Question: Good afternoon, Mr President.
I would like to thank you for agreeing to this interview. We are meeting ahead of your visit to Kyrgyzstan, where a summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) will take place.
Our television and radio company broadcasts in almost all SCO member states, except China. Therefore, we know that most of our viewers consider the SCO to be something positive.
At the same time, most of them do not know what it is and what its purpose is. Could you please explain in a few words what the SCO is and what objectives do Russia and its allies set for the organisation at the present stage?
Vladimir Putin: The SCO is an international organisation that was created in the mid-1990s. This was related to the need to settle border issues between Russia, China and several republics of the former Soviet Union: Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan.
After that, when this work was successfully completed and brought good practical results, we came to a conclusion that this format should be preserved and that a new status should be given to it. Namely, the status of an organisation that would be charged with the development of relations in various areas and directions. This is what happened.
Thus, it was created, and then it turned out that its objectives and the problems it resolved were interesting to other countries in the region. Therefore, many states – 18, I think – joined the organisation as full members and observers, and the SCO became a serious and multifaceted regional organisation.
Question: The SCO was created at China’s initiative. Recently, at the St Petersburg International Economic Forum, you spoke against the trade war that the United States is waging against the People’s Republic of China. You said that Russia is the smart monkey that sits on a tree and watches two tigers fight. What did you mean by that?
Vladimir Putin: Firstly, the SCO was created not at China’s initiative, but at the initiative of all countries that took part in the negotiations on the border issues I mentioned. But yes, Russia and China, together, were the main initiators. Other partners took equal part in both the work and the creation of the SCO.
As for trade wars and my joke, when I recalled this Chinese proverb, you probably did not notice what I said after that. I said that we live in a complex world. Since these proverbs were created, the situation has changed radically, and today relations between Russia and China have special importance for both our countries and the global community in general – I can say that without exaggerating.
In fact, to answer your question, we are talking about a dispute between the world’s largest economies. There are many specific issues related to the current work of the two states.
China is a huge factory manufacturing goods for the whole world, including the United States. The US deploys its production facilities there, creating jobs. At the same time, when China sells its goods in foreign markets, including significant exports to the American market, it stores a significant part of the forex proceeds in US securities. There are a lot of specific ties between the two countries.
And of course, common sense tells us that we have no reason to interfere in this negotiation process. But there is a small hitch, albeit a significant one. First of all, we truly have an unprecedentedly good and wholesome relationship with China. We truly are strategic partners in every sense of the word. We cooperate in the economy, the humanitarian sphere, and at the regional level, and there is cooperation between our Foreign and Defence Ministries.
We are making a significant contribution to the maintenance of universal peace and security – not only in the region where our states are located, but also in the world as a whole. We coordinate our activities as permanent members of the UN Security Council.
Unfortunately, we cannot say anything of the kind about our relations with the US – they are in fact deteriorating, getting worse by the hour. In recent years, the current US administration has already taken several dozen decisions on sanctions with regard to Russia, I think.
On the contrary, our trade with China is growing, and has reached $108 billion. Last year, we set ourselves the target of reaching $100 billion, and we have already surpassed that at $108 billion.
I have very good and friendly relations with the leader of China, the President of the PRC. This also makes a significant contribution, as it creates an atmosphere of trust. And naturally, in these conditions, our sympathies are with our strategic partners – this much goes without saying.
This mainly happens because any action that undermines the international economic relations architecture that has been in place for decades is detrimental to all participants in economic activity; this is our profound conviction.
Therefore, we strongly hope that common sense will triumph in the end. I hope that with all our partners, including our American partners, the United States, we will be able to work out some constructive solutions during the upcoming G20 meeting, creating the necessary stable conditions for economic cooperation.
Question: From Kyrgyzstan you will go directly to Dushanbe, where the leaders of nearly half of the world will meet for the Conference on Interaction and Confidence-Building Measures in Asia (CICA). What is the practical importance of this international format?
Vladimir Putin: It is a broad-based format created at the initiative of Kazakhstan’s first President, Nursultan Nazarbayev. It is an additional venue where regional leaders can meet to discuss the situation in the huge Asian region. It concerns the Middle East and South Asia.
There are many issues and problems in the region that require special attention, from the chronic Israeli-Palestinian conflict to Afghanistan, Iran and Iran’s nuclear programme, North Korea and its nuclear programme, and much more. There are very many issues for discussion.
Of course, we are concerned about the Middle East, but we are equally worried about Iran’s nuclear programme and North Korea. We are closely monitoring the developments in Afghanistan. I would like to say that we are energetically and, I believe, effectively collaborating on this issue with many countries, including the United States, which is running an operation and is responsible for the situation in Afghanistan.
We have been contributing to these efforts, and I strongly hope that our cooperation in this sphere will yield positive results. Overall, I would like to say again, concluding my answer with what I have said at the beginning, that there will be very many issues in the focus of our discussion.
Question: Speaking about Kazakhstan, the country has a new president, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev. What are your expectations of cooperation with the new leaders of Kazakhstan?
Vladimir Putin: To begin with, President Tokayev studied in Moscow and knows Russia very well. I have reasons to believe that this leader will definitely carry on the policy of the first President of Kazakhstan, Nursultan Nazarbayev, the policy of rapprochement with Russia and the development of allied relations in all spheres, including industry, agriculture and the science-driven spheres such as space exploration.
We have several large projects. We strongly hope that all our plans will be implemented. I have no reason to expect any problems here.
On the contrary, I believe that the increase in our mutual trade, which keeps growing, and the diversification of our ties will only improve the conditions for cooperation between our countries and also at the human level between our citizens.
There are millions of contacts and ties between our people. This humanitarian aspect of our cooperation is extremely important. It covers social issues and everything else concerned with social security and so forth.
There are also infrastructure aspects that cover not simply bilateral but trilateral and quadrilateral relations. There are very ambitious, I would say, huge plans and projects. I am confident that they will be implemented.
Question: At the St Petersburg Econoic Forum, you gave your first assessment of Vladimir Zelensky’s actions as President of Ukraine. Now the new election campaign is in full swing there, this time to parliament. Does this mean that relations between Russia and Ukraine have once again been paused?
Vladimir Putin: I hope you do not mind, but I have to correct you a little. I gave no assessment of President Zelensky’s actions at the forum, because there have been no actions so far. I could not have done it because of this fact: he has just taken office.
I can judge by myself: it will take a lot of time to understand the tasks he is facing. I hope that he will adapt to his new office quite quickly.
Speaking about our interactions with Ukraine, I have said this many times and can repeat this once again, I believe there is no way around restoring our relations; it is inevitable. Things cannot stand the way they are now between two parts of the same nation or, rather, two brotherly nations.
This does not depend on our relations with the political elites of the past, for example, the people who put their personal success and their personal gain at the forefront of everything they did and their whole lives, along with the preservation of the fortune they amassed at the expense of the Ukrainian people and kept somewhere abroad. This is where their love for the West comes from, I suppose.
But I hope that the new leadership has no such limitations, and feels free relying on the trust the Ukrainians placed in the elected President, so it will be able to operate proactively and work towards restoring relations between Ukraine and Russia, as well as on solving domestic problems. It will not hide behind anti-Russian fabrications and ideas in order to evade internal Ukrainian problems, in the economy and social sphere above all.
Question: Mir also covers Moldova, Ukraine’s neighbour that is plagued by a political crisis, a full-fledged political crisis. How do you assess the political situation in Moldova?
Vladimir Putin: I think the situation in Moldova is not unique, by any means. But it is the most revealing, because the authorities in Moldova, as well as partly in Ukraine, were in the full and literal sense of the word usurped by oligarchic groups, by oligarchs, who brought all government agencies to heel – absolutely everything: the law-enforcement sphere, the parliament, you name it. That is, they made their fortunes at the expense of the Moldovan people and used them to improve their personal welfare and to put pressure on the state.
All that President Dodon and his recent opponents – pro-Western parties one could say – have done, after all, was actually a step towards building a full-fledged, civilised, modern state.
We will certainly support both President Dodon and his current coalition partners so that they eventually get rid of those people, to put it politely, who have usurped power in Moldova, and, despite some possible internal controversy, still find it in themselves to build joint work in the interests of the Moldovan state and the Moldovan people. And we will certainly support them.
Question: Many people refer to our Mir Television and Radio Company as the core of the common information space in the CIS. How do you see the prospects for the development of our common information space?
Vladimir Putin: This is a very important sphere.
First, it must be open, this space. There should be a minimal number of restrictions. And if there are any, they should be prompted exclusively by security reasons or some generally recognised elements of morality, I should say.
In general, this information space should be as open as possible, so that all sources of information are protected, respected and can work effectively. Moreover, the less politicised they are, the better. Information should be spread freely – I mean freedom not in the interests of those who spread it, but in the interests of the citizens who use this information.
I strongly hope that the presentation of the content will be interesting, creative and meaningful, and all citizens of our countries will be able to use it to better understand each other, to understand what is happening with their neighbours and to study the best practices that are used in our states to implement them at home.