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Meeting with heads of international news agencies

June 5, 2024, St Petersburg

Vladimir Putin held a meeting with heads of the world’s leading news agencies.

Representatives of news agencies from Azerbaijan, Belarus, Kazakhstan, the United States, Uzbekistan, China, Iran, Great Britain, Turkiye, Korea, Italy, Germany, Japan, Spain, and France took part in the meeting. Russia was represented by TASS Director General Andrei Kondrashov.

* * *

Andrei Kondrashov: Mr President, guests,

Mr President, before we begin, let me thank you for helping us carry on a wonderful tradition throughout all these years. The tradition is about the Russian News Agency TASS bringing its foreign colleagues together for a meeting with you. I am not sure how you manage to set aside time in your very busy schedule to meet with foreign journalists every time we have this meeting.

President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Did they offer you a tour of this building?

Andrei Kondrashov: They did. We will most likely go up to the roof after the meeting.

Vladimir Putin: Do not go.

Andrei Kondrashov: Why not? Is it dangerous?

Vladimir Putin: No, it is not, but Mr Miller will not let you go unless he gives you every detail about every element of this building. It usually takes him three hours to do so. He absolutely loves this building. You will not be able to leave.

Andrei Kondrashov: Did you like the building?

Vladimir Putin: Of course, I did.

Andrei Kondrashov: How did you like the view of St Petersburg from the 87th floor?

Vladimir Putin: It’s beautiful. I hope you like it too, if you go.

Andrei Kondrashov: Mr President, we have 16 countries represented by their key leading news agencies in this audience. There should have been more of them, but our Indian and Brazilian colleagues could not make it, because they are busy covering the outcomes of the elections that had been held in their respective countries lately. Our colleague from Egypt broke his leg just the other day, and we wish him a speedy recovery. However, we welcome those who came to one of the world’s most beautiful cities, St Petersburg, and to this new trendy place called Lakhta Centre.

According to our estimates, the people you see here, Mr President, produce about 80 percent of the entire global news flow. During the time that we did not meet, many of the countries they represent have suddenly become unfriendly towards Russia. However, this will probably make it even more interesting to see how they are living by and what issues they consider to be their priorities.

Actually, although this is going to be the eighth meeting and we are pleased that it is being held in the year when TASS turns 120, this will, perhaps be the first meeting amid such international tensions. It looks like the world has lost its mind, that someone is intentionally pushing it towards a catastrophe.

We would very much like to expect that after our meeting we will be at least a step closer to understanding how to reduce the degree of this tension, the degree of double standards, of this ill understanding and simply hostility.

Colleagues, being a TASS agency moderator, I will give each of you an opportunity to ask your main question. Whether you will be able to ask a second and subsequent questions depends solely on the President of Russia.

And we also have a wonderful tradition: we give the first floor to the better half of humanity – women. Why? Because in Russia women are traditionally treated not only with respect, but also with love and reverence.

This is why the first question will be asked by our wonderful Irina Akulovich, Director General, BelTA agency – Belarusian Telegraph Agency. Mr President, she also has a musical education, so we will count on her to set the right tone for our entire conversation.

Ms Akulovich, your question, please.

Vladimir Putin: If I may, I want to welcome all of you. You must have been held in this tower for half a day – I apologise for that. Let me repeat: it is very difficult to escape from the grip of Gazprom CEO, who tells you everything about every element and infects you with his optimism.

The people here are very well-informed, and I simply cannot imagine what I could tell you that you do not know. You know everything, and you certainly know it better than I do. Whatever I say, you will still think you know better. So, I propose that we should exchange opinions rather than have a Q&A session. It will be more interesting. And it will also be interesting for me to hear your opinion on matters that are of interest to you.

This seems to be everything I wanted to say at the beginning.

Ms Akulovich, please, go ahead.

BelTA (Belarus) Director General Irina Akulovich: Thank you.

Good afternoon, Mr President.

Thank you very much for this opportunity to talk to you. We are perfectly aware that your schedule is very busy indeed. It is not just us who are waiting for this meeting, but also the world’s biggest news agencies, and the biggest media outlets are following it too, of course.

However, I would like to say that I believe I was given the right to ask the first question not only because we are trying to fix gender issues here, but also because Belarus is the closest country for Russia. This is not a question, this an exchange of views; it is a statement, of course.

You met Alexander Lukashenko somewhere in the mid-90s, that is, you have known our President for about 30 years. Our countries have seen different relations over time, but you always managed to find a solution to any issue, be it security or economic issues. I would like to ask how easy or difficult are things for you now. Are there any leaders in the European Union today to resolve complex issues with? Thank you.

Vladimir Putin: Yes, the President of Belarus and I have known each other for a long time. It is true that we had different relations at different times. However, because our relations rest on the fundamental interests of the two peoples, the Russians and the Belarusians, we have always been able to find solutions even to most complicated issues, which seemed to have had no simple answers. This is why we have started the work to build the Union State which is going smoothly. We are doing this guided by our nations’ sentiments, and we are doing this in a very quiet and orderly manner.

We always consider our interests when addressing any issue or taking any step, above all in the economy or politics, including foreign politics. It may sound odd, but also in ecology and culture. When we take a look at the entire range of things that unite us, it enables us to resolve both small matters and, perhaps, difficult ones, if they arise.

You know, with the volume as large as it is, there is always room for improvement. In fact, it is no secret, and everyone knows that if we look at the dollar figure, our trade amounts to $48 billion, or almost $50 billion. This is quite a substantial turnover.

Moreover, we have been very effective in diversifying our economic relations. This includes agriculture, with nearly 90 percent of all Belarusian agricultural and industrial exports going to the Russian market, as well as industrial production and cooperation. We recently discussed these matters in Minsk. I believe we have everything we need: we hold regular meetings to discuss these issues, and my visit there after my re-election as President of Russia was meant to serve as a symbol in a way, and had a ceremonial side to it. But there was much more to it than that. Our key Government officials accompanied me on that visit and engaged in intense debates during their meetings on industrial cooperation and the extent of localisation in manufacturing. As usual, we also focused on export volumes, primarily oil, to Belarusian refineries, and also touched upon reciprocal supplies of petrochemicals to the Russian market. What I mean is that we had specific and meaningful items on our agenda. The way we tackle these matters will have a major impact on the quality of life for our people.

Let me reiterate that the positive attitude and goodwill between our two nations have always enabled us to find solutions. Sometimes we must take unconventional steps, even if they may seem unusual, given our extensive ties and the fact that our relations may seem like a well-oiled mechanism. But no, we have to invest our efforts all the time in finding solutions to issues which arise along the way. However, we have never failed in this regard. I am confident that this continues to be the case moving forward.

Irina Akulovich: Does this mean that there are no issues in Russia’s relations with Belarus?

Vladimir Putin: No, there are issues.

Irina Akulovich: But there are always solutions too.

Vladimir Putin: Indeed, we always find a way to resolve them since we make these decisions based on the interests of our two nations.

Irina Akulovich: Would it be possible to find solutions of this kind with the leaders of the European Union?

Vladimir Putin: We could certainly do this with these leaders as well, if only they felt more confident and had more courage to stand up for their national interests. I think that our colleagues here will raise this issue during our conversation.

Andrei Kondrashov: Thank you Ms Akulovich.

I give the floor to Samia Nakhoul, a Global Foreign Policy Editor at Reuters. Samia has reported from many hot spots and was seriously wounded in Iraq. Ms Nakhoul, please ask your question.

Vladimir Putin: When were you wounded in Iraq?

Samia Nakhoul, a Global Foreign Policy Editor at Reuters (UK): It was during the invasion of Iraq in 2003.

Vladimir Putin: I see.

Samira Nakhoul: Thank you for receiving us.

Mr President, given you past interaction with both President Donald Trump and President Biden, can you tell us, according to your perspective and your views, which one do you think would be the most favourable candidate in terms of relations with Russia, given the war that is going on in Ukraine now?

Vladimir Putin: As I said, everyone smiled ironically when I made a statement about Mr Biden, seeing it as an attack on President Biden. Indeed, he is an old school politician; he did not like what happened and he struck back at me, up to a point. I thought that this could happen. It meant that I was right, and that he was predictable. It only confirmed my thoughts about this.

Deep down, we do not care because Mr Trump, who was accused of spying for Russia… As we see it, it is complete nonsense and drivel. It was just an element of political infighting between Democrats and Republicans, these silly accusations against Trump. We have always seen them as an element of political infighting in the United States. This was later confirmed by various investigations conducted in the United States. We never had any special ties with Mr Trump.

However, it is a fact that as president he introducedlarge-scale sanctions against the Russian Federation. He pulled out of the INF Treaty. It happened during his term in office.

I will be completely honest with you: we do not think the election outcome will impact US policy towards Russia. We do not think it will; we do not think there will be any serious changes.

You know perfectly well that the current developments in the United States are political infighting; they are burning themselves out, their state and their political system.

I must say, even if it may be unpleasant, that they are also incinerating their pseudo-leadership in the field of democracy. It is clear to everyone worldwide that the persecution of Trump, especially his prosecution on charges based on events that took place years ago without any direct evidence, is a blatant use of the judicial system for political infighting. This is obvious to us in Russia. I am confident that this is obvious in the UK as well, and that the rest of the world thinks likewise. Most importantly, people in the United States recognise this as well, because after the trial and the jury’s guilty verdict, Trump’s ratings have soared, as we know, by 6 percent, if memory serves, and donations to his election headquarters have increased immediately.

This shows that people in the United States do not trust their judicial system which adopts such rulings. On the contrary, they believe that these rulings have been issued for political reasons.

As strange as this may sound, I believe that the current administration is making one mistake after another, be it in its international, domestic or economic policies. Sometimes simply observing what is happening there becomes quite perplexing. Therefore, we monitor these developments as outsiders. We have never interfered in the internal political processes within the United States and have no plans to do so. Still, let us wait and see where it all takes us.

I would like to end this answer with the point I mentioned in the beginning. We believe that the result does not matter here. We will work with any president elected by the American people.

Samia Nakhoul: With regard to Ukraine, you don’t think anything will change in terms of support for Ukraine or if Trump comes back? You don’t think there will be a change?

Vladimir Putin: It is hard to say. I cannot tell you with certainty whether something would change or not. You know, we need to see the next administration’s priorities.

If the next administration prioritises national interests and if they believe that ensuring domestic stability is in their national interests; if instead of focusing on immigration they seek to consolidate their society within the United States in order to overcome the mistakes that brought about a spike in inflation while the US debt ballooned – in this case, of course, if they focus on their national interests and act this way, rather than pursuing a global liberal agenda, which I believe is destroying the United States from within, this striving to be a global liberalism leader; if they seek guidance from their national interests – then there can be some shifts in US foreign policy and the way it treats Russia and the Ukraine conflict. However, you will understand that it is all about the ifs that I keep mentioning. It can change if this occurs.

Still, I think that you would agree with me that no one cares about Ukraine in the United States. All they care about is how great the United States is. The US is not there to fight for Ukraine or the Ukrainian people. It is fighting for its own greatness and world leadership. There is no way they can allow Russia to succeed. Why? Because they believe that this would undermine US leadership. That is the purpose behind everything the US does.

But if the next administration changes course and shifts its agenda so that its raison d’etre and its work focus on strengthening the United States from within and reinforcing its economy, finance and building normal, more respectful relations around the world with everyone, it is only then that something would change. I think that the overall public sentiment can play a decisive role here. And the public opinion seems to be tilting this way, and if the next administration catches this wind in its sails, it is at that point that change becomes possible.

Andrei Kondrashov: Thank you, Ms Nakhoul.

It is now the men’s turn to ask their questions. Chairman of the Board of Azerbaijan State News Agency Vugar Aliyev, you can go ahead and ask the President of Russia your question.

Mr Aliyev, please go ahead with your question.

Chairman of the Board of Azerbaijan State News Agency Vugar Aliyev: Good afternoon, Mr President. Thank you for taking the time to meet with us.

There has been positive momentum in Azerbaijan-Russia relations lately. President Ilham Aliyev’s recent visit to Moscow was not only an opportunity to mark a memorable date for our two countries – the 50th anniversary of the Baikal-Amur Mainline – but also to discuss our bilateral relations.

What are your thoughts on the future of our bilateral cooperation, particularly in terms of developing the North-South corridor?

Vladimir Putin: We have been successful, steady and pragmatic in developing our relations.

You know, we can sense how committed Azerbaijan’s leaders are to building relations between our countries based on mutual interests or, I should even say, based on a certain degree of mutual sympathy we have for each other. Is there any other way we can explain the fact that there are 300 Russian-language schools in Azerbaijan where students can study in Russian? I know that President Aliyev has been proactive in promoting the learning of the Russian language in his country. And this attitude is apparent across all domains.

What does this mean? It means that the Azerbaijani leadership recognises the importance of the Russian language for the people of Azerbaijan. Why? Because it enables them to develop our bilateral ties. And these ties are indeed developing.

Let me reiterate – and I will use a dollar figure once again – that our overall trade is at about $4.5-$4.6 billion, and it has been growing quite well and gathering momentum.

Our relations are becoming increasingly diversified. I am convinced that if the two sides continue on this path, and Russia remains committed to this objective, we will deliver and achieve meaningful results.

In this regard, there is much to be done in terms of logistics. You are absolutely right about that. It is not just about developing the North-South corridor. There are also opportunities for building logistics centres, including along the Russia-Azerbaijan border in Dagestan. This effort is already underway. There are also other matters we can work on together. There is a considerable number of students from Azerbaijan studying in Russia, including those benefiting from free tuition. We can see that young people are quite eager to study in Russia.

The North-South project has the potential to evolve into a valuable international corridor, enabling shipments of goods from the port of St Petersburg, where we are right now, all the way across Europe to Azerbaijan, Iran and on to the Persian Gulf. The travel time should be almost 10 days shorter than through the Suez Canal.

No offence – it goes without saying that the Suez Canal is an essential fixture in global trade. However, the North-South corridor will offer an additional and highly efficient route for delivering goods from north to south and back, saving 10 days in the process. Ten days is a lot, in terms of the time saved, and makes the corridor worthwhile and highly efficient.

Nevertheless, there is still a lot to be done here. We are working on both sides of the border. I know that President Aliyev supports this project, as we have discussed it on numerous occasions. The Iranian leadership also supports it. Furthermore, due to its significant economic potential, foreign investors, both regional and extra-regional countries, have shown interest. Arab sovereign wealth funds have also expressed interest, which is understandable as they are always on the lookout for low-risk investment opportunities. This project is undoubtedly a good investment, with guaranteed profitability.

There are certain issues that require further consideration. For example, we need to determine which areas will be utilised, including inside Azerbaijan, and how the construction will be financed. Will it be funded through a loan, or will Russia provide direct financing? Additionally, we need to consider how the branch lines that will extend westward across Azerbaijan will be integrated.

We also need to work out the specifics with our Iranian partners and friends: what type of railway are we going to build? Will it be a standard gauge or a narrow gauge similar to the one in Iran?

However, the most important aspect is that all stakeholders are committed to following through with the plan. We have established a directorate, and VTB is actively involved. I have no doubt that we will succeed. We still have a few questions regarding the timeframe and costs, but even that is nearly finalised. So, this is a great project that we are implementing together, although it is not the only one. In addition to everything else, Azerbaijan is a Caspian state and a member of the Caspian Five, and we have plenty of shared interests, including environmental considerations.

Andrei Kondrashov: Thank you, Mr Aliyev.

I am now giving the floor to a country that will probably never fail to evoke strong emotions in you, Mr President. This is Germany.

Our guest is Martin Romanczyk, head of news service at the German news agency DPA (Deutsche Presse-Agenture).

Martin actually knows our country firsthand, because he was posted in Moscow as DPA’s own correspondent in the 1990s. Your question please, Mr Romanczyk.

News Director at DPA Martin Romanczyk (retranslated): Good evening, Mr President. Good evening, everyone.

Chancellor Scholz has agreed to supply arms to Ukraine. I would like to ask you how you would react if Scholz changed his mind. And what do you think this implies for Germany? Did you try to warn, caution or maybe threaten Mr Chancellor when he made the decision to send weapons to Ukraine?

Vladimir Putin: Why would you think we would threaten anyone? We never threaten anyone, least of all the head of another state. That would be mauvais ton, unacceptable in polite society.

We have our own viewpoint on certain issues. We know the European states’ approach, including Germany’s approach, on the current developments in Ukraine.

Everyone believes that Russia started the war in Ukraine. But no one – I want to emphasise this – no one in the West, no one in Europe is willing to remember how this tragedy began. It started with an unconstitutional coup in Ukraine. This was the beginning of the war. But is Russia to blame for that coup? No. Have those who are trying to blame Russia today forgotten that the foreign ministers of Poland, Germany and France went to Kiev at the time and signed the settlement document as guarantors of a peaceful constitutional resolution of the crisis? This is something Europe, including Germany, prefers to forget. Because if they remembered, they would have to explain why the leaders of Germany, along with the other signatories, never demanded that the perpetrators of the coup in Ukraine return to the constitutional framework. Why did they neglect their obligations as guarantors of agreements between the incumbent government and the opposition like this? They are as responsible for what happened as the forces in the United States that provoked the unconstitutional seizure of power. Don’t you know what followed? The residents of Crimea made a decision to secede from Ukraine, and the residents of Donbass refused to obey those who carried out the coup in Kiev. This is what followed. This is how this conflict began.

After that, Russia made every effort to come up with a formula for a peaceful settlement. What is now known as Minsk agreements were signed in Minsk in 2015. By the way, they were institutionalised by a UN Security Council resolution. It was an actionable document. Instead, they chose to resolve this issue militarily. They used artillery, tanks and aircraft against civilians in southeastern Ukraine. For some reason, no one, I repeat, no one wants to talk about this either in Germany and other European countries, or the United States. So be it.

We facilitated the signing of the Minsk agreements, but it turned out that no one was going to act on them. The former Chancellor of Germany and the former President of France have publicly stated so.

What does this mean, Mr Romanchik? They made a public confession that they were not going to implement the Minsk agreements, and signed them just in order to buy time to arm Ukraine and to create proper conditions for continuing hostilities. All they did was pull the wool over our eyes. Is that not so? Is there any other way to explain what happened?

For eight long years we have been trying to achieve a peaceful solution. Eight years!

A former chancellor once told me, “You know, in Kosovo, we, NATO, went ahead without a Security Council resolution, because blood was spilled for eight years in Kosovo.” What about the blood of Russian people spilled in Donbass? Was it water, not blood? No one wanted to pay attention to it.

In the end, this is what we were forced to do when the then Ukrainian authorities said that they did not like a single clause of the Minsk agreements, and the then Foreign Minister said they were not going to fulfill them.

Do you realise that these territories were plunged into economic and social degradation? Eight years. I am not even talking about murders, constant killing of women, children, and so on.

Considering this, we were compelled to recognise their independence. We did not recognise their independence for almost eight years. We were looking forward for both sides to come to terms and to resolve this issue peacefully. Eight years! When they said they were not going to implement any peace agreements, we had to use military force in order to bring them into compliance.

We were not the ones to start this war. The war started in 2014 following the coup and their attempt to use cannons to break resistance of the people who opposed the coup.

And now for people following international events and international law. What happened next? What did we do? We did not recognise this for eight years. What did we do when we realised that the Minsk Agreements will never be fulfilled? Please note everyone: we recognised the independence of these self-proclaimed republics. Could we do this from the point of view of international law, or no? As Article One of the UN Charter says, we could. It is about the nations’ right to self-determination. The UN International Court of Justice ruled (it is put in writing) that, if any territory of a country decides to become independent, it is not obliged to appeal to the higher authorities of that country. All this was done regarding Kosovo. There is a decision of the International Court of Justice, which reads: if a territory has decided on independence, it is not obliged to apply to the capital for permission to exercise this right.

However, if it is like it is written in the UN court decision, then these unrecognised republics, the Donetsk and Lugansk republics, had the right to do so. And they did. Did we have the right to recognise them? Of course, we did. And we did recognise them. Next, we entered into an agreement with them. Could we sign an agreement with them or not? Yes, of course. The agreement provided for assistance to these states in the event of aggression. Kiev waged a war against these states, which we recognised eight years later. Eight years.

Could we recognise them? We could. And then, in accordance with Article 51 of the UN Charter, we provided them with assistance. You know, no matter what anyone says, this is exactly what I told Mr Guterres, the logic we followed, step by step. Where is the mistake here? Where are the violations of international law here? There are no violations, considering international law.

Then we hear the answer: well, you attacked anyway. We did not attack, but defended ourselves, just to make it clear to everyone. The first step towards the war was taken by those who encouraged the bloody unconstitutional coup d'etat.

Now regarding the arms supplies. Arms supplies to a conflict area is always a bad idea. Especially when those who are supplying weapons not only supply them but also operate them. It is a very serious and very dangerous step. You and I know this, and the Federal Republic doesn’t deny it (I certainly don’t know how it made its way to the press), that a Bundeswehr general discussed where and how to deliver a strike: either at the Crimean Bridge or at some other facilities inside Russia, including a territory that no one doubts belongs to Russia.

When the first German tanks, tanks made in Germany, appeared on Ukrainian soil, it produced a moral and ethical shock in Russia because the attitude in Russian society to the Federal Republic has always been very good. Very good. Now, when they say that some missiles are to appear that would attack facilities on Russian territory, it will certainly destroy Russian-German relations for good and all. But we understand that, as one of the well-known German politicians said, after World War II the Federal Republic of Germany has never been a sovereign state in the full sense of the word.

We were in contact with Mr Scholz, we met on many occasions. I don’t want to assess the performance of the Federal Government, but it’s the German people, the German voters who are making such assessments. European parliamentary elections are coming up; we will look at what is going to happen there. As far as I know – of course, I actually care about Germany, I have many friends there, whom I am trying not to contact, not to subject them so some obstruction in the country, I am trying not to maintain relations with them, but I simply know these people for many years, I know that they are reliable friends and I have many of them in Germany. So, I am also aware of the balance of forces in the political arena. As far as I understand, if I am not mistaken, the CDU/CSU now has somewhere around 30 percent, the Social Democrats have about 16 percent, the Alternative for Germany already has 15 percent, and all the others are lower. This is the elector’s response. This is the Germans’ mood, the mood of the German people.

I understand the dependence of the Federal Republic in the area of defence, in security in general. I understand its dependence in politics, in information policy, because wherever you point to there, to any major publishing house (I don’t know where you work) its ultimate beneficiary is located overseas, some US foundation. Well, I applaud those American foundations and those who are conducting such policy: It’s great that they are holding the information field of Europe so firmly in terms of their interests. And they are also trying hard not to reveal themselves.

It’s all understandable. The influence is tremendous and it is very difficult to oppose it. It is clear. But there are some elementary things. Speaking about these elementary things – it is strange that nobody in the current German leadership protects German interests. It’s clear that Germany does not have full sovereignty, but Germans are still there. Their interests should be taken into account and protected, at least a little bit.

Look: the ill-starred pipelines at the bottom of the Baltic Sea have been blown up. No one is even indignant – as if this is the way it should be. We nevertheless continue to supply gas to Europe through the territory of Ukraine. We continue to supply gas. There were two pipeline systems there, and Ukraine closed one of them, screwed the valve, just closed it and that’s all, although there were no grounds for this. It left only one pipeline system – well, okay. But gas goes to Europe through it, and European consumers receive this gas. Our gas also goes to Europe through Turkey via Turkish Stream, and European consumers receive it.

OK, one Nord Stream pipe was blown up, but another Nord Stream pipe is intact, thank God. Why doesn’t Germany want to receive our gas through this pipe? Can anyone explain the logic? You can get it through Ukraine, you can get it through Turkey, but you can’t get it through the Baltic Sea. What kind of nonsense is this? There is no formal logic in this, I don’t even understand it.

They would better say that Europe should not get gas at all. OK, fine, we’ll get over it, Gazprom will survive. But you don’t need it, you need to buy overpriced liquefied natural gas shipped from across the ocean. Don’t your ‘environmentalists’ know how liquefied natural gas is produced? By fracking. Ask the people in the United States where they produce this gas – sometimes they get slop instead of water running from their taps. Your ‘environmentalists’ who are in power in the government, don’t know that? They probably do.

Poland has closed its Yamal-Europe pipeline. Gas was going to Germany through Poland. We didn’t shut it down, the Poles did. You know better than I do the effect the termination of our ties in the energy sector has had on the German economy. It’s a sad result. Many large industrial companies are looking for a place to land, but only not on German territory. They are opening in the USA and in Asia, but the business conditions there make them uncompetitive. And this, by the way, can have severe consequences for the European economy as a whole, because the German economy (everyone is well aware of this, no offence to any other Europeans) is the locomotive of the European economy. If it sneezes and coughs, everyone else will immediately get the flu. France’s economy is also teetering on the brink of recession right now, everyone knows that. And if the German economy goes down, all of Europe will be shuddering.

I am not suggesting that the Euro-Atlantic ties should be broken. Otherwise, someone (not necessarily you) might hear what I am saying and infer that I am calling for breaking up Euro-Atlantic solidarity. Listen, your politics are flawed, and you are making glaring mistakes every step of the way. I think the current developments represent a major mistake for the United States itself. In a push to maintain their leadership using the means they are using, they are, in fact, causing harm to themselves. But things are even worse for Europe. Indeed, you could say, “We support you in this, that, and that, but this belongs to us. Look, if we undermine our economy, everyone will feel the consequences. You cannot do that, we are against it, it is taboo, do not touch it.”

But the federal government is not doing that, either. Frankly, sometimes I get confused and cannot see the logic behind this line of conduct. Okay, they were going to undermine Russia’s economy, and they thought it would take them three to six months to get there. However, everyone can see that this is not happening. Last year, our economy grew by 3.4 percent. This year, it grew by 5.4 percent in the first quarter. Moreover, according to international financial and economic organisations – the World Bank re-ran some numbers (it was our goal) – and we were in fifth place in terms of purchasing power parity in the world and we set ourselves the goal of making it to the fourth place. I think you are following the calculations of our colleagues from international financial institutions. Quite recently, last week, I think, the World Bank ran the numbers on our GDP only to find out that we were outdoing Japan in this regard. According to the World Bank, Russia is the world’s fourth largest economy in terms of purchasing power parity meaning that we achieved that goal.

That is not what really matters, though. This is not an end in itself. What is important, though, is to keep up the pace and progress. So far, we have been able to do so, because in the first quarter, as I said earlier, our GDP amounted to 5.4 percent. The reason I am saying this is not to brag about it. I want those who are trying to get in our way, to cause us harm and to slow down our progress realise that what they are doing does more harm to themselves than to us. They should realise this, draw conclusions and mend their ways for their own benefit. But we do not see it happening.

No offence, but I think that the level of professional training of the decision-makers, including in the Federal Republic [of Germany] leaves much to be desired.

Andrei Kondrashov: Thank you, Mr Romanchik.

I think it would be logical to not wander away from the European theme and give the floor to France: a country that admits quite officially that European troops can be sent to Ukraine.

Our guest is Editor-in-Chief for Europe at France-Press, Karim Talbi. Mr Talbi speaks excellent Russian, because, like Martin Romanchik, he worked as a correspondent in Moscow for quite a long time.

Please, Mr Talbi, your question.

AFP Editor-in-Chief for Europe Karim Talbi: Mr President, my question also concerns Ukraine.

Why cannot you still disclose the number of losses among Russian soldiers in Ukraine during the hostilities?

Vladimir Putin: If this is the only thing you are interested in, I can say that, as a rule, no one ever talks about this. If they do, then, as a rule, they distort the real figures.

I can tell you with complete confidence that our losses, especially as concerns irreparable losses, unfortunately, then they are several times less than on the Ukrainian side.

I can tell you exact numbers captured by the both sides, or war prisoners. There are 1,348 of our soldiers and officers held by the Ukrainian side. I know the exact numbers because we work with them every day. As you know, there was an exchange just recently: 75 people were exchanged for 75 people. We have 6,465 Ukrainian soldiers.

If we talk about approximate irretrievable losses, then the ratio is the same: one to about five. This is what we will proceed from. This is precisely the reason of the attempt to carry out total mobilisation in Ukraine: because they suffer great losses on the battlefield.

You know, this is how it looks: according to our calculations, the Ukrainian army loses 50,000 people per month as sanitary and irretrievable losses both, although their irretrievable and sanitary losses are approximately 50/50. The total mobilisation effort, which is now underway, does not solve the problem, because, according to our data (we get it from various sources), they recruit around 30,000 [people] per month by force or without force, but mostly by seizing men on the streets. There are not many people willing to fight there.

According to our data, last month and the month before that they recruited about 50,000–55,000. But this does not solve the problem. You know why? Because this mobilisation can only cover losses. All of these men are sent to make up for losses. This is the basic problem that leads to a lowering of the mobilisation age: from 27 years old down to 25 now.

We know from the Ukrainian side (it’s an open secret there; there are no secrets there at all): the US administration insists that the threshold be gradually lowered from 25 to 23 years, then to 20 years, and then to 18, or immediately to 18 years, because right now they are already requiring 17-year-old boys to register. We know this for sure: this is a demand from the US administration to the Ukrainian leadership, if it can be considered leadership after the election was cancelled.

Anyway, as I have said in one of my recent public appearances – I think it was when I talked to the media while returning from my visit to Uzbekistan – I believe that the United States administration would force the current Ukrainian leadership to take these decisions on lowering the mobilisation age all the way down to 18 years, and once that is done, they will simply get rid of Zelensky. But first, he will have to do it. In fact, this is not an easy thing to do. They will have to enact a law and take specific steps to make this happen.

We are in June 2024 right now. I think that they would need a year to do this. This means that they would tolerate him until the beginning of next year, as least, but once he does everything they expect from him, they will just wave him goodbye and replace him with someone else. There are several candidates for this job, as far as I understand.

However, all this entails so many casualties. I mentioned the 50,000 figure, but this is as conservative as you can get. The 50,000 figure is what we see on the battlefield, but we can see that there were other losses too, without being able to count them. They happened deep in the rear, behind the lines, and once you factor them in, the number becomes much bigger. This is what I can say about the casualties.

Karim Talbi: Can I ask you a follow-up question on the loss we had at AFP?

Vladimir Putin: What do you mean?

Karim Talbi: Arman Soldin used to work for AFP as a reporter, but on May 9, 2023, he died in Ukraine. We believe that in all likelihood he died in a drone attack. The relevant ministry in France is investigating what happened to him. Considering that he was near Chasov Yar, Ukraine, they believe that the drone came from Russia. But this is not what I wanted to ask you.

A French ministry wants to investigate this matter. Is Russia ready to work with France on this investigation so that we can learn what actually happened there?

For us at AFP it was a huge tragedy, as well as for his family, of course. He was 32 years old. We would really like to see meaningful and serious efforts to investigate his death in order to find out what happened there, if Russia was involved, of course.

Vladimir Putin: You know, we have never rejected any investigations. And do you know how many journalists we lost in the combat zone? (Turning to Dmitry Peskov). Mr Peskov, do you remember the exact figure?

Presidential Press Secretary Dmitry Peskov: About 30.

Vladimir Putin: We lost at least 30 journalists, while no one offers us an opportunity to find out what happened to them. This is the first thing I wanted to tell you.

Second, if we are talking about what is going on in Ukraine, an American journalist has been tortured to death in prison there. But unlike you, the United States did not even ask to investigate what happened to him. But he was a US citizen, and a journalist. They detained him on the border, threw him into jail and he died there. They literally tortured him to death. But no one thought about getting to the bottom of what happened to him.

My answer is yes. Despite all this, we are ready to facilitate these efforts. I do not know how this can be done in practical terms when a person died in the combat zone. But of course, we will do everything we can.

Andrei Kondrashov: Thank you very much, Mr Talbi.

And now, I invite Mr Ali Naderi, Managing Director of the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA), to join our conversation. Mr Naderi, we appreciate the fact that you have found the time to come to St Petersburg despite the recent tragic death of President Raisi in an air crash and the ongoing presidential election campaign in your country. We would like to express our deepest condolences to you, our Iranian colleagues and the Iranian people once again.

Please, Mr Naderi, ask your question.

IRNA Managing Director Ali Naderi (retranslated): Thank you, Mr President.

We are indeed mourning the loss of our President, our Foreign Minister and several other members of the administration. In your message, you mentioned the President’s personal contribution to the development of bilateral relations between our countries, as well as regional relations. Here is the question I would like to ask: What are the plans of your country and your administration regarding the further development of relations with Iran, and what do they boil down to? Did you make any agreements with Mr Raisi regarding this? And what is the outlook for Iran and Russia? Thank you.

Vladimir Putin: Relations between Russia and Iran are developing rapidly in many spheres. Both Russia and Iran are under various sanctions and face multiple sanctions regimes.

When we were recently told about the development level of some Iranian industries, I was impressed that even in these conditions our Iranian friends managed to maintain a high production level in some fields. Of course, you have not done this in all spheres, but you certainly have in some of them, which is amazing. This is a fact.

We have entire plan governing our joint efforts. We are working on our trade and economic relationship with Iran. Of course, we would like to take additional efforts to boost our ties in the sphere of high technology. It is possible even though not easy to do this in light of the restrictions, and we will certainly do this.

Regarding the tragic death of President Raisi, I would like to say that I had reliable and good businesslike relations with him. He was an interesting person, a serious politician and a reliable partner. He was an ironic person with a good sense of humour in private life. Knowing him was an interesting and useful experience for me. As I have said, when I made an agreement with him, I was certain that the subject we raised would not be forgotten. This does not mean that absolutely all issues would be settled, because solutions do not only depend on the top leaders, but we could be certain that the given issue would not be lost sight of. And we also worked on both sides to improve our relationship.

It was during President Raisi’s presidency that Iran became a member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation and joined BRICS. This shows that we were moving together towards a clear goal, primarily in terms of creating a multipolar word. Of course, Iran played and continues to play an important role in this.

The only thing I would like to add in conclusion of my answer to your question is that we strongly hope that we will continue to build on what President Raisi did for the Russian-Iranian relationship. I have little doubt in this because everything we are doing serves our mutual interests. We are aware of the stability of the Iranian state and the system of supreme power in Iran. We know that not only the President and his team are working on the further development of Russian-Iranian relations but that Iran’s Supreme Leader, its spiritual leader is also doing a great deal towards this.

We are looking forward to the presidential election in Iran. I hope that we will meet with the new president at the events of international organisations, such as the SCO and BRICS. I am confident that we will find common ground with him and will work to implement all plans which the late President Raisi made.

Andrei Kondrashov: Thank you, Mr Naderi.

Our next participant is a good friend of TASS agency. It is Xinhua Editor-in-Chief Lyu Yansong. Mr Lyu is fluent in Russian, and we know that he loves singing Russian songs and watching Soviet films.

Mr Lyu, please.

Xinhua Editor-in-Chief Lyu Yansong (retranslated): Mr President, you paid a state visit to China only recently.

You have very close relations with China. They are an example of relations between major powers. What is your opinion of the cooperation with China and the impact that this cooperation has had on the two countries’ regions? Thank you.

Vladimir Putin: As concerns our bilateral relations, I want to note that they are not situational but rather built on deep mutual interests. China has been our main trade and economic partner for 15 years. This means that we started to build this relationship and reached the current level not in response to some recent political circumstances but long before that and based on mutual interests. We proceeded very carefully, step by step, with no haste. And I must say that we have succeeded in almost everything.

Russia-China trade is currently beyond expectations. According to China’s statistics, the turnover is $240 billion, and according to ours, it is slightly lower, around $230 billion.

The turnover is not even the most important aspect. More importantly, we successfully diversify our mutual trade. This is not limited to hydrocarbons and energy. We supply oil, gas, coal and electricity to China. We also build nuclear power plants in China. All these projects have been highly successful.

We have good prospects in high technology. I am talking about aircraft engineering and AI. You know, we enjoy seeing China’s success in many industries, including space.

China is making unique achievements, and the Communist Party is the leading political power in China. Of course, everything that has been done in China, has been done under the leadership of the Communist Party of the People’s Republic of China.

You know, I would like to draw your attention to the following issue. As far as I remember, I am not sure if I have mentioned this before, and I am not sure if the people gathered here will find this interesting, but do you know what some of our experts and good economists are saying? They are young people but they are rather experienced. They are saying that a survey of Chinese economic developments and those in the economies of other countries, including leading economies, such as the United States, shows that the Chinese have managed to create a rather distinctive but highly effective economic development model, which is more effective than a US model. Judging by the Chinese economic performance, this seems to be true. Yes, one can criticise the Chinese leaders and argue with them, and this is exactly what some of our Western colleagues are doing. They say that China has a non-market economy, that the Politburo sets the yuan’s exchange rate, and so on. One can say anything, but all of us can see the result.

This result shows that this model is more effective. So, who can accuse China of having a free-market or non-market economy? China has a population of 1.5 billion. Chinese leaders have to think about everyone. Not all of these 1.5 billion people have the same living standards as the average European or American citizen. Consequently, Chinese leaders have the right to use specific economic management methods to meet the urgent needs of their people. By the way, the Chinese leadership, led by the President of the People’s Republic of China who is my good friend (as we always say) is doing this very effectively and reliably. Well, we can only be pleased about this.

We know about the economic situation in leading countries, including the Chinese economy. On the whole, this highly reliable economy is evolving into a more and more high-tech entity. I believe that the United States or certain European countries are making a big mistake by wishing or attempting to slow down the Chinese economy, one way or another, because, in my opinion, instead of trying to hinder these processes, they should participate in them for the sake of their own success.

The Chinese overproduce motor cars, including electric cars. Who is saying that? Is it being said by people, who regard themselves as free market supporters? Don’t they understand what determines whether there is overproduction or not? It is the market that determines this. If China manufactures a certain number of cars and the market absorbs all of them, what overproduction are they talking about? It is simply nonsense, isn’t it?

Can we really call this overproduction? No, it has a different name; we can call it an attempt to restrict growth by using non-market methods. And this is harmful, including in this case – harmful for the US economy. Why is that? Because they will no longer import goods from China. What will this lead to? They will either manufacture something on their own or purchase from another place, which is more expensive and will lead to inflation in the United States. Inflation will impact the entire national economy of the country that is doing this. This is harmful – in this case, for the US economy itself. It is a mistake, yet another mistake made by the current administration.

As for China, President Xi Jinping’s skilful and highly professional leadership is driving the country’s economic development at a rate needed by China.

As far as other areas and sectors are concerned, I always say this and can only repeat here that our international interaction is a restraining factor and an element of stability.

But apart from the economy and mutual security – as you know, we hold exercises and will do so in the future, including military exercises – we maintain military-technical cooperation, an area where we have much to offer to our Chinese friends, who are interested in working together with us along these lines.

But there is more to it than just the economy, military-technical cooperation, or international cooperation. This year, we have announced the start or cross-years of culture. I think what our moderator has said – that you know Russian songs and can speak Russian – is, in my view, at least as important as everything else I have mentioned. This creates the basis for relations between nations and a favourable environment for advancing relations in all other areas. Both sides will abide by this. I hope that I will soon have the opportunity to meet with the President of the People’s Republic of China and discuss all these matters at the venues I have mentioned. I mean the SCO and BRICS.

Lyu Yansong (speaking Russian): Mr President, as you know, I have interviewed you three times. It was a long time ago, of course. The first interview was in 2002. One interview took place in Moscow, and the other two were in Beijing. This fourth interview is taking place in your hometown. I am delighted that it is so.

Thank you. I wish you all the best.

Andrei Kondrashov: Thank you, Mr Lyu.

We are giving the floor to Spain now. Jose Manuel Sanz Mingote, director of international relations at the Spanish news agency EFE (Agencia EFE). Apart from being an experienced journalist, he is also an excellent specialist in history and philosophy, and an expert on European integration.

Mr Sanz Mingote, your question, please.

EFE Director of International Relations Jose Manuel Sanz Mingote (retranslated): Mr President, thank you very much for this opportunity to meet with you.

I do not speak Russian, but I have read some Russian authors. I am aware of the enormous contribution that Russia is making to culture, science and art. From my personal perspective, it is just so unfortunate that we are going through such a difficult international situation.

My question may be sensitive. You know that 25 European countries are holding elections tomorrow through Sunday. And you also know that many analysts, experts, as well as high-ranking European representatives and senior officials are accusing Russia of propagating disinformation trying to disrupt elections in Europe.

How can you comment on this? Do you believe the Russian government is actually behind this misinformation campaign? Thank you very much.

Vladimir Putin: Look, I have just talked with your colleague from Germany, and we discussed the general situation in European economies.

Most social aspects derive from the economic situation, which influences people’s incomes, the availability of existing and new jobs, and the consumption of goods and services. European countries are mostly trouble-free states. Their citizens’ biggest concern is their material security. However, the policies pursued by the overwhelming majority of Western governments, including European ones, are putting this material security, which is something people have grown used to for decades, in jeopardy, even if they have not ruined it completely. People are well aware of this.

This, I think, is the main reason their major political parties, and parliamentary democracy in general, are going through difficult times. So, if someone, in Europe or elsewhere, refuses to analyse the mistakes they have made and tries to blame them on external players, well, they are making another mistake instead of drawing the right conclusions about what is really happening. This is my first point.

The second one is that Russian media, online or print media, have only a fraction of their Western counterparts’ capacity and capabilities for influencing various audiences.

If you ask your colleague (I am afraid I may simply give you inaccurate figures), everywhere our journalists try to work, they are met with obstacles – simply everywhere. Employees are intimidated; their bank accounts get closed; their transport gets taken away. There are other forms of persecution. Is this the freedom of speech? Of course not. The only thing that our media representatives, your Russian colleagues do is present Russia’s viewpoint on the events in the world, in our country and in Europe.

Our viewpoints differ but is this not the point? Are media outlets only supposed to serve governments’ interests? Even if it is the opinion of the Russian Government, why cannot we convey this opinion to audiences and internet users in other countries? Is it not what freedom of information means, whether somebody likes it or not?

What can be done if information does not appeal to somebody or somebody considers it unobjective? You present a different point of view and do it more compellingly than the point of view that somebody does not like, not shut down media outlets – in this case, Russian media outlets, which face relentless harassment in Europe and in the United States. There are just a couple of them, in fact, and still they are being strangled and pressured. Meanwhile, there have been claims that we can somehow influence public opinion in the Western countries. If you simply look at the amount of content that we are capable of releasing into the European media market, such claims sound ridiculous.

The problem is not that somebody is pursuing a malevolent policy against the European Union, in this case. The problem is that the ruling circles of the leading European countries have pushed their economy and social sphere into a deplorable state, along with how they conduct their international policy, whether people like it or not. I will repeat: do not look for someone to blame on the side; instead, look at your own actions carefully. Only this will help to conduct a proper analysis, draw conclusions and fix something – if somebody genuinely believes that things need to be fixed, of course.

Andrei Kondrashov: Thank you for your question, Mr Sanz Mingote.

Next is Kazakhstan. Director General of the Kazinform news agency Askar Dzhaldinov.

Mr Dzhaldinov, your question, please.

Kazinform Director General Askar Dzhaldinov: Mr President, what is the future of relations between Kazakhstan and Russia as neighbours?

Vladimir Putin: I believe the future is good, there is no other way to put it. Russia and Kazakhstan are bonded by what can be fully described as a very close strategic alliance.

This is true about our trade and economic links that are growing steadily every year, as evidenced by the growing turnover.

Our cooperation is multi-faceted. I will not be able to list everything right now. We cooperate in energy, industrial production, space and many other areas.

We share an enormously long border. People enjoy various exchanges. Seventy-six Russian regions have direct links with the administrative divisions in Kazakhstan. These links are probably more effective and productive because people are engaged in direct contact with each other, they know and trust each other.

I maintain continuous contact with President Tokayev. We enjoy a very warm and trusted friendship.

Now, speaking about energy, we plan to start supplying gas not only to Uzbekistan, but also to Kazakhstan. Northern Kazakhstan needs our energy resources. Yes, Kazakhstan has its own production facilities; however, there are extensive regions in Kazakhstan that need gas. It is easier and cheaper to buy gas from us than to lay new routes that will cost billions of dollars.

Frankly, I do not see an issue that would create a dispute or complicate our relations in any way. We spoke about cooperation with China. Trade with the People’s Republic of China in national currencies accounts for 90 percent of our trade. The same trend exists in our relations with Kazakhstan. Trade in national currencies accounts for almost 100 percent of Russia-Kazakhstan trade.

I have already said it – and there will be similar questions at the economic forum in two days, so we will talk about this. As concerns the United States, one of the US Administration’s colossal mistakes is that they prohibit using the US dollar in international transactions, making it a weapon of some sort. This is complete nonsense as they undermine confidence in the US dollar. It is simply ridiculous. Ridiculous. Grit your teeth and do whatever it takes to preserve the dollar, to boost its significance and authority. They are killing it with their own hands.

As a result, we have been prompted to shift to transactions in national currencies, for one. It turned out that this step did not cause any issues when it comes to developing our relations; on the contrary, this move has been helping us strengthen our national currencies.

We work together quite extensively in humanitarian affairs and education – in fact, across the board. And I appreciate President Tokayev’s contribution, among other things, because he supports our cooperation.

Soon we are going to Astana for the SCO summit. There will be other events there as well. I have been invited and I will certainly use this invitation.

Andrei Kondrashov: Let us move to our next participant: ANSA Deputy Editor-in-Chief Stefano Polli, Italy. Like Samia Nakhoul from Reuters, Mr Polli has a very rich experience of working in hot spots. In general, the Italian agency ANSA has never missed a single meeting like this with you; it is our regular guest.

Please, Mr Polli, you have the floor.

ANSA Deputy Editor-in-Chief Stefano Polli (retranslated): Thank you.

Good evening, Mr President.

Thank you for organising this meeting. I would like to ask a question about the latest events in Ukraine. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg proposed that Ukraine be given the opportunity to hit targets on Russian territory with weapons supplied from Europe. European countries and the United States agreed with this idea. Not all of them, but the United States did. At the same time, there is a discussion in some countries about sending military advisers and instructors.

I would like to ask you to comment on these two decisions and what Russia’s reaction to them will be. Thank you.

Vladimir Putin: There is nothing new in terms of having advisers and instructors. They are present in Ukraine. Unfortunately for them, they suffer losses. I know this for sure. This is not done on purpose, but losses happen during hostilities. However, the European countries and the United States prefer to keep it secret. This is first.

Second, as for long-range precision weapons. We need to divide this topic into two parts.

First, conventional weapons: a multiple-launch rocket system, a long-range of 70 kilometres or something similar. It has been used for a long time. In fact, Ukrainian military personnel can do this on their own. And as for advanced high-tech, high-precision and long-range weapons, such as the British Storm Shadow or the American ATACMS, or French missiles, what can we say? I have also spoken about this, by the way, when I left Uzbekistan.

ATACMS: 300 kilometres. How are they used and how are they transported? They handed over a missile system (the Pentagon, the Americans did). But how is it used? Ukrainian military personnel cannot do everything on their own and launch strikes with this missile. They are simply technologically unable to do this because it requires satellite reconnaissance; then, based on satellite reconnaissance data (and this is American satellite reconnaissance), a flight mission is formed and then entered into the missile system. And then the soldier who is next to it does it simply automatically: he presses the buttons. He may not even know what will happen next.

What can the Ukrainian military – not the ones who are just sitting there and pressing buttons – but the higher-ranking ones do when it comes to target assignment? They can identify a target that is a priority for them. But they are not the ones who decide whether a particular target should be hit, because, to reiterate, a WTA (weapon target assignment) is formed and effectively entered only by those who supply the weapons. If we are talking about ATACMS, then the Pentagon is doing it. If it is Storm Shadow, then the British are. It is even more straightforward in the case of Storm Shadow, because the target assignment is entered automatically, without the involvement of the military personnel on the ground. The British do it, that is all there is to it.

And when the Bundeswehr military were pondering an attack on the Crimean Bridge or other targets, they were thinking for themselves. No one was doing it for them, right? They were going to do it. The same goes for the French specialists. Western specialists do it.

We have no illusions about it. How are we supposed to respond?

First, we will, of course, improve our air defence systems. We will be destroying their missiles.

Second, we believe that if someone is thinking that it is possible to supply such weapons to a war zone in order to deliver strikes at our territory and to create problems for us, why can we not supply our weapons of the same class to those regions around the world where they will target sensitive facilities of the countries that are doing this to Russia? The response could be symmetrical. We will give it a thought.

Third, sure enough, such actions will wreck international relations, which have already hit rock bottom, and undermine international security. Ultimately, if we see that these countries are being embroiled into a war against us, and this constitutes their direct involvement in the war against the Russian Federation, we reserve the right to respond in kind. Generally speaking, this path may lead to serious problems. I think that covers it all. If you have any leading questions, please go ahead. But I do not think I can add anything to what I just said.

Andrei Kondrashov: Mr Polli, do you have more questions to ask? Or, have all your questions been answered?

Stefano Polli: I have one more question, but I am not sure if this is the good time to ask it.

Vladimir Putin: There will be no better time, because we will wrap it up soon and go our separate ways. So, this is the right time for your question.

Stefano Polli: I would like to ask a question about Italy, if I may.

Italy supports Ukraine politically and militarily, but at the same time states that it is not at war with Russia. I would like you to comment on the stance adopted by the Italian leadership.

Vladimir Putin: We see that the Italian government has adopted a more reserved position than many other European countries, and we assess it accordingly. We see that Italy is not stoking the Neanderthal Russophobia, and we are mindful of that as well. We very much look forward to restoring relations with Italy after the situation surrounding Ukraine gets better, and maybe even faster than with other European countries.

Andrei Kondrashov: Thank you, Mr Polli.

We have South Korea next, a question from Executive Director of Digital Media at Yonhap News Agency Park Sang-hyun. Please, go ahead.

Executive Director of Digital Media at Yonhap News Agency Park Sang-hyun (retranslated): Russia is cooperating with Korea in developing the Far East.

When you were at the ceremony for presenting credentials by the ambassador of South Korea to Russia, you said that Russia was willing to build relations with South Korea. What are your plans in this regard?

Vladimir Putin: You know, just like with Italy, I can say that we see that the leadership of the Republic of Korea is not affected by the Russophobic sentiment. There are no direct shipments of weapons to the conflict area, and we highly appreciate that. But we also see that there are all sorts of developments where the US companies are purchasing weapons to be then shipped to the war zone in Ukraine. We are following this closely. But we very much hope that Russia-South Korea relations will not get worse, since we are interested in expanding bilateral relations with the Korean Peninsula in general.

Unfortunately, ongoing developments have negatively affected trade and economic ties. We very much hope that the level of bilateral relations achieved in previous decades will at least partially remain there for us to be able to rebuild them in the future.

Unfortunately, South Korea has created certain hardships in many areas of our cooperation. We are working with other countries, though we would like to continue to work with South Korea, but this is not our choice. This is the choice made by the South Korean leadership. All channels are open from our side, and we stand ready to resume work.

Andrei Kondrashov: Mr Park, thank you very much for your question.

Mr President, may I ask you a question on behalf of the TASS news agency?

Vladimir Putin: Yes, of course.

Andrei Kondrashov: To follow up on the Russian economy, it reminds me of a line from a joke that goes like “keep talking, I cannot get enough of it.” You have discussed the current state of the economy earlier.

Remember, there were wonderful people out there who stated that the Russian economy was already torn to pieces, then and now we are under the pressure of thousands of sanctions, we are in the third year of the special military operation. Are the future prospects for the economy as bright as its current state? What is your take on this?

Vladimir Putin: There are 16,000 to 17,000 sanctions, and there is no other country in the world with so many sanctions imposed on it. Clearly, they are a hindrance. So, our ill-wishers believed that they will negatively impact us in one way or another in the medium term, and there are reasons to believe that this is true. Those who think so are within their right to think so. This is especially true of advanced technology and some other cutting-edge areas such as artificial intelligence, microelectronics, and the like. In fact, everyone is aware of where things stand, and there are challenges out there.

However, there are two “buts” here. First, no one has ever cancelled the COCOM lists Russia was on, even at the height of our relations with the collective West. That is something to ponder. Restrictions remained anyway. I have every reason to believe that we would not have had a chance to establish close cooperation in the most sensitive high-tech areas anyway. There was no reason to count on it. But problems are being created. We see them. But strangely enough, perhaps even for ourselves, we are overcoming them.

When we were faced with the fact that we cannot import products that we used to buy in large quantities, we needed to use our brain and to reach out to our manufacturers and designers. They are not just taking the place of outgoing Western manufacturers but are picking up where they left off and are swiftly expanding the production. Our ill-wishers, and somewhat even we, did not expect things to turn out that way.

I will give you a basic example without mentioning the field. We used to buy a tank from France, a fairly basic tank, but it contained compound metals and so on. At some point, they stopped supplying it. They placed an order with a company in Nizhny Novgorod which built an even better tank at 30 percent of the cost. You see? This is a basic example from real life.

The situation is the same in many other areas. This explains the growth. I believe that this explains why our GDP has increased by 3.4 percent. However, this growth has a limit. The niches our producers have occupied in the market after Western producers pulled out, and their efforts to develop them will contribute to the growth, but it has a limit anyway. We are aware of this.

Therefore, technological independence is one of our main goals in the context of our development and our strategic priorities. We intend, and we have already started doing it, to invest substantial resources to catch up in the spheres where we need to do this. Or we could do something to skip over some phases. We understand this and are aware of it.

I cannot say if we will succeed, but we are optimistic, and I think that we will, especially if we are forced to do it. If things change overnight and we are offered access to cheap, high-quality products… this does not depend on the Government but on economic players. They might decide to deal with Western producers who can provide quality goods at acceptable prices. But if this does not happen, we will have to produce everything domestically. Yes, in this case we will have to shift some goals to the right, as the governments say, that is, postpone their achievement, but we will attain our main goals anyway.

I often cite the following example: we are working on the MC-21 liner, which is made of modern materials and its wings have special harnesses made of modern materials. The US Administration has sanctioned them, allegedly because they are dual-purpose products. This is ridiculous; it does not have a dual purpose. Why did they do it? Because our plane can compete with the Boeing 737 medium-haul aircraft, if I am not mistaken. They did that, and we were out of action for a while. We had to act, but we did it: we shifted our timeline by two years. But we ultimately did it: the plane is flying.

I have no doubt that we will accomplish all our plans. The timeframe may be affected. Of course, deadlines are important because while we work to solve problems, others surge ahead. We are aware of this, which is why we try to be proactive. In other words, thankfully, there are no critical problems with our efforts to overcome the sanctions, and I hope there will not be any in the future.

Andrei Kondrashov: Thank you, Mr President.

It would now be logical to discuss the country that has imposed the greatest number of anti-Russia sanctions. I am talking about the United States of America, which has imposed 3,500 sanctions on Russia.

James Jordan, News Director for Europe and Africa at the Associated Press, is here with us today. Mr Jordan, your question for President Putin, please.

News Director for Europe and Africa at the Associated Press James Jordan:Thank you very much.

Thank you, President Putin, for this opportunity to address you directly.

Over two years ago, you sent Russian troops into Ukraine, as you say, to protect Russians and Russian speakers of the Donbass region and to keep NATO from your country’s eastern border. Since then, thousands have died on both sides, and the fighting has even come to some regions of Russia.

In the last few hours, it has been confirmed to the Associated Press by a Western official that Ukraine has used US weapons on Russian soil in the last few days. Do you see this as a further provocation, to follow on from my colleague from ANSA’s question? Could you sum up for us what you feel Moscow has achieved in the last two years? And how does the fighting stop?

Vladimir Putin: First, we fulfilled our duty to the people suffering from the coup d’état and subsequent hostilities in southeastern Ukraine. We recognised the right of the people living in these territories to defend their interests, their lives and the lives of their children. I believe that this is the main aspect.

We also showed ourselves and the whole world that we do not just talk about defending our interests, but we are actually doing it, and we will undoubtedly continue to do it. This is something everyone will have to accept.

Regarding the second part of your question, specifically, what should be done to stop hostilities in Ukraine, I can tell you as a representative of the United States what I told Mr Biden in the past. He sent me a letter some time ago, and I replied to him in writing that, if you want to stop hostilities in Ukraine, you should stop supplying them with weapons, and hostilities will stop within two or three months, at most. That is all, and this is the first thing.

Second, we urge everyone not to hinder a possible peace process.

Mr Jordan, I am forced to recall the events of late 2022. We had agreed with Ukraine that we were ready to sign an agreement with them that would have resolved several key issues.

The first issue was establishing a system to ensure the security of Ukraine. Ukraine stated expressly in that draft agreement that it was not a NATO member and that it would remain neutral. However, the relevant security guarantees closely resembled articles 4 and 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty. There is probably no need to go into details, but this implied that, if necessary, all signatories were to provide military assistance to Ukraine, etc. We consider this a complicated issue, and I have said that we should think about this; however, it is possible to discuss it.

The same concerns Russia’s interests. I repeat, this implies Ukraine’s neutral and non-aligned status where it should not join any blocs, as well as certain arms limitations, and so on. This is something the Russian Federation is certainly interested in.

Furthermore, as you remember, we mentioned the denazification of Ukraine. And I was quite surprised when people started asking me, “But what is denazification?” Denazification means prohibiting Nazi propaganda at the legislative level. Strange as it may seem, we did find common ground here, just as we did on other key issues necessary to resolve this crisis peacefully. And if the head of the Ukraine’s negotiating team signed off on the key provisions of the long agreement, initialled that framework document, I take that as proof that Ukraine found the terms generally acceptable. And if we accepted it, it means that it generally suited Russia as well.

I hate to make you feel uncomfortable, but I will nevertheless ask a rhetorical question: why did Mr Johnson go to Kiev and recommend that this agreement be thrown into the trash? Why did he encourage his Ukrainian colleagues to achieve victory on the battlefield, to seek Russia’s strategic defeat?

The Ukrainian side, Ukrainian officials have publicly admitted that if they had signed this treaty definitively, the war would have ended as early as in late 2022. We did not say this; Ukrainian officials in Kiev said this publicly.

So, I have a rhetorical question: why would anyone want to prevent us and Ukraine from signing that treaty? I can only assume that someone was pursuing their own foreign political agenda concerning Russia. They were aiming for Russia’s collapse, Russia’s strategic defeat at any cost, and so on and so forth.

You asked me what should be done. I hope that I have given a fairly comprehensive answer to your question. When you have an opportunity to talk to the leadership of your country, please ask them: why did you prevent the conclusion of a peace treaty between Russia and Ukraine?

What I have told you is my assumptions as to why they did it. Maybe they will have another answer for you, a more complete official version. I am certainly in no position to give you this answer – it is up to my counterparts in the US and UK.

However, I have no doubt that Mr Johnson’s move had full support of the US administration; he did not do it of his own accord. I am certain of that.

James Jordan: Thank you, Mr President. With your permission, may I ask you a very brief other question away from Ukraine? Regarding the American reporter Evan Gershkovich, who has been in custody for more than a year now. There has been no evidence made public about what crimes he may have committed. Could you give us the latest on any talks that might be happening with the US as regards his release and when we might expect to see him? 

Vladimir Putin: You know, you believe he is innocent, but Russian law enforcement agencies and special services believe that he committed illegal actions, which qualify as espionage. I would not like to go into details and specifics right now. I know that the United States administration is indeed taking vigorous steps to secure his release; that is true. But such issues are not resolved through the media; they require quiet, calm and professional approach and dialogue between intelligence agencies. And of course, they absolutely have to be resolved on the basis of reciprocity. The relevant services of the United States and Russia are in touch on this issue.

Andrei Kondrashov: Thank you, Mr Jordan.

We have Turkiye here. Yusuf Ozhan, Deputy Director General and Editor-in-Chief of the Anadolu Turkish news agency.

Please, Mr Ozhan, your question.

Deputy Director General, Editor-in-Chief of the Anadolu news agency Yusuf Ozhan: Thank you so much for having us here today, Mr President.

Actually, I would like to ask a question, a follow-up question, to the question that I posed three years ago, again, during the anniversary economic forum. It was over Zoom. I am happy to see you face to face.

It is about Gaza, the war in Gaza right now. Millions of people around the world are opposing the attacks against the people of Gaza, which amounts to a level of genocide right now.

Does Russia intend to play a role in the solution of the situation right now in Gaza? Do you have any intention to get the Security Council in motion, because people, not only the Gazan people, but the Palestinian people in general, and the people of different origins, religions, ethnicity, free from any identity or backgrounds, the people of the world are actually asking for the big powers to finish what is happening right now on the ground in Gaza.

Thank you.

Vladimir Putin: First, I want to say that we are against terrorism in any form and any attacks against civilians, anywhere, in any country.

However, what is happening in Gaza in response to the infamous terrorist attack in Israel does not look like a war. It appears to be the complete destruction of the civilian population.

The only thing I can do is to reiterate Russia’s official position on this matter. We believe that this is a result of the United States’ policy, which has monopolised the Israeli-Palestinian settlement process and pushed aside all the instruments created for collective efforts to resolve this complex issue.

Perhaps someone in the administration believed that the fewer opinions there are, the faster agreements can be reached. But reality has proven that it does not work that way. This is my first point.

Second, attempting to solve the issue with some kind of material gifts does not seem promising either. We have talked about this. We expressed doubt that it would be possible to replace the resolution of political issues related to the fate of the Palestinian people in the historical perspective by offering economic incentives. Yes, creating an atmosphere to address certain problems is necessary, but the problems themselves still need to be addressed.

The political issues must be addressed. And the main issue is the creation of two states, as originally envisaged in the UN decision. Two states must be established on this territory: a Palestinian state and a Jewish state. Therefore, I do not believe it would be possible to resolve the issue without addressing its crucial aspects.

I must say that Russia’s position on this matter is a principled one and does not depend on the current political situation. We have recognised the Palestinian state since the Soviet times. In this sense, our position has not changed. We are aware that President [of Turkiye Recep Tayyip] Erdogan is making vigorous efforts to solve this very acute, long-standing problem. Given his authority in the region, in the world, and in the Islamic world in particular, we strongly hope that his contribution will be significant. For our part, Russia is ready to do everything within its power to resolve the situation, taking into account our relations with the State of Israel that have developed over the past decades, among other things.

Andrei Kondrashov: Mr Ozhan, do you have a second question to ask while you still have the chance?

Yusuf Ozhan: Also, another question would be regarding the Turkiye-Russia relations.

You have been in negotiations over the course of the last ten years. One of the mega projects that Russia and Turkiye have achieved together was the building of nuclear power plant in Akkuyu.

So, for the future, are there any developments on the Russian side regarding the production or the construction project of the gas centre that was being discussed in recent years? Is there any news from the Russian side about that? Or are there any other future projects that are being discussed between the two countries?

Thank you.

Vladimir Putin: Everything regarding Akkuyu is going according to plan. We are on schedule; there are no delays. Many people, mostly builders, are working there. For large volumes of construction works, Turkish builders are employed. Our specialists also work in Turkiye. We are grateful to the Turkish leadership for creating favourable conditions for this work. The first unit is nearing completion, and work is underway on all power units.

As for hydrocarbons, I have already mentioned but I am willing to repeat that we are not just building the plant but also training personnel for it. We are ready to remove nuclear waste and so on. We are creating a whole new industry. It will be more than just a power plant, it will be a new economic and power sector in Turkiye. President Erdogan has made this strategic choice which I regard as an absolutely correct one. Among other things, it will reduce dependence on hydrocarbons. Overall, we have a highly reliable partnership.

Regarding the gas hub, we are pondering the issue. Gazprom maintains contacts with BOTAS and other partners. I would like everyone to understand – I have been trying to explain that all the time: it will not be just a gas storage facility but an electronic platform at the first stage for gas trading, largely with Europe.

Here is what I would like to point out. We are also protecting the Blue Stream running under the Black Sea towards Türkiye, including for Turkish consumers, and TurkStream, which is also used to deliver gas to Europe. We have to protect both these gas routes built under the Black Sea because Ukrainian armed forces have been trying to attack and destroy them. In any case, the ships that are protecting these routes come under constant attacks.

Some time ago, I am not sure if it was seven or ten days ago, Ukrainian drones attacked a gas pumping station built on the Black Sea coast, which is pumping gas to Türkiye.

I would like to note that Türkiye is cooperating with Ukraine in some spheres, but Ukraine is nevertheless trying to attack the gas pipelines that are pumping gas to Türkiye. It is not a joke or an exaggeration. Two drones have been suppressed by Russian electronic warfare systems and fell near the gas pumping station on the Black Sea coast. I am not hyping it up or inventing things; this is a fact. Please, tell our friend, President Erdogan, about the situation on the ground. And the ships that are protecting that gas supply route across the Black Sea are regularly attacked by sea drones, which European countries send to Ukraine, by the way. They attack our ships that are protecting these pipeline systems in the Black Sea.

We should speak about this more often and more clearly, but we are not always good at propaganda, which our Spanish colleagues complained about. But it is happening on the ground all the time. Nevertheless, our bilateral relations are developing quite well, and our mutual trade is growing.

Truth be told, I have a somewhat detached view of the situation. It seems to me that the economic bloc of the Turkish government has shifted focus to borrowing loans, attracting investment and receiving grants from Western financial institutions. This could be good, but if this is connected to restrictions on Türkiye’s trade and economic ties with Russia, the Turkish economy will lose more than it can gain. I believe that there is such a risk. This issue calls for a separate discussion. We look at the figures, and the Turkish government should now pay special attention to macroeconomic indicators. I will not go into details now, although I have them at the tip of my fingers. I have an in-depth knowledge of the matter. I understand what is going on there.

Andrei Kondrashov: Mr Ozhan, thank you for your question.

Mr President, very recently you have been on a three-day state visit to Uzbekistan, which you found fruitful and successful. Now we have a guest from Tashkent here, in St Petersburg. This is Abdusaid Kuchimov, Director General of the Uzbekistan National News Agency.

Mr Kuchimov, you have the floor.

Director General of UzA Abdusaid Kuchimov: Thank you.

Mr President, you and President Shavkat Mirziyoyev discussed topical international issues at your recent talks in Tashkent.

Peace and stability in the neighbouring country of Afghanistan is very important for Uzbekistan. Unfortunately, we can see that developments in Ukraine have completely displaced from the global agenda the Afghan issue that we find no less pressing, although there is an objective need to build interaction with the new authorities of Afghanistan and help solve the socioeconomic problems of the long-suffering Afghan people. Moreover, we can see the strong desire of the new government of Afghanistan, that is, the Taliban, to establish peace in the country and build constructive cooperation with all states.

In this regard, my question is, how important is it for the Russian Federation to maintain dialogue with Afghanistan? Does Afghanistan currently have an important place in Russian politics? And what is your attitude to the processes around that country?

Thank you.

Vladimir Putin: First, I would like to confirm that my visit to Uzbekistan has been very substantive, fruitful, and effective. Perhaps we have not had this format with anyone before: at the initiative of President Mirziyoyev, we came to Uzbekistan with a large government delegation, but at the same time a meeting of regional leaders was held. It turned out that half of the Russian Government and a big number of heads of Russian regions came to Tashkent. Some of them enjoyed communicating with the leadership of the renewed Government of the Russian Federation in Tashkent, which was interesting, but they also interacted very actively with each other. This proved to be very unexpectedly useful even for me. This is the first point.

Second, we have also discussed Ukraine and, sure enough, President Mirziyoyev is strongly in favour of a peaceful resolution of the Ukraine crisis and has repeatedly laid out Uzbekistan’s concerns with regard to the developments in Ukraine. We are grateful to the President for Uzbekistan’s clearly neutral and very balanced policy in these matters.

We covered Afghanistan extensively as well. The problem that Uzbekistan faces is the problem of access to the world ocean, the seas, which is understandable. There are quite a few options to address this issue, including building logistics across the territory of Afghanistan, including pipeline transport, railway transport, motor vehicle transport, supply of energy, electric power, and so on and so forth.

In this regard, stability in Afghanistan is critically important for Uzbekistan and Russia. We have invariably proceeded from the actual state of affairs where the Taliban control power in Afghanistan, and, of course, it is important to ensure that all agreements at the level of the UN, such as inclusive government with the participation of all ethnic groups in Afghanistan, get implemented. This is a delicate and vital issue. All told, we need to build relations with the Taliban government.

Broadly speaking, we have contacts. I am aware that Afghanistan is developing this as well. We will move forward. After all, we need to build good relations with the neighbouring country, all the more so since Uzbekistan shares a long border [with Afghanistan], and it is important to ensure security and, to reiterate, to expand logistics.

We agreed to address these issues together and to study these opportunities.

Thank you very much.

Andrei Kondrashov: Thank you, Mr Kuchimov.

And finally, our Far Eastern neighbour – Toshimitsu Sawai, Executive Director of the Japanese news agency Kyodo News. Mr Sawai is a highly experienced international journalist. Throughout his career, he has worked as a correspondent in many different parts of the world, such as Kenya, Thailand, Pakistan and the United States.

Mr Sawai, your question, please.

Executive Director of Kyodo News Toshimitsu Sawai (retranslated): Thank you very much, Mr President for giving me this valuable opportunity to ask you a question today.

Currently, there are several issues in the Far Eastern region of the world that are of concern to Japan. First, there are territorial problems with Russia. In addition, there is growing military cooperation between Russia and North Korea. We in Japan have been faced with these two problems.

Regarding the territorial issue, I have the following question. You said in Khabarovsk this year that you would definitely visit the four disputed Kuril Islands. Do you already have specific plans and a timetable for this visit? Do you think that if you visit these territories, our bilateral relations will experience an even greater setback, considering the suspended negotiations? Could you share your plans, please?

As for the Russian-Japanese talks and their resumption: during the special military operation in Ukraine, these talks were suspended. Could the descendants of former islanders be allowed to resume their visits to their ancestors’ graves on the islands?

Vladimir Putin: Our relations with Japan have been developing confidently and progressively. There were very many issues, especially those related to the pivotal aspect of our relations – a peace treaty. It is clear that a peace treaty was difficult to agree upon without resolving the issues connected to the Kuril Islands. We understood it.

Back in the 1950s, as we are aware, the Soviet Government adopted a decision – I think it was in 1956 – and signed a declaration stating that the Soviet Union was ready to give two of those islands to Japan. However, it did not specify the grounds or under whose sovereignty the islands would be, nor did it mention any other conditions, whether material or otherwise. But the idea of transfer was mentioned in this declaration. Furthermore, it was ratified by the Supreme Soviet of the USSR. However, for some reason, the Japanese side refused to fulfil these agreements. Therefore, the Soviet Union declared the withdrawal of that ratification.

We resumed the discussion of these issues at Japan’s request. It was a difficult dialogue, but at least we talked with each other.

You have mentioned several problems.

Visits to the islands: The Russian Federation regards the islands as a sovereign territory of Russia, and so I do not understand why I should have scruples about visiting a Russian territory. It is the first point.

Why do we think so? We think so because the delegations of both countries signed relevant documents, including in the United States, as a result of the Second World War. And we will not revise the results of WWII.

This does not mean that it was impossible to come to an agreement on this issue. It is a delicate matter, but it is not a black-and-white matter. It is much more complicated than that. Anyway, we were not afraid to hold that dialogue.

The first thing I would like to say is that I see no reason not to visit these islands. However, I have not been planning to do so because I am currently busy with other matters.

You have said that my visit would create obstacles to addressing issues related to the drafting of a peace treaty. Excuse me, colleague, but do you think Japan’s statement on joining efforts to inflict a strategic defeat on Russia could be an obstacle to continuing dialogue on the peace treaty? Japan has joined the calls for inflicting a strategic defeat on Russia, yet you think the current conditions are suitable for discussing a peace treaty. Do you really believe that my hypothetical intention to visit the islands is a bigger obstacle than the Japanese government’s statement on inflicting a strategic defeat on the Russian Federation? I understand this is not your personal question and that it was suggested by your editorial board. But please, put this question to your superiors. That is the first point.

Second, we see Japan’s bias regarding the Ukrainian crisis. Currently, there are no conditions for continuing dialogue on a peace treaty between Russia and Japan. We are not refusing to resume it, but we will only do so if relevant conditions are created, primarily by Japan. We have done nothing in our bilateral relations to complicate Russia-Japan dialogue. Nothing at all. All the hindrances have been created by Japan.

Now, let us discuss the relations between Russia and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. Opinions on the past and present may vary. Firstly, in my view, the DPRK has repeatedly shown a willingness to negotiate, including with the United States. I think that this readiness to engage in dialogue was likely the reason behind former US President Trump’s meeting with Kim Jong-un. The American side recognised this willingness.

Moreover, the North Koreans agreed with the Americans to halt tests and dismantle a test site. They followed through on these commitments in response to corresponding steps from the United States, including actions in the banking sector. What did they get in return? The United States unilaterally violated these agreements without hesitation. Naturally, the Koreans withdrew from these agreements. So, what prevents us from developing relations with a country with which we share a common border?

There are certain things that honestly make me wonder. Yes, there was a time when we supported certain steps with regard to North Korea, such as in the area of labour migration. Let me be frank, especially since you work in the field of information and are deeply involved in these matters: why did we do this, exactly? What was the rationale behind it? After all, we are talking about labour migrants here. What kind of threat do they pose, and to whom? It is rather strange. We show concern for the environment, for birds, sea animals, and all that. But when people face hunger – not because they are militants or anything like that, but simply as individuals, citizens of a country – when they are barred from working somewhere or their ability to earn a living is so restricted that they cannot feed their families, that is somehow strange. Strange indeed.

You know, even now I am speaking in general terms about all the problems that arise. This is always the case in the world: if someone feels threatened, they respond. If there were no threats, I believe the nuclear issue could gradually be resolved. But they are constantly threatened, so what should they do in response?

Regarding our relations with North Korea, or the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, they are our neighbours. We will continue to develop these relationships, whether others approve it or not.

Andrei Kondrashov: Thank you very much for the question.

Mr President, Samia Nakhoul from Reuters would like to take the floor. We cannot turn down her request, can we? Your question, please.

Samia Nakhoul:I have two questions. I have a follow-up question on Gaza. You know, the war has been going on for eight months. Prime Minister [Benjamin] Netanyahu said that he wants to eradicate Hamas, yet it is still there. So, how do you see the scenario? How do you see this conflict unfolding? And, given your diplomatic relations and clout with the Palestinian Authority and with Hamas, even with Israel, though now it is a bit strained, and with the Gulf countries, do you think of playing a leading role in mediating an end to the conflict based on the two-state solution as proposed at the Madrid Conference? Do you really believe that there is hope for the Palestinian state? This is question one.

Vladimir Putin: I believe there is hope. There is hope because there are people in the United States and Israel who advocate for the creation of two states. They believe that this option – the establishment of two sovereign states – can lead to peace, help find a formula for peace.

Does Russia believe it is important to play a leading role? I do not think so. There are many players in the region who are involved in the conflict and have great influence on current developments. However, we can contribute to a peace settlement, considering our relations with Israel that have evolved over the past few decades, as well as our traditional relations with the Islamic world that are based on a great deal on trust.

I believe that regional countries and organisations, including the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation and the Arab League, should make a decisive contribution. This includes neighbouring states, such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia, counties of the Persian Gulf, Turkiye, a leading player in the Islamic world, and, certainly, the United States. We strongly reject the extremist position that the United States should be excluded. What for? That is impossible. The same applies to Israel.

However, it is necessary to find a balance. I repeat, I believe it can be done, considering the sentiments in US and Israeli society, and especially those in the Arab and Islamic world.

We are trying to influence ongoing developments to the best of our ability, also bearing in mind the humanitarian aspect. As you know, we have played a certain role in securing the release of several hostages with a Russian background. We are continuing this work with our partners. You are right in saying that we maintain stable and trust-based relations that have evolved over decades.

However, we need to work together. This work should not be monopolised. This is harmful since monopolisation could prove beneficial only if those who monopolise the process adhere to a neutral position. However, a monopolist is unable to maintain a neutral position. They inevitably side with one of the parties, causing everything to fall apart and lead to tragedies like the ones we are experiencing.

This is the overall picture.

Please.

Samia Nakhoul: About the scenario: how do you see this conflict now, which is unfolding in Gaza? And one last question.

Vladimir Putin: We have put forward ceasefire initiatives multiple times at the UN Security Council, but they have been blocked and vetoed by the United States. Collaborating and reaching an agreement together would be the ideal scenario, but unfortunately, it does not work so far.

We have directly supported a ceasefire, but our proposal is vetoed; another initiative – also veto. If we had avoided reciprocal vetoes and instead focused on finding common ground to solve the issue, it might have paved the way for a resolution.

You wanted to ask one more question? Please go ahead.

Samia Nakhoul: My question is this: going back to Ukraine, what would trigger a nuclear war and how close are we to that risk?

Vladimir Putin: You know, they always try to accuse us of brandishing a ‘nuclear big stick.’ But was it me who just brought up the topic of using nuclear weapons? You did it. You push me to speak on this subject, but afterwards you will accuse me of brandishing a ‘nuclear big stick.’

You know, this is a very tough topic. The United States is the only country to have used nuclear weapons in World War II: Hiroshima, Nagasaki – 20 kilotonnes. Our tactical nuclear weapons are 70–75 kilotonnes. Let us avoid not only their actual use, but even the threat of use.

Somehow, the West believes that Russia will never use nuclear weapons. However, our nuclear doctrine clearly states that if somebody’s actions threaten our sovereignty and territorial integrity, we reserve the right to employ all available means in response.

It is crucial not to approach this matter lightly or superficially, but rather with a professional and serious attitude. I hope that everyone around the world will adopt this approach when addressing such issues.

Andrei Kondrashov: Thank you, Samia Nakhoul.

Ali Naderi from IRNA, Iran, wants to ask one more question.

Please, Mr Naderi.

IRNA CEO Ali Naderi: (retranslated): God help you!

We have been talking for three hours now. In your speeches, you talked about sanctions and also about Iran joining the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation and BRICS, as well as cooperation within these organisations to create a multipolar world.

My question is: how do you see the world order in the future, considering the will of various independent countries? Do you think monopolism and a unipolar world will continue?

Vladimir Putin: Do you know what happened? We have talked about this many times; no one knows this better than you. The Soviet Union collapsed. It does not matter whether it collapsed or was destroyed; what matters is that it ceased to exist. There was only one superpower left, which considered that now it is done, God fell asleep on its shoulder, and now it can command everyone. But the world is complex and diverse, it is developing rapidly, with new centres of power emerging.

A European politician said – it was not me, just to make it clear to everyone – that all European states are small states, but not everyone has understood this yet.

Look at how Asia is developing. China has 1.5 billion people, and India perhaps even more. Other Asian countries, South Asia, Southeast Asia, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Indonesia are developing at a tremendous pace. The development pace is high, and the population is growing. Apparently, the trends are such that development is gradually moving there.

Several processes are taking place in this region of the world, catching up not only with the growth rate, but also with the standard of living. All this will inevitably lead to changes in the configuration of the world. Today we cannot talk about any kind of monopoly; it no longer exists. The world, of course, can only exist in its diversity. If there is a monopoly, it will be terrible. Just like in nature, the world is always diverse in politics.

I do not know whether it is good for the United States that this monopoly emerged after the collapse of the Soviet Union. That required some extra efforts from the United States.

Look, the United States spends more on defence than all other countries combined. If the expenses of all countries in the world are combined and added up, the United States still spends more on defence than all countries together. Why? Huge amounts of money are spent on maintaining bases abroad.

To be continued.

June 5, 2024, St Petersburg