President of Russia Vladimir Putin. Interview with NBC Television Channel (USA), TF-1 Television Channel (France), CTV Television Channel (Canada), ZDF Television Channel (Germany)
Interview with NBC Television Channel (USA)
July 12, 2006
QUESTION: Mr President, in a few days time the heads of state and government of the G8 countries will be gathering in your home town, St Petersburg, for their annual summit. What do you hope to achieve during these three days of meetings? What is the most important point?
PRESIDENT VLADIMIR PUTIN: I hope that we will achieve the goals that are the reason for us gathering in St Petersburg in the first place. We will be not just discussing the most sensitive issues on the international agenda today – international energy security, the fight against infectious diseases, and progress in education – but we will bring our positions on these key issues closer together. I think this is immensely important and something that the overwhelming majority of the world’s population is waiting for. We will, of course, also give time to serious international issues such as the situation with the Iranian nuclear programme. I am sure we will also raise the issue of missile technology in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. We will give our attention to the Middle East, Iraq, and also bilateral relations between the G8 members.
QUESTION: This is a big event for Russia, for a stronger young Russia. It is also a big event for you and will probably become part of your legacy to the world. Mr Putin, your critics often ask whether Russia should host this summit and receive these guests. They say that Russia does not represent the ideals of the G8 family of countries. What is your response to this?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: For a start, I am pleased that we have our critics because it would be worse if everyone voted unanimously, like at Communist Party congresses during the Soviet era. The fact that we hear both criticism and positive comments helps us to form a better idea of what we are doing and how it is perceived.
I think that Russia is a natural member of the G8 for a number of reasons. The first is that it is hard to imagine how we can find effective solutions to the greatest problems facing the world economy and world security today without including Russia. I want to point out that in proven reserves alone the Russian Federation has four times more oil and gas than all the other G8 countries together. How can we tackle the problems of energy security if we do not take Russia’s views into account and involve it in finding common solutions? How can we talk about ensuring global security and address the issues of non-proliferation and disarmament if we do not include Russia, which is one of the biggest nuclear powers? And how can we resolve the problem of poverty in the world without Russia, taking into account its vast territory and natural opportunities for interaction with Asia and with the developing world in general?
I think that all of these reasons make Russia a natural participant in the G8. That’s not to mention that over recent years Russia has displayed sustainable economic growth and – another of our significant achievements, as I see it – has demonstrated financial stability and economic development. I understand that not everyone may like this and I affirm their right to have their point of view and I think that such criticism, if it really contains sensible arguments that we should pay attention to, creates an additional reference point for us.
QUESTION: You are talking about energy, oil and arms, but the criticism levelled against Russia concerns not these areas so much as democratic institutions, which many think are moving backwards rather than forwards in Russia. There is particular concern about the media. Of the three national channels, one is state-owned, one is half-owned by the state and the third is owned by a corporation closely linked to the state. Many people say that this is not a real democracy and does not represent the ideals of the G8. What is your response to these concerns about democratic values in Russia?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: I would first ask these people how they understand the concept of democracy. This is a philosophical question, after all, and there is no one clear answer to it. In your country, what is democracy in the direct sense of the term? Democracy is the rule of the people. But what does the rule of the people mean in the modern world, in a huge, multiethnic and multi-religious state? In olden days in some parts of the world, in the city states of ancient Greece, for example, or in the Republic of Novgorod (there used to be such a state on the territory of what is now the Russian Federation) the people would gather in the city square and vote directly. This was direct democracy in the most direct sense of the word. But what is democracy in a modern state with a population of millions? In your country, the United States, the president is elected not through direct secret ballot but through a system of electoral colleges. Here in Russia, the president is elected through direct secret ballot by the entire population of the Russian Federation. So whose system is more democratic when it comes to deciding this crucial issue of power, yours or ours? This is a question to which our critics cannot give a direct answer.
What do we hear regarding the media? Yes, the very existence of a democratic society is impossible without freedom of the press, and the basic principles of democracy should, without question, be guaranteed everywhere. But we never even had a free press. First we had the tsarist regime, then we had communism, and beginning in the 1990s, we entered a new era in our lives. But creating full-fledged, functioning institutions, creating a middle class and a multiparty system - the foundation on which these institutions are based – is not something that can be achieved overnight. We said loud and clear, however, above all to ourselves, that this is the road we will follow.
Concerning media freedom, you named three national channels, but do you realise how rapidly digital television is developing here, cable television and local and regional television in general? We have more than 3,500 television and radio companies here in Russia and state participation in them is decreasing with every passing year. As for print media, there are more than 40,000 publications and we could not control them all even if we wanted to.
QUESTION: I understand these figures and I’ve heard them before, but the complaints mostly regard the three national channels because people want to get honest information from the news and they do not get it on these three channels because they are too closely linked to the authorities. You said that the Russian people have made their choice. I must say that your popularity rating is somewhere between 72 and 73 percent, and that is a very high rating. Do you think that the Russian people are not as concerned by issues of democracy as people in other parts of the world?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: I do not think that is the case. I simply think that in other parts of the world the instruments for influencing public opinion have become a lot more sophisticated and state influence through TV channels is less perceptible for the public than is perhaps the case here in Russia. Just recently one of the major newspapers in the USA published information on the monitoring of bank transactions in dollars all around the world. And what was the response we heard from some of the leading officials in the (U.S.) Administration? I recall it because I was greatly surprised to read it. They said: “These media outlets did not follow our recommendations”. In other words, someone felt it possible to make such recommendations. So I do not think we should go pointing the finger here. We do have problems and we are aware of them, but other countries also have problems of their own. The developed democracies are far more effective in their ability to manipulate public opinion than we are. People here perceive many things very directly, see them as very real, and this living fabric of passing events does not always reach the western public.
As for the figures that I just mentioned, yes, I realise that you have probably heard them before, but I do not want them to become just a sort of background buzz. They represent the reality of our life today. You mentioned the three national channels, and yes, there is state participation in them. One of them is entirely state-owned, one of them is a joint-stock company with a sizeable share of state capital, and the third is a corporate channel, owned by Gazprom, a company in which the state holds a controlling stake. But we know that in other countries, in western Europe, for example, there are TV channels that are formally considered independent but in which the main shareholder is a large corporation in which the state, in turn, holds a controlling stake. And so what, that’s not the issue, after all. The issue is that we are carrying out very serious political changes aimed at creating the democratic foundation for our society. This includes strengthening the multiparty system, increasing the size and quality of local self-government and transferring a considerable number of powers from federal and regional level to the municipalities. We adopted a law recently that increased the number of municipalities from 12,000 to 24,000. And we did not just increase the number but also transferred to these municipal authorities powers and financing sources. This is all part of our work to gradually lay the democratic foundations of our society. So, as Mark Twain said in respect to his own life, the rumours of the death of our democracy are highly exaggerated.
RESPONSE: Tomorrow we will be broadcasting from St Petersburg and preparing our programme. We will be awaiting the summit participants’ arrival in St Petersburg.
VLADIMIR PUTIN: If you will allow, I would like to say a final few words on this issue of democracy. We all remember what arguments some western countries used to justify their colonial expansion into Africa and Asia. If you look back at the newspapers of those years you will see that was said then hardly differs from what is being said now in relation to the Russian Federation. You just need to replace the civilising role and civilisation with democratisation and democracy and it all becomes clear. We are ready to work together with all our partners on equal terms and we are attentive to well-meant criticism. We have every reason to listen to what others have to say because we are only in the process of building a modern society. But we categorically oppose the use of all levers, including arguments on the need for us to democratise our society, in order to intervene in our internal affairs. This is something we consider absolutely unacceptable.
QUESTION: You speak about well-meant criticism. Our Vice President, Dick Cheney, speaking recently about civil society and religious society, said that Russia limits people’s rights and that the Russian Government’s acts are counterproductive and could have an impact on Russia’s relations with other countries. “We cannot tolerate a situation where oil and gas become instruments of blackmail”, he said. It’s perhaps not the subject that is so important here as the firm tone used by the Administration. What are relations like today between Russia, the European Union and the United States?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: I think that these kinds of comments from your Vice President amount to the same thing as an unfortunate shot while out hunting. It’s more or less one and the same thing. I think that these concerns over potential energy blackmail and so on do not look sincere and therefore are not convincing.
QUESTION: But then why would he say such things? Why make such statements?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: If you let me finish, I will make my point of view clear on this issue. If you look at what the President of the United States said, and I read his words just before coming here to this room, he said that the United States is not worried by any possible energy blackmail or supply disruptions and that everything is already sorted out there. So, what we are talking about then are the European countries. Back in the mid-70s, when the Soviet Union began building the gas pipeline system to western Europe so as to supply our natural gas to consumers there, the U.S. leadership tried to dissuade the Europeans from taking part in these projects and said that problems could arise. But what we see is that for the last 40 years, the Soviet Union and today’s Russia have fulfilled all their obligations day after day without any disruptions. These fears proved ill-founded and it would be not a bad thing for our colleagues and partners, including in the United States, to remember this.
As for the position taken by certain of our friends in the United States, let’s be honest and frank about what is behind it. It is motivated not by fears of possible disruption to energy supplies or some kind of dependence on Russia. This dependence goes both ways, in any case, because the supplier is as dependent on the consumer as the consumer is on the supplier. We are mutually dependent. Incidentally, this mutual dependence is an element of stability. But it seems to me that this position is motivated by political considerations, by a desire to support certain political forces in eastern Europe and promote one’s own political interests, with Russia expected to pay the price for the promotion of these interests. I do not think this is a balanced position. Moreover, what worries me in this respect is that this approach is based on the foreign policy philosophy of the twentieth century in which our partners’ basic premise was the need to keep Russia in check, viewing our country as a political opponent at the very least if not an enemy. But this is a relic of Cold-War thinking and it is a mistake because it indicates that the people who think this way do not realise and understand the geopolitical changes taking place in the world today and are not looking at how the situation will develop 15, 20 or 25 years down the road.
As for Russia’s position, we fully support the President of the United States when he says that fundamental changes have taken place in the relations between our countries and that Russia and the United States are no longer enemies. These really are fundamental changes in our thinking and we do not just welcome these words from the U.S. President; we think the same way. We have changed radically. The Soviet Union is no more. But it seems that our partners have yet to make such far-reaching changes to their own thinking.
QUESTION: I would like to come back to several questions that worry the United States. North Korea is a country that acts beyond the boundaries of international law and behaves in a hostile manner towards the USA. They have nuclear weapons and at some point will be able to deliver these weapons to other parts of the world. Mr Putin, why do you not support more serious sanctions against North Korea? Why do you appear to be supporting North Korea?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: You always seem to think that we supporting the countries you don’t like. This is not the case. We opposed the military operation in Iraq, for example, but not because we supported Saddam Hussein. This was absolutely not the case. If you recall, I said at that time that a military operation would be a mistake. I am aware of the U.S. leadership’s position. My partner and friend – and I really do see the President of the United States as a friend – has a different point of view on this issue. But I think that I was nonetheless right. We took this position not because we supported Saddam, but because we thought that the problems should be resolved through other means. And maybe no we would not have the serious consequences we face today. We thought that we should act through peaceful means, by putting pressure on Iraq, by changing the situation from within. If we had done this we would perhaps not have the breeding ground for terrorism that we have today. But I don’t want to go rubbing salt into anyone’s wounds here.
The same goes for North Korea. We think that we need to take decisions that will help to defuse the situation and not drive ourselves into an impasse from which we can’t find an exit together. This is the difference between the way we went about resolving problems in the twentieth century and in today’s world. Back then, during the Cold War, we always acted in such a way as to cause each other harm at any price, but today we share common goals and the differences between us regard only how to go about resolving this or that problem.
QUESTION: You trust Kim Jong Il if he develops the means of delivering nuclear weapons? Are you sure that he will not destabilise this region and other parts of the world?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: That is a question you cannot ask someone at my level. I trust only myself. How can I trust or not trust someone else? We base our action on objective information, on our interests and on the positions of our partners. This is objective and serious work. As for the issue of trust, a young man trusts his future bride or doesn’t trust her, and if they decide to get married it’s for them to work out this issue of trust. But what we are talking about are relations on a completely different level, a completely different kind of relation. I think that we need to develop a system of guarantees that can ensure security in the world and I think that we can achieve this. We should not deliberately provoke the North Koreans into breaking off talks. We are engaged in dialogue with the North Koreans, after all, through the negotiations conducted by the six countries, and we should not provoke them through our actions into making a response of not the best kind.
On the North Korean issue, what I can say is that Russia will work towards developing common approaches, in whatever form they take, be it in the form of a statement by the Security Council or in the form of some other decision, and this is our objective: to reach a common approach both for the North Korean issue and with regard to the Iranian nuclear programme.
QUESTION: You mentioned a number of sensitive issues. Recently, five Russian diplomats were abducted and killed in Iraq. You said that the people responsible for this act must be found and eliminated. One parliamentary deputy said that it is those who occupied Iraq who are responsible for the murder of the Russian diplomats and that this crime is on their conscience. I suspect that this was an allusion to the USA. Do you agree with this statement?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: You know, whether it be in the U.S. Congress and Senate or in our State Duma and the upper house of our parliament, there are people with all sorts of different political views and with widely differing views on developments in this or that part of the world. Of course, the abduction and murder of our diplomats is a great tragedy.
QUESTION: Do you blame the United States?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: If the United States and their allies took on responsibility for Iraq when they decided to send their armed forces into that country, then of course they also bear responsibility for public safety and all the more so for the safety of the diplomatic corps. Of course a portion of the blame does lie with the multinational force that is there to ensure order and people’s safety. And a portion of the blame lies with the current Iraqi authorities. We have recognised the Iraqi government and this means that we also recognise their responsibility for ensuring that people feel safe there, the people who are officially on Iraqi territory and benefit from the special rights accorded to diplomats, in any case.
QUESTION: Two final questions: Do you think that life for average Iraqi citizens has become better than it was under Saddam Hussein?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: I think that there are greater prospects now for making life better, but from the security point of view the situation has worsened and a real threat that the state will collapse has emerged. People are talking about this more and more often now. If this does happen it will be a major event with far-reaching and perhaps negative consequences for the region as a whole.
In terms of the economic and welfare situation things have not improved. I say once again that there is hope for the future now and we all want to see these hopes realised. We will work together with all of our partners in this direction, above all with the Iraqi government and with the United States.
QUESTION: I would like to finish on a brighter note. This photo… You have no doubt been asked about it already and you have already spoken about this boy who you met in the Kremlin grounds and who you wanted to cuddle a little, like a kitten. But there’s so much talk about this now and the whole world has seen this photo.
VLADIMIR PUTIN: I didn’t expect such a reaction. I can only repeat what I have already said. It was simply that this little boy really caught my eye because he was a cute little kid, independent, with a sense of his own dignity, and at the same time in need of protection, like all children, searching for a bit of special warmth and attention. It was just an emotional gesture on my part and really no more than that.
RESPONSE: I wish you every success at the G8 summit.
VLADIMIR PUTIN: Thank you very much.
Interview with TF-1 Television Channel (France)
QUESTION: Thank you for meeting with us today, Mr President. You have agreed to give interviews to four different television companies. Is this because your country has to improve its international image? Or is it because you see signs of Russophobia in the West?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: I see that not everyone in the West has understood that the Soviet Union has disappeared from the political map of the world and that a new country has emerged with new humanist and ideological principles at the foundation of its existence. That is what I see. I see that some still base their positions on an outdated view of the world, but I think that the situation is changing quite fast.
Concerning Russia’s image, of course we can no doubt use some special means to improve our image by promoting information on the real situation in the Russian Federation. But sooner or later everything will fall into place in any event, because life itself will show just how fundamentally Russia has changed and how its role in the modern world is changing.
QUESTION: So, if I understand you correctly, we just need a bit of patience. But looking at the Arcelor affair, Russia was presented once again as a closed country where might is right. What is your reaction to Arcelor’s decision to choose Mittal rather than Severstal? Do you have any concerns regarding this issue?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: This is above all the shareholders’ affair.
RESPONSE: But there was a lot of talk precisely about Russia’s image with regard to the shareholders’ decision.
VLADIMIR PUTIN: Severstal, the company that planned a merger with Arcelor, is a 100-percent privately owned company, not a state-owned enterprise. The state does not own a single share in Severstal. This is a quite transparent and fast-growing company that has a very good partnership with Arcelor. The merger proposal came above all from Arcelor itself, as far as I know. But I think that just as our western partners are greater specialists in the media field when it comes to professionally getting across the information they have an interest in promoting, so in the business field too they are better at defending their own interests. But this very company, Severstal, acquired a controlling stake last year in a fairly large Italian company. So no, I do not think that image is the issue here, but rather it is a case of business interests. As for whether Arcelor has made the right decision or not, the shareholders will get the answer in a few years time, I think.
The same goes for today’s event, namely, my decision to give interviews to several western television companies. I am doing this not in order to change Russia’s image, but in order to inform your viewers and listeners about the issues we intend to discuss in St Petersburg and to answer any other questions you may have.
QUESTION: Everything in Russia is changing so fast. Today we see the dismantling of yet another symbol of the old Russia, the Rossia Hotel that is visible from the Kremlin. What feelings do you have, watching this hotel’s demolition over the days?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: The only thought in my mind is that whatever comes in its place be better. This hotel was built in the early seventies, or at the end of the seventies, I don’t remember exactly. It was seen as an interesting and attractive building at that time and was an illustration of what the Soviet Union was capable of in those years. To a certain extent it was even a symbol of the changing Soviet Union. Today it is outdated and its demolition is no cause for any particular regret. The main question is one of economic expediency and how to improve the architectural environment in Moscow, and of ensuring economic and social development throughout all of Russia. This is what we are working towards.
QUESTION: In the West you are often portrayed as a powerful leader. Would you say that you are the most powerful person in Russia?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: What I can say is that in accordance with the Constitution of the Russian Federation, the President, who is the head of state, does have great powers, but also great responsibilities. In this sense, I think that there is a balance between the President’s powers and responsibilities. This is not the easiest job in the world, but for me, as a citizen of Russia, it is an immense honour, of course. My family lived from generation to generation in a village some 100 kilometres from Moscow for more than 300 years and went the whole time to one and the same church, and so my spiritual ties with this land, with my homeland, are very strong in my heart and my soul, and as I say, I truly do see it as a great honour to be the head of the Russian state.
QUESTION: But you govern a country spanning 11 time zones. You have different climate conditions and a common border with some of the most unstable countries – Iran, Afghanistan, North Korea. How should such a country be governed, like a European country, for example, or like the United States?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: Russia needs to be governed using the means and methods best suited to its conditions and not in the same way as some European countries or as the United States. Russia is a unique country and not only in terms of its territory, which, even after the collapse of the Soviet Union is still the largest in the world, but also because it is home to more than 120 ethnic groups and many different religions.
QUESTION: Perhaps this requires a stronger hand at the top, in order to get all these different people to live together?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: As I said, I think that the powers and responsibilities of the President are balanced. We need our state and society to be organised in such a way that the regional authorities feel intimately bound to the country’s common national interests, while at the same time having sufficient powers to resolve their local problems and objectives. There are, however, some basic principles that we must certainly adhere to and that we are ensuring.
First, we are working hard now on creating a genuine multiparty system. We have made a conscious decision to have a parliament formed by political parties. I think that this should increase the role of political parties both at regional and national level. This sends a simple signal to the public, namely, that if you want to be involved in politics, do so through a political party.
Second, we are redistributing powers between the federal, regional and municipal authorities. Some powers, and the financing to go with them, are being devolved to regional and municipal level. We have doubled the number of municipalities in the country from 12,000 to 24,000 and have transferred sources of financing at the same time so that municipal authorities can address their local problems. In this respect we are following the same road that European countries have taken.
QUESTION: But there are also other powerful people in your country – the oligarchs. One of them is now in prison for tax crimes. Do you think that with time it will be possible to amnesty Mikhail Khodorkovsky?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: I think it is everyone’s duty to abide by the law regardless of their position in society or how much money they have. Even those who have amassed billion-dollar fortunes in the space of just five or six years have to observe the law. The state is not a nanny. The state is above all an instrument of enforcement to ensure equal conditions for all citizens, equal chances to develop and achieve success. The clan that you mentioned, the so-called oligarchs, is, as we understand it, a group of people who used the economic and legal transition period that our country went through to bypass the interests of our country and the majority of its citizens in order to amass huge fortunes through illegal means. If this can be proven by a court of law, then they must bear responsibility for their actions. Yes, the law does make provision for reducing sentences and conducting amnesties and so on, but these provisions must be used within the framework of the legislation currently in force and this requires certain conditions being met.
QUESTION: Russia is often criticised over freedom of the press and also because television is under state control. Do you not think that your country needs greater freedom, in television, for example, in order to breathe more freely?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: I have spoken many times on the subject of freedom of the press and have answered all these questions, but I can repeat some figures now and outline our position on this issue.
The first point I want to make, and I already spoke about this with some of your colleagues, is that if we go back 100 years and look through the newspapers, we see what arguments the colonial powers of that time advanced to justify their expansion into Africa and Asia. They cited arguments such as playing a civilising role, the particular role of the white man, the need to civilise ‘primitive peoples’. We all know what consequences this had. If we replace the term ‘civilising role’ with ‘democratisation’, then we can transpose practically word for word what the newspapers were writing 100 years ago to today’s world and the arguments we hear from some of our colleagues on issues such as democratisation and the need to ensure democratic freedoms. But the world is very diverse. There are, of course, basic values without which no modern state or society can exist if it wants to develop effectively, and we are well aware of this. But there are also differences that, if ignored, can lead countries along the road to collapse and disintegration. This is also a lesson that we learned during the first half of the 1990s.
QUESTION: Do you think there is a Russian model of democracy that differs from, say, the European or American model?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: I think that direct democracy is the clearest embodiment of the principles of democracy. In your country the president is elected through direct secret ballot and in our country the same is true. But in the United States, as we know, the president is elected through a system of electoral colleges. I personally think that direct democracy is a more democratic process. Regional leaders in some European countries are directly appointed. In our country the regional legislative assemblies take part in this process, and in some countries they do not. The institute of the monarchy survives today in some European countries, and though in most of these countries the monarch has a mostly representative function, this is not the case everywhere. In some cases the monarch also has certain powers of substance. But we do not say that monarchy is such a relic of the past that these countries cannot be considered democratic. So let’s get away from the stereotyped thinking of the Cold War era, stop putting labels on each other and simply cooperate instead, help each other develop and improve our political systems. If we do this with good intention, as friends and genuine partners, then we will certainly see the benefits.
Coming back to freedom of the press, without a free press and without civil society we will not be able to fight such problems as corruption, for example. We understand this very well. But if a free press is interpreted as being the chance for the oligarchs you mentioned to buy up all the media outlets and then use them to advance their own corporate and group interests, above all their own financial interests, I do not think that is a free press. It is also not a good thing when the state starts to dominate in the media. But I draw your attention to the fact that we have a constantly growing number of electronic media – more than 3,500 today. Cable TV is developing rapidly and we are going over to digital technology, especially at regional level. The state could not control all these media outlets even if it wanted to. That is not to mention the print media – more than 40,000 publications in Russia today. And more than half of these publications – I don’t remember exactly how many - are owned by foreign capital.
So, regarding this constant return to the issue of democracy in Russia, I can only see it in one light and I will be quite frank and open with you. Russia went through very serious economic upheaval in the early and mid-1990s. The economy was in a state of semi-collapse and the social system had broken down entirely. The state was unable to address all of these social problems without recourse to huge financial resources from abroad, and this put Russia in a weak position that made it possible to use a wide range of instruments to influence Russia’s domestic and foreign policy. Today these instruments have been lost but some of our partners still have the desire to influence our foreign and domestic policy. They need to put aside these desires so that we can start building a normal and equal partnership. Using democratisation of Russia as an instrument to pursue one’s own foreign policy aims with respect to our country is unacceptable.
QUESTION: Russia was long criticised over Chechnya and the situation in the republic. Now we know that Shamil Basayev has been killed. You have said that the military operations in Chechnya are now over. The outcome of these operations is 300,000 dead, including around 80,000 Chechen civilians. Was this military operation justified? What responsibility does Russia bear for it? Was it possible to carry out an operation of this kind without violating the rights and interests of citizens? Was it necessary, for example, to bomb Grozny in order to fight the terrorists?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: Unfortunately, any conflict involving heavy arms causes deaths, including among the civilian population. I want to remind you that Russia gave Chechnya what amounted practically to independence in 1995, but what did we end up with as a result? Overnight this republic was taken over by extremist groups from all around the world. Overnight. Not only did the people who came to power there spare little thought for the interests of their citizens, they gave their interests no thought at all, pursuing instead their goal to create a fundamentalist state reaching from the Caspian to the Black Sea. This certainly has nothing to do whatsoever with the interests of the Chechen people. This circumstance, and the attempts to introduce extremist currents of Islam from abroad, turned against the people who tried to pursue these goals, because the majority of Chechen citizens realised that without Russia they would have no guarantee of real independence. This was exactly the way things turned out. It was for precisely this reason that the first President of Chechnya, Akhmat Kadyrov, who was later killed by terrorists, came to me. He came to me with these very ideas.
When we decided to hold a referendum on a constitution for Chechnya, a constitution that states expressly that Chechnya is an integral part of the Russian Federation, many had doubts as to the wisdom of this step and as to how the Chechens would vote. But I remind you that more than 80 percent voted to maintain Chechnya within the Russian Federation. This is a question of principle for me. It was settled in the most democratic way possible and in the presence of those who had the greatest interest in seeing it resolved in democratic fashion. As you know, observers from the League of Arab Nations and from the Organisation of the Islamic Conference were present during the referendum on the constitution and during the presidential election. They were present at almost all the polling stations and they have no doubts that the voting was conducted in the most democratic fashion.
Yes, there are victims, of course. Unfortunately, this is unavoidable. But it was not us who began the war in 1999. Back then, international terrorist groups launched an attack on Dagestan, also a Muslim republic, from Chechen territory, and the Muslims of Dagestan, together with a large part of the Chechen population, fought back against these terrorists, and only later did our regular armed forces come to their aid. Only later. We had no choice but to take this action. I think that any country would rise to the defence of its territorial integrity, because in this case we were not just trying to stamp out a hotbed of terrorism in the North Caucasus and in Chechnya in particular. For us it was clear that if we allowed the creation of a fundamentalist state from the Caspian to the Black Sea, this would spill over into other parts of Russia where Muslims are a large part of the population. This was a question of the survival of the Russian Federation itself, of our statehood, and I think that all of our actions were justified.
QUESTION: There are some things that people in the West don’t understand. You are very popular in Russia after six years in power. You wear your watch on your right hand and all the oligarchs have also started wearing their watches on their right hand. Your name is used for all kinds of products. Why don’t you make use of this situation and ask the parliament to amend the Constitution?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: Because the President of Russia is the guarantor of the Constitution. It is the President’s direct responsibility to guarantee its stability, and I think that this stability is precisely one of our greatest achievements of recent years. We cannot have a stable situation in the country if we destabilise the Constitution.
Finally, and most importantly, I already said that I consider myself a Russian right to the core, to the very marrow. And if you love your country, you need to understand that the destiny of such a vast state cannot be bound to the destiny of just one man, even one like me, and I like myself too. This is why I will do everything I can to ensure that everyone in the Russian Federation, starting with the head of state, respects the laws of this country.
RESPONSE: Mr President, thank you for this interview.
VLADIMIR PUTIN: Thank you.
Interview with CTV Television Channel (Canada)
July 12, 2006
QUESTION: First of all, I would like to thank you for receiving us today. This is a great privilege and we value it very much.
I would like to begin with the big piece of news that we just heard regarding the death of Shamil Basayev, Russia’s most wanted terrorist, the man responsible for Beslan, for Dubrovka and many other crimes committed in Russia against the Russian people. What were your thoughts when you received this news?
PRESIDENT VLADIMIR PUTIN: I thought that this was just retribution for someone like this terrorist. As I have said, this man has the blood of our children in Beslan and of many other victims on his hands. I think that there are people who deserve this kind of retribution. We will fight terrorism using exclusively legal methods and basing ourselves on the laws of our country. We think that Russia, like any other country in the world, has the right to defend itself against terrorist aggression from outside and to protect its territorial integrity, and we will take all legitimate measures to defend our interests.
QUESTION: What were your thoughts at the moment you were told that he had been killed?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: I thought that this was too little for him, simply to be killed. I think that no matter what religion he professes, he will get what he deserves in the next world for the crimes that he has committed.
QUESTION: Now for a question about the G8 and the upcoming summit in St Petersburg. You are presiding over this summit. You are the host. You will be holding your first meeting with the new Canadian Prime Minister, Stephen Harper. What are the key issues at the moment, as you see them, on the bilateral agenda for Russia and Canada?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: I would like to recall first of all that at the start of the 1990s, then Prime Minister and leader of the Canadian Conservative Party, Brian Mulrooney, took the first steps towards building new relations between Canada and the new Russia. We have not forgotten this. Over these years we have come a long way, have taken our relations to a new level and, I think, have achieved a great deal. I note that at the moment the level of political cooperation and trust we have achieved is still ahead, unfortunately, of our economic achievements. But there are several things that unite us. This is not just the fact that we are both countries with vast territories. It is also mutual economic interests, including with respect to the main item that we will be discussing at the summit – energy security. I know that our energy companies are currently in talks and that we could combine our efforts to coordinate our action and make a worthy contribution to resolving energy problems in the world. This concerns projects in the area of liquefied natural gas and supplies to the North-American continent. This also concerns work on the markets of third countries.
No less important is that we unite our efforts in the fight against infectious diseases. We know that infectious diseases are responsible for a third of all deaths in the world. I think that Canada is also doing a great deal to resolve problems in the area of education. Canada, like Russia, is a multiethnic country. You have a bilingual culture that is a good example for emulation in many countries, including in the Russian Federation. Of course, we cannot adopt your bilingual culture wholesale, because there are more than 120 different peoples and ethnic groups living in Russia. They are all very strongly rooted in their historic territories. There are, of course, huge differences. But there are many common elements that make us close partners. Aside from anything else, we are also neighbours on the Arctic Ocean.
QUESTION: Yes, this is all true. As preparations for the summit continue, there has been a lot of criticism from Russia’s G8 partners, especially from the United States, regarding backsliding on democracy. Overall, criticism concerns lack of freedom of the press, changes to the electoral law and the law on NGOs. To quote some statistics and ideas that I heard at Freedom House, they say that two years ago Russia still had freedom and today it does not. The organisation Human Rights Watch said in 1995 that Russia would creep towards authoritarianism in 2005, and U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney said that, “in many areas of civil society the government is unfairly and improperly restricting people’s rights”. You have said that you do not believe this to be the case and have explained it very well. But what interests me is where do you think this criticism is coming from? Why has Russia become a whipping boy? In English we say that there’s no smoke without fire, and I’m sure that Russian has a similar saying.
VLADIMIR PUTIN: First of all, we need to say things frankly and as they are. Russia is in a state of political and economic transition. We went from the tsarist regime straight into communism and only at the beginning of the 1990s made a decisive step towards developing democratic institutions. I say now, as I’ve said before, that we made this choice independently, and not under pressure from anyone. We made this choice for ourselves because the practice of recent decades in the world has shown that democratic organisation of society is the only way forward. It is an essential condition for effective development. And if we want to be an effective country, and this is what we want, then we must adhere to these rules, and this is what we shall do.
As for whether this criticism is justified or not, when we hear this kind of criticism from interested partners who really do want to see Russia grow stronger and become more effective, then we can see where it is coming from and we will, of course, listen attentively and respond to it, and respond sincerely, what’s more. But I do want to point out that the processes underway in our country differ little from those underway in other countries.
If you take the changes to the procedures for electing regional leaders, for example, the heads of regions are elected through a voting procedure in the regional parliaments. In many other countries that are considered entirely democratic not even this procedure exists and the regional heads are simply appointed directly. In some European countries and in India, for example, the world’s biggest democracy, they are simply appointed by the government.
QUESTION: Can I interrupt you for a second? I understand very well everything you’re saying, but that is the form, and I am talking about what actually happens in practice. The Russian Union of Journalists said, for example, that not a single negative report has been made about you in the last three years. Nothing bad has been said about you on the three national TV channels. That is the reality.
The structure might be fine, but the reality is a different situation.
VLADIMIR PUTIN: I don’t think this is the case. If you look at and analyse more closely what is going on in the media, you will see that there is constant criticism of myself and of other people involved in politics or management at a high level. I do not think that this criticism, whether at home or abroad, is always objective in character, but we accept this situation and consider it normal.
But I would like to come back to your question about why this is happening. The early 1990s saw the collapse of the Soviet Union. This was a very difficult time for our economy. Our social system broke down entirely. You were living here and you saw all of this. In reality, our country was balancing on the edge of preserving its statehood. This was a huge country, after all, hard to govern, lurching from one crisis to another, and it was easy to manipulate it and influence its domestic and foreign policy. And suddenly in the space of just five or six years everything has changed quite radically, but some of our partners have not lost their desire to manage and dictate the situation within Russia and to influence our foreign policy. And so they have begun feverishly looking round for these levers through which to exert influence, but little opportunity remains today for influencing Russia.
This, I think, explains the ongoing criticism over democracy, freedom of the press and so on. These issues are being used as an instrument to intervene in our domestic and foreign policy in order to have an influence on it.
But I think these are attempts to resolve today’s problems using yesterday’s means. This is an approach based on the old Cold War-era foreign policy vision of Russia being if not an enemy than at least an opponent. But if certain of our partners were able to carry out an in-depth analysis of the processes underway in the world today and look ahead not just to the next presidential elections in four years time but 15 or 25 years down the road, they would take a different attitude towards Russia. Then we would not see this campaign that we are currently witnessing.
As for the issue of freedom of the press and related problems, you said yourself where this is mostly coming from, and I am sure that many in your country would agree with me that only those who themselves have a spotless human rights record have the right to point the finger at others.
QUESTION: And the partners who do not want to see a free and independent Russia, who are they?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: I did not say that they do not want to see a free and independent Russia. I said that they would like to have an influence on our domestic and foreign policy and are creating the instruments of this influence. That is all. And you named them yourself.
VLADIMIR PUTIN: You said yourself that criticism is coming mostly from the United States. You have answered your own question.
QUESTION: You no doubt know that now, as we meet here in your residence, a summit presenting itself as an alternative to the G8 summit, ‘A Different Russia’, is taking place. The Kremlin said that it would not like foreigners to attend this alternative summit and would view this as an unfriendly gesture. But five countries, including Canada, have sent their representatives to this summit, including the Canadian ambassador. Do you take this as a slap in the face?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: I am not sure just what kind of alternative summit this is. I have heard that some of our political opponents within the country want to use it as a platform for advancing their own views on the situation in the country. This is all looking, of course, to the State Duma election at the end of 2007. If officials from other countries support this kind of initiative, this means that they are simply trying to have a bit of influence on the internal political deal in Russia. This is their right and I wish them luck.
QUESTION: Coming to another issue, we have a new government in Canada that is seen as being closer to the United States than the previous government. You have not met yet with our new prime minister, but have you sensed any signals that indicate that this relation is becoming stronger and could, in turn, have an impact on relations between Canada and Russia?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: No, I have sensed nothing of this kind so far. I know the mood in Canada itself and I know that Canada feels it is the neighbour of a powerful and large partner, one of the clear leaders in world politics. I do not want to say anything I shouldn’t in this respect, but I know the concerns in Canadian business and political circles. Canada is carrying out its own fight to feel independent in all respects and in the full sense of the word. I think this is right because, while monopolists might like monopolies, they are not good for the situation overall and ultimately not good even for the monopolists themselves. This is why we support a multi-polar world and not a mono-polar world, not a situation in which one side dictates its conditions to the other players on the international stage. I hope that our point of view will eventually win out. But we will fight to advance this view in international affairs not by using the means and methods of the Cold War era, but through open and friendly dialogue with all of our partners, including Canada and the United States. This is one of the reasons why we get together, including for the summit in St Petersburg.
QUESTION: North Korea and Iran will undoubtedly come up on the agenda at the summit. These are two hot spots on the international stage at the moment and are the subject of differences among the G8 partners. You have expressed your opposition to imposing sanctions on these countries, saying that you do not want to back them into a corner. Russia continues to build the nuclear reactor at Bushehr and to sell Iran missiles. Why not stop this? What would have to happen for you to say that the time has come to impose more severe sanctions and more serious punishment on countries that violate international laws?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: Unlike in past years, we all share the same goals. Like our G8 partners, including Canada, the United States and the European countries, we want a safer world, we want to prevent new threats from emerging and we want to prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and the means of their delivery in the world. This goes for the Iranian nuclear programme and the North Korean missile programme. The question is only about what means we use to achieve these goals. We see that our partners are sometimes mistaken, to say the least. They were looking for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, for example, but where are they? Has the economic, social and political situation improved there? Has the counterterrorist situation improved there? This is a big question. And where is the exit now? It’s hard to say what the next step should be, but pulling out is also not an option. This is an illustration of the kind of impasse we can arrive at.
I hope that together, and I want to stress this, together, including with the forces in the international coalition in Iraq and the Iraqi people, we will find a way out of this situation. But I do not think that finding a solution has become any easier than when we were trying to put pressure on Saddam Hussein.
The same goes for North Korea and Iran. Regarding nuclear technology the matter concerns not only Iran, after all. The matter also concerns other countries that are on the threshold of developing nuclear technology. One of the items on the agenda for the G8 summit is energy security. But the development of nuclear energy is one of the ways of overcoming energy crises. How can we close off access to present and future nuclear technology to all countries that are not in the nuclear club, especially for peaceful purposes? We cannot do this. Iran will not be the only country wanting to develop this technology, other countries will want to do it too, and we cannot cut them all off from it.
We need to create conditions that will give these countries access to modern technology, including nuclear technology, while at the same time addressing concerns over proliferation of nuclear weapons. Russia has proposed a solution. We proposed creating a network of international centres to enrich uranium and process spent nuclear fuel. This, and other issues, will also be on the agenda at the G8 summit.
We do not support letting anyone and everyone acquire nuclear weapons and the means of their delivery. What we want is for everyone to work together, including in the G8, to reach coordinated decisions. This is our objective. How these decisions take form in the Security Council, say, (as sanctions or as a statement) is another matter. But if we start imposing sanctions right now, without even waiting for Iran’s response to the proposal that was made regarding its nuclear programme, we will simply undermine this positive process that had just begun to emerge. Why should we do this? This problem has been going on for several years now and what will change if we wait another three weeks? I don’t think that anything will change.
So we should not take any hasty steps in this regard. I think that these are the kinds of issues where haste is detrimental.
QUESTION: What about the missiles?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: The same goes for the missiles. We have expressed our concern over the tests conducted by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. Speaking in a strictly legal sense, from the point of view of international law, North Korea has the right to develop missile technology because it is not party to the international agreements in this area. But one party’s rights should not infringe on the rights of others, at least as concerns the free movement of shipping, for example. Our North Korean partners did not warn anyone, after all, that they were going to carry out these tests. They did not say where the warheads or other parts of the missiles being tested might land, and this could have had serious consequences.
QUESTION: So they almost reached your borders, is that right?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: There’s no need to overdo the situation. Our national monitoring systems did not detect the fall of any pieces of missile, any missile debris, in our territorial waters or in our economic zone. But this is all going on close to our borders and it is of concern to us. This will, of course, be a subject for discussion in St Petersburg.
QUESTION: The country you were born in, the Soviet Union, carried out a long and bloody war in Afghanistan, a war that it did not win in the end. Canada is now heading a coalition with other allies and we have more than 2,000 soldiers there. Do you think that the Canadians are making the same mistake that the Soviet Union made in its time? And do you think that there is something we could learn from Russia’s experience in Afghanistan?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: These are very difficult questions you are asking me. Yes, the Soviet Union was present in Afghanistan and sent its armed forces there, and now an international coalition of armed forces is present in the country. The strange thing is that in one case and the other the battle is against almost one and the same opponent. These forces are not identical, but the situation is very similar. I do not think that our western partners took the decision to send troops to Afghanistan lightly. Unfortunately, it had become clear to us all that the territory of this country was being used against the will of its people as a platform from which to conduct international terrorist activity, to train terrorists and prepare terrorist acts.
As with the Iranian and North Korean issues, the big difference between today’s situation and the situation in the 1980s is that we and our partners share the same aims. In this case the aim is to fight terrorism and strengthen the legitimate government in Kabul. Our position right from the start has been that we can achieve these aims only if we establish constructive cooperation between ourselves within the UN Security Council and help the constructive forces in Afghanistan consolidate their position. We supported the parliamentary and presidential elections there and we are helping with the development of the armed forces of Afghanistan today. We have provided millions of dollars in aid to Afghanistan by sending military supplies for its army. We made a considerable contribution to preventing the Taliban from taking over the whole of Afghan territory before the international operation began on Afghan territory, and we will continue to work together with our partners in this area.
But what is very important is that if everything were now as it was at the end of the 1980s, we would have far greater problems. At that time, when the Soviet Union was in Afghanistan, the West was busy raising numerous Bin Ladens, sparing no time or money in its efforts. But today the situation is entirely different. Not only do we not support the forces resisting the international coalition in Afghanistan, but we are trying to make our constructive contribution to the positive development of the situation in that country and we will continue to work in solidarity in this way.
I would like to note that for the first time in our history we have not only authorised transport aircraft to fly across our territory but have also authorised the passage of NATO railway transport taking part in the operations in Afghanistan, including for military transit.
QUESTION: Would you like to say a few words in English to our Canadian viewers before we end?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: I think it would not be right for me to say a few words in English to the viewers in Canada because then I would also have to say a few words in French as well, and I doubt that I can do this at a decent level. So I will just thank you for the attention you are giving the G8 and the situation in the Russian Federation itself.
And I wish our friends in Canada all the very best.
RESPONSE: Thank you very much.
Interview with ZDF Television Channel (Germany)
QUESTION: Mr President, the G8 summit is about to begin in St Petersburg. What do you think will be the summit’s most important result?
PRESIDENT VLADIMIR PUTIN: First of all, I would like to adopt the documents that our colleagues and various experts have worked on through out the year. I would say that this is the most important aspect of international policy and even the international agenda. It is not just any international policy, it is those very issues that are crucial for humanity: energy security, the fight against infectious diseases, the development of education. All of these are crucial issues in any state policy.
And if we are able to coordinate our positions on all these topics then that will already be a big result in and of itself.
QUESTION: Allow me to ask something at once. After the issue of energy security was given a high priority on the Russian agenda we heard quite a few statements from Washington, for example by Dick Cheney, that some kind of energy blackmail is taking place. For example, Dick Cheney referred to the fact that Russia is exerting pressure on Ukraine and on other states. Five weeks after these statements, what will your dialogue with American President George W. Bush consist of? Can you still talk to him and can you still refer to him as your friend? Do you need an additional translator for interacting with him?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: It is no surprise that when a government adopts a position it is trying to first and foremost defend its economic or political interests. So when in the middle of the 1970s Germany and the USSR thought of constructing a gas pipeline system to provide German consumers with our natural gas, America was against this. At the time they talked about the unreliability, the problems related to possible dependence on the USSR. And we both know that no dependence ensued.
Moreover, the Berlin wall fell with the support of the Soviet Union and Germany was united. And despite all the difficulties and dramatic events of that period, Russia has been a most reliable supplier for over 40 years.
RESPONSE: Certainly, Russia is a reliable supplier. And undoubtedly this also raises the question of economic dependence. You understand much better than I do to what extent Germany depends on deliveries of gas to Russia.
VLADIMIR PUTIN: Just like Russia depends on consumers in Germany. This is the mutual dependence between the producer and the consumer. And this has a definite role with respect to ensuring security. Over time this mutual dependence must establish normal mutual relations on the world’s energy market and in international politics. In fact this is a positive rather than a negative thing.
With respect to the statements of some of our partners, including those that you mentioned, it seems to me –rather, I am confident—that all the hysteria surrounding deliveries of gas to Ukraine and the construction of the Northern European pipeline were aimed at defending American economic and political interests in Europe. And good for them, that they were able to defend their interests so persistently and effectively.
In particular, I am referring to the fact that the United States had special relations with certain eastern European countries and that they want to support them. They want to support certain political forces, for example in Ukraine. I do not think that this is the right choice because there are no pro-Russian or pro-Soviet forces there. All political forces in Ukraine are first and foremost pro-Ukrainian and nationalist, in the best sense of the word. But the Americans decided to have a stake in the political spectrum and wanted to support them by all possible means, including through cheap energy from Russia. But as I have already said, if someone wants to support political forces in one or another country, then they have to pay for it.
And the most important thing for European consumers of energy resources, including gas, involves diversifying the transport routes and supply channels. Why should you always have to depend on the agreements we have with Ukraine, Belarus or Poland on transportation? And these transit countries make their own prices depend on the conditions under which Russia is supplying gas to you. Why do you need this?
Increasing the amount of transport possibilities is in the interests of European consumers. I have been amazed, simply amazed, by how both the Federal Republic of Germany or other European countries don’t understand what is in their own interests. How can any major political party feel that it is defending Germany’s national interests if it does not understand these elementary things? Or perhaps they are defending other interests.
QUESTION: You are now talking about agreements with Gazprom and about establishing a reliable gas pipeline that will supply Germany with gas. But a question arises: why has Moscow not taken the decision to sign the European Energy Charter, and why did you say that it is not possible to sign or to ratify the Charter? Seeing as we are talking about problems with respect to nationalization. And why is it also impossible to allow foreign companies into Russian territory or is it only good friends that are allowed in?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: First of all, I want to finish with the previous question. It is a very important one.
We were able to make majors changes in the situation. Fundamental changes. Before, our European partners, including Germany, depended on how we agreed with countries such as Ukraine on the deliveries of gas to Ukraine itself. Before this was done according to one contract. In one contract we determined the prices for Ukraine and the conditions for deliveries to Europe. Now we have separated these issues and concluded two contracts for the coming five years. One concerning transporting our gas to Germany and other European countries and the other on Ukraine. We have to applaud this decision and to thank President Yushchenko for the fact that he did this, rather than speculating on these issues. That is the first thing.
QUESTION: What an issue. It seems to me that you are a little bit disappointed by the American position, that they are really uniting their efforts with Ukraine, are working quite unilaterally, and are not thanking Russia for your position after 11 September. Since the whole time I have the impression that at the beginning they provoked you, and now you are responding…
VLADIMIR PUTIN: We are not children and we do not want any gratitude from anybody. I think that this really is a unilateral approach that our American partners have adopted. One cannot back any one political force by painting it with a pro-western brush. I will say to you once again that there are no solely pro-western or solely pro-Russian forces there. All of these political forces are, first and foremost, pro-Ukrainian. This has to be understood. Just as one must respect our interests since almost 17 million ethnic Russians live in Ukraine and half of all Ukrainian families have ties with the Russian Federation.
A huge economic dependence has remained from Soviet times. And other ties that are extremely important for us.
I repeat that if someone wants to support a certain political force then they can do so, but please, not at our expense. That is the first thing.
Now we shall return to the question of the Energy Charter. We do not reject the possibility of working according to the principles contained in this document. And our agreements with BASF and E.ON are the best confirmation of our desire to do so. What is that Energy Charter and what is it based on? On access to infrastructure of extraction and transport. And we say that we are not against providing such access. And we showed this through concrete agreements. We allowed BASF, for example, into one of our largest gas deposits. After which BASF allowed us to transport gas on the territory of the Federal Republic of Germany at market cost. But this is far from everything. This is a very narrow and unilateral way of understanding the problem.
I can ask you whether you know or whether your spectators today know that Russia’s energy sector is much more liberalized, almost impossible to compare with that in OPEC countries?
QUESTION: You are saying that these reproaches are unfair and that we should not talk about full nationalisation of the energy sector. You also know about the reproaches concerning Rosneft and the fact that it was not put on the stock market. And in addition to this the question of destroying Khodorkovskii’s empire and the process connected with this arises. But of course we have already talked enough about this.
Yet the question remains: do you think investors have an interest in cooperating with Russia when they see how major companies that do not behave properly or, for example, dare to criticize the Russian government are treated?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: All the same I would still like to answer your question about the openness of our market and why we are not preparing to ratify the Additional Protocol to the Energy Charter.
Our energy market is much more open then that of many other countries that supply energy to foreign markets, for example the OPEC countries. I am not sure whether our spectators today are aware that the state is involved in only two of our oil and gas companies? Along with this we have more than ten major companies and almost all of them are private. Foreign capital has a strong presence in many of these companies. In one of these companies, TNK BP, it is fifty-fifty. And the world’s largest company that I have already mentioned – British Petroleum – has substantially increased its supplies over the last few years thanks to the supplies received from the Russian government.
In the Russian Far East American companies are carrying out multibillion dollar projects. The American company Texaco is the leader in this respect and has already invested more then ten billion dollars. In the north of the Russian Federation foreign companies are actively carrying out extraction. There are a huge number of partners working in Russia’s energy sector. As could happen in any other country.
But there are things to which we pay special attention. The Energy Charter and the Additional Protocol refer to granting access to infrastructure for extracting and transporting gas. And so we ask our partners: “Very well, we shall give you access to this infrastructure and will you allow us access?” And they answer: “Sure, we will”. And I ask you: “Where are these deposits? Where are the huge gas pipelines and infrastructure like that we have?” Our partners do not have such infrastructure. For that reason signing and ratifying the additional protocols with the Russian party is a unilateral decision, and we shall not accept unilateral decisions.
And I will honestly tell you the most important thing. Today energy is one of the key sectors of our economy. And for that reason we want our partnership to be an equal one and that our partners give us access to what is important for us. And we will not always need, shall we say, access to deposits that you don’t have. We need high-tech products. But even today the COCOM lists virtually still hold sway and in practice they prevent us from gaining access to western high-tech products.
RESPONSE: But this is not the biggest problem – please excuse me from interrupting you again. Of course the biggest problem is that today the Russian economy is getting a large profit from the high oil price (it is already 80 USD and not 10 like it once was) and therefore the country’s currency reserves are different than they were in the past, and you can act differently because of it.
VLADIMIR PUTIN: I would still like to finish. And so if at one point we go to sign and ratify the agreement then we must know that if we allow our partners into our economy then our partners would allow us into your economy so that the cooperation was on an equal footing…
QUESTION: I hope that you will not be offended if we once again return to those criticisms that are always put forward with respect to Russia. They concern the fact that the G8 summit should not be held in Russia because Russia should not have this honour. You know that there are alternative meetings and complaints by non-governmental organisations regarding the human rights situation in Russia. Would you say that this is also a manipulation of interests and can you confirm this?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: All the same, I would like to finish the previous question. We are ready to cooperate in the energy sector if it is a partnership based on equal rights and if we will achieve our goals in our relations with our partners.
We know the reaction that occurred in Great Britain. Just as Gazprom announced that it wanted to buy one of their companies, everyone got excited: “The Russians are coming! Guards!” And, by the way, it is good for a liberal economy to get investments.
And I would like to close the second question. You talked about the reliability or the unreliability of capital investments in Russia. There are billions of dollars of foreign capital invested in our economy, especially in the energy sector. And everyone would like even more. And they would like us to ratify the Energy Charter to invest even more. We have billions of dollars of investments, and they are growing. So all are happy!
And regarding the unfortunate case you mentioned, that famous sad case with YUKOS and Mikhail Khodorkovskii, I have already spoken about this theme. It is hard to imagine that in the Federal Republic of Germany in three or four years people could amass many billions of dollars, personal funds. If the court decided that these assets were obtained by illegal means and made a decision then we abide by the court’s decision. And this has not stopped the inflow of foreign investments into our economy. Moreover, the level of our companies’ capitalisation last year was an absolute record, not only for our economy, but also for the world economy.
QUESTION: 30 percent. I hope that you will not be offended if I criticize protecting this process. At any rate, perhaps we can also pass on to other questions that are linked to this?
Is it not the case that if you encourage people to make investments in Russia, and at the same time hold such legal cases, then at the end of the day this leads to nationalization? Since a large portion of YUKOS assets have now become the property of government companies. In this case, does this not shut the door to investors? Perhaps you could answer this question briefly?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: I want to tell you that if you really look at the essential thing in the decisions made by the court, then the court decided that a significant part of the assets were stolen from the state. Though of course we are talking about tax evasion. And if these assets are returned to the state, then I think it was just. This is the answer to your question: whether it was good or bad they fell to the company with a 100 percent state capital.
But as you know, today this company is engaging in the IPO process – sales of the assets. This is being done actively and in an absolutely market-based, transparent way. I would draw your attention to the fact that at present more than 560 million dollars of these shares are owned by the population, the citizens of the Russian Federation. Billions of dollars of investments are already being made by major foreign partners. And I think that this is correct. I am happy.
I cannot say whether I am proud or not – I am happy. I consider that this is correct.
QUESTION: Mr President, a question on the debates surrounding human rights in connection with the G8 summit in St Petersburg. You know that there are alternative meetings and criticisms linked to the fact that non-governmental organisations in Russia are faced with obstacles that prevent them from carrying out their activities. And recently people are talking about the fact that in practice the state controls the Russian media, and is always publishing only positive materials on your government.
I don’t want to trouble you again and again with all these arguments, and probably you know the situation much better then I do. However, the question remains: how do you react to these criticisms? You always say that you have three thousand television channels that show different programmes on health, on sports. But here is my question: how can oppositional voices be heard if they don’t have access to major television channels? What is the situation in this respect?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: If you had really made a serious analysis of our media sources and the volume of critical remarks addressed to the President and the government then you would see that there are enough of them. There are a lot of them. And if we are going to speak about a case in which media tries to manipulate public opinion then the best example of manipulating public opinion in Europe occurred in the case that you mentioned. It was, shall we say, linked to energy deliveries in Ukraine and Europe or, shall we say, with the construction of the Northern European Gas Pipeline.
QUESTION: Allow me to ask you about the Russian media. There really is criticism not only within Russian but from a number of international organisations who say that national television is either directly or indirectly state-controlled and also that to increasing degree the newspapers are controlled by companies that are connected to the state.
And there was also a conference held in Moscow. I would ask that you understand that it is the situation in Russia that interests us.
Of course we understand that referring to conflicts in other regions of the world follows logically. But allow us to ask you your opinion on what will happen in the Russian mass media.
VLADIMIR PUTIN: I will answer your question. I believe that our media is developing in absolutely the right direction. The number of our television and broadcasting companies – and you already referred to this number yourself – is increasing and is already more then 3,500 and the number of newspapers is more then 40,000. The majority of them are founded with foreign capital. I don’t know whether you know this or not. It is not possible to supervise everything, this is a huge volume of mass media. No, we don’t try to do this. Yes, it is national…
QUESTION: Do you want to say that these international organisations are either lying or that they aren’t noticing your efforts? For example, Reporters Without Borders does not rank Russia in the first hundred countries and behind you there is only Saudi Arabia or Cuba. Do you not consider this to be criticism? It is not such a bad question.
VLADIMIR PUTIN: We are trying to analyse this criticism. And certainly, wherever there is constructive criticism, of course we will react to this. But I would like to answer the question you just asked in a conceptual way.
I already answered your colleagues and I can repeat the same to you. We both know that at the beginning and in the middle of the 1990s the background was this: the economic and social spheres of the Russian Federation were in disorder, we could not solve social problems or carry out our obligations to the population without borrowing many billions of dollars (and incidentally, at that time our oligarchs were earning billions for their own pockets). And on this background there was a whole system put in place to influence Russian interior and foreign policy. And in the last three, four or five years and based on the changes in the situation of the Russian economy then these means of influencing Russian society began to disappear. And one of our partners very much wanted to keep something in place so that they could continue this influence.
Little remains from the previous tools of influence, and it seems to me that you have chosen your line of attack on purpose. Though of course, in this sphere, issues arise and there are problems. It is precisely for this reason that I compared certain things that happen in both our countries to show that they don’t only happen in our country.
The ability to manipulate public opinion is no less in western countries, the so-called developed democracies, then it is here. And civil society should do everything to resist these tendencies.
Every year the state’s role in electronic media and especially in printed media is decreasing. Look at the statistics and it is obvious.
QUESTION: I shall analyse statistical data, I promise. And I ask that you understand my persistence in touching certain themes. You know about the so-called managed democracy. It is ostensibly a friendly formulation and yet one that criticizes Russia which has established a democracy where nothing happens by chance. Does such a democracy exist?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: Recently at an event the personnel of the Presidential Administration described our position in answer to a question on managed democracy. We consider that this is a democracy that is controlled from the outside. And we have examples of this, including on the territory of the former Soviet Union. This will not happen in relation to Russia.
Regarding the non-governmental organisations you mentioned. I have already said that before adopting the law I sent the Justice Minister of the Russian Federation to our European colleagues to consult on this issue. And in the Council of Europe personnel from two departments, the human rights department and the legal department, formed a commission together with independent European experts and made written remarks. We studied these remarks and I sent them to parliament on my behalf. They were all accepted.
If we say that it is not a very good law then this must also affect our European colleagues. It implies that you are questioning their qualifications. I do not think that this is the case.
QUESTION: However, as a whole you accuse non-governmental organisations of being financed by foreign special services of from abroad, organisations such as Amnesty International.
But allow me to come back to the question. Since Russia sees itself just as you say, how can Amnesty International be dangerous to Russia?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: We are not accusing anybody of anything. But we shall not allow organisations that deal with problems of internal policy to be financed from abroad. That is the issue. And that is the most important problem.
We want and will support the development of civil society in every possible way, including non-governmental organisations that work towards helping the environment, the population, the struggle against corruption. We are going to support all this and many other things. But we will not support and we shall not encourage foreign states to send money into Russia in hidden ways, through the special services, and for these organisations to carry out political activity inside the Russian Federation.
And I think that such an attitude is absolutely correct, if we want to provide for Russia’s sovereignty and that of the Federal Republic of Germany. And I wish you the same.
QUESTION: It really is a very valid wish that we feel positively about. In fact it is always a question of degree. Of course now time prevents us from talking about the latest changes in Russian legislation.
How are your relations with the new Federal Chancellor of Germany? And what differences are there in comparison with your friend Gerhard Schroeder?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: I am very happy with how relations are developing with the present Chancellor. She is a very good partner and interlocutor. She has her own views on the development of our relations both for Russia and for Germany. She knows our country well. I have to give her what is due, because it really is the case. It is visible from our informal conversations.
She has her vision with respect to the development of the situation in Russia today. Incidentally, we discussed the situation concerning non-governmental organisations for quite a long time. Moreover, …
QUESTION: When she was in Tomsk, she also visited non-governmental organisations. Did you see this as an insult?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: No, no not at all. I saw it as absolutely normal. Incidentally, I promised and sent her a comparison of the legislation that regulates the activities of non-governmental organisations in Russia and in Germany. I asked our jurists to do a comparative study and I sent her this comparative legal study. There are differences, but they are not significant.
And if we talk about the development of civil society and democracy as a whole, then I want to draw your attention to the law that was adopted recently in your Bundestag. I am referring to the Land’s inability to block certain draft projects that the legislation considers to be national issues. And it is certainly possible to see this as a restriction of the Land’s rights.
RESPONSE: It scarcely caused worries, since we are not talking about the kinds of difficulties that the opposition in Russia faces.
VLADIMIR PUTIN: You know, I could say the same to you. Do not worry about how democracy is developing in Russia.
In addition to changing the way the heads of regions come into power, we adopted a very important law that almost nobody noticed. And this law is about decentralizing power. It is a law about delimiting powers between the federal levels, regional, and then we adopted another law on local…
RESPONSE: For example, about naming governors – that was also a component of this law.
VLADIMIR PUTIN: It is not naming governors. It is changing the way that they come to power, including by being voted in by regional parliaments. But it is far from only this. We have to look at everything we do as being part of a whole. And one of the components is significantly increasing the number of municipalities (twofold, from 12 to 24 municipalities) and transferring a significant amount of powers and funds to this level.
The same thing is happening at the regional level. The federal authorities are also transferring a number of powers and sources of financing to that level. Therefore I consider it counterproductive for one to use this to rile people up, to decry it, and to frighten one’s citizens just by not evaluating the situation objectively.
QUESTION: Yes, you do not say manipulate, but frighten which is, of course, a nicer term than that we would use. But of course we shouldn’t finish our conversation on such a note.
Allow me to ask to you a question, Mr President. George W. Bush said that he can read into your soul. What did he read there?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: He did not say that he could read into my soul. He said that he looked into my eyes and that he reacted positively.
I have already talked abut this many times. President Bush and I have very good personal relations, very trusting, and of course this helps us resolve international problems. It helps.
QUESTION: Will you support him concerning the resolution against Iran?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: We consider that we have developed a good unified mechanism to work on very delicate issues on the international agenda, including on the Iranian nuclear dossier. And let me remind you that the mechanism consists of six countries, including the United States, Russia and the Federal Republic of Germany, who have developed a common position and gave our Iranian partners our proposals. As you know, they reacted positively. They declared that they are ready to begin negotiations on this basis.
We believe that we must not lead this situation into a dead end and aggravate it. Of course we would like Iran’s reaction to be faster. But we have negative examples of what happens when we hurry to make a decision on such sensitive and delicates issues. And also in this region we have situations from which no one knows how to get out, situations developing like, for example, the one in Iraq. For that reason we do not need to rush the issue. Resolving such large-scale issues does not need to be rushed. And no one should have any doubts that we are going to work together and search together for a solution to these problems (both the North Korean one and the Iranian one).
We have one goal and it is to provide international security in a long-term perspective. Incidentally, this is a significant and fundamental change from how things were done during the Cold War. But we have a different way of searching for methods to resolve our problems. But as a rule it is in arguments, in an open and frank dialogue between partners that we will achieve the best results. I hope that this will also be the case here.
RESPONSE: Mr President, many thanks for the conversation.