German people and we assess all this without bias. But we believe that we should look to the future. We think that we should work for the future of humankind through concerted efforts. It is my conviction that we should achieve historical reconciliation and solve our common problems on the basis of the best traditions of the international community.
Wallace: So, it is all primarily about reconciliation, especially as regards the Germans. Is this correct?
Putin: Exactly. But I can tell you even more. The United States has long made friends with Germany even though the U.S. was fighting against it just as the Soviet Union. I think that the privilege of reconciliation with Germany cannot be monopolized. At one time we treated East Germany as our closest ally during the Cold War, while the U.S. had the same attitude toward West Germany. Today we have got rid of the past scarecrows. The world has absolutely changed. We are convinced that we should build relations of equal partnership with all European nations, including the Federal Republic of Germany. This is all the more so since Germany has been through quite complicated periods of development. This is a democratic country. By the way, today’s Social Democrats who are in power were not simply in fierce opposition to the Nazi regime. They fought against it in the same way as the current opposition. It is a fact that Christian parties also made a substantial contribution to the anti-Nazi struggle.
On top of all that, the history of bilateral relations, the history of relations between Russia and Germany, is not limited to wars against each other. There were periods of active cooperation. These periods witnessed quite steady progress both in Europe and in other countries.
Wallace: The Soviet Union’s collapse led to the liberation of Eastern Europe. Is this correct? Last week you called the Soviet Union’s disintegration the greatest geopolitical disaster, a major political tragedy of the 20th century. What did you mean?
Putin: We know the concern with which the United States treats the interests of its people, of its citizens.
Wallace: Yes, this is correct.
Putin: It is defending the interests of its citizens even if it comes to one, two, or three or four people. Just imagine that after the Soviet Union’s disintegration 25 million Russian people found themselves outside Russian territory. Twenty-five million! They had lived by tradition in other Soviet republics, had moved there some time in the past, or left Russia to work there after receiving a higher education. And all of a sudden, 25 million people become foreigners for Russia. Isn’t this a tragedy?
Wallace: Was it worse than the horrors created by Stalin who insisted that he would defeat Germany and who didn’t care how many Russians died in the process?
Putin: For all the horrors of his camps, I’m sure that he was not indifferent to the price that would be paid for the victory. But defeat would have been even more tragic. He’s greatly to blame for the failures in the first year, or a year and a half of the war.
But we are not talking about Stalin now. We are talking about the tragedy of the people, of these 25 million who became foreigners overnight, who woke up and learned all of a sudden that they had nothing to do with Russia anymore. They live in other countries and have to adapt to local life as a national minority. Believe me, they face real problems in many of these countries.
One doesn’t need to walk far for examples. Take the Baltic Republics, for instance. Do you know that they have documents there, where the column on citizenship reads: “Non-citizen”. I’d like to tell you that this is something very new both in modern international law and in modern law in general. Modern law on citizenship has the following categories: citizen, foreigner, a person with dual citizenship and apatrid, a person who has lost his or her citizenship. And who are they? This approach does not tally at all with modern humanitarian law.
And what about contacts with relatives, kin, and friends?
Living in a foreign country is still very different from living in the framework of a whole country. In this sense, this is of course a tragedy for millions of people. I believe that the definition that I used to describe the disintegration of the Soviet Union is correct. It is also linked with the loss of savings. After the collapse of the Soviet Union all the savings that people had collected during their entire lives were eliminated, and the social sphere was destroyed. It goes without saying that all this was an enormous tragedy for millions of people.
Wallace: So, your economy is now growing because of rising oil prices. But what is happening with the Russian people? The marriage rate is going down, the divorce rate is going up. Three out of four couples divorce in your country. Alcoholism is on the up to. You said so yourself. Average life expectancy has gone down from 70 to 65 years. So what is happening in Russia?
Putin: First, our economy has indeed grown by about 6.5–7 per cent a year on average during the past five years.
But I’d be very grateful to you for not instilling in the brains of your audience on radio and TV the idea that the growth of the Russian economy is entirely produced by a good situation in foreign trade and high oil prices. To some extent this is true, but not entirely.
We have carried out quite a few absolutely revolutionary reforms in the economy. We have drastically reduced taxes. The income tax for individuals in Russia is 13 per cent, the lowest in Europe. We are reducing VAT, profit tax, a single social tax. We are trying to cut taxes for individual economic entities, introducing new systems of accounting, shifting the tax burden in the economy from [commodities] production to processing industries…
Now about the negative phenomena in the social sphere.
A planned, command economic system has huge minuses. But it also has pluses. It allows the state to concentrate its resources on resolving the problems that is considers extremely important. The social sphere had many drawbacks but it functioned.
Later on the social system of the past years disintegrated. Family support schemes became ineffective. Medicine is not effectively operating in conditions of the market economy.
Wallace: As far as I know, the health care system in Russia is today a real mess.
Putin: I wouldn’t use the word “mess,” but we have enough problems. To solve them and to change to a new system, it is essential to change people’s mentality, to increase substantially the real household incomes, and to change the law. But all this should be done carefully and gradually to prevent new problems from emerging. The problems that you’ve mentioned do exist. I think the situation has become worse as compared with the Soviet period. But there has been no deterioration since in the early or mid-1990s. This disintegration of the healthcare system and of the social sphere took place at the start of the 1990s and mid-1990s.
The former system worked better in the Soviet era. But the old system became absolutely unacceptable during the transition to the market economy where the regions received more responsibility for education, the social sphere, and health care but did not have any real sources of money to fund all these spheres. So all this, education, health care and the social sphere are our headaches, very sensitive problems that we should resolve on a new basis.
Wallace: I understand. Corruption exists everywhere in Russia. Do you agree with this? If you do, why is it the case? You have to pay to do something or to achieve something. If you want to buy an apartment, you have to give money. You have to pay a bribe to get a job. Another bribe to get some service. Why is that? Do you know who told me this? My friends from Russia. They find it disgusting but they say that corruption in Russia is a fact of life.
Putin: Did your American friends ever tell you about corruption in the U.S. and other countries?
Wallace: They did, they did.
Putin: This is exactly what I wanted to point out. Of course, we talk about our headaches. I link it with your earlier question about the oligarchs’ attempt to direct Russia’s development. When low-level clerks see how top-level oligarchs use government institutions to resolve to their benefit problems worth billions, every lower-ranking official thinks: and why can’t I do the same?
Wallace: Exactly. If others can do this, why can’t I?
Putin: Conditions for corruption in the country as a whole arise when business representatives penetrate government bodies to solve their clan or private interests.
But there are two more factors about which we should not forget. We will be able to combat effectively this phenomenon only if we facilitate the development of what you’ve mentioned, notably, the independence of the media and the establishment of efficient institutions of civil society and a multi-party system. We are well aware of this and will be moving in this direction by all means, enhancing in the process the efficiency of the state and the performance of the law-enforcement bodies that are called upon to combat corruption in practical terms, in real life.
Wallace: Try to answer me: how would you like Russia to develop? Like China, a one-party country?
Putin: No, this is impossible for us, of course.
Putin: Because we have a different political culture. After all, Russia is primarily a country of European culture. You have cited China by way of example. Did Japan with its multi-party system have many parties in power in the postwar period? To my knowledge, one party has kept the levers of political power there throughout decades. There are particularities and specifics everywhere. But I believe that if we make a step back, and don’t create the groundwork for the advance of a real multi-party system, Russia will lose very much in its development.
Wallace: You don’t like it when such people as President George Bush, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and the Western media lecture you on democracy?
Putin: They have never lectured me. I hear their statements, their opinions on this issue.
Wallace: What about Bratislava? President Bush said approximately this: Listen, let’s get down to democracy. In essence, he was addressing you. Condoleezza Rice said the same thing: Get down to democracy.
Putin: Condoleezza didn’t tell me anything of the sort. She didn’t say anything to me personally.
I know their opinion on this score. They express it in public. I understand their opinion, and we hear it. I have already set out my opinion on this issue.
Wallace: Russia has the democracy that you think it should have. And the U.S. should not intervene.
Putin: Not quite. I said we would be grateful for a fresh look from the side. Moreover, we are even ready to use advice, additional information, and the experience of other countries. After all, the United States has gone a long way along the road of developing democratic institutions.
Wallace: This is correct.
Putin: Incidentally, I have deep respect for this. But we are against these theses being used as instruments in bilateral relations for achieving certain goals, as an element of pressure. OK, you do this, and in return we’ll make sure you are accepted into the WTO. This is absolutely unacceptable.
Take Cuba, about which you don’t want to hear. It is a WTO member, so does it have more democracy? I am not saying it has less, but the more-or-less issue is a very complicated one.
Wallace: Do you mean that you want to enter WTO, that you want to be a WTO member?
Putin: Well, this is just by the by. But if you’re interested, we do believe that Russia is one of the major countries that is not a member of the World Trade Organization, and if the terms are acceptable, we intend to join WTO.
Wallace: And who is playing for you the role of our Richard Cheney? Of this wise old guy who can take George Bush aside and tell him: Here, let me give you some advice. Let me help you. Let’s consult each other.
Putin: What makes you think that we should always copy American experience? If, for instance, you have problems with the Black population, does it mean that we should have them as well? We don’t have virtually any Black people at all. You have your Richard Cheney and we don’t have a counterpart. We have a different system.
Wallace: So you don’t need him? You don’t need a certain Richard Cheney?
Putin: We have enough of such people and we meet them on a regular basis, work with them within the government system and outside it. If you noticed, I’ve just made a trip to the Middle East. I included in our official delegation Yevgeny Primakov who has devoted a considerable part of his life to studying this region. We are not short of experts in this or other spheres, on whose experience and opinion we can rely.
Wallace: President Bush is meeting with Baltic leaders before his trip here to attend the celebrations of the 60th anniversary of Victory. He will also visit Georgia. You wouldn’t want him to make such stops? You’d prefer to see him outside what is called the Russian sphere of influence?
Putin: Not in the least. The former republics of the Soviet Union are independent states. I’d like to draw your attention to the fact that the fall of the Berlin Wall, the liberation of eastern Europe, the granting of independence to the former republic of the Soviet Union were possible owing to domestic changes in Russia itself and in our foreign policy that is based on these changes. These countries can and should themselves choose their foreign policy priorities, their partners, and develop relations with all countries. Even less so can we advise the president of the United States as to where he should pay a visit and where he should not.
I hope very much that during talks with his partners in the Baltic, the president should use, say, his influence in order to make the policy of these countries more balanced and consistent with the modern standards of international humanitarian law, including law on national minorities. Russian speakers account for 60 per cent of Riga’s population. There are more than a million of Russian speakers, including 450,000 with a status of so-called “non-citizens.” This is absolutely unacceptable in modern Europe. These people are deprived of elementary political rights. I would like to hope that the president of the United States will use his influence so that all problems of the past disappear for good, and these countries pursue a more balanced and responsible policy on the domestic scene, and in the international arena.
Wallace: The Baltic states will not attend the festivities on the coming weekend, will they? They are not coming, are they?
Putin: As far as I know, the Latvian President is going to come.
Wallace: What about Estonia?
Putin: The Foreign Ministry has told me the presidents of Estonia and Lithuania will not be present at this event. I see it as a huge mistake, by the way.
Just like the fact that in some of these countries those who fought in SS troops are now hailed as heroes. Incidentally, people who share our position on this issue, and say so in public, represent local Jewish organizations that are vigorously protesting against this policy of the local authorities.
Wallace: Are you well acquainted with North Korean leader Kim Jong-il?
Putin: I think I have met him three times. Once I visited Pyongyang. He has made two trips to the Russian Federation.
Wallace: What can you say about him?
Putin: I think this is a man who wants changes for the better for his country.
Wallace: He wants changes for the benefit of his country?
Putin: Yes, I think so.
Wallace: What is an obstacle to this?
Putin: The past is an obstacle to this, as well as a host of factors today. In addition, rather tough pressure exerted by some partners. If you are interested in the problem of North Korea, I think we should not push the situation into the corner. We should bring it to the plane of negotiations, and use the six-party format that took shape at the talks.
Wallace: We have practically come to the end of our interview. You know English very well. I see that you understand every word I say. You don’t need translation.
What would you like to say in English to the American people? Or to George Bush, or to someone else?
Putin: You know, as for George Bush, I will be privileged to meet him here, in my house, and to practice English.
As for the American people, we treat American history and American people with enormous respect. For this reason I’d like to say very much but I’m afraid to hurt the feelings of Americans by my wrong pronunciation. So in conclusion I will only say one thing: All the best to every family in America.
Wallace: All the best to you too, Mr. President. Thank you for spending so much time with us.