M.Petrov (ITAR-TASS): Russia has always had a presence in one way or another in the Middle East. Was this visit a continuation of those past traditions, or does it signal a new direction in Russia’s policy in the region?
President Vladimir Putin: It continues past traditions and at the same time, it expands our contacts in the region. During the Soviet years, we had fairly cool relations with Saudi Arabia and Qatar, and even with Jordan our relations were not as good as they could have been. The situation has changed immensely over recent years. We are now developing active ties with these countries and the time has come to cement and build on these results. I am very happy with the outcome of this visit. We have not just reviewed the results of our work over recent years but have also outlined joint steps for continuing to develop our relations in the future.
We have signed a number of agreements, which I would divide into two categories. First, there are the agreements that strengthen the legal foundation for our cooperation with these countries, and second, there are the agreements on carrying out specific projects. These projects include plans for work together in the high-technology sector, in aviation and space. We have also agreed on a project that would see the assembly of Russian motor vehicles here in Jordan.
We place great importance on coordinating our work on the global energy markets. In this respect, Saudi Arabia and Qatar are both priority partners.
Our contacts have also been very productive in terms of developing humanitarian ties. There has always been great interest in the culture of the Middle East in Russia, and our country has an excellent school of Arab studies. We spoke about this during our meetings. And finally, here in Jordan we had the opportunity of visiting the River Jordan. I think that the Russian Orthodox Church will have good facilities here for welcoming pilgrims. All of this together gives me reason to say that this visit has been a success.
O.Osipov (RIA-NOVOSTI): I would like to come back to the events of a few days ago. Your speech in Munich is still being much discussed. What prompted you to make such frank statements right at this moment? Why did you choose this time to set out your views on the situation in the world? Judging by the publications and responses to your words, your colleagues in the West consider your statements to be confrontational.
Vladimir Putin: The theme of the conference in Munich was “Global crisis – global responsibility”. For many years now, for more than a decade, we have been listening to what our partners say on issues in various areas. Of course, it is true that statements of the kind that were made also have a bilateral dimension in terms of Russian-U.S. relations. We have seen many positive developments in our relations with the United States, but we are becoming increasingly convinced that often the action taken by our partners in different areas, and the instruments they use with regard to Russia, pursue the sole purpose of furthering their own interests with regard to our country.
We take a patient and tolerant approach to this kind of policy, but we have the impression that some of our partners do not understand us and are turning up the pressure more and more. Things have got to the stage where the non-existent Russian threat has started being used as a pretext for getting the U.S. Congress to increase defence spending – defence spending that will be used to carry out military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, and to build an expensive missile defence system.
But these are not our problems and they are not connected to Russia in any way. We simply do not understand the need to play the anti-Russian card in resolving domestic political issues. Personally, I have come to the conclusion that it does not matter what we do – provide answers and explanations or simply sit tight and keep silent – there will always be someone who comes up with some pretext for attacking Russia. In this situation, it is better to simply be frank and direct in setting out our views.
But I also want to point out that what was said in Munich has been said before in one form or another in direct discussions with our American colleagues. There was nothing unexpected or out of the ordinary for them in what I said. I was pleased that representatives of the U.S. administration and the parliament, U.S. senators, in particular, where sitting in the front row in the conference hall in Munich, because I would not have wanted to make such statements in their absence, behind their back.
These issues are being discussed not only in Russia but in places all around the world, and this has been the case for a long time now. The difference is that some countries do indeed take a very blunt and confrontational approach, actually, insulting the United States and its leadership, and I think this is counterproductive and unacceptable in general. Other countries say the same things, but only in whispers, only behind the scenes. I think that Russia is a country that should not act behind the scenes nor have a grudge against anyone, but on the contrary, should state its views frankly, openly and honestly. I think that it is through this approach that we can open the road for normal, honest and candid dialogue, and I think that there are people in the United States who will hear our voice and will try to build relations with us based on friendly equality and without a lecturing tone.
Finally and most importantly, I am deeply convinced that what I said is the truth, and that the situation I referred to really is what is happening in the world. I have no illusions or hopes that everything will suddenly change overnight after my speech in Munich. Of course this will not be the case. But let us remember that here in Jordan we visited the biblical lands, and in the Bible it says that, “In the beginning was the Word”. I believe that gradually we will see correct, needed and positive changes in the world, and that we will build a fairer and more democratic world, working together with the direct participation of our American partners.
V.Terekhov (INTERFAX): What kind of response do you expect from your foreign colleagues and partners? After all, you practically said that the balance and the system of relations in the world have been upset…
Vladimir Putin: This has long since been the case. We did not build a new world order but for the most part just went on living in the conditions of a bipolar system based on confrontation between the two big superpowers and their camps, and we did not build a new and democratic world order. My hope is, as I just said, that my frank and honest words have been heard. As I said, this is something everyone is talking about, only behind the scenes, and I decided to speak about it openly and directly.
A.Nikolayeva (VEDEMOSTI): During your visit you discussed the idea of an OPEC-type organisation for gas, but you said that at this point Russia is only ready to coordinate work in this area. What did you mean exactly by this? Also, many people are writing and saying that Russia is actively promoting this idea of a ‘gas OPEC’ and was even the initiator of this idea. Can you comment on this?
Vladimir Putin: We are not the initiators of the idea of creating a gas cartel. As for the initiative of our partners in Qatar, this event is taking place for the fifth time and there is nothing new here. Our deputy energy minister took part in previous meetings under this initiative, and I think that the time has now come to raise our participation to the level of minister. Perhaps the head of Gazprom will also come. It is in our interests to coordinate our activities on world markets.
I would like to draw your attention to the fact that energy consumers coordinate their activities, including through international organisations such as the International Energy Agency. There are also other forums in which the main consumers coordinate their activities. Why should the producers not also coordinate their work? I do not think that such activity is aimed at undermining energy security – quite the opposite. In any case, we will take part in this process that aims at strengthening world energy markets.
Question (NEZAVISIMAYA GAZETA): You have said nothing during this visit about military cooperation, but the Russian delegation included representatives of the Russian defence industry. Could you say a few words about cooperation in this area with the Arab countries?
Vladimir Putin: Yes, our cooperation in this area is showing good development and we are setting new records all the time for sales volumes. This is a natural process. There is fierce competition in the world today on these markets and Russia has had some very good and visible results in this sector.
We would like to consolidate our presence on markets where we are already established, but we also want to expand markets for selling our high-technology military goods. We did indeed hold very productive talks on these issues and we have reached a number of agreements.
But I must point out that military-technical cooperation is a very sensitive area and we can really only talk about concrete deals once the contracts have been signed. We have not signed any contracts as yet, but I have reason to believe that the agreements we have reached with our partners have every chance of being implemented. Once actual contracts and agreements have been signed, you will be informed. The agreements I refer to concern our traditional areas of cooperation: high-technology equipment, aviation, light arms, air defence systems – offers are on the table in all of these areas, but now it is a matter of choosing what is best suited to our partners’ needs.
Question: You discussed with your partners, and perhaps also with Mahmoud Abbas, the idea of holding a big conference on the Middle East. What was their reaction to this idea? Also, I know that there were objections at one time to the idea of Iran taking part. Was something said about this, and is it realistic for Iran to take part?
Vladimir Putin: If we are talking about achieving a comprehensive settlement it would probably not be right to leave someone outside these negotiations. But we are not stubbornly going to push just our initiative. We work in other formats – in the ‘Quartet’ and directly with our partners in the Middle East.
We think this initiative is a good idea, but we are not obsessed with it. We are aware of the view of a number of our friends in the Arab world who think that it would be good to know first exactly what outcome the conference hopes to achieve. But if we knew the outcome, we would perhaps not even have to hold a conference in the first place. It would be enough to just sit down and sign everything straight away. We think that the conference could be a good idea to get this cooperation process moving. But at the same time, I have every reason to think that our work within the ‘Quartet’ will result very soon in real progress in the settlement process.
A.Gamov (KOMSOMOLSKAYA PRAVDA): What did you feel and what were your impressions after visiting the holy river and site where Jesus Christ was baptised?
Vladimir Putin: First of all, the setting itself makes a strong impression. I don’t know about you, but personally, right from the start, I had the feeling that I was really here in the biblical lands. There were two main aspects to my thoughts and impressions. First, of course, is the spiritual aspect. It’s hard for me to comment on this because these are very personal feelings and I don’t think I need describe them in detail for you and your colleagues. Second, there are the pragmatic considerations. As you know, the King of Jordan and the Prince, who is responsible for developing this site, have given Russia a hectare of land right on the banks of the River Jordan, close to the site where Christ was baptised. I would like to appeal to our business organisations to help the Russian Orthodox Church to build a guest house here for Russian pilgrims. I think this work could be done quite quickly.