Vladimir Putin Talks To Reporters About Ukraine
By Vladimir Putin
March 08, 2014 "Information
Clearing House -
04, 2014 - The President of Russia met with media
representatives to answer a number of their
questions, in particular with regard to the
situation in Ukraine.
PRESIDENT OF RUSSIA VLADIMIR PUTIN: Good afternoon,
How shall we do this? This is what I’d like to
suggest: let’s have a conversation, rather than an
interview. Therefore, I would ask you to begin by
stating all your questions, I will jot them down and
try to answer them, and then we will have a more
detailed discussion of the specifics that interest
QUESTION: Mr President, I would like to ask (you
took a lengthy pause, so we have quite a few
questions by now) how you assess the events in Kiev?
Do you think that the Government and the Acting
President, who are currently in power in Kiev, are
legitimate? Are you ready to communicate with them,
and on what terms? Do you yourself think it possible
now to return to the agreements of February 21,
which we all talk about so often?
QUESTION: Mr President, Russia has promised
financial aid to Crimea and instructions were issued
to the Finance Ministry yesterday. Is there a clear
understanding of how much we are giving, where the
money is coming from, on what terms and when? The
situation there is very difficult.
QUESTION: When, on what terms and in what scope can
military force be used in Ukraine? To what extent
does this comply with Russia’s international
agreements? Did the military exercises that have
just finished have anything to do with the possible
use of force?
QUESTION: We would like to know more about Crimea.
Do you think that the provocations are over or that
there remains a threat to the Russian citizens who
are now in Crimea and to the Russian-speaking
population? What are the general dynamics there – is
the situation changing for the better or for the
worse? We are hearing different reports from there.
QUESTION: If you do decide to use force, have you
thought through all the possible risks for yourself,
for the country and for the world: economic
sanctions, weakened global security, a possible visa
ban or greater isolation for Russia, as western
politicians are demanding?
QUESTION: Yesterday the Russian stock market fell
sharply in response to the Federation Council’s
vote, and the ruble exchange rates hit record lows.
Did you expect such a reaction? What do you think
are the possible consequences for the economy? Is
there a need for any special measures now, and of
what kind? For instance, do you think the Central
Bank’s decision to shift to a floating ruble
exchange rate may have been premature? Do you think
it should be revoked?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: Fine, let us stop here for now. I
will begin, and then we will continue. Don’t worry;
I will try to answer as many questions as possible.
First of all, my assessment of what happened in Kiev
and in Ukraine in general. There can only be one
assessment: this was an anti-constitutional
takeover, an armed seizure of power. Does anyone
question this? Nobody does. There is a question here
that neither I, nor my colleagues, with whom I have
been discussing the situation in Ukraine a great
deal over these past days, as you know – none of us
can answer. The question is why was this done?
I would like to draw your attention to the fact that
President Yanukovych, through the mediation of the
Foreign Ministers of three European countries –
Poland, Germany and France – and in the presence of
my representative (this was the Russian Human Rights
Commissioner Vladimir Lukin) signed an agreement
with the opposition on February 21. I would like to
stress that under that agreement (I am not saying
this was good or bad, just stating the fact) Mr
Yanukovych actually handed over power. He agreed to
all the opposition’s demands: he agreed to early
parliamentary elections, to early presidential
elections, and to return to the 2004 Constitution,
as demanded by the opposition. He gave a positive
response to our request, the request of western
countries and, first of all, of the opposition not
to use force. He did not issue a single illegal
order to shoot at the poor demonstrators. Moreover,
he issued orders to withdraw all police forces from
the capital, and they complied. He went to Kharkov
to attend an event, and as soon as he left, instead
of releasing the occupied administrative buildings,
they immediately occupied the President’s residence
and the Government building – all that instead of
acting on the agreement.
I ask myself, what was the purpose of all this? I
want to understand why this was done. He had in fact
given up his power already, and as I believe, as I
told him, he had no chance of being re-elected.
Everybody agrees on this, everyone I have been
speaking to on the telephone these past few days.
What was the purpose of all those illegal,
unconstitutional actions, why did they have to
create this chaos in the country? Armed and masked
militants are still roaming the streets of Kiev.
This is a question to which there is no answer. Did
they wish to humiliate someone and show their power?
I think these actions are absolutely foolish. The
result is the absolute opposite of what they
expected, because their actions have significantly
destabilised the east and southeast of Ukraine.
Now over to how this situation came about.
In my opinion, this revolutionary situation has been
brewing for a long time, since the first days of
Ukraine’s independence. The ordinary Ukrainian
citizen, the ordinary guy suffered during the rule
of Nicholas II, during the reign of Kuchma, and
Yushchenko, and Yanukovych. Nothing or almost
nothing has changed for the better. Corruption has
reached dimensions that are unheard of here in
Russia. Accumulation of wealth and social
stratification – problems that are also acute in
this country – are much worse in Ukraine, radically
worse. Out there, they are beyond anything we can
imagine. Generally, people wanted change, but one
should not support illegal change.
Only constitutional means should be used on the
post-Soviet space, where political structures are
still very fragile, and economies are still weak.
Going beyond the constitutional field would always
be a cardinal mistake in such a situation.
Incidentally, I understand those people on Maidan,
though I do not support this kind of turnover. I
understand the people on Maidan who are calling for
radical change rather than some cosmetic remodelling
of power. Why are they demanding this? Because they
have grown used to seeing one set of thieves being
replaced by another. Moreover, the people in the
regions do not even participate in forming their own
regional governments. There was a period in this
country when the President appointed regional
leaders, but then the local legislative authorities
had to approve them, while in Ukraine they are
appointed directly. We have now moved on to
elections, while they are nowhere near this. And
they began appointing all sorts of oligarchs and
billionaires to govern the eastern regions of the
country. No wonder the people do not accept this, no
wonder they think that as a result of dishonest
privatisation (just as many people think here as
well) people have become rich and now they also have
been brought to power.
For example, Mr Kolomoisky was appointed Governor of
Dnepropetrovsk. This is a unique crook. He even
managed to cheat our oligarch Roman Abramovich two
or three years ago. Scammed him, as our
intellectuals like to say. They signed some deal,
Abramovich transferred several billion dollars,
while this guy never delivered and pocketed the
money. When I asked him [Abramovich]: “Why did you
do it?” he said: “I never thought this was
possible.” I do not know, by the way, if he ever got
his money back and if the deal was closed. But this
really did happen a couple of years ago. And now
this crook is appointed Governor of Dnepropetrovsk.
No wonder the people are dissatisfied. They were
dissatisfied and will remain so if those who refer
to themselves as the legitimate authorities continue
in the same fashion.
Most importantly, people should have the right to
determine their own future, that of their families
and of their region, and to have equal participation
in it. I would like to stress this: wherever a
person lives, whatever part of the country, he or
she should have the right to equal participation in
determining the future of the country.
Are the current authorities legitimate? The
Parliament is partially, but all the others are not.
The current Acting President is definitely not
legitimate. There is only one legitimate President,
from a legal standpoint. Clearly, he has no power.
However, as I have already said, and will repeat:
Yanukovych is the only undoubtedly legitimate
There are three ways of removing a President under
Ukrainian law: one is his death, the other is when
he personally steps down, and the third is
impeachment. The latter is a well-deliberated
constitutional norm. It has to involve the
Constitutional Court, the Supreme Court and the Rada.
This is a complicated and lengthy procedure. It was
not carried out. Therefore, from a legal perspective
this is an undisputed fact.
Moreover, I think this may be why they disbanded the
Constitutional Court, which runs counter to all
legal norms of both Ukraine and Europe. They not
only disbanded the Constitutional Court in an
illegitimate fashion, but they also – just think
about it – instructed the Prosecutor General’s
Office to launch criminal proceedings against
members of the Constitutional Court. What is that
all about? Is this what they call free justice? How
can you instruct anyone to start criminal
proceedings? If a crime, a criminal offence, has
been committed, the law enforcement agencies see
this and react. But instructing them to file
criminal charges is nonsense, it’s monkey business.
Now about financial aid to Crimea. As you may know,
we have decided to organise work in the Russian
regions to aid Crimea, which has turned to us for
humanitarian support. We will provide it, of course.
I cannot say how much, when or how – the Government
is working on this, by bringing together the regions
bordering on Crimea, by providing additional support
to our regions so they could help the people in
Crimea. We will do it, of course.
Regarding the deployment of troops, the use of armed
forces. So far, there is no need for it, but the
possibility remains. I would like to say here that
the military exercises we recently held had nothing
to do with the events in Ukraine. This was
pre-planned, but we did not disclose these plans,
naturally, because this was a snap inspection of the
forces’ combat readiness. We planned this a long
time ago, the Defence Minister reported to me and I
had the order ready to begin the exercise. As you
may know, the exercises are over; I gave the order
for the troops to return to their regular
What can serve as a reason to use the Armed Forces?
Such a measure would certainly be the very last
First, the issue of legitimacy. As you may know, we
have a direct appeal from the incumbent and, as I
said, legitimate President of Ukraine, Mr Yanukovych,
asking us to use the Armed Forces to protect the
lives, freedom and health of the citizens of
What is our biggest concern? We see the rampage of
reactionary forces, nationalist and anti-Semitic
forces going on in certain parts of Ukraine,
including Kiev. I am sure you, members of the media,
saw how one of the governors was chained and
handcuffed to something and they poured water over
him, in the cold of winter. After that, by the way,
he was locked up in a cellar and tortured. What is
all this about? Is this democracy? Is this some
manifestation of democracy? He was actually only
recently appointed to this position, in December, I
believe. Even if we accept that they are all corrupt
there, he had barely had time to steal anything.
And do you know what happened when they seized the
Party of Regions building? There were no party
members there at all at the time. Some two-three
employees came out, one was an engineer, and he said
to the attackers: “Could you let us go, and let the
women out, please. I’m an engineer, I have nothing
to do with politics.” He was shot right there in
front of the crowd. Another employee was led to a
cellar and then they threw Molotov cocktails at him
and burned him alive. Is this also a manifestation
When we see this we understand what worries the
citizens of Ukraine, both Russian and Ukrainian, and
the Russian-speaking population in the eastern and
southern regions of Ukraine. It is this uncontrolled
crime that worries them. Therefore, if we see such
uncontrolled crime spreading to the eastern regions
of the country, and if the people ask us for help,
while we already have the official request from the
legitimate President, we retain the right to use all
available means to protect those people. We believe
this would be absolutely legitimate. This is our
Moreover, here is what I would like to say: we have
always considered Ukraine not only a neighbour, but
also a brotherly neighbouring republic, and will
continue to do so. Our Armed Forces are comrades in
arms, friends, many of whom know each other
personally. I am certain, and I stress, I am certain
that the Ukrainian military and the Russian military
will not be facing each other, they will be on the
same side in a fight.
Incidentally, the things I am talking about – this
unity – is what is happening in Crimea. You should
note that, thank God, not a single gunshot has been
fired there; there are no casualties, except for
that crush on the square about a week ago. What was
going on there? People came, surrounded units of the
armed forces and talked to them, convincing them to
follow the demands and the will of the people living
in that area. There was not a single armed conflict,
not a single gunshot.
Thus the tension in Crimea that was linked to the
possibility of using our Armed Forces simply died
down and there was no need to use them. The only
thing we had to do, and we did it, was to enhance
the defence of our military facilities because they
were constantly receiving threats and we were aware
of the armed nationalists moving in. We did this, it
was the right thing to do and very timely.
Therefore, I proceed from the idea that we will not
have to do anything of the kind in eastern Ukraine.
There is something I would like to stress, however.
Obviously, what I am going to say now is not within
my authority and we do not intend to interfere.
However, we firmly believe that all citizens of
Ukraine, I repeat, wherever they live, should be
given the same equal right to participate in the
life of their country and in determining its future.
If I were in the shoes of those who consider
themselves the legitimate authorities, I would not
waste time and go through all the necessary
procedures, because they do not have a national
mandate to conduct the domestic, foreign and
economic policy of Ukraine, and especially to
determine its future.
Now, the stock market. As you may know, the stock
market was jumpy even before the situation in
Ukraine deteriorated. This is primarily linked to
the policy of the US Federal Reserve, whose recent
decisions enhanced the attractiveness of investing
in the US economy and investors began moving their
funds from the developing markets to the American
market. This is a general trend and it has nothing
to do with Ukraine. I believe it was India that
suffered most, as well as the other BRICS states.
Russia was hit as well, not as hard as India, but it
was. This is the fundamental reason.
As for the events in Ukraine, politics always
influence the stock market in one way or another.
Money likes quiet, stability and calm. However, I
think this is a tactical, temporary development and
a temporary influence.
Your questions, please.
QUESTION: Mr President, can you tell us if you
expected such a harsh reaction to Russia’s actions
from your western partners? Could you give us any
details of your conversations with your western
partners? All we’ve heard was a report from the
press service. And what do you think about the G8
summit in Sochi – will it take place?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: Regarding the expected reaction,
whether the G8 will meet and about the
conversations. Our conversations are confidential,
some are even held over secure lines. Therefore, I
am not authorised to disclose what I discussed with
my partners. I will, however, refer to some public
statements made by my colleagues from the west;
without giving any names, I will comment on them in
a general sense.
What do we pay attention to? We are often told our
actions are illegitimate, but when I ask, “Do you
think everything you do is legitimate?” they say
“yes”. Then, I have to recall the actions of the
United States in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya, where
they either acted without any UN sanctions or
completely distorted the content of such
resolutions, as was the case with Libya. There, as
you may know, the resolution only spoke of closing
the airspace for government aircraft, while it all
ended with bomb attacks and special forces land
Our partners, especially in the United Sates, always
clearly formulate their own geopolitical and state
interests and follow them with persistence. Then,
using the principle “You’re either with us or
against us” they draw the whole world in. And those
who do not join in get ‘beaten’ until they do.
Our approach is different. We proceed from the
conviction that we always act legitimately. I have
personally always been an advocate of acting in
compliance with international law. I would like to
stress yet again that if we do make the decision, if
I do decide to use the Armed Forces, this will be a
legitimate decision in full compliance with both
general norms of international law, since we have
the appeal of the legitimate President, and with our
commitments, which in this case coincide with our
interests to protect the people with whom we have
close historical, cultural and economic ties.
Protecting these people is in our national
interests. This is a humanitarian mission. We do not
intend to subjugate anyone or to dictate to anyone.
However, we cannot remain indifferent if we see that
they are being persecuted, destroyed and humiliated.
However, I sincerely hope it never gets to that.
QUESTION: How do you asses the reaction of the west
to the events in Ukraine and their threats regarding
Russia: are we facing the possibility of sanctions
or withdrawal from the G8?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: Regarding sanctions. It is primarily
those who intend to apply them that need to consider
their consequences. I believe that in the modern
world, where everything is interconnected and
interdependent, it is possible to cause damage to
another country, but this will be mutual damage and
one should bear this in mind. This is one thing.
The second and the most important thing. I have
already told you what motivates us. And what
motivates our partners? They supported an
unconstitutional armed take-over, declared these
people legitimate and are trying to support them. By
the way, despite all of this we have been patient
and even ready to cooperate; we do not want to
disrupt our cooperation. As you may know, a few days
ago I instructed the Government to consider how we
can maintain contacts even with those powers in Kiev
that we do not consider legitimate in order to
retain our ties in the economy and industry. We
think our actions have been absolutely reasonable,
while any threat against Russia is counterproductive
As for the G8, I do not know. We will be ready to
host the summit with our colleagues. If they do not
want to come – so be it.
QUESTION: Can I add about contacts? The way I see
it, you consider the Prime Minister of Crimea Mr
Aksyonov to be a legitimate representative of
government authorities. Are you ready to have any
contacts with those who consider themselves the
legitimate authorities in Kiev?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: I have just spoken about it. You
must have missed it.
QUESTION: I mean, at the top level for a political
VLADIMIR PUTIN: I do not have a partner at the top
level there. There is no president there, and there
cannot be one until the general elections.
As for Crimea, the Parliament there was formed in
2010, in December 2010 if I remember correctly.
There are 100 MPs representing six political
parties. After the previous Prime Minister resigned,
the Crimean Parliament, in compliance with the
existing legislation and procedures elected a new
Prime Minister at a session of the Crimean Supreme
Council. He is definitely legitimate. They have
complied with all the procedures envisaged by the
law; there is not a single violation. However, when
a few days ago a group of armed men tried to occupy
the building of the Crimean Supreme Soviet, this
caused the concern of the local residents. It seemed
as though someone wanted to apply the Kiev scenario
in Crimea and to launch a series of terrorist
attacks and cause chaos. Naturally, this causes
grave concern among the local residents. That is why
they set up self-defence committees and took control
over all the armed forces.
Incidentally, I was studying the brief yesterday to
see what they took over – it is like a fortified
zone. There are several dozen C-300 units, several
dozen air-defence missile systems, 22,000 service
members and a lot more. However, as I said, this is
all in the hands of the people of Crimea and without
a single gunshot.
QUESTION: Mr President, a clarification if I may.
The people who were blocking the Ukrainian Army
units in Crimea were wearing uniforms that strongly
resembled the Russian Army uniform. Were those
Russian soldiers, Russian military?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: Why don’t you take a look at the
post-Soviet states. There are many uniforms there
that are similar. You can go to a store and buy any
kind of uniform.
QUESTION: But were they Russian soldiers or not?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: Those were local self-defence units.
QUESTION: How well trained are they? If we compare
them to the self-defence units in Kiev…
VLADIMIR PUTIN: My dear colleague, look how well
trained the people who operated in Kiev were. As we
all know they were trained at special bases in
neighbouring states: in Lithuania, Poland and in
Ukraine itself too. They were trained by instructors
for extended periods. They were divided into dozens
and hundreds, their actions were coordinated, they
had good communication systems. It was all like
clockwork. Did you see them in action? They looked
very professional, like special forces. Why do you
think those in Crimea should be any worse?
QUESTION: In that case, can I specify: did we take
part in training Crimean self-defence forces?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: No, we did not.
QUESTION: How do you see the future of Crimea? Do
you consider the possibility of it joining Russia?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: No, we do not. Generally, I believe
that only residents of a given country who have the
freedom of will and are in complete safety can and
should determine their future. If this right was
granted to the Albanians in Kosovo, if this was made
possible in many different parts of the world, then
nobody has ruled out the right of nations to
self-determination, which, as far as I know, is
fixed by several UN documents. However, we will in
no way provoke any such decision and will not breed
I would like to stress that I believe only the
people living in a given territory have the right to
determine their own future.
QUESTION: Two questions. You said that sending
troops into Ukraine is an extreme measure, but you
are nevertheless not ruling it out. Still, if
Russian troops enter Ukraine, it could start a war.
Doesn’t that bother you?
And a second question. You say that Yanukovych did
not give the order to shoot people. But somebody
shot at the protestors. And clearly, these were
snipers, trained snipers.
VLADIMIR PUTIN: You know, some people, including
those who were recently among the protestors, have
expressed the opinion that these were provocateurs
from one of the opposition parties. Have you heard
REPLY: No, I have not heard this.
VLADIMIR PUTIN: Look at these materials – they are
freely available. That is why it is very difficult
to get to the bottom of the situation. But you and I
saw for ourselves when the Berkut fighters stood
there with their shields and were shot at – and
those were not air weapons that were used against
them but assault weapons that pierced their shields.
That is something we saw for certain. As for who
gave the orders – that I do not know. I only know
what Mr Yanukovych told me. And he told me that he
did not give any orders, and moreover, he gave
instructions – after signing a corresponding
agreement – to even withdraw all militia units from
If you want, I can tell you even more. He called me
on the phone and I told him not to do it. I said,
“You will have anarchy, you will have chaos in the
capital. Think about the people.” But he did it
anyway. And as soon as he did it, his office was
seized, and that of the government, and the chaos I
had warned him about and which continues to this
QUESTION: What about the first question? Are you
concerned that a war could break out?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: I am not concerned, because we do
not plan and we will not fight with the Ukrainian
QUESTION: But there are Ukrainian troops, there is
the Ukrainian army.
VLADIMIR PUTIN: Listen carefully. I want you to
understand me clearly: if we make that decision, it
will only be to protect Ukrainian citizens. And
let’s see those troops try to shoot their own
people, with us behind them – not in the front, but
behind. Let them just try to shoot at women and
children! I would like to see those who would give
that order in Ukraine.
QUESTION: Can I ask a question, Mr President? Our
colleagues, my colleagues, who are currently working
in Ukraine, are saying practically every day that
the situation for the Berkut fighters is only
getting worse (perhaps with the exception of
Crimea). In particular, in Kiev, there are injured
Berkut officers who are in hospitals now, where
nobody is treating them and they are not even
getting fed. And their families, including elderly
family members, they simply cannot leave the house,
because they are not being allowed; there are
barricades all around, they are being humiliated.
Can you comment on this? And can Russia help these
families and colleagues?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: Yes, this issue is of great concern
to us. After all, these are not Russia’s Interior
Ministry officers, and we were not managing the
situation there. But out of humanitarian
considerations, it would be good if our human rights
organisations got involved in this as well; we might
ask Vladimir Lukin, either alone or together with
his colleagues, representatives from France, Germany
and Poland, with whom he participated in developing
the well-known document of February 21, 2014, to go
on location and see what is happening there with
these Berkut officers, who have not broken any laws
and acted in accordance with their orders. They are
military service members, they stood there facing
bullets, they were doused with fire and had Molotov
cocktails thrown at them. They have been wounded and
injured and are now in a hospital. It is even hard
to imagine – even prisoners of war are being fed and
treated. But they not only stopped treating them,
they even stopped feeding them. And they have
surrounded the building where these fighters’
families live and are bullying them. I think that
human rights organisations must pay attention to
this. And we, for our part, are ready to provide
them with medical care here in Russia.
QUESTION: Mr President, getting back to the West’s
reaction. Following the US Secretary of State’s
harsh statement, the Federation Council suggested
that we recall our ambassador to the United States.
Do you support this idea?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: The US Secretary of State is
certainly an important person, but he is not the
ultimate authority that determines the United
States’ foreign policy. We hear statements from
various politicians and representatives of various
political forces. This would be an extreme measure.
If necessary, it will be used. But I really don’t
want to use it, because I think Russia is not the
only one interested in cooperation with its partners
on an international level and in such areas as
economy, politics and foreign security; our partners
are just as interested in this cooperation. It is
very easy to destroy these instruments of
cooperation and it would be very difficult to
QUESTION: Russia got involved in Yanukovych’s fate.
How do you see his future role and his future
VLADIMIR PUTIN: You know, it is very hard for me to
say; I have not analysed it carefully. I think he
has no political future, and I have told him so. As
for “getting involved in his fate” – we did this on
purely humanitarian grounds. Death is the easiest
way for getting rid of a legitimate president, and I
think that is what would have happened. I think they
would have simply killed him. Incidentally, the
question arises: what for?
After all, look at how it all began, what triggered
these events. The formal reason was that he did not
sign the European Union Association Agreement.
Today, this seems like nonsense; it is ridiculous to
even talk about. But I want to point out that he did
not refuse to sign the association agreement. He
said: “We have carefully analysed it, and its
content does not correspond with our national
interests. We cannot sharply increase energy prices
for our people, because our people are already in a
rather difficult position. We cannot do this, and
that, and that. We cannot immediately break our
economic ties with Russia, because our cooperation
is very extensive.”
I have already presented these figures: out of
approximately 14 billion [dollars] in export,
approximately 5 billion represents second and third
technological processing level products exported to
Russia. In other words, just about all engineering
products are exported to Russia; the West is not
buying any Ukrainian products. And to take all this
and break it apart, to introduce European technical
standards in the Ukrainian economy, which,
thankfully or unfortunately, we are not using at the
moment. We will adopt those standards at some point,
but currently, we do not have those standards in
Russia. This means the next day, our relations and
cooperation ties will be broken, enterprises will
come to a standstill and unemployment will increase.
And what did Yanukovych say? He said, “I cannot do
this so suddenly, let’s discuss this further.” He
did not refuse to sign it, he asked for a chance to
discuss this document some more, and then all this
And why? Did he do something outside the scope of
his authority? He acted absolutely within the scope
of his authority; he did not infringe on anything.
It was simply an excuse to support the forces
opposing him in a fight for power. Overall, this is
nothing special. But did it really need to be taken
to this level of anarchy, to an unconstitutional
overthrow and armed seizure of power, subsequently
plunging the nation into the chaos where it finds
itself today? I think this is unacceptable. And it
is not the first time our Western partners are doing
this in Ukraine. I sometimes get the feeling that
somewhere across that huge puddle, in America,
people sit in a lab and conduct experiments, as if
with rats, without actually understanding the
consequences of what they are doing. Why did they
need to do this? Who can explain this? There is no
explanation at all for it.
The same thing happened during the first Maidan
uprising, when Yanukovych was blocked from power.
Why did we need that third round of elections? In
other words, it was turned into a farce – Ukraine’s
political life was turned into a farce. There was no
compliance with the Constitution at all. You see, we
are now teaching people that if one person can
violate any law, anyone else can do the same, and
that’s what causes chaos. That is the danger.
Instead, we need to teach our society to follow
other traditions: traditions of respecting the main
law of the nation, the Constitution, and all other
laws. Of course, we will not always succeed, but I
think acting like this – like a bull in a china shop
is counterproductive and very dangerous.
QUESTION: Mr President, Turchynov is illegitimate,
from your point of view.
VLADIMIR PUTIN: As President, yes.
QUESTION: But the Rada is partially legitimate.
VLADIMIR PUTIN: Yes.
QUESTION: Are Yatsenyuk and the Cabinet legitimate?
And if Russia is concerned about the growing
strength of radical elements, they grow stronger
every time they find themselves facing a
hypothetical enemy, which in their view, they
currently consider Russia and Russia’s position of
being ready to send in troops. Question: does it
make sense and is it possible to hold talks with
moderate forces in the Ukrainian government, with
Yatsenyuk, and is he legitimate?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: Listen, it seems like you didn’t
hear what I have said. I already said that three
days ago, I gave instructions to the Government to
renew contacts at the government level with their
colleagues in the corresponding ministries and
departments in Ukraine, in order not to disrupt
economic ties, to support them in their attempts to
reconstruct the economy. Those were my direct
instructions to the Russian Government. Moreover, Mr
Medvedev is in contact with [Arseniy] Yatsenyuk. And
I know that Sergei Naryshkin, as speaker of the
Russian parliament, is in contact with [Oleksandr]
Turchynov. But, I repeat, all our trade and economic
and other ties, our humanitarian ties, can be
developed in full only after the situation is
normalised and presidential elections are held.
QUESTION: Gazprom has already said that it is
reverting to its old gas prices beginning in April.
VLADIMIR PUTIN: Gazprom could not have said that;
you were not listening carefully or it did not
express itself clearly. Gazprom is not reverting to
the old prices. It simply does not want to extend
the current discounts, which it had agreed to apply
or not apply on a quarterly basis. Even before all
these events, even before they hit the crisis point.
I know about the negotiations between Gazprom and
its partners. Gazprom and the Government of the
Russian Federation agreed that Gazprom would
introduce a discount by reducing gas prices to
$268.50 per 1,000 cubic metres. The Government of
Russia provides the first tranche of the loan, which
is formally not a loan but a bond purchase – a
quasi-loan, $3 billion dollars in the first stage.
And the Ukrainian side undertakes to fully repay its
debt that arose in the second half of last year and
to make regular payments for what they are consuming
– for the gas. The debt has not been repaid, regular
payments are not being made in full.
Moreover, if the Ukrainian partners fail to make the
February payment, the debt will grow even bigger.
Today it is around $1.5-1.6 billion. And if they do
not fully pay for February, it will be nearly $2
billion. Naturally, in these circumstances, Gazprom
says, “Listen guys, since you don’t pay us anyway,
and we are only seeing an increase in your debt,
let’s lock into the regular price, which is still
reduced.” This is a purely commercial component of
Gazprom’s activities, which plans for revenues and
expenditures in its investment plans like any other
major company. If they do not receive the money from
their Ukrainian partners on time, then they are
undercutting their own investment programmes; this
is a real problem for them. And incidentally, this
does not have to do with the events in Ukraine or
any politics. There was an agreement: “We give you
money and reduced gas rates, and you give us regular
payments.” They gave them money and reduced gas
rates, but the payments are not being made. So
naturally, Gazprom says, “Guys, that won’t work.”
QUESTION: Mr President, [German Federal Chancellor]
Merkel’s Press Service said after your telephone
conversation that you had agreed to send an
international fact-finding mission to Ukraine and
set up a contact group.
VLADIMIR PUTIN: I said that we have people who have
the training and skills needed to be able to examine
this issue and discuss it with our German
colleagues. This is all possible. I gave the
instruction accordingly to our Foreign Minister, who
was to or will meet with the German Foreign
Minister, Mr Steinmeier, yesterday or today to
discuss this matter.
QUESTION: All eyes are on Crimea at the moment of
course, but we see what is happening in other parts
of Ukraine too, in the east and south. We see what
is happening in Kharkov, Donetsk, Lugansk and
Odessa. People are raising the Russian flag over
government buildings and appealing to Russia for aid
and support. Will Russia respond to these events?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: Do you think we have not made any
response? I think we’ve just spent the last hour
discussing this response. In some cases though, the
developments taking place are unexpected in my view.
I will not go into the specific details of what I am
referring to here, but the reaction that we are
seeing from people is understandable, in principle.
Did our partners in the West and those who call
themselves the government in Kiev now not foresee
that events would take this turn? I said to them
over and over: Why are you whipping the country into
a frenzy like this? What are you doing? But they
keep on pushing forward. Of course people in the
eastern part of the country realise that they have
been left out of the decision-making process.
Essentially, what is needed now is to adopt a new
constitution and put it to a referendum so that all
of Ukraine’s citizens can take part in the process
and influence the choice of basic principles that
will form the foundations of their country’s
government. But this is not our affair of course.
This is something for the Ukrainian people and the
Ukrainian authorities to decided one way or another.
I think that once a legitimate government is in
place and a new president and parliament are
elected, which is what is planned, this will
probably go ahead. If I were them, I would return to
the matter of adopting a constitution and, as I
said, putting it to a referendum so that everyone
can have their say on it, cast their vote, and then
everyone will have to respect it. If people feel
they are left out of this process, they will never
agree with it and will keep on fighting it. Who
needs this kind of thing? But as I said, this is all
not our affair.
QUESTION: Will Russia recognise the planned
presidential election that will take place in
VLADIMIR PUTIN: Let’s see how it goes. If it is
accompanied by the same kind of terror that we are
seeing now in Kiev, we will not recognise it.
QUESTION: I want to come back to the West’s
reaction. As all this tough talk continues, we have
the Paralympics opening in a few days’ time in
Sochi. Are these Games at risk of ending up on the
brink of disruption, at least as far as
international media coverage goes?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: I don’t know, I think it would be
the height of cynicism to put the Paralympics at
risk. We all know that this is an international
sports event at which people with disabilities can
show their capabilities, prove to themselves and the
entire world that they are not people with
limitations, but on the contrary, people with
unlimited possibilities, and demonstrate their
achievements in sport. If there are people ready to
try to disrupt this event, it would show that these
are people for whom there really is nothing sacred.
QUESTION: I want to ask about the hypothetical
possibility of using the military. People in the
West have said that if Russia makes such a decision,
it would violate the Budapest Memorandum, under
which the United States and some NATO partners
consecrated territorial integrity of Ukraine in
exchange for its promise to give up nuclear weapons.
If developments take this turn, could global players
intervene in this local conflict and turn it into a
global conflict? Have you taken these risks into
VLADIMIR PUTIN: Before making public statements, and
all the more so before taking practical steps, we
give issues due thought and attention and try to
foresee the consequences and reactions that the
various potential players could have.
As for the Memorandum that you mentioned, you said
you are from Reuters, is that right?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: How do the public and political
circles in your country view these events that have
taken place? It is clear after all that this was an
armed seizure of power. That is a clear and evident
fact. And it is clear too that this goes against the
Constitution. That is also a clear fact, is it not?
RESPONSE: I live in Russia.
VLADIMIR PUTIN: Good on you! You should join the
diplomatic service; you’d make a good diplomat.
Diplomats’ tongues, as we know, are there to hide
their thoughts. So, we say that what we are seeing
is an anti-constitutional coup, and we get told, no,
it isn’t. You have probably heard plenty of times
now that this was not an anti-constitutional coup
and not an armed seizure of power, but a revolution.
Have you heard this?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: Yes, but if this is revolution, what
does this mean? In such a case it is hard not to
agree with some of our experts who say that a new
state is now emerging in this territory. This is
just like what happened when the Russian Empire
collapsed after the 1917 revolution and a new state
emerged. And this would be a new state with which we
have signed no binding agreements.
QUESTION: I want to clarify a point. You said that
if the USA imposes sanctions, this would deal a blow
to both economies. Does this imply that Russia might
impose counter-sanctions of its own, and if so,
would they be a symmetrical response?
You spoke about gas discounts too. But there was
also the agreement to buy $15 billion worth of
Ukrainian bonds. Ukraine received the first tranche
at the end of last year. Has payment of the
remaining money been suspended? If Russia provides
aid, on what specific economic and political terms
will this be done? And what political and economic
risks are you taking into consideration in this
VLADIMIR PUTIN: To answer your question, we are in
principle ready to look at taking the steps needed
to make the other tranches available with regard to
the purchase of bonds. But our Western partners have
asked us not to do this. They have asked us to work
together through the IMF to encourage the Ukrainian
authorities to carry out the reforms needed to bring
about recovery in the Ukrainian economy. We will
continue working in this direction. But given that
Naftogaz of Ukraine is not paying Gazprom now, the
Government is considering various options.
QUESTION: Mr President, is the dynamic of events in
Ukraine changing for the better or for the worse?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: Overall, I think it is gradually
starting to level out. We absolutely must send the
signal to people in Ukraine’s southeast that they
can feel safe, and know that they will be able to
take part in the general political process of
stabilising the country.
QUESTION: You have made several mentions now of
future legitimate elections in Ukraine. Who do you
see as compromise candidate? Of course you will say
that this for the Ukrainian people to decide, but I
ask you all the same.
VLADIMIR PUTIN: To be honest, I really don’t know.
RESPONSE: It seems that the people also don’t know,
because no matter who you talk to, everyone seems to
be at a loss.
VLADIMIR PUTIN: I really can’t say. You know, it’s
hard to make predictions after events of this kind.
I have already said that I do not agree with this
method of taking power and removing the incumbent
authorities and president, and I strongly oppose
this kind of method in Ukraine and in the
post-Soviet area in general. I oppose this because
this kind of method does not inculcate legal
culture, respect for the law. If one person can get
away with doing this, it means that everyone is
allowed to try, and this only means chaos. You have
to understand that this kind of chaos is the worst
possible thing for countries with a shaky economy
and unstable political system. In this kind of
situation you never know what kind of people events
will bring to the fore. Just recall, for example,
the role that [Ernst] Roehm’s storm troopers played
during Hitler’s rise to power. Later, these storm
troopers were liquidated, but they played their part
in bringing Hitler to power. Events can take all
kinds of unexpected turns.
Let me say again that in situations when people call
for fundamental political reform and new faces at
the top, and with full justification too – and in
this I agree with the Maidan – there is a risk too
that you’ll suddenly get some upstart nationalist or
semi-fascist lot sprout up, like the genie suddenly
let out of the bottle – and we see them today,
people wearing armbands with something resembling
swastikas, still roaming around Kiev at this moment
– or some anti-Semite or other. This danger is there
QUESTION: Just today, incidentally, the Ukrainian
envoy to the UN said that the crimes committed by
Bandera’s followers were falsified by the Soviet
Union. With May 9 coming closer, we can see now who
is in power there today. Should we even have any
contacts with them at all?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: We need to have contact with
everyone except for obvious criminals, but as I
said, in this kind of situation, there is always the
risk that events of this kind will bring people with
extreme views to the fore, and this of course has
serious consequences for the country.
QUESTION: You said that we should make contact with
everyone. Yulia Tymoshenko was planning it seems, to
come to Moscow.
VLADIMIR PUTIN: As you know, we always worked quite
productively with all of the different Ukrainian
governments, no matter what their political colour.
We worked with Leonid Kuchma, and with [Viktor]
Yushchenko. When I was Prime Minister, I worked with
Tymoshenko. I visited her in Ukraine and she came
here to Russia. We had to deal with all kinds of
different situations in our work to manage our
countries’ economies. We had our differences, but we
also reached agreements. Overall it was constructive
work. If she wants to come to Russia, let her come.
It’s another matter that she is no longer prime
minister now. In what capacity will she come? But I
personally have no intention of stopping her from
coming to Russia.
QUESTION: Just a brief question: who do you think is
behind this coup, as you called it, in Ukraine?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: As I said before, I think this was a
well-prepared action. Of course there were combat
detachments. They are still there, and we all saw
how efficiently they worked. Their Western
instructors tried hard of course. But this is not
the real problem. If the Ukrainian government had
been strong, confident, and had built a stable
system, no nationalists would have been able to
carry out those programs and achieve the results
that we see now.
The real problem is that none of the previous
Ukrainian governments gave proper attention to
people’s needs. Here in Russia we have many
problems, and many of them are similar to those in
Ukraine, but they are not as serious as in Ukraine.
Average per capita [monthly] income in Russia, for
example, is 29,700 rubles, but in Ukraine, if we
convert it into rubles, it is 11,900 rubles, I think
– almost three times lower than in Russia. The
average pension in Russia is 10,700 rubles, but in
Ukraine it is 5,500 rubles – twice lower than in
Russia. Great Patriotic War veterans in Russia
receive almost as much as the average worker each
month. In other words, there is a substantial
difference in living standards. This was what the
various governments should have been focusing on
right from the start. Of course they needed to fight
crime, nepotism, clans and so on, especially in the
economy. People see what is going on, and this
creates lack of confidence in the authorities.
This has continued as several generations of modern
Ukrainian politicians have come and gone, and the
ultimate result is that people are disappointed and
want to see a new system and new people in power.
This was the main source of fuel for the events that
took place. But let me say again: a change of power,
judging by the whole situation, was probably
necessary in Ukraine, but it should have taken place
only through legitimate means, in respect for and
not in violation of the current Constitution.
QUESTION: Mr President, if Crimea holds a referendum
and the people there vote to secede from Ukraine,
that is, if the majority of the region’s residents
vote for secession, would you support it?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: You can never use the conditional
mood in politics. I will stick to that rule.
QUESTION: Is Yanukovych even still alive? There have
been rumours that he died.
VLADIMIR PUTIN: I have seen him once since he
arrived in Russia. That was just two days ago. He
was alive and well and wishes you the same. He’ll
still have a chance of catching a cold at the
funeral of those who are spreading these rumours of
QUESTION: Mr President, what mistakes do you think
Yanukovych made over these last months as the
situation intensified in Ukraine?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: I would rather not answer this
question, not because I do not have an opinion to
express, but because I do not think it would be
proper on my part. You have to understand, after
QUESTION: Do you sympathise with him?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: No, I have completely different
feelings. Anyone in this office bears an enormous
responsibility on their shoulders as head of state,
and they have rights and also obligations. But the
biggest obligation of all is to carry out the will
of the people who have entrusted you with the
country, acting within the law. And so we need to
analyse, did he do everything that the law and the
voters’ mandate empowered him to do? You can analyse
this yourselves and draw your own conclusions.
QUESTION: But what feelings do you have for him? You
said “not sympathy, but other feelings”. What
VLADIMIR PUTIN: Let’s talk later.
QUESTION: You said just two questions back that we
must above all send a clear signal to people in the
south and southeast of Ukraine. The southeast,
that’s understandable, but…
VLADIMIR PUTIN: We need to make our position clear
to everyone, really.
We need to be heard by all of Ukraine’s people. We
have no enemies in Ukraine. Let me say again that
Ukraine is a friendly country. Do you know how many
people came from Ukraine to Russia last year? 3.3
million came, and of that number almost 3 million
people came to Russia for work. These people are
working here – around 3 million people. Do you know
how much money they send back home to Ukraine to
support their families? Count up the average wage of
3 million people. This comes to billions of dollars
and makes a big contribution to Ukraine’s GDP. This
is no joking matter. We welcome all of them, and
among the people coming here to work are also many
from western Ukraine. They are all equal in our
eyes, all brothers to us.
QUESTION: This is just what I wanted to ask about.
We are hearing above all about the southeast of
Ukraine at the moment, which is understandable, but
there are ethnic Russians and Russian-speaking
people living in western Ukraine too, and their
situation is probably even worse. They probably
cannot raise their heads at all and are a
downtrodden minority there. What can Russia do to
VLADIMIR PUTIN: Our position is that if the people
who call themselves the government now hope to be
considered a civilised government, they must ensure
the safety of all of their citizens, no matter in
which part of the country, and we of course will
follow this situation closely.