April 4, 2008
[Putin] Press Statement and Answers to Journalists’ Questions Following a Meeting of the Russia-NATO Council
RUSSIAN PRESIDENT VLADIMIR PUTIN: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen! First of all, I would like to thank our Romanian colleagues for the warm welcome and for arranging this Russia-NATO summit.
In general, I am satisfied with our discussions. They were constructive and confirmed that the Council is necessary to consider a wide range of security issues.
During the meeting, we tried to assess objectively the results of our joint work within the Russia-NATO Council, and we discussed the possibilities for joint action in the future.
First, it was noted that we have been able to make significant advances in the development of political dialogue and practical cooperation. Among the most significant examples of such cooperation I would single out United Nations efforts to stabilise the situation in Afghanistan. These resulted in a simplified procedure for the transport of non-military goods through Russian territory to supply the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan.
We set up a joint anti-drug project in Russia’s Ministry of Internal Affairs training facility. We implemented an initiative on cooperation in space, as well as a project for theatre missile defence. We have actively collaborated in the area of counterterrorism, including through the participation of Russia’s Black Sea fleet in the operation Active Endeavour.
There has been progress in efforts to improve the interoperability of Russia’s and NATO’s armed forces in the field of civil emergency planning. Russia’s ratification of the agreement on the status of forces involved in the programme Partnership for Peace will provide these efforts with a solid legal basis.
We have achieved a great deal together, and we intend to actively pursue such joint endeavours. However, it is clear that the effectiveness of our cooperation will depend on the extent to which NATO respects the interests of the Russian Federation and the Alliance’s willingness to compromise on issues shaping the strategic environment in Europe and the world.
It is no secret that there are serious obstacles to the development of our relations: the continued expansion of NATO, the creation of a military infrastructure on the territory of new members, the crisis surrounding the CFE [Conventional Forces in Europe] Treaty, Kosovo, and plans to deploy in Europe elements of the United States of America’s strategic missile defence system – these things are not working at strengthening predictability and trust in our cooperation and have prevented it from moving to a new level.
We view the appearance of a powerful military bloc on our borders, a bloc whose members are subject in part to Article 5 of the Washington Treaty, as a direct threat to the security of our country. The claim that this process is not directed against Russia will not suffice. National security is not based on promises. And the statements made prior to the bloc's previous waves of expansion simply confirm this.
The lack of clarity concerning the prospects for NATO’s transformation makes it hard to build trust. By this I mean the Alliance’s aspirations to play a global role in the area of security, moving beyond the zone of its geographical responsibilities and extending its activities into areas such as energy security, cyber security, etc. In addition, the criteria for the use of military force by NATO remain unclear, as does its relationship with the United Nations Security Council.
In conclusion, however, once again I would like to stress that we have clearly identified the problems we are facing and intend to further develop practical cooperation with the Alliance in areas where we have common interests. I want to reiterate that today's security threats cannot be dealt with in isolation. They require concerted action by all strategic players as individual countries, and as members of international and regional organisations. We are ready to work together and pleased with our meeting today.
Thank you for your attention.
QUESTION: Vladimir Vladimirovich, you have already assessed the work of the summit. Are you personally satisfied with the work of the Council?
And secondly: you were one of those who began the work of the Russia-NATO Council in 2002. Now you are moving on to another job. How do you see the prospects of the Council, bearing in mind the problems which, as you have said, were discussed today?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: Today's dialogue has been very open and constructive. I was as frank about this with our colleagues as I am being with you. Indeed, they remarked on this candour and responded in kind. Despite the fact that we have unresolved problems, and we discussed them openly and directly, a cooperative spirit and a desire to seek compromise prevailed. I think that is the main thing. If such a spirit can be strengthened, strengthened by mutual trust, then the prospects for the Russia-NATO Council will be very positive. We – that is, Russia – would very much like this to happen.
QUESTION: My question concerns Russia’s intentions to organise a peace conference to promote the peace process in the Middle East. I would like to ask you to give more information about the assistance that Russia can provide in this regard.
VLADIMIR PUTIN: As you know, Russia has been involved for a long time in the search for a Middle East settlement. I have repeatedly stressed and would like to do so again: we believe that we have certain natural advantages in this regard, because in recent years we have improved the quality of our relations with Israel. The level of trust at the state level has increased. Moreover, a significant number of Israel’s citizens are from the former Soviet Union. It is now almost a Russian-speaking country. As you know, we have moved to a visa-free regime in our relations.
As far as our partners in the Arab world are concerned, we have traditionally enjoyed good relations. We have no problem with the idea of recognising an independent Palestinian state. As a matter of fact, in practice we have already done so. And we want to use all these capacities developed during the last decade to achieve a positive result in solving the Middle East problem. Our proposal to organise and hold a Middle East conference in Moscow should be seen in this context. We discussed this with President Mubarak of Egypt when he was in Moscow recently. I want to emphasise that we do not want to play any sort of leadership role here. We simply want to play the role of facilitator and organiser, in a way that enables each of the participants in the process to determine their own place in this endeavour. We want each of the participants to feel that they have achieved at least some small but positive goal in the course of this collaboration. Obviously if we are to host this conference it must be well prepared. As far as we know, our American partners and some of our friends in the Arab world support such an idea. We are now engaged in consultations with the Israelis. As soon as we think that the time is right, we will announce that this conference is taking place. Once again, we would very much like to do more than just sit and talk, although that in itself is already a good thing, to be at the negotiating table instead of shooting at each other. Once we feel that it is possible to reach a positive outcome, we will immediately announce that the time is ripe for a conference.
QUESTION: Vladimir Vladimirovich, if you don't mind, I'd like to return to the question of working together with NATO. You mentioned that there are some different points of view. That said, Russia is ready to participate in the formation of a new system of security in Europe and throughout the world?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: Certainly we are. But, first, let us not forget that the key role in creating a new structure of international relations in today's world belongs to the United Nations and its Security Council. Major international and regional organizations, such as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, NATO, are of course big and important players. The mere fact that we went to the trouble of creating the Russia-NATO Council, that we are participating in its work and constructively engaged with it, shows that we want to maintain a dialogue with the organisation. Overall, we are engaged in this work and have achieved positive results. I have already mentioned some areas: working together to combat terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction components; in the Mediterranean Sea, our Black Sea fleet is involved in operational activities. Also our work in Afghanistan, disaster prevention, and the fight against terrorism, and this is one of the main areas of our joint activities. All of this indicates that we are engaged in constructive work. We will continue to act in this way provided our partners take our interests into account.
QUESTION: Vladimir Vladimirovich, yesterday the United States and NATO announced that they will integrate their missile defence systems. We have theatre missile defence project. Have you discussed the idea of integrating the two systems? What progress has been made on this question? Do you see any prospects here?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: Today we mentioned the issue of missile defence, but only in passing. I believe that the main discussion will be the one we have with our American partners tomorrow, when the President of the United States arrives in Sochi, and the day after tomorrow, when we hold a substantive discussion on the subject. As for the issue in general, it is true that today we noted significant movement on the issue of establishing theatre missile defence. And our NATO colleagues, including the military, said today that this has occurred in part because of the constructive attitude of the Russian General Staff and Russian military experts. We will continue to work in this direction.
With regard to strategic missile defence, that is a different issue. As you know, we have put forward our own initiatives, which were that we should first examine the missile threat; secondly, together build a strategic missile defence structure for the future; and, thirdly, provide equal, democratic access to everyone in charge of it, namely the United States, Russia and Europe. In doing so, we proposed to create two centres for the exchange of operational information: in Moscow and in Brussels. Just what was wrong with this I do not know. But our partners have offered their own idea of how we should proceed. In my view this suggestion is not as good as our proposals because it would postpone joint work in this critical strategic direction to the distant future.
But what is positive in today's discussions is that our concerns about ensuring our own security in the event of the introduction of a missile defence system, as our American partners are suggesting, have been listened to. On his last visit to Russia the American Secretary of Defence and the Secretary of State said that our American partners are thinking about how to develop confidence-building measures and transparency in this area. This dialogue will continue in Sochi.
QUESTION: Mr President, was the issue of Iran raised at the summit? Did you discuss whether there should be pressure put on Iran? Can you tell us anything on this subject?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: If I understand you correctly, we are talking about the Iranian nuclear programme, and of the concerns of some of it neighbours, including the countries of the Persian Gulf. What can I say? Russia has worked very constructively with the international community within the framework of the UN Security Council on the Iranian nuclear issue. At the same time, we fully intend to fulfill our contractual obligations to our Iranian partners with regards to developing their nuclear programmes for peaceful purposes. As you know, this means supplying nuclear fuel. But we are keeping in mind all of the concerns of the international community regarding Iran's military programmes, and thus far we have worked constructively with all parties to this process, right up until the UN Security Council's resolution. Here, the important thing is our unity on this issue. We are ready to continue to work in a similar vein. By this I mean ensuring the legitimate interests of Iran in the development of high technology and alleviating the concerns of the international community about non-proliferation.
QUESTION: Vladimir Vladimirovich, I want to ask a question on behalf of the Romanian press. One often hears about the possible recurrence of the Cold War. Do you think that this is possible?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: No, I think that it is impossible. No one wants that. But there are perhaps some forces who want to muddy the water a little, and to catch some fish in these troubled waters. But among the global players, neither Europe nor the United States nor Russia is interested in turning the clock back. There is no need to. Let me point out that there are no ideological schisms or divisions in Europe today. In the grand scheme of things there is nothing to divide us. If we say that we have some concerns, we would like to be listened to and to resolve together the problems that arise.
Many say that Russia is being unaccommodating. And why should we be accommodating on the issues of threats to our national security? It wasn't us who withdrew from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. And that initiated the slow destruction of the system of international relations in the security sphere built up over the last decade.
They said to us: you suspended the CFE [Treaty on Conventional Forces in Europe]. But you didn't even ratify it! All around the world they know it. Do you know, for example, that the Baltic countries are not party to the Treaty? Do members of the press have an idea of what this means in practice? This means that, according to the old version of the Treaty, all the Baltic states are in the Baltic Military District of the Soviet Union, and that I should appoint district commanders there. But this is nonsense after all. This flies in the face of reality. Russia is the only country that according to the CFE has assumed purely colonial obligations and limited the number of its own troops on its own territory. Moreover, we have assumed such commitments, signed them, ratified them, and our partners have not even deigned to do so.
And they call upon us to continue to unilaterally enforce these agreements, which are supposedly linked to the Istanbul agreements. First, take the text and read it: there is no reference in the CFE Treaty to the Istanbul agreements, there is no legal link. And even if we assume that there is such a link, look at what is written in the Istanbul agreements. It says there that in Georgia we should withdraw from two bases, and agree on two other bases. We withdrew from two, and agreed on the other two from which we are planning to withdraw. We complied in full. With regard to Transdniestria: what does the Treaty say? That we should remove or destroy all heavy weapons on the ground. That is what we did: destroyed on the spot or removed all heavy weapons. This was confirmed by international experts. What else? So come on, folks, let's try to get along and have a genuine dialogue. Treat us properly and we will respond accordingly. But today I thought that our partners were listening. And there is an interest in either ratifying something that has already been ratified, or coming to some sort of new agreement, or changing something. We have to do something, we have to get to work! But as you know, to do everything unilaterally, to try to put all the blame on one side, that is a dead-end.
QUESTION: Vladimir Vladimirovich, on the eve of the meeting, some western media reported that our partners in the Alliance were expecting something similar to your Munich speech. But we haven't heard your speech, even though you've already made it. We've just heard a paraphrase of it. In your opinion, did you live up to the expectations of your colleagues? Or did everything go peacefully?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: There is some sort of religious terror here in anticipation of my speeches. I don't know where it comes from. First of all, in Munich I was speaking at an international conference. That implies a certain style, candid and controversial.
Today we met in different circumstances. As I said at the outset, we talked very frankly and constructively. But we never stepped over the line: it was not an exercise in mutual recrimination. I expressed our position, and I thought it was listened to by a substantial number of our colleagues. There was a positive response to what I said. Overall, it was a real, open, business-like meeting and a useful discussion. That is what I would like to say about today's discussion.
QUESTION: Quite recently and for that matter even during this summit with the Alliance, it has been suggested that the expansion of NATO eastward to Russia's western borders means spreading democratic values and increased stability in the region. How can it be bad for Russia to have such democratic and stable neighbours?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: Yes, I heard this suggestion today in the statements of some colleagues. To me, this is a very strange idea. Just think what we're saying: if a country is a member of NATO, it can insist on being considered democratic, and if not, that means it isn't democratic?
Let's think about all the countries in the world, the democratic character of whose domestic politics no one would want to deny, but which are not members of NATO. What about them? Are they not democratic?
Or take Ukraine, for example: it could have become a member of NATO yesterday, it could have become democratic. But today it isn't a democracy? What is this nonsense? That's the first thing.
Secondly, there is another aspect to this problem. Entry into NATO, unfortunately, does not automatically lead to the democratisation of a country: it is not an automatic "democratisor". Take, for example, the problem of the Baltic states. In Latvia there are hundreds of thousands of non-citizens, and this has been condemned by international organisations, including human rights organisations. We know that. This is obviously an undemocratic state of society. But joining NATO didn't change anything for the hundreds of thousands of non-citizens. Hence the idea of the democratising role of the military-political bloc has been greatly exaggerated.
QUESTION: At the upcoming NATO Council, which will take place in December, they may decide on a plan concerning NATO accession, and next year at the jubilee summit of the Alliance they could approve a new strategic concept for the Alliance. Looking forward to the relations between Russia and NATO, how will they evolve? Will Russia connect, for example, at some stage with the Council to discuss the strategic concept?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: Concerning issues of assuring its own security, Russia is a self-sufficient country. But we intend to cooperate with this organisation, as I have already intimated, as with many other organisations in the world. Besides, NATO is a large organisation, and for us to some extent a priority partner.
As for NATO's expansionist policy, at today's meeting with colleagues I spoke frankly about this. You know our position: we do not believe that automatic expansion will resolve the current problems. NATO was created at a time when there were two blocs confronting each other. Let's not get into the question of who were the good guys at the time. But it is obvious that today there is no Soviet Union, no eastern bloc and no Warsaw Pact. So NATO exists to confront whom?
We hear that it exists in order to solve today's problems and challenges. Which ones? What are the problems and challenges? Non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction – can that be done effectively without Russia? Of course not. Russia is one of the biggest nuclear powers. Not only have we not lost away our nuclear capability, we are going to develop it, and we intend to develop all three aspects of it: sea, air and land.
And in terms of the war on terror - what can be done without Russia? You can deal with some problems, but to come to terms with it effectively is next to impossible.
Take one of the most pressing problems faced by NATO: Afghanistan. Can you really work effectively without Russia, which has the capacity to help out in this area of the world? That is why we are being called upon to provide transport, assistance, and so on. Let us remember: Russia was the only country that supported the Northern Alliance. We sent hundreds of millions of dollars there to maintain the military readiness of the units concerned. We are still helping the armed forces with spare parts, training and so on and so forth. Can this be done effectively without Russia? No.
Therefore, I think that many here in this room would agree with me that, in itself the existence of the NATO bloc is not an effective answer to today's challenges and threats. But we recognise that it is nonetheless a factor in today's international life, a factor in international security, and that is why we cooperate with the bloc.
With regard to expansion, I heard today that this expansion is not against Russia. You know, I have a great interest in and love for European history, including German history. Bismarck was an important German and European political leader. He said that in such matters what is important is not the intention but the capability. After all, the fifth article of the Washington Treaty has not been repealed. We have eliminated bases in Cam Ranh (Vietnam) and in Cuba. We have withdrawn our troops deployed in eastern Europe, and withdrawn almost all large and heavy weapons from the European part of Russia. And what happened? A base in Romania, where we are now, one in Bulgaria, an American missile defence area in Poland and the Czech Republic. That all means moving military infrastructure to our borders. Let's talk about it directly, honestly, frankly, cards on the table. We want that sort of dialogue.
Or, for example, immediately after the Baltic countries joined NATO jet fighters appeared in the sky. To resolve what problems? In the end there were only 4 or 5 planes, and a few flights. It was an irritation, nothing more. Yet these things require constant attention, analysis and reaction. And if the Russia-NATO Council can deal openly and honestly with such problems, it will be in demand.
QUESTION: I want to ask a question, not about NATO, but about your visit today. I am not exactly sure but perhaps this is one of your last visits abroad as President. For eight years my colleagues have followed your statements. You have been an outstanding newsmaker and now we don't know what the future holds: how will the new man conduct himself? Tell me, do you regret having to distance yourself from being so active in foreign policy, or do you feel relieved at this prospect?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: First of all, I would like to say that, like anyone who goes about his official duties conscientiously and puts a lot of effort into them, I am waiting to see the burden of responsibility shifted from my shoulders to those of the new man. As we say, why not be happy to «have the load lightened», to come to end of a period of service. I believe that I have worked hard and effectively.
Regarding my successor, I can assure you that he is a man with a capacious mind and a brilliant university career. You will find him interesting.
In conclusion I would like to speak to something that you have just raised. During these eight years, difficult years for Russia itself and for relations with our partners, we witnessed the rebirth of Russia as a strong, independent state with its own position. Dialogue has not been easy and remains somewhat difficult.
Well, I just want to thank all my colleagues, those who are here today and those who are not here, but with whom I have worked together during these years.
I say "together" because a great deal in how the public percieves processes at work in the world and in Europe depends on how objectively you report on our meetings. The perception of my country, of Russia, is heavily dependent on this. And even the interest that you have shown in Russian issues deserves commendation and gratitude.
Thank you very much and all the best.