Putin Interviewed By Journalists From G8 Countries – Text


President of the Russian Federation website, Moscow
4 Jun 07

VLADIMIR PUTIN: Good evening ladies and gentlemen!

I would like to warmly welcome you.

I would just like to say a few words at the beginning of our
discussion. We believe that the G8 forum is a useful and interesting
event that allows us to synchronise our approaches to key issues linked
with the development of the global economy and on the international
agenda. And not simply to, shall we say, synchronise our watches but
also to coordinate our positions, positions that can then be formalised
in G8 documents and, later on, in the documents of other international
organizations, including the UN. And this has occurred in the past.

I am very pleased to see that the agreements that were reached
in St Petersburg last year have not been forgotten. Many of our
agreements are being implemented. Moreover, the German G8 presidency
has not forgotten about the major themes of our discussions in St
Petersburg. We see clear evidence of what we discussed in Russia in the
documents that are now being drafted by experts and sherpas. Of course,
this first and foremost refers to energy. But not only that. This also
includes development aid and especially aid to African countries. This
includes the fight against infectious diseases. Naturally, this also
includes our joint efforts concerning climate change.

Of course we will address all of this and, as I have already said,
other serious international issues for Europe, such as the Balkans,
and other problems. And I am confident that an open, honest discussion
between partners on all of these problems – no matter how difficult
they are to resolve – will be a useful discussion.

I would like to thank you for the interest you have shown in our
work. And I certainly do not have the audacity or the responsibility
of speaking for all my G8 colleagues. But I am ready to explain in
more detail Russia’s position on issues that you think are of interest
to the public.

That was everything I wanted to say at the outset and I will not
waste time in a monologue. I am listening to you. Let’s start working.

DER SPIEGEL: Mr President, it seems like Russia is not very fond of
the West. Our relations have somewhat deteriorated. And we can also
mention the deterioration of your relations with America. Are we once
again approaching a Cold War?

VLADIMIR PUTIN: One can hardly use the same terminology in
international relations, in relations between countries, that would
apply to relationships between people – especially during their
honeymoon or as they prepare to go to the Civil Registry Office.

Throughout history, interests have always been the main organizing
principle for relations between states and on the international
arena. And the more civilised these relations become, the clearer it
is that one’s own interests must be balanced against the interests of
other countries. And one must be able to find compromises to resolve
the most difficult problems and issues.

One of the major difficulties today is that certain members of the
international community are absolutely convinced that their opinion is
the correct one. And of course this is hardly conducive to creating
the trusting atmosphere that I believe is crucial for finding more
than simply mutually acceptable solutions, for finding optimal
solutions. However, we also think that we should not dramatise
anything unduly. If we express our opinions openly, honestly and
forthrightly, then this does not imply that we are looking for
confrontation. Moreover, I am deeply convinced that if we were able
to reinstate honest discussion and the capacity to find compromises
in the international arena then everyone would benefit. And I am
convinced that certain crises that face the international community
today would not exist and would not have had such a dire impact on
the internal political situation in certain countries. For example,
events in Iraq would not be such a headache for the United States. This
is the most vivid, sharpest example but, nevertheless, I want you to
understand me. And as you recall, we were opposed to military action in
Iraq. We now consider that had we confronted the problems that faced
us at the time with other means then the result would have been –
in my opinion – still better than what we have today.

It is for that reason that we do not want confrontation; we want to
engage in dialogue. However, we want a dialogue that acknowledges
the equality of both parties’ interests.

WALL STREET JOURNAL: A follow-up to the previous question. One of
the most acute recent problems between Washington and Moscow has
been American plans to install elements of a missile defence system
in Europe. Since Russia is very radically opposed to this system
and the White House confirms that it will go ahead regardless, the
confrontation becomes more pronounced…

VLADIMIR PUTIN: Incidentally, that it is the answer to the previous
question. I am sorry – please continue.

WALL STREET JOURNAL: … and the more countries there are that want to
participate in this system. What does Russia gain by being so fiercely
opposed to this system? Are you hoping that Washington will eventually
abandon its plans to install an anti-missile defence system or do you
have other goals, since Washington has already said that it will not
allow Russia to veto this programme?

VLADIMIR PUTIN: I would start with the Adapted Conventional Armed
Forces Treaty in Europe (ACAF). We have not just stated that we are
ready to comply with the treaty, like certain others have done. We
really are implementing it: we have removed all of our heavy weapons
from the European part of Russia and put them behind the Urals. We
have reduced our Armed Forces by 300,000. We have taken several other
steps required by the ACAF. But what have we seen in response? Eastern
Europe is receiving new weapons, two new military bases are being set
up in Romania and in Bulgaria, and there are two new missile launch
areas – a radar in Czech republic and missile systems in Poland. And
we are asking ourselves the question: what is going on?

Russia is disarming unilaterally. But if we disarm unilaterally then
we would like to see our partners be willing to do the same thing in
Europe. On the contrary, Europe is being pumped full of new weapons
systems. And of course we cannot help but be concerned.

What should we do in these circumstances? Of course we have declared
a moratorium.

This applies to the missile defence system. But not just the missile
defence system itself. Since if this missile system is put in place,
it will work automatically with the entire nuclear capability of
the United States. It will be an integral part of the US nuclear

I draw your attention and that of your readers to the fact that, for
the first time in history – and I want to emphasize this – there are
elements of the US nuclear capability on the European continent. It
simply changes the whole configuration of international security. That
is the second thing.

Finally, thirdly, how do they justify this? By the need to defend
themselves against Iranian missiles. But there are no such
missiles. Iran has no missiles with a range of 5,000 to 8,000
kilometres. In other words, we are being told that this missile
defence system is there to defend against something that doesn’t
exist. Do you not think that this is even a little bit funny? But
it would only be funny if it were not so said. We are not satisfied
with the explanations that we are hearing. There is no justification
whatsoever for installing a missile defence system in Europe.

Our military experts certainly believe that this system affects the
territory of the Russian Federation in front of the Ural mountains. And
of course we have to respond to that.

And now I would like to give a definite answer to your question: what
do we want? First of all, we want to be heard. We want our position
to be understood. We do not exclude that our American partners might
reconsider their decision. We are not imposing anything on anyone. But
we are proceeding from common sense and think that everyone else could
also use their common s ense. But if this does not take place then
we will absolve ourselves from the responsibility of our retaliatory
steps because we are not initiating what is certainly growing into
a new arms race in Europe. And we want everybody to understand very
clearly that we are not going to bear responsibility for this arms
race. For example, when they try to shift this responsibility to
us in connection with our efforts to improve our strategic nuclear
weapons. We did not initiate the withdrawal from the Anti-Ballistic
Missile Treaty. But what response did we give when we discussed this
issue with our American partners? We said that we do not have the
resources and desire to establish such a system. But as professionals
we both understand that a missile defence system for one side and
no such a system for the other creates an illusion of security and
increases the possibility of a nuclear conflict.

I am speaking purely theoretically – this has no personal dimension. It
is destroying the strategic equilibrium in the world. In order to
restore that balance without setting up a missile defence system we
will have to create a system to overcome missile defence, and this
is what we are doing now.

At that point our partners said: "there’s nothing wrong, we are not
enemies, we are not going to work against one another". We would point
out that we are simply answering them: "we warned you, we talked about
this, you answered us a certain way. So we are going to do what we
said we would". And if they put a missile defence system in Europe –
and we are warning this today – there will be retaliatory measures. We
need to ensure our security.

And we are not the proponents of this process.

And, finally, the last thing. Again I would not want you to suffer
from the illusion that we have fallen out of love with anyone. But I
sometimes think to myself: why are they doing all this? Why are our
American partners trying so obstinately to deploy a missile defence
system in Europe when – and this is perfectly obvious – it is not
needed to defend against Iranian or – even more obvious – North Korean
missiles? (We all know where North Korea is and the kind of range
these missiles would need to have to be able to reach Europe.) So it
is clearly not against them and it is clearly not against us because
it is obvious to everyone that Russia is not preparing to attack
anybody. Then why? Is it perhaps to ensure that we carry out these
retaliatory measures? And to prevent a further rapprochement between
Russian and Europe? If this is the case (and I am not claiming so, but
it is a possibility), then I believe that this would be yet another
mistake because that is not the way to improve international peace
and security.

DER SPIEGEL: A short additional question: would you be prepared to
consider the possibility of deploying a similar, Russian missile
defence system somewhere near the United States, for example in Cuba?

VLADIMIR PUTIN: You know, I should have talked about this, but you
brought it up before me. We are not planning any such thing and,
as is well-known, we just recently dismantled our bases in Cuba. At
the same time that the Americans are building new ones in Europe,
in Romania and in Bulgaria. We dismantled them because after the fall
of the Soviet Union our foreign policy changed a great deal because
Russian society itself changed. We do not want a confrontation, we
want cooperation. And we do not need bases close to anyone and we
are not planning anything of the kind. That is the first thing.

The second. Basically, as a rule, modern weapons systems don’t need
such bases. These are generally political decisions.

NIKKEI: I am the only representative here from Asia. I would like to
ask about your Asian policy. What is your general position towards
Asian countries?

It is possible that you will not like the question but I must
nevertheless ask about the Northern Territories and the dispute
between Japan and Russia.

I just heard from colleagues from Tokyo that Japan and Russia are
going to hold a summit on 7 June 200 7. And Prime Minister Abe will
evidently raise the issue of the Northern Territories. He has already
said very clearly that he wants to make a final decision on this issue
with you, Mr Putin. And this means that before the end of your term
you will somehow need to address this issue. What is your response
to his political intentions?

VLADIMIR PUTIN: As you know, a significant portion of Russian territory
is in Asia. The Asian continent is developing extremely quickly and
holds great interest for us, especially in economic terms. It is not
only interesting because we have a great deal of energy resources,
something that Asian countries lack, and therefore the possibility to
cooperate in the energy sector. There are also broader possibilities
for cooperation. We believe that we have things to talk about and
room to cooperate in the high-tech sector. We very much expect that
this cooperation will help us develop the Asian part of Russia. Over
the past 15 years we have witnessed difficulties in this region,
including the depopulation of these territories. We are now adopting
programmes to develop these Russian regions and intend to pay the
closest possible attention to them. This is all associated with our
interest in our Asian partners.

You probably know that our trade with both China and Japan is
growing. I think that last year it grew by almost 60 per cent. Japanese
investors are coming to the Russian market and not only in the Far
East – also to the European part of Russia. We welcome this interest
in developing cooperation between our countries.

As to the so-called disputed islands that you mentioned. We do
not consider them disputed because this situation was a result of
the Second World War and was confirmed in international law and
international documents. But we understand our Japanese partners’
motives. We want to dispose of all the arguments from the past and
look for a way forward on this issue together with Japan.

I would like to point out that my own impression is that recently
there has been less rhetoric on this issue and the discussion has
become more business-like and profound. We welcome this. And I would
like to say once again that even the Soviet Union showed a great
deal of flexibility on this issue in its time and in 1956 signed a
declaration according to which two islands were to remain within the
Soviet Union and two would go to Japan.

The Supreme Council ratified this declaration as did Japan. And as
a matter of fact, this document should have come into force. But our
Japanese partners suddenly renounced the document even though they had
already ratified it. It goes without saying that in such conditions
it is difficult to find a mutually acceptable solution. However, we
are determined to work with you towards finding one. And I am looking
forward to meeting with my Japanese colleague in Heiligendamm. I
hope that we will be able to talk about this issue especially since
consultations at the working, expert level have not stopped. On the
contrary, they have intensified recently.

THE TIMES: Today the British media are mainly interested in two issues
concerning Russia. The first is the Litvinenko case. And the second
is BP and Shell’s experience in Russia.

I would like to ask you two questions. First, are there circumstances
in which Russia would agree to Britain’s request to extradite Lugovoi?

And the second question. In light of BP and Shell’s experience in
Russia, should British companies invest in Russia?

VLADIMIR PUTIN: Are there circumstances in which Russia would extradite
Lugovoi? There are. The Constitution of the Russian Federation would
have to change. That is the first thing.

Second. Even if the Constitution were to be amended, one would need,
of course, valid reasons to do so. Based on the information I received
from the Prosecutor General the British party has not yet provided
us with sufficient grounds to do so. There is a request for the
extradition of Mr Lugovoi but no materials documenting the grounds on
which we should do so. As diplomats say, this request has no substance:
it is not supported by the materials that constitute the grounds on
which our British colleagues asked us to extradite Lugovoi.

Finally, the third thing. As you know a criminal investigation into
Litvinenko’s death is proceeding in Britain. And if our law enforcement
agencies gather enough evidence to take anyone to court, if there
is enough material in connection with any citizen of the Russian
Federation to bring this evidence to court, this will certainly be
done. And I very much hope that our British colleagues will assist
us effectively. Not simply by demanding the extradition of Lugovoi
but also by sending enough evidence so that we could put the case
before a court. We will do this in Russia and convict any person
found guilty of Litvinenko’s murder.

And now about the request itself. I have very mixed feelings about
this request. If the people who sent this request did not know
that the Russian Constitution prohibits the extradition of Russian
citizens to foreign countries then their level of competency must
certainly be questioned. In general the heads of such high-ranking
law enforcement agencies should know this. And if they do not
know this then their place is not in law enforcement agencies but
somewhere else. In parliament, for example, or in journalism. But on
the other hand, if they did know this but made the request anyways,
then it is just a publicity stunt. In other words, you can look at
the problem from any way but in all cases you see stupidity. I do
not see any positive aspects to what was done. If they did not know
then they are incompetent and we have doubts about what they have
been doing there. And if they did know and did it anyway then that
is pure politics.

Both options are bad.

One last point. I think that after the British government allowed
a significant number of criminals, thieves and terrorists to gather
in Britain they created an environment which endangers the lives and
health of British citizens. And all responsibility for this lies with
the British side.

Shell. I would like to clarify the issue. What are you interested in
with respect to Shell and BP? Shell in Sakhalin, is that right?

THE TIMES: Yes, it is a question about Sakhalin, about BP’s
permit. Will it be necessary to renounce the permit or they may still
expect to keep it?

VLADIMIR PUTIN: Have you seen the original agreement? Have you ever
read it?


VLADIMIR PUTIN: Did you like what was written? You know, that is a
colonial treaty that has absolutely nothing to do with the interests
of the Russian Federation. I can only regret that in the early 1990s
the Russian officials allowed such incidents to take place, incidents
for which they should have been put in prison. Implementing this
treaty resulted in a situation in which, for a long period of time,
Russia allowed its natural resources to be exploited and received
nothing in return. Almost nothing at all. But if our partners had been
fulfilling their obligations correctly then we certainly would have had
no chance to rectify the situation. But they are guilty of violating
environmental laws and this is a generally accepted fact that is
supported with objective data. And I must say that our partners do not
even deny it. Environmental experts have corroborated this evidence.

Incidentally, Gazprom has received various proposals from its partners
to join the project even earlier, before any environmental scandal,
but refused to do so. But after the environmental problems arose and
there was the threat of fines, I believe that Gazprom’s entry quite
simply saved the project.

And, finally, one last point. Gazprom did not simply act as a result of
our pressure and take something away, Gazprom paid a huge sum of money
to enter the project – 8 billion USD. That is a market price. And, as
far as I understood, the partners working on the project were satisfied
because all the terms and conditions of the treaty are being met and
no one is questioning this treaty’s purpose. Our foreign partners are
r eceiving all the resources that they had planned to receive from
this project. And I think that this is a good example of cooperation
and our responsibility even in the face of situations that arose in
the early 1990s, situations that were clearly beyond the pale of law.

As to BP, you know that every country has certain rules about working
in the subsoil. These rules exist in Russia as well. If anyone
believes that they do not need to observe such rules in Russia, they
are mistaken. And this does not only concern BP. If you are referring
to the Kovyktinskoye deposit – and you evidently have this in mind
– in addition to BP there are also Russian companies participating
in the project. And this does not only affect BP but also about Mr
Wechselberg’s company and Mr Potanin’s company.

They are all Russian economic residents. And for that reason the affair
is not limited to BP, to a foreign partner, but to all shareholders
that have committed to developing this deposit and, unfortunately,
have failed to comply with the terms of their permit. They have not
yet started to develop it. According to the permit’s conditions they
should have already begun extraction last year. And not simply begun
but also extracted a certain amount of gas. Unfortunately, they have
not done so.

And one can find a huge number of reasons for this, including that it
was necessary to be part of a pipeline system. But they already knew
this when they applied for a permit. They knew about these problems
and potential limitations. And they nevertheless went ahead and got
a permit. I am not even going to talk about how they obtained this
permit. We will let it rest in the conscience of those who did this
at the beginning of the 1990s.

But I would like to draw your attention to the fact that the gas
reserves in the field amount to some 3 trillion cubic metres. To
understand the volume and importance for Russia, one might say that
this is equivalent to almost all of Canada’s reserves. But if the
participants in this consortium are not doing anything to use their
permit, how long should we wait?

Obviously the Ministry of Natural Resources raised the issue of
withdrawing the permit. Even though, as you can see, negotiations are
going on and I don’t know what they will end with. I don’t know what
decision the Natural Resources Ministry and the company shareholders
will make. I deliberately say company shareholders because if you talk
about the company BP, and not simply about the Russian part of the
corporation that was preparing to develop the Kovyktinskoye deposit,
then to a large or a significant degree its deposits in the world
are increasing at Russia’s expense. And if you talk with the past or
present BP leadership they will confirm this.

Moreover, 25 per cent of BP’s revenues come from its activities in
the Russian Federation. We welcome the company’s participation in the
Russian economy and will continue to support and help companies but
we want their activities to be executed within existing legislation.

KOMMERSANT: Vladimir Vladimirovich, in my opinion, recently Russia’s
relations with the West are developing at a catastrophic speed. If
you examine them then you see that everything is very bad and going
from bad to worse: the energy dialogue is frozen, no one is even
talking about the Energy Charter, the arms race is proceeding. And
you acknowledge it yourself. Yesterday you said that, yes, there is an
arms race – you used precisely those words. And there is a new word in
your vocabulary that was not there before, the word imperialism. That
is a word from Soviet times.

American imperialism and Israeli militarism were both terms
that you must remember. And they were countered only by Soviet
peace initiatives, as they are now countered by Russian peace
initiatives. I would like to ask: do you not think it is possible to
talk about certain compromises, to engage in compromises, to look even
occasionally, even for show, at public opinion in Europe, in America
and, finally, in Russia? Do you not think that this present course
is leading nowhere? It is becoming, even gaining new strength with,
this arms race, with these missiles of ours. To what purpose?

VLADIMIR PUTIN: Frankly, I find this question quite strange and

An arms race really is unfolding. Well, was it we who withdrew from
the ABM Treaty? We must react to what our partners do. We already told
them two years ago, "don’t do this, you don’t need to do this. What
are you doing?

You are destroying the system of international security. You must
understand that you are forcing us to take retaliatory steps." They
said: "okay, no problem, go ahead. We are not enemies. Do what you want
to." I think that this was based on the illusion that Russia would have
nothing to answer with. But we warned them. No, they did not listen
to us. Then we heard about them developing low-yield nuclear weapons
and they are continuing to develop these charges. We understand in the
rocks where bin Laden is hiding it might be necessary to, shall we say,
destroy some of his asylum. Yes, such an objective probably exists.

But perhaps it would be better to look for other ways and means to
resolve the problem rather than create low-yield nuclear weapons, lower
the threshold for using nuclear weapons, and thereby put humankind
on the brink of nuclear catastrophe. But they are not listening to
us. We are saying: do not deploy weapons in space. We don’t want to do
that. No, it continues: "whoever is not with us is against us". What
is that? Is it a dialogue or a search for compromise? The entire
dialogue can be summed up by: whoever is not with us is against us.

I talked about how we implemented the ACAF, the Conventional Armed
Forces in Europe Treaty. We really have implemented it; I wasn’t
inventing anything.

And there are inspection groups that come, they go onsite, our western
partners check and see everything. We implemented it. And in response
we get bases and a missile defence system in Europe. So what should
we do?

You talked about public opinion. Public opinion in Russia is in
favour of us ensuring our security. Where can you find a public in
favour of the idea that we must completely disarm, and then perhaps,
according to theorists such as Zbignew Brzezinski, that we must divide
our territory into three or four parts.

If such a public did exist, I would argue with it. I was not elected
President of the Russian Federation to put my country on the brink
of disaster. And if this equilibrium in the world is finally broken
then it will be a catastrophe not only for Russia but also for the
whole world.

Some people have the illusion that you can do everything just as you
want, irregardless of the interests of other people. Of course it
is for precisely this reason that the international situation gets
worse and eventually results in an arms race as you pointed out. But
we are not the instigators.

We do not want it. Why would we want to divert resources to this? And
we are not jeopardising our relations with anyone. But we must respond.

Name even one step that we have taken or one action of ours designed
to worsen the situation. There are none. We are not interested in
that. We are interested in having a good atmosphere, environment and
energy dialogue around Russia.

We already talked about how we subsidized countries, the former
republics of the Soviet Union, by providing them with cheap energy
for 15 years. Why did we need to do that, where is the logic, what
is the justification for this?

We subsidised Ukraine for 15 years, by three to five billion dollars
a year.

Just think about it! Who else in the world does this? And our actions
are not politicized. They are not political actions.

The very best example and proof of this – and I talked about this
recently at a press conference – is the Baltic countries that we also
subsidised for all these years. When we realised that the Baltic
states were engaging in honest economic relations with us and that
they were ready to transfer to world, to European pricing, then we met
them half way. We said: "fine. We are g oing to continue to deliver
energy to you at discounted prices. Let’s agree on a timetable for
a transition to European prices". We agreed with them and signed
the relevant documents. Within three years they had gently overcome
the transition to European pricing. Even considering the fact that
we did not have a border treaty with Latvia and there was a serious
political disagreement on this issue, until last year Latvia received
cheap Russian gas and, as a whole, the gas Latvia received in 2006 was
about a third cheaper then what it was for, for example, Germany. Ask
the Latvian Prime Minister and he will confirm this.

When the Ukrainian question arose then we were told that this was a
political decision and they accused us of supporting Lukashenko’s
regime, a regime that western countries are not very fond of. We
said : "listen, first of all, we cannot simply declare war on all
fronts. Secondly, we are planning to transfer to market pricing with
all of our partners. The time will come when we do this with Belarus as
well". We did this. Yet once we had done so the noise began, including
in the western media: what are we doing there, why are we harming
small Belarus? Is this a fair and admirable attitude towards Russia? We
switched to one pricing regime with all the countries of the Caucasus:
with Georgia – with whom we do not have very good political relations –
and with Armenia, with whom we have excellent relations and a strategic
alliance. Yes, we have heard a lot of criticism including from our
Armenian partners but at the end of the day we were able to understand
one another and find a way forward. They could not pay the entire price
with liquid and therefore are paying in physical assets. With live,
real assets and all of this is formalised on paper. No one can accuse
us of politicizing these issues. We are not preparing to spend huge
amounts of money subsidising other countries’ economies. We are ready
to develop integration on the territory of the former Soviet Union,
but it must be integration on an equal footing. But you know, they are
coming closer and closer to our interests and everyone is increasingly
expecting that we are not going to defend these interests. If we want
order and international law to prevail in the international arena
then we must respect this law and the interests of all members of
the international community. That is all.

KOMMERSANT: When I mentioned public opinion in Russia I was referring
to the fact that, as I understand it, public opinion in Russia would
be strongly opposed to a new arms race after the one the Soviet
Union lost.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: And I am also against an arms race. I am opposed to any
kind of arms race but I would like to quickly draw your attention to
something I said in last year’s Address [to the Federal Assembly]. We
have learned from the Soviet Union’s experience and we will not be
drawn into an arms race that anyone imposes on us. We will not respond
symmetrically, we will respond with other methods and means that are
no less effective. This is called an asymmetrical response.

The United States are building a huge and costly missile defence system
which will cost dozens and dozens of billions of dollars. We said:
"no, we are not going to be pulled into this race. We will construct
systems that will be much cheaper yet effective enough to overcome
the missile defence system and therefore maintain the balance of power
in the world." And we are going to proceed this way in the future.

Moreover, I want to draw your attention to the fact that, despite
our retaliatory measures, the volume of our defence expenditures as a
percentage of GDP is not growing. They were 2,7 per cent of GDP and
will remain so. We are planning the same amount of defence spending
for the next 5 to 10 years.

This is fully in line with the average expenditures of NATO
countries. This amount is not more than their average defence
expenditures and in some cases it is even lower than that of
NATO member countries. And we can use our competitive advantages
which include quit e advanced military-industrial capabilities
and the intellectual capacities of those who work in our military
complex. There are good results and good people. In any case, much
of this has been preserved, and we will do everything possible in
order not only to maintain but also to develop this potential.

CORRERE DELLA SERA: Mr President, two more points about the strategic
balance in Europe. I would like to ask you whether you think that
the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) is presently at
risk and if it could lose force judging by what happened to the ACAF?

And the second point. You said that you do not want to participate in
an arms race. But if the United States continues building a strategic
shield in Poland and the Czech Republic, will we not return to the
situation and times in which the former Soviet Union’s nuclear forces
were focused on European cities, on European targets?

VLADIMIR PUTIN: Certainly. Of course we will return to those times. And
it is clear that if part of the United States’ nuclear capability is
situated in Europe and that our military experts consider that they
represent a potential threat then we will have to take appropriate
retaliatory steps.

What steps? Of course we must have new targets in Europe. And
determining precisely which means will be used to destroy the
installations that our experts believe represent a potential threat
for the Russian Federation is a matter of technology. Ballistic or
cruise missiles or a completely new system. I repeat that it is a
matter of technology.

CORRIERE DELLA SERA: And what about the INF Treaty?

VLADIMIR PUTIN: The Treaty on intermediate-range nuclear forces is
a broader problem and not directly related to the United States’
missile defence system.

The issue at hand is that only the US and Russia are prevented from
developing intermediate-range missiles and, meanwhile, a lot of other
countries are doing so. I already talked about this. They include
Israel, Pakistan, Iran and North Korea. If this were a comprehensive
agreement then it would be clear that all must abide by it. But
when almost all countries in the world are developing or planning to
develop these missiles, I do not quite understand why there should
be limits for either the United States or Russia.

We have non-proliferation agreements. That is clear. These agreements
are comprehensive. We find it difficult but until now we have kept the
world from taking any steps that might exacerbate the situation or,
God forbid, result in disaster.

And I repeat that these agreements are not comprehensive with respect
to intermediate-range missiles, so we certainly do think about what
we need to do to ensure our safety. I repeat that many countries are
doing this, including our neighbours.

And I want to emphasise again that this has nothing to do with the
United States’ plans to deploy a missile defence system in Europe. But
we will find answers to both threats.

LE FIGARO: Mr President, at the G8 summit you will meet with the newly
elected President Sarkozy. You had a close working relationship with
President Chirac, the former President of France. How do you imagine
relations between Russia and France developing during the Sarkozy
presidency, since Mr Sarkozy is regarded as a friend of America’s
and expected to focus his foreign policy on human rights?

VLADIMIR PUTIN: You know, I would be very happy if someone
were to focus on the problem of human rights. I just read Amnesty
International’s report and there are many issues that apply not only to
Russia but also to our partners, including within the G8. The criticism
is very harsh: issues such as violations of the rights of the media,
torture, police that mistreat detainees, migration legislation. I
think that we should all pay attention to these issues.

And I can only be happy if someone is a friend of the United States
because we also think of ourselves as friends of the United States. I
say that without exaggeration even though you could perhaps find a
contradiction in light of the fact that we are now discussing problems
such as missile defence, the ACAF and others so heatedly. It may not
seem convincing but it is the case. Our relations are very different
then, shall we say, 20 or even 15 years ago. And when the US President
says that we are no longer enemies I not only believe him but I feel
the same way myself. Because the issue is not limited to who is whose
friend and which friendship is stronger. The issue at hand is how to
strengthen the present system of international security, what we need
to do to attain this, and what is preventing us from doing so. And in
this respect we have different positions and different opinions. We
have one point of view, our American partners have another.

As far as I was able to tell when Mr Sarkozy made one of his first
public statements, he stressed that he was indeed a friend of the
United States.

But along with this he said that that did not mean that we must
agree on everything, and our friends have to admit that on a range of
questions we can have our own views. I can only welcome this because
I personally have taken exactly the same approach. And I do not see
anything unusual here if we express our views and defend a position
on a given issue. How is that unusual?

On the question of our relations with France, they run deep, there
are mutual political interests, common interests. We have similar
positions on many international issues. There is a large amount of
economic cooperation and, most importantly, very high potential further
cooperation. All this creates a good basis for the development of
future relations. I very much hope that this will take place. In any
case, during the conversation I had with the newly elected President
of France on the phone, we spoke of how the French leadership intended
to embark on similar positive work. We have scheduled a meeting with
the President of France in Germany during the G8, we shall get to know
each other. I think that we will establish good working and personal
relations. In any case, I would very much like to do so and we will
work hard to achieve this.

LE FIGARO: Let me ask you a question about gas. It concerns developing
the Shtokman deposit with Gazprom. Gazprom has decided to develop the
Shtokman deposit on its own, without the consortium. And, as you know,
this is a test of the investment climate in Russia. Do you think that
there is any possibility that Western oil companies will be involved
in this project?

VLADIMIR PUTIN: Gazprom did not say that there will be no consortium.

Gazprom did announce that it will develop the deposit by itself. These
are still things we have to separate. Gazprom will be the sole
developer and have sole ownership, but this does not mean that Gazprom
does not intend to try to work with foreign partners in fields such as
mining. And if we do engage in gas liquification then Gazprom will be
ready to continue to engage in broad cooperation with foreign partners,
including in the design and construction of a plant to liquefy gas,
in distri bution and in se lling gas.

THE GLOBE AND MAIL: Rumours suggesting that Russia should no longer be
a member of the G8 continue to circulate. They say that your country
is moving away from the values of liberal democracy, has been unable
to improve its record in terms of political freedom, transparency,
the development of human rights, and so forth. People are saying
that part of the Russian economy has moved away from the principles
of free economy and is now back in the hands of the state. According
to this point of view, your country might no longer be considered as
belonging to the ranks of industrialised countries that make up the G8.

How do you respond to such assertions?

VLADIMIR PUTIN: I would say that this is the usual stupidity and
perhaps motivated by a desire to draw attention to oneself, perhaps to
gain some political goals, aggravate problems, or to attract special
attention to these issues. We ourselves did not ask to join the G8. It
was offered to us and we are delighted to be there.

Russia, as you know, is changing and changing very rapidly. Measured in
economic terms we are now ninth in the world and by some indicators
have already overtaken certain G8 countries. If we consider the
magnitude of the economy in a certain way then we have already
overtaken some of the G8 countries.

Russia has enormous gold and currency reserves, the third largest in
the world. Russia has very sound macroeconomic policies and thereby
influences the global financial market. Maybe this is not very
significant degree today, but nevertheless important.

Russia is one of the leading players in international energy policy. I
said last year that we had moved into first place as an oil producer,
ahead of everybody. And we have already been ranked as the largest
producer of natural gas for a long time. Russia’s role and significance
in the energy sector are increasing and will continue to grow.

After all, Russia is one of the biggest nuclear powers. Let us not
forget that Russia is one of the founding members of the United
Nations and a permanent member of the Security Council.

If someone wants to turn the G8 into an exclusive club for a few
members who will try to resolve humanity’s problems among themselves,
I think that no good will come of it.

On the contrary, we are presently examining the idea of extending the
G8 club with a view to involving other countries more systematically in
the G8: China, India, Brazil, Mexico and the Republic of South Africa.

Let us not be hypocritical about democratic freedoms and human
rights. I already said that I have a copy of Amnesty International’s
report including on the United States. There is probably no need to
repeat this so as not to offend anyone. If you wish, I shall now report
how the United States does in all this. We have an expression that is
perhaps difficult to translate but it means that one can always have
plenty to say about others. Amnesty International has concluded that
the United States is now the principal violator of human rights and
freedoms worldwide. I have the quote here, I can show you. And there
is argumentation behind it.

There are similar claims about Great Britain, France or the Federal
Republic of Germany. The same could be said of Russia. But let us not
forget that other countries in the G8 have not experienced the dramatic
transformations that the Russian Federation has undergone. They have
not experienced a civil war, which we, in fact, had in the Caucasus.

And yet we have preserved many of the so-called common values even
better than some other G8 countries. Despite serious conflicts
in the Caucasus, we have not abandoned our moratorium on the death
penalty. And, as we know, in some G8 countries this penalty is applied
quite consistently and strictly enforced.

So I think that such discussions are certainly possible, but I am
sure they have no serious justification.

Let me say again that, as far as I know, the German presidency of
the G8 wants to formulate rules for dealing with some of the major
economies of the world on an ongoing basis. I have already listed
these countries and we certainly support our German partners. I think
this initiative is absolutely valid.

THE GLOBE AND MAIL: A follow-up question. You talked about the problems
of a unipolar world. Have you considered the possibility of creating
some kind of alliance, some formal relations between countries, which
could be seen as an alternative pole in the system of international

VLADIMIR PUTIN: I think it would be a dead end, the wrong way to go
about development. We advocate a multipolar world. We believe that
it should be diverse and respect the interests of the overwhelming
majority of the international community. We must create these rules
and learn to respect these rules.

DER SPIEGEL: Mr President, former Federal Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder
called you a ‘pure democrat’. Do you consider yourself such?

VLADIMIR PUTIN: (laughs) Am I a ‘pure democrat’? Of course I am,

But do you know what the problem is? Not even a problem but a real

The problem is that I’m all alone, the only one of my kind in the whole
wide world. Just look at what’s happening in North America, it’s simply
awful: torture, homeless people, Guantanamo, people detained without
trial and investigation. Just look at what’s happening in Europe:
harsh treatment of demonstrators, rubber bullets and tear gas used
first in one capital then in another, demonstrators killed on the
streets. That’s not even to mention the post-Soviet area. Only the
guys in Ukraine still gave hope, but they’ve completely discredited
themselves now and things are moving towards total tyranny there;
complete violation of the Constitution and the law and so on.

There is no one to talk to since Mahatma Gandhi died.

DER SPIEGEL: And your country is not moving at all back towards a
totalitarian regime?

VLADIMIR PUTIN: There is no truth in that. Do not believe what
you hear.

DER SPIEGEL: You had very close relations with Gerhard Schroeder. Do
you think that Angela Merkel, the new chancellor, is more inclined
to seek contact with the United States rather than with Russia?

VLADIMIR PUTIN: Every person and every politician chooses their own
style of behaviour and sets their own priorities. I do not have the
impression that there has been any worsening of our relations with
Germany. For all my good relations with Gerhard Schroeder, I can say
that I have also established very good and businesslike relations with
Ms Merkel. Yes, she shows more persistence in some areas. She is very
happy to fight for Polish meat, for example. As I have already said,
she does not want to eat it herself: we all know that a delivery of
Polish meat was seized in Berlin. But when it comes to the key issues,
the questions of principle, there are no problems between us that
could get in the way of developing the ties between our countries.

We have very pragmatic and consistent relations and we see that there
is continuity with regard to the previous government’s policy when
it comes to relations with Russia.

KOMMERSANT: Vladimir Vladimirovich, this is perhaps more of a local,
specific matter, but I think the issue is nevertheless important. Our
newspaper has been writing over the last few days about the fact that,
two days ago, the Federal Customs Service banned biological materials
from being taken out of the country. It is quite simply not letting
them out of the country.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: What are these biological materials?

KOMMERSANT: Samples of biological materials, things such as blood
samples, pieces of human tissue, material that is needed for carrying
out quality analysis in the West where there are large-scale data
bases. This is needed in order to establish the most accurate
diagnosis for people in Russia who have cancer, for example,
and in order, ultimately, to be able to operate on them and help
them. But the customs service is not letting these samples out of the
country. Various explanati ons are being circulated as to why this is
so, but facts remains facts. The Federal Customs Service even issued
a statement today saying that some rules would soon be drawn up on
this matter. But the samples are already not being allowed out of
the country.

What is your view on this matter?

VLADIMIR PUTIN: It is hard for me to say exactly because I do not
know very much about this. I think that rules should be drawn up, and
the Health Ministry should take part in this work. You say that these
samples are sent abroad in order to help people, but my question in
this case is: who has been helped through this and what help have they
actually received? Are there any statistics? I do not have any such
statistics and, overall, I have my doubts as to whether anyone has been
specifically helped through these biological samples being sent abroad.

KOMMERSANT: Getting a correct diagnosis is already a form of help,
and it is these international data bases abroad that are used to
establish the correct diagnosis.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: And where is this diagnosis? Show me statistics
proving that someone has received the correct diagnosis as a result
of this work?

KOMMERSANT: We can show you these statistics.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: Send them to me then. But one should be working
with the Health Ministry on all of this. All countries have rules
on issues such as organs, tissues and so on being taken out of the
country. This is a sensitive issue and any civilised country should
have some rules in this area, Russia too. I do not know all the
details of this issue, but rules will be put in place and we will
all work within their framework.

KOMMERSANT: But perhaps the border could be opened again while the
rules are being drafted? Perhaps the previous rules could continue
to be applied over this period?

VLADIMIR PUTIN: There are no previous rules. If there had been a set
of rules, it would be possible to say whether or not violations have
taken place, but there simply was no previous set of rules. Now we
need to take steps to bring order to this situation and the Health
Ministry’s specialists need to get involved in this work and set out
their position.

NIKKEI: Asian people see Russia through the prism of relations with
the United States and Europe. I think that we need to look at Russia
directly as an Asian country because Russia is a big country and a
substantial part of its territory lies in Asia. Now, we are seeing
economic growth in Asia taking place at a pace that would have been
hard to imagine in the past.

The Asian countries are all growing very fast. Japan has entered a new
period of growth and China, of course, is one of the fastest-growing
countries. Various bilateral agreements on trade preferences and so on
have been signed in Asia alongside the multilateral agreements. Russia
is also showing rapid economic growth. How do you plan to take part
in the Asian region’s dynamic development and how do you plan to work
within the six-party group? Why not make use of the possibilities
investment cooperation offers as a form of cooperation?

VLADIMIR PUTIN: Could you specify which six-party group you are
referring to?

NIKKEI: The six-party talks on resolving the situation in North Korea.

Russia is one of the parties in these negotiations, the aim of which
is to resolve the North Korean issue. How do you plan to play a more
active part in this process?

VLADIMIR PUTIN: We are actively involved in the six-party negotiations
on the North Korean nuclear issue. You have probably been able to
see for yourself that our position on this complex issue is very
productive, and our position has indeed helped to achieve positive
results in this area. We have always taken the view that we need
to avoid anything that could drive the negotiations into deadlock,
and that we need to take North Korea’s interests into account and
work towards agreements that all sides can accept. China has worked
very hard, of course, to help achieve a positive outcome. I think
that all the parties in this process have shown goodwill and have
demonstrated that, despite the seriousness of the problem, they all
seek an agreement and are willing to look for compromise solutions
that can always be found. We will continue our work in this area.

Regarding Asia as a whole, I have already said that Asia is one
of our priorities. We will work together within the international
organizations and we already take part in many Asian forums and will
continue to participate in their work.

As for economic matters, if we take the energy issue, one of the
most pressing problems, you know that we are already building an oil
pipeline to the Pacific coast and we are looking at building a gas
pipeline as well.

Active work is underway on plans to build a gas pipeline to China
and also to the Pacific coast.

We will also continue to work together in other sectors, in the
high-technology sector and in military-technical cooperation. We will
develop multilateral cooperation with Asia.

THE TIMES: Tony Blair has finally decided to give his support to
Gordon Brown to become the new prime minister. Do you think this is
the right choice? For your part, who would you like to see as the
next President of Russia?

VLADIMIR PUTIN: If you are hinting at Gordon Brown, for all the
respect I have for him, he is not likely to become President of
Russia. (Laughter).

The Labour Party’s choice is not our affair. We know Gordon Brown to
be a top-class specialist and I hope that if he does indeed become
prime minister the positive results obtained over recent years will
be taken into account and we will be able to develop further our
relations with the United Kingdom. We have many common interests
in a wide variety of areas. Tony and I have discussed this on many
occasions. We have discussed our cooperation and the prospects for
work together between the Russian and British governments.

I remember what a warm welcome I received when I made a state visit
to the United Kingdom. All of these things have so many positive
elements that can help us to continue moving forward. As for the
decisions taken within the Labour Party, we will of course agree with
its decision and will work with our new partners whoever they may be.

As for Russia, unlike in the United Kingdom, where the prime minister
is chosen within a political party, the President here is elected by
Russian voters through direct secret ballot.

THE TIMES: But even so, what kind of person would you like to see,
and what kind of qualities should they have?

VLADIMIR PUTIN: I would like to see above all someone who is decent and
honest, someone with a high level of professionalism and experience
who has already proven themselves and achieved positive results
at regional or federal level. In other words, I would like to see
someone who can inspire confidence in the great majority of Russian
voters through the election campaign and the election process.

SPIEGEL: Could this person be someone who has already been president?

VLADIMIR PUTIN: There has been only one previous President of Russia
-Boris Yeltsin. Today is a day of memory for Boris Yeltsin -the
fortieth day since his passing. There have been no other presidents
of the Russian Federation.

My term in office is coming to an end. I do not even understand what
you are talking about.

WALL STREET JOURNAL: Now that your term in office is coming to an
end, how would you like history to remember your presidency? What
are the main achievements of your presidency you would like to see
remembered? In this respect, which Russian or world leader’s rule
would you like your presidency to be compared to?

VLADIMIR PUTIN: Starting from the end, why make comparisons? The
situation in each historical period and in each country is always
unique in its way and I do not see the need to make comparisons. Time
will pass and the specialists, the public and the experts will
objectively assess what I was able to achieve during these eight
years as President of the Russian Federation.

I think there are things of which I and the people who have worked
with me can feel deservedly proud. They include restoring Russia’s
territorial integrity, strengthening the state, progress towards
establishing a multiparty system, strengthening the parliamentary
system, restoring the Armed Forces’ potential and, of course,
developing the economy. As you know, our economy has been growing by
6.9 per cent a year on average over this time, and our GDP increased
by 7.7 per cent over the first four months of this year alone.

When I began my work in 2000, 30 per cent of our population was living
below the poverty line. There has been a two-fold drop in the number
of people living below the poverty line since then and the figure today
is around 15 per cent. By 2009-2010, we will bring this figure down to
10 per cent, and this will bring us in line with the European average.

We had enormous debts, simply catastrophic for our economy, but we
have paid them off in full now. Not only have we paid our debts, but
we now have the best foreign debt to GDP ratio in Europe. Our gold
and currency reserve figures are well known: in 2000, they stood at
just $12 billion and we had a debt of more than 100 per cent of GDP,
but now we have the third-biggest gold and currency reserves in the
world and they increased by $90 billion over the first four months
of this year alone.

During the 1990s and even in 2000-2001, we had massive capital flight
from Russia with $15 billion, $20 billion or $25 billion leaving the
country every year. Last year we reversed this situation for the
first time and had capital inflow of $41 billion. We have already
had capital inflow of $40 billion over the first four months of this
year. Russia’s stock market capitalisation showed immense growth last
year and increased by more than 50 per cent. This is one of the best
results in the world, perhaps even the best. Our economy was near the
bottom of the list of world economies in terms of size but today it
has climbed to ninth place and in some areas has even overtaken some
of the other G8 countries’ economies. This means that today we are
able to tackle social problems. Real incomes are growing by around 12
per cent a year. Real income growth over the first four months of this
year came to just over 18 per cent, while wages rose by 11-12 per cent.

Looking at the problems we have yet to resolve, one of the biggest
is the huge income gap between the people at the top and the bottom
of the scale.

Combating poverty is obviously one of our top priorities in the
immediate term and we still have to do a lot to improve our pension
system too because the correlation between pensions and the average
wage is still lower here than in Europe. The gap between incomes at the
top and bottom end of the scale is still high here -a 15.6-15.7-fold
difference. This is less than in the United States today (they have
a figure of 15.9) but more than in the UK or Italy (where they have
13.6-13.7). But this remains a big gap for us and fighting poverty
is one of our biggest priorities.

The demographic situation is another priority. We need to do all we
can to change the demographic situation. We have adopted a special
programme in this area. I will not repeat all the programme’s details
now but we are allocating major resources to its implementation and
I am sure that it will achieve results.

On the issue of state-building, we are often criticised for
centralising state power, but few pay attention to the fact that we
have made a whole number of decisions to decentralise state power
and have transferred considerable powers to the regional and, most
importantly, to the municipal authorities.

It was with amazement that I followed the debate in Germany on
what powers to give to the lands. I followed this whole debate with
amazement and saw that we have long since already done all of this. It
would be simply comical in Russia today to hear a debate on giving the
municipal or regional authorities the power to decide , for example,
on the opening and closing of shops and so on. Russian municipalities
have much broader powers than in many European countries, and we
think that this is the right policy.

Unfortunately, we had a situation in which the financial resources
were not available to back these powers, but we are gradually changing
this situation. That is as concerns the general situation in this
area now in Russia, though we still have much work to do.

CORRIERE DELLA SERA: Mr President, I promised my colleagues that I
would keep silent, but I have one more very brief question for you. I
realise that it is Russia’s voters who will elect the next president,
but could you perhaps say something about what you, Vladimir Putin,
will do after your term in office ends?

VLADIMIR PUTIN: I will work, that is for sure, but where and in what
capacity I cannot say at this point. I do have some ideas on this
point but it is early as yet to talk about them. Even under current
Russian law I am still a long way away from retirement age and it
would make no sense to just sit at home and twiddle my thumbs.

But I do not want to talk about my possible future plans at this
point. To be honest, I just do not think it right to get public
opinion all excited over this matter right now. We have to wait and
see how the situation shapes up, how the political process in Russia
progresses over this year and the beginning of next year. There are
a number of different possibilities.

CORRIERE DELLA SERA: I have a second question on Russian foreign
policy. It seems to me that Russian foreign policy does not offer
any real alternative to say US or European foreign policy.

One example is Iran. Of course, Russia does not want Iran to become a
nuclear state, after all, Iran is very close to Russia’s borders. But
what alternative is there to the West’s policy of sanctions, to the
policy the West has pursued, including with Russia’s participation,
in the UN? Do you see any alternative that Russia could put forward?

Kosovo is another example. I know your position on Kosovo, your
position regarding direct negotiations between the Serbs and the
Kosovars. But do you not think that the position you have taken
against Mr Ahtisaari and the UN could actually encourage Kosovo to
unilaterally declare independence?

VLADIMIR PUTIN: Regarding what Russia can propose by way of solutions
to complex or at first glance irresolvable problems, I just spoke
about the North Korean issue with your colleague, Mr Ota. We all know
that despite this problem’s complexity, a solution has been found,
and it is possible to settle issues when, rather than dramatising the
situation and driving things into a dead end, the parties decide to
look for ways out of the deadlock and accept a compromise. Problems
can be solved without having to use threats and armed force, and we
support this method of settling issues.

Regarding Kosovo, you mentioned that we support the idea of dialogue
between Kosovo’s Albanian population and the Serbs. But that does
not fully sum up our position. I would like to say a bit more on
this point.

First, our position is based on the principles of international law,
and one of these main principles is that of a state’s territorial

Second, our position is also based on United Nations Security Council
Resolution 1244, which, I want to stress, was voted for unanimously,
and which no one has repealed. This resolution sets out clearly,
black on white, that Kosovo is an integral part of Serbia.

If we want to place the principle of a people’s right to
self-determination -the principle behind the Soviet Union’s policy
during the time when peoples were struggling to free themselves from
colonialism -above the principle of territorial integrity, this policy
and this decision should be universal and should apply to all parts
of the world, and at least to all parts of Europe.

We are not convinced by our partners’ statements to the effect
that Kosovo is a unique case. There is nothing to suggest that the
case o f Kosovo is any different to that of South Ossetia, Abkhazia
or Trans-Dniester. The Yugoslav communist empire collapsed in one
case and the Soviet communist empire collapsed in the second. Both
cases had their litany of war, victims, criminals and the victims of
crimes. South Ossetia, Abkhazia and Trans-Dniester have been living
essentially as independent states for 15 years now and have elected
parliaments and presidents and adopted constitutions. There is no

We do not understand why we should support one principle in one
part of Europe and follow other principles in other parts of Europe,
denying peoples in the Caucasus, say, the right to self-determination.

I do not rule out that gradual work on the Serbian side could
eventually transform their view on Kosovo. I do not want to speak for
the Serbs, but ongoing and tactful work could result in some kind of
compromise being reached.

I do not understand the need today to force an entire European people
to its knees and humiliate it so that an entire nation will then look
upon those who have brought about this situation as enemies. These
kinds of issues should be settled only through a process of agreement
and compromise, and I think that we have not yet exhausted our
possibilities in this respect.

We are told that there is a need to hurry, but hurry where? What
is taking place to make so urgent to leap about like, excuse the
expression, a flea in a lasso?

CORRIERE DELLA SERA: Could you say a few words about Iran?

VLADIMIR PUTIN: I already said that we were able to settle the North
Korean issue without making any particular threats and without the
use of force.

Why should we not be able to find a solution to the Iranian problem? We
need to keep searching and we need to be patient.

I agree that it is a complex issue. Mr Solana just met in Madrid,
I think with Iranian representatives and the dialogue continues. We
want it to continue in the future. As you can see, we are working
together with all the members of the UN Security Council to look
for mutually acceptable solutions, and we feel the highest degree of
responsibility for this work.

THE TIMES: Can I ask you in this respect: do you agree with President
Bush that it would be unacceptable for Iran to have nuclear weapons?

VLADIMIR PUTIN: I absolutely agree.

LE FIGARO: I would like to respond to your comments on Kosovo. I do not
see any possibility for a compromise solution. Could you explain what
kind of compromise would be possible? A country is either independent
or it is not.

What kind of compromise is possible here?

VLADIMIR PUTIN: If I knew, I would have long since proposed it. We
need to keep looking. This is difficult and complex work. I do
not know. I do not know at the moment. But Montenegro and Serbia,
for example, reached a compromise for a period in their history,
and everyone agreed with it.

That’s just one example. But has it not occurred to you that asserting
the principle of the right to self-determination could set off negative
processes of the kind that Russia encounters, and not just in the
post-Soviet area? It would be hard for us to explain to the different
peoples of the North Caucasus why people in one part of Europe have
this right, but they do not. You have, for example, the situation where
part of the Ossetian people lives in Russia and the other part lives
on Georgian territory and consider themselves an independent state,
and how do we explain to the Ossetians why they cannot enjoy the same
rights as other peoples in Europe, why Albanians are allowed to enjoy
these rights but not Ossetians? This would be impossible to explain.

Furthermore, this decision would encourage separatist movements in
Europe itself. Scotland, as far as I know, plans to hold a referendum
on independence in three years’ time. Similar movements exist in
Catalonia and this process has been going on for a long time now
in the Basque Country. If we dig deeper into the situation in the
Balkans, we see that the Respublika Srpska will want to unite with
Serb ia. Southern Europe has other problems as well. I do not want
even to name all these problems so not to provoke any movements of
this kind, but if you talk with the experts, you see that there are a
whole lot of problems of this kind, and why provoke the situation? I
think this is very harmful and dangerous. If someone wants to play
along with people who for whatever reason are in a rush and say there
is no time, though no time for what it is not clear, then please,
go ahead, but we cannot agree to this.

LE FIGARO: I have another question, on the economy, on Russia’s
wish to participate in European companies, in EADS in particular,
the European aerospace company. What aims is Russia pursuing in this
respect? What can you say to people in Western Europe who are a bit
worried about just what objectives Russia is pursuing in entering
the capital of European companies?

VLADIMIR PUTIN: What is there to be afraid of if Russian companies are
bringing much-needed investment into other European countries? This is
something that should be welcomed, something that should be received
with thanks. Our companies are operating in market conditions. They
are not coming to take anything away from anyone; they are investing,
creating jobs, contributing to economic development. You mentioned
EADS. We know that EADS faces a number of problems, and if we had
reached an agreement on a Russian investor coming in, it would have
perhaps been possible to preserve jobs at Airbus. It would have
perhaps been possible to avoid laying off hundreds of people. I am
just citing this case by way of example. What is there to fear?

I do not see any danger. I see only the possibility to unite our
potential, all the more so as we do have something to offer in the
aviation sector. We have our own problems in this sector but we are
currently in the process of developing a large holding and we do
have something to offer, interesting projects and developments. We
have the Be-200 fire-fighting aircraft, for example, which is unique
in its class. There is no other such plane in the world. We saw how
southern Europe’s forests have been so badly affected by fires over
these last years. Why not use this plane?

I realise that Russian manufacturers would establish their hold on
certain segments of the market, but I have no doubt that the sector
in Europe in general would only benefit from this process.

Let’s be frank too, competition is tough. The global market is
monopolised by two or three players -US and European -competing
fiercely against each other. But if the Europeans do not want us to
work with them, we will look for partners elsewhere. In some areas
of the aircraft manufacturing market we will always work together
with someone or other. Boeing already has a bureau in Moscow that
carried out a huge amount of work on the development of Boeing’s
latest aircraft. There are things we could work on together, and as
I said, this work could be productive and could help to make us all
more competitive.

As for other investment, in the energy sector, for example, if
Gazprom or any other of our energy companies gain a stake in the gas
distribution networks, it will be very much in their interests to
ensure that these networks are filled with gas, and what could be
bad about that? Everyone would stand to benefit.

We have agreed with our German partners to build the North-European
Gas Pipeline. People see this, for some reason, as bypassing other
countries, but it is not at all about bypassing any other country,
rather, it is simply about establishing an additional route to
transport energy resources to Europe. We are not shutting off
or cutting back anything, we are simply building an additional
transport route. The two sides have stakes of 49 and 51 per cent
in this pipeline. Germany is allowing us to enter the networks on
its territory, and we are allowing them to take part in production
activity on our territory. This means that German consumers can be
confident about future production and supply volumes and about the
quality of the work carried out. This raises the level of energy
security in Europe and reassures market participants that everything
will work with reliable precision, like a watch.

Yes, we are interested in cooperation in the high-technology
sectors. The old COCOM lists were formally abolished but many
restrictions remain in place today and we think this is an obstacle
to global economic development, a harmful obstacle that does not
at all reflect the current state of international relations. These
restrictions are a relic of the past and they should be lifted. Our
businesspeople acquired a 25 or 30-per cent stake in a major Austrian
construction company, say, and are now bringing this company onto
our construction market. They have the possibility of carrying out
joint work for a total of $25 billion over the next 14 years in just
one place in Russia alone, and what could possibly be bad in this for
the company in question? It has guaranteed itself work for the next
14 years and will build a new residential district in Yekaterinburg.

CORRIERE DELLA SERA: Can the same be said about Aeroflot?

VLADIMIR PUTIN: If Aeroflot, as a commercial company, reaches an
agreement on cooperation with Al Italia, and Al Italia considers
this expedient and profitable, we will welcome it. We intend to help
Aeroflot improve its position in Russia, but the company will operate
as an equal player on the market and we will not give it any special
preference. If our partners in Italy think it would make economic
sense for them to unite forces with Aeroflot on markets, passenger
and freight transport, ticket distribution and other services, we
would only welcome this.

WALL STREET JOURNAL: Don’t you think that there is discrimination
against Russian companies in the West? Do you think they are not
being welcomed for political reasons?

VLADIMIR PUTIN: Your colleague mentioned fears and concerns, though
I do not understand what basis they could have. I think that it is
simply that this is a new situation and people are not used to it
yet. Everyone is used to seeing Russia receive humanitarian aid and
here it is suddenly investing or ready to invest billions of dollars. I
think that public opinion is still getting used to this idea, but this
is the reality today and this process is only going to gather momentum.

In cooperating with Russia, there is no threat, not even in the long
term, of a flood of cheap consumer goods coming in, as it does from
some Asian countries.

WALL STREET JOURNAL: I think people are more afraid of political
influence or of economic levers being used.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: This is laughable and it simply arises from ignorance
of what is actually happening in today’s world. When I was in Bulgaria,
President Prvanov said to me, "Your company, Lukoil, has invested $300
million here and has bought a network of service stations here’. I
only learnt of this from him. I do not know what Lukoil is doing
in Bulgaria.

CONOCO-Philips already has a 10-per cent stake in Lukoil. This is
a company with international participation now. If we take Gazprom,
which everyone seems to be so afraid of, Germany’s Ruhrgas has a stake
of more than 10 per cent in the company today and has a representative
on the board of directors. Many of our other companies have also
opened up to foreign participation.

One of your colleagues or even you yourself said that we are
developing state capitalism, but this is not the case. Yes, we are
pursuing policies of consolidation and mobilisation in some areas,
in shipbuilding and aircraft manufacturing, for example, areas where
we have decided to establish state corporations, but take a look
at what other countries are doing. Look at what South Korea did
in the shipbuilding sector in the mid-1960s, for example. Look at
their decisions and the preferences for their companies they wrote
into law and everything will be clear. Some things have already
been tried and tested in the world. The same is true in aircraft
manufacturing. Unfortunately, without state support, aircraft
manufacturing in Russia, especially civilian aircraft manufacturing,
finds itself in a very difficult situation.

We are not increasing the amount of state-owned assets by creating
these corporations, and I want to stress this point. We are simply
gathering existing state-owned assets under one legal roof in order
to have them operate more effectively. We have not taken anything
away from anyone. We have simply created a shipbuilding company out
of existing state assets and we are doing the same in the aircraft
manufacturing sector. We are streamlining these sectors, moving out of
ineffective projects, and we do not exclude the possibility that, once
these companies are working efficiently, part of the shares currently
owned by the state could eventually be put on the market. That is
the general development line we are following.

As for the energy sector, unlike the OPEC countries, we have completely
privatised our oil sector and we now have only two companies with
state participation. Gazprom already has 49 per cent of its shares on
the market, and, according to our calculations, more than 20 per cent
are now in foreign hands. Ruhrgas formally has a stake of 10 per cent,
and the experts say that more than 10 per cent are in foreign hands
on the market. The other company, Rosneft has carried out an IPO,
as you know, and has sold part of its shares.

The other companies are all private companies and many of them
have foreign participation. BP, which your colleague from The Times
asked about, is increasing its reserves mostly through its Russian
activities, and the Russian government accepts this and is increasing
BP’s reserves every year, which also raises their capitalisation,
even if the company does not develop these deposits. In this sense,
Russia has long since become part of the world economy. It makes no
sense at all for one part of the global economy to discriminate against
another and be afraid of opening up to it. This whole process is
already underway and I think that with time, and if we reach the right
arrangements and present things in an objective light, no problems
should arise. At the corporate level of course, fears of competition
and so on can arise, but it is people who are afraid of fair and open
competition who are provoking these fears in Western society.

WALL STREET JOURNAL: Coming back to BP, when TNK-BP was created,
the Russian shareholders were asked how control would be exercised
in a situation where the stakes were 50-50. Now Russia is retaining
a 51-stake in its major companies, and this means that the state
retains control.

>From the point of view of Russia’s strategic interests, do you think
that TNK-BP, which is now the country’s third biggest company in
terms of production, can continue to operate on this 50-50 basis,
or would it be better to have control…?

VLADIMIR PUTIN: This is not a question for me. I am not a shareholder
in either BP or TNK. This is a question for the shareholders. Neither
in my personal capacity nor as a state official can I sp eak on
behalf of the shareholders in BP and TNK. I said right at the outset,
when they decided to operate on a 50-50 basis, that I recall from my
work in St Petersburg that this is not always effective, but they
said they would be able to agree. I told them that this was their
affair. So far, it seems, they have managed to agree, and as far as
I know they do not have any problems.

WALL STREET JOURNAL: So the state is not of the opinion that it would
be better to have a 51-per cent stake in such companies?

VLADIMIR PUTIN: Let foreigners buy all 100 per cent if they want.

KOMMERSANT: Vladimir Vladimirovich, you said that today is a day
of memory for Boris Yeltsin. We all recall what he said to you:
‘Take care of Russia’.

At that moment, those words were especially pertinent and it was
case perhaps not even so much of taking care of Russia as of saving
Russia. You will, in your turn, also have to say some words to whoever
will take over from you. Have you thought about what you will say
when that moment comes?

VLADIMIR PUTIN: No, I haven’t.

KOMMERSANT: Isn’t it time to start thinking?

VLADIMIR PUTIN: No, it’s early yet. Don’t be in such a hurry. I’m
still working on a dessert and you’re already… (laughter).

KOMMERSANT: Another question then: a lot of people say, "I’m Putin’s
man", people who have been working with you for a long time now,
for many years.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: Who exactly?

KOMMERSANT: Alexei Gromov, for example.

ALEXEI GROMOV: Thank you, but I have never said that.

KOMMERSANT: Vladislav Surkov and Igor Sechin, for example. I could
list all your aides and the deputy heads of the Presidential Executive
Office. Have you thought about what will become of all these people
after 2008? Will they depart with you, or will they stay in place? This
is a problem for a large number of people.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: I do not think this is a problem for decent and
honest people. If someone has served the state honestly, there is no
problem, only the problem of finding new work, and that, of course,
is an important issue for any person. But for honest and decent
citizens who have worked honestly for the good of their country,
there cannot and should not be any political problems.

THE TIMES: I would like to ask you a personal question about your
wife and your family. The spouses of prime ministers and presidents
are always the focus for a lot of attention. Has your wife enjoyed
being the wife of a president, or is she waiting impatiently for your
term in office to end?

VLADIMIR PUTIN: She is impatient for it to end. In general, this
situation places a certain burden on our family, of course. My
work itself serves as compensation to a certain degree for this
situation, but my family has no such compensation and there are a lot
of restrictions. My wife never expected that I would become president
and has no regret about my term of office coming to an end. My children
are studying and, fortunately, everything is fine with them. Overall,
there are no problems and I hope that none will arise.

My wife is busy with her favourite work -she is a philologist by
education and has found her place in that area, so everything is fine
in this respect.

DER SPIEGEL: When Gerhard Schroeder became…

VLADIMIR PUTIN: You really like Schroeder that much?

DER SPIEGEL: He seems to be impressed by you, too. He said that it
would be good for Germany if the constitution allowed the chancellor
to serve only two consecutive terms in office, but later he changed
his views. Do you agree with him that a president or state leader
should serve only two consecutive terms?

VLADIMIR PUTIN: As we know, different countries reach different
decisions at various stages of their development. The United States,
for example, used to have no limit on the number of terms in office,
while France now has no limits on the number of consecutive terms. A
president there can be elected to office as many times as the voters
are willing to give him their support.

But I think that some kind of limits are necessa ry.

In parliamentary republics, as we know, it is not a specific
individual but a party that wins elections and comes to power and
then chooses from within its ranks the person who will head the
government. Presidential republics follow a different system.

I think that it is best to have some kind of restrictions on the term
in office. The four-year term in Russia was perhaps borrowed from the
US model, and it was not of such great importance at the time the new
Constitution was adopted. Sergei Mironov, the speaker of the upper
house of parliament, said on one occasion that it would make more
sense to have a term of five or even seven years in Russia. I do not
want to say what would be the best length, five or maybe seven years,
but I think that four years is, of course, not very long.

Before I became President I was prime minister and was already aware
of the events taking place in the country and was involved in the
decision-making process, but if, say, a regional governor was elected
president, he would need a year or two just to become familiar with
all the federal and international issues, and then it would already
be time to start a new election campaign. I think that for Russia
today, a term of five, six or seven years in office would be entirely
acceptable, but the number of consecutive terms should be limited.

GLOBE AND MAIL: Do you think that Russia is currently in a transition
period in terms of nationalising some sectors of the economy, and is
this just a temporary measure on the road to economic development? Can
this period be called a transition period in economic and political
terms? What is Russia’s ultimate goal in the coming five years? Of
course, you could say that a similar situation exists in other
countries, but would you say that the current situation in Russia is
not ideal in terms of political and media freedom? Is this period
a transition to something else, to something that will see Russia
become a genuine liberal democracy with a fully private economy,
like other European countries?

VLADIMIR PUTIN: Even in vital economic sectors such as the energy
sector, private capital has a greater presence here than in some other
countries that are indisputably seen as market economies. Mexico,
for example, is considered a country with a market economy, but the
state has a complete monopoly on the oil sector there. In Russia,
the oil sector is almost entirely in private hands and foreign capital
has a large presence in the sector. I already said to your colleague
from the Wall Street Journal that in cases where we are establishing
large state corporations, such as in the shipbuilding and aircraft
manufacturing sectors, we are not nationalising previously privatised
enterprises but are simply bringing scattered state-owned assets under
one roof, uniting them as a single corporation. As for the unfortunate
and notorious Yukos case, this company’s assets are being sold off in
order to settle debts, including debts to foreign shareholders. Some
of these assets have been acquired by partially state-owned companies,
and some by private companies.

We have no intention of trying to increase the number of state assets
from beyond their present size. As I already said, in the case of the
aircraft manufacturing and shipbuilding sectors, we are streamlining
state assets and making them more viable, efficient and competitive,
and we do not rule out the sale of stakes in these corporations in the
future, IPO operations, but these future plans will then involve viable
and competitive companies of European level and significance. We do
not want to lose these sectors; we want to develop them and we want
to do so with the help of private capital too.

As you know, we have set up a number of different funds -the venture
capital fund and the development fund. We are allocating considerable
resources through these funds to develop joint work with private
business through public-private partnerships. We already have a
whole number of major projects, above all infrastructure projects,
ready for implementation. For the first time, we are not just talking
about ambitious infrastructure projects but are actually carrying them
out -projects to build airports, roads and bridges with the help of
private capital, and we will do the same in the high-technology sector.

We are committed to developing the market and to developing liberal
market values.

But at the same time, we want to maintain and develop our industry. We
know that there have been cases in some European countries where
competitors have bought up companies, even quite thriving businesses,
and have then closed them down in order to rid themselves of extra
competition. But this could be done, perhaps, within one state,
because there was something to rely on for support. But if we lose
several industries, we will not have anything to rely on for support.

We have to take all of this into account, but as I said, we are
committed to developing a liberal economy.

CORRIERE DELLA SERA: Mr President, I have a somewhat provocative

Anyone who knows Russia knows that President Putin is popular and that
there is strong consensus in his regard. And anyone who watches Russian
television sees that there is no criticism of President Putin and of
the Russian authorities in general. Is there not a contradiction in
that greater freedom of expression, including freedom to criticise,
especially on television, could have a positive impact on Russian
society and at the same time, given your genuine popularity, would
not do you any harm at all?

VLADIMIR PUTIN: First of all, I doubt that you have information on
everything the Russian electronic media are saying. The cable network
here is growing very fast. I think that 19,000 electronic media outlets
have been created here over these last years, including television
and radio stations: 17,000-19,000 electronic media outlets and 40,000
new print media publications. As I have said in the past, even if we
wanted to control all of these media outlets it would be impossible,
and people say in them what they think and what they want to say.

I have already spoken about what we have accomplished over these
last years.

You have no doubt noticed the major social projects we are currently
implementing. This includes our programmes to fight poverty, improve
the demographic situation, raise the standards of healthcare, build
new housing and develop agriculture, one of the most vulnerable
sectors of our economy.

The positive media coverage you mention and the public response to
the President’s work is, it would seem, a result of the work the
authorities are doing to resolve specific problems. Obviously, we
also make mistakes, could be more effective in some areas and still
there are a lot of problems to address, problems we have not yet
managed to resolve, the fight against corruption, for example. These
are painful issues that worry everyone. But we are not alone in this
respect. I will not list all the different cases, but we are aware of
events elsewhere, the arrest of the mayors of almost all the towns in
southern Spain, for example. These are not our problems and we do not
want to point the finger at anyone. We have made miscalculations of
our own, in the case of introducing substituting monetary payments
for social benefits, for example. Look back at media coverage over
that period and you will see immediately whether or not there was
criticism of the authorities. Not a day went by and not a programme was
shown without criticism, it seems. If we make a mistake, criticism is
swift to follow. But if we are actually resolving problems, there is
perhaps correspondingly less criticism. Probably there could be more
criticism. Now digital technology is developing fast and there will
soon be so many different ways and channels of getting information to
the public that it will be impossible to enforce any kind of control.

This idea that the media here is under control is largely a myth. But
there are three television channels considered to be state channels. I
n reality the situation is a little different. Formally, there is
just one state channel, Rossia. The state also has a stake in a
second channel, Channel One. NTV is a corporate channel, owned by
Gazprom and Gazprom, as you know, is a joint-stock company with a
large number of foreign shareholders.

Looking at France, for example, I do not know now exactly which
television channel Bouygues owns, but the state has a controlling
stake in Bouygues, and it does not seem to matter. There is nothing
unique in Russia’s situation.

NIKKEI: My question might seem a bit odd, but it is pertinent to the
market economy you spoke about. You might be surprised to hear that
the headlines of most Japanese newspapers yesterday were about Russia,
about Russia’s decision to stop exporting crabs. This has taken the
Japanese by surprise.

They can’t make sushi without crab meat and they absolutely need
Russian crab meat in order to make sushi. Does Russia really plan to
stop exporting crabs?

Also, a second question of great concern for Mr Abe, who plans to
visit Russia: Will you invite Mr Abe to come and see you?

VLADIMIR PUTIN: Yes, it will be our pleasure to invite Mr Abe to Russia
and we will be very happy to see him. The more often Japanese state
officials and businesspeople visit Russia the better. You know that
leading Japanese carmakers have decided to invest in Russia. Toyota
has already begun building a plant here and work is going ahead
rapidly. Nissan has also begun building a plant and work is moving
along very efficiently indeed. Several other companies have begun
investing of late and we are very happy to see this.

Investment is on the rise in general. Last year it rose by 13 per cent,
I think, and it has already increased by more than 20 per cent over
the first four months of this year. In absolute figures investment
totalled $26 billion last year, and this year it will clearly come
to more than $30 billion.

Concerning crab meat, we will not stop exporting this product,
of course, but we do want to put an end to smuggling and we hope
that our Japanese colleagues will help us. It is to my great regret
that we have so far not seen such help and the amount of crab meat
and other seafood and fish products unloaded in Japanese ports far
surpasses the volumes reflected in our customs documents. Of course,
Russia itself has to take a lot of the blame for this situation,
and we need to put this sector in order here at home and ensure
that everything goes through the proper customs formalities and
that cargoes are not simply transferred from one vessel to another
outside Russia’s customs area and economic zone. But we need honest
cooperation and a real partnership in this area. I hope that the
Japanese Prime Minister and I will be able to discuss this problem and
find acceptable solutions. If we fail to take action in this area, we
will end up facing the same situation as what has already happened in
parts of the world’s oceans where the Japanese traditionally pursued
fishing activities, and today there are no longer any resources to be
fished. Some traditional fishing grounds will never recover. We need
to remember the mistakes of the past and not repeat them in the present
and the future. Our cooperation is very important in this respect.

I also like sushi very much, but I prefer tuna.

WALL STREET JOURNAL: Continuing on from my colleague’s question:
given the level of public support for the authorities, one cannot
but be surprised by the harsh reaction of the authorities to the
opposition forces that take part in the ‘marches of the dissenters’
(and you said yourself that these opposition forces are only a marginal
element in society). This reaction seems only to encourage sympathy for
these opposition groups. Why do the authorities take such a hard line?

VLADIMIR PUTIN: Look at how the police in European countries behave:
truncheons, tear gas, electric shock devices (in Germany 70 people
have died as a result of these devices being used), rubber bullets. We
have a proverb in Russian; you speak Russian and would understand it:
‘don’t blame the mirror if your face is crooked’.

Everyone should understand that we need to live in compliance with
the law.

The local authorities are responsible for deciding where people can
hold meetings, demonstrations and such like. People most certainly
have the right to express their opinion, and it is the state’s duty
to ensure that everyone has the right to express their opinions,
regardless of whether or not they agree with state policy or with
the local authorities. People generally organize demonstrations in
order to express their disagreement, and this right should certainly
be protected. But their exercise of this right should not create
obstacles for other citizens and should not disrupt transport, stop
people from being able to get to work on time and create situations
that endanger the health or safety of others. When people deliberately
provoke the law enforcement agencies and deliberately go to places
where they are obviously going to cause disruption to normal city
life, the authorities have to respond and enforce order. Thankfully,
we have never had to use the extreme methods that are used in some
Western European countries.

As I said, everyone in Russia who wants to demonstrate has the right
to do so, but must do so in the places designated for this purpose by
the local authorities. Demonstrators can demonstrate from morning till
evening if they wish, vocally or silently, with signs, however they
please. And of course the media should also be present and I think
that there should be coverage of such events so that people can see
what is happening and express their views, express their agreement
or disagreement with whichever group of people and their slogans and
so on. Overall, this is positive for the country, for the local and
regional authorities, but as I said, everything needs to be done with
respect for the law.

DER SPIEGEL: You will see a huge number of police in Heiligendamm
next week.

Will you remind Ms Merkel that she spoke about the freedom to
demonstrate just recently?

VLADIMIR PUTIN: The matter was not one of freedom to demonstrate. When
Angela [Merkel] and I spoke about the events in Hamburg, for example,
the issue there was that they did not just decide to demonstrate for
no reason, but they came out onto the streets in response to preventive
arrests and searches carried out by the police. It was these preventive
arrests and searches that provoked the decision to demonstrate. That
was the point I made on that occasion. The participants in the press
conference preferred to pass over that matter in silence, and as the
host of the event, I considered it wrong to emphasise this point and
let it be passed over without further comments. But the point I made
was precisely about the preventive nature of the action taken.

As for the matter of ensuring security at major international events
such as the G8 summit when a country plays host to so many people, and
not just state officials from other countries but also journalists and
specialists, all the thousands of people who take part in such events,
the country in question has a duty to ensure their security. At the
same time, it must also guarantee the rights of those who wish to
express their views on the event and criticise it. Let them gather
where the press can see them, let them have television coverage,
so that millions of people can be informed about their point of view
too. But they are not happy with this -they are looking for a fight,
and if they want to fight, I am sure they will get it.

KOMMERSANT: Vladimir Vladimirovich, President of Kazakhstan Nursultan
Nazarbayev has long since said that a Eurasian Union should be created
in place of the former Soviet Union. It seems to me that you also
support this idea. In this respect, I would like to ask if it would
be possible to give this idea form before your presidential term
expires? What role could the new pipelines, including the Central
Asian pipeline, play in this project?

VLADIMIR PUTIN: I do not think that we should try to make serious
and important events in international affairs and in the post-Soviet
area coincide with particular dates. It used to be the fashion in
the Soviet Union to make events coincide with the November 7 or May
1 holidays, and when we are told that a decision on Kosovo should
also be made to fit in with some specific timeframe or other, this
is also the Soviet style of doing things. We should not try to fit
events into rigid timeframes but should let life take its natural
development course. There is a great need for integration in the
post-Soviet area. It would benefit not only everyone living in the
post-Soviet area but also our main partners in Europe and around the
world because potential benefits for our partners depend directly
on how effectively we are able to cooperate with each other and how
balanced this cooperation is.

You mentioned our latest agreements in Central Asia on oil and
gas production, including the agreement to build an additional
gas pipeline through Turkmenistan into Kazakhstan and onwards to
Russia. I am surprised by the reactions of our American colleagues
who suggest that Europe or America has lost out and that this is
somehow a great mistake. This is all nonsense. This is a traditional
transport route from Central Asia and from Russia to our traditional
main consumers. We have said loud and clear to the whole world that we
are increasing production, building new transport capacity and that we
will guarantee increased supplies. This is reason to celebrate. What
can be bad here? But these transport projects are far from the only
factor that will contribute to integration.

We had and still have today a unified railway system. There is a
unified transport infrastructure operating throughout the post-Soviet
area. We have also developed close relations in regional cooperation.

You mentioned the President of Kazakhstan. Seventy per cent of trade
and economic cooperation between Russia and Kazakhstan takes place at
regional level, and the same is true of our relations with almost all
the CIS countries. In other words, our economic ties have achieved
such a level of inter-penetration since the Soviet years that it is
hard to even measure the full extent of these ties at first glance.

Sometimes I find it simply laughable when I hear absolutely
unprofessional statements from some of our partners in Europe or the
United States about what is happening here and what we should do,
say, to resolve energy issues.

They can all read and they should at least take a look through some
of the documents available first.

Economic integration in the post-Soviet area is also immensely
important in terms of ensuring the region’s stability. The entire
world has an interest in stable development in this part of Eurasia,
but this can only go ahead as a natural process, on the basis of
mutual interests and being able to work within this process, taking
each other’s interests into account. We find mutual interests with
many of our partners and the integration process is moving ahead even
in cases where it has not been formulated in law. I am sure that this
process will continue.

THE TIMES: Would you be willing to accept Ukraine becoming a member
of the European Union? How would you view this?

VLADIMIR PUTIN: I would view it positively. We generally support
making the European Union stronger. If you have noticed, we have
never said anything negative about this process. But I am not sure how
ready the European Union itself is to take in new members, including
Ukraine. That is not our affair, however. As I see it, the EU is
not ready at this point. If there is to be further enlargement, the
countries of southern Europe, mostly some of the Balkan countries who
have not yet joined, would be first on the list of new members. Ukraine
is a country of 45 million people and, as we can see, it has big
economic and political problems. But if the time comes when Ukraine
is able to join the EU, we would not have anything against the idea.

I am always surprised by provocative discussions regarding the
integration processes underway in the post-Soviet area. We talk,
for example, about creating a unified economic space encompassing
Russia, Ukraine, Belarus and Kazakhstan, and people start to as
whether Ukraine is binding its future development to Europe or to
Russia. But have these people stopped to think about the fact that
Russia and the EU have agreements on creating four common spaces in
the economy, security and the humanitarian sphere? And if Russia
and Europe establish this common framework and Russia at the same
time creates a common framework with Ukraine, Belarus and Kazakhstan,
would this not lead to harmonisation throughout the Eurasian area? And
then if at some point in its development Ukraine decided that now
it has established various preferences and special relations, and
it will become a candidate for EU membership and even join the EU,
this whole process would surely only facilitate this process and help
improve Ukraine’s chances.

I cannot understand the logic behind the kind of discussion I just
mentioned. It seems to me that these are just flashy political slogans,
provocative slogans that show an unwillingness to take a close look
at the substance of what is happening. The integration projects we
are pursuing in the post-Soviet area create no obstacles for anyone,
set no restrictions and are not creating any barriers for countries’
own development.

The main idea behind the project to create a unified economic space of
four countries that I mentioned is to set up a common tariffs body,
no more than that. What is interesting is that it is mostly Russia
that is being asked to apply these common tariffs. Why was President
of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbayev this project’s initiator? Because
Kazakhstan wants Russia to apply common tariffs in the energy and
transport sectors. This was their initiative, but we are willing to
go along with it in the common interest.

But now everything has been made to look as if it is Russia
that initiated this project and as if it is above all in our own
interest. No one is being forced into anything. In the EU, as far as
I know, 85 per cent of all legal acts passed by national parliaments
repeat what was passed by the European parliament. In other words,
the level of national independence in the EU is decreasing all the
time and sovereignty is gradually disappearing. We in the post-Soviet
area have decided to agree on common energy and transport tariffs
and this has sparked a storm of emotion, debate and political gossip
and provocation. And yet this is clearly not in the interests of
Europe itself. Why is this happening? I do not understand this. But
I think that, as in the case of Russian investment, time will pass
and everything will settle down and this political agitation will
give way to pragmatism and trust.


VLADIMIR PUTIN: We think NATO expansion is different because NATO
is a military-political bloc and this expansion creates friction
in relations with Russia. We see no need for Ukraine to join NATO
because no one has any plans to attack it, and we think that the
argument that NATO expansion can make the fight against terrorism
more effective is just empty talk that has nothing to do with common
sense. NATO in itself does not help the fight against terrorism;
multilateral cooperation helps us to combat terrorism.

Today we face threats and challenges such as terrorism, human
trafficking and drugs trafficking, organized crime and nuclear
proliferation, and what help can bloc politics be here?

And there is more to add. We have spoken about what is actually
happening in international affairs, the reasons for increased
tension and so on. This happens because our partners are taking a
more aggressive line in some areas now. You cite the case of NATO
and Ukraine. But the public opinion surveys show that 60-70 per
cent, perhaps even 80 per cent of people are against Ukraine joining
NATO. Even so, the US Congress votes to finance Ukraine’s accession
to NATO. But have they asked the Ukrainian people what they want?

Why are they not taking the Ukrainian public’s views into account?

GLOBE AND MAIL: If NATO had advantages in terms of missile defence,
it could perhaps be of use? The US is taking unilateral action,
but if NATO were to get involved instead it would not look like an
imperialist step. Everything might look different if NATO or Russia
were to become involved in these missile defence plans.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: If NATO were involved this would not fundamentally
change anything because we know how decisions are made in NATO. They
were made in the same way in the Warsaw Pact. There was a joke in
East Germany: How can you tell which of the telephones on Honecker’s
desk is the direct line to Moscow? Do you know this joke?


VLADIMIR PUTIN: The answer is: it’s the one with only a receiver and
no mouthpiece. (Laughter).

The same goes for NATO, except that the telephone line goes not
to Moscow in this case but to Washington, and so it would make no
difference to us if NATO were heading this project.

As for the question of other countries participating, yes, we are
not against this idea, but no one has asked us. We often hear talk
of European solidarity and so on, but what solidarity are we talking
about? Two countries -Poland and the Czech Republic -have decided to
allow missile defence systems to be deployed on their territories. We
are told that this is needed for Europe’s defence. But has anyone
asked Europe? Was this really a common European decision? The decision
could have at least been taken through NATO, if only for cover. But
no one was asked. I am sure that had Europe been asked it would have
given its agreement, but the US did not even bother to consult with
its allies in this case.

As for Russia, we are not against the idea of reflecting on this

Indeed, strange though it may sound, we proposed this right from
the start.

We suggested working together right from the start but we got
an immediate refusal. Later, seeing the opposition in Europe and
around the world to their plans, our colleagues and partners said
that actually they did want to talk to us. But do you know what their
cooperation proposals amount to? They want us to provide our missiles
as targets they can use in training. What clever fellows to have
come up with such an idea! Some of my American colleagues, friends,
people with a lot of experience in politics and international affairs,
reacted the same way as you and laughed. I am referring to important
US political figures.

But we have not heard any real proposals of substance, any proposals
on far-reaching cooperation, and we know that no such proposals
will be made because this system is being created as part of the
United States’ nuclear forces. Of course, it would be strange if
they were to suddenly let Russia into their holy of holies. There
is not anything to talk about. This is a serious affair. But if we
saw that efforts are being mad e to take our views into account,
to think about our security too, to preserve some kind of balance,
and if we saw that this system does not threaten us and does not
undermine our own potential, then of course we would be willing to
work together. I think, however, that is not very likely. As I say,
this would involve giving us access to the holy of holies of the
strategic nuclear forces, and that is obviously a serious decision.

Thank you for your attention, and until we meet again.