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Official website of the President of Russia

Transcripts   /

Interview with the Wall Street Journal

February 11, 2002

Question: Russia is actively cooperating with the West, with the United States and other countries in the fight against terror. Do you believe that it may have some impact on a realignment of relations between Russia and the United States?

Vladimir Putin: I think you will agree with me if I say that the fight against terrorism began before September 11 of last year.

I think you and your readers will understand it today better than anyone – as Americans, because you have experienced the horrible tragedy of September 11, and you as representatives of the Wall Street Journal and your readers – because one of your colleagues is currently being held hostage.

You know that even before September 11 the people of Moscow and some other major Russian cities experienced similar tragedies with smaller number of victims, but basically of the same character – explosions of residential apartment blocks. And in Chechnya before 1996, when we launched military operations there, there were more than 2000 hostages, like your journalist in Pakistan today. They had been kidnapped from different regions of the Russian Federation, including territories thousands of kilometers removed from Chechnya, such as Siberia and major Russian cities. Many of them, unfortunately, died.

But September 11, which claimed a huge number of victims and was an exceedingly cruel and brazen challenge on the part of international terrorism, was a watershed event. It created awareness that there are modern threats that no country can face up to single-handed. What is needed is for many countries to unite their efforts. These problems include the war on terror and the closely related task of non-proliferation of nuclear weapons, missile technologies and other means of mass destruction. There are other issues that cannot be solved without the main world powers pooling their efforts.

This awareness of new threats – of the new quality of threats we knew before but did not regard as significant as today – prompted the idea of the need to change the world security configuration.

I think my answer to your question must be affirmative. I think that these events and our joint actions within the international anti-terrorist coalition alongside the United States marked the start of a reappraisal of the relations in the world and the start of the formation of new alliances on the basis of mutual security interests.

Question: In the wake of 9/11, have relations between Moscow and Washington, between you and President Bush changed compared with the relations that existed between President Yeltsin and President Clinton? We know that you have formed a fairly close friendship with President Bush.

Vladimir Putin: You know, first of all, I must thank President Clinton and President Yeltsin for bringing the relations between our two states to where they were when I became the President of Russia and President Bush became the President of the United States.

It has to be said that in spite of some problems we know about – they arose in connection with events in the Balkans and some other issues – the level of relations between Russia and the United States was fairly high. So I thought that my task was to preserve that level, to strengthen and develop our relations with the United States.

To give a direct answer to your question as to whether something has changed in the relations between us since the incumbent presidents of Russia and the United States established such warm relations as they have today, I would say, yes, I think something has changed.

I don’t know what guided President Bush at our first meeting in Ljubljana. I think it had to do with his intuition when he spoke very positively about the prospects of the development of relations between the United States and Russia. I think it was intuition more than anything else… But anyway, from the very first step we began moving towards a new quality of cooperation. That enabled us later to work so actively and effectively within the anti-terrorist coalition.

Naturally we may have and do have differences on various world problems. But there is one distinctive feature which I think testifies to a new quality of relations. We and our countries have developed a different degree of trust in each other, a very high level of trust. And it enables us, in spite of our different approaches to various problems, and even arguments on specific aspects of world development, not to slide towards confrontation but to keep the high level of bilateral relations that we have achieved today.

Question: Obviously, it takes more than trust to maintain the proper level of relations between such countries as the United States and Russia. Could you, Mr President, name any long-term parallel interests of Russia and the United States, interests that will keep our countries together even if the presidents don’t trust each other as much?

Vladimir Putin: Yes, of course. I have already named some of them. Both Russia and the United States want to see a stronger regime of non-proliferation of nuclear weapons and means of their delivery as well as other means of mass destruction. Our national security hinges on that. It is an important motive for cooperation.

We are interested in active joint work to fight terror and eradicate or suppress terrorism. I don’t think anyone in Russia or the United States needs to be persuaded as to how great our interest is.

And finally, in the economic field we can well be very natural partners, effective partners. Russia today is the second biggest exporter of oil in the world and if you include our export of gas and convert it into conventional units of energy and fuel measurement, Russia emerges as the number one exporter of hydrocarbons.

And in this connection I would like to draw your attention to something: during the 30 years that we have been supplying gas to Europe on a large scale there hasn’t been a single complaint. Even during the difficult period of the breakup of the Soviet Union. It shows that supplies from the Russian Federation are reliable.

And if we bear in mind that Russia is becoming more and more stable in terms of domestic policy and economically and that the traditional sources of mineral resources, above all, hydrocarbons in the Middle East are in a zone of international conflicts, the significance of Russia as a supplier of hydrocarbons to the world markets is very great for the world economy and its stability.

And there is another circumstance that is very important for the world economy, for our partners, including the United States. It makes Russia the most attractive partner in that sphere. The level of dependence of the Russian economy and Russian budget on the export of fuel and energy today is high, but not as high as in the OPEC countries, as in Saudi Arabia or the Gulf states. Moreover, we are vigorously developing – and intend to continue doing so aggressively – manufacturing and high-technology sectors. It has certain economic implications for us, and we are drawing economic conclusions from it.

Of course we are interested in attracting more hard currency to Russia by selling energy, but we are not interested in excessively “hiking” the prices of oil and other energy resources because excessively high prices, especially over a long period of time, may create certain monetary problems in the Russian economy, in the light of its development plans.

Question: You mean high prices may create problems for you?

Vladimir Putin: Yes, of course. If prices are too high and remain high for a long time it may bring so much hard currency into our economy that we would have to take special measures to regulate that mass of currency.

Question: What would be the optimal level of prices?

Vladimir Putin: Between 20 and 25 dollars per barrel.

Question: Will you cooperate with OPEC to reach that target?

Vladimir Putin: Yes, we will. In general, we have cooperated and intend to cooperate with OPEC. But we will preserve our independence and pursue our own policy. I repeat, the degree of our dependence on energy is high, but not as high as that of the OPEC countries, and that enables us to pursue an independent policy. Even so, we intend to coordinate our actions with OPEC.

The status of our economy and our economic policy indicate that we can be attractive partners for each other. Our economic and national interests point to this. There are other, hi-tech spheres. Some of them are well known, but others are not. Space exploration is well known to everyone. I think we should build up our efforts in this area.

And I have not yet spoken about human cooperation. The benefits are obvious and we are well aware of the interest the people of the United States have in Russian culture. We are at least as interested in the States: the history, the way your country has become a great power, such as it is today. So the mutual interest of peoples towards each other, of ordinary people, is very important and we should encourage and strengthen it in every way.

Question: So much for long-term interests. Let us look at the short-term outlook.

Last week President Bush declared that there exists “an axis of evil” and he named three countries: Iraq, Iran and North Korea. Do you share his analysis, do you agree that these three countries constitute the “axis of evil”?

Vladimir Putin: If you look at my public statements of about a year ago you will find that I referred to “the arc of instability”. I discern a common element in what the President said and in what I said, which is as follows: we both recognize that terrorism has acquired an international character.

But speaking about specific lists, we don’t think it is reasonable to draw up such “black lists” of countries.

I think we should speak about problems and seek to solve them. One of them, as I have mentioned, is the problem of the proliferation of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction.

Speaking about Iraq – and there is a suspicion that the country is producing weapons of mass destruction – this problem should be addressed. There are several ways. First of all, we should get UN observers back into Iraq. How to do it? There are many ways, and the military way is by no means the only one or the universal one or the best one.

In any case, just as in the case of the Taliban, the use of force must be justified. It must be obvious that there is no other way to solve the problem. The arguments in favour must be universally recognized and the decision must be taken by the international community together.

So I would put it this way: we are against drawing up “black lists” of countries but we are ready to work with the United States to neutralize the threats I have mentioned.

Question: If the United States does launch military operations against Iraq, how will Russia react: will it support them or, on the contrary, oppose them? And what will be the reaction if the United States during this military operation uses the troops currently deployed in the former Soviet Republics of Central Asia?

Vladimir Putin: I can tell you that the international community has legitimized a procedure for the use of force within the framework of the UN. And that procedure for the use of force has been repeatedly confirmed by all the members of the international community, including the United States, and it is well known; it requires the decision of the UN Security Council.

Let us face it, in the case of Afghanistan that principle was not adhered to. The international coalition assumed that the US was acting out of necessity for the purpose of self-defense and the international community was obliged to react promptly to a hideous crime which had claimed the lives of thousands of Americans and citizens of many other countries. Nothing like the same situation exists with regard to the other states you have mentioned here. So, there are no grounds for violating the procedure universally recognized under international law.

Besides, in Afghanistan the international coalition and the United States were not targeting Afghanistan, but the Taliban, whose regime had not been internationally recognized, unlike the legitimate government of Rabbani which supported the international coalition. That is a totally different situation.

But this is not to say that Russia may not under certain conditions work together with the Untied States and tackle the problem of terrorism as part of the coalition. Of course it may happen. I repeat, it must be in accordance with the principles and norms of international law.

Question: You spoke with President Bush after his address to the nation in which he said that he would not stand aside and would not wait for danger to creep up closer and closer.

Vladimir Putin: I talked with him over the telephone. In general, I think his speech was very emotional, and it was a landmark in the life of the United States. It reflected the situation and the mood of the country and society. I think it marked his success as a political leader. He said he would not wait. That is true. But he also said that it did not mean that bombing would start tomorrow.

As we interpreted it, it may mean that he is ready to tackle the problems that we face – the problems of fighting terror, together with the international community and with the whole international coalition. There are many aspects to this: the funding of terrorism, organisational support, and so on and so forth. And if, I repeat, we tackle all these problems together and make decisions together I think the implementation of these decisions can be as effective as the fight against al-Qaeda or the Taliban.

Question: In other words, the United States will take unilateral action?

Vladimir Putin: You know that we are cooperating with the United States within the international anti-terrorist coalition. Everything we have done up until now has been the result of energetic and coordinated actions. We expect, these actions to continue to be coordinated, and I think in order to be effective they must be. Engaging in guesswork as to what the United States may or may not do, and what it intends to do – it’s not my place to be engaged in guesswork.

Question: You talked to President Bush after he made his address to the nation. Did you present your position that if we have to launch actions against the “axis of evil”, these actions should be coordinated internationally?

Vladimir Putin: You want me to give you all the nuances of my talk with the US President.

I can tell you that the basic Russian approach to the fight against terror is known to the leadership of the United States and President Bush. He also knows in detail our position on individual countries that are mentioned in this connection with varying frequency.

I must say that our position is not unique and it is shared, I can safely say, by a very large number of countries that are members of the international community.

I must say that all our discussions with President Bush up until now and today have been very fruitful. I repeat, we cannot say with 100% certainty how this or that country, including the Untied States, will act. But we expect that it will be joint, cooperative and therefore effective interaction.

Question: Again, when we talk about the Security Council as regards Iraq there may be a danger of the use of nuclear weapons. Perhaps Iraq has no nuclear weapons, but it is known for certain that it must have chemical, biological and bacteriological weapons.

When you say that international consent is needed for some actions do you assume that military actions will not yield the necessary result, or do you proceed from the fact that Russia has relations with Iraq? It involves Iraq’s debt, and it involves oil interests.

Vladimir Putin: Of course, Russia is a large country, and it has many interests in its relations with other countries, including Iraq. But some things are not negotiable. They include our international obligations and issues of international security. It would have been a different matter if no positive experience of work with Iraq had existed. But we know of such instances.

You have just said that there is no question as to whether or not Iraq possesses nuclear weapons. At present it is universally recognized that Iraq has no nuclear weapons. That has been established by the international community and international inspectors. If this could be ascertained with regard to nuclear weapons, why not do the same thing with regard to biological and chemical weapons if such suspicions exist? And that would not require the use of force, by the way.

And until we have covered the whole way and have used all the instruments offered by present-day international law and the United Nations, it makes no sense to speak about other sanctions and other instruments. We have not yet fully exhausted the arsenal of other means.

Question: Who called whom: did you call President Bush or did he call you?

Vladimir Putin: I call him and he calls me. The last time it was he who called. He is a very active man. And if I feel that I need to talk to him his reaction is very quick and positive. And I reciprocate: if I am told that President Bush wants to talk to me, there are no problems, we determine the time within one day and have our conversation.

Question: Americans are also keen to know some personal details. They know that you are the President, that you used to work with the KGB and that you had links with George Bush. I have read your book and so on. But we know that your mother baptized you and in 1993 you showed your little cross to Bush.

Are you a religious man?

Vladimir Putin: I think every person must have a moral and spiritual core. It does not matter what denomination he belongs to. All the denominations have been invented by people. And if God exists, he must be in a person’s heart.

For such a country as Russia, religious philosophy is very, very important because the dominant communist ideology, which effectively replaced Christianity as the state religion, has ceased to exist, and nothing in a person’s soul can replace universal human values as effectively as religion. And besides, religion makes a person spiritually richer. I would say no more.

I don’t want to enlarge upon it because think it is a very personal matter. I don’t think it is a sphere that one should parade, let alone use for political purposes or comment on for the media.

Question: In the same book you named Napoleon and Erhard as two of the political leaders who appeal to you most of all. But they are so different. Erhard focused his efforts on restoring Germany, on domestic issues. He was concerned about the problems of his nation. By contrast, Napoleon was a person who promoted French nationalism and sought expansion. What guides you when you admire this or that politician?

Vladimir Putin: Do you believe Erhard was in a position to kindle nationalism after such a collapse?

I think the strong point of both men is that they chose the optimum way of stabilizing the development of their countries, the best way for their time and considering the circumstances in which their country, nation and the world were.

Their genius was precisely to have a fine feel of the situation and understand what needed to be done. But that does not mean that they did not make mistakes that led to problems and even to the collapse of what Napoleon had accomplished during his short period in power. But French history has seen other figures, including after the Second World War. It is up to historians to offer an assessment. And General de Gaulle was probably a very different man to Napoleon. But if historians do the analysis I think they will find some common elements that General de Gaulle used to get the country up on its feet after a difficult period and the defeat in the Second World War. And I think he succeeded, among other things, because he had a fine feeling of his people, just like Erhard in Germany after the Second World War had a feel of his people and knew what had to be done.

Question: The Prime Minister of Singapore, when asked to name his most admired historical figures, named Deng Xiaoping and de Gaulle because de Gaulle had done a great deal for France at that time, and he had done it the way it should have been done.

Vladimir Putin: Speaking about the United States, I would recall Roosevelt who led the country in a period of grave crisis. I think it was not by chance that he broadcast his “fireside chats”, talking at length to the country’s people. I think his genius, like that of de Gaulle and Erhard, was that they felt what needed to be done, they felt the mood of their people and tried to be on the same wavelength as the people, and they did it very well.

You know what the most important thing is? The most important thing is the people’s confidence in the country’s political leadership. Only then can economic reforms and transformations in the economic and political spheres be carried out. If we go back to the early period of the activities of President Roosevelt, when he assumed leadership of the country, the economy and society were in turmoil, people had to trust him so that he could effectively carry out his plans. The same goes for Erhard.

Question: There is said to be great mistrust in Russia of the law enforcement agencies and of the law observance. Of late several prominent businessmen have been arrested, including Goldovsky, Titov and so on. And there are other people, bureaucrats like Borodin, whom nobody touches. Don’t you see some double standards in this approach?

Vladimir Putin: You mentioned mistrust of the law enforcement agencies. I think we should speak not about mistrust of the law enforcement agencies but more broadly a certain mistrust of the state. For decades the state was separated from the population, it existed by itself in the context of a totalitarian system and the population existed by itself. There was no way the people could influence the actions of the state, and a measure of alienation developed.

As for the gentlemen you have mentioned, I very much doubt that it has caused a negative reaction among the people and contributed to their mistrust of the actions of the state or the law enforcement agencies. I think, on the contrary, it tends to improve people’s impression of the activities of the state and the law enforcement bodies because people see that at least something is being done.

As for Borodin, for example, if the law enforcement agencies have ruled that he has committed no crime, one has to defer to that opinion. As regards Goldovsky, nobody has yet convicted him. A preliminary investigation is underway. As in any other country, a person can be declared guilty only after a court indictment has come into force.

You know, there is a joke, which goes like this: “Doctor, you have pulled out my healthy tooth. “Never mind, we’ll get to the sick one in due course.” I don’t think it would be right if we proceed in this way. So, of course we must improve our law enforcement system. But the worst we could do is to prevent them from doing anything at all.

Question: Were you worried that these politicians could turn against you, considering that they had concentrated great resources in their hands?

Vladimir Putin: Of course, I can’t afford not to think about it. But I was not elected by the people who own fortunes, but by the citizens of Russia so that I could restore order in the country.

I don’t think that oligarchy is the best way for Russia. On the contrary, I think it would be a disaster for our country.

And in this connection I would like to repeat: in my opinion, we must improve the court system, we must see to it that there are no miscarriages of justice, that labels are not stuck on people, but we should not create conditions in which a person or group of persons feel absolutely secure no matter what they are doing, even if they are breaking the law. The Russian business community knows this. I proceed on the basis that the authorities and the business community are interested in civilized business based on current laws.

By the way, I think our foreign partners are more interested in this than anyone because if, in our market, they are confronted by the so-called oligarchs who ignore the courts and the law and violate all the rules, including fair competition, it does not augur well for our foreign partners or for Russia.

So, our task is to ensure a level playing field for everyone. That is why we adopted a whole package of laws last year which we call the Reform of the Judiciary. And we very much hope that the judicial system in Russia will become more effective as a result.

Question: Regarding NATO: are you ready to see the Baltic countries join NATO? And if they become NATO members what would it mean for Russia?

Vladimir Putin: Every country has the right to choose the way it ensures its security. This holds for the Baltic states as well.

Secondly, and more specifically. NATO is primarily a defensive bloc. I can only repeat what I have said several times. The enlargement of the bloc is supposed to improve international security and the security of its member countries.

Ask the citizens of New York: will they feel more secure because Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia will become NATO members? I think their answer would be “no”. Anyway, many of them may simply wonder where these countries are. And if you ask Russians whether it would be good or bad for Russia, an overwhelming majority would reply that it would be bad for Russia.

Question: Meaning that they would feel less secure?

Vladimir Putin: Yes, of course. Because it would bring the military bloc’s infrastructure closer to our borders. Naturally, it should provoke a response. Therefore I think mechanical enlargement of the bloc is counterproductive.

As you know, we do not consider NATO to be an organisation that is hostile to Russia at present. But if it is to become a universal international security organization, of course the quality of relations between NATO and Russia has to change, and we are ready for that. We are not going to become full members of NATO, but there is a set of issues on which we could work jointly and very effectively together with the NATO countries, including the Untied States. We have already discussed that with you.

I think that as the quality of relations between Russia and NATO changes, the problems connected with the expansion of the whole bloc will come to be seen in a different light.

Question: Do you mean to say that the attitude to enlargement will change?

Vladimir Putin: It all depends on the quality of relations between Russia and NATO. If it is productive, trusting and if mechanisms for joint decision-making on key issues are put in place, perhaps Russia would look at enlargement differently. But it is too soon to speak about that yet, because the character of relations between us and NATO has yet to change. Therefore, we are currently in the process of active negotiations and we expect them to produce positive results. It is not our task to influence NATO policy on everything and in every way, for example, there is no reason why we should try to influence Article 5.

And in general, fears about the forging of a special relationship between the Russian Federation and NATO are ungrounded. For this reason, because Russia, first, does not seek full membership, and second, if Russia is involved in a full-scale format in the development and adoption of joint decisions on certain problems, it will itself be interested in seeing these instruments strengthened. In that sense and in that case such instruments may of course become substantial elements of international security.

Question: But the military in Russia are unhappy. They say that Russia is constantly yielding ground. People see that American troops are in Central Asia, that Russia has given up its bases in Vietnam, on Cuba and so on.

How do you see the future of Russia: will it be a big power, like Germany, France or perhaps Poland, or will it be a global power, like the United States?

Vladimir Putin: Russia is a global power if only because of its location and its size. It is part in Europe and part in Asia, and it is strongly represented in both.

And to come back to the beginning of your question about the alleged discontent among the military, first, I would like to tell you that our military are in no way inferior to yours. There are still many people among your military and in part of our society who regard each other with mistrust. It is not only the military. It applies also to non-military people.

I think you are mistaken when you say that there are some problems among the military. I assure you that there are all sorts of people in the military, but for the most part they are smart people who know their profession and understand international politics. The people who determine military policy, especially, know it better than others. It is a delusion that they think that we are surrendering something somewhere with no good reason. In the case of the Cuban base it was their initiative, not mine, the initiative of the military.

The same applies to Central Asia. We are very well aware of what we are doing. And when I say “we” I mean myself and the Ministry of Defence and the special services. These are conscious steps and they are based on a certain vision of the future. If one saw the United States as an enemy perhaps we would have behaved differently as members of the anti-terrorist coalition. But if we assume that we can be partners and in future even allies, everything that we have been doing jointly within the anti-terrorist coalition can hardly be challenged.

And speaking of the countries of Central Asia, let us not forget that these are independent states and they independently determine their foreign policy. Both I, the Ministry of Defence and the Foreign Ministry are aware of these realities and we build our policy on the basis of these realities and not on the basis of imperial ambitions. This is not to say that we have no national interests of our own and that we will not be persistent in pursuing them.

You have mentioned the Cam Ranh Bay base, which our Navy hasn’t been using for nearly ten years, I think we have made an absolutely sound decision, considering the mood of the Vietnamese leadership. At the same time we have agreed with Azerbaijan and have signed a long-term agreement that will preserve our military presence at one of the key points, the Gabala radar center. And we have solved many similar issues regarding assets for which we have a real and not an imagined need. I assure you, these are not the willful decisions of one person, these are balanced military-political decisions based on realities and the views not only of politicians, but also of the military, including the whole of the General Staff.

Of course, some people, in uniform or out of it, may express critical opinions due to political motives or simply to a lack of understanding of what is going on, and that is normal.

It is not our aim to please everyone. We proceed from our perception of how the state development strategy should be built inside the country and in the world. We are convinced that it fully meets the national interests of the Russian people.

Regarding the vision of the country’s future, the fundamental question is of course ensuring the rate of economic growth and solving social problems on that basis. I would very much like to see the consumption index in Russia at the level of the industrialized Western countries in 10–15 years time. We made a serious breakthrough last year. Among economic growth factors, the consumption factor practically doubled: it was 37% in 2000 and 62% in 2001. That is a revolutionary change. We would like economic growth to be driven mainly by domestic factors. That is one thing.

There is another set of problems I would like to see solved in Russia during the period of time you have indicated. I would like the bulk of our exports to be not energy but mainly high added value products, and science intensive production to be the motor of the Russian economy.

I would like the country to be socially and politically stable, with developed democratic institutions. And finally, I would like to see Russia’s main allies – and it was said a hundred years ago that Russia’s main allies were its Army and Navy – to be able to ensure the security of our state.

And finally, as a consequence of the above, I would like to see Russia a full-fledged member of the world community occupying a worthy place in the international arena, considering the high degree of Russian cultural influence on the international community.

The book your colleague referred to has some archive data dug up by journalists. And it contains a mention of my relatives who lived not far from Moscow – within, I think, 180 km – starting from 1723. All my ancestors in my father’s line lived in the same village and went to the same church. And when did the United States gain independence?

Voice: In 1776.

Vladimir Putin: The point I am trying to make is that America will never be Russia and Russia will never be America. But we can complement each other very well and our mutual cooperation is a key factor of world stability. We must never forget that. That feeling of responsibility should underlie our policy. Besides, people in Russia have historically been sympathetic towards the United States.

We have recalled the independence of the United States and it would not be irrelevant to recall that Russia supported the United States in its struggle for independence. We admire the way the Americans have, within a short space of time, turned their country into a prosperous world power. But I think Russia too has something to offer mankind. Russia has made a substantial contribution to the development of world civilization and world culture. I think if what I have mentioned is only partially – but better still fully – realized we will become not only natural, but very useful partners for each other.

And President Bush and I will try to work effectively towards that end together.

Thank you.

February 11, 2002