President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Good afternoon.
Anton Vernitsky: Channel One.
I have a question about the future of the CIS. Georgia pulled out, and Ukraine, which is a co-founder of the CIS, has not been cooperating with it for a long time. Moldova is withdrawing, and Prime Minister of Armenia Nikol Pashinyan’s chair was vacant today. What next? Does the CIS have a future?
Vladimir Putin: Essentially, nothing much has changed.
Look, Ukraine signed the treaty and all the founding documents of the CIS, but it has not ratified them. Ukraine never ratified them, and it has always tried to keep its distance from the organisation. This is the first point.
Second, regarding the free trade zone. In the past, Ukraine was very active in this, promoting the idea of a free trade zone because it believed that it would benefit them economically. But later it changed its course towards signing an association agreement with the EU, which led to the coup, because President Yanukovych postponed signing it. He did not cancel it but merely postponed it.
If you read what the EU offered Ukraine, and what it is probably giving it now, it amounted to the elimination of all the main industrial sectors, which used to be the pride of Ukraine during the Soviet era. And today we see that there is nothing left in Ukraine.
Moldova is a special case. Its current political elite do not regard themselves as Moldovans. They say they are Romanians and have dual citizenship. It is their choice. There are many countries in the post-Soviet space that are closely connected to neighbouring countries beyond the CIS in terms of ethnicity or language. They value their identity and do everything in their power to preserve it. I am sure this is what will happen. And most importantly, people who live in these countries have a strong internal drive to preserve their identity. So, it is a special case.
I do not understand entirely what advantages Moldova would have if it pursued other development paths. I mean, it is the poorest country in Europe, or at least had been until recently. Now it is surpassed by Ukraine, which is now the poorest country in terms of income and all other indices.
We have heard recently that Moldova declined to purchase Russian gas. But it turns out, it did not, and is successfully receiving it now. And where else would they get it from? Not to mention for the prices Russia’s Gazprom offered, and we accommodated them in terms of pricing. I will not delve into details now; the price varies depending on the half-year period. It does not matter. What’s important is that we did what they asked. They pay. There were issues with payment at one time, but now they are paying diligently. They mostly put the gas in storage facilities, including those located in Ukraine, I believe. But it is not important – the thing is they cannot do without it.
But in the end, this is their choice. They can accept the gas or refuse it. They are free to act in the interests that unite the CIS countries, or they can look for greener pastures.
As for Georgia, you know: it all happened after the former Georgian leadership’s provocation against South Ossetia. It was followed by the events which it would probably be inappropriate to talk about at this time, but it led to [the rupture of] relations with the CIS. It is unclear what the CIS has to do with it. In my opinion, it is their fault, but they made their choice.
However, our relations with Georgia are smooth. They are also interested in cooperating with their neighbours. It is hard to imagine, but I guess one can imagine anything nowadays… But nevertheless, neighbourly relations provide much greater economic benefits, that’s all there is to it.
As for Armenia, Prime Minister Pashinyan called me, and we spoke on the phone about today’s summit. There are circumstances involved that I consider quite clear. I will not talk about them now, you would better ask the Armenian Prime Minister. My understanding is that Armenia is not going to leave the CIS.
Moreover, look: the European Union has a powerful economy, needless to say, a highly developed and high-tech one, which is the most important thing. But still, this year they will have 0.5 percent growth, as I have already said, due to the southern countries, whose economies have always been considered not as strong as those in the industrialised regions of the European Union. It will be somewhere above 0.5. All other countries are in recession. But in the CIS zone, economic growth amounts to 2.2 percent.
Of course, the general development level is clear, no questions about that: we have already spoken about the advantages of the Eurozone, this is obvious. But our trend is still more positive. So why give it up? This is just stupid.
But there is one more circumstance that is most important. It is in the fact that we are united by a common infrastructure inherited from the Soviet Union, by the complementarity of entire industries, and by a personnel training system that is in fact very similar in structure. There are so many factors that increase the competitiveness of each individual economy.
Therefore, this is a voluntary matter. All our decisions are made on the basis of consensus. If our colleagues are interested in maintaining such relationships, then we will do our part. But as far as I have seen today, the discussion was very lively, and many documents were signed that were of mutual interest, as they say in such cases. Before accepting them, we also discussed them, debated about various aspects of these documents, and they were signed.
Russia is assuming the CIS chairmanship next January. We have a huge programme, as I also said at the extended meeting: you can see it. Everyone agrees with this agenda.
We will be working.
Anton Vernitsky: Thank you.
Vladimir Putin: Yes, please.
Olga Volkova: Good afternoon.
Olga Volkova, RIA Novosti.
Mr President, would you please elaborate on your meeting yesterday with the President of Azerbaijan. In particular, was the issue of Russian peacekeepers in Nagorno-Karabakh discussed? Now they are there under the trilateral agreement signed between Russia, Azerbaijan, and Armenia. Now that this territory has actually become the territory of Azerbaijan, what legal foundation will there be for their presence in this region? And will they even remain in this region, in Nagorno-Karabakh?
And, if I may, one more question. What are the prospects for reaching a peace agreement between Baku and Yerevan?
Vladimir Putin: As for the territory of Karabakh now, as you have said, actually becoming the territory of Azerbaijan, it is not something that is happening now. It became part of Azerbaijan completely after last year, I think last November, Prime Minister Pashinyan made a statement at a meeting in Prague that radically changed the status of Nagorno-Karabakh, that is, it determined the status of Nagorno-Karabakh: Armenia recognised that Nagorno-Karabakh is part of the Republic of Azerbaijan.
In all previous years, everything revolved around this issue: the status of Nagorno-Karabakh. I will not go into details, but let me say that we have been close to an agreement on Nagorno-Karabakh many times over the previous decades.
What has always been the problem? They would negotiate over holding a referendum, but one side would say that it could not name the date of this referendum: Azerbaijan. Because if a referendum was held under current conditions – regardless of whether tomorrow or even 20 years from now – the result of the referendum would be clear. And therefore, it was proposed to simply make future generations decide.
On the other hand, the Armenian side insisted on scheduling the date for the referendum and determining the status of Nagorno-Karabakh in that way. They also proceeded from the fact that even if the referendum is held in 20 years, with the current composition of the population, the result will be obvious.
This was the crux of the problem, with everything revolving around this. This was the main problem: determining the status.
Meanwhile, the Armenian leadership closed this topic last year in Prague and said, “Karabakh is part of Azerbaijan.” They even named the number of square kilometres and referred to the 1991 treaty when the state borders of the former Soviet republics were defined as coinciding with the borders they had within the USSR. That’s it, the matter is closed.
And so, when in November 2020 we agreed on the presence of our peacekeepers on this territory, firstly, their mandate was to monitor the ceasefire regime. And secondly, the status of Nagorno-Karabakh has still yet to be finally determined – that is the crux of the problem, I repeat once again. And when Armenia recognised that Nagorno-Karabakh is a part of Azerbaijan, then it turned out that our peacekeepers were definitely, without any doubt, on the territory of the Republic of Azerbaijan. And of course, now, especially after the tragic events related to the exodus of the Armenian population, the situation has changed completely, radically.
However, our peacekeepers are there formally until November 2025, and of course, in dialogue with our partners we will have to determine and decide what we will do and how in the near future. We will decide this in the process of negotiations.
Olga Volkova: Is there a positive outlook on the peace treaty between Yerevan and Baku?
Vladimir Putin: I have spoken about that today – I’m not sure, but I think our respective pools of journalists were even filming there. I said that we would be ready to facilitate the resumption of peace talks in the hope of concluding a peace treaty and suggested that all the colleagues gather in Moscow. Prime Minister Pashinyan knows about it – I told him, the President of Azerbaijan knows about it. It seems to me that this is quite possible.
I do not see any problems which could thwart the signing of the peace treaty now after the events in Nagorno-Karabakh. I just do not see such problems.
I believe there are purely technical issues related to the border – demarcation, delimitation, but I think these are technical issues: 100 metres to one side, a kilometre to the other, it doesn’t matter. With good will on both sides, all this can be done and the next steps can be taken, as we once agreed, to develop trade and economic ties and unblock infrastructure projects.
Olga Volkova: Thank you.
Alexei Lazurenko: Mr President, Izvestia multimedia information centre.
You said yesterday that Kant Airbase plays a crucial role in providing security to the region. Meanwhile, US media report that the base is empty as all the equipment has been sent to the special military operation. Does the airbase still maintain the same level today?
The day before, Kyrgyzstan’s parliament ratified the treaty on establishing a joint air defence system. What is the significance of this step?
Vladimir Putin: You should stop reading American media. Firstly, they distort reality a lot and often. Suffice it to listen just to the former President of the United States; listen to him, he will give you a good assessment of the current level of the American media. They will teach you bad things.
Regarding Kant – yes, President Akayev called me at some point and asked me to urgently create such a unit because, as you remember (you probably do), a fairly large group of militants from Afghanistan crossed into Kyrgyzstan and had already started advancing here. The Kyrgyz army of that time had practically no capabilities to resist them. Neighbouring states tried to help by using air power, but as all that was spontaneous, they hit the wrong places, and the effect was quite small. So, President Akayev called and asked to take urgent steps. We did this at the request of the Kyrgyz side. This is an active unit. I have already told you where and how they worked. This is a deterrent factor for various extremists. There is an aviation wing there, combat aircraft, helicopters – they are stationed in Kant, they exist, they are on combat duty, on duty.
Routine issues are being resolved. We are grateful for this to the President of Kyrgyzstan, today’s leader, who is also doing much to strengthen the aviation wing. At the same time, within the framework of the CSTO, they are creating certain stability for the entire peacekeeping force group.
Alexei Lazurenko: How about the joint air defence system?
Vladimir Putin: The establishment of an air defence system is a very important endeavour, especially bearing in mind that, in general, these are high-tech and expensive elements of the security of all our countries. So, everyone agreed with it, not just agreed, but expressed the desire to develop this security component. We will move on this issue.
Obviously, it is not just a question of signing documents; it is a question of creating this system in practice. We will be engaged in this, incorporating, incidentally, the experience we are gaining in the course of the special military operation.
Ksenia Chernyayeva: Ksenia Chernyayeva, Interfax.
My question is about the ruble exchange rate. Recently you have signed an executive order on the mandatory repatriation and sale of foreign currency earnings on the domestic market.
To what extent will these measures help stabilise the market situation? After all, the market does not yet have a clear understanding of some details in this document, for example, which companies are subject to this requirement. Is there confidence that the steps taken will be enough to reduce volatility?
Vladimir Putin: Only an insurance policy can give you confidence, and only if you are insured by a reliable insurance company.
We will see how this tool will work. But this is the result of the joint efforts of the Government, the Presidential Executive Office, and the Central Bank. The order I signed is the result of joint work.
There are different approaches to solving this problem. The problem is here; it happened due to a certain imbalance in cash flows, primarily, currency-related flows. At the initial stage, we de-bureaucratised everything as much as possible due to certain circumstances, I will not repeat them now – surely you understand what we are talking about if you ask such questions, – after the beginning of the special military operation.
However, our economic operators quickly coped with all the problems created for them from abroad. And now there is reason to believe that the ruble exchange rate is fluctuating, among other things, because foreign exchange earnings are not being returned in sufficient quantities to use this money supply in the domestic market.
I do not know how effective this will be. I think the effect will be, I’m 100 percent sure. I repeat, there are different approaches: the Central Bank has its own views, the Government its own, and the Executive Office has slightly different ones. But the signed executive order is the result of a compromise among specialists and experts. And, of course, there is logic in the decisions made.
We also understand the possible threats associated with the movement of capital. Therefore, nothing lasts forever, so we will see how it works and how the institution of Rosfinmonitoring’s special commissioners will work.
By the way, please note that they are appointed not to regulate or manage anything, but only for one purpose: to have reliable and complete information about these cash flows; that’s all, so that the state is aware of what is going on.
However, if all our services have achieved a certain compromise, as set forth in this executive order, then they all think that it must have a positive impact.
Andrei Kolesnikov: Kommersant newspaper.
What is your position regarding Mikhail Fridman and people in general who were abroad and decided to return? What awaits them in their homeland? Does it depend on what they said, thought and did abroad? Roughly speaking, can their history of relations with the state be reset, especially since there have been some “blots” in this history? There are different opinions.
Vladimir Putin: The future of each of us depends on what we do today. This applies to everyone, including people living here, living abroad, and migrating. We have a free country, and people have the right to choose their place of residence as they think best. There are no restrictions here, and I don’t see anything immoral here.
The question is in the behavior of this or that person, in their actions. If these actions violate the current laws of Russia, then, naturally, everyone must be responsible for this, wherever here or abroad. This is the first thing.
And second, what awaits this or that person upon returning to the homeland? This also depends on how they behaved. It is one thing to break the law, and another to violate some moral and ethical standards in relation to one’s homeland. If in the minds of the overwhelming majority, not some part of some elite, but the overwhelming majority of people, a person behaved immorally towards Russia, then he or she will certainly feel it upon returning here, how could it be otherwise?
Please, go ahead.
Edmund Zhelbunov: Edmund Zhelbunov, NTV.
Mr President, in your view, with regard to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, is there any prospect for a settlement in the coming weeks or at least the coming months? And how is the Russian side prepared to contribute to this process?
Vladimir Putin: Israel has, of course, faced an unprecedented attack that has never been seen before in history, not only in terms of its scale, but also in terms of the nature of its execution, its brutality – well, we must call it as we see it. Israel is responding on a massive scale and also with quite brutal methods. Of course, we understand the logic of the events, but despite all the brutality on both sides, I still believe that we certainly need to think about the civilian population.
I have said that earlier and I want to reiterate. We are now seeing assessments in the United States of what is happening, and various options are being proposed for the further course of events, including the suggestion that military and non-military measures could be taken against the Gaza Strip in the same way as during the siege of Leningrad during the Second World War. But we understand what that entails, and I think that is unacceptable. More than two million people live there. Not all of them support Hamas, by the way, yet everyone, including women and children, must suffer. Of course, hardly anyone would agree with that.
On the other hand, I said today in a meeting with my colleagues that Israel, of course, has the right to ensure its security and create guarantees for that security. But tools to achieve that must be found, a way out of the situation must be found. In my view, this can be achieved, of course, including through some kind of mediation efforts.
As I have said repeatedly, there are many our compatriots – former citizens of the Soviet Union and Russia – living in Israel. This factor is real for us, of course. We cannot forget about it.
Meanwhile, on the other hand, we have very good relations going back many years and decades with the Arab world and, first of all, of course, with Palestine, which was once promised that a Palestinian state would be established with East Jerusalem as its capital. They were promised that, and decisions were taken at the UN level. They have the right to expect these promises to be kept. All of this taken together should be addressed and, of course, first of all, we should think about the people who are not to blame for the current escalation. It is impossible to pretend that no one sees this, does not understand it and leaves it out of the equation.
Edmund Zhelbunov: Can Russia assist in that?
Vladimir Putin: Russia can, precisely because we have very good relations with Israel over the past, say, 15 years, absolutely, and we have traditionally good relations with Palestine. So, no one would suspect us of wanting to take sides. But only if, of course, someone needs our mediation. This is always done only on the basis of agreements between the parties.
Mohammed Kassab: Correspondent with RT Arabic.
Recently, Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene said it was possible that Hamas was using US weapons from Ukraine against Israel.
Do you have any information about the possibility of US weapons spreading from Ukraine via the black market?
Vladimir Putin: I take your point. I do not know what this congresswoman has said. I doubt that there were weapons supplied from Ukraine, although I do not doubt that weapons are being illegally taken out of Ukraine. The scale of corruption in Ukraine is well-known, it is very high; many are seeking to buy on the black market and there are many in Ukraine seeking to sell weapons.
You know, I remember well similar tragic events in the Russian Federation, when in the mid-1990s, during the war in the Caucasus, there were, unfortunately, repeated incidents involving the sale by our military of weapons to the opposing side that fought against the Russian Army in the Caucasus. They took them directly from weapons depots and sold them. Regrettably, things like this did happen. It is a bad thing, a tragedy, but this did happen.
The same thing is taking place today in Ukraine, as they sell whatever they can, they just sell everything, and if there is demand for weapons they will sell weapons, the more so because weapons do not go to Russia, although I would not be surprised – and I am not joking – if they sell them to Russia. However, it goes without saying that they do sell [weapons] in the world markets via African and Middle East countries, no doubt, they are doing this. The black market is organised in such a way that those who want to buy, can find the weapons they need, I repeat, through a third, fourth party. There is nothing unusual about this.
Of course, we have information about the sale of weapons, including to the Middle East. However, it does not look like … You see, clearly, I am not a fan of Ukraine’s current leaders, but I doubt, of course, that these things are being done with their support. As for the flow of weapons, of course, it is real.
Yekaterina Korostovtseva: Let me ask you one more question. TASS Information Agency, Yekaterina Korostovtseva.
Mr President, you will soon pay a visit to China. Could you tell us, please, what topics you would like to discuss at the talks with Xi Jinping.
To continue the question about foreign visits. You have other invitations to friendly countries, such as the DPRK, Brazil and Algeria. Are you planning, perhaps, to visit any of them in the foreseeable future?
Vladimir Putin: The visit to the People’s Republic of China has been discussed for a long time and has already been announced.
The main topic is cooperation within Chinese President Xi Jinping’s Belt and Road initiative. A big event. In recent years, the last ten years, this process has been developing very actively and successfully. Russia, of course, is interested in developing our initiative for the Greater Eurasian Partnership and the Eurasian Economic Union, and linking all this together with our Chinese friends into a unified whole, to achieve common development goals. We are having success in it. We have no contradictions here, on the contrary, there is even a certain synergy. This will be the main thing that we will discuss, various aspects of joint work in these areas: the Belt and Road initiative, the Eurasian Economic Union and the establishment of the Greater Eurasian Partnership.
There is also the entire array of bilateral relations. They are growing. This year, I hope, we will most certainly reach $200 billion in mutual trade. One of the main issues to address is financial relations and further encouraging settlements in national currencies. The volume is growing rapidly, there are good prospects in high-tech areas, in the energy sector and we will look at new routes.
In general, there are a lot of topics, but God willing there will be enough time to discuss everything.
Yekaterina Korostovtseva: What about foreign visits to friendly countries?
Vladimir Putin: You know, I don’t rule it out but I am trying not to plan anything specifically yet. We have a lot of current issues at home that require special attention.
Go ahead, please.
Alexander Yunashev: Mr President, I am Alexander Yunashev, Life.
Finland has launched an investigation into explosions on the Balticconnector gas pipeline as it believes it was destroyed deliberately. They see a Russian trail there thinking it might be revenge for the blasts on the Nord Streams.
Vladimir Putin: Total nonsense! To be honest, I didn’t even know this pipeline existed, because its volume is very small. I don’t know how much is pumped there, but if the Nord Streams are 55 billion cubic metres each, then here it is five, ten billion? This is the maximum. I don’t know how much exactly, I need to take a look. Moreover, I repeat once again: I did not even know it existed, this gas pipeline.
As far as Gazprom told me, it is not as well protected as our streams, so it could have been anything: some technological reasons, it could have been hit by a hook, it could have been an earthquake, which are rare but nevertheless happen, some kind of shift, it could have been hit by an anchor. I don’t know, let them investigate – they won’t allow us anywhere near any investigations.
However, such statements are being made. President Niinisto is a competent, intelligent man, and he cannot fail to realise that such statements have only one objective – to cover up the terrorist attack committed by the West against the Nord Stream pipelines and to divert attention to this instead. That’s all there is to it.
Alyona Nefedova: As a follow-up on the Palestine-Israel conflict. Many Russian nationals live in those countries, both in Israel and in Palestine. There have already been reports of killed and wounded Russian citizens. Does Russia plan to evacuate its citizens? Is it necessary right now?
Vladimir Putin: We are ready to do it at any time provided the conditions are right. There is bombing there every day. If someone wants to leave Israel, they are welcome, we can do it at any moment.
Thank you for your question. I am passing it on to the Foreign Ministry. If there is even one individual who wants to urgently leave those territories, we are ready to help.
Alyona Nefedova: What should be done for that? Should they contact the Foreign Ministry or the embassy?
Vladimir Putin: The embassy.
Alyona Nefedova: Thank you.
Edmund Zhelbunov: May I ask you one more question regarding the economy?
Vladimir Putin: Please, go ahead.
Edmund Zhelbunov: After your Executive Order on the sale of currency earnings was made public, the dollar exchange rate has, of course, gone down by several rubles to slightly over 97 rubles.
Vladimir Putin: It has produced some effect.
Edmund Zhelbunov: However, all the same it is higher than last year by almost 30 rubles.
My question is whether it is possible to return to last year’s figures. What needs to be done? Or do we need to get accustomed to the 1/100 exchange rate?
Vladimir Putin: No, we need the [dollar] exchange rate to be a little bit lower for budget purposes. Had everything been satisfactory, there would have been no Executive Order.
I will say something that may be important: the ruble-to-dollar exchange rate cannot be ascribed to some economic problems. Nothing of the sort. We have economic stability, and the macroeconomic indicators are good and can be easily forecast for the next six to 12 months.
It is simply an issue of currency exchange controls. We have completely dismantled it but in the current situation, to all appearances, our exporters prefer to leave a considerable part of export earnings abroad. That is the thing.
Considering that imports have increased, the flow of goods has been restored and logistics have been put in place… As the saying goes, necessity is the mother of invention. Whatever they do to spite us, our people are smarter, they will think of alternative routes and they did think of some. Imports have increased and the desire to keep the earnings abroad has grown stronger.
Of course, all this is tied up with the economy, but not with the fundamental parameters of today’s Russian economy – they are stable, normal – but we will definitely have to adjust currency exchange controls. This Executive Order was an attempt to do this. We will see if it proves effective. We will take decisions in keeping with the analysis of developments in the currency market.
Please, take the floor. Let us speed up.
Olga Matveyeva: Olga Matveyeva, Mayak radio station, Vesti FM programme.
Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan did not attend the CIS Summit. Do you plan to meet with him anytime soon? Did he invite you to visit Yerevan when he called you to wish you a happy birthday?
Vladimir Putin: Yes, we are in contact. I have an invitation from him and he has been invited to visit Russia. We will see.
Look, we are aware of everything, we are all grown-up people and we understand what is happening there: it is a tragedy of Karabakh Armenians. He probably has more important things to attend to now than travelling abroad. However, we are constantly in contact and we continue to work. So, if the situation is brought to normal, I will travel there and they or he will come to us. We have a working schedule and all our institutions maintain contacts, including the Foreign Ministry, and the ministries and departments in charge of economic issues. This work is never interrupted, it continues.
Is that all?
Alexei Yunashev: May I ask about your birthday? If it’s not a secret, did you have a chance to celebrate, and how?
Vladimir Putin: Well, my colleagues came – President Tokayev and President Mirziyoyev, we were working.
This is not something we just thought up, we were really moving toward it for a long time. Because this past winter the Central Asian countries, including Uzbekistan, encountered a very hard challenge as temperatures dropped to minus 21 and minus 24, as President Mirziyoyev told me. This is just a catastrophe for them. The local energy system was unprepared for such temperatures.
Even back then he asked, “Can some extra gas be supplied to Uzbekistan?” Seemed like it could, but when we began checking it appeared that it was wrong because the Central Asia – Centre gas pipeline system was designed to deliver Uzbek gas to Soviet republics. Central Asian gas used to be supplied to eight regions, 80 billion cubic metres to eight regions. But now they need gas themselves, it turns out. Thank God, their economy is growing but temperatures are plunging.
It became clear that the gas pipelines had to be set right. They worked very hard, almost around the clock, for three months straight on our section. A lot had to be done on our section of the pipeline because a reverse flow had to be launched to Alexandrov Gai. The section in Kazakhstan turned out to be very complicated: there had been some kind of privatisation and some kind of looping had been done. Overall, a lot of work had to be done, including in Uzbekistan itself.
And so, we began with legal work, checking. Then, on my direct instruction to Gazprom, three specialists [from our three countries] came to our section to make sure that we were not closing anything on purpose but there were technical problems for our Uzbek and Kazakh friends to see. Together, they visited our section and then the Kazakh section, and following that they went together to Uzbekistan. They conducted an assessment, checked everything, saw it with their own eyes, understood the volume of work and how much it would cost, realised where they could take equipment and teams. They put it all together and within three months set everything right.
That was a huge undertaking. They have done everything to start gas deliveries for the new heating season. It was practically ready around October 1, trial launches were performed, and by October 6–7 all the loose ends had been tied up. It really happened like that. They stayed for dinner on October 7, the three of us had dinner and “split a bottle between the three of us.”
Thank you very much. All the best to you.