Qestion: On nuclear cooperation with Iran (inaudible).
Vladimir Putin: I have just answered a similar question by our journalists. I can repeat the answer. We cooperate with Iran. Iran is our neighbour and we will pursue this cooperation. We are firmly opposed to looking for pretexts to limit our cooperation or to gain unfair advantages over us in the markets of third countries, including in the Iranian market.
And yet the problem of non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, I am convinced, is one of the key problems of the 21st century. And one of the organisations that must tackle the problem and can effectively solve it is the IAEA. We will build our nuclear cooperation with all countries proceeding from the extent to which these countries are ready and capable of opening their nuclear programmes and putting them under the control of the IAEA.
Question: You have mentioned the visa problem in connection with Kaliningrad. And you mentioned the “Schengen wall”. What do you expect from Brussels and more specifically from the Italian presidency?
Vladimir Putin: It is one of the key problems in the development of a united Europe. What is the cornerstone of democracy in individual countries or in the world? The free movement of people, free communication and the free exchange of information.
Naturally, after the Berlin Wall came down… and I should tell you, and you would certainly agree with me, that but for the position of the Soviet Union and Russia it still might not have happened. Naturally, when we encouraged that process we proceeded from the need to unite Europe and not to create new dividing lines.
It is universally known that Russia is the largest country in the world. Geographically, Europe reaches as far as the Ural Mountains, but in fact European culture exists in the space reaching Vladivostok on the Pacific Coast because the people who live there hardly differ in their mentality from those who live in Moscow or St Petersburg.
How can one surround a population of 145 million with a visible or invisible barbed wire fence? That is unrealistic. So we must understand it and draw the necessary conclusions from it. If we do not do it and do not work to solve the problem it will solve itself, whether we like it or not. Only that solution would be somewhat distorted and would create problems for millions of people both in Europe and Russia. Why do it?
It is better to think about the future and build up civilised relations today. That way Russia will bear a certain load of responsibility knowing what its partners expect from it and meeting the standards set to privileged partners in Europe. Then Russia will know what to do and will answer for its behaviour.
This is the approach proposed, among others, by Silvio Berlusconi, Jacques Chirac, German Chancellor Schroeder and some other European leaders. We believe it is a balanced, sound, serious and competent approach. We don’t need anything more, only the free movement of people and opportunities for economic development. Both Russia and Europe are interested in that.
Question: The European leaders signal that Chechnya is an internal matter for Russia. What plans are there to normalise the situation in Chechnya?
Vladimir Putin: Yes, that is indeed the case. The Chechen problem is above all and exclusively an internal political problem for Russia. But we have never wrapped ourselves into a cocoon and tried to hide anything about the situation. As you know, the international press has been free to operate in Chechnya practically from the very beginning, and there have always been and still are representatives of various international organisations.
Chechnya has recently witnessed events which few people not only abroad but in Russia believed possible. Let me tell you frankly, I had not expected such results from the referendum held in the Chechen Republic on the Constitution of Chechnya which sets down in black and white that Chechnya is an alienable part of the Russian Federation and that Chechen territory is part of the common territory of Russia.
It means that the people of Chechnya have made a clear, unambiguous and highly democratic choice in favour of Russia, in favour of staying part of Russia and developing, in favour of peace.
That strong signal from the Chechen people must be backed by the Russian leadership. And it will be backed. The political process will continue along several tracks. The first is the further establishment of legitimate bodies of power on the basis of the Constitution of the Chechen Republic. The President is to be elected shortly and the necessary measures will be taken to strengthen the justice system in the Republic. The Prosecutor’s Office, the courts of law, the notaries public and the bar are already active in the republic, but we are determined to create conditions in which the Republic’s law enforcement bodies, including the Interior Ministry of Chechnya, will assume the main responsibility for maintaining law and order in the Chechen Republic.
And there are two other elements of critical importance. The first is granting amnesty to the people who are ready to lay down their arms and who have not committed any major crimes. And the second is to draft and conclude a treaty to delimit powers between the federal government in Moscow and the Chechen authorities by granting Chechnya the broadest autonomy.