Question: Mr President! Our countries’ relations have a long history. In the past, our dialogue developed at the governmental level. Now it is time to pay more attention to the dialogue between ordinary citizens. What are your current plans to bring people together?
President Vladimir Putin: In 2000 we signed the Declaration on Strategic Partnership. And I must say that the principles contained in this document have been implemented over the past few years. It seems to me that not only our governments were close during the previous decades but, without any doubt, our peoples also drew closer together. And the main reason that this took place and is taking place today is that we have a great many things in common, many common interests in a huge number of issues that are important for both our countries. We are natural allies. I am confident that the forthcoming visit will enable us to have the opportunity to make several additional steps towards strengthening our strategic partnership. I am referring to coordinating our positions on key international problems, military and technical cooperation, and expanding economic cooperation. Along with this, we have important long-term plans in sectors that are important to us, including in high-tech. I am referring to the space sector, aviation, ship manufacturing and energy, including nuclear energy. As you see, this range is very wide. Of course it includes relations in the cultural and educational spheres. We are going to talk with the Indian leadership about all these problems. I am confident that we will make progress in each of these areas.
Question: Mr President, a question about economic cooperation between private enterprises. You were correct to point out the significant progress that has been made at the federal level – in the space sector, the defense industry, and in other sectors. But how are you planning to develop cooperation at the level of private enterprise, a field in which, it seems to me, relations are still quite undeveloped?
Vladimir Putin: I completely agree with you and this constitutes a problem in our relations. You hit the nail on the head. Our volume of trade is quite good but it is nevertheless absolutely insufficient for Russia and India since it is only three billion USD. Last year Russia and China had 20 billion USD of trade and in the next five to eight years we are setting ourselves the task of attaining 60 billion USD. We trade 5 or 6 times more – that is, many times more – with some European countries, countries whose economic size and range cannot be compared to India’s, than we do with a powerful partner such as India.
Do you know what I think both of our main problems are? Our inheritance from a planned economy – too much bureaucracy. But I imagine that new instruments for cooperation and direct contacts between business communities with state support may – and will certainly – have positive results.
We agreed to carry out a forum for business partners, and first and foremost those from the private sector. Our experience of cooperation and using such instruments with our other partners has proven that this is a very effective way to develop direct contacts between business communities. Using India’s debt to the Russian Federation to expand Russian actors’ investment potential in the Indian economy is another practical opportunity that lies before us.
Along with this, I also think that we should primarily emphasise on the high-tech sector because the transport and logistical expenses in this sphere are minimal. Goods and services in the high-tech sector do not have important logistical burdens. We also have certain agreements in this respect. I hope that our finance ministries will make decisions that will allow us to use debt instruments to expand cooperation. By around 2010 we could increase our volume of trade to 10 billion USD or, in any case increase it by three to four times, and then double it again by 2015. These are absolutely realistic goals. I think that we will achieve positive results if both parties continue to work intensively to eliminate bureaucracy from the business relations between our countries and between partners.
Question: One bureaucratic problem you mentioned involves the visa regime between our countries. Do you have any plans to simplify the visa regime in the next few months? In particular, could this include removing the rigid rules concerning issuing visas and introducing a simplified regime with long-term and multiple entry visas for Indian citizens who wish to travel?
Vladimir Putin: Yes, we are moving in this direction. We already discussed visa problems during my last visit to India. Our foreign ministers are in contact and are working together with the responsible departments to simplify visa procedures. The general development here naturally involves simplifying visa procedures for certain categories of citizens, including members of the business community. But it is also certainly true that according to international practices, these types of issues must be resolved in tandem. As a matter of fact there is a mirror effect in this area – what takes place in one country takes place in another.
Question: Mr President, how fast do you think this will take place? Are you receiving an adequate answer from Indian leadership? You talked about how this issue must be solved on a mutual basis, and for that reason I wanted to know what your Indian partners are telling you about this?
Vladimir Putin: Yes, we have a mutual understanding with our Indian partners. Certain steps have already been taken in this direction. But I am confident that this is not yet enough. Our foreign ministries are continuing to work on this and I have no doubt that we will go further towards simplifying visa procedures.
Question: Mr President, you said just now that in three to four years the volume of Indian-Russian trade will reach 10 billion USD and eventually double by 2015.
In which concrete sectors do you plan to increase the volume of trade?
Vladimir Putin: I already mentioned some areas that we associate with the high-tech sector. I will repeat once again: the space sector, aviation, energy and communications. There are also certain industrial sectors, such as ship building. And of course this includes mutual investments that will allow us to expand our range of mutual opportunities. Of course we are not going to forget about our traditional areas of cooperation.
Indian tea has always benefited from a special and very good reputation in Russia, and lately this reputation has not suffered in the least. For that reason we intend to expand our efforts into new directions but not forget about our traditional spheres of cooperation. Along with this, I think that joint projects in the high-tech sector are very promising. And in this sector it is possible to do more than simply trade finished goods and services but also to produce joint products for the markets of third countries.
And, finally, we know that our Indian partners are very interested in cooperation in the energy sector. This includes both fossil fuels and nuclear energy. Incidentally, last year India had the highest growth rate of consumption of crude fossil fuels. We are considering all this and are in permanent contact with our Indian friends. And all of this represents a huge potential for developing our cooperation.
Question: Many people are now saying that in the near future and as the Indian economy develops, India is likely to become the most dependent country on fossil fuels. At the same time, nuclear energy is also developing.
What is your attitude towards the Indian party’s expectations concerning the development of its nuclear energy?
Vladimir Putin: Positive. We recognise that any country, any nation, has the right to indiscriminate access to modern technology. In addition, according to experts the task of resolving energy problems in many countries – and I am not referring specifically to your country – is not possible without nuclear power.
This is not the problem. The problem consists in something else, namely, in the non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. This does not only affect India but many other so-called threshold countries. For that reason, when we discuss a topic such as, for example, the Iranian nuclear dossier we have to think about the fact that this is not something unique. On the contrary, it has a universal character. It is for this reason that Russia has proposals on this account.
We consider it necessary to create a network of international centres to enrich nuclear fuel under the supervision of international organisations and of course, first and foremost, the IAEA. In our opinion, these centres should provide equal, indiscriminate, democratic access to technologies and materials while simultaneously adhering to the principles and requirements of nonproliferation.
And with regards to our cooperation with India in the sphere of civil nuclear energy, both Russians and Indians are well aware that Russia and India are long-standing partners in this field. Our country has done a great deal to help develop India’s nuclear energy.
We know about the Indian leadership’s plans to expand this sector. Of course we are ready to support our Indian friends while simultaneously complying with the obligations Russia took on in the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. For this reason we are holding talks with our Indian partners and with the Nuclear Suppliers Group. In any event, I consider that cooperation in this sphere is very promising.
Question: Mr President, you mentioned nuclear cooperation between Russia and India. What do you think about the nuclear arrangements between India and the USA? Is it an obstacle to developing further cooperation between our countries or is it perfectly acceptable?
Vladimir Putin: We do not examine how India develops her relations with other countries, including in the nuclear sphere. Our cooperation with India is based on the bilateral level. We certainly respect the principles of non-proliferation and our obligations contained in international treaties, and we think and assume that our other partners will do the same. We make the decision to conclude or not to conclude agreements with our Indian partners ourselves but, I repeat, while observing our international obligations.
Question: I wanted to emphasise the fact that Russia is a long-standing friend of India’s in the nuclear sphere. Russia has also acted as a supplier, helped construct a nuclear reactor and other projects.
Do you plan to extend this programme for cooperation? Do you plan to sign an agreement in this sector during your visit or start any new projects designed to expand relations in this sector such as, in particular, nuclear reactors?
Vladimir Putin: I already said that we know about the Indian government’s plans to expand their nuclear energy sector. Moreover, our experts consider that these plans are absolutely justified and that otherwise India could not protect its economic interests and attain its planned economic growth. For that reason we are thinking of and developing various plans in this sphere. As I already said, we are doing this not only in contact with our Indian friends; we are also working on this with other partners, including the Nuclear Suppliers Group. You absolutely correctly pointed out that Russia is a reliable, responsible partner and a true friend of India’s. We have already done a great deal to create a civil nuclear sector in India and we are ready to cooperate further.
You know, I happen to be traveling to India on the 60th anniversary of Independence Day and the establishment of our diplomatic relations. But I am going to India not only for the celebration – I am also going to work. Of course we are going to discuss all these problems and this is one of the most important themes of our talks. I am confident that these talks and consultations will be useful. In any case, they will support further expanding our cooperation. I do not exclude the fact that we will reach certain agreements. But we will only know what these will be at the end of the visit.
Question: A question on another subject. Many of us are interested in what former President Yeltsin is now doing in his free time?
Vladimir Putin: I was recently at Boris Nikolaevich Yeltsin’s house and gave him my best wishes for the new year. He had a little bit of a cold but otherwise is fine. He reads a lot, goes places, travels. If these trips have the possibility to make some kind of contribution to developing Russia’s relations with our partners then we consult him on this issue. By working together with him and our Ministry of Foreign Affairs we use his experience and authority whenever appropriate. Of course he is not engaged in current political and official work but he is informed on what is happening in Russia and supports direct, close relations with many of his colleagues in other countries.
Question: Let us return to what we were discussing before. I would like to ask whether you have any plans of what you would like to achieve and which agreements could eventually be concluded during this forthcoming visit? Let me be more concrete: in particular, in relation to the nuclear reactor that Russia has already built. Do you foresee any further cooperation in constructing new reactors or in delivering fuel, or the possibilities of creating installations to process nuclear fuel?
Vladimir Putin: We are going to talk about that. Do you want me to tell you everything now? And what would our position be during the talks? It is a living process.
In any case, our Indian partners are well aware and there cannot be any doubts on this account. Russia was, is and will remain India’s reliable partner. We intend to directly help India construct various civil nuclear installations. Moreover, our companies are interested in receiving major orders for constructing units. We have repeatedly delivered nuclear fuel to India.
We are also going to help India settle and resolve problems on the international arena. And we will certainly continue our cooperation while respecting our international obligations. And we have already been able to cooperate with India in this sphere while respecting our obligations. We will continue to cooperate.
Question: Will you raise the issue of India’s situation in the Nuclear Suppliers Group?
Vladimir Putin: It is exactly what we are talking about all the time, especially issues relating to India. There is no irony here, no joke. This is true. This issue is permanently being examined by our experts working in the Nuclear Suppliers Group.
Question: Mr President, you just said that you intend to help India resolve its international problems. How do you intend to do this?
Vladimir Putin: We are already doing so. I already said that in the Nuclear Suppliers Group we are constantly working, have already found the opportunity to make deliveries of nuclear fuel, and are constructing nuclear installations in India. We welcome the fact that India has assumed the responsibilities and satisfies the necessary conditions associated with non-proliferation, as contained in the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons.
I must tell you that our experts are in constant contact, consult each other, and are looking for steps – acceptable both for India and for the international community as a whole – that would support or create the conditions for the development of Indian nuclear energy. These are well-conceived and quite effective steps.
Question: Are our countries presently discussing cooperation in the struggle against terrorism? In particular, are you examining the issue of our relations with Pakistan?
Vladimir Putin: Our cooperation in counterterrorism is very topical. This has, is and unfortunately will continue to be the case for quite some time.
As to relations between India and Pakistan, this represents a more difficult problem. We always opposed and still oppose the infiltration of any insurgents onto Indian territory, from any country and including from Pakistan. But our cooperation in counterterrorism is wider than that. It takes place between our special services, defense ministries and foreign ministries in the international arena. As I have already said, I am sure that it will continue.
Our position on Indian-Pakistani relations is well-known. We proceed from the fact that there is an unconditional need to respect a state’s territorial integrity and we welcome what Indian and Pakistani leadership has done recently with a view to normalising relations. We will continue to make a tangible contribution to the settlement process. In connection with this and in my opinion, it is very important to search for joint economic projects. Cooperation between business communities always acts as an additional basis for trust and cooperation.
Question: Since you mentioned the economic sphere, I would like to ask the following question. The Russian economy is presently developing very quickly: Russia has a surplus and is using it to invest in Europe and, in particular, in EU countries. Does Russia have plans to make direct investments in India’s economy?
Vladimir Putin: Over the past few years Russia really has shown quite a high rate of economic growth. Our average yearly growth rate is about seven percent. Last year it was 6,9 percent. And you rightly said that we have a surplus budget and we also had a trade surplus last year. Our gold and currency reserves are growing. They are changing but, as a whole, I think that Russia already has the third largest gold and currency reserves in the world. The government cabinet’s Stabilisation Fund is also growing.
But we are not engaged in any aggressive national investment policy abroad. Russian investments are basically made by the private sector. In the past few years our private companies have also seen their possibilities for investment increase significantly. Many of our companies are interested in making investments in India. We are ready to support them if need be. However, first and foremost they require the support of the Indian government. One of these spheres includes telecommunications, for example. But it is far from the only one. I repeat that many Russian companies are showing their interest. And this will also be one of the issues we are going to discuss with our Indian partners during our negotiations.
Question: Mr President, as part of our countries’ strategic partnership cooperation in the defense industry is growing. I would like to know whether you will discuss this issue during the forthcoming visit? Will issues such as building a transport plane with the help of Russian companies for use in India or selling India fifth generation fighter jets be on the agenda? In particular, are you planning to sell India a Russian MiG-35? Many are now talking about the successful defense cooperation project BRAHMOS. What future does this type of cooperation hold?
Vladimir Putin: You already said everything; you know everything better than I do.
Question: Nevertheless, what comprehensive package do you plan to offer India or plan to receive from India?
Vladimir Putin: In practice, it has been agreed on. When I talked about our relations’ strategic character, I was including cooperation in the military and technical sphere. This is a very sensitive sector that requires high levels of trust. And Russia and India have reached that level. Russian-Indian cooperation in the military technical sphere significantly differs from our cooperation with other countries. It is unique in that we have not simply engaged in buying and selling military equipment and technology but we have also reached another more trusting, more significant stage of cooperation, namely joint projects. And of course this first and foremost concerns the BRAHMOS system, the anti-ship missile.
Your colleague asked about an aircraft carrier, a fifth generation fighter jet, and about delivering other types of Russian aviation technology. We will discuss all of this. We will discuss delivering the technology we have and the possibility of producing a transport plane together. We can also talk about the joint production of a fifth generation fighter jet. I would like to see our talks in this sector achieve positive results. Our Indian partners are interested in all these projects and I see no reason why we should refuse to do it.
We have recently taken a number of steps that will allow us to develop our cooperation. This refers to creating enterprises on Indian territory to service and repair Russian military equipment. In other words, we are talking about all aspects of cooperation, namely development, production, service and repair.
Question: And what about selling the finished products of this joint manufacturing project to third countries?
Vladimir Putin: We are certainly discussing products that could be used not only by Indian and Russian armed forces but which are also in demand on world weapons markets.
Question: Recently Russia has achieved significant success, especially in prospecting and detecting new stocks of oil. Russia possesses a surplus of this resource while India is somewhat dissatisfied with how problems concerning supplying our country with oil are being resolved.
Do you have any plans or thoughts on this issue? In particular, the issue of involving Indian companies in the Sakhalin-3 project? Especially since the biggest capital investments India has made abroad are in Sakhalin. Do you propose that India cooperate further in investments in Sakhalin?
Vladimir Putin: First and foremost, I will allow myself to correct you – I do not think that we have had great successes in prospecting. This is perhaps precisely the weakness of Russian extracting companies and evidence that the state has not paid enough attention to prospecting.
Literally two or three days ago I worked on this issue. We talked about this issue with the Prime Minister, the leaders of major companies, with the heads of the government cabinet and made the corresponding decisions.
Second (if the translation was correct) you said that we have too many mineral resources. Too many mineral resources, just like too much money, is not possible. But it is true that Russia is one of the world’s richest countries in this regard and our country possesses opportunities that are still underestimated. We are ready to cooperate with our partners. In contrast to the OPEC countries, our energy sector is not state-controlled. A significant part of this sector is controlled by private enterprise. In practice, all of the world’s major companies are working in Russian territory. This also includes Indian partners who are working in the Sakalin-1 project. Several years ago the Russian company where the state has its shares, Rosneft, sold 20 percent of its shares to Indian partners. At the end of last year, in December if I am not mistaken, the first oil shipments took place.
Indian partners are interested in expanding cooperation in this sphere, and not only in oil extraction but also in gas extraction. We are talking about the possibility of carrying out an operation with the participation of Japanese partners as well as partners from other countries. There is a very wide range of possibilities. These issues must be solved at the corporate level. The state will provide support.
Question: How do you perceive Russia’s role in the present world order? Some people say that Russia is again taking on the characteristics of a superpower and will aspire to increase its influence in the world. Is this how you see the situation? What is your sense of the prospects for Russia’s foreign policy?
Vladimir Putin: A superpower is a cold war term. When people today say that Russia aspires to have this status, I interpret it in the following way: they want to undermine trust in Russia, to portray Russia as frightening, and create some kind of image of an enemy. Because those who want to continue with previous policies, with cold war policies, require an enemy. Without an external enemy it is difficult to have order in your own house. Without an external enemy it is difficult to achieve military discipline among one’s own allies and to convince them to make sacrifices that, in fact, are not necessary. Russia is in favour of a multipolar world, a democratic world order, strengthening the system of international law, and for developing a legal system in which any small country, even a very small country, can feel itself secure, as if behind a stone wall. In which any country, including a very small one, is not afraid and in which a superpower cannot break the rules with impunity for its own, and often egoistical, interests.
Russia is ready to become part of this multipolar world and guarantee that the international community observes these rules. And not as a superpower with special rights, but rather as an equal among equals. And this is why we also need economic and military power – namely to help guarantee the respect for international law and equal rights among all participants of the international community.
Question: Mr President, as far as we know, you love Indian food. Do you plan to taste a specific Indian dish during your forthcoming visit to India? What are your favourite dishes?
Vladimir Putin: You know, I have already visited Indian restaurants both in Moscow and in St Petersburg. I am not going to pronounce the name of an Indian dish; I am simply afraid of making mistakes. But I definitely know that it is tasty and that I like it. That is true.
I am confident that I will be able to try some delicious dishes your cooks have made. Then I will tell you my impressions.
Question: I would like you to once again to come back to the world order.
India is very interested in the BRIC group that includes Brazil, Russia, India and China, and also in the RIC group that includes Russia, India and China. What is your vision for the future of these communities?
Vladimir Putin: First and foremost I would like to say that this abbreviation was not thought up in Russia, or in India, or in China, or in Brazil. This abbreviation was thought up by international investment agencies that calculated and came to the conclusion that by 2040–50 in many areas (quite a large number of areas) our countries’ economies will occupy important, essential positions in the world market and will influence the development of the world economy. And they are correct. And if that is the case then we should certainly assume our responsibility.
The world is very diverse and is not only limited to G8 countries. Incidentally, some of the events we prepared within the G8 last year involved our partners from India, China and Brazil from the very beginning. The geometry of international relations is much more complex then the EU, the G8 or NATO. Those that I listed are countries with which we cooperate extensively – we cooperate within the G8, in Europe and on the American continent. But developing relations with India, China and Latin America are among our priorities. And cooperation in such a structure is quite productive. Our countries’ foreign ministries have held consultations for several years. And, as far as I remember, in February we plan to meet in a three-party format.
With regards to the three-party format Russia – India – China, in addition to global problems there are also issues of regional cooperation. In practice, we are all neighbours and it is very important to us that we look for common approaches to resolving common problems. As is always the case, there can be certain disputes or conflicts in these issues. But we require these instruments to break out of our conflicts and to look for ways to develop together. For that reason I very highly value our potential cooperation in both three- and four-party formats, and I consider this cooperation to be promising.
Question: Mr President, you just mentioned the changing world order. This concerns the EU, NATO and, in particular, the UN. And I would like to ask a question in connection with this. Since the world order is changing and reforms are taking place in the UN, how do you see Russia’s role in the process of UN reform? What is your attitude to India’s application to participate in the UN Security Council?
Vladimir Putin: Russia is one of the founders of the UN and a permanent member of the Security Council. I consider that, at present, there is nothing like the UN in the international arena. The UN is a unique universal instrument to resolve international problems. And, of course, we have to act very carefully in this respect. But as I already said earlier, the structure and principles of the UN’s activities must correspond with today’s requirements. For that reason we would welcome the fact that India participate more in the UN’s activities, including as a permanent Security Council member. Moreover, this is also in our interests, in light of the special relations between India and Russia. I am confident that in view of our special relations with India, Russia would gain a reliable partner and ally in the Security Council.
The question is how to carry out the reforms. First of all, reforms should be carried out without damaging the UN’s existing operating principles. We must achieve results by improving the UN’s capacities and effectiveness and not, on the contrary, by diminishing its effectiveness. This decision must be taken based on a wide consensus.
We are going to continue to work.
Question: Can you somehow define how long it will take to achieve this large consensus? How soon will this take place?
Vladimir Putin: We need to work as much as necessary to achieve this goal. We do not need to rush. Patience is what is required. No one knows when this could take place. But if we work on this intensively, then we will eventually achieve results.
Question: Next year your presidency will come to an end. When any head of state arrives at the end of term he naturally thinks about how to prepare a successor. Are you now thinking about this issue? Are you engaged in it?
Vladimir Putin: I think about this all the time, ever since the very first day I was elected for my first term. I have already said that I like my work. Judging by the results of opinion polls I know the country’s mood on this issue. But I cannot require others to abide by the law if I break the law myself and, first and foremost, the country’s basic, most important law, that of the constitution. The constitution prevents anyone from being elected more than two consecutive times.
We already know some characteristics of the person who will be the next president. According to the constitution it will be a Russian citizen who has lived in the country for no less than ten years and who is over 35.
Of course I would very much like for the future head of state to continue the policies that we have developed over the past few years. Judging by opinion polls, this is what the vast majority of Russian citizens would like as well. I believe that this is not by accident, since over the past few years we escaped from a situation in which there were permanent crises in Russia, reached stable economic growth, and saw increases in the population’s incomes.
The main task of the future head of state and the whole Russian political system will be to ensure the stable growth of population incomes, as well as the level and quality of life of citizens of Russia. I am confident that our citizens can distinguish between decent, capable people and talkers, bluffers and idlers. And just the same as in any democratic country, the final choice lies with Russian citizens.
Question: Is there a chance that Russian citizens will support making an amendment to the constitution so that you could once again be reelected as president?
Vladimir Putin: With all due respect for Indian journalists, I think that we would need to discuss this issue with the citizens of Russia.
Question: Many of us have already asked ourselves the question: what does President Putin do during his free time? I know that you have little free time. But nevertheless, when you do have time, what do you like to do?
There are rumors that you are writing your memoirs in your free time. Is that true?
Vladimir Putin: No. I have practically not even read the literature on my biography. I think that it is still early for me to write my memoirs. I still have not done everything possible to develop Russian-Indian relations. And I hope that during this visit that will take place during the 60th anniversary celebrations of the modern Indian state – and it is a great honour for me to visit your country during those days – we will be able to do a great deal to further our cooperation and bring it to a new level. I remember how warmly we were received during my previous visits to India. I would like to take this opportunity to give my very best wishes to the people of India and to express my hope that relations between our peoples will develop even faster than they have done in previous years.
All the best!