Vladimir Putin’s Channel One and Associated Press interview
In the lead up to the G20 Leaders' Summit, Vladimir Putin gave an interview to Russia's Channel One and the Associated Press news agency. In this exclusive interview, the Russian President told journalists about the agenda of the forthcoming G20 Summit and shared his opinion on the current international issues.
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John Daniszewski: Thank you for inviting us into your home and for answering questions for the AP's worldwide audience. I know this is a very busy week for you - you have so many world leaders at the G20 meetings this week, and it's much appreciated.
If I may, I'd like to begin with the story of Syria. President Obama says he will wait until getting Congress' approval before moving on Syria. What do you believe should happen there? What do you believe happened there as far as the chemical weapons' attack goes? What should be done about it?
Vladimir Putin: We have no accurate information as to what has happened. We believe that we should at least wait for the results of the investigation conducted by the UN weapons inspectors. But we have no evidence that these chemical substances - it is not clear yet whether it was a chemical weapon or just some harmful chemical substance - have been used by the Syrian Army.
Moreover, as I have already mentioned, in our opinion, it seems absolutely absurd that regular armed forces, which are currently on the offensive and in some areas have encircled the so-called rebels and are actually finishing them off, that in these circumstances they would start using forbidden chemical weapons while realizing quite well that it could serve as a pretext for applying sanctions against them, including the use of force. It's simply absurd, it's illogical in the first place.
Second, we assume that if there are data that the chemical weapons have been used, and used specifically by the regular army, this evidence should be submitted to the United Nations Security Council - to the inspectors and the Security Council. And it should be convincing, not based on some rumours or information obtained by special services through some kind of interception or tapping or things like that. Even in the United States, there are experts who believe that the evidence presented by the Administration does not look convincing, and they do not rule out the possibility of a preplanned provocation by the opposition in an effort to give its sponsors a pretext for military intervention.
John Daniszewski: If I may follow up, the video was so dramatic showing the suffering children and people gasping for air. Did you look at that video and what was your reaction to it?
Vladimir Putin: As for the materials, video materials you have just mentioned, featuring dead children allegedly killed in the chemical attack, they are horrible. The question is only who did what, and who is responsible for this. The pictures themselves do not answer the questions I have just posed. Some think it is a compilation made by these very rebels, who, as we are well aware, and the US Administration acknowledges it, are linked to Al-Qaeda and who have always been distinguished by extreme brutality.
At that, I would like to draw your attention to the fact that, if you have watched these videos carefully, they feature no parents, women or medical personnel. Who are these people and what has happened there? There is no answer to this question. And these pictures themselves are undoubtedly horrible, but they do not prove anybody's guilt. No doubt it is subject to investigation, and it would be good to know who is responsible for these atrocities.
John Daniszewski: What would Russia's position be if you became convinced that it was by the government of Syria? Would you agree to a military action?
Vladimir Putin: I do not rule that out, but I would like to draw your attention to one absolutely key aspect. In line with existing international law, only the United Nations Security Council could sanction the use of force against a sovereign state. Any other pretext or method to justify the use of force against an independent sovereign state is inadmissible and can only be interpreted as an aggression.
John Daniszewski: I see your reasoning in this regard but I do wonder when there's a question mark about who committed these crimes. Whether Russia should distance itself from the Assad Government and maybe hold up its shipments of arms, something like that.
Vladimir Putin: Once we have objective and accurate data as to who has committed these crimes, then we will react. Assuming something now and telling things in advance like yes, we will do this or that, would be absolutely incorrect. This is not done in politics. Yet, I assure you that we will take a principled stand. I would like to say that our stand is principled because the use of weapons of mass destruction is a crime.
On the other hand, yet another question arises. If it is ascertained that the weapons of mass destruction are used by the rebels, what will the US do with them? What will these sponsors do with the rebels? Will they cut off arms shipments? Will they launch military operations against them?
John Daniszewski: Well, I think John Kerry said that anyone who stands by when these crimes are done will have to answer to history, and I'm sure you and Russia would be included, and the United States, but are you afraid that you may be seen today as standing by a regime that's oppressing and committing crimes. Is there a danger that you will be seen as a protective of this government?
Vladimir Putin: We do not defend this government. We are defending absolutely different things. We are defending the norms and principles of international law. We are defending modern world order. We are defending the possibility, the discussion of a possibility to use force only within the existing international order, international rules and international law. That is what we are defending. That is what represents the absolute value. When issues related to the use of force are dealt with outside the framework of the UN and Security Council, then there's risk that such unlawful decisions might be applied against anybody and on any pretext.
You have just said that Mr. Kerry believes that chemical weapons have been used by Assad's army, but the same point was used by another Secretary of State under President George W. Bush as he was trying to convince the entire international community of Iraq's possession of chemical weapons and even showed a test tube containing some white powder. All these arguments turned out to be untenable, but they were used to launch a military action, which many in the United States call a mistake today. Did we forget about that? Do we assume that new mistakes can be avoided so easily? I assure you that is not the case. Everyone remembers those facts, bears them in mind and takes them into account when making decisions.
John Daniszewski: So, I understand that you will not accept the evidence that has been offered so far as convincing. What would it take to convince you?
Vladimir Putin: It would take a deep and specific investigation containing evidence that would be obvious and prove beyond doubt who did it and what means were used. Then we will be ready to act in the most decisive and serious manner.
Kirill Kleymenov: Mr. President, what place do you think will the Syrian issue take on the agenda of the G20 Summit? Our conversation takes place just before this big meeting in St.Petersburg.
Vladimir Putin: First of all, I would like to say that the G20 Summit agenda has been finalized long ago and that we have discussed this agenda with all our partners. We do not think that we have the right to act against these agreements. The purpose of the G20 Summit is first and foremost to discuss economic issues and global economic problems, such as the issues of growth, fighting unemployment and corruption, tax offences and administration. However, bearing in mind that the situation around Syria remains acute and disputed and that we have not yet been able to reach an overall agreement on this pressing issue, the leaders of 20 major economies of the world could definitely use the opportunity to spend some time discussing this issue at their meeting in St.Petersburg. We will not insist on it though, but we may propose to go beyond the scope of discussions planned and spend some time to consider the Syrian issue.
I would like to emphasize once again that we will host the Summit which has certain rules and an agreed agenda, so we do not think that we have the right to make any amendments to it on a unilateral basis. However, I will definitely invite my colleagues to discuss this issue. Hopefully, they will not refuse.
Kirill Kleymenov: What will you deem as a success of the Summit?
Vladimir Putin: The Summit will be a success if there is an open and positive discussion aimed at finalizing prepared decisions. What kind of decisions? I am talking about a set of measures aimed at boosting growth in the world economy and creating new jobs. These are two main tasks. At the same time, we believe that to fulfil these crucial tasks we need to accomplish several sub-tasks, in particular to promote investment, to make the world economy more transparent and to take action, as I have already mentioned, in the field of tax administration, in banking system, etc.
Incidentally, as regards tax administration and improvement of tax system, it includes measures to prevent tax evasion, partially related to the fight against corruption. I think that we have been able to finalize (not on our own, but in cooperation with our partners and colleagues under the auspices of the OECD) the basic principles for the development of global tax system. No one has been able to do it over the last century. So, it is a very important component of our work.
We have prepared the so-called St.Petersburg Action Plan for the development of global economy and creation of new jobs. We have reached an agreement on some other issues, such as the fight against corruption and actions to eliminate tax havens. There is a wide range of measures to be taken. Of course, we will discuss the issues of global trade and global finance and will deem the Summit to be a success if all documents prepared and agreed in advance are adopted.
Kirill Kleymenov: Did I get you right that, apart from initiating a discussion on these key issues, Russia has something to offer to our guests in terms of solving certain problems you have been talking about?
Vladimir Putin: You see, a country's presidency runs for one year, and the Group of Twenty Summit is the culmination, the finale of all the joint work done during the year at the level of ministers, experts, etc. And of course during these joint discussions we proposed something and something was proposed to us. This was a joint work, a ‘joint kitchen' where the cooked the ‘pie' for all G20 Leaders who are expected to sign the final documents.
John Daniszewski: President Putin, I would like to get on to the subject of US-Russian relations but before I do, can I ask one more question about Syria. Supposing President Obama gets the support of Congress for some military actions and other countries go along, what would Russia do? Will you fight for Syria or you would be rifting relations with Syria? What's your reaction going to be?
Vladimir Putin: Are you working for a news agency or for the CIA? You are asking questions that are usually posed by colleagues from other agencies. Russia has certain plans if the situation develops according to the first, second or third scenario. We have our ideas about what we will do and how we will do it if weapons are used or not used. We have our plans, but it is too early to talk about them.
John Daniszewski: Ok. Well, let me ask you about President Obama's visit. You know, we should be sitting here today discussing the Summit with the President that was due to start today. Are you disappointed that the visit was cancelled? Do you see it as being a snub of some kind?
Vladimir Putin: Yes, of course, I would have liked the US President to visit Moscow, to have the opportunity to talk with him and discuss issues that have come up, but I see no particular catastrophe here.
The fact is that contacts between our agencies, between heads of a variety of ministries have not ceased. Very recently, Russia's Defence Minister and Foreign Minister have visited Washington. Our parliaments contact with each other. That means that the work is going on, it does not stop anyway. We understand that the position of Russia on certain issues causes some irritation in the US Administration. But we cannot help it. I think it would be better not to get irritated but to be patient and work together to find solutions.
I really hope that on the sidelines of the G20 Summit I will be able to talk to my American colleague. All our previous meetings have been very constructive. President Obama is a very interesting interlocutor; he is a practical, businesslike person. I am sure that even if the meeting will take place during our work on the sidelines of the G20 Summit, it will be useful. In any case, there are a lot of issues we have been dealing with, and we are interested in solving them. They include the disarmament agenda, the development of the world economy, the issues connected with North Korea and Iran. There are many other issues and problems, and solving them is in the best interests of both the United States and Russia. For example, the problem of combating terrorism. Very recently, Americans have experienced a tragedy, I mean the explosions during a sporting event. And our law enforcement agencies and special services have been very actively cooperating with each other. Obviously, this cooperation serves the interests of both the American and the Russian people. This cooperation has not been suspended, and I am sure that it will continue to develop.
John Daniszewski: There have been some speculations about your personal chemistry with President Obama, your relationship. He was quoted as saying that, making some remarks about your body language, saying that you were slouching or looking bored. I was wondering how you took those remarks? Do you feel that was too personal and appropriate or..? What was your reaction?
Vladimir Putin: I think that everyone in his activities, I mean those who are engaged in politics, economics, 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. In this regard, 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, he pays attention to the position of his interlocutor, his opponent, he reacts to it. It is interesting for me to work with him.
John Daniszewski: Do you think that there is still some hangover of a Cold War mentality in Russia-US relationship, and if so, how do both parties overcome that?
Vladimir Putin: That is partly true. But you know, first of all that concerns, I would say, the middle level of interaction in virtually all environments and spheres. Many people, especially in security agencies, who were working in the USA against the Soviet Union and in the Soviet Union against the USA for decades, remain in that system of coordinates and in that life. But I would really like to think that this does not have any effect at the highest political level. And our current disputes do not result from that - they probably stem from a different understanding of problems facing us, from different preferred means of achieving common, I repeat, common objectives and, of course, from ability or inability to find compromises and respect the opinion of partners.
Kirill Kleymenov: Mr. President, to sum up this discussion concerning Russia-US relations, how would you describe them today? 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...
Vladimir Putin: Why?
Kirill Kleymenov: Is it a certain sign of where our relations stand today?
Vladimir Putin: 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.
Kirill Kleymenov: However, if we do describe these relations, we've had a ‘reset', what is it this time? A freeze? A chill?
Vladimir Putin: 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, 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 myself: I believe that global common interests are a good foundation for finding solutions together.
Full version of the interview you can find here