Question: Mr President, thank you for granting this interview.
My first question: What is the main aim of your visit to China and which problems is this visit intended to solve? And in general, how do you assess the current state of the Russian-Chinese partnership, the strategic cooperation and what is the outlook for this partnership in the new century?
Vladimir Putin: First, I would like to say that it is a big event for me personally: to come to the People’s Republic of China on an official visit and have an opportunity to see the life of the Chinese people, and to continue the dialogue with the Chinese leadership.
China is indeed our strategic partner. And I am absolutely sure that this state of relations, these characteristics of relations between our countries will remain in the new century.
This will not be our first meeting with the Chairman of the People’s Republic of China, Comrade Jiang Zemin. During the course of this visit I hope to meet personally with other Chinese leaders.
As you know, China and the Russian Federation share positions on a wide range of international issues and adhere to similar principles. I am referring, above all, to our goal of maintaining and strengthening the multi-polar world, our joint efforts to preserve strategic equilibrium and balance in the world and to promote peaceful, progressive and effective development of both our states.
Russian-Chinese relations in the economy and culture have been developing intensively. A visit to your country, meetings with top government officials will help advance our relations with China in all these areas.
We have discussed some problems, including economic ones, with the Chinese leadership before. I think a great deal still remains to be done. We have real plans and real perspectives of improved relations in this sphere where, I repeat, we have a large untapped potential.
All this will form the basis of the talks with our partners, colleagues and friends in your country.
Question: President Putin, Russia plays an important role in the present-day multi-polar world. This brings me to my next question: what are Russia’s main goals and foreign policy priorities on the threshold of the 21st century? Is China a priority in Russian foreign policy?
Putin: Russia’s main goal in international politics is to preserve the balance of forces and interests in the international arena. As you know, from time to time we are confronted with new threats, with what we believe are dangerous new concepts, such as alleged humanitarian interventions in the internal affairs of other states. We face such threats as international terrorism and such problems as religious extremism and separatism.
All this should be the subject of serious international discussion, a subject on which we, together with the leading states of the world, should work out common approaches and a shared concept of responding to all the threats we encounter. In this context, China is one of Russia’s key partners in dealing with these problems and eliminating their possible negative consequences.
We intend to continue actively promoting cooperation with our great neighbour, as I said, not only in the areas I have mentioned – the economy and culture – but also in resolving the problems I have just named.
And there is just one more thing I can add in answering your question. We know that Russia is both a European and an Asian country. We respect both European pragmatism and Oriental wisdom. So, Russia will pursue a balanced foreign policy. In that sense the relations with the People’s Republic of China will certainly be one of our main priorities.
Question: Mr Putin, your national revival programme has an element called the primacy of domestic policy over foreign policy.
You have even launched a slogan: “Give Russian people a life of dignity”. In this connection, what measures are you going take to revive the Russian economy? And do you believe that improving the investment climate, including for the Chinese who want to invest there, will contribute to reaching this goal?
Putin: You have quite rightly singled out what I consider to be the most important parts of my remarks. And I think the priority of addressing domestic tasks is the most important one. Without solving these tasks a state cannot pursue an active foreign policy.
Of course, creating a good investment climate is a key challenge. But I think you would agree with me that it is impossible to create such a climate without an effectively functioning state. The state should not just proclaim certain rules of economic behaviour, but it should guarantee compliance with these rules.
So, the first thing to be done and what we are doing today is to strengthen the foundations of the Russian state, to improve federal relations, strengthen the state apparatus. That remains a major concern of your country. I think that is absolutely right.
Another range of problems includes purely economic problems, economic policy priorities. And in this area we will address the task you have mentioned: creating a favourable investment climate both for domestic investors and for our foreign partners. And that of course includes Chinese businessmen.
We think that we in Russia could use some elements of the Chinese experience. I am referring to the steadfast policy our Chinese friends pursue in reducing the tax burden on the economy. We are also making vigorous efforts in this area. If we succeed in implementing the plans we have made, the load on the Russian economy will be significantly eased next year. Arguably, we could pursue these plans with even more energy and persistence.
Unfortunately, we cannot always win over Parliament, but I think there is every chance and opportunity that the Government will fulfil the tasks it has set in this area. For example, we can draw on China’s experience in fighting bureaucracy in the economic sphere. For example, company registration could follow your “one stop” model, as I think it is called. This is a registration procedure that does the most to make business less bureaucratic.
We will move in this direction. If the tasks set in the recent State of the Nation Address are fulfilled, we will succeed in tackling a large part of the challenges facing Russia.
Question: It is rumoured that you have a portrait of Peter the Great in your office. Russia, as we know, has lived through different eras when it played a major role in the world, for example, during the reign of Peter the Great, of Catherine II, of Emperor Alexander I, and of course, the Soviet period. Which of these eras appeals to you most?
Putin: There are no portraits in my office today, but it is true that I had a portrait of Peter the Great in my office when I worked in St Petersburg. But basically, I proceed from the maxim that you should not make an idol of anyone. I think we should keep our attachments and sympathies to ourselves and not parade them. Having said that, I have immense respect for Peter the Great as a reformer who did a great deal for the emergence of modern Russia. I think his times are very consonant with the period we are living in today.
I think we should take some measures that appear to be complicated but that are absolutely necessary, and we should be persistent, energetic and resolute. If this is what you wanted to hear from me in reply, then I think you have achieved your aim.
Question: People say different things about you. Some media, for example, describe you as an enigmatic man with a cold face and they call you a “black box”, and some point out that you are a strong-willed, resolute man with “an iron hand”. How much truth is there in these assessments?
Putin: You mentioned an impenetrable face and then “a black box”. Let me point out to you that a box has no face. These descriptions are to some extent contradictory. Everyone says and sees what he wants to see. I think it is natural and it does not raise any further questions, it is to be expected.
As for my personal qualities and the way I think I should act, I would put it this way. Some time ago the Russian people bestowed immense trust on me by electing me the President of the country. When I decided to run for this high office, it was my own decision. I felt that I was able to and knew how to change life in the country for the better, that I could make Russia a more stable state, a strong state that is respected in the world.
In the course of my work I will have to make important decisions and assume huge responsibility. I think it would be absolutely wrong to try to be all things to all men. I think such behaviour would harm the very people who have conferred such a great honour on me because an attempt to save a political image and to be liked by everyone leads to a paralysis of power, when decisions that are key to the destinies and function of the state fail to be made.
And conversely, if a politician or statesman is absolutely convinced that he is right, he should act resolutely whether or not some people may like it. I repeat, this only holds true for cases when a decision is well thought out, weighed and well grounded.
Question: If I could ask you a less formal question. You have been travelling a good deal recently. You have been making many trips abroad and they are all marked by great dynamism. Are you planning to visit foreign countries in a different format? For example, the upcoming trip to China will also be short. Do you have an opportunity to make more prolonged visits?
Putin: On the one hand, I must visit the countries that we consider to be Russia’s main partners, receive the leaders of other states and take part in various international forums. Russia should not be isolated, it should not isolate itself, but as I said at the beginning, I consider dealing with domestic problems and problems of state development and the economy to be my priorities. So, I prefer to spend more time in my own country.
As for the short duration of my visits, I think the quality of work depends not only on the length of time one spends in a country. It depends on how well the issues have been studied, on the quality of preliminary work done by experts, my aides and the Foreign Ministry.
Besides, it is important to maintain dialogue with the leaders with whom we are able and need to solve certain problems. For example, with the Chairman of the People’s Republic of China we do not only have regular meetings, but we regularly talk by telephone. The last time we met, as you know, was quite recently in Dushanbe. We discussed a number of issues and raised some problems that need to be addressed.
I very much hope that in the meetings scheduled in Beijing we will move forward on the issues we discussed with Comrade Jiang Zemin in Dushanbe. You don’t have to spend a week in China to do that, much as I would like to spend a week there.
I think that even a week would not be enough to get a real insight into the life of the Chinese people and to understand and get a feeling for it.
Question: We’ve heard that you like Chinese food. Have you had any Chinese food recently?
Putin: I have Chinese food regularly, but I realise that there is great variety. There is the southern version of the Chinese cuisine, the northern version and there are many other nuances.
You know, it is also part of a people’s culture. Customs, spiritual life, moral values, language and cuisine – all these are formed over millennia.
Our peoples have lived side by side for ages. So, cross-pollination of cultures is natural, understandable and evident. The Japanese and Chinese cuisines have dumplings, though I don’t know the local names for them, and they look very much like Siberian pelmeni. We also have them. But with the Chinese, there is a distinct flavour and taste. To be honest, I like it very much. It is delicious.
Question: We know you like dumplings and we know that you are into judo. All these are foreign-sounding words. And you of course have a European streak to you.
My next question is: to what extent does the European idea have an impact on Russian foreign policy? And how can it influence the development of relations with Asian countries? Also in this connection, what place does China occupy in Russia’s foreign policy?
Putin: We have just been speaking about culture. I am told that the unity of the Chinese language, for all its different variants, is in many ways secured by written characters, the hieroglyphs. They provide a common basis. I think scholars could tell us something about common elements in world culture which make it a single system in spite of all the national diversity.
Russia is a large and complex country located both in Asia and Europe. And of course interpenetration of cultures is extremely valuable, especially for Russia. But mutual interests are also extremely important. As I mentioned at the start of our interview, Russia has stood and will continue to stand on two pillars, as it were, the European and the Asian. This is especially true when we think about such a powerful country as the People’s Republic of China, a country which has been developing so rapidly and successfully.
I must say that this is not only my opinion, it is the opinion of our foreign policy experts. We hope very much that mutual interest in the development of relations between China and the Russian Federation will be a key element in achieving and preserving global security and peace.
In that sense Russian-Chinese relations are, as we used to say, of intransient significance, of intransient value not only for our two states but I think for the whole world. So when we identify foreign policy priorities in Russia today we always say that in shaping its foreign policy Russia is sure to rely on positive cooperation and positive dynamics in relations with our eastern neighbours. And, of course, China is in their front ranks.
Question: Mr Putin, we know that every minute of your time is precious. But because this is going to be your first official visit to China, to which we in China look forward, and we have travelled all the way from Beijing to take this interview, could we ask you one final question?
Putin: You can ask as many questions as you like. Only, I don’t think we should follow the principle of one question from every Chinese citizen, that way we would never finish.
Question: Hundreds of millions of Chinese will be watching you on television. And we are very grateful to you for this.
I have a personal question. Your presidential campaign was widely covered in China. And one episode sticks in my mind. Many people have heard that when your wife found out that you had become President she cried because that meant, in a way, the end of family life. How is your personal life shaping up? Do you devote much time to your family, relatives and friends?
Putin: She was crying for joy, I should say.
As for the amount of time that I devote to my family, it has of course shrunk. During the week it is not always that I can see my daughters, because when I leave home they are still asleep and when I come back they are already asleep. That, of course, is a minus. But, important as it is, it is not the biggest minus. There is another drawback that affects all the members of my family and that is a considerable degree of isolation.
The work load is heavy, plus certain rules connected with protocol and security issues. All this narrows the circle of people with whom I communicate. It is not only bad for my personal life, it is also bad in terms of awareness of how ordinary Russian citizens perceive what I do.
I think perhaps the only compensation for this drawback can be meetings with ordinary people and travelling around the country, my country, and above all meeting people. Often the most casual and unexpected meetings turn out to be the most productive and useful because you hear and see how people live, what makes them tick, what their thoughts and aspirations are.
Question: People in China will follow your upcoming visit to our country with great attention. From our data hundreds of millions of Chinese will be glued to their television sets watching our special programme. Could you say a few words of greeting to our Chinese viewers in conclusion?
I think they will see on their screens the brilliant future of a widely respected President.
Putin: First of all, I would like to thank you for this interview, for the opportunity to speak out on the problems that cause us real concern and that we consider to be important for inter-state relations.
As I said, the Russian and Chinese peoples have lived side by side for centuries. We have a huge common border. The periods in our history when we were together and tackled common challenges together have always been highly productive for both our countries.
China is a state that has been developing dynamically, and Russia is a huge power which has its own advantages, some of which few other countries share. A combination of vast natural resources, a high level of education and culture produces a brilliant effect if only we make proper use of all that we have. In that sense the Chinese and Russian peoples are natural partners. We have great respect for the Chinese people.
For a long period of time, indeed always, we not just felt sympathy, but a special warmth for the Chinese. And I always think about it when I hear the Chairman of the PRC speak Russian and sing Russian songs. I am sorry that I cannot respond to him in kind.
So, in conclusion, I will say only the little that I know: “syosyo”.