September 6, 2013
Part of the interview of the President of the Russian Federation V. Putin by the Channel One and the Associated Press news agency on the situation over the Syrian Arab Republic (including use of chemical weapons and the forceful action against Syria)
(September 3, 2013, Novo-Ogaryovo, Moscow Region)
JOHN DANISZEWSKI, QUESTION: Thank you for inviting us into your home and for answering questions for the AP’s worldwide audience. I know this is a very busy week for you – you have so many world leaders at the G20 meetings this week, and it’s much appreciated.
If I may, I’d like to begin with the story of Syria. President Obama says he will wait until getting Congress’ approval before moving on Syria. What do you believe should happen there? What do you believe happened there as far as the chemical weapons’ attack goes? What should be done about it?
PRESIDENT OF RUSSIA VLADIMIR PUTIN: We have no accurate information as to what has happened. We believe that we should at least wait for the results of the investigation conducted by the UN weapons inspectors. But we have no evidence that these chemical substances – it is not clear yet whether it was a chemical weapon or just some harmful chemical substance – have been used by the Syrian Army.
Moreover, as I have already mentioned, in our opinion, it seems absolutely absurd that regular armed forces, which are currently on the offensive and in some areas have encircled the so-called rebels and are actually finishing them off, that in these circumstances they would start using forbidden chemical weapons while realising quite well that it could serve as a pretext for applying sanctions against them, including the use of force. It’s simply absurd, it’s illogical in the first place.
Second, we assume that if there are data that the chemical weapons have been used, and used specifically by the regular army, this evidence should be submitted to the United Nations Security Council – to the inspectors and the Security Council. And it should be convincing, not based on some rumours or information obtained by special services through some kind of interception or tapping or things like that. Even in the United States, there are experts who believe that the evidence presented by the Administration does not look convincing, and they do not rule out the possibility of a preplanned provocation by the opposition in an effort to give its sponsors a pretext for military intervention.
JOHN DANISZEWSKI, QUESTION: If I may follow up, the video was so dramatic showing the suffering children and people gasping for air. Did you look at that video and what was your reaction to it?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: As for the materials, video materials you have just mentioned, featuring dead children allegedly killed in the chemical attack, they are horrible. The question is only who did what, and who is responsible for this.
The pictures themselves do not answer the questions I have just posed. Some think it is a compilation made by these very rebels, who, as we are well aware, and the US Administration acknowledges it, are linked to Al-Qaeda and who have always been distinguished by extreme brutality.
At that, I would like to draw your attention to the fact that, if you have watched these videos carefully, they feature no parents, women or medical personnel. Who are these people and what has happened there? There is no answer to this question. And these pictures themselves are undoubtedly horrible, but they do not prove anybody's guilt. No doubt it is subject to investigation, and it would be good to know who is responsible for these atrocities.
JOHN DANISZEWSKI, QUESTION: What would Russia’s position be if you became convinced that it was by the government of Syria? Would you agree to a military action?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: I do not rule that out, but I would like to draw your attention to one absolutely key aspect. In line with existing international law, only the United Nations Security Council could sanction the use of force against a sovereign state. Any other pretext or method to justify the use of force against an independent sovereign state is inadmissible and can only be interpreted as an aggression.
JOHN DANISZEWSKI, QUESTION: I see your reasoning in this regard but I do wonder when there’s a question mark about who committed these crimes. Whether Russia should distance itself from the Assad government and maybe hold up its shipments of arms, something like that.
VLADIMIR PUTIN: Once we have objective and accurate data as to who has committed these crimes, then we will react. Assuming something now and telling things in advance like yes, we will do this or that, would be absolutely incorrect. This is not done in politics. Yet, I assure you that we will take a principled stand. I would like to say that our stand is principled because the use of weapons of mass destruction is a crime.
On the other hand, yet another question arises. If it is ascertained that the weapons of mass destruction are used by the rebels, what will the US do with them? What will these sponsors do with the rebels? Will they cut off arms shipments? Will they launch military operations against them?
JOHN DANISZEWSKI, QUESTION: Well, I think John Kerry said that anyone who stands by when these crimes are done will have to answer to history, and I’m sure you and Russia would be included, and the United States, but are you afraid that you may be seen today as standing by a regime that’s oppressing and committing crimes. Is there a danger that you will be seen as a protective of this government?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: We do not defend this government. We are defending absolutely different things. We are defending the norms and principles of international law. We are defending modern world order. We are defending the possibility, the discussion of a possibility to use force only within the existing international order, international rules and international law. That is what we are defending. That is what represents the absolute value. When issues related to the use of force are dealt with outside the framework of the UN and Security Council, then there’s risk that such unlawful decisions might be applied against anybody and on any pretext.
You have just said that Mr Kerry believes that chemical weapons have been used by Assad’s army, but the same point was used by another Secretary of State under President George W. Bush as he was trying to convince the entire international community of Iraq’s possession of chemical weapons and even showed a test tube containing some white powder. All these arguments turned out to be untenable, but they were used to launch a military action, which many in the United States call a mistake today. Did we forget about that? Do we assume that new mistakes can be avoided so easily? I assure you that is not the case. Everyone remembers those facts, bears them in mind and takes them into account when making decisions.
JOHN DANISZEWSKI, QUESTION: So, I understand that you will not accept the evidence that has been offered so far as convincing. What would it take to convince you?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: It would take a deep and specific investigation containing evidence that would be obvious and prove beyond doubt who did it and what means were used. Then we will be ready to act in the most decisive and serious manner.
KIRILL KLEYMENOV, QUESTION: Mr President, does Russia continue to fulfil the contracts for the supply and maintenance of military equipment to Syria?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: Yes, of course. We do it and assume that we cooperate with a legitimate government without violating any rules of international law or any of our commitments. No restrictions have been imposed by the UN on the supplies of weapons to Syria. It is very disappointing indeed that the supplies to the rebels are being carried out in full since the very beginning of this armed conflict, although the international law prohibits the supply of arms to opposition groups.
KIRILL KLEYMENOV, QUESTION: Can I please clarify things a bit with regard to the state-of-the-art S-300 systems?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: Please go ahead.
KIRILL KLEYMENOV, QUESTION: There is a lot of talk now as to whether Russia has actually supplied these systems to Syria or not.
VLADIMIR PUTIN: S-300s are not the state-of-the-art systems. I think they are in fact somewhat better than Patriot, but we already have S-400 and we are close to completing the S-500 system. These weapons are certainly very efficient. We have a contract for the supply of S-300, and we have already supplied some of its components, but the delivery has not been completed, we have suspended it for now. However, if we see that steps are being taken that violate current international norms, we shall think how we should act in the future, including with regard to supplies of such sensitive weapons to certain parts of the world.
KIRILL KLEYMENOV, QUESTION: Heads of many states have stated that their countries will not get involved in this conflict on no condition. Can you say something of this kind?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: I would like to draw your attention to the fact that at the moment Russia has no armed forces’ units deployed abroad, except for two bases located on the territory of the former Soviet Union and our peacekeepers taking part in operations under the UN mandates. It is very good, and we are pleased with that. We are definitely not going to and will not get involved in any conflicts.
As regards the decision of some countries to abstain from participation in a military operation, it was actually a surprise for me, because I used to believe that the Western community is governed by the principle of certain uniformity similar to the decision-making principle used by members of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. However, it turned out that it was not true. In fact, there are people who value their sovereignty, analyse the situation and have the courage to make decisions for the benefit of their own countries and defend their point of view. It is a very good sign, it shows that the multi-polar world order has indeed been strengthened.
JOHN DANISZEWSKI, QUESTION: President Putin, I would like to get on to the subject of US-Russian relations but before I do, can I ask one more question about Syria. Supposing President Obama gets the support of Congress for some military actions and other countries go along, what would Russia do? Will you fight for Syria or you would be rifting relations with Syria? What’s your reaction going to be?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: Are you working for a news agency or for the CIA? You are asking questions that are usually posed by colleagues from other agencies. Russia has certain plans if the situation develops according to the first, second or third scenario. We have our ideas about what we will do and how we will do it if weapons are used or not used. We have our plans, but it is too early to talk about them.