Anchor of Vesti v subbotu Current Affairs Programme Sergei Brilev: Mr President, today for the first time you said that Russian military men were, after all, behind the Crimean self-defence forces.
President of Russia Vladimir Putin: I have already hinted at that before.
Sergey Brilev: Has it already rained medals? Or will we forever remain in the dark regarding who it was?
Vladimir Putin: I do not think we will find out in the short term, but the people will be rewarded by the state, that is for sure.
Sergey Brilev: I am sure you know how the West will present this – that the referendum was held at the barrel of Russian guns.
Vladimir Putin: I know and I said it deliberately. However, if we take a frank and fair look at this, we will all see that you cannot force people out of their homes and make them vote even at gunpoint, while 83% of the population came to the polling stations.
Sergey Brilev: The same is true of the possible ‘upside-down’ question: when they hear you say that it is wrong to send tanks against the civilian population, they will recall your anti-terrorist operations in the North Caucasus. They will say that this is also an anti-terrorist operation.
Vladimir Putin: There is an enormous difference: in the North Caucasus we were dealing with aggression on the part of international terrorism. These were specially formed, well-trained gangs armed and supplied by other countries. This is a huge difference.
Sergey Brilev: Mr President, rumour has it that Viktor Yanukovych may appear in Ukraine for Easter. Is it true?
Vladimir Putin: You will have to ask him.
Sergey Brilev: You mentioned one very interesting approach to Ukraine’s payment for Russian gas: Russia will wait a month and on May 17, eight days before the announced elections in Ukraine, will get back to the issue of gas payments. Does this mean that you recognise the May 25 elections, or are you preparing a surprise?
Vladimir Putin: This has nothing to do with the elections. We are not linking economic issues to the political developments in Ukraine. We were supposed to receive payment for March gas deliveries on April 7 this year. We never received it. I would like to repeat: we are talking about $525 million. Zero! We are acting in full compliance with the contract – and we are charging the lowest rate, with all the discounts. As we agreed, if they do not make regular payments, we will get back to the initial pricing formula. In line with the contract, it amounts to $485 per 1,000 cubic metres.
We say we could have done this right now, considering the accumulated debt of $2.2 billion, but we will not do so. We do not want to either destabilise the Ukrainian economy or question the reliability of gas transit to Europe, therefore we call on all European states, all countries that are interested in supporting the Ukrainian economy to get involved in providing assistance to Ukraine and work out a set of measures designed to fund the budget.
We are willing to wait another month, but we cannot wait forever, we cannot shift the entire burden of supporting a 45-million strong nation onto the Russian budget and the Russian taxpayers.
Sergey Brilev: Maybe we could start with Ukraine as regards sale of Russian oil and gas for rubles?
Vladimir Putin: This does not make much difference – Ukraine will have to find the rubles anyway.
Sergey Brilev: You told a wonderful story about the visit by Mr Rasmussen back when he was the Danish Prime Minister.
Vladimir Putin: No, he did not visit me – I went to Denmark.
Sergey Brilev: So he recorded your conversation, didn’t he?
Vladimir Putin: Yes, he did.
Sergey Brilev: I am sure you have also met with NATO Secretary General designate Mr Jens Stoltenberg, former prime minister of Norway.
Vladimir Putin: We are on very good terms, personally as well as officially. He is a very serious, responsible person. We will see how our relations develop once he assumes his new post.
Sergey Brilev: Will relations between Russia and the West change in the course of the year?
Vladimir Putin: You know, this is not for us to decide, or not only for us. This depends on our partners. I do not see anything that would stand in the way of normalising our cooperation.
Sergey Brilev: Thank you.
Vladimir Putin: Thank you.