Question: Your current visit to India is a first top-level bilateral visit in eight years. So we would like to ask you: what factors have influenced the establishment of a Russian-Indian strategic alliance, what prospects does an all-round partnership between out countries have, and what is the essential goal of this visit?
Vladimir Putin: I think everyone has been aware of these factors for a long time. They are based on Indian and Russian national interests. As I see it, India and Russia can become very effective mutually complementary forces.
The Russian leadership supports the theory of global strategic balance preservation in various parts of the world. We regard India as a key factor in international politics, not only regional but international, and I would like to stress that. We are interested in maintaining relations with such a great power as India as we pursue our goals on the international arena: stability and a modern democratic world order. The same concerns our goals in bilateral relations. Russia and India are natural partners also due to their mutually complementary economic, scientific and technological potentials.
Question: Mr Putin, in 1994 our countries signed the Moscow Declaration on the Protection of Interests of Pluralistic States. It called to protect a state’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, and spoke about the need to fight religious fundamentalism and encroachments on sovereignty and territorial integrity.
What do you think can be done to effectively oppose those forces?
Vladimir Putin: As I see it, there are at least two directions to our efforts in this area.
First come our joint efforts and mutual support. There is much to think over here and much to do together, and we have to be efficient about it. The most important areas are information exchange, mutual political support and cooperation between our secret services.
There is another essential aspect. India and Russia can join forces against terrorism, including international terrorism, and together fight manifestations of extremism in any form. We can promote our efforts to create an international barrier to all extremist forces. We can make them fruitless and rob them of any prospects. I think joined Indian-Russian efforts can achieve major results in that field.
Question: Mr Putin, Russian-Indian military and technological cooperation has always been close. Do you think military and technological partnership must form the basis of Indian-Russian relations, or are there other priorities?
Vladimir Putin: Our military and technological partnership with India is very productive. We believe it has good prospects, but that is, by far, not the only field of our partnership. We are determined to discuss others, equally promising fields with the Indian leadership.
We have implemented roughly 20 projects in many fields. The different departments of the two countries have approved another 132 projects. They concern high technologies, bio-engineering, medicine, space exploration, and all aspects of energy cooperation.
We have drawn a long-term programme for scientific and technological cooperation for a period up to 2010. A document has been drafted to make the basis of our joint efforts in the field of computer technologies. Our work has a broad scope and involves fields that will, I am sure, be as interesting and promising as military and technological partnership.
Question: Let us get back to your visit to India. To be honest, Mr Putin, many people in India have the impression that the preceding 10 years made Russia give up an old friendship to look towards the West, so we were very enthusiastic about your reassurance that you were India’s best friend in Russia.
Vladimir Putin: We have a saying: one old friend is better than two new ones. This is the first official visit of this kind for eight years, but that does not mean that Russia has pushed its ties with India into the background. That is only the result of our domestic developments.
When I said that I was India’s best friend in Russia, what I meant was that India has many friends in Russia. That is clear from what I said. I am only one of its friends. But I am India’s principal friend because of my office.
Second, there are circumstances to which I referred at the start of this talk. As one of Asia’s and the world’s largest countries, India is an essential factor in global and regional stability. Our decisions are governed by a lasting awareness of that factor. Russia would like to see India play a genuinely important role in international affairs. We would like to see this because it is in our national interests. Such an approach fully corresponds with India’s own national interests. I have no doubt about that.
I want to stress that our partnership is not spearheaded against anyone. It is important for India and Russia. It pursues both countries’ interests, which fully correspond to the interests of the international community.
Question: It is often said that Russia is more of an Asian country than European. But then, Asia is an extremely complex region with an overwhelming number of acute problems, such as Chinese-Indian economic rivalry and strategic competition in other fields, and the problems of terrorism and religious fundamentalism. What do you think of Russia’s role in that region?
Vladimir Putin: As you have said, Russia is situated both in Europe and in Asia, and its major part, with huge resources, is in Asia. Naturally, we have interests in Asia. We are interested in seeing this region become stable and prosperous. That is obvious.
As I have stressed that our cooperation with India is not spearheaded against any third countries. A strong, developed, independent India, a major player on the international scene, would correspond to Russian interests. We see this among the balancing factors in the world, as I have said, and we will do all we can to ensure this doesn’t change. That is the strategic purport of our partnership. The nature of our partnership is not temporary. Russia will maintain the best possible contacts with all its Asian neighbours – China, Japan and Korea. I repeat we are interested in Asia’s stability and prosperity. In this context, partnership with India is one of our biggest priorities.
Question: You are going to sign a strategic partnership treaty. How will it be different from the 1971 Indian-Soviet treaty? Will it be a successor document or will it contain new general factors?
Vladimir Putin: First of all, it will certainly include elements of succession. However, our Indian partners and we will have to take it into consideration that the world has changed, Russia has changed, the balance of forces in the world has changed, and so have some of our priorities. All that will certainly find reflection in the document we hope to sign. We believe it will become a landmark document, a basis for building up all areas of our relations in the future.
A number of documents on various partnership fields are also ready for signing. However, the declaration you have mentioned must be fundamental. It must fix the principles of our relations. As for traditions and succession, I reassure you that this document, just as the previous treaties, will proceed from the essential international legal precepts and the United Nations Charter with due consideration for the latest developments and the new goals and purposes we see in bilateral partnership.
Question: Mr Putin, “strategic” is a key word. What do you mean by it? Is it a military alliance or something else?
Vladimir Putin: “Strategic” does not necessarily mean military. It does not imply establishing a military alliance or bloc. By “strategic” we mean long-term and based on both countries’ pragmatic national interests, especially with globalisation increasing competition in the international arena. I am not referring to military rivalry but, above all, to economic, technical and scientific competition.
Question: Relations between the United States and India have been improving recently, and the two countries’ leaders have successfully exchanged visits. What impact does that have on Russia?
Vladimir Putin: As we know well, the collapse of the Soviet Union changed my country’s ideological foundation. The communist ideology no longer dominates Russia. We have shifted priorities. Russia no longer views the United States as an opponent, let alone an enemy. Today, the United States, one of the world’s biggest countries, is Russia’s partner.
We have different approaches to certain global issues, to security, ABM preservation, and the 1972 ABM Treaty. Our opinions differ on settling particular conflicts. We are for a multi-polar world, for the respect of sovereignty and territorial integrity.
We are discussing with our US partners the many problems I have just mentioned, but those discussions are not aggressive or hostile. That is why we cannot but welcome a development of India’s relations with every country in the world, including the United States. Our fundamental understanding is that a determined and at times fierce struggle has been unfolding as a result of globalisation, with all its pros and cons. It is hard to predict the outcome of that struggle. The fields where certain countries’ interests coincide can and must become fields of teamwork. Russia and India have many such fields. That is what makes us natural partners and allies.
Question: How would you describe the new relations you would like to build up with India?
Vladimir Putin: We want to see our relations become an equal partnership, based on the mutual recognition of sovereignty and territorial integrity, and consideration for each other’s lawful interests. We want to clearly see just where we can help and support each other. We want our efforts in those directions to be close and effective.
Question: Can you say that the relations you want to establish between India and Russia will be an entirely new objective?
Vladimir Putin: To say that this is a new objective is simply not enough. When the matter concerns full-fledged contacts between two countries that share many interests and fields in which they can effectively promote each other’s interests, it is more than an objective – it is destiny.
Question: I have an economic question. Despite dynamic military and technological partnership between our countries, the Indian economy is based on private business. How can we work together with Russia in this situation?
Vladimir Putin: We are well aware of the situation in the Indian economy, especially in computer technologies, programming and so on. The main priority in our joint efforts with our Indian colleagues and the Indian leadership is to diversify our teamwork and give it a practical content that would satisfy today’s demands. That mainly concerns partnership in high technologies, space efforts and energy. Russian and Indian companies intend to develop India’s natural resources together, which is in India’s own interests.
We would also like to cooperate in medicine. Russia is an extremely advanced country in many fields. The whole world recognises its achievements. I am certain we can pool our efforts to attain the greatest possible effect.
Question: Mr Putin, recent studies show that India will join the world’s leading countries in computer technologies within the next five to eight years. What do you think of Russian-Indian scientific and technical partnership in that context?
Vladimir Putin: I am ware of that, and this is why we are drawing a joint programme focusing on computer technologies. It is very important for Russia, with its insufficiently developed communications and transport infrastructure for its vast territory. The latest means of communications, the Internet and computer technologies are extremely important. But Russia has a great deal of work to do to computerise the country before it can become a close partner. We have given a lot of consideration to this, and I am certain we will make good progress in that area.
Question: One of the biggest problems which has led to a deterioration in our trade relations is that Russia drastically reduced investment cooperation with its old friends in the early 1990s. Do such ties with India have any prospects now? I mean Russian investment in India.
Will the solution of this problem resemble Western response to Russia’s problems? What will be your relations with your old friends?
Vladimir Putin: I think what happened at that time can be easily explained. The problems Russia encountered after the collapse of the Soviet Union forced our nation and leadership to focus on domestic issues. The country went through huge changes. It opened its borders. That was inevitable, it was caused by the desire of the so-called Eastern Bloc’s to see the world, to gain a better understanding of the Western civilisation, and to touch the values created while we were separated by the Iron Curtain. That was a natural process.
As for what the Soviet Union had done for India, the production capacities built with Soviet technical assistance, I do not think dynamic development of Russian ties with Western Europe and North America is an obstacle to reviving contacts with such a vast country and reliable partner as India. I want to stress this particularly and not just to flatter you. India really proved itself as an extremely reliable partner throughout the years. We know and highly value that, so two fields of activity are opening up for us.
First, we can, and must, pool our efforts to great effect in the maintenance and repair of sites previously built with Russian technical assistance. Second, Russia is stepping up similar partnership with the world’s leading industrial countries and companies. We can use together with our Indian partners the available Russian R&D and what we are working on with our West European and North American partners. That is why closer Russian ties with the West cannot impede our contacts with India – and they will not impede those contacts. On the contrary, they will help to greatly improve our relations with Indian partners. I firmly believe that.
Question: Yevgeny Primakov, the former Russian Prime Minister, said India, China and Russia could establish strategic links. Do you think such an alliance of the three powers is possible in the near future?
Vladimir Putin: Bilateral relations are our top priority – bilateral relations, on the one hand, and building up the architecture of international relations, on the other hand. That involves Asia and all interested countries. No doubt, India, China and Russia are such countries. But there should be no misunderstanding if we say that India, China and Russia share certain interests as countries in this region, and we want to promote those interests all together. I don’t think there is any danger here. We only need guarantees that proposals of bilateral and multi-lateral partnership remain open, explicit and transparent to all our partners. I think we can manage that.
Question: Did Indian nuclear tests come to you as a surprise? What do you think of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty? That is especially interesting as the State Duma has ratified it.
Vladimir Putin: Russia and India are long-established and fruitful partners in the field of civil nuclear energy. We think India would be right to resolve all these issues with international organisations, above all, with the IAEA. We have certain understandings with the Indian leadership in that field. All related Russian plans fully comply with the obligations Russia has assumed on respective international agreements.
Question: What do you think of Indian position in the nuclear energy field, especially in the past two or three years since India made nuclear tests? Do you think India has become a nuclear state?
Vladimir Putin: We think it is imperative that India coordinate all its nuclear activities with the international community. That is our position. We don’t think new nuclear states have appeared in the world and we don’t think that, even if we recognised their appearance, such recognition would be beneficial to the countries aspiring to a nuclear status.
We call all countries active in that sphere not to hurry. We urge them to consider together with the rest of the world the consequences in the sphere of their national interests at home and in relations with neighbouring countries, and from the point of the world’s attitudes.
I don’t think the current regional and global situation demands rash decisions. On the contrary, it offers every chance to calmly weigh all pros and cons, and to form such a system of international relations that would guarantee all countries in the world and, in this particular instance, in the region their sovereignty, territorial integrity and national interests. Such options certainly exist if there is effective international cooperation.
Question: As you know, India aspires to join the UN Security Council as a permanent member. Would Russia support it? More generally, what is Russia’s position on expanding the Security Council?
Vladimir Putin: In my personal opinion, the United Nations, with its Security Council, is the principal organisation to guarantee international peace and settle conflicts. It is the largest of international organisations. It is a heritage we received from previous generations over several decades of their work. It is our duty to use that heritage wisely and efficiently. The UN is not limited to its Security Council. It is a huge organisation that tackles with enormous problems involving a tremendous number of people. Established after World War II, it reflected the global balance of forces at that time.
Life changes, and so does the international situation. The UN certainly must transform to stay effective. We fully realise that, and we think we must work in that direction and make decisions. The work must certainly include prospects for the expansion of Security Council permanent membership. India is one of the world’s leading countries and one of our principal partners. It is certainly one of the best candidates for that role and for that place.
Question: A philosophical question for you, Mr Putin. What are the basic values in today’s Russia, especially now that much is being said about pragmatism and capitalism? You have talked a great deal about a national idea. Now you speak about essential values. What are they?
Vladimir Putin: This is a critical issue for Russia after all the decades when its fundamental values were based on the communist ideology. As that ideology, the way it used to be, left the political scene, we found ourselves in a kind of a void. Russia will not invent anything new here. It cannot and should not invent anything. We don’t need any basic values except patriotism, love of home, Motherland and our nation, and religious and cultural values – all that makes the core of our life, all that makes us a nation, that makes us different from other nations, and all we take pride in. That is what will form the basis of the idea you mentioned. I repeat Russia does not need to think up anything new here, and it will not principally differ from any other nation, including India.
Question: What do you think are the crucial challenges facing Russia now, and how will you tackle them?
Vladimir Putin: There is nothing surprising about Russia’s present state. What we have is, in fact, a new state – ideologically, administratively and territorially. So, I stress, Russia is not a fragment of the former Soviet Union, but a new country in the making.
So out first challenge is to define our political system, develop a democratic and political structure of our community, form viable political parties, and make all democratic instruments effective. The judiciary system is one of such instruments alongside the multi-partisan system. We must make our country follow the law with precision and to due effect. We must unify the national legal environment. The development of market relations and enhancing their effectiveness is also one of our top priorities. As we see it, one of the principal duties of the Russian leadership is to achieve such an economic situation in which Russia would successfully perform in the toughening international competition to which I have referred earlier. In that sense, Russia will be a reliable partner for all its friends, including India.
Question: Mr Putin, we came to your country and invested in mass media-related business. No one has been harassing us nor called us heroes since then for investing in Russia. But people keep wondering whether the progress of democracy, market economy and freedom of speech can be reversed.
Vladimir Putin: I don’t think that is possible. A young generation has grown up in the past 10 years. These people will never be able to live in a totalitarian country. Many people in Russia are saddened by the break-up of the Soviet Union. Its collapse caused a great deal of suffering in the post-Soviet area, and their feeling of loss lasts to this day. Nevertheless, hardly anyone really wants to see the old regime revived.
There is no social basis for forces anxious to galvanise the past. Their social basis is lost. In that sense, there is no chance of reviving the totalitarian regime. The market economy and democratic government have definitely won in Russia and are here to stay.
Question: What lessons did you draw from the Kursk submarine tragedy?
Vladimir Putin: That was a great tragedy which shook the nation and myself. Regrettably, that is only one in a long chain of similar disasters. As we know, other countries have also lost ships and submarines. The US lost two submarines, and no one has attempted to lift them. This was Russia’s fourth loss of that kind. The whole nation feels bereaved. The openness with which we showed the disaster to the people made its grief all the more acute. That openness was unprecedented in the history of Russia and other maritime countries that came through such tragedies.
It has made us think about many things – the state of our Armed Forces, relations between the leadership and the public, and our responsibility to the nation. It will move us to make practical decisions. In fact, decision-making has already started.
Question: What would you say about your style of leadership?
Vladimir Putin: It is imperative to focus on streamlining the government activities in a state that is in the making. But that is not a goal in itself. It is only a means to improve the nation’s life, make our country prosperous, give us all a reason to take pride in being Russian, and, I repeat, make Russia a reliable partner for India and our other friends.
Question: What qualities do you think a leader needs to tackle his nation’s problems?
Vladimir Putin: Decency and tolerance, and certainly professionalism.