August 30, 2004,
Interview of Vladimir V.Putin, President of the Russian Federation, with the Turkish Media
QUESTION: Mr President, we are meeting here in Sochi. Are you on holiday here?
PRESIDENT VLADIMIR PUTIN: It’s a working holiday. I keep working, but with a change of scenery, and you always feel a bit different when you have a change of scenery.
QUESTION: And how do you spend your time when you have a change of scenery? I’ve heard that you are a very good swimmer.
VLADIMIR PUTIN: I doubt that I’m a very good swimmer, it’s just a form of exercise for me. But here I am able to combine work and rest. I have regular meetings on internal political questions and international issues. Of course, compared to Moscow, we are in the south, at the seaside here which creates a certain atmosphere and makes for a good mood.
I spend time exercising, around an hour-and-a-half, wherever I am.
QUESTION: Everyone has a dream when they’re a child. I, for example, dreamed of becoming a doctor, but I ended up becoming a journalist. Did you ever imagine that you would one day be at the head of as vast a country as Russia and that you would be the country’s leader and the top man in the Kremlin? Did this ever enter your thoughts?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: Not only did I never dream of it, I never even thought about it. Most of all because politics did not really attract me. It always seemed to me that politics was about a lot of talking without much substance behind it. You had to talk a lot, and the things you talked about were sometimes, perhaps even most of the time, very hard to realise in practice. It was this that always made me reluctant to enter politics, and so I neither dreamt nor thought about it. Things just turned out the way they did.
QUESTION: Did anything change once you found yourself at the very top? Did you lose some of your personal freedom, for example, or did something else change in your life?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: Yes, of course, there have been a lot of changes. Above all, there is another sense of responsibility. This has imposed a lot as far as behaviour goes, and, of course, there are also certain restrictions on personal freedom.
QUESTION: Do you ever feel loneliness? You are surrounded by people, but still, does this feeling ever arise?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: Whether we’re talking about a large or a small country, so much depends on the head of state and this means that so many different interests all converge in one place or in one person. Yes, this feeling does exist. You need to try to keep a certain distance from all these interest groups and people. But no one can live in a vacuum, in isolation. I try, therefore, to maintain relations with people who do not depend on my taking some decisions or other related to the execution of my presidential powers. Above all, these are my old friends from high school or university days.
QUESTION: What are your dreams today? Everyone has a dream. What would you rather achieve, return Russia to its former greatness or make every Russian a more prosperous, flourishing person?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: I think that if I could achieve the second aim and make everyone who lives in Russia and considers it their homeland happier and more prosperous, then this would show our country’s greatness.
Times have changed a lot since the days when the Soviet Union was still on the map of the world. Priorities and values are changing and what is important in the modern world is to focus on the interests of each individual. This is, more than anything else, the task for the state authorities and for the state as a whole.
QUESTION: So, former glory, missiles, having a powerful country, this is not the main thing. The main thing is that each individual, the man in the street be happy and prosperous?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: Absolutely right. That is what I think and I deeply believe this. But to achieve this happiness for each of its citizens, a country itself has to be up to the demands of today’s world. This concerns the economy, above all, the social sphere, security, the state of the armed forces. A country’s defence capability is vital for stable development of the state. All of this has to be developed to the required level and be balanced. But we must never forget our primary concern, and that is the situation of each individual citizen.
QUESTION: Another question. You spent part of your life defending communism and communist values. Then, at some point, everything changed, the ideology and so on. So, my question is, how did that come about? Was it the singer or the song that was no good?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: My life was not spent defending communist ideals. More than anything else, I was protecting the interests of my country. The Communist Party, at least during the last decade of the Soviet Union’s existence, was more of a state structure than an ideological one. Essentially, it had replaced the state. In order to have a career, any career, in the Soviet Union, you had to be a member of the Communist Party.
In itself, the idea is an attractive one and I think it has something in common with Christianity or with the other world religions. It speaks of equality, fraternity and happiness. But the means used to try to reach these aims were absolutely unacceptable.
QUESTION: So the song was good?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: It was a beautiful song, but unfortunately also a false one…
QUESTION: So the singer was unable to perform it?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: No, the theory itself did not work and the aims that had been set were unreachable. All the more so as even these original aims had largely faded away by the last decades.
QUESTION: I certainly don’t want to try to force secrets out of you, but you used to work for the security services, and at that time, how did you see Turkey, with doubt, wariness, suspicion? What was Turkey for you at that time?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: To be frank with you, at that time, Turkey was above all a NATO country and NATO’s stronghold in this part of the world.
QUESTION: So it was practically an enemy?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: An opponent.
QUESTION: Over on our side of the Black Sea we grew up hearing about how Stalin wanted to take Kars from us and some other areas too. Now, though, all that is over and we no longer grow up hearing these fables.
So where are we heading now? What are our two countries moving towards?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: Towards cooperation and the prosperity that will accompany us along this road. After all, we can only achieve prosperity for our own citizens and effectively develop our economies if we join forces. This is particularly pertinent for countries such as Turkey and Russia because we have many common interests. We are neighbours on the Black Sea. We have a complex but very interesting shared history. We know very well that there is a bit of everything in this history – wars and times of reconciliation – but strange though it may seem, there has been more cooperation than anything else.
Let’s recall the 1920s and 1930s when the young Soviet republic gave the new Turkish leadership direct moral and political support. Let’s also recall the 1960s and 1970s when the Soviet Union helped build steel mills, aluminium smelters and oil refineries. We share a lot of ties and I am absolutely convinced and want to stress that we can achieve even more today and tomorrow if we cooperate and join our forces.
The most recent big projects, Blue Stream, for example, show that we can carry out even the most ambitious, seemingly impossible plans. The results speak for themselves. In 1992, our trade turnover was $1.3 billion, but this had risen to $6.8 billion in 2003 – an almost six-fold increase and an incredible growth rate. And do you know what the increase in trade has been over the first half of this year? Sixty percent. This is a very good result and it shows that we have excellent cooperation prospects.
That’s not even to mention the interest Russians are showing in Turkey, which has become a favourite holiday destination. I think we had almost 1.5 million Russian tourists visit there last year, something about 1.2 million or 1.3 million. And there is a lot of interest in Turkish culture in Russia.
QUESTION: Russians are everywhere in Turkey, in Bodrum, all along the coast, in Antalya.
VLADIMIR PUTIN: A Turkish culture festival took place this year in Russia and a Russian festival will take place next year in Turkey. We do have something to show each other and where to cooperate.
QUESTION: Have you ever been to Antalya?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: Yes, several times.
QUESTION: How did you like it there?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: I liked it very much. What’s more, my first visit to Turkey completely changed my image of the country…
QUESTION: How? In what way?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: For the better, of course. That is, there was this stereotype image of all the NATO countries being our opponents, and that went for Turkey in this part of the world, but this was completely changed by seeing the reality of today’s Turkey and seeing the attitudes of ordinary Turks towards Russians, towards Russian citizens, and towards me in particular.
QUESTION: So, Antalya changed your views on Turkey?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: Yes, to a large extent. I remember how a friend and I went sailing in a little boat along the coast. There was a captain on the boat and two or three sailors. It was just a simple vessel. But these people made a real impression on me. They were not politicians, not businesspeople, just ordinary Turks, ordinary people, but so well-intentioned, so natural in the way they showed their friendship and a kind of support. Spending time with these people was the decisive thing in changing my image of the country.
QUESTION: Was this around 1990?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: I think it was around 1992, 1993.
QUESTION: So you had not yet begun your ascent to the Kremlin?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: No, of course not, I was working in St. Petersburg.
QUESTION: Another question. Practically for the first time in the history of Russian-Turkish relations a Russian leader is to visit Turkey, and that leader is you.
If you were, say, a journalist, how would you assess this visit? What newspaper headline would you choose, “Historic Visit”, “Visit Opens New Era in Relations”?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: “Towards Progress and Prosperity Together”.
QUESTION: That’s a little long for a newspaper headline. It would need trimming. How about “Strategic Partnership” or “Towards a Strategic Partnership”?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: The less cliches, the better, I think.
QUESTION: Jokes aside, as far as I understand, you agree that a new page has been turned in our relations and that we have abandoned old stereotypes and slogans and are moving together towards a more mature, more diverse partnership?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: That is absolutely correct. This is linked to the fact that the world has changed radically. These global changes lead in turn to changes in the relations between countries.
We no longer have a bipolar world of two systems at war with each other or waiting for an opportune moment to attack and destroy each other.
We are neighbours and we have a lot of common interests. If we unite our efforts we will win and will achieve great results and successes. We understand this and we see that our Turkish partners also understand this. Furthermore, and this is also very important both in my opinion and in that of my colleagues, Turkey has been showing its independence in the full sense of the word, especially of late, and this is greatly increasing its recognition on the international stage.
QUESTION: You mentioned trade and economic relations. I have also looked at some statistics. They show a certain imbalance, even though the trade turnover comes to around $7 billion. How does Russia plan to correct this imbalance, with investment, with cooperation in the energy sector? Or do you plan to transport oil and gas through Turkey to Europe, to third countries? What plans are there to expand cooperation?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: We must diversify our relations. We have many areas we can work in together. The energy sector, which you mentioned, is just one such area, though it is a very important, significant one.
We are ready to continue supplying Turkey with energy, and gas and oil, perhaps. We are also ready to look at transit of energy supplies through Turkish territory to other countries. Several Russian companies are ready to take part in major energy sector projects in Turkey. We are also ready to expand our supplies of machinery to the Turkish economy.
QUESTION: So can I take it that we can expect to see major investment from Russia?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: What I know is that our companies are interested in taking part in privatisation in Turkey. This is perfectly realistic. We can also cooperate in the aviation and military-technical sectors. We are still fighting for a major contract to supply helicopters to Turkey. In other words, we have many areas in which we can work together.
QUESTION: Mr President, we are all saying that a new page is being turned in the history of our bilateral relations. But this notwithstanding, Russia used its veto in the UN Security Council to block attempts to relieve the pressure on Northern Cyprus. Why?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: Do you mean the veto that was used just recently?
QUESTION: A report was presented recently at the Security Council on loosening the sanctions against Northern Cyprus, but Russia and France voted against it.
VLADIMIR PUTIN: Our position is that this is above all an internal issue for Cyprus. The two communities must agree among themselves and find compromise solutions that will enable people living in both the north and south of Cyprus to live together in durable peace and harmony.
Creating these conditions requires minimising all pressures from outside. It was for this reason that we used our power of veto in the Security Council on the eve of the referendum in Cyprus. We did not want any outside decision, including the Security Council’s decision, to influence the internal political processes in Cyprus itself. As I understand it, the Cyprus issue places a fairly heavy burden on the Turkish people and the Turkish economy, and Turkey, like other countries, has an interest in settling this issue. We will cooperate with everyone, including Turkey, to help find a solution that is acceptable to both Turkish and Greek Cypriots.
QUESTION: The Turks say “yes”, they also want this. But what we end up with is that the Turks say, “We want to reunite and we want to live together with the Greeks”, but the Greeks then say, “No, we don’t want to”, and still they punish the Turks for this.
VLADIMIR PUTIN: Now you’re trying to draw me into an internal Cypriot discussion. I do not think I have the right to discuss this problem. As for our veto, I can assure you that it did not meet with a negative reaction, including from the Turkish leadership. There are arguments for and against. This veto was not directed against Turkish Cypriots. Above all, it was aimed at helping to create the conditions in which Turkish Cypriots and Greek Cypriots would be able to make decisions without external pressure.
QUESTION: If there is a repeat of this situation, you will not use your power of veto?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: If there is a repeat of this situation, we will base ourselves on the situation at the given moment and will act according to the interests of the people living on the island.
QUESTION: If you don’t object, let’s turn to the Caucasus. The Caucasus, after all, is also part of the Eurasian area. In this region, are Russia and Turkey rivals or are they allies that can resolve the problems together?
For example, if Turkey were to be offered the role of mediator in Georgian affairs, how would Russia react?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: My view is that Russia and Turkey are the two countries with the greatest interest in normalising the situation in the South Caucasus.
We have a better awareness of what is going on there and we have a greater interest in normalisation because we are this region’s neighbours. We are closely bound to this region by economic, humanitarian and other ties. I am absolutely convinced that, if we want to find solutions to these problems that are in our interests and in the interests of this entire region, we must under no circumstances act as rivals, and all the more so not get powers from outside the region involved as well. We are perfectly capable of settling the situation ourselves and helping the peoples of this region sort out their problems.
Also, going back to the Cypriot problem, I can tell you that our decision to use our power of veto on that issue was not unexpected for our Turkish colleagues and friends. We informed them ahead of time and consulted with them, and we were in contact with the Turkish leadership too. We would like that we could work together on everything happening in other regions that are sensitive for us. I am sure that if we do this, we will achieve greater results.
QUESTION: Another question. Iraq was one of the Soviet Union’s leading allies. Had the Soviet Union not collapsed, would the United States have been able to occupy Iraq?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: If the Soviet Union had not undergone any internal political change and still existed in its previous form, then no, of course not. But if the Soviet Union had maintained its previous borders but changed politically, then the possibility can’t be ruled out because a changed Soviet Union (if the political nature of the Soviet Union changed as it did in Russia) would have been unlikely to become an ally of the former Iraqi regime and events could have developed more or less as we see today.
QUESTION: Has the United States found itself in a swamp in Iraq? In other words, can we draw any parallels with the situation in which the Soviets found itself in Afghanistan?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: Drawing parallels is always an ungrateful task. It would be better to try to analyse the situation as it is and with regard to this specific country, Iraq. You know our position, we were against military action, considering it counter-productive, and I think that the development of events today proves that our thinking was right. So we have what we now see today.
RESPONSE: You were right.
VLADIMIR PUTIN: We see that the Americans and President George W. Bush have made some internal political progress in Iraq and have managed to form a modern, functioning Iraqi leadership, and we, of course, want to help further normalise and strengthen the internal political situation in Iraq. We hope that this will happen quite rapidly. We want to rebuild relations with the Iraqi leadership and we are, of course, concerned by the wave of violence in the country. We will do all we can in international organisations, within the United Nations framework and using our traditional channels of cooperation with Iraq in order to normalise the situation there as rapidly as possible. The biggest sign of normalisation would be the complete and definitive restoration of the Iraqi people’s sovereignty over their territory and their resources.
QUESTION: But take the hypothetical possibility that an independent Kurdish state is created in the north of Iraq. What would Russia’s position be on this? Would Russia oppose it? What would you do, would you send your troops there to prevent it?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: Sending troops is always an extreme measure and not always the most effective solution. There are plenty of other means of action. In general, it is better not to let things reach the point where troops have to be sent in. But our position has always been and will remain clear and transparent: we are for preserving Iraq’s territorial integrity and against dividing the country up into quasi-state formations.
QUESTION: You are absolutely against this?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: We are against it.
RESPONSE: Then Russia and Turkey’s views coincide here.
VLADIMIR PUTIN: Yes, they coincide.
QUESTION: A question about Chechnya. Moscow was previously always critical of Turkey over Chechnya. There were even accusations made against Turkey that we close our eyes to the activities of Chechens in Turkey and help them, and you even mentioned the Workers’ Party of Kurdistan (PKK) as a counterweight issue, but then this criticism stopped, a certain balance was reached and mechanisms put into place. From your point of view, how are these mechanisms working now, and are you happy with them?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: First of all, I would like to draw your attention back to the question you asked about Iraq. It was not by chance, after all, that you asked how Russia would react to the possible creation of an independent state in the north of Iraq. We understand that this interest is linked to Turkey’s concerns, above all, its internal politics concerns. Turkey understands better than many countries just what separatism and terrorism are about. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Russian Federation itself found itself affected by the threat of disintegration. As soon as the state became weakened, separatism raised its head in many regions, and not just in Chechnya, but it was in Chechnya that it took the most acute form, and mistakes made by Russia itself contributed to making this possible.
Today, the situation there is normalising. As you know, elections have just been held there and a new president has been elected. But international terrorism is trying to use this situation to its own ends. You know what happened here just recently with the loss of our two passenger planes, and the fact that an international terrorist organisation linked to Al Qaeda took responsibility for this act of terrorism, confirms once again what we have said many times, namely that the separatists in the Caucasus, in Chechnya in particular, are acting in their own interests and not in the interests of the Chechen people, and are linked to international terrorism.
Also, it is true that certain public foundations in Turkey maintained relations with separatists in Chechnya and with terrorists, but we know that Turkey itself has been a victim of terrorism. We have not forgotten the last terrorist acts, the explosions that hit Turkey. We know that our Turkish colleagues are fighting this and that coordination between law enforcement agencies and security services is improving. I am sure that this coordination will improve still further on the basis of the political trust between the Turkish and Russian leaderships that has been reached now and will be reconfirmed, I am sure, during my upcoming visit to Turkey.
QUESTION: So, can we say that Turkey understands you and you understand Turkey? And can we say that you are satisfied with Turkey’s official position on this question?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: We are happy with Turkey’s official position and we hope that our cooperation in this area will improve.
QUESTION: Mr President, before coming here, I imagined you as someone with a very firm face expression, someone with a steel coating, so to say, very strong, decisive, sometimes sad, never smiling or laughing. But now I see that you a normal person who laughs just like all normal people. Which is the real Putin, the one who we see on TV, or the one who we see now? Do you like to tell jokes or listen to them? What is your favourite joke?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: I like to listen to clever jokes, I like funny ones, but I don’t really like stupid or coarse jokes. What you see in television is just one side of the picture, while life itself is so much more complex and multi-faceted. Any person is more interesting in real life than on the TV screen.
RESPONSE: What I have come to realise here is that even though we discussed some very serious subjects, you are nonetheless an ordinary person, like all of us, and that is very nice to know.
Thank you, Mr President, for finding the time for us.
VLADIMIR PUTIN: Thank you very much. Thank you for your attention, for your interest in Russia, for your questions and for the atmosphere that you brought to today’s meeting. I am very much looking forward to my visit to Turkey, my visit to a country that I really have come to love sincerely over these last years.
RESPONSE: And we are also looking forward to your visit. I am sure that all our chief editors have already prepared headlines for their articles.
VLADIMIR PUTIN: Thank you.