Putin’s grasp of international affairs.
Blog No. 138.
With a new government being formed in NZ we have had to reconsider how we should approach the NZ government and bureaucracy in regard to the continued persecution and abuse of my friends and business partners, Harmon & Carolyn Wilfred. At the same time, I have been swamped with the demands of the struggling fruit brandy distillery of which I am an unpaid director and of my son’s start-up of a hypnotherapy clinic in Wellington. Though I try to keep to a schedule of one blog every second Saturday, this week, I have fallen way too far behind to produce any original stuff.
However, as the new NZ government this morning announced its line-up of ministerial appointments, we did get a sniff of change in the air. One of their first announcements has been that they will reopen the Free Trade Agreement negotiations with Russia.
This is quite significant in light of the anti-Russian propaganda that has pervaded New Zealand’s (as well as the rest of the ‘Free World’s’) corporate media. As the new government’s FTA demarche was announced on Radio New Zealand, one of the nation’s most respected political commentators reinforced the distortion of history with the ignorant statement that the NZ government’s new initiative was despite “New Zealand having broken off previous negotiations in protest when the Russian military occupied the Crimean peninsula.” Sadly and shamefully, the commentator’s ignorance was no greater than that of the John Key’s Cabinet, which had made the decision to withdraw from the FTA.
The Russian military had been in ‘occupation’ of the Peninsula since 1783. They were already there, in barracks leased from the recently independent Ukraine, when the 2014, American organised, coup overthrew the elected Ukrainian government. Subsequently, 95.7% of the Crimean population voted in a referendum to ask Russia to reincorporate their province back into its traditional homeland.
The details of this previous fiasco are contained in my previous blog https://khakispecs.com/?p=2849 – As the blog covers many topics, I will cite the relevant paragraphs below.
“Purity of free-trade ambitions. John Key claimed to be, solely devoted to the welfare of a New Zealand dependent on international trade. Were his motives free of other considerations, there are two recent occasions on which he would have conducted himself differently. The first was with the free trade agreement that New Zealand had negotiated with Russia. The deal was on the point of being signed, when John Key ordered the withdrawal of the negotiating team and that the agreement be abandoned. https://www.nzherald.co.nz/world/news/article.cfm?c_id=2&objectid=11359292
The Ukraine/Crimea incident. In February 2014, the CIA and US State Department had organised a coup in Ukraine, of which the jewel in the crown of sought benefits was to be the expulsion of the Russian Navy from the Crimean bases, which it leased from Ukraine. This would effectively give the opportunity to the US Navy to occupy bases on Russia’s back door-step, denying the Russians use of their warm water ports and removing their navy from the Black and Mediterranean seas. https://www.fort-russ.com/2016/02/us-control-over-crimea-aim-of-coup-in.html This is the Russian view of the events with interesting detail on associated US fleet movements. On instructions from a disappointed and frustrated Washington, New Zealand, together with many other governments on the US Empire’s periphery, imposed trade sanctions on Russia and, NZ, paying a higher price than most, ditched its painfully negotiated free trade agreement.
Despite the massive orchestration of western propaganda and misinformation, any reasonable research into the background of the event would have led the New Zealand government to realise the extent to which it was being suckered. However, the call of obedience to the demands of the USA’s national interest was sufficient to override that of New Zealand.
The prime argument used at such times is that the USA is all powerful and that the NZ national interest is to stay on good terms with the US Empire no matter what the sacrifices it demands. However, New Zealand did so in such a manner as to give far more offence to the Russians that could have been justified by the circumstances. https://www.stuff.co.nz/national/politics/9858964/NZ-joins-in-personal-sanctions-over-Crimea
The vote by the people of Crimea, which NZ refused to recognise, was over 90% in favour of Crimea’s return to Russia. The fact that the ethnic Russian citizenry of Crimea had found themselves attached to Ukraine, was due to a recent administrative re-arrangement of borders during the Khrushchev era. It is interesting to note that New Zealand never suggested imposing sanctions on Israel for occupying and ethnic cleansing Arab lands by force, most of which lands had never been Israeli territory in the previous two thousand years and some of which, such as the Golan Heights had never previously been settled by Hebrew tribes.”
Perhaps with a new government and one that is less ideologically tied to Wall Street and the neo-liberal ideology emerging from its think-tank, The Council on Foreign Relations, New Zealand’s obedience to US demands will decline. It is to be hoped so.
As I have no time to do more, I will refer you to a press release from the Russian Embassy in Wellington. It is a wide ranging Q & A session between Putin and several other leading world figures from business, academia and politics at a meeting of The Valdai Club. https://valdaiclub.com/about/valdai/
It is indeed a much longer read than most of my blogs – but if you have time, quite rewarding. As I read it I couldn’t help but ask myself “How would Donald Trump have responded to that question: which of these two leaders of these most influential nuclear powers is on top of his subject and to which would I be most confident in entrusting the global future?” The Western Alliance sure is losing it!
EMBASSY OF THE RUSSIAN FEDERATION IN NEW ZEALAND
57 Messines Road, Karori, Wellington 6012
(04) 476-61-13; (04) 476-38-43 (f); email@example.com
“Questions & Answers” following the final plenary session of the 14th annual meeting of the Valdai International Discussion Club titled “The World of the Future: Moving Through Conflict to Cooperation”
October 19, 2017
The general topic of the Valdai Club this year is Creative Destruction: Will a New World Order Emerge from the Current Conflicts?
During the four days of the forum the participants are discussing political and social conflicts of the modern world and opportunities of society’s adaptation to the new factors and conditions. Through analysis of the current conflicts experts and political scientists predict the shape of the future world.
This year the Valdai meeting brought together over 130 participants from 33 countries.
Alongside the President of Russia the speakers at the final session included former President of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan Hamid Karzai, Research Director at the Norwegian Nobel Institute Asle Toje, and Executive Chairman of Alibaba Group Jack Ma.
* * *
Fyodor Lukyanov: I see. Thank you very much. Colleagues, we have come to the second part. We have a unique opportunity to ask questions.
Q. Dmitry Suslov: Mr President, Dmitry Suslov, Higher School of Economics, Valdai Club.
I would like to carry on with the nuclear topic, or, to be exact, to emphasise the sector where, as I see it, there is destruction but no creation yet. I mean arms control, first of all nuclear arms.
You were right to say that the military and strategic situation in the world is changing fundamentally, or has already changed. This includes the precision-guided non-nuclear munitions, as well as the missile and even cyber defence, which is considered a combat sphere today. However, instead of developing a concept of the new international strategic stability or adapting the old rules of arms control to the new situation, we, unfortunately, see only the destruction of the old rules without the formulation of new ones.
You were right to say that 2002, when the US withdrew from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, was like opening Pandora’s box. Unfortunately, we have to admit that Russia is taking part in this dismantling process, as well.
You have mentioned the plutonium agreement, I mean the Plutonium Management and Disposition Agreement. Last year Russia suspended it. The process has gone so far that the 1987 INF Treaty [Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty] is in question, and the US Congress not only allows the Trump Administration to withdraw from it, but even approve a budget bill that would force them to produce the intermediate-range missile. And the extension of New START is also questionable.
It turns out that by choosing this way we, in fact, are regressing back to the 1950s, which, as you know, ended in the Cuban Missile Crisis.
Are we ready for this situation, taking into account the global strategic situation, which is more difficult and complex than in the 1950s? What must Russia and all of us do to provide for this evolutionary transition to new strategic stability?
A. Vladimir Putin: We are not going back to the 1950s. Attempts have been made to push us back there. You have mentioned some agreements. There are three agreements in which we have suspended our membership. Why did we do so? Because our American partners are not doing anything.
We cannot do everything alone. We took a unilateral decision to eliminate our chemical weapons, and we have eliminated them, as I said in my opening remarks. But our American partners said they would not do the same yet, because they do not have the money for this.
They have no money? The American mint is printing dollars, but they have no money. We found the money to build plants for the destruction of chemical weapons. I believe we built eight such plants, investing huge funds in construction and in training personnel. It was a titanic job. We are now thinking about other ways to use these facilities.
As I have said when speaking about plutonium, we have created a scheme for turning weapons-grade plutonium into mixed oxide fuel. It took money and effort as well, for the matter concerns investment. We have built a reactor and coordinated the method for destroying this plutonium with the Americans. But then they took a unilateral step in violation of the agreement without even notifying us of this as partners should. How did we know this? We learned about this from a budget submission to the Congress. They asked for millions of dollars to finance a new utilisation method and postponed the process for an unspecified period.
No, this is not how it should be. Under this new American method, plutonium can be converted back to weapons-grade. We have not withdrawn from these agreements, but we have suspended them, expecting a normal reaction from our partners. We hope they will resume the negotiations.
As for the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, I fully agree with you. I have said many times, and others have too – all experts agree on this – that this treaty was the cornerstone of international security in the sphere of strategic arms. But no, years of negotiations with our American friends have failed to convince them to remain within the limits of this treaty.
Now we hear that New START does not work either. We are not going to withdraw from it, although something may not work with us either. This is always a part of some kind of compromise. However, it is better to have some agreements rather than none at all. If we understand this, we will do everything to meet our commitments, and we will meet them.
Now back to the INF Treaty, on medium and short-range missiles. They always said, well, not always, but recently we have been hearing many accusations about Russia violating this treaty by cooking up something. Maybe we would be tempted to do just that if we had no airborne and sea-based missiles. Now we have them. The US had such missiles, and we did not.
When we agreed to eliminate the intermediate- and shorter-range missiles, the deal concerned Pershing missiles, which are land-based, and our missile systems.
Incidentally, when our intermediate- and shorter-range missiles were eliminated, our chief engineer committed suicide, because he believed that it was betrayal of his country. This is a tragic story; let us change it.
However, the US still has both airborne and sea-based missiles. In fact, this was unilateral disarmament for the Soviet side as well, but now we have both airborne and sea-based missiles. You can see how effective the Kalibr missiles are: from the Mediterranean Sea, from the Caspian Sea, from the air or from submarines, whatever you wish.
Moreover, besides Kalibr, with an operational range of 1,400 km, we have other airborne missile systems, very powerful ones with an operational range of 4,500 km. We believe that we have only balanced out the situation. If someone does not like it and wishes to withdraw from the treaty, for example, our American partners, our response would be immediate, I would like to repeat this warning. Immediate and reciprocal.
However, we have complied and we will comply with our old treaties, as long as our partners comply as well.
Q. Pyotr Dutkevich: Pyotr Dutkevich, Carleton University, Canada.
Mr President, first of all, thank you for keeping in touch with us, it is a great pleasure.
At the beginning of October, Canada joined the Magnitsky Act. Many countries have announced that they are ready to support this law, too. Are you not worried about the consequences of this process? Would you mind commenting on this fact?
A. Vladimir Putin: When the situation with Magnitsky, who lost his life in prison, occurred, I was not working in foreign policy or security. I was Prime Minister of the Russian Federation, but, of course, I knew what was going on, I observed and discussed this with Dmitry Medvedev, who was the President back then. This seemed strange and completely unexpected for us that such a tragic event, and the death of a person whatever he was charged with is always tragic, became the source of such political games.
What do I think about what you have just said, about Canada joining or wanting to join, or about somebody else wanting to do it? These are all some very unconstructive political games over things, which are in essence not what they look like, to be treated in such a way or to fuss about so much. What lies underneath these events? Underneath are the criminal activities of an entire gang led by one particular man, I believe Browder is his name, who lived in the Russian Federation for ten years as a tourist and conducted activities, which were on the verge of being illegal, by buying Russian company stock without any right to do so, not being a Russian resident, and by moving tens and hundreds of millions of dollars out of the country and hence avoiding any taxes not only here but in the United States as well.
According to open sources, I mean American open sources, please look up Ziff Brothers, the company Mr Browder was connected with, which has been sponsoring the Democratic Party and, substantially less, the Republican Party during recent years. I think the latest transfer, in the open sources I mean, was $1,200,000 for the Democratic Party. This is how they protect themselves.
In Russia, Mr Browder was sentenced in his absence to 9 years in prison for his scam. However, no one is working on it. Our prosecution has already turned to the appropriate US agencies such as the Department of Justice and the Office of the Attorney General for certain information so we can work together on this. However, there is simply no response. This is just used to blow up more anti-Russian hysteria. Nobody wants to look into the matter, into what is actually beneath it. At the bottom of it, as usual, is crime, deception and theft.
Q. Rein Muellerson: My question is to President Putin. In your speech, you mentioned Catalonia. My observations suggest that, normally, independence is achieved then and there, where some major powers or at least regional players are interested in this independence or in case no one pays attention to this.
In your speech in March 2014 with respect to Crimea, where, by the way, I was a month ago and I must say I really enjoyed it, you cited the advisory opinion of the International Court on Kosovo. The declaration of Kosovo’s independence indeed violates international law. The aerial bombings of Serbia due to Kosovo were also in breach of international law.
It seems to me that Kosovo opened up Pandora’s box. The independence of the Kurds in Iraq meets the aspirations of no one but the Kurds and perhaps also the Israeli interests. However, this is not enough. The whole of Europe and the European Union are worried about Catalan independence. Madrid is using force, relatively moderate force, against supporters of an independent Catalonia.
My question to you is as follows. Apart from following the principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of other states, how could Russia help resolve similar conflicts so as, on the one hand, not to encourage the “parade of sovereignties,” while, on the other hand, helping ethnic groups and minorities, whose aspirations are not met by the authorities? What would be Russia’s position in such cases?
One thing I cannot help mentioning. You spoke of the “turbulent” 90s and I recalled how Andrei Kozyrev once told President Nixon that Russia had no national interests, only common human interests. Nixon shook his head.
A. Vladimir Putin: This shows that Nixon has a head, while Mr Kozyrev, unfortunately, has not. He has a cranium but no head as such.
As for the “parade of sovereignties,” as you said, and our attitude towards this… Actually, I believe, on a global scale, the creation of mono-ethnic states is not a panacea against possible conflicts, but just the opposite. Because after various partitions and sovereignties, the creation of mono-ethnic states might lead to clashes in the fight for the realisation of the interests of the newly established mono-ethnic states. That is what is likely to happen.
This is why people who live in a unified state within common boundaries have a greater chance that their state will pursue a balanced policy. Look at Russia. Muslims constitute nearly 10 percent of our population, which is a lot. They are not foreigners or migrants. Russia is their only homeland, and they see it as their homeland. What has this encouraged us to do? I suggested that we seek observer status at the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation. This influences our domestic and foreign policies, and makes our policy better balanced and attentive to this part of the international community. The same is true for other countries.
As for the ruling of the UN court, I have it. I did not cite it so as not to waste your time. I read the ruling because I knew that we would touch on this matter. You are experts, and so you know everything about it. However, I would like to remind you. On November 8, 2008, the UN General Assembly adopted Resolution 63/3. Question: Does the unilateral declaration of independence by Kosovo’s temporary institutions comply with international law? This question was forwarded to the International Court of Justice in The Hague.
On July 22, 2010, after two years of deliberations, the Hague Court issued an Advisory Opinion that the declaration of independence of Kosovo adopted on February 17, 2008 did not violate international law. The court ruling concerns not just Kosovo, but also the applicability of international law to the declaration of independence by any part of any state in principle. In this sense, you are absolutely right that this broad interpretation does not apply to Kosovo. It was a ruling that opened Pandora’s box. Yes, you are absolutely right about this. Bull’s eye.
Look at what the court ruling of July 22, 2010, says. Paragraph 79: “The practice of States in these latter cases does not point to the emergence in international law of a new rule prohibiting the making of a declaration of independence in such cases.” Paragraph 81: “No general prohibition against unilateral declarations of independence may be inferred from the practice of the [UN] Security Council.” Paragraph 84: “the Court considers that general international law contains no applicable prohibition of declarations of independence. Accordingly, it concludes that the declaration of independence of 17 February 2008 did not violate general international law.” Here it is, in black and white.
How all the Western countries pushed for it and pressurised this International Court in the Hague! We know for certain that the US had a written recommendation for the International Court. The State Department wrote, “The principle of territorial integrity does not exclude the establishment of new states in the territory of existing states.” Below: “Declarations of independence can (and often do) violate domestic legislation. However, this does not mean that it is a violation of international law.” Further, “In many cases, including Kosovo, the circumstances of the Declaration of Independence can mean fundamental respect of international law on the part of the new state.”
Germany: “This is a matter of peoples’ right to self-determination. International law pertaining to the territorial integrity of states does not apply to such peoples.” They decided to declare independence, well, good for them. And the integrity principles do not apply to this state.
The United Kingdom: “Secession, or the declaration of independence, does not contradict international law in itself.”
France: “It (international law) does not allow, but does not forbid it (secession or separation) in general.” So here you are.
Then there was the reaction to this Court ruling. Here is what Ms Clinton wrote (somebody may have worked with her) after the ruling: “Kosovo is an independent state, and its territory is inviolable. We call on all states not to become overly focused on Kosovo’s status and make their own constructive contribution to supporting peace and stability in the Balkans. We urge the countries that have not yet recognised Kosovo to do so.”
Germany: “The consultative ruling of the International Court confirms our legal assessment of the legitimacy of Kosovo’s declaration of independence. It reinforces our opinion that the independence and territorial integrity of the Republic of Kosovo are undeniable.”
France: “The independence of Kosovo is irreversible. The ruling of the International Court, which terminated the legal debates on the matter, has become a milestone and will allow all parties to dedicate themselves to other important issues to be resolved.”
Now, “other important issues” have arisen today, and today, when these “other important issues” have arisen, including in Catalonia, nobody likes it. Nobody! This is exactly what I called double standards. This example is the Pandora’s box that has been opened, and the genie that was let out of the bottle.
What is our position on this case? I said, I was saying, if you listened carefully, I was saying that we hoped that the problem would be resolved based on Spanish legislation and Constitution. I believe this is the end of it. The end of it. However, of course, we have to be careful in such issues and very sensitive to everything that is going on. We hope that everything will be resolved within the framework of democratic institutions and procedures; there will be no more political prisoners and so on. However, this is an internal issue of a country. I think this is enough.
Q. Margarita Simonyan [editor-in-chief of the Russia Today television channel]: Thank you, Mr President, for your shocking story about the American flags at our nuclear facilities.
Mr Hamid Karzai, thank you for your bold and honest position.
Mr Jack Ma, thank you for the inexpensive Chinese-made ceiling lamp that I bought on Alibaba. (Laughter)
However, if I may, I would like to talk about issues that concern me. You may have heard that Russia Today and Sputnik – our media working abroad – have been subjected recently not just to pressure, but real harassment at their place of work.
As recently as two days ago, Hillary Clinton said that the alleged Russian interference in the elections, for which we are primarily blamed (half of the CIA report on this topic was about Russia Today and Sputnik, and my name was mentioned 27 times in it) is comparable to the 9/11 attacks.
We are required to register as foreign agents. As we know from the media, the FBI opened an investigation into our activities. Our journalists have come under incredible pressure: every day they read about how they will never be able to get a job anywhere else. Yesterday, the Foreign Office of Great Britain chewed out deputies who continue to appear on our broadcasts. What will happen next is anyone’s guess.
A year ago, people from the State Department told me that they respect freedom of speech, and as long as no restrictive measures are applied to US media in Russia, no such measures will be applied to us. However, these measures are being applied to us already, at a time when huge numbers of American and other media, including Russian language media, continue to operate in Russia. I can only praise them, as they are doing a great job and have vast budgets that are tens of times larger than those available to our media.
You may be surprised, but by some criteria, such as citations in social media, Radio Liberty ranks first among all Russian radio stations. You once joked that you have no one to talk to since Mahatma Gandhi died. Everyone had a good laugh back then, but in the end this is exactly how it looks – we are in a situation where Russia is a more democratic country than the countries that taught us democracy. Russia maintains several positions. One of them is that our response should be proportionate, and only such a response will force them to leave us be. Another position is that we should turn the other cheek and take the high road. May I ask you, what is your position in this regard?
A. Vladimir Putin: First, about the situation around our information resources, such as Russia Today and Sputnik. Their capacity cannot compare with what our colleagues have in the US, in Europe; they simply cannot compare. We do not have so-called global media, mass media with global reach. This is the monopoly of the Anglo-Saxon world, primarily the United States.
Indeed, we have been told all along that it is absurd and even undemocratic to pressure any lawfully functioning media outlets, to close or persecute them, to exert pressure on journalists. There is only one democratic way to fight things one does not like, for both the authorities and the opposition: to express your opinion, but to express it so vividly, colourfully and brilliantly that people would believe you and accept your point of view, follow you and stand by you and support your position. All the rest is undemocratic.
What we see happening around our media now – I repeat, they are far less powerful than the US or British media – I simply do not know how to describe this. “Confusion” is too mild. They have turned everything upside down.
Regarding interference or non-interference: everyone knows, the whole world knows what the British or American media do. They directly and constantly influence internal political processes in almost all countries. How else are we to interpret what the media do, especially those outlets that work in, say, the political segment of the media?
They do influence things, of course, by expressing a certain point of view – in this case, we are talking about Russia’s point of view. And even so, they do not always take
Russia’s point of view. I cannot monitor them all the time, but sometimes I see what Russia Today broadcasts. Its team includes journalists from various countries: Americans, and British, I believe, and Germans, too. They do excellent work. Really talented people. I sometimes marvel at the courage and talent they possess to lay everything out so clearly, precisely and fearlessly – my hat is off to them. Apparently, this is the key to Russia Today and Sputnik’s success, but it is also what they are hated for; anyway, it has nothing to do with democracy.
Now about “turning the other cheek.” I have already spoken about our nuclear facilities. It would seem we have disclosed everything we have, there is nowhere else to search, so we expected our American partners to do the same, well, at least to show some consideration for our interests, so that we would be full-fledged partners. As you can see, this is not the case, and even the opposite is true: as soon as they realised that our nuclear sector needs additional investment and modernisation, that our missile technology is growing obsolete, that there are other problems – aha, who would consider a weak partner? No one even talks to them or considers their interests anymore.
Therefore, in this case, all we can do is mirror their actions and rather quickly at that. As soon as we see any moves that limit the activities of our media in any way, a proportionate response will follow.
Q. Fyodor Lukyanov: Mr Karzai, do you want to add anything? Do you also have problems with foreign agents?
A. Hamid Karzai: Just a little note on the media and the role of the international media where the West is very strong. I have a good deal of experience on that from my days in office and subsequently. The alternative media developed by Russia and China are closing the gap, which is very good news. I must also tell you that I know that RT reaches lots of homes in America. And so does CGTN. So the gap is closing. And this alternative availability of media is good for all of us. It is good for the Western audience and good for our audience. So I guess we are going to better days in terms of the free flow of information.
Q. Erlan Karin: Mr President, we met here last year at a time when the situation in Syria, in particular in Aleppo, had deteriorated. Early this year, we launched the Astana process to settle the Syrian crisis. Delegates from various sides of the conflict and representatives from the guarantor countries – Russia, Turkey and Iran – met for the first time for negotiations in Astana, the capital of Kazakhstan. Since then we have achieved some results, have held several rounds of talks and have signed a number of documents.
How would you describe the intermediate results of the Astana process?
One more thing. These events have cast a new light on the crisis in the Middle East. I am referring to the Kurdish referendum in northern Iraq, which you have mentioned, the military operation in Kirkuk and changes in the overall military situation in Syria. What are the prospects for a settlement in Syria? What do you think about the situation in the Middle East as a whole?
A. Vladimir Putin: The first thing I would like to do regarding the Syrian settlement and the Astana process is to thank President of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbayev for making it possible for us and the other participants of this process to meet in Astana. Kazakhstan is not just a place where we meet; it is a very suitable venue because Kazakhstan maintains neutrality. It does not interfere in the complicated regional processes and is respected as an intermediary.
I would like to note that at a certain point President Nazarbayev took responsibility for preventing the parties to the conflict and the negotiations from leaving the table. It was a very positive thing to do, and we are sincerely grateful to him for this.
As for where this process stands, it is gaining positive momentum. There have been ups and downs, about which I will speak later, but overall, the process is proceeding positively. Thanks to the stand taken by Turkey, Iran and, of course, the Syrian Government, we were able to narrow the gaps in the sides’ positions on the key issue of ending the violence and creating de-escalation zones. It is the most significant result we have achieved in Syria over the past two years, particularly as part of the Astana process.
I have to note that other countries, including the United States, are greatly contributing; even though they are not participating in the talks in Astana directly, they are influencing these processes behind the scenes. We maintain stable cooperation with our American partners in this sphere, on this track, even though not without disputes. However, there are more positive than negative elements in our cooperation.
So far, we have managed to agree on many issues, including the southern de-escalation zone, where Israeli and Jordanian interests are also present. Of course, this process could not have been what it is now without the positive impact of countries such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan, as well as many other countries, small but important, including, by the way, Qatar.
What are the prospects? There is every reason to believe – I will put it cautiously – that we will finish off the terrorists in the short term, but that is no cause for joy, for saying that terrorism is over and done with. Because, first, terrorism as a phenomenon is deeply rooted – it is rooted in the injustice of today’s world, the raw deal that many nations and ethnic and religious groups get, and the lack of comprehensive education in entire countries across the world. The lack of a normal, proper, basic education is fertile soil for terrorism. Therefore, if we finish off the pockets of terrorist resistance in Syria, this certainly does not mean the threat to Syria, the region and the world as a whole is gone – absolutely not. On the contrary, you always have to stay alert.
The rough-going process between the opposition and the government is also a source of concern. The process is under way but is moving very sluggishly, feebly; the parties to the conflict are very distrustful of each other. I hope that it will be possible to overcome this. Based on de-escalation zones, we hope to move on to the next stage. There is an idea to call a congress of the Syrian people, bringing together all ethnic and religious groups, the government and the opposition.
If this could be done, also with support from guarantor countries and even major powers outside the region – Saudi Arabia, the United States and Egypt – that would be the next, additional but very important step toward a political settlement. And then perhaps toward drafting a new Constitution, but it is still early to talk about that. This is roughly the plan.
Q. Fyodor Lukyanov: Mr President, will the de-escalation zones not lead to the division of Syria?
A. Vladimir Putin: Such a threat does exist, but as I said earlier, I do not want this to be a blueprint to partitioning Syria, but on the contrary, a situation where, once the de-escalation zones are in place, the people who control these zones would start making contact with Damascus, with the government.
Actually, this is what is already happening in many places. For instance, in southern Damascus, on a small territory controlled by the armed opposition, people go to work in Damascus and return home every day. You see, life is encouraging communication.
I strongly hope that this practice will evolve in other de-escalation zones as well and that gradually, step by step cooperation will begin on the day-to-day level, which, in my opinion, is bound to grow into long-term political agreements.
Q. Ebtesam al-Ketbi: Ebtesam Al-Ketbi, Professor of Political Science and Head of the Emirates Policy Centre. Mr President, it is obvious now that Russia in the Middle East is a really successful country. And a master of the game, especially in Syria. But in the wake of King Salman’s visit, which the Saudi describe as a historical visit, I want to ask you: what is the strategic shift in Russian policy towards the Gulf States? Or is this just something that will not last forever, taking into consideration that GCC used to be a traditional alliance of the US, and this is also another success of Russia by pulling the Saudi towards Russia? Is this a real shift or you still do not trust the Gulf States?
A. Vladimir Putin: The world is changing, all countries are changing and relations between states are changing. There is nothing unusual in this. In fact, back in Soviet days, Saudi Arabia’s relations with the Soviet Union were fairly good, but there were constraints of a purely ideological nature. Today there are none and we have nothing that would fundamentally divide us. Now, what can unite us with Saudi Arabia or countries in the region? Actually, I can see absolutely no reason for these dividing lines. I have a very good personal, almost friendly relationship with almost all the leaders of these states.
The visit by the King of Saudi Arabia was a great honour for us. It was a historic event indeed, if only because it was the first visit by a King of Saudi Arabia to Russia. In and of itself, this shows Saudi Arabia’s attitude toward building a relationship with Russia.
We have absolutely no problem with the fact that these countries, including Saudi Arabia, have their own special interests, historical ties and allied relations with, among others, the United States. Why should this worry us? This does not mean that we are forbidden from working with Saudi Arabia; we will do so. As for Saudi Arabia and other countries in the region, it is up to them to decide who they prefer to work with and on what issues.
Russia is demonstrating stability, predictability and reliability in its foreign policy. And I believe that this appeals to our partners. In addition, we have shared economic interests – importantly, interests of a global nature. Now, we have coordinated our position on the energy market with OPEC nations, above all with Saudi Arabia and the [oil] price has been stable, at over $50 [per barrel]. We consider this a fair price; it is quite suitable for us. This is the result of joint efforts.
There are also other results. The first opportunities have emerged for defence technology cooperation. Yes, there are multi-billion contracts with the United States.Very well! Do you know what our people say? “The chicken pecks one grain at a time.” Our ties will expand slowly and perhaps these contracts will grow.
I was also asked whether we are afraid that Saudi Arabia will be with the United States again? We are afraid of nothing! What is there for us to be afraid of? You know, it is Saudi Arabia that should be afraid, so to speak, that the Americans will bring democratisation to Saudi Arabia. This is what they should fear. But what is there for us to fear? We already have democracy. We will keep working. (Laughter.)
Q. Mikhail Remizov: Mikhail Remizov, Institute of National Strategy.
I have a brief but broad-ranging question. It concerns the agenda of the next presidential term.
Today, the discussion is usually focused on the lineup of contenders, but it seems to me that it is more important to hear, above all, how you, Mr President, see the mission, the historic task of the person who will be elected our country’s president next year. What are our national super-tasks for this period, for 2018–2024?
A. Vladimir Putin: You know, I have repeatedly spoken about this. Unfortunately, there is nothing new in your question, but I will say this again. We should make Russia very flexible and highly competitive.
Flexible – in terms of forms and methods of governance, flexible in terms of developing an economy that is geared toward the future, in terms of introducing advanced technology and assessing these opportunities and using them.
Needless to say, we should strengthen our defence capability and improve our political system so that it is like a living organism and develops in keeping with the world as a whole.
When we talk about technology – the person on my left, the founder of a major global company, spoke about big data. You see, we are not even aware of what this is all about. Perhaps you know, many people know about a recent case in the United States when a company all of a sudden started sending a 14-year old girl offers to buy items for pregnant women, which outraged her parents. They wrote a complaint to the company and the company apologised. Then it turned out that the girl was pregnant. She did not know about that and her parents did not know either. It turned out that based on a large number of data, a change in the girl’s interests, preferences, questions and queries the machine came to the conclusion that it was dealing with a pregnant woman and issued an order to another machine to offer her goods for pregnant women.
First and foremost, this is some kind of control over humans administered by technology. There are both positive and negative aspects here and we need to consider this. We will need to think about all this in our country and use it for the benefit of our people. This is our super-task.
Q. Fyodor Lukyanov: By way, do you think a woman can become our next President?
A. Vladimir Putin: Anything is possible here. Why not? (Laughter.)
Q. Hans-Friedrich von Ploetz: Mr President, the Russian media are very generous in interviewing participants here, but I was struck by the pessimism about our relations. And I tried to remind them that during the Cold War we had bigger differences than we have today, and our younger generations in particular, but also the business community, are unhappy with the present situation. So would you give maybe me and also your media a little bit of encouragement and say, “It may not look as good as it should be, but there are perspectives and I am working on it”?
A. Vladimir Putin: You know, indeed, you are right; we had more differences and disagreements in Soviet times. However, do you know what else was in even greater supply? Respect.
I can hardly imagine Soviet flags being torn down from Soviet diplomatic missions when the Soviet Union was around. However, you did this. That is not the only sign of disrespect. It shows itself not in such demonstrative actions, but in some substantive matters as well. We have already talked about this today, so we probably should not go over it again.
We used to be more respectful of each other’s interests. Clearly, respect must be backed up by economic and military power. This is clear. We ourselves are largely to blame for putting ourselves in such a position. In the humiliating situation, as in the 1990s, when we allowed you to access our nuclear facilities expecting you to reciprocate. However, you did not, and expecting you to was probably stupid on the part of those who did so back in the new Russia.
Nonetheless, I would like to end my remarks on a positive note. I believe that much in resolving the issues of interest to you and us depends on working together. This should help us stay focused on the thought that our prospects are good.
We just talked about Syria. To reiterate – I do not think I can disclose the details – but we have a dialogue at the working level, at the level of special services, the Defence Ministry, and the Foreign Ministry, almost on a weekly basis. We do achieve some results, which means we are capable of it.
I think that this approach should be applied to other areas of our interaction as well.
Q. Ruslan Yunusov: Ruslan Yunusov, the Russian Quantum Centre, Valdai Club.
Mr President, Jack Ma has already mentioned the importance of education. In the past 10-odd years, we have achieved many results by introducing the National Final School Exam (EGE), but this is standardisation.
It is quite probable that in a changing world, when technology arrives very quickly, we need to develop and introduce additional curricula into school education. They should probably be more directed at talents, all the more so as there are online venues or venues like Sirius. What do you think?
A. Vladimir Putin: You know, there are modern methods of teaching. One of them is based on the premise that it is impossible, as you have rightly said, to go deep into every subject. It is necessary to present a general overview and then choose the most important, essential and promising area for a specific person, a specific child that is interested and talented in a certain type of activities, a certain type of knowledge. This is the path to follow.
As for the EGE, we have many disputes. I do not want to recall this now. Indeed, this method of testing knowledge has largely justified itself, but it generated many problems as well.
Recently I spoke to my former university teacher Yury Tolstoy, member of the Russian Academy of Sciences, a man whom I love and hugely respect. He is one of our brilliant law scholars. He has been teaching all his life, and he made a great comment. He said that yes, everything is fine, all these new forms, but there is only one concern: what if our education loses its “spirit.”
It is necessary to heed these words. After all, education should not turn into a conveyor belt. It is not simply a conveyor belt of knowledge, not simply rote learning. Education must always have a creative element. Of course, the EGE limits this creativity. This is clear, but this element should be introduced and combined with the deep specialisation you mentioned.
Q. Georgy Toloraya: Mr President, I cannot but draw your attention to the acute international problem, which is the Korean Peninsula issue that you mentioned. Many years ago, I happened to accompany you to meetings with Kim Jong-Il. Back then, it seemed we could persuade the Koreans to be less recalcitrant. However, when a country is threatened with destruction, it is difficult to expect people to be flexible. The sanctions, which we joined, are of little help here. On the contrary, they tend to make people even angrier.
What do you think Russia can do to resolve this situation? How can we work with the Americans on this matter?
A. Vladimir Putin: As you are aware, the situation is dangerous. Talking about a preventive disarming strike (we have heard such hints or even direct threats) is dangerous. I have said so many times.
Who knows where and what the North Koreans have stashed away, and whether they will be able to destroy everything at once with one strike. I doubt it. I am almost sure that this is impossible. Although theoretically, this is possible. But this is extremely dangerous.
Even if we assume that they are being tested to find out what they have hidden and where, not everything will be found. So, there is only one way, which is to reach an agreement and to treat that country with respect. I mentioned this in my remarks.
What role can Russia play? It can act as an intermediary in this case. We proposed a number of joint tripartite projects involving Russia, North Korea and South Korea. They include building a railway, pipeline transport and so on. We need to work. We need to get rid of belligerent rhetoric, to realise the danger associated with this situation, and to move beyond our ambitions. It is imperative to stop arguing. In fact, it is as simple as that.
Something I already mentioned here. We did agree at some point that Korea would stop its nuclear weapons’ programmes. No, our American partners thought that was not enough, and, a few weeks later, I believe, after the agreement, imposed more sanctions, saying that Korea can do better. Maybe it can, but it did not take on such obligations. It also immediately withdrew from all the agreements and resumed everything it was doing before. We must exercise restraint in all these actions. We did reach an agreement back then, and, I think, we can do so now as well.
Q. Fyodor Lukyanov: Mr President, the Olympic Games in South Korea are coming soon. Do you think they may be threatened by something?
A. Vladimir Putin: I hope that the Olympic Games will come off.
Q. Fyodor Lukyanov: Are we going to participate? Or is it going to be under the Olympic flag again?
A. Vladimir Putin: With regard to the Olympic Games, what do we see and what do I pay attention to? We can see that the Olympic Committee is under strong pressure. We have no complaints regarding the International Olympic Committee. Very decent people, people of action work there, but they are dependent on advertisers, television channels, sponsors, and so forth.
In turn, these sponsors get unambiguous signals from certain American authorities. It is not that we think so – we know it for a fact. There are two options: one is to force Russia to participate under a neutral flag, and the other is to keep us from participating in the Olympics altogether. Either way, it is humiliating for our country.
If anyone believes that acting this way would influence the course of the election campaign in the Russian Federation next spring, they are deeply mistaken. The effect will be quite the opposite, while the Olympic movement will suffer serious damage.
Q. Feng Shaolai: Mr. President, it is a great pleasure to meet with you again. At our club’s annual conferences, we learned more about this topic – from crises and conflicts to a new world order.
You have worked closely with foreign leaders, including Mr Xi Jinping. What do you think about his most recent speech at the 19th Congress, which he delivered two days ago?
Since you have been in contact with him for quite a long time, can you share your impressions of him as a person? And, of course, I have a question regarding the specific progress and specific challenges, as well as new conditions for the continued development of cooperation between Russia and China.
Thank you very much.
A. Vladimir Putin: As you may know, during our meetings we publicly call each other friends. This speaks to the level of the relationship that has evolved between us on a human level.
However, in addition to that, we uphold the interests of our states. As diplomats say, they are often very close or identical. An amazing situation has evolved and, God willing, it will continue for as long as possible: we always reach consensus on every issue, even seemingly controversial ones; we always come to terms, look for compromise solutions and find them.
Ultimately, these agreements benefit both states because we move forward, do not become fixated, do not stop, do not drive the situation into an impasse, but resolve contentious issues and move on, and new opportunities arise. This is a very positive practice.
As for the ongoing party congress in China, we are also closely following it, and I note the unusual openness of this party congress. I believe there is an unprecedented number of journalists and members of the international community there. There is no doubt that everything that the President of China has said, his speech and the ongoing discussions show that China is focused on the future.
We are seeing both difficulties and prospects. As noted earlier, China has wonderful economic prospects: 6.8-percent GDP growth, I believe, in the first three quarters of this year. This may be a little less than before, but it makes no difference. I believe that the ongoing changes on the labour market and in the economy as such are behind this growth. On the whole, China, on a par with India that is also demonstrating very good economic growth today, is certainly a global economic “trader.”
We have the highest country-to-country trade with China and enormous joint plans, including some in very significant, serious spheres, like outer space, high technology and energy. All of this is laying the groundwork for developing our future interstate relations.
Q. Fyodor Lukyanov: Then I have to ask Mr Ma. What does Chinese business expect from the Communist Party congress?
A. Jack Ma: Well, the business world, if we pay special attention to this People’s, this Party Congress, and I read a lot on the way, because I happen to be in Moscow, and I listen and watch. The business community among my friends, they are all very positive about that. Now what we need is a legal, friendly environment for doing business. China should be more open, and for my business, China should import more than export. Because we have been doing exporting for the past 30 years. How can China import more things from the other side of the world? That would make China’s environment better, and that will also help the world economy better. Meanwhile it can improve China’s economy better. So, I think the business world thinks that, especially the past five years when the central government focused on anti-corruption, which is so successful, has helped clean the business environment for doing business in China. So, very positive.
Q. Andrei Sushentsov: Andrei Sushentsov, MGIMO University, Valdai Club.
Mr President, speaking here last October, you responded to questions regarding the prospects for presidential candidate Donald Trump and you used an interesting formula to the effect that you were ready to work with any US president and that you did not know what kind of president Mr Trump would be if he won. The impression is that Trump is breaking all records in unpredictability. And it seems that cooperation with Hillary Clinton perhaps would have been more comprehensible. What is your take on this situation?
A. Vladimir Putin: As you know, our people say, “You have to make the sign of the cross if you’re seeing things” It only seems that way. We do not know how things could have turned out in reality either, do we?
With regard to the incumbent president, as I said a year ago – and I can repeat this now – we will do our job. And I am saying now: we are working with the president that the American people have elected. As for unpredictability, he is not the only one to blame. It also has to do with the intense opposition in the country.
After all, he is being prevented from carrying out any of his election platforms and plans. In health care, in other spheres. The moment he makes a decision on migrants, a court immediately blocks it. This is happening all the time. So to say that he is the only source of this unpredictability – no, this depends on the entire US political system. Nevertheless, we will work with the partners that we have.
The United States is a great power, the world’s largest economic and military power. Granted, unfortunately, our bilateral trade is negligible, almost nothing: $20 billion. All the same, the impact of the US is global, very significant. It is one of our most important partners, no doubt. We will continue working despite all difficulties. That is, of course, if they also want this. If they do not, we will not.
Q. Fyodor Lukyanov: Mr Toje, do you think the world would be blooming with other colors if Hillary Clinton were in office?
A. Asle Toje: I have to concur with the Russian President on that. That is contra-factual, and I really do not have an opinion on that. But Mr President, I was told that you like tough questions. We have visited North Korea, we have been to the Middle East, what about Ukraine? From the European point of view, the ball is firmly in the court of Russia. It has turned into a semi-frozen conflict; the sanctions that were meant to be dynamic have become semi-permanent. What does Russia intend to do about this and where do you see this situation standing in three years’ time? And, if I may add, since we are so lucky to have on the panel a state leader who has more experience than most, President Karzai, could you weigh in on this and tell us a little bit about, perhaps, what should be done and what should not be done in resolving the conflict in Ukraine.
A. Vladimir Putin: We will give you a tip. Mr Karzai knows how to do it: they have been fighting there for 30 years now, but the means are good there.
With regard to Ukraine, you said that, according to Europeans, the ball is in Russia’s court. Well, we think the ball is in Europe’s court, because due to the completely unconstructive – I am choosing my words so as not to appear rude – position of the former members of the European Commission, the situation went as far as a coup. Do you know what they did?
The issue was only about Ukraine signing an association agreement, an economic agreement with the European Union. Then President Yanukovych said, ”I have a problem with the text, I am going to reschedule its signing. Let us work on the text some more.“ He did not even refuse to sign it. Then there were riots backed by the United States – both financially, politically and in the media – and all of Europe.
They supported the unconstitutional seizure of power, a bloody one at that, with casualties, and took things as far as a war in southeastern Ukraine. Crimea declared its independence and its reunification with Russia, and now you think that we are to blame for that? Was it us who brought about the anti-constitutional coup? The current situation is the result of the unconstitutional armed seizure of power in Ukraine, and Europe is to blame, because it backed it.
What could have been easier than to say back then: ”You staged a coup, and after all, we are the guarantors.“ As guarantors, the foreign ministers of Poland, France and Germany signed a document, an agreement between President Yanukovych and the opposition. Three days later, it was trampled upon, and where were the guarantors? Ask them where these guarantors were? Why did they not say, ”Please, put things as they were. Get Yanukovych back in office and hold constitutional democratic elections.“ They had every chance of winning, 100 percent, no doubt. No, they had to do it through an armed coup instead. Well, we were confronted with this fact, accepted it and signed the Minsk agreements.
However, the current Ukrainian leadership is sabotaging every paragraph of these agreements, and everyone can see it perfectly well. Those who are involved in the negotiation process are fully aware of it, I assure you. Not a single step has been made towards implementing the Minsk agreements. Still everyone is saying, ”Sanctions will not be lifted until Russia complies with the Minsk agreements.“
Everyone has long since realised that the current leadership of Ukraine is not in a position to comply with them. Now that the situation in that country has hit rock bottom both in terms of the economy and domestic policy, and the police are using gas against protesters, expecting the President of Ukraine to take at least a small step towards implementing the Minsk agreements is an exercise in futility. I am not sure how he can accomplish this. But there is no alternative to it, unfortunately. Therefore, we will keep the Normandy format in place as long as our colleagues like, and we will strive to implement these Minsk agreements that you mentioned.
Quite recently, we effectively supported an initiative to send UN peacekeepers there. Not even peacekeepers, but armed UN units to protect the OSCE staff. We have always been told and asked to arm the OSCE personnel operating on the demarcation line. We immediately agreed to it. But then the OSCE refused to do so.
I am sure you are aware of it, and many in the audience who deal with these matters professionally should also be aware of this. The OSCE said, ”No, we cannot do that, we have no such expertise, no weapons, we have never used weapons in our operations. Also, we are actually afraid that the weapons could turn us into a target for one side in the conflict or the other.“ Well, a no is a no.
President Poroshenko came up with an idea to create proper conditions for protecting the OSCE staff with the help of UN armed units. We agreed and almost initiated this process, to avoid being accused of sabotaging things. No, they thought it was not enough. Now they want to interpret it liberally.
You see, what we are afraid of – I will tell you, if we can say that we are afraid of anything at all. If they fail to adopt the amnesty law prior to resolving political issues and providing these territories with a special status in accordance with the law adopted by the Rada and extended for another year recently, then closing the border between Russia and the breakaway republics will lead to a situation similar to Srebrenica. There will be a bloodbath. We cannot let this happen.
Therefore, blaming everything on Russia and saying that the ball is in our court, and we should do something about it, just does not cut it. Let us work on it together. Go and use your influence with the current government in Kiev, so that they take at least some steps towards normalising the situation. We will work hand in hand and do our best to normalise the situation. We need a democratic and friendly Ukraine.
Look, when some empires disintegrated or some territories changed hands in the wake of a war, this is one situation. When the Soviet Union collapsed, Russia voluntarily gave all these territories away. We voluntarily agreed that all former Soviet republics would become independent states. We never even thought about taking anything from anyone or dividing things, do not forget this – we did it of our own accord. And we do not want to now, either. We want to have a neighbouring country that is friendly to us.
Were you really thinking that you and Ukraine would sign an association agreement, open up all Ukrainian markets and borders, and Ukraine, as a member of the free trade zone, would become a gateway to our market? We said right away, ”Guys, you cannot do this, stop.“ No one even wanted to listen to us. They told us, ”We do not interfere with your dealings with China. You do not interfere with our dealings with Canada, so stay away from our dealings with Ukraine.“ That is what they told us, verbatim. What kind of a conversation is that? No one even wanted to hear that we have some special relations with Ukraine, and some branches of the economy are tied up with that country.
So, let us return to a constructive and substantive dialogue, as diplomats say. We are ready, and we will be pleased to do so, the sooner the better, since we do not need any conflicts on our borders.
A. Hamid Karzai: Well, sir, on Ukraine and the conflict phase there, I was, uh, it was during my last years of government when this crisis emerged in Ukraine. I and my close colleagues in my government and foreign policy and security issues convened, and we met. I told them that Ukraine was part of the Soviet Union, and after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the emergence of the independent states, Ukraine was one of the closest countries to Russia, in ethnic relations and economic relations, and in cultural relations, and in terms of the value that Ukraine holds for Russia. So my approach was one of sentiment and sensitivity, but, keeping the Russian sentiment in mind, keeping the Russian sensitivity in this region in mind. Look at it this way: if Russia went and tried to turn Canada into an ally of the Warsaw Pact against America, what would America do? They would act more aggressively than what Russia did. On Crimea: to the extent that I understand, Crimea was given to Ukraine in 1957, is that true? 1954. So it was part of Russian territory. And my government was the first government to recognise Crimea as part of Russia. And we gave that recognition to it. Not because we were against Ukraine as Afghanistan, no, but we respect Ukraine, we have immense respect for them, as we respect Russia. We looked at facts, historical facts, and the sensitivities, and the variants that we considered were true, and behaved accordingly. To my very good surprise, the new Ukrainian president, when he met with me during the condolences ceremony to the late King Abdullah in Riyadh, he was very kind to me. I had retired, and he did not say that you did that. He was nice and good to me as if he understood our point of view, so I thank him for that.
Q. Asle Toje: President Putin, where do you see this conflict standing three years from now?
A. Vladimir Putin: I strongly hope that we will make progress. I say this with absolute sincerity. It is not enough only to appeal to Russia; it is also necessary to influence Kiev’s position. Now they have made a decision on the language, essentially prohibiting the use of ethnic minority languages in school. Hungary and Romania raised objections. Poland also made some comments in this regard. However, the European Union as a whole is silent. Why are they not condemning this? There is silence.
Now they have erected a monument to Petlyura. He was a man with Nazi views, an anti-Semite who killed Jews during the war. Except for the Zionist Jewish Congress, everyone else is silent. Are you afraid of hurting your clients in Kiev, is that it? This is not being done by the Ukrainian people; this is being done at the prompting of the relevant ruling authorities. But why are you keeping silent? Until it is understood that this problem cannot be resolved without influencing the other side, nothing will happen.
I hope that this realisation will eventually come. I can see our partners’ interest, primarily our European partners’ interest in resolving this conflict. I can see real interest. Angela Merkel is doing a great deal, putting the time in, becoming deeply involved in these matters. Both the former president of France and President Macron are also paying attention. They are really working on this. However, it is necessary to work not just technically and technologically but politically. It is essential to exert some influence on the Kiev authorities, get them to do at least something. Ultimately, Ukraine itself has a stake in normalising our relations.
Now they went and imposed sanctions on us, as the EU did. We responded in kind. The president asks me, “Why did you do this?” I say, “Listen, you introduced sanctions against us.” This is just amazing! “Well, these sanctions are nothing to you, but you are really hurting us.” Now, did you not think that there would be a response when you were doing this? I am at a loss for words!
However, the realisation that this situation is untenable and should be resolved – I believe that it is becoming obvious and most importantly, it is becoming obvious to the overwhelming majority of Ukrainian citizens. We like Ukraine and I really regard the Ukrainian people as a brotherly nation if not just one nation, part of the Russian nation.
Even though Russian nationalists do not like this and Ukrainian nationalists do not like this either, this is my position, my point of view. Sooner or later, it will happen – reunification, not on an interstate level but in terms of restoring our relations. The sooner, the better, we will do our utmost towards this end.
Q. Lassino Zerbo: Thank you, President Putin, I am Lassino Zerbo. I want to, first of all, thank you and congratulate you for keeping your promise on the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. I met you two years ago in New York, I came after you when there was doubt about Russia’s commitment to the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. You affirmed it, and I am happy that you have said it again today. But I have a question to you, President Putin. You are showing leadership today and in front of everybody here, in non-proliferation and disarmament. We talked about North Korea; we talked about international agreements. Can you share this leadership among the P5 countries, in a way where the issue of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, that is crucial to advance non-proliferation and disarmament, can be taken seriously, so that this treaty that is 20 years pending entry into force can see some advancement?
A. Vladimir Putin: This question will receive a short answer – we will facilitate this. Of course, we are interested in this and will work on it.
Q. Vyacheslav Nikonov: Good evening, Mr President.
You have said with good reason that now the situation is simpler than in the years of the Cold War. I agree, but not everything is simpler. During the Cold War, there were certainly no West-organised coups in Ukraine and no US and NATO military presence in Eastern European countries – Poland and the Baltic states.
In the past few months, this military presence has been obviously mounting in blatant violation of the Russia-NATO Founding Act. To what extent do you think this poses a strategic threat to the Russian Federation, and what may be the response?
A. Vladimir Putin: We are analysing and closely following this. We know and understand every step. You know, you have just given me a good opportunity to say that we will do this and that, we will respond in this way. We are not worried about this. Let them do their exercises. Everything is under control. (Laughter.)
Q. Samir Saran: Thank you, Mr President, for this very engaging evening. You have very sportingly taken lots of questions from lots of us, and I have seen very few world leaders who have done this. So I think that is something that really must be appreciated. Very few would also disagree, sir, that in the last three years Russia has clearly emerged as the most important geopolitical actor in the world, be it your engagements in the Middle East, and, of course, the Afghanistan process that you are supporting and initiating, your ability to push back against some of the groupings that the Western countries had established, are all on record, and establish you as, perhaps, the most singular, most decisive geopolitical actor. But many would also agree that it is only going to be sustainable if we can also see the Russian economy grow significantly in the coming decade, especially in a time when energy markets are changing, where resource and consumption patterns are different, where technology plays a big role, Russia would need a new game plan to move from its current status as a middle level economy to a significant economic power. What are your proposals for doing this? Does BRICS fit into the plan? And, as an aside, when you met both President Xi Jinping and Prime Minister Modi in China recently, how was the atmosphere in the room? Does BRICS still have a valid future?
A. Vladimir Putin: You know, both Prime Minister Modi and President Xi Jinping are very contemporary people. They have different characters and may have different personality types, but they are one hundred percent up-to-date. Emotionally, they describe their positions in a slightly different way, but both are looking into the future. India certainly sees this in its Prime Minister.
The President of China is a reserved and meticulous man, but we are in close communication with each other and I see how he thinks and what he thinks about. He thinks about the future, the future of his country and the future of the entire world. It is enough to see his speech at the anniversary session of the United Nations. Read it again. A wonderful, brilliant speech. It is very orderly and serious.
As for other countries, we expect other countries, South Africa and Brazil to make their contribution. We have put in place new economic development institutions there to support our national economies. These are the Contingent Reserve Arrangement and the [New] Development Bank. These institutions are only beginning to pick up pace. I am sure that the future is very bright.
After all, it is not a closed bloc, not a military organisation. We work based on our shared interests. The similarity of our economic structures is another unifying factor. However, we are all thinking about ways of making our economies modern, forward-looking, developing and digital.
Today I hope we are already past the stage in our own Russian economy when we were affected by falling energy prices and this sanctions-related pressure had a negative impact (limited but it still has to be acknowledged). However, now our economy has been growing for the fourth quarter in a row. I believe that this year’s growth will be modest but still significant considering the previous decline and 2-percent negative growth. Russia has never had such low inflation as now: 3 percent. This has never happened before. This is the first time we have achieved this with our targeted macroeconomic policy, from month to month.
Our unemployment is at a minimal level (below 5 percent); our capital investment in fixed assets is growing, and we have a positive trade balance. Strangely enough, despite the fact that we have financed our deficit, as it were, from reserve funds, over the past two years we have observed growth in our hard currency reserves.
In 2015, I believe they were at just a little over 300 billion; now it is 420 billion. And they are growing, they continue to grow. All of this – the macroeconomic basis and development programmes related to support for key economic sectors, including [technologically] advanced sectors, are changing the structure of the economy. Gradually, not as quickly as we would like, the economic structure is changing, as evidenced, in particular, by budget revenues.
The share of revenues other than from oil and gas is increasing but the share of oil and gas revenues is declining. Therefore, I very much hope that all these processes will move ahead. We can see that a similar process is about to begin in Brazil. Our economic analysts believe that Brazil will take the next step on this upward trend. So all of this taken together makes me optimistic with regard to BRICS’ development prospects.
Q. Konstantin Zatulin: Mr President, we all know that in the past few years domestic conflicts in the European Union have been very acute because of the migrant influx. After the start of events in eastern Ukraine, Russia without a fuss accepted over a million refugees – 1.2 million to be exact – who fled from the war and persecution.
The majority of these people do not want to return. It is difficult to judge them for this. They want to call Russia home. Will you support additional amendments so that we in Russia could absorb and help them adapt faster?
A. Vladimir Putin: Yes, the Government and relevant authorities have received such instructions. This should be done carefully, considering our possibilities, the social consequences, and the readiness or lack thereof of the social infrastructure. But I think this is fair. We must support these people, and those who want to remain in Russia should have the opportunity to do so.
We are working on this now. However, a million, even a bit more in different estimates, is already here. Poland announced recently that it already has a million Ukrainians. And there are quite a few in other countries. This is, of course, unfortunate for Ukraine. De-industrialisation is going on, large industrial enterprises are shut down, the Russian market is lost, and nobody wants the goods.
The metallurgical industry is still operating there, but machine building, aviation and space are, of course, in a deplorable condition. These are high-tech, promising areas. But I hope this will also pass sometime. I am hoping this will happen, among other things, as a result of cooperation between Russia and Ukraine. I believe it is necessary to restore ties. Actually, Russia needs this, too.
Q. Sabine Fischer: Sabine Fischer, Science and Politics Foundation, Berlin.
Mr President, you were very critical about the West’s policy regarding its relations with Russia. Indeed, many aspects that you have touched upon call for an in-depth critical discussion. At the same time, we know that in any relationship – whether between countries or between people – both sides make mistakes. So I have a question. What political mistakes, in your opinion, has Russia made in its relations with the West over the past 15 years and what needs to be done, what conclusions need to be drawn for the future of these relations?
A. Vladimir Putin: Our most serious mistake in relations with the West is that we trusted you too much. And your mistake is that you took that trust as weakness and abused it. It is therefore necessary to put this behind us, turn the page and move on, building our relations on the basis of mutual respect and treating each other as equal partners of equal value.
Q. Huang Jing: This is my seventh time attending Valdai. Each time I learn a great deal, especially from your Western vision. I just cannot help asking you this question. We know that this world is undergoing unprecedentedly fast and irrevocable transition, and as such major powers matter and leadership matters. But unfortunately or fortunately, fortunately, first, is that all the major powers – Russia, the United States, China, India, Japan, Germany or Great Britain – almost every major power has a competent and a capable leader like yourself, except the number one power, the United States. We happen to have a president, unfortunately, that needs to be managed, although it remains to be seen if he is manageable or not. And you have been very successful in the senior, in terms of presidency. As a senior president, if you were asked to give advice to Mr Donald Trump on how to be a good president, how make a positive contribution to this transition world, what would you say to him? Thank you.
A. Vladimir Putin: I am sorry, but I consider the question inappropriate. Mr Trump was elected by the American people. And for this reason alone he should be treated with respect even if you disagree with a position of his.
He is being disrespected in the country. This is a deplorable, negative aspect of the American political system. You can argue but you cannot show disrespect. Not just for him personally but for the people who have voted for him. This is the first thing.
Secondly, as I already said, I believe the President of the United States needs no advice because to be elected, even without extensive government experience, you have to have talent and go through this crucible. He did just that. And he won. He won fairly.
As for leadership, I would still ask our moderator to reconsider his decision and give the floor to Mr Karzai [and] Mr Ma. Why? Because they are really great leaders, each in his own domain.
It is one thing to lead the United States, Russia or China but another thing to lead Afghanistan amid an endless civil war, balancing between various forces and putting oneself in the line of fire almost every day. Courage and leadership were of paramount importance there, so I am simply asking you…
As for Mr Ma, he has created such a colossal computer empire! And I would also be interested to hear answers to questions that may be asked here.
A. Hamid Karzai: Well, it is a philosophical question. I do not know how to answer that. Leadership. I believe it involves personal qualities and also experience together. I entirely agree with the answer that His Excellency President Putin gave with regard to President Trump. He is the elected President of the United States, and the American people are a great people, hard-working people; I have worked with them, and I know them very well. Yes, we have differences on security issues in Afghanistan with them and what they are up to, but otherwise, it is a highly respectable country and a great people that they have, very down-to-earth people. On leadership… we have a tradition in Afghanistan. We do not praise people in their presence, so if President Putin were not here, I would have given him as an example. Now you are here, and I do not know what to do. Still, I think that you are doing very well.
A. Jack Ma: Thank you. I absolutely agree with President Putin about Donald Trump. I think he is a very unique president. And he is elected by the people, and it needs to be respected. And I am not a politician, I am a business guy. I was to be a teacher. I was trained to be a high-school teacher, and I taught in a school for six years. And I learned from being a teacher how to be a leader. A teacher’s job is to always hope that his students are better than him. Normally, as a teacher, I want my student to be a banker, a good politician, a scientist or an athlete. I do not want my students to be bankrupt, in jail or like this. So when you have good intentions for your people, people can feel it. And I think to be a leader is not about you, it is not only about you. It is about the people, you should build up a good team to support you. Without a good team, nobody can be a good leader. So I think you should have a good team, a team that shares the same vision, same belief. And third, a good leader can be proved only when the tough situation comes. It is easy to be a leader in peaceful times, and today, for this critical period of the world, both political, business, science, we are taking a huge challenge. So a great leader at that time can only show leadership at the tough time; and as a leader, when you become leader, or you want to be a leader, or you are elected leader, your job is to face the challenge. Other people can sleep, you cannot sleep. Other people can stop, you cannot stop. Unfortunately, to be a leader is tough, and to be a leader, I think, is very lonely. I understand, it is not easy. For managing a company like mine – only 60,000 people – I have enough headaches. To manage a country in such a complicated world… I show my great respect for any politician. Thank you.
A. Vladimir Putin: The stake is on modern, promising technocrats. We have a unique opportunity – ultimately, through the expression of their political preferences by the people who live in those areas – to bring to power in the regions, present these people to the public and give them an opportunity to prove themselves. Then steer them to an election campaign, take them through the crucible of election campaigns – each step is important – and create a governors’ corps comprised of young, forward-looking, modern young people who care about the future of their region and Russia as a whole.
However, this does not mean that we are doing this indiscriminately; this does not mean that I personally am unhappy with the performance of those governors who have taken a new job or have retired – there are also those. Some have to leave due to health considerations. Generally, this is a natural process. We will continue to do so in the future, but very carefully, very cautiously, so that we always have a balance in the governors’ corps, in the Government, between reliable, experienced professionals and people who are just embarking on their career in a particular area of activity.
In my opinion, everything that has been done recently was done successfully. To reiterate, I will have more meetings with the people who have worked for many years. I am very grateful to them for their work, for their results. However, time moves on and life is following its course. This is a natural process. I am pinning high hopes on this young generation of managers. Russia needs such people.
Q. Toby Gati: Thank you, thank you, President Putin. We have heard from you on many occasions, and it is a wonderful opportunity, and I think you are the only world leader who has ever done this. And maybe perhaps it is an appropriate thing also that the last word is given to an American, actually, the only American who has spoken. Let me ask you a few things. You have complained and pushed back on US presidents and on US exception, its feeling that it is an exceptional nation, at many times, and at this session, you criticised every single US president since the fall of the Soviet Union, without talking about any of the positives. And as someone who worked in one of the administrations, the Clinton Administration, I do not remember it that way. And I remember many things that were done, from WTO membership to increased contacts for students, doctors, experts, health, space, and I am kind of surprised that your assessment is more negative than it was last year and the year before. Now, I think many welcome this, and not only in Russia, but in the United States. I watch American TV, but I also watch Russian TV. But frankly, it does not leave much room for people who do not welcome this state of affairs, and it gives an opportunity for people to blame any problem on foreigners and, it is usually here on Americans. What we try to do at Valdai, and you know this, is talk about why people think what they think, and how do we overcome it. So does it bother you at all that you are reinforcing every negative stereotype about the US and making it harder, in my personal opinion, to overcome some of these. And perhaps it would be helpful to talk about some of the positive things. About President Trump: I did not vote for him, but I did not work for Hillary Clinton either. In America, we respect those who respect our institutions, not just individuals, and I think that is really important. And I do not know if my colleagues from America would agree, but we think the institution matters more than the person. So, let me conclude on a positive note, though. If you had to pick one or two areas where you would try your hardest to break through this negative mood, what would the areas be, and what would you try to say to the American people to make that possible?
A. Vladimir Putin: First of all, this is related to a critical attitude towards each other. I would like to draw your attention to the fact that, as you surely know, an unprecedented anti-Russia campaign has been launched in the United States – starting with the late stages of the Obama Administration, and it is not over yet.
I do not understand why you are surprised by my critical attitude towards the activity of the previous US administration, as well as the present administration. The United States has unleashed an unprovoked anti-Russia campaign. Somebody lost the election to Mr Trump, Russia was blamed for everything and a vicious anti-Russia hysteria – there is no other way I can describe this – was whipped up. Any issue, any failure is being attributed to Russia. Is that not so? Yes, this is exactly the case – on any issue. Look for the Russian trail, and, by the way, they immediately find one. This is my first point.
The second is, we have met here today not to award medals and orders to each other; we are having a discussion and we are doing this sincerely and honestly. I also presented my position on many aspects of our relations that I consider negative. I did not create stereotypes; I spoke about facts.
For example, the fact that chemical weapons have not been eliminated. Is this a stereotype or a fact? It is a fact. Instead of destroying chemical weapons, they have put this off until 2023. I spoke about destroying plutonium. Is this a stereotype or a fact? It is a fact. Instead of meeting their bilateral obligations, they changed them unilaterally and are not complying with them within the framework of the treaty; this is what I spoke about.
However, this does not mean that our relations in the past did not… Yes, by the way, when I said that we gave our partners access to all nuclear facilities – what is this, some kind of an anti-American stereotype? Of course not – I spoke about our openness, but said that this openness was not duly appreciated.
Because it is perfectly obvious – and I have to repeat this: as a former FSB director, I know for sure that there was massive support for separatism and radicalism in our North Caucasus. Do not tell me anything about that – I know it. Was there no bombing of Belgrade? Without UN Security Council approval? What is this, an anti-American stereotype? It is a fact. Did the armed forces not move into Iraq without approval from the UN Security Council? Is this a stereotype? It is a fact. The United States itself is creating such stereotypes.
However, this does not mean that there was nothing good in our relations. There were good things, too, I agree with you – support in joining the WTO, that is true, and there were other positive developments. Even on an interpersonal level, we had very good discussions and contacts. For example, I will never forget Bill Clinton’s support when I was taking my first steps as Prime Minister.
Boris Yeltsin sent me to New Zealand to stand in for him and that was where I first met Mr Clinton. We established a very good, positive, kind human relationship. In other words, we do have something positive to talk about, but I am talking only about what is standing in our way. Have we gathered here only to praise each other or what? The current situation leaves much to be desired, doesn’t it? You have hysteria out there; we have discontent; you are tearing down our flags, closing our diplomatic missions. What is so good about it?
All of this is the result of the problems that have accumulated. I explained where they came from. After all, we have met here not to praise and pamper each other but to identify problems, show where they come from and think about how to resolve them. Can they be resolved or not? I believe that they can. Let us work together to this end. We need your advice and recommendations. This is why we meet here at the Valdai Club.
Thank you for your question.
Fyodor Lukyanov: A great big thank you to all panel speakers. Thank you to all our colleagues. I believe we have covered a lot of ground today, if not set a record.
Thank you very much. All the very best.
By way of contrast: a thirty-three second U-Tube clip from POTUS https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AFO6Or6rtcg