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Excerpts from a Transcript of the News Conference for Russian and Foreign Journalists

June 24, 2002, The Kremlin, Moscow

Question: There are people among the population who are wobbly in their political views and have not joined a political party. It may well be that on the eve of the elections they will become easy targets for some political forces who would offer them quick and simple solutions to complicated problems, as happened, for example, during the elections in France. Do you think there is a danger that extreme political parties will gain supporters on the eve of the elections? And what can be done to deprive extremist ideology of support on Russian soil?

Vladimir Putin: First of all, Russia is not France. There are many things that appear to be similar to the situation in Western Europe, but still it is a different country and a different situation. I think the main political forces in Western Europe will draw lessons for themselves from what is happening in connection with a certain shift to the right. By the way, in private talks with my colleagues I have repeatedly drawn their attention to some alarming symptoms. It happened in Germany and in Holland and in France. In my opinion, it is not our business to interfere and pass judgment. In my opinion, it is connected with certain bias in the priorities in domestic policy. Concerns over universal human values sometimes tend to obscure the real people in a real country. That results in distortions.

As for Russia I do not see such a threat. Speaking in very general terms, such a threat emerges or can emerge wherever and whenever the leadership of a country neglects the basic needs of its population, fails to address these issues or neglects these problems. I think our main task is to help people escape from poverty. The main thing is that people should feel secure and that Russia’s international prestige should grow. We are steadily moving in that direction though perhaps not as fast as we would like to. Our task is to explain to the country’s population what we do, to explain the goals that we set for ourselves.

I think if we continue to do this, the population will respond accordingly. There will be support for the main political forces in the country: the right, the centre and the left of the political spectrum. But in any case we won’t have any extremism in Russia.

There is another circumstance I would like to stress: it is a mistake to drive opponents into a position of illegality. Thank God, in Russia, the representatives of all the political trends have a chance to express their opinion legally, in a parliamentary way, to promote their point of view and to try to gain constituencies. That’s number two.

And finally, number three, is the strengthening of the multi-party system, a democratic multi-party system. The country’s Parliament has passed a corresponding law. That law is now in effect. What is important is that it will function on the ground in the regions. I think it is a matter of principle that national political parties spread their influence to the regions and be represented in regional parliaments. This is being done tactfully, without undue haste, without leaps and bound, with due account of the potential and readiness of a particular region for the introduction of a multi-party system at that level. If all this continues to be implemented, I see no danger of radicalisation in Russia.

Question: Belgorod Region, the newspaper Belgorodskiye Izvestia. Mr Putin, you know that Belgorod has a project that would produce 150,000 tonnes of poultry and 100,000 tonnes of pork every year. What do you think about that project? That’s a question connected with poverty. And secondly. In less than a year it will be 50 years since the Battle of Kursk and the Battle of Prokhorovka. Can we hope that this time around, too, you will come to the Prokhorovka field? Thank you.

Vladimir Putin: As regards my attitude to the project you have mentioned, my attitude is positive. The more quality farm produce we have the better.

The Minister of Agriculture, as you have noticed, has recently tightened requirements for importers and I must say that the actions of the Russian Agriculture Ministry are equal to the policies of other states.

In general, we often hear about liberal values in the economy when it comes to demanding that Russia grant some privileges and preferences. But these values are promptly forgotten when those who propagate the values are affected. I have stated it quite frankly to my colleagues many times. Many of them don’t deny it. You know, for example, that the EU has an automatic scale that raises the price of grain. Russia, perhaps for the first time in 80 years, has a potential to export grain, 5 million tonnes. What happened? The European Union immediately passed decisions to introduce what amounts to a prohibitive duty. If this is not a restriction of market access to Russian goods, what is? But that is not all. What happened next? Our colleagues are smart guys and they proceeded competently, energetically and consistently. Realising that we wouldn’t know what to do with our grain except using it in the domestic market, and what does it mean in domestic market? — in livestock breeding in order to ensure the implementation of the projects like the one you mentioned, which makes Russian livestock breeding and products more competitive. So what was their next decision? They grant extra subsidies to livestock breeders in Europe. What has that got to do with liberal economy? This is not to say that I am against the liberal economy. But it shows that many countries are often guided by the Russian proverb “My own shirt is closer to my body”. We must proceed from the realities in which we live. But I repeat, it does not mean that we should neglect these values. It doesn’t mean that we should quarrel, and arguments in the economic sphere should not be allowed to develop into political conflicts, confrontations and trade wars. It means that all the issues of this kind should be addressed consistently and persistently through negotiations.

Take for example our steel exports to America. On the whole, one has to say that the Administration is open to Russian arguments and agrees with some of them, so there is some progress.

The most sensitive issue of course is in Europe and it has to do with agriculture. We have to handle the negotiating process with the WTO very carefully. We should develop our own agriculture but we shouldn’t forget of course the needs of the population, especially those with low incomes. What you said today about the plans to produce pork and poultry, unfortunately, is just a plan. Once it is implemented, we shall see what the prices for the products will be and whether the low-income people will be able to afford these products. Then some adjustments may be made in foreign trade and in the importation of foodstuffs.

As regards agriculture as a whole, I would agree with those people who propose — and I am saying it for the first time. Perhaps it is somewhat at odds with liberal premises because it would offer advantages to one sector in the economy. I’ll tell you what I mean. One could introduce a flat tax rate for agriculture in the same way as we have done for small and medium businesses. The nation and its treasury do not get all that much from agriculture in the form of taxes. Perhaps it would make sense to let them breathe freely, if only for a limited period of time. It won’t spoil the situation.

But I am really just thinking aloud. My thoughts need to be followed through and consultations are required. Perhaps some decisions may emerge. Perhaps not, but in any case there is no doubt in anyone’s mind that our domestic agriculture must be developed.

Question: Mr Putin, the so-called myth, the negative myth about Chechens is a serious moral and psychological trauma for the Chechens, both those who live in and outside the republic. Can this myth be dispelled today? And the second question: could something be done to improve the system of security raids carried out in Chechnya to make them less dangerous for civilians?

Vladimir Putin: Regarding the negative image of the Chechens. The Chechen people are not to blame. I think it is the fault of the federal centre, which in its time left the Chechen people at the mercy of fate. Let us not point fingers, but it is clear that the Russian government misfired. What is an ordinary Chechen citizen to do if a heavily armed unit of 100–200 men enters his village? Even if every Chechen keeps a Kalashnikov under his mattress, his Kalashnikov wouldn’t be of much help. And the government has proved unable to protect the interests of the Chechen people. Of course fanatics, extremists and destructive elements of every stripe took advantage of this. What did the 1999 attack on Dagestan have to do with the interests of Chechnya? Nothing. Were these people protecting the interests of Chechnya? Once again the Chechens were used as a living shield.

Today it is a tragedy. And I repeat, there is no point in trying to place the blame, we should proceed from the current reality. Yes, regrettably, such an image is widespread. And because we ourselves are to blame, it is our task to dispel the image of a Chechen as an enemy and a terrorist. There are many grounds for that. Unfortunately, it is not often that the federal press writes and speaks about the heroism of the Chechen militias and the Chechen police during the early stages of the fight against extremists back in the middle of 1999 when Chechen policemen were caught, tortured, had their hands cut off and so on. Little is written and said about it. It’s a pity.

Let us take the latest event, the liquidation of Khattab. It was made possible not only by the use of agents among foreign mercenaries, but by the direct involvement of the Chechen population. There are many other instances when the Chechens have effectively contributed to driving out terrorists from their own land and restoring peaceful life. More should be said about it, this is the challenge both for us and for you, for those who are sitting in this room today.

Now about improving the way the security raids are carried out. The issue is not to improve them but to stop them. And that will only become possible after the legal, judiciary and security elements of the Chechen administration are strengthened. By security elements I mean the creation of an effective police with combat units similar to OMON and the like. This work is well underway, and it marks the next stage of normalisation of the situation in Chechnya.

Chechnya should be defended by the Chechens themselves. Obviously it cannot be done overnight, but let it be recalled that a year or a year and a half ago we were told: “You won’t find a single Chechen who supports the federal forces there.” We all remember that this was a constant refrain. Today it has been forgotten because the Chechen people actively support the efforts of the federal centre aimed at restoring order in their own country. They should be allowed to do it by force of arms. It requires time, effort and preparation, it requires training, and that work is being pursued intensively today. I think it should be mostly completed by the end of the year. Thereafter we will move on to the next stage of normalisation and come to grips with the problem of adopting the Constitution.

Question: I would like to ask you about an internal Russian problem, the problem that is discussed every day, the problem of corruption and at the same time lack of responsibility in the Russian law-enforcement establishment. My friends and I face it every day in the streets when dealing with traffic policemen. People who represent legal entities face it every day in courts and during investigations. Why is it that police bosses seem to be impervious to your words about the need to have a more humane law-enforcement system that is closer to the people and why do the officers who are supported by tax payers’ money absurdly extort bribes from these very tax payers? Can you do anything about it?

Vladimir Putin: The issues of crime control must of course be tackled by the law-enforcement bodies, but not by them alone. The law-enforcement bodies are part of our society and society itself must be more mature. Society must cultivate certain values, instil them in the population, including law-enforcement officers. It would be wrong to put the entire burden on them. It would be wrong and unfair to them and it would be harmful because then we wouldn’t see the roots of crime which lie in the social and political sphere. So, the fight against crime is a complex of measures that the state must implement over a fairly long period of time. It is not something that can be done at one fell swoop.

How could we seriously talk about crime control? We have just discussed the problem of Chechnya. We had entire regions which tolerated a degree of lawlessness a modern civilised person cannot imagine. I don’t want to recount all the horrors.

How could we talk about laws and respect for the law if some regions, semi-officially, had no federal treasury and did not pay federal taxes for a long time, almost ten years? It is to all intents and purposes, a sign of the disintegration of the state.

A lot of things have happened that we simply did not notice or pretended not to know about. All that was a potent argument supporting the claim that we had neither effective government instruments nor mechanisms of state. Of course the sharpest of these instruments is the law-enforcement establishment. It too needs an overhaul and needs to be strengthened. We are trying to do it. We do not always succeed, but we will continue to build up our efforts.

As for improving the laws, as you know, the first Administrative Code has been passed and new rules have been introduced for the traffic police. As regards police and public security, which is what affects the population most, the regional level of government should become more involved in this matter. We recently discussed this problem with the Minister of Internal Affairs. And he just passed a decision whereby not only the deputy heads of the local police departments will be appointed with the approval of governments, but the heads of some other services, notably the traffic police, will need such approval as well. Their appointment will directly depend on the regional government.

Other measures have been planned to bring the public security service closer to the grassroots level and to the regional level of government. All that requires time and effort. We will work towards that end.


Question: Lack of sufficient information on what the federal centre is doing with regard to the Kaliningrad Region gives rise to all kinds of unhealthy speculation. In connection with this I would like to ask you whether the Russian Federation has changed its official position after the latest EU summit in Seville? And if so, what is the current position? And I would like to know your personal position with regard to the Kaliningrad Region. I think I can speak for the entire media community in the Kaliningrad Region when I say that people trust you and pin their hopes on you. Thank you.

Vladimir Putin: Thank you. I don’t quite understand what prompts such apprehension, why these fears that the position of the Russian leadership may change after Seville. Our position is very open, transparent and worthy in every respect. We are in favour of developing our relations with the European Union. By the way, we welcome the enlargement of the European Union because the European Union as a whole is our main trade and economic partner. We ourselves are part of Europe and we very much hope that the enlargement of the European Union will further deepen our cooperation with our partners in Eastern, Western and Central Europe. However, we will never agree with decisions that would in effect split sovereign Russian territory. And the introduction of special regimes for Kaliningrad would inevitably have such consequences.

As you know, I openly expressed that position here in Moscow at a meeting with the European Union “troika” and in St Petersburg at a meeting with the heads of the Baltic states. My position is that the visa regime should be the same for all citizens of the Russian Federation, both the citizens of Kaliningrad and those living in other territories.

Secondly, transit between Kaliningrad and other parts of the Russian Federation must be assured. It is hard to imagine any other situation that would correspond to the fundamental principles and rules set forth in the documents on human rights. It is hard to imagine that a person living in Moscow, St Petersburg, Smolensk or Yakutsk could not go to the funeral of a relative or visit the grave of his relatives or attend a wedding party or simply come to visit without having to go to the consular institutions of another state. And it is anybody’s guess how the official at the consular agency will look at the application of a Russian citizen for a permit to visit his relatives. That is absolutely outrageous. And we said so bluntly and honestly to our partners.

I have said it to the summit of the Baltic heads of government in St Petersburg. I can repeat it. Even in the thick of the Cold War, in the mid-1970s, the Soviet Union met its partners halfway and allowed free transit of citizens of the Federal Republic of Germany to West Berlin and back.

I think similar solutions must be found today, but not in the spirit of the Cold War. We would like to do it better. We would like the process to reflect the current level of relations between Russia and the European Union. This approach meets with understanding among our partners. You may have noticed that shortly after the summit and the St Petersburg meeting, the Swedish Prime Minister declared, I am not sure I can quote him verbatim, but I can certainly quote him pretty accurately: if we, the European Union talk to Russia in that way, it does not look like partnership, it is a command and that is not the way to build relations. He put it very succinctly. I am very grateful to the Swedish Prime Minister for taking such a stand.

I can say the same about the position of German Chancellor Mr Schroeder. During our meeting in St Petersburg held at the same time as the summit of the Baltic states, he stressed that Germany was interested in seeing that problem resolved. We know the position of Lithuania on that issue. It is also close to the Russian position I have been now describing. In any case Brazauskas spoke in this vein in St Petersburg.

And some other heads of state and government share our point of view. It is an ongoing process. We hope it will be crowned with success.


Question: What do you think about the opinion often expressed in the regions that Moscow is pursuing a policy of conquest with regard to the regions? For example, Yaroslavl is a contributing region, and last year 70% of its tax revenues went to the federal centre. How can the region develop in such a situation? Thank you.

Vladimir Putin: It can develop effectively and progressively. It is all a matter of how you spend the resources. As regards the relations between the contributing regions, the federal centre and aid that comes to the regions from the federal centre in the shape of subsidies, the problem is embedded in the current state structure of Russia because the overwhelming majority of our regions are aid recipients, they are not economically viable. Such is the administrative division of our country.

But what are these regions to do? And what have these regions been doing for the past ten years? They did not pay wages for years, they did not pay pensions for months, they paid no social benefits at all, running up billions in arrears on child allowances and so on. We are still struggling to fix this problem. What other option is there today except redistributing these resources? How to redistribute them? Through the federal centre.

By the way, such decisions pass easily through the State Duma and the Federation Council. Has it ever occurred to you why? Because among the deputies, the people who represent the subsidised regions, greatly outnumber the representatives of the contributing regions. They duly vote for their interests, they are Russian citizens like all of us, and one can understand them; and these problems must be addressed.

Let us take not your city but oil- and gas-producing regions. Do these resources belong only to those who live there? Didn’t the whole nation contribute labour and material resources to developing them? Or take industrial centres. Let us not name them. Were these production capacities created only by the people who lived in these cities? The whole country worked for them, including the people in the so-called subsidised regions. They are entitled to a part of these resources from the contributing regions.

On the other hand, you are right that redistribution must be reasonable. The contributing regions cannot be bled dry. One cannot tolerate a situation where these regions have no incentives for running effective economies. But that is part of the current economic policy which should be determined through the budgetary process, the budgetary tug-of-war between the federal centre, the contributing regions and the recipient regions.

I hope that optimal solutions will be found in the current debate on the 2003 budget. And that the whole of the country’s economy will develop with a view of reducing the number of subsidised regions. That depends on the overall economic policy in the country.

Question: I would like to hear about your plans with regard to Russian-Estonian relations, specifically: when does Russia intend to sign a border treaty with Estonia and lift the double tariffs in trade? And has Russia given up attempts to prevent the Baltic countries from joining NATO?

Vladimir Putin: As regards the expansion of NATO, we have repeatedly made the official Russian position known, and I am ready to repeat it. We do not think that NATO expansion improves anyone’s security, be it the countries that are going to join NATO or the organisation itself.

In Western Europe I have more than once asked a rhetorical question. I can repeat it here in Moscow. If you go out into the streets of New York, Brussels, Berlin or Paris and ask people: “Will Estonia’s accession to NATO improve your security?” I very much doubt that you will get an affirmative answer. I don’t think it will make Estonia itself more secure.

At the same time, I think it would be absolutely wrong from the tactical and strategic points of view to try to prevent Estonia from joining NATO. If Estonia wants to, let it, if it thinks it would be happier that way. I see no tragedy there.

At the same time, there are modern threats that have directly confronted mankind. They are the threats of terrorism and the proliferation of nuclear weapons. The two are interconnected.

Would Estonia find it easier to deal with these problems if it is a NATO member? I think not. But if you feel that it will be easier, Estonia is entitled to seek NATO membership. And I don’t think that circumstance need to lead to a deterioration of the relations between Russia and Estonia. The choice of any people, including the Estonian people, must be respected. Russia will respect whatever choice the Estonian leadership and people make.

As for our bilateral ties, you know our position on human rights and the rights of the Russian-speaking population in Estonia. We still believe they are being infringed upon. But recently we have been aware of some positive signals from the Estonian leadership showing that it would like to strengthen bilateral relations between Russia and Estonia. We are grateful for these signals and we will reciprocate.


Question: Mr President, in the last two months Russia has been very active internationally, which was particularly apparent in St Petersburg. Think of the Russia-US, Russia-NATO summits, the meetings of the heads of state of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, the Baltic states and so on. What prompts such a surge of activity and what is in it for Russia?

Vladimir Putin: The main task facing Russia today is to develop the economy and raise the people’s standard of living. To meet that challenge, several conditions must be met. First, the internal state and consolidation of society, and awareness that the internal development of the country in the economic and political spheres is the priority. Second, in the context of globalisation and the opening of markets – and there is no other path of development today – there must be favourable external political conditions which are directly linked with the country’s foreign economic activities.

In the very beginning we talked about the problems of agriculture and how that is connected with foreign affairs, we spoke about the problems of our metallurgists, I mentioned it in passing. That too is directly connected with external markets, because much of our metal is exported. It applies also to chemicals and fertiliser and many other sectors of the Russian economy. It is impossible to effectively develop without being totally immersed in world economic relations. If Russia is to derive benefits from all this, there is one key condition – growing trust in international affairs. No single issue can be solved without solving the key task in this sphere: instead of being a country that is seen as an adversary or an enemy by the majority of industrialised countries of the world, Russia must become a partner, a fully-fledged and equal partner. That is the main task of the Russian foreign policy.

Question: Largely through your efforts we have been recognised as a country with a market economy. Aren’t you worried by the fact that half of the Russian business community still opposes accession to the WTO? Have you made any guesses as to what the consequences of our entry would be?

Vladimir Putin: Who did the counting? Half or two-thirds of the business community – it is hard to say. A large segment of the Russian business community is in favour of joining the WTO. And one can easily see who is in favour; all those who represent the interests of export-oriented sectors of the economy are unconditionally for entry into the WTO, because it would lift all the restrictions and barriers hindering the development of their businesses. All those who think they are not yet competitive enough are wary and some are firmly opposed. They believe that the influx of cheap but high-quality Western goods would deprive them of a future.

I would like to draw your attention to the following. Russia today is the only major world economy that is not a member of the WTO. The only one! Perhaps 95% of the global economy or even more is in the WTO countries. It is dangerous and stupid to stay out of the organisation and outside that process. It is not just a question of numbers although it is of course important to estimate what it will cost us. The point is that WTO membership would automatically give to Russia the entire system of legal relations of the civilised world. It would have a significant impact on the economy, on the social and political spheres in the country, including the crime rate. It would go a long way to legalise and put within a legal framework all of our internal economic procedures.

Of course, there are some particularly sensitive issues. And on some of them we must conduct a vigorous dialogue with our WTO partners. Like in the case of agricultural land, there should be no haste, but a delay would also be quite dangerous because, as you know, a new round of talks to amend WTO rules is scheduled to begin in 2004; and if Russia is not a WTO member, it will be left out of these talks. It will aggravate the situation and may create further difficulties hindering Russia’s accession to the WTO. At the same time, if the terms of our entry in the WTO are unacceptable before 2004, we will not agree to that either. I repeat, the main thing is to follow these transparent and coherent rules of world trade, but the introduction of certain procedures, including protection measures for our economy, is quite in line with the practice of WTO and WTO accession. We will work towards that end. Some decisions and rules which we think we cannot accept at the moment may be deferred.


Question: Mr President, last year I asked you about the situation in the Middle East. A year later the situation is still deteriorating. So I have to repeat my question. What plans do you have to contribute to the resolution of the crisis in the region and what is your position on an international peace conference?

Vladimir Putin: We are very worried about what is happening in the Middle East. This is not only because the Middle East is a region close to our borders, but also because the Middle East is a global centre where developments have repercussions in more remote parts of the world, as we all know very well. It cannot but worry us. We believe that all the disputes and the problems in the Middle East must be resolved on the basis of the many resolutions passed by the United Nations. That is undoubtedly the way to resolve all conflicts in the Middle East.

At the same time we of course condemn any manifestations of terrorism, and we believe that the Palestinian leadership must do everything it can to stop terrorist activities in the region without any preconditions.

I would just like to make one remark in connection with this. When I spoke about the Palestinian leadership I meant above all Chairman Arafat. And I must say that it would be dangerous and wrong to remove him from the political scene because in the opinion of the Russian leadership it would only radicalise the Palestinian movement.

Question: Mr Putin, could you tell us more about the long-term political plans for completing the process of Chechnya’s rehabilitation. I mean the holding of elections and the introduction of a new constitution. And is unification with neighbouring Ingushetia in the works, as many are suggesting?

Vladimir Putin: There is nothing new about it. The Soviet Union had the Chechen-Ingush Republic. Under the current Constitution of the Russian Federation, changing territorial borders and status is a regional issue. It can only be decided by the Chechens and the Ingushes themselves through corresponding legal procedures.

To resolve the issue, the first step is for the Chechen Republic to adopt its own constitution. As I said, it will be possible after a series of measures, and the priority measure today is to strengthen the Internal Affairs Ministry of the Chechen Republic itself. Once the Chechens fully take power into their own hands and are able to do all the work of adopting the Constitution – I expect that this will be done during the next calendar year – then they will discuss together with their neighbours whether or not they want to unite. In any case it is not a problem for the federal centre. We do not deal with these issues and we do not intend to intrude upon their competence.

Question: Mr Putin, you are said to be the most isolated man in Russia because the power structures do not understand and dislike your policy, I mean the Foreign Ministry, the security agencies and even the Government, which you have sharply criticised recently. Could you name a single strong political figure that is firmly behind you?

Vladimir Putin: The Russian people (applause).

Journalist: And other than that?

Vladimir Putin: That is enough.

As regards the military, the Foreign Ministry and so on, you know, it is a misconception that the domestic and foreign policy rest exclusively with the President. We solve the main problems and the main issues collectively. All the major decisions of course emanate from the head of state under the Constitution, but I assure you I do not sit in a closet and generate ideas before coming out to issue directives. That is not the way the decision-making process proceeds, it involves discussions, arguments, sometimes very fierce arguments, but the decisions are taken collectively.

I assure you that the Russian military, which is frequently mentioned, is at least as smart as civilians in Russia and in other countries, and the members of the armed forces certainly have no less experience nor common sense than their foreign counterparts. They are not aggressive people who think only of unleashing nuclear war. Nobody wants that. They are modern people who understand the economic and political realities and are able to look to the future.

To a large extent the decisions regarding our participation in the anti-terrorist operations and regarding NATO were taken on the basis of the analysis provided by the General Staff and the Defence Ministry.

Question: Mr Putin, the notorious “arc of instability” passes close to Russian borders. Obviously terrorists have situated themselves in neighbouring Georgia. How long are you going to continue the futile negotiations with Shevardnadze on protecting our borders? Doesn’t Russia have enough military clout to make itself secure?

Vladimir Putin: I think your statements on the situation are too sweeping. You have said that terrorists have dug in Georgia. That is not quite correct. Terrorists have indeed made a haven on part of Georgian territory in the Pankisi Gorge. It is a fact that the Georgian leadership has denied for a long time. We have seen it on television. But eventually under the pressure of circumstances and growing evidence that fact was admitted. It is a regrettable fact that ruins not only the bilateral relations between Russia and Georgia. We quite clearly and truly see that it is destroying the Georgian state itself. Not only does it take a small but sovereign territory from under the jurisdiction of the central Georgian authorities, but it corrodes the country from within because it shows that the authorities are ineffective, as we were ineffective until 1999.

I don’t think we should drive the situation into a dead end or aggravate it. A solution is possible and it cannot be separated from cooperation with Russia. No one, neither the American special forces nor the special units trained in Georgia, can resolve the problem of terrorism in the Pankisi Gorge without the direct and active involvement of the Russian special services and Russian army units. The problem will be solved when the public and leadership of Georgia are ready to take such decisions.

I think it has much to do with the negative past of relations between Russia and Georgia, something that is seldom mentioned but is universally known. It has to be said in a forthright and honest manner. The blame does not all lie with Georgia. Georgia has fears about Russian imperial ambitions. There are fears connected with Russia. I think that the real fear of terrorism must eventually outweigh the imagined fears connected with Russia. Russia today is prepared for a full-scale and effective allied partnership with Georgia on all the issues, including the fight against terrorism. But we cannot do it without Georgia. Russia has enough strength and assets, but Georgia is an independent sovereign state and it would be ineffective to launch any military actions. I think it would destroy the foundation for possible cooperation in the future.


Question: Mr Putin, what are your main differences with President Lukashenko on the issue of building the Russia-Belarus Union? How serious are these differences and what should be the basis for the unification of the two states?

Vladimir Putin: It may seem an odd thing to say, but we have no differences. I have spelt out my position on a number of issues. Mr Lukashenko listened to me attentively and said that in principle he shared my fears regarding some of the issues. We have agreed to have another meeting and to confer before the end of the month. And not to sound too general and not to create the impression that I am trying to hold something back or hide, let me explain what it is all about.

In general I think that the broad public should be kept abreast of issues such as the unification of Russia and Belarus. Not a single nuance should escape people. It concerns all of us in Russia and in Belarus. In general the Russian and Belarusian peoples are close – I cannot say they are the same people, but they are in the full sense fraternal peoples. The separation of the two states that happened in its time was not only ungrounded but harmful and bad for both the Belarusian and Russian peoples.

By the way, I don’t want this to be interpreted as criticism of our nation’s former political leadership because we don’t know how today’s rulers would have acted in that historical situation. I simply assume that today we must act proceeding from the current realities.

And what are these realities? Two independent states: Belarus is an independent state and a member of the United Nations. It is a medium-sized sovereign European country of 10 million people. In my opinion, and to my taste, the unification of such close peoples as the Russians and Belarusians must take the form of a single state. It means that there would be no State Duma of the Russian Federation, no Belarusian parliament, no Russian government and no Belarusian government. There has to be a single union parliament, call it the Union Duma or something. There has to be a single government and a single country. Are our partners ready for such a solution? The Belarusian partners have given us documents, including a draft of the constitutional law of the union state. The documents say that the constitutional law must reflect certain principles, chief of which is the sovereignty of Belarus, territorial integrity and the right of veto. Can one challenge it or criticise it? It would be absolutely inadmissible and wrong. We should respect the opinion of the Belarusian people which represents the interests of its country. That was what was presented to us in the documents. If that is so, we should guarantee sovereignty, territorial integrity and the right of veto to both Russia and Belarus. What does veto mean? It means the decision of the union parliament envisaged in the current treaty, and its competence is very broad on practically all economic issues. It means that on some issues Belarus can say no, I object. And then the decision would not be valid on the territory of Belarus. Because otherwise putting in the word sovereignty would not make sense. Otherwise Russia would simply absorb Belarus because the Belarusian economy equals just 3% of the Russian. But we understand that absorption would definitely take place, and not within five years but within no more than three. While respecting that opinion of the Belarusian people expressed in the document, we must ensure that the right of sovereignty and veto exists. How? One doesn’t need to invent anything.

The mechanism has been written down in united Europe. What is it? The European Parliament takes a decision, the decision is approved by the national parliament of a European Union country, signed by the head of state and becomes a national law and is then honoured as an internal national law. But it is complied with unconditionally and nobody can say that a Big Neighbour has imposed this or that ruling. And no one would say that the Russian economy, which accounts for 97%, has to take any decisions for the benefit of the Belarusian economy to its own disadvantage. If Russia doesn’t want to, it won’t pass a corresponding law, but once it passes it, it will have to comply with it. That is the way it has been in Europe all these years. Yes, it is a very gradual and modest process, but it is effective. Look what is happening in Central and Eastern Europe. Some countries – let us not mention them nor recall the sad events – have been wracked by civil wars all these years. States have broken up, but all of them are gradually drifting towards the European Union and are being reunited. The question suggests itself: what was all the fighting for? Why is this happening? The answer is simple. Because it is happening on a voluntary basis, because nobody imposes his will on others. I favour the same procedure when it comes to sovereignty, territorial integrity and so on.

And I say: let us ensure sovereignty and introduce the rules like those in the European Union. It seems to be absolutely clear. A clear and absolutely transparent procedure would guarantee the interests of Belarus and Russia. What do we find in the treaty today?

A union parliament with very broad powers and a very ill-defined mechanism of exercising them. I am just afraid that the union parliament, if we elect it in this way and in this capacity on the basis of these documents, will end up passing laws that would be ignored by Belarus or Russia if it doesn’t like them. In such a way we would discredit the very idea of unification.

So, there are no differences. There is a working process and it proceeds quite effectively. Simply, we should stop the endless discussions that have been taking place for 10 years. We must make up our minds as to what we want and whether we want it. There must be a clear and transparent legal technique applied in practice.

Question: Mr Putin, it will soon be a year since the signing of the Russian-Chinese Treaty on Good-Neighbourly Relations, Friendship and Cooperation. What do you think of the current state of Russian-Chinese relations? And what problems exist in bilateral relations, notably in the trade and economic spheres?

Vladimir Putin: It is not only my opinion, but the opinion of the entire Russian leadership that the level of Russian-Chinese relations today is higher than ever, including both the level of trust and the level of interaction in foreign policy.

I must tell you that the Chinese and Russian representatives work very closely together in all international organisations. They are coordinating their positions on key international issues practically in an online mode. We feel the support of the Chinese people, the Chinese leadership and the People’s Republic of China in dealing with key international issues. And similarly, I hope our Chinese partners are aware that their Russian colleagues are by their side.

Very much still remains to be done in the economic sphere. We believe, and I have said it many times, that the level of interaction is not high enough and does not match the potential of China and Russia. It is a special subject of concern at the inter-governmental commission.

We believe that the level of political contacts and military-technical cooperation must not decrease. But the level of relations in the civilian sectors must increase. We have everything that it takes. We have the corresponding plans, and we will work intensively together with our colleagues.

Chinese President Jiang Zemin has played and continues to play a very major positive role there.

Question: Mr Putin, in 1999 you were appointed Prime Minister and officially named successor to Boris Yeltsin. The previous administration ensured a democratic transfer of power. But your current political course sometimes seems to negate the previous one. Apart from some general words about a commitment to the democratic course and reform, how does the continuity of your policy manifest itself with regard to Boris Yeltsin?

Vladimir Putin: I don’t think that the current course of the Russian President and the Russian leadership negates what was done previously. On the contrary, we are developing the country on the basis created by the previous political leadership led by the first President of Russia Boris Yeltsin.

Life of course does not stand still. Of course we are different people. We may have different views on various situations in Russia, today and in the future. Obviously, if Boris Yeltsin were President, we would not have restored such symbols of our statehood as the melody of the anthem of the Soviet Union. I know that Mr Yeltsin was against it. He told me so directly. He has his own opinion on the issue, and I have mine.

Today I lead the country and I bear the political responsibility for its current state and its future. But we respect the first President, heed his opinion and take it into account when making decisions. But we will act independently.

Question: Mr Putin, next year will see the peak of Russia’s payments to international financial institutions. Could you name the sum that will have to be paid and where the money will come from and will Russia pay the full sum? And won’t it affect the social programmes that will be in next year’s budget?

Vladimir Putin: I don’t mind naming the sum, it is not a secret. It is about $17 billion. Of these $9.8 billion are the principal debt and $7 billion are the interest. The money can be drawn from the budget revenue. It couldn’t come from anywhere else. So we are very careful in planning the budget for next year. The Government is working closely with the State Duma deputies. I have no doubt that all of the main parameters put in the long-term development plans, especially in the social sphere, will be met. And of course we will meet some of our obligations as a debtor country out of the projected budget surplus.

Let me stress that in spite of all this we envisage a growth of social spending. This is because we must meet the obligations of the state with regard to the public sector employees, civil servants, servicemen and retired servicemen. The state will unconditionally meet all its obligations. To a small extent the debt problem can be solved through refinancing. But it is not a large part of the problem. Perhaps we could even do without it. In any case the only way out is to develop the economy and increase budget revenues, partly by improving administration. All these measures give us hope that we will not only fulfil all of our obligations, including those of foreign debts, but will be able to develop the social sphere.

Question: A follow-up to the question about the previous President Boris Yeltsin and Russian-Belarusian relations. What do you think about the critical remarks made by Mr Yeltsin on Russia’s position on the Russian-Belarusian Treaty? How do you account for the recently increased political activism of the former President?

Vladimir Putin: He is a free man. He can move freely, have meetings and express his opinion. I see nothing wrong with that. I have already said that we treat his opinion with respect. But on many problems I have my own opinion and I will do what I deem necessary; what I think meets the interests of Russia, today and in the future. I think it would be a mistake to speculate on this. It would be wrong to create some kind of scandal. I see nothing special about it. Mr Yeltsin is an outstanding person and an experienced politician. He has his own opinion. And he expresses it. We say, thank you, we will keep it in mind.

Question: Mr Putin, forgive me for referring to Mr Yeltsin for a third time, but he has said he would be doing more to encourage free speech and the freedom of the press in Russia. Apparently he was being critical of you. First, do you share his opinion that more should be done to develop the free press, and if you do share that opinion how will you go about it?

Vladimir Putin: Our positions on the issue are similar. I spoke about it in some detail at a meeting with media business representatives; and I think that one of the main challenges is to ensure their economic independence, to create conditions for the economic independence of that sphere of services, the sphere of business. I have nothing to add to what I said then.

As soon as the press becomes self sufficient and ceases to be dependent on certain business interests unconnected with the mass media and the mass media stop being used as an instrument to gain a competitive edge in the spheres of the economy that are totally unconnected with the mass media, then there will be genuine freedom of the press. But, I repeat, it depends on many factors which the state must ensure, and I absolutely agree with that.


Question: Mr Putin, of late you have been engaged more closely with the countries that are partners in the fuel and energy sector. Consultations are underway with the Caspian states, and the Russian-Ukrainian-German dialogue is moving along. I would like to know the ultimate goal of all these talks and the result that you would consider to be optimal for Russia.

Vladimir Putin: Today we spoke about Russia’s accession to the WTO and that is a foundation principle of our foreign policy in accordance with our Constitution. We expect that the Russian economy will get a good positive impetus in spite of some concerns and difficulties that accompany the process. But we should not forget about the advantages of the Russian economy. They are not about the market or non-market status of the Russian economy. They have to do with what has been bestowed on us by nature and our destiny. One of these advantages is energy, the huge resources of energy – gas, oil and so on. In this connection, we should pursue a very balanced policy, and that policy should benefit both us and our partners, the main consumers of our energy resources. I will explain why. It is not because we want to be all things to everyone, but because it is good for us economically. As soon as prices become too high, the economic growth in the West slows down. And as soon as it slows down, it has negative consequences for us because it increases the cost of the goods and services we import. Then, the price of oil immediately plummets. The economy shrinks, the demand for energy diminishes and prices fall. And all that boomerangs against our economy.

So our position and our policy will be that of economically reasonable prices and administrative procedures. All that can be achieved through broad partnerships with our colleagues in the world and particularly in Europe. That is why we have proposed the single energy policy which we are actively introducing not only in thought but also in the practice of our cooperation with Europe. One element of that policy is the statement by Russia, Ukraine and Germany on joint operation of the Ukrainian gas pipelines. As you know, Ukrainian gas pipelines carry to the West almost 90% of our natural gas and the fact that Germany, the main gas consumer in Europe, joins this work means a real and not just declared pooling of efforts. It is integration and interdependence, but I think such interdependence will create stable conditions in the market.

Question: Mr Putin, you recently met with Ukrainian President Kuchma and proclaimed a new stage in the relations between Russia and Ukraine, meaning that these relations are already strategic in character. But how does one interpret this strategic character? What should be done for Ukraine and Russia, or rather the peoples of the two countries to become interdependent so that they could freely visit each other and their relatives in both countries? What needs to be done for the strategic partnership to really get off the ground?

Vladimir Putin: In my opinion, a lot has been done in that respect recently. If you look at where we started in the early 1990s after the disintegration and the breakup of the Soviet Union, in recent years many positive changes have taken place. When we speak about strategic partnership we mean above all the coordination of policies of the two states in the economic, social and international spheres. As regards international issues, we have permanent mechanisms on a bilateral basis within the CIS, regular consultations, and are working out a joint policy on key issues.

Of course, economics underlies everything. At present several factors can really take our relations to a new and higher level.

Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma and I discussed the possibility of Ukraine joining EurAsEC. I’ll tell what makes me recall that. It is an important matter. And I want everyone to understand what processes are taking place and what may happen in the near future. We have mentioned the WTO problems twice already. We are actively engaged in negotiations. The Ukrainian side is doing the same. Imagine that one of us builds up such a lead on these issues that he would stop taking into account the other’s interests. Suppose Ukraine joins first. It is hard to imagine that it would do so without serious concessions on a number of very important and sensitive goods for Ukraine. What to do with these goods? Shut down the enterprises? Lock workers out? Millions of people would be affected. Or perhaps it would be easier to sell these goods to Russia? But what would Russia have to do then? It would have to set up a full customs border. And that would be the beginning of the end in a serious way. That would be real separation. That should not be allowed. So when we speak about EurAsEC we mean creating a free trade zone within which there will be the free movement of goods, people and services. That is what the Europeans have been doing over the past decades. That is the least we can do. If that happens, then Russia, as I have already said, would be ready to apply the rules of taxing its goods in the country of destination. That is, when gas and oil are sold to Ukraine, the taxes on the goods produced here will be collected not by the Russian treasury but by the Ukrainian. We estimate the sum at $450 million. In addition, we believe that along with some other positive elements it would increase Ukraine’s GDP by 1.5% within a year.

The question arises, are we such do-gooders that we are ready to squander hundreds of millions? No, we believe that in the long run it will be good for us too. We believe that the lifting of various restrictions, various anti-dumping investigations and so on would lead to a full-scale and full-blooded cooperation between Russian and Ukrainian enterprises. That would mean a true unification of the economies on the basis of common rules and procedures. And in the framework of this single community we could coordinate our positions with regard to the WTO. That is quite natural, admissible and in line with common practice. If we follow that path – and I understand that the Ukrainian leadership is in favour of it otherwise the Ukrainian President wouldn’t have sent his representative to the last meeting of EurAsEC – so if we follow that path we will reach the level of interaction you have just referred to.


Question: I represent the Kuban region.

Our area has recently been in the spotlight of the Russian and foreign media in connection with the problem of migration.

I would like to know your opinion about the actions of Governor Alexander Tkachev and the President of the Republic of Adygeya on these issues, especially because at a press conference in Sochi a year and a half ago you said that in the rest of the civilised world migrants lived where the authorities of the host country decided they should live and that Russia would follow the same policy. Have you perhaps changed your position?

Vladimir Putin: I have not changed my position, that is how it should be. That is why we have adopted a new law, I mean the Duma and the President, when I signed the Law on Migration.

The actions of any authorities, both regional and federal, must be in strict accordance with the law. If the governor proceeds in accordance with the law and acts correctly, all that is needed is to scrupulously adhere to the law. If he goes outside of the law in any way then the prosecutor’s office should correct him. That’s number two. And thirdly, and very importantly in my opinion, it is not a regional issue. Russia is a multi-national and multi-confessional country. This can be a minus, but there is also an immense positive potential.

The fomenting of ethnic and religious strife is a great danger for a country like ours. It is absolutely inadmissible. The road to hell is paved with good intentions. Let us never forget about it. If we embark on that slippery path we will not preserve the country. We must rid ourselves and all others from any kind of national arrogance and great-power chauvinism. We must make sure that the representative of even the smallest people feels comfortable and at home in Russia and can say that it is his country and his home, and his home is his castle.


Question: Because a question about Kaliningrad has already been asked, I have a question about the media as a whole. A recent all-Russia conference on mass media described us as an industry, which is a serious move. And my question follows from that. Very frequently officials now divide the media into state and non-state, and that gives rise to a host of problems, such as bans on certain information and so on.

I think we have arrived at a very good formula for the media industry, which says that it is private in form but state-owned in essence. Actually that is the way it is in all the regions: all the private television companies reflect the state interests. It cannot be otherwise because we live in this state. And I don’t think that there should be a formal distinction between a state-owned and non-state owned media outlet implying that the latter is somehow bad. That is not the way.

So, Mr Putin, I would like to hear from you whether such companies can count on your political and moral support.

Vladimir Putin: I have met with your colleagues ahead of that major event and we spent a fairly long time discussing the nuances of the current media situation and the media industry, as you have put it. There are many questions. And of course we have spoken about the relationship between government and the press, the official and private media.

Of course, two options are possible. The authorities must inform the population and they can do it in two ways. First, by placing the information in private media outlets, which is quite natural, but I would not forbid official representatives to have some media that presents the official position.

The question lies elsewhere. The official mass media must not enjoy advantages in the market. We must take care of that and I absolutely agree with your colleagues that you have raised the correct question there. In practice, this is not often the case. Media outlets get money directly from the budget or from commercial structures affiliated with the budget, place advertisements there and so on. That is inadmissible and wrong and we must prevent that.

As for the relationship, since you have mentioned the official and private media, we have agreed with your colleagues that I will organise a meeting with the country’s governors. They reacted with great enthusiasm and I think that the heads of regions would also be glad to meet the heads of leading and major regional media outlets because there are some mutual grievances. You know, just like the police are part of our society, so is the mass media.

There have been many complaints about governors, they have not always acted in line with democratic traditions, but then media representatives sometimes also behave in a strange way. Several governors came to me and they told me that media people come to them and say: “Give me $250,000 and you won’t hear a single negative word about yourself in the election campaign. I am not going to praise you, but I guarantee that I will not succumb to persuasion, nor provocations and nobody will bribe me.” This is called blackmail.

So, it should be a reciprocal movement in each other’s direction. Everybody is interested in it: the regional leaders, the media and the country as a whole.

Thank you.

June 24, 2002, The Kremlin, Moscow