Question: The dialogue you have continued apparently works well. There was a heated discussion in the working groups. How do you communicate with each other? The President speaks German. But apparently you are able to discuss complicated issues in a clear and unambiguous language?
Vladimir Putin: To me the Chancellor is the only Western leader, or for that matter — Eastern leader, with whom I can speak the same language in the direct and figurative meaning of the word. That does make communication and our joint work easier. It contributes to a better understanding in human terms.
But I don’t think this is the most important thing. The most important thing — and I am not saying it with undue pathos – is the awareness of how important Russian-German relations are for our peoples, for the whole of Europe and for the world. This is what encourages us to make sure that at the personal level our relations enable us to tackle the complicated tasks that we face.
I am very pleased with the way our relationship with the Chancellor is shaping up. We are on first-name terms with him. That simplifies things. It enables us to discuss with absolute frankness areas which one cannot always discuss with leaders at such a high level.
Question: But there is another ongoing debate in Europe, and that is on the freedom of the press. I am referring to NTV. Can you say that press freedom is an important matter worthy of attention? When it comes to human rights, press freedom and interference in internal affairs – isn’t it our common concern in our common European home, Mr. President?
Vladimir Putin (adding to Gerhard Schroeder’s answer): You know, we have actually discussed this problem. As an experienced diplomat, the Federal Chancellor chose his words very carefully. He is our guest and of course he does not permit himself any tough talk in public. I am grateful to him for this. But we discussed that topic with him at some length during the short time that we have spent together.
Perhaps I shouldn’t be saying it, but I’ll tell you what I more or less told him. I was recently in Brunei to attend the APEC Summit. When the Sultan of Brunei received official guests he had his two official wives with him. Polygamy is officially allowed in that country. This is odd for the European eye and ear, but we accept it.
Voice: But Brunei is not in Europe…
Vladimir Putin: Wait a bit. We’ll come to Europe in a moment.
After the collapse of the huge communist empire, Russia finds itself in a fairly difficult situation. The ruins of that empire are holding Russia back.
Of course we accept common European values. We seek to make them our own. But it has become fashionable in recent years to “snipe” at Russia with and without any reason and to take jabs at it without bothering to look deeper into the processes taking place in our country.
Russia has still not lived down a certain guilt complex with regard to others. It alternately looks at its partners, sad-eyed, or moos something incoherently like a cow suffering from mad cow disease or other diseases that are widespread in Europe today.
But in reality the processes taking place in our country are not all that different from what we observe in other countries, in Europe or in Northern America.
We have mentioned Europe. In 1986 General Electric bought NBC. They too went through complicated procedures connected with property and had problems with their staff. And what was happening to employees when Mr. Murdoch was buying up the press in Great Britain?
In Germany today Bild, I think, is negotiating with some companies which have close links with the Government. If we speak about property rights, they should be held sacred everywhere. At the turn of the 1990s, many work collectives here introduced the rule whereby they elected their directors. But this has nothing to do with the bedrock principles of the market economy in which the owner names the head of the company.
As for freedom of expression, freedom of the press and so on, they must of course be ensured. But they can only be ensured on one condition: if the economic conditions are acceptable for the free press. The playing field should be level. This is the aim of the state and my aim as the head of state.
What do we have in the case of NTV? The Prosecutor General’s Office claims that one of the shareholders has fraudulently acquired 1.5 billion US dollars. Some employees have recently received 6.6 million US dollars over and above their official salaries under “grey” schemes of dubious legality. That figure has not been challenged. But nobody has repaid the credits.
Some staff members are presenting demands to the present manager and some senior journalists have already left the company. The Moscow Government announced today that it has financial claims to the company.
I don’t think that under the circumstances I have the right to interfere in a dispute between business entities. Having said that, I agree with you that the Government should do all it can to guarantee the freedom of every citizen to express his or her will, and the freedom of the press.
Question: The right to live apparently tops the hierarchy of human rights. But there is a region in Europe in which terrible things are still happening. It is the former Yugoslavia. Unfortunately, no progress has been achieved in the two years since NATO troops were deployed there. War has broken out in Macedonia. Which brings me to my question to Mr. Chancellor and Mr. President, because you say you have reached a high level of mutual understanding, and both sides want to see stability in the region. Are you going to do anything together in that region? Have you discussed this problem, especially since the troubled region is next door to Germany?
Vladimir Putin (adding to Schroeder’s answer): You know Russia’s position on the Balkan crisis. You know that we have criticised NATO over the actions it planned and conducted in Yugoslavia, over the bombing of Yugoslavia. We said then and we believe today that such instruments as nationalism and religious extremism cannot be used to achieve political goals, however noble they may be.
We are glad that the gap between us and Europe on some issues is narrowing. We have – and I would like to confirm it – a shared understanding with Germany and with Europe of what needs to be done to curb extremist forces in Europe, because they pose a serious threat to Europe, and consequently to Russia.
We will of course continue to cooperate within the peacekeeping force, although we feel that the international community should take a tougher stand, at least with regard to the extremists, who have exceeded all limits. As extremists use the means and methods which they consider to be the only effective methods. Thereby they indicate that to be effective, the fight against them should be consistent and relentless.
I think this is sinking in to all the parties involved in the process, but we will act only together with the international community and on the basis of the decisions taken by the United Nations and other international bodies.
Question: Do I understand you correctly, Mr. President, that the Western troops in Macedonia should follow the example of Russia in Chechnya?
Vladimir Putin: You know, Europe can’t do that because there is no one to do the fighting in Europe. But the dilemma facing the Europeans is basically the same as that which faced Russia. Either to block the destructive forces within Kosovo and to prevent them from attacking their neighbours and destabilising Central Europe, or to fight them on their own territory. In fact, by adopting UN Security Council Resolution 1244 the international community declared that it was ready to take the second option and disarm the Albanian terrorists. Unfortunately, this has not been done. And now we hear that it is already too late.
This is what I had in mind when I said that nationalism and religious extremism cannot be used to achieve political goals. You have armed them and now nobody knows what to do about them. I think Europe has only one option: to create a strong border and proceed in accordance with the UN Security Council resolution, to continue attempts to disarm the terrorists, to respect the territorial integrity of Yugoslavia and put part of the responsibility for the province on the Yugoslavian authorities. Otherwise Europe would be directly responsible. Is that what Europe wants?
And of course, the danger is very serious, because Europe in fact is getting its own little Afghanistan or Chechnya, and not in its backyard but in its very heart. You know, the danger lies not only in the spread of narcotics, although already 60–70% of narcotics come to Western Europe via Kosovo. It is not only about criminal business or arms trafficking or prostitution. In my opinion – and this is the first time I am saying it in public – the main danger [of the Balkan crisis] for Europe is that given transparent borders (and it is practically impossible to protect the borders because of the mountainous terrain) that territory, which no one controls, may provide a bridgehead for a criminal onslaught on Europe’s economy. Small and medium-sized European businesses may become the earliest victims.
What is the European accustomed to? Where does he go if he faces lawlessness? To the law court. And the terrorists have only one response: a bullet in the head. And then they hide in a territory which no one controls. This is a situation Europe will have a hard time sorting out. I don’t think it is ready for it.
So, what needs to be done today is what the Federal Chancellor said. It is necessary to unite our efforts to prevent the spread of negative trends in the region. I absolutely agree with him.
Question: In your Address you make no mention of America. Does that indicate a change of policy and greater emphasis on integration into Europe?
Vladimir Putin: Yes, indeed, I did not directly refer to our relations with the United States, but it does not mean that we underestimate the role of the United States in the world or don’t want to cooperate with it. That is not the case. And I would not like it to be interpreted in this way.
Of course we are in Europe, we are part of Europe territorially, geographically, historically and culturally. But we are aware of the role the United States plays in the world today. It is one of our leading partners. You may have noticed that my Address referred to NATO and the fact that we want to promote our relations with that organisation. Whatever NATO procedures are, the leading NATO partner is the United States. And we recognize that.
Our Foreign Minister is due to meet the Secretary of State the day after tomorrow. We hope it will mark an important step in the development of our relations with the United States. We very much hope that the results of the recent exchanges between the two countries will be revised, and even though a different administration was in power, that all positive trends that have been accumulated between Russia and the United States in the past years will be preserved. And there was much that was positive.
As regards the United States attitude to Russia, there are some very good, positive signals. In spite of the row over diplomats, the mutual expulsion of diplomats, we took note of what President Bush said, and he said that he did not see Russia as an enemy. I think it is an important signal. We have heard it and we look forward, I repeat, to positive shifts.
As for how the United States sees Russia’s role, that of course is up to the United States. We cannot dictate or impose our will. But we see the same attitude not only to Russia, but to some other countries or global problems. Take for instance, the attitude to the Kyoto accords.
But I don’t think we should over dramatize things. The Administration has not yet been formed. Only the key figures have been appointed. And as you know, it is the retinue that plays the king. The retinue has not yet been formed. Overall, we think that positive elements have prevailed in our relations in recent years. It prompts optimism with regard to our bilateral relations.
Question: Among the Russian lands there is one that is more integrated into the West than any other. It is the Kaliningrad Region. At the same time Kaliningrad, in the light of the enlargement of the European Union and the expansion of NATO, may experience problems. Indeed, it is already experiencing economic and social problems. What can be done by way of integrating Russia into Europe and as part of Russian-German cooperation with regard to the Kaliningrad Region? It’s a question both for Mr. Chancellor and for Mr. President.
Vladimir Putin (adding to Gerhard Schroeder’s answer): I fully agree with the Federal Chancellor. We have just visited the Piskarevskoye Memorial Cemetery and I hope Gerhard won’t be cross with me if I divulge what he was telling me as we walked together. He said: “You know, here in Russia I feel differently than in any other country because here you feel how much binds us together, that we have a common history. It is both tragic and positive, but it is to a large extent common history.”
Of course, and I agree that Kaliningrad is also something that links us and we should not pretend that we don’t understand what it is all about. I think it is absolutely right and fair that Kaliningrad can and must become a bridge between uniting Europe and Russia. Of course, at the practical level, we are already worried about infrastructure and the ability of Russian citizens to travel freely to Russia and neighbouring countries. These are all tricky issues. We understand European concerns in this connection because Europe has a common economic space, a common visa space and so on. But that should be the subject for negotiations between experts. At the political level, a signal has been sent, and it is a good signal.
Question: What in your opinion are the main obstacles standing in the way of still broader economic relations between Russia and Germany? Could Russian debts or certain characteristics of the Russian economy or management be an obstacle? What is the biggest obstacle to the development of Russian-German and Russian-European economic relations?
Vladimir Putin: Let me be the first, to give my colleague a rest. I think it is above all a Russian problem, and we have to admit that. The problem is the deficiency of our legislation in a number of areas. These obviously include tax legislation; customs legislation; guarantees of property rights; effective functioning of the legal system, the court system. And that is only the beginning of the list. It includes currency legislation, the free movement of capital, liberalisation of the banking sphere. Russia has to do a great deal to meet Western standards.
That is why, I think, integration and penetration into the Russian economy meet with such difficulties. But it has to be noted that much has been done recently, as you know. It has been achieved exclusively due to the political consolidation of Russian society. It was hard to imagine that a year ago the country’s parliament would have voted for some of the laws it has passed.
That, and not so much our economic progress during the past year, should give cause for optimism to us and to our partners.
Question: Dialogue is developing in the cultural sphere as well. When you visit the Hermitage in St. Petersburg tomorrow, you will see the Impressionists on the second floor. You will probably also visit the basement and see the paintings that the Germans are eager to see returned to Germany…
Vladimir Putin (adding to Gerhard Schroeder’s answer): I can add that it is true that the problems you have mentioned – press freedom, Russia’s debts, cultural cooperation and captured works of art – these are almost invariably raised by the Federal Chancellor. I must say that no one here is happy that the problem you have raised exists. We would like there to be no irritants in the relations between the two countries. But, like much else, these are the problems we have inherited.
There is a certain mood in society, in German and in Russian society. We cannot ignore it. All our actions and the character of our actions and the result should be geared to one aim: not to worsen the current situation but to improve it. The problem of misappropriated works of art that you have mentioned must be addressed, but it should be addressed in such a way as to improve relations between the two states. We are working out such approaches at the expert level. I think it is one of the outstanding problems that can be solved.
Question: I have a practical question. It is connected with people’s daily lives and it is about the issue of visas both for Russian citizens and for German citizens. I don’t know how German citizens obtain visas to go to Russia, but I know that Russian citizens occasionally have difficulty in obtaining a visa. Will anything change or are some other options being discussed by the foreign ministers?
Vladimir Putin: Germany is part of the Schengen zone. And that of course attracts our attention in connection with the enlargement of Europe. I must say that we do not object to it and we do nothing to oppose it. In fact, as I have said, we welcome the enlargement of Europe, but we draw our partner’s attention to the fact that already 35% of our trade is with the European Community. And after the admission of new members it will be 50%.
Of course business activities and social and cultural contacts are connected with visas. And we hope that our partners will meet us halfway and that this regime will match the level of our political relations.
Question: You are both lawyers by training and you, Mr. President, have studied here at this university where we are now and then you worked here. What are the main principles on which the relations between Germany and Russia, and Europe and Russia will be based in future?
Vladimir Putin (adding to Gerhard Schroeder’s answer): I subscribe to what the Federal Chancellor has said. I might add perhaps that our relations should also be based on the understanding that both Russia and Europe and one of its main parts, Germany, stand to gain from widened relations. The benefits are mutual because our economies can naturally complement each other. I can also mention the traditional ties between Russia and the Eastern lands of Germany which provide a good resource – human, intellectual and organisational. There are a lot of people there who know our country well and like it. And this has been as well our attitude to the GDR in the past. It gives us a good head start. In general, more than 3 million people from the former Soviet Union now live in Germany.
The mutually complementary economies of the two countries can be very instrumental in creating new jobs, in gaining leading positions in a number of key areas in the global competition between various power centers. Ultimately it will certainly contribute to the prosperity and growing incomes of the population.
I think these are the goals that are worth exerting efforts and committing resources to in years of joint work. I think these are achievable goals.