`Russia is not Iraq and can defend itself and its interests`

The Russian President has used his annual Question and Answer session to highlight the need for a strong military, in light of his country’s vast energy resources.

In a wide-ranging session, which lasted around 3 hours, Vladimir Putin foreshadowed steps by the Defence Ministry if no consensus is found over U.S. plans for a anti-missile shield, re-assured Russian farmers about entry into the WTO and announced plans to invest heavily in his country’s Asian region.

  • A pensioner from the Siberian city of Novosibirsk asked the President about his views on a statement by former U.S. Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, that Russia being the sole owner of vast Siberian resourses, is unjust.
    • President Putin replied that he wasn’t familiar with the statement, but acknowledged such ideas do exist and they justify Russia’s effort to build up its military potential.  He also stressed that such a way of thinking leads to grave results, as anyone can see in Iraq. The small country owning large oil resources could not defend itself from the intervention, Mr Putin explained.

                  “You can overthrow a tyrannical regime, like that of Saddam Hussein’s. But fighting the people is a hopeless case. Thank God Russia is not Iraq. Russia has enough arms and people to protect itself and its interests. Both on its own soil and in other regions of the world,” Mr Putin said.

                  The U.S.-lead coalition managed to overthrow Saddam Hussein’s regime, but it failed to install order in the country and the prospects for it are bleak. “Fighting against the people is useless,” the Russian leader added.

                   Vladimir Putin agrees with George Bush that U.S. troops must not be withdrawn from Iraq until local authorities are prepared to keep order in the country. The difference in approach is that the Russian leader believes a deadline should be set for the withdrawal, since it will prompt the Iraqi government to develop their military and law-enforcement institutions.
       

  • A Kaliningrad resident suggested that the region, which forms a western enclave, could take part in a response to the U.S. anti-missile shield that it wants to deploy in neighbouring Poland and the Czech Republic.
    • Vladimir Putin said there is certain progress in resolving the dispute. Firstly, the United States and the European countries agree that more investigation is needed into the danger of missile threats from Iran, North Korea or some terrorist organisations.

      Another point was that a transparent mechanism of access to the future anti-missile system must be developed. Russia needs to see clearly who will control it, and what access Russia will have to it. The American side is considering the latest Russian suggestions, and is likely to address Moscow’s concerns, Mr Putin said.

      If a consensus is found over the issue, Russia, with its own system for tracking missiles, will be able to contribute to international security.

      However if such a consensus is not reached, the President said, Russia will take certain steps planned by the Defense Ministry to ensure its own national security.

  • A man from a village in the Southern republic of Dagestan bordering Chechnya, asked when order will be restored in the Northern Caucasus.
    • Mr Putin replied that the government has been doing a lot to tackle the problem with a certain degree of success. He mentioned that the number of terrorist acts in Russia has dropped from some 200 in 2005 to just 25 this year. He also said that the key to eradicating terrorism completely is the support of the local population. In Chechnya the people are tired of bloodshed and war, Mr Putin explained. They want peace and stability. So now international terrorists can’t find fertile ground there.
       
  • In a question submitted via SMS, Mr Putin was asked why he went to Iran despite an assassination threat.
    • The President explained that the threats were likely an attempt to disrupt the Caspian Sea countries summit, a regional forum that in his opinion saw good progress in making use of Caspian Sea resourses.
  • A farmer from the Voronezh region in Russia’s south was concerned about subsidies for agriculture after Russia joins the World Trade Organization.
    • The President promised that Russia would not join the WTO on unsuitable conditions. He said that there will be quite a long transition period of government subsidies to Russian farmers to let the industry develop. At the same time, WTO accession will make world markets more open for Russian producers. The President also said that Russia, with its vast territories, will have a competitive advantage in the future, because of the development of bio-fuel technologies. He hinted that the country’s agriculture industry will be able to join the oil and gas sector, supporting Russia's role of a leading energy producer.
  • A woman from Russky Island in Russia’s Far East asked about the communications problems there. She claimed that there is just one ferry to the mainland, and it’s vulnerable to bad weather.

             Vladimir Putin assured that the Government is planning to invest heavily into all the Asian areas of Russia. He    announced that Russky Island will host the summit of APEC countries in 2012. By that time, a bridge and the needed infrastructure will be built. The event will also help draw private investment to the region from Russia and abroad.

    Other issues raised

    Afghanistan. Answering a question about possible complications for Russia after a withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan, the President said that unlike Iraq, this country requires a different approach.

    He expressed profound support for countries involved into the peacekeeping operation there. Mr Putin described several steps that Russia is taking to help stabilize the situation in Afghanistan, including informational support, and the transit of NATO military freight.

    Kazakhstan. Answering a question from a WW2 veteran from Kazakhstan about Russia's relations with that country, the Russian leader stressed that Kazakhstan has always been one of Russia’s important partners. The country is a leading force in the process of integration in the post-Soviet space, he said. A lot in this is on the initiative of President Nursultan Nazarbayev. And recently, Russia, Kazakhstan and Belarus decided to create a customs union which will lead to further integration and strengthening of business connections. This will certainly have a positive impact on the life of people, Mr Putin said.

    Military. Mr Putin mentioned that Russia will improve its military potential, introducing cardinally new types or weapons. For instance, Russia will begin building a new nuclear sub.

    Ukraine. A factory worker from Ekaterinburg reminded the President about the recent elections in Ukraine and asked about how the countries will co-operate after the new Ukrainian government will come to power.

    “Relations with former Soviet Republics are a top priority of Russia’s foreign policy. Concerning Ukraine, the two countries are very close. Russian-Ukrainian relations should develop on a pragmatic basis, bearing in mind the interests of both sides. If we speak about energy supplies, they also have to be provided on a market basis. And no matter what kind of government comes to power in Ukraine after the election, I hope that our relations will continue to develop,” Mr Putin answered.

    Elections. A clerk from Kazan asked about the President's recent decision to head the list of candidates for the United Russia party in December's parliamentary elections.

    “Recollect the beginning of the 1990s and the mid-90s. Due to having an incapable State Duma, it was impossible to make any adjusted decisions. In 2007-2008 we are going to have parliamentary and presidential elections. There will be some other man in the Kremlin. In these circumstances it is very important to preserve the stability in the country and to retain continuity with the decisions that have been made recently. That is why it is very important for the State Duma after the 2007 parliamentary elections to be capable. The United Russia party was a key element of such capability in previous years. That’s why I’ve decided to head its list,” Putin underscored.

    Kaliningrad. A lady from Kaliningrad on the Baltic Sea, in the westernmost exclave of Russia,  asked about visa procedures with the EU countries.
     
    Mr Putin promised that simplified procedures of going between Russia proper and the Kaliningrad region will remain after the neighbouring EU countries enter the Schengen zone. He said Moscow hopes to retain privileges for some categories of visa-seekers with the EU, hoping to reach visa-free travel sometime in the future.

    Rouble. Answering a question asked over sms on the prospects for the Russian rouble's convertibility, the Russian leader pointed out that liberalisation of currency legislation is already in force. He said Russian nationals can open accounts in foreign banks and foreigners can freely move investments to and from Russia, which has already resulted in sharp rise of foreign investments in the country.

    Elections. Vladimir Putin also revealed his view on an important issue with the Presidential elections coming up in 2008 – How can one become President of Russia?

    His answer was simple: You have to take part in the elections and win them.

    To watch the video of the President's Q&A session please follow the links below.

    Russian President's annual Q&A session video part 1

    Russian President’s annual Q&A session video part 2

    Russian President's annual Q&A session video part 3

    Russian President's annual Q&A session video part 4

    Russian President's annual Q&A session video part 5

    Russian President's annual Q&A session video part 6

    The call-in across eleven time zones has provided a rare opportunity for the citizens to directly address their leader, and gave the leader a chance to hear people's problems first hand.