What Putin said to Le Monde - in full

On his official visit to Paris, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin spoke exclusively and at length to France’s Le Monde newspaper. RT now presents the full version of that interview.

Click the video button to watch the interview in full – below is a transcript

On Russia’s political system

Russia is a presidential republic. And we are not going to strip the head of state of the key role he plays in Russia’s political system. As for the delineation of responsibilities, the final decision, of course, is always made by the president, and that post today is occupied by Dmitry Medvedev.

Of course, that I am now the head of the cabinet is an interesting fact in our political history. But of even greater interest is the fact that I am now the head of a political party that plays a leading role in Russia’s politics and has a clear majority in parliament. This clearly indicates that Russia pays close attention to maintaining a multi-party system and increasing parliament’s influence on its politics.
It is this, I believe, that should be considered as the most important political signal.

There are many challenges that Russia is facing. And we intend to deal fairly with our people. We are not going to play politics. If we succeed in what we do, it doesn’t matter how everything is organised at the top level. What is important is that we reach our goals. Today, we in Russia have an effective, professional team of experts and politicians supporting us in parliament. We will do our best to preserve this unity for as long as possible. As for the distribution of roles and ambitions, that is a secondary matter.

We do not invent anything, but develop our country, following the principles and criteria established in the civilised world and applicable to our reality, I mean political history and political culture in the Russian Federation – its traditions. It is this way that we are going to work.

The judicial system, which despite its many drawbacks, does get firmer and functions. The law-enforcement and state management, including the judicial branch, functioned rather poorly in defending the interests of the people. Thus, naturally the people had a disrespect and mistrust towards the justice system. Which means our task is to improve this system. And this is what we have been doing and are going to continue to do. Much remains to be done to make the system work 100 per cent  for the benefit of the people.
The same I can say about the multi-party system. Much has been done to enhance parliamentarianism and the multi-party system.

It is not about a thousand parties who are incapable of organising a political process and destroy the state organisation. A multi-party system is, in my view, when large groups of people representing the interests of various groups of the population, can efficiently function, and during the political struggle, a civilised struggle between themselves, work out decisions to express the interests of the overwhelming majority of the country’s population.

Also, in recent years we’ve undertaken concrete steps fixed in the law, concerning the passing over of some authority from the federal level to the regional and municipal. We have actually decentralised power and passed on some of the authority, along with financial resources to local levels. Without the municipal component there can be no normal, civilised society. We are aware of this and are acting towards this.  It needs to be done according to reality, we’ll make our steps realistic in order to improve the country. However, there are certain traditions which must be taken into account.

At the same time, we’ll be moving within the main stream of a general civilisation process.

On Russia’s energy sector

In most oil-producing countries, oil-extracting companies are state-owned.  In Russia, private companies account for a larger part of the oil and gas sector. All the world’s oil giants are represented in the Russian oil sector, including those from Europe, including those from France: Gaz de France, Total… And those companies develop our major fields.

Granted, we did take some steps to support those companies where the state has a share, or a controlling stake – say, Gazprom, or Rosneft. But all the other companies – and we have perhaps a dozen major companies – are in private hands, and some of them are owned by foreigners. British, American, Indian, Chinese, French, German companies… The Russian energy sector is much more liberal than those of many other countries, even European ones.

For example, we are about to complete a massive reform of the electric energy sector. From July 1st, our largest electrical company, UES, will cease to exist. Instead, we’ll have several major companies that were parts of this one big company. Generating facilities – both individual power plants and groups of plants – will now be sold to private owners. Major players from Europe will be part of this: ENI from Italy, some German companies… They will invest 6, 8, 10, or 12 billion dollars or euros.

Please note that few European countries are so liberal. Nobody allows Russian investors to buy into similar projects abroad. But we are giving other countries such an opportunity.

We have offered certain benefits to newly-developed fields, including those in the northern sea shelf and in Eastern Siberia, where there is no infrastructure. I have no doubt whatsoever that this sector of the Russian economy will develop dynamically in the near future.

On TNK-BP

TNK-BP hasn’t had any trouble so far. They do have some problems with their Russian partners. Several years ago, I warned them that they had it coming. It’s not because it’s TNK-BP. It’s because several years ago, they set up a joint venture with a 50-50 ownership. When they did it – and I was present when they signed the papers -  told them, “You shouldn’t do it. You should decide between the two of you who will have a controlling stake. And we don’t mind if you want BP to have it. We would, of course, like to see the Russian side, TNK, as the main shareholder. But somebody has to be in charge. When you don’t have a clearly defined authority in such a business, it is very likely you’ll run into problems.” They told me, “No, we will always be able to work out an agreement.” I told them, “Fine, go ahead if you want.” Now they have problems. They constantly have frictions regarding this matter, which one of the two companies is in charge. That’s the main problem. These are commercial disputes within the company. 

On his achievements as president

I’d prefer not to do it myself. I’d prefer not to assess the work I’ve done – although I believe I have been working diligently and in good faith, and there are many things I was able to accomplish, from restoring Russia’s territorial integrity and constitutional order to ensuring the good dynamics of Russia’s economic development and fighting poverty.

The high oil prices and the situation on international markets today, of course, had a positive effect on the Russian economy, and that effect was substantial and significant. Nevertheless, I’d like to point out that there have been periods in the past, say in the time of the Soviet Union, when oil prices were quite high. However, that money was squandered and had no impact on economic development.

In fact, even if we consider our recent history, one may recall that the oil price began to grow in 2004. But we were able to achieve a record 10% growth in the Russian economy as early as in 2000. That had nothing to do with oil prices.

We made some changes to our tax system and our administration system to ensure growth in the manufacturing industry, which is of the utmost importance to us.

On what’s still to be done

We need to make sure the Russian economy develops in an innovative way. We want our economy to be innovative, but even in our plans for the next five years our goals for the innovative part of the economy are too low.

However, what this means is that we are focusing on those problems now. We’ll work until we solve them.

In Russia, we also face the need to take some steps to modernize a number of areas. I’m referring not only to making the economy more innovative – something that we are now working on and that has started to produce some results.  But we should also change the way we pay our public servants. We need to switch to an occupation-based system of payment.

We need to modernize our pension system. We need to ensure that our senior citizens have a decent life, a decent income. We need to bring up the so-called replacement ratio, i.e., the ratio between the pension and the income one has during their working life.

Also, we need to modernise agriculture.

On Mikhail  Khodorkovsky

Khodorkovsky broke the law. More than once and grossly. What’s more, a part of his group is guilty, proven in a court, of personal crimes, not only economic. They committed murders, more than one person. This kind of “competition” is not admissible. And we’ll do our best to stop it.

Just as I was when I was president, Dmitry Medvedev should be guided by Russian legislation. Mr Medvedev, like myself, graduated from the Law Faculty of  St. Petersburg University. We had good teachers who taught us to respect the law. And I’ve known Mr. Medvedev for many years. He will respect the law and, incidentally, he has said this in public several times. 

On Chechnya and the Caucasus

The situation in the Chechen Republic has improved, and it improved because of several circumstances, the main one being the fact that the Chechen people have made a certain choice for themselves towards the development of their republic within the Russian Federation.

We saw the reaction of the Chechen people to attempts to implant untraditional forms of Islam into the minds of the local population. This is what it all started with – resisting Wahhabism. In fact it is a normal branch of Islam, and there is nothing terrible in it, but it is those extremist trends within it, that were trying to be implanted into the consciousness of the Chechen people.

And the people realized that someone from outside was fighting not for their interests, but trying to use people as a tool to loosen the Russian Federation as a major and significant player on the international arena and that would bring only suffering to the people. The awareness of this factor was the main thing, in terms of stabilisation. This was what it started with.

And it became a fact, when we understood that the population’s mood has changed, we passed on the main part of the responsibility, both in law-enforcement sector and economy.

It seemed impossible that a defence minister in the government led by [Aslan] Maskhadov could become a member of today’s Chechen parliament. Now it’s a fact.

And it created the necessary political conditions for the reconstruction of Grozny and for immediate steps in the economy.

I can tell you that courts and the prosecutor’s office is actively working in the Chechen Republic, and investigations are carried out. Suspects are made accountable for any crimes committed, disregarding their motives or previous posts or jobs. Even concerning former rebels and Russian servicemen. Criminal prosecution is possible not only in future but now. We have trials completed against a number of people who are convicted while serving as Russian officers, they are now in prison. I should say it was a hard decision for our courts, because despite their apparent crimes, a court jury justified them on more than one occasion. It shows trends in Russian society. Especially after the atrocities done to our citizens by terrorists. I’m personally certain that if we want to bring the order and peace, we mustn’t let anyone contravene the law.

As far as Dagestan and Ingushetia are concerned, we see and are well aware of what is going on there – there are indeed disputes and conflicts of interest, but it is not about political interests, but first and foremost, economic, as well as some political conflicts, but not related to any separatist movements – it is about an internal political struggle within the republics themselves.

What is the priority for the Caucasus as a whole and the republics? First for all, it’s the restoration of the social and economic sectors. Many people live below the poverty line there, most suffering from unemployment, which is particularly bad among young people. So we have adopted a Programme of Development for Southern Russia, which concerns the North Caucasus republics, first of all. This programme envisages huge investments into the economy and the social sector as a priority. I count on it to be fulfilled successfully.

On NATO

We are generally against NATO extension. Let’s remember how NATO was created – in 1949, the 5th paragraph of the Washington treaty. It was done as a defensive measure during a face-off with the Soviet Union. To defend against a possible threat. The Soviet Union used to say that it wouldn’t attack anybody, western countries said the opposite, but nevertheless officially it was done to defend against the Soviet Union. There’s no Soviet Union anymore. There’s no threat. But the organisation remains. The question is: “Against whom are you allied? What is it all for? ”

Ok, some say NATO should fight modern threats. But what are these threats? The spread of nuclear weapons, terrorism, epidemics, international crime, drugs. Is it possible to tackle these threats as a closed military alliance? No. These problems can be solved only on the basis of wide cooperation.

Not on the basis of a military block, but on the basis of global cooperation. On the basis of an honest, open and joint struggle against these problems.

And expanding the bloc is only creating new borders in Europe. New Berlin walls. This time invisible, but no less dangerous. It limits the power of joint efforts against common threats, because it leads to distrust. It’s obstructive.

We all know how decisions are made in NATO. Military-political blocs limit the sovereignty of any member country. Inside barrack-like discipline appears.  And the decisions are at first made (we all know where) in one of the leading countries of the bloc, and then legitimized and dispersed.

For example the decision on AMD. At first the decision was made and THEN it was discussed in Brussels, only after we criticized it. And we are afraid that if these countries get into NATO today – tomorrow there might appear some offensive rocket systems which will pose a threat to us.  Nobody will ask them – the rockets will appear whatever. And what are we going to do then?

We always talk about limiting arms in Europe. But while Western countries have been talking about it, we have done it in our country. And in return two military bases appeared near our borders…

Soon we might get two new positions in Poland and the Czech Republic. And we can see that military infrastructure is heading towards our borders. What for? No one is posing threat. 

How can you be a good willing democrat inside the country, and a scary monster outside? What’s democracy? – it is power of the people. In Ukraine polls show more than 80 per cent of the population does not want  the country to join NATO. And our partners say that Ukraine WILL be in NATO. So they have decided everything for Ukraine? The opinion of the Ukrainian people doesn’t mean anything? And you are saying this is democracy?

On double standards and the West

We always hear things like “we are civilised countries in the West, choosing partners we should follow common values.” Remembering the hard events in the Caucasus several years ago – thank god it’s over now – during an apparent civil war we suspended the death penalty in our country. It was a hard, but responsible decision. Isn’t it a case of “common values”? In some G8 countries, NATO members, the death penalty persists. Death penalties still carried out. Are they “common values”? It doesn’t stop them from being in NATO and G8. Why is it so selective concerning Russia? What’s permitted to Caesar is not permitted to anyone else? Such dialogue cannot be productive. We should show our hands, treat each other honestly, respect each other – and then a lot more can be done.

Let’s take Deripaska for example. I asked my US partners: "Why don’t you grant him a visa? Can you explain? If you have reasons for not giving him a visa, if you have evidence of his illegal activity, please give them to us, and we’ll use them in our country. They would give us nothing and explain nothing. However, he was not granted entry.

He is not a friend or relative of mine, just a representative of big business in Russia. He has multi-billion dollar commercial interests in many countries of the world. Why is he restricted? What did he do? If there is something, show it to us. If there is nothing to show, then remove the restrictions.

On Iran’s nuclear programme

I don’t think the Iranians are looking to make a nuclear bomb. We have no reason to believe this. The Iranian people are very proud and independent. They are trying to implement their legal right to develop peaceful nuclear technologies.

I should say that formally Iran hasn’t violated any rules. It even has the right to carry out enrichment. It only takes a quick glance at the relevant documents to confirm this. There were some claims that Iran hadn’t revealed all its programmes to the IAEA. This is what we need to clear up. But to a large extent Iran has revealed its nuclear programmes. I repeat there is no official basis for legal claims against Iran.

But I have always openly told our Iranian colleagues that we take into account that Iran is not isolated in a vacuum, but in a very dangerous and volatile region.  They should keep this in mind and avoid aggravating their neighbours and the international community, and should take steps to convince the international community that they have no secret plans. We have worked in very tight cooperation with our partners in Iran and within the framework of the six-party talks, and we will continue to do this in the future.

We are against – this is our principle – we are against the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. We think it’s a very dangerous trend. And most importantly its not in the interest either of Iran or the region as a whole. Because the use of nuclear weapons in such a small region as the Middle East is nothing short of suicide. In whose interest could a nuclear bomb possibly be used? Palestine? If nuclear weapons were used, Palestine would cease to exist. We remember the Chernobyl tragedy – all it takes is for the wind to blow in the wrong direction, and that’s it! Who could possibly benefit from this? We think it’s counter-productive. This has always been our position and I hope this opinion will be shared by president Medvedev.

We will use any means possible to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons.

We offered an international programme of enrichment, because Iran is only a part of the problem. A lot of countries are on the threshold of the peaceful use of nuclear energy. And this means that they will need enrichment technology. And if they create their own closed cycle to solve the problem, there will always be the suspicion that they could produce military grade uranium. It is difficult to control. That’s why we propose carrying out the enrichment on the territory of those countries which are beyond suspicion because they already possess nuclear weapons.  Also these countries will get a guarantee that they will receive the uranium they need and be able to send spent fuel for recycling. It is possible to create such a system and it will be reliable and safe.

On France’s presidency of the EU

France is our long-time partner and a reliable one.  We have always talked about the strategic partnership between France and Russia, and I agree with this definition. France has always had and I hope will continue to have an independent foreign policy. It’s in their blood – they won’t be dictated to. And any French leader should always keep this in mind. We can see this independence today, we value it very much, and that’s why we expect a lot from France’s EU chairmanship.

First of all we expect a constructive dialogue aimed at creating the legal basis for our relations with EU. I am talking about our fundamental partnership treaty which as you know has expired.  However, this is not a legal vacuum, because existing procedures exist making it possible for us to prolong it every year, but of course it needs to be renewed. We have said many times that we are interested in signing a new agreement; this of equal importance to our European partners as it is to us.

So I expect that the French chairmanship will lead to the renewal of our relations, and to joint efforts in developing our mutual interests.