Comment: Mr President,
It gives me pleasure to welcome you to Al-Jazeera. Thank you for finding the time to meet with our viewers.
Vladimir Putin: Your channel is becoming increasingly influential not only in the Arab and Muslim world, but around the world in general. I am therefore pleased to have this opportunity to speak with you and explain Russia’s point of view on whichever issues interest you and your viewers.
Question: Thank you very much.
Let me begin with one of the most pressing problems – Iraq. What is your assessment of the situation in Iraq? Do you think what we are seeing there is civil war?
Vladimir Putin: We were against this from the outset. Our position of principle is that we always oppose the use of military means to resolve any of the problems in international affairs, all the more so without direct authorisation from the UN Security Council, because this undermines the international-legal foundations of peace throughout the world. But what has happened has happened and we have to deal today with the reality of the situation. We will do all we can to work together with everyone involved in this process to help resolve this situation.
The situation is very worrying, of course, and it is no exaggeration to say that it is indeed tragic. Saddam Hussein was executed just recently. I do not wish to comment on this at the moment. But what were the charges made against him? He was charged with carrying out reprisals against the residents of Shiite villages that resulted in the execution of around 148 people, and more in another location. Those were the kinds of figures cited, in any case. But since military operations began in Iraq, more than 3,000 Americans have been killed and the number of Iraqi civilians killed, according to various estimates, is already in the hundreds of thousands. Can we really compare these two situations?
Of course, we must reflect on how to find a way out of this situation. I think that unless the Iraqi people are given the right and possibility to decide their own future, it will not be possible to resolve this problem.
Question: And what do you see as the solution?
Vladimir Putin: The solution is simple: strengthen Iraq’s own capacity to ensure its security, withdraw the foreign contingent from Iraqi soil and give the Iraqi people the chance to decide their own future.
Question: Can I ask you then what your view is of the new American strategy for Iraq that Mr Bush announced recently, and will this strategy solve the problem?
Vladimir Putin: A new strategy, as we understand it, should involve a new approach to resolving this or that problem. If the strategy involves only increasing the numbers, we don’t see anything new in it. When our American partners talk simply of boosting their military contingent, we do not consider this to be a new strategy. But that does not mean that there is nothing new in President Bush’s initiatives. I think that there is something new in a point that was spoken about before but not cemented as the official line, namely, as I said just before, this issue of transferring full powers, above all in the areas of law enforcement and security, to the appropriate Iraqi departments and agencies. The U.S. President has spoken about this publicly, it is reflected in his latest initiative, and if this is the official line, we can say that this does represent something new. But I think that it will work only if a date is set for the withdrawal of the foreign contingent. This is because in any conflict and in any country, people in the country have to know by what date they need to be ready to take full responsibility for their country upon themselves. When there is no clear date, when it is not clear at what point the country’s institutions need to have reached a certain level of development, responsibility ends up being placed on the foreign contingent. I think that a date should be set for the withdrawal of the foreign troops.
Question: Mr President, you mentioned the execution of Saddam Hussein. Did you see this footage?
Vladimir Putin: I did. It was terrible, a barbaric execution.
Question: Yes. Now, turning to another big issue – Iran. Mr President, you are in regular contact with the Iranian leadership. Have you received any positive signals from Tehran on settling the Iranian nuclear issue?
Vladimir Putin: We are indeed in contact with the Iranian leadership. Mr Ivanov, the secretary of the Russian Security Council was just in Tehran, and after my meeting with you, I have a meeting scheduled with an envoy of the Iranian leadership, who has brought me a message from Iran’s religious leader, Mr Khamenei.
We know the position of our Iranian partners. We very much hope that they will also give consideration to our recommendations. There are no questions or doubts on the Iranian side as to the sincerity of our relations with Iran. All of our action seeks to settle the confrontation over the Iranian nuclear issue. We think that this would not take much. Iran must address the concerns of Mr El-Baradei and the organisation he heads, but we do not think that this need in any way infringe on Iran’s plans and right to develop peaceful nuclear technology.
Question: As you know, Mr El-Baradei recently proposed that Iran stop its uranium enrichment activities simultaneously with a lifting of sanctions against Tehran. Am I right in understanding that you support this initiative?
Vladimir Putin: Yes, we support it. We think it is a carefully conceived and balanced initiative that does not harm Iran’s interests.
Question: In your contacts with the Iranians, have you received any positive signals about this initiative in particular?
Vladimir Putin: We have received the signal that Iran would like to resolve this problem, but as to whether our Iranian partners are willing to respond positively to Mr El-Baradei’s proposals, we have not heard anything constructive on this particular issue.
Question: Russia’s foreign minister, Mr Lavrov, said a few days ago that Washington had assured him that it did not have plans for military intervention in Iran. Could you say that this constitutes guarantees from the USA on this issue?
Vladimir Putin: This matter is one of the key issues on the international agenda, and not only with regard to Iran. This is a matter of security guarantees in the world in general and the modern architecture of international relations. Can the members of the international community feel that international law really does provide them with solid and reliable protection today? Or are we going to make unilateral decisions not based on international law part of the practice of international relations?
We very much hope that the assurances Mr Lavrov received from our American colleagues really do correspond to reality. We think, and I hope, that is indeed the case.
But at the same time, I think that people in Iran and throughout the entire world remember very well how events developed in Iraq, which you asked me about at the start of this interview. I would just like to remind you that we adopted a resolution on Iraq in the autumn of 2002, and the IAEA noted that Iraq was cooperating actively with the organisation and positively assessed Iraq’s efforts to develop this cooperation. Despite this, military operations began in the spring of 2003. This is the first point that raises concern.
Second, the new initiative on Iraq that you mentioned provides for not only increasing the military contingent on Iraqi soil itself, but also for deploying aircraft carrying units in the region. Independent military experts say that this is not necessary for resolving the problem in Iraq.
Furthermore, a fairly large naval presence armed with missile technology is already deployed in the Persian Gulf and is not being used for operations in Iraq. All of this together does raise questions and gives us some cause for concern.
Question: The West, the USA and Israel criticise Russia for its military and technical assistance to Iran, including in the field of nuclear energy. Do you plan to continue this cooperation despite the fuss it has caused?
Vladimir Putin: We are always being criticised for something. I know of no country that has not at some point or another been criticised for its foreign policy, if it is able to pursue an active and independent foreign policy in keeping with its national interests. Our foreign policy is highly balanced. We pursue our national interests, but at the same time we comply strictly with the Charter of the United Nations and with international law in general.
In this respect, I would like to say that our nuclear energy and military-technical cooperation with Iran is not in contradiction with any international laws. We have not taken a single step that violates any of the international agreements relating to Iran. Our nuclear programme, the programme to build a nuclear power plant for electricity production at Bushehr is exclusively peaceful and is under the full control of IAEA inspectors. The inspectors have their verification equipment in place and are always present, and they have no claims to make against our programme at Bushehr.
We will continue to follow this same line in any future action. We are categorically opposed to the proliferation of nuclear weapons. It is not in our own national interests to even consider for a second allowing another country to acquire nuclear weapons. This would not contribute to strengthening world peace.
As for our military-technical cooperation, we cooperate in this area with many countries in the region and not just with Iran. We have been working with Iran for around 40 years now, but this cooperation is very limited. We have made very few arms supplies to Iran. Our last supply was the delivery of mid-range air defence systems with a radius of 30–50 km. This is a purely defensive weapons system and the supply of this kind of weapons system does not upset the balance of power in the region. Looking at arms supplies to the region as a whole, Russia supplies many times fewer arms to the Middle East than do a good number of other countries. I think that our actions are therefore fully justified. We act within the limits of international law, as I said. But as far as Iran goes, there is one other issue that I think we should not forget. We think that Iran should not be made to feel that it is surrounded by hostile forces. I think we must not push a country such as Iran and the Iranian people into a dead end, into some kind of trap. The Iranian people and leadership must realise that they do have friends in this world, that there are people ready to talk to them, and that there are people they can trust. We need to make them aware of this so as to create the atmosphere that will help us to resolve the most pressing problem we face with Iran – that of its nuclear problem.
Question: Your country has returned recently to the idea of convening an international conference on the Middle East. Mr President, what kind of outcome do you think such a conference could have?
Vladimir Putin: I discussed this issue just yesterday with the Secretary General of the League of Arab States. We share the view of our colleagues from the Arab countries who say that before such a conference begins, they would like to be certain of its results and have an understanding of the outcome it is expected to bring. This is an ideal scenario, of course, and we would very much want for things to be this way too.
But what is happening now in the Middle East and in Palestine? Chaos, that’s what. We need to come up with new ideas, consolidate our positions, establish a dialogue that would enable us to actually hear each other, listen to each other and perhaps even have a positive influence on each other. We think that organising a major conference that would involve not only Palestine and Israel but also other countries in the region, the leading Arab countries and of course also the ‘Quartet’ of mediators, would help to create a positive environment for addressing the problems before us today and achieving a breakthrough in the current situation.
I am, certainly, not one of those Trotskyites who say that it is only the movement forward that counts, and not the final aim. I would also like to see concrete results. This is why I think that we should begin work immediately on coordinating our positions.
Question: Do you think that the time could come when even countries that previously rejected the idea of such an international conference and did not support such an initiative might agree to it?
Vladimir Putin: Yes, I think so.
Question: Good. Mr President, a year ago, if you recall, you were asked your view of the Hamas victory in Palestinian parliamentary elections. Your response caused a big stir in the West at that time because you said that Russia had never considered Hamas a terrorist organisation. Your decision to invite Hamas officials to Moscow caused even greater controversy. Do you now regret that position you took then?
Vladimir Putin: No, not at all. We have no regrets and on the contrary, we think that we were right to do what we did. The situation is very urgent today. I don’t have time to make an analysis of all the events since the late 1940s that have brought the region to the state it is in today, and in any case, this interview is not the right moment for such a detailed analysis. But it is obvious that the situation is very complex and that there are many mutual claims, grievances and unresolved problems that have accumulated. Our position is that all the people living in this region have the right to statehood and to a safe existence. That is the first point.
Second, Hamas has used it own means to fight for its stated aims, and I am not certain that they have always been good means. But Hamas won the election. And we have always heard and still keep hearing calls from our European and American partners, to develop democracy. We also know about the theory of democratising the Greater Middle East, although no one seems to be able to define the geographical boundaries of this Greater Middle East. As for what democratisation of this Greater Middle East consists of, it seems no one has any clear idea of what this means, but the fact remains that the idea has been put forward. So it has been put forward, and here we have the first result: the Hamas victory in Palestinian elections. What is democracy? It is power of the people. We are always being told that one must respect the people’s choice. Well then, do respect this choice. Let us not set Palestinians and their organisations against each other. This is a flawed theory and a flawed practice, for this idea of ‘divide and rule’ never brings any good but only drives situations into a dead end.
Alright, say Hamas is driven underground, but the problems won’t go underground, they will remain out in the open. We need to take another approach. After all, if Hamas is responsible for the Palestinian people’s future, it will behave accordingly and will be simply forced to take the reality of the situation into account, and the reality is that the state of Israel exists. The reality is also that the international community and the entire world not only agrees with this but has cemented it in international agreements adopted by the United Nations.
I think that anyone can understand that if a political group claims the right to lead a people and a country, it cannot ignore the view of all of humanity, as expressed in agreements adopted by the world’s universal international organisation – the United Nations. It is my view therefore that we should of course work with Hamas to convince it of the need to recognise Israel’s right of existence.
This is not easy of course, but it is better to work with people who have influence among their country’s people and try to transform their position through negotiations than to pretend that they do not exist.
Is it possible to achieve such a shift in their views? Of course it is. Just remember one influential political leader in the Arab world – Yasser Arafat. There was a time, after all, when he was also viewed as a terrorist, but he ended up receiving the Nobel Peace Prize. This shows that change is possible. We just need to have patience and be willing to work together.
Question: Mr President, do you still think that the current situation in the Middle East is the result of the failures of U.S. diplomacy in this region?
Vladimir Putin: I have never said that. Why do you say ‘do you still think?’ When did I ever express such a view?
Question: Last year, answering my question, you said that ‘the Hamas victory is a big blow for American diplomacy’.
Vladimir Putin: Yes, of course it was a big blow, but that does not mean that the United States is responsible for everything that is happening in the Middle East. We do not agree with U.S. policy on many points, but it would be wrong to demonise the United States. Responsibility for what is happening in the region lies above all with the people who live there, with the Arab countries, with Israel and with Palestine itself. Of course, responsibility also lies with the influential countries such as the United States, Europe and Russia who are acting in the region’s interests.
We can discuss whether we have different understandings of the region’s interests, and we can debate amongst ourselves, but we cannot step in from outside to resolve the region’s problems. I think that the situation in Iraq just goes to show that no matter how strong a country is, it cannot resolve this or that problem by acting alone. Countries with big political, economic and military capability obviously do have a significant influence on how situations develop and their influence can work for good or bad. We hope very much that our American partners will act in a more cooperative spirit and listen more carefully to all the participants in this process.
Question: Can the fact that Russia maintains good relations with all sides in the conflict in Lebanon, including Hezbollah, help resolve the crisis in that country?
Vladimir Putin: I can only continue with what I said in response to the last question. We cannot solve the Lebanese people’s problems for them, we can only help. We do indeed have very friendly relations with the Lebanese government, with Hezbollah and with other political groups. This is the truth. We have traditionally always had very good relations with the Arab world, as we both know. But we cannot solve Lebanon’s problems for it.
The point I would like to make today is that we call on all the different political forces in Lebanon to make the interests of their own people their main aim and guideline in their attempts to settle the complex domestic political issues they face. We, for our part, will do everything we can to use our influence, above all our moral influence, and our contacts based on trust in order to help negotiate compromises.
Question: By the way, Mr President, could you explain why a unit from Chechnya was chosen to provide security for the Russian battalion that you sent to Lebanon to rebuild damaged bridges?
Vladimir Putin: It was a natural choice and there are no secrets involved. Our position was above all that our servicemen would be working in a difficult environment, in a country where an armed conflict had only just ended and where the internal political situation was complex. We decided that since our servicemen would be working mostly in the Muslim areas of Lebanon, it would be good if the unit providing the security for our engineers was made up of Russian citizens from Chechnya, which, as is well known, has a primarily Muslim population. Our calculations proved correct, I must say, because local people in Lebanon greeted the arrival of Russian servicemen and people of Muslim faith very positively, and it was a surprise to them to discover that there are units entirely composed of Muslims in the Russian Armed Forces.
Moreover, this decision also illustrated that great changes are taking place in Chechnya itself. We have complete confidence in those who are carrying arms to defend the interests of their people in Chechnya.
Question: Mr President, if you permit, I would like to look at more global issues now.
You reacted negatively to the U.S. decision to deploy elements of its missile defence system in some Eastern European countries. In taking these steps, are the Americans violating earlier agreements in this area?
Vladimir Putin: I cannot speak of violations of specific agreements, though this could be a matter for discussion at expert level. I want to say that after the Berlin Wall came down, we talked a lot and in great detail about the fact that we must build a Europe without dividing lines. We also signed the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe.
We are complying with these limitations. But at the same time, we see that new virtual ‘Berlin Walls’ are being erected. Instead of a common space, what we see instead is that this ‘Berlin Wall’ is simply being shifted further east and that new bases are being established.
We are complying with all the arms limitation obligations we have taken on, but our partners do not seem to feel bound by these obligations. Many of them have not ratified this agreement, and this, of course, gives us some cause for concern.
Question: Mr President, continuing on this subject, does this step taken by the USA require you to make changes to your own military plans?
Vladimir Putin: Of course we are forced to take this situation into account, because it is one matter when we hear talk of political transformation of, say, NATO and another matter when we see in reality that NATO’s military infrastructure is coming closer to our borders. Of course this forces us to respond, and we are responding.
Vladimir Putin: We are shaping our military doctrine accordingly and equipping our Armed Forces to address the new tasks that emerge.
Question: Many in the West see Russia’s announcement that it has unique missiles unlike any other in the world as some kind of demonstration of its power. What do you say to this?
Vladimir Putin: They are right.
Question: So this is a way of demonstrating Russia’s strength?
Vladimir Putin: Of course.
Response: But this sometimes provokes a negative reaction towards Russia in the West.
Vladimir Putin: It provokes a negative reaction among people who do not realise the meaning of what is taking place. What is the meaning of what is taking place? This is a complex issue, but I will try to give a brief explanation.
From the point of view of stability in this or that region or in the world in general, the balance of power is the main achievement of these past decades and indeed of the whole history of humanity. It is one of the most important conditions for maintaining global stability and security. When we see that our partners are developing new weapons systems and bringing their military infrastructure closer to our borders, we are forced to make some kind of response. Take the plans to create a missile defence system, for example. They change the balance of power. If one side puts this system in place, the other side might feel less sure of its security, and this also changes the balance of power. Faced with this situation, we are forced to make a response, at the very minimum an asymmetric response. If we decide not to build our own missile defence system in response then we must design a system that will be able to penetrate the missile defences being built by our partners. This is all very logical and clear, and this is precisely what we are doing.
Question: Following the gas crisis with Ukraine at the start of last year and the problems with Belarus at the beginning of this year, many in the West have been saying that Russia is using its energy resources as a weapon for political blackmail.
How do you plan to build your future relations with foreign consumers of your energy resources?
Vladimir Putin: I not only think but I am certain that statements of this kind have no grounds in reality. They are either a line of attack used by those who wish our country no good, or are a means of unfair competition. No other country, after all, is expected to accept non-market relations and offer preferential conditions to other countries, and we do not understand why we should be expected to do so. Our action aims solely at establishing exclusively market-based relations with our partners, both with consumers and transit countries. We are not proposing anything else. Moreover, I can give you an example that very clearly illustrates what I have just said and that shows that this really is the foundation of our energy policy.
Our political relations with the Baltic states could certainly be better, but nonetheless, we reached an agreement with them three or four years ago about introducing market prices and we signed agreements on a gradual transition to these prices. Since then, we have continued subsidising their economies by supplying cheap energy resources, but gradually raising the price. This has had no impact on our political relations with these countries. They were not very good to begin with and, unfortunately, they remain on the whole not very good today. We have never used energy as an instrument in our relations with these countries.
Still at the beginning of last year, Latvia was paying only 60 percent of the market price for, say, natural gas from Russia, and it was only this year that we gradually introduced market prices in our dealings with Latvia. We are taking exactly the same approach with all our other partners.
When we see here and there criticism of Russia’s wish to establish market relations with its partners become all-out hysteria it is really just covering for political aims with regard to Russia. It is really in this case a means of trying to influence Russia.
Question: There is a lot of talk in the West about violations of human rights and freedoms in Russia. You have come in for a lot of criticism personally in this respect. How do you react to this criticism?
Vladimir Putin: I see it in much the same way as I see the criticism of our energy policy. I think that to a considerable extent it is being used as a means of influencing Russian internal politics and I think that some countries are using this kind of demagogy as a means to pursue their own foreign policy goals in Russia.
I do not really understand why some of our partners are trying to return to a situation where they see themselves as cleverer and more civilised and think that they have the right to impose their standards on others. Let them go to China and try managing its more than 1.5 billion people. I doubt they would do it better than Mr Hu Jintao. The thing to remember is that standards that are imposed from outside, including in the Middle East, rather than being a product of a society’s natural internal development, lead to tragic consequences, and the best example of this is Iraq.
Question: Mr President, you have said that the restoration of Russia’s territorial integrity is one of the main achievements of your seven years in power. Were you referring to Chechnya?
Vladimir Putin: I was referring not only to Chechnya. I was referring to the fact that, after the Soviet Union collapsed, there were competing trends of movement towards and away from central authority that dealt a serious blow to the new Russia’s attempts to carry out state-building work and develop its new statehood. This situation was undermining the foundations of Russia’s statehood. It was a situation of disharmony, because we have many regions, but what we were seeing was that in regions where ethnic minorities make up a large part of the population, and even in regions where the population is predominantly ethnic Russian, we were seeing various tendencies towards not simply federalism, but towards going beyond the limits of their rights within a federal state. It was this situation that we put an end to.
As for Chechnya, in this context it is of particular significance. As you know, the Chechen people voted in a referendum on Chechnya’s constitution and affirmed their desire to remain within the Russian Federation. In this sense, this marked the final point in restoring Russia’s territorial integrity.
Question: You refuse to name your successor. This is your right, of course, but I’m sure you would agree that the Russian people and Russia’s friends abroad have the right to know if the course set by the current leadership will be maintained? Correct me if I’m wrong.
Vladimir Putin: No, no, you are not wrong at all, in fact, you are exactly right. Of course, a lot depends on individual figures, and the same is true in Russia. But I think that what is most important is to maintain the current course which, as I see it, has justified itself overall given that, as I said, we have restored Russia’s statehood and its territorial integrity and developed its economy and social sphere. We have begun implementing a large number of social development programmes this year. People are worried, of course, about whether these policies will be continued, whether the state will fulfil its commitments to the public, and whether the economic base enabling these commitments to be fulfilled will be maintained. Russia’s entire system of state power is important in this respect, and I think that the parliamentary elections are no less important than the presidential election that will follow. All the bodies and branches of power need to work together in consolidated fashion in the interests of Russia’s people. What we need to talk about therefore is not a successor, but about continuation of today’s policies.
Question: You are popular both inside Russia and abroad. Some of your friends among the Arab leaders have even suggested that you should perhaps stay on for more than one term in office. What is your response to such suggestions?
Vladimir Putin: This might come as a surprise, but not only Arab leaders but also the leaders of some European countries have said to me in private that Russia is not Europe (in terms of living standards, unfortunately, and current development stage, the stage we are at in developing our modern statehood), and have suggested that during this transition period it would make sense for me to stay on as President of the Russian Federation. I have heard such recommendations not only abroad but often inside Russia too.
Regarding my friends inside Russia, those who give a positive assessment of my work, at least, I can but thank them, but I also have to say to them that they do not represent the entire Russian people.
Also, I consider it crucially important to make democratic principles and institutions and respect for the law and the Constitution part of the practical life of our country. It is in this way that we can lay genuinely solid foundations for our country’s stability.
It is for these reasons that I think that Russia’s people should make their own conscious choice in the parliamentary election at the end of 2007 and in the presidential election at the start of 2008.
Question: Mr President, after the events of September 11, 2001, Muslim communities in Europe and the West have been living in a state of growing anxiety as a result of increasingly anti-Muslim moods there. In Russia the situation has been calmer so far. Are there any guarantees that this calm will continue in the future?
Vladimir Putin: Yes, of course. Above all, this is linked to the different situation and status of the Muslim population in Russia and in European countries. In European countries, even if people have obtained citizenship, they still consider themselves immigrants. In Russia, the Muslim population is an integral part of our multiethnic and multi-religious people. These people have no other homeland but their region, their republic, and Russia as a whole. Russia is their homeland and they are full members of our society, full citizens of our country.
This state of Russia’s society has internal origins and has been shaped over the centuries. For more than a thousand years, Muslims and Christians have lived together on this territory, and I am sure that over these centuries of life together they have developed a particular ethnic and cultural community with very similar and often completely coinciding humanist principles and rules. All of this together makes our society very stable. It is precisely for this reason that Russia became an observer in the Organisation of the Islamic Conference. We are grateful to our partners for voting in favour of this decision. Russia’s Muslims can and should feel that they are an organic part of the Muslim world.
Question: I must say, Mr President, that many of the foreign citizens living in Moscow, many students in particular, when they learned that I was going to meet you, asked me to raise the issue of the hostility radical groups have been showing towards foreigners. You are no doubt aware of the cases of foreign citizens being killed by extremists. What do you intend to do to address this problem?
Vladimir Putin: This is a complex and serious issue. I think that the roots of this situation go back to the complex processes that have taken place in our country over the last 15 years.
For a start, as you know, there was a state ideology that then completely disappeared.
Second, a large number of our citizens found themselves living below the poverty line as a result of the economic events of the early and mid 1990s, economic upheavals I would call them.
Third, after the collapse of the Soviet Union we did not take due action to regulate our relations with the former Soviet republics, neither in the economic nor social spheres. Many citizens of these former republics, now independent states, became involved in economic activity in Russia itself, doing jobs that, it would seem, Russian citizens themselves could do. All of this combined to create suspicion with regard to foreigners. I think that a return to basic values of Orthodoxy, Islam and our country’s other traditional religions, in combination with effective state measures to protect the interests of foreigners and also protect the lawful rights of Russia’s own citizens should remedy this situation.
Question: Mr President, you are about to make the first visit by a Russian President to the countries of the Persian Gulf. This region has so far been on the margins of Russian foreign policy and foreign economic policy. What are your forecasts for the future?
Vladimir Putin: This situation arose because during the Soviet years there were ideological barriers and contradictions that got in the way of developing relations with these countries. The fact that these barriers have disappeared is one of the positive results to come out of the last decade or 15 years. There are no countries in the Arab world now with whom we have contradictions of any kind. This gives us the chance to develop our relations with all countries in the region, including the Gulf states. We do indeed hope that the resources these countries possess, above all the financial resources, could be used in the growing Russian economy. There are no obstacles to this. One of the aims of my visit is to reaffirm the high status of the intergovernmental relations between our countries today and find ways of developing these relations in the economic sphere.
Question: I am happy to recall that there will soon be an Arab-language channel in Russia that will show events taking place in Russia from Russia’s point of view. How do you think this will help to build bridges between the Arab countries and Russia?
Vladimir Putin: Building bridges was the whole reason we decided to go ahead with these plans. Of course this step should help to develop direct relations in the information field between Russia and the Arab world, between your people and our people, who have a longstanding interest in and love for Arab culture.
Question: Mr President, among ordinary people in the Arab countries there is a certain nostalgia for the Soviet Union. Many people think that your foreign policy will restore Russia to the place the Soviet Union once held. What would you say to them?
Vladimir Putin: I want to say that Russia does not seek superpower status. Russia does not seek conflict with anyone. But Russia knows its worth. We will work towards creating a multipolar world. We do not want to return to the era of confrontation between opposing blocs. We do not want to split the world into different military and political groupings. But Russia does have enough potential to influence the formation of the new world order and to ensure that the future architecture of international relations is balanced and takes the interests of all members of the international community into account.
Question: One final question: you said that your wife recently gave you a collection of verse by Omar Khayam.
Vladimir Putin: Yes, that’s true.
Question: Have you had time to read it? Have you read any of his verse so far?
Vladimir Putin: Of course. Moreover, while I was sitting at the recent press conference when I mentioned this, I was writing down a few of the quatrains that I had memorized, and your Russian colleagues filmed this. It’s a good book.
Omar Khayam, after all, was not just a poet and writer but he also studied nature and was a physicist, chemist and mathematician. But this literary creation that he carried out in between his main occupations, so to speak, is just one fine example of the magnificent and very profound culture of the East, a culture that has always been of particular interest to people in this country.
Response: Mr President, thank you very much for this interview.
Vladimir Putin: Thank you.