Remarks at the Final
Plenary Meeting of the Valdai International Discussion Club's 10th Session
Remarks at the Final
Plenary Meeting of the Valdai International Discussion Club's 10th Session
September 2013, Novgorod Region
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[as translated from the Russian language by the Kremlin]
Good afternoon, friends, ladies and gentlemen,
I hope that the place for your discussions, for our meetings is well chosen and
that the timing is good. We are in the centre of Russia -- not a geographical
centre, but a spiritual one. [Novgorod Region] is a cradle of Russian statehood.
Our outstanding historians believe and have analyzed how the elements of Russian
statehood came together right here. This is in the light of the fact that two
great rivers -- the Volkhov and Neva -- acted as natural means of communication,
providing a natural linkage at the time. And it was here that Russian statehood
gradually began to emerge.
As has already been pointed out, this year the
[Valdai] club has brought
together an unprecedented list of participants: more than 200 Russian and
foreign politicians, public and spiritual leaders, philosophers and cultural
figures, people with very different, original and sometimes opposing views.
You have already been conferring here for a few days now, and I'll try not to
bore you unduly. But nevertheless, I will allow myself to state my views on
subjects that you have touched on during these discussions in one way or
another. I am not only thinking about analyzing Russian historical, cultural,
and governance experiences. First and foremost, I am thinking of general
debates, conversations about the future, strategies, and values, about the
values underpinning our countryís development, how global processes will affect
our national identity, what kind of twenty-first-century world we want to see,
and what Russia, our country, can contribute to this world together with its
Today we need new strategies to preserve our identity in a rapidly changing
world, a world that has become more open, transparent and interdependent. This
fact confronts virtually all countries and all peoples in one form or another:
Russian, European, Chinese and American -- the societies of virtually all
countries. And naturally, including here in Valdai, we strive to better
understand how our partners are attempting to meet this challenge, because we
are meeting here with experts on Russia. But we proceed from the fact that our
guests will state their views on the interaction and relationship between Russia
and the countries that you represent.
For us (and I am talking about Russians and Russia), questions about who we are
and who we want to be are increasingly prominent in our society. We have left
behind Soviet ideology, and there will be no return. Proponents of fundamental
conservatism who idealize pre-1917 Russia seem to be similarly far from reality,
as are supporters of an extreme, western-style liberalism.
It is evident that it is impossible to move forward without spiritual, cultural
and national self-determination. Without this we will not be able to withstand
internal and external challenges, nor we will succeed in global competitions.
And today we see a new round of such competitions. Today their main focuses are
economic-technological and ideological-informational. Military-political
problems and general conditions are worsening. The world is becoming more rigid,
and sometimes forgoes not merely international law, but also basic decency.
[Every country] has to have military, technological and economic strength, but
nevertheless the main thing that will determine success is the quality of
citizens, the quality of society: their intellectual, spiritual and moral
strength. After all, in the end economic growth, prosperity and geopolitical
influence are all derived from societal conditions. They depend on whether the
citizens of a given country consider themselves a nation, to what extent they
identify with their own history, values and traditions, and whether they are
united by common goals and responsibilities. In this sense, the question of
finding and strengthening national identity really is fundamental for Russia.
Meanwhile, today Russiaís national identity is experiencing not only objective
pressures stemming from globalization, but also the consequences of the national
catastrophes of the twentieth century, when we experienced the collapse of our
state two different times. The result was a devastating blow to our nationís
cultural and spiritual codes; we were faced with the disruption of traditions
and the consonance of history, with the demoralization of society, with a
deficit of trust and responsibility. These are the root causes of many pressing
problems we face. After all, the question of responsibility for oneself, before
society and the law, is something fundamental for both legal and everyday life.
After 1991 there was the illusion that a new national ideology, a development
ideology, would simply appear by itself. The state, authorities, intellectual
and political classes virtually rejected engaging in this work, all the more so
since previous, semi-official ideology was hard to swallow. And in fact they
were all simply afraid to even broach the subject. In addition, the lack of a
national idea stemming from a national identity profited the quasi-colonial
element of the elite -- those determined to steal and remove capital, and who did
not link their future to that of the country, the place where they earned their
Practice has shown that a new national idea does not simply appear, nor does it
develop according to market rules. A spontaneously constructed state and society
does not work, and neither does mechanically copying other countriesí
experiences. Such primitive borrowing and attempts to civilize Russia from
abroad were not accepted by an absolute majority of our people. This is because
the desire for independence and sovereignty in spiritual, ideological and
foreign policy spheres is an integral part of our national character.
Incidentally, such approaches have often failed in other nations too. The time
when ready-made lifestyle models could be installed in foreign states like
computer programs has passed.
We also understand that identity and a national idea cannot be imposed from
above, cannot be established on an ideological monopoly. Such a construction is
very unstable and vulnerable; we know this from personal experience. It has no
future in the modern world. We need historical creativity, a synthesis of the
best national practices and ideas, an understanding of our cultural, spiritual
and political traditions from different points of view, and to understand that
[national identity] is not a rigid thing that will last forever, but rather a
living organism. Only then will our identity be based on a solid foundation, be
directed towards the future and not the past. This is the main argument
demonstrating that a development ideology must be discussed by people who hold
different views, and have different opinions about how and what to do to solve
All of us -- so-called Neo-Slavophiles and Neo-Westernizers, statists and
so-called liberals -- all of society must work together to create common
development goals. We need to break the habit of only listening to like-minded
people, angrily -- and even with hatred -- rejecting any other point of view from
the outset. You canít flip or even kick the country's future like a football,
plunging into unbridled nihilism, consumerism, criticism of anything and
everything, or gloomy pessimism.
This means that liberals have to learn to talk with representatives of the
left-wing and, conversely, that nationalists must remember that Russia was
formed specifically as a multi-ethnic and multi-confessional country from its
very inception. Nationalists must remember that by calling into question our
multi-ethnic character, and exploiting the issue of Russian, Tatar, Caucasian,
Siberian or any other nationalism or separatism, means that we are starting to
destroy our genetic code. In effect, we will begin to destroy ourselves.
Russiaís sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity are unconditional.
These are red lines no one is allowed to cross. For all the differences in our
views, debates about identity and about our national future are impossible
unless their participants are patriotic. Of course I mean patriotism in the
purest sense of the word.
Too often in our nation's history, instead of opposition to the government we
have been faced with opponents of Russia itself. I have already mentioned this;
Pushkin also talked about it. And we know how it ended, with the demolition of
the [Russian] state as such. There is virtually no Russian family that
completely escaped the troubles of the past century. Questions about how to
assess certain historical events still divide our country and society.
We need to heal these wounds, and repair the tissues of our historic fabric. We
can no longer engage in self-deception, striking out unsightly or ideologically
uncomfortable pages of our history, breaking links between generations, rushing
to extremes, creating or debunking idols. It's time to stop only taking note of
the bad in our history, and berating ourselves more than even our opponents
would do. [Self-]criticism is necessary, but without a sense of self-worth, or
love for our Fatherland, such criticism becomes humiliating and
We must be proud of our history, and we have things to be proud of. Our entire,
uncensored history must be a part of Russian identity. Without recognizing this
it is impossible to establish mutual trust and allow society to move forward.
Another serious challenge to Russia's identity is linked to events taking place
in the world. Here there are both foreign policy and moral aspects. We can see
how many of the Euro-Atlantic countries are actually rejecting their roots,
including the Christian values that constitute the basis of Western civilization.
They are denying moral principles and all traditional identities: national,
cultural, religious and even sexual. They are implementing policies that equate
large families with same-sex partnerships, belief in God with the belief in
The excesses of political correctness have reached the point where people are
seriously talking about registering political parties whose aim is to promote
pedophilia. People in many European countries are embarrassed or afraid to talk
about their religious affiliations. Holidays are abolished or even called
something different; their essence is hidden away, as is their moral foundation.
And people are aggressively trying to export this model all over the world. I am
convinced that this opens a direct path to degradation and primitivism,
resulting in a profound demographic and moral crisis.
What else but the loss of the ability to self-reproduce could act as the
greatest testimony of the moral crisis facing a human society? Today almost all
developed nations are no longer able to reproduce themselves, even with the help
of migration. Without the values embedded in Christianity and other world
religions, without the standards of morality that have taken shape over
millennia, people will inevitably lose their human dignity. We consider it
natural and right to defend these values. One must respect every minorityís
right to be different, but the rights of the majority must not be put into
At the same time we see attempts to somehow revive a
standardized model of a
unipolar world and to blur the institutions of international law and national
sovereignty. Such a unipolar, standardized world does not require sovereign
states; it requires vassals. In a historical sense this amounts to a rejection
of oneís own identity, of the God-given diversity of the world.
Russia agrees with those who believe that key decisions should be worked out on
a collective basis, rather than at the discretion of and in the interests of
certain countries or groups of countries. Russia believes that international
law, not the right of the strong, must apply. And we believe that every country,
every nation is not exceptional, but unique, original and benefits from equal
rights, including the right to independently choose their own development path.
This is our conceptual outlook, and it follows from our own historical destiny
and Russia's role in global politics. Our present position has deep historical
roots. Russia itself has evolved on the basis of diversity, harmony and balance,
and brings such a balance to the international stage.
I want to remind you that the Congress of Vienna of 1815 and the agreements made
at Yalta in 1945, taken with Russiaís very active participation, secured a
lasting peace. Russiaís strength, the strength of a winning nation at those
critical junctures, manifested itself as generosity and justice. And let us
remember [the Treaty of] Versailles, concluded without Russiaís participation.
Many experts, and I absolutely agree with them, believe that Versailles laid the
foundation for the Second World War because the Treaty of Versailles was unfair
to the German people: it imposed restrictions with which they could not cope,
and the course of the next century became clear.
There is one more fundamental aspect to which I want to draw your attention. In
Europe and some other countries so-called multiculturalism is in many respects a
transplanted, artificial model that is now being questioned, for understandable
reasons. This is because it is based on paying for the colonial past. It is no
accident that today European politicians and public figures are increasingly
talking about the failures of multiculturalism, and that they are not able to
integrate foreign languages or foreign cultural elements into their societies.
Over the past centuries in Russia, which some have tried to label as the Ēprison
of nationsď, not even the smallest ethnic group has disappeared. And they have
retained not only their internal autonomy and cultural identity, but also their
historical space. You know, I was interested to learn (I did not even know this)
that in Soviet times [authorities] paid such careful attention to this that
virtually every small ethnic group had its own print publication, support for
its language, and for its national literature. We should bring back and take on
board much of what has been done in this respect.
Along with this the different cultures in Russia have the unique experience of
mutual influence, mutual enrichment and mutual respect. This multiculturalism
and multi-ethnicity lives in our historical consciousness, in our spirit and in
our historical makeup. Our state was built in the course of a millennium on this
Russia -- as philosopher Konstantin Leontyev vividly put it
-- has always evolved
in Ēblossoming complexityď as a state-civilization, reinforced by the Russian
people, Russian language, Russian culture, Russian Orthodox Church and the
countryís other traditional religions. It is precisely the state-civilization
model that has shaped our state polity. It has always sought to flexibly
accommodate the ethnic and religious specificity of particular territories,
ensuring diversity in unity.
Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Judaism and other religions are an integral part
of Russiaís identity, its historical heritage and the present-day lives of its
citizens. The main task of the state, as enshrined in the Constitution, is to
ensure equal rights for members of traditional religions and atheists, and the
right to freedom of conscience for all citizens.
However, it is clearly impossible to identify oneself only through oneís
ethnicity or religion in such a large nation with a multi-ethnic population. In
order to maintain the nationís unity, people must develop a civic identity on
the basis of shared values, a patriotic consciousness, civic responsibility and
solidarity, respect for the law, and a sense of responsibility for their
homelandís fate, without losing touch with their ethnic or religious roots.
There are broad discussions on how the ideology of national development will be
structured politically and conceptually -- including with your participation,
colleagues. But I deeply believe that individualsí personal, moral, intellectual
and physical development must remain at the heart of our philosophy. Back at the
start of the 1990s, Solzhenitsyn stated that the nationís main goal should be to
preserve the population after a very difficult 20th century. Today, we must
admit that we have not yet fully overcome the negative demographic trends,
although we have veered away from a dangerous decline in the national potential.
Unfortunately, throughout our nationís history, little value was given at times
to individual human lives. Too often, people were seen simply as a means, rather
than a goal and a mission for development. We no longer have that right and we
cannot throw millions of human lives into the fire for the sake of development.
We must treasure every individual. Russiaís main strength in this and future
centuries will lie in its educated, creative, physically and spiritually healthy
people, rather than natural resources.
The role of education is all the more important because in order to educate an
individual, a patriot, we must restore the role of great Russian culture and
literature. They must serve as the foundation for peopleís personal identity,
the source of their uniqueness and their basis for understanding the national
idea. Here, a great deal depends on the teaching community, which has been and
remains a highly important guardian of nationwide values, ideas and
philosophies. This community speaks the same language -- the language of science,
knowledge and education, despite the fact that it is spread out over an enormous
territory, from Kaliningrad to Vladivostok. In this way, the community of
teachers, the educational community overall, in the broad sense of the word,
binds the nation together. Supporting this community is one of the most
important steps on the path toward a strong, flourishing Russia.
I want to stress again that without focusing our efforts on peopleís education
and health, creating mutual responsibility between the authorities and each
individual, and establishing trust within society, we will be losers in the
competition of history. Russiaís citizens must feel that they are the
responsible owners of their country, region, hometown, property, belongings and
their lives. A citizen is someone who is capable of independently managing his
or her own affairs, freely cooperating with equals.
Local governments and self-regulated citizensí
organizations serve as the best
school for civic consciousness. Of course, Iím referring to non-profits.
Incidentally, one of the best Russian political traditions, the country council
tradition, was also built on the principles of local government. A true civil
society and a true, nationally-focused political elite, including the opposition
with its own ideology, values and standards for good and evil -- their own,
rather than those dictated by the media or from abroad -- can only grow through
effective self-governing mechanisms. The government is prepared to trust
self-regulating and self-governing associations, but we must know whom we are
trusting. This is absolutely normal global practice, which is precisely why we
have passed new legislation to increase the transparency of nongovernmental
Speaking of any kind of reforms, it is important to bear in mind that there is
more to our nation than just Moscow and St Petersburg. In developing Russian
federalism, we must rely on our own historical experience, using flexible and
diverse models. The Russian model of federalism has a great deal of potential
built into it. It is imperative that we learn to use it competently, not
forgetting its most important aspect: the development of the regions and their
independence should create equal opportunities for all of our nationís citizens,
regardless of where they live, to eliminate inequalities in the economic and
social development of Russiaís territory, thereby strengthening the nationís
unity. Ultimately, this is a huge challenge because these territoriesí
development has been very unbalanced over the course of decades and even
I would like to touch on another topic. The 21st century promises to become the
century of major changes, the era of the formation of major geopolitical zones,
as well as financial and economic, cultural, civilizational, and military and
political areas. That is why integrating with our neighbors is our absolute
priority. The future Eurasian Economic Union, which we have declared and which
we have discussed extensively as of late, is not just a collection of mutually
beneficial agreements. The Eurasian Union is a project for maintaining the
identity of nations in the historical Eurasian space in a new century and in a
new world. Eurasian integration is a chance for the entire post-Soviet space to
become an independent centre for global development, rather than remaining on
the outskirts of Europe and Asia.
I want to stress that Eurasian integration will also be built on the principle
of diversity. This is a union where everyone maintains their identity, their
distinctive character and their political independence. Together with our
partners, we will gradually implement this project, step by step. We expect that
it will become our common input into maintaining diversity and stable global
Colleagues, the years after 1991 are often referred to as the post-Soviet era.
We have lived through and overcome that turbulent, dramatic period. Russia has
passed through these trials and tribulations and is returning to itself, to its
own history, just as it did at other points in its history. After consolidating
our national identity, strengthening our roots, and remaining open and receptive
to the best ideas and practices of the East and the West, we must and will move
Thank you very much for your attention.
Member of the Valdai Discussion Club Advisory Board Piotr Dutkiewicz:
President, this is the tenth year that we are meeting with you here.
This is a unique platform and a unique format -- there is nothing like it in the
world. Thank you for these ten years of warm support for our club.
I have a two-part question concerning
your article in The New York Times. It was
an excellent idea and a brilliant article. Indeed, you are personally
responsible for stopping the expansion and deepening of the Syrian conflict,
which is an enormous achievement.
Question: who came up with this idea? Was it Lavrov, Shoigu, Peskov or someone
else? And when did you discuss it for the first time with President Obama?
The second part of the question: it seems to me that you put yourself in a
rather awkward position with this brilliant idea, this brilliant article,
because you became a kind of hostage. You and Russia have taken on the burden of
responsibility for the success of this agreement. You already have many
detractors because they do not want to see major global policy to develop as a
Putin and Obama duet. What happens if it doesnít work?
Vladimir Putin: Thank you for your kind words.
My colleagues and I have always been pleased that there are people in the world
interested in Russia, its history and its culture. Ten years ago, when I was
told that these people would like to come to Russia, talk with us, engage in
debate, and want to learn about our point of view on key issues in the
development of the nation itself and its place in the world, well, naturally, we
supported it immediately; I supported it and my colleagues supported it. I am
very happy that over the last ten years, this platform has become even more
prestigious compared to the first steps taken a decade ago. The interest in our
nation is not waning; on the contrary, it is increasing and growing.
I want to respond to your words of gratitude in kind. I would like to thank all
the experts on Russia who remain faithful to their love of our nation and their
interest in our nation.
Now, regarding the article. I had this idea completely by chance. I saw that
President Obama took the discussion on the possibility of attacking Syria to the
Congress and Senate. I followed the course of that discussion and I just wanted
to convey our position, my own position, to the people who will be forming their
opinions on this issue, and to clarify it. Because unfortunately, the media
often present various problems very one-sidedly, or simply stay completely
So this was my idea; I called one of my aides and said that I would like to
publish an article in an American newspaper -- it didnít matter which one, but
one of the leading ones -- so that this information would reach the readers, and
dictated what I wanted to see written. You may have noticed that it does not
contain anything I have not stated earlier, in various places in public. I have
already talked about all of it in one way or another. So I just dictated it, and
then when my colleagues put it together, I took a look. I didnít like
everything, so I rewrote and added a few things, gave it back to them, they
worked on it some more and brought it to me again. I made some more changes and
felt it was ready for publishing. We
arranged through our partners that it would
be in The New York Times; we came to an agreement with this respected
publication that the article would be published without any cuts. If they didnít
like it, we could give it to another newspaper.
But I must give credit to the New York Times editors: they completely abided by
our agreements and published everything as I wrote it. They even waived their
usual requirements on the number of characters and words in the article; it was
a little bit over the limit. They were going to submit it, but then one of my
aides said, ďPresident Obama is going to address the nation tomorrow. What if he
announces that there wonít be any strikes, that they changed their minds? Itís
better to wait.Ē I said, ďVery well.Ē We waited, and the next morning, I was
getting ready for work and I was given
President Obamaís speech. I began to read
it and realized that nothing had changed fundamentally, so I laid it aside
without finishing it. But then I thought, ďNo, I need to read it to the end.Ē
And when I read all of it, it became clear that my article was incomplete. As
you understand, the matter at hand was Americaís exceptionalism. So I picked up
the article, and right then and there, I hand-wrote the last paragraph. I gave
it to my colleagues, they passed it on to The New York Times, and there it was.
Now, concerning responsibility. You know, you are all very experienced, smart
and clever people. Here is what I will say about Russiaís special
responsibility. We have equal rights and equal responsibilities with all our
colleagues involved in the discussion on Syria. This is not the first time I
hear that I now carry a special responsibility. We all carry a special
responsibility; we all carry it equally. If the attempt to resolve the problem
by peaceful means is unsuccessful, that will be a tragedy. But we must
investigate before we do take any other steps. My good friend
we have known each other for a long time and have become friends during our
years of working together -- talked about how after
the report was released by UN
experts, it became clear that
chemical weapons had been used. But this was clear
to us from the very beginning, and our experts agreed. The only thing that is
unclear is who used it.
We are constantly talking about responsibility on the part of Assadís
government, whether he used chemical weapons or not. But what if they were used
by the opposition? Nobody is saying what we would then do with the opposition --
but this, too, is an important question. We have every reason to believe that
this was a provocation. You know, it was clever and smart, but at the same time,
the execution was primitive. They used an ancient, Soviet-made projectile, taken
from the Syrian armyís armaments from a long time ago -- it even had ďMade in the
USSRĒ printed on it. But this was not the first time chemical weapons were used
in Syria. Why didnít they investigate the previous instances?
This matter should be investigated as thoroughly as possible. If we finally get
an answer, despite all obstacles, to the question of who did this, who committed
this crime -- and there is no question that it was a crime -- then we will take
the next step; we will then work with other UN Security Council colleagues to
determine the culpability of those who committed this crime, together and in
Moderator Svetlana Mironyuk: They say that Senator McCain followed your example
published an article of his own in Pravda newspaper. He probably remembers
from the Soviet years that Pravda was a well-known publication and the most
popular newspaper in the country. True, a lot of time has passed and things have
changed a bit since then, so itís no longer true. I donít know if you heard
about this or not, Mr. President.
Vladimir Putin: No, I didnít know about it. I have met the senator before. He
was in Munich when I made the speech there that went on to become so famous.
Actually, there was nothing anti-American in that speech. I simply stated our
position frankly and honestly, and there was nothing aggressive in what I said,
if you only take a closer look. What I said then was that we were promised at
one point that NATO would not expand beyond the former Federal Republic of
Germanyís eastern border. That was a promise directly made to Gorbachev. True,
it was not actually set out and written down. But where is NATO today, where is
the border? We got cheated, to put it quite simply. Thatís the whole story. But
thereís nothing aggressive here. Itís more just a reluctance to admit to what I
just said. But I didnít say those words to offend anyone. I said them so that we
would be able to lay everything before each other plain and clear and discuss
the problems in an honest, open fashion. Itís easier to reach agreements this
way. You shouldnít keep things hidden.
The senator has his own views. I do think though that he is lacking information
about our country. The fact that he chose to publish his article in Pravda -- and
he wanted after all to publish it in the most influential and widely read
newspaper -- suggests that he is lacking information. Pravda is a respected
publication of the Communist Party, which is now in opposition, but it does not
have very wide circulation around the country now. He wants to get his views
across to as many people as possible, and so his choice simply suggests that he
is not well-informed about our country.
Actually, I would have been happy to see him here at the Valdai Club say, taking
part in the discussions. As far as I know, our big television channels, the
national channels, proposed that he come and take part in an open and honest
discussion. There you have it, freedom of speech, freedom of the press. He is
welcome to share his point of view with the whole country and discuss things
with his equals, with political analysts and politicians, members of the State
Duma or the Federation Council.
In this respect, I can only express my regret that our American colleagues did
not react to our parliamentariansí proposal and refused to receive them in
Washington for a discussion on Syria. Why did they do this? To be honest, I
donít see anything so bad about this proposal, which, on the contrary, seems to
me of interest and the right thing to do. The more we actually discuss things
directly with each other, the easier it will be to find solutions.
Are there more questions from the floor?
Letís stick to the subjects if we can, so as not to jump from one topic to
Bridget Kendall, go ahead.
Diplomatic Correspondent For the Bbc Bridget Kendall: Thank you.
Again about Syria, Russia has been lauded for its achievement for bringing about
a deal which looks as though it could lead to the elimination of chemical
weapons in Syria, all the more an achievement given that the Syrian government
didn't admit it had them until very recently. Would you have been able to
persuade President Assad to do this if there hadn't been a threat of American
military strikes? In other words, did the threat of US military strikes actually
play a rather useful role?
Vladimir Putin: Am I right in understanding that you are asking about whether it
is the threat of military strikes that plays a part in Syriaís agreeing to have
its weapons placed under control?
First, Iíd like to ask you all to address your questions to everyone taking part
in todayís discussion, so as not to turn this into a boring dialogue. If you
permit, I will redirect your question to my colleagues and ask them to share
their points of view on this issue.
The threat of the use of force and actual use of force are far from being a
cure-all for international problems. Look at what we are actually talking about
after all. We are forgetting the heart of the matter. We are talking about using
force outside the framework of current international law. Weíve just been saying
how the US Congress and Senate are discussing whether to use force or not. But
it is not there that this matter should be discussed. It should be discussed in
the UN Security Council. That is the heart of the issue. That is my first point.
Second, on whether we will manage to convince Assad or not, I donít know. So far
it looks as though Syria has fully agreed to our proposal and is ready to act
according to the plan that the international community is putting together,
working through the UN. Russia and the USA, in the persons of Secretary of State
Kerry and Foreign Minister Lavrov have already practically drafted the outlines
of this plan. There is a special organization that will work together with the
UN on this matter of eliminating chemical weapons. Syria has declared that it
will join and that it indeed already considers itself to have joined the
International Chemical Weapons Convention. These are practical steps that the
Syrian government has already taken. Will we succeed in taking the process
through to completion? I cannot give a 100% guarantee. But what we have seen
just lately, over these last few days, gives us hope that this is possible and
will be done.
Let me just remind you about how these chemical weapons came about. Syria got
itself chemical weapons as an alternative to Israelís nuclear arsenal, as we
know. What can be done about the various issues associated with proliferation
and non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction remains a very relevant
question today, perhaps the most important issue of our time. If this situation
gets out of control, like it once happened with gunpowder, the consequences will
be unimaginable. We therefore need to strive towards nuclear-free status in
particular parts of the world, especially in such volatile regions as the Middle
We need to be very careful in our action so as to give unconditional security
guarantees for all participants in this process. After all, there are people in
Israel itself who categorically oppose nuclear weapons. You remember the
well-known case when a nuclear physicist was sent to prison, served his sentence
and still continues to think that his position was right. Why? There is nothing
anti-Israeli in his position. He is a Jew himself and a citizen of his country,
but he simply believes that Israelís technological superiority is such that the
country does not need nuclear weapons. Israel is already technologically and
militarily a long way ahead of the regionís other countries. But nuclear weapons
only turn the country into a target and create foreign policy problems. In this
respect, there is sense in the position of this nuclear physicist, who disclosed
the existence of Israelís nuclear weapons.
But to come back to your question about whether the plan will succeed or not, we
hope that it will.
Svetlana Mironyuk: Mr. President, I suggest that since we have veered away from
defense and security issues, we should give Mr. RŁhe a chance to reply, ask a
question, and express his opinion.
Mr. RŁhe, you have the floor.
Former Defense Minister of the Federal Republic of Germany Volker RŁhe: Well, I
wanted to speak about the young generation in this country.
First, I would like to begin -- because Iíve been here from the beginning
also compliment our Russian friends on the format of Valdai, the architects --
because it would not be enough to call them organizers. What we have seen here,
I call the culture of inclusiveness and a love of pluralism. And I can tell you,
Mr. President, we are quite fascinated by the pluralistic voices from Russia,
including very powerful statements by people that are in opposition to your
politics, and I think this shows the strength of the country, that it was
organized in this way.
Iíve never looked at Russia with the somewhat narrow eyes of a
you know this. I was first here in 1971, and Sergei Karaganov is a friend of
mine since the late 1970s. We donít look it, but itís a fact of life. We have
lived through SS-20 and Pershing.
And what I would like to say is, I came here as Defense Minister in 1995 and I
went to St Petersburg. And I said, I donít want to see any tanks or artillery,
or any generals. I want to see the Mayor, Sobchak. And I got to know you also,
you were part of his team. Why? He was a lighthouse for me, as a young member of
parliament in West Germany, still in the divided Germany, and I think what he
was doing was much more important than tanks and artillery, and it has proved to
be this way. So itís a lifelong interest in a neighbor. And we all, I believe,
on this continent, are interested in a successful, modern Russia.
Now, the young generation. What Iíve seen -- and of course it was very
interesting for me to listen to his daughter, who is a powerful voice for the
young generation, two days ago.
So what Iíve seen here, what Iíve seen in Russia is you have really an asset to
the country, your young generation. They are very intelligent. They want to have
a good education. They want to be more internationally connected. And they want
to have a bigger say in the politics of your country. They are knocking at the
doors of the Kremlin.
The young generation in my country, they also want to build their private lives,
they are very much internationally connected. The doors to our Kremlins, which
is the parliament and the government, are very open, but they donít knock at it.
They leave it to politicians because they think things have been arranged very
well. And we are very sad that some of the very best just want to have a
successful private life, but donít engage in public life.
So my message really is, Russia can be proud of a young generation, even if
there are political opponents that want to engage in public life, which is not
the case in many of the west European countries. And Iíve said earlier in Russia
also, we should give up this visa regime in the West, because that would enable
hundreds of thousands of young Russians to come and see our life and our
political system. But I must say, it would also change Russia, because once they
have studied in Rome or in London or in Washington, because theyíll be forces of
change, the necessary change in this country. But I think it would make the
country also more competitive.
Now what has that to do with security? I think this is the best way to ensure
security and to develop common points of view. And Iím very glad that this
culture of Valdai, I donít think thereís anything -- I have been to many
conferences, and also to Munich, but Munich is very narrow security-wise,
thereís no conference like this in the world.
And also when we listen for four hours to your people about ideas and politics
we very often just talk from Monday to Thursday about our politics. It was very
fascinating to see that the Russian speakers are much more interested in
fundamental questions of society than we are, which is very much on the surface,
what we are debating. So I think this is something to start from, but the real
message is, I think it would be a great project of your third term to integrate
this young generation when theyíre knocking at the door of the Kremlin, because
donít forget, we want more people to knock at the doors of political power in
the West, and you can be proud of these people. Thatís my message.
Svetlana Mironyuk: Thank you, Mr. RŁhe.
Other questions, please.
President and Founder of the Center On Global Interests In Washington Nikolai
Zlobin: Good afternoon.
Everyone seems to be expecting me to ask you about 2018 and whether you will run
for a new term. But Iím not going to ask that question. Everyone else I have put
this question to so far have all said no though, so you might have to run anyway
in the end, or else there wonít be anyone at all.
But I want to come back to a question we have already discussed. Unlike you, I
did read McCainís article. It should be said that it is not exactly a reply to
your article, because it is really quite a personal article and not related to
Syria. I think it is not very politically correct really, but that is my
Actually, he says there that no criticism of Putin is allowed in Russia. Iím
here as a living example of someone who is always criticizing you. Even here at
Valdai I have often argued with you, but Iím still here as you can see, alive
and well. To be honest, I do not entirely agree with the things you said today
either. But McCain says that the government Russia has today does not adequately
represent Russian society, and that Russia deserves a different government.
In this respect I have a question. I know that relations between the public and
the authorities is indeed one of Russiaís big problems, an old, historical
problem. Before last yearís election, I recall that you said that there is
perhaps a need to change the Constitution, change the relations between
government and society, change the mutual responsibility, develop local
government and so on. There was the very good idea too of bringing more young
people into government. Sometimes I hear voices among the opposition saying that
this government should be swept aside and that a new government is needed. You
are now serving your third term as President. How do you view today the
relations between government and society in Russia? Are you happy with these
relations? What should be changed? Is the Constitution really the issue, or is
McCain perhaps right in a way? I do not think his argument is correct. But what
is your vision now, in the twenty-first century, of the relations between
Russiaís highest authorities and society?
Thank you, Mr. President.
Vladimir Putin: You recall the words of one of the worldís outstanding political
leaders, a former British Prime Minister [Churchill], who said of democracy that it ďis the
worst form of government except all the others that have been tried.Ē Probably
then -- not probably, but for certain -- Russia does deserve a better quality of
government. Is there an ideal form of government in other countries, including
the one that you and Mr. McCain represent? This is a big question, a very big
question, if we are talking about democracy.
It has happened twice in US history that the President of the United States was
chosen by a majority in the electoral colleges, but with a minority of the
actual voters. This is an obvious flaw in the electoral procedure, that is to
say, a flaw at the very heart of American democracy. In other words, everyone
has their own problems.
We perhaps have no fewer problems than you, and maybe even more, though this
would only be natural. Russia has gone through the experience of rule under the
tsars, then communism, then the disintegration of the 1990s. This has been a
period of very difficult and complicated rebuilding. But it is very clear that
Russia is on the road to democracy and is looking for its own ways to strengthen
these democratic foundations. There is this very fact that for ten years now we
have been getting together, debating, openly discussing, even when we used to
meet behind closed doors, it all became public anyway. And this is not to
mention the other aspects of our life.
As for what kind of government Russia should have, this is something for our
citizens to decide, and not for our colleagues from abroad. We held an election
a year ago, not so long ago, and the majority of Russiaís citizens voted for me.
I base myself on this decision. That does not mean we can now sit on our
laurels. I have to work on myself, and our institutions need to improve too.
This is just what we are all doing.
Note that we have returned to holding gubernatorial elections in the regions.
This practice is not so widespread in the world. Such elections are the practice
in the United States, but India say, has a completely different procedure. Many
countries do things very much their own way. Germany has its system, France has
its way of doing things, and in Russia we have decided to elect regional
governors by direct secret ballot.
We have liberalized political partiesí activity. As a specialist on Russia, you
know just how many new political parties took part in the regional elections. In
many cases they achieved victory, and as far as I know, the winners of elections
from these new political parties are here at Valdai too. The improvement process
is therefore going ahead. I think it will never stop, because government
organization, the political organization of society, and democratic procedures
need to keep up more or less with a societyís current needs and demands, and
society is developing and changing. The political system will change and develop
Svetlana Mironyuk: Thank you.
Any other questions?
Founder Director, Centre For European Reform Charles Grant: Charles Grant from
the Centre for European Reform, London.
I have a question for the President, but if other
panelists wish to comment, I
would be grateful, because itís about Ukraine. I know Mr. Prodi has a special
interest in Ukraine.
Iíd like the President to tell us whether he sees Ukraine as a normal,
sovereign, independent country or a country thatís a bit different. I ask that
because we have a question now -- Ukraine has to choose whether to join the
Customs Union with Russia and other countries, or to reach a closer agreement
with the EU. And weíve heard from participants here in the last few days that
some people in Ukraine find Russiaís heavy-armed tactics -- closing the borders,
blocking exports from Ukraine -- counterproductive. They have told us this is
pushing public opinion in Ukraine to be a little more critical of Russia and
perhaps closer to the EU. So could you explain what your strategy is with regard
to Ukraine and what kind of country you believe it is.
Vladimir Putin: My good, long-time friend Romano headed the European Commission
for many years. So letís ask him to open the discussion. I have an answer, and
Iím ready to reply to you, but I would like to hear his opinion.
Former Prime Minister of Italy Romano Prodi: First of all, you remember that I
was President of the European Commission. And I remember that in our last common
press conference, when I was asked about the relation between the European Union
and Russia, I said, they must be like vodka and caviar -- I donít know which is
which -- but we are so strict, and things are not going in this direction. There
is something that we have to move or to change, because really -- well, maybe my
vision is influenced by the fact I am by education an economist -- but I see such
a complementarity, such a necessity of working together, that I think we have to
work in this direction.
And clearly, itís not only a Russian problem. Europe is fairly divided. In this
case, you have countries that are much more inclined to deal with Russia, some
others are not confident in that. We also have a different vision in very simple
problems like the visa. And I agree that the first step is to have free
circulation of young people. The
Erasmus project in Europe, which is a very
simple circulation of students, is changing the mentality of a generation. We
must do the same with Russia.
And clearly, in the case of Ukraine, I think itís going in the same direction.
There is now a double proposal that says, one is the association agreement that
will be signed probably in Vilnius at the end of November, and then there is the
proposal of, letís say, the Eurasian economy.
First of all, I am not a technical expert of trade, but all my consultants say,
ďLook, the two proposals are not incompatible. They are incompatible taken as a
picture, as static, but if we sit around the table, with good will, we can make
very few changes and then make them compatible.Ē And so, as I answer to Mr.
Grant, reinforce the identity of Ukraine -- not as a dividing country, but as a
bridge between Russia and Europe, because we need bridges, and Ukraine must and
can be a bridge between us. This is, I think, my position. And Iím working in
this direction because Ukraine is a great country. Forty-five million people,
even if the decreasing population is, geopolitically, very important. And it
must be an exercise in cooperation between Russia and European Union.
Vladimir, on this point, clearly, why I am so warm about that? Because I think
that if we create two divided trade areas, weíll be, for the future, damaging
the structure. Because clearly, Europe is going in the direction of
transatlantic trade investment partnership with such a big area.
Russia, with this Customs Union, will have a dimension that is not comparable to
the other one. So I think -- well, I donít want to judge Russia, because I do not
have the right to do it -- but the dimensions of the country, the characteristics
of the country, are such that the great change that you are working for,
modernization and technology, needs a strong link with you. From this point of
view, really, we are like vodka and caviar. I think the complementarity is so
high that you cannot do without us and we cannot do without you. So you have to
be very prudent following your doctrine, your diversity cooperation, very
prudent to create a structure that then will diverge in the future.
This is the moment in which we must stay around the table, as you did with
Syria. Your proposal with Syria is a masterpiece, because first of all, it has
avoided the war, and even the American president was not so happy with this war.
And second, it was giving the possibility to the Americans to set the big
principles of being against the chemical weapons. So they could get a proposal
that could be accepted by you.
I think this is the moment in the relations between Europe and Russia to use the
same methodology as has been done with Syria. Because if we start to diverge,
Russia will be more alone, Europe will be worse off, and the future relations
cannot help us in the direction that we both tried to explore in the past.
I agree that to dance, we need to be two. One cannot dance alone. But I think
this is the moment in which we have to make these proposals.
Vladimir Putin: You see what a good idea it was to gave the floor to Mr. Prodi.
Yes, Romano and I have been working together for a
long time, and we do have a very good personal relationship. Thatís how things
have played out. In Italy, I have always had good relations with him, and with
Mr. Berlusconi, with whom he is in constant conflict in the political arena. And
Berlusconi is currently on trial for living with women, but nobody would lay a
finger on him if he were gay.
Anyway, I want to talk about Mr. Romanoís words.
Please note that he is not just an intellectual, although he is indeed a
professor, a scientist, a true European intellectual. But he is also a European
bureaucrat, down to his core. Just look at what he said: relations between
Russia and Europe are like caviar and vodka. But both caviar and vodka are
Russian products, products of Russian origin.
After all, Europe is used to the well-known principle of eating from oneís
neighborsí plate before eating from oneís own.
Romano Prodi: Let it be whisky and soda.
Vladimir Putin: Well, whisky and soda is a bad drink to begin with; why ruin the
whisky? You should be drinking it straight.
Regarding Ukraine. Ukraine, without a doubt, is an independent state. That is
how history has unfolded. But letís not forget that todayís Russian statehood
has roots in the Dnieper; as we say, we have a common Dnieper baptistery. Kievan
Rus started out as the foundation of the enormous future Russian state. We have
common traditions, a common mentality, a common history and a common culture. We
have very similar languages. In that respect, I want to repeat again, we are one
Of course, the Ukrainian people, the Ukrainian culture and the Ukrainian
language have wonderful features that make up the identity of the Ukrainian
nation. And we not only respect it, but moreover, I, for one, really love it, I
like all of it. It is part of our greater Russian, or Russian-Ukrainian, world.
But history has unfolded in such a way that today, this territory is an
independent state, and we respect that.
By the way, Ukraine had a long and difficult path to reach its current state
today. It was part of one state, then another state, and in each, a part of
Ukraineís public entities were not privileged. The Ukrainian people had a very
difficult destiny, but when we united into one Rus, that part of the nation
began to develop rapidly, began developing infrastructure and trade. After World
War II, the Soviet government allotted somewhere around 1.5 trillion rubles to
restore certain companies -- very large companies. One third of that funding went
Let me reiterate: today, Ukraine is an independent state, and we respect that
fact. Naturally, selecting priorities and selecting allies is the national,
sovereign right of the Ukrainian people and the legitimate Ukrainian government.
How do we see this process of [Ukraine] joining the EU or signing a Customs
Union agreement with Russia, Kazakhstan and Belarus? After all, Russia is also
going to sign a new framework agreement. We have already discussed signing [an
agreement on] some form of a free trade zone with the European Union, and Romano
and I have talked about this as well. This is all possible.
You know what the difference is? The fact that during negotiations on Russiaís
WTO accession we agreed on a certain level of tariff protection. This is hard
for us because our competition has cheap and -- we can say frankly -- quite
high-quality agricultural products, agricultural machinery. Things are very
difficult for us in several other sectors, for our industries. But the level of
customs protection in Russia is higher than in Ukraine; I think it is twice as
high, or near that.
Why are we marking time in negotiation processes with our European partners?
Itís true what I said earlier about them earlier that before eating whatís on
their plate, they first eat the neighborsí food. They are very nice guys, very
friendly, polite, pleasant to talk with. We can eat caviar and drink vodka, good
German beer or Italian or French wines, but they are very tough negotiators.
At present we canít even move forward and conclude a new framework agreement,
much less a further agreement about free trade. That is because we believe our
partners are making excessive demands and, in fact, imposing on us an agreement
that we refer to as WTO Plus. That is, it comprises the WTO requirements with
regards to open markets and several other things, particularly regarding
standards, plus some additional demands.
But first of all we need to digest WTO accession; we cannot go too fast. And we
believe that if Ukraine joined the Customs Union and we coordinated our efforts
and negotiated with the Europeans, we would have more chances to negotiate
better terms of trade with our main economic and trade partner. Europe remains
our major trading partner; 50% of our trade is with the European Union.
In this sense, we believe that [joining the Customs Union] serves both our and
Ukrainian interests. All the more so since during the negotiation process we
would lower energy prices and open Russian markets. According to our
calculations, and the Ukrainian Academy of Sciences confirms this, Ukraine would
receive an additional $9 billion. Not a minus, but a plus.
How would Ukraine benefit from joining the EU? Open markets? Well, this would
make the economy more liberal. But I have no idea whether Ukraineís economy can
cope with such liberalism. Itís none of our business really, our Ukrainian
partners must decide this for themselves.
But what is our problem? If import duties are further reduced in Ukraine, then
good quality and cheap European goods will make their way there. They will
squeeze products of Ukrainian origin out of the domestic market, pushing them
where? Towards us. This creates problems. We are therefore warning in advance
and saying: we understand all this, itís your choice, go ahead if you want to,
but keep in mind that we will somehow have to protect our market and introduce
protectionist measures. We are saying this openly and in advance, so that
afterwards you will not accuse us of interfering with anyone or questioning
another countryís sovereign right to decide in favor of the EU.
You understand that we will simply need to consider how many goods can access
our market and what protectionist measures we will have to take, thatís all.
After all, look at the share of agricultural products that Ukraine imports and
which end up on the Russian market. I think probably about 70 to 80% of all food
imports. And what will they do with their pipes and other products? There's a
whole range of issues, we engage in massive internal cooperation, and some
businesses cannot exist without their counterparts. And if we introduce such
limitations, these companies -- and perhaps whole industries -- will then face
severe problems. Thatís what weíre talking about, thatís what weíre warning
about. We are doing so in good faith and in advance, without in any way
encroaching on [Ukraineís] sovereign right to take a foreign policy decision.
Svetlana Mironyuk: Thank you very much, Mr. President.
I want to give Mr. Simes the chance to reply.
President of the Us Centre For the National Interest Dimitri Simes: I enjoyed
listening to this whole conversation and the Presidentís speech. I feel a little
uncomfortable, like the honest old man who said: ďMr. President, I am an honest
old man, I have nothing to lose, and you are a genius.Ē I do not want to speak
like that and wonít do so here.
Thatís a pity. Itís not hard -- just say it.
President of the Us Centre For the National Interest Dimitri Simes:
Maybe youíll like [what I have to say], weíll see.
I found our previous conversation a little perturbing because it seemed like
ďall is well, my beautiful marchionessĒ, except for a tiny trifle. Yes, of
course there are problems between Russia and the European Union, there are
disagreements between Russia and the United States, but on the whole everything
is done with goodwill and mutual understanding. I had the feeling while
listening to the conversation earlier that all we have to do is show some
goodwill and common sense, and everything will go smoothly.
Friends, we have not yet recovered from, and have only just begun to seek a way
out of one of the most serious international crises since World War II. We have
not yet emerged from this crisis. Apart from the technical aspects of the
situation with Syriaís chemical weapons, there is also a fundamental difference
of views. As the President said, Russiaís position is that there should be no
use of force.
Vladimir Putin: Without UN Security Council approval.
President of the Us Centre For the National Interest Dimitri Simes:
Without UN Security Council approval.
In addition, as the President said, there is no proof that chemical weapons were
used by Assadís government, which in the United States and in Europe is usually
referred to only as the regime. The American position and that of leading
European powers is fundamentally different.
Why was President Obama forced to take on President Putinís initiative? As I
understand it, not because he fundamentally rejected the idea of a military
strike on Syria. As Mr. President just said, Mr. had Obama addressed the Congress
and was clearly preparing the country for a military strike, but he failed.
First he was let down by the British Parliament, and then suddenly by American
I have never seen anything like what has just happened in the United States. I
emigrated there forty years ago, in 1973, and what I have seen in that time is
that the majority of Americans are political realists who do not like any
foreign humanitarian interventions, and who do not want to spread democracy by
Public opinion does not matter much, because for most people it wasnít an
important issue; that is not why they voted the way they did. And then suddenly,
for the first time a real protest hurricane developed very fast, and took on
momentum like a snowball. When it began the Administration was certain that they
had the support of the Senate, which is controlled by Democrats. And after the
Senateís vote, it would be possible to pressure the House [of Representatives],
which has a Republican majority.
And suddenly I saw on American television -- and Iím sure my American colleagues
did too -- how at these meetings of congressional representatives, senators and
voters, including Senator John McCain, the voters shouted: ďHow dare you?! What
are you doing?!Ē And the more the Administration and President Obama talked
about needing to attack Syria, the greater was the public opposition.
Then your initiative appeared, Mr. President, one that allowed President Obama to
save face and to recognize the inevitable, that strikes wonít work. But the main
motives remain: removing Assad, demonstrating that if the United States and
President Obama personally set some kind of red line, in this case the use of
chemical weapons, then it cannot be crossed. And if it does happen, then America
wonít tolerate that the perpetrator remains in power, or for evil not to be
punished, as Washington said. All these points remain valid.
The problem is much broader than Syria. When you talk about Russiaís national
identity, I remembered how I was in Russia in 1991 with former President Nixon,
and how he spoke at the Institute of World Economy and International Relations.
He surprised everyone there by saying that Russia is a part of Western
civilization and that naturally Russia must understand that there are some
common democratic mechanisms and free market principles.
He said that Russia should never simply follow along behind US foreign policy,
nor should it adopt American Western values. Not only is it unnatural for
Russia, because it is simply dressing-up the country as something it isnít, but
it will have a boomerang effect. Russian public opinion, Russian policy will
never support this in the long term. As a result, there will be some resentment
of the United States and the West, and they will have to pay for this.
In conclusion, Winston Churchill, who President Putin referred to earlier, said
a very interesting and wise thing about the United States: He said that ďYou can
always count on the Americans to do the right thing -- but only after theyíve
tried everything else.Ē I hope that we are coming to the end of trying
everything else, and that this will open up a real opportunity for
I fully support President Putinís tough stance, not because Iím not an American
patriot, but because I believe that baby talk among great powers is not the way
to reach an agreement. One has to understand what to expect from the other
country, and what their mettle is.
My question to the President is as follows. I think you showed in your Munich
speech and in your highly effective article in The New York Times what Russia
will not allow, and the red lines that Russia is laying down. But if you talk
one-on-one with President Obama (and I understand that an audience such as this
is a different format), what does Russia disagree with in addition to what you
said in The New York Times? What would you tell him if the United States saw a
window of opportunity and tried to use it? How would you see the possibilities
for cooperation with Russia? What concessions could you offer? Is it possible,
for example that Russiaís position on some important issues might change?
Vladimir Putin: First of all, I do not think that the initiative to put Syriaís
chemical weapons under [international] supervision contributed, as you said, to
saving President Obamaís face. It has nothing to do with saving anyoneís face.
It was his decision, based on an empirical analysis of the situation, and Iím
very pleased that our positions on this issue coincided. Thatís the first point.
Secondly, what would I say? You know, there is no secret here. After all, I
spoke to President Obama one-on-one, including last time we met in St
Petersburg, we talked on the sidelines of the G20 summit, and at previous
meetings in Los Cabos [in 2012]. You know, I always have the same question.
After all, the vast majority of people sitting here are experts and I can ask
them all, and you too, one of the most respected experts on Russia and
international politics, the same question: what is it the purpose? You know, I
always ask: what are you trying to achieve? If evil must be punished, what is
evil there? The fact that President Assadís family has been in power for 40
years? Is that evil? The fact that there is no democracy there? Indeed, perhaps
there is none as the American establishment defines it.
Remark: There is no democracy in Saudi Arabia either, but for some reason no one
is bombing it.
Vladimir Putin: See, they say there is no democracy in Saudi Arabia either, and
itís difficult to disagree with that. Nobody is getting ready to bomb Saudi
The issue is that we establish a trusting dialogue with Americans and Europeans
so that we can listen to each other and hear our respective arguments.
ďEvil must be punished. There must be a democracy.Ē Look at what happened in
Egypt: there was a state of emergency there for forty years, the Muslim
Brotherhood was forced underground. Then they were allowed to come out into the
open, elections were held and they were elected. Now everything is back like it
was before. Once again the Muslim Brotherhood has been pushed underground, and
thereís a state of emergency. Is this good or bad? You know, we need to realize
that there are probably countries and even entire regions that cannot function
according to universal templates, reproducing the patterns of American or
European democracy. Just try to understand that there is another society there
and other traditions. Everything in Egypt has come full circle, came back to
what they started with.
Apparently, those who committed the now famous military actions in Libya were
also inspired by noble motives. But what was the outcome? There too they fought
for democracy. And where is that democracy? The country is divided into several
parts which are run by different tribes. Everybody is fighting against everybody
else. Where is democracy? They killed the US ambassador. Do you understand that
this is also the result of the current policy? This is a direct outcome.
I donít say this now to criticize or attack anyone. I just want to encourage all
of our partners to listen to each other, and to each otherís arguments. Russia
has not special interests in Syria, and that is not what we are trying to
protect by supporting the current government. Of course not. In my article, I
think I wrote something like ďWe are fighting to preserve the principles of
international law.Ē After all, it was at the initiative of the American founding
fathers that when the statutes of the United Nations and its Security Council
were signed -- and I would stress that this was at American initiative -- that
they contained a provision that decisions pertaining to war and peace must be
made unanimously. This holds profound meaning. No matter how hard or how
difficult this may be.
After all, you understand that if any country feels invulnerable and strikes
unilaterally wherever it deems necessary, then the international order and the
very meaning of the UN and the Security Council will be reduced to zero. This
would be a blow to the world order, not simply to Syria. Thatís what Iím talking
about, do you understand? Thatís what Iíd like to say to you and this audience,
and to our partners in the United States.
Svetlana Mironyuk: Thank you.
Mr. Fillon wants to speak.
Former French Prime Minister, Deputy of the French National Assembly Francois
Fillon [retranslated]: I have great respect for President Putin for two reasons.
First, because he is the president of a great country, a vast land with a
centuries-old culture, and so dialogue with him is essential. But I respect him
for another reason too. He is someone who keeps his promises and with whom
dialogue is possible. It is not always an easy dialogue, but it is always
Over the five years that I headed the government, I often saw formal discussions
in international relations, sometimes rather tedious events, where the
participants would all simply read out documents prepared by their assistants. I
can say that with Vladimir Putin the discussions were also a lot lengthier and
more spontaneous and alive, and of course more constructive too. This brings me
to two moments.
First, of course we cannot simply export our political system. I believe that
every people has the right choose how they want to live in accordance with their
own culture and way of life. But at the same time, we, whether in Russia or
Europe, cannot be completely indifferent to a situation in which mass murder has
been taking place for two years now.
One country intervening in anotherís affairs in an attempt to impose its model
is not the same thing as attempting to stop mass killing. In this context, if we
had not intervened in the situation in Libya, as Vladimir Putin knows very well,
the Libyan army would have wiped the city of Benghazi from the face of the
Vladimir Putin has made several references to Christianity, to which he, like I,
is deeply committed. But it is in Christianity that we find values that oblige
us not to be just silent witnesses to these mass killings. Of course we must
respect international law in the actions we take. France therefore opposes
airstrikes at this moment, because I think that airstrikes carried out outside
international law would only worsen the situation in Syria.
I call for building relations of trust in the Security Council. We can build
these relations of trust if we take steps towards each other. We might have
doubts about the UN expertsí report, but it is better to have this report than
not to have it. Now that we have it, we need to work together to build between
Russia, Europe, the USA and the Security Council members the relations of trust
that will allow us to avoid war and will push the conflicting parties in Syria
towards a political solution.
Vladimir Putin took my words about responsibility as if they were addressed to
him alone. What I meant was that Russia of course has particular
responsibilities through its ties with Bashar Assadís regime, and we in Europe
also have our responsibilities through the ties that we have with the
opposition. This responsibility should impel us towards one and the same result
-- to get the two sides to stop the fighting. We are not talking about imposing
Western-style democracy there, but about stopping the mass killing, which is
unacceptable. It is unacceptable that it should have gone on for so long.
Vladimir Putin: Let me just make one remark in this respect.
Of course we cannot simply watch calmly as mass murder takes place, but at the
same time, letís be honest with each other. Yes, an internal conflict began
there, but it immediately started being fuelled from abroad. Weapons began
flowing in, fighters began arriving in Syria. They started coming right from the
outset, maybe even earlier. This is a clear and well-known fact.
Where did Al-Nusra, an organization linked to Al-Qaeda, come from? And thereís
another group there too, also linked to Al-Qaeda. The State Department
recognizes this, recognizes these groupsí links. They have admitted after all
that groups that are part of Al-Qaeda are fighting there. What do we make of
In my discussions on this matter with my colleagues, I say, ďOk, youíre
essentially wanting to take their side and help them come to power, but what
will you do next? Just grab a newspaper and chase them away from the power
theyíve taken?Ē It doesnít happen that way. We know itís not possible. It
doesnít work that way. So I ask them, ďWhat will you do?Ē They say, ďWe donít
know.Ē Thatís a direct discussion, no secrets to hide. But if you donít know
what youíre going to do next, whatís the point in rushing in and bombing away
when you donít know the outcome? Thatís the big question.
You know what the main difference in our approaches is? If we try to intervene
in favor of one of the parties to the conflict, give them our support, it will
ultimately make it impossible to establish an internal balance of power in the
country. Everything will start to come apart and then collapse. Difficult though
it may be, we need to force them to look for common ground, force them to reach
agreements among themselves and find a balance of interests, and then it might
be possible to bring longer-lasting stability to the country and eventually even
have things level out. But if we lend our full force to one or the other
conflicting party no balance will be possible.
People in the US recognize now that the operations in Iraq were a mistake. We
said this would be the case, but no one wanted to listen. I remember my
discussions with the former President, and with the former British prime
minister. I wonít repeat the details, but we spoke about precisely these things.
And yet no one wanted to listen. As for the result, Iím sure this audience is
already fully aware of the result.
You say that Benghazi would have been destroyed. I donít know. Perhaps this is
so, and perhaps not. But is todayís situation better, when a civil war is
underway and people are being killed every day? To this day we are still seeing
dozens of people dying every day in Iraq. Every single day! The number of people
killed since the end of the military operations is already greater than the
number of people killed during the military action itself. And what is the
result? It is exactly the opposite to what was hoped for, and that is what we
are trying to get across, and why we seek a constructive dialogue with our
partners in Europe and in the USA.
In Libya, living standards were a lot higher before. What is the fighting there
all about? The fighting today is about different tribes trying to get control of
the oil resources. I am not saying that Libya had a good or balanced regime.
Gaddafi thought up some political theory of his own. This does not mean that
things should have continued unchanged there for another 100 years. But to
resolve the problem the way they tried, in the end they failed to resolve it at
all, and are unlikely to do so any time soon.
Svetlana Mironyuk: Thank you.
Mr. President, Mr. RŁhe wants to respond.
Mr. RŁhe, please go ahead.
Volker RŁhe: President Putin, I go along with you, what you said on Iraq. And we
were as critical; the French were, also. It was not a NATO -- it was an American
But Libya was different. And I would like to remind you that in the first decade
of this century, the United Nations created a new development in international
law called Responsibility to Protect.
What does this mean? Every state has a responsibility to protect its own
population. And if it doesnít do this, then thereís a right of the international
community to intervene, once thereís a decision in the Security Council.
Russia abstained and made it possible to have this attack. And I would just like
to say, Iím very grateful to the French forces who saved the lives of thousands
of people in Benghazi. This was not to create democracy and it will take a long
time and will always be different from us. But how many people can you kill in
your own country by saying, ďThis doesnít concern the outside communityĒ? The
international law says this is no longer possible.
And coming to Syria, itís a different case. There is no international basis for
intervention. But when you remember how it started, and we had a very
interesting debate last night, it was in Daraa in the south that young people
demonstrated like we do in the streets, like young Russians do in the streets.
And they were shot.
And later on, we all see the pictures of a president sending out his air force
to kill people who are queuing to buy a piece of bread. I can tell you, a
president who kills people with his air force who want to buy a piece of bread,
he has no future. He has no future. And this is nothing we just can look at. We
have to come to an agreement what to do, and Iím very much grateful for what has
been established between you and the United States. Itís very precious. And I
hope it will lead to results and it will help both of you. Itís a win-win
situation for all of us.
But we must also understand that in the world of today, you cannot just go at
states that attack other states. That was the case in the 20th century. But what
do you do with states that donít protect their own population? You donít have
the right just to intervene, but on the basis of the UN decision, this makes
sense. Because everybody, every president of every country, also has a
responsibility to protect his own people.
Thatís my position.
Vladimir Putin: I fully agree that the use of force is possible only through a
decision by the UN Security Council. Otherwise, of course, I completely concur.
Svetlana Mironyuk: Dimitri Simes. We promised a degree of debate, and here we
Dimitri Simes: Responsibility to protect is a very good principle. I know that
in the West, we follow it to the letter. For example, I heard that Germany broke
off diplomatic relations with Egypt when they killed one thousand mostly
peaceful demonstrators supporting their lawfully elected president. Iím joking
of course; Germany did not break off relations. The United States did not impose
any sanctions, and did not even stop supplying arms. And I must say honestly, I
have no problem with this, because I am a political realist: thatís how the
Indeed, I think it would be a mistake for the United States to let Egypt fend
for itself. But we must be honest with ourselves. I will never forget when I
read about 1862, that France and England, particularly France, were giving
Alexander II lectures regarding so-called Russian soldiers in Poland. At the
same time, England and France were colonizing Africa, using the most brutal
Yes, letís take a swing at the Europeans, with their double standards.
Dimitri Simes: This double standard exists. And I must tell you honestly, as
President Putinís friend and admirer Henry Kissinger says, itís a well-known
double standard in international relations when you differentiate between
friends and adversaries; this double standard is normal, but you must know when
Vladimir Putin: Yes, it is too bad that Henry is not here. He would add some
very interesting insight to the discussion. You know, I say this sincerely,
because there are people in the world who, in spite of patriotism and
international interests, have learned to say what they think. He is one of them.
I think the President of Israel is like that as well; he states his position
freely. I mean, he is the acting President, he certainly has limitations, but in
personal discussions, he is very open, and I am sometimes amazed by how free he
is with his words. And Kissinger -- he is not even in government service and can
Svetlana Mironyuk: Mr. President, we have about ten to fifteen more minutes for
Vladimir Putin: Mr. Ryzhkov, you have the floor.
Member of the Valdai Discussion Club Vladimir Ryzhkov: Mr. President, I have also
been a member of this club for ten years and can confirm that this is a
first-rate platform, with no censorship, with open discussions and the
hardest-hitting questions. I think this 10th Valdai meeting is, in my view, the
most incisive and interesting. We have been working productively for ten hours
If you will allow, I would like to return to domestic policy, because we already
spent a lot of time discussing foreign policy. Especially since, as you know, we
have been working here for three days, and I think that Russian domestic policy
is currently of enormous interest. This is because we see a kind of incredible
societal awakening over the last several years; I think you see it as well. In
some places, it is happening very intensely, and in other places, less so, but
society is awakening very actively.
It is hard to disagree with what you said, that a strong nation cannot be built
without dialogue, without taking into account all opinions, through violence,
force and coercion. This is equally true of Syria, Russia and Libya.
If you allow, I want to ask you some fairly topical questions about something
that troubles me personally, which I know to be troubling to other people
present here and an enormous number of people throughout the nation.
The first of these questions has to do with the events of May 6, 2012. There was
a demonstration in Moscow, which, unfortunately for all of us, ended with a few
clashes between some of the demonstrators and the law enforcement agencies.
Currently, the so-called
Bolotnaya Case is underway; if Iím not mistaken, 28
people are on trial. Some of them, about twelve of them, have already been under
investigation, under arrest, for eighteen months. One of them wasnít even able
to say goodbye to his mother, who died. Today, another defendantís grandmother
died; we donít know whether he will be able to go to her funeral. I know for a
fact that for a large part of society, the Bolotnaya Case -- the criminal case
against participants in the demonstration -- evokes strong emotions and serious
Mr. President, I have studied this issue very carefully and looked into our
Criminal Code. It says that mass disturbances are defined as involving
explosives, arms, health risks, property damage and large-scale unmotivated
violence. Fortunately for us, there were no explosives, no arms, no large-scale
violence or health risks on May 6; there were individual confrontations. But the
charges are very severe. And Iím afraid that if it comes to severe, stiff
sentences, this will become an issue that creates a lot of tension within the
society. So perhaps -- I understand that the judicial authorities are working
independently -- it would be good to consider amnesty for participants in these
events, to mollify the enormous anxiety on the part of many citizens?
And my second concern, Mr. President. We spent two days discussing the September
8 elections. We had a very intense discussion, by the way, there were
participants from two of the most noteworthy campaigns:
Sergei Sobyanin spoke
for the Moscow campaign, and
Yevgeny Roizman spoke for Yekaterinburg. Many
regions saw truly bright, passionate, competitive electoral campaigns. But
unfortunately, Mr. President, a dozen regions -- and maybe more -- once again saw
large-scale falsifications. The observers say this, the experts say this, and
the people living in those regions say this. What does this lead to?
Society is awakening; society wants to participate in running the government, it
wants to participate in the elections, and it wants to have legitimate power,
but certain individuals in the regions are used to throwing in extra ballots,
rewriting them and falsifying them. This leads to apathy, it leads to
disappointment, and it ultimately leads to undermining trust in the government
a government that both those in power and those in the opposition wish to see
So perhaps, Mr. President, it could be worthwhile to consider some sort of
additional steps, taking into account that a year from now, there will be many
more electoral campaigns, in order to guarantee fair, open, competitive
elections -- not just in the major cities where elections were competitive, but
throughout the nation overall? This would release an enormous amount of tension
that exists in many regions and I am sure that an entire generation of bright,
talented, proactive, patriotically-minded politicians would enter the political
Thank you very much.
Vladimir Putin: Thank you.
As for the so-called Bolotnaya Case [in 2011, for which 12 people are facing
trial], I donít want to make any juridical pronouncements as to whether a form
of riot took place there or not. I donít doubt your competences as a lawyer, but
all the same it is the investigative and judicial authorities that must take
What is it I want to say in this regard? Whatever happens we must not forget the
lessons recent history has taught us and our neighbors. We remember the London
riots that took place just recently, three years ago, when cars were overturned.
Thanks to the CCTV cameras that are everywhere in London, the police and British
intelligence services spent a year looking for all the participants in the
riots. They found almost every one, and all were convicted. And I think that the
English did the right thing, because no one should entertain the illusion that
such behavior is permissible.
I donít know whether there were signs of riots [in Bolotnaya Square] or not.
Letís leave that to the law enforcement and judicial authorities. I do not want
to intervene in this debate. But thereís one thing I can say, and I would like
to once again publicly articulate my position regarding this kind of situation.
If people behave and express themselves in a way that violates other citizensí
rights and interests, and break the law, then the state must react accordingly.
You cannot call for beatings or bodily injuries of the police, try to gouge out
eyes, call for hitting people on the head, or rip off their epaulettes. And do
you know what outcome this would have in any country, and in Russia in
particular? Such acts must be repressed in accordance with applicable law. This
should be clear to everyone. And there is no need to blackmail authorities with
the fact that they will be labeled undemocratic. The authorities must respond
Can we consider granting amnesty in this case? I do not exclude it. But we have
to deal with this case in an extremely responsible way. I do not exclude it. We
need to give [the authorities] the opportunity to see all necessary legal
procedures through to their logical conclusion.
About whether or not the elections were dishonest. I donít know, there probably
was some fraud. You drew our attention to and mentioned the elections in
Yekaterinburg. Here I think a candidate [Yevgeny Roizman] ran for, spoke at and
won the mayoral elections. A non-aligned person, a representative of the
so-called non-systemic opposition. And he went out and won.
In Moscow, our largest city, elections were free and fair, and people even
expected that the mayor [Sergei Sobyanin] would win in the first round. But they
expected he would win by a large margin. Actually, his main rival [Alexei Navalny] had almost half as many votes. This also speaks to the level of support
among Muscovites. But I cannot say that elections in Moscow were fraudulent. I
think that both you and your colleagues were probably present at polling
stations. I canít even imagine what else we could do to make them more
transparent. If you have any suggestions or ideas, letís discuss them, and we
will integrate them into existing legislation. Do such negative phenomena occur
in some Russian regions? I would not exclude it. I would urge you to join with
the authorities and law enforcement agencies to detect such infringements and
take corresponding measures.
Finally, in answer to your question, I would like to express my hope that your
assumptions are correct. I would also very much like -- and I think about this
every day -- smart, patriotic young people to enter Russian politics, people with
a clear vision and understanding of what needs to be done for the good of their
country, for their Motherland. I myself truly want this and will contribute in
every way possible to making it happen, including through informal channels.
You yourself have been in politics a long time now. You were a [State Duma]
deputy, and you know it is possible to use a protest mood to achieve electoral
success. But this does not directly translate into the positive, effective
development of a given region, municipality or the entire country. We need
really qualified people, competent, effective managers with a clear
understanding and vision of how the country will develop.
Ms. Sobchak, please go ahead.
Television presenter Kseniya Sobchak: Mr. President, the first post-Soviet
generation grew up during your time in power. This generation has shown that it
is prepared to invest time in politics. We see that these people -- largely urban
university graduates, middle or high income -- are willing to work as volunteers
and election observers, and participate in rallies.
What do you think this generationís moral and political demands are? Do you see
any of these thirty-somethings as your political opponents? And how do you think
this generation will remember you and, likewise, how will you remember it?
Vladimir Putin: You know, at the beginning of the 1990s and in the early 2000s,
a vast number of Russians went through an extremely trying period due to the
collapse of a great power, the collapse of standards and moral principles on
which Soviet society had been based. All this was followed by the collapse of
our economy, social sphere and security, and what was virtually a civil war in
the Caucasus. People were clearly frightened.
Naturally all these people wanted to quickly pass through this difficult stage
in the countryís development, to stabilize it, and start a positive and
progressive stage. In general, these objectives have been achieved. In general.
Of course, not everything has been achieved, but fundamental things have. Now
there's an opportunity to look at everything closely, to analyze what was done
well and what was done badly, and to glance into the future, and we can do it
calmly, without the pressure of the severe problems of the 1990s and early
2000s. I am very pleased that young people are engaged in this.
As in any country young people have big demands and little experience. Who were
the Red Guards in China? They were young people [groups of students formed into
paramilitary units during the Cultural Revolution (1966Ė76)]. We're not going to
follow their example. We still need to focus on modern people who understand the
country in which they live, and have a clear idea about its potential
development paths. That is very important, extremely important. In part I
already tried to answer Vladimir Ryzhkovís question to this effect: we need [to
enlist] the thinking part of the population, not just the destroyers.
We have already had a lot of destroyers. One war after another, one revolution
after another. We need creators. I would really like to see more and more
creators among those people who are actively involved in politics, more and more
professionals. And [when this happens it] is a very good process, a very good
sign, a sign of at least relative well-being. I am sure that in general this
will come to pass.
Our German colleague talked about how,
unfortunately, in Germany young people are not very interested in politics.
Nevertheless I do not entirely agree with you, because in its time the Green
Party was set up mainly by young people, then just very recently there was
another party that was established.
Volker RŁhe: The friends of the Green Party.
Vladimir Putin: I support environmental movements, and I think it is a very
important aspect of our work.
Pirate Party appeared. Now itís not quite as successful in the
electoral sense, but itís still there and itís also composed of young people. In
principle, young people are active everywhere. I would very much like for this
activity to take on a positive character. Of course, there must also be
political struggle and competition. And I very much hope that this will happen,
that outstanding leaders will emerge; the country needs them.
Please go ahead.
Question: Mr. President, first of all thank you very much for your rich and
Returning to the topic of integration, Charles Grant asked for comments about
other EU membersí thoughts and opinions about signing an association agreement
with Ukraine. Valdai participants are well aware that, to varying degrees, the
EU has become more skeptical about signing such an agreement in the past two
years. But it is noteworthy that this skepticism has significantly abated in
response to Russiaís policy, and not only with respect to Ukraine, but also
Moldova, and especially Armenia.
My question is: does this surprise you? And if such an agreement [with Ukraine]
is signed in November, what will Russiaís response be?
Vladimir Putin: I think I have already answered this question. Russiaís response
will primarily involve steps in the economic sphere. We have no desire or
aspiration to revive the Soviet empire with respect to politics or
[infringements of] sovereignty. This is obvious, do you understand? Itís not
advantageous for us, and it is also both impossible and unnecessary. But when we
talk about pragmatic things we must not forget, as I already said, that this
affects not only Ukraine, but also Moldova, which you have also mentioned.
Where will Moldova sell its wine? In France? Iím sure the French will not let
them sell a single bottle of Moldovan wine in their country. Itís just as
impossible in Italy. That is a fact; there is absolutely no doubt about it.
Letís see what will happen if they try. Wine producers will dump out all the
crates, destroy everything, and pour it all into ditches. It will be impossible
for small states to sell any of their priority exports on the European market.
Everything will be sold on our market, nearly 100% of their exports. If we take,
for example, Moldovaís exports and ask where they are going? The answer is: to
Russia, Belarus, Ukraine and Kazakhstan.
If Moldovan leaders sign this document -- and good luck to them
-- good quality
cheap Italian and French wine will enter the Moldovan market. Where will
Moldovan wine go? Besides, there are certain technical regulations that are
inconsistent with ours. Rules are different. There are some economic parameters
that are automatically applied by the EU and European Commission, but not by
Moldova itself. And they will be automatically extended to Moldova. All these
goods will rush to us, this is the first thing.
Secondly, we suspect that weíll receive products from third countries disguised
as Moldovan or Ukrainian goods. Thatís what worries us. This has nothing to do
with trying to put pressure on a sovereign right to make decisions. We just ask
you to look at everything and make your calculations. If our colleagues deem our
arguments invalid, do not be offended if we are forced to defend our interests,
or to introduce certain restrictions. There is nothing unusual or selfish here.
We have to think about our own national economic interests.
I would like to give the floor to a representative of our Muslim community.
Question: Mr. President,
let me thank you for this excellent platform that has given us a chance to spend
three or four days working as a small multi-faith team discussing various
First of all, we thank you for your policy that reaffirms humanityís moral
values. This is very important today. You and the supporters of your initiative
have proposed a plan for resolving the conflict in Syria. The situation there is
very serious indeed, and if you permit, I would like to remind the audience that
Syriaís capital is not an ordinary city, but in the belief of a billion Muslims,
and perhaps Christians too, it is the city where Jesus Christ will appear.
We believe in the Second Coming of Jesus Christ, and it is said that it is in
Damascus that he will appear. Even the late Pope John Paul II, when he came to
Damascus, he visited the white minaret, where many say that Christ will appear.
This is an amazing thing. This explains why the heads of many religions have
given your initiative their backing, because it is so important to preserve
peace in this land.
I would also like to thank you for the support that our countryís traditional
faiths receive. At the Iversky Monastery, Metropolitan Hilarion spoke about how
over recent years, sadly, we have lost more than 50 imams and muftis, who were
killed for their convictions, killed because they stood guard over Russiaís
stability, calm and peace. Not only Muslims have been killed. An attempt was
made on the life of a rabbi in Dagestan, and our Orthodox brothers have been
targets too. I hope very much that relations between the authorities and the
countryís religions will develop in the right direction in the future.
Vladimir Putin: This was more of a short speech than a question, I think.
Svetlana Mironyuk: If you permit, I will call for the last two questions now.
There are still of lot of questions, and a lot of familiar faces. I can see
Alexei Kudrin hiding away in the back rows.
Vladimir Putin: Alexei, where are you hiding? Do you have any questions?
Svetlana Mironyuk: I meant that there are plenty of people you know well here.
It simply wonít be possible to answer all the questions. Letís have two more
questions. You can choose.
Vladimir Putin: Iíve got questions I want to ask him [Kudrin]. What questions
does he have for me?
Please, go ahead.
Question: Mr. President,
We all have our various political differences, but we all have one thing in
common: we all want a great Russia. Russia can be great only when it is united.
I mean Ďunitedí in the broad sense of the term and am not referring to the
[United Russia] political partyís name. When Vladimir [Ryzhkov] spoke earlier
about the Bolotnaya Square case, he spoke precisely about this issue of
disunity. I think you have definitely secured yourself a place in history.
Future generations will give their assessment of all that you have done.
But the discussion now is about this minority, just a small minority, yes, but
one that came knocking at the Kremlin gates many times, only it seems to them
that no one is listening. So they came knocking one time and ended up in a
scuffle with the guards. Is there a crime in this or not? You won the
presidential election and you have the power to pardon them. A draft law to
amnesty these people has already been submitted to the State Duma. This action
will receive the response it deserves.
There are many other dividing lines too. You spoke about a very important issue
in your speech, about regional divisions, for example, the problem of
separatism, and you mentioned Siberian separatism. I represent Siberia in the
Vladimir Putin: Which part of Siberia?
Question: Novosibirsk. I represent Novosibirsk and plan next year to run for
Mayor of Novosibirsk. In other words, I want to enter that same Kremlin gate and
show that the opposition is not just about talking, but also about actually
doing something. This is what I wanted to ask you about.
In your election campaign promises and subsequent executive orders, you decided
to raise teachersí wages. The actual results of this promise give a vivid
illustration of the state of the countryís system of government today. Our
region carried out your executive order and raised teachersí wages. A teacher in
our region now earns 22,000 rubles. That seems surely a good thing. But what
situation do we end up with? We now have half the regional budget being spent on
education. Thatís great, Iím left-wing and this is just what I always wanted.
But in the villages you now have teachers earning 22,000 rubles while the people
working on the farms are getting only 6,000 rubles. That makes the teachers
Ďoligarchsí there, and the locals are already taking up arms against them. In
Novosibirsk itself on the other hand, 22,000 rubles is nothing. Every time I
meet with voters they always ask me when we are finally going to raise wages. I
say that weíve only just raised them. This is just to show that it is very
difficult to run the regions from Moscow. You need to delegate powers to the
One of the last promises in the annual presidential address made by your
predecessor, Mr. Medvedev, was the promise to redistribute budget revenues so as
to transfer 1 trillion to the municipal level. Mr. President, what is your view
on this promise? As a future mayor, I can tell you that if we do get this money,
you will see what our great Russia could look like.
Vladimir Putin: On the subject of education and teachersí pay, what I said was
that teachers should be paid at least the equivalent of the regionís average
wage, the average for that particular region. If the average wage in the region
you represent is 22,000, than teachers, no matter where they live, including in
rural areas, should be paid 22,000. This does not make them oligarchs. Imagine
calling teachers oligarchs when they are really just people living modest lives.
But they maybe should indeed be earning more than some of the other groups you
mentioned. Why, for whose sake? Itís precisely for the sake of these very people
who do not earn much money, so that their children will have the same
opportunities as children from better off families to get a good education and
open the doors to their future lives.
Our countryís future depends on the quality of education. I am sure that you
would fully agree with me on this. But if we do not pay our teachers a decent
wage we will not achieve this goal.
As for the fact that a big part of the regionís budget is being spent on social
sector needs, of course it would be good to have more money in the regional
budgets for investment projects too. You are right here, of course. But all of
these investment projects also involve a large share of, shall we say,
inefficient spending in all sorts of subcontracted work -- letís just call it
inefficient since I donít want to accuse anyone of corruption. There are often
big doubts about the efficiency of it all. But when we get the money directly to
the people, and all the more so when it is groups such as teachers, I can assure
you that these are the most effective investments in our countryís future.
As for the trillion rubles, I would like to give a trillion or two to the
regions, and we are in fact discussing very actively the reform of financial
relations with the regional and local authorities. We need to balance the share
of powers and responsibilities and make sure they have their own financing
Whether itís a trillion, half a trillion, or 1.5 trillion
-- this would need to
be based on the federal budgetís real possibilities, which are limited at the
moment by the problems in the global and the Russian economies.
Of course, the goal we are working towards is for the local authorities,
especially in big cities of a million people or more like Novosibirsk, to have
sufficient funds of their own for carrying out the tasks before them.
The election time will come and you can show us your best qualities. I hope the
election will be open, honest, and competitive.
Svetlana Mironyuk: Mr. President, the last question. Please choose.
Reply: The wrestlers want to speak.
Vladimir Putin: What are you wrestling with?
Question: Iím sorry for holding up my hand for so long, but I just couldnít give
up because I have been asked to speak for wrestlers from around the world. The
Wrestling World Championships are currently underway in Budapest, as you know. I
want to express our gratitude to you on behalf of the International Federation
of Associated Wrestling Styles and the Russian Wrestling Federation: thank you
very much for the contribution you made to ensuring that our sport, Greco-Roman
wrestling and Freestyle Wrestling remain in the Olympic program and in the
All of us realize that this is thanks to your efforts. The children who started
training again have a light in their eyes. This is a big achievement and a great
policy, and it was completely down to you. Throughout the world, our wrestlers,
Olympic champions and even children, entered their training studios today in a
better mood, with a new determination to fight for Olympic medals.
But that decision was made by the IOC; it was measured and balanced. It is true
that we have a lot of friends there. We try to work closely with IOC members.
Indeed, we welcome this decision. It would be hard to imagine the Olympic
program without the sports that were at the heart of the ancient Olympic games
-- track and field, running and wrestling.
You know, I want us to finish on a positive note today, so I have a suggestion:
why donít I ask the audience that instead of addressing your questions me, you
address them to each of my colleagues on the stage, or as they say, on the
panel. You can ask each of my colleagues a question, and then I will answer one
Right now, Germany is going through a very
important period: the elections. Perhaps someone has a question regarding this
issue, about how the government will be formed and who will be in the coalition?
How the future Germany will build its relations with Russia? It is our largest
trade and economic partner after China. Unfortunately, Germany is now second to
China in trade volume. Perhaps these questions.
Svetlana Mironyuk: A question for Mr. RŁhe?
Vladimir Putin: Yes.
Volker RŁhe: Iíll take your questions.
Vladimir Putin: I donít doubt it.
Volker RŁhe: I think youíll see the same Chancellor as a partner in the future.
Russian-speaking Angela Merkel, with about 40%.
Vladimir Putin: For the third time, now.
Volker RŁhe: I think she will not change. She will always be afraid of dogs. But
sheíll get 40% and more.
But the question is: which coalition partner? Itís an open question if the
liberals with the foreign minister, whom you know, will get into Parliament. So
this is why Mr. Genscher, I think, who was originally supposed to be here, didnít
come. Because itís really about the existential situation of the FDP, the
liberal party in Germany. If they get a little more than 5%, thereís a chance
for a coalition, like now, but I think more likely now will be a grand coalition
led by Angela Merkel and the Social Democrats.
But the Social Democrats last time had 23%, and itís not easy for them to be a
junior partner again, because they are 150 years old, a very prominent German
Party. And so, I think they have to gain votes. If they go up on Sunday to
27Ė28%, they have enough confidence probably to win the party over, to be a
But I think as regards Russia, thereís a big consensus in Germany that we want
to work closer, ever closer. I saw you were fascinated by the Greens and the
Pirates. Iím afraid the Greens are in a crisis and the Pirates will have about
Vladimir Putin: Why?
Volker RŁhe: Because they have no program. I mean, your opposition is very
concrete compared with the Pirates in Germany.
So I think you see a lot of continuity in German politics, but as I hope, for
instance, that Mr. Steinmeier will be Foreign Minister again. I think he is very
much engaged in the German-Russian relations. And I am also feeling that we
should start a new impetus. And Iím very much encouraged by how youíve treated
the opposition and what youíve told them here.
So I go home very optimistic. I will cast my vote next Sunday. And I think you
will see a stable Germany on Monday -- also a Germany, as Iíve said earlier this
week -- which needs the European Union more than any other state. Just because it
is so big, we can look after our national interests best in this European
context. And when there were problems coming up, in the future, there will still
be problems. I see a Germany that doesnít try to Germanise Europe, which is a
difficult thing. It would make Europe also a very boring place, if everybody
were like us, it would not be so interesting. We like the differences. We like
solidity, but also solidarity. And from my point of view, I think solidarity
among north and south in the European Union may play a bigger role after these
Thatís my analysis. You can compare next Monday if itís working.
As for the decline in the popularity of certain parties, including new ones, as
a result of lacking a program, a clear political and competitive program.
This is very important for all nations, including Russia. This is part of the
answer to certain questions that I have been asked by the audience.
Letís ask Mr. Fillon if he is going to run in the presidential election.
You can answer briefly, in one word.
Francois Fillon [retranslated]: I donít know why I should answer this question.
After all, you didnít answer it when you were asked directly.
Vladimir Putin: I wasnít asked this question.
Svetlana Mironyuk: Yes you were.
Vladimir Putin: Was I? I didnít hear it.
Svetlana Mironyuk: Nikolai Zlobin asked you.
Francois Fillon [retranslated]: Let me reply one more time. I think my answer
was misinterpreted or misheard. I prefer not to answer this question, because
you did not answer it when you were asked directly.
Vladimir Putin: So will you answer if I do?
Francois Fillon [retranslated]: Weíll see.
Vladimir Putin: Iím not ruling it out.
Francois Fillon [retranslated]: Iím not ruling it out, either.
Vladimir Putin: Mr. Fillon and I worked together when he and I were both prime
ministers. I want to express my appreciation for him, in the best sense of that
word. He was a very reliable and constructive partner, always positive,
professional and calm. And when he said ďnoĒ, it never sounded insulting, it was
always substantiated. But if he said ďyesĒ, we always carried our agreements to
their logical conclusion. So I just want to thank you for our work together.
Thank you very much.
Svetlana Mironyuk: Mr. President, I want to let you know that we [RIA Novosti]
release news updates on what you say as President, and today, since you have
succeeded as an interviewer, we are releasing the breaking news that Mr. Fillon
ďdoes not rule it out.Ē
Vladimir Putin: Very well.
Romano, will Lettaís Government hold its ground, will everything be all right?
We are counting on the stability of the Italian Government.
Romano Prodi: Absolutely. If you want to have a boring Europe, you need to
impose German values, but if you want to have a fun Europe, you should impose
Vladimir Putin: Fun is more appealing, of course.
Romano Prodi: We could come to an agreement on this issue.
People are now asking: will Berlusconi remain in Parliament? I think either way,
this will not lead to a government crisis. The Government will continue its
work, or at least fulfill its previous promises regarding what is best according
to political experts. Without a doubt, anyone can face personal problems, and
personal decisions can certainly disrupt the situation temporarily. But right
now, a split of sorts is underway between Berlusconi and the Government.
The coalition is complicated. It does not resemble the German one, it consists
of parties that have common values, but they have their differences as well. Two
coalitions that currently form the Italian Government are certainly divided on
many issues. But the Prime Minister is working quite efficiently, wisely, and is
truly achieving results and movement in the right direction. So even if we
cannot promise anything right now concerning long-term prospects, we can promise
stability in the short and medium-term.
I would like to share a brief observation. Iím enjoying our meeting very much.
It resembles a circus. We are all like animals, talking here and performing. And
we are free animals. Moreover, there are not that many of us. This is exactly
the right scale. We can express a large number of viewpoints, and at the same
time, we can speak one after another. Itís a good combination. And I want to ask
you not to change anything, because if there are many participants, like at
other forums, then our ideas and the essence of what is happening can be lost,
whereas here we fully understand what is happening. And this is a very useful
And one last remark. We have been discussing the European Union and the world. I
want to say that we can act only with the help of the Security Council, but even
in that case, it is imperative to understand the consequences. If, for example,
we consider the war in Libya, it was started to prevent atrocities and
widespread killing. But certainly, we must move in the right direction, and it
is imperative to understand which direction is the correct one.
Vladimir Putin: Here in Russia, we also wish Mr. Lettaís Government success. I
wonít deny that he really surprised me at the G20 summit, when he suddenly
announced that Italy cannot support the plans for a strike against Syria. This
was unexpected for me. I can honestly say I was surprised by such an open,
personal position within the Western community, in spite of NATOís well-known
Romano Prodi: He used to be my deputy secretary.
Vladimir Putin: Itís hard to agree that we are all animals here. But can I just
ask you, do you think we are herbivores or predators?
Romano Prodi: We are omnivores. We eat all kinds of food; we have
diversity, including in our diet. Otherwise, we would contradict what we are
Vladimir Putin: Thank you.
And one more question for our American friend and colleague. What will the
United States do about the budget deficit, the debt that has reached an
incredible size? It is the largest debt in the United Statesí post-war history.
How will the situation unfold moving forward? This directly affects the global
economy and is a real concern for everyone.
First of all, we count on further cooperation with our Chinese partners, that
they will buy even more American financial obligations. I think you will see
that over the course of the next two weeks.
Vladimir Putin: Just donít forget that Russia
-- Mr. Kudrin is sitting right there -- has bought a bunch of your obligations. Mr. Kudrin, how much did we buy?
Former Russian Finance Minister of 2000Ė2011 Alexei Kudrin: Mr. President,
Russiaís Stabilisation Fund has been transferred into the Central Bankís foreign
currency accounts. We do not buy securities; we simply hold currency in Central
Bank accounts. On the global market, the Central Bank invests about 50% in
American government bonds, which are included in the foreign currency reserves.
Vladimir Putin: We currently have over 500 billion in foreign currency reserves,
40% of which is denominated in US dollars; it was 50% when Mr. Kudrin was
minister, and now itís 40%. This, of course, is not the Chinese trillion, but
nevertheless, it is still a significant sum. It speaks to Russiaís trust in our
American partners and our trust in the policy being implemented by the US
government -- I say that without any sense of irony.
People attacked Alexei Kudrin, particularly members of the leftist parties, for
the fact that the Central Bank holds a significant proportion of its reserves in
securities denominated in dollars. But nevertheless, we must give credit to our
American partners; when we needed money, we got everything, regardless of any
internal problems within the US economy, or any problems with the famous
mortgage companies. In terms of partnership discipline, our American partners
fulfilled everything with great discipline. But ultimately, what will happen
next, in your opinion? With the Federal Reserve policy and the enormous debt?
Dimitri Simes: You will see several very difficult weeks, perhaps even months,
when the House of Representatives votes against the budget proposed by Obama,
unless Obama decides not to finance his medical insurance program, and that
will not happen. And you will see conflict between the House and the Senate,
between the Senate and Presidential Administration and the House.
I assume, given responsibility to you and Alexei Kudrin, the American currency
will hold out; I am almost certain of this, although there will be a few very
nerve-wracking weeks, or perhaps even months.
Vladimir Putin: On the one hand, we have always assumed that the monetary
mitigation policy must end at some point; but the first steps in this direction,
even the first words in this direction, have led to a certain destabilization
within developing markets. It has affected Russia to a smaller degree, in terms
of currency and outflows. This is not related to the Federal Reserve policy;
partially not related. But we very much expect that our American partners will
succeed in overcoming these difficulties, which are evident as well, and the
fundamental backbone of the American economy will prove to be stable.
The last question, please. Mr. Prokhanov.
Prose Writer, Member of the Valdai Discussion Club Alexander Prokhanov: Mr.
President, a great deal of financing is allocated to the military industrial
complex. I am familiar with the program to develop high-speed transport; in
particular, I traveled the Moscow-Kazan route. There are plans to intensify
development of the Northern Sea Route, and to create innovation centers. Before
you were elected, you published a whole set of fundamental articles.
Is there a synthetic, integral project, a large project, a ďRussiaĒ project
underway, or are all these just symptoms of such a project, and the project is
being assembled part by part?
Vladimir Putin: Russia is not a project
-- it is a destiny. You know, itís life.
Of course, we have plans for development. We have a development plan through to
2020; there are plans for developing the Armed Forces and they are very intense;
we have plans for developing infrastructure. We have agreed not to touch our
reserves, and the reserves are quite significant. We talked about the Central
Bank reserves, but we also have two reserves accumulated by the Government: the
National Welfare Fund, and the Reserve Fund.
I believe the first already contains $89 billion, and the second also has around
$90 billion. We agreed that after reaching a certain reserve fund level, we will
carefully allow ourselves to begin investing in developing infrastructure. This
gave birth to the project of high-speed railways, in this case, to Kazan. In the
first stage, we are going to organize survey works, and then, of course, we will
It is imperative to conduct a great deal of work to develop infrastructure. We
know how underdeveloped the infrastructure is in the Far East, in Eastern
Siberia -- all this needs to be done. At the same time, Alexei Kudrin and I have
often argued: of course, we need to have a fundamental backbone, of course, we
are striving for these projects to pay for themselves. We know that there are
not that many efficient projects in the world. Try to make some kind of
road-building project in the Far East pay for itself entirely. You know this, as
an expert, right?
They immediately count the amount of traffic that will use this road and look
into the opportunity to utilize it as a toll highway, but according to the law,
it can be a toll road only if there is a parallel route, which there isnít. And
it will not pay for itself in the next few years. So what then, should we stop
building roads at all? Then Russia would not have a highway connecting the
eastern and western parts of the nation. We only completed one recently.
So I feel that we ultimately need to invest money in it, even if during the
first stage -- the first stage! -- it does not really bring quick returns. We
should include funding from the reserves, but carefully, so that we maintain a
The same is true of the Armed Forces. We do not have a militaristic budget. Ours
is a necessary budget; it is large, but we could never compare it with, say, the
United States. You are familiar with the figures. If we take all the military
budgets of all the nations in the world, they would add up to less than what the
US spends on its military needs. So our budget is very modest. We just have some
equipment reaching retirement age, figuratively speaking, our main combat
systems: rocket technology, planes, aviation equipment. One way or another, we
simply need to replace them; they are becoming outdated.
And, of course, if we replace them, we should replace them with modern,
promising models. We have plans in this domain as well. Now we must adjust them
based on budgetary feasibility and the capabilities of the industry itself. This
is a natural process, itís normal. There is nothing remarkable about this. We
will not make any sudden cuts. As the experts say, we will move a few things
slightly to the right. But, of course, we will certainly do all these things.
But this is not a project. This is destiny. It is our destiny. It is our
Fatherland, our nation. We must develop it and we will do this for ourselves and
future generations. I feel that Russia has a great, powerful future, and that
this is a very promising nation.
I have already recounted my first meeting with Chancellor Kohl several times.
For me, it was entirely unexpected -- I already said this but I will say it again
-- because this conversation had a very deep impact on me. When we were in Bonn,
suddenly, unexpectedly for me as a former Soviet intelligence officer, he began
to say, ďEurope does not have a future without Russia.Ē And he began to lay out
his reasoning. He is a historian by training, and he began to develop this idea
intelligently, calmly, without any posturing.
You know, something changed in my mind. I understood that there are people in
the world, in Europe, who genuinely believe this. Unfortunately, in terms of
practical policy, it doesnít always work. But people like Kohl are always ahead
of todayís practical politicians; compared to others, they are looking somewhat
ahead. I think that we will also gain some understanding, the Europeans will
ultimately reach this insight, and we will find common ground on issues more
quickly. But Russia has a great future.
Gerhard Mangott: Mr. President, my name is Gerhard Mangott, Iím from Austria. Iím
a professor of international relations at the University of Innsbruck.
Two brief questions. One on Syria: letís assume and hope that the permanent five
members of the Security Council find a consensus on the text of a new
resolution. What happens, however, if the Syrian government does not abide by
its obligations? Your foreign ministry has said yesterday that in such a case,
the Security Council will get seized of the matter again. Can you, as the
Russian President, in such a case, think of Russia supporting Article 42
And the second point I want to raise: I really admire the diversity of your
country. Itís a great country. But of course, with a lot of diversity, you get a
lot of contradiction of values. And that requires respect among the people.
Respect by the minorities for the majority, but also respect by the majority for
the minorities. And I personally would like you to endorse the idea of the
beauty of love, regardless of its expression and its form, spread over all your
country, without any harassment, without anyone having to fear to get beaten or
Vladimir Putin: Letís begin with the second part of your question. We do not
have any harassment on a sexual basis. Russia does not have any laws punishing
sexual minorities for their...for their what?
Reply: For their orientation.
Vladimir Putin: For their orientation, right. So there is nothing to worry about
We have passed a law that forbids propaganda to minors. But I will tell you
again: there is a serious population problem in your nation, in all European
nations and in Russia -- a demographic problem. The birth rates are low, the
Europeans are dying out; do you understand that or not? Same-sex marriages do
not produce children. Do you want to survive on account of immigrants? You donít
like immigrants either, because society cannot take in such a large number of
immigrants. Your choice is the same as in many other nations: recognizing
same-sex marriages, the right to adopt, and so on. But allow us to make our own
choice, as we see fit for our own nation.
As for rights, I will repeat again: we are not limiting our sexual minoritiesí
rights in any way. There are no limitations, we do not have laws limiting them
in anything at all: at work, or in other areas of activity. I have already said
many times, I communicate with these people, I present state awards to them,
medals and so on, if they have earned them by carrying out their work in the
arts, at enterprises, and so on. This is normal in our political practice. Letís
not make baseless charges. These are unnecessary fears.
Some nations, by the way, still criminalize homosexuality; for example, it is
still illegal in some US states. And the Supreme Court is against this, it feels
it is unconstitutional, but has been unable to abolish it. But this exists, you
understand? Why does everyone like to put so much stress on Russia? Letís not
make false accusations, there is nothing frightening here.
Concerning Syria. You see, I feel it is wrong to talk now about what we will do
if the Syrian government does not fulfill its promises. They have already acceded
to the Chemical Weapons Convention and we currently do not have any grounds to
believe they will fail to fulfill the obligations they have taken upon
themselves. If they donít, we will look into it. But it is too early to discuss
I want to thank you all for our work together. I want to say
-- I began by saying
this, but I want to say it again -- we are very pleased that there are many
people in the world who are interested in Russia and who have made studying
Russia their profession. It is pleasant and we recognize that it is very
important. Your considerate assessments and your critical view of Russiaís
reality are important to us.
This will certainly help us develop our national policy; an outside perspective
is always important. And it will help us build relations with the nations you
represent, because it gives us a better understanding of the ideas guiding a
particular nation in general and with regard to Russia. This is very important
and useful work. Thank you very much for doing it and for finding the time to
come to the Valdai Discussion Club.
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