Question: Mr. President, last year at the meeting of APEC heads of state and government, issues were examined in great detail connected with cooperation in the war on terrorism. It is expected that this year member countries of the APEC will devote a great deal of attention to economic cooperation. What are Russia’s expectations and plans in the upcoming discussions and meetings at the APEC summit?
Vladimir Putin: We attach a great deal of significance to regional cooperation, and in the framework of such a large organization as the APEC, this is extremely important.
For Russia, it also has serious importance also because two thirds of our territory is in Asia, and over 30 million Russian citizens live there. The enormous natural resources are concentrated in the regions of East Siberia and the Far East. We know that the Asian and Pacific region is developing very actively, and is in need of the resources that Russia has.
Therefore, in close cooperation with our neighbours and partners in the APEC, we also intend to play a very positive role in the development of this region, and expect that cooperation will be beneficial to Russia itself, as it will allow us to develop the Eastern provinces of the Russian Federation effectively.
As far as we understand, the main topics of discussion will be problems connected with globalization processes, with the efforts of countries directed towards using everything positive that globalization brings, and overcoming its negative consequences.
From the very beginning, the main direction of the APEC was economic. And we believe that this will be preserved. At the same time, of course, we understand that we can not, and do not want to avoid discussing complex political issues, issues in the area of security.
Additionally, as always when an event of this nature is held, a series of bilateral meetings are planned, and this will give us the opportunity to talk with our colleagues about the development of relations between Russia and our bilateral partners.
In general, my colleagues and I are in a very positive mood, and we are sure that the results will be in keeping with this.
Question: Who do you have meetings planned with, Mr. President?
Vladimir Putin: The foreign ministry will clarify this schedule, but there will be about 10 meetings.
Question: Recently, one Russian oil company and the Chinese National Oil Corporation signed an agreement to build an oil pipeline to connect Siberian oil fields and the Chinese city of Daxing. However, Russia soon found itself in a dilemma because of the Japanese involvement in the project as a potential competitor with China. How does Russia intend to solve this problem?
Vladimir Putin: We have been discussing this problem for some time, and our position is that the more global access is to Russian mineral resources, the better this will be for the development of the Asian-Pacific region.
But the most important thing that will guide us is economic considerations. We should calculate what route is the optimal one from the viewpoint of the interests of the Russian Federation. We should think about the development of the regions of East Siberia, about the development of the Far East, and we should of course think about solving problems of an economic nature.
So far, our economic specialists have yet to study any of the proposed routes to the end.
But I can say quite definitely: in any case, we will develop our relations with our traditional partners, including the People’s Republic of China. Whatever route we choose, we will increase delivery of crude oil to China. This may be done either by laying a direct pipeline to Daxing, or by adding a side branch to the pipeline that goes to Nakhodka, or by increasing delivery by railway. This is being worked on. And as this decision develops, we will inform both business circles and our partners about it.
Question: Taking into account the almost ten years’ experience that the Soviet Union had in Afghanistan, we are interested in your opinion of the operations that the United States is conducting in Iraq and Afghanistan. Do you get the impression that the Americans have “got stuck” there?
Vladimir Putin: The success of such operations depends to a large degree on the justness of the goals that are set at the beginning of the operation, and which are seen as the final goal.
I think that everything that has happened in Afghanistan recently can be characterized as a coordinated effort by the international community to establish order in this country, to start a return to a constructive process there again, and to peaceful life. The international community and the forces which are stationed on the territory of Afghanistan have done a great deal in this time: above all, the infrastructure of Al-Qaeda and the Taliban was destroyed, and they no longer pose a threat to their neighbours. And in this sense it can be said that there is success, and cardinal changes have taken place in Afghanistan over these past months.
Remember, quite recently – and you can trust me, I know what I’m talking about – we thought about what would happen on the borders of Afghanistan and its northern neighbours. This affected us directly, and we were already forced to make specific plans, including in the area of armed combat. Now this situation no longer exists. The international authority of the Afghanistan leadership is growing. The peace process is going slowly, but it is nevertheless gaining momentum.
And at the same time, of course, many unresolved problems still remain: the ethnic conflicts in both the north and the south; and the situation is still unstable, and quite honestly not controlled by the central government, on the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan. We are seeing alarming tendencies connected with attempts to rebuild the infrastructure of the Taliban and Al-Qaeda. The economic situation remains very complex, and we are extremely concerned by the increase in drug production.
But what gives us a certain feeling of optimism? The fact that there are no rifts in the international community in relation to Afghanistan. There is a single approach and a common desire to solve the problems of Afghanistan.
You mentioned the experience of the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union tried on its own to establish the order there which they considered just. Today the entire international community sets itself united tasks and works on united goals, on the mechanisms of solving problems.
Russia also contributes to this work. Just a few days ago, we signed a bilateral agreement with the Federal Republic of Germany, which for the first time in the history of mutual relations between Russia and NATO countries, allows transit of military cargo through Russian territory by railway to solve the problems of Afghanistan. A significant number of Russian soldiers are concentrated on the border between Afghanistan and Tajikistan – soldiers who are stationed there in divisions, and border guards. There are several thousand of them. And together with our partners in Tajikistan, we make a considerable contribution to normalizing the situation in the region.
I repeat, there are many problems, but in our view things are developing in a positive direction. I feel a reserved optimism about it, I would say.
As for Iraq, the situation there is different. I think that the first thing that needs to be done to achieve the unanimity of the international community in approaches to solving the problem of Iraq.
Now, as you know, work is continuing on preparing the resolution of the UN Security Council. And we expect that we will be able to reach mutually acceptable solutions, above all ones that are acceptable for the Iraqi people themselves.
Question: A question on proliferation of nuclear weapons: North Korea has backed out of the Nuclear Weapons Non-Proliferation Treaty, we know that India and Pakistan have nuclear weapons, and there are suspicions that Iran does too. In this situation, has the time not come for Russia to become the leader, the initiator in developing a new document, a new treaty that establishes the non-proliferation regime?
Vladimir Putin: The topic you propose to discuss is in my view one of the most important topics of the 21st century. Of course, we are also concerned by the situation connected with the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, above all nuclear weapons. We will help to consolidate the non-proliferation regime in any way we can. And, indeed, we are also concerned about the tension between India and Pakistan.
Incidentally, after these countries got nuclear weapons the relations between them did not improve. This once again confirms that proliferation of nuclear weapons does not resolve problems in international relations, but only makes them more complicated and more dangerous.
Given this situation, we are in favour of a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula, and let us also not forget that Israel, too, has not yet joined the treaty.
We are in constant contact with our partners on this issue, and I think that the idea you just mentioned, the idea that we should act together to strengthen the non-proliferation regime, is absolutely correct.
But the question is how to go about this. Do we propose additional documents for signature, or do we build on what the international community has already come up with in this respect? This is a practical question, and one for the specialists to work on. The main thing, in my opinion, is that we need to have a common position on all the problems in this area. There cannot be different interpretations. There must be a common approach and common understanding of what is happening in this area. We all have to speak the same language. I think this could certainly be discussed in various international forums, including the G8.
You mentioned Iran. That is a very important subject. We think that we really do need to proceed very carefully here and not push the Iranian leadership into going to extremes. But at the same time, we have to have a clear understanding that this common approach will apply to everyone who works with Iran, including in the sensitive area of nuclear energy. We are willing to tighten controls within the country in this area, but we expect that our partners will take the same measures with regard to their own firms.
We know that sanctions have been imposed on Russian companies, but we have never heard of sanctions being imposed on European or American companies that work with Iran. But there are also certain questions regarding the quality and nature of what they are delivering to this country in the nuclear energy sector.
We support strengthening the non-proliferation regime, but we are against having this issue used as a pretext for unfair and dishonest competition.
Question: Mr President, on the eve of your last visit to India, you spoke of your concern that nuclear weapons could fall into the hands of terrorists, including through Pakistan. Do you still have such concerns today? And a second question: when you meet with President Musharraf, do you plan to raise the question of Pakistan’s commitments to fighting terrorism and ensuring security in South Asia?
Vladimir Putin: I must say that if I meet with President Musharraf, and I think such a meeting is planned, apart from the questions you mentioned, we will also have many other questions of bilateral interest to discuss.
We were concerned and still are concerned by terrorism, and all the more so by the prospect of terrorists getting their hands on weapons of mass destruction. This is without doubt a very sensitive and even painful issue for the entire international community. These are not just empty words. I already mentioned the very complicated situation in the south of Afghanistan, on the border with Pakistan, as it happens. We know how the situation develops historically there, and we know that these territories are not really under anyone’s control.
We hope the Pakistani leadership will all do within its power to ensure that no information on weapons of mass destruction that terrorists could use in any way falls into their hands. The same goes for rebels and terrorists infiltrating the conflict zone in Jammu and Kashmir. We expect that the Pakistani leadership will not allow rebel bases to function on its territory and will do all it can to control the situation I referred to before.
At the same time, I would like to say that we welcome India’s initiative to restore full diplomatic relations and rebuild trust between India and Pakistan after the tragic events – the terrorist acts – that India was hit with, and that we regret.
Question: This question is about the Russian Prime Minister’s visit to India that is planned for next month. As I understand it, a whole range of issues of mutual interest is to be discussed. What are the most significant issues for both countries that will be on the agenda?
Vladimir Putin: I had the pleasure of seeing the Indian Prime Minister just recently in New York, and we agreed on the agenda.
India is our longstanding and reliable partner, and I think that our cooperation on the international stage has been very effective. This is a significant element in international relations today. Of course we will talk about further coordinating our approaches on the key questions the world faces today, we will talk about international security issues and strengthening the role of the United Nations, and we will talk about the situation in Asia, of course, with regard to Afghanistan and the other problems we have.
We have a lot of items on our bilateral agenda. This includes strategic military-technical partnership and economic relations in general. We need to make an effort to gradually but surely bring the level of our economic relations up to that of our political cooperation.
Our volume of trade with India is almost ten times lower than our trade with China. This absolutely does not fit either the level of our cooperation or of our possibilities. I could use all my fingers and more to count the potential areas for our cooperation, for there really are many of them, and they are all of great interest for both countries. We will work with the Prime Minister to look for opportunities to develop and diversify our relations.
Alongside all of this, there is in Russia a traditional interest in Indian culture. I hope that our specialists in this area will also find opportunities for cooperation that can be developed right away, rather than being put aside for some time in the future.
Question: Mr President, a somewhat unofficial question, if you will allow. We have learnt that your daughters are studying Chinese. That is somewhat unusual for us. Is this an indication that Russia is showing more interest in China and Chinese culture?
Vladimir Putin: One of my daughters did become interested in this after she went to China at the invitation of the wife of former Chairman of the People’s Republic of China, Jiang Zemin. But I think you are right; I think this is a sign of a growing interest in Russia in China, its language and culture.
This is not happening just by chance. It is not chance because our ties with the People’s Republic of China are growing. We also want to develop our ties with other countries in the region that have large Chinese communities playing a significant role in the economy. We also take this into account and think that there are interesting opportunities here, for example in the high technology, aviation and space sectors. I don’t think there is anything unusual about this. I think it is natural, but at the same time complicated.
Reply: Thank you, Mr President.
Vladimir Putin: And I would like to thank you also for your interest in Russia and in our country’s participation in APEC events. I would like to wish your viewers well-being, prosperity and development.