Taking part in the meeting were President of EFE (Spain) Jose Antonio Vera, Editor-in-Chief of PTI (India) Vijay Joshi, Vice President of Kyodo News (Japan) Juno Kondo, General Director of DPA (Germany) Peter Kropsch, Editor-in-Chief of Anadolu (Turkey) Metin Mutanoglu, First Vice President of Xinhua (China) Zhang Sutan, Vice President of Associated Press (USA) Ian Phillips, Deputy Editor-in-Chief of Bloomberg (USA) John Fraher, President and Director General of ANSA (Italy) Giuseppe Cerbone, CEO and Editor-in-Chief of TT Group (Sweden) and President of the European Alliance of News Agencies Jonas Eriksson. Russia was represented at the meeting by Director General of TASS Sergei Mikhailov.
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President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Friends, colleagues,
It is a great pleasure to see you again in St Petersburg on the sidelines of the St Petersburg International Economic Forum.
We meet regularly on the forum’s sidelines, but for some reason, these meetings always took place in the evening and went on very late into the night. This time, we have a chance to discuss things with a fresh head, as it were.
I am very happy to see you. I give the floor to Mr Mikhailov, who will say a few opening remarks before we begin our informal discussion. You have the floor.
Director General of TASS Sergei Mikhailov: Thank you, Mr President.
Colleagues, following tradition, I will attempt to moderate our meeting today.
This is the fourth time now that we are meeting on the sidelines of the St Petersburg International Economic Forum. Many of my colleagues present here today are not meeting with you for the first time, but our circle of participants changes each year, and we have new colleagues this year and it is a pleasure to welcome them to St Petersburg. I hope that this inflow of new blood will mix organically with the experience of the old hands and will produce a fruitful and interesting dialogue for all.
Mr President, it always seems that all that needs to be said has been said after each of these meetings, but at the same time, we know that next year will bring new subjects of discussion. This is the case this year too.
We have discussed things together, and we see the stubborn efforts underway to push Russia against its will into conflictual confrontation with the West. The media and some politicians constantly foment anti-Russian sentiments, and some politicians even put us in the same ranks as ISIS and terrorists. Baltic countries have even started suspecting that the popular children’s cartoon Masha i Medved could be used as a tool in hybrid war. You met with the cartoon makers yesterday, this is why I recalled this example.
But excesses of this kind no longer raise a smile and, it seems to me, are even becoming a threat to stability in the world. How long do you think these unfounded attacks on Russia will continue? What should we do to end this political Russophobia? This is the first question that I wanted to put today.
Vladimir Putin: First of all, yes, I would like to share my reflections and thoughts on what is happening and on the reasons for this Russophobia. It is evident and in some countries is simply going beyond all bounds.
Why is this so? I think this is because we are seeing the emergence of a multipolar world, and this is not to the monopolists’ liking. Monopolies are not good things, as we know, but monopolists always fight to keep hold of them, in all sectors and all areas of life.
A multipolar world is emerging and this is partly due to Russia’s efforts to stand up for its interests, for its legitimate interests, let me stress. That is one aspect.
The second aspect is that some of our partners in some countries began making attempts a while back to contain Russia and limit its lawful desire to protect its national interests. They do this through all kinds of actions that are outside the framework of international law, including economic restrictions. Now, they see that this is not working and has produced no results. This irritates them and rouses them into using other methods to pursue their aims and tempts them to up the stakes. But we do not go along with these attempts, do not offer pretexts for action. They therefore need to invent pretexts out of nowhere.
How long will this last? I do not think it will go on forever, because sooner or later, people will wake up to the fact that this is counterproductive and harmful to all. Of course, it causes us some harm, but it also harms those who initiate these policies. I think that people are already coming around to this realisation. We see some very clear change in the situation, change for the better. I hope that this trend will continue.
Sergei Mikhailov: Thank you, Mr President.
Last year, as you rightly noted, we finished after midnight, and the weather prevented some of our colleagues from putting their questions, and so we decided that it would be only fair to start with them this time.
The head of one of Germany’s top news agencies is here for the first time this year. It is pleasure to introduce General Director of DPA Mr Peter Kropsch. He is at the forum for the first time, but he came to St Petersburg before, back in 1981, as part of a youth delegation organised by what was then the Austro-Soviet friendship society, and so he sees much change in the city now.
He also expressed his envy over your 8th dan black belt, because he has a black belt, but only 1st dan, and he said that it would take him 50 years of training to reach your level.
Peter, you have the floor.
General Director of DPA Peter Kropsch: (In German.) I want to thank you for finding the time to meet with my colleagues and me.
(In English.) I’m going to switch to English. This is a little better and I have a question. We will have parliamentary elections in Germany this year and what do you think in the sense of the relationship between Germany and Russia? Would you prefer to work with your partner Chancellor Merkel or could you imagine that with Chancellor Schulz you could even make bigger progress?
And maybe a second question. I know you answered that but I am asking for your advice. There is always a kind of nervosity in Germany about the situation that it could be that some hackers, maybe also from Russia, could try to influence, by leaking information or by false information, this election process. Would you think that could be possible and what would be your advice for Germany and the German officials?
Vladimir Putin: The first part of your question concerns relations with my partners and colleagues in Germany.
I have known and worked together with Angela [Merkel] for a long time now. We do have our differences, but we have many areas of common ground too, especially in economic cooperation. We share similar views on some issues in international politics too. As I said though, there are issues on which we differ in our policy approaches.
I hardly know Mr Schulz at all, but I know he is an experienced person who has been in politics for a long time. He has been in European politics and in German politics, and has recently returned to German politics. In principle, we – and when I say ‘we’, I mean the entire Russian team – are ready to work with anyone. The main thing is to have partners who, like us, seek constructive cooperation. We have no preferences in this respect.
I think that if we and partners act not out of political considerations of the moment, but are guided by our countries’ and peoples’ fundamental interests, not only will we find common ground, but we will find good and effective roads for working together, effective means of cooperation.
I have no doubt whatsoever about this because we have so many interests in common. After all, our cooperation in some economic sectors and our interdependency in some sectors is such that dozens if not hundreds of thousands of jobs in both countries depend on its successful development. This is a powerful factor for our coexistence in today’s world and all the more so in Europe.
Some German producers make big profits out of working on the Russian market. There is no need to be an expert or specialist to understand that the Russian economy needs to develop technology cooperation. In this area, we have been working together with success and we have results. I am thinking of the recovery in our trade with Germany, for example, which was up by nearly 40 percent in the first quarter of this year. This, I think, is significant growth.
But I am thinking too of the many projects that we are carrying out with success, and that increase the amount of high-tech goods produced on Russian soil. In other words, this is a serious localisation effort, and localisation reaches up to 60–70 percent. The automotive sector provides a good example. Despite the political difficulties, not a single German company, and the same is true of our other foreign partners, has left the Russian market. Everyone continues working. And this is despite the political and also economic difficulties, the fall in production, drop in GDP, decrease in people’s real incomes and the corresponding fall in demand. Everyone is working all the same. The state authorities are doing their best to support them and we are continuing this constructive work.
That is not to mention the energy sector. Germany has decided to phase out nuclear energy, but nuclear energy accounts for a big share of Germany’s energy, bigger than in Russia today. Where will Germany get its energy from? We see that Norway’s resources are coming to an end, and Britain will soon be a net consumer country. Their resources are also dwindling. So, where will the energy come from?
At the last forum, we spoke about the prospects on the Yamal Peninsula, where we had reserves of 2.7 trillion cubic metres of gas. Gazprom just briefed me on the new reserves they have discovered there. Can you imagine what this increase represents? It’s a two-fold increase. We have another 4.2 trillion cubic metres there, and that is just in one small region. But these reserves are global in scale, and given Russia’s proximity to Europe and cheap logistics and well-organised procedures and technology, this is an absolutely natural partnership. We offer a cheap and clean energy source, if its hydrocarbons we’re looking at. This is absolutely natural. In the long term, if we look at long-term contracts, this guarantees stable supplies and – also very important – guarantees that the entire German economy is competitive. This is tremendously important. It’s a relatively cheap resource and comes from a reliable source.
We also have historically strong humanitarian ties and contacts between people. This has always been the case. Despite the tragedies of two wars, our peoples have always maintained their contacts.
I say all this simply in the hope that Germany will be led by people who understand all of these relations, and we take the position that no matter who is in power in Germany, these fundamental factors in our relations will play a positive role.
Now regarding hackers: hackers can be anywhere, they can lurk in any country in the world. Of course, the general context of inter-state relations should be taken into account in this case because hackers are free people like artists. If artists get up in the morning feeling good, all they do all day is paint. The same goes for hackers. They got up today and read that something is going on internationally. If they are feeling patriotic they will start contributing, as they believe, to the justified fight against those speaking ill of Russia. Is that possible? In theory, yes. At the government level, we never engage in this. This is what is most important. This is the first point.
Second. I can image a scenario when somebody develops a chain of attacks in a manner that would show Russia as the source of these attacks. Modern technology allows that. It is very easy.
And finally, what is most important is I am deeply convinced that no hackers can have a real impact on an election campaign in another country. You see, nothing, no information can be imprinted in voters’ minds, in the minds of a nation, and influence the final outcome and the final result. This is my answer.
We do not engage in this activity at the government level and are not going to engage in it. On the contrary, we try to prevent this from happening in our country. At any rate, I believe that no hackers can affect the election campaign in any European country, nor in Asia or in America.
Sergei Mikhailov: Thank you, Mr President.
Our next colleague who did not have the opportunity to ask a question last year and reminded me about this for the whole year is Juno Kondo from Kyodo News, Japan’s leading news agency. TASS opened its office in Tokyo and Kyodo in Moscow before our countries exchanged embassies.
This year there has been an unprecedented level of activity in the way our two countries are working to develop relations and business ties and searching to find new approaches to old problems. Just by coincidence, like our previous colleague, Mr Juno Kondo has the third dan in karate and the first dan in judo. There is a surprising amount of enthusiasm about martial arts among our colleagues.
Vladimir Putin: We are a tight circle here. As for those who have not yet mastered the martial arts, I suggest that we, as experts in these arts, should help our colleagues study them up.
Sergei Mikhailov: I suggest simply meeting on the tatami next time, Mr President.
Vladimir Putin: All right.
Vice President of Kyodo News Juno Kondo (retranslated): Thank you very much for letting me ask a question. It is about Russian-Japanese relations and southern Kurile Islands. You agreed with Mr Abe on joint economic activities in southern Kurils. This will certainly help build trust between Japan and Russia.
But as for the attitude of the Japanese, we know that Russia is building up military preparations on the islands of Iturup and Kunashir and we are naturally worried about this.
On the other hand, Russia may also have grounds for concern. If Japan receives two islands after the conclusion of a peace treaty, US troops may be deployed there in accordance with the Japanese-US security treaty.
In this respect, I want to ask, is demilitarisation of the southern Kuril Islands possible? I believe it is not possible to resolve the issue of these islands now, of course, but if you do have a position on this matter, I would very much like to hear it. What possible solutions do you see on this issue?
And a second question concerning North Korea’s nuclear and missile programmes. This is unquestionably a grave threat for security throughout Northeast Asia. What prospects for solutions do you see here, in particular in light of American military activity in the region?
Vladimir Putin: First, concerning the military build-up in the Russian Far East and on the islands in particular, this was not Russia’s initiative. The same applies to the situation in Europe. NATO bases are coming ever closer to our western borders, infrastructure creeps closer, and contingents are being beefed up. What are we to do in this situation? Are we to watch on idly? No, we cannot and will not. We are taking the appropriate responses.
The same is happening in the east. One aircraft carrier sailed to the region, then a second American aircraft carrier arrived, and there are reports of a third heading for the region now. This is not the end of the world – aircraft carriers come and leave again, but components of a missile defence system are being installed as well, and this is a great concern, which we have spoken about for the last decade, because it destroys the strategic balance in the world.
You are all experienced adults with decades spent working in the news field, but you keep silent on this issue. The world remains silent as if nothing were happening. No one is listening to us, and if they are listening, they do not pass on our message further. The global public is living in ignorance of this whole situation, but what is happening is a very serious and worrying process. Missile defences are being put in place in Alaska, and now in South Korea. Like with what is happening to the west of Russia, are we to look on idly at what is happening to the east? No, of course we cannot. We are considering possible responses to this challenge, and it is a challenge in our eyes.
When we raised the issue of the American BMD system in Europe, they cited the problem of Iran, saying that they are doing this to neutralise Iran’s nuclear programme and the threat it allegedly presented. But since then we have signed an agreement with Iran that removed this alleged threat, and the international community has agreed that there are reliable safeguards. The IAEA shares this view. However, the development of ballistic missile defence sites goes on at a fast pace. Who is it designed against?
We kept saying that the above arguments hold no water, and that they are trying to deceive us. They replied that Iran is their only target. Now I am the only one to keep talking about this, while the rest stay silent and pretend not to understand what I mean. But you do know what I mean. Why do you stay silent then? Meanwhile, the situation is getting worse. This is pushing the arms race into a new round. This is obvious. And so we are pondering a response. We are thinking about ways to improve our missile defence system. This is a new round of the arms race exactly.
The same applies to the [disputed] islands. We are concerned with our security. We are thinking about ways to neutralise possible threats a long distance from the border. The islands are a convenient place for this. In other words, I do not agree that we have taken the initiative to militarise them. No, we have been forced to reply to the developments in the region.
Of course, you can refer to the North Korean nuclear missile threat, just as it happened in the case of Iran. But I do not think that North Korea is really the point. If Pyongyang announces tomorrow that it is going to abandon the nuclear tests and its nuclear weapons programme, the United States will continue to develop its BMD system under some other pretext or without any pretext at all, as it is doing in Europe now. We must definitely bear this in mind.
I do not want to build up tensions, but you have asked a question and I had to explain our position.
Coming to your second part, to the theoretical possibility that American troops could be stationed on the islands if they were to become Japanese sovereign territory, yes, this possibility exists. This stems from the treaty, from the protocols that were signed. We have not seen them, but we have an overall idea of their content.
I won’t go into the details now, though I am familiar with them, but the possibility for stationing American troops on the islands exists. Of course, we could ask, does Russia plan to worsen its relations with the United States in some way, and does this possibility frighten us? No, we have no such intentions, and nothing frightens us, but we see, for example, what is happening now in the United States, we see the anti-Russian campaign and the Russophobia that continue there. How will this situation develop? We do not know, and it does not depend on us, as we did not begin this whole process. In this situation, we can theoretically imagine that today everything is fine, and tomorrow they deploy missile defence system components there too. This would be totally unacceptable to us.
Is demilitarisation possible? Yes, of course it is, but simply demilitarising these islands alone is not enough. We need to look at how to reduce tension in the region in general. Only then can we look at serious, long-term agreements. It is difficult to say right now just what kind of agreements they might be, but I do think they are possible.
Sergei Mikhailov: Thank you, Mr President.