Vladimir Putin took part in the final plenary session of the 12th
annual meeting of the Valdai International Discussion Club. October
"Why play with words dividing
terrorists into moderate and not moderate. What's the difference?"
Putin told the forum.
President of Russia Vladimir Putin:
Colleagues, ladies and gentlemen,
Allow me to greet you here at this regular meeting
of the Valdai International Club.
It is true that for over 10 years now this has been
a platform to discuss the most pressing issues and consider
the directions and prospects for the development of Russia
and the whole world. The participants change, of course, but
overall, this discussion platform retains its core, so to speak – we
have turned into a kind of mutually understanding environment.
We have an open discussion here; this is an open
intellectual platform for an exchange of views, assessments
and forecasts that are very important for us here in Russia. I would
like to thank all the Russian and foreign politicians, experts,
public figures and journalists taking part in the work of this club.
This year the discussion focusses on issues of war
and peace. This topic has clearly been the concern of humanity
throughout its history. Back in ancient times, in antiquity people
argued about the nature, the causes of conflicts, about the fair
and unfair use of force, of whether wars would always accompany
the development of civilisation, broken only by ceasefires, or would
the time come when arguments and conflicts are resolved without war.
I’m sure you recalled our great writer Leo Tolstoy
here. In his great novel War and Peace, he wrote that war
contradicted human reason and human nature, while peace in his
opinion was good for people.
True, peace, a peaceful life have always been
humanity’s ideal. State figures, philosophers and lawyers have often
come up with models for a peaceful interaction between nations.
Various coalitions and alliances declared that their goal was
to ensure strong, ‘lasting’ peace as they used to say. However,
the problem was that they often turned to war as a way to resolve
the accumulated contradictions, while war itself served as a means
for establishing new post-war hierarchies in the world.
Meanwhile peace, as a state of world politics, has
never been stable and did not come of itself. Periods of peace
in both European and world history were always been based
on securing and maintaining the existing balance of forces. This
happened in the 17th century in the times
of the se-called Peace of Westphalia, which put an end to the Thirty
Years’ War. Then in the 19th century, in the time
of the Vienna Congress; and again 70 years ago in Yalta, when
the victors over Nazism made the decision to set up the United
Nations Organisation and lay down the principles of relations
With the appearance of nuclear weapons, it became
clear that there could be no winner in a global conflict. There can
be only one end – guaranteed mutual destruction. It so happened that
in its attempt to create ever more destructive weapons humanity has
made any big war pointless.
Incidentally, the world leaders of the 1950s, 1960s,
1970s and even 1980s did treat the use of armed force
as an exceptional measure. In this sense, they behaved responsibly,
weighing all the circumstances and possible consequences.
The end of the Cold War put an end to ideological
opposition, but the basis for arguments and geopolitical conflicts
remained. All states have always had and will continue to have their
own diverse interests, while the course of world history has always
been accompanied by competition between nations and their alliances.
In my view, this is absolutely natural.
The main thing is to ensure that this competition
develops within the framework of fixed political, legal and moral
norms and rules. Otherwise, competition and conflicts of interest
may lead to acute crises and dramatic outbursts.
We have seen this happen many times in the past.
Today, unfortunately, we have again come across similar situations.
Attempts to promote a model of unilateral domination, as I have said
on numerous occasions, have led to an imbalance in the system
of international law and global regulation, which means there is
a threat, and political, economic or military competition may get
out of control.
What, for instance, could such uncontrolled
competition mean for international security? A growing number
of regional conflicts, especially in ‘border’ areas, where
the interests of major nations or blocs meet. This can also lead
to the probable downfall of the system of non-proliferation
of weapons of mass destruction (which I also consider to be very
dangerous), which, in turn, would result in a new spiral of the arms
We have already seen the appearance of the concept
of the so-called disarming first strike, including one with the use
of high-precision long-range non-nuclear weapons comparable in their
effect to nuclear weapons.
The use of the threat of a nuclear missile attack
from Iran as an excuse, as we know, has destroyed the fundamental
basis of modern international security – the Anti-Ballistic Missile
Treaty. The United States has unilaterally seceded from the treaty.
Incidentally, today we have resolved the Iranian issue and there is
no threat from Iran and never has been, just as we said.
The thing that seemed to have led our American
partners to build an anti-missile defence system is gone. It would
be reasonable to expect work to develop the US anti-missile defence
system to come to an end as well. What is actually happening?
Nothing of the kind, or actually the opposite – everything
Recently the United States conducted the first test
of the anti-missile defence system in Europe. What does this mean?
It means we were right when we argued with our American partners.
They were simply trying yet again to mislead us and the whole world.
To put it plainly, they were lying. It was not about
the hypothetical Iranian threat, which never existed. It was about
an attempt to destroy the strategic balance, to change the balance
of forces in their favour not only to dominate, but to have
the opportunity to dictate their will to all: to their geopolitical
competition and, I believe, to their allies as well. This is a very
dangerous scenario, harmful to all, including, in my opinion,
to the United States.
The nuclear deterrent lost its value. Some probably
even had the illusion that victory of one party in a world conflict
was again possible – without irreversible, unacceptable, as experts
say, consequences for the winner, if there ever is one.
In the past 25 years, the threshold for the use
of force has gone down noticeably. The anti-war immunity we have
acquired after two world wars, which we had on a subconscious,
psychological level, has become weaker. The very perception of war
has changed: for TV viewers it was becoming and has now become
an entertaining media picture, as if nobody dies in combat, as if
people do not suffer and cities and entire states are not destroyed.
Unfortunately, military terminology is becoming part
of everyday life. Thus, trade and sanctions wars have become today’s
global economic reality – this has become a set phrase used
by the media. The sanctions, meanwhile, are often used also
as an instrument of unfair competition to put pressure
on or completely ‘throw’ competition out of the market.
As an example, I could take the outright epidemic of fines imposed
on companies, including European ones, by the United States. Flimsy
pretexts are being used, and all those who dare violate
the unilateral American sanctions are severely punished.
You know, this may not be Russia’s business, but this
is a discussion club, therefore I will ask: Is that the way one
treats allies? No, this is how one treats vassals who dare act
as they wish – they are punished for misbehaving.
Last year a fine was imposed on a French bank
to a total of almost $9 billion – $8.9 billion, I believe. Toyota
paid $1.2 billion, while the German Commerzbank signed an agreement
to pay $1.7 billion into the American budget, and so forth.
We also see the development of the process to create
non-transparent economic blocs, which is done following practically
all the rules of conspiracy. The goal is obvious – to reformat
the world economy in a way that would make it possible to extract
a greater profit from domination and the spread of economic, trade
and technological regulation standards.
The creation of economic blocs by imposing their
terms on the strongest players would clearly not make the world
safer, but would only create time bombs, conditions for future
The World Trade Organisation was once set up. True,
the discussion there is not proceeding smoothly, and the Doha round
of talks ended in a deadlock, possibly, but we should continue
looking for ways out and for compromise, because only compromise can
lead to the creation of a long-term system of relations in any
sphere, including the economy. Meanwhile, if we dismiss that
the concerns of certain countries – participants in economic
communication, if we pretend that they can be bypassed,
the contradictions will not go away, they will not be resolved, they
will remain, which means that one day they will make themselves
As you know, our approach is different. While
creating the Eurasian Economic Union we tried to develop relations
with our partners, including relations within the Chinese Silk Road
Economic Belt initiative. We are actively working on the basis
of equality in BRICS, APEC and the G20.
The global information space is also shaken by wars
today, in a manner of speaking. The ‘only correct’ viewpoint
and interpretation of events is aggressively imposed on people,
certain facts are either concealed or manipulated. We are all used
to labelling and the creation of an enemy image.
The authorities in countries that seemed to have
always appealed to such values as freedom of speech and the free
dissemination of information – something we have heard about so
often in the past – are now trying to prevent the spreading
of objective information and any opinion that differs from their
own; they declare it hostile propaganda that needs to be combatted,
clearly using undemocratic means.
Unfortunately, we hear the words war and conflict
ever more frequently when talking about relations between people
of different cultures, religions and ethnicity. Today hundreds
of thousands of migrants are trying to integrate into a different
society without a profession and without any knowledge
of the language, traditions and culture of the countries they are
moving to. Meanwhile, the residents of those countries – and we
should openly speak about this, without trying to polish things up –
the residents are irritated by the dominance of strangers, rising
crime rate, money spent on refugees from the budgets of their
Many people sympathise with the refugees, of course,
and would like to help them. The question is how to do it without
infringing on the interests of the residents of the countries where
the refugees are moving. Meanwhile, a massive uncontrolled shocking
clash of different lifestyles can lead, and already is leading
to growing nationalism and intolerance, to the emergence
of a permanent conflict in society.
Colleagues, we must be realistic: military power is,
of course, and will remain for a long time still an instrument
of international politics. Good or bad, this is a fact of life.
The question is, will it be used only when all other means have been
exhausted? When we have to resist common threats, like,
for instance, terrorism, and will it be used in compliance with
the known rules laid down in international law. Or will we use force
on any pretext, even just to remind the world who is boss here,
without giving a thought about the legitimacy of the use of force
and its consequences, without solving problems, but only multiplying
We see what is happening in the Middle East.
For decades, maybe even centuries, inter-ethnic, religious
and political conflicts and acute social issues have been
accumulating here. In a word, a storm was brewing there, while
attempts to forcefully rearrange the region became the match that
lead to a real blast, to the destruction of statehood, an outbreak
of terrorism and, finally, to growing global risks.
A terrorist organisation, the so-called Islamic
State, took huge territories under control. Just think about it: if
they occupied Damascus or Baghdad, the terrorist gangs could achieve
the status of a practically official power, they would create
a stronghold for global expansion. Is anyone considering this? It is
time the entire international community realised what we are dealing
with – it is, in fact, an enemy of civilisation and world culture
that is bringing with it an ideology of hatred and barbarity,
trampling upon morals and world religious values, including those
of Islam, thereby compromising it.
We do not need wordplay here; we should not break
down the terrorists into moderate and immoderate ones. It would be
good to know the difference. Probably, in the opinion of certain
experts, it is that the so-called moderate militants behead people
in limited numbers or in some delicate fashion.
In actual fact, we now see a real mix of terrorist
groups. True, at times militants from the Islamic State, Jabhat al-Nusra
and other Al-Qaeda heirs and splinters fight each other, but they
fight for money, for feeding grounds, this is what they are fighting
for. They are not fighting for ideological reasons, while their
essence and methods remain the same: terror, murder, turning people
into a timid, frightened, obedient mass.
In the past years the situation has been
deteriorating, the terrorists’ infrastructure has been growing,
along with their numbers, while the weapons provided
to the so-called moderate opposition eventually ended up
in the hands of terrorist organisations. Moreover, sometimes entire
bands would go over to their side, marching in with flying colours,
as they say.
Why is it that the efforts of, say, our American
partners and their allies in their struggle against the Islamic
State has not produced any tangible results? Obviously, this is not
about any lack of military equipment or potential. Clearly,
the United States has a huge potential, the biggest military
potential in the world, only double crossing is never easy. You
declare war on terrorists and simultaneously try to use some of them
to arrange the figures on the Middle East board in your own
interests, as you may think.
It is impossible to combat terrorism in general if
some terrorists are used as a battering ram to overthrow the regimes
that are not to one’s liking. You cannot get rid of those
terrorists, it is only an illusion to think you can get rid of them
later, take power away from them or reach some agreement with them.
The situation in Libya is the best example here.
Let us hope that the new government will manage to stabilise
the situation, though this is not a fact yet. However, we need
to assist in this stabilisation.
We understand quite well that the militants
fighting in the Middle East represent a threat to everyone,
including Russia. People in our nation know what terrorist
aggression means and know what the bandits in the North Caucasus
have done. We remember the bloody terrorist attacks in Budennovsk,
Moscow, Beslan, Volgograd and other Russian cities. Russia has
always fought terrorism in all its forms, consistently advocating
for truly unifying the global community’s efforts to fight this
evil. That is why we made our suggestion to create a broad
anti-terror coalition, which I recently voiced in my speech
at the United Nations.
After Syria’s official authorities reached out to us
for support, we made the decision to launch a Russian military
operation in that nation. I will stress again: it is fully
legitimate and its only goal is to help restore peace. I am sure
that the Russian service members’ actions will have the necessary
positive effect on the situation, helping Syria’s official
authorities create the conditions for subsequent actions in reaching
a political settlement and stage pre-emptive strikes against
terrorists that threaten our nation, Russia. Thus, we help all
nations and peoples who are certainly in danger if these terrorists
Here is what we believe we must do to support
long-term settlement in the region, as well as its social, economic
and political revival. First of all, free Syria and Iraq’s
territories from terrorists and not let them move their activities
to other regions. And to do that, we must join all forces –
the Iraqi and Syrian regular armies, Kurdish militia, various
opposition groups that have actually made a real contribution
to fighting terrorists – and coordinate the actions of countries
within and outside of the region against terrorism. At the same
time, joint anti-terrorist action must certainly be based
on international law.
Second, it is obvious that a military victory over
the militants alone will not resolve all problems, but it will
create conditions for the main thing: a beginning of a political
process with participation by all healthy, patriotic forces
of the Syrian society. It is the Syrians who must decide their fate
with exclusively civil, respectful assistance from the international
community, and not under external pressure through ultimatums,
blackmail or threats.
The collapse of Syria’s official authorities,
for example, will only mobilise terrorists. Right now, instead
of undermining them, we must revive them, strengthening state
institutions in the conflict zone.
I want to remind you that throughout its history,
the Middle East has often been an arena for clashes between various
empires and powers. They redrew boundaries and reshaped the region’s
political structure to suit their tastes and interests.
And the consequences were not always good or beneficial
for the people living there. Actually, no one even asked their
opinion. The last people to find out what was happening in their own
nations were the people living in the Middle East.
Of course, this begs the question: isn’t it time
for the international community to coordinate all its actions with
the people who live in these territories? I think that it’s long
overdue; these people – like any people – should be treated with
The involvement in the process of political
settlement of the Muslim clergy, leaders of Islam and heads
of Muslim nations is crucial. We count on their consolidated
position and assistance, as well as their moral authority. It is
very important to protect people, especially youth, against
the destructive effects of the ideology of the terrorists, who are
trying to use them as cannon fodder, nothing more. We need
to distinguish clearly between genuine Islam, whose values are
peace, family, good deeds, helping others, respecting traditions,
and the lies and hatred that the militants sow under the guise
Fourth, we currently need to develop a roadmap
for the region’s economic and social development, to restore basic
infrastructure, housing, hospitals and schools. Only this kind
of on-site creative work after eliminating terrorism and reaching
a political settlement can stop the enormous flow of refugees
to European nations and return those who left to their homelands.
It is clear that Syria will need massive financial,
economic and humanitarian assistance in order to heal the wounds
of war. We need to determine the format within which we could do
this work, getting donor nations and international financial
institutions involved. Right now, Syria’s problems are being
discussed at the UN and other international organisations,
and within the framework of interstate relations. It’s true that
for now, we are not always able to reach an understanding and it is
painfully difficult to abandon might-have-been expectations
and unjustified calculations, but nevertheless, there is some
We see that contacts are being gradually established
between military departments within the anti-terrorist operation
framework, although not as actively and quickly as we might like.
Approval of the Russian-American document on safety guidelines
for the two countries’ military aircraft flying missions over Syria
is a serious step in the right direction.
We are also close to starting an exchange
of information with our western colleagues on militants’ positions
and movements. All these are certainly steps in the right direction.
What’s most important is to treat one another as allies in a common
fight, to be honest and open. Only then can we guarantee victory
over the terrorists.
For all the drama of its current situation, Syria can
become a model for partnership in the name of common interests,
resolving problems that affect everyone, and developing an effective
risk management system. We already had this opportunity after
the end of the Cold War. Unfortunately, we did not take advantage
of it. We also had the opportunity in the early 2000s, when Russia,
the US and many other nations were faced with terrorist aggression
and unfortunately, we were unable to establish a good dynamic
for cooperating then, either. I will not return to that
and the reasons for why we were unable to do this. I think everyone
knows already. Now, what’s important is to draw the right lessons
from what happened in the past and to move forward.
I am confident that the experience we acquired
and today’s situation will allow us to finally make the right
choice – the choice in favour of cooperation, mutual respect
and trust, the choice in favour of peace.
Thank you very much for your attention. (Applause.)
Vladimir Putin: First
of all, let me thank everyone who spoke. I think this was all very
substantive and interesting, and I am very pleased to see that our
discussion has spice and substance to it rather than being all dry
Let’s not dig around now in the distant past. When it
comes to who is to blame for the Soviet Union’s collapse, I think
that internal reasons were the primary cause, of course, and in this
sense, Mr Ambassador was right. The inefficiency of the former
Soviet Union’s political and economic systems was the main cause
of the state’s collapse.
But who gave this process a helping hand is another
matter. I don’t think that our geopolitical adversaries were
standing around idle, but internal reasons were nonetheless
the primary cause. Mr Ambassador, as I understand it, was debating
with me from afar, and now here, face to face, when he said that,
unlike me, he does not consider the collapse of the Soviet Union one
of the twentieth century’s great tragedies. For my part, I continue
to insist that this was a tragedy, above all a humanitarian tragedy.
This is what I was saying.
The Soviet collapse left 25 million Russians abroad.
This just happened overnight and no one ever asked them. I repeat
my argument that the Russian people became the world’s biggest
divided nation, and this was unquestionably a tragedy. That is not
to mention the socioeconomic dimension. The Soviet collapse brought
down the social system and economy with it. Yes, the old economy was
not very effective, but its collapse threw millions of people into
poverty, and this was also a tragedy for individual people
Now, on the question of continuing strategic
offensive arms limitation talks, you are right to say that we do
need to continue this dialogue. But at the same time, I cannot say
that Russia and the United States have done nothing here. We did
conclude a new treaty on limiting strategic offensive arms and set
goals for limiting this type of weapons. However, the USA’s
unilateral withdrawal from the ABM Treaty, which was the cornerstone
for preserving the balance of power and international security, has
left this whole system in a serious and complicated state.
In this respect, since this is a discussion club,
I would like to ask Mr Ambassador what he thinks of the USA’s
unilateral withdrawal from the ABM Treaty.
Jack Matlock: I was
personally opposed to that withdrawal and I take your point. I would
say that I don’t think that any subsequent plans for the sort
of deployments were or could be a threat to Russian systems. But
in general, I am not a supporter of ABM systems. I would point out
that I think the main source of that is not to threaten Russia but
to secure employment in the United States. A lot comes from
the military-industrial complex and the number of people it employs.
Vladimir Putin: Mr
Ambassador, I find your arguments unconvincing. I have the greatest
respect for your experience and diplomatic skills, of which you have
given us a flawless demonstration, avoiding a direct answer. Well,
you did answer my question, but not without some embellishments.
One should not create jobs when the result of this
activity threatens all of humanity. And if developing new missile
defence systems is about creating jobs, why create them in this
particular area? Why not create jobs in biology, pharmaceuticals,
or in high-tech sectors not related to arms production?
On the question of whether this poses a threat
to Russia or not, I can assure you that US security and strategic
arms specialists are fully aware that this does threaten Russia’s
nuclear capability, and that the whole purpose of this system is
to reduce the nuclear capabilities of all countries but the USA
itself to zero. We’ve been hearing arguments this whole time about
the Iranian nuclear threat, but as I said in my remarks before, our
position was always that there was no such threat, and now not only
we but the entire international community share this view.
The United States initiated the signing
of an agreement with Iran on settling the Iranian nuclear issue. We
actively followed and supported our US and Iranian partners
on the road to a common decision and this agreement has now come
into force and Iran has agreed to send its enriched uranium out
of the country. So if there is no Iranian nuclear problem, why
develop a missile defence system? You could stop the project, but
not only has the project not stopped, on the contrary, new tests
and exercises are taking place. These systems will be in place
in Romania by the end of the year and in Poland by 2018 or 2020.
As I can tell you, and the specialists know,
the missile defence deployment sites can be used effectively
for stationing cruise missile attack systems. Does this not create
a threat for us? Of course it does, and it changes the very
philosophy of international security. If one country thinks that it
has created a missile defence shield that will protect it from any
strikes or counter-strikes, it has its hands free to use whatever
types of weapons it likes, and it is this that upsets the strategic
balance. You have worked on arms agreements in the past and have
achieved some amazing results. I can but take off my hat to you
and congratulate you on this. You and your Russian partners have had
some great successes, but what is happening now cannot fail to worry
us. I am sure that you would agree with this in your heart.
Essentially, you admitted as much when you said that you did not
support the USA’s unilateral withdrawal from the treaty.
Now, on the subject of Ukraine, and on the idea that
this creates dangers for us, yes, of course it creates dangers, but
was it we who created this situation? Remember the year when Mr
Yanukovych lost the election and Mr Yushchenko came to power? Look
at how he came to power. It was through a third round of voting,
which is not even in the Ukrainian Constitution’s provisions.
The Western countries actively supported this. This was a complete
violation of the Constitution. What kind of democracy is this? This
is simply chaos. They did it once, and then did it again in even
more flagrant form with the change of regime and coup d’état that
took place in Ukraine not so long ago.
Russia’s position is not that we oppose the Ukrainian
people’s choice. We are ready to accept any choice. Ukraine
genuinely is a brotherly country in our eyes, a brotherly people.
I don’t make any distinction between Russians and Ukrainians. But we
oppose this method of changing the government. It is not a good
method anywhere in the world, but it is completely unacceptable
in the post-Soviet region, where, to be frank, many former Soviet
republics do not yet have traditions of statehood and have not yet
developed stable political systems. In this context, we need to take
great care of what we do have and help it to develop. We were ready
to work even with the people who came to power as a result of that
unconstitutional third round back then. We worked with Mr Yushchenko
and Ms Timoshenko, though they were considered to be completely
pro-Western politicians – I think this is not an accurate label
in general, but this was the way they were viewed. We met with them,
travelled to Kiev, received them here in Russia. Yes, we sometimes
had fierce debates on economic matters, but we did work together.
But what are we supposed to do when faced with a coup
d’état? Do you want to organise an Iraq or Libya here? The US
authorities have not hidden the fact that they are spending billions
there. The authorities have said directly in public that they have
spent $5 billion on supporting the opposition. Is this the right
Another of our colleagues said that it is wrong
to interpret things as suggesting that the United States seeks
to change the political system and government in Russia. It is hard
for me to agree with that argument. The United States has a law that
concerns Ukraine, but it directly mentions Russia, and this law
states that the goal is democratisation of the Russian Federation.
Just imagine if we were to write into Russian law that our goal is
to democratise the United States, though in principle we could do
this, and let me tell you why.
There are grounds for this. Everyone knows that there
were two occasions in US history when a president came to power with
the votes of the majority of the electoral college members but
the minority of voters. Is this democratic? No, democracy is
the people’s power, the will of the majority. How can you have
someone elected to the country’s highest office by only a minority
of voters? This is a problem in your constitution, but we do not
demand that you change your constitution.
We can debate all of this forever, but if you have
a country writing such things into its domestic laws and financing
the domestic opposition [of another country]… Having an opposition
is a normal thing, but it must survive on its own resources, and if
you have a country openly spending billions on supporting it, is
this normal political practice? Will this help to build a spirit
of trust at the interstate level? I don’t think so.
Now, on the subject of democracy moving closer to our
borders. (Laughter). You seem to be an experienced person. Do
you imagine we could be opposed to having democracy on our borders?
What is it you call democracy here? Are you referring to NATO’s move
towards our borders? Is that what you mean by democracy? NATO is
a military alliance. We are worried not about democracy on our
borders, but about military infrastructure coming ever closer to our
borders. How do you expect us to respond in such a case? What are we
to think? This is the issue that worries us.
You know what is at the heart of today’s problems?
I will share it with you, and we will certainly make public
the document I want to refer to now. It is a record
of the discussions between German politicians and top Soviet
officials just before Germany’s reunification. It makes for very
interesting reading, just like reading a detective story.
One prominent German political figure of the time,
a leader in the Social Democratic Party, said during the talks with
the senior Russian officials – I can’t quote him word for word, but
I remember the original closely enough – he said, “If we don’t reach
agreement now on the principles for Germany’s reunification
and Europe’s future, crises will continue and even grow after
Germany’s reunification and we will not end them but only face them
again in new forms.” Later, when the Soviet officials got into
discussion with him, he was surprised and said, “You’d think I am
defending the Soviet Union’s interests – reproaching them for their
short-sighted views it seems – but I’m thinking about Europe’s
future.” And he turned out to be absolutely right.
Mr Ambassador, your colleagues did not reach
agreements then on the basic principles of what would follow
Germany’s reunification: the question of prospective NATO membership
for Germany, the future of military infrastructure, its forms
and development, and the coordination of security issues in Europe.
Oral agreements were reached back then, but nothing was put
on paper, nothing fixed, and so it went from there. But as you all
recall from my speech in Munich, when I made this point, back then,
the NATO Secretary General gave the oral assurance that the Soviet
Union could be sure that NATO – I quote – would not expand beyond
the eastern borders of today’s GDR. And yet the reality was
completely different. There were two waves of NATO expansion
eastwards, and now we have missile defence systems right on our
I think that all of this raises legitimate concerns
in our eyes, and this is something we certainly need to work on.
Despite all the difficulties, we are willing to work together.
On the serious issue of missile defence, we have already made past
proposals and I say again that we could work together
as a threesome – the USA, Russia, and Europe. What would this kind
of cooperation entail? It would mean that all three parties agree
together on the direction missile threats are coming from, and have
equal part in the system’s command and in other secondary matters.
But our proposals met with a refusal. It was not we who did not seek
cooperation, but others who refused us.
Now we face the serious issue of what is happening
in Syria, and I am sure this will be the subject of further
discussion. We hear criticism that we are supposedly striking
the wrong targets. I said recently, speaking in Moscow, “Tell us
what are the right targets to hit if you know them,” but no, they
don’t tell us. So we ask them to tell us which targets to avoid, but
they still don’t answer us.
We have this excellent movie, Ivan Vasilyevich
Changes Profession. The Russian audience knows it well. One
of the movie’s characters says to the other, “How am I supposed
to understand what you’re saying if you don’t say anything?”
Fortunately, at the military level at least, as I said before, we
are starting to say something to each other and come to some
agreements. The circumstances oblige us to do so.
The military people are the most responsible it
seems, and I hope that if they can reach agreements, we will be able
to reach agreements at the political level too.
Vladimir Putin: How
effective will our operations in Syria be?
How can I give a certain answer to such questions?
The only thing that is certain is an insurance policy. We are acting
in accordance with our convictions and with the norms
of international law. We hope that coordinated action between our
strike aircraft and the other military systems being used,
coordinated with the Syrian army’s offensive, will produce positive
results. I believe and our military also think that results have
already been achieved.
Is this enough to be able to say that we have
defeated terrorism in Syria? No, big efforts are still needed before
we will be able to make such an assertion. A lot of work is still
needed, and let me stress that this must be joint work.
We do not want to start finger-pointing now, but let
me say nonetheless that over the nearly 18 months that a US-led
coalition has been carrying out airstrikes, with more than 11
countries taking part and more than 500 strikes against various
targets, there is no result yet, and this is a clear fact. What
result can we speak of if the terrorists have reinforced their
presence in Syria and Iraq, dug in deeper in the territory they had
already taken, and expanded their presence? In this sense, it seems
to me that our colleagues have not achieved any effective results
The first operations between our armed forces
and the Syrian armed forces have produced results, but this is not
enough. It would be wonderful if we united forces, everyone who
genuinely wants to fight terrorism, if all the region’s countries
and the outside powers, including the United States, came together
on this. In essence, this is just what we proposed.
We proposed that a military delegation come to Moscow
first, and then I said that we were ready to send a high-level
political delegation headed by Russia’s Prime Minister to discuss
political questions. But our proposal was given a refusal. True, our
American colleagues did then provide explanations at the ministerial
level, saying that there had been some misunderstanding and that
the road is open, that we can take this road and should think about
how to unite our efforts.
Now, the foreign ministers of the USA, Russia, Saudi
Arabia, and Turkey will meet. I think that other countries
in the region should join this process too, countries whose
involvement is essential if we want to settle this issue. I am
thinking of Iran, primarily. We have already said this many times
before. But it is a start at this stage to have the foreign
ministers meet to discuss things. As for our Iranian partners, we
are in close contact with them on this matter, and Iran makes its
own significant contribution to a settlement.
On the question of Syria’s partition, I think this
would be the worst-case scenario. It is an unacceptable option
because it would not help to resolve the conflict but would instead
only serve to increase and prolong it. This would become a permanent
conflict. If Syria were partitioned into separate territories, they
would inevitably fight between themselves without end and nothing
positive would come out of this.
On the matter of whether al-Assad should go or not,
I have said many times already that I think it wrong to even ask
this question. How can we ask and decide from outside whether this
or that country’s leader should stay or go. This is a matter
for the Syrian people to decide. Let me add though that we must be
certain that government is formed on the basis of transparent
democratic procedures. We can talk of having some kind
of international monitoring of these procedures, including election
procedures, but this must be objective monitoring, and most
importantly, it must not have a bias in favour of any one country
or group of countries.
Finally, on how we see the political process, let me
give a general outline now, but let me say at the same time that it
is the Syrians themselves who must formulate this process, its
principles and final goals, what they want and how they will achieve
it. By the Syrians themselves, I am referring to the lawful
government and the opposition forces. Of course, we take the view
that the root causes of the conflict in Syria are not just the fight
against terrorism and terrorist attacks, though terrorist aggression
is clear and the terrorists are simply taking advantage of Syria’s
internal difficulties. We need to separate the terrorist threat from
the internal political problems. Certainly, the Syrian government
must establish working contact with those opposition forces that are
ready for dialogue. I understood from my meeting with President
al-Assad the day before that he is ready for such dialogue.
Vladimir Putin: I can tell
you, I watch the video reports after the strike and they make
an impression. Such a quantity of ammunition goes off there that it
flies practically all the way up to the planes. You get
the impression that they have collected arms and ammunition from
throughout the entire Middle East. They have put together a colossal
amount of arms. You can’t help but wonder where they get the money
from. It’s really a tremendous amount of firepower they’ve
accumulated. Now, of course, it is less than it was. The Syrian army
really is making gains with our support. The results are modest
for now, but they are there, and I am sure that there will be more.
(responding to a question on possible Russian participation
in an operation in Iraq) We have no such plans and cannot have
them because the Iraqi government has not made any such request
of us. We are providing assistance to Iraq in the form of arms
supplies. This is something we were already doing, and we make our
contribution to fighting terrorism in Iraq this way – by supplying
weapons and ammunition. But the Iraqi government has not made any
request for other aid, though we work together with them not just
through supplies of arms and military equipment, but through
information exchanges too.
As you know, it was in Baghdad that Iran, Syria,
Russia and Iraq established an information centre, where we exchange
information and set the main directions in the fight against
terrorism, including against the Islamic State, but we have no plans
to expand military operations involving Russia’s Aerospace Forces.
Vladimir Putin: The aim
of Russia’s military operations and diplomatic efforts in this area
is to fight terrorism and not to mediate between representatives
of the different currents of Islam. We value equally our Shiite
friends, our Sunni friends, and our Alawite friends. We do not make
distinctions between them.
We have very good relations with many countries where
the Sunni branch of Islam is dominant. We also have very good
relations with majority Shiite countries, and we therefore make no
distinction between them. Let me say again that our sole and primary
aim is to fight terrorism.
At the same time, we are aware of the realities
on the ground. Of the 34, I think (it’s around that number, anyway),
cabinet members in Syria, more than half are Sunnis, and Sunnis are
just as broadly represented in the Syrian army as in the government.
Syria was always primarily a secular state, after all.
But let me say again that we are aware of the real
circumstances we are working in, and of course, if our actions could
help to give discussion between the different religious groups
a more civilised, good-neighbourly and friendly nature and help
to settle various conflicts and unite efforts in the fight against
terrorism, we would consider our mission fulfilled.
Vladimir Putin: I was
wondering to myself just now whether to say this or not. Let me
raise the curtain a little on our talks with President al-Assad.
I asked him, “How would you react if we see that there is an armed
opposition in Syria today that is ready to genuinely fight
terrorism, fight the Islamic State, and we were to support their
efforts in this fight against terrorism just as we are supporting
the Syrian army?” He said, “I think it would be positive.” We are
reflecting on this now and will try, if it all works out,
to translate these agreements into practical steps.
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