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'[W]e must have new targets in Europe', President Putin's response to US missile defence plans, June 4, 2007

Interview with Newspaper Journalists from G8 Member Countries June 4, 2007.

DER SPIEGEL: Mr President, it seems like Russia is not very fond of the West. Our relations have somewhat deteriorated. And we can also mention the deterioration of your relations with America. Are we once again approaching a Cold War?

VLADIMIR PUTIN: One can hardly use the same terminology in international relations, in relations between countries, that would apply to relationships between people -- especially during their honeymoon or as they prepare to go to the Civil Registry Office.

Throughout history, interests have always been the main organising principle for relations between states and on the international arena. And the more civilised these relations become, the clearer it is that one's own interests must be balanced against the interests of other countries. And one must be able to find compromises to resolve the most difficult problems and issues.

One of the major difficulties today is that certain members of the international community are absolutely convinced that their opinion is the correct one. And of course this is hardly conducive to creating the trusting atmosphere that I believe is crucial for finding more than simply mutually acceptable solutions, for finding optimal solutions. However, we also think that we should not dramatise anything unduly. If we express our opinions openly, honestly and forthrightly, then this does not imply that we are looking for confrontation. Moreover, I am deeply convinced that if we were able to reinstate honest discussion and the capacity to find compromises in the international arena then everyone would benefit. And I am convinced that certain crises that face the international community today would not exist and would not have had such a dire impact on the internal political situation in certain countries. For example, events in Iraq would not be such a headache for the United States. This is the most vivid, sharpest example but, nevertheless, I want you to understand me. And as you recall, we were opposed to military action in Iraq. We now consider that had we confronted the problems that faced us at the time with other means then the result would have been -- in my opinion -- still better than what we have today.

It is for that reason that we do not want confrontation; we want to engage in dialogue. However, we want a dialogue that acknowledges the equality of both parties' interests.

WALL STREET JOURNAL: A follow-up to the previous question. One of the most acute recent problems between Washington and Moscow has been American plans to install elements of a missile defence system in Europe. Since Russia is very radically opposed to this system and the White House confirms that it will go ahead regardless, the confrontation becomes more pronounced…

VLADIMIR PUTIN: Incidentally, that it is the answer to the previous question. I am sorry -- please continue.

WALL STREET JOURNAL: … and the more countries there are that want to participate in this system. What does Russia gain by being so fiercely opposed to this system? Are you hoping that Washington will eventually abandon its plans to install an anti-missile defence system or do you have other goals, since Washington has already said that it will not allow Russia to veto this programme?

VLADIMIR PUTIN: I would start with the Adapted Conventional Armed Forces Treaty in Europe (ACAF). We have not just stated that we are ready to comply with the treaty, like certain others have done. We really are implementing it: we have removed all of our heavy weapons from the European part of Russia and put them behind the Urals. We have reduced our Armed Forces by 300,000. We have taken several other steps required by the ACAF. But what have we seen in response? Eastern Europe is receiving new weapons, two new military bases are being set up in Romania and in Bulgaria, and there are two new missile launch areas -- a radar in Czech republic and missile systems in Poland. And we are asking ourselves the question: what is going on? Russia is disarming unilaterally. But if we disarm unilaterally then we would like to see our partners be willing to do the same thing in Europe. On the contrary, Europe is being pumped full of new weapons systems. And of course we cannot help but be concerned.

What should we do in these circumstances? Of course we have declared a moratorium.

This applies to the missile defence system. But not just the missile defence system itself. Since if this missile system is put in place, it will work automatically with the entire nuclear capability of the United States. It will be an integral part of the U.S. nuclear capability.

I draw your attention and that of your readers to the fact that, for the first time in history -- and I want to emphasize this -- there are elements of the U.S. nuclear capability on the European continent. It simply changes the whole configuration of international security. That is the second thing.

Finally, thirdly, how do they justify this? By the need to defend themselves against Iranian missiles. But there are no such missiles. Iran has no missiles with a range of 5,000 to 8,000 kilometres. In other words, we are being told that this missile defence system is there to defend against something that doesn't exist. Do you not think that this is even a little bit funny? But it would only be funny if it were not so said. We are not satisfied with the explanations that we are hearing. There is no justification whatsoever for installing a missile defence system in Europe. Our military experts certainly believe that this system affects the territory of the Russian Federation in front of the Ural mountains. And of course we have to respond to that.

And now I would like to give a definite answer to your question: what do we want? First of all, we want to be heard. We want our position to be understood. We do not exclude that our American partners might reconsider their decision. We are not imposing anything on anyone. But we are proceeding from common sense and think that everyone else could also use their common sense. But if this does not take place then we will absolve ourselves from the responsibility of our retaliatory steps because we are not initiating what is certainly growing into a new arms race in Europe. And we want everybody to understand very clearly that we are not going to bear responsibility for this arms race. For example, when they try to shift this responsibility to us in connection with our efforts to improve our strategic nuclear weapons. We did not initiate the withdrawal from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. But what response did we give when we discussed this issue with our American partners? We said that we do not have the resources and desire to establish such a system. But as professionals we both understand that a missile defence system for one side and no such a system for the other creates an illusion of security and increases the possibility of a nuclear conflict.

I am speaking purely theoretically -- this has no personal dimension. It is destroying the strategic equilibrium in the world. In order to restore that balance without setting up a missile defence system we will have to create a system to overcome missile defence, and this is what we are doing now.

At that point our partners said: "there's nothing wrong, we are not enemies, we are not going to work against one another". We would point out that we are simply answering them: "we warned you, we talked about this, you answered us a certain way. So we are going to do what we said we would". And if they put a missile defence system in Europe -- and we are warning this today -- there will be retaliatory measures. We need to ensure our security. And we are not the proponents of this process.

And, finally, the last thing. Again I would not want you to suffer from the illusion that we have fallen out of love with anyone. But I sometimes think to myself: why are they doing all this? Why are our American partners trying so obstinately to deploy a missile defence system in Europe when -- and this is perfectly obvious -- it is not needed to defend against Iranian or -- even more obvious -- North Korean missiles? (We all know where North Korea is and the kind of range these missiles would need to have to be able to reach Europe.) So it is clearly not against them and it is clearly not against us because it is obvious to everyone that Russia is not preparing to attack anybody. Then why? Is it perhaps to ensure that we carry out these retaliatory measures? And to prevent a further rapprochement between Russian and Europe? If this is the case (and I am not claiming so, but it is a possibility), then I believe that this would be yet another mistake because that is not the way to improve international peace and security.

DER SPIEGEL: A short additional question: would you be prepared to consider the possibility of deploying a similar, Russian missile defence system somewhere near the United States, for example in Cuba?

VLADIMIR PUTIN: You know, I should have talked about this, but you brought it up before me. We are not planning any such thing and, as is well-known, we just recently dismantled our bases in Cuba. At the same time that the Americans are building new ones in Europe, in Romania and in Bulgaria. We dismantled them because after the fall of the Soviet Union our foreign policy changed a great deal because Russian society itself changed. We do not want a confrontation, we want cooperation. And we do not need bases close to anyone and we are not planning anything of the kind. That is the first thing.

The second. Basically, as a rule, modern weapons systems don't need such bases. These are generally political decisions...

KOMMERSANT: Vladimir Vladimirovich, in my opinion, recently Russia's relations with the West are developing at a catastrophic speed. If you examine them then you see that everything is very bad and going from bad to worse: the energy dialogue is frozen, no one is even talking about the Energy Charter, the arms race is proceeding. And you acknowledge it yourself. Yesterday you said that, yes, there is an arms race -- you used precisely those words. And there is a new word in your vocabulary that was not there before, the word imperialism. That is a word from Soviet times. American imperialism and Israeli militarism were both terms that you must remember. And they were countered only by Soviet peace initiatives, as they are now countered by Russian peace initiatives. I would like to ask: do you not think it is possible to talk about certain compromises, to engage in compromises, to look even occasionally, even for show, at public opinion in Europe, in America and, finally, in Russia? Do you not think that this present course is leading nowhere? It is becoming, even gaining new strength with, this arms race, with these missiles of ours. To what purpose?

VLADIMIR PUTIN: Frankly, I find this question quite strange and unexpected. An arms race really is unfolding. Well, was it we who withdrew from the ABM Treaty? We must react to what our partners do. We already told them two years ago, "don't do this, you don't need to do this. What are you doing? You are destroying the system of international security. You must understand that you are forcing us to take retaliatory steps." They said: "okay, no problem, go ahead. We are not enemies. Do what you want to." I think that this was based on the illusion that Russia would have nothing to answer with. But we warned them. No, they did not listen to us. Then we heard about them developing low-yield nuclear weapons and they are continuing to develop these charges. We understand in the rocks where bin Laden is hiding it might be necessary to, shall we say, destroy some of his asylum. Yes, such an objective probably exists.

But perhaps it would be better to look for other ways and means to resolve the problem rather than create low-yield nuclear weapons, lower the threshold for using nuclear weapons, and thereby put humankind on the brink of nuclear catastrophe. But they are not listening to us. We are saying: do not deploy weapons in space. We don't want to do that. No, it continues: "whoever is not with us is against us". What is that? Is it a dialogue or a search for compromise? The entire dialogue can be summed up by: whoever is not with us is against us.

I talked about how we implemented the ACAF, the Conventional Armed Forces in Europe Treaty. We really have implemented it; I wasn't inventing anything. And there are inspection groups that come, they go onsite, our western partners check and see everything. We implemented it. And in response we get bases and a missile defence system in Europe. So what should we do?

You talked about public opinion. Public opinion in Russia is in favour of us ensuring our security. Where can you find a public in favour of the idea that we must completely disarm, and then perhaps, according to theorists such as Zbignew Brzezinski, that we must divide our territory into three or four parts.

If such a public did exist, I would argue with it. I was not elected President of the Russian Federation to put my country on the brink of disaster. And if this equilibrium in the world is finally broken then it will be a catastrophe not only for Russia but also for the whole world.

Some people have the illusion that you can do everything just as you want, irregardless of the interests of other people. Of course it is for precisely this reason that the international situation gets worse and eventually results in an arms race as you pointed out. But we are not the instigators. We do not want it. Why would we want to divert resources to this? And we are not jeopardising our relations with anyone. But we must respond.

Name even one step that we have taken or one action of ours designed to worsen the situation. There are none. We are not interested in that. We are interested in having a good atmosphere, environment and energy dialogue around Russia.

We already talked about how we subsidized countries, the former republics of the Soviet Union, by providing them with cheap energy for 15 years. Why did we need to do that, where is the logic, what is the justification for this? We subsidised Ukraine for 15 years, by three to five billion dollars a year. Just think about it! Who else in the world does this? And our actions are not politicized. They are not political actions.

The very best example and proof of this -- and I talked about this recently at a press conference -- is the Baltic countries that we also subsidised for all these years. When we realised that the Baltic states were engaging in honest economic relations with us and that they were ready to transfer to world, to European pricing, then we met them half way. We said: "fine. We are going to continue to deliver energy to you at discounted prices. Let's agree on a timetable for a transition to European prices". We agreed with them and signed the relevant documents. Within three years they had gently overcome the transition to European pricing. Even considering the fact that we did not have a border treaty with Latvia and there was a serious political disagreement on this issue, until last year Latvia received cheap Russian gas and, as a whole, the gas Latvia received in 2006 was about a third cheaper then what it was for, for example, Germany. Ask the Latvian Prime Minister and he will confirm this.

When the Ukrainian question arose then we were told that this was a political decision and they accused us of supporting Lukashenko's regime, a regime that western countries are not very fond of. We said : "listen, first of all, we cannot simply declare war on all fronts. Secondly, we are planning to transfer to market pricing with all of our partners. The time will come when we do this with Belarus as well". We did this. Yet once we had done so the noise began, including in the western media: what are we doing there, why are we harming small Belarus? Is this a fair and admirable attitude towards Russia? We switched to one pricing regime with all the countries of the Caucasus: with Georgia -- with whom we do not have very good political relations -- and with Armenia, with whom we have excellent relations and a strategic alliance. Yes, we have heard a lot of criticism including from our Armenian partners but at the end of the day we were able to understand one another and find a way forward. They could not pay the entire price with liquid and therefore are paying in physical assets. With live, real assets and all of this is formalised on paper. No one can accuse us of politicizing these issues. We are not preparing to spend huge amounts of money subsidising other countries' economies. We are ready to develop integration on the territory of the former Soviet Union, but it must be integration on an equal footing. But you know, they are coming closer and closer to our interests and everyone is increasingly expecting that we are not going to defend these interests. If we want order and international law to prevail in the international arena then we must respect this law and the interests of all members of the international community. That is all.

KOMMERSANT: When I mentioned public opinion in Russia I was referring to the fact that, as I understand it, public opinion in Russia would be strongly opposed to a new arms race after the one the Soviet Union lost.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: And I am also against an arms race. I am opposed to any kind of arms race but I would like to quickly draw your attention to something I said in last year's Address [to the Federal Assembly]. We have learned from the Soviet Union's experience and we will not be drawn into an arms race that anyone imposes on us. We will not respond symmetrically, we will respond with other methods and means that are no less effective. This is called an asymmetrical response.

The United States are building a huge and costly missile defence system which will cost dozens and dozens of billions of dollars. We said: "no, we are not going to be pulled into this race. We will construct systems that will be much cheaper yet effective enough to overcome the missile defence system and therefore maintain the balance of power in the world." And we are going to proceed this way in the future.

Moreover, I want to draw your attention to the fact that, despite our retaliatory measures, the volume of our defence expenditures as a percentage of GDP is not growing. They were 2,7 percent of GDP and will remain so. We are planning the same amount of defence spending for the next 5 to 10 years. This is fully in line with the average expenditures of NATO countries. This amount is not more than their average defence expenditures and in some cases it is even lower than that of NATO member countries. And we can use our competitive advantages which include quite advanced military-industrial capabilities and the intellectual capacities of those who work in our military complex. There are good results and good people. In any case, much of this has been preserved, and we will do everything possible in order not only to maintain but also to develop this potential.

CORRERE DELLA SERA: Mr President, two more points about the strategic balance in Europe. I would like to ask you whether you think that the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) is presently at risk and if it could lose force judging by what happened to the ACAF?

And the second point. You said that you do not want to participate in an arms race. But if the United States continues building a strategic shield in Poland and the Czech Republic, will we not return to the situation and times in which the former Soviet Union's nuclear forces were focused on European cities, on European targets?

VLADIMIR PUTIN: Certainly. Of course we will return to those times. And it is clear that if part of the United States' nuclear capability is situated in Europe and that our military experts consider that they represent a potential threat then we will have to take appropriate retaliatory steps. What steps? Of course we must have new targets in Europe. And determining precisely which means will be used to destroy the installations that our experts believe represent a potential threat for the Russian Federation is a matter of technology. Ballistic or cruise missiles or a completely new system. I repeat that it is a matter of technology.

CORRIERE DELLA SERA: And what about the INF Treaty?

VLADIMIR PUTIN: The Treaty on intermediate-range nuclear forces is a broader problem and not directly related to the United States' missile defence system.

The issue at hand is that only the U.S. and Russia are prevented from developing intermediate-range missiles and, meanwhile, a lot of other countries are doing so. I already talked about this. They include Israel, Pakistan, Iran and North Korea. If this were a comprehensive agreement then it would be clear that all must abide by it. But when almost all countries in the world are developing or planning to develop these missiles, I do not quite understand why there should be limits for either the United States or Russia.

We have non-proliferation agreements. That is clear. These agreements are comprehensive. We find it difficult but until now we have kept the world from taking any steps that might exacerbate the situation or, God forbid, result in disaster.

And I repeat that these agreements are not comprehensive with respect to intermediate-range missiles, so we certainly do think about what we need to do to ensure our safety. I repeat that many countries are doing this, including our neighbours.

And I want to emphasise again that this has nothing to do with the United States' plans to deploy a missile defence system in Europe. But we will find answers to both threats...

THE GLOBE AND MAIL: A follow-up question. You talked about the problems of a unipolar world. Have you considered the possibility of creating some kind of alliance, some formal relations between countries, which could be seen as an alternative pole in the system of international relations?

VLADIMIR PUTIN: I think it would be a dead end, the wrong way to go about development. We advocate a multipolar world. We believe that it should be diverse and respect the interests of the overwhelming majority of the international community. We must create these rules and learn to respect these rules...

NIKKEI: The six-party talks on resolving the situation in North Korea. Russia is one of the parties in these negotiations, the aim of which is to resolve the North Korean issue. How do you plan to play a more active part in this process?

VLADIMIR PUTIN: We are actively involved in the six-party negotiations on the North Korean nuclear issue. You have probably been able to see for yourself that our position on this complex issue is very productive, and our position has indeed helped to achieve positive results in this area. We have always taken the view that we need to avoid anything that could drive the negotiations into deadlock, and that we need to take North Korea's interests into account and work towards agreements that all sides can accept. China has worked very hard, of course, to help achieve a positive outcome. I think that all the parties in this process have shown goodwill and have demonstrated that, despite the seriousness of the problem, they all seek an agreement and are willing to look for compromise solutions that can always be found. We will continue our work in this area...

CORRIERE DELLA SERA: Could you say a few words about Iran?

VLADIMIR PUTIN: I already said that we were able to settle the North Korean issue without making any particular threats and without the use of force. Why should we not be able to find a solution to the Iranian problem? We need to keep searching and we need to be patient.

I agree that it is a complex issue. Mr Solana just met in Madrid, I think with Iranian representatives and the dialogue continues. We want it to continue in the future. As you can see, we are working together with all the members of the UN Security Council to look for mutually acceptable solutions, and we feel the highest degree of responsibility for this work.

THE TIMES: Can I ask you in this respect: do you agree with President Bush that it would be unacceptable for Iran to have nuclear weapons?

VLADIMIR PUTIN: I absolutely agree...


VLADIMIR PUTIN: We think NATO expansion is different because NATO is a military-political bloc and this expansion creates friction in relations with Russia. We see no need for Ukraine to join NATO because no one has any plans to attack it, and we think that the argument that NATO expansion can make the fight against terrorism more effective is just empty talk that has nothing to do with common sense. NATO in itself does not help the fight against terrorism; multilateral cooperation helps us to combat terrorism. Today we face threats and challenges such as terrorism, human trafficking and drugs trafficking, organised crime and nuclear proliferation, and what help can bloc politics be here?

And there is more to add. We have spoken about what is actually happening in international affairs, the reasons for increased tension and so on. This happens because our partners are taking a more aggressive line in some areas now. You cite the case of NATO and Ukraine. But the public opinion surveys show that 60-70 percent, perhaps even 80 percent of people are against Ukraine joining NATO. Even so, the U.S. Congress votes to finance Ukraine's accession to NATO. But have they asked the Ukrainian people what they want? Why are they not taking the Ukrainian public's views into account?

GLOBE AND MAIL: If NATO had advantages in terms of missile defence, it could perhaps be of use? The U.S. is taking unilateral action, but if NATO were to get involved instead it would not look like an imperialist step. Everything might look different if NATO or Russia were to become involved in these missile defence plans.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: If NATO were involved this would not fundamentally change anything because we know how decisions are made in NATO. They were made in the same way in the Warsaw Pact. There was a joke in East Germany: How can you tell which of the telephones on Honecker's desk is the direct line to Moscow? Do you know this joke?


VLADIMIR PUTIN: The answer is: it's the one with only a receiver and no mouthpiece. (Laughter).

The same goes for NATO, except that the telephone line goes not to Moscow in this case but to Washington, and so it would make no difference to us if NATO were heading this project.

As for the question of other countries participating, yes, we are not against this idea, but no one has asked us. We often hear talk of European solidarity and so on, but what solidarity are we talking about? Two countries - Poland and the Czech Republic - have decided to allow missile defence systems to be deployed on their territories. We are told that this is needed for Europe's defence. But has anyone asked Europe? Was this really a common European decision? The decision could have at least been taken through NATO, if only for cover. But no one was asked. I am sure that had Europe been asked it would have given its agreement, but the U.S. did not even bother to consult with its allies in this case.

As for Russia, we are not against the idea of reflecting on this project. Indeed, strange though it may sound, we proposed this right from the start. We suggested working together right from the start but we got an immediate refusal. Later, seeing the opposition in Europe and around the world to their plans, our colleagues and partners said that actually they did want to talk to us. But do you know what their cooperation proposals amount to? They want us to provide our missiles as targets they can use in training. What clever fellows to have come up with such an idea! Some of my American colleagues, friends, people with a lot of experience in politics and international affairs, reacted the same way as you and laughed. I am referring to important U.S. political figures.

But we have not heard any real proposals of substance, any proposals on far-reaching cooperation, and we know that no such proposals will be made because this system is being created as part of the United States' nuclear forces. Of course, it would be strange if they were to suddenly let Russia into their holy of holies. There is not anything to talk about. This is a serious affair. But if we saw that efforts are being made to take our views into account, to think about our security too, to preserve some kind of balance, and if we saw that this system does not threaten us and does not undermine our own potential, then of course we would be willing to work together. I think, however, that is not very likely. As I say, this would involve giving us access to the holy of holies of the strategic nuclear forces, and that is obviously a serious decision.

Source: The Kremlin website, http://www.kremlin.ru.

© 2007 The Acronym Institute.