John Micklethwait: Mr President, thank you very much for speaking to Bloomberg. Here in Vladivostok we're on the edge of the Pacific and on the eve of the second Eastern Economic forum. What do you hope to achieve at it?
President of Russia Vladimir Putin: We would like to draw the attention of our partners, of potential investors to the Russian Far East. In this sense, the Forum as an event is similar to other regional forums of this kind. Russia hosts a lot of such forums, including the International Economic Forum in St Petersburg, (usually in the beginning of summer), as well as the Economic Forum in Sochi.
The Far East is of particular significance for us in terms of this region’s priority development. Over the last few years, let us say even over the last decades, we were faced with many problems here. We paid little attention to this territory although it deserves a lot more of it, because it concentrates great wealth as well as opportunities for Russia’s future development. Not only for Russia alone, but also for the development of the entire Asia-Pacific region (APR), because this land is very rich in natural and mineral resources.
When we talk about the Far East we usually mean the Far East itself, including Primorye Territory, Khabarovsk Territory, Kamchatka, and Chukotka, as well as Eastern Siberia. All this area contains tremendous resources, including oil and gas, 90 percent of Russian tin, 30 percent of Russian gold, 35 percent of forest, 70 percent of Russia’s fish is harvested in the local waters.
This is a region with a substantially developed transport and railroad infrastructure. In recent years we have been actively developing road connection. There is also a huge potential for developing the aviation and space industries. As you might have noticed we have launched a new Russian spaceport in one of the Far Eastern regions. As I have already said, the aviation industry, including combat air force, has been traditionally developing here. It is the Russian Far East where the SU aircraft, which are well known worldwide, are manufactured.
Finally, we are resuming the manufacturing of sea vessels here, first of all for civilian purposes. Just earlier today I witnessed the commissioning of one of the most promising sites of this kind.
And this is also a good opportunity for humanitarian exchanges with our neighbours. Our intention is to develop music, theatre and exhibition activities here. Just recently Mr Gergiev, a distinguished Russian musician and conductor, held his concerts here. We are going to set up a branch of the St Petersburg Mariinsky Theatre here. We are also planning to open local branches of the Hermitage Museum and the Vaganova Academy of Russian Ballet.
As you can see, we are now present in the building of the Far Eastern Federal University. I am sure you too have had a chance to assess the size of the University – the number of foreign students studying here is already in the thousands; there is also a great number of foreign professors. We would like to see science and higher education developing here, so that it could become one of the major research centres in the entire APR system. Undoubtedly a lot remains to be done here, but given the labour market demand, the relevance of such a university is undeniable.
In addition to everything that I have already mentioned, there is another domain that we consider relevant and having good prospects – marine biology. For many years this region has been home for one of the leading institutes of the Russian Academy of Sciences, the Institute of Marine Biology. You know, we are launching a new centre here; we have built an oceanarium on its premises, which is supposed to be not only a public place where people, I am sure, will enjoy the wildlife, but also part of the Institute of Marine Biology. A very interesting and promising cluster has formed here, and we would be happy if our potential investors, our counterparts from abroad, first of all those from the Asia-Pacific region, knew more about it.
John Micklethwait: One of the guests who have coming is Shinzo Abe. There seem to be the beginning of a political deal: you might give up one of the Kuril Islands in exchange for greater economic cooperation? Are you opened to a deal of that sort?
Vladimir Putin: We do not trade territories although concluding a peace treaty with Japan is certainly a key issue and we would like to find a solution to this problem together with our Japanese friends. Back in 1956, we signed a treaty and surprisingly it was ratified both by the Supreme Soviet of the Soviet Union and the Japanese Parliament. But then Japan refused to implement it and after that the Soviet Union also, so to say, nullified all the agreements reached within the framework of the treaty.
Some years ago our Japanese counterparts asked us to resume the discussions of the issue and so we did meeting them halfway. Over the passed couple of years the contacts were practically frozen on the initiative of the Japanese side, not ours. At the same time, presently our partners have expressed their eagerness to resume discussions on this issue. It has nothing to do with any kind of exchange or sale. It is about the search for a solution when neither party would be at a disadvantage, when neither party would perceive itself as conquered or defeated.
John Micklethwait: Are you as close to a deal now as you have been since the 1960s? Is it better now than any time since then?
Vladimir Putin: I don’t think that we are closer than in 1956 but anyway we have resumed our dialogue and agreed that our foreign ministers and relevant experts at the level of deputy ministers will intensify this work. Naturally, this issue has always been a subject of discussions between the Russian President and the Prime Minister. I am sure that during the meeting with Mr Abe here in Vladivostok this issue will also be discussed, but finding a solution requires it to be well thought out and prepared, and I reiterate, a solution that is not based on the principles of causing damage, but, on the contrary, on the principles of creating conditions for developing long-term ties between the two countries.
John Micklethwait: You seem to be more relaxed about territory in Asia. You mentioned the Kurils, you gave the island of Tarabarov back to China. Would you consider giving back Kaliningrad as a tribute?
Vladimir Putin: We handed over nothing, those territories were disputed and we have been negotiating this issue with the People's Republic of China, let me stress that, for 40 years, and finally managed to come to an agreement. One part of the territory was assigned to Russia, while another part – to the People's Republic of China.
Notably, it was only possible, and this is very important, due to the high level of trust Russia and China reached in their relations by that time. If we reach the same level of trust with Japan, we might be able to reach certain compromises.
However, there is a fundamental difference between the issue related to Japan’s history and our negotiations with China. What is it all about? The Japanese issue resulted from World War II and is stipulated in the international instruments on the outcomes of World War II, while our discussions on border issues with our Chinese counterparts have nothing to do with World War II or any other military conflicts. This is the first, or rather, I should say, the second point.
Thirdly, regarding the Western part. You have mentioned Kaliningrad.
John Micklethwait: It was a joke.
Vladimir Putin: All jokes aside. If someone is willing to reconsider the results of World War II, let us discuss this. But then we will have to discuss not only Kaliningrad, but also the eastern lands of Germany, the city of Lvov, a former part of Poland, and so on, and so forth. There are also Hungary and Romania on the list. If someone wants to open this Pandora's box and deal with it, all right, go for it then.
Part Two to be published.