Putin on Russia's foreign policy priorities

Vladimir Putin described the priorities of Russian foreign policy as he replied to questions from Russians during a television phone-in on Thursday.

The president noted that preserving Russia's territorial integrity had but recently been a serious problem, which is at present solved in general.

"We cannot apply this principle /of territorial integrity/ to ourselves and deny it to our neighbours," he emphasised.

"The principle of territorial integrity of the state has been recognised by international law. We are UN members and will abide by our international obligations," the president added.

In particular, Putin pointed out that Russia supports Georgia's territorial integrity.

"It is for you to agree on mutually acceptable conditions, while we will act as a guarantor," the head of state remarked, meaning strained relations between the self-proclaimed Republic of Abkhazia and Georgia and all similar conflicts in the post-Soviet space.

Speaking live from Vologda /northern Russia/, Oleg Kuchko, a representative of the Belarussian community, asked the president if Russia had changed its mind on a union with Belarus.

"No, it hasn't," replied the Russian head of state. "We have certain plans, although the process has run into some complications." "At one time our partners told us that Belarus was prepared to unite as far as Russia would go. We replied that we are ready to elect a single president, a single parliament and accept Belarus into Russia wholly or in parts," Putin said.

"But the immediate reaction we heard was that such a method of cardinal merger was unacceptable," remarked the president. "We are not insisting. We must do what our partner is prepared to do." Putin recalled that there are plans to go over from January 1, 2005 to a common currency - the Russian rouble. "I doubt if we will solve the problem in this period of time," opined the Russian head of state.

Recognising that "integration is a complex process, because it should take into account the interests of both sides," Putin nevertheless confirmed Russia's invariable line towards all-round integration with Belarus.

Speaking of the war in Iraq, the president said that everything done without UN authorisation cannot be recognised as genuine and justified.

During a direct link-up with the president, a serviceman from a Russian air base in the Kirghiz town of Kant expressed the view that the capture of Saddam Hussein by the Americans would not solve all Iraq's problems, and that the country would become a "second Vietnam" for the Americans.

"All that is done abroad, any use of force abroad, can take place, in accordance with existing international law, only with authorisation of the United Nations Security Council. Such are international laws," Putin said.

"All that has been done without UN authorisation cannot be recognised as genuine and justified," stressed the Russian head of state. "This is a very mild way of saying it," remarked Putin.

At the same time the president noted that "Russia is not interested in the United States being defeated in its fight against international terrorism." "We are partners in this fight," Putin recalled.

"At all times of mankind's history great countries, empires, have always suffered from a number of problems, which aggravated their position, to put it mildly. It is a sense of invulnerability, a sense of greatness and infallibility," Putin said. According to him, this has always "hampered a great deal" the countries that claimed to be called empires.

"It is my fondest hope that this will not happen to our American partners," the Russian president said.

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