The annual special Direct Line with Vladimir Putin was broadcast live by Channel One, Rossiya 1, Rossiya 24 and Russia Today TV channels, and Mayak, Vesti FM and Radio Rossii radio stations.
Tatyana Remezova: Good afternoon, we are live. This is Direct Line with Vladimir Putin, a joint project by Channel One and Rossiya 1 TV channels. You can also watch the broadcast live on Rossiya 24, and listen to a live radio broadcast on Mayak, Vesti FM and Radio Rossii radio stations.
The anchors of Direct Line are Tatyana Remezova and Dmitry Borisov.
Dmitry Borisov: Good afternoon,
First of all, I would like to introduce our colleagues who will be helping us today. Maria Gladkikh and Natalya Yuryeva are in the call centre; and here in the studio we have Vera Krasova, Nailya Asker-zade, Olga Pautova and Olga Ushakova.
They are surrounded by people who were in the spotlight of the last year’s most dramatic news reports, people who arguably have shaped today’s Russia in one way or another.
Now to Tatyana Remezova.
Tatyana Remezova: President of Russia Vladimir Putin is here, in the studio, live.
Maria Gladkikh: Good afternoon,
We are in the call centre, which plays a key role in Direct Line. Our centre has already received 1.1 million calls. You can submit your question to Vladimir Putin right now. The telephone number has not changed: 8 (800) 200 4040. You can also use 04040 for SMS and MMS messages.
Natalya Yuryeva: In addition to SMS messages and telephone calls, our operators also accept video questions that can be submitted either from the moskva-putinu.ru website or by using a special mobile application called Moskva Putinu (Moscow to Putin).
You can also submit questions using the programme’s official accounts on the VKontakte and Odnoklassniki social networks. For the first time, you can talk to the head of state by direct video link via OK Live, as well as the Moskva-Putinu application. This way, not only will the President hear you, but he will also be able to see you.
Go ahead, make a call. We will be taking questions until the end of the broadcast. You still have time. Maybe it will be your question that Vladimir Putin answers.
Maria Gladkikh: Another innovation in this year’s Direct Line is the SN Wall communications platform that enables us to monitor, in real time, how the audience is discussing the programme on social media. More than 300,000 comments have already been posted on Facebook, VKontakte, Instagram and Twitter.
Those who need sign interpretation can watch the broadcast on Public Television of Russia and on our website.
Dmitry Borisov: Good afternoon, Mr President.
President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Good afternoon.
Dmitry Borisov: Our call centre has been receiving phone calls for 12 days, and 2 million messages of various kinds have been received to this point. The top five of the most sensitive issues for Russians includes growing prices, declining living standards, housing and utilities, healthcare and of course, there are many personal requests.
Tatyana Remezova: That said, I would like to highlight a major difference from previous Direct Lines.
Most of the messages we have received are not about the present, but about the future: how will our country live in the years to come, what will its relations with other countries be like? This could be due to the fact that we are in a pre-election year, when people have more questions to their leaders, to you primarily, of course.
Dmitry Borisov: However, before we start talking about the future, let me begin with the present.
We have been hearing many optimistic assessments of the state of the Russian economy lately. Can we say, would it be right to assume that the economic crisis is over?
Vladimir Putin: You have started with a core question, whether the economic crisis is over. I would very much like to give an affirmative answer, thereby sending a positive signal to the people. However, in the back of your mind you cannot stop thinking that something could still go wrong, something could happen.
Nevertheless, when it comes to drawing conclusions of this kind we should be guided by objective data. What are the hard facts telling us? They are telling us that the Russian economy has overcome the recession, and moved into a growth trend. I will get back to this later to explain how this conclusion can be reached and on what data it is based.
But I would like to start by making a different point and highlighting the most pressing issues that have yet to be resolved. You mentioned them in your question, by the way. What are these issues all about? Real incomes have been declining over the last several years, and what is even more alarming is the growing number of people below the poverty line with incomes below the minimum living wage.
In this regard, Russia hit a low in the early and mid-1990s, when almost one third of the country’s population lived below the poverty line, almost 40 percent or 35 to 37 percent, according to various estimates, almost 40 million people. This was the all-time low, while the highest indicators in this respect were reported in 2012.
In 2012, 10.7 percent of the population was below the poverty line. Unfortunately, since then this number has reached 13.5 percent. It may not seem like a lot, just a few percentage points, but we are talking about tens, and hundreds of thousands of people, their lives, so this is a matter of serious concern.
There are economic issues that have still to be addressed, above all regarding real incomes. What are these issues? They have to do with the structure of the economy that we find unsatisfactory. In this connection I have to mention low labour productivity. There will be no new jobs, and incomes will not increase, unless we improve labour productivity. This is a major issue.
We will most definitely come back to these matters and I am 100 percent certain that people will have further questions and we will go into greater detail and look further at all that makes it possible for me to say now that the recession is over and we have seen economic growth for three quarters in a row now. GDP growth is modest, but it has nonetheless held steady from one quarter to the next.
GDP growth was plus 3 percent at the end of the fourth quarter of 2016, plus 5 percent in the first quarter of this year, and up 1.4 percent in April this year. This makes for GDP growth of 0.7 percent overall for the first four months of 2017.
Industrial production is also on the rise. We had growth of 0.7 percent in the first quarter of this year. I have brought along some of the latest figures, so as not to forget anything, and I can share them with you too. These are the latest statistics.
Investment into capital assets is up 2.3 percent. We see an increase in car sales and mortgage loans, which all economies consider a clear sign of growth, and non-resource and non-energy exports are up by 19 percent.
Finally, another important macroeconomic indicator is inflation, and we have brought it down to a record low in modern Russian history. The figure today is 4.2 percent. This is an unprecedented result and it gives us reason to expect that we will reach our target figure of 4 percent by the end of the year.
The Central Bank’s gold and foreign currency reserves, our international reserves, are growing. We started 2016 with $368 billion and ended the year with $378 billion. Today, the figure is $407 billion. One of the most significant indicators that I must mention is investment into capital assets, which is growing at a faster pace than the economy as a whole.
The economy grew by 0.7 percent over the first four months of this year, while investment into capital assets was up by 2.3 percent. What does this mean in simple terms? It means that investment in developing production facilities is up by 2.3 percent, and this is laying the foundations for growth in the short term. This, of course, is a positive development that will have an impact on various aspects of the social sector too.
Which aspects? The main social sector achievement that I want to mention once again is the substantial drop in infant and maternal mortality. Infant mortality has undergone a three-fold decrease since 2000, and maternal mortality has seen a close to four-fold drop. Probably no other country’s social sector has achieved such results. This has contributed to increased life expectancy as well. The figures here are now up from just over 70 years to 72 years. Overall, these results give us reason to say that we have overcome the crisis.
Tatyana Remezova: We received the following question online: ”Two weeks ago, Europe extended the anti-Russia sanctions for another year. Do you think we are ready to live under these sanctions for decades?”
Vladimir Putin: In fact, the history of Russia shows that we have usually lived under sanctions whenever Russia started to become independent and feel strong. Whenever our partners in the world saw Russia as a serious rival, they imposed various restrictions under various excuses; this has been the case throughout our history, not just in Soviet times; this was the case even before the 1917 revolution. So no surprises here.
We now know that the US Senate has drawn up another draft law on toughening these sanctions. What are the reasons for this? Nothing extraordinary is taking place. Why have they started talking about sanctions again, for no particular reason? This, of course, testifies to the ongoing domestic political struggle in the United States. In any case, this is happening and I can see no real reason for it. If it had not been Crimea or some other issue, they would still have come up with some other way to restrain Russia. The policy of containing Russia has always been presented like this.
So, what is the situation with these sanctions and what impact, if any, have they had on us? They have had an impact. Has this been fundamental in nature? I do not think so. We have been affected more by the global situation and the drop in prices for our main traditional goods – oil, gas, metals, chemicals, and so on. What view do our partners take?
The US State Department believes that these sanctions have lowered our GDP by 1 percent, the Europeans give a slightly higher figure, and the UN has calculated that we lost around $50–52 billion, and that the countries that imposed the sanctions have lost $100 billion. In other words, sanctions have proven to be a double-edged sword and harm everyone, including those who impose them.
Strange though it might sound, however, there have been advantages too. What are they? For a start, we were forced to concentrate our intelligence, talent and resources on key areas and not simply rely on oil and gas revenue. What result has this brought? We have seen real production growth in important and complex economic sectors.
We have rebuilt substantially our skills in the radio-electronics sector, and we made good progress in aircraft engineering, rocket building, pharmaceuticals, and in heavy engineering. That is not to mention agriculture. We all know that agriculture has posted growth of around 3 percent and Russia is now a leader in exports of grain and wheat. That is the result we have to show.
We have reduced substantially imports and developed our own production of pork and poultry and cover practically our entire consumption needs. What’s more, we are now looking for sales markets abroad.
We are in talks with our Chinese friends on opening the Chinese market to our pork and poultry producers. So, there are positive aspects in this situation.
But this is not a normal situation, of course. All of these restrictions do not produce anything good, and we should work towards a global economy that functions without these restrictions.
Tatyana Remezova: I know that the subject of sanctions has found a response among the guests in this studio.
Olga Pautova has the floor.
Olga Pautova: Mr President, there are many agribusiness representatives in this room. They are more concerned with our response to the sanctions and the related import replacement.
Standing next to me is Sergei Korolev, head of the National Vegetable Union. He says the past three years have taught our farmers to grow delicious and, most importantly, wholesome tomatoes and cucumbers.
Mr Korolev, do we have productive harvests?
Sergei Korolev: We are growing by about 20–30 percent a year.
Mr President, you mentioned the sanctions earlier. We see the measures introduced against Russia as a gift and an additional tool to support our agro-industrial sector. The retaliatory measures that were introduced have produced an effect.
Vegetable production is growing at a rate unprecedented both in the Soviet Union and in recent history. I can tell you that we grew by 50 percent over the year when the retaliatory measures were introduced. We have invested 150 billion rubles in vegetable farming. You mentioned these figures today – 150 billion over a short period – [as an example] of growing investment. This is without a precedent. More than 10,000 new jobs have been created. And we are certainly ready to continue this work.
But all of us are concerned with the following issue. The US Senate adopted a decision yesterday, and Europe declared that their sanctions would be extended and even expanded. Will we extend our counter-sanctions in response to the West’s decisions?
And a second question: When, God forbid, their sanctions are called off, can we hope for your support in protecting the domestic market, as was the case with Turkish tomatoes, for which Russian vegetable growers owe you a special thanks?
Vladimir Putin: This is not a peripheral question, since it is relevant to the whole country. Why? Two years ago, as you and I know all too well, vegetable and fruit production was the most challenging issue. Prices jumped which could not help but affect household incomes. In fact, we blocked or substantially reduced imports, but were unable to meet the needs of Russian consumers on our own. We did everything we could, and I will not go through the whole list of initiatives we undertook. You know them better than I do, and I hope that you have benefited from them. These initiatives were aimed at helping our producers expand vegetable and fruit production, primarily vegetables. Two years ago, the inflation rate reached 12.9 percent, and vegetable and fruit prices were one of the main reasons behind this surge, although there were other reasons that also pushed the inflation rate up.
What we believed was that Russian agricultural producers, meat producers and those growing fruit and vegetables, needed to expand their operations to such an extent as to be able to satisfy domestic demand. You have been successful at this, and I would like to thank you. Not only you, but all those who live in rural areas.
The inflation rate is now at just 4.1 percent. This is a tangible result that benefits the entire industry. After all, almost one third of the country’s population lives on agriculture, if we include the rural population working in social services. This is a very positive development. You were right to say that your products have superior quality.
The Government has extended the sanctions until the end of 2017, to December 31. We will see how our relations evolve with the countries that imposed these restrictions on the Russian economy.
As for the question of keeping the restrictions in place indefinitely, if our partners lift the sanctions they imposed on us, we will have to do the same. Otherwise, Russia will face issues in the WTO. What I want to say is, first, we need to promote competition on the domestic market so that it benefits consumers, including those who live in major cities. Secondly, we very much hope that you will succeed in expanding your operations and enhancing your competitiveness, and we are doing everything we can to help you succeed. If you reach the same level of quality and labour productivity as your competitors, you will always have an advantage on the domestic market due to lower logistics costs. For this reason, we are providing indirect support, which is not prohibited under WTO rules. As a matter of fact, there are many loopholes that can be used, and we will continue to do so. However, you should not expect any massive, direct, or, should I say, aggressive support measures from us. Now is the time when you have to do everything it takes in order to become competitive in the near term.
Tatyana Remezova: Let us hear from the call centre. Maria Gladkikh.
Maria Gladkikh: Thank you.
Mr President, the geography of calls is all over the map. We get many calls from the CIS and beyond. Our editors are telling me we have a call from Kiev.
Dmitry, please ask your question.
Question: Good afternoon. My name is Dmitry, and I live in Ukraine.
Why did you abandon us? Not everybody in Ukraine supports Bandera and Shukhevych. We honour the memory of our ancestors. We march with the Immortal Regiment. Why does Russian television smear us all with one colour?
Vladimir Putin: Thank you very much for your views and for valuing our shared history. You just mentioned the Immortal Regiment. We do see and appreciate that, believe me. And I cannot agree with you that Russian television smears everybody with the same colour, black.
Overall, we make sure not to paint anyone black. But we are cautious about giving you excessive public support, which could actually harm you. We try not to interfere in Ukraine’s domestic affairs.
Once again, trust me, we can and do highly appreciate your stance. Thank you for your call.
Tatyana Remezova: Mr President, what do your friends say on this topic? For example, Viktor Medvedchuk, who was actively involved in the exchange of POWs in Donbass?
Vladimir Putin: You know that we have many allies in Ukraine. You just mentioned Viktor Medvedchuk. I met him when he was Chief of Staff of President Kuchma’s Administration. He mainly cooperated with Dmitry Medvedev, who was Chief of Staff of the Russian Presidential Executive Office. They are still on very good terms.
Medvedvchuk has his own beliefs. My opinion is that he is a Ukrainian nationalist but he does not like this description. He considers himself to be an enlightened Ukrainian patriot. It is not a secret that his father was an active member of the Organisation of Ukrainian Nationalists and was convicted by the Soviet court, went to prison and then was exiled to the Krasnoyarsk Territory, where Medvedvchuk himself was later born.
He has his own views on Ukraine’s independence. He is, of course, an ardent supporter of Ukraine’s independence but his belief system is based on fundamental treatises of those whom we can hypothetically describe as Ukrainian nationalists and who wrote their treatises in the 19th century and later on. These are Grushevsky, Franko, Dragomanov and the like. Then comes the man of our time, Chernovol.
All of them – I would like to emphasise that all of them proceeded from the premise that Ukraine should be independent but as a federal state. Moreover, one of them wrote that excessive, “mechanical” centralisation, as he put it, would lead to internal conflicts in Ukraine and this is, actually, what we are witnessing today.
But Viktor Medvedchuk is upholding their view; he is doing this on-the-record in his public speeches and papers. He is involved in scholarly studies. He writes articles and he does all this publicly. Probably, some people in Ukraine do not like this but such is his position.
Incidentally, these fundamentalists of Ukraine’s independence and Ukrainian nationalism – some of them did not see Crimea as part of Ukraine at all, but this is apropos. At any rate, all of them favoured federalisation, greater freedom of the individual and democratic development of the Ukrainian state.
Mr Medvedchuk shares this viewpoint but that said, he stands for very good relations with Russia, for economic integration, if not for some form of union. He says it is absurd to destroy the advantages we inherited from the past, referring to the common infrastructure, common energy grid and common financial and technological potentials and cooperation. It is absurd to destroy all this.
He believes economic cooperation is not only possible but also rational. He is acting or rather formulating his ideas proceeding from the interests of his people, the way he sees them. So he is not alone.
We have just heard from Kiev or from Ukraine anyway, from a man who told us that he is taking part in campaigns linked with our common memory. Such people as Medvedchuk are also doing this. He also thinks we should cherish our common past and all the positive events of the past.
Yes, he is involved in the exchange of detainees, prisoners of war, if we could call them that, and he is doing this on instructions from Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko.
Dmitry Borisov: We have a follow-up to the Ukraine theme.
Here is a question that came through VKontakte social network. “Ukraine widely celebrated the beginning of visa-free travel with Europe. President Poroshenko referred to this as bidding the final farewell to the Russian Empire. After that, he quoted Mikhail Lermontov’s poem, “Forever you, the unwashed Russia! The land of slaves, the land of lords …”
Would you like to answer him?
Vladimir Putin: No, I did not see his remarks on this account. However, I was told about them yesterday, I will not hide this fact. Indeed, Mr Poroshenko thought it fit to read this excerpt from Lermontov’s poem, “Forever you, the unwashed Russia! The land of slaves the land of lords, and you, the blue-uniformed ushers, and people who worship them as gods.” First, this tells us that he is familiar with the Russian classical literature, and takes an interest in it. I commend him for that. However, this is not the end of this poem. There is the second part, which runs as follows: “I hope, from your tyrannic hounds to save me with Caucasian wall, from their eye that sees through ground, from their ears that hear all.”
Mikhail Lermontov was a forward-looking man, and he wanted the political situation in Russia to improve. He was smothered by the atmosphere that prevailed in Russia at that time. And he talked about it openly.
First, if it was Mikhail Lermontov who wrote this poem, he wrote it approximately in 1841–1842, if memory serves, when he was headed for the Caucasus to join the active army. He was an officer and defended the interests of his homeland. He was a brave officer.
Further, at that point, the regions that are considered Ukraine today were Russia’s regions, and if the President of today's Ukraine quotes Lermontov as saying that he is leaving for some other place, Lermontov referred to entire Russia, including the areas that today are known as Ukraine. So, there is nothing special to brag about here.
Also, Lermontov was going to the Caucasus, which was part of the Russian Empire at that time. He moved from one part of the empire, St Petersburg, his native land, to another part of the Russian Empire. He was not going anywhere outside of Russia as a matter of fact.
Perhaps, Mr Poroshenko is thus sending us a message that he is not going anywhere, either. However, he does it so finely, looking over his shoulder at the jingoists and the real nationalists, numbskulls running around waving swastikas. However, he is telling us: guys, I have my interests in Russia, and I am really not going anywhere. This may be the case as well.
Of course, this is nothing but conjecture. In fact, most likely, Mr Poroshenko wanted to show his voters that he is delivering on his promise by making a civilisational choice, as the Ukrainian leadership puts it, by leading the country towards Europe.
By the way, remember the line, “the blue-uniformed ushers, and people who worship them as gods?” The place he is taking Ukraine to has more blue uniforms than our country. So, he should stay alert to keep out of harm’s way and look around carefully.
To be sure, we have nothing against these guys. I want to say: we have nothing against you, live in peace and harmony, and good luck to you, especially with new recruits.
As for the core of the matter, you know that incomes fell here a few years back, and this is something we speak about frankly. Our average wage, if we put it in dollars rather than convert between rubles and hryvnia, was around $540 a month. Wages in Ukraine were similar, with an average of somewhere in the range of $450, $457, or $460. Wages here have not grown much, but they have grown, and the average was $624 a month in April this year, while in Ukraine, they have dropped to $251 a month.
At the same time, gas prices have at least tripled, and households are paying even higher prices. Cold and hot water costs have also risen, by 200 percent each, and pensions have decreased by 45 percent. If this situation continues, many people in Ukraine will face sanitation and hygiene issues.
Who gets to wash, where, and how often will become a big issue. Of course, Russian and Ukrainian literature both offer memorable and blunt examples that I could use to respond to Mr Poroshenko, but I will not do this out of respect for the Ukrainian people and for our common history and common faith.
If someone wants to become a European, they should first close their offshore accounts and then talk about the good of their people. In this respect, one quote comes to mind. I cannot quote it exactly, word for word, but I can convey the message.
Close to 170 years ago, Taras Shevchenko said, “Ukraine has fought to the point where it suffers more at the hands of its own children than it ever did at the hands of the Poles”. I hope that this period in the life of Ukraine and its people will end.
Tatyana Remezova: Mr President, I have a question coming from the website of our programme: why are we so focused on the Arctic? For the past 20 years, no one spoke about it, and today we see Arctic troops even at the Victory Day parade. A lot of money is spent on the Arctic. Why is this being done?
Vladimir Putin: While we are on this subject, what else can I say? I have already started talking about this. The Arctic is an extremely important region, which will ensure the future of our country. Mikhail Lomonosov once famously said that Russia would expand through Siberia. I can say with confidence that Russia’s power and capabilities will expand as we develop the Arctic region.
As I mentioned at a meeting held in the Arctic, by 2050 about 30 percent of all hydrocarbons will be produced in the Arctic area. Some of our major projects are already being implemented there with NOVATEK building a plant, a company town, an airfield, and a port in the Arctic zone. Production has already begun in the Arctic.
Therefore, from an economic point of view, this is critically important. Especially so if the climate is going to change. Despite a cold spell in Moscow, the global warming trend will continue, meaning that the navigation period in the Arctic zone will get longer. In turn, this means that the Northern Sea Route will be used much more actively than now. The navigation period will go from the current one or two months to four and even five months.
The so-called non-regional powers are showing an active interest in this region. That is a good thing, and we are willing to cooperate with them, but we must ensure our priority interests.
I went to Franz Josef Land recently. The people who work there told me that many tourists go there, including those from other countries, and some tour guides have already told tourists that these islands used to be part of the Soviet Union.
This should put us on alert, as it is our territory. So, we need to ensure the use of these routes, develop our economic activity in these areas, and ensure our sovereignty over these territories. Let us not forget about the purely military aspect of the matter: it is an extremely important region from the point of view of ensuring our country's defence capability.
I do not want to stoke any fears here, but experts are aware that US nuclear submarines remain on duty in northern Norway, the time it takes a missile to reach Moscow is 15 minutes, and we need to have a clear idea of what is happening there. We must protect this shore accordingly, and ensure proper border guarding.
On top of everything, from the point of view of strategic weapons, the flight route of the ground-based missiles located in the United States passes precisely above the North Pole. I hope it will never come to that, but since we are aware of it, we just need to make sure that the missile warning system and the missile launch control system are in place.
This is what the Arctic means to us. We had not engaged in this work before not because it is unimportant, but because we were unable to afford it. We just let it go, as, unfortunately, we did many other things that are critically important for our country. Now we are back to it, I hope, for good.
Dmitry Borisov: We have been on the air for a third hour running. Natalya Yuryeva is collecting video messages, among other things, in the call centre.
Natalya Yuryeva: Our next question comes from Jeremy Bowling from America, who not only sent it to our editorial office but also posted it on YouTube. There were heated debates in the comments on this video call – will we put it on the air or not. Even bets were placed. I betted on the positive answer. Just kidding. By the way, Jeremy Bowling said himself that we were unlikely to put it on the air. But let us still listen to it.
Jeremy Bowling: Greetings, Mr Putin. My name is Jeremy Bowling. I live in Mesa, Arizona in America. I am a big supporter of you. I am very pro-Russian and I wish you much health and success in your life. My question to you is this. As an American who sits here in America and sees the racist Russian phobia running crazy in my country, what advice would you give me to help set the record straight, to help my fellow Americans understand that Russia is not the enemy?
Vladimir Putin: To begin with, I am very grateful to you for this call. And I can tell you as the current head of the Russian state that I know the attitudes of our people. We do not consider America our enemy. Moreover, twice in history when we were going through very hard times, we pooled our efforts; we were allies in two world wars. In the past, the Russian Empire played a substantial role in helping America gain independence and supported the United States. We see that Russophobia is running high in America and think this is primarily a result of the escalating political infighting.
I do not think I have the right to give you any advice. I simply want to thank you for this stance. We know that we have very many friends in the United States. My American colleagues told me so, and public opinion polls show the same results. At any rate, those polls taken a month ago show that we have many friends there. True, regrettably such hysteria is bound to affect the frame of mind, but let me assure you that there are also very many people in Russia who have deep respect for the achievements of the American people and are hoping that eventually our relations will get back on track, in which both we and the United States are extremely interested.
Tatyana Remezova: People in this studio also have questions about our relations with the United States.
Olga Pautova has the floor.
Olga Pautova: I suggest talking on this subject some more, considering that when we were preparing for this programme and speaking to our guests, it became clear that this is an issue of concern to practically everyone. Even today, shortly before we were to begin, international issues were being discussed up until the last moment.
I am giving the floor to a person whose question is of concern not only to Russians, but to everyone in the world, without a doubt. Konstantin Remchukov, Nezavisimaya Gazeta Editor-in-Chief.
Konstantin Remchukov: Good afternoon, Mr President. I would like to talk about Russian-American relations. One of the current trends, as you and an American guest have said, is that bilateral relations are deteriorating and there is Russo phobia along with daily reports about new anti-Russia initiatives, including sanctions. At the same time, there is a growing demand not only for stabilising but also for improving Russian-American relations.
At a Senate hearing the day before yesterday, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said something to the effect that every time he met with his foreign colleagues since his appointment, they asked him to stabilise relations with the Russians. He indicated that his colleagues from the Middle East and Southeast Asia had the same request. This is how he explained the need to act during a hearing on the 2018 State Department budget.
In three weeks’ time, the G20 will convene in Hamburg, where you are to meet with US President Trump. Is it possible that these talks will help prod this negative trend towards a more positive one and possibly even towards a radical improvement in our relationships with the United States? In what areas and on what issues can Russian-US cooperation be productive and mutually beneficial? I believe that these questions are of concern not only to people in Russia and the United States but many other countries as well.
Vladimir Putin: As someone with experience and well-acquainted with the subject, you know as well as I do the areas in which we can work together with the United States. This includes, above all, control over non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. We are the biggest nuclear powers and so our cooperation in this area is absolutely natural. This is an area of crucial importance and concerns not just the North Korean issue but other regions too.
Then there is the fight against poverty, fighting environmental damage and so on. We know the position the current US administration has taken on the Paris Agreement, but President Trump is not rejecting discussion on the issue. Cursing and trading barbs and insults with the US administration would be the worst road to take because we would reach no agreement at all in this case, but it makes no sense to seek agreements without the US, which is one of the biggest emitter countries. We must work together to fight poverty in the world. The number of people earning a minimum income has increased in Russia, but there is a disastrous situation in many parts of the world, and this is one of the sources of radicalism and terrorism, this poverty around the world, and we must decide together how to address this problem. Here, we must work with our other partners too, work with China, India and Europe.
By the way, we worked together with the United States to resolve the Iranian nuclear issue, and we did reach an agreement, we did find a solution. There are positive examples of cooperation then. The previous US administration directly recognised the substantial role that we played in resolving this issue. We can reach agreements and work together then. Of course we can.
On the Syrian problem and the Middle East in general, it is clear to all that no progress will be made without joint constructive work. We hope greatly too for the United States’ constructive role in settling the crisis in southeast Ukraine. A constructive role, as I said. We see then that there are many areas in which we must work together, but this depends not only on us. We see what is happening in the United States today. I have said before and say again now that this is clearly a sign of an increasingly intense domestic political struggle, and there is nothing that we can do here. We cannot influence this process. But we are ready for constructive dialogue.
Dmitry Borisov: I see someone has a question in Vera Krasova’s sector. Let us go there.
Vera Krasova: Thank you, Dmitry. Russia-US relations are of interest to representatives of the machine-building industry. We have Alexei Bakulin from Volgograd Region in our studio.
Good afternoon, you have the floor.
Alexei Bakulin: Good afternoon, Mr President.
You mentioned the aggravation of the internal political conflict in the United States. Indeed, the world is following the conflict between President Donald Trump and former FBI Head James Comey like a television drama. As is customary, “Russian influence” has been detected. What is your take on this situation, and what are its possible implications?
Vladimir Putin: I am not familiar with the details of Mr Comey’s testimony, but I am aware of certain things, of course. What are my thoughts on it?
The first thing that caught my attention was that former FBI director said that he believes that Russia interfered in the US election process. He did not provide any evidence, as usual, but he said there were attempts “to shape the way we think, vote, and act.” Is that not the way it is all over the world? What about the unending US propaganda and funding of US-oriented NGOs? The funds are allocated directly to this end. Is this not an attempt to influence our minds and our actions during election campaigns? It goes on year after year.
Take a globe, give it a spin, and point your finger randomly. You will point to a place where the United States has interests and has most likely intervened. I know this from my conversations with almost all leaders and heads of state. They just do not want to fall out with the Americans. No one talks about it openly, but everyone is saying the same thing.
Therefore, there is nothing unusual here. What do they want? Do they want everyone to bow down? We have our own opinion, and we openly express it. This is not some kind of subversive activity. We simply express our point of view. This is my first point.
Secondly, he said that he has no evidence of us interfering in the vote count. Thank God for that.
Next, he said quite unexpectedly that he had written down a conversation with the President, and then passed along this conversation to the media through a friend. It sounds and looks very strange when the head of an intelligence agency writes down a conversation with the commander-in-chief, and then passes it to the media through a friend. How then is the FBI director different from Mr Snowden? In that case, he is not the head of an intelligence agency, but a human rights activist who takes a certain position.
By the way, if he is persecuted in any way for this, we will be willing to grant him political asylum in Russia as well. He should know that.
Dmitry Borisov: Thank you. We received answers to a majority of questions. We hope that today’s session will also help resolve many problems raised by our audience.
Vladimir Putin: Thank you, thanks to the anchors and thanks to all citizens of our country who took part in our joint work today.
I would like to apologise if I did not answer all of your questions. Please do not be cross with me. That is impossible to do, and that includes questions from our audience.
However, it is very important for me to hear your opinions, to see what you think about events in the country. It is important for all of us – for the Government, the Presidential Executive Office and for me – to analyse the incoming questions, proposals, requests or critical remarks.
We will take all of them into consideration in our practical work. In any event, we will do so to the best of our abilities.
Thank you very much!
President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Let us start with our Chinese friends.
Question: This past May the heads of state and government of thirty countries adopted a joint communiqué at the first Belt and Road International Economic Forum, which includes a commitment to step up cooperation. Mr President, how does Russia plan to implement those agreements together with China? Thank you.
Vladimir Putin: I have already said how, but I can repeat.
Firstly, I think the event was unique. This is the initiative of the Chinese President, our great friend, and my personal friend, Xi Jinping. The event was a success. It was a large-scale and successful event. I expect it to usher in a new stage of cooperation in Eurasia, and not only there.
The main thing for us to do is to join our efforts within the framework of the Eurasian Economic Union and China’s Silk Road initiative. Can this be done or not? I am confident it can, since even in the economic sphere – I am not even mentioning the strategic level of our partnership – we have many overlapping goals and complementary capabilities. This is why I do not have any doubt that we will work together and that this work will yield benefits for both the Chinese and Russian peoples. But not just us two, it will also impact global competitiveness.
I would like to once again thank China for arranging this work.
Question: Mr President, I came from Donbass, I was with Iosif Kobzon on his eighth visit there. People said to me, “Ask the President when he is going to take Donbass.” Because people are tired there. Three years have passed, there is still shooting going on, and people just do not know what they should do. Everything is destroyed.
Vladimir Putin: Yes, I know. This is a tragedy, and a very big one. We will do everything we can to minimise the damage there. I would like to say the following. You know our general stance but we will do everything to support the people there regardless of any external factors. However, we expect that the current authorities in Kiev have sufficient intelligence, common sense and responsibility to implement the agreements that were achieved as a result of fairly difficult work, I mean primarily the Minsk Agreements.
Remark: They are not working.
Vladimir Putin: It would be much worse without them. That much is clear. Yet we see that the problems there are not going away, and some of them are getting worse. We are going to analyse the situation to promptly adopt decisions that will adequately respond to the unfolding situation.
Question: Everyone knows that Russia maintains good relations with the Kurds in Syria and Iraq. On June 2, you met with the Prime Minister of Iraqi Kurdistan, Mr Barzani. The Kurds are still fighting terrorism. My question is, will Russia maintain relations with the Kurds after the war on terrorism ends?
Vladimir Putin: We have always maintained relations with the Kurdish people. And I see no reason for ending these contacts.
However, first we need to resolve our common problem, the one you have just mentioned – the fight against terrorism. We know, and I have already said this many times, that our position here is open. We know what a large and significant contribution the Kurdish fighters are making to the fight against terrorism. There are very capable Kurdish units and they operate very effectively.
As for broader cooperation, you have just mentioned my meeting with Mr Barzani. We are working very actively with Iraq as a whole, and these relations will develop.
We are perfectly aware of how sensitive the Kurdish question is. We formulated our position long ago. We will act and develop our position within the framework of international law.
Question: Mr President, the Russia-Japan programme for joint economic activity on the Kuril Islands is gaining momentum now. For Japan, it means the start of the process of handing over the islands. Could you tell us what this means for Russia? What is Russia’s perspective? Are you planning to visit the islands?
Vladimir Putin: Look, we proceed from the assumption that cooperative work on the islands is quite possible. Our idea is that we need to create favourable conditions for resolving our territorial issues. We do not yet know what form the final decision will take. But without creating the appropriate conditions, such as improving the atmosphere of trust, we will not be able to do anything at all.
There are issues aggravating this matter, namely, security issues, including those in this region, and Japan's commitments to its allies. These are all very delicate things that require very careful and balanced consideration and elaboration. Depending on how this work goes, final decisions will be made. It would be premature to discuss them now.
This is all I can say now.