Question: In July, for the first time after your inauguration as President of Russia, you will visit Japan to attend a meeting of G8 heads of state, and your official visit to Japan is scheduled for early September. What, in your opinion, should our countries do to develop Russian-Japanese relations? What issues on the agenda of the Okinawa summit do you consider to be the most important?
Vladimir Putin: A good basis for our bilateral relations is provided by the 1998 Moscow Declaration, which outlines the main areas of cooperation and defines the character of relations between Russia and Japan as creative partnership. During the St Petersburg summit, Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori and I confirmed the strategic importance of promoting relations between our countries.
That process is making good headway. It is important to move forward and not to slow down.
We regard Japan as a strategically important partner in the APR and in the world. We believe that Japan’s growing global economic and political influence will make a contribution to a more stable peace and the solution of many problems, including stabilisation of the situation in the APR.
As for the G8 summit, we expect that there will be a general discussion of ways to address the most pressing world problems. These include the strengthening of strategic stability, nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation, prevention and settlement of conflicts, the fight against international terrorism and the development of information technologies. The Russian party intends to take a very active part in the discussion.
Question: Among the challenges facing Russia today, the strengthening of state power as well as the preservation and development of democratic transformations are obviously very important. Do you believe that these are mutually complementary or mutually exclusive tasks and which of the two do you regard as a bigger priority?
Vladimir Putin: Building a democratic society is an absolute priority in the development of the Russian state. During the last decade we accomplished a real democratic breakthrough. We have installed the basic values of a civilised state. People have learned to live in a democracy. They choose their government themselves. And they do it at all levels: from the President to the mayors of cities and small communities. Freedom of the mass media and freedom of speech have been and remain an immutable value of Russian democracy. These are our main achievements and I am sure nobody can deny that.
But we are well aware that it is impossible to move further along the chosen path without a strong government that is well organised and works as a team at all levels. Only a strong state can uphold the national interests and guarantee the rights and freedoms of every citizen, and if necessary, effectively protect their rights all over Russia, in whatever region they live.
The character and possible consequences of the current reforms, already dubbed the “federal package,” have been widely discussed in Russia and abroad. And it has often been suggested that they may turn our country back to the old system of government or even lead to a “dictatorship of the federal Government”. I think these fears are totally groundless. The old methods of running the country from Moscow have proved to be untenable. We will not return to them. The reforms do not pose any threat to federalism. This is the state structure sealed in the Constitution of Russia and we will promote federative relations.
Today we have an opportunity to consolidate power, to break the vicious circle of dead-end conflicts that prevent society and the state from developing. It is our duty to use this opportunity. The current transformations constitute an administrative reform aimed at strengthening the government, and at a better balance between the powers of the center and the regions so that these powers could be more effectively used.
Question: For the first time in history a Russian head of state is going on a visit to North Korea. What does Russia propose to do to achieve stability on the Korean Peninsula?
Vladimir Putin: Relations with North Korea is an important area of Russian policy in the Asia-Pacific Region. This is prompted by the need to strengthen peace and stability on our Far Eastern borders. Russia is, of course, watching the situation in North Korea; after all, it is our closest neighbour. We have seen some positive shifts there, especially the changed approaches of the North and South to the inter-Korean political dialogue.
Moscow welcomes the understandings achieved at the inter-Korean summit in June. The summit can turn out to be a milestone in the development of a constructive inter-Korean dialogue and movement towards the ultimate unification of the nation.
We believe it is important to seek to relieve tensions and confrontation on the Korean Peninsula and normalise relations between the Republic of Korea and the DPRK. We assume that by maintaining balanced and good-neighbourly relations with the two Korean states Russia will exert a positive impact on the situation on the peninsula and the Korean settlement as a whole. The relations between Russia and North Korea are assuming a new quality. The new interstate Treaty on Friendship, Good-Neighbourly Relations and Cooperation opens up good opportunities for that. Simultaneously we seek to implement the concept of mutually complementary, constructive partnership with the Republic of Korea in the 21st century.
Question: The Krasnoyarsk agreement between the former leaders of Russia and Japan states that the countries will use their best efforts to conclude a peace treaty before the end of this year. Is that realistic, in your opinion?
Vladimir Putin: We believe that the strategic character of relations between Russia and Japan, which we discussed with Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori in St Petersburg, implies a long-term commitment, an invigoration of the whole range of bilateral ties, including trade, economic, scientific, technical and cultural spheres, more active cooperation in the international arena and continued negotiations on the peace treaty.
It is through such an understanding, backed up by tangible results, that a mutually acceptable solution of the peace treaty problem, including the border delimitation issue, can be achieved. We believe that the chosen approach has already proved that it has a future: the negotiations on the peace treaty have assumed the shape of a direct dialogue at a top level. This made it possible to broaden the dialogue and conduct it with responsibility for the choice that the two major powers, Russia and Japan, are facing. I would in particular like to point out the significant progress in the development of ties in the key area of the Southern Kurils, which is important in terms of creating a favourable atmosphere for the search of mutually acceptable solutions.
This year the Japanese Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori and I plan to hold several meetings and talks, starting with my official visit to Tokyo. We will continue to discuss the whole range of Russian-Japanese relations, including the problem of the peace treaty. I doubt that it would make sense to predict the results of these discussions now. But in any case we will proceed in a way that would ensure that the results meet with a positive reaction on the part of the peoples of our two countries.
Question: There are signs of an easing of tensions on the Korean Peninsula. In this connection what do you think about the plans to create a Japanese-American theatre anti-missile defence system, and also about the presence of American troops in the Republic of Korea? Are you going to launch any initiatives on the problem of inter-Korean settlement? Will Russia attempt to persuade the North Korean leader to abandon the development of missile technologies in the light of the positive changes taking place on the Korean Peninsula?
Vladimir Putin: It has to be noted that Pyongyang reacts in a very guarded way to appeals to show restraint in the missile field because it sees it as an attempt to bring about a unilateral disarmament of the DPRK and deprive it of its only deterrent.
Our fundamental position is that any country that is pursuing missile programmes should do so strictly in accordance with international laws without threatening anyone’s security. Naturally, every state that feels concerned about it has the right to voice it. In this context, the US-DPRK talks on missile non-proliferation are very useful.
We welcome the fact that in the context of these talks North Korea has imposed a moratorium on the tests of ballistic missiles. We believe that the settlement of the North Korean missile problem could be achieved through implementing our idea of a global system to monitor non-proliferation of missiles and missile technologies. We believe that the opportunities it provides for finding a solution at the negotiating table render unjustified references to the North Korean missile threat made by the advocates of the creation of a theatre anti-missile defence in North-Eastern Asia and a national missile defence in the US. The missile non-proliferation regime in North Korea can be strengthened if the DPRK is offered real security guarantees. In that case its missile programme will cease to be the main means of ensuring the country’s national security.
Now a few words about the Russian position on the presence of American troops in South Korea.
Russia believes that the presence and the status of US troops on the Korean Peninsula are essential for ensuring security in North-Eastern Asia, a region that is vitally important for Russia’s national interests. Holding this issue under constant review, we have been closely following the course of its discussion and the approaches of the DPRK, the Republic of Korea and the United States.
While recognising the legitimate rights of the North-Eastern Asian states to individual and collective self-defence under the UN Charter, we believe that the exercise of these rights should fully meet the common interests of easing military and political confrontation, strengthening the climate of trust and dialogue in the region while not posing threats to anyone’s security. It is from that angle that we will assess the role of the American presence in Korea.