Question: It is two years since the signing of the Declaration on Strategic Partnership between Russia and India. How do you assess the progress in implementing that document?
Vladimir Putin: There is always room for improvement, but the main thing in my opinion is the very high level of trust between the two countries. We have laid down strategic guidelines for our interaction. And we are developing our relations on their basis at a very rapid pace. In that sense we are of course satisfied with the way our agreements are being implemented.
Question: The Declaration on Strategic Partnership was seen as an important part of the efforts to create a multi-polar world and as an important element in making international relations more democratic. Do you believe that the document has fulfilled that role?
Vladimir Putin: The theme of building a future international security structure took on added relevance after the world ceased to be bi-polar, after the confrontation of the two hostile systems came to an end.
After several years during which everybody thought that the former fears were behind us, there emerged a sense that the world had entered an era of absolutely harmonious development. But, as it turned out, new threats have appeared, new dangers, which in their scale and destructive potential can be just as big as the former threats.
Although the world has changed dramatically, former instruments of resolving disputes cannot just be used, they must be adapted to the present-day conditions and must be improved. I mean above all the instruments of the United Nations. We have very similar positions on that with India. We both support improving the mechanisms of the UN and a constant strengthening of that organisation as a universal structure for the maintenance of peace in the world.
It is there that the principles of a multi-polar world order should manifest themselves above all. The improvement of the international and legal basis for the maintenance of peace consists in the strengthening of the UN mechanisms. I think it would be an unpardonably gross error if we followed a different path, the development of the world in an unpredictable mode, without any rules and without the coordination of the positions of all the countries interested in the maintenance of international peace.
Question: Talking about a uni-polar and multi-polar world, I would like to ask you the following question. Don’t you think that the actions of the United States against Iraq, at least Washington’s declared position and policy with regard to Iraq, show a wish to establish a uni-polar world, a one-side-decides-for-all trend? It differs strikingly from the policy pursued by the Russian leadership….
Vladimir Putin: As regards Iraq, we agree with our American partners and we share their position that it is necessary to ascertain that Iraq is not producing and does not possess weapons of mass destruction. But we believe that other spots in the world that may pose a certain danger should not be forgotten. One spot that gives cause for concern is of course Pakistan’s weapons of mass destruction. We must have a clear idea where they are, what their status is and what will happen to them.
And there are other regions of the world that worry us just as much as Iraq does. But I would not demonise the United States’ position with regard to Iraq. We have no right to forget what has prompted the US leadership, President Bush, to take such a tough line. It happened after the barbaric terrorist attacks in Washington and New York on September 11, 2001. In general, I personally share the mood of the American President.
At the same time our position has always been that such issues should be handled by the UN Security Council, and that it alone should take the corresponding decisions.
I must say that in his conversations with me President Bush has never once insisted on an immediate use of force. Moreover, I can tell you – and this is not a secret – that in all our personal meetings he has always said that in his opinion the problem must be solved by peaceful means.
So, I don’t have to read media comments on the American position. I proceed from what the President tells me personally. And so far – and I would like to stress this, so far, because it was a difficult dialogue – we have managed to come to terms. Eventually we jointly approved Resolution 1441 on Iraq. I hope everyone, including Iraq, will comply with it. The recent reports coming from Iraq say that the situation is developing in a positive way.
Question: When you spoke about your concerns over Pakistan’s weapons of mass destruction did you mean that these weapons could fall into the hands of some militants, both in Pakistan and Afghanistan?
Vladimir Putin: You put it very accurately: Russia is a signatory of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, and my personal position cannot be different from that of my country. Naturally, in my practical activities I will try to ensure that these obligations are complied with.
As for my fears, I agree with you there. There are fears. We are afraid that not only weapons of mass destruction may fall in the hands of insurgents and terrorists – I would prefer to call them that, and not militants – but that they could get hold of information that could help them to produce even a primitive device belonging to the category of weapons of mass destruction.
We take note of President Musharraf’s assurances that Pakistan’s military potential is in safe hands, but I must tell you frankly that there is still a lingering sense of anxiety. The position of Russia and our practical activities are aimed at preventing the spread of weapons of mass destruction.
And now to answer your main question: what to do to prevent the spread of weapons of mass destruction? Strengthen the non-proliferation regime, act in concert, do not allow the situation in the world to develop towards creating a single centre, but build international relations on democratic principles, build a multi-polar world.
Question: Do you believe that bin Laden is alive and is somewhere in Pakistan? And would you describe Pakistan as a state that sponsors terrorism?
Vladimir Putin: Our friendship with India is not directed against anyone, it aims to develop bilateral relations between our countries. But it is a fact that in previous years Pakistan had a negative impact on the development of the situation in Afghanistan, supported the Taliban and so on.
Clearly – and we know it well – Osama bin Laden did not just actively cooperate with the Taliban, he was part of that system. President Musharraf has lately taken some resolute steps to combat terrorism. My position is that rather than blaming him for all that happened in the past and is happening today, we should encourage him to continue this new policy. And of course here we must support him. We hope that his actions will be sincere, open and effective; otherwise the talk around that problem is meaningless.
Question: It is notable that you will visit China before you come to India. The three-way cooperation between India, China and Russia is increasing gradually. What forms and what shape should this cooperation take? Will you bring any message to India from China?
Vladimir Putin: If there are such messages, of course I will discuss them with the Indian leadership. But we do not set ourselves such an explicit task. China is our neighbour. India is one of our major partners in the world, and bilateral relations with India are very important for us. So the development of relations with each of these countries is hugely important for the Russian Federation.
Our deeply held position is that the relations between Russia and India, Russia and China, China and India are developing in a positive way. All three states are interested in the development of relations within that triangle.
But I don’t think we should jump the gun and take some actions before the ground has been prepared for them. Everything should develop in a consistent and harmonious manner. But we must move forward in the relations between our states, of course.
Question: You say that the relations with each of the partners are important for you. But why is Russia supplying China with the same modern weapons that it supplies to India, knowing that there is a long-standing border dispute between India and China?
Vladimir Putin: Russia is active in the arms market and it occupies a leading place in that market. There are countries which sell a lot more weapons than Russia. It is a high-tech market and competition in it is tough.
We have a long border with China. As you know, there were border disputes between the Soviet Union and China. But we are gradually sorting these problems out. Given the good will of the two sides, any problems can be solved.
We hope that all the outstanding issues between India and Pakistan will also be resolved in due course.
There is another very important circumstance. I have said that there is stiff competition in the arms markets. At the same time Russia does not supply weapons to conflict zones: this is the rule we try to adhere to. Thank God, there are no conflicts between India and China and I hope there never will be. And the more we work to strengthen the relations within this triangle you have mentioned, Russia–India–China, the sooner we will achieve the positive result.
Question: If I could take you back to the question of bilateral relations between Russia and India. The level of trade between our two countries is not very high. What steps can and must be taken to increase it?
Vladimir Putin: I also believe that the level of trade between us is not just low, it is inadmissibly low. It did not exceed $1.5 billion over the past two years. It is a very small figure for our countries.
Of course, the Inter-Governmental Commission on Trade and Economic Relations must play its part. There are some concrete things that claim the special attention of the two countries.
We should pay more attention to mutual investment and to organising joint production. Good examples already exist in the military-technical sphere. We are already doing joint development work and produce highly sophisticated and future-oriented weapons, something that, I stress, we do not do with other countries. That experience must of course be transferred to the civilian sphere.
We must concentrate attention on improving financial settlements which support business. We must of course solve all the problems connected with logistics, transport, communications, etc.
We have very good pilot projects in the field of energy and high technologies, and they need support at the government level. In short, there is a launching pad for building up our success.
Question: This question is about arms transfer. Is Russia prepared to supply a nuclear submarine to India or to help India build a similar submarine of its own?
Vladimir Putin: As for the submarine, surface ships, planes and rockets, these negotiations are conducted at the expert level. As I have said we even produce a sea-launched missile together, and it is of a very high class.
As for cooperation in the nuclear sphere or closely related spheres, there are certain limitations due to Russia’s obligations within the nuclear club and all the instruments connected with non-proliferation. It is a separate problem, and we are discussing it with Indian colleagues and resolving many issues. I repeat, Russia can only solve them within the framework of its international legal obligations.
Our relations connected with naval vessels are progressing. Our ideas and proposals are met with understanding on the part of our Indian partners. In the nuclear sphere, as you know, we are jointly building two nuclear power plant units. That’s in the civilian sphere. As far as I know, the partners are pleased with each other.
Question: India has expressed an interest in becoming a member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation. Is the organisation open to new members? How does Russia feel about India’s wish in that respect?
Vladimir Putin: Yes, the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation is putting itself on the map. Its role is growing, especially in establishing multi-lateral ties in the region and in counteracting terrorism. We have decided to pay the required share of attention to that problem.
Initially the organisation included four republics of the former Soviet Union (including the Russian Federation) as well as China. The main task of that organisation was to regulate the outstanding border issues between China and the former Soviet republics. I must say that by now practically all the most acute bilateral problems, including those within the framework of the organisation, have been resolved. It has played a positive role.
During the course of our joint work we have come to the conclusion that the mechanisms created in the framework of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation can be instrumental in solving other problems facing our countries. This is part of the reason why Uzbekistan recently became the sixth country to join the organisation. It indicates that it is an open organisation.
We are ready to hold consultations with our partners in the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation and with Indian colleagues, and decide together in what capacity India would like to take part in the work of that organisation before taking the necessary decision. I think that India’s participation in joint work could enhance the importance of that organisation and broaden the range of the tasks it tackles, which would be welcome.
Question: What do you think about the decision to withdraw troops from the state border between India and Pakistan?
Vladimir Putin: We welcome that decision. We believe that it is movement in an absolutely right direction. It eases tensions in a very complicated and explosive region. It is an action that deserves respect. We will seek to support any steps of this kind on both sides.
Question: What do you think about the presence of American troops in Afghanistan?
Vladimir Putin: We have repeatedly discussed it with our American colleagues. We are mindful of the American argument that they intend to stay in Afghanistan until they have solved the problems connected with terrorism. They do not intend to stay there after the counter-terrorist operations have been completed because it makes no military or political sense.
We consider ourselves to be members of the international anti-terrorist coalition and we hope that all the actions against terrorism will be coordinated. At least they have been until now. We hope that it will be so in the future.