Putin: "We Are Ready to Talk with Trump"
This week, Vladmir Putin, President of Russia, gave an interview with a pool of international journalists, in which he said that the policy of sanctions towards Cuba only worked to punish the Cubans, and that Obama was on the right path.
This week, a pool of international news agencies had the chance to interview Russian President Vladimir Putin. This is the transcript:
Below is a transcript of an interview with Russian President Vladimir Putin conducted by top executives from 10 international news agencies, including Spain's Agencia EFE.
The first question, from the director general of Russia's TASS, Sergei Mikhailov, was about what the government in Moscow describes as Russophobia.
Putin: First of all, yes, I would like to share my reflections and thoughts on what is happening and on the reasons for this Russophobia.
Why is this so? I think this is because we are seeing the emergence of a multipolar world, and this is not to the monopolists' liking. Monopolies are not good things, as we know, but monopolists always fight to keep hold of them, in all sectors and all areas of life.
A multipolar world is emerging and this is partly due to Russia's efforts to stand up for its interests, for its legitimate interests, let me stress. That is one aspect.
The second aspect is that some of our partners in some countries began making attempts a while back to contain Russia and limit its lawful desire to protect its national interests. They do this through all kinds of actions that are outside the framework of international law, including economic restrictions. Now, they see that this is not working and has produced no results. This irritates them and rouses them into using other methods to pursue their aims and tempts them to up the stakes. But we do not go along with these attempts, do not offer pretexts for action. They therefore need to invent pretexts out of nowhere.
How long will this last? I do not think it will go on forever, because sooner or later, people will wake up to the fact that this is counterproductive and harmful to all. Of course, it causes us some harm, but it also harms those who initiate these policies. I think that people are already coming around to this realization. We see some very clear change in the situation, change for the better. I hope that this trend will continue.
Q: Please address concerns that hackers, perhaps including some in Russia, might try to influence this year's general elections in Germany.
A: Hackers can be anywhere, they can lurk in any country in the world. Of course, the general context of inter-state relations should be taken into account in this case because hackers are free people like artists. If artists get up in the morning feeling good, all they do all day is paint. The same goes for hackers. They got up today and read that something is going on internationally. If they are feeling patriotic they will start contributing, as they believe, to the justified fight against those speaking ill of Russia. Is that possible? In theory, yes. At the government level, we never engage in this. This is what is most important.
Second. I can image a scenario when somebody develops a chain of attacks in a manner that would show Russia as the source of these attacks. Modern technology allows that. It is very easy.
And finally, what is most important is I am deeply convinced that no hackers can have a real impact on an election campaign in another country. You see, nothing, no information can be imprinted in voters' minds, in the minds of a nation, and influence the final outcome and the final result. This is my answer.
We do not engage in this activity at the government level and are not going to engage in it. On the contrary, we try to prevent this from happening in our country. At any rate, I believe that no hackers can affect the election campaign in any European country, nor in Asia or in America.
Q: Much is said about the good relations between you and Mr. Trump. Are you and he such good friends?
A: We don't know each other. We have not met even once. But candidate Trump said that relations with Russia had a very low level and that it was necessary to improve that relationship. We are ready to talk with Trump. I have to recognize that I love that kind of person. They are simple, direct, they have a very honest view of things and that can be very advantageous.
Don't ask me about what advice I would give him because a person like President Trump doesn't need any advice, especially if it comes to political issues, and much less from one of his counterparts, because it will always be misinterpreted, and thus would be counterproductive.
What I do want to make clear is that we are very interested in opening lines of dialogue with Mr. Trump, though I don't know if that will be possible.
Mr. Trump and I are united in that neither he nor I were professional politicians. I was not a member of any party and do not consider myself a professional politician.
I don't know how Trump feels in this regard, but I don't believe it is opportune to say what I like or don't like about Mr. Trump, simply that we need to establish a good political and political relationship. I don't know if this will be possible, but we are patient and we will wait to see what happens.
Q: What prospects for solutions do you see regarding North Korea's nuclear and missile programs, in particular in light of US military activity in the region?
A: Of course, you can refer to the North Korean nuclear missile threat, just as it happened in the case of Iran. But I do not think that North Korea is really the point. If Pyongyang announces tomorrow that it is going to abandon the nuclear tests and its nuclear weapons program, the United States will continue to develop its BMD (ballistic missile defense) system under some other pretext or without any pretext at all, as it is doing in Europe now.
When we raised the issue of the US BMD system in Europe, they cited the problem of Iran, saying that they are doing this to neutralize Iran's nuclear program and the threat it allegedly presented. But since then we have signed an agreement with Iran that removed this alleged threat, and the international community has agreed that there are reliable safeguards. The IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) shares this view. However, the development of ballistic missile defense sites goes on at a fast pace. Who is it designed against?
We kept saying that they are trying to deceive us. They replied that Iran is their only target. Now I am the only one to keep talking about this, while the rest stay silent and pretend not to understand what I mean. But you do know what I mean. Why do you stay silent then? Meanwhile, the situation is getting worse. This is pushing the arms race into a new round. This is obvious. And so we are pondering a response. We are thinking about ways to perfect our systems to overcome the anti-missile shield.
Q: Is demilitarization of the southern Kuril Islands possible?
A: Concerning the military build-up in the Russian Far East and on the islands in particular, this was not Russia's initiative. The same applies to the situation in Europe. NATO bases are coming ever closer to our western borders, infrastructure creeps closer, and contingents are being beefed up. What are we to do in this situation? Are we to watch on idly? No, we cannot and will not. We are taking the appropriate responses.
The same is happening in the east. One aircraft carrier sailed to the region, then a second US aircraft carrier arrived, and there are reports of a third heading for the region now. This is not the end of the world - aircraft carriers come and leave again, but components of a missile defense system are being installed as well, and this is a great concern, which we have spoken about for the last decade, because it destroys the strategic balance in the world.
You are all experienced adults with decades spent working in the news field, but you keep silent on this issue. The world remains silent as if nothing were happening. No one is listening to us, and if they are listening, they do not pass on our message further. The global public is living in ignorance of this whole situation, but what is happening is a very serious and worrying process. Missile defenses are being put in place in Alaska, and now in South Korea. Like with what is happening to the west of Russia, are we to look on idly at what is happening to the east? No, of course we cannot. We are considering possible responses to this challenge, and it is a challenge in our eyes.
The same applies to the (Kuril) islands. We are concerned with our security. We are thinking about ways to neutralize possible threats a long distance from the border. The islands are a convenient place for this. In other words, I do not agree that we have taken the initiative to militarize them. No, we have been forced to reply to the developments in the region.
As for the theoretical possibility that US troops could be stationed on the islands if they were to become Japanese sovereign territory, yes, this possibility exists. This stems from the treaty, from the protocols that were signed. We have not seen them, but we have an overall idea of their content.
I won't go into the details now, though I am familiar with them, but the possibility for stationing US troops on the islands exists. Of course, we could ask, does Russia plan to worsen its relations with the United States in some way, and does this possibility frighten us? No, we have no such intentions, and nothing frightens us, but we see, for example, what is happening now in the United States, we see the anti-Russian campaign and the Russophobia that continue there. How will this situation develop? We do not know, and it does not depend on us, as we did not begin this whole process. In this situation, we can theoretically imagine that today everything is fine, and tomorrow they deploy missile defense system components there too. This would be totally unacceptable to us.
Is demilitarization possible? Yes, of course it is, but simply demilitarizing these islands alone is not enough. We need to look at how to reduce tension in the region in general. Only then can we look at serious, long-term agreements. It is difficult to say right now just what kind of agreements they might be, but I do think they are possible.
Q: There is now an intense discussion in Sweden about whether or not to join NATO. What is your opinion in this regard?
A: If Sweden joins NATO, it will, of course, have a negative effect on our bilateral relations. We would consider it an additional threat.
We are not going to become hysterical, but we will have to respond in some way. The Swedes will know if it is something they need, but nobody with common sense could even imagine Russia launching an attack on Sweden.
There are a lot of false reports about whether our submarines are near Sweden, etc. That is completely false. And I wonder: is it really in Sweden's best interest to be involved in this conflict?
Q: This year there are elections in Germany. Would you like to work with Chancellor Angela Merkel or with Mr. Martin Schulz?
A: I have known and worked together with Angela for a long time now. We do have our differences, but we have many areas of common ground too, especially in economic cooperation. We share similar views on some issues in international politics too. As I said though, there are issues on which we differ in our policy approaches.
I hardly know Mr. Schulz at all, but I know he is an experienced person who has been in politics for a long time. He has been in European politics and in German politics, and has recently returned to German politics. In principle, we - and when I say 'we', I mean the entire Russian team - are ready to work with anyone. The main thing is to have partners who, like us, seek constructive cooperation.
We have no preferences in this respect. I think that if we and partners act not out of political considerations of the moment, but are guided by our countries' and peoples' fundamental interests, not only will we find common ground, but we will find good and effective roads for working together, effective means of cooperation.
I have no doubt whatsoever about this because we have so many interests in common. After all, our cooperation in some economic sectors and our interdependency in some sectors is such that dozens if not hundreds of thousands of jobs in both countries depend on its successful development. This is a powerful factor for our coexistence in today's world and all the more so in Europe.
Some German producers make big profits out of working on the Russian market. There is no need to be an expert or specialist to understand that the Russian economy needs to develop technology cooperation (with Germany). In this area, we have been working together with success and we have results. I am thinking of the recovery in our trade with Germany, for example, which was up by nearly 40 percent in the first quarter of this year. This, I think, is significant growth. But I am thinking too of the many projects that we are carrying out with success, and that increase the amount of high-tech goods produced on Russian soil. In other words, this is a serious localization effort, and localization reaches up to 60-70 percent. The automotive sector provides a good example.
Despite the political difficulties, not a single German company, and the same is true of our other foreign partners, has left the Russian market. Everyone continues working. And this is despite the political and also economic difficulties, the fall in production, drop in GDP, decrease in people's real incomes and the corresponding fall in demand. Everyone is working all the same. The state authorities are doing their best to support them.
That is not to mention the energy sector. Germany has decided to phase out nuclear energy, but nuclear energy accounts for a big share of Germany's energy, bigger than in Russia today. Where will Germany get its energy from? We see that Norway's resources are coming to an end, and Britain will soon be a net consumer country. Their resources are also dwindling. So, where will the energy come from?
At the last (St. Petersburg International Economic) forum, we spoke about the prospects on the Yamal Peninsula, where we had reserves of 2.7 trillion cubic meters of gas. Gazprom just briefed me on the new reserves they have discovered there. Can you imagine what this increase represents? It's a two-fold increase. We have another 4.2 trillion cubic meters there, and that is just in one small region. But these reserves are global in scale, and given Russia's proximity to Europe and cheap logistics and well-organized procedures and technology, this is an absolutely natural partnership.
We offer a cheap and clean energy source, if it's hydrocarbons we're looking at. This is absolutely natural. In the long term, if we look at long-term contracts, this guarantees stable supplies and - also very important - guarantees that the entire German economy is competitive. This is tremendously important. It's a relatively cheap resource and comes from a reliable source.
We also have historically strong humanitarian ties and contacts between people. This has always been the case. Despite the tragedies of two wars, our peoples have always maintained their contacts.
I say all this simply in the hope that Germany will be led by people who understand all of these relations, and we take the position that no matter who is in power in Germany, these fundamental factors in our relations will play a positive role.
Q: What is your analysis of the extreme situation in Venezuela. How do you see the rapprochement between the United States and Cuba?
A: Venezuela is a country experiencing an intense political struggle. We want both the opposition and the government to respect the rules of the game, abide by the constitution and avoid the emergence of radicalism.
With regard to Cuba, we hail the relationship with the United States. It shows that the policy of sanctions doesn't work for anybody. In Cuba's case, they only worked to punish the Cubans. It was a good decision by (former US President Barack) Obama that we salute and approve.
Q: When will you announce your decision on whether or not you will run in the March 2018 presidential election?
A: Now is not the moment. There's about a year left and that's a lot of time and in the contemporary world of politics, it's too much time. Keep in mind that on starting any electoral campaign, everybody stops working and I'm not going to contribute to that. That is why I'm not advancing anything right now. It will be later. You'll need to wait.
Q: Are the signs the Russian economy is recovering?
A: We're doing better, that's obvious. In the last year we have managed to stabilize ourselves and we have gotten used to living with a lower oil price. We are working to diversify our economy. The proof is that the products with added value are growing. GDP began to grow in the final quarter of last year, about 0.3 percent. This year we have witnessed a growth in consumption of energy resources and transport of around 0.5 percent.
The reality is that nothing has changed with the sanctions. The Russian economy is recovering. Foreign investment grew fivefold last year, helping the surplus in the trade balance. We have an inflation rate of 4.6 percent, the lowest in the history of modern Russia, and unemployment of 5.2 percent, which is much lower than many European countries. We have been building, little by little, a chain of incentives to support our economy. I will present these and other figures in tomorrow's plenary session.