Putin Q&A: international agenda

Vladimir Putin has given his last media conference as Russia’s President. During the almost 5-hour-long event he answered questions from Russian and foreign journalists.

A: No armed conflicts are being envisaged and I hope this will never happen. Incidentally, immediately close to Russia’s state borders, near Alaska, our U.S. partners carried out, if I am not mistaken, four military exercises last year. The U.S. Air Force has never ceased its flights, along Russia’s borders, in the past 15 years, although we, starting around 1987, stopped the regular flights of our air force in remote patrolling areas. However, our U.S. partners have never ceased theirs.

Further on, we’ll be busy with training and retraining our pilots, improving our military equipment, including aviation, and how can this be done without flying? We’ll continue with that.

As for retargeting the missiles. Sure there are those here who will come back to issues of democracy, freedom and so on and so forth. Democracy is a universal notion. It cannot be parochial, applied some places but ignored elsewhere. If this or that country considers itself democratic, then democracy must be its essence and spirit, both domestically and on the international arena.

What is democracy? It’s the power of the people. Our U.S. partners are driving things too, and it looks like it’s going to be this way, the deployment the so-called third anti-missile defence system area in Eastern Europe – a radar in the Czech Republic and an anti-missile defence system in Poland. Who asked the Czechs and the Poles, whether they would like to have those systems there or not? Who asked them? However, according to the information I have, the majority of citizens in the Czech Republic are not at all happy about those plans.

As a matter of fact, our General Staff, our experts believe that the system poses a threat to our national security. If it in fact appears as such, we will be forced to react appropriately and will perhaps be forced to retarget a part of our missile systems at those objects, which threaten us. It is not us who are creating them. We are asking them not to, but nobody listens to us. So, we are warning in advance that if you take this step, we’ll be forced to react this way.

Nobody asked the Czechs. It is being done without prior arrangement, and that’s it. What’s more, nobody even asked NATO about it. It was only after criticism from Moscow attempts began to co-ordinate this question within the North Atlantic Treaty Organization itself.

What is going on with Ukraine? According to what I know, the overwhelming majority of Ukraine’s citizens are against Ukraine’s accession to NATO. Nevertheless, the Ukrainian leadership signed the document on starting the process of accession. Is that democracy? Who asked the citizens of the country whether they want it or not?

If it is still done in such a way – by forcing them to face the fact, bases can be set up there, too, or other anti-missile defence system areas. What are we supposed to do then? We will be forced to retarget our missiles at objects we believe pose a threat to our national security. And I think I must say this straightforwardly and honestly, to avoid laying the responsibility for such developments on somebody else. We do not want such developments. But we honestly and clearly say where we see the problem.

Q: You have developed close and friendly relationship with U.S. president, George W. Bush. What do you think the relationship between the countries will be like, when neither you nor Bush are presidents, when other people will be heads of state? There is a bright election campaign in the USA, with many bright and strong candidates, who do you think will win?

A: The person who is worthy, will win. Whoever wins, we will have respect for the choice of the American people and will work with any president, provided, of course, he or she wishes so.

As for how the relations are going to be built between the USA and Russia, I don’t have big doubts about it. Whatever is said during the election campaigns, the fundamental interests of Russia and the United States of America will inevitably urge the leaders of the two countries towards developing a positive dialogue, or at least a partnership. The USA is one of our major trading-and-economic partners.

Without Russia co-operating with the USA, and the USA co-operating with Russia, it will not be possible to efficiently solve and overcome such challenges as fighting terrorism, the struggle to enforce the regime of non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, combating poverty, infectious diseases – all these are global problems, which cannot be solved without the joint efforts of the leading countries of the world.

I have absolutely no doubt that this is something that both the Russian and U.S. leaderships understand. I am also sure that it is these fundamental reasons that the presidents of Russia and the USA will be guided by, whatever their names are. The names are important, of course, but the fundamental reasons are more important.

Q: How will the relations between Russia and Poland change if the anti-missile defence system is deployed in Poland?

A: Russia is not behaving aggressively. And Russia does not refer to the difficult pages of the history of our relations. Russia thinks it needs to look into the future using good things as a basis, and then we will be successful.

As far as the relations with Poland, I want to draw your attention to the fact that we have not made any steps in the direction of making relations between our countries more difficult, we have not done anything like that.

Yes, we decided to construct a gas pipe line at the bottom of the Baltic Sea. I don’t understand how Poland was offended by that. It is our product – gas – we want to deliver it to our main customers in Europe. We built one gas transportation system on the territory of Poland, did this in co-operation. We pay all the transit fees faithfully, we provide Poland with all necessary energy resources with no limitations, there have been no failures here.

Poland could be the channel for the voicing of our common interests in Europe, in European structures. We should not fight with Poland; we should unite our efforts in order to protect our interests before the wealthy countries.

I am under the impression that someone is encouraging anti-Russian attitudes on purpose in order to create the moral and political environment for placing these systems [anti-missile shield – RT]. If anti-Russian attitudes are popular in Poland, then it would be easier to convince the people that there is a need for such systems, some new military systems for protection from someone.

In reality no one knows who they need protection from. They talk about Iranian missiles, Iran does not have any missiles – everybody knows it. On the territory of Poland there will be systems that we consider as devices that can potentially diminish our nuclear and missile potential, which would upset the strategic balance in the world and will threaten our national security.

What are we to do? We will be forced to react, including the possible redirection of parts of our missile systems to point at those objects that could be potentially dangerous. We would not want to do it. Will it damage the development of our ties in other directions? I don’t think so, but the level of security in Europe will certainly be lower, and frankly I don’t understand why. Why should we change the current situation for worse?

Q: Talking about Russia's military preparedness. The restoration of armed parades on Red Square recently, coupled with the general relations with Washington, do they mark the return of the spirit of the cold war?

A: To suggest we're trying to return to Cold War times would be a very brave suggestion, we are not interested in that. Our main goals are internal development, and finding solutions to the social and economic problems facing the country. We want to create around ourselves a favourable external environment. We want to develop strategic relations with all our partners, including the United States. We have no desire for confrontation.

But growing opportunities for Russia in the area of the economy and the military allows us to be more persistent in defending our national interests in the area of politics and the economy. I will say it again – we will never fall into confrontation, but we think we have the right to fight for our interests in the same way as our partners. They have something we can learn from. Just look at what they do.

We are no rival. What aggression are you talking about? We liquidated all our bases abroad. Are we attacking someone or something? Have we started some military conflicts? Have we broken any foundational agreements in the area of disarmament?

This discussion around the CFE treaty. We signed the treaty limiting forces in Europe. And we fulfilled it, we ratified it, we limited all our armed forces, we don’t have any armed forces present in Europe. We withdrew everything from the North Western part. We accepted colonial limitations – we limited the movement of our own forces on our own territory. Did France take on such obligations? Does France limit movement of its own forces on its own territory? Or America? It is ridiculous! For the U.S. President to limit movement of his country’s forces from California to Texas, from Texas to Main. Nonsense! And we did this!

And what happened? Our partners did not even ratify this. We keep telling them every year, “Guys, enough, we will not do this unilaterally, do something, ratify it”. The Baltic states didn’t even sign it.! So tomorrow there could be a fifth or fourth missile defence area, and it will be in accordance with active legislation. How long will this go on? We keep saying every year, “Let’s work with integrity”. But no, they keep making things up. And while they are thinking of things, new bases emerge, one region, a second region, third, closer and closer to our borders. How long do we have to put up with this? We will no longer abide by colonial terms.

Q: Tell us please, which specific conflicts and political arguments smell like oil and gas?

A: We know how dialogues are conducted in Europe by let’s say our American partners. Come to some countries and beg them not to buy our product, try to find some new energy delivery routes around the territory of Russia. And these countries are pressured.

This is already an area of politics. I think this is an incorrect stupid policy. Not only is it unprofessional, but behind the politicisation of the issue no thinking is seen. Great Britain has practically exhausted all its resources, Norway is on the way. Where will they find them? The North Atlantic bloc considers questions related to providing energy security, and the general direction is not friendly towards Russia. We see this, why? Have we ever broken any commitments? No.

Q: Planting Russian flag on the Arctic seabed – it’s made many countries nervous, Canada among them.

A: No need to worry, everything will be all right. I am a little surprised by the nervous reaction of our Canadian colleagues. Americans put their flag on the moon, so what? Why were they not worried then? The Moon did not become the property of the United States.

As far as our research, of course it’s our aim is to prove that Russia has the right to that part of the shelf. We do this within the framework of existing international procedures, within the framework of the UN. We don’t do anything on the spur of the moment or through the application of force.

Q: Recently the American newspaper – The Wall Street Journal – wrote that Gazprom is eating further and further into Europe. You have said many times that for Russia energy is not a weapon in political conflict. Is this to be believed? Why?

A: Why the U.S. is so concerned about the European body, I don’t know? Maybe it’s because they themselves don’t want to break away from it. They like it… it’s a good body…

As far as these teeth are concerned which are eating into something, Exxon Mobil is eating into our economy and this is nothing. There are dentists who simply sharpen these teeth. Or Shell. Or BP. I think BP is increasing its reserves largely at the expense of the Russian Federation, at the expense of our resources, and we are not afraid of this. We are moving towards expanding co-operation.

Yes, we want our interests to be taken into account, but in our energy sector we have all the major international companies working. We are not afraid of this; we even allow them to obtain majority shares in some of our energy structures. So why are they afraid of us? Why are they… I don’t want to say anything out of turn…so cowardly, I don’t know.

Q: If on Sunday, as foreseen, Kosovo declares itself independent, how will Russia react? Will you abstain from voting in the UN Security Council or vote with it?

A: We consider a unilateral declaration of independence by Kosovo to be immoral and illegal. The territorial integrity of states is attached to the fundamental principles of international law. There is Resolution 1244 of the UN Security Council which talks about the territorial integrity of Serbia and all members of the UN should adhere to this decree.

I don’t really want to talk about this, so as not to offend anyone. For 40 years now there has existed an essentially independent republic in Northern Cyprus. Why do you not recognize this as a state? Are you, Europeans, not ashamed of yourselves that you approach the same questions with different standards for different regions of the world? We have Abkhazia, South Ossetia, Transdniester which exist like independent states.

They always say to us, Kosovo is a special case. This is a lie! There is no special case here, and everyone knows this. It’s all the same, an ethnic conflict, crimes on both sides, full de facto independence. We need to work out universal principles for solving these problems. We are not driving this situation into stalemate. We are proposing to our partners that we lay out a universal code of conduct. Why should we encourage separatism? And of course we will state this question at the United Nations Security Council.

Q: You have already noted the parallel between Kosovo and the situation in Cyprus. Don’t you think that putting these things together leads to a certain contradiction? You ask that UN Security Council resolutions are not violated. In the case of Kosovo, we have an international protectorate, with Russian agreement. In the case of Cyprus, according to a UN Security Council decision, which has not changed, the territory of Northern Cyprus is occupied. So what can we understand from your answer?

A: You need to understand the following, that we are advocating the fundamental principles of international law. They are founded on the principles of the sovereignty of states and their territorial integrity and in this sense we have an identical approach both to the problem of Kosovo and to the problem in Cyprus. There is the relevant resolution on Serbia’s right to territorial integrity and we should act according to this. The same applies to Cyprus.