This year, the meeting’s theme is “Fair multipolarity: How to ensure security and development for everyone.”
Research Director of the Valdai International Discussion Club Fyodor Lukyanov acts as the discussion’s moderator.
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President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Participants in the plenary session, colleagues, ladies and gentlemen,
I am glad to welcome you all in Sochi at the anniversary meeting of the Valdai International Discussion Club. The moderator has already mentioned that this is the 20th annual meeting.
In keeping with its traditions, our, or should I say your forum, has brought together political leaders and researchers, experts and civil society activists from many countries around the world, once again reaffirming its high status as a relevant intellectual platform. The Valdai discussions invariably reflect the most important global political processes in the 21st century in their entirety and complexity. I am certain that this will also be the case today, as it probably was in the preceding days when you debated with each other. It will also stay this way moving forward because our objective is basically to build a new world. And it is at these decisive stages that you, my colleagues, have an extremely important role to play and bear special responsibility as intellectuals.
Over the years of the club’s work, both Russia and the world have seen drastic, and even dramatic, colossal changes. Twenty years is not a long period by historical standards, but during eras when the entire world order is crumbling, time seems to shrink.
I think you will agree that more events have taken place in the past 20 years than over decades in some historical periods before, and it was major changes that dictated the fundamental transformation of the very principles of international relations.
In the early 21st century, everybody hoped that states and peoples had learned the lessons of the expensive and destructive military and ideological confrontations of the previous century, saw their harmfulness and the fragility and interconnectedness of our planet, and understood that the global problems of humanity call for joint action and the search for collective solutions, while egotism, arrogance and disregard for real challenges would inevitably lead to a dead-end, just like the attempts by more powerful countries to force their opinions and interests onto everyone else. This should have become obvious to everyone. It should have, but it has not. It has not.
When we met for the first time at the club’s meeting nearly 20 years ago, our country was entering a new stage in its development. Russia was emerging from an extremely difficult period of convalescence after the Soviet Union’s dissolution. We launched the process of building a new and what we saw as a more just world order energetically and with good will. It is a boon that our country can make a huge contribution because we have things to offer to our friends, partners and the world as a whole.
Regrettably, our interest in constructive interaction was misunderstood, was seen as obedience, as an agreement that the new world order would be created by those who declared themselves the winners in the Cold War. It was seen as an admission that Russia was ready to follow in others’ wake and not to be guided by our own national interests but by somebody else’s interests.
Over these years, we warned more than once that this approach would not only lead to a dead-end but that it was fraught with the increasing threat of a military conflict. But nobody listened to us or wanted to listen to us. The arrogance of our so-called partners in the West went through the roof. This is the only way I can put it.
The United States and its satellites have taken a steady course towards hegemony in military affairs, politics, the economy, culture and even morals and values. Since the very beginning, it has been clear to us that attempts to establish a monopoly were doomed to fail. The world is too complicated and diverse to be subjected to one system, even if it is backed by the enormous power of the West accumulated over centuries of its colonial policy. Your colleagues as well – many of them are absent today, but they do not deny that to a significant degree, the prosperity of the West has been achieved by robbing colonies for several centuries. This is a fact. Essentially, this level of development has been achieved by robbing the entire planet.
The history of the West is essentially the chronicle of endless expansion. Western influence in the world is an immense military and financial pyramid scheme that constantly needs more “fuel” to support itself, with natural, technological and human resources that belong to others. This is why the West simply cannot and is not going to stop. Our arguments, reasoning, calls for common sense or proposals have simply been ignored.
I have said this publicly to both our allies and partners. There was a moment when I simply suggested: perhaps we should also join NATO? But no, NATO does not need a country like ours. No. I want to know, what else do they need? We thought we became part of the crowd, got a foot in the door. What else were we supposed to do? There was no more ideological confrontation. What was the problem? I guess the problem was their geopolitical interests and arrogance towards others. Their self-aggrandisement was and is the problem.
We are compelled to respond to ever-increasing military and political pressure. I have said many times that it was not us who started the so-called “war in Ukraine.” On the contrary, we are trying to end it. It was not us who orchestrated a coup in Kiev in 2014 – a bloody and anti-constitutional coup. When [similar events] happen in other places, we immediately hear all the international media – mainly those subordinate to the Anglo-Saxon world, of course – this is unacceptable, this is impossible, this is anti-democratic. But the coup in Kiev was acceptable. They even cited the amount of money spent on this coup. Anything was suddenly acceptable.
At that time, Russia tried its best to support the people of Crimea and Sevastopol. We did not try to overthrow the government or intimidate the people in Crimea and Sevastopol, threatening them with ethnic cleansing in the Nazi spirit. It was not us who tried to force Donbass to obey by shelling and bombing. We did not threaten to kill anyone who wanted to speak their native language. Look, everyone here is an informed and educated person. It might be possible – excuse my ‘mauvais ton’ – to brainwash millions of people who perceive reality through the media. But you must know what was really going on: they have been bombing the place for nine years, shooting and using tanks. That was a war, a real war unleashed against Donbass. And no one counted the dead children in Donbass. No one cried for the dead in other countries, especially in the West.
This war, the one that the regime sitting in Kiev started with the vigorous and direct support from the West, has been going on for more than nine years, and Russia’s special military operation is aimed at stopping it. And it reminds us that unilateral steps, no matter who takes them, will inevitably prompt retaliation. As we know, every action has an equal opposite reaction. That is what any responsible state, every sovereign, independent and self-respecting country does.
Everyone realises that in an international system where arbitrariness reigns, where all decision-making is up to those who think they are exceptional, sinless and right, any country can be attacked simply because it is disliked by a hegemon, who has lost any sense of proportion – and I would add, any sense of reality.
Unfortunately, we have to admit that our counterparties in the West have lost their sense of reality and have crossed every line. They really should not have done this.
The Ukraine crisis is not a territorial conflict, and I want to make that clear. Russia is the world’s largest country in terms of land area, and we have no interest in conquering additional territory. We still have much to do to properly develop Siberia, Eastern Siberia, and the Russian Far East. This is not a territorial conflict and not an attempt to establish regional geopolitical balance. The issue is much broader and more fundamental and is about the principles underlying the new international order.
Lasting peace will only be possible when everyone feels safe and secure, understands that their opinions are respected, and that there is a balance in the world where no one can unilaterally force or compel others to live or behave as a hegemon pleases even when it contradicts the sovereignty, genuine interests, traditions, or customs of peoples and countries. In such an arrangement, the very concept of sovereignty is simply denied and, sorry, is thrown in the garbage.
Clearly, commitment to bloc-based approaches and the push to drive the world into a situation of ongoing “us versus them” confrontation is a bad legacy of the 20th century. It is a product of Western political culture, at least of its most aggressive manifestations. To reiterate, the West – at least a certain part of the West, the elite – always need an enemy. They need an enemy to justify the need for military action and expansion. But they also need an enemy to maintain internal control within a certain system of this very hegemon and within blocs like NATO or other military-political blocs. There must be an enemy so everyone can rally around the “leader.”
The way other states run their lives is none of our business. However, we see how the ruling elite in many of them are forcing societies to accept norms and rules that the people – or at least a significant number of people and even the majority in some countries – are unwilling to embrace. But they are still urged to do so, with the authorities continually inventing justifications for their actions, attributing growing internal problems to external causes, and fabricating or exaggerating non-existent threats.
Russia is a favourite subject for these politickers. We have grown used to this over the course of history, of course. But they try to portray those who are not willing to blindly follow these Western elite groups as enemies. They have used this approach with various countries, including the People’s Republic of China, and they tried to do this to India in certain situations. They are flirting with it now, as we can see very clearly. We are aware of and see the scenarios they are using in Asia. I would like to say that the Indian leadership is independent and strongly nationally oriented. I think these attempts are pointless, yet they continue with them. They try to portray the Arab world as an enemy; they do it selectively and try to act accurately, but this is what it comes down to. They even try to present Muslims as a hostile environment, and so on and so forth. In fact, anyone who acts independently and in its own interests is immediately seen by the Western elite as a hindrance that must be removed.
Artificial geopolitical associations are being forced onto the world, and restricted-access blocs are being created. We see this happening in Europe, where an aggressive policy of NATO expansion has been pursued for decades, in the Asia-Pacific region and in South Asia, where they are trying to destroy an open and inclusive cooperation architecture. A bloc-based approach, if we call a spade a spade, limits individual states’ rights and restricts their freedom to develop along their own path, attempting to drive them into a “cage” of obligations. In a way, this obviously amounts to the dispossession of part of their sovereignty, often followed by the enforcement of their own solutions not only in the area of security but also in other areas, primarily the economy, which is happening now in relations between the United States and Europe. There is no need to explain this now. If necessary, we can talk about it in detail during the discussion after my opening remarks.
To attain these goals, they try to replace international law with a “rules-based order,” whatever that means. It is not clear what rules these are and who invented them. It is just rubbish, but they are trying to plant this idea in the minds of millions of people. “You must live according to the rules.” What rules?
And actually, if I may, our Western “colleagues,” especially those from the United States, don’t just arbitrarily set these rules, they teach others how to follow them, and how others should behave overall. All of this is done and expressed in a blatantly ill-mannered and pushy way. This is another manifestation of colonial mentality. All the time we hear, “you must,” “you are obligated,” “we are seriously warning you.”
Who are you to do that? What right do you have to warn others? This is just amazing. Maybe those who say all this should get rid of their arrogance and stop behaving in such a way towards the global community that perfectly knows its objectives and interests, and should drop this colonial-era thinking? I want to tell them sometimes: wake up, this era has long gone and will never return.
I will say more: for centuries, such behavior led to the replication of one thing – big wars, with various ideological and quasi-moral justifications invented to justify these wars. Today this is especially dangerous. As you know, humankind has the means to easily destroy the whole planet, and ongoing mind manipulation, unbelievable in terms of scale, leads to losing a sense of reality. Clearly, a way out should be sought from this vicious circle. As I understand it, friends and colleagues, this is why you come here to address these vital issues at the Valdai Club venue.
In Russia’s Foreign Policy Concept, our country is characterised as an original civilisation-state. This wording clearly and concisely reflects how we understand not only our own development, but also the main principles of international order, which we hope will prevail.
From our perspective, civilisation is a multifaceted concept subject to various interpretations. There was once an outwardly colonial interpretation whereby there was a “civilised world” serving as a model for the rest, and everyone was supposed to conform to those standards. Those who disagreed were to be coerced into this “civilisation” by the truncheon of the “enlightened” master. These times, as I said, are now in the past, and our understanding of civilisation is quite different.
First, there are many civilisations, and none is superior or inferior to another. They are equal since each civilisation represents a unique expression of its own culture, traditions, and the aspirations of its people. For instance, in my case, it embodies the aspirations of my people, of which I am fortunate to be a part.
Outstanding thinkers from around the world who endorse the concept of a civilisation-based approach have engaged in profound contemplation of the meaning of “civilisation” as a concept. It is a complex phenomenon comprised of many components. Without delving too deeply into philosophy, which may not be appropriate here, let’s try to describe it pragmatically as it applies to current developments.
The essential characteristics of a civilisation-state encompass diversity and self-sufficiency, which, I believe, are two key components. Today’s world rejects uniformity, and each state and society strives to develop its own path of development which is rooted in culture and traditions, and is steeped in geography and historical experiences, both ancient and modern, as well as the values held by its people. This is an intricate synthesis that gives rise to a distinct civilisational community. Its strength and progress depend on its diversity and multifaceted nature.
Russia has been shaped over centuries as a nation of diverse cultures, religions, and ethnicities. The Russian civilisation cannot be reduced to a single common denominator, but it cannot be divided, either, because it thrives as a single spiritually and culturally rich entity. Maintaining the cohesive unity of such a nation is a formidable challenge.
We have faced severe challenges throughout the centuries; we have always pulled through, sometimes at great cost, but each time we learned our lessons for the future, strengthening our national unity and the integrity of the Russian state.
This experience we have gained is truly invaluable today. The world is becoming increasingly diverse, and its complex processes can no longer be handled with simple governance methods, painting everyone with the same brush, as we say, which is something certain states are still trying to do.
There is something important to add to this. A truly effective and strong state system cannot be imposed from the outside. It grows naturally from the civilisational roots of countries and peoples, and in this regard, Russia is an example of how it really happens in life, in practice.
Relying on your civilisation is a necessary condition for success in the modern world, unfortunately a disorderly and dangerous world that has lost its bearings. More and more states are coming to this conclusion, becoming aware of their own interests and needs, opportunities and limitations, their own identity and degree of interconnectedness with the world around them.
I am confident that humanity is not moving towards fragmentation into rivaling segments, a new confrontation of blocs, whatever their motives, or a soulless universalism of a new globalisation. On the contrary, the world is on its way to a synergy of civilisation-states, large spaces, communities identifying as such.
At the same time, civilisation is not a universal construct, one for all – there is no such thing. Each civilisation is different, each is culturally self-sufficient, drawing on its own history and traditions for ideological principles and values. Respecting oneself naturally comes from respecting others, but it also implies respect from others. That is why a civilisation does not impose anything on anyone, but does not allow anything to be imposed on itself either. If everyone lives by this rule, we can live in harmonious coexistence and in creative interaction between everyone in international relations.
Of course, protecting your civilisational choice is a huge responsibility. It’s a response to external infringements, the development of close and constructive relationships with other civilisations and, most importantly, the maintenance of internal stability and harmony. All of us can see that today the international environment is, regrettably, unstable and quite aggressive, as I pointed out.
Here is one more essential thing: nobody should betray their civilisation. This is the path towards universal chaos; it is unnatural and, I would say, disgusting. For our part, we have always tried and continue to try to offer solutions that consider the interests of all sides. But our counterparts in the West seem to have forgotten the notions of reasonable self-restraint, compromise and a willingness to make concessions in the name of attaining a result that will suit all sides. No, they are literally fixated on only one goal: to push through their interests, here and now, and do it at any cost. If this is their choice, we will see what comes of it.
It sounds like a paradox, but the situation could change tomorrow, which is a problem. For example, regular elections can lead to changes on the domestic political stage. Today a country can insist on doing something at any cost, but its domestic political situation could change tomorrow, and they will start pushing through a different and sometimes even the opposite idea.
A standout example is Iran’s nuclear programme. A US administration pushed through a solution, but the succeeding administration turned the matter the other way around. How can one work in these conditions? What are the guidelines? What can we rely on? Where are the guarantees? Are these the “rules” they are telling us about? This is nonsense and absurd.
Why is this happening, and why does everybody seem comfortable with it? The answer is that strategic thinking has been replaced with the short-term mercenary interests of not even countries or nations, but the succeeding groups of influence. This explains the unbelievable, if judged in Cold War terms, irresponsibility of the political elite groups, which have shed all fear and shame and think of themselves as guiltless.
The civilisational approach confronts these trends because it is based on the fundamental, long-term interests of states and peoples, interests that are dictated not by the current ideological situation, but by the entire historical experience and legacy of the past, on which the idea of a harmonious future rests.
If everyone were guided by this, there would be far fewer conflicts in the world, I believe, and the approaches to resolving them would become much more rational, because all civilisations would respect each other, as I said, and would not try to change anyone based on their own notions.
Friends, I read with interest the report prepared by the Valdai Club for today’s meeting. It says that everyone is currently striving to understand and imagine a vision of the future. This is natural and understandable, especially for intellectual circles. In an era of radical change, when the world we’re used to is crumbling, it is very important to understand where we are heading and where we want to be. And, of course, the future is being created now, not only before our eyes, but by our own hands.
Naturally, when such massive, extremely complex processes are underway, it is hard or even impossible to predict the result. Regardless of what we do, life will make adjustments. But, at any rate, we need to realise what we are striving for, what we want to achieve. In Russia, there is such an understanding.
First. We want to live in an open, interconnected world, where no one will ever try to put artificial barriers in the way of people’s communication, their creative fulfilment and prosperity. We need to strive to create an obstacle-free environment.
Second. We want the world’s diversity to be preserved and serve as the foundation for universal development. It should be prohibited to impose on any country or people how they should live and how they should feel. Only true cultural and civilisational diversity will ensure peoples’ wellbeing and a balance of interests.
Third, Russia stands for maximum representation. No one has the right or ability to rule the world for others and on behalf of others. The world of the future is a world of collective decisions made at the levels where they are most effective, and by those who are truly capable of making a significant contribution to resolving a specific problem. It is not that one person decides for everyone, and not even everyone decides everything, but those who are directly affected by this or that issue must agree on what to do and how to do it.
Fourth, Russia stands for universal security and lasting peace built on respect for the interests of everyone: from large countries to small ones. The main thing is to free international relations from the bloc approach and the legacy of the colonial era and the Cold War. We have been saying for decades that security is indivisible, and that it is impossible to ensure the security of some at the expense of the security of others. Indeed, harmony in this area can be achieved. You just need to put aside haughtiness and arrogance and stop looking at others as second-class partners or outcasts or savages.
Fifth, we stand for justice for all. The era of exploitation, as I said twice, is in the past. Countries and peoples are clearly aware of their interests and capabilities and are ready to rely on themselves; and this increases their strength. Everyone should be given access to the benefits of today’s world, and attempts to limit it for any country or people should be considered an act of aggression.
Sixth, we stand for equality, for the diverse potential of all countries. This is a completely objective factor. But no less objective is the fact that no one is ready to take orders anymore or make their interests and needs dependent on anyone, above all on the rich and more powerful.
This is not just the natural state of the international community, but the quintessence of all of humankind’s historical experience.
These are the principles that we would like to follow and that we invite all of our friends and colleagues to join.
Russia was, is and will be one of the foundations of this new world system, ready for constructive interaction with everyone who strives for peace and prosperity, but ready for tough opposition against those who profess the principles of dictatorship and violence. We believe that pragmatism and common sense will prevail, and a multipolar world will be established.
In conclusion, I would like to thank the forum’s organisers for your fundamental and qualified preparations, as always, as well as thank everyone at this anniversary meeting for your attention. Thank you very much.
Fyodor Lukyanov, Research Director of the Valdai International Discussion Club, moderator: Mr President, thank you very much for such a detailed presentation of these general issues, conceptual issues. Indeed, many – at the Valdai Club and elsewhere – have been trying to comprehend the framework that will replace the one that no longer works, but so far, we have not been very successful. We know what is no longer there, but we don’t know what will come to replace it. I think the points you just made are the first attempt to at least clearly outline the principles.
If I may echo your statement – the part about civilisations and the civilisation-based approach is certainly thought provoking. You once said – it was actually a very long time ago – you used a vivid phrase, you said Russia’s borders “do not end anywhere.” If Russia’s borders don’t end, clearly the Russian civilisation is boundless by definition, fair and square. What does this mean? Where is it?
Vladimir Putin: You know, this was said for the first time in a conversation with one of the former Presidents of the United States, when he was looking at a map of the Russian Federation at my home in Ogaryovo; it certainly was a joke.
We all know this, but I would like to repeat: Russia remains the largest country in the world by area. On a more serious note, this primarily makes sense at the civilisational level. Our compatriots live [around the world] in large numbers; the Russian world is of a global nature; Russian is one of the official languages of the United Nations. In Latin America alone – I recently met with their parliamentarians – there are 300,000 Russians living there. They are everywhere: in Asia, in Africa, in Europe and certainly in North America.
So, again, speaking seriously, as a civilisation, Russia has no borders, just like other civilisations have no borders either. Take India or China; look how many representatives of China, or how many representatives of India live in other countries. Various civilisations overlap and interact with each other. And it would be great if this interaction was natural and friendly, aimed at strengthening this balance.
Fyodor Lukyanov: So, for you, civilisation is not about territory, but about people?
Vladimir Putin: Yes, of course, primarily it is about people. There will probably be many questions about Ukraine now. Our actions in Donbass, first and foremost, are dictated by the need to protect people. That is the underlying purpose of our actions.
Fyodor Lukyanov: In that case, can you characterise the special military operation as a civilisational conflict? You said it is not a territorial conflict.
Vladimir Putin: It is primarily… I am not sure what kind of civilisation those on the other side of the front line are defending, but we are defending our traditions, our culture, and our people.
Fyodor Lukyanov: Okay. Since we have moved on to discuss Ukraine, I believe, a major European event begins in Spain today, and Vladimir Zelensky and several other important figures are there. Continuing support for Ukraine is being discussed. As we know, there has been some delay in the United States due to the crisis in Congress. So, it appears that Europe feels it has to assume this financial support.
Do you think they will cope with it? And what can we expect from this?
Vladimir Putin: We expect to see at least some semblance of common sense. As for whether they are able to cope with it or not, they are in a better position to answer this question. Of course, they will cope with it; I do not see any problem with expanding production and increasing the amount of money directed towards the war to prolong this conflict. But there are, of course, issues that, I believe, this audience is well aware of.
If there is a delay, as you said, in the United States, it is more of a technical, or political and technical nature, so to speak, and is caused by budget issues, heavy debt burden, and the need to balance the budget. The question is how to balance it? Is it by supplying weapons to Ukraine and reducing budget expenditure, or by cutting social spending? No one is willing to cut social spending, since this move would strengthen the opposition party. That’s it.
Eventually, they will probably find the money, and print some more. They printed over $9 trillion during the pandemic and post-pandemic period, so they will not think twice about printing more and spreading it worldwide, thereby exacerbating food inflation. They will most likely do that.
As for Europe, the situation there is more difficult because, if in the US, we still see GDP growth of 2.4 percent in the previous period, in Europe the matters are far worse. In 2021, their economic growth was 4.9 percent, and this year it will be 0.5 percent. And even this growth is mostly due to the southern countries, Italy and Spain, which showed some growth.
Yesterday, we discussed this with our experts; I think the growth in Italy and Spain is related mostly to increasing real estate prices and a certain revival of the tourism sector. The main economies of Europe are currently experiencing stagnation; and most manufacturing sectors are showing negative results. In the Federal Republic of Germany, it is minus 0.1 percent; in the Baltic countries – minus 2, or even minus 3 percent in Estonia, I believe; in the Netherlands and Austria, it is also dropping. This is particularly true of industrial production which is in a critical condition, if not a disaster, especially the chemical, glass and metallurgy sectors.
We know that due to relatively cheap energy prices in the United States and some administrative and financial decisions made there, many European production facilities are simply moving to the United States. They shut down in Europe and relocate to the US. This is a well-known fact, and this is what I hinted at some time earlier, when speaking at this forum. The burden is also growing on the people in the European countries, and this is also a fact, as confirmed by European statistics. The quality of life is getting worse, and was reduced by 1.5 percent over the past month, if I am not mistaken.
Can Europe manage or not? It can. But how? At the expense of the further worsening of its economy and the lives of the people in the European states.
Fyodor Lukyanov: But our budget also cannot cover everything. Will we manage, unlike them?
Vladimir Putin: We are managing so far, and I have reason to believe that we will do so in the future. In the third quarter of this year, we had a budget surplus of over 660 billion rubles. This is the first thing.
Second. By the end of the year, we will see a budget deficit of about 1 percent. Our calculations show that in the next few years (2024 and 2025) the deficit will be about 1 percent. We also have a record-low unemployment rate – it stabilised at 3 percent.
Another important thing – this is a key moment and perhaps we will return to it again, but I believe it’s an important and fundamental phenomenon in our economy – that a natural restructuring of the economy began, because what we previously imported from Europe was cut from us, and like in 2014, when we introduced certain restrictions on the purchase of Western, European, primarily agricultural goods, were forced to invest in the development of agricultural production within the country. Yes, inflation has surged, but we then ensured that our manufacturers increased production of the goods we needed. And today, as you know, we fully cover our needs in all the basic agricultural products and basic types of food.
The same is now taking place in industry, and the main growth is in the manufacturing industries. Oil and gas revenues have dropped, but they are also providing an additional 3 percent, and non-oil and gas revenues, primarily in the processing industries – 43 percent, and this is primarily the steel industry, optics, and electronics. We have a lot to do in the field of microelectronics. We are really still at the beginning of our journey, but it is already growing. All together it gives a 43 percent increase.
We are rebuilding logistics; mechanical engineering is growing, and so on. Overall, we have a stable situation. We have overcome all the problems that arose after the sanctions were imposed on us and we began the next stage of development: on a new foundation, which is extremely important.
It is very important for us to maintain this trend and not miss it. We do have some problems, including a labour shortage, that’s true, followed by some other issues. But our population’s real disposable income is growing. While it is dropping in Europe, in Russia it grew by more than 12 percent.
Here, our own issues include inflation, and it has grown: now it is 5.7 percent, but the Central Bank and the Government are taking concerted measures to neutralise these possible negative consequences.
Fyodor Lukyanov: You mentioned the ongoing structural reorganisation.
Some critics might argue that this is really the militarisation of the economy. Are their claims valid?
Vladimir Putin: Look, our defence spending has indeed increased, but it encompasses more than just defence and also includes security. These expenses have approximately doubled, going from around 3 percent to approximately 6 percent, encompassing both defence and security. However, I would like to emphasise, as I previously mentioned and feel compelled to reiterate: we have achieved a budget surplus of over 660 billion rubles in the third quarter, and we anticipate a mere 1 percent deficit for this fiscal year. This is an overall healthy budget and a robust economy.
So, claiming that we are spending too much on canons while neglecting butter is an inaccurate statement. Importantly, all our earlier announced development plans, fulfilling our strategic objectives, and upholding all the social responsibilities the government has undertaken with regard to the well-being of our citizens are being implemented.
Fyodor Lukyanov: Thank you. That is good news.
Mr President, apart from the Ukraine conflict, which we will undoubtedly discuss more, there have been significant developments in the South Caucasus in recent days and weeks. President of the European Council Charles Michel stated in a recent interview that Russia had betrayed the Armenian people.
Vladimir Putin: Who said that?
Fyodor Lukyanov: Charles Michel, the President of the European Council.
Vladimir Putin: Well, you know, we have a saying, “it’s rich to hear your horse bellow like that.”
Fyodor Lukyanov: Your cow.
Vladimir Putin: Cow, horse, who cares. An animal.
Is there anything else? I apologise for interrupting.
Fyodor Lukyanov: Please, go ahead.
Vladimir Putin: Do you understand what happened recently? Following the well-known events and the breakup of the Soviet Union, a conflict erupted leading to ethnic clashes between Armenians and Azerbaijanis. It all began in the town of Sumgait and subsequently spilled over into Karabakh. This eventually resulted in Armenia gaining effective control over Karabakh and seven neighbouring Azerbaijani districts which constitute nearly 20 percent of Azerbaijan’s territory. This lasted for many decades.
I will say – and I am not disclosing any secret here – that in the past 15 years we have repeatedly suggested that our Armenian friends agree to compromises. What compromises? To return five districts to Azerbaijan around Karabakh and retain two of them, thus preserving territorial connectivity between Armenia and Karabakh.
However, our Karabakh friends would always reply: No, it would pose certain threats to us. We responded: Listen, Azerbaijan is growing, its economy is advancing, it is an oil producing country, its population is already over 10 million, let’s compare the potential. This compromise should be reached while there is still an opportunity. For our part, we were confident that we would have the respective decisions taken by the UN Security Council, and would guarantee the security of this naturally emerging Lachin Corridor between Armenia and Karabakh, and guarantee the safety of Armenians who live there.
But we were told that they could not do that. So what will you do? We will fight, they said. Well, okay, it all came down to the armed clashes in 2020, and then I also suggested to our friends and colleagues – by the way, I hope President Aliyev will not take offence at me, but at some point an agreement was reached that Azerbaijan’s troops would stop.
Frankly, I thought the issue had been resolved. I called Yerevan, and all of a sudden I heard: No, they need to leave the tiny area of Karabakh where the Azerbajani troops had entered. That was it. I said: Listen, what are you going to do? The same phrase: We will fight. I say: Listen, they will advance to the rear of your forces near Agdam within a few days, and it all will be over. Do you understand that? Yes. What will you do then? We will fight. Well, all right. So it happened the way it did.
In the end, we agreed with Azerbaijan that after advancing to the Shusha line and the city of Shusha itself, combat activities would be stopped. A respective statement was signed in November 2020 on stopping combat activities and deploying our peacekeepers. And this is another crucial point: the legal status of our peacekeepers was based exclusively on that November 2020 statement. No peacekeeping status ever entailed. I will not talk now about the reasons. Azerbaijan believed there was no need for it, and signing it without Azerbaijan made no sense. So the status was based, I repeat, exclusively on the November 2020 statement, and the only right the peacekeepers had was to monitor the ceasefire – and nothing else. Only to monitor the ceasefire. Nevertheless, this precarious situation lasted for some time.
Now you have mentioned the President of the European Council, Mr Michel, whom I respect. Mr Michel, President of France Macron and Mr Scholz, Chancellor of Germany, oversaw the leaders of Armenia and Azerbaijan gathering in Prague in the autumn of 2022 and signing a statement, under which Armenia recognised Karabakh as part of the Republic of Azerbaijan.
Moreover, the heads of the delegations and the leaders of Armenia directly stated the territory of Azerbaijan in square kilometres, which, of course, includes Karabakh, and emphasised that they recognise the sovereignty of Azerbaijan within the borders of the Azerbaijan SSR, which was once part of the USSR. And, as you know, Karabakh was also part of the Azerbaijan SSR. That, in fact, solved the main issue, which was absolutely crucial: the status of Karabakh. When Karabakh declared its independence, no one recognised this independence, not even Armenia, which is frankly strange for me, but still the decision was made: they did not recognise the independence of Karabakh. However, there in Prague they recognised that Karabakh belongs to Azerbaijan. And then, at the beginning of 2023, they repeated it a second time at a similar meeting in Brussels.
You know, between us, though probably we can no longer say so, but still, if they came [to an agreement] … By the way, no one told us about this, I personally learned this from the press. Azerbaijan has always believed that Karabakh is part of its territory, but by defining the status of Karabakh as part of Azerbaijan, Armenia made a qualitative change in its position.
After this, President Aliyev came up to me at a meeting and said: you see, everyone recognised that Karabakh is ours; your peacekeepers are there on our territory. You see, even the status of our peacekeepers immediately underwent a qualitative change after the status of Karabakh as part of Azerbaijan was determined. He said: your military is on our territory and let us now agree on their status on bilateral basis. And Prime Minister Pashinyan confirmed: yes, now you have to talk bilaterally. That is, Karabakh is gone. You can say whatever you want about this status, but this was the key issue: the status of Karabakh. Everything revolved around it over the previous decades: how and when, who and where will determine the status. Now Armenia decided: Karabakh officially became part of Azerbaijan. This is the position of the Armenian state today.
What should we have done? Everything that happened in the recent past, a week, two, three weeks ago – the blocking of the Lachin Corridor and other things – all of this was inevitable after the recognition of Azerbaijan’s sovereignty over Karabakh. It was only a matter of time: when and in what way Azerbaijan would establish constitutional order there within the framework of the Constitution of the Azerbaijani state. What could we say? How else could we react? Armenia recognised it, but what should we have done? Should we have said: no, we do not recognise it? This is nonsense, isn’t it? This is some kind of nonsense.
I am not going to talk about all the details of our discussions, as I believe it would be inappropriate, but what happened in recent days or weeks was an inevitable consequence of what was done in Prague and Brussels. Therefore, Mr Michel and his colleagues should have thought back then, when they apparently – I do not know, we should ask them about it – when were they privately, behind the scenes, trying to talk Prime Minister Pashinyan into taking this step. They should have collectively thought back then about the future of Armenians in Karabakh and should have at least outlined what awaits them in this situation. They should have outlined some form of integration of Karabakh into the Azerbaijani state, and a set of actions to ensure their security and rights. There is nothing there. There is just a statement that Karabakh is part of Azerbaijan; that is it. So, what are we supposed to do if Armenia itself has made this decision?
What did we do? We used everything within our legal means to provide humanitarian assistance. As you may be aware, our peacekeepers died protecting Armenians in Karabakh. We provided humanitarian aid and medical assistance, and ensured their safe passage.
Regarding our European “colleagues,” they should at least now send some humanitarian aid to help those unfortunate people – I have no other way of putting it – who left Nagorno-Karabakh. I think they will do it. But overall, we need to think about their long-term future.
Fyodor Lukyanov: Is Russia willing to support these people?
Vladimir Putin: I just said that we supported them.
Fyodor Lukyanov: The ones who left.
Vladimir Putin: Our people died there protecting them, covering them, and providing humanitarian support. After all, all the refugees gathered around our peacekeepers. Thousands of them went there, mostly women and children.
Of course, we are willing to help them. Armenia remains our ally. If there are humanitarian issues, and they are there, we are ready to discuss them and provide support to these people. That goes without saying.
I have just told you briefly how the events unfolded, but I have covered the main points.
Fyodor Lukyanov: Mr President, there is another fine point in this regard. Currently, the Azerbaijani leadership is cracking down very harshly on the leaders who served in Karabakh, including individuals who are well-known in Russia, such as Ruben Vardanyan, for example.
Vladimir Putin: He gave up Russian citizenship, as far as I know.
Fyodor Lukyanov: He did, but he was a Russian citizen. Is there a way to urge the Azerbaijani leadership to show some leniency?
Vladimir Putin: We have always done that, and we are doing it now. As you are aware, I spoke with President Aliyev over the telephone, as we have always spoken before no matter what happened, and he assured me all that time that he would ensure the security and rights of the Armenian people in Nagorno-Karabakh. But now there are no Armenians left there. Do you know that they all have fled the place? There are simply no Armenians left there. Maybe a thousand people or so, no more. There is just no one left there.
As for the former leaders – I am not sure I want to get into the details – but I understand that they are not particularly welcome in Yerevan, either. However, I assume that now that for Azerbaijan has resolved all territorial issues, the Azerbaijani leadership will be willing to consider humanitarian aspects.
Fyodor Lukyanov: Thank you.
Colleagues, please ask your questions.
Professor Feng Shaolei is one of our veteran members.
Feng Shaolei: Thank you very much.
Feng Shaolei, East China Normal University, Shanghai.
Mr President, I am delighted to see you again.
Beijing is going to host the October international conference on the 10th anniversary of the Belt and Road Initiative. At the same time, the initiative to link the Eurasian Partnership with the Belt and Road Initiative, something you and President Xi Jinping have promoted, has also been ongoing for almost ten years.
My question is this: in the new situation, what new ideas and concrete proposals have you already prepared?
Thank you very much.
Vladimir Putin: Indeed, we are returning to this subject, and indeed some are trying to sow doubts, suggesting that our Eurasian development project – the Eurasian Economic Union’s project, and President Xi Jinping’s Belt and Road Initiative – might not share the same interests and might start competing with each other. As I have said many times, this is not the case. On the contrary, we believe that one project complements the other harmoniously.
Let us see where we stand now. Both China and Russia – Russia to a greater extent today, but China long before the events in Ukraine began – have been targeted with various kinds of sanctions by some of our partners; we know by whom exactly. At some point, these steps escalated to a kind of trade war between China and the United States, as the sanctions imposed on your country included restrictions on logistics.
We are interested in establishing new logistics routes, and China is also interested in this. Our trade is growing. We are now talking about the North – South corridor. China is developing supply chains through Central Asian states. We are interested in supporting this project, and we are building roads and railways toward this end. This is on the agenda of our negotiations. That’s the first point.
Secondly, there is a segment called real production and it is being added to the equation. We export goods to China, and China supplies us with goods we need. We are building logistics and production chains that are definitely in line with the goals that President Xi Jinping has set for the Chinese economy and are in line with our goals, which include economic growth and partnerships with other countries, especially in the modern world. These goals are clearly complementary.
I am not going to list specific projects now, but there are plenty of them, including those between China and Russia. We have built a bridge, as you know, and we have other logistical plans. As I said, we are expanding ties in the real economy. All the above will be the subject of our bilateral contacts and negotiations in multilateral formats. This is broad, voluminous, and capital-intensive work.
Once again, I would like to emphasise this: we have never targeted any of these efforts against anyone. This work from the beginning has been creative in nature and is aimed exclusively at achieving positive results for both of us – for Russia and China – and for our partners around the world.
Fyodor Lukyanov: Thank you.
Richard Sakwa: You talked about changes in international politics; the emergence of sovereign states defending themselves as autonomous actors in world politics. Indeed, this is the case. Players are getting together in the BRICS+ organisation, which took place a few months ago, and the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation.
So the world is changing; international politics is changing; the states themselves are changing: they have now matured to the postcolonial states. Many of them, in this conference, have made it absolutely clear that they now want to be active members of the international community.
However, international politics takes shape within the framework of the international system established in 1945: the United Nations system. Now, do you see an emerging contradiction between the changes in international politics and, if you like, the paralysis of the United Nations system, international law, and all of that? And how can Russia help overcome and make the United Nations work better? And for the contradictions in international politics to find a sort of more peaceful and developmental path into the future? Thank you.
Vladimir Putin: You are absolutely right. There is a certain discrepancy between the framework created by the countries that won WWII in 1945 and the current situation in the world. The situation in the world in 1945 was completely different from what we see now. And it is clear that legal norms should be changed to suit changes in the world.
Opinions can differ. Some will say that the UN and international law created on the basis of the UN Charter have become obsolete and should be discarded, giving way to something new. However, there is a risk that we will destroy the system of international rules, the real rules, and international law based on the UN Charter without creating anything to replace it, and this will lead to universal chaos. We can already see elements of this, but if we consign the UN Charter to the dustbin of history without replacing it with anything new, the inevitable ensuing chaos will lead to extremely serious consequences.
Therefore, I believe that we should choose the path of changing international law in accordance with modern requirements and changes in the global situation. In this sense, the UN Security Council should have among its members countries with ever-increasing weight in international affairs and potential that allows them to influence decisions on the key international issues, which they are already doing.
What countries are these? One is India, with a population of over 1.5 billion and an economy growing by over 7 percent, or more precisely, 7.4 or 7.6 percent. It is a global giant. It is true that many people there still need support and assistance, but India’s high-tech exports are growing with rapid strides. In short, it is a powerful country that is growing stronger every year under the guidance of Prime Minister Modi.
Or take Brazil in Latin America, with a large population and rapidly growing influence. There is also South Africa. Their global influence should be taken into account, and their weight in decision-making on key international issues must increase.
Certainly, we should do this in such a way so that we achieve a consensus for these changes, so that they would not demolish the existing system of international law. This is a complicated process, but, in my opinion, we need to move precisely in this direction and along this path.
Fyodor Lukyanov: So, you believe that the current system of international law still exists? Has it not yet been demolished?
Vladimir Putin: Certainly, it has not been demolished completely. Do you know the gist of the matter? Let us recall the first years of the United Nations. What did they call Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko? They called him Mr Nyet (No) because there were very many contradictions and disagreements, and the Soviet Union exercised its veto right very frequently. However, this was appropriate, and this carried major significance because this approach prevented conflicts.
In our contemporary history, we have often heard Western leaders say that the UN system has become obsolete, and that it does not meet present-day requirements. Such statements really began being voiced during the Yugoslav crisis when the United States and its allies moved to bomb Belgrade without any sanctions on the part of the UN Security Council. They conducted strikes without fear or remorse, and even struck the Embassy of the People’s Republic of China in Belgrade.
Where in this is international law? They said that there was no such international law because it had become unnecessary and obsolete. Why? Because they wanted to act without having to pay heed to international law. Later, they were dismayed and outraged when Russia started taking certain actions and noted that it was violating international law and the UN Charter.
Unfortunately, there have always been attempts to tailor international law to one’s own needs. Is this good or bad? This is very bad. However, there is at least something that serves as reference point.
My main concern is that, if all this is completely swept away, then there would not even be any reference points. To my mind, we should move along the road of permanent and gradual changes. However, we should do this unconditionally. The world has changed.
Fyodor Lukyanov: Thank you.
Sergei Karaganov: Mr President, I am one of the club’s veterans and founders. I can describe my feelings as almost perfect happiness on the day of the club’s 20th anniversary because … To be honest, old people should say that life was better in their time. No, life was not better in our time; it is better, more exciting, more interesting, brighter and more colourful nowadays. So, thank you for taking part, too. Here is my question …
Vladimir Putin: When you say “more exciting,” it sounds bold to me.
Sergei Karaganov: It is more exciting when it is more interesting.
Vladimir Putin: It is more exciting for you, not for me. (Laughter.)
Sergei Karaganov: Mr President, there is one simple question that is currently being actively discussed outside Russia and at the Valdai Club. I will formulate it in the following way, and this is my wording, of course, I do not speak for everyone. Hasn’t our doctrine on using nuclear weapons become obsolete? I believe that it has certainly grown obsolete, and that it even looks frivolous. It was created in different times and, maybe, in a different situation, and it also follows old theories. Deterrence does not work anymore. Is it high time we modify the doctrine on using nuclear weapons, lowering the nuclear threshold and moving steadily and sufficiently quickly along the staircase of escalation, deterrence and bringing our partners down to earth?
They have become brazen. They are saying that, under our doctrine, we will never use nuclear weapons. Consequently, we unwittingly allow them to escalate and conduct an absolutely monstrous aggression.
This is my first question, and it contains the second one. Even when we somehow win in or around Ukraine, one way or another, in the next few years, the West will continue to experience difficulties: new centres are emerging, and new problems will arise. We have to reinstall the safety catch called nuclear deterrence, which maintained peace for 70 years. Today, the West has forgotten history and fear, and it is trying to eliminate this safety catch. Shouldn’t we change our policy in this sphere?
Vladimir Putin: I know your position, I have read certain documents, your articles and notes, and I understand your feelings.
Let me remind you that there are two reasons stipulated in the Russian Military Doctrine for the possible use of nuclear weapons by Russia. The first is the use of nuclear weapons against us, which would entail a so-called retaliatory strike. But what does this mean in practice? The missiles are launched, our early warning system detects them and reports that they are targeting the territory of the Russian Federation –this happens within seconds, just so that everyone understands – and once we know that Russia has been attacked, we respond to this aggression.
I want to assure everyone that as of today, this response will be absolutely unacceptable for any potential aggressor, because seconds after we detect the launch of missiles, wherever they are coming from, from any point in the World Ocean or land, the counter strike in response will involve hundreds – hundreds of our missiles in the air, so that no enemy will have a chance to survive. And [we can respond] in several directions at once.
The second reason for the potential use of these weapons is an existential threat to the Russian state – even if conventional weapons are used against Russia, but the very existence of Russia as a state is threatened.
These are the two possible reasons for the use of the weapons you mentioned.
Do we need to change this? Why would we? Everything can be changed, but I just don't see that we need to. There is no situation imaginable today where something would threaten Russian statehood and the existence of the Russian state. I do not think anyone in their right mind would consider using nuclear weapons against Russia.
Nevertheless, we do respect your point of view and the views of other experts, people with a patriotic attitude who have empathy for what is happening in and around the country and are concerned about the developments along the line of contact with Ukraine. I understand all this and, take my word for it, we do respect your perspectives. That said, I do not see the need to change our conceptual approaches. The potential adversary knows everything and is aware of what we are capable of.
The fact that I am already hearing calls, for example, to start or in fact to resume nuclear tests is a whole different matter. Here is what I can say in this regard. The United States signed an international instrument, a document – the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, and so did Russia. Russia signed and ratified it, while the United States signed the treaty without ratifying it.
Our effort to develop new strategic weapons is nearing completion. I have already talked about them and announced their development several years ago.
The latest test launch of Burevestnik was a success. This is a nuclear-powered cruise missile with a basically unlimited range. By and large, Sarmat, the super heavy missile, is also ready. All we have left is to complete all the administrative and bureaucratic procedures and paperwork so that we can move to mass production and deploy it in combat standby mode. We will do this soon.
Specialists tend to argue that these are new kinds of weapons and we need to make sure that their special warheads are fail-free, so we need to test them. I am not ready to tell you right now whether we need or do not need to carry out these tests. What we can do is act just as the United States does. Let me repeat one more time that the United States signed the treaty without ratifying it, while we both signed and ratified it. As a matter of principle, we can offer a tit-for-tat response in our relations with the United States. But this falls within the purview of State Duma MPs. In theory, we can withdraw the ratification, and if we do, this would be enough.
Fyodor Lukyanov: Today, some in the West are openly saying that their commitment to proactively supporting Ukraine resulted from the fact that, when they raised the stakes and escalated the matter over the past year and a half, Russia’s response was not all that convincing.
Vladimir Putin: I do not know whether it was convincing or not, but at this point and since the start of the so-called counteroffensive – and these are the latest data I am sharing with you – the Ukrainian units lost over 90,000 people, including those who were wounded and lost their lives, as well as 557 tanks, and almost 1,900 armoured vehicles of various types, and all this since June 4 alone. How convincing is that?
We hold our own view of the way things are moving, and know what needs to be done and where, and where we must put in some extra effort. We are calmly advancing towards achieving our goals and I am certain that we will get there by delivering on the objectives we have set for ourselves.
Fyodor Lukyanov: Thank you.
Radhika Desai: Thank you very much, President Putin, thank you very much for another really well-informed, and I would say a historically very instructive and thought-provoking talk. So it is, as always, very impressive and a privilege to hear it.
I have a question and also a personal appeal. My question is about the country I come from, Canada. As you know, the Canadian parliament has just made itself a laughing stock of the world by applauding a Ukrainian Nazi, a veteran Nazi, in parliament. There were over 440 members of parliament, none of whom asked: is this the right thing to do?
As you know, Prime Minister Trudeau has apologised, I believe, twice. The speaker of Parliament has resigned. And to me, it really shows the extent to which the Western position of which Canada is a kind of leading edge has become so based on hubristic notions, ignorant hubristic notions, that these people have forgotten how much Russia has done for the defeat of Nazism.
They have forgotten that had it not been for Russian contribution, the Second World War may not have been won, and Russia contributed to that victory with 30 million lives lost. That is a staggering figure that one cannot even imagine. So I wonder if you would please comment on that.
How do you think about this?
And then my personal appeal is about something I feel very strongly about. So, first of all, let me just say, please pardon me if I misspeak anything, but it is about the case of a friend of mine and of several other people here, my husband, Demetrius Konstantakopoulos, and that is the case of Boris Kagarlitsky. We believe that, as you may know, he has been detained, and we are very worried about his personal welfare.
And I just want to say a couple of things about why I am raising this here. There have been plenty of petitions that have been signed in Western countries about this case. We have not signed any of these petitions because we don’t agree with the content of these petitions, which is profoundly anti-Russian. So we have a letter for you, which we hope you will read, and we hope very much that you will see that we have addressed this to you as friends of Russia.
Indeed, we found ourselves also in a bit of a quandary because we do not agree with the position our dear friend has taken. But we also remember how much we have learned from his formidable knowledge of Russia's history and his formidable commitment to Russia. So, we just appeal to you that you take a personal interest in this case.
Vladimir Putin: You know, to be honest, I do not really know who this Kagarlitsky is – so my colleague here [Fyodor Lukyanov] even had to fill me in on that one. I will take the letter you have signed for me, I will read it and give you a response. I promise. Agreed?
As for your question, God is our witness that we did not arrange for you to ask this question in advance, but I did expect to hear it, to be honest. Moreover, I even brought along some background information on what happened there. For us, this is something that is completely out of the ordinary.
Let me remind you that the Nazi command established the division where this Ukrainian Nazi served on April 28, 1943. It was during the Nuremberg Trials, not yesterday here among us or in the heat of momentary considerations, that the tribunal designated the Galicia SS Division, where this Ukrainian Nazi served, as a criminal entity responsible for the genocide of Jews, Poles and other civilians. This was the verdict of the international Nuremberg Trials.
Let me also remind you that independent prosecutors and judges were the ones who delivered this verdict, and the judges had a final say, of course. They did so based on the information they received from prosecutors representing various countries, and designated SS Galicia as a criminal organisation.
I also brought along some notes with the exact words so that my answer is specific and based on hard facts. The Speaker of the Canadian parliament said: “We have here in chamber today, a Ukrainian Canadian veteran from the Second World War who fought for Ukrainian independence against the Russians. <…> I am very proud to say [that] <…> he is a Ukrainian hero, a Canadian hero and we thank him for all his service.”
First, if the Speaker of the Canadian parliament talks about this Ukrainian Canadian or Canadian Ukrainian Nazi fighting against the Russians, he must know that he sided with Hitler instead of the speaker’s homeland, Canada, or that he was a Nazi collaborator. In any case, he fought on the side of the Nazi troops. Maybe he does not know that. Make no mistake, I am not trying to hurt the feelings of the Canadian people or offend them in any way. We respect Canada, especially its people, despite all odds. That said, if he does not know that during the war it was Hitler and his accomplices who fought against Russia, he is an idiot. This means that he simply skipped school and lacks basic knowledge. But if he does know that this person fought on Hitler’s side, while calling him a hero of both Ukraine and Canada, this makes him a rascal. So, there are just these two options here.
This is the sort of people we have to deal with. This is the sort of opponents we have in certain Western countries.
What is also important, in my opinion? The Speaker of the Canadian Parliament says: he fought against the Russians and [in the document] there is a quote saying that he continues to support Ukrainian troops fighting against the Russians. He essentially equates Hitler’s collaborators, the SS troops, and the Ukrainian combat units today – fighting, as he said, against Russia. He put them on the same board. This only supports our statement that one of our goals in Ukraine is denazification. Apparently, Nazification of Ukraine exists and gets recognition. And our shared goal is to denazify.
And finally, of course, everybody applauding that Nazi looked absolutely disgusting, especially the fact that the President of Ukraine, who has Jewish blood in him and who is a Jew in terms of his ethnic background, stood up and applauded this man, who is not just a Nazi runt, not just an ideological follower, but somebody who personally killed Jewish people, with his own hands. He personally killed Jews because German Nazis created that SS 1st Galicia Division primarily to eliminate civilians, and the ruling of the Nuremberg trials says so. The division was charged with responsibility for the genocide of Jews and Poles. Almost 150,000 Poles were killed, along with Russians, of course. Nobody even counted how many Roma people were killed as they were not even considered humans. One and a half million Jews were killed in Ukraine – just imagine this figure. Or didn’t it happen? Or don’t they know that? Everybody knows it. Didn’t the Holocaust happen?
So, when the President of Ukraine applauds a person who personally, with his own hands, killed Jews in Ukraine, does he want to say that the Holocaust never happened? Isn’t it disgusting? Anything goes, as long as these people fought against Russia. All means are fair as long as these means are used to fight against Russia. I can imagine somebody having an overwhelming desire to crush Russia on a battlefield and deliver its strategic defeat. But at this cost? I believe there is nothing more disgusting. And I really hope that not only we here, in this small circle of the Valdai Club, will raise this issue but also civil society organisations and those who care about the future of humankind will formulate their position on this matter clearly, unequivocally and condemn what happened.
Fyodor Lukyanov: Thank you.
I saw Gabor Stier somewhere earlier, but I have now lost him.
Gabor Stier: I am Gabor Stier from Hungary.
Mr President, this time I will not ask what will happen to Odessa, although many people in Hungary are asking what the neighbouring country will be called.
Vladimir Putin: Did you mean Odessa? You asked about it last time.
Gabor Stier: Yes, I asked this question last time, but now I have another question.
Vladimir Putin: I am sorry.
Gabor Stier: Mr President, we know that you are interested in history, and this is why I would like to address the current reality from precisely this point of view. Speaking of history, we know that Peter the Great’s decision to open a window onto Europe, or to open the European aspect of Russia’s identity, had great importance for Russia’s development.
Of course, Europe has now fallen into decay, and is doing everything possible for Russia to dislike it. However, as a European, I sometimes feel terrified to hear statements that some European cities should be subjected to nuclear strikes.
What does Europe mean for Russia today? This is not a question about our problems. What does Europe mean for Russia today? Will Russia turn its back on Europe completely? Don’t you think that it would be a mistake to seal off this window?
If we are talking about history, I would like to ask one more question. The new Russian history textbooks have given rise to a serious discussion in Hungary. I am talking about passages referring to the 1956 developments as a “colour revolution.” Do you also think that the 1956 developments were not a real revolution? Do you agree with another controversial comment in the textbook that the withdrawal of troops from Central Europe in 1990 and 1991 was a mistake?
I recall and I know that, in Vladivostok, you said that the deployment of tanks in 1968 and 1956 was a mistake. If it was a mistake, why do you think that the withdrawal of troops was also a mistake?
Vladimir Putin: Do you think that this is a question? This is more of a reason for writing a thesis. You said that you will not mention Odessa, although you mentioned it. Last time I abstained, but I can say that, of course, Odessa is a Russian city. It is slightly Jewish, as we now say. Slightly. However, let us not discuss this issue, if you are inclined to talk about another one.
First, this “window onto Europe.” You know, our colleagues just said that the world is changing, getting in and out through a window ripping your pants is not the best choice. Why would anyone want to use the window when there are doors? This is the first point.
Second. There is no doubt that Russia’s civilisational code is based on Christianity, and so is Europe’s. We certainly have this in common. But we are not going to impose ourselves on Europe if Europe does not want us. We are not rejecting them, nor are we slamming [this window] shut. You asked if we regret this. Why would we? It is not us who are slamming the door on communication; it is Europe fencing itself off and creating a new Iron Curtain. We are not the ones creating it, but the Europeans are creating it at the cost of their own losses and to their own detriment.
I have already said this, but I can repeat: the US economy is growing at 2.4 percent, while the European economy is sliding into recession; it is already in recession. Some European figures, who are definitely not amenable or friendly towards our country, have given an accurate diagnosis: Europe’s prosperity was achieved with cheap energy resources from Russia and expansion into the Chinese market. These are the factors of Europe's prosperity. Of course, there was high technology, a hard-working and disciplined working class, talented people – all of this is certainly true. But these were fundamental factors that Europe is rejecting now.
In my opening remarks, I mentioned sovereignty. Here's the thing: sovereignty is a multidimensional concept. Why do we keep saying, and I keep saying that Russia cannot exist as a non-sovereign state? It would simply cease to exist. Because sovereignty is not just about military or other security issues; it is about other components as well.
Do you see what happened to Europe? Many European leaders – I hope they do not accuse me of bad-mouthing or mud-throwing – many Europeans say that Europe has lost its sovereignty. For example, in Germany, Europe's economic locomotive, leading politicians have repeatedly stressed that Germany has not been a sovereign state in the full sense of the word since 1945.
What implications does this have, including in economic terms? The United States – I think, I have no doubt that it was the United States that provoked the Ukraine crisis by supporting the coup in Ukraine in 2014. They could not fail to understand that this was a red line, we have said this a thousand times. They never listened. Now we have today's situation.
And I suspect this was not accidental. They needed that conflict. As a result, Europe, which had lost part of its sovereignty – not all of it, but a considerable part – had to form a tailback behind their sovereign and follow its policies by transitioning to a policy of sanctions and restrictions against Russia. Europe had to do it, knowing that this was going to harm it, and now all energy, much of the energy, is bought from the United States at a price that is 30 percent higher.
They have imposed restrictions on Russian oil. What is the result? This is not as obvious as with gas, but the result is the same. They have reduced the number of suppliers and begun buying more expensive oil from this limited group of suppliers, while we sell our oil to other countries at a discount.
Do you understand what has resulted from this? The competitiveness of the European economy has plummeted, while that of their chief rival in terms of the economic component – the United States – has surged, as has the competitiveness of other countries, including those in Asia. So, following the loss of part of their sovereignty, they had to take, of their own will, those self-defeating decisions.
Do we need a partner of this sort? Of course, it is not absolutely useless. But I want you to take note of the fact that we are leaving the waning European market and boosting our presence on the growing markets in other parts of the world, including in Asia.
At the same time, we are linked with Europe by numerous centuries-old ties in culture, education, etc. To reiterate: all of this is based on the Christian culture. But in this regard, the Europeans are not making us happy either. They are destroying their roots that grow from the Christian culture; they are pulling those roots out without mercy.
Therefore, we are not going to shut anything – either windows, or doors – but neither are we going to force our way to Europe, if Europe does not want this. If it wants to – all right, we will work together. I think one could talk ad infinitum, but I think I have outlined the main points.
Now regarding the textbook and the colour revolutions, the year 1956. I will not hide that I did not read that part of the textbook. And regarding the withdrawal of troops, of course, these are also historical facts, and back then, in 1956, many Western countries stirred up existing problems, including the mistakes of the then Hungarian leadership, and militants were trained abroad and sent to Hungary. But I think it is still difficult to call this a colour revolution in its pure form, because after all there was an internal foundation for serious protest within the country. I think this is an obvious thing. And then, there is hardly any need to transfer today’s terms to the middle of the last century.
As for the withdrawal of troops, I am deeply convinced that there is no point in using troops to suppress internal tendencies in some country or among the people to achieve the goals they consider to be their priorities. This goes for European countries, including Eastern European ones. There was no point in keeping troops there if the people of these countries did not want to see them on their territory.
But the way and under what conditions this happened raises, of course, many questions. Our troops withdrew straight into an open field. How many people know about this? In an open field, with families. Is this acceptable? At the same time, no obligations, no legal consequences for the withdrawal of these troops were formulated, neither by Soviet nor Russian leadership.
Our Western partners did not undertake any obligations at all. At least we returned to the issue of NATO expansion or non-expansion to the east. Yes, we were promised everything verbally, and our American partners do not deny this, and then they ask: where is this documented? There is no document. And that was it, goodbye. Did we promise? It looks like we did, but it was worth nothing. We know that even a written document is worth nothing to them. They are ready to throw away any paper. But at least something would be recorded on paper and something could be agreed upon during the withdrawal of troops.
Something like coordinating issues of ensuring security in Europe or achieving some kind of new design in Europe. After all, the German Social Democracy and Mr Egon Bahr, had proposals ready, as I have already said once, to create a new security system in Europe, which would include Russia, and the United States, and Canada; but not NATO, but together with everyone else: for Eastern and Central Europe. I think this would solve many of today’s problems.
And back then he said, he was a smart old man, he definitely said: otherwise, you will see that all this will be repeated, only this time closer to Russia. He was a German politician, and an experienced, competent, and intelligent person. Nobody listened to him: not Soviet leadership; much less in the West and the United States. Now we are witnessing what he was talking about.
As for the withdrawal of troops, it was pointless to hold on. But the conditions for the withdrawal, this was what we had to talk about, achieving the creation of a situation that, perhaps, would not lead to today’s tragedies and today’s crisis. Perhaps that’s all.
Have I answered your question? If I forgot something, please.
Fyodor Lukyanov: Thank you.
Since we started talking about Germany, Stefan Huth, please take the floor.
Stefan Huth: My name is Stefan Huth. I am from Germany, from the newspaper Junge Welt. I would like to connect to what you just said.
The special military operation in Ukraine is often justified with anti-fascist motives. You said: We have to free the Ukrainian people from the Nazis, we have to drive them out, we have to liberate the country.
Against this background, it must seem somewhat confusing that you on a high governmental level, are in contact with such right-wing parties as the Rassemblement National [National Rally] or the AfD – Alternative for Germany – parties which are deeply rooted in a racist environment. They do not have any sympathy for the Russian people, one can assume. They do not have any sympathy for Russia as being a multi-ethnic people, which you just stressed in your speech.
I would like to know, what do you hope for? What does your Government hope for from such contacts, and what are the criteria for having contacts with parties like that? Can you understand that anti-fascists in Western Europe see this as a contradiction to your politics?
Vladimir Putin: Excuse me, please, I would ask you to be more specific: what do you mean when talking about fascist forces and pro-fascist parties, about their attitude towards Russia and so on? Please be direct and specific, otherwise we will speak in undertones, but it is best that we speak directly.
Stefan Huth: The head of the AfD Tino Chrupalla had a contact, an official meeting with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in 2020. This was a sort of an official meeting. Part of AfD, Björn Höcke for instance, is deeply rooted in the fascist movement in Germany. He went to demonstrations with Nazis.
So this is really confusing to anti-fascists in Germany. It is a contradiction to your policy. We sort of recognise that, at least partly.
Vladimir Putin: What do you see and what can you provide to confirm what you said, that their activities are based on some kind of fascist, pro-fascist national socialist ideas? Can you tell me specifically what exactly is this about?
Stefan Huth: Björn Höcke, for example, he is linked up with fascists. He demonstrates in Dresden regularly during the anniversary of the Allied bombing, together with fascists, and he is linked up with them. This is one of the reasons why Germany’s interior secret service observes this party, saying they are right-wing.
Vladimir Putin: I see. Look, you started with Ukraine and asked me whether it is fair that we publicly declare that we are striving for the denazification of the Ukrainian political system. But we just discussed the situation in the Canadian parliament, when the President of Ukraine stood and applauded a Nazi who killed Jews, Russians, and Poles.
Does not this show that we rightfully call Ukraine’s current system a pro-Nazi one? The leader of the state stands and applauds a Nazi, not just an ideological follower of Nazism, but a real Nazi, a former SS soldier. Is this not a sign of the Nazification of Ukraine? Does not this give us the right to talk about its denazification?
But you may answer: yes, this is the head of state, but this is not the whole country. And I would reply: you spoke about those who go to rallies together with pro-fascists. Is this the whole party that comes to these rallies? Probably not.
We certainly condemn everything pro-fascist, pro-Nazi. We support everything that has no such signs, but on the contrary, that is aimed at establishing contacts.
As far as I know, an assassination attempt was made on one of the leaders of the Alternative for Germany, recently, during the election campaign. What does this point to? That representatives of this party either use Nazi methods or these Nazi methods are used against them? This is a question for a painstaking researcher, including in your person and in the person of the general public of the Federal Republic itself.
As for the anti-fascist forces, we have always been with them, we know their attitude towards Russia. We are grateful to them for this attitude and certainly support it.
I think that everything that is aimed at reviving, at maintaining relations between us, should be supported, and this can be the light at the end of the tunnel of our current relations.
Fyodor Lukyanov: Thank you.
Alexei Grivach: Thank you for the opportunity to ask a question. My question is also related to research. We are working on issues related to the latest developments in the gas industry.
Just over a year ago, we all witnessed an unbelievable and unprecedented act of international terrorism against Europe’s trans-border critical infrastructure. I am talking about the Nord Stream explosions.
You have commented on this incident many times, including the defiant negligence of European investigators and political figures in their assessments. We witnessed a glaring lack of any clear response – condemnation of the incident by leaders such as Chancellor Scholz and President Macron. Although companies in these countries were directly affected by this act as they were and continue to be shareholders and co-owners of the assets involved, and co-investors of the projects.
At the same time, multiple leaks have occurred recently that directly or indirectly attempt to attribute blame: allegedly, investigators have concluded that Ukrainians were behind the incident. So, I have two questions for you.
First: did these political leaders, your European counterparts, offer any reaction in direct contacts beyond the official statements that, I believe, were not given? Was there a reaction via diplomatic channels?
My second question is, what consequences are possible if the so-called European investigation, the investigative bodies of the European countries eventually indict Ukraine over this incident in any form?
Vladimir Putin: First of all, I would like to point out that, long before these bombings, the US President publicly stated that the United States would do anything it could to make sure that exports of Russian energy sources to Europe via these pipelines would stop. With a meaningful smile, he said: I will not say how this might be achieved, but we will do it. This is my first point.
Second, the destruction of these infrastructure facilities, without doubt, is an act of international terrorism.
Third, we have not been included in the investigation, despite our proposals and multiple calls to allow us to be involved.
And, no results have been and, obviously, will be announced.
And finally, when looking for answers for who is to blame, you always need to ask – who benefits? In this case, US energy companies that export products to the European market would certainly be interested in this. The Americans have wanted this for a long time, and now they have achieved it, even if by getting someone else to do it for them.
There is one more side to this. If the criminals are ever found, they must be held accountable. This was an act of international terrorism. At the same time, one line of Nord Stream 2 has survived. It is not damaged and can be used to supply 27.5 billion cubic metres of gas to Europe. It is solely up to the Government of the Federal Republic of Germany to decide. Nothing else is needed. They make a decision today – tomorrow we open the valve, and that’s that; the gas is on its way. But they will not do this, to the detriment of their own interests, because, as we say, “their bosses in Washington” will not allow them to.
We continue to supply gas to Europe through the TurkStream pipelines, and judging by everything, Ukrainian terrorist groups are plotting to do damage there as well. Our ships are guarding the pipelines that run along the bottom of the Black Sea, but they are constantly being attacked by unmanned vehicles, with English-speaking specialists and advisers clearly involved, among others, in planning those attacks. We have intercepted them on the radio: we always hear English speech wherever those unmanned semi-submersible boats are being prepared. This is an obvious fact for us – but draw your own conclusions.
But we continue to supply gas – including via the territory of Ukraine. We ship gas to customers via Ukraine and we pay the country for this transit. I have already talked about this. We always hear that we are the aggressor, that we are the dirty so-and-so, that we are the bad guys. But apparently, money doesn’t stink. They get paid for this transit. They are happy to collect the coin: snap, and that’s that.
We are acting in an open and transparent manner; and we are ready to cooperate. If they don’t want to, that’s fine. We will boost our LNG production and sales. We will send our gas to other markets. We will build new pipeline systems to places where they want our product, where it remains competitive and helps the consumer economies become more competitive, as I have said before.
As for the investigation, we will see. In the end, you cannot hide an awl in a sack, as we say: it will be clear who did this in the end. The truth will out.
Fyodor Lukyanov: Mr President, you mentioned gas shipments via Ukraine. Part of our public is perplexed: why are we doing this? Why are we paying them this money?
Vladimir Putin: We are paying them because it is a transit country, and we have to ship our gas via Ukraine under our contractual obligations to our counterparts in Europe.
Fyodor Lukyanov: But this also strengthens our enemy’s defence capability.
Vladimir Putin: But it also strengthens our finances – we get paid for the product.
Fyodor Lukyanov: Understood. Thank you.
Mohammed Ihsan has had his hand raised for quite some time now.
Mohammed Ihsan: Thank you so much.
Really, I am honoured. It is a great opportunity for us to hear from you directly, Mr Putin.
I am going to draw attention to the Middle East a little bit instead of Ukraine and international justice and international system. I come from Iraq and shortly, there will be a visit by the Iraqi Prime Minister to Moscow. Thank you again for meeting him personally.
You know now that there are lot of problems between Erbil and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG). At the same time, you have Rosneft and Gazprom, which invested huge amounts of money in Iraq in general and in Kurdistan.
Do you think there is a chance you could help our side negotiate more peacefully to settle the dispute between the sides and help more? Because the other parties in the area want to pour more oil on the conflict to make it more complicated, I think.
Another issue I want to highlight for you is that we are approaching the end of 2023. Do you think it is the right time for your personal help to all the parties in Syria, including the government side, the Kurdish side and all regional powers to end that conflict?
Because thousands of Syrians have been away and humiliated in other parts of the world and there is no peaceful solution and no vision. I think there is no one except you, because most parties in this conflict respect Russia and President Putin and you have a very good relationship with them. I think it is the right time not to intervene but to mediate between all of them.
Thank you so much again.
Vladimir Putin: You mentioned that even the parties to the conflicts in certain Middle Eastern countries, including Syria, hold us in high regard and respect us. This is because we, in turn, treat everyone with respect.
With regard to Syria, we advocate a peaceful process, which includes support from the United Nations. However, we are unable to act as substitutes for the negotiating parties. We can create favourable conditions and, to some extent, if everyone finds it acceptable, we can act as guarantors of agreements with the involvement of our immediate partners in this process, namely Iran and Turkiye, within the Astana process framework.
We were successful in contributing to these efforts. Notably, a ceasefire has been achieved, which has paved the way for the peace process. All of that was done by us and our partners with cooperation from Syrian leadership. Nevertheless, there remains much to be done.
I believe that outside interference and attempts to establish quasi-state entities within Syria have failed to yield any positive outcome. Pushing out the Arab tribes that have historically inhabited specific regions with the aim of creating these quasi-state entities is a complex issue that could prolong the conflict.
Nonetheless, we are fully committed to fostering trust, including between Syria’s central authorities and the Kurds residing in eastern Syria. This is a challenging process, and I would proceed with great caution, because every word matters. This is my first point.
Second, with regard to Iraq, we enjoy a strong relationship with this country, and we welcome the visit of the Prime Minister of Iraq to Russia. There are numerous issues of mutual interest, primarily within the energy sector. There is also a critical economic matter – logistics. I will not delve into the specifics, but there are several courses of action we can take if we want to develop logistics transport routes in Iraq. In general, they all look good, and all we need to do is choose the best alternatives. We stand ready to be part of the effort to implement them.
During the Prime Minister’s visit, we will discuss these matters, including regional security and Iraq’s internal security. We have maintained tight and trusting relations with Iraq for many decades. We have many friends there, and we are dedicated to promoting stability in this country and fostering economic and social growth on the basis of that stability.
We look forward to the Prime Minister’s visit, and I am confident that it will be highly productive and well-timed.
Fyodor Lukyanov: Thank you.
Taisuke Abiru, please.
Taisuke Abiru: The Sasakawa Foundation, Japan. The last time I was given a chance to ask a question was in 2018, five years ago. But after the war started in Ukraine, Japan joined the sanctions against Russia and Russia announced that it was suspending talks on a peace treaty between the two countries. As a result, the Japanese-Russian relations have become deadlocked. Personally, I do not see any good prospects for the better in the short term.
Nevertheless, Russia and Japan are neighbours. I think that a window for dialogue should always be kept open. In this sense, I believe that it is high time our countries resumed dialogue at least at the expert level.
If Japan comes up with such an initiative, Mr President, will you support this initiative?
Fyodor Lukyanov: The “window openings” are popular today, aren’t they?
Vladimir Putin: I have a fourth category in carpentry. I know how to build windows, don’t worry.
Fyodor Lukyanov: Do you know how to widen them?
Vladimir Putin: We’ll widen them, if necessary. If this meets our national interests, we will work on this, too.
Now let us talk about Japan. You said you had asked a question in 2018, but everything changed after the combat operations began in Ukraine. The combat operations in Ukraine began in 2014, not after 2018, but Japan preferred not to notice this. A more acute phase, in fact, began in 2022, but the hostilities themselves came under way in 2014 with [Ukrainian] bombing and armour attacks on Donbass – that’s what it all began with. I said as much in my opening remarks.
Now let us talk about our relations. It was not us who introduced sanctions against Japan or shut this “window,” this time on Asia. Japan did that. We did nothing of the kind.
If you think that it is high time a certain dialogue took place and believe it possible for Japan to take an initiative – it is never a bad thing, when there is a dialogue.
You asked me, whether we were ready to respond? We are, if there is an initiative of this kind from the party that has shut those “doors” or that “window.” If you think that the time has come for us to open this “fortochka” crack – please do. After all, we have never said we are against this. Do it.
Fyodor Lukyanov: Aleksandar Rakovic.
Aleksandar Rakovic: Dear Mr President, I am a historian from Belgrade, Serbia. It is my privilege to be here and to see you, and to talk to you.
My question is about your opinion of the current Russian-Serbian relations, and the current position of the Serbs in the Balkans. Are we, Serbs and Russians, targets of the political West because we are devoted to Orthodox Christianity?
Mr President, I brought two books from Belgrade to you. Please accept them for your library. I will give it to your protocol after the session. Thank you very much.
Vladimir Putin: Thank you very much. I will definitely take the books. Thank you.
Regarding whether Russia and Serbia are targeted by certain circles in the West, they are, it is a fact. No specific evidence is needed to corroborate this; it is a cold hard fact. Frankly, I am not sure why Serbia is a target.
It is just like in the early 1990s − after the Soviet Union had broken up and thinking that times had changed − Russia was willing to make almost any sacrifice in order to establish good relations with Western nations. What did we get in return? They provided direct political, information, financial, and even military support to separatism and terrorism in the Caucasus. I served as the Director of the FSB back then, and I watched with bewilderment as these events unfolded, wondering why they were doing this at a time when we were on the same side. However, they pursued these actions without hesitation. Frankly, I have no clear understanding of it to this day.
I believe it may stem from a lack of education, perhaps a misunderstanding of global trends and a lack of comprehension of Russia's nature, as well as an unawareness of where such actions might lead. They may have sought to pressure us into submission using brutal force. Sanctions are, in fact, a different form of force. There appears to be a complete absence of a willingness to seek compromises. Those barks that I mentioned earlier, like “you must,” “you are under obligation,” or “we are warning you” are also about the use of force or an attempt to exert force. It all comes down to the same thing.
Concerning at first Yugoslavia and then Serbia, the question is why? Serbia appeared to be ready to engage in discussions on virtually all matters as well. However, they chose to apply pressure, more and more. I have heard them say phrases like “we need to pressure them into accepting our terms” or “it is a weak point” on numerous occasions. This is their prevailing philosophy. Why did they choose to do this to Serbia? Frankly, I have no idea.
Furthermore, during times when I had candid conversations and good relations with some leaders, they would tell me “we need to pressure them into” doing a particular thing, I often responded by asking “Why?” but I never got an answer. It is part of their philosophy or paradigm: issues should be resolved by applying force in order to get the desired outcome.
However, that is not who Serbs are with their history and culture. I will even say something that may sound ominous: it might be possible to destroy the Serbs, but pressing them into anything or subduing them is not possible. Regrettably, they do not understand this, either.
Nonetheless, I am hopeful that sooner or later they will come to realise this component of European and global politics. They will finally understand that it is essential to engage in constructive talks rather than to attempt to exert force.
Arvind Gupta: Mr President, thank you very much for your remarks, it has been very informative. I am Arvind Gupta, Vivekananda International Foundation, New Delhi. Thank you very much for your positive remarks about India. My question to you is about the G20. The G20 Declaration finally came out and I think everybody appreciated that. The G20 also has a certain reference to One Earth, One Family and One Future, which I think ties up with the civilisational approach that you have been talking about. Just like the Russian civilisation – and you are promoting the Russian civilisational approach – I think India also calls itself and describes itself as a civilisational state. I think there is a need for a greater dialogue between the civilisations. Instead of going through the road of clashes of civilisations, which was very popular once upon a time in the Western world, I think the initiative should come from leaders like you and Prime Minister Modi. This will help generate a dialogue amongst the civilisations that will be positive and which might help in fleshing out the principles of international relations that you talked about. So, my question to you is: what do you think about the G20 Declaration and what is your view of the future of the G20? Thank you.
Vladimir Putin: First of all, I would like to confirm what you said about the Indian and Russian civilisations: this is exactly what I have talked about in my opening remarks. Of course, India is an ancient world civilisation; an enormous and powerful country with huge potential.
Russia is also a distinct civilisation. Look, we have over 190 peoples and ethnic groups living in Russia, with over 270 tongues and dialects. Surely that is a civilisation, is it not? India is also an enormous multi-confessional and multi-ethnic country. We need to dialogue between all civilisations – we are not the only civilisations in the world – as well as achieve a balance of interests and ways to maintain this balance.
As for the work of the G20, this is, of course, a success of the Indian leadership and of Prime Minister Modi personally. It was a success, and the Indian leadership was able to find and achieve this balance, including in the declaration. Some closed associations do not have much in the way of prospects, and the balance is changing.
But what do I attribute the success of the G20 in India to? To the Prime Minister managing to depoliticise the decisions made at the G20; and this is the only correct approach, because the G20 was created as a platform for discussing economic, and not political, issues back in the day. Politicisation of the G20 is a sure path to its self-destruction, and the Indian leadership managed to avoid this, which is certainly a success.
As for the fact that some closed associations are flawed, I think it is difficult to refute, because the balance of power is changing. Look, just recently everyone was following what would happen at the G7 meeting with bated breath: the largest world economies were gathering; what were they deciding there, what consequences would there be for the world economy?
Even before expanding, the BRICS economies accounted for more than 51 percent of global GDP. So, the G7 economies were smaller. And now, after the admission of additional members to BRICS, the size of the economies of the BRICS member countries has become even larger than that of the G7 members, so the real balance of forces and potentials is very important.
In this sense, open platforms are always better, always more promising, and always more valuable, because they create conditions to look for compromises and mutually acceptable solutions. But if we are talking about the results of the work of the G20, I would like to repeat and end my answer to your question here: this is, of course, Prime Minister Modi’s success.
Fyodor Lukyanov: Mr President, you did not attend BRICS or the G20 summit. Don’t you feel a little bit like a ‘lishenets’, a person stripped of his rights, not being able to travel where you want?
Vladimir Putin: A lishenets was a disenfranchised person during the early years of Soviet power, deprived of certain social benefits, right? We do not need any social perks. We are a self-sufficient state and follow that path.
Fyodor Lukyanov: Some were also deprived of their civil rights.
Vladimir Putin: Yes, that is correct. And we are defending our rights and I am sure we will protect them. This is the first point.
Second, why would I create problems for our friends hosting these events? We are adults and understand: if I attend, it may cause political outbursts and spectacles, to sabotage the event. So why would I?
We are interested in BRICS running smoothly and producing results. We want to see the G20 summit held at an adequate level. The events came off successfully and we are satisfied.
Finally, I have plenty of work to do at home.
Fyodor Lukyanov: Does this mean you were not offended by the President of South Africa?
Vladimir Putin: Absolutely not. He is our friend.
Fyodor Lukyanov: And was he offended?
Vladimir Putin: Offended by what? No, we had an agreement. He visited Russia twice. We met and had a long conversation. There are no problems. I believe he was a brilliant host of the BRICS summit. Frankly, I did not even expect him to be such a master of diplomacy. Expanding BRICS was not an easy matter but he managed it well. He steered the conversation back to the same topic several times so politely and tactfully until a consensus was reached. It is a positive outcome and we welcome it.
Fyodor Lukyanov: You will be the host next year. Do you already know which countries will attend?
Vladimir Putin: Next year, yes, Russia will chair BRICS. Of course, we will do our best to take over from South Africa. It will be the first summit after new members joined BRICS. We have 200 BRICS-themed events planned. I am certain during the year, we will make extensive positive efforts to strengthen the organisation that is gaining more and more power and authority – and this will, certainly, benefit the members and the entire international community.
BRICS was actually conceived in Russia. Let me remind you how it happened. First, we suggested having a three-party forum for Russia, India and China. We agreed to hold regular meetings. This is how RIC came about, which stands for Russia, India and China. Then Brazil expressed interest in joining these discussions. And we became BRIC. Next was South Africa, hence BRICS.
Now, we have reached the point when we are ready to expand the number of members – and we have done so. In my opinion, this fact is very important and indicates that our authority is growing and, most importantly, that countries want to join a format that does not impose any obligations but simply creates conditions for compromise and addressing issues of interest for all the participating countries. We are happy to see it and believe it is a positive process.
Fyodor Lukyanov: Are we going to take Algeria?
Vladimir Putin: Algeria is our friend and, certainly, our long-term friend in the Arab world and in North Africa. We believe that it will benefit the organisation but, surely, we must discuss it with all our friends within BRICS, while staying in contact with the Algerian leaders. We will do it in an orderly manner, without causing any problems to the organisation but only creating additional pathways for collective development.
Fyodor Lukyanov: Thank you.
Dayan Jayatilleka: Thank you.
Mr President, I am Dayan Jayatilleka, former Ambassador of Sri Lanka to the Russian Federation.
The Western bloc has decided to equip Ukraine with long-range missiles with cluster munitions and warheads which can strike targets fairly deep in Russia. And it has also decided to supply F-16 strike aircraft.
So it is obvious that you are facing a war conducted by imperialism, a proxy war, and that proxy has, as you pointed out, Nazi elements as well.
Historically, Mr President, imperialism has been fought on the battlefield by the Chinese communists, the North Korean communists, and the Vietnamese communists, who actually prevailed over the United States.
As far as imperialism goes, the best writing, the most famous critiques have been done by the leader of the Russian communist tradition, Lenin.
So my question is this: In the face of this challenge, this threat from these forces, is it perhaps not the right time to reassess 1917, because the Chinese, Vietnamese and North Koreans, they are all children of 1917, who fought and defeated imperialism.
Is it not the right time to reassess 1917, and perhaps have the same relationship with it that the United States has with its revolution of 1776, France with 1789 and the French Revolution, and the Chinese with 1949 and the Chinese Revolution? This is my question, Mr President.
Vladimir Putin: Sorry, but could you please specify what exactly must be reviewed. And who is to review what – you have such a difficult question – since 1917?
Fyodor Lukyanov: If I understood correctly, our colleague is asking if it is time to reconsider views on the revolution, communists and that period of our history in a more positive light.
Vladimir Putin: To reconsider the view on the 1917 period?
Fyodor Lukyanov: 1917 and beyond. Sorry to interpret, but that’s how I understood it, yes.
Vladimir Putin: Why interpret when the person who asked the question is right here?
Dayan Jayatilleka: If I may clarify very briefly, what I am saying is since we are being attacked by imperialism and elements of fascism, and since in history, those were fought and defeated by Communists in China and North Korea, Vietnam, and since the best text about imperialism was written by Lenin, is it the right time to perhaps be less critical of 1917, and restore it to historical status, like the French Revolution, the American Revolution, and the Chinese Revolution?
Vladimir Putin: Less criticism of the events of those years, including in Russia itself, as I understand it?
Yes, you are right. You are right in the sense that we need to engage less in criticism, and more in deep – in this case even scientific – analysis of what happened at that time and is happening now. Yes, you are right.
The only thing is that you need to give in-depth assessments, including assessments related to ideologisation. Now I will give my own opinion; everyone present here can argue with it. It is also necessary to give correct assessments of the ideologisation of interstate relations and geopolitical interests. Apart from relations between classes, relations within the framework of the so-called class struggle, we did not attach any importance: even after the events of 1991, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, we were still in the paradigm of class relations and ideological relations and did not notice that there were purely geopolitical interests.
Take relations between the West and the People’s Republic of China. There was a time when they were trying – and not without success – to pit China against the Soviet Union and Russia, because China was the weakest, it wasn’t scary. Now that China has begun to grow, under the leadership of the Communist Party and President Xi Jinping today, its power is increasing almost every day, it is different now, it comes around. And back then, when they tried to use China, they forgot about all the ideological differences, but now they are being revived again. But, in essence, US policy towards China is based on geopolitical fears. The growing power of China is what frightens them, and not the fact that human rights are violated there or the rights of ethnic minorities. Does this really bother anyone? No, it is just a tool to fight China, that’s all. The same goes to Russia.
But generally, globally, yes, we need to give general, more in-depth assessments. In any case, I agree with you that it is indiscriminate to throw everything that happened under the leadership of the communist parties of that time into the “dustbin of history”, which you spoke about, of course; to paint all this with the same brush making no distinctions is inappropriate and even harmful. In this sense, I agree with you.
Fyodor Lukyanov: Well, since we started talking about China, Mr Liu Gang, please.
Liu Gang: Mr President, I am with Xinhua Institute, China.
During this year’s Valdai meetings, the forum is focusing on BRICS mechanisms which are very inspirational. We also observe that after the United States and some Western countries escalated sanctions against Russia, the Global South did not follow suit and showed strategic independence.
At the BRICS Summit this August, six countries became new members of BRICS, which means that the Global South stands at a new historic point of cooperation.
As China and Russia are important emerging economies, what can both of our countries do to enhance cooperation within the Global South? What are the key areas that need to be strengthened in this regard and are facing escalating sanctions imposed by the United States and some Western countries? What else needs to be done by Russia to tackle this challenge?
Thank you very much.
Vladimir Putin: Today, cooperation between Russia and the People’s Republic of China is, of course, a very important factor stabilising international affairs. This is first.
Second, in order for this influence to grow, we first need to pay attention to maintaining the pace of our economic growth. Economic growth in Russia this year – I cannot remember whether I have said it or not, but I spoke about some aspects, and if I did, I will repeat it – economic growth this year will be somewhere around 2.8, and maybe three percent; I am being careful about how I say it, but closer to three percent. For our economy, for the economic structure that Russia has, this is a good result. We have fully overcome last year’s decline and are picking up the pace.
In China, as far as I know, growth will be 6.4 percent: this is a very good figure. No matter what anyone says about the slowing growth rate of the Chinese economy, it is all chatter and idle talk, because China ensures these high rates and is in fact a leading driver of the world economy. The same thing is happening in India: the growth there is even higher: 7.6 percent, I believe. Therefore, the countries of the global South are gaining momentum, and our task is to ensure this leadership. This is first.
Second is in the field of security. We can see what is happening in Europe. We can see that among the ways the crisis in Ukraine was provoked and created was the irrepressible desire of Western countries, especially the United States, to expand NATO to the borders of the Russian Federation. They do the same in the East, creating various closed military groups. They are stepping on the same rake as they did in Europe. Therefore, it is important for us to respond to this in a timely manner.
We will expand our cooperation in the security sphere. At the same time, we do not create any blocs against anyone, but we are forced to react to what is happening around our states.
Of course, we will implement the infrastructure development plans related to building the Greater Eurasia and the Eurasian Economic Union, as well as our Chinese friends’ plans to develop President Xi’s Belt and Road Initiative. As I have said, I find it very promising.
And, finally, a lot of cooperation is planned in people-to-people ties: culture, student exchanges, and sports. This is very important for neighbouring countries.
We are already implementing fairly large infrastructure projects on a bilateral basis and will continue to do so. I hope that we will discuss all this in the near future during my meeting with President Xi Jinping as part of the forum that the President is holding in Beijing in October.
Fyodor Lukyanov: Mikhail Rostovsky.
Mikhail Rostovsky: Mr President, Ukraine’s putative accession to NATO is absolutely unacceptable to Russia. But from what I remember of your previous comments on Ukraine joining the European Union, you were in a much less negative mood.
Have you changed your point of view over the past year? Will Russia object to Ukraine’s accession to the European Union? Do you regard this accession as possible in principle?
Vladimir Putin: We have never objected or expressed a negative attitude to Ukraine’s plans to join the European economic community – never.
As for NATO, we have always been against it and this position is founded on the definite and serious grounds, because NATO’s expansion right up to our borders is threatening our security. This is a massive challenge to the Russian Federation’s security. After all, it is not only a political bloc, it is a military and political bloc, and the approach of its infrastructure is fraught with a grave threat to us.
As for any country’s economic cooperation, or economic unions, we do not see any military threat to us and therefore do not think we have any right even to discuss this topic. This business concerns Ukraine and the European states alone.
In his time, President Yanukovych – without, incidentally, renouncing the association with the EU – just said that it was necessary to study those matters in more detail, because, in his opinion, the terms of the agreement on the association with the EU involved certain grave threats for the Ukrainian economy. And, in fact, if you read the language, he was absolutely right.
The agreement stipulated the opening of borders and the creation of absolutely unacceptable conditions for the functioning of the Ukrainian economy and the real economic sector. European goods are more competitive. Opening Ukraine’s market to these goods was a disaster for its real sector. Involving Ukraine in the EU’s energy structures also deprived it of certain advantages. Therefore, if you just analyse it – simply analyse this matter without any bias – Yanukovych was right. But this was used as a pretext for a coup d’etat. It’s absolutely nonsensical, I don’t know, just a pretext… It’s a real crime!
But today, this is no longer relevant, because, in the larger scheme of things, the Ukrainian economy cannot exist without external infusions. Today, everything is different. Today, look, everything is generally balanced over there – on the face of it; the budget is also balanced in Ukraine and the macroeconomic indicators are more or less adjusted. But at what cost? At the cost of monthly multi-billion-dollar infusions.
Ukraine receives four or five billion dollars every month through various channels – loans, grants, etc. Just stop this funding and it’s the end – everything will collapse in one week’s time. Finish! The same concerns the defence system: just imagine if the [weapons] deliveries were discontinued tomorrow – they would have just one week to go until they used up all ammunition.
But the West has nearly exhausted its own stocks of ammunition as well. As I said, the United States produces 14,000 155mm shells per month, whereas Ukraine fires up to 5,000 such shells per day. Just compare: 14,000 per month and 5,000 per day. See what I am talking about? Yes, they are trying to boost the output to 75,000 [shells per month] before the end of next year. But it’s still a long way off.
Europe is in a similar situation, as they say themselves. They said they had supplied everything – armour, ammunition, the lot. “We have done everything for Ukraine.” They said this themselves in public (it’s not my invention): “We have done everything for this, and now Ukraine has to do its part – let them go into the counter-offensive.” And then they add behind the scenes: “At any cost!” Trust me, I know what I am talking about. And so they are doing it, or rather trying to do it – at any cost.
This is a matter of Ukraine’s demilitarisation. It is still attempting to produce something, but there is little it can do. Even those drones, both airborne and seaborne, all of that happens with the help of Western advisers and intermediaries.
Is the EU ready to accept this economy into its fold? Good luck with that! But to sustain the viability of a population that has declined from 41 million at the start of the post-Soviet period to 19.5 million, or even less, today… But still, you have to feed these 19 million people, and this is not so easy. Are the European countries ready to adopt this economy? Let them do it. We have never objected to that – neither before the aggravation of this crisis, nor now.
But I have already told you what is going on within the European economy. It would be very noble of them to take up the Ukrainian economy given its current condition. They have certain foundations and procedures for balancing the level of economic development. A colleague from Hungary spoke recently; I do not know how much Hungary receives from these funds. Nothing, naturally, because everything will go to Ukraine and there will be insufficient funding. Nobody will receive anything, nobody.
If the level of wellbeing has dropped by 1.5 percent over the past couple of years, it will not just drop to zero, but even lower. Nevertheless, and I do not want to speak sarcastically or exaggerate but this is the reality: if it happens, we will not feel at liberty to counteract this or even speak negatively on this issue.
Fyodor Lukyanov: Mr President, is there still a line between NATO and the EU? These are the same countries.
Vladimir Putin: I believe that the EU is not a military bloc. And why would they move all that to the EU when there is NATO, as you said these are the same countries. They make relevant decisions within this organisation.
In fact, NATO is above all a tool of US foreign policy. They provoked the acute phase of the conflict in Ukraine, gathered their allies and satellites around them and demanded that they take measures to counteract Russia. These countries obeyed, and the United States immediately took advantage of the situation in the economy and forced their expensive energy upon them and then made decisions on improving the attractiveness of their economy and their markets. And now what? This is a fact: many industrial facilities in Europe and Germany decided to move to the US. This is the end result of this chain of actions.
I know and I am confident that many do not like this in Europe. Everyone sees and understands the situation, but they cannot do anything about it. And the current European elites, it seems, are not ready to fight for their interests. They cannot, they are not ready because the economic dependence is too high. One can sort of understand them.
I am sure that gradually, everything will level out. The US, in my opinion, is making a colossal strategic mistake. I have said at various public events that they are putting pressure on their allies, and then questions arise, as with my colleague from Germany: the AfD party, Alternative for Germany, is raising its head. Well of course it will, because nobody from the ruling class is going to fight for Germany’s interests, and this is why it is happening. Don’t you understand this, or what? It is so obvious.
Let us see how the situation will develop. The Ukrainians want to join the EU, so let them; the Europeans are ready to accept them, so let them do that.
Fyodor Lukyanov: German Unity Day was marked the day before yesterday, and I read in some newspaper that there was a big issue when Gerhard Schroeder came to the celebratory event and all incumbent politicians tried to avoid standing next to him because of his friendship with you. By the way, do you still have friends in Germany?
Vladimir Putin: You know, it is not about whether I still have friends in Germany, although I do have friends there, and an increasing number of them even though it might seem strange. (Applause).
Fyodor Lukyanov: On account of those people Stefan spoke about, no?
Vladimir Putin: It does not matter. First of all, on account of those who serve the interests of their own people and do not want to serve the interests of anyone else.
As for Mr Schroeder, Germany should be proud to have people like him. He is a true son of his people, for he prirotises the interests of the German people. I assure you, when making any decision or while we were discussing any question with him, he always placed utmost importance on the interests of the German economy and the German state.
And what is happening now? In fact, it was with Mr Schroeder that we built Nord Steam 1 and practically began building Nord Stream 2. We began doing it with him. So, they blew up these infrastructure systems, and where is the German economy now? Where is it? So those who are trying to move away from him now should contemplate what he did in the interests of his people and what they are doing today and what results they have achieved.
Fyodor Lukyanov: Rakhim Oshakbayev.
Vladmir Putin: I am sorry. You know what surprises me? I will tell you honestly that I am surprised that such people and such politicians [as Gerhard Schroeder] are still present in Europe, that there are still such people. This is what surprises me, I am sincere now, because the generation of people who were able to defend their national interests seem to have vanished somewhere.
Rakhim Oshakbayev: Good evening.
There have been many discussions here at the Valdai Club that have declared the inadequacy and injustice of the international monetary and economic system, such as global finance and the global economy. Many experts set big hopes on BRICS+.
Could you share your view of what needs to be achieved, and most importantly, the possible structure of the global monetary economic system? What discussions do you have within BRICS? And on the single currency.
Vladimir Putin: As far as the global financial system is concerned, naturally, it is not ideal, balanced and does not meet the interests of most participants in the international community.
Look, I have already spoken about this and I will reiterate, at the Russia-Africa Summit, our African colleagues and friends said that the loan burden of the African states is over one trillion US dollars. It is impossible to repay these debts, it will never be done.
So, what kind of a global financial system could create such a situation? It is some sort of indemnity. These are not just loans, it goes beyond any normal financial and economic relations. And the contemporary financial system has bred this situation. So, I said as a joke then, that only cowards repay their debts. I warned the audience that it was a joke.
But it is not normal when such a situation happens, and something needs to change. The Bretton Woods system was created based on the dollar, but it is gradually falling apart. Because a currency is a derivative of the country’s economy which issues that currency.
The American economy’s share in the global GDP is shrinking, which is also an obvious thing, pure statistics. The share of the BRICS countries, which I also have already spoken about, is increasing in terms of purchasing power parity in relation to that of the G7 countries, especially after accepting new member states. This is a rather significant difference.
Yes, the economies of the United States and the Eurozone are built on a foundation of modern technologies and their per capita income is much higher than that of the developing economies. But what is the trend there? Their economies are going into recession and are showing negative results, while in the BRICS countries growth is impressive, even after the attacks launched on the Russian economy. It seems that they were counting on the collapse of our country, the destruction of our economy, and the destruction of Russia.
Not only did we overcome all the hardships of the past year, but we also achieved positive results: our economic growth is almost 3 percent, while unemployment stands at 3 percent, and debt levels are shrinking – we have significantly cut our foreign debt. All our companies are able to service all of their debt commitments. Yes, some problems remain, such as unrecoverable revenue and the weakening of the national currency. We see that. Both the Central Bank and the Government are responding to these developments. I am sure that the measures they are taking are correct, and the results will be beneficial.
But as far as BRICS is concerned, we not only need to create a single currency, but also build a settlement system and create financial logistics to provide for settlements between our states. We also need to transition to settlements in our national currencies, keeping an eye on them to understand what is actually occurring with them, while taking into account the macroeconomic indices of our economies, exchange rate differences, and inflation processes. It is not an easy situation, but it can be dealt with, and this is what we need to do.
Yesterday, we discussed this with our experts, including the possibility of creating a single BRICS currency. Theoretically speaking, yes, it is probable. But in order to begin working on this, we need to achieve a certain parity in the development of the economies of the member states, which is a very distant perspective.
As my colleagues told me, in the course of time, the Eurozone transitioned to the common currency, the euro, without thinking about how it would work in countries with a different level of economic development, and problems emerged. Why would we make the same mistake? This issue is not even on the agenda. But we should and we will work to improve the entire financial system, both global finance and financial relations within BRICS.
Fyodor Lukyanov: Mr President, we have been working for three hours. Aren’t you tired of us yet?
Vladimir Putin: How could I say such a thing?
Fyodor Lukyanov: I see. That’s the correct answer.
Vladimir Putin: But we should be wrapping up probably.
Fyodor Lukyanov: Alright, we will wrap up soon.
Mr de Gaulle.
Pierre de Gaulle: Mr President, I am Pierre de Gaulle. I am the Chair of Mouvement International Russophile (MIR) France & Francophonie. And I am a true friend of your country as my family is fighting for the Franco-Russian friendship, and we have got more and more people in France and Europe who have the same belief and the same willingness. As you know, the friendship and partnership between France and Russia was one of the pillars of my grandfather’s policy. And I want to rebuild and I want to restore the France of my grandfather, the France made of fundamental values like faith, like patriotism, like family, and like true, let’s say, spiritual responsibility, which is completely gone in the occidental world. I believe these fundamental values are essential to build peace and understanding amongst people. Because of this, I think that the conflict in Ukraine is an ideological conflict, that it is even a conflict of civilisations. Because on one side, you have got the occidental world, which has lost its soul, which has lost everything for ego, for short-term satisfaction, pleasure, and short-term view on everything that is sacred. And history has shown that civilisation cannot survive. On the other side, you have got a multipolar world led by Russia, led by China, India, African countries, Arabic countries and South American countries. Those people, those nations are willing to fight for their own traditional and fundamental values. So, to me, Mr President, this conflict is ideological. That is why I think that it will last and expand. What is your view on this?
Vladimir Putin: First of all, I want to say that it is a great honour to be hosting General de Gaulle’s grandson here in Russia. (Applause)
The incumbent President of France and I briefly touched on some of these issues and I said – again, it is not a secret – that I don’t want to give any historical assessment. It was all very complicated, yet, despite the difference in military titles, it is General de Gaulle rather than Marshal Petain who is perceived as a hero in Russia, because the general personified France and its pursuit of freedom, independence, and dignity. Normandie-Nieman pilots are also seen as heroes.
Yes, the situation has changed nowadays and the leaders of France today are completely different people. I am not talking about their age, but rather about their view of the role and significance of France, perhaps even its history and future. I am not going to give my opinion as it is none of our business. It is up to the people of France. But I know that there are plenty of people in France with the views you represent, true friends of Russia, and their numbers are growing.
Will the situation become further aggravated in light of the general developments ongoing in the world, amidst the ideological confrontation, as you called it? It will never end, obviously. Whatever shape they take, these different movements will, surely, always fight with each other, this is obvious. But my opinion is that, nevertheless, the pace at which people are coming to realise the importance and the timeless significance of national values and customs will gradually pick up, both in European countries and the United States as well.
In this sense, I think yes, the ideological confrontation will continue. But the future lies in the nationally-oriented forces of the world. As I said in my remarks, their balance on the world stage will be achieved by finding a compromise between civilisations.
Fyodor Lukyanov: Colleagues, we are really running out of time, so let's do a quick round of questions. I’m serious, very short questions.
Vladimir Putin: Please try asking a short question.
Konstantin Starysh: I will try. Thank you.
Konstantin Starysh, Republic of Moldova, parliamentary opposition.
My question is this. Sooner or later, this conflict will end and I would like to believe that Russia and the West will begin to ‘reassemble’ their relations. I am speaking very selfishly, because this kind of confrontation sends shockwaves to countries like Moldova, both economically and politically.
So, I would like to believe that sooner or later, a rebuilding of relations will finally begin, and it will determine the fate of greater Europe for decades to come.
Mr President, what role do you think countries like Moldova can play in this process? What place can they take in this future architecture that will emerge as a result of this process?
Vladimir Putin: It depends on the Moldovan people. I will explain.
If the people of Moldova vote for parties that want to give up a significant part of their sovereignty to other countries and follow in the wake of their interests, this will define their role: they will neither be seen nor heard.
But if they follow the path of upholding their sovereignty and their national dignity, sticking to their national traditions, then, as I said in my remarks, we will strive to ensure that all countries, regardless of their size, regardless of their economic situation, have an equal say, and that all countries treat each other as equals. I do not know how it will all work out, but this is our approach, and this is what we will strive for.
Kubat Rakhimov: Kubat Rakhimov, Kyrgyz Republic. A short question.
We can see the success story of Russia, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan creating a gas union. This year, as early as October, Uzbekistan will receive Russian gas. But we have two more problems in Central Asia: water and energy.
Mr President, how do you view the prospects for creating a water and energy union in which Russia would be an active player and moderator of processes, to avoid social instability and even armed conflicts? Thank you.
Vladimir Putin: With regard to energy and energy supplies, we have never exported gas from Russia to Central Asia. In the Soviet Union, things were the other way round, and Central Asia used to supply gas to Russia through two pipeline systems.
However, considering the growing energy needs and economic growth in our Central Asian friends' countries, as well as climate change – this year, the temperatures in Kazakhstan and Tashkent dropped to 21, even 24 below zero, which, I believe, no one can remember ever seeing before. It is truly incredible, but it happened, which means it could happen again. They raised the question with us and asked us to consider gas supplies to these countries. We understand that living without these supplies may be a challenge.
We worked on this issue together. Our Kazakhstani friends have rebuilt their section of the pipeline, and Uzbekistan did the same. Gazprom, too, was supposed to do the same in Russia and retrofit some of our technical capabilities, because, to reiterate, in the Soviet Union, gas went in the opposite direction, and we now need to reverse it.
We will be doing this, and it has already been done from a technical standpoint. Full-scale deliveries will begin in October. First, in small volumes, but they are critically important for the economies of Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. We plan to supply up to three billion cubic metres of gas annually to each country, with an option to increase the volume.
There are other issues as well, such as broader energy concerns, hydropower, and water resources. They are challenging from an economic and financial perspective, but solvable. However, as we address these issues, we must not forget about the environment. These matters are within our scope of vision, including the discussions with our Kyrgyz friends. We are aware of these matters and are working on them. I hope to meet with the Prime Minister soon at the CIS Summit, where we will discuss these matters. So, we have all these items on the agenda, and we understand their importance for our countries.
By the way, concerning our gas exports to Moldova, I noticed that someone from Moldova's official circles said that Moldova was no longer purchasing Russian gas. Frankly, I was a bit surprised to hear that because the terms under which we supply gas to Moldova are Moldovan terms. Moldovans asked us for these supply and pricing arrangements, and we agreed to these terms, despite political differences. We went with the Moldovan side's proposal. However, debt-related issues need to be addressed, no question about it.
Despite the statement from Moldovan official circles to the effect that Moldova has stopped receiving our gas, I asked Mr Miller yesterday what they are thinking and if they no longer need gas. He told me nothing had changed and we are continuing to supply gas as usual. What kind of people are they? They are saying random things for unclear reasons and I think that serves no purpose other than harming Moldova's economy.
Yes, please go ahead.
Alexander Prokhanov: Mr President, speaking to the troublemakers, Pyotr Stolypin made his famous remark, “We need a great Russia and you need a great upheaval.” Russia experienced turbulent times back then. The last time we saw such turmoil was in 1991. Today, Russia is moving from great upheavals towards greatness.
What is your idea of Russia’s greatness?
Vladimir Putin: We all know you as a writer, a patriot and, I would say, a fundamentalist of Russian statehood.
With regard to Russia’s greatness, it currently lies in strengthening its sovereignty. Sovereignty is based on self-sufficiency in technology, finance, the economy in general, defence and security.
Here is what I would like to say in this regard. The people who, for some reason, started fighting today’s Russia after 1991 – I mentioned some of it in my remarks… I have no idea why they did it. Perhaps, they did it out of arrogance or foolishness, I cannot find another explanation. I keep asking myself: Why? After all, we opened our arms and said, “We are here for you.” But instead they tried to finish us off. Why? Nonetheless, they began doing this. This led us to the only remaining choice which was to strengthen our sovereignty in the economy, finance, technology, and security.
So, the people who began this and brought us to the current phase of the already heated confrontation began to impose sanctions on us and accomplished the opposite of what they expected to accomplish. We are witnessing a clear shift in the structure of the Russian economy. I have already mentioned this: we have added three percent to GDP from oil and gas, and 43 percent from the processing industries, including defence, but also electronics, optics, and machine building. They have left our market, probably thinking that everything would collapse, but instead things are only getting stronger.
Indeed, inflation is slightly up and the ruble rate is fluctuating. We see these issues. But the structure of the economy is changing; it is becoming more technologically advanced on its own foundation, and we need to consolidate this trend. We will definitely do this, and based on this, we will continue to strengthen our defence capability. We see the issues that arise during, I apologise for putting it bluntly, the hostilities. We see what else we are lacking, and we are scaling up production, in some areas by orders of magnitude, not just by a few percent.
We will undoubtedly maintain these trends and we will rely on the support and trust of our people, which, among other things, are expressed in the fact that we have a large number of volunteers joining the Armed Forces. As of today, 335,000 people have enlisted and signed contracts with the Defence Ministry of their own accord, and there are about 5,000, even slightly more, volunteers. They are all volunteers, but it is just a different category since contracts are signed for shorter terms. The total number is about 350,000 people which fact shows the level of people's trust in the policies of the Russian state.
Everyone can see that we are not dealing with fleeting issues. We may not be doing everything exactly the way we would like things to be, but the overwhelming majority of our citizens see that everything is aimed at strengthening the Russian state and Russian statehood. It encompasses many aspects, but the trend is absolutely positive and correct. Our objective is to keep these trends going, and we will do so.
Fyodor Lukyanov: Mr President, may I interject, just one small point, since you mentioned the volunteers? It's just that the past 12 months, among other things, saw one very dramatic event – an attempted military mutiny. You recently met with a representative of…
Vladimir Putin: I wanted to end on a positive note, but you would not let me.
Fyodor Lukyanov: This is a positive note. I just wanted to ask: do we know now how to deal with private military companies?
Vladimir Putin: You know, that was a media cliché – a “private military company.” There are no real private military companies in Russia, because there is no law on private military companies. We do not have them and never did.
The experience that we had was so lopsided because it was not based on the law. True, it was necessitated by the current situation on the battlefield, to put it bluntly. And when the Ministry of Defence invited members of that company to come and participate in the fighting, I did not object, because people acted voluntarily, and we saw that they fought heroically. But even inside that company, the interests of its ordinary members and the management did not always coincide. I doubt that all of them made 840 billion rubles from supplying food to the Armed Forces. There were other problems of a purely economic nature, but I would not like to go into that now.
We have not yet reached a consensus on whether we need such companies or not, but as of today, I can say for certain that several thousand fighters from that company have already signed contracts with the Armed Forces. They volunteered. So, if they want to, they will take part in combat operations. That's the first point.
The second is, they will fight under an individual contract each of them signed, which was not the case before. And this was a big mistake, because that situation did not guarantee people social protection: if there is no contract, there are no social obligations on the part of the state. There is no use hiding something everyone already knows: they were paid in cash. What do you mean, cash? Frankly speaking, it was my fault too. I could not imagine how it would be. When people receive cash, how do you account for who was paid and who was not? Who determines how much everyone gets? That is the question. So, if we do it, we have to do it within a legal framework. This is a difficult, complicated process. We are discussing it, thinking about it.
These companies can be found in many countries, working actively, above all working abroad, as we all know very well. We will think about whether we need them or not. But now we can see what is happening on the contact line. The Russian troops are feeling confident and advancing in many directions.
Yesterday, in 12 sections along the entire line of contact – we just do not pay that much fundamental attention to this, but it matters – we advanced in 12 directions: some places around 300, 400, 500 metres, and 1,500–1,600 metres in two sections. This is simply called improving your position on the battlefield; these are tactical things, but they still matter. So, do we need private military companies here? We need people who want to fight and protect the interests of the Fatherland, to fight for the Fatherland. There are such people, including from the company that you have mentioned.
Well, just to be absolutely clear, I know, the question is probably hanging in the air: what happened to the company’s management and so on. We know about the plane crash; the head of the Investigative Committee [Alexander Bastrykin] reported to me about it just the other day: fragments of hand grenades were found in the bodies of those killed in the plane crash. There was no external impact on the plane – this is already established as the result of an examination carried out by the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation. But the investigation is not over. Yes, unfortunately, no examination was carried out on the presence of alcohol or drugs in the victims’ blood, although we know that after the well-known events, the FSB discovered not only 10 billion [rubles] in cash, but also five kilograms of cocaine at the St Petersburg office of the company [Wagner]. But I repeat once again: in my opinion, such an examination should have been carried out, but it was not. I told you what there is.
I want to say right away that I asked the head of the Investigative Committee whether this could be said publicly. He says: yes, it is possible, this is an established fact. So, this is how it is.
Let us take another question then.
Fyodor Lukyanov: So as not to end on that note.
Margarita Simonyan, maybe?
Vladimir Putin: Yes, Margarita, please. However, you always have a chance, maybe give the floor to our foreign guests.
Fyodor Lukyanov: Up to you.
Margarita Simonyan: I will be quick, Mr President.
Vladimir Putin: All right.
Margarita Simonyan: You spoke about Karabakh. Being an ethnic Armenian, I cannot help but respond and will take the liberty to assure you that all normal Armenians understand it perfectly well, they understand that Mr Pashinyan was placed in power at the time exactly to surrender Karabakh and to raise questions for European politicians like the one our host quoted. Normal Armenians understand that if it was not for Russia, the Armenian people would have been wiped out of existence. Just like in the early 19th century when they were saved by Alexander Griboyedov, in the beginning of the 21st century they are being saved by the peacekeepers in Karabakh. This is just a side note.
My question is short. Our Hungarian guest does not want to ask about our Odessa, and I do because Odessa is a wonderful Russian city. And we believe that Russian cities should be in Russia. So here is my question. Where do you want us to stop?
Vladimir Putin: As for the first part of your remarks, I cannot agree with you that Prime Minister Pashinyan was brought to power by somebody outside to surrender Karabakh. It was actually the choice of the Armenian people. Yes, views can differ on election processes, but it is a fact. So, here I do not agree with you. This is the first thing.
Second, I also disagree that he sought to give up Karabakh. I talked to him at great length; both during the 2020 conflict, and before that. Recall that when he came to power, he said that Karabakh was part of Armenia. Nobody said that before. It is true, his position changed radically over time. Why that happened is not for me to say. And then we spoke during the 2020 conflict, and in my opinion, he sincerely wanted to preserve the situation.
I am not saying the decisions were right or wrong, it is not my business to judge. But I believe it is unfair to say that he deliberately surrendered Karabakh.
Now, as for where we should stop. You know, it is not about territories, it is about security guarantees for the peoples of Russia and the Russian state, and this is a more complex issue than some territory. It is about the security of people who consider Russia their Motherland and whom we consider our people. This is a complex question that demands a discussion. I am cautious about speaking with your husband who, if not an extremist, at least holds radical beliefs. But with you, we can talk more about it later.
Margarita Simonyan: Thank you.
Muhammad Athar Javed: Thank you very much.
Mr President, My name is Muhammad Athar Javed, I am Director General of Pakistan House, Islamabad.
I would like to go back to the earlier speech, when you made some points about equality and so on. You raised a very important question. It is about asking the West and the imposition of a deliberate construct of civilisation. You said: Who are you to ask? Who are they to ask us or anyone for that matter?
What we understand is that the military alliances and the political alliances have really shaken entire regions, the Middle East and others, by attacking different countries, including Afghanistan, Iraq and so on.
Now, there is a big issue. We consider that if there is to be multipolarity, a multipolar world, it has to come from an economic orientation, like you mentioned about energy, that you will look into competing markets, if Europe failed to provide lower prices for the population, and that again is a crime against their own customers.
So, I would like to ask you, is it possible by any chance that during all the crises there is an opportunity, especially for Russia, to create, to follow this new economic world order. Because as a political science scholar, I believe that it is about a new economic world order.
Whoever controls the natural resources, whoever controls all these parts and sea routes, they are the ones who would be in control. And the counter design, is there a counter design for us to respond to these sanctions? Because sanctions are strangulating not only Russia, but also many other countries.
Russia is surviving because it has a lot of natural resources but like other countries in Africa, in Asia, we are facing a lot of challenges.
I would like to see if you can put your own points, like you mentioned equality. How would you define that? Is there a probability that down the road we will have a new economic world order led by Russia?
Vladimir Putin: I fully agree with what you have just said. This is true – the future world order will undoubtedly be based on the future economic, monetary and financial system. And it should be more balanced; it should meet the interests of the overwhelming majority of the international community – this is quite right.
Is there any possibility that this will eventually happen? This is a very complex process. Judging by the way our opponents behave – let us call them that, as we are talking about the economy now, we will not use any other terms – they are clinging to their privileges at any cost.
I have already said, and many people agree with me, that the Bretton Woods system is obsolete. This is not just me; there are Western experts saying this. It needs to be replaced of course, because it leads to such ugly phenomena as the huge debts of developing economies, for example, or the full and unconditional domination of the dollar in the international system. This is already happening; it is a matter of time.
But the political and financial authorities, the economic authorities in the United States are actually shooting themselves in the foot by acting so unprofessionally, to put it mildly, by showing stubbornness and disregard for all other participants in international economic affairs. They have restricted payments in dollars – now what can we do? We have no other choice but to pay in national currencies. We have to discuss the issues that I have mentioned in answering one of the questions from our colleagues, and to create new logistics for these transactions.
As a result, the use of the dollar is naturally shrinking, but this is also happening as the United States – it is a huge economy, and the country is huge and great, there can be no doubt about it, we are not underestimating or exaggerating anything, but it is reducing its own sphere of influence in the global economy. In other words, this is happening anyway, for reasons beyond their control – because emerging markets, developing economies are growing, just look at the pace at which Asia is growing. It is already happening. And the United States, guided by the current political situation, is accelerating these processes, if anything. Sorry, but to put it mildly… You know this expression? It is worse than a crime, it is a mistake. This is one of those cases.
Are there any projects that will shape a new economic and logistics architecture? Of course, there are. President Xi Jinping is proposing one such project, the Belt and Road Initiative. It is the unifying slogan – one belt, one road, acting all together. And we are doing the same by building the Eurasian Economic Community: we are thinking together about how to unite the two. And if the BRICS and the SCO countries get also involved in this – listen, this is true cooperation – Pakistan is also involved in this, in the search for a solution. Of course, this is a challenging task, and it will take time. But the realisation that it will benefit everyone will push this process forward.
And I will end where I started. In this sense, the strengthening of the multipolar world is inevitable.
Thank you very much for your attention.
Fyodor Lukyanov: Thank you very much, Mr President. We look forward to seeing you at the 21st Valdai Forum in a year.
Vladimir Putin: I also look forward to seeing all of you at events like this and I would like to thank you for your contribution.
Thank you very much.