Never read a book written about me

Right before his visit to Germany, Russian President Vladimir Putin was interviewed by journalists of the Russian and German mass media. What way does Russia follow today? How does Moscow estimate today’s events in the world? Here are extracts from Putin’s interview on the most pressing problems.

On Debts

As for Russia’s debts, I voiced our opinion several times already. The line followed by the Russian government is the most important thing regarding the situation. We will repay all debts of the former Soviet Union and the Russian debts accumulated within the several past years. Moreover, we try to repay the debts to the International Monetary Fund ahead of schedule. I do not think that we have any problems in this sphere.

Russia expects that the year of 2003 will pose a problem, as this is the peak year concerning debt repayments. Still, we try to form the budget to be able to cope with the problem in 2003. We also take the world economic conjuncture into consideration at budget formation, even extremely pessimistic possibilities.

Concerning the Soviet Union debts to the former German Democratic Republic, consultations with German colleagues on this problem are under way. I suppose that the meetings and talks we plan to hold in Weimar will put an end to the problem. The debt problem is very painful for Russia and Germany as well, not only because it is often said that Russian culture and arts were seriously damaged during the WWII. It is also because a part of artwork removed from Russia during the war now is in private collections, and, consequently, state authorities are not authorized to restitute them. However, here, in Russia, the cultural potential is in the state’s disposal.

To my mind, this problem requires a serious approach, patience, and benevolence from each of the sides. The governments of Russia and Germany are working on the creation of such an atmosphere. Russia gives some pieces of art back to Germany, and Germany, in its turn, assists Russia in the restoration of the Amber Room in the suburb of St. Petersburg.

On Freedom of Press

I am absolutely sure that the notion “democratic Russia” provides for free press, but all democratic institutes, free press including, are still in the making in Russia. If we mean that freedom of press is the freedom of several oligarchs to “buy” journalists and thrust their personal opinions on journalists (this was the way of Russia’s oligarchic development within last ten years), this very freedom of speech is in danger, indeed. To my mind, we should not let some individuals dictate their will concerning Russia’s strategy and make fortunes on money laundering.

However, if we mean that freedom of speech is the opportunity of journalists to speak their opinions on different problems openly, criticize the authorities, and get an adequate response to the criticism, I think we will achieve this in Russia. We have already started moving this way, and the state will be working more persistently on the problem. To my mind, all conditions for economic freedom of the press and its economic independence are to be necessarily created.

On the New Nuclear Strategy of the USA

To my mind, no new nuclear strategy of the USA can be spoken about so far, as, fortunately, we have heard only statements of several US officials on the problem. However, the statements are rather alarming. I will try to explain. The USA is maintaining the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, but the treaty was not ratified by the country. This means that the potential possibility of nuclear tests’ recommencement is preserved. Russia’s attitude to the withdrawal of the USA from the ABM Treaty is well known. The treaty allows for a unilateral withdrawal. The actions of our US colleagues were rather correct: as it is provided by the Treaty, the USA informed about the withdrawal beforehand. The actions were impeccable from a legal point of view; several arguments stated by the USA in support of the withdrawal can be understood as well. However, Russia’s opinion on the whole is that withdrawal from the ABM Treaty was a mistake from the point of view of maintaining security in Europe and in the world.

On Russia’s policy Regarding Chechnya and the Northern Caucasus

To live in a common European home, we should respect each other’s opinions. I would like to say that much has been recently done for the restoration of normal juridical processes on the Chechen territories. A legal system has been created there for the first time in the history; before, only Shariat courts and public executions in the squares existed. We also witnessed several cases when people, including foreigners, were beheaded in Chechnya. the creation of a civilized legal system is the first move to its regular work. The Prosecutor’s Office and attorneys started working in Chechnya; over 20 people from the Russian military structures have been brought to court for different crimes. A system of justice has been created on the whole.

However, the above-mentioned facts do not rule any violations out at all. That is why public organizations, domestic and international, are necessary to maintain control over the situation in Chechnya. Russia is not going to hide or cover up criminals. We are absolutely open. The number of international monitors from different organizations of the world working in Chechnya is the greatest compared with other hot spots. Representatives of different international organizations, OSCE, Council of Europe, United Nations, and Red Cross regularly work in Chechnya. Foreign journalists are allowed into Chechnya at any time, and they can interview anyone they wish and publish any information obtained. We should keep it in mind that we are dealing with terrorists; the problems of separatism and terrorism are interconnected in Chechnya.

Different faults are also possible. People committing crimes make up an individual problem that requires an adequate response. Still, faults and victims are possible in Chechnya. If we consider the bombings in Afghanistan, we understand that victims among civil population were registered there as well. It was a forced measure, for which the USA cannot be blamed. Terrorists who occupied Afghanistan and jeopardized the civil population are to be blamed. They used the civil population as a live shield, the very same way hijackers do. We have a similar situation here in Chechnya. About Russia’s Foreign Policy Concerning the West after the Sept.11 Tragedy

Unlike in the old days, by cooperating with the West, Russia does not aim at getting something or does not try to be liked. The policy I realize now completely agrees with Russian national interests. It is quite natural that this position does not enjoy 100% support, but it is not the thing I aim at. The majority of the population admits that the policy agrees with the national interests of Russia, as today’s key goals are economic growth and improvement of the living standard. The goals can be achieved only against the background of a favorable foreign policy. We are working on it now. I say once again that I perceive that the line is supported by the majority of Russians.

On the Situation in Iraq

You know Russia’s consistent position concerning the struggle with terrorism and the support of the anti-terrorism coalition. I am absolutely sure that we are to act together to defeat terrorism. Any unilateral activity is ineffective regardless of its source and objective. This concerns the policy in respect to Iraq. No objective proof has been presented to confirm Iraqi support of Al Qaeda. At the same time, it does not mean that no problem exists regarding Iraq. The main problem is to persuade the Iraqi government to allow international monitors to the areas where mass destruction weapons are allegedly produced, as some experts think. There are no official confirmations that Iraq holds or is developing weapons of mass destruction, but if the world community fears that Iraq may have and produce such weapons, there is a pressing necessity to introduce international inspections in the country. The common objective of the world community now is to persuade Iraq to allow international monitors to the country once again. It would be wrong from a political point of view to use force for settlement of the problem.

On the Draft Decree Prohibiting the Communist Party

My attitude to the project is negative, as not a single problem has been ever settled by bans. The Communist Party is an organization operating in accordance with the RF Constitution and Russian legislation, and the party is supported by millions of people, whose interests cannot be ignored. As for me, I do not support neither communists’ economic policy nor their actions. We often see deputies of the Communist Party vote down even those laws that are considered to be good by the party’s experts. Such actions are a mistake, to my mind. In any case, it is the party leader who determines the policy. Still, such views are not the reason for prohibitions of the party. At the same time, any ban in the political sphere entails radicalism.

On the Middle East Conflict and Russia’s Policy

Relations between Russia and Arab world, Palestine particularly, are traditionally trusting.

On the other hand, over one million Israeli citizens come from the former Soviet Union. Therefore, Israel can be also called almost a Russian-speaking country. Family and cultural relations between Russia and Israel are very close, and the Russian language and culture are maintained in Israel. Russia’s attitude to Russian migrants in Israel has changed. Such people were treated as betrayers in the Soviet era, but nothing of the kind is done today. To my mind, it is a positive potential for development of intergovernmental contacts. We are to make a maximum use of it.

For making an effective use of the potential, we should win trust of the Israeli people. We are to demonstrate that Russia’s objective position is aimed at peaceful settlement of the conflict and protection of interests of the people living in the region, Israel’s interests including.

Russia is not going to thrust its services on anyone, but we feel responsibility for the situation, as Russia is a standing member of the UN Security Council and a cosponsor of the Mideast conflict settlement. Russia cooperates with the UN, European Union, and the USA in the settlement of the Mideast conflict. Russia’s special envoy, Mr. Vdovin, often visits the region and constantly supports contacts with the Israeli leadership and PA government. The cooperation is to be maintained in the future as well. What is really very important is that the international community should have a common position as for the settlement of the problem. It is a hard thing to work out such a position, but a very important one. Both inimical sides are to be made resume the peace talks. Only with diplomatic, moral, and political pressure it will be possible to settle the problem. Certainly, any pressure should not aggravate the situation, it is to help the region out of the violence circle. Russia is extremely concerned about development of today’s situation. Our opinion is that terrorism can not be justified at all; that is why we realize perfectly well the degree of Israel’s anxiety for the population.

There is one more thing to be specially noted. To my mind, it is a mistake to remove Yasser Arafat from the political scene. Any attempts of this kind will entail radicalism in the Arab world. It is very dangerous. In addition, Arafat is an influential political leader recognized in the whole of the world. He is the only reliable partner for the peace talks. If no other partners can be found, force becomes the only instrument for the conflict settlement. I think that Russia and the USA are to be more active than the European Union in the solution of the problem. On Capital Punishment

Much has been said about the problem already. If we wish to live in a common Europe, we are to observe certain regulations (I mean Russia’s obligations in the Council of Europe network). These regulations also agree with Russia’s own interests, otherwise we would not join them.

Unfortunately, the crime rate will not be reduced, no matter how hard the punishment can be. Being educated at St.Petersburg University, I understand perfectly well that a wide range of problems to be settled for effective struggle with criminality. Considerable efforts and financing are required for the problem settlement as well. For effective struggle with criminality, work of the law enforcement authorities and the economic situation in the country are to be improved. That provides for poverty liquidation, legal propaganda, rise of the cultural life level, ect.

From a political point of view, I would have benefited from the announcement of the recoomencement of capital punishment . The problem could be then considered settled for several years. However, to my mind, this would also mean deception to the whole of the country. I have no right to do so.

I know that the problem of capital punishment is closely related to politics in Russia. Moreover, some political parties will try to use the problem for their victory at elections to the State Duma and next presidential elections, as the idea of the recommencement of capital punishment is supported by the majority of the population. Opinion polls testify to the fact. It is a wrong position. As long as I am authorized to influence the situation , no capital punishment will be recommenced in Russia.

Sergey Stefanov on RIA Novosti publications

Translated by Maria Gousseva

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