Vladimir Putin took part in the plenary session of the 15th anniversary meeting of the Valdai International Discussion Club.
October 18, 2018
The main topic is The World We Will Live In: Stability and Development in the 21st Century. The plenary session moderator is Fyodor Lukyanov, Research Director of the Foundation for Development and Support of the Valdai Discussion Club.
The Valdai Forum opened in Sochi on October 15. Its participants – 130 experts from 33 countries – are discussing Russia’s political and socioeconomic prospects as well as social and cultural development and place in the modern world.
The Valdai Club was established in 2004. Traditionally, the forum participants meet with Russia’s senior officials as part of the annual meetings.
Following the plenary session, Vladimir Putin held an informal meeting with several members of the Valdai International Discussion Club, including member of the Political Bureau of the Central Committee of China’s Communist Party Yang Jiechi, former President of Afghanistan Hamid Karzai, Executive Secretary of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization Lassina Zerbo, former UN Under-Secretary-General Jean-Marie Guéhenno, Research Director of the Foundation for Development and Support of the Valdai Discussion Club Fyodor Lukyanov, General Director of the Hermitage State Museum Mikhail Piotrovsky, and public activist Natalia Solzhenitsyn.
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Meeting of the Valdai International Discussion Club
Plenary session moderator Fyodor Lukyanov: Good afternoon, friends,
Let’s begin our final session. As per tradition, we have President of Russia Vladimir Putin here as our guest.
Mr President, in case you have forgotten, you are here for the 15th time. How are you?
President of Russia Vladimir Putin: First, I would like to speak to the permanent participants of our meeting. It is true, 15 years is quite something. I believe that the Valdai Club, as we called it because the first events took place in Novgorod, has become a good international platform over these years, a platform for professionals who are interested in global politics, the economy, culture as well as the work of media. Of course, in relation to Russia.
As a rule, these are experts on Russia. And we would like very much for people who work with Russia to have such a platform, so that we could meet and you could hear our position on all matters of interest for you, your countries, and for us, for Russia, not in someone’s retelling, but firsthand, from me and my colleagues.
These discussions have always presented different and sometimes even opposite points of view. I think that this is the advantage of this discussion club; we call it a discussion club because where there is only one, right point of view, there is no place for discussion.
Truth is born from comparing different approaches to the same phenomena and various assessments. Thanks to your participation, we can reach this result.
I see many world-famous politicians in this hall; here, on my right; and I would like to welcome them all, including the President of Afghanistan and our colleagues from the EAEU. I can also see scientists, cultural figures and journalists. I hope that today’s meeting will also be not only useful but interesting as well.
However, I am a bit confused about the format today. Usually we have several people on this stage, and the discussion lasts for quite some time. Of course, I am ready to fly solo, as the organisers suggest, but I hope that it will not take four or five times longer than usual.
Thank you and let’s just skip the long welcoming remarks and go straight to our conversation, our work and our discussion.
Fyodor Lukyanov: Mr President, it is true that, as you have noted, Valdai has various points of view. There have always been many opinions, and this year is no exception.
Especially as we see our membership expand not only in terms of numbers, but also in terms of representation of various countries and regions, which, or course, provides for differing visions.
This year we have a very busy agenda with a subject that has not been very characteristic for Valdai recently, because we usually talk about Russia practically all the time. Last time we talked about Russia was at the 10th meeting. And you certainly remember that it was a very large event; you attended, and we decided to return.
Not only because many of our participants, club members, asked for this, but also because we believe (Valdai has prepared an annual report for this session) the world is facing some very serious changes.
It is not only being globally transformed; but in some sense, we are losing the vision on what foundations it can be built later. We looked for these foundations in our previous reports, but now, in fact, we have given this up and can say that the moment when the changing of the world could be controlled has passed.
We will talk about this later, but this means that every country – big or small – should rely on itself above all, to provide for its own stability and development. This is why it would be reasonable to consider if we are ready for this. In this sense, of course, what you say is really firsthand information.
Unfortunately, our work is darkened by a tragic event. We have heard the news from Kerch. You talked about it yesterday, and we also spoke about this tragedy.
What is the main thing here? Of course the first thought that everybody here – or everybody everywhere – had was that it was a large terrorist attack again. Unfortunately, we are getting used to this. But later it turned out that the situation was a bit different.
Why is this coming back to me now? Not only because it just happened, but because it also brings up memories of the first Valdai Forum in Novgorod. You mentioned it; it took place against the backdrop of the Beslan tragedy.
I attended that forum, and many of those who are with us today did, too. I remember it well. The discussion was, of course, erratic as everyone kept going out to see what was happening on television, for lack of smartphones.
You were at Valdai then, but during the forum you recorded a televised address to the nation, which was harsh, understandably so given the context.
In the address, you said something that would be quoted later: “The weak get beaten. Some would like to cut a big piece of our pie. Others help them. Thinking that Russia, as one of the largest nuclear powers, is still a threat that must be eliminated. Terrorism is just a tool they use.”
Afterwards, when you talked to the Valdai members, you said that we had been challenged and that we would rise up to that challenge. It’s been 15 years; do you think we have?
Vladimir Putin: That was some long opening statement. You started with “last time, during the 10th Valdai Forum; it was the 14th Valdai Forum” (Laughter.)
Fyodor Lukyanov: You are better at math.
Vladimir Putin: I am a better listener.
I would like to begin with what you did in fact, with yesterday’s tragedy. Among other things, paradoxically this appears to be the result of globalisation. We have seen whole communities spring up on the internet after the well-known tragic events in US schools. Young psychologically unstable people start to believe in false heroes.
This means that we, in Russia and globally, are failing to respond to the changes in the world. It means that we are not creating useful, interesting and essential content for young people, and they turn to this surrogate heroism that leads to tragedies like this.
There is a demand for true heroism in our lives. True heroism can manifest itself, in particular, by defending civilisation from today’s evils. Of course, terrorism is one of the most serious and challenging evils. I have said many times, including at the 70th session [of the UN General Assembly] in New York, that the only way to effectively stand up to terrorism is to join efforts.
Unfortunately, in the true sense of the word, we have not put this cooperation in place yet. There are some aspects of cooperation where we have succeeded but this is not enough. By the highest standards, we have failed to join efforts the way we should so far, while this could be done, based on the relevant international rules of law and UN resolutions.
I will try to give you a straight answer to your question: “Have we achieved the results we expected to achieve, beginning with those sad, tragic events which we witnessed or took part in in the mid-1990s and the early 2000s?”
Generally, yes, of course. Let us remember that – we tend to very quickly forget the wrongs done to us, trying to think only about positive things – a civil war was raging in Russia at the time. It was not a global war, and it did not involve the whole country but there were hostilities, a real war.
Warfare with the use of aviation and military hardware and so on, a huge number of militant groups on the territory of this country, with militants coming mostly from terrorist organisations based abroad, including Al-Qaeda who were active in this country.
Thank God, we got rid of this but we have not eradicated terrorism per se. Of course, terrorism still poses a great threat to our country as well, which was why we launched these operations in Syria.
Terrorism is a great threat to our neighbours, including Afghanistan – I see President [Hamid] Karzai here. If he is given the floor, he will tell us what is going on in his country today – this is also a serious threat. I mean that we have not defeated terrorism globally, of course, but we have delivered a tremendous blow to it and have certainly drastically changed the situation at home – in the Russian Federation – for the better.
Fyodor Lukyanov: You are naturally inducing a different reminiscence. The Valdai conference from three years ago (in 2015), took place exactly two weeks after the military operation began in Syria.
I remember one of our colleagues asked you a question: “Was it actually worth being involved at all? Because of the costs, the casualties, and it is not clear how it will end.” And you said your branded phrase, which was quoted a lot later: “Fifty years ago, I learned one rule in the streets of Leningrad: if the fight is inevitable, be the first to strike.”
Well, we struck, and three years later, the situation in Syria has indeed changed dramatically, but it is still impossible to say that the problem has been resolved. Recent events make both positive and negative impressions. So I would like to repeat the question from three years ago: “Maybe it was not worth the risk, because the casualties have proven serious?“
Vladimir Putin: I remember this question, but it sounded like “are casualties possible?” I then said: “Yes, they are, but we must prevent the worst course of events.” And what would the worst development be for us? Full “somalisation” of that region, complete degradation of statehood and infiltration of a significant part of the militants into the territory of the Russian Federation and into the territory of neighbouring states with which we have no customs barriers, or borders in fact, a visa-free regime. That would have posed a real, serious danger to us.
But we have largely ruled out that risk by our actions, because we did a lot of damage to the terrorists in Syria. Many of them were eliminated, and some of them, thank God, decided they wanted out: they laid down their arms after losing faith in the principles they considered right. This, I would say, is the most important outcome.
The second, no less important thing, is that we have preserved Syrian statehood and in this sense helped stabilise the region. We talked about this in some detail with the President of Egypt just yesterday; he shares this position, and it is shared by many other countries. Therefore, I believe we have generally achieved the goals we had set for ourselves in starting the operation in the Syrian Arab Republic; we have achieved a result.
Look, after all, for some years before us, countries that agreed to participate in these anti-terrorist operations, most often voluntarily, and maybe even with less than perfect goals and objectives – what result have we seen in the previous three years? None. While we have liberated almost 95 percent of the entire territory of the Syrian Republic. This is my first point.
Second. We supported Syria’s statehood, prevented the state from collapsing. True, there are still many problems. Now we see what is happening on the left bank of the Euphrates. Probably, our colleagues know: this territory is under the patronage of our American partners. They rely on the Kurdish armed forces.
But they have obviously left a loose end: ISIS remains in several locations and has begun to expand its area of influence recently. They took 130 families hostage – almost 700 people.
I think few of those present here know that they have made ultimatums, extended demands and warned that if these ultimatums are not met, they would shoot 10 people every day. The day before yesterday, 10 people were shot. Executed. They have begun to fulfil their threats.
This is just horrifying. It is a tragedy I think. We need to do something about it. Why do our colleagues keep silent? According to our information, several US and European citizens are among the hostages.
Everyone is quiet, there is silence as if nothing is happening. Therefore, there is still much to be done; this is true. But I repeat, on the whole, we have achieved our goal.
The next step is a political settlement at the UN in Geneva. We need to form a constitutional committee now. Progress is not easy, but we are still moving forward. I hope that we will move ahead with our partners in this area.
Fyodor Lukyanov: You said, some of the militants lost faith and understood that they were wrong. First, are you sure they lost faith? Or maybe they were just overpowered, and they realized it was pointless to continue to fight, but the situation might change a little, and they will get their faith back?
Vladimir Putin: Maybe. Maybe so. You are probably partly right.
Some of them have really laid down their arms and really realized they had false goals. Others have simply taken advantage of our humanitarian measures for the time being, and are ready to take up arms at any moment. This is possible.
This simply means we all need to be on the alert, not underestimate the threats, and step up our joint work to combat terrorism, the ideology of terrorism and the financing of terrorism.
Fyodor Lukyanov: A question on current events, if I may. October 15 was a deadline set by Turkey to do certain things in Idlib. Do you think they accomplished what they were supposed to do?
Vladimir Putin: No, not yet, but they are working on it. We see it. In this regard, I want to thank our Turkish partners. We see that they are working at this. This is not simple. On the contrary, everything is complicated, but they are honouring their commitments.
The demilitarised zone, on which we agreed, is being created in the Idlib de-escalation zone with a depth of 15–20 kilometres. Not all heavy weapons have been withdrawn yet, and not all members of the terrorist organisations ISIS and Jabhat an-Nusra have left, but our Turkish partners are doing their best to fulfil their obligations.
This, I repeat, is not easy, there is more than meets the eye. They have even deployed a military hospital in this zone because there are losses. They are acting very tough and are very effective in their fight against these terrorist groups.
Fyodor Lukyanov: We are now switching to our favourite subject, which we discuss every year, because we inherited it from our American colleagues and, let’s face it, the United States is always on the agenda.
In 2016, you made a very colourful statement. It was a difficult period, as we all remember, following the Ukraine crisis, and the Syria crisis was already in full swing. There was a question from the audience: “Is this not the time to reduce tensions?” And you answered, “We are all looking forward to seeing geopolitical tensions reduced, but not by way of our funeral. If the cost for reducing geopolitical tensions is our funeral, we are not happy about it.“ Funeral is nowhere to be seen yet, but this method, I think, continues to be considered in some parts of the world as an option.
You had the experience of talking with the President of the United States recently, and, in general, much is going on, but things are exclusively negative. I may be wrong as an onlooker, but I have a feeling that your meetings with Mr Trump lead to results that are the opposite of what’s expected. In this regard, I have a question. Perhaps, it makes sense to even stop trying and take a break? They have their own big internal problems, let them figure it out.
Vladimir Putin: You know, there is an old joke, but some people may not know it. They might find it amusing. It sounds like that. Question: ”How do you relax?“ Answer: ”I am relaxed.“ (Laughter.)
The same goes for tensions in international affairs. We are not creating any problems for anyone Are we the ones creating problems? No. Instead, we are being accused of things. They say that Russia was “highly likely” to have done this or that, intervened at one place and wreaked havoc at another. But, no one believes it is necessary to produce any evidence.
For me it is clear, and I have said this: this is the result of the internal political struggle in the Western world as a whole. Now they are fighting over the conditions for Britain’s exit from the EU; the Democrats and the Republicans are fighting in the United States, and there is controversy among the Republicans themselves. So someone has apparently decided that playing the anti-Russia card would be a very convenient way to resolve domestic political problems. This is bad for everyone.
I hope this will pass, but apparently we need to wait for internal political crises to be resolved. Whether this will happen after the Congressional election or not, I do not know yet, but maybe. Or maybe it will happen in 2020, with the next US presidential election, and then he will no longer have to constantly deal with those who speculate with anti-Russia rhetoric.
Were our meetings with President Trump harmful or helpful? I believe that, despite the attempt to discredit these meetings, they nevertheless were more positive than negative. Why? Because we can see what is happening there.
We can certainly see, we know how to read after all, we look at what is happening there in the domestic political landscape. Still, it is better to communicate and interact with each other than, forgive my language, engage in a never-ending dogfight.
Our meetings have hardly improved US domestic politics, I guess. Probably because, again, there are those who are always trying to play this card in the domestic political struggle.
I would say the incumbent president is geared to stabilise and level Russian-American relations. Let’s see how the situation develops. We, in any case, are ready for this at any time.
Fyodor Lukyanov: Several books about Donald Trump have been released, one after another.
Vladimir Putin: We will read them.
Fyodor Lukyanov: Yes, they are very interesting. They create this image of a person who only listens to and hears himself. When you meet with him, does he listen to you?
Vladimir Putin: This is not true. Maybe he behaves this way with someone else – but then they are to blame. We have a comfortable professional dialogue with him. Of course he listens. And not just listens, I see that he reacts to the arguments I make. He may disagree with something I say, just as I would disagree with something he might say. We have different views on some things, different approaches, but this is a normal discussion between partners. I do not share the opinion of those who say that he speaks like a wood grouse calling out and never listening. That is not true.
Fyodor Lukyanov: You know that commentators and political scientists often say that when a relationship is deadlocked and this appears to be the case, a “sobering” crisis is beneficial because the countries realise that the danger is real and something needs to be done to move beyond the abyss.
The Cuban Missile Crisis was like that. Some suggest we need a similar crisis today to help the Americans shift their view from their domestic issues, and realize that the stakes are high and positive steps need to be taken.
Vladimir Putin: This is a bad idea. Stirring up emotions is not our approach, as they say sometimes in our country. Generally speaking, it is irresponsible to lead the world to the brink of a global crisis whose consequences are hard to foresee. We have never used such a policy, and we will not do so in the future.
Fyodor Lukyanov: Thank you, that’s a comprehensive answer.
However, I will then mention another of your quotes. Speaking about antimissile systems in 2011, you said more broadly that Russia is not afraid of conflict. Back then it was one type of conflict, but today it’s different. What kind of conflict are we not afraid of today?
Vladimir Putin: Any kind. We are not afraid of anything. Given our territory, our defence system, and our people that are ready to fight for independence and sovereignty — the willingness of our men and women to give up their lives for their country is not common among all nations. Nobody can change these things, and this makes us certain that we can feel secure.
Fyodor Lukyanov: Okay. You said we were not creating problems for anyone, but I think that some people in this hall will challenge you on this later, because the impression is that Russia is creating a lot of problems.
Vladimir Putin: Later when? Let’s get started. How long will we be sitting here?
Fyodor Lukyanov: Okay, I’m sorry.
Still, let’s assume this is the case. But if we aren’t creating any problems, others may be creating them for us.
Vladimir Putin: Of course they are. Full ahead.
Fyodor Lukyanov: You once coined a wonderful phrase (a well-known metaphor that compares Russia to a bear): “The bear will not ask anyone for permission. He is the master of the taiga and he will not move to other climatic zones, but he will not give up his taiga to anyone, either. And everyone should be clear about that, that’s all there is to it.”
Is anyone encroaching on our taiga today, or are we already living in the “that’s all” era?
Vladimir Putin: “That’s all” has always been there. It is ‘that’s all“ time now as well.
Look, we live in a world where security relies on nuclear capability. Russia is one of the largest nuclear powers. You may be aware, I have said it publicly, we are improving our attack systems as an answer to the United States building its missile defence system. Some of these systems have already been fielded, and some will be put into service in the coming months. I am talking about the Avangard system. Clearly, we have overtaken all our, so to speak, partners and competitors in this sphere, and this fact is acknowledged by the experts. No one has a high-precision hypersonic weapon. Some plan to begin testing it in one or two years, while we have this high-tech modern weapon in service. So, we feel confident in this sense.
Naturally, there are many other risks, but they are shared risks, such as environment, climate change, terrorism, which I mentioned, and proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. If we are unable to put an effective end to this, it is not clear where it will lead to, and in whose hands this deadly weapon may end up.
So, in this sense, nothing has changed. We are not going anywhere, we have a vast territory, and we do not need anything from anyone. But we value our sovereignty and independence. It has always been this way, at all times in the history of our state. It runs in the blood of our people, as I have repeatedly said. In this sense, we feel confident and calm.
Fyodor Lukyanov: With regard to us not going anywhere and not needing anything, clearly, there are people who will disagree with you.
Vladimir Putin: Absolutely.
Fyodor Lukyanov: They will say, “What about Crimea?”
Vladimir Putin: Crimea is our land. We are still not going anywhere. Why is it our land? Not because we went there and took it. Even if someone decides to argue with me, the dispute will immediately come to a dead-end. Everyone is democratic here, right? What is democracy? Democracy is the power of the people. How is it exercised, this power of the people? It is exercised through referendums, elections and so on. People came to a referendum in Crimea and voted for independence, first, and then for being part of Russia.
Let me remind you for the hundredth time that there was no referendum in Kosovo, only the parliament voted for independence, that was all. Everyone who wanted to support and destroy the former Yugoslavia said: well, thank God, we are fine with that. Here, however, they disagree. Ok then, let’s have a discussion, go over the UN documents, see what the UN Charter is all about, and where it talks about the right of nations to self-determination. This will be an endless discussion. However, we proceed based on the will expressed by the people who live on that territory.
Fyodor Lukyanov: Now, about the people. I just remembered that at the 10th Valdai meeting in 2013 you mentioned Alexander Solzhenitsyn. One of his key ideas was that saving people is more important than anything else. Indeed, in the modern world, the competition for the people, the souls and minds and for human capital is more fierce than for the territories that may be acquired or not. Natalia Solzhenitsyn spoke on this issue at our session. We are discussing conventional conflicts here, but if we talk about conflicts or competition, certain rivalry, for human minds and souls, do you think we are prepared for it? Are we winning?
Vladimir Putin: I think we are, pretty much yes. Look, there are senior executives from our television company Russia Today sitting across from me. What is happening in some countries where they operate? They are being banned. What does this mean? It means those who do so are afraid of the competition. This is what it means. We do not close anyone here, whereas they are faced with conditions that preclude their operation as mass media. Someone is making it hard for them. That means we are winning. We have just one radio station, and we are not a monopoly on this information field. We do not have global media like CNN, Fox News, BBC and so on. We do not have these. We have just one fairly modest channel. Even if it causes so much heartburn and fear of it being able to influence minds, then we are winning this competition. By the way, in France, I know, they don’t really like it, but if I ever have a chance to be in Paris, invite me, and I will come see you, see what is going on there and how things are with work.
Editor-in-Chief of Russia Today TV channel Margarita Simonyan: You have our invitation.
Vladimir Putin: Thank you very much.
Fyodor Lukyanov: Well, that is nice.
Vladimir Putin: Thank you, too.
Fyodor Lukyanov: Let’s continue this subject as it is important, I believe. In the now historic speech of 2014, which is now called the Crimea Speech in connection with Crimea rejoining Russia, you mentioned the Russian world, compatriots and a divided nation. It was exciting and impressive. However, by doing so you touched on very delicate strings and awakened very powerful emotions, because this national identity, what you think about yourself and your country, your land is, of course, a very powerful weapon which can be either positive or negative. Since then, we have seen many events that have occurred, including in the Russian world, and are still unfolding, such as the Ukrainian church, and, clearly, there will be more. Here is a question that may sound somewhat audacious: Do you regret raising this subject and touching it the way you did now that we know the results?
Vladimir Putin: Frankly, I am not sure I understand your question. I think it is a natural thing to do, we should always raise this issue and never lose sight of it. Our national identity is what makes us who we are. It is our culture and history.
The preservation of the people, which you just said when you mentioned Solzhenitsyn, is not just about physical preservation, although, maybe, this is, above all, what Solzhenitsyn had in mind, but also about our identity as a people, otherwise we will simply erode and cease to exist. The history of mankind offers us similar examples. We will just be unable to recall the names of those peoples, who have already disappeared from our consciousness. There were lots of them. But why should we follow those examples? We want to be the Russians, or the Tatars, or the Jews, who live here, or the Mordovians, etc. We have 160 ethnic groups living in the Russian Federation. So why should we let ourselves be eroded? We treasure it and we must talk about it. We must strengthen our identity.
Fyodor Lukyanov: You have repeatedly said, including at Valdai forums, that nationalism and chauvinism of any kind cause a lot of damage, first, to that people and to that ethnos, whose interests nationalists are allegedly concerned about. In 2014, you told us that you are Russia’s biggest nationalist. Are you still?
Vladimir Putin: You are well-prepared, Mr Lukyanov.
Fyodor Lukyanov: I prepared.
Vladimir Putin: He is trying to take me at my word. No, there is no contradiction here. I will explain what I meant. What are the things that nationalists say, exhibit and flaunt all the time? They say that they are the best defenders of the interests of one ethnos or another, one people or another, one nation or another. While the Russian Federation initially shaped itself, from its very first steps, as a multi-ethnic state.
There are many people in this hall who deal with these matters professionally. I see the director of the Hermitage, who, though being an expert on the Middle East, knows well how the Russian nation was formed. So how did it emerge? The Russian nation did not exist forever. It was composed of various Slavic tribes. There were no Russians at a certain point. And then, on the basis of a common market, the power of the prince, a common language and, later, a common faith, the Russian nation emerged. But it consisted of various tribes. And then, when statehood started to form, the primeval form of Russian statehood, it comprised many Finno-Ugric peoples. Today, we find material evidence proving that Finno-Ugric peoples also inhabited central areas of the European part of modern Russia, and not just the Ladoga region.
Russia developed as a multi-ethnic state first, and then as a multi-religious state. But it has lived for a thousand years and remained stable primarily because a very tolerant relationship was initially established between all the ethnic groups within the state and the representatives of different religions. This is the groundwork for Russia’s existence. And if we want Russia to remain as it is, to develop and gain strength, while Russians remain a state-forming nation, then the preservation of this country serves the interests of the Russian people. But if we huff out this caveman nationalism and throw mud at people of other ethnic groups, we will destroy this country – something the Russian people are less than interested in. I want Russia to survive, including in the interests of the Russian people. In this context I have said that I am the most proper and true nationalist and a most effective one too. But this is not caveman nationalism, stupid and idiotic and leading to the collapse of our country. This is the difference.
Fyodor Lukyanov: If there is only you, then this is not enough. Do you have like-minded people, the same kind of nationalists?
Vladimir Putin: Yes. Almost 146 million of them.
Fyodor Lukyanov: Great.
Ok, Mr President, then it is agreed that Russia should not be destroyed. But you also made one very harsh statement not long ago.
Vladimir Putin: Pestering me with these statements again.
Fyodor Lukyanov: Well, I’m sorry, it’s my job, they pay me for it.
Vladimir Putin: Will there be just the two of us debating?
Fyodor Lukyanov: One minute please. Everything in its time.
Can you please explain to me? You didn’t say this at Valdai: “Why do we need the world if Russia isn’t in it?” Many interpreted this in their own way, that you meant “after me, the deluge,” you know the expression. Is this what you meant, or, I suspect, you meant something else?
Vladimir Putin: No. First, King Louis XIV said that in response to the accusations that he was spending too much money from the treasury on all sorts of palaces and entertainment. By the way, it was not such a waste, because after him a lot of things remained, palaces included. And second, he was also a statesman. If I remember correctly, he created the first regular army in Europe. Therefore, all the talk of his extravagance probably had real reason behind it, but this does not mean that he actually did what he once said during an argument.
As for my statement you quoted, I don’t remember, but I probably said it to Vladimir Solovyov.
Fyodor Lukyanov: Yes, in the film.
Vladimir Putin: But you cannot quote things out of context. I will remind you what this was about. I was asked whether we were ready and whether I was ready to use the weapons we have, including weapons of mass destruction, to protect ourselves, to protect our interests. And that’s what I answered.
I will remind you of what I have said. I have said that our nuclear weapons doctrine does not provide for a pre-emptive strike. I would like to ask all of you and those who will later analyse and in one way or another interpret my every word here, to keep in mind that there is no provision for a pre-emptive strike in our nuclear weapons doctrine. Our concept is based on a reciprocal counter strike. There is no need to explain what this is to those who understand, as for those who do not, I would like to say it again: this means that we are prepared and will use nuclear weapons only when we know for certain that some potential aggressor is attacking Russia, our territory. I am not revealing a secret if I say that we have created a system which is being upgraded all the time as needed – a missile early warning radar system. This system monitors the globe, warning about the launch of any strategic missile at sea and identifying the area from which it was launched. Second, the system tracks the trajectory of a missile flight. Third, it locates a nuclear warhead drop zone.
Only when we know for certain – and this takes a few seconds to understand – that Russia is being attacked we will deliver a counter strike. This would be a reciprocal counter strike. Why do I say ‘counter’? Because we will counter missiles flying towards us by sending a missile in the direction of an aggressor. Of course, this amounts to a global catastrophe but I would like to repeat that we cannot be the initiators of such a catastrophe because we have no provision for a pre-emptive strike. Yes, it looks like we are sitting on our hands and waiting until someone uses nuclear weapons against us. Well, yes, this is what it is. But then any aggressor should know that retaliation is inevitable and they will be annihilated. And we as the victims of an aggression, we as martyrs would go to paradise while they will simply perish because they won’t even have time to repent their sins.
Fyodor Lukyanov: I feel the urge to address Metropolitan Tikhon right away, however, I will do this a bit later, if you do not object.
I take it that you, Mr President, are bored with me as an interlocutor, so let me ask you one more question and then people from the floor will ask questions.
As a follow-up to what you said regarding a reciprocal counter strike and who will go where, last evening we had a remarkable meeting where Valery Gergiev gave a speech. He, in addition to being a great musician, is a man who plays an active role in social life and civil society.
He spoke about many things. He also said this: in his opinion, three countries and their three leaders have a great responsibility. These countries are – you can name them in any order – the US, Russia and China. Everything depends on them. They can achieve things and prevent things. In general, I agree with this.
I think it is obvious that there are three countries that have more opportunities and a greater potential, both destructive and creative. As a leader who carries this burden, do you ever feel scared? Or do you not think of it at all?
Vladimir Putin: What do you mean by ‘scared’?
Fyodor Lukyanov: It is a great responsibility.You are one of the three people responsible for the entire world.
Vladimir Putin: And so?
Fyodor Lukyanov: You have no fear?
Vladimir Putin: No.
Fyodor Lukyanov: All right, no further questions.
Vladimir Putin: You know, this is actually a tricky question. Why? Because fear is the reverse side of the self-preservation behaviour that all people, all living things have. Everybody has the self-preservation instinct, and fear is an integral part of it. It is how we respond to a threat.
You know, after I graduated from university and went to work for the security services and then intelligence, this is how we were trained: if you have taken up something, some job, you need to think through in advance what it involves. And when you take it on, you need to act carefully, cautiously and responsibly, and you need to assess all the risks. It is extremely important, especially for people who are responsible for their compatriots, for millions of people.
You mentioned earlier that during the tragic events of the late 1990s-early 2000s, when I flew over Grozny I saw that it had been destroyed completely, like Stalingrad. Shots could come from behind every rock, and they did, by the way . We flew at a low altitude above some areas because it was too dangerous to fly higher. It was the first time I saw that a helicopter could fly so low and so fast; I did not think it was possible. But it was my choice, you see?
And it is still my choice. I think it is the same for everybody, for all of my colleagues. But if you have decided something for yourself, if you have made your choice, you must act without thinking about some negative consequences for yourself. You must think about a positive outcome for the people you are doing this for.
Fyodor Lukyanov: There are two aspects to fear. On the one hand, what you are talking about is your internal feeling, and on the other hand it is a leadership style. Do you think ruling by fear is an effective way to govern?
Vladimir Putin: No. It is a bad management method, because it is very unreliable. The best way to govern, in terms of having contact with society, is by convincing people and using positive motivation.
It requires the joint efforts of the people you communicate with. You must not allow any separation of those who make decisions from those who implement them. All people should collaborate in the implementation; that would be efficient joint work with a positive result.
Fyodor Lukyanov: Let us move on to joint efforts. Sheng Shiliang is our old-timer.
Sheng Shiliang: Mr President, you have rightly noted that, indeed, Russia never creates problems for others. But, as a Chinese proverb goes, the trees want to remain quiet, but the wind will not stop. We are not left in peace. Firstly, both China and Russia have been labelled “revisionist states.”
Secondly, Russia and China are declared, along with Iran and North Korea, to be the main adversaries of the greatest, most peaceful, and most offended country in the world and of all times.
Thirdly, there are the sanctions imposed on you, and the trade war waged against us. The situation is very serious. I have a quote from a well-known Hong Kong mafia film: the uncle is very angry; the consequences will be very serious.
This means we have much in common. I would like to ask you how Russia is going to respond. And what recommendations would you give to us, to China?
Vladimir Putin: My dear friend and colleague, I think China is no less a great country, and the Chinese people are no less a great nation than the one you have just mentioned.
The Chinese civilisation is a great ancient civilisation. I do not think China even needs our recommendations. I can only express my point of view on this matter.
You cited the Chinese proverb, the trees want to remain quiet, but the wind will not stop. However, the weather is changeable. A time will come when the wind will calm down. It seems to me one does not need to immediately respond to certain things that might aggravate the situation in some way. But one must certainly always respond and protect one’s own interests. As a matter of fact, we are doing just that – both China and Russia.
So why am I saying that the weather is changeable, and the wind will stop blowing at some point? The fact is that those who stir up this wind, they also suffer from it.
You mentioned trade wars and sanctions. You know, I am not even going to say anything new for some people here in this hall, the experts will understand what I am talking about.
Firstly, a certain part of US rhetoric is related to their domestic political situation. Secondly, what is the domestic policy calendar? Midterm elections are underway, which will be followed by the presidential election. Certain economic trends need to be preserved. In the medium term, such actions may lead to a positive result.
However, in the long term, in my opinion, negative consequences will follow inevitably, because everything that is being done now affects the global economy and influences its segments in individual countries.
The US and China exchange blows that cost some $500 million. And if they keep doing so, it will amount to $1.5 trillion, which is 0.4 percent of the global economy.
It will be one of the reasons for a future recession of the global economy. Everyone will feel it and nobody wants it to happen. Therefore, it is possible to stir up a wind at some point, but a moment will come when it will not benefit anybody.
Therefore, I think the Chinese civilization is very old, the Chinese people have a lot of patience and I think the fundamental structure of the Chinese economy will allow them to endure everything. In terms of volume, the Chinese economy has outgrown the US economy; the per capita figure is still smaller, of course, taking into account China’s huge population.
Of course, the American economy is high-tech and introduces contemporary innovative technologies quickly, so both Russia and China have something to work on and to learn from our American colleagues. Nevertheless, the world is changing and so is the global economy; the growth rate of the Chinese economy is high.
It has adjusted, as we see, but it remains high. It will inevitably lead to a change in the economic situation between countries and in the global economic environment. This poses certain threats, and not only for countries, but for the global economy as well, I would say.
Fyodor Lukyanov: To use the wind metaphor – let the east wind blow some more. Let us hear from our colleague from Japan.
What do you think he will ask, Mr President?
Vladimir Putin: I have no idea.
Fyodor Lukyanov: Neither do I.
Vladimir Putin: Is it about the islands again? Not interested.
Question: Sorry, but I have to ask. Two years ago, I asked you here in this hall how realistic it was to expect a favourable atmosphere for Japan and Russia to sign a peace treaty in the near future, say within two, three or four years. You said it was wrong, impossible and even harmful to set a fixed timeframe, because there was not enough trust between us at the time.
In September 2018, during the plenary session of the Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok, you suggested to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, “Let us sign a peace treaty, not now, but by the end of the year without any preconditions.”
Could you please clarify: does this mean that enough trust has already been established between us to sign a peace treaty, bearing in mind what you said two years ago, or does it mean something else?
Vladimir Putin: Indeed, I spoke about the need to build trust. I am not saying what comes next is an insurmountable obstacle. Nonetheless, we are talking about increasing trust, about the possibility of signing a peace treaty, of reaching some compromise on the territorial issues that Japan constantly raises, although we do not believe they even exist, and yet, we do not reject this dialogue.
At the request of Prime Minister Abe, we have established simplified formalities for Japanese citizens visiting these territories, so they can visit their historical places, family graves, and so on. That is, for our part, we are tying to create the necessary conditions of trust.
However, Japan has imposed sanctions against us. Do you think this looks like a step towards increasing trust? What does Syria or Crimea have to do with Japan? Why did you do it? To increase trust? Yet, we still do not refuse; we are ready to continue this dialogue. We are not avoiding contacts.
Just now, your Chinese colleague asked a question. We have been having a discussion over territorial issues with China for many years, for 40 years, in fact. Can you imagine that? Forty years. Russia-China relations saw a lot in that time, but in the end, we signed a friendship agreement. And we have reached a level of understanding between Russia and China that is assessed as unprecedented by both our countries. However, the territorial issue had not been resolved yet by that time.
But the fact that we signed these documents with China, with our Chinese friends, the fact that we have built such a system of relations – did it put an end to our debates over the territorial issues? No, it did not. On the contrary, this created an environment necessary for resolving these issues, which is exactly what we did in the end – we signed the necessary document, finding compromise.
I said the same thing to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. I said that if we fail to sign this peace agreement now, without resolving the issue of those islands, this would not mean that we would consign it to the dustbin of history and go on as if nothing happened. The example of our relations with China showcases the opposite: we created an environment of trust, and then resolved the issue. This was exactly what I suggested.
Our dispute with Japan over these issues dates back 70 years, and we cannot seem to find a solution, a way out of the dead end. But let us finally sign this peace agreement, work on improving our level of trust, refrain from creating new problems in bilateral relations and move on, and keep discussing these territorial issues.
We are not saying no, but Prime Minister Abe has his own opinion on this. Later, when we attended the junior judo tournament, we continued discussing this issue in an informal setting.
He said that as of today, Japan finds this approach unacceptable, and we must first find solutions to the issues that are key to resolving the territorial issues, and then start discussing a peace agreement.
We can do that, but we have been doing it for 70 years, and there seems to be no end in sight. We are talking about carrying out joint economic activities on these islands, and the ideas are good, but so far, they are being implemented on a very small scale – that is the problem. However, we are ready to keep working on this, certainly.
Fyodor Lukyanov: Your Grace Metropolitan Tikhon, please.
Chairman of the Patriarchal Council for Culture Metropolitan Tikhon: The round table I took part in here, at Valdai, dealt with cultural issues, or to be exact, whether and how culture can affect the life of society in the 21st century and today.
At the onset of the discussion Mr Zanussi asked the following question, Can we even grasp, can we assess a nation’s culture today? An opinion was voiced that the level of charity in society may be such an assessment criterion. I mean general culture, not its specific manifestations.
It may seem that it was a fairly abstract discussion. But the events in Kerch, even though we do not fully understand the motives behind this ill-fated person’s actions, let us see how aggression and intolerance are on the rise not only in Russia but also generally everywhere.
My question is as follows: Firstly, what do you yourself think of the conclusions we have made at this round table regarding charity as a key criterion of society’s general culture?
Secondly, we talk a lot of about state culture policy nowadays. There is a lot of debate. We are all aware that the state will not regulate culture in a rough or intrusive way, and this is probably absolutely correct. But can the state deliberately support all those creative and historical spiritual and cultural keynote dominants that have developed in Russia, something we call spiritual and cultural values?
Vladimir Putin: I think this what we have been doing, in reference to the second part of your question. I think the state must do this very carefully by allowing people with different outlooks to work out their own views, express them and compete, let us say, with your views. It may seem surprising for me to say that, but I think this is the way it is.
My sympathies certainly lie with you, but as a state official, I still think it is my duty to ensure the opportunity for every person to express their position. Why? Because my position is based on the first part of your comment.
What is charity? To use more modern words, it is tolerance, commitment to compromise. At any rate, it is one of the facets of charity. This is the way it is. If we claim that charity, tolerance is a criterion of culture, then we must be in a position to let people express their views and listen to them.
Fyodor Lukyanov: SinceHis Grace raised the issue of charity, I cannot but give the floor to Nyuta Federmesser.
Founder of the Vera Hospice Charity Fund Nyuta Federmesser: Thank you very much. First, thank you for the chance to be here. Yesterday there was also a very important discussion on the interaction between society and the authorities. Thank you for bringing me in on this issue.
During the first half (I hope the second half is still to come), you spoke and the questions that were asked were mostly about war. As a representative of a totally different side of life, since we will all die anyway, I do not understand why this pain could be induced…
Vladimir Putin: This may happen in a variety of ways.
Nyuta Federmesser: Yes, absolutely.
In palliative care, in hospices, dying is always preceded by a tremendous concentration of love. Because when people know that this is to come, that it is ahead and that they do not have much time, they spend all that time saying, “Forgive me,” “I forgive you” and “I love you.” Whereas what we talked about here was about a different kind of death: death related to hate.
You said you have no fear, no fear of the responsibility for the world. We have an incredible number of people in our country totalling 18 million with family members, 18 million of those who have fear because their loved ones are severely ill or dying without getting adequate help.
It is clear that this is not the first time I speak about palliative care and hospices, and we have been drafting a priority project, you know about that, it was done in part following your instructions. About a year ago, incredible funds were allocated to palliative care development, which, unfortunately, will not be spent. They were allocated in such a way that as of today only 12 percent was spent on palliative care while the rest of the funds will go back to the budget. And I am terribly afraid that I will have no right to say to you, “Mr President, can we revisit the palliative aid issue?” because you will say, “But the funds were returned, so they were not needed.”
I would very much like that alongside considering Russia’s totally different role in world history and sanctions from all sides, we would also discuss the people who make up the country. Eighteen million is a huge figure. There are 1,300,000 – one million three hundred thousand – of those who die each year while needing that care. I want to see care for those people, who are afraid, also to become a priority area. I want them to reply as easily as you did to that question, “I have no fear.” No fear because they know that the state will protect them, the system will protect them, and this help is very inexpensive.
And to protect them, there is no need to reshuffle the economy and re-shape the GDP or whatever. What is needed is your very firm decision, as firm as regarding the issues discussed earlier. Well, that is probably all. I just want those people to also be able to quietly say “We have no fear” thanks to your efforts. Thank you very much. I have the relevant papers with me.
Vladimir Putin: All right, I will definitely take them.
Firstly, I completely agree with you that our discussions, our internal discussions should be centred on our problems, domestic problems, our people’s lives, which is actually a major part of our work. And as you said, the fact that we are discussing war – and not just war but terrorism and other similar issues – is due to the way our host Mr Lukyaunov organised the discussion, I am not the one who organises it, it is done by the host, so let us put all the blame on him.
As to the problem you raised, it is obviously very sensitive, demanding special attention and tact from the state. Ultimately – you said it yourself – the state allocated the funds. The fact that only 12 or 16 percent were used means the work was poorly organised. I assure you that it does not mean that I will say to you, “The money was allocated and you did not use it, so that’s it, good-bye.” Do not worry, this will never happen.
I know the way money is spent, and very often, funds allocated by the state to handle certain matters of absolute priority do not reach the end receiver. If they are returned to the budget, it does not mean that they will stay there for good and the necessary funds will never be allocated again. We will certainly keep doing it.
Yet we have to admit that whatever the state might do, it is impossible to completely solve any problem 100 percent. Life is more complicated and keeps throwing in more and more of new problems for us. Of course, efforts by the state are very important, as are those by society and religious organisations, by the way. It is religious organisations, and I mean our traditional faiths, that create the internal strength and internal basis for any person to feel secure in this fast-changing and fairly dangerous world.
The state will definitely pursue all the tasks in the context you have just mentioned. Do not worry. I will take your documents, of course. It does not mean we will wrap up the topic just because someone underused the funds. Have no doubt. I will see why such a small percentage was spent. It looks strange.
Fyodor Lukyanov: I seem to be the chief militarist here. I am going to prove this is not true. Behind me is the world’s most cheerful man, a food producer, who made an indelible impression during the conference.
Head of the Cheesemakers Union of Russia Oleg Sirota: Good afternoon, Mr President. I am a farmer from Moscow Region, I make cheese. Let me begin by saying on behalf of the farmers, we have been telling you this repeatedly over the last four years….
Fyodor Lukyanov: Mr Sirota, the concise version, please.
Oleg Sirota: I wanted to thank you for the sanctions. In fact, we had a long discussion about this with experts at our session…
Vladimir Putin: You should thank the Americans, not me.
Oleg Sirota: That is what we were debating, who to thank, Obama, Merkel or you? Anyway, thank you for all of that.
Russian agriculture is clearly thriving. Take me: I sold my flat, my car, my business, made an investment, and my cheese-making factory has been growing 300 percent a year. The agricultural breakthrough is boosted by protectionism, the sanction shield, the cheap ruble, and care, such as record subsidies.
Vladimir Putin: What kind of cheese do you produce?
Oleg Sirota: Hard and semi-hard. We are thinking about exporting them. Next year, our cheese will make Vienna, Munich and Berlin tremble. I assure you, we already have an agreement.
Vladimir Putin: Will they tremble because your product is delicious, or because it is something else?
Oleg Sirota: Because it is delicious.
Vladimir Putin: Or is it the smell?
Oleg Sirota: Our cheese is tasty, hard and cheap thanks to the ruble rates.
It is attracting investors, including international ones. Everyone has begun investing in Russia’s agriculture. We have partners from Switzerland who relocated to Russia and are building farms. I was asked repeatedly during the session about what would happen if the sanctions were cancelled. What would I do? Would it be a disaster?
So I have a question myself: will the Government continue to pay close attention to our industry, to support it and to continue with protectionism, if the sanctions are lifted? Because we need to be able to sleep well for a few years.
And a personal question, if I may. Mr President, I am Russia’s record holder in that I have tried nine times to give you my cheese as a gift, and nine times it was confiscated by your security detail, who must be doing a great job.
Vladimir Putin: And enjoying great meals as well.
Oleg Sirota: It would seem so. So my question is whether they have let the cheese through, Mr President, or not? One time I even wrote a message thanking you for the sanctions. They said they were going to pass it on. Did they? Or did they eat it themselves?
Vladimir Putin: They ate it.
Oleg Sirota: I see.
Vladimir Putin: They ate it themselves.
This is not a joke, what I am going to tell you. My colleagues gave me several bottles of wine, and my security asked whether they should test it or if I would drink it. I told them to check it. Especially given that I am not big on alcohol.
Regarding cheese and what happens if sanctions are lifted. First of all, we are not seeing them readying to lift any sanctions so you can sleep tight.
Second. The longer it goes on, the less likely those who quit Russia’s market are to be able to return. You know this better than I do, as a producer. If your product is of high quality, as it seems to be the case, and if you are thinking about exporting, it means that your quality is on par with competition, but production and logistics costs will always be lower. Therefore, your rivals will have a hard time pushing you out of the domestic market. I think it is virtually impossible, especially if you work with retail chains and shops. Still, you need to be ready that they may try.
You know, I want to say this. You and I, let me say “we”. Why? Because we are onto one and the same task – developing Russia’s economy, and, in this case, such an important industry as agriculture. We need to be ready to face competition. There is no use thinking that we will continue to restrict and block foreigners, keeping our market exclusive for domestic producers. If we do, the quality will fall in the end. I am not talking about cheese alone, but about all agricultural production, and not just agricultural. We need to create natural market competition, at this time at the very least between domestic producers. We will be focusing on this. Support to agriculture will not dwindle, we will be stepping it up.
Oleg Sirota: Excellent. Thank you.
Mr President, let me jump on the occasion before they take the mic…
Fyodor Lukyanov: Stop, Oleg, you are not the only one here.
Oleg Sirota: I have got a head of cheese for you. Please, come and get it, it has been waiting for you for four years.
Fyodor Lukyanov: Here it comes.
Vladimir Putin: Let me have it right now, or it will not get through again.
Oleg Sirota: Good.
Vladimir Putin: I hope to finally get your cheese. Where are you based?
Oleg Sirota: Istra, Moscow Region.
Vladimir Putin: Is the cheese there?
Oleg Sirota: On the shelf in storage.
Vladimir Putin: In storage?
Oleg Sirota: It has been waiting for you for four years.
Vladimir Putin: Thank you.
Fyodor Lukyanov: What is more, the quality has not deteriorated.
Vladimir Putin: That is because it is good. What do you call it?
Oleg Sirota: You must have tasted it while stationed in Germany. It is Bergkäse, a hard Alpine cheese.
Vladimir Putin: Great.
Oleg Sirota: We call it Istra Cheese.
Vladimir Putin: Thank you.
Fyodor Lukyanov: Mr President, do inform Karin Kneissl that they are going to tremble over there in Vienna. After all, the cheese is coming.
Vladimir Putin: And the consumers will like it.
Fyodor Lukyanov: Of course.
Ragida Dergham, go ahead, please.
Ragida Dergham: Thank you, my name is Ragida Dergham. I am Founder and Executive Chairman of Beirut Institute. It’s a think tank for the Arab region with a global reach. So I have specific question about three countries, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Iran.
On Saudi Arabia, of course, the world is preoccupied with the developments, and I’m wondering what consequences or… Do you see that there may be consequences, on your particular relationships, Russian-Saudi relations, given that you have been eager to have good relations and beyond.
On Egypt, you had magnificent success yesterday with President el-Sisi. Did you agree also that Egypt would play a role in Syria, particularly, in rehabilitating the government of Syria with the Arab League and the Gulf states?
And lastly, on Iran. Why, Mr President, don’t you feel comfortable asking the Iranians to withdraw from Syria since you have said in the past all forces would go. Why can’t you be specific? That would help probably in bringing your own troops back home. And maybe the public would be more comfortable then being worried about their troops. And also, this is a big issue between you and the United States. And I think I have heard you say you would like to have good relations. Can you solve that? Do you feel comfortable to deal with the Iranian question and have better relations with the United States? Thank you, sir.
Vladimir Putin: I will begin with the last part of your question, Iran. It is better to worry about our military personnel on the territory of Syria instead of having to worry about our fighters on Russia’s territory.
Fighting terrorists while they are still far away from our borders is better for us in order to prevent them from coming to our country. This has already happened in the not-so-distant past, as I have already mentioned. It is better for us to fight them over there, rather than here. This is the first thing I wanted to say.
Second, coming back to Iran. It is not up to Russia to persuade Iran to leave Syria. After all, both Syria and Iran are sovereign countries, and they should build their own relationship.
Yes, Russia does have serious, deep-rooted ties both with Iran and Syria. Moreover, we have been able to resolve certain issues by engaging in dialogue and discussions with our Iranian partners, including on withdrawing offensive systems from the Israeli border and the Golan Heights.
As for the complete withdrawal, this is a separate issue that has to be resolved through dialogue between Iran and Syria, as well as between Iran and the United States. We are ready to join this discussion.
Third, in order for Syria to move forward with the help of its allies, including Iran, the Syrian state needs a safe and enabling environment.
This means that those who want Iranian troops to withdraw from Syria must guarantee non-interference in the domestic affairs of the Syrian Arab Republic, stop funding terrorists or using them for political aims to fight the legitimate regime in Syria, its government, and so on. This is a complicated matter that is relevant for all parties to this conflict.
As I have already pointed out in public, Russia believes that once the decisions of this kind are taken, including the definitive victory over terrorists, all foreign troops must leave the Syrian Arab Republic as the country improves its defence capability and in keeping with the wishes of the Syrian government. This is the main criteria.
Now concerning Saudi Arabia. What is it that is bothering you? I can’t understand. We have built really good relations with Saudi Arabia in recent years.
Please, specify your question about Saudi Arabia. What is it that is perplexing you in this regard? Why should our relations with Saudi Arabia break down?
Ragida Dergham: As you know, because of the developments in Istanbul, at the Saudi Consulate, there is a big interest worldwide in the investigation regarding the assassination or the killing of Jamal Khashoggi, the journalist who was our colleague and has been a participant in the Valdai Group. So this is what I am talking about. Right now, of course, there is pressure on President Trump that may reflect on the mid-term elections, and there are countries pulling out and countries being concerned, I mean, media and others are concerned about continuing to be present in Saudi Arabia given the alleged feeling that maybe someone in the government may be involved in this atrocity, of killing of Jamal Khashoggi. That is what I meant. Do you think it will impact your relations with Saudi Arabia at all? And please do not forget the questions about Egypt.
Vladimir Putin: As far as I know, the journalist, who has disappeared and whom you have just mentioned, lived in the United States of America. He lived in the US, not in Russia. In this sense, the US, of course, bears certain responsibility for what has happened to him. This goes without saying.
He was the one to go to the United States for asylum. In this connection, I would like to say the following. First, we should wait for the results of the investigation to become available. How can we, Russia, start spoiling relations with Saudi Arabia while being unaware of what has really happened over there?
As far as I can judge, this man was to a certain extent a member of the Saudi elite. In some way or other, he was connected with certain ruling circles. It is hard to say, what is going on there.
But we can see that complicated processes are also taking place within the US elites. I hope America will not go as far as Saudi Arabia did. But we don’t know what, in fact, has happened over there. So why should we take any steps directed at downgrading our relations, if we do not understand what is really happening?
If someone understands it and believes that a murder has been committed, then I hope that some evidence will be presented and we will adopt relevant decisions based on this evidence. This gives me a pretext to say something else.
From time to time, there are steps taken against Russia and even sanctions are imposed, as I have repeatedly said, on the basis of flimsy excuses and pretexts. They groundlessly claim that we have allegedly used chemical weapons, even though, incidentally, we have destroyed our chemical weapons, while the United States has failed to do so despite the obligation to that effect it assumed.
So, there is no proof against Russia but steps are being taken. According to claims, the murder was committed in Istanbul, but no steps are being taken.
Uniform approaches to problems of this kind should be sorted. To reiterate: Our policy towards Saudi Arabia has evolved over a long period of time, over many years. Of course, it is a misfortune that a man has disappeared, but we must understand what has really happened.
Yes, as for Egypt, we have very good, friendly relations. We recently marked the 75th anniversary of our diplomatic relations and they are not being revived, they have been revived and the quality and level of our relations are actively improving.
We have ambitious plans for joint work in the economy and energy, I mean both hydrocarbons and nuclear energy. We are starting to build a nuclear power plant, as you know, using a Russian-provided $25 billion loan. It is a good loan with an advantageous interest rate. The payments of the principal amount will begin in 2029, so these conditions are quite good. Thus, we both provide orders for our power-generating equipment manufacturers and develop Egypt’s economy.
We cooperate very effectively in industrial production: we have agreed to obtain a large, 525-hectare plot of land, where we will build timber processing, engineering, pharmaceutical and other facilities, creating 35,000 jobs.
As for the overall value of investments, we count on at least $7 billion. Our state allocation will be $190 million to create the necessary infrastructure.
We also work a lot in the area of military-technical cooperation and purely military cooperation. We regularly hold joint military exercises, both in Russia and Egypt. The most recent one, I think, finished in Egypt just yesterday or maybe is still on.
We have developed our relationship and will go further with this, and our partners are interested in doing so. As for Egypt’s participation in the Syrian settlement, it is significant. There is the so-called Cairo Platform that unites a number of opposition groups.
We see that Cairo has a positive influence on these people and encourages them to work with the Government of Syria, but, naturally, they have their own position on how the work should be organised. As usual, the eventual result will arise from compromises and agreements.
Fyodor Lukyanov: Mr President, a practical question to follow: Is flight security in Egypt no longer an issue? Has it been resolved?
Vladimir Putin: No, it has not. As you know, we resumed flights between Moscow and Cairo. Charter flights to Sharm El Sheikh and Hurghada are to reopen soon. We discussed this issue with President el-Sisi, and I think that these routes will restart soon.
However, our experts at the Ministry of Transport and special security services, along with their Egyptian colleagues, have a bit more work to do. We know what they have to do and by what time. I will not get ahead of myself, but I hope it will happen soon.
Fyodor Lukyanov: Professor Toloraya, please.
Georgy Toloraya: Georgy Toloraya, the Russky Mir Foundation and the National Committee for BRICS Studies.
Mr President, in the morning we widely discussed Asia, the east wind and Russia’s European-Pacific characteristics. In fact, I think that this autumn marks a milestone with respect to Asian politics: the Eastern Economic Forum was attended for the first time by all the leaders of Northeast Asia except North Korea; I also know that you will attend the East Asia Forum in Kuala Lumpur.
There are big problems in Asia, and one of them, my favourite, is the Korean problem. Now we can see significant progress. Last year when we met it seemed that we were on the brink of war, but now we may be on the brink of peace.
How do you think Russia can help the peace process, in particular, the agreement between North Korea and the US? It is no secret that the Russian diplomats do a lot, but maybe they can do more.
And regarding sanctions. We suffer under the sanctions. Our trilateral project, Rajin-Khasan, suffers. Isn’t it time for us to take some measures in this regard?
Vladimir Putin: You know, the situation around the Korean Peninsula is moving in a positive direction in general. You have noted this, too; we all can see this. You have just said that we were on the brink of war, and now, thank god, we are on the brink of peace.
Direct contacts between the US administration and North Korea are ongoing. I hope they will continue soon, in the near future. We hear that preparations for a new meeting between President Trump and Kim Jong Un are underway. I also hope it will take place.
Let me express my position once again; I have already spoken about this. I do not think that this work will be effective if it is a one-way street. Demanding total disarmament and total denuclearisation from North Korea without providing any security guarantees is hardly a good approach.
Nevertheless, anything is possible. If North Korea believes the promises of the US, this could be the best way to de-escalate the situation. It is difficult for me to say.
What positive role could Russia play here? We could implement those trilateral plans we have discussed many times: connecting the South Korea – North Korea – Russia railway; power lines; and a pipeline from Russia to South Korea via North Korea, including gas routes. We still could establish some joint enterprises. Of course, it would be a contribution.
This is because joint work in the economy unites us and creates conditions to resolve political and security issues. Let us not forget that China has done a great deal in this regard. Russia and the People’s Republic of China have a joint platform. We are trying – I will not repeat this now because I have said it many times – to comply with these joint agreements.
What else can Russia do? I think (I have also said this many times, but I will repeat it once again) that it is very important to establish security guarantees for North Korea. Of course, Russia could also play a certain role here, because I believe that if we want these guarantees to be effective they should be international.
We do not want to see any military action there or any tensions. Russia and North Korea are neighbours; so Russia, as a permanent member of the UN Security Council and a nuclear power, as well as other participants of this process – China and the United States – could of course make a contribution by creating and participating in the system of guarantees.
Fyodor Lukyanov: Yerlan Karin.
Director of the Kazakhstan Institute for Strategic Studies under the President of the Republic of Kazakhstan Yerlan Karin: Good evening, Mr President. I would like to take the Asian issue further. Five years ago, during his visit to Kazakhstan, Chinese President Xi Jinping spoke about the Belt and Road Initiative.
Two years later, you and the Chinese President adopted a joint statement on integrating the Eurasian Economic Union and the Belt and Road Initiative.
Today, given the current events in the international political arena, all these sanctions and more trade disputes between China and the United States, are these initiative still relevant? Are they losing their importance, or are there new prospects? I would like to hear your point of view.
And the second question. In August, together with your colleagues, leaders of Caspian states, you adopted a very important document in Aktau, a convention that, as many think, has become a sort of constitution of the Caspian region. How do you see the further cooperation in the region and the resolution of other issues related to this area?
Vladimir Putin: First, as regards China’s Belt and Road Initiative and everything related to it, including the economic aspect. This initiative of our friend, and I indeed consider him our friend, Chinese President Xi Jinping, is becoming even more relevant. This is because all economic restrictions are, on the one hand, putting pressure on the global economy and markets, which is a negative factor, yet these actions create certain windows of opportunities.
This means that in these circumstances Russia can carve out an additional niche. For instance (this is not the key point, but still): Americans used to deliver a great deal of soybeans to China, and now we will slowly enter this Chinese market with our soy, and we will give our Chinese partners the opportunity to produce soybeans in the Russian Far East in the event they want to invest their money in this agricultural sector.
Say, in aircraft engineering. Indeed, China like us was a major purchaser of Boeings. And now together we have intensified the work on a wide-bodied long-range aircraft. We will move on and construct big heavy helicopters. We will jointly continue our work on space programmes.
We have a huge trade turnover when it comes to the field of military-technical cooperation and we have agreed that we will engage not only in sales but we will also transfer technology. We are interested in this not to the detriment of our security and nobody should have any doubts about this. This is why I mention the high level of trust between our countries that we have attained.
The development of infrastructure is extremely important for the region in general, so we welcome, say as part of this Chinese initiative – the Silk Road – participation of our Chinese friends in the development of the Northern Sea Route. These are absolutely specific things.
The Chinese Silk Road Fund is one of the shareholders of our new LNG enterprise in the Arctic established by our company NOVATEK jointly with the French company Total. This is real work.
The enterprise has been built and is up and running. Therefore, someone’s sanctions do not make this initiative less relevant, on the contrary it is taking on a new aspect.
Our trade turnover with EU countries is actually growing. It shrank by 50% but now it is increasing year after year. Trade with the Asian-Pacific region is expanding at priority rates. While the EU share in our trade turnover is 42 percent, the Asian countries have already reached 31 percent and it is on the rise.
Of course, we are interested in building infrastructure, including in the field of transport. Of course, we are interested in building up the operations of the Trans-Siberian and Baikal-Amur railways. We expect the railway cargo traffic to go up four times and the cargo traffic along the Northern Sea Route to grow up to 80 million tonnes.
And all this is absolutely naturally compatible with the Chinese initiative and our development within the Eurasian Economic Union where Kazakhstan is also one of the key players.
So, we are happy with the way this situation is developing in this sphere and we will be most active in working jointly with all our partners.
Fyodor Lukyanov: Andrei Sushentsov, welcome.
Andrei Sushentsov: I am Andrei Sushentsov from the School of International Studies at Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO).
There have been media reports on a number of countries developing biological weapons agents, and the issue of the presence of the United States’ biological laboratories on the territory of other countries has long been a concern among experts.
Recently, the former Georgian minister of state security presented documents to the media regarding this. There is a convention that prohibits the development of biological weapons. What measures can be taken in response? And is this data true?
Vladimir Putin: I would not judge whether this is true or not. I saw this statement by the former Georgian minister of state security. This is definitely cause for concern. These developments – if they are actually taking place – are very dangerous and are related to the latest achievements in genetics.
From what I have seen, I can only repeat what is there: it is about finding agents that can selectively affect people depending on their ethnic group, and over two or three generations, allegedly, they have used animals to conduct such experiments.
Dogs and rats have relatively short lifecycles, and in the second or third generation changes occur that dramatically alter the initial look. If this is so then it poses a big threat.
How can this be prevented? Everyone has to be aware that nothing comes from nothing and nothing disappears; every action has a reaction, or rather, an opposite. So if someone is developing this technology, they have to understand that others will be doing so as well. So it is better to sit at the negotiating table beforehand and develop unified rules of conduct in this very sensitive area.
Fyodor Lukyanov: Yaroslav Lisovolik.
Chief Economist of the Eurasian Development Bank Yaroslav Lissovolik: Good evening, Mr President. During today’s discussion, you mentioned the refocusing Russia’s foreign trade towards Asia. The question is to what extent this can be expressed in currencies other than the dollar. Are there opportunities for the de-dollarization of the global economy?
There are different opinions, and this issue is being actively discussed not only in Russia but internationally as well. It would seem that given the exaggerated role of the dollar in past decades, there is a lot of room for de-dollarization. On the other hand, the developing markets’ currency volatility poses certain questions here. What is your opinion regarding the opportunity for the de-dollarization of the global economy?
Vladimir Putin: First, we are not making an effort to redirect our foreign trade from Europe towards Asia. This is just happening naturally. For example, our trade with the European Union was 450 billion (euros or dollars, I do not remember exactly, but that’s not important), and today it doesn’t even amount to 300 billion, or even 250 billion. But there is growth: last year it was 23 percent and during the first eight months of this year it was 22 percent.
In Asia, mutual trade is growing slightly faster. So, as I mentioned, Russia’s foreign trade is 41 percent European Union, and 31 percent the Asian countries. If this trend continues, the figures will soon become equal.
As regards using the dollar in international transactions, I am not the only one talking about this. For instance, the French president recently mentioned this. He said Europe should increase its economic and financial sovereignty. This means shifting from the US dollar, and France is one of the United States’ major trade and economic partners.
As I recently said, our American friends are quarrelling with their bread and butter. They challenge the reliability of the dollar as a universal tool for international settlement. Once again, this is a typical mistake for an empire.
Why is this happening? Because – and I am not lashing out at anyone – but an empire always thinks it can make minor mistakes and allow excess, because its might makes it all irrelevant.
But the number of these excesses and minor mistakes inevitably grows, and the time comes when this cannot be handled either from a security standpoint or from an economic standpoint. Obviously, this is the way our American friends are acting; they are devaluating confidence in the dollar as a universal settlement tool and the world’s sole reserve currency.
And of course, everyone started giving it more thought. The EU countries want to conduct trade with Iran. They do not think Iran has violated anything in its nuclear deal with the international community. And it actually has not. But our US partners decided that this deal should be revised, but the Europeans disagree with that.
The Americans are imposing sanctions, so-called secondary sanctions, on everyone cooperating with Iran. Certainly, why should companies lose if they are working in the US market? Some will leave anyway and someone else, who is not tied up with the US, will be pleased to continue working there, however, settlements should be arranged for. For this reason, an alternative to SWIFT, the current international settlement system, is being created, and more transactions are being completed in national currencies.
You are certainly right that volatility in the developing markets, the volatility of national currencies, is very high, which is unavoidable. Still, certain instruments are being introduced that can reduce this volatility. For example, a pool of national currencies and a joint bank have been created in the framework of BRICS, which means that such instruments are already on the way. It’s true that this bank cannot be compared with the IMF in terms of potential, but at least something is being done in this respect.
Indeed, currency volatility exists. However, if we keep working at this, and we are working on it, insurance support or other ways to hedge risk will be found, they are real. I will not go into details, but even now, in dealing with some countries, we have found certain instruments to avoid these risks. We can link them to certain agreements; we can do whatever needs to be done.
This will not happen today or tomorrow. And our companies in, say, the oil and gas field, in energy commodities, are not interested in giving up dollar transactions at this point and going to only national currencies.
But if these instruments are created – that provide for giving up the US dollar and disposing of national currency volatility – a transition will be guaranteed. As soon as this happens, hard times will come for the US dollar as a universal unit in accounting.
We will see. We will definitely move in this direction, not because we mean to undermine the US dollar but because we want to guarantee our own security, because they impose sanctions on us and do not give us a chance to operate in US dollars.
This is why we have reduced our gold and foreign currency reserves in dollar equivalent in the treasury; the Central Bank had to withdraw from this.
Why are they doing this? In my opinion, it would be wiser of them to pursue their goals without discrediting their national currency. Nevertheless, many companies in the US are following this route. I believe they are making a big mistake.
Fyodor Lukyanov: We have people here in this room who know how to live without the dollar. Mr. Sajjadpour from Iran, please.
Seyed Kazem Sajjadpour: Thank you, Mr President. I am Seyed Kazem Sajjadpour, Institute for Political and International Studies, Iran. Thank you again.
I have a question about militarisation of the Middle East. Three facts. First, there is military activity in Syria beyond the control of the Syrian government. Second, there are people in the United States imagining that we are responsible for the invasion of Iraq <…>. Third, there are some actors in the region who really want a military confrontation, bringing the US to a broader military confrontation.
How do you see the picture and what would be the US response? Do you feel there is more militarisation in the region? And does this militarisation need to be contained? Thank you.
Vladimir Putin: The key underlying factor of all the problems in the Middle East is the Palestinian-Israeli conflict; you know as well as I do, in fact everyone knows this. Whatever our perspective on the Middle East, we will come to this in the end anyway; therefore, every effort must be made to resolve it, to establish direct contacts between the Israelis and the Palestinians, to resume multilateral efforts to resolve this multi-year, even decades-long crisis. This is my first point.
My second point is the following. There are new crises associated with terrorism, and the actions of our American partners are doing little to improve the situation in the region. On the contrary, truth be told, we repeat a hundredth time, and you just said: the invasion of Iraq resulted in a sharp increase in the terrorist threat due to the weakening of statehood. That’s what happened.
And Libya? In general, that state ceased to exist. It is being torn to pieces between separate armed units still fighting among themselves. This is a catastrophe. Gaddafi once said Libya was an insurmountable obstacle to the movement of refugees and immigrants from Africa to Europe. He said: “What are you doing? You are destroying this wall.” So it was destroyed. This is what is happening right now. Seeking for a guilty party. But they have only themselves to blame.
It’s okay to dislike a regime in a country. Tastes differ. But, destroying the existing regime and offering nothing in return or offering something that is unacceptable or impossible for the people due to historical specifics is absolutely thoughtless, immoral policy that leads to the worst results.
Our position is that we probably can support someone or sympathise with someone without directly interfering in the affairs of other states, but any move should primarily rely on the country’s internal development. True, this requires patience, and a delicate handling of the current situation, but there is no other option. Any other behaviour, attempts to impose something from the outside leads to the gravest consequences, as in Libya or Iraq. This is the result of monopoly, the result of a unipolar world, which they tried to create at the time. Thank goodness, this situation of unipolarity and monopoly is already coming to an end and it has practically disappeared. I believe this is very dangerous, including for the monopolists, because they lose their bearings and get a sense of permissiveness, and this is always very dangerous and leads to dire consequences.
But at any rate, at a certain level, as we now deal with the Syrian crisis, we have developed a way of cooperation between Russia, Iran and Turkey, which is working and is rather effective, although we do not use the same approach for everything that is taking place in the region. Nevertheless, we did manage to do this. We have developed enough contacts, at any rate, at a working level, with all the participants in this process, including with the United States. As a matter of fact, the US military behave in a more responsible way than certain politicians, but all of this, in any case, paves the way for expanding the basis of joint work.
Militarisation is always a bad thing. What good can it do? It’s an explosive region. We know Turkey’s grievances against the selfsame United States: It is arming various groups. We see what is happening. I have mentioned the current goings-on on the left bank of the Euphrates: They are supplying arms there as well as they are bankrolling the armed groups, but, regrettably, they have failed to cope with the threat, which is yet to be finally eliminated. Seven hundred people have been taken hostage. It’s a disaster! But, alas, this is really happening. We should work together.
Fyodor Lukyanov: Mr President, you say that monopolism is a bad thing. America, for example, used to artificially dismember monopolies on the market to create competition. Should we perhaps do the same in politics?
Vladimir Putin: You know, there is talk about a tragedy that has allegedly occurred – I don’t know for certain – in Istanbul, where the case in point was also dismemberment. These are always nasty events linked to the use of force or something of the kind. People should find common ground through talks. I think, life will anyway force the parties to sit down together at the negotiating table and team up to neutralise common threats.
Fyodor Lukyanov: Thank you.
Timothy Colton: Thank you very much. Timothy Colton, Harvard University. I have a question about Russian public opinion.
As is well known, since you became leader of the country all those years ago in 2000, you have had very steadily positive ratings in the eyes of your fellow citizens. Approval of your work in office is usually higher than 60 percent and sometimes is as high as 80 percent. This is quite extraordinary. But Russian sociologists also ask a number of other questions, but one in particular, which is very interesting. It is a question about the direction that the country is taking. And if we look back, we have this information all the way back to the 1990s. There is often a rather large difference or gap, that very commonly has been the case that support for you personally coincides with many Russians actually thinking that the country is going in the wrong direction. Now, after 2014, the so-called ‘Crimea bounce’ occurred, your ratings went even higher than usual but at that point for several years, more Russians, a lot more Russians thought that the country was going in a positive direction and not in a so-called ‘tupik.’ But this has changed this year, all of a sudden. It seems that more Russians think that the country is going in the wrong direction even as they continue to support you. So what is your interpretation of this disparity?
Vladimir Putin: I don’t see any inconsistencies. I’ll explain what I mean.
First of all, who can be fond of the 1990s and the early 2000s that you have also mentioned? These were the years, when the great and huge state was disintegrating. This is my number one point. Many people both in Russia and the former republics of the USSR don’t like this. Just ask people over there and they will tell you. True, they have their own interpretations but anyway they think they felt more secure, calm and confident in the Soviet Union. In a united, huge and powerful state, there were more prospects.
Of course, there are many changes and people in many of these countries feel the advantages of sovereignty. After all, everything that happened at that time was Russia’s initiative – not even its suggestion! When they in the post-Soviet space start accusing us of something, I always ask them: “But who did that?” It’s we, Russia, who did it. Well, not me, of course, it was the doing of Russia’s former leaders, but Russia all the same. This is my first point.
My second point is that no one who remembers how it was in the 1990s wants to make a comeback. Street crime was on the rampage; the economy, social sphere, healthcare and education were in tatters, all was lost. There was total poverty! So, as I see it, the main achievements that have been scored over the past years are not only the domestic political stabilisation or the solution of the most pressing problems related to fighting terrorism in our country – we had a civil war on our hands and combat operations… Who would like to return to that state? No one!
But I think what is most important is the restoration of the economy, economic growth, our own foundation for development and the growth of people’s incomes. But, of course, everything is relative: things might have been a bit better yesterday and are a bit worse today, but, nevertheless, the income level has improved radically.
Yes, there are still many people in the country who live below poverty line, and this number has grown a little since the 2008 crisis. But in the early 2000s, they accounted for almost 40 percent of the population, almost half of the country. Is there a difference? Of course, there is. But nevertheless there are fluctuations. After the 2008 crisis incomes declined somewhat, and who would like that? Of course, everybody understands it, and so do I.
As for Crimea. Yes, in Russia, the actions of the President and the state in general are considered to have been just and fair. Because historically this land belonged to Russia, and its inhabitants wanted to return to Russia. This is important because some people prefer to ignore it and pretend that such sentiments do not exist. But in fact, the public reaction is the best proof that it was fair.
The Government is currently introducing a series of painful but necessary measures related to the pension law and the raising of the retirement age. All other countries are doing the same. Who would like that? I understand these people perfectly, those who are discontent.
But do you know what the Russian phenomenon is? Our people are smart. They may not like something, but they understand that the Government has to do it. And if not today, then we would have to do it tomorrow anyway. By 2024, we plan to reach the life expectancy of 78 years, and by 2030 it will be 80 years. Well, inevitably we will have to raise the retirement age, but then without any transition period or any benefits.
What did we do here? What did I suggest we do to make the transition easier? People who have reached their retirement age but have not yet retired and do not receive pensions, will be able to receive benefits both in utilities and taxes, and others.
Most people understand that it is an inevitable move. There is nothing to be happy about, but understanding is key. It is important that people trust the leadership and their Government. I think this trust has not been lost and in my opinion, this is the most important key factor in the domestic political life.
Fyodor Lukyanov: Sabine Fischer, please.
Sabine Fischer: Thank you. My name is Sabine Fischer, and I work for the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP).
Good afternoon, Mr President. I would like to continue the discussion about Russian society. Last week, the Civil Initiatives Committee published a new report that says the Russian society has a growing demand for changes, and which is proved by the recent opinion polls.
What do you think about what the report authors call a change in the collective consciousness of Russian society, and how are you going to deal with it?
Vladimir Putin: I think it is a perfectly natural thing that people strive for change. Doesn’t Germany have such a demand? Let us look at the election results in Bavaria and it will be clear if people want change or not. As I see it, they want it a lot.
In general, Europeans want change. In Great Britain, they voted for Brexit, which is unbelievable. And in Russia people want change too.
However, it is unlikely that most people in Russia want revolutionary changes. We had enough of revolutions in the 20th century and even in our recent history.
Therefore our task is to time these changes well, which, by the way, we are doing in close cooperation with civil society. This is the key to success in our domestic policy.
Fyodor Lukyanov: Mr President, do you want any changes for yourself?
Vladimir Putin: I want this discussion to end already. (Laughter.) It is time for me to leave for Uzbekistan and I want to play hockey on the way.
Fyodor Lukyanov:So my question was well-timed.
But let us take some more questions?
Vladimir Putin: Go ahead.
Fyodor Lukyanov: Mikhail Pogrebinsky, please.
Director of the Kiev Centre for Political and Conflict Resolution Studies Mikhail Pogrebinsky: Mr President, I think the conversation would be incomplete without mentioning Ukraine, the fraternal country I come from. Although Mr Lavrov described in detail the homeostasis in this difficult matter, maybe you can add something optimistic here?
I believe my country’s Government is doing its best to drive the solution to this problem into a dead end, and the US, as represented by Kurt Volker is helping it, while at the same time the Normandy format seems to have frozen and nothing it happening there.
Is there, in your opinion, maybe not in the immediate future, but in the medium term, any chance of healing this bleeding wound in our relations and steering the situation out of the deadlock?
Vladimir Putin: I will only have to repeat what I was already saying earlier. We all know that the crisis in Donbass is, of course, the most pressing problem. I think many people will agree with me.
Terrorist attacks and assassinations of people elected by the population to administer these regions are, on the part of the Ukrainian secret services, the worst method to establish relations with these territories.
The best way of doing this is to implement the Minsk Agreements. No one forced their hand. This document is a compromise which Ukraine has accepted. But today, obviously, we can say just anything when it comes to this.
But it is quite clear to everyone that the current Ukrainian authorities are not only shirking from implementing the Minsk Agreements but also have no intention to do this for the moment, including for domestic political reasons: I mean the approaching presidential and parliamentary elections.
All political forces have their hands tied because any move to accommodate the opposite party at home – and you know this better than me – will be interpreted as, pardon me, high treason.
But can we hope for the implementation of the Minsk Agreements under these circumstances? The situation being what it is, we ought, I think, to desire just one thing – lest they should conceive the temptation to aggravate the situation and use the exacerbation in domestic political affairs, including during the preparations for the presidential and later parliamentary elections. This seems to be the best-case scenario we can expect for now.
But, of course, Russia is interested in a full-scale revival of relations with Ukraine. What the current Ukrainian authorities are doing today means driving the situation into an impasse. More than that, they are pursuing an anti-state and anti-national policy identical to the one that was conducted by Saakashvili in Georgia, who at first sought to conceal [his plans] and then made an attempt to implement [them] by attacking South Ossetia.
As a result of its openly criminal actions, Georgia has lost vast territories, which was precisely the consequence of Saakashvili’s acts and doings. It would be very sad, if the current Ukrainian authorities followed suit.
I hope this will not happen. But what has taken place recently in the economy and social sphere? The Ukrainian economy is in the process of being completely deindustrialised. There is practically no investment; they are just talking about all kinds of investments, but there is nothing of the kind in reality.
How can one work with an economy that is constantly shaken and ripped apart from within by internal political crises, with a country where military hysteria is whipped up? Will investors go there? Certainly not. And the things it had before were all ruined.
Where is the shipbuilding industry that Ukraine used to be so proud of? Where is the aircraft industry that was created by the whole Soviet Union over decades? How many people are employed there today? The same thing is happening to all the other sectors that Ukraine deservedly prided itself on in previous decades.
This is exactly what I said would happen. Let me again, though I am aware that this will fall on deaf ears, repeat a rhetorical question: Why were our Western partners, above all, the then leadership of the European Commission, pushing so hard for such a tough scenario involving Ukraine being dragged into this association with the European Union?
What did it give Ukraine? The opening up of EU markets? They now want Ukraine to allow the export of round timber. But this is not Siberia. Three or four years of felling and there will be no forest left at all.
The American partners are now pressing Ukraine to use genetically modified organisms in its agriculture. If this happens, we will be forced to completely shut off the border as GMOs are prohibited in our country. Next, it will start exporting humus, etc. There is nothing else it can do.
Therefore, I believe that the current policy followed by Ukraine’s government is aimed solely at – what are they selling? – Russophobia and anti-Russian sentiments. They have no other goods left.
In return, they are forgiven for everything, because even in their wildest dreams our so-called partners would not envisage that Ukraine and Russia might cooperate in any way as they fear that competition in the world would grow as a result of such cooperation.
In fact, we are not laying any specific claims whatsoever. We just wanted to function normally. So, why was it necessary to cut open the Ukrainian markets without giving anything in return, while constantly pressing the Ukrainian government to raise domestic prices for energy, for gas, aware that the purchasing power of the population verges on zero?
Even in former times, meagre sums were collected for the use of energy resources, and today, probably, none at all is collected. What is there to pay with? Pensions are at zero, revenues are falling.
Therefore, we should wait till the internal political cycle runs its course. And I hope very much that we will manage to build at least some relations and negotiate something with the country’s new leadership. We are ready for it and we want it.
Jean-Pierre Raffarin: Thank you, Mr President, for this large and deep discussion.
I am in politics for 40 years, and I have never seen the world so dangerous. We have a lot of conflicts, and we have a lot of threats, and we have a lot of war everywhere; school for wars. We have never schooled for peace. But we know that peace is not something coming from the sky; peace is work, hard work. So I would like to know how we can promote peace, promote antiterrorism, make reforms – for example, for multilateralism, for the WTO, for the Security Council? How can we develop a dialogue with people we do not agree with? And I think it is very important for people to know that no one wants a war in their country. They know that war is awful, as you said, a disaster. So, in this matter, how can we have some development of the culture of peace? Such a very big point for everybody in society. And so, maybe together we can make peace great again.
Vladimir Putin: There is a lot to be said about this situation. I think the problems that have appeared in the past few years or so concerning global politics are related to the unipolar world that, as just pointed out, appeared after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Everything is recovering now though and the world is becoming or has already become multipolar, and it will inevitably lead to the need to recreate the importance of international law as well as international global institutes such as the United Nations.
It is necessary to, based on the UN Charter and on everything that was achieved in the past decades, on mutual trust – and one needs to handle the rest of trust with care, to learn to listen, hear and respect each other and be ready to find compromises.
I think that it is inevitable in the long run. The sooner it happens, the better. We are ready for this.
Fyodor Lukyanov: Mr President, there is another question standing between you and the changes, and I cannot just sweep it under the rug , because there is a winner of the Valdai Award this year. Actually, there are two winners, but this is of particular importance. Our colleague Piotr Dutkiewicz was rightfully awarded the prize and let him ask the final question.
Director of the Centre for Governance and Public Policy at Carleton University (Canada) Piotr Dutkiewicz: Mr President, you have taken part in the Valdai Club for 15 years now. It is a long period of time, and many changes have taken place.
Permit me to ask you a question. During these 15 years, how has your perception of Russia and what surrounds it changed? And what is most important is how did your perception of yourself as Russia’s leader change?
Vladimir Putin: Please let’s just skip the second part of your question. I think it would be rather unbecoming to evaluate myself.
As for Russia and my attitude towards our country, I can tell you that my love of Russia, and I am not afraid to express myself in such a way, has increased masses of times over the years. Frankly speaking, I did not know Russia too well before.
Of course, I am Russian, my roots are in Russia, my ancestors lived for 300 years in the same village and went to the same church, which I know from church records. Knowing this is exciting, I feel a part of our country and a part of the Russian people, even if it sounds like a high-flown statement, but I really do.
My previous life and work were connected with international activities, so to say. I have been working in intelligence for almost 20 years, so, of course, I did not know Russia as well as I got to know it after I came to Moscow and started working at the federal level, and then became prime minister and president.
I saw how deep and powerful this country is, and what powerful historical and moral roots it has. It was not from the books about the Great Patriotic War of 1941–1945 that I became convinced about the might as well as the wisdom of the Russian people. I saw it with my very own eyes.
So it is in this connection, and I’m not exaggerating, that I am saying that my love of Russia has increased many times over. As for the events unfolding around it, there is nothing unusual about it and it has always been that way when it boils down to the history of our country.
We have always been treated more or less well when Russia was going through difficult times, and they were happy to send humanitarian aid to us. By the way, this is good, and we are grateful to our partners for this. I am not being ironic when I speak about this.
But as soon as it became a sufficiently notable and influential competitor in international affairs, they immediately started to create problems in order to impede our development. Perhaps, from the perspective of the logic of mutual relations on the international arena, this makes sense. After all who in their right mind wants to have a strong competitor?
It is much better to be able to push forward without any competitor or competition. However, this is a bad thing for those who go alone and are at the forefront. I have pointed this out many times already.
So, I think that the world, despite the numerous threats that we are observing today, is still becoming more balanced due to its multipolarity which is now taking root. It is good both for Russia and our partners all over the world.
I very much hope that we will overcome today’s difficulties, build a dialogue with all our partners and participants in international activities and strengthen ourselves from within, which will enable us to build full-fledged relations with our partners on the international arena.
Fyodor Lukyanov: Mr President, of course, the Valdai Club cannot compete with the wisdom of the Russian people, which you have been partaking of all these years. However, we will commit ourselves and try and come up with some sort of an intellectual surprise for you next year. I hope we can make it happen if we pool all our efforts.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank you very much for your time, and we hope to see you again next year.
Vladimir Putin: On my part, I would like to thank all the Russian and foreign experts who have been participating in this work for so many years now. Special words of gratitude go to my colleagues who have held or are holding now high government positions, because they have places to go where they can be useful, but they nevertheless choose to come to Russia in order to participate in discussions with us.
It is important and good for us, because it gives us a chance to convey to you our position on key development matters and listen to what you have to say. Even the way you frame your questions is important for us, because it also provides an important perspective for us.
I would like to wish you all the very best and thank you all very much indeed.