homepage_name! > Editions > Number 066 > Interview - Vladimir Putin

Vladimir Putin

The President of Russia

Vladimir Putin gave an interview to Channel One and the Associated Press news agency

“I guess I can call myself a pragmatist with a conservative perspective. It would be hard for me to explain this, but I always take realities of today, lessons from the distant and recent past into consideration.” V. Putin

By John Daniszewski and Kirill Kleymenov

Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin is the fourth and current President of Russia.

Putin was born in Leningrad (now St. Petersburg), Russia, on October 7, 1952. After graduating from Leningrad State University in 1975, he began his career in the KGB as an intelligence officer. He was mainly stationed in East Germany.

For sixteen years Putin served as an officer in theKGB, rising to the rank ofLieutenant Colonelbefore he retired to enter politics in his nativeSaint Petersburgin 1991.

He moved to Moscow in 1996 and joined PresidentBoris Yeltsin’s administration where he rose quickly, becomingActing Presidenton 31 December 1999 when Yeltsin resigned unexpectedly.

Putin won the subsequent2000 presidential electionand wasre-elected in 2004. Because ofconstitutionally mandated term limits, Putin was ineligible to run for a third consecutive presidential term in 2008.

Dmitry Medvedevwon the2008 presidential electionand appointed Putin asPrime Minister, thus beginning a period of so-called “tandemocracy”.

In September 2011, following a change in the law extending the presidential term from four years to six,Putin announced that he would seek a third, non-consecutive term as President in the2012 presidential election. This announcement led tolarge-scale protests in many Russian cities.

He won the election in March 2012 and is serving a six-year term.

Mr. President, there have been some speculations about your personal chemistry with President Obama, about your relationship. He was quoted as saying that you were slouching or looking bored, while making remarks about your body language. I was wondering how you took those remarks? Do you feel that they were too personal and appropriate or...? What was your reaction?

I think that everyone in his or her activities, I mean those who are engaged in politics, economy, security, dissemination of information, everyone is trying to show their best qualities, including those observers you are talking about. Sometimes I read with surprise about the body language, about being bored or behaving in some other way. Who but ourselves can say what we have in our mind and soul? There are certain gestures which, of course, can be interpreted unambiguously, but nobody has ever seen neither me making such gestures at Mr. Obama nor Mr. Obama making them at me, and I hope this will never happen. Everything else is made up.

I repeat once more, I have already said that our conversations are always very constructive in nature. They are very substantive and quite frank.

“The President of the United States is a very good interlocutor. He is easy to talk to, because it is clear what he wants. He has a clear position and he pays attention to the position of his interlocutor, his opponent, he reacts to it. It is interesting for me to work with him.”

Mr. President, to sum up this discussion concerning Russia-US relations, how would you describe them today? As you know, the agenda for President Obama’s visit to Russia was announced today: right after the arrival he is meeting human rights activists and representatives of sexual minorities. And comments have already been made…

Why?

Is it a certain sign of where our relations stand today?

Well, this is something the American diplomacy does: they show support for the civil society. For me, there is nothing bad about it. On the contrary, we welcome this. It helps one fully understand what is going on in our society. It would though be very nice if the diplomatic service, the Embassy, security services – that is what they are for – provided a complete, and I mean complete and objective, view of the situation in the Russian society and if they did not look at it one-sidedly. However, it is also important to see how people dealing with human rights issues are organized and how they feel.

However, if we do describe these relations, we’ve had a ‘reset’. What is it this time? A freeze? A chill?

No, it is just ongoing work, protection of national interests and principles of solving international issues and bilateral issues. It is a difficult and intense joint work. It’s true that this work is not laid with roses or other flowers. It is complicated and sometimes hard work, and there is nothing special about this. Anyway, President Obama was not elected by the American people to be pleasant to Russia, and neither was your humble servant elected by the people of Russia to be pleasant to someone.

We work, we argue, we are humans, and sometimes someone can get irritated. But I would like to repeat it myself: I believe that global common interests are a good foundation for finding solutions together.

Since we are talking about legal matters, the Edward Snowden case has aroused a lot of unhappiness and frustration. What do you as a former security man think about the actions of a man like Snowden who leaks secret information he was entrusted with?

If it was really secret information and if such a person caused us some damage, then I would certainly seek his prosecution to the fullest extent permitted by Russian law.

“We cannot judge whether Snowden committed a crime in the United States or not. But as a sovereign country that does not have an agreement with the United States on mutual extradition of criminals, we cannot do otherwise but to give him the opportunity to live here.”

In that regard, do you think the US administration is right to seek his return from Russia, to ask you to send him back?

Probably, yes. You see, the problem is completely different. We do not know if the administration is right or not. The thing is not that we protect Snowden. We do not protect him at all. The problem is that we do not have an agreement with the United States on mutual extradition of criminals. We repeatedly suggested that the United States should conclude such an agreement, but we were refused.

There are certain rules and procedures in the world, according to which a criminal can and must be handed over to the other party if there is an appropriate agreement where many issues are set out and certain guarantees are given. However, the United States refused to sign such an agreement with us. And they do not extradite our criminals who did not reveal just some secrets, but whose hands are stained with blood, who killed people, who traded in human beings, and our American colleagues are aware of it. We cannot judge whether Snowden committed a crime in the United States or not. We simply cannot do that. But as a sovereign country that does not have such agreements with the United States, we cannot do otherwise but to give him the opportunity to live here.

I will now tell you something I have never said before. I have dropped some hints but have never said anything like that directly. Mr. Snowden first went to Hong Kong and got in touch with our diplomatic representatives. I was informed that there was such a man, agent of special services. I asked them what he wanted and was told that this man was fighting for human rights and free flow of information, against violations of related human rights and law in the United States, as well as against violations of international law. I said: “So what? If he wants to stay in this country, he is welcome, provided however that he stops any kind of activities that could damage Russian-US relations. This country is not an NGO, it has its own national interests and it does not want to sever Russian-US relations.” This information was communicated to him. He said: “No, I am fighting for human rights and I urge you to join me in this fight.” I answered: “No, Russia will not join him, let him fight alone.” And he left, just like that.

Then he took a flight to Latin America. I learned that Mr. Snowden was on the way to our country two hours before his plane landed. What happened next? Information was leaked. No offence, but I think that US special services’ agents along with diplomats should have acted with greater professionalism. After they learnt that he was on the way to our country on a transit flight, they put all possible destination countries under pressure, all countries in Latin America and Europe. But they could have allowed him to get to a country where his security could not be guaranteed or intercepted him along the way – they did the same, by the way, with the plane carrying the president of one Latin American country, which, to my opinion, was absolutely unacceptable, and done in a rude fashion inappropriate for the United States or your European partners. That was humiliating. The United States could have done the same with respect to Snowden. What stopped them? Instead, they scared everyone; the man quickly decided to stay in Russia’s transit zone and got stuck in our country. What were we to do after that? Hand him over to the United States? In this case we need to sign an agreement. You do not want to? All right, hand our criminals to us instead. You do not want that either? Good. Why would you then request extradition on a unilateral basis? Why so snobbish? Both sides need to take into account each other’s interests, work together and look for professional solutions.

So, we are defending specific norms governing state-to-state relations rather than Mr. Snowden. I really hope that in the future, Russia and the United States will reach the relevant arrangements and formalize them as legally binding instruments.

Has Edward Snowden offered Russia any information, any confidential information and if he did, would you say what?

No, he didn’t offer us any information. We didn’t receive anything from him and we do not intend to. We are professionals as well, and we believe that everything he could tell us is already known to our US colleagues from special services. They have minimized all possible risks in this regard, and they have altered, destroyed, changed everything. He is of no use to us. We did not even want to get involved into all this, you see. He is a man of a completely different type; of course he can be presented as anyone. I understand that US special services are interested in portraying him as a traitor, but he sees things differently – he calls himself a fighter for human rights. He may well be denied this characteristic but that is already the business of those who make judgments. He calls himself like this and behaves just like this. We have no desire to involve him in any kind of cooperation or get any information from him. He has never tried to give us anything, and we have never tried to get anything out of him.

So, theoretically, he could live to a ripe old age in Russia?

You know, I sometimes think about him, he is a strange type. He is a young man, just over 30, I cannot even imagine what he thinks. How is he going to live his future life? In fact, it is a hard life that awaits him. I cannot even imagine what he will do afterwards. It is clear, though, that we will not hand him over and he can feel safe here. But what is next? As time passes, the United States will probably understand that it has been dealing with a person who has certain beliefs that can be judged differently, rather than with a traitor or a spy. And some compromises might be found in this case. Do not ask me. It is his life and he has opted for it by himself. He believes this is noble and justified and that such sacrifices are necessary – it is his choice.

Mr. President, if you allow me, a couple of questions on economy. When meeting with students during your recent visit to Vladivostok you said that the government will cut the planned expenditure. And here a forgotten word “sequester” comes to mind. But first of all, is it this year’s or next year’s budget that we are talking about? And what is the scale of these reductions?

I would like to remind you that sequester means slashing by a certain value of all expenditures without exception and irrespective of priorities. This sometimes happens in world economies and is due to some drastic changes in economic situation and negative trends in the economy. This is not Russia’s case, we are not in the negative, and there is a slight growth as compared to last year. The problem is that we have expected the economy to grow more significantly, and the higher the growth, the greater the budget revenue. And initially we planned to spend more resources on various projects.

Today, it has become obvious that the prediction is a bit different, the economy is growing indeed, but slower, so the revenue will be more modest, which means that we will have to spend money more carefully. This is not sequester; however, we need to come up with another forecast for economy’s growth and outline the priority expenditures based on this forecast and the current reality. I think we will need to do some cutting. This, however, should be initiated by the Government during its work on the budget.

This means that the expenditure items have not been yet defined?

Right you are. Do you know the risk we may run if it is not done? We will follow the steps of those countries that go into huge deficit and thus accumulate sovereign debt. If nothing is done, by 2014 our country will face certain deficit, and the next year it will be more serious, then even more than that and in the end we will find ourselves in a very difficult situation. If we are responsible, if we want to feel confident, probably a bit more modest during a certain period of our life, but nevertheless be sure that nothing collapses, blasts or falls apart, then we should act carefully and professionally. That is what I am talking about.

Speaking about being more modest, what are people to expect? Should they start saving for a rainy day, just in case?

No, they should not. The people’s incomes have been generally increasing. Probably not that fast and not for all the categories of population, but, despite the fact that the growth rate is below our expectations, the incomes increase. The Government will table a solution for the investment activities or, maybe, social sector, I do not know. Let me stress once again: this is a complex, multifaceted work. When it is done, the Government will put its proposals forward.

When the law says it’s a crime to do propaganda, would that include things like waiving a rainbow flag or painting your body in rainbow colors? Is that propaganda for young people? Will visitors and athletes have to have these kinds of concern?

No. In Russia, people who initiated these laws and who adopted this law (I, by the way, was not the initiator) assumed that homosexual marriages do not give children. Russia is going through hard times in terms of demographics. And we are more interested in full-fledged families and more children. It is not the main thing in the whole system of measures aimed at supporting demographic processes. But I think the authors of the law were guided by the need to solve demographic problems and were far from the idea of infringing anyone’s rights. And certainly not during the Olympic Games or other mass sport events, especially the Olympics – one can be absolutely sure that Russia will faithfully follow the principles of Olympism, which do not admit any kind of discrimination, national, gender, or sexual one, mentioned by you.

Also around the Games, there is some concern about terrorism. I know some terrorist groups have made threats against the Games. Would you say the visitors, do they have to fear terrorism and what kind of extra measures might you need to take? We saw in Boston that it’s hard to protect sporting events.

Terrorists always threaten someone. As soon as they make us fear, they win. Yet this is not supposed to mean that we should turn a deaf ear to their threats. We should do everything we can to halt these threats and leave terrorists no chance of demonstrating their cruelty or carrying out their murderous activities and policy of hate. Certainly, we take a wide range of steps aimed at ensuring security of the Winter Games. I strongly believe that our special services and law enforcement agencies will certainly cope with this task.

What more could be done to ensure security? In this regard, cooperation with the colleagues from law enforcement agencies is pivotal. I should tell that we have relevant arrangements both with the US — the FBI and other special services — and European partners. All these people feel their responsibility before the athletes, sports fans and spectators. I hope that their joint work will be efficient and ensure complete and absolute security of the Sochi Winter Games.

“Certainly not during the Olympic Games or other mass sport events, especially the Olympics – one can be absolutely sure that Russia will faithfully follow the principles of Olympism, which do not admit any kind of discrimination, national, gender, or sexual one.”

On political philosophy, I think your political philosophy is still something of a mystery. I just want to ask you are you a liberal, are you a conservative, are you a Marxist, are you a pragmatist. What are your political guideposts?

I guess I can call myself a pragmatist with a conservative perspective. It would be hard for me to explain this, but I always take realities of today, lessons from the distant and recent past into consideration, I try to take these events and this experience and project them into the future, in the medium and long-term perspective. Please, define for yourself whether this is a pragmatic or a conservative approach.

Thank you.

Thank you very much.

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