The session was attended by President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev, King of Jordan Abdullah II, President of Kazakhstan Kassym-Jomart Tokayev and President of the Philippines Rodrigo Duterte.
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Excerpts from the transcript of the Valdai International Discussion Club session
President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Your Majesty King Abdullah, Mr Aliyev, Mr Tokaev, Mr Duterte, friends, ladies and gentlemen,
I am pleased to welcome you all in Sochi at the annual meeting of the Valdai Club. According to tradition, on this platform, we try to put aside current political problems, even diplomatic discussions, and strive to discuss the long-term perspective in a historical, cultural and philosophical context and to look into the future and outline it.
This time, the hosts have come up with a truly inexhaustible and, I would say, fascinating topic which is the East and the role of Asia as the world’s largest and most populated region. Relations between Russia and the Asian states, which have always been of particular importance to us, I believe, are of interest to everyone. The nature of Russia’s relations with Asia is dictated not only by today's realities, but by history as well.
India and China, Egypt and Iran, Turkey and Japan, the countries of Central and Southeast Asia are heirs to great ancient civilisations, which gave humankind unique knowledge and technology, as well as discoveries in medicine, mathematics, culture and the arts.
Asia has always aroused special feelings among intellectuals and creative people, it seemed a little mysterious and mystical, and was considered a source of spiritual strength and wisdom, perhaps not always fully understood, but invariably interesting.
In Russia, the bright colours of the East inspired many of our writers, poets, artists and musicians, specifically Pushkin, Rimsky-Korsakov, Arsenyev, Vereshchagin, Kandinsky and Roerich. The Russian people, and not only Russians, know these names.
Today, Asia, throughout its vast reach from the Maghreb and the Middle East all the way to East and Southeast Asia, is regaining its natural place in international affairs, which is commensurate with its great heritage and today's undoubtedly vast and growing potential.
The positions of the Asian states are becoming stronger in all areas, but mainly in the economy. The region already accounts for over a third of the gross world product. Living standards are improving at a higher pace than the global average. The most advanced technology is being introduced. The unprecedented scale of integration processes and globalisation are drawing both individual countries and entire adjacent sub-regions to Asia.
While demonstrating impressive examples of progress, the Asian nations still preserve their unique features and traditions. They remember their roots and prove in their forward progress that the principles of state sovereignty do not contradict openness and globalisation, that sustainable development can be based on independence and self-sufficiency rather than their mandatory renunciation, and that growing national economic and humanitarian potential requires political identity.
Naturally, having effectively and wisely used the opportunities of globalisation and having become economic leaders, the Asian states are striving to play a bigger role in world politics. This is an absolutely natural process. They uphold their own opinions on key international issues, treasure their independence and hope that their objectively increasing influence will be recognised. We believe this is only fair and meets the realities of today and tomorrow.
Incidentally, at one time Asia’s awakening, as it is called, and the national and cultural revival of its states, played an enormous role in the democratisation of international ties. Today, it is obvious that global problems cannot be resolved without Asia. Of course, it is possible to try to do this with momentum and based on past experience, but the legitimacy, and most importantly, the practical value of such approaches, which are presented as global and universal, will be questionable.
The world has become multi-polar and, hence more complicated largely owing to the Asian countries. But, as I have said, multi-polarity as such is not a cure-all. Nor does it mean that urgent problems will disappear by themselves.
The authors of the annual Valdai Club report insist, and we have just heard this, that we have entered an era with no world order whatsoever. This has been practically voiced right now. Yes, such a scenario is indeed possible. But it is fraught with many threats, we are all aware of that. I would like to hope that however complicated the relations between countries, however dangerous the legal lacunae might be, such as in nuclear and missile weapons areas, the world order, based on the key role of international law, will be transformed, but it will remain. We will all be working to protect it. A different way is obviously fraught with global calamities for practically all of humanity.
The world system is undoubtedly multi-faceted and complicated and unprecedentedly interconnected at that. Everyone has their own objective interests that do not always coincide with those of others, this is also evident. But there is a feeling of common responsibility. Ultimately, I hope, no, actually, I do not doubt that there is also common sense, a striving for security.
This is why we cannot do without a systemic world order. But we also need both flexibility and, let me add, non-linearity, which would not mean a rejection of the system but the capability to arrange a complex process rooted in realities, which presupposes the ability to consider various cultural and value systems, the need to act together, dismissing stereotypes and geopolitical clichés. This is the only way to effectively solve the challenges on the global, regional, and national levels.
We have such examples before our eyes. Those of you who attended the 2015 Valdai Club meeting will apparently remember that at virtually the very same time the decision was taken on Russia’s operation in Syria. Let me be straightforward, not everyone, including the experts in the audience back then, believed it could bring a positive result. On the contrary, they were very sceptical about it, and many of them asked questions about why it was necessary. They asked if we understood what sort of a hornets’ nest we would get into ,whereas some foreign partners, I do not mean those experts present here, I mean just foreign partners with whom we collaborate in the global arena, were also trying to interfere, to resist.
But I would like to draw your attention to the essence of what has been done, and above all, of course, I mean what has been done for our country, as I represent its interests. We defeated the terrorist international that was actually winning on Syrian territory, and we prevented the return, the infiltration of hundreds and later, perhaps, thousands of armed cut-throats into our country and neighbouring countries with whom we have a visa-free regime, our borders are transparent.
Most of Syria was freed from terrorists within several years, and the level of violence has drastically decreased. In conjunction with our Astana format partners and with the support of the UN, we managed to launch an intra-Syrian political process and to establish close working contacts with Iran, Turkey, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and other countries of the Middle East, as well as the United States. Colleagues, you will agree that it was difficult to even imagine such a complicated diplomatic alignment with the participation of very different states with very different emotions towards each other even a few years ago. But now this is a fait accompli, and we managed to do it.
We think the Syrian settlement can become a model for resolving regional crises where diplomatic mechanisms will be used in the vast majority of cases. The use of force is an extreme and forced exception. Indeed, in Syria, we were faced with an attempt to create a terrorist quasi-state with an actual – I am saying this without any exaggeration – an actual terrorist army.
Occasionally, many new and chronic problems and crises look too tangled and even approaching them is a problem. But, I repeat, now is the time for outside-the-box steps and actions. In Syria, Russia and its partners (of course, we could never have done this alone) managed to do a lot while adhering to and following norms of international law, respecting sovereignty and thinking primarily about the life, safety and interests of the people.
I am convinced that these approaches can be used to resolve other existing problems in the world, including in Asia, such as for example, the situation on the Korean Peninsula, which has long been in a clinch.
In this regard, notably, as soon as the United States decided to have a direct conversation with the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, without preliminary formalities and conventions, abandoning the usual, sometimes very rude, even insulting, rhetoric, the hope for a peaceful settlement immediately appeared.
Of course, we understand and see that there are still many unresolved problems and a long way to go. But there is movement in the right direction. We must give credit to President Trump’s courage and ability to take outside-the-box steps. Indeed, for many decades, US presidents ignored the DPRK and saw it as an outcast. Mr Trump was able to take a historic step, overcome the “demarcation line” of misunderstanding and alienation, meet with Kim Jong-un and begin the negotiating process.
Let me repeat: the most complicated conflicts, such as the Palestinian-Israeli and Afghani or the situation around the Iran nuclear deal, can and must be resolved on the principles of mutual cooperation, respect, recognition of all the parties’ interests and rejection of any kind of blinkers or philosophy of blocs.
In this context, let me remind you that this was Russia’s logic this July, when it presented the concept of providing collective security in the Persian Gulf area. I believe the idea is still important considering the tense and unpredictable situation there.
We suggest that the accumulated prejudices and mutual pretences must be pushed aside, and a security and cooperation organisation be created in the region almost from scratch. In addition to Western countries, Russia, China, the US, the EU, India and other interested countries could join as observers.
Ladies and gentlemen, of course, economic cooperation, which opens real prospects for sustainable long-term development for everyone, is the basis of equal political relations aimed at the future, including between Asian countries.
Let me use transport interconnection as an example. It is impossible to develop trade and industrial cooperation and establish mutual exchanges in any other sphere without an up-to-date road, sea and railway infrastructure. We should think together how to speed up the establishment of such a Eurasian transportation framework, a real network of latitudinal and longitudinal trading routes.
Of course, Russia is open to this joint work and is already implementing several joint projects, such as the North – South trading route from Europe via Russia to the Caspian Region, Central Asia, Iran and India. Another route, Europe – West China, will connect Russian Baltic ports with Yellow Sea ports.
There is one more prospective route, the Arctic – Siberia – Asia. The idea is to connect ports along the Northern Sea Route with ports of the Pacific and Indian oceans via roads in East Siberia and central Eurasia. In order to implement this and add the missing links, we intend to speed up the construction of railways around the port in Sabetta (it is located in the north of Russia, on the Yamal Peninsula), to accelerate and complete the construction of the entire Northern Latitudinal Railway project complex as well as the construction of the Kuragino – Kyzyl railway (Kyzyl is located in the Republic of Tyva in eastern Russia) to later connect it to the railway network of Mongolia, China and other countries in the region. We are ready to work with all interested parties on this initiative, which is significant for the whole of Eurasia.
It is obvious to us that diversity within a nation is normal. It teaches both patience and tolerance in the true meaning of these words, and the ability to understand and accept different opinions, traditions and ways of life rather than impose our model as an axiom. We believe our experience can be useful for many of our partners
With regard to the world in general, since all nations are obviously different, uniformity and universalisation are impossible by default. A system is required whereby different values, ideas and traditions can co-exist, interact and mutually enrich one another while retaining and highlighting their peculiarities and differences
There was a vision in 19th century diplomacy… My colleagues here are good diplomats, we are in a way celebrating MGIMO today, as our Foreign Minister has prompted, because there are two MGIMO graduates among my colleagues – the President of Kazakhstan and the President of Azerbaijan, whereas two more colleagues – President Duterte and the King of Jordan are professors emeriti of the university [MGIMO], which has from the outset been the leading university for training diplomatic staff in our country.
So, in the 19th century they used to refer to a “Concert of Powers.” The time has come to talk in terms of a global “concert” of development models, interests, cultures and traditions where the sound of each instrument is crucial, inextricable and valuable, and for the music to be played harmoniously rather than performed with discordant notes, a cacophony. It is crucial to consider the opinions and interests of all the participants in international life. Let me reiterate: truly mutually respectful, pragmatic and consequently solid relations can only built between independent and sovereign states
Russia is sincerely committed to this approach and pursues a positive agenda. We stand for strict compliance with international law and enhancing mutual confidence and respect. We are building interstate relations and communication on fair and democratic foundations with an emphasis on the UN Charter.
Our country is focused on stepping up security and stability, on fighting international terrorism and other threats and challenges. We act for the sake of establishing – including in Asia – a system of equal and indivisible security resting on far-ranging and collective work.
Incidentally, the Russia-Africa Summit will be held here, in Sochi, in three-weeks. We are prepared to propose to our African colleagues and friends a broad agenda of equal interaction covering many different areas – the economy, energy, transport, education and the environment.
In conclusion, I would like to divert from the main topic and tell you something, which, just the same, is related to it. I would like to say that almost 20 years ago – shortly before the year 2000 – my article, Russia at the Turn of the Millennium, was published. The analysis of global affairs and development prospects it then offered seems to me to have generally matched reality.
Indeed, in the 1990s, Russia lived through one of the hardest periods in its history. In addition to the deep political, economic and social crisis in the country, we found ourselves exposed to aggression by international terrorism. At the time, Russia drew close to a very dangerous line and if it had crossed it, it would have faced the worst thing for any nation and country, which is the break-up and disintegration of the state. The threat was in the air and the majority of people were aware of it.
Of course, back then we could – the threat was absolutely real – plunge into the abyss of a large-scale civil war and be stripped of national unity and sovereignty, ending up on the periphery of global politics. It was only thanks to patriotism, bravery and the rare ability of the Russian and other peoples living in the country to bear the hardships and work hard so that Russia could move back from this dangerous line.
Of course, there are things that could have been done differently and better during these 20 years. But we have gained unique experience, and I believe there is demand for it around the world. Before we came into this room, my colleagues and I discussed one of the most important issues today – terrorism.
Indeed, we in Russia still have to address plenty of issues. At the same time, due to political stability and the efforts of the whole nation, Russia has not only recovered and continues to grow stronger economically and socially, it confidently ranks among the leading, authoritative and responsible countries. Our country complies in full with its obligations as one of the guardians of the existing world order. I am sure this will continue in the future. This will be even more effective if we work together.
Thank you very much for your attention.
Moderator of the plenary session and member of the Valdai International Discussion Club Academic Council Vitaly Naumkin: Mr President, you spoke very vividly about Russia’s success in countering terrorism in Syria. Now the war is almost over and the situation is stabilising. But what is to be done next about the Syrian issue?
Vladimir Putin: We have replied many times to this and similar questions.
Large-scale military operations are over. I am saying large-scale military operations because local hotbeds of terrorism still exist. However, regardless of the result military operations cannot achieve a final settlement.
Therefore, for the time being, it is necessary to deal with issues of political settlement and this is what we are persistently doing. At any rate, we are creating the conditions that will make it possible to resolve deep-rooted political issues by political means.
We have done a great deal for the formation of the Constitutional Committee. Incidentally, the idea to establish it was voiced here in Sochi, during a large-scale event that was attended both by representatives of the Government and practically all opposition forces.
At that event Syrians themselves agreed to set up the Constitutional Committee in order to adopt a new Constitution or introduce amendments to the existing one. This was followed by a rather long period of the committee’s formation.
I must say that we worked very hard (in cooperation with our Iranian and Turkish partners) to ensure the committee’s formation. Now we are looking forward to the beginning of this constitutional process, to the work of this committee in Geneva under the UN aegis.
Nandan Unnikrishnan: I am from India.
Mr President, the world is facing major challenges following the end of unipolarity. Various new concepts arise during this transition to a new world order, such as Eurasia, Greater Eurasia, and so on.
There is a concept that spans the Indian Ocean and the Pacific, and it is called Indo-Pacific. Many say that it was developed by the United States to contain China, although Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi recently said that this is not so and the Indian Indo-Pacific concept is completely different. It is a completely open system, and any country can join.
What do you think about this concept?
Vladimir Putin: You see, there are already different interpretations of this concept. May I say a few words about our concept? Our concept is not meant to create new blocs such as Europe or North Atlantic after World War II.
Today in Asia, I think, ASEAN is the central organisation and there is a structure for various organisations and platforms around this central ASEAN organisation. There is ASEAN +1 and so on, such as the meeting of ASEAN defence ministers.
If such a network structure of various organisations is created and they interact with each other, it can be called anything. If an attempt is made to create some kind of a bloc-based organisation, I believe, first, this is un-Asian to begin with and is at odds with the current state of affairs in Asia.
Second, it’s unlikely to be feasible, because I know the sentiment of many of our friends in Asia, and they do not want to join any blocs against anyone. They want to create a network of cooperation in various areas, as I said today, in order to, move forward together taking into account each other's interests and seeking and finding compromises. They do not want to be involved in confrontation between any states, and even more so they do not want to be part of any blocs. This is the first part.
The second part is about trying to contain China. I think this is impossible by definition. Anyone trying to do so will realise it’s impossible, and will certainly only hurt himself in the course of such an attempt.
In any case, I consider this possible scenario to be destructive and harmful. We should focus on joining efforts to create an environment of friendly cooperation and to search for common security systems. This is something we should work on together, including, of course, India, which is one of the countries closest to us in the world and especially in Asia.
Galip Dalay: Hello, this is Galip Dalay. I would like to address my question to Mr President Putin.
In your speech the Gulf security and the Syrian settlement feature prominently, and recently Russia also advanced a framework for the collective security in the Gulf.
Bearing in mind that one of the major root causes of the Gulf insecurity is the Iran-Saudi rivalry, how is Russia planning to address this question, particularly, given the fact that recently many of such attempts and the second track have failed.
And related to this, are you imagining and envisioning any interconnection between the reduction of tension in the Gulf and the Syrian settlement? Thank you.
Vladimir Putin: Let’s start with the second part of your question. I think there is this link because confrontation between the largest and most influential countries in the region is bound to affect the entire situation there, including Syria.
I know that the leaders of Saudi Arabia, which I am going to visit soon, and the leaders of Iran (we are in constant contact with our Iranian partners, and I met with the President of Iran just a few days ago) wish peace and all the best for the Syrian people.
We urge them to be guided by this noble motive and do everything they can to avoid using Syrian territory as an arena for confrontation. I am hoping that if and when our partners realise this they will act under this approach. They will see that apart from confrontation there is also an opportunity to cooperate for the same common goals.
However, I believe there are also other motives for changing relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran and going from confrontation to cooperation because in both the first and second cases these countries face common threats: radicalism, separatism and terrorism. And they have common goals, and these are primarily development goals.
You asked how Russia could overcome these differences. Russia cannot overcome them. This can only be done by our friends both in Saudi Arabia and Iran. We can only support this and offer different proposals for resolving the problems. But it must be resolved by Saudi Arabia and Iran.
Lang Jing: Thank you very much, Professor Dunkley.
And I have one question for President Putin.
I came from the East, and my question is related to what my Indian colleague mentioned. Premier Shinzo Abe has been presenting the Japanese concept of a free and open Indo-Pacific strategy, and the essence of the strategy is the idea of connectivity. That is why I am very glad to hear that, President Putin, you mentioned about connectivity in your speech. So the Japanese approach is much more focused on economic connectivity, slightly different from the American approach. And Russia has been a major player in the Pacific, and Russia has been enhancing its ties with India. So it is natural that we are welcoming and waiting for Russia in the Pacific strategy. Already France and the United States, you have already presented their own version of Indo-Pacific strategy. So, can you share you vision of Russian Indo-Pacific strategy? Thank you.
Vladimir Putin: You said, even France has already done this. I don’t understand this remark. Why “even”? France is a great country and a permanent member of the Security Council. It thinks in global terms and offers global solutions to global issues. There is nothing surprising about this.
As for Russia, I will explain our position again. Look, Japan has presented the Indo-Pacific development strategy. Russia and other states actively develop contacts in the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, which has earned a very good reputation.
It started with simple goals like border delimitation with China after the Soviet Union. Everything went very well, and so we went further. Now it has new members, and many countries in the region want to join it.
China’s One Belt One Road initiative has already been mentioned here. We also talked about the Eurasian Economic Union. They are very close to each other in spirit and in objectives and we see that all this is compatible and can be carried out.
I think if we pool the efforts of the already established agencies, organisations and even concepts and create an integrated network, we can arrive at what I have repeatedly said – a large Eurasian partnership.
Can all this be instituted any time soon? Hardly. But it is quite possible to create favourable conditions for cooperation. Later it will be possible to draft organisational formats and mechanisms for common actions and cooperation.
But if we strive for this democratic cooperation with consideration for each other’s interests and respect for each other’s peculiarities, I believe we will achieve the development result we all want.
Sergei Luzyanin: Sergei Luzyanin, Institute of Far Eastern Studies, Russian Academy of Sciences.
We are all aware that this year marks anniversaries for China and for us. It is 70 years since the founding of the People’s Republic of China, and 70 years of diplomatic relations between our countries. We have already congratulated our Chinese friends and partners at the Valdai Club.
Our partnership has reached a very high level. So, a question. What opportunities that are already being successfully implemented as part of the partnership can benefit our two countries? What are the areas for partnership?
Perhaps, not all these issues have been sorted out and cooperation has not yet reached its full potential for objective reasons. I am talking about successes and future potential. Thank you.
Vladimir Putin: Successes are there for everyone to see. First, we enjoy an unprecedentedly high level of trust and cooperation. This is an allied relationship in the full sense of a multifaceted strategic partnership. This is reflected in the economy.
We are increasing our trade at a fast pace. As you may be aware, last year it reached $108 billion, although we had only planned to reach this number two years from now. Now, we will start moving to the $200 billion mark.
The trade structure is diversifying. Of course, energy accounts for over 70 percent of our exports, but this is natural. We have the product, and China needs it. This does not mean that we do not engage in other industries or other areas of economic cooperation.
We have already built four units of the Tianwan Nuclear Power Plant (which is part of our high-tech cooperation) and are working on four more units. This involves a major, simply huge amount of work.
We are working on a wide-body long-range aircraft and a heavy-duty helicopter. This project will be completed, I have no doubt about it. We are actively cooperating in outer space, and expanding our ties in agriculture. We cannot even cover the needs of China in soybeans. They are ready to buy from us as much as we can produce, but we are not ready for it.
Here is a partial answer to your question: what else needs to be done? We could have met their demand and, I am sorry for putting it bluntly, our farmers could have made some money on this. But we cannot supply soybeans in such quantity. There are not enough proper agricultural areas and related investment has not been made.
We will continue to work together in outer space exploration and cooperate in the military-technical sphere. I am probably not revealing a big secret here, but it will transpire sooner or later anyway: we are now helping our Chinese partners create a missile attack warning system. This is very important and will drastically increase China’s defence capability. Only the United States and Russia have such a system now.
We are very closely and deeply involved in cultural cooperation. I will not list everything that goes with this now.
Region-to-region cooperation is at a very high level as well. I am not talking about joint infrastructure which is expanding, but the border provinces of China and the adjacent Russian regions in the Far East interact very well with each other. This is an entire complex, a set of interaction projects.
At the same time, and I want to emphasise this specifically, our friendship or joint work have never been used to oppose anyone. We always work in a positive manner and in each other’s interests.
Valdai Discussion Club Research Director Fyodor Lukyanov: We realised while we were preparing for this event that, clearly, there would be more questions than it would be possible to field, so we at the Valdai Club arranged some questions into groups of the same category in advance. I will only ask some of them to save time.
You have talked many times about this subject, but nonetheless, it looks like it remains a major concern. This year a number of events that impact nuclear stability occurred, sending mixed signals. On the one hand, the United States has withdrawn from the INF Treaty, having sparked debate on this issue. The United States has accused Russia.
On the other hand, after that, Mr Bolton, who was the main advocate of withdrawing from this Treaty, lost his job. Probably, in so doing, President Trump meant something else. Discussion on the START Treaty continues, and, so far, it is unclear where it will lead.
A year ago, you and I sat on this stage and you used a very emotionally-charged expression that in the event of a nuclear war, perish the thought, the aggressors would perish and we would go to paradise. Have we moved closer to paradise during this year?
Vladimir Putin: All of us are always close to God to the same extent and He will decide where we deserve to be at the end of our lives on Earth. But, of course, the situation has not improved. It has worsened after the United States’ withdrawal from the INF Treaty. This is clear to everyone. Now we are waiting for the next move.
Moreover, I believe that the United States tested a ground-based intermediate-range missile that was covered by this Treaty shortly after it announced its decision to withdraw from it, indicating that the United States had long since been working on it. Technology like this can’t be developed in a couple of months.
This means they had been working at least several years on this missile. As for the rest, they just looked for a pretext to pull out and they found it. I don’t believe it was a credible pretext because there were no grounds whatsoever to accuse Russia of violating anything.
On the contrary, we were repeatedly told that the Aegis system could not be used for launching land-based intermediate range missiles. The Aegis system that is already deployed in Europe: in Romania and soon to be deployed in Poland.
We were told no, it is not possible to use it for this purpose. And then – Bang!, they declared that Aegis launchers were used to launch intermediate range missiles. They could at least have waited a while longer. It’s clear that we were being conned, or they were trying to con us. And then they owned up to it.
Well, so be it, that’s not the point. The point is that the situation has not changed for the better. In view of this escalation we said, I said immediately, that we would be doing the same but we declare from the outset that we would not deploy land-based intermediate range missiles, if we have them, unless US-made systems appear first in those regions.
I said this about five times and there was no response – nether the US has responded so far nor has Europe, like they lost their hearing, can’t hear! There are many specialists here, I don’t think you need to be told something many times – I said this once, twice, five times. How many more times should I say it? There is only silence, no reaction.
Then, suddenly, we heard from the US military that the first step in this direction would be made in Asia. But this step concerns us too, because we need to understand where in Asia? Will it reach Russian territory or not?
By the way, you can tell what the underlying cause for their withdrawal was – it was neither Russia nor our mythical violations of the treaty. If they are set to deploy this in Asia, it’s Asia that is the main reason for withdrawing from the Treaty. I think the analysts see this, and this is an obvious fact no matter how much it is played down in the media.
We are discussing Asian problems today. We will carefully watch the next steps: where in Asia will they appear, who will be threatened? Is this good or not? It’s very bad, because corresponding response measures are sure to follow.
Will this improve the situation in Asia? No, it won’t. It will only aggravate the situation, and create new threats. But I am really counting on certain possibilities for settling this situation as well before the final decisions have been taken.
Mikhail Pogrebinsky: I am from Ukraine, and our country is going through troubled times. I have a question for President Putin.
This year was marked by a big electoral cycle, we have had a “reset” of both legislative and executive powers. The elections and polls reveal that public opinion favours stability and a peaceful settlement in the east of the country.
The new authorities are trying to take the first steps, somewhat cautiously, towards a search for peace. But they are so timid that they raise doubts about their resolve and ability to arrive at the logical completion of the process.
Do you see any political forces in Ukraine – perhaps you can name them – that can act as drivers of this process of political settlement?
And a brief one, a half-question. People watch Russian TV channels in Ukraine, with various political talk shows enjoying special popularity in the past. And viewers complain that on some channels Ukraine is presented disparagingly. Apparently, Vladimir Solovyov’s popular show has also been tempted by this. Do you think it is time to change the editorial policy or line?
Vladimir Putin: If you believe that our television channels – it may sound odd but even the state-run channels have an independent editorial policy – present Ukraine in a disparaging way, I agree with you. If that’s how it is, then it is wrong, we shouldn’t present our neighbour, our closest neighbour, and without exaggeration a brotherly people, in a disparaging way.
This may concern the policies of the incumbent authorities, not the country or its people. If you see it this way, there is something wrong with our programmes, they should highlight that.
And now regarding the new leader’s efforts for a settlement in the southeast of the country. I do not know how strong are those who are against a settlement, especially based on the Minsk agreements. Thus the public’s interest in a settlement is obvious.
I think Mr Zelensky won the election so convincingly primarily because of that interest. People in Ukraine are waiting for this issue to be resolved. And if he has enough political courage and strength to complete it, I think he will assert himself as an honest politician, brave and capable of pursuing the decisions made.
I think he is sincerely willing to do that, it is his sincere conviction, at least his striving. It is hard for me to say if he is able to stand up to those who oppose the process, but we do see some hesitation.
It seems inevitable that he will need to look for compromise, come to terms with the whole nation, with all members of society regardless of their point of view. However, he still has to follow up on election promises he gave to the majority of the Ukrainian people.
Tatiana Kastoueva-Jean: Good afternoon, my name is Tatiana Kastoueva-Jean, I am an analyst at the French Institute of International Relations in Paris.
Mr President, I have a question for you. At the beginning of your speech, you proposed outlining the shape of the future and talking about it. One serious subject, of course, is global warming, climate change.
Russia recently ratified the Paris Climate Agreement, and you know that this topic is very important for President Emmanuel Macron. This is a priority topic for him.
By the way, I think you and President Macron are starting a new phase in our relations; it would also be interesting to talk about this.
But I will return to my question. In France and in Europe in general, there is some basic consensus on climate change, although recently this young girl Greta Thunberg added a lot of polarisation even to this issue, where there was consensus on, in general.
Vladimir Putin: What did she do?
Tatiana Kastoueva-Jean: She created further division to the debate. As for Russia, it seems to me that there has always been such a duality in relations, even in the doctrines, because Russian Environmental Security Doctrine says the right things, while the Economic Security Doctrine through 2025 says that green economic development is a threat and has risks for the Russian economy, and it is clear why: because oil and gas represent a very high percent of exports.
It’s the same thing, the same duality in the reasons for explaining climate change. Is it the result of human activity, or is it part of the Earth’s global cycles?
We see the same duality in corporate relations. Is this a chance for the future? We spoke today in the morning session about how Russia could occupy a very interesting place in the new global green economy. Or is this a risk, the loss of margins, the loss of corporate profits?
And the same thing at the level of global rivalry (we also talked about this at the Valdai Club session) that an environmental instrument can also become an instrument for economic, commercial, and financial war in the hands of strong players?
Do you think that Russia put an end to these doubts, hesitations and questions by ratifying this agreement? Will a new socioeconomic development paradigm emerge now at the domestic and external global levels? Will this topic be a unifying measure, or the cause of further division?
Vladimir Putin: As for the uniformity of approaches and evaluations, we will probably never reach this. Indeed, experts in various fields who somehow try to answer the question about the causes of climate change do not give unambiguous answers to the causes of climate change.
There are different opinions, I have heard them. Some say there is some global change in space that affects the Earth, so from time to time huge changes like this take place on our planet. I sailed along the Lena River in our country and saw high banks with deposits containing the remains of obviously ancient tropical mammals, which lived in tropical seas. I am talking about the Lena River, its stretch north of the Arctic Circle. It means back then the climate there was like this. Well, were there any anthropogenic emissions at the time? Of course, not. You see, there is no answer.
Just the same, my position is that if the human race is responsible for climate change, even in the slightest degree, and this climate change has grave implications, and if we can do something to, at least, slow down this process and avoid its negative consequences, we must spare no effort. This is our position. Despite all disagreements, we will support the international efforts to combat climate change.
Indeed, we have practically ratified the Paris Agreement and are committed to implementing it. You said we hesitated or argued about it. There will always be room for doubt or disputes. But look at the obligations that we undertook and those undertaken by our partners. We are committed to cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 70 or 75 percent by 2050.
By the way, the European Union has undertaken to cut the same type of gas emissions by 60 percent. We have approved a national environmental programme. It sets forth in detail what we must do and how we must do it complete with the deadlines. We have approved 12 federal programmes under the national project to work to change the situation regarding the environment. Gas emissions in 12 of the largest metropolises in our country, where they affect people’s lives and have a negative impact on the environment, must be reduced by 20 percent.
We have adopted a programme to deal with waste dumps – not only with primitive rubbish dumps but with hazardous waste as well. We have adopted a programme to extend protected nature areas by five million square kilometres. We have a whole set of measures that we are not just intending to carry out but we have already started to implement and they have already been made law in our country. So, we are determined to move, together with our partners, along this path that is laid down in the Paris Agreement.
As for the hydrocarbons, I think it was yesterday that I said the structure of the Russian energy sector is one of the world’s greenest. The nuclear power and hydropower industries in our country account for a third of the energy sector and gas accounts for 50 percent of the remaining two-thirds.
We have one of the greenest energy sectors in the world plus the capacity of our forests to absorb [waste carbon dioxide]. So, we understand the threats that everyone, including us, are exposed to. The warming rate in Russia exceeds that in the rest of the world by 2.5 percent. We are aware of this.
And one more thing: there are forests ablaze in one part of our country while close to it there is flooding and there is also drought and so on. We are well aware of this and we will do, jointly with the whole world, with the humankind, whatever it takes to preserve nature and the environment.
Fyodor Lukyanov: There is a group of similar questions: Angela Stent and Jill Dougherty would like to ask the President about this, and actually this question can be addressed to all participants as well. The situation in the United States is rather complicated at the moment, and has become particularly so in the past week.
It is hard to understand what is happening there, with domestic policy issues clearly dominating. Is it possible to build relations in such condition at all? Or maybe we should wait?
Another similar question is from Professor Wang Wei from China. He asks you to share experience with Chinese authorities as they do not understand how they should act. Maybe you know some sort of secret – you, Mr President, and all those present?
Vladimir Putin: I do not think that Chinese need our advice. If they are saying they do not understand something, this means they do not want you to know they actually do. Maybe it is an advantage for them to make you think they do not understand certain things.
In fact, I have very close and friendly relations with them, without exaggeration; we have always said this, both in public and behind the scenes. We have friendly relations with the Chinese leader, Mr Xi Jinping. China pursues a global-level policy. They understand everything, they know everything and are ready to respond to any scenario.
As regards the developments in the United States – how can we cooperate with them when they are so engaged in their domestic political affairs? Obviously, this is always the case during an election campaign, and the United States is no exception. But this domestic political race has got a little over the top. I do not think this has ever occurred in the history of the United States before.
But life goes on, and we should factor in the current domestic situation there. But it is simply not possible to steer clear of such a global power as the United States. We intend to do as much as the US itself is ready for.
Fyodor Lukyanov: Here is a question from Professor Pascal Boniface from France (I do not see him here but he has sent the question). When recently addressing diplomats, President Emmanuel Macron said that the so-called deep state, or some hidden powers in the administration, prevent the development of relations with Russia. He would like to accelerate this process but they hinder it.
The question is why these hidden structures in France – and maybe somewhere else – impede the development of these relations? And why Russia, after all?
Vladimir Putin: What administration – the US or French?
Fyodor Lukyanov: The French one.
Vladimir Putin: The French administration?
Fyodor Lukyanov: Yes.
Vladimir Putin: But who is the President of France – me or Mr Macron? He is the person to put things right. Why ask me about this at all? First, I have not heard what he said and I know nothing about it. If some subordinate officials interfere with his work, he should just cut them down to size, or replace them. Bring your supporters and associates into your administration, and you will work as a team and achieve efficient results.
Fyodor Lukyanov: We have Professor Mohan here. He has a very good question on your favourite topic, Mr President. Please pass the microphone to Professor Mohan.
C. Raja Mohan: President Putin,
Two years ago, you said something about artificial intelligence, what it’s going to do to world politics. You said the country that is going to have the lead has the opportunity to become the new hegemon. How do you look at it two years on the road? There’s one part.
The second part is – Where is Russia in this? If the US and China are racing ahead, does Russia have a national policy where it can contribute to these true partnerships with other countries? And then, looking at the longer-term picture, is there a way Russia can contribute to the regulation creating new norms in relation to the AI both in the civil and military domains. After all, Russia did in the 20th century in relation to nuclear technologies, so your views on AI now, both in the civil and military sense.
Vladimir Putin: First about what I said two years ago. You know, I have to admit I was only plagiarising. Those were not my own words because experts around the world are saying that Artificial Intelligence will completely reshape the world and our approaches to solving pressing issues and problems of the future.
Entire industries will change; some will become obsolete and new ones will emerge. New jobs will be required. Old professions will die out and we need to understand how to address resulting social problems such as the redundant workforce, etc.
Healthcare will change completely. Artificial Intelligence will affect countries’ defence capability because those who have this technology will have an advantage that is perhaps incomparable to nuclear weapons.
What has changed? The pace of change becoming faster. Can Russia make any kind of contribution to the global efforts in developing Artificial Intelligence or, for example, genetics? Of course, it can.
Our software developers are working everywhere in the world and working successfully. Historically, we have always had strong mathematics education – and the discipline at the root of Artificial Intelligence is first and foremost mathematics. There is technology but mathematics is still at the core.
So what are we doing? We have an entire state programme aimed at developing AI, just like in China, the United States and some other countries. We are building up our efforts. We believe that we must certainly not be slow or lag behind, and we have every chance to excel in this area.
It would still be the best thing if efforts of the humankind are consolidated; if there are common rules for handling new technologies. Common rules of communication in this area are extremely important for the world to be stable.
Fyodor Lukyanov: Another good question. Mr Alexander Rahr, could you please ask it?
Alexander Rahr: Mr President, there is an odd question here, but let us get over to Europe. The European Parliament adopted a decision which I think is not quite adequate – a resolution where Nazi Germany would be set side by side with Communist Russia. And they insist that both Stalin and Hitler started World War II together.
I think it will legitimise further NATO expansion, lead to a new schism, and, most crucially, to misunderstanding among the youth and among the people in Europe. What can be done to stop this?
Vladimir Putin: I do not want to characterise the Stalin regime now. You know, we all know about the repressions, camps, losses among our people, our citizens during those repressions. This is a black page in the history of our country.
But saying that Stalin started the war is utter cynicism. As if it was the Soviet Union that attacked Germany at 4 am on June 22, and not the German troops crossed the Soviet border, violating the existing non-aggression treaty, attacked the Soviet Union unilaterally without declaring war.
Let us not forget the sad outcome, the tragic outcome, tragic for the people of the Soviet Union: 25–27 million dead (no one has been able to make a final count to this day), and about ten million dead in Germany. This is a tragedy.
Do not forget that it was the Soviet troops that stormed Berlin. This is regarding the speculations about certain countries’ contribution to the fight against Nazism.
I just said – the Soviet Union losses stand at 25–27 million, the US losses amount to half a million, while the UK lost 350,000–400,000 altogether.
All major German troops (not all but the most combatant forces, both in the number and quality) were accumulated in the eastern front. For some reason there are attempts to confuse, play down and misinterpret all that.
I think the threat is that the key thing may be lost in the process of all these manipulations: people may begin to stop fearing the recurrence of such tragedies. That is the point. And in my view all of us, all sane people, – must stand up to it.
Vitaly Naumkin: Colleagues,
The President has a very busy schedule, and I think that other leaders present here do so too. I apologise for not giving everyone who raised their hand an opportunity to ask a question.
In conclusion, I would like to ask the last one.
During these four days, we have discussed various issues related to the current state of the world order, and made a firm conclusion that it is undergoing a crisis and the future global order will be established with an increasing role of Asian countries.
How do you see this future global order?
Vladimir Putin: The existing system of international relations, international institutions and structures took shape following WWII as its result. The situation around the globe is changing drastically, both in Europe and on the American continent, with new rapidly growing and developing players, as well as in Africa, and, of course, Asia.
For the existing system and its institutions to last, it has to correspond to the realities of the ever-changing world. I believe that we must not destroy what has been created in the past decades, but should gradually transform it and adapt it to these realities, with due consideration of the growing power and prospects of Asia's development in general and certain Asian countries in particular. They certainly have the right to and must take the place they deserve in global politics and international affairs.