Question: I have a question about terrorism. Yesterday you spoke of the need for us all to act together to fight terrorism mercilessly. But in our society, both among politicians and among the public, there is a certain amount of anti-western and anti-American feeling. Does this have an effect on our efforts to fight terrorism? Does it weaken our efforts?
President Vladimir Putin: In general, I think these anti-western and anti-American feelings you are talking about are connected to the inadequate reaction certain media outlets have had to tragic events that have taken place in our country. Some media outlets, as you may recall, referred to the terrorists – evildoers of the likes the world had not yet seen, those who took hostage the school in Beslan – as fighters for who knows what cause, as ‘rebels’ and so on. But this is certainly not the line followed by the leadership in our partner countries, be it the United States or our Western European partners. They are all firmly committed to fighting terrorism resolutely, and I have absolutely no doubt on this point.
I think that we will all reach the point where we can get beyond these misinterpretations of the real nature of events. When I say all of us, I mean the politicians, the media and representatives of civil society. After tragedies of the kind that struck Britain yesterday, we all become wiser and more experienced and we all begin to realise more acutely that there can be no double standards and no double way of looking at things, as we in Russia have tried to make clear on so many occasions. I am absolutely convinced of this and I have no doubt that, unfortunately, it is through such tragic mistakes that we learn, and I am certain that we will join forces and we will be able to win this fight against terrorism.
Question: When the news came through of the bomb attacks in London, was there a real danger that the summit would not continue its work? We see now that this did not happen. Do you think the summit’s agenda ended up being cut short, and were you able to fully address all the questions that had been planned for the meeting?
Vladimir Putin: I am sure there was no danger of the summit not continuing. I am 100-percent certain of this and don’t doubt for a second that there was any danger of it not going on. All my colleagues, all the G8 leaders gathered here in Gleneagles, were firmly convinced that our work should and would continue. We had no intention of satisfying the terrorists’ wishes by stopping our work. All the more so as the questions we were dealing with are all aimed at resolving various problems we face in the world today, at problems such as destitution, poverty, the fight to achieve effective economic development in the world – at all these problems that we also need to resolve in order to win the fight against terrorism. All of this is part of the fight against terrorism in the broader sense.
So, not even yesterday’s terrible tragedy could stop us. On the contrary, we were full of determination to work through the agenda in full and complete all the work that was planned. As for whether we had to trim the agenda, this was not the case, of course. We did everything we had planned and even a little more, I think. We also discussed other issues and, certainly, gave particular attention to yesterday’s tragic events and the need to unify our efforts in the fight against terrorism.
Question: Which question gave rise to the greatest debate during your discussions? Of course, you would have been not just sitting down at the same table together, but also speaking with each other in the corridors. What sorts of things did you discuss and how would you describe the atmosphere?
Vladimir Putin: In the corridors we generally discussed the issues we did not get a chance to discuss at our meetings together, and I think this is usually the case. All our discussions, practically on every issue, were very lively indeed. It was not at all like the old days of Communist Party congresses where everyone was unanimous. Often one or another of us would express their own opinion and this would start a debate. It really makes me happy to see that in this group of leaders of eight countries, everyone knows how to listen to each other, respect each others’ point of view, take in what is being said and, if need be, even adjust their own position. What I can say at any rate is that we had a very intensive and effective discussion on all the issues on our agenda, on integrating developing economies into the world system, opening up markets, the question of subsidies for this or that sector in developed countries, issues on the international agenda, Middle East peace settlement, the situation in Iraq and on the Syrian border, nuclear non-proliferation and so on.
Question: Good afternoon, I want to raise a sore point…
Vladimir Putin: You have a sore point?
Question: Yes, very much so. I would like to know, how do you feel about the fact that the G8 summit is totally closed off from an information point of view? We are really shocked by the situation: we are working here just a few minutes walk from the hotel, but over these three days here we have seen absolutely nothing of what has been taking place. Is this a normal situation? Thank you.
Vladimir Putin: Well, it doesn’t look to me like all of you gathered here are in a state of shock.
Response: We are doing our utmost to hide it.
Vladimir Putin: You are doing a very good job of it. I really can’t tell that you are in a state of shock.
As for the question of how open we are, I think that our work would lose its sense if it were to take place constantly before the cameras. Open, intensive and substantial work is impossible even with just one camera going the whole time. It’s simply impossible. Everyone would feel as if they were on stage in front of millions of viewers and it wouldn’t be the right conditions for producing genuinely substantial work.
Regarding information on the G8’s work, I think that the information provided is really quite exhaustive. We don’t have any secrets at all. There are no subjects not made open to the public. Everything we discuss is made public and explained in complete detail. There are no questions that I or any of my colleagues would try to avoid answering. Everything is open.
The technical side of the work is another matter, and if you think that some improvements could be made in this area then all of the G8 leaders and Russia, as the presiding country in 2006, will examine what additional steps we can take to ensure that the media are more involved in the day-to-day work at the G8 summits.
Question: Yesterday’s horrific terrorist attack on London has forced many people to consider taking new measures to combat terrorism. Could this fight against terrorism lead to a clampdown in the civilised nations, and could this in turn undermine the very foundations of democracy, undermine internal democracy?
Vladimir Putin: At first glance it does look as though taking tougher measures against crime, against this absolute evil that is terrorism, could indeed lead to a clampdown in our societies. But if we were to actually take that road we would be playing right into the terrorists’ hands, because this is exactly what they want. Their goal is to destroy democracy and destroy democratic society, and we, of course, will not do anything that could help them achieve this goal.
There is no doubt at all in my mind that democratic society has at its disposal enough effective means for fighting terrorism and achieving results. The main condition for our success, as I have stressed in the past, is for the international community to unite and work together to prevent terrorists from slipping through the cracks between us and to plug the gaps in our common defences. If we do this, I am sure that our action will be far more productive and effective and that we will achieve positive results together in this combat against terrorism.
Question: You announced that the next G8 summit would take place in St Petersburg. Why did you choose St Petersburg? How did your colleagues react to this choice, and what will be the main subjects on the agenda for the summit?
Vladimir Putin: Everyone generally accepts the host country’s decision. We chose St Petersburg for several reasons. One reason is that we won’t need to spend extra money preparing for the summit. We already did a lot of organisational work and spent a considerable amount of money on the 300th anniversary of St Petersburg, and it would be foolish to repeat this whole process again from scratch and spend just as money again on preparing the G8 summit.
St Petersburg already has the infrastructure we need. Not even the Kremlin has such infrastructure, because the Kremlin is not designed for these kinds of mass events. What’s more, in St Petersburg we can, or at least, we will try to organise this event in such a way as not to place an excessive burden on the city’s infrastructure. Such are the main reasons for our choice, and they are essentially technical considerations. As for our partners’ reaction, it seems to me they are genuinely happy and ready to come to St Petersburg.
Regarding the main subjects on the agenda, under Russia’s presidency, the work will follow on from previous summits, including this one. We cannot ignore the question of overcoming poverty, and we cannot ignore the fight against terrorism. At the same time, however, Russia proposes making world energy policy the key issue for the next summit. Even during our discussions on global finances, world trade and global economic development yesterday, more than two-thirds of our attention was spent on energy issues. It is only natural that Russia, the world leader on the energy market, should focus precisely on energy policy. If you put together Russia’s energy potential in all areas, oil, gas, and nuclear, our country is unquestionably the world leader. We are most certainly ready to discuss all these issues and want to make this the main subject for our summit.
These questions aside, I also think that if we are talking about overcoming poverty and about global economic integration, we should not forget the interests of the post-Soviet area. We also want to make this a part of our work on these issues. Finally, I think that there are some issues that demand particular attention from the G8 today, and these are issues that concern not only the world’s poorest countries, not only those who need our economic assistance and our political and moral support.
You know, we tend to shy away from addressing certain problems we face in our own countries. One of these is the demographic problem – a matter of great importance for all of us. The fatter and richer we all become, the greater our demographic problems become. All my colleagues agreed with me that we should think about this over the coming year and make some decisions in St Petersburg at our next summit that will have a positive impact on the situation in our countries.
You are no doubt familiar with the United Nations’ forecasts in this area. All the European countries are in a situation of demographic decline. The only G8 country with positive demographic growth is the United States, and this is thanks to immigrants and the Latin American population. It is good that they have found at least some way of resolving the problem, but I think that even there it is still not enough. Today, therefore, when I consulted with my partners during the first part of our meeting on whether they think we could also discuss this matter, they all agreed. What’s more, [EU Commission President] Mr Barroso said that a study would soon be made of the demographic situation in the European Union, and this could serve as the basis for the materials we will use to prepare this subject.
Question: Did the summit discuss the question of expanding the G8?
Vladimir Putin: No, this summit did not discuss this issue. If you are referring to a possible enlargement, I would say that, as far my personal point of view goes, discussing world trade and economic issues or world finances without, say, China and India, is quite difficult. But there are two circumstances I would like to draw to your attention in this respect.
First, Russia itself only recently became a member of the G8 and it would not be proper for us to raise the issue of enlargement. Second, the countries I just referred to, along with other countries, are regularly invited to take part in discussions and their views are taken into account in work on preparing this or that document. During Russia’s presidency of the G8 we will continue this practice.
Question: By what percentage can Russia increase its oil supplies to the G8 countries and over what time-frame?
Vladimir Putin: Russia is constantly increasing its supplies to the world markets, and not just to the G8 countries but to all players on the market. It would be a bad thing if we started just dealing amongst ourselves in our own little club. It would be a very negative signal for the rest of the world. The world, fortunately, does not consist of the G8 countries alone but is far broader, far more interesting and diverse. Our task is not just to resolve the problems we face, such as the demographic problem, which is of particular importance above all for the G8 countries, but, working from an economic point of view, our task is to help make the world more harmonious and make the rules governing international economic interaction more democratic.
In this respect we remain committed to market mechanisms for the global economy. We will increase our supply of energy resources to the world market and we will also continue to work on developing nuclear energy. Regarding nuclear energy, there are also many non-proliferation issues that we need to discuss, as this is a very sensitive subject.
Regarding increases in our energy production and supplies, what I can tell you is that, first, Russia currently produces around 470 million tons of oil a year – we will increase production – and we export around 230 tons of this total. We plan to raise export supplies to 250 million-270 million tons a year.
Second, there are agreements that we have already signed and that have already come into effect. From 2010, we will increase our gas supplies to Western Europe by 40 million cubic metres. These are contracts that are already signed. In order to carry out these ambitious plans we are going to expand our transport capacity, both railway and pipeline transport. In this aim we intend to implement two major oil transport projects. One will be in the Far East with a terminus on the Pacific coast, the first stage starting this year. Construction will take around three years and will see 30 million tons of oil pumped to the station of Skovorodino on the Chinese border.
Of these 30 million tons, 20 million tons will be shipped to the Chinese market and 10 million will be taken by rail transport to the Pacific coast. As the oil in this pipeline increases through the development of new sources and fields in Eastern Siberia, we will build a second section of the pipeline that will run right to the Pacific coast. This system will then be pumping 50 million tons with an outlet on the White Sea. The sea is deep there and big tankers, even 500,000-ton capacity tankers can navigate there. From there, oil can be shipped to any point, to any market, including to the U.S. market.
We also plan to increase our liquefied gas production. The technology for producing liquefied gas is improving all the time and is becoming a lot cheaper and this creates economic opportunities for us to expand our work and it means that our liquefied gas is competitive on the North American market. This year, our tankers will deliver the first shipment of liquefied gas from Gazprom to the consumers. We will develop our transport capacity, including by taking the Blue Stream pipeline on the bed of the Black Sea to its full design capacity. Today we are pumping around 4 billion cubic metres through this system but this could be raised to 16 billion. We will raise capacity by 2 billion cubic metres a year. We are ready to work together with Ukraine and develop the pipeline system there, so long as they do not siphon off gas. Yet another direction is through Belarus and Poland.
Finally, most important of all, there is the construction of the Northern European gas pipeline. There are a number of different capacity options open here. The pipeline will be laid on the Baltic Seabed. Finally, there is another possibility: we are engaged in active talks with our Norwegian partners, who have an extensive and well-developed pipeline system. There won’t be enough Norwegian gas to keep this system running at full capacity within a decade. The experts are all well aware of this. The Norwegians are a very good partner for us and we hope that this partnership will have visible, positive results for the entire world economy, including for the G8 countries.
Question: it’s well known that the G8 is in many ways based on personal diplomacy. Could you tell us about the personal relations within the G8? For example, do you think the cooling in relations brought about after the events in Iraq is over now? Are there any particularly close alliances within the G8? How do personal relations influence relations between states in general?
Vladimir Putin: I’m not about to ‘undress the G8’ for you. I won’t say anything on this point.
Question: Two years ago, you set the objective of doubling GDP within ten years. Given the serious divergences within the government on this question and also the slowdown in growth, do you think this goal is still realistic?
Vladimir Putin: Yes, I did indeed say that it was our objective to double GDP within a decade, and I declared this goal two or three years ago. But when it comes down to it, what I said is not so important; most important is what the experts calculate. The calculations show that in order to reach this goal, our economy needs to grow by around 7 percent a year. We have had an average annual growth rate of 7.1 percent in the Russian economy over the last five years.
The Economic Development and Trade Ministry planned for growth of 5.4 percent last year, but the Russian economy in fact grew by 7.2 percent. As for the slowdown in growth this year, it’s still early days yet – we still need to wait until the end of the year to see what results activity in the agricultural sector has produced.
What we see is that, overall, the development forecast for the world economy is slightly lower than it was last year. Given that the Russian economy is becoming more and more integrated into the world economy, there is nothing surprising that this overall slowdown should also be reflected in our economy. But I will insist that our government look for ways to reach the goals we have set. I don’t know how it works in your country, but I know that in Russia if we don’t set big goals, we won’t be able to resolve the smaller problems we face.
Question: Although you did not have a separate bilateral meeting with the U.S. President, you no doubt did have the chance to talk together. Could you tell us what questions you discussed primarily?
Vladimir Putin: I had quite active contact with my colleagues in general, including with President Bush. We discussed a broad range of matters. Above all, we spoke about the problem of terrorism in the world and increasing our cooperation in this area. We also discussed our economic interaction in the context of approving the protocol on Russia’s accession to the World Trade Organisation. These were the main subjects we talked about. Our experts discussed the need to clarify the list of mutual tasks, and it is an impressive list. So, a substantial amount of important work was accomplished at expert level.
Question: It is no secret that Russia is not the world’s wealthiest country. What do we stand to gain from providing aid to African countries?
Vladimir Putin: I think we already gained a great deal from the assistance we have provided in the past. I would like to note that first the Soviet Union and then Russia have always had a special relationship with the African continent. A large number of Africa’s present leaders studied in the Russian Federation. It would be simply foolish to let slip this immense political capital that we so greatly need today. The previous generation of our citizens built up this special relationship at a substantial cost and it would be foolish indeed to simply throw it all away.
What form does our assistance take today? Above all, it takes the form of writing off debts. We are one of the leaders in this respect. What we are talking about here is writing off the debts of countries whose level of economic development makes it impossible for them to ever be able to repay these debts. We are therefore taking steps to help them. Another area of assistance to the poorest countries, including in Africa, is in helping them solve healthcare and education problems. By the way, I want to make the issues of fighting the most dangerous diseases and improving education part of the agenda for the G8 summit in 2006. We also have to deal with these problems in our own country. We need to work out a common approach and a common philosophy and put in place the mechanisms for resolving these issues.
Question: Why did you set a date for your meeting with [Japanese Prime Minister] Junichiro Koizumi even though differences of opinion on the territorial issue still remain? What are your expectations of this visit? What needs to be done for Russia and Japan to sign a peace treaty?
Vladimir Putin: Regarding the date for the visit to Japan, we went along with the Japanese side’s wishes. We had proposed several options but our Japanese friends found the date that you mentioned most convenient. For our part, we have no objection, as we agreed on a date that would be convenient for both sides.
Regarding the main point in your question, the territorial issue – I would call it the problem of signing a peace treaty – I think you will agree with me that in order to someday settle this question, we need to work on it together, and in order to work on it, we need to meet, to understand each other and trust each other. In order to trust each other, we need to build up our cooperation. These are the issues we intend discussing during my visit to Japan.
Question: Many politicians have not been very flattering about the work of [Prime Minister] Mikhail Fradkov’s cabinet. Are you satisfied with the government’s work? How do you feel about the fact that personal conflicts arise between the Prime Minister and his subordinates?
Vladimir Putin: When I was a child I was taught to make no requests and feel no regrets. That is one of the golden rules I try to follow. I don’t think the Prime Minister has compromised himself in any way and deserves any particular public condemnation. As for criticism of the Prime Minister’s work, it is a normal thing in any country. Regarding Mr Fradkov, I am able to make an objective assessment of his work and I think that he is doing a perfectly satisfactory job of carrying out his duties.
As for the problem you mentioned regarding public discussion between subordinates – I don’t think this was the best way the Prime Minister could have organised his work, but this was his decision and it is his right.
Question: At the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation summit that just took place in Kazakhstan, the organisation’s members agreed to ask the members of the anti-terrorist coalition to examine a timetable for withdrawing their bases from Central Asia. Was this issue discussed here? Did you sound out your coalition partners on the possible timetable for the withdrawal of their bases from Central Asia and their reaction to this idea?
Vladimir Putin: First of all, I want to say that the anti-terrorist coalition does not have any modern bases on Central Asian territory. They do have air force contingents temporarily stationed there in order to take part in the anti-terrorist operations in Afghanistan. At the time that this issue was being settled our U.S. colleagues asked us to support them and we gave them our support. At that time it was made clear that these contingents, above all air force contingents, would be stationed there temporarily, for the duration of the anti-terrorist operation. We discussed this personally on many occasions. I do not thing that we discussed anything surprising or unexpected at the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation summit in Astana. There was nothing unusual, nothing out of the ordinary and certainly nothing directed against anyone else in what we discussed. It was simply that the countries that have made their territory available to these contingents would like to know how their partners view the idea of the completion of anti-terrorist operations in Afghanistan. Elections have been held successfully there and this means that part of the process is now complete and the country is ready for parliamentary elections. There is nothing unusual in this discussion – it is normal, routine work.
Question: The documents signed in Astana declare that the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation countries will develop new mechanisms for responding to emergency situations. What is implied here? Are we talking about some kind of information exchanges or will joint military operations be held in the future?
Vladimir Putin: No military operations of any kind are being discussed. What we are talking about is above all providing moral and political support for each other and making the necessary exchanges, including of information. As for responding to a potential external aggressor, these problems are not discussed at all within the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation framework.
Question: The news has appeared in the press that Gazprom is interested in buying Sibneft, and then in Astana, Rosneft also said it was interested in buying Sibneft’s assets because it would be a major asset. Does the state have a position on this matter?
Vladimir Putin: The state has no position at this point. I know that Gazprom and Sibneft have held talks. I think that this is not a state priority, but is a private affair, including for the owners of Sibneft. I won’t hide that I discussed this with Sibneft and I stressed that they should approach it as a market deal, if they want to go ahead with it at all. The fact that a state company wants to buy Sibneft’s assets does not mean that the state shares this same objective. The company’s shareholders are all informed about the situation and, to be honest, I don’t know what decision they will make and how much of their assets they will sell and to whom.
From here the President’s meeting with the Russian and foreign media continued as an informal discussion.