VLADIMIR PUTIN TALKS WITH AMERICAN JOURNALISTS
November 12, 2001
[translation from RIA Novosti for personal use only]
Verbatim record of the November 10, 2001 meeting of President Vladimir Putin of Russia with Moscow chiefs of the leading US media in the Kremlin
Putin: Good evening. I am very glad to see you here in the Kremlin. I will be happy to answer your questions before going on an official visit to the USA.
I would not like to squander time on general introductory phrases and so I suggest that we get down to business immediately. Your questions, please?
Question: Mr President, you supported the USA in this difficult and responsible time of war against terrorism without any preliminary conditions. What would you like to get in return and what result do you want to achieve? This is my first question.
My second question is concerned with the statement by bin Laden to the effect that he had nuclear weapons, which the media reported. Do you think this may be true? And a related question: Are you sure of the reliable safety of the Russian nuclear arsenal?
Putin: Let's begin with our vision of the results of our joint efforts in the struggle against terror and what we would like to see at the end of this joint work. To begin with, we would like to see positive results of the joint efforts against terrorism, to attain a joint positive result, with terrorism eradicated, routed, liquidated not only in Afghanistan but also throughout the world.
We would like to root out the conditions that engender extremism of different stripes. We would like to liquidate the channels of financing extremism in all its forms. We would like the people of our countries to feel safe.
And lastly, the derivative result of this joint work. We would like to create such new relations between Russia and the USA that would enable us to develop relations in all other spheres of collaboration. We would like to create a new quality of our relations. And we certainly would like to see the USA as a reliable and predictable partner.
This strategic task is much more important, as I see it, than any short-lived material advantages.
As for the international terrorists' threats of using mass destruction weapons, we have had this in the Caucasus. As a rule, these threats are made and used to engender fear and uncertainty in the people, to influence the political leadership of the countries that are struggling against terrorism.
In the Caucasus this ended in an attempt to use home made jury-rigged devices, which could have an adverse effect on the environment. Indeed, they made such attempts, but they were ineffective. I think that in this sense the man you mentioned differs little from his disciples who are operating in the North Caucasus, in Russia. I would not overestimate the danger. But it would be likewise wrong to underestimate it, above all because we know about bin Laden's connections with some radical quarters in Pakistan. And Pakistan is a nuclear power after all.
And we certainly should extend all possible support to General Musharraf in all his undertakings designed to consolidate the public forces in the country, support his attempts to ensure the involvement of Pakistan in the struggle of the international community against terror.
Question: Mr President, when you had put forth your position on ABM, you said it was more flexible than before. But can you give details to show where it became more flexible? In particular, will this have a bearing on the US possibility of creating ABM stations in Alaska? And if this is really so, can you explain then where is your position more flexible now than it was before?
Putin: I don't think I will break a secret if I repeat here what I said to President Bush during our recent meeting in Shanghai. I told him that our stand really had been much tougher when we talked with the previous administration. I will repeat this thesis here now, saying absolutely frankly: It was indeed so, because we proceeded, among other things, from the belief that we would seriously talk with the man who will be the chief executive for the next four, and maybe eight years.
It is very pleasant for us - and for me - that this man is President Bush, with whom we have established very good personal contact. And we say now: We are prepared to discuss the parameters of the 1972 ABM Treaty. But to do this we should know the initial stand of our US partners. What exactly do they want changed? What exactly hinders the implementation of the project devised by the US administration?
We used to say, and I stressed it during my talks with the US president, that we think it correct to discuss defensive systems in combination with offensive weapons, that they are the two sides of the same medal. And we are pleased to say that our relations today are noted not only by good personal contacts between the presidents, but also by a desire to accept a compromise. And today we know about the ideas of the president and his belief that offensive weapons can and must be slashed. This is a kind of compromise, a compromise move in the right direction.
Politics is the art of compromises. We are ready for compromises, too. The only question is what we are invited to discuss and what compromises we are expected to make. We need to see this in the practical proposals of our American partners. This is for specialists to decide - lawyers, military experts and diplomats. And after certain variants are suggested, the political leaders will only have to choose from a number of variants that will be found. And I am greatly optimistic about the possibility of finding such variants.
Question: I would like to ask you about possible changes in Russia's role in the campaign waged by the USA. I mean the role of your country as a partner of the USA in the military part of the operation.
The second part of my question is concerned with bin Laden's statement on the possession of nuclear weapons. Can you say confidently in this connection that the Russian nuclear potential is safely protected and that there is no connection between bin Laden's statement and Russia's nuclear arsenal?
Putin: As for the possible increase of Russia's contribution to the counter-terror operation in Afghanistan, I will remind you of what we are doing now.
We provided our air corridors for the flights of American aircraft; the air corridors. We are also supplying intelligence information and I can assure you that this is vital information. We have coordinated our stand on providing assistance to the USA with our partners and allies in Central Asia. We are providing military-technical assistance to the tune of tens of millions of dollars to the Northern Alliance.
And our contacts with the legitimate, internationally recognised government of Rabbani are very close. I can assure you that they are not limited to weapon supplies only. We are helping them in many other spheres, too.
We are ready, and I have said about this before, to help, if necessary, save American citizens and American crews (I repeat, if this is necessary), including by using our possibilities we have now in the territory of Afghanistan. Where we can do this.
There is one more circumstance and one more sphere of operation which cannot remain unnoticed. We are waging a ground operation against international terrorism in the territory of the North Caucasus. The problem of Chechnya is much more complicated than just a problem of international terrorism. But it is a fact that there are international terrorists there.
Various countries are providing a thousand or two thousand troops for the ground operation. We have lost over 3,000 troops in the North Caucasus to this day. And this is not just a word, not propaganda. As of now, we have liquidated about 500 mercenaries from Arab countries. Our special services have lists of people whose identity we have established. This list comprises over 100 people and more than 300 others whose identity are being established now.
According to our information, there are 500 to 700 mercenaries from different Islamic states fighting there, many of them nurturing the intention to return to Afghanistan (and some of them had come to the Russian Federation from Afghanistan) to kill Americans, as they themselves say. Our Armed Forces are keeping back this potential. If we slacked our efforts there, they will go back to Afghanistan and start doing there what they have been doing in the North Caucasus in Russia.
I must correct the interpreter. They are not talking about the liquidation of American servicemen. In the radio conversations intercepted by our special services they talk about killing Americans. I showed these documents to President Bush during our recent meeting in Shanghai. This is the first thing I wanted to point out.
There is one more aspect we should ponder when we talk about Afghanistan. First, I want to say that events there are developing just as we thought they would.
Regrettably, we cannot erect an insurmountable barrier to the movement of the fundamentalist forces in the North Caucasus or in Chechnya. By and large, I think our special services will be ready to hand over the lists of persons who have left the North Caucasus via Georgia and Turkey and are now preparing to be taken to Afghanistan. Lists of names.
As for the development of the situation in Afghanistan, I should say once more that it is developing by the scenario which we envisaged. As you see, at present the Northern Alliance is launching the operations that had been planned. In point of fact, it is assuming control of the northern part of Afghanistan.
I repeat, this is how we expected the situation to develop. In principle, this is what we agreed on with President Bush. This is exactly what I discussed with the leadership of Afghanistan, the Islamic State of Afghanistan, when I stopped over in Dushanbe on the way from Shanghai.
At the same time, when we speak about the future of Afghanistan, we should take into account the experience of the past years, including the negative experience of the Soviet Union. By the way, it is frequently said that the Soviet Union was defeated in Afghanistan. But if we look at what happened in Afghanistan in those years from the professional and not propaganda angle, we will see that the Soviet Union did not suffer a military defeat there. It attained everything there, all goals it set itself. In the military sphere.
But gross political mistakes were made. The military results were so good that after the Soviet troops were pulled out of Afghanistan - and the withdrawal was carried out extremely successfully from the military viewpoint - the Najibullah regime remained in power for three more years. This is very long in conditions of such unstable country.
The political mistake was that the Najibullah government did not establish broad support on all political forces and all ethnic groups of Afghanistan and did not enjoy broad international assistance.
But the former Soviet leadership was bound to make that mistake. That mistake was predetermined by the split of the international community for ideological reasons. Thank God, the split has been mended since then and we can neutralise that mistake now. We can avoid such mistakes. This is, in fact, the main virtue of the international counter-terror coalition.
As for mass destruction weapons which terrorists may have in Afghanistan, I have already said that I think this improbable. Yet we must not neglect the possibility that the terrorists may acquire weapons of mass destruction. But it will certainly not be Soviet- or Russian-made weapons. Of this I am absolutely sure. Absolutely!
I think this is another valuable aspect of the situation that developed in the civilised world, in the whole of humankind after the Cold War. This is the main value. In point of fact, the current situation gives us the hope that the leaders of the world's major countries, including President Bush and I, will manage to create conditions in which people will feel much safer than they did yesterday or do today.
Question: Mr President, all of us are witnessing the incredible warming of relations between Russia and the USA after September 11. You said in your replies to preceding questions that you would like this improvement and these good relations to become lasting and that you would want to see the USA as a reliable partner for years to come.
I want to ask you in this connection what issues other than strategic weapons and ABM are especially important to you? Which issues do you spotlight? And, in this connection, how do you regard issues related to NATO, cooperation with NATO and the enlargement of NATO? In particular, what would you do if the USA decided after all to heed the request of three Baltic states for admission to NATO?
Putin: There are many questions of special importance to us. The first of them is the solution of problems of international security with due consideration for the national interests of the Russian Federation. Another is concerned with economic cooperation on at least standard, non-discrimination conditions.
As for NATO, it is a separate subject. That organisation was created as a counterbalance to the Soviet Union, which no longer exists. And one should have seen at the time when the Soviet Union collapsed that the nature of NATO should change, too. I am sorry for those who do not understand this, because this means that they are lagging behind the events. Those who do not understand this will certainly make mistakes. And they are apparently making them.
We proceed from the belief that NATO is a serious instrument of modern international realities and are trying to develop cooperation with NATO.
I think that the agency we created - the NATO-Russia Permanent Joint Council - was useful on the whole at a certain stage. But today it is not enough to change the quality of Russia-NATO relations.
I think all of us understand the idea that we will act effectively, energetically and persistently to attain the goals and to fulfil the tasks to the elaboration of which we will contribute. And when we do not take part in the elaboration of these tasks, you can consequently expect the Russian Federation to behave in a certain way. I think this is obvious to any person and any country.
One of the first issues was our participation in tackling the problem of combating terrorism in Afghanistan. You know, we pledged such quality and scale of assistance which we never extended before and it was difficult to imagine that we could do this. But I can also tell you that we can also think about building up joint efforts. But this will depend on changes in the quality of Russia's relations with the leading Western countries, our relations with the USA and certainly with such organisation as NATO.
We are speaking about the struggle against terrorism now. But there are other modern challenges, which are no less dangerous and they have been mentioned here today. One of them is the proliferation of mass destruction weapons and I think that it is no less important and no less - and probably more - dangerous than the problem of terrorism. It is not by chance that we more than once linked these two problems here today.
Today any ordinary man, any citizen understands that we can effectively stand up against these and other modern threats and challenges only if we pool efforts. And we can join efforts for effective work only if we raise the standards of trust for each other, and do it dramatically.
In this sense, it is not only Russia but also, and to no smaller degree, our Western partners - the USA and other leading NATO countries and the organisation as a whole - that are interested in changes in the quality of Russia-NATO relations.
I will tell you frankly that I have general ideas but I am not prepared to formulate them here. I believe President Bush, British Premier Tony Blair (we discussed this), and several other leaders of the major NATO countries also have highly attractive ideas.
As for the potential admission of Baltic countries to NATO, here is what I will say. What was NATO created for? It is a defensive organisation. It was created for the purpose of raising the level of security of at least its member countries.
Go out in the streets of New York, Washington, Paris, Berlin or Rome, stop any passer-by and ask him or her: will the security of his/her country and his/her own security grow after the admission of Baltic countries to NATO? The answer will be apparently "No." I am absolutely sure that no matter what my colleagues from the Baltic countries may say, this will not improve their security either. On the other hand, any country has the right to make its own choice of ways of ensuring its security; nobody questions this.
But if we think in the new categories, and not the Cold War ones, we must understand and determine what threatens us today and what we can do to resist these threats. And when we understand this, we will quickly come to the conclusion that we should change the nature of the organisation, involve Russia because Russia can do much to make, along with everybody, its considerable contribution to ensuring international security, including the security of the leading NATO countries.
We are prepared for this work with our NATO partners, we are doing it now and we have grounds to think that, in view of the positive mood of our partners, we can attain positive results.
A mechanical enlargement of NATO without due consideration for the national interests of Russia - I don't think this is movement in the right direction. This is what we are certainly protesting against.
Question: Russia maintains and expands its contacts with Western countries, also maintaining warm-hearted relations with such countries as North Korea, Iraq and particularly Belarus. All these countries hardly boast a full-fledged democracy.
How can Russia, which maintains rather close-knit relations with such countries, facilitate their movement toward democracy, so that they could become a more substantial part of the entire international system, also moving in unison with the international democratic community? What can you say on this score?
Putin: Do you remember a Soviet leader, who said Somoza was a son-of-a-bitch, but that he was our son-of-a-bitch? Am I wrong here? That statement was made by a US leader, rather than by Soviet leaders. Still let's not discuss history once again. I don't think that was a correct thesis. There are no rogues among our partners. However, each country has its own involved history of previous development. Moreover, Russia has its own history of relations with such countries.
Russia has changed a lot over the last decade. Surely enough, our relations with these countries have changed, as well. Only those, who don't want to see this, are unable to notice such things. Still we don't intend to renounce any positive aspects of inter-state relations.
Frankly speaking, partners should be treated with respect. An outsider always thinks that any specific country has no trouble doing something. However, an in-depth study of any particular state's problems shows that everything is not so simple. Playing it tough is not the best way of settling inter-state relations.
Attempts to isolate any specific country from the international community would constitute the most erroneous option. This concerns any country, including those countries, which were mentioned by you. True, we maintain absolutely open relations with all of them. We are not hiding anything. But our relations with each of these countries are specific. Moreover, as you know, we maintain permanent contacts with our partners in other countries of the world, the United States included.
As far as North Korea is concerned, that country borders on Russia, which has a large Korean diaspora. Russia, as well as the United States, would like peace to be established on the Korean Peninsula; moreover, we would like favorable conditions to be formulated for the positive development of the country and the entire Korean nation.
As you know, I had visited Korea prior to the G-8's Okinawa summit. My observations, my meetings with the North Korean leader, as well as information that I shared with my G-8 colleagues, met with a very positive response, also entailing great interest. Moreover, I personally think that this had largely facilitated the development of relations between Korea and some countries of the world, e.g. Canada in the Western hemisphere and some European countries, too. To my mind, North Korea's involvement in global processes constitutes a highly positive trend.
As far as we know, the US Department of State is also trying to expand relations with North Korea. It is taking an active part in the North Korean -- South Korean dialogue. As I see, Russia can play an extremely positive role here.
As far as Iraq is concerned, Russia has its own opinion and approach to local developments. This absolutely non-confrontationist Russian position (as regards subsequent developments doesn't run counter to the international community's opinion and that of the Western world. We have essentially common goals here. Most importantly, we must see to it that Iraq no longer has any mass-destruction weapons, that such weapons are not being produced, that their production is not being planned, etc. We also want this to happen; this amounts to our common goal.
How can this be accomplished? Should we impose tougher sanctions? I don't think that tougher sanctions against any specific country and even its political establishment can always prove effective while dealing with some particular country. We can opt for different approaches; still I think that the Russian approach is not the worst one.
Here's what Russia suggests. On the one hand, the Iraqi leadership must allow international observers to visit specific facilities of interest to the international community. On the other hand, though, anti-Iraqi sanctions should be lifted. Unfortunately, we have so far failed to strike a deal on this issue with the Iraqi leadership. Consequently, this is seen as a difficult process.
The situation with Belarus is absolutely unique. All of us understand that Russia maintains special relations with Belarus, which is a former Soviet republic. The people of Belarus and the Russian Federation are quite eager to establish some joint institutions of state authority. It would be downright stupid to disregard this process. The people of Belarus and Russia have similar ethnic roots, also boasting similar cultures and languages. Moreover, they have a largely common history, also voicing great mutual sympathies.
Question: Russia's Defense Minister, Sergei Ivanov, has said not so long ago that the ABM (Anti-Ballistic Missile) Treaty is not something inviolable, and that the sides could study the possibility of revising this document.
In this connection, don't you think that the ABM Treaty has become really obsolete? Besides, what can you say in connection with the fact that Sergei Ivanov has modified his position on previous months and even years? The Russian side used to say back then that the ABM Treaty constituted the corner-stone of the entire security system.
Second. Speaking of various accords that you and President Bush intend to reach during your forthcoming US visit next week, will these amount to some formal accord, or will you say that you have agreed on everything?
Putin: We still believe that the 1972-vintage ABM Treaty is the corner-stone of international security. How can our position be explained? An entire system of other international-security agreements is linked with the ABM Treaty. Consequently, Ivanov's position hasn't changed in the slightest. I assure you that I know his position well enough. We have quite a few Ivanovs; still the other Ivanov's position hasn't changed either. However, this doesn't mean that we don't recognize the US Administration's justified concerns as regards a future system of international security.
President Bush has agreed that offensive and defensive systems can be examined on a par with each other. Moreover, he keeps saying nowadays that the United States is ready to reduce strategic offensive arms. For its own part, Russia is ready to examine those specific problems now confronting the development of America's ABM system. Still I want to repeat that we should receive a military-technical inquiry from our US partners; however, such an inquiry is still lacking.
In other words, we know that the US Administration can strike a deal with Russia, which can also do the same. We simply have to comprehend specific military-technical aspects of America's requests.
As far as specific accords are concerned, we have a number of specific proposals concerning various objectives that could be accomplished together with President Bush. If you allow me, I'd like, first of all, to tell President Bush personally, rather than through your paper, which I, nonetheless, deeply respect.
Question: I represent The Wall Street Journal, which specializes in economic affairs. Therefore I'd like to find out about how will long-term or projected oil-price trends affect Russia's subsequent economic performance. And one more question. Doesn't the Russian state plan to suggest that oil exporters export less oil?
Putin: This country tends to consume more oil and petroleum each winter. As far as I know, US oil consumption tends to shrink somewhat in winter because fewer air conditioners are being used. Meanwhile Russia, which is a northern country, consumes more boiler oil and other petroleum products. Therefore we don't have to curtail exports, which are reduced all on their own. This is the first thing.
Russia, which is not an OPEC member, coordinates its actions with OPEC. In other words, we closely follow all developments, also holding consultations. Still I'd like to emphasize the fact that Russia is not an OPEC member.
And now a few words about our attitude toward oil prices. We advocate an equitable oil-price corridor. In our opinion, the relevant OPEC oil-price corridor is quite equitable -- something like between $21, $26 and $27 per barrel. In a nutshell, such a price corridor would facilitate a cost-effective economic performance of oil-consuming countries. Moreover, it would enable oil-producing countries to tackle their own socio-economic problems.
Oil prices tend to influence the Russian economy. As you know, this influence wasn't created by us; nor did it emerge over the last few years. Such an influence was created by the entire Soviet economic history. I find it hard to disagree with those economists, who believe that the USSR had lost all economic-development incentives after the discovery of the Samotlor oil deposit, and that everyone started living off petro-dollars. That situation had more drawbacks, rather than pluses, in the context of Soviet economic development.
Monies being derived as a result of oil-and-petroleum sales still account for 40 percent of the federal budget's hard-currency proceeds. Therefore one can say that Russia's social sector, rather than its economy, relies heavily on oil and petroleum. Unfortunately, we did little to overhaul the Russian economy and to rid it of such excessive dependence on the fuel-and-energy sector over the last decade; nor did we try and create a genuinely modern and cost-effective economy.
However, much was done over the last 12-18 months to get rid of such dependence. The tax sphere was revolutionized; the same can be said of economic de-bureaucratization. Other market-oriented bills were passed, thus, in my opinion, facilitating development to a considerable extent. The Russian GDP swelled by 8.3 percent last year; however, this increase should not be attributed to oil-price hikes alone. The light industry chalked up the most impressive economic-growth rates of them all.
I don't think plunging global oil prices will negatively affect our economy because the federal budget has been calculated in line with the pessimistic oil-price scenario. Declining oil prices (well below the lowest budgetary margin) would compel us to take additional action and to improve the administrative practice, as well as other aspects of our work. Nevertheless, it's our intention to implement liberal reforms. If need be, we'll be cooperating with international financial institutions. As you know, we are now repaying our IMF debts ahead of schedule. On the whole, we don't panic on this issue. Surely enough, we are concerned; we continue to discuss this issue, studying possible scenarios all the same.
The fuel-and-energy sector continues to develop. We are actively cooperating with our US partners in this sphere. As you may know, Exxon-Mobil has decided to implement an ambitious $12-billion investment project that might eventually cost an estimated $15 billion. Total expenditures might well run into $30 billion. In my opinion, this is a highly correct economic and political decision because global economic risks should be diversified; besides, multiple fuel-and-energy sources are essential. Russia can tackle such tasks at this stage.
Question: The people of Russia have changed their attitude to the United States, and vice versa. Some people inside your administration, in Russia may think and say that Putin continues to follow in the wake of Mikhail Gorbachev, who had embarked on this road during the Soviet period, and Boris Yeltsin, who met the United States halfway, but who received little in return. On the other hand, some Americans apparently think that America, which is now helping Russia, might well create an enemy some 10-15 years from now. What can you say on this score?
Putin: First of all, I'd like to say a few words about our incentives for cooperating with the United States. We don't want to obtain short-term advantages alone; any time-serving motives should also be ruled out. Naturally enough, we expect the United States to change its Russian policy in real earnest. By all looks, this is distinctly possible.
This reaction is not the most important thing that matters. Our actions and our decision-making process with regard to various aspects of international life are not motivated by the fact that we expect any US or Western approval whatsoever. All this implies that, in our opinion, such moves tally with Russia's national interests.
Some people think that the Russian Federation might eventually offer some competition to the United States. But the thing is that all countries keep vying with one another on the international scene. Some people believe that Russia can once again become an enemy of the United States. To my mind, such people have failed to perceive global and Russian developments; they don't know, what kind of a country Russia has become today.
The Russian leadership's current actions are not motivated by its political philosophy alone. Present-day Russian actions are motivated by its inner state and popular moods.
Most importantly, an overwhelming majority of Russian citizens want to live in conditions of effective democratic institutions. An overwhelming majority of our people want to live in conditions of a full-fledged market economy. Moreover, they want to perceive Russia as a natural component part of modern civilization. They want to feel this at inter-state, everyday and personal level. People want to travel freely all over the world; they also want to use all advantages being offered by a normal modern democratic society.
This doesn't mean that Russia lacks its own national interests. Mind you, every country has such interests. Take NATO countries, for example. Don't they argue with each other on the protection of their national interests? Meanwhile WTO countries face different problems in the free-market sphere and those dealing with the movement of goods. Quite a few similar situations tend to emerge in inter-state relations, too. It goes without saying that the Russian Federation will clearly formulate such national interests, defending them all the same. As I see it, a time when we used to think that this had to be accomplished in line with the confrontationist principle is long gone. This is already history.
As far as present-day challenges are concerned, it will become clear that the Russian Federation can become an effective partner, if not ally, for the entire civilized world, including the United States, during the neutralization of current and future threats. This is an established fact.
Question: Mr President, will you please specify the statement you made at the beginning of our meeting. You said the Islamic terrorists who are fighting in Chechnya plan to go over to Afghanistan and kill Americans there. Can you say in greater detail if these are chance threats or you have exposed collusion, a practical plan?
My second question concerns Chechnya. Do you have intelligence information about the so-called Chechen connection in the September 11 terrorist attacks?
Putin: I will begin with the second part. We have no information to prove that the terrorists who are operating in the Russian Federation, in particular Chechnya, have any connection to those terrorist acts. We here know only what you know very well: the suspects in the September 11 crimes told their relatives they were going to Chechnya.
What we know for sure - it is an established fact that is not questioned by US special services - is the fact that some international terrorists operating in Chechnya are connected with international criminal terrorist organisations, including bin Laden's Al-Qaeda. This is a fact.
These people are virtually members of the same organisation. They trained in the same terrorist camps. They see bin Laden as their teacher. He trained them at his bases in Afghanistan. They jointly fought against Soviet troops in Afghanistan in the past, and so on.
After Russia withdrew from the Chechen territory, as you know, in 1995, according to modest calculations, over 2,000 bandits, fighters were trained in Chechnya and later took part in fighting in other hot spots of the planet - in Kosovo, Kashmir, Sudan and Afghanistan. In fact, this is one system, one network. It is difficult to say even what is its centre and what are its branches. These are the same people, who know each other well and have the same sources of funds. This is not a big secret either; we have provided this information to our American partners. We know relatively certainly from what sources each group gets the funds. There is nothing secret about this, already now.
As for the information about the potential transportation of bandits from the Russian North Caucasus to Afghanistan, it is reliable operational data. I repeat, we even have the lists, lists of names of those who are moving to Turkey via Georgia now. We also know about the reaction of the Turkish authorities. I don't want to go into details, because frankly speaking this issue is not at the presidential level, although we know about the nuances of talks on this issue held by Georgian and Turkish authorities.
You asked me about their intention of going over to Afghanistan. But I have nothing to add to what they themselves say on this issue. And they say: "Enough of fighting here. We will return here in two or three years and bring the matter to conclusion, in Chechnya and in the North Caucasus. Today they need us in Afghanistan." And they simply search for the means of going there, that's all. Of course, this is not easy to do because our troops and special services have blockaded the area rather well.
Question: The Soviet Union and the USA used to be rivals in South Asia.
Putin: Yes, and here is what we have come to in the end. We should have stopped. But we didn't understand that we must stop.
Question: In particular, in the 1990s there was rivalry over oil in Central Asia. And many critics in Russia say in this connection that the current alliance with the United States could give the USA strategic advantages, that the USA would use the situation to earn strategic benefits, in particular in Central Asia. How can you prevent this, especially in view of the fact that the USA will probably get a chance to establish bases in Tajikistan and possibly Uzbekistan? In other words, where do you think can be the limit to the current Russia-USA cooperation? Where do you draw the line from the viewpoint of your strategic interests?
Putin: You know, what happened in the old system of coordinates is largely losing sense now. If Russia becomes a full-fledged member of the international community, it should not and will not fear the development of relations between its neighbours and other countries, including the development of relations between Central Asian states and the USA.
To begin with, they are independent states. Of course, we have traditional ties and mutual influence. They influence the situation in Russia and we, I think, can influence the situation there for specific historical reasons. But I repeat, these are independent states and they make their choice independently.
Of course, the position of Russia is important to them and their position is important to us when determining a policy and the stand which we have assumed in support of the USA. There is a large number of ethnic Russians in these countries. And we greatly depend on each other economically. Of course, what is happening there now is a stand that has been coordinated by all of us, by Russia and its Central Asian partners.
If we continue to be guided by old fears when elaborating our foreign policy, nothing good will come of such policy. The United States will have problems with international terrorism, and we have seen its extreme expression. We must promptly react to everything that happens in those parts of the world that are actually occupied by fundamentalists and the people we call radicals, and both Russia and Central Asian states will have the same problems.
Consequently, you should understand that if we want to get rid of this, we must forget old fears, build up mutual trust and act jointly, act jointly and effectively.
The same goes for the economic side of cooperation during the development of natural deposits, if you want to ask about specific issues.
If Russia becomes a full-fledged member of the international community, it will draw benefits from such cooperation while upholding its national interests in this sphere. I mean the joint work in the Caspian Pipeline Consortium, which we have recently finished with our American partners, or the development of the Sakhalin deposits; I have mentioned the project on which we are working jointly with Indian partners and Exxon Mobile. I spoke about this company's investments before.
Eventually, both the United States and Russia will benefit from raising the level of trust and cooperation.
What is the alternative to this policy? It is exactly what you mentioned at the beginning of your question: more rivalry. We both know what the results of such rivalry can be. The United States created - or at least did not do anything to stop the creation of the Taliban movement in the struggle against the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union also did many "good" things for the USA by supporting all of its opponents and enemies. We have forgotten that such policy becomes uncontrollable sooner or later. As a result, we have international terrorist training bases in Afghanistan, terrorists who had been regularly sent to Russia, in particular Chechnya, while the USA suffered from an unprecedented terrorist attacks in Washington and New York on September 11.
I think we must stop this bad practice and I feel that President Bush and I can do this.
Question: A short and clear question. You have just said about the transportation of fighters from Chechnya to Afghanistan via Georgia and Turkey. Did I understand you correctly that the government of Georgia is deliberately and actively facilitating this transportation?
Putin: It is difficult for me to say how deeply the top leaders of Georgia are involved in this. But it is clear that this is taking place with the connivance of the Georgian authorities.
As of now, we know for sure that many wounded fighters receive medical treatment in Georgian hospitals, including in the main military hospital of the Georgian army in Tbilisi. And then, how can one explain the free movement of large bandit groups numbering several hundred people from one part of Georgia to another (I mean, as you know, their movement from the Pankisi Gorge to the Kodor Gorge) across the country? It is impossible to do this covertly, stealthily. Simply impossible.
All this prompts the conclusion that certain quarters in Georgia are at the very least pandering to the operation of international terrorists on their territory.
Question: Did you discuss this problem with the Georgian government?
Putin: Yes, we spoke about this more than once. And when we speak about these problems, we get the following answer: "Yes, we know very well what terrorists are."
"We remember," they tell us, "how these international terrorists killed Georgians and (forgive me for supplying these details) played football with the heads of people they killed. We remember all of this."
They say one thing and then we hear they say quite different things in their public statements. For example, I was extremely surprised when I heard the Georgian president say that he does not regard as terrorists some people who have been 1put on the international wanted list for numerous sanguinary crimes.
I think the attempt to use any armed formations, let alone terrorist ones, to resolve political problems in any country, including Georgia, is an extremely dangerous method of resolving internal political problems, a method that is absolutely unacceptable in international affairs and, most importantly, a useless one. This is how our experts saw the attempt to use the fighters who came from Chechnya - and there are international terrorists, foreigners among them there - to resolve the problem of Georgia-Abkhazia relations. An absolutely useless and extremely dangerous idea.
And this is an unpartner-like, to put it mildly, attitude to Russia because by refusing to warn us they created a threat to us on a rather serious stretch of the border, the border of Kabardino-Balkaria and Karachayevo-Cherkessia, which was poorly protected at that time. As you know, several kilometres separate the border from the main Black Sea resorts of Russia. I don't think our Georgian colleagues behaved as partners should. But our latest contacts with the Georgian president give us grounds to think that he wants collaboration, that he is set for collaboration.
And I am absolutely sure that the problem created by the presence of international terrorists in Georgia (and the presence of terrorists there has really grew into a problem for Georgia) can be resolved only and solely through collaboration with other countries, above all Russia, through the rallying of efforts in the struggle against terrorism.