Question: You and President Bush have developed a good working relationship, but sometimes it seems that when it comes to specific policies, the United States treats Russia very much as a junior partner, that the Americans don't always listen to Russia's advice or take Russia's interests into account. I wonder if you feel that way.
President Putin: I think that the point here is not about a junior or senior partner. The point is to establish partnership relations, which implies taking each other's interests into account. We are fully aware of what Russia is, what place it occupies in the world, and what our capabilities are. But Russia, with all the problems it has, with all its traditions, with all its national interests is a country that will never serve anybody's political interests.
But Russia wants and can be a reliable partner, including for the United States. And my firm conviction is based on the fact that I see that the national interests of Russia and the United States coincide to large extent. For us, it is not a choice of tactics in order to solve some interests of expediency. It is a strategic choice based on several components.
First of all, we are fully aware that the international stability is impossible without good interaction between the United States and Russia, and that the United States for us is an important element of international stability. In some regions and in some directions, the United States' significance for us is such that it cannot be replaced.
I have already mentioned strategic stability. The United States and Russia remain the strongest nuclear powers. Our interests in the sphere of fighting radicalism and terrorism coincide, and we are very much concerned about the radicalisation of certain countries and certain regions. Our common interest lies in counteracting one of the main threats of the 21st century – proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.
There are other directions, minor at first glance, but crucial for the people: the fight against drugs and organised crime. I think that both Russia and the United States are interested in the development of economic relations, and one of the issues lies on the surface. It is energy. Russia is interested in the realisation of its potential on the foreign markets and the United States is interested in keeping prices stable at an acceptable level, and in the diversification of the sources of energy.
As for the style of our joint work, the decision-making methods, I think it still has to be improved and I am sure everything will fall into place in time. But today, we can state that the force of inertia of the old times, of the Cold War, is still quite strong. Both here and in the United States, there are still many people who are guided by an outdated mentality. That is: what is bad for America is good for us. And in America many people believe that everything that is bad for Russia is good for America. This is a great misconception, which completely disregards the current state of the world and the perspectives of its development.
In this respect, our personal relations with President Bush play a very important role. I think that President Bush personally understands today's state of the world and can forecast its development, and values Russian-American relations. And his personal involvement into this or that issue often allows us to maintain the high level of our relations.
Question: Are there specific areas where you see the cold war inertia interfering in the relations between the US and Russia?
President Putin: I will give just one example. Some time ago the US Ministry of Defence informed us of its plans to start reconnaissance flights over the Black Sea. The fight against terrorism was presented as the reason, the motivation for those flights, whose route was to pass over Georgian regions bordering on Russia.
Our Foreign Ministry, which had been informed about those plans and the information contained a hidden question on our attitude to them, responded negatively. We answered that we did not see any need for those flights and that they had nothing to do with the fight against terrorism. One does not need to be a military expert to understand that reconnaissance planes, which fly at altitudes of eight to ten thousand meters can do nothing to further the fight against terrorism. It is complete nonsense.
In principle, the United States is not obliged to inform us about it. If it wants to fly and monitor our territory from the south to the Volga region, well, we do not like it very much, but we cannot ban it. But why write obvious nonsense as an explanation for those flights? And if we are partners, we believe that this is groundless. Incidentally, after the US National Security Council was informed about that and, as I understand, that information was forwarded to the US President, the flights stopped, though they had already begun. And I would like to draw your attention to the fact that they started during the peak of discussions on the problems of Iraq, right before the beginning of the war, when there was no necessity to put to test our mutual understanding and partnership.
Or let's take a recent development, the new procedure for granting visas. What is the point in summoning every person for an interview from all over the huge territory of the Russian Federation, which, as you know, is the biggest country in the world? Why make them answer foolish questions that have nothing to do with security issues, questions in the application form? For example, women are asked if they are prostitutes. Everyone is asked if he or she has been involved in terrorism. Even if a woman was or is a prostitute or a man was involved in terrorist activity, I think they are not likely to voluntarily confess by answering this question on the appication form. It is a complete nightmare, which has nothing to do with the reality of fighting terrorism. It is done just for the people working in the special services. At the time when I myself worked in the special services, they were called the ''foam beaters.'' They sit appearing to do work, but just create “foam”.
This has an indirect relationship with the Cold War also because today's efficient counter-action to the common threats requires a higher degree of trust and better cooperation between the special services. What needs to be done to ensure the security of the United States and, correspondingly, of Russia? Better interaction between the special services has to be established; increase trust and receive, from the viewpoint of US interests, more extensive and more complete information about the people who try to enter the territory of the United States from the Russian special services, which can solve the security problem from this side better than anybody else. Nobody can work better on our territory than our special services.
Question: Speaking about special services. The American special services and the White House had a number of surprises in Iraq. They were surprised that they could not find any weapons of mass destruction. They were surprised that after the war all the fundamental institutions collapsed. And now there is a great debate in the US about the quality of our intelligence. I am curious: Your country has had a long relationship with Iraq and your special services paid attention to that country. Were you surprised by those things? By the absence of weapons of mass destruction and by the way the country sort of collapsed after the war?
Vladimir Putin: The first thing I would like to say is that I disagree with the critics who think that the US special services displayed weakness and are not reliable. These are powerful and professional services. You know our attitude toward the war in Iraq; I have made it public. I said from the very beginning and still believe that it was a mistake. This is why there is no surprise for us about the situation that has taken shape because we foresaw the development of the situation there just exactly as it is developing now. First of all, this has to do with the political aspect, the collapse of the statehood, as you correctly mentioned. How could one imagine a different course of events in case the Saddam Hussain regime is dismantled? Of course, statehood is destroyed. How can it be otherwise? But what do the special services have to do with it?
Of course, we have always thought that there was a danger of the collapse of the state into separate components – its disintegration. And this is the danger we are facing right now. Of course, we know that the Saddam Hussein regime was not a liberal one, many called it a criminal one, and there were probably reasons for that, but it fought against the fundamentalists. He either exterminated them physically or put them in jail or just sent them into exile. Now, there is no more Saddam and we witness the infiltration of a great number of members of different terrorist organisations on Iraq's territory.
Question: Which terrorist organisations?
Vladimir Putin: From the entire Muslim world. Different fundamentalist organisations send their militants there. These organisations fight against legitimate governments in their own countries and in general oppose the entire civilised world in many regions of the planet: in Afghanistan, Iraq, in the Middle East, in Russia, and in other parts of the world. The coalition forces made two enemies in one go: the remains of the Saddam regime who fight against them and those who Saddam himself had fought in the past – the fundamentalists. It is a difficult task to fight them efficiently.
As for the weapons of mass destruction, in this respect we did not have any contradictions with the US Administration. We also thought that there might be weapons of mass destruction on the territory of Iraq. The question is what has happened to them? In this sense, it would be better if the armed forces and the special services knew in advance what was located where and seized these places in the first hours of the military operation. But if that did not happen, I would not like to blame or criticise anybody. I think we have to act differently. We have to unite efforts to do everything to neutralise these possible threats.
Question: Now you have come to the kernel of the matter. How specifically do you think we should proceed in Iraq to neutralise these threats?
Vladimir Putin: These specific threats or in general how to proceed in Iraq?
Question: You are free to answer this question as you like, but let’s speak about what needs to be done in Iraq. Is Russia ready to help? Is Russia ready to send its troops if the UN sanctions it?
Vladimir Putin: We think that Iraq's problems can be efficiently solved only with the involvement of the Iraqi people themselves. This task has to be solved with their participation and by their own hands. But for that to be efficient they have to believe in our serious intentions, in our desire to restore the sovereignty. This is why we think that the UN's role has to be strengthened, and not because we would like to diminish the significance of the United States, but in order to change the situation in Iraq itself, make it clear to the Iraqi people that a qualitative change is taking place. For now, according to the international law, the forces of the coalition are called the occupation forces. This corresponds to the fundamental documents of international law.
How could the local population treat the forces whose official name is the occupation forces? We need to change the status of these forces. We have to win the sympathies of the Iraqis. We have to win over the Muslim and Arab countries to our side. Much in the region depends on their attitude towards the solution of the problem.
Question: How quickly can the status of the occupation forces be changed, three months or something like that?
Vladimir Putin: Formally, it can be changed very quickly if the UN adopts a resolution that defines the mandate of the international forces. They will turn into international forces. But along with this, in our view, in Russia’s view, we have to stay on the realistic ground. We have to admit that the United States took up a huge responsibility in terms of both material and human losses. No matter how much we talk about the complexity of the situation, the coalition forces today are in fact the only military component.
Based on the situation in Chechnya since the mid-90's, we know that once you allow for a vacuum of power, what follows is an uncontrollable development of events with very negative consequences. We think that it should necessarily be taken into consideration, and of course, we will keep working on the acceptable resolution of the UN Security Council. In practical terms we have to act very carefully, bearing in mind the point I mentioned earlier. And this means that there should be some transition period. The transfer of power to the local authorities, including military structures, has to take place only when they become strong enough for this.
We think that our position is very pragmatic and flexible. You know my position. I think that these international forces could be headed by the United States, though many do not agree with this opinion. But it is important for us that if this resolution is adopted, it should explicitly define this mandate of the international forces, the period of stay and all other formal matters, formal judicial matters that are envisaged when a resolution like this is adopted.
Now, about the possibility of sending our military contingent to Iraq. Before the adoption of the resolution, we cannot even discuss this problem and this is why I cannot give a direct answer. But if you allow me, I would share some of my thoughts. Perhaps I will express aloud only one thought of mine. It is not the answer to your question, it is just a conversation over tea. But this is something that deserves thinking about. Of course, the more different types of contingents are there, the broader the political base of support for the coalition forces. And this is very important, but there is nothing good in it from a military-technical point of view.
Even today these multinational, or I would call them, motley forces do not add anything positive to the stabilisation of the situation in Iraq. In order to act efficiently there, professionals are needed. There must be people who understand where they are, people who know local traditions and are capable of respecting these traditions, who are capable of finding and improving contacts, who are capable of demonstrating their force and are capable of compassion. Today, according to the information we have, these are poorly trained military formations, which think about fleeing as soon as possible, about being replaced as often as possible, every three or four months. Then new untrained people come and commit the same mistakes for the third of fourth time.
Question: What contingents are you speaking about?
Vladimir Putin: Different countries of the coalition. I will not name them. You know them better than I do. Some abuse alcohol. Some write slogans offending and insulting to local people that gives rise to huge rallies and demonstrations against the coalition forces. Some sell weapons. In general, multinational forces are good politically, but there is nothing good in it from the military point of view. This is why I think that the Americans could very well be put at the head of the forces of the international coalition because unity of command is needed.
But there is a political minus here, as the local people are not very enthusiastic about the presence of the US military. I think that in order to improve the situation, we need patience and coordination of efforts.
Question: Do you anticipate that the American forces will have to be the predominant force there for considerable time?
Vladimir Putin: It is difficult to answer this question now. Everything will depend on how the situation develops. But I do not rule this out.
Question: Could you offer any variants when Russia could lend assistance to the solution of the Iraqi problem?
Vladimir Putin: I have just stated my position.
Question: I don't mean just by sending troops. Are there other ways?
Vladimir Putin: Yes, of course. We have extensive experience of cooperation with Iraq running for decades. Many companies were built with the Soviet and Russian economic assistance. To a large extent, this is outdated equipment, but there is some more modern equipment there as well. At least we have good experience of dealing with the people of Iraq. There is a high degree of trust between our experts and their colleagues with whom they worked in nonpolitical spheres: the economy, transport, oil production. Of course, we could take part in the restoration of Iraq ourselves and get the Iraqi experts involved in it, encourage their work in bringing order, the rebirth of the country and the creation of a normal situation there. We could take part in personnel training.
We do not have acute contradictions with the United States and we could play a positive role in the preparation and working out of international solutions, including within the UN framework.
Moreover, the main partners of the United States, including those in Europe, do not want to broaden the split that formed between the United States and its traditional allies as the result of the Iraqi conflict. They would like to bridge this split and move ahead, I am sure.
Question: Can you draw any parallel between the American situation in Iraq and the Soviet situation in Afghanistan?
Vladimir Putin: I think that drawing historical parallels is fraught with certain dangers.
The Soviet Union tried to improve the situation in Afghanistan. It was not very bad as it was, but we decided to improve it and indeed “improved” it by waging war for 10 years. The United States began a military operation against a regime that had in fact opposed the international community for a long period of time. And this represents a great qualitative difference. In addition, it was a regime that did not show any desire to change its nature, that was not inclined to compromises. And even our efforts to exert direct pressure on Saddam did not produce any results. This is why I would not put on the same plane the actions of the Soviet Union in Afghanistan and the actions of the United States in Iraq.
Question: Can it happen that America will get bogged down there for 10 years?
Vladimir Putin: I think that what the US Administration is trying to do now to internationalise the situation there is the right course, because such danger exists, of course. For the internationalisation to take place, one has to take into account the interests of those who are going to be involved, first of all, the Iraqi people.
But your fears are not groundless. Of course, it may become a new centre, a new magnet that attracts all destructive elements. They will feel comfortable enough there though Iraq, as far as its terrain is concerned, is not a mountainous country like Afghanistan, but there may be problems for a long time.
Question: Were you disappointed that the new resolution presented by the Administration did not include a provision on the international armed forces, which you insisted on?
Vladimir Putin: Not at all. A young man can be disappointed when he finds out after the wedding that his wife’s fortune is much smaller than he expected. We simply work. We would like it to happen but unfortunately our partners did not formulate their proposals in this respect. We will keep working. We have anough time.
Question: You know, America has had a very hard time getting other countries to help pay the cost of reconstruction in Iraq. I wonder if there has been any discussion among countries like Russia, which are owed large debts by Iraq, about some form of a debt relief to help Iraq get though its transition?
Vladimir Putin: Yes, it is a problem whose solution requires a lot of money. And I think that the President is right, of course, when he says that since the US gives money for this, it has the right to make decisions on how to spend it. It is fair and just. He frankly said that in Camp David. What objections can one have? I think if Russia gave dozens of billions of dollars, I would have the same reasoning… We give dozens of billions of dollars, and some “kind uncle'' comes and decides where to spend it? We are no fools. The President is quite right.
As for the Iraqi debt to many countries and to Russia, of course, we understand that writing off the debts would help to clear the ground for the restoration of Iraq. You know, Russia is not a wealthy country and nobody forgives us our debts. In the past 10 years we have heard many promises – at one time to be given $40 billion credits on good terms, or promises to write off our debts. We are constantly deceived. We pay old Soviet debts, though it is not clear why we have to. I would never have agreed to it, but the previous leadership did, it made that decision and we fulfil these obligations to pay for all the former republics of the Soviet Union.
Russia is not a rich country, but as for writing off the debts of the poorest countries of the world, in absolute figures, I think we are second or third among the developed countries after France and Japan. In absolute figures we write off more debts than the United States. Iraq, in terms of its parameters, its economic potential, is not among the poorest countries in the world. It belongs to the countries of medium development. And it is capable of paying its debts.
What is needed is to restore the country, its political sphere, infrastructure, economic stability. Then the country will be able to take care of itself, and perhaps it will not need huge outside injections for its development, and it will be able to pay its debts.
But we understand the unique character of Iraq's situation today. And we are ready to consider the possibility of partial debt relief within the frameworks of the Paris Club. But we can do that only jointly with other Iraqi creditors. We won’t do it alone. It should be a coordinated decision and common rules of the game for all.
Question: Perhaps I can turn to Iran for a second. Do you believe Iran when it claims that it has no nuclear weapons programmes?
Vladimir Putin: I believe that international relations, and espescially with regard to problems of such magnitude, should hardly be guided by such notions whether you believe someone or not. We have no grounds to challenge what we have been told by the Iranian leadership. But we are guided by the fact that if, as the Iranian leadership states, they have no plans to produce weapons of mass destruction, nuclear arms, then we see no grounds not to allow the IAEA access to all of Iran's programmes in the nuclear sphere.
We have our interests in Iran. Iran is our neighbour. We have a tradition of good-neighbourly relations with this country that goes back centuries. But regarding the problem of nonproliferation, we have full understanding with the United States, and I would even assert that on this issue, as on the issue of fighting terrorism, we, in our view, can be not just partners, but allies in the full sense of this word. What we seek to achieve is that uniform and universal rules of the game be worked out for one and all.
We have been constantly hearing about certain sanctions applied by the United States against certain Russian companies who are suspected of some unsavoury economic ties with Iran. But we have information that in some no less sensitive and probably even more sensitive areas, there are some European and American companies who are dealing with Iran. For some reason I have never heard of sanctions being applied against those companies. Why is that? We are ready and we want to combat the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. But we are in favour of strict compliance with all nonproliferation regimes, for the strengthening of those regimes, for working out unified standards and unified rules of behaviour in this area.
Question: When you say you have full understanding with the US in this area, does that mean that you have an understanding regarding Russia's decision to complete the construction of the nuclear power plant at Bushehr?
Vladimir Putin: We must know what areas of cooperation in the nuclear sphere are dangerous and what in this cooperation could lead to the creation of nuclear weapons. We are not only listening to what our US partners are telling us, we are heeding their reasoning, and we are finding that some of their assertions are justified. For example, their professional observation that spent nuclear fuel can subsequently be enriched and used as a component of nuclear arms. Our specialists also think so, and confirm this. That is why we have proposed to our Iranian colleagues that Russian spent nuclear fuel should be returned to Russia, and now we are seeking to introduce such stipulations in our agreements.
We also believe, as our American colleagues and partners believe, that Iran has no grounds not to allow the IAEA to review all its nuclear programmes. Therefore in this area again our positions fully coincide with those of the United States. But this does not imply that without agreeing on the principles of our cooperation in this sphere we're going to suspend all of our programmes.
Question: Did I understand correctly that in the context of the fuel being returned and the IAEA inspections the US will accept the completion of the project in Bushehr?
Vladimir Putin: We do not think that we are obligated to ask permission from the US if we think that we have the right to act without violating our obligations on nonproliferation. We have taken upon ourselves certain obligations in the process of negotiations in the area of nonproliferation and we have been strictly observing them. But we are against using the issue of proliferation as a bogey in competition.
Question: I know that it is entirely between you and Iran whether you build Bushehr, but I was curious whether the Bush Administration has withdrawn its objections and its concerns. Do you think you have succeeded in reassuring Mr Bush?
Vladimir Putin: I think you should ask the President of the United States himself about the position of the President of the United States. But he is concerned about the situation. We understand his concern and we have proposed to work out unified rules of conduct in this area, which I have mentioned before. We have nothing against working closer together. I have mentioned this before and now I will probably make a second round of my argument here. We are told that our companies are working and violating something, and sanctions are used against them. At the same time, we know for certain that American and Western European companies are working in even more sensitive spheres, also nuclear ones, and they are allowed everything. Why? We cannot agree with all the claims against us, because we do not see this as being an objective approach.
Question: Let me ask you a question about domestic policy. It's traditional in America to question Russia's commitment to democracy. You probably noticed on your last trip to the US that there were publications in the press on lack of democracy in Russia. You have received some criticism. Some of the publications I know were sponsored by Russian sources, but there were some Americans who questioned the limits on the freedom of the press, for example. Do you consider that the wide-open give-and-take attitude that's familiar to us in Western democracies is not quite appropriate for Russia, that Russia needs a democracy with more management, with more sort of top-down control?
Vladimir Putin: First and foremost, I would like to stress the point that Russia should in no way claim any exclusivity, especially in the area of democracy. The basic values of democracy should be identical to those that have taken root and established themselves in democratic countries and free market economies. Of course, every country has its own identity. This is a fact of life. Some countries have presidential forms of government, others have parliamentary rules of government. We have different practices of applying universally recognized norms, including humanitarian law. But on the whole, the main principles of humanism, human rights, the freedom of speech remain fundamental for all countries, and Russia has no right to claim any exclusive status in this area.
I would like to bring to your attention the fact that in European countries and in North America all these principles were established over hundreds of years, and now few people want to recall, say, the Inquisition. For Russia, the Inquisition ended only in the late 1980s. But in the past decade, in the past 10 to 12 years, fundamental changes have occurred in the minds of people and in the political system of the country.
We have a weak, but already-established multiparty system. We have regular elections on all levels, from local authorities to the federal level, of parliament and the President. These are indeed free elections. Certainly, one could speak of certain tricks that are currently referred to as pre-election technologies. But all political forces enjoy the right to resort to those pre-election technologies.
Of course, many things are still in the stage of evolving, and we are trying and will continue to try to ensure the development of those fundamental institutes of democracy, including the freedom of the press.
We have a category of people who have become billionaires, as we say, overnight. The state appointed them as billionaires. It simply gave away a huge amount of property, practically for free. These people say so themselves. “I was appointed a billionaire.'' Then as the game went on, they got the impression that they were all-powerful, that everything was allowed to them. In essence, an attempt was made in Russia to create a system of oligarchic rule, when behind the backs of visible political figures there would in fact be other people, who did not appear on the surface but in reality made political decisions of national importance.
I will remind you that Western public opinion did not like this very much at the time. These so-called oligarchs are smart, shrewd people. They understand very well how to manipulate the public opinion. And in essence they began to behave with the mass media and the national television channels in the same way as they behaved with natural resources, subjugating them to their group interests and replacing national interests with group interests.
In order to ensure the real freedom of the press, we must ensure the real economic independence of the mass media. We will be persistent in trying to achieve this end. We will offer comprehensive support to the real independence of the press, even if we do not like those ideas and opinions that are expressed. There is always some kind of tension between the mass media and the powers that be, those who are controlling the political authority in a given period of time. This is natural and healthy opposition that is beneficial for society in the long run. And it should be admitted that from time to time we witness examples of rather heavy pressure on behalf of the government with respect to certain mass media.
Let's come back to the initial stage of hostilities in Iraq, which we have already dealt with so extensively. In our opinion, in the United States, very tough pressure was applied with respect to certain representatives of the press corps. Some of them have even lost their jobs. We are not hysterical about this. There is nothing good about it, but we understand that this is in principle a natural standoff between the authorities and the free press. In general, we have introduced many elements of democracy on the basis of what we have witnessed happening in the countries of established democracy, including the so-called dirty pre-election technologies. I do not want this to be taken as any kind of justification on our part. There is nothing good here for us either. In this context I want to cite an old proverb we have in Russia: Do not blame the mirror when your mug is crooked.
Question: Speaking of elections, there's an election in Chechnya tomorrow, but Kadyrov is widely regarded as lacking any legitimacy. Do you worry that his election, which seems certain, will simply provoke more violence there?
President Putin: I do not think it will provoke further violence. On the contrary. First and foremost, it is not clear who will be elected. As far as elections in Chechnya are concerned, we have been moving to them gradually, for a long period of time. More than six months ago there was a referendum on the Constitution of the Chechen Republic, in which 80 percent of the electorate participated. As you understand, it was impossible to make people come by force to vote for the constitution. In this Constitution it is written in black and white that Chechnya is an inalienable part of the Russian Federation, that the territory of Chechnya is an integral part of the Russian Federation. People in Chechnya voted for this. Objective, independent observers understand full well that this was the most critical moment to us. This was the main thing.
What is happening right now, what is supposed to happen tomorrow, the elections in Chechnya, this is also a very important element of political settlement, a matter of principle. But nonetheless, in the scale of importance it is not such a vital moment as the voting at the referendum on the Constitution. It is a matter of the internal political situation in Chechnya.
With regard to the presidential candidates, I have to say that there is no one of them who is not acceptable to us. All of them, as a matter of fact, live in Moscow, or work in Chechnya, having been appointed from Moscow. They all supported the referendum and voted in favour of Chechnya remaining within Russia. From among those who were registered as candidates for the post of President of Chechnya, there was not a single person who expressed separatist or fundamentalist views. In this regard, the most inconvenient figure for Moscow is Kadyrov himself. Because he is the only candidate who fought against the federal centre as a separatist with arms in hands. I hope that his contacts with those people who are still fighting us in Chechnya and his influence on them will be positive. Ultimately, if he wins – I want to emphasise this, it's not clear yet who will win – but if he wins, I hope this will be an element that could have a positive influence on the development of events in Chechnya.
I must say that we do not work with Kadyrov alone, and our work on political settlement is not limited just to the presidential election process.
Question: Did President Bush raise the issue of Chechnya during the meeting at Camp David?
Vladimir Putin: I informed him of the current state of affairs there.
Question: But did he raise the question?
Vladimir Putin: Well, I do not remember at this time whether he raised it, but we did discuss it. But I would like to repeat again that the elections in Chechnya are but one component of the political settlement there. Now we are preparing other steps. We are preparing a draft agreement on the delimitation of authorities between the federal centre and the republic. We will prepare the parliamentary elections in Chechnya. I would like to point out that we are working with all forces in Chechnya that would like to defuse the situation and bring it back to normal. For example, we did not recognize the legal powers of the former parliament. But we are in contact today with all the members of the former parliament. They have the opportunity to fully participate in the political battle, in the political life in Chechnya, and I am certain they will participate in the parliamentary elections there.
As you know, recently this parliament that is not recognised by us made a decision to strip Alsan Maskhadov of power, while the former representative of Mr. Maskhadov has now announced his intention to run in the Russian State Duma elections. So our work is multifaceted.
Of course, it would be naive to think that the situation in Chechnya is close to complete normalisation. One has to bear in mind the conditions in which the people of Chechnya have lived for almost 10 years, conditions of total violence.
We have been talking here today about a timeframe for moving towards a normal situation in Iraq. We think it is necessary to have a transitional period there, to give it some time to prepare all the necessary structures for elections to be held there. The situation in Chechnya is somewhat different. It is Russia’s internal problem. It is based on vary many specific elements. But still, there are many similarities.
I would like to reiterate here that we fully understand that final settlement in Chechnya is possible solely through political means. Secondly, I would like to say that nobody knows better than us what needs to be done in Chechnya. The elections in Chechnya and in California are two different matters, and to the best of my knowledge, as yet you have not yet mastered the situation in California completely.
Question: One last question on Chechnya. You have soldiers dying there every week, in about the same numbers as Americans in Iraq – three, five, six. You have terrorist attacks in Moscow. You say that Chechnya is an inalienable part of Russia. But is it worth it?
Vladimir Putin: It is worth it. I hope you will agree with me on what sets Chechnya apart from Iraq. Where is the US and where is Iraq located? And I will not ask you now what goals the US pursues in Iraq and what tasks it is dealing with there. But could you imagine similar circumstances occurring somewhere in Texas? That would give the whole problem an absolutely different aspect. To us, the resolution of the problem of Chechnya is about preserving the territorial integrity of the country. And for all of us, including you, this is a very strong barrier against the infiltration of fundamentalism in this part of Europe.
I will remind you that when Chechnya was de facto given independence – this happened in 1995 – fundamentalists did not stop at that. In 1999, they started a new, unprovoked war against the neighbouring republic of Dagestan, pursuing the goal of creating a new state that never existed before, the Islamic caliphate, stretching from the Black to the Caspian Sea. For us, that would imply tearing away part of the territory of Russia, and destabilisation of the situation in areas of Muslim population compact residence. For all of us, including the US, that would mean a further strengthening of fundamentalism in the Islamic world.
Therefore, it serves US interests to support Russia's efforts aimed at maintaining stability in the Caucasus, to support all their aspects, above all in the political sphere.
We see understanding of this problem from the US President. He is a courageous and direct person. But we do not always meet understanding from various agencies and ministries of the United States. In our view, this is a clear sign of rudiments of the cold war thinking. We think this is an erroneous policy. It is not right to regard members of Al Qaeda who are fighting in Chechnya as supporters of democracy and independence of Chechnya, and to regard those same representatives of Al Qaeda who are fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq as criminals. Such a policy will not lead to effective results in our joint efforts against terrorism.
Question: Given your previous employment, a lot of people in Russia and abroad think that people from the special services have too much influence today in domestic politics in Russia. What is your reaction to such statements, especially as this kind of information is coming from the Russian press itself?
Vladimir Putin: You know, the father of the current President of the United States was director of the CIA before becoming President. This did not stop him from being a politician who did a lot for his country, nor did it stop him from being a democrat, a decent and agreeable person, as I was able to see once again when he found the time and did me the honour of being my guest in Sochi.
You know, we didn’t fall from the moon or something, we were born in this country, we lived in this country, we are products of the times we lived in. The previous Russian President, the first Russian President, was a candidate member of the Communist Party Central Committee Politburo, and yet he was also a man who did perhaps the most important thing for Russia in all its recent history – he gave it freedom.
So, I think that it’s easy to assign various labels and think in cliches, but I don’t think this is effective, and I would even say that it is primitive from a political point of view. I think that the Russian people, the voters, will make their choice based on what has been done right, what mistakes have been made, what has been done in the national interests and what we have overlooked. I am sure that the Russian people do not need any prompting from the sidelines.
Question: On a personal level, when you look back now from where you are today and think back to where you worked before, are there any aspects of that work, any steps or actions you took then that you now regret or maybe feel were wrong?
Vladimir Putin: When I worked in the intelligence service, no, of course not. In general, there wasn’t anything that would give me cause for shame now. You know what intelligence services do. But within that work, not only for my own country, there was nothing that could stop me now from looking my colleagues from other countries freely and openly in the eyes. We worked with people, with information, did analysis and interesting and professional work with information. It was an interesting and professional job to do.
Question: But talking about the KGB itself, don’t you think it has some black pages in its history?
Vladimir Putin: You know, the KGB was a very big organisation, and it was involved in both political investigation and in pure counterintelligence work. It was also responsible for foreign intelligence. The security services went through various historical periods and various changes of name, from the Extraordinary Commission in 1917 to the National Security Ministry, People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs and so on. There were certainly difficult periods and black pages in Soviet history when a great deal of repression took place. And the security services were used as the main instrument in these repressions. This was the case in the 1930s and right up until the death of Joseph Stalin in 1953. I would like to draw your attention to the fact that I was born in 1952, and graduated from St Petersburg’s university, with all its democratic traditions, in 1980. Perhaps the most valuable thing that those years of study taught me was a respect for Law. So, I don’t think that all these people who were members of the Communist Party, which was a huge state organisation that united more than 20 million people, now deserve to be vilified.
Even looking at the period of mass repressions, which was the darkest period in the history of the security services, it is obvious that the Soviet security services did not instigate these mass repressions; rather, they were an instrument in the hands of the Communist Party. That was even reflected in their definition – “the armed detachment of the party.”
There was a lot of discussion, especially in the early to mid-1990s about whether the Communist Party should be banned. I think it was right not to ban the party so as not to split society. Today a lot of people are saying, and your colleague asked about this, that people from the security services have too much influence on internal political life here, and that this maybe a harbinger of a return to the old days. The same question was put to me at Columbia University. But I assure you that there are no grounds for such fears. We do remember, it is our duty to remember all the terrible events that the twentieth century brought us, and we have to draw our conclusions from that experience, we paid a very high price for it. Millions of people died here in labour camps. The totalitarian regime drove the country into a national catastrophe and led to the collapse of the Soviet Union. We have not forgotten this and keep it in mind. The Russian people have now made a clear and irreversible choice. We have chosen the road to democracy and a market economy. Even if someone wanted to turn the country back towards the past, it would no longer be possible now.
As for a certain restructuring in the law enforcement sector and a strengthening of the security services, we have merged, for example, the Border Guards Service and the Federal Security Service in order to optimise their activities, and this is a completely different matter. This is a response to today’s demands and needs, the reality we face now and the need to fight terrorism and crime more effectively.
Many countries are now considering similar moves and are also carrying out reorganisation in this area. In the United States, for example, they have created what amounts to a new super ministry, the Internal Security Ministry, as they’ve called it. I think that this is a good decision, because there should be an agency that coordinates all the activities in this area and collects the information at home. We, unfortunately, cannot do the same here, because your agency has several thousand new employees, and we are not increasing the number of people working for security and intelligence agencies, indeed, until just recently, we have been cutting their numbers. We are talking simply of streamlining the organisation we have. Saying that these reforms in the law enforcement sector in Russia amount to a return to Soviet times is tantamount to saying that the creation of this Internal Security Ministry in the United States means that we now face the constant threat of a return to the McCarthy era there. It’s complete nonsense and has nothing to do with reality.
Question: You were invited to Camp David in the United States, but Jacques Chirac and Gerhard Schroeder were not invited. Do you feel that in many ways Russia is now closer to the United States, at least to the Bush Administration, than France and Germany?
And the second question, somewhat connected with the first one. Several former republics of the former Soviet Empire are joining the European Union next year. Could you imagine that the border of the EU would come close to the border of Russia? Can you imagine Russia ever joining the EU?
Vladimir Putin: First of all, with regards to our closeness to the US Administration, I confirm that we have good, close relations. During our conversation today I said many critical things, but the feature that characterizes the maturity of our relations is that we speak to each other directly, openly, without reserve and without taking offence. And I have to say that it was in this spirit that we had our negotiations in Camp David. Though frankly, we did not agree on everything there. But we were pleased with how it was done by our American partners and with the very spirit of our relations. I am saying this absolutely frankly. We discussed the most topical and sensitive matters absolutely openly, and this underscores the character of our relations. I think there is some novelty in it, of a positive character.
As for the relations between the United States and the European partners, we are carefully monitoring, of course, what is going on, but it's none of our business. We think that it's a kind of a family quarrel, and sooner or later it will calm down. The less emotions involved the better. Here I see only one benefit for us. Everyone has seen, both in the United States and Europe, that we are not interested in, we do not want, we do not intend and are not doing anything which could bring additional discord to the relations between the United States and its traditional partners. Moreover, we think that the global threats are such that we should strive for uniting our efforts, and we will try our best to prove it in our practical policy.
With regards to the attitude of our European partners to our contacts with the Administration, to the quality of those contacts, I do not think it causes any concern, and first of all because we do not make any secret out of it. We behave consistently on all issues. Our relations are absolutely open. We do not hide anything. It is clear to everyone what we are doing. Moreover, our European partners understand that we have our national interests in developing our relations with the United States. We have never heard, have never felt anything that could cause concern of our European partners in connection with the development of our relations with the US.
Indeed there are certain problems currently concerning the situation in Iraq, but in general terms our European partners always underscore that they support the development of our relationship with the United States and they regard this as a step in the right direction.
The main thing is that we do not recourse to intrigue. Our policies are clear-cut, understandable, based on specific principles. It is possible to agree or disagree with them, to argue with them or support them, but in any case our position is understandable and predictable.
As regards our relations with the European Union, it is Russia’s major trade and economic partner and its turnover, with account of EU enlargement, accounts for over 50 percent of the total. Geographically, we are located in Europe.
Question: And in Asia?
Vladimir Putin: Yes, certainly. And still, our main resources, the human and technological resources, the infrastructure, are largely concentrated in Europe. Most importantly, the people of Russia have a European mentality and culture. We have much in common, many common interests with Europe.
There are problems concerning enlargement. These problems are largely in the area of trade and economy and visa policies. We believe there should be no new division lines in Europe. But we also understand many responsibilities we bear in regards to our relations with the EU. In order to become an equal partner, we need to do a lot in our own country. We do not seek full-scale, full-fledged membership of the EU. But we believe that EU expansion, with all the current tactical difficulties, will create additional favourable conditions for the development of good relations between Russia and the EU.
We think that the EU human rights standards will also spread to the new member states, which is very important to us as regards the equal rights for the Russian-speaking population in the Baltic countries.
Many East European countries are long-standing economic partners of Russia, so we hope that many patterns of economic cooperation that have been established over decades will be retained and maybe embraced by the entire European Union.
Ultimately, we count on attaining a special level of relationship with the EU, on creating a common economic and humanitarian space in Europe, without, I repeat, the full-fledged, formal entry of Russia in the EU. In the future, it is up to new generations to decide how to build relations in Europe and the world.
Question: Can you draw a parallel between the established relations with the EU and the signing of the Kyoto Protocol? In other words, is Russia still willing to act perhaps on its own, to go its own way rather than necessarily joining the protocol?
Vladimir Putin: We have been negotiating this issue. We have signed the Kyoto Protocol, but as yet we have not ratified it. We believe that not all the concerns expressed by the Russian Federation have been taken into account yet. This is related to the so-called stocks, to our forests, which do much to absorb environmental discharges and are a major oxygen source on the planet. There are other technical questions that need to be agreed upon additionally. We also have some experts in this country who believe that even full compliance with the Kyoto Protocol will not result in the improvement in the world climate. My position is that even if that were the case, I still believe that ratification and making the Kyoto Protocol effective would be a step in the right direction for the benefit of humanity. But we need to weigh all the aspects involved from the perspective of Russian national interests.
Question: Are you in favour of Exxon buying 40 percent of Yukos?
Vladimir Putin: To the best of my knowledge, this deal has not yet been concluded. It is under discussion. You know what was our attitude to the purchase by British Petroleum of 50 percent of TNK, another major Russian company. We favour foreign capital involvement in Russia's economy. ExxonMobil is operating in the Far East, in Sakhalin, it is investing a lot of money there, and we will support its further activities there.
As regards purchasing a part of Yukos, this is a corporate matter, but once again we are talking about a possible major deal here, and I think it would be right to have preliminary consultations with the Russian government on this matter.
We just had a meeting of the Davos forum here in Moscow and before that the energy summit between the US and Russia that took place in St Petersburg. Representatives of international business, including American business, noted with regret that they had committed a mistake in their corporate plans with the level of investment they made in Russia, which currently they find insufficient. This is a very positive sign as regards prospects of their further involvement. So, we will see what happens next.
On our part, we will do everything we can to create the most favourable conditions in Russia for the participation of foreign capital and labour force, for the use and concentration of useful information here. We understand very well that this is one of the roads that can lead to success in accomplishing the goals we have set ourselves in the economic sphere.
If my interview to the The New York Times contributes to solving this task, I’ll be very pleased.
Thank you for this meaningful conversation and your interest in Russia’s problems.