ARMS AGREEMENTS INVALID IF U.S. ABANDONS ABM TREATY;
PACT WITH CHINA NOT AN ALLIANCE; NATO EXPANSION DIVIDES EUROPE
Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, was interviewed by the editors
of the Italian daily Corriere della Sera in the Kremlin late last week.
Following is an excerpt of that interview.
Q. Mr. President, one year ago, at the
G-8 in Okinawa, you had a leading role. What will be your proposals this
year in Genoa?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: It is true that last year my visit to Pyongyang
was an important contribution to the dialogue with North Korea. The challenge
we are expecting in Genoa (July 20-22) is a different one: It is the fight
Russia is offering a substantial contribution to this cause, in particular
to the alleviation of the debt of the underdeveloped countries. We are
fourth among the eight that have canceled the debt of underdeveloped countries,
and we are in first place in the percentage of cancellation in proportion
to our gross domestic product.
If we can't overcome poverty, we will not be able to overcome the tensions
that exist in today's world. We are certainly willing to collaborate with
our G-8 partners in fighting illnesses, opening new markets and looking
for alternative sources of energy -- even though Russia is rich in sources
of energy. There is also the issue of the protection of the environment.
After the unilateral U.S. withdrawal, we have to discuss the Kyoto Protocol.
Q. If there are nonviolent demonstrations in Genoa, how should
they be answered?
PUTIN: Every democratic society permits the right to protest. It
is a benefit when the position of whoever does not agree is presented
to public opinion and discussed in a convincing manner. Nevertheless,
disagreements should stay within the limits of the law. If not, the state
should act to defend the citizens. Vandalism or other extreme acts are
Q. Your meeting with George Bush in Slovenia was very cordial.
Nevertheless, the U.S. insists on pursuing its anti-ballistic missile
defense program. The Bush administration has made it clear they intend
to abrogate the ABM treaty, which limits the creation of anti-missile
PUTIN: It is true. The meeting went very well. Whenever the leaders
of two countries with large nuclear arsenals meet, face to face, there
is at once a rapport based on trust. Our meeting was an important step
At this point I don't believe there is any need for the creation of an
anti-missile system because the territory of the U.S. is not in any danger
of an attack. The countries considered dangerous will need 20 or 30 years
to build a credible offensive system.
At best, they now only possess old Soviet Scud-type missiles. To build
a system that is modern (enough to threaten U.S. territory) it would be
necessary to have new materials, new electronics and new testing facilities.
In other words, it would be necessary for these countries to have a new
economy -- and a new economy requires a new political system. At the present
all this is impossible.
But I agree with Mr. Bush that we have to think about this issue and look
to the future.
This does not imply that Russia is afraid. According to our information,
none of the experiments attempted by the U.S. succeeded until the last
one. So far, we are not intimidated, and we are ready to reduce our arsenal
of nuclear warheads to 1,500 on each side by 2008 as long as the reduction
is readily verifiable by both parties.
Q. What reaction would Russia have if the U.S. unilaterally abandons
the ABM treaty?
PUTIN: If the U.S. abandons the ABM treaty, Russia retains the
right to consider the START I and START II treaties invalid. We could
install more atomic warheads on each missile. It is probable that other
nations would do the same. There would be the real danger of a new arms
race, and it would not be because of Russia.
Q. To prevent this from happening, is it possible to amend the
ABM treaty so as to avoid a collision course with the U.S.?
PUTIN: I would like to stress that it is necessary to think of
the future danger without jeopardizing present agreements. It is important
to know who has the missiles, and what type of missiles they are. And
we wish to carry on this research (on missile defenses) with Europe and
the U.S. as long as the militarization of space is excluded.
To modify the ABM treaty? A clause for revision is included in the treaty,
which has been already utilized. To be sure, neither I nor any other Russian
statesman would take a decision against the interests of national security.
Q. What is the significance of the new Russia-China friendship
agreement? Is it, perhaps, a new strategic alliance against the U.S.?
PUTIN: Overall, we share similar opinions on how to build a global
security system. China holds the same position as Russia in regards to
anti-ballistic defenses. But China's nuclear force is considerably inferior
to ours, and Beijing takes its own positions independently of us.
However, the new agreement is one of friendship and collaboration. It
is not a springboard to create a new military alliance with China or an
answer to the American renunciation of the ABM treaty. After all, Russia
has a treaty of friendship with Italy. Has this resulted in a military
Q. Russia is opposed to a second expansion of NATO. Are there conditions
for a compromise?
PUTIN: The problem should be simple. In the West everyone says,
"We don't want Europe divided; we don't want new Berlin Walls."
Well, we agree completely.
But whenever NATO expands, the division does not disappear; it is only
moved closer to our border. We hear NATO has become a political organization,
but then we see it using force and not relying on the Security Council
of the United Nations.
How can we build mutual trust in Europe if we create different levels
of security? We could dissolve NATO, just as the Warsaw Pact was dissolved.
But such a dissolution is not even considered. Or we could let Russia
enter NATO to take part in the decision-making process. But this is not
about to happen.
There could also be a different security mechanism as was once attempted
with the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe. But those
who do not want a climate of trust in Europe are pushing the OSCE toward
the Caucasus and Central Asia. We are at the point of having to reflect
together. Until Europe has the same security space for everyone, the conflicts
of nations will remain.
Q. Do you think Lenin's remains ought to be removed from Red Square
and buried in a cemetery?
PUTIN: This is an emotional issue, even if some would like to present
it as political issue. The reality is that old Russians associate their
life with the old order and Lenin's name. I believe that any problem,
this included, should be resolved on the basis of a public consensus so
there is not a rebellion from the inside.
Today Russian society has found general consensus. This agreement allows
us to change the country, to modernize it, while at the same time changing
people's mentality. When I see the majority of the people are ready to
deal with the Lenin issue, then I will deal with it. I don't see this
at the moment. Therefore we do not speak about it.
Q. Could you explain to us why Russia cannot resolve the Chechnya
issue and respect human rights there? Even your generals admit to having
violated those rights.
PUTIN: I do not deny that there could have been some abuses or
irregularities during our actions, which I condemn. It is inevitable when
we fight against terrorism. If the law is willingly violated we are ready
to try our military personnel. We are not ashamed to talk about it to
the international mass media.
But you are telling me that in Russia we are not able to resolve the Chechnya
problem. Are you able to resolve the problem of the Balkans? NATO has
attempted to resolve it by bombing the area. So force can be used in that
instance but not in our case? Why not in Chechnya?
We are responding to aggression by Islamic fundamentalists, and on this
issue we have the support of the people. We are defending our territory.
The U.S. is requesting that the terrorist Osama Bin Laden be handed over
to them. Yet the people we are dealing with in Chechnya are also under
his command. They receive support, they are trained in his camps and commit
hideous crimes, of which the international media know nothing. How are
they better than Bin Laden? Who has the moral right to ask us not to fight
Q. As soon as you arrived in the Kremlin, you took on the oligarchy
which you said had taken too much power. But in order to do that, is it
necessary to limit the freedom of the press?
PUTIN: A society that does not have freedom for the mass media
does not have a future. This is an undeniable fact. It is certainly possible
to get rid of the oligarchs without restricting the mass media. But we
are talking about different issues.
We have to be clear about the case of one oligarch (Vladimir Guzinksy),
who has stolen a billion dollars from the state and has no intention of
giving it back. He intends to use mass media to blackmail the state.
Our task today is to create the conditions by which the media will be
independent and self-financing.
Q. Mr. President, does your experience in the KGB help you today,
or is it cause for regret?
PUTIN: I worked in foreign intelligence. I studied in a counter-intelligence
school but was soon sent to the Directorate of Foreign Affairs. I graduated
from that service and was sent on missions outside the U.S.S.R. This opened
Employees of this directorate would spend most of their life in foreign
countries. They would know what was going on in the U.S.S.R. but could
also see the reality of countries of Western Europe. This opened my mind.
For this reason I believe my experience was a positive one. We should
remember that in the '90s I had different experiences, in St. Petersburg
(where Putin worked with the reformist mayor, Anatoly Sobchak -- ed.)
and in Moscow (where Putin worked under Yeltsin -- ed.).
I can understand that this may be less exciting than life as a secret
agent, but I am sorry to disappoint you. I have never done that.
(c) 2001, Corriere della Sera. Distributed by Los Angeles Times Syndicate
International, a division of Tribune Media Services.
For immediate release (Distributed 7/17/01)