Vladimir Putin: Ladies and gentlemen,
I am glad to meet and welcome you all on Russian territory. The Ambassador has just told me that, first, it is the pride of our Embassy because there is no other such hall in Washington, and second, that this hall has never seen such a high-powered delegation, such a representative gathering, so, first of all, I would like to thank you for coming and putting your business on hold in order to be our guests today. Thank you.
I remember well our first meeting with President George Bush in Ljubljana. We were nervous, which was quite natural, but most importantly we were ready for the dialogue, and the dialogue took place, we had a conversation that was very important for us and for our countries. We said then that the Cold War had receded into the past, that our countries were no longer each other’s enemies, and we said that the very nature of our relations was changing: they should be founded on common interests, common values and mutual respect.
But, let us be frank about it, at that time in Ljubljana these were just intentions. We thought that we had a lot of time for reflection and for making decisions, we did not yet know what America would experience and what all of us would experience.
It is two months since the monstrous terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, but I and I think all of you still see the pictures of that tragedy in our mind’s eye. An unheard-of atrocity had been committed against the whole humankind, against each of us.
And, as happened many times in human history, the greater the scale of the disaster, the more human solidarity and mutual help manifested themselves, the greater the heroism and courage of the people who found themselves in the eye of the storm. And I am proud that among them were Russian citizens and our former compatriots. I am proud of engineer Yevgeny Knyazev, a Russian by birth, who led 70 people to safety out of the building only to die himself under the debris. Special words of thanks are due to Russian journalist Yuri Kirilchenko who was helping to rescue people at the World Trade Center and was doing all he could until he fell down with a severe heart attack.
We have no right to forget about the victims of the terrorist attacks, it is our duty to take care of those whose lives are still in danger, and those whose lives are threatened by terrorism.
Today we know that not a single country in the world, not a single nation is ensured against that threat. Russia was one of the first countries to take on modern-day terrorism. We fought it alone. Now a broad coalition of countries has been formed which is ready to oppose that threat.
The terrorists wanted to intimidate us, to take advantage of the contradictions between states, to split the world and the world community. But in response they got our cohesion and our solidarity, I would say, unprecedented solidarity in modern times. Nor did they see the realisation of their expectations that the thirst for vengeance would force us to behave like they did and to use the same cruel methods. The antiterrorist coalition is not fighting any state or any people. It has no enemies other than terrorists.
The terrorists were trying to drive a wedge between the Christian and Muslim worlds and to kindle a “clash of civilisations”. But it did not happen either. Today all the countries in the Islamic world condemn terrorism.
Our common enemy has no nationality, no religion and no civilisation. This is obvious for Russia: we have unique historical experience. Over the centuries both the Christian and Islamic cultures have been coexisting and developing in harmony on Russian territory.
Considering this experience, we can say with confidence that there is no more urgent task in the world today than strengthening unity in the war on terror. What is needed above all are concerted actions by the law enforcement, customs and financial agencies, the special services, coordination of information policy, and that calls for a new level of interaction between the leading powers, for a full-fledged and efficient alliance.
Ladies and gentlemen,
The United Nations is called upon to play the key role in uniting the world community. That organisation is and will be what we, its members, want it to be.
First of all, it is necessary to seek strict compliance of all the countries with the UN Security Council resolutions aimed at undermining the material base and the infrastructure of terrorist activities. We propose to accelerate the drafting and adoption of a Comprehensive Convention Against Terrorism and an International Convention on Combating Nuclear Terrorism. Finally, all the countries must accede to the earlier international agreements on the fight against terror and harmonise their national legislations with them.
I am sure that we will be able to create an atmosphere of zero tolerance of terror in the world, but we can only achieve that if we counter the “terrorist international” which has taken shape over the past few years with an “international of law and order”.
Furthermore, the social and economic roots of the new threats and challenges claim our attention. They include the gap between wealth and poverty both within countries and on the world scale. If an Afghan peasant has no other livelihood but the measly sums he is paid by the opium poppy trader, it means that terrorists and criminals of every kind will have an opportunity to manipulate huge flows of cash. So we welcome and support the efforts being made under the UN auspices and by the G8 and other forums in order to fight poverty, because it is poverty that often leads people to commit crimes.
It is very important that the interaction between our countries in fighting terrorism does not become a mere episode in the history of Russian-American relations, but marks the start of long-term partnership and cooperation. We should look back on the history of our relations. As the great Russian thinker and historian Vassily Klyuchevsky said, “history is not a teacher but an overseer. It does not teach anyone, it merely punishes those who haven’t learnt their lessons.”
After the Second World War the links between our countries have seen their ups and downs. Nevertheless in the end we have achieved the main thing: our countries have stopped being afraid of each other. That paved the way for a joint effort to get rid of what has been striking horror into the peoples of the world for decades, to get rid of the arsenals of nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction. Their quantitative level does not match the present-day situation in the world or the character of modern threats.
I had no doubt that we would reach an understanding with the United States on that issue and today’s statement by President Bush confirmed it. That is why Russia declares that it is ready to make deep cuts of its strategic weapons, that is why we are proposing a radical program of further cuts of strategic offensive weapons at least by three times to a minimum level required to maintain strategic balance in the world. We no longer need to scare each other in order to come to agreement. Security is created not by weapons and mountains of hardware, it is created by the political will of the states and their leaders.
Yes, the world has a long way to go before international relations will be based solely on trust, that is why it is so important today to rely on the existing foundation of treaties and agreements in the sphere of disarmament and arms control.
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I think now is an auspicious time to fully tap the huge potential of cooperation between Russia and the United States in the settlement of regional conflicts. One aspect of that potential is joint participation of Russia and the US in the search for a solution to the Middle East crisis. Today such interaction is vital for achieving a just and enduring settlement in Afghanistan. I am absolutely sure that in the face of common threats and challenges co-sponsorship on regional issues should become the dominant form of Russian-American cooperation.
We should also decide what model of security best suits the European continent. It requires intensive work with our European partners, it calls for a new level of interaction that would make it possible to take joint decisions.
As regards the relations between Russia and NATO, we are committed to developing equal cooperation with that organisation and to go as far down that road, and I would like to stress it, as the North Atlantic alliance is ready to go and to the extent, of course, that it is able to take into account the legitimate interests of Russia.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Russia today is a rapidly changing country which has made its final historical choice. The problems we are grappling with are the formation of a mature democratic state and a modern effective market economy. Today Russia is a country whose integration in the community of free and democratic countries has become irreversible.
Our peoples have different destinies. They have followed different paths for many years. But if you look back on the two-odd centuries of our relations, one thing strikes you: at sharp turns in history, at “moments of truth”, when the very existence of our countries hang in the balance, Russia and America always stood together.
They were together at the dawn of American independence when, let us recall it, Russian Empress Catherine II politely but personally turned down King George III’s request to send Russian soldiers to put down an uprising in the American colonies.
Our countries were together in the era of emancipation reforms: in Russia in the mid-19th century it coincided with the Civil War in the US. And it was symbolic that two great statesmen – Emperor Alexander II and President Abraham Lincoln – abolished slavery in their countries at about the same time and both, by the way, died at the hands of terrorists. It is symbolic that Russia made a financial contribution to building the Statue of Liberty in New York which today is a symbol of freedom throughout the world. Finally, our peoples were together during the Second World War.
I am sure that now that “our destiny again meets with history” we will not only be partners, but we can well be friends. We should act remembering the call of the hero of a well-known novel by Jack London. “I shall use my time”, he said.