Question: I would like first of all to look at the very fact that Russia is presiding over the G8 this year. How do you see this event, how important is it for us and what are the main priorities for Russia’s presidency?
Vladimir Putin: The G8 is a forum for the leaders of the world’s eight leading countries and we see it as a matter of great responsibility. I do think however, that the global problems that are traditionally discussed at such meetings cannot be effectively resolved without bringing in our partners from other countries too, countries whose contribution to the world’s development is already considerable today and who will play an even greater role in the coming years. I am referring here to major players on the international stage such as the People’s Republic of China, India and several other countries. Nevertheless, the G8 meetings are traditionally a forum for discussing the most acute, pressing and vital issues of the moment and for outlining the solutions to this or that problem facing all of humanity. We have chosen three global issues as the priorities for our presidency in 2006. We chose these issues through consultations with our G8 partners and we think that they are of the greatest relevance today not only to us but to the entire international community. What are these three issues? First is energy security, second is the fight against infectious diseases, and third is the development of education. These are the three main priorities that will be on the agenda for our discussions.
Question: Could we say that energy security really is the number one item on the agenda?
Vladimir Putin: Yes, this is indeed the case. As I said, we have agreed with our partners on these priorities that we proposed. All of our colleagues agree that these are very important matters and that paramount among them is the question of energy security. At any rate, energy security is one of the biggest problems facing us today and it will be a big issue for the future too given that without energy, without resolving energy issues, no development at all is possible. But I want to make it clear that by energy security we mean not just the energy needs of the most industrially developed countries but the needs of every member of the international community. We are well aware that billions of people – around two billion by our estimates – have problems with access to the benefits of modern civilisation precisely because their countries have insufficient energy. And we know for a fact that millions of people do not even have electricity. In talking about energy security then, we are talking about the needs of the entire world and not just of the industrially developed countries. Of course, we also chose to address this issue because we believe that Russia can make a noticeable and significant contribution to its resolution. I do not think there is anyone in the world today who would doubt that Russia can make a contribution to resolving this global challenge that we face.
Question: You have also selected the fight against infectious diseases as a priority. What are the prospects for making progress in this area? Are there plans to take practical steps?
Vladimir Putin: I certainly hope that we will make progress not just in examining this issue but also in resolving the problems that we face in our fight against infectious diseases. Humanity has waged a war for survival against infectious diseases throughout its entire existence. History gives us numerous examples of these battles in Europe and on other continents, in other countries. In our modern history too we have the example first of AIDS, and then it was SARS that was in the headlines, and now we face the challenge of avian flu. This is all not just chance and I think therefore that we are right to make this combat against infectious diseases a priority. We must be ready for any turn the situation may take. We can prepare ourselves by uniting forces in the fight against disease and by making the necessary resources available on time. And these resources need to be made available not just in countries riding the wave of economic or financial success but also in countries that do not have such possibilities today. Our common effort will be effective only if it is as global as the threat itself. I very much hope that by uniting the efforts of politicians, scientists, public figures, informal organisations and NGOs, we will be able to make real progress and achieve real improvement on this front.
Question: Education is one of the priority items on the agenda for the G8 this year. This issue is important not just for the other G8 countries but above all for Russia itself.
Vladimir Putin: It is important not just for Russia. Education is an issue that concerns all countries without exception, regardless of their level of economic development. Of course, there are countries in need of particular support for the development of education. But the issue concerns all countries because even in the developed countries we often face the problem of illiteracy or low levels of literacy. This is a huge problem and it is not just linked to education. There can be no economic or social development without education — that is clear. But poor education and illiteracy also have other repercussions that are not even linked to education at first glance. To give an example, poorly educated people are easy prey for all manner of radical preachers and for missionaries from various extremist organisations. Poor education creates fertile soil for xenophobia and for stirring up interethnic and inter-religious hatred. Ultimately, poor education creates a breeding ground for terrorism. Education therefore is an area of great importance, closely linked to many other areas, and as such it is always high on the agenda at the G8 summits and will be one of the priorities for our presidency.
Question: You have named the main priorities for the G8’s work this year, but I am sure that other problems will also be raised. What other issues will be discussed at the summit in St Petersburg?
Vladimir Putin: There are issues that are almost always on the agenda from one summit to another. We were just talking about education for example. I remember when I first took part in a G8 summit, in Japan I think it was, and we discussed the education issue then too. Our discussions at that time centred on education for girls and women because this is a serious problem in some countries, a serious social and education issue. So as you can see, education is present on the agenda in one form or another from year to year. There are also other matters of concern that keep coming up on the agenda. The fight against terrorism is one example. This is a vital issue for the world today and we cannot ignore it and will certainly discuss various aspects of work in this area. Other issues that come up from one summit to the next include economic development, financial stability, world markets and global trade. Then there are of course the current problems on the international agenda. I am sure that we will examine the situation in the Middle East, in Iraq, and the situation with the Iranian nuclear programme. Another matter that is perhaps less pressing at the moment but is still always discussed in one format or another is the situation on the Korean Peninsula and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s nuclear programme. This issue has not yet been closed and there are still problems to be settled. The G8 is useful in that it creates the opportunity to meet informally and concentrate on two or three main priorities while also giving the chance to discuss any other relevant issues of concern to the leaders of the member countries and the entire international community. I very much hope that we will be able to create a welcoming, friendly and at the same time business-like atmosphere at our meetings in St Petersburg in July 2006.