Translated by Russia Feed…
RussiaFeed has exclusively translated into English Vladimir Putin's interview, which was obtained directly from the Kremlin's official website. More
Question: Good afternoon! Thank you very much for agreeing to answer our questions for Le Figaro. I also thank you for accepting us here at the Cultural Center of Russia here in Paris. Once again, many thanks for agreeing to give us this interview.
You came here to open an exhibition that is devoted to the 300th year anniversary since the establishment of diplomatic relations between Russia and France. Franco-Russian relations have had ups and downs. How do you assess this relationship today?
Vladimir Putin: Indeed, President Macron invited me to participate in the opening of this exhibition. But I must say that the relations between Russia and France have been developing much longer and have much deeper roots, we have already mentioned this several times with President Macron.
In the 11th century, Anna, the youngest daughter of one of our great princes Yaroslav the Wise, came here to France, and became the wife of the French King Henry I. Her name was Anna Russkaya, the queen of France. Her son Philip I became the founder of two European dynasties: Valois and Bourbon, the latter still rule in Spain.
So, we have much deeper roots as you can see, although for the last 300 years, relations have developed more intensively, it is true. I very much hope that today’s event, the opening of the exhibition, and our talks with President Macron will help give these relations new life.
Question: Mr. President, what kind of figure is Peter the Great to you, who arrived in Versailles in 1717 to commemorate diplomatic relations?
Putin: I already spoke today to my French colleagues, our French friends – Peter I is, first and foremost, a reformer, he is the person who not only introduced the best advancements, but of course, he was a patriot of his country, he fought for Russia’s worthy place in world affairs, but mainly, he transformed his country, making it more modern, mobile, and forward thinking. He did a lot, if not to say everything.
He was engaged in science, education, culture, engaged in military affairs and state construction. He left a colossal legacy after he died, to which Russia has enjoyed practically still today. I’m not talking about the fact that he founded my hometown of St. Petersburg, which for a long time was the capital of the Russian state.
Question: You said you had a meeting with Macron already. Were there any expectations from the first meeting? You said that you need to overcome the stage of distrust. Did you manage to overcome it?
As for the main issue, the issue of sanctions, can you say that you have reached some sort of understanding?
Putin: At any kind of meeting, with any contacts, at any event of this level, especially if this is the first meeting, the first contact, there are always expectations. If these expectations are missing, then it is pointless to hold this type of meeting in the first place.
Of course, there were expectations this time. They were related to issues close to me, to learn first hand the position of the incoming President of the French Republic on key issues regarding his international agenda, and the development of bilateral relations.
Of course, the newly elected President of France, who has just taken office, has his own view on things, on bilateral relations, and on international politics.
In general, this is a very pragmatic view, as it seems to me. We have precisely the points for connecting our positions, to work jointly on key areas.
Question: The implementation of the Minsk Agreements in Ukraine, as it seems to us, is in a deadlock today. Have you managed to achieve progress with President Macron towards the resolution of this conflict?
Putin: Progress on resolving any conflicts, including the conflict in southeast Ukraine, can primarily be achieved only by the conflicting parties.
The conflict in southeast Ukraine is an internal conflict, a Ukrainian conflict first of all. It occurred after an unconstitutional, power-seizing coup in Kiev in 2014. This is the source of all the problems.
The most important thing to do is to find the strength to negotiate with all the conflicting parties, and, above all, I am convinced of this, the ball, as they say, is on the side of the Kiev authorities, they must, first and foremost, implement and fulfill these Minsk Agreements.
Question: What needs to happen in order to move towards a positive outcome? Can Russia take the initiative to finally secure a truce?
Putin: We always come up with this initiative. We believe the main thing that needs to be done is to divert the armed forces from the line of contact. This is where you need to start. Two points need to be taken, otherwise the third point will not succeed at all.
And today’s Ukrainian authorities constantly refer to the fact that the other side is shooting. But if troops and heavy equipment are not diverted, of course they will shoot. We must take away heavy equipment. This is first and foremost.
Secondly, what needs to be done in the political sphere, in the end, is the necessity to introduce the law adopted by the Ukrainian parliament on the special status of these territories [Donbass]. After all, the law was passed, but it has not yet come into effect.
The law on amnesty was adopted, but the President did not sign it. The Minsk Agreements state that it is necessary to conduct social and economic rehabilitation of these territories of these unrecognized republics. Instead of doing this, on the contrary, they introduce a blockade, that is the problem.
And they imposed a blockade on the indigenous living there, blocking the railway tracks. The President of Ukraine first said that he condemned it and that he will straighten things out, tried to do it, but he did not succeed.
Instead of continuing those efforts, he officially supported the blockade, issuing a decree on the blockade. How can we speak about positive developments for the situation in such conditions? Unfortunately, we do not see this yet.
Question: Let’s slightly forget about the Eastern Europe, to talk about the Middle East, and first of all about Syria. After your military intervention in September 2015, to date, in your opinion, what basic solutions exist for this country after so many years of war?
Putin: First of all, I would like to note the constructive approach by Turkey and Iran, which together with us [Russia] achieved a ceasefire, and, of course, along with the Syrian government. This could not be done, of course, without the so-called Syrian armed opposition. This was the first very important, serious step on the road to peace.
And the second, no less important step, is the agreement on the creation of so-called de-escalation zones. Now, we are talking about four zones. It seems to us that this extremely important for road to peace, if I may say so, because it is impossible to talk about the political process without stopping the bloodshed.
Now, in my opinion, we all have another task: technically and, if you will, even technologically, to complete the process of creating these zones of de-escalation, you need to agree on the boundaries of these zones, how the institutions of power will operate there, and how communication will be organized there. These zones of de-escalation will need to communicate with the outside world.
By the way, President Macron spoke about this part of it today, when he talked about humanitarian convoys. In general, I think the President of France is correct, and here is also one of the points of contact, here we can work together with our French colleagues.
After this takes place, the formalization of de-escalation zones, I very much hope that at least some elements of interaction between the government and those people who will control the situation in these zones of de-escalation will begin.
I really wouldn’t like – it is very important that I now say – that these zones were some kind of prototype for future territorial division of Syria. On the contrary, I count on the fact that these zones of de-escalation, if peace is established there, the people here and control the situation will be communicating with the official Syrian authorities.
And so it can happen, there should be a situation of at least some elementary interaction and cooperation. And the next step is a purely political process of political reconciliation, and if possible, to elaborate on constitutional rules, the constitution and to conduct of elections.
Question: Indeed, there are differences on the Syrian issue between Russia and other parties, especially the fate of Bashar Assad, whom Western countries have accused of using chemical weapons against their own population. Mr. President, do you see a political future for Syria without Bashar Assad?
Putin: In general, I do not consider myself entitled to determine the political future of Syria with or without Assad, this is a matter solely for the Syrian people. No one has the right to assign himself any prerogatives that belong exclusively to the people of a particular country. This is the first thing I would like to mention.
Do you have any more questions?
Question: Yes. You say that you do not make any decisions – does that mean that there is a future without him [Assad]?
Putin: I repeat, this should be determined only by the Syrian people. You have now accused the government of Assad of using chemical weapons.
After this event related to chemical weapons happened, we immediately invited our American partners and all who deemed it necessary, to inspect the airfield from which the aircraft allegedly used chemical weapons.
If the chemical weapon were used by the official military structures of President Assad, there would inevitably be traces left behind on this airfield, modern technology would prove this, it is inevitable. And there would traces left on the planes, and traces would be left at the airport. But in fact, all refused to conduct this check.
We proposed to conduct an inspection at the site where the chemical weapons were allegedly struck. But they also refused to conduct an inspection, citing the fact that it was too dangerous. How is it dangerous if the explosion was allegedly inflicted on civilians and on the armed opposition which is still healthy?
In my opinion, this was done only for one purpose: to show why it is necessary to apply additional measures on Assad, including military. That’s all.
There is no evidence of Assad’s use of chemical weapons. In our deep conviction, this is just a provocation: Assad did not use this weapon.
Question: Do you remember when President Macron spoke about the so-called red line regarding the use of chemical weapons? Do you agree with this?
Putin: I agree. Moreover, I believe that the issue should be broader, and President Macron agreed. Whoever applies chemical weapons against these individuals, against these structures, the international community must build a common policy, and the answer must be one that makes the use of such weapons impossible by anyone.
Question: After the election of Donald Trump in the US, many expressed their views on the relative new phase of Russian-American relations. These relations, it seems, did not have a new start. Now I quote: “There is a Russian threat,” it was said at the last NATO summit last week. Are you frustrated by this attitude on the part of the US?
Putin: No. We did not expect anything, nothing special in fact. The President of the United States conducts a traditional American policy. Of course, we heard during the election campaign the intentions of the already elected and incoming President of the United States, Mr. Trump, about his desire to normalize Russian-American relations. He talked about relations being worse than ever, we remember it well.
But we also understand and see that in fact, the internal political situation in the United States is such that people who lost the election do not want to put up with it and, unfortunately, use the anti-Russian map in the most active way possible, in an internal political struggle under far-fetched pretexts.
Therefore, we are in no hurry, we are ready to wait, but we very much hope that the normalization of Russian-American relations will happen someday.
Question: In an ideal world, what would you expect from the United States in order to improve relations between the US and Russia?
Putin: There is no ideal world, and the subjunctive mood also does not exist in politics.
I want to answer the second part of your question, about 2% or more increase in military spending, which, the United States, is well known for today, spend more on the military and defense than the budget of every countries combined.
Therefore, I fully understand the President of the United States when he wants to shift some of this burden to his NATO allies. This is a very pragmatic and understandable approach.
But what interested me? At the NATO summit they said that NATO wants to establish good relations with Russia. But then why increase military spending? Against whom did they come to fight?
There are some internal contradictions here, but in fact it’s not our business, let NATO understand who and what to pay for, we are not very worried. We provide our defenses – we do it reliably, with a prospect for the future, we are very sure of ourselves.
Question: But if we talk about NATO, they are also your neighbors, who in turn want to ensure their security thanks to NATO. Is this a sign of mistrust for you, something that causes a scandalous attitude?
Putin: For us, this is a sign that our partners, excuse me, in both Europe and the US are pursuing a short-sighted policy, they do not look forward – there is no such habit, this habit has already disappeared among our Western partners.
When the Soviet Union ceased to exist, Western politicians told us that it was not recorded on paper, but it was clearly said that NATO would not expand to the east.
And a few German politicians at that time offered a new security system in Europe that included the participation of the United States, and by the way, and Russia. If this were done, then we would not have the problems that we have faced in recent years, namely the expansion of NATO to the east up to our borders, advancing towards our borders of our military infrastructure.
There would have been, perhaps, the exit of the United States unilaterally from the ABM Treaty and the Treaty is the cornerstone of today’s and future security; there would have been, perhaps, the construction of missile defense elements in Europe – in Poland, Romania, which, of course, poses a threat to our strategic nuclear forces and violates the strategic balance, which in itself is extremely dangerous for international security.
Maybe it would not have been like this, but it happened, you can not turn the clock back, you can not unscrew the film of history, it’s not a feature film. We must proceed from how it is now. If we proceed from how it is, we need to think about what we want in the future. I think that we all want security, peace, prosperity and cooperation.
So, there is no need to push anything, we do not need to invent mythical Russian threats, hybrid wars and so on. They themselves came up with this, and then they frighten themselves on this basis, which also formulates their prospects for politics. No such policy has any prospects – there is only one perspective: cooperation in all areas, including security issues.
What is the main security problem today? Terrorism. In Europe, there are explosions in Paris, explosions in Russia, explosions in Belgium, there is war in the Middle East – that’s what we need to think about, and we are all discussing what kind of threats Russia is creating.
Question: On the issue of terrorism, on the issue of Islamism. You say that you can do more. What exactly needs to be done, what can Russia do? And why can’t we combine our efforts with Europe to achieve our goals?
Putin: Ask Europe – that’s what we want. I said this while speaking at the UN General Assembly’s 70 anniversary from the podium at the UN, and called then to unite the efforts of all countries in the fight against terror. But this is a very complex process.
See, after the terrorist attack in Paris, a terrible, bloody event, President Hollande came to us then, and we agreed on a few joint actions. The aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle approached the banks of Syria. Then Francois [Hollande] went to Washington, and the Charles de Gaulle turned around and left, going towards the direction of the Suez Canal. And the real cooperation between us [Russia] and France stopped, never having begun.
France is involved in operations there, but within the framework of an international coalition led by the United States. You need to understand who is senior, who is not senior, who has the word, who claims what. We are ready, we are open for cooperation.
It was very difficult to negotiate with the Americans on this matter. By the way, we recently noticed a certain shift, there are practical results.
I talked with President Trump on the phone, he generally supported the idea of creating zones of de-escalation. We are now thinking about how to ensure the interests of all the countries in the region in southern Syria, bearing in mind the concern of all countries that have problems in this region, namely, Jordan, Israel and Syria itself, and, of course, we are ready to listen to the opinion of the United States and our European partners. But we need to conduct a concrete dialogue, and not talk about some mutual claims and threats, we need to practice practical work.
Question: You say that it is their decision, and their action, right?
Putin: That’s right, so it is.
Question: Talking about the US. Suspicions that Russia interfered in the election campaign in the United States caused a real political storm in Washington. In France, similar suspicions also sounded. First of all, in the light of what is happening in the United States, how do you react?
Putin: I have already spoken about this many times. Today one of your colleagues also asked a question on this topic. He did so very carefully at a press conference, saying that “they say that they are allegedly Russian hackers.” “They say” – who said, on what basis? “Allegedly Russian hackers”, and maybe not Russian at all.
Mr. Trump himself once said, and spoke perfectly, in my opinion, correctly: “And maybe they’re from another country: maybe it was someone lying on their bed.” After all, anything in this virtual world can think something up. Russia never does this, we do not need this. We do not have any sense to do this. What is the point?
I already talked with one US President, and with another, and with the third – the presidents come and go, but the politics don’t change. Do you know why? Because the power of bureaucracy is very strong. A man has been elected, he comes with some ideas, people with cases come to him, well-dressed and in dark suits, like me, but not with a red tie, but with black or with dark blue, and begin to explain how necessary it is to do this, and everything changes at once. It goes from one administration to another.
For someone to change something is quite a complicated matter, I say this without any irony. This is not because someone does not want to, but because it is difficult. Here Obama is an advanced man, a man of liberal views, a democrat, who, before his election, promised to close Guantanamo Bay. Did he? No. And why? Did he not want to? I really wanted to, I’m sure I wanted to, but it did not work. He sincerely sought this. It does not work that way, it’s not that simple.
But this is not the most important question, although it is important, it is hard to imagine: people in shackles have been walking there for decades without trial and effect. You can imagine, France would have done so or Russia. But no, only in the United States this is possible and is still continuing.
I have a certain amount of reserved optimism, it seems to me that we can and should negotiate on key issues.
Question: To date, you say that such a political storm in Washington rests on absolute fiction.
Putin: It does not rely on fiction, it relies on the desire of those who lost the election in the United States, at least somehow to improve their affairs at the expense of anti-Russian attacks, due to accusation of Russian interference.
People who lost the election do not want to admit that they really lost them, that the one who won was closer to the people, he understood better what people, simple voters want. I do not want to admit this.
I want to explain myself to others and prove to others that they have nothing to do with it, that their policy was right, they did everything well, but someone from their side deceived and burned them. But this is not so, they just lost and must admit that.
Then, when this happens, I think it will be easier for us to work together. But the fact that this is done with the help of anti-Russian tools is very bad, it brings dissonance into international affairs.
Let them argue among themselves, argue and prove who is cooler, who is better, who is smarter, who is more reliable and who formulates the policy for the country better – why should third parties be involved here? This is very distressing. But also this will pass: everything passes – and this too will pass.
Question: Mr. President, we come to the end of our interview, and first of all I would like to ask a question about 2018. This is the year of elections in Russia, presidential elections, legislative elections.
Can you tell us whether you intend to nominate your candidacy, or, perhaps, the opposition will be able to nominate your candidacy in the event of this campaign in a democratic way? How do you see the development of this situation, do you want the campaign to go unconditionally, exclusively in a democratic environment? I’m talking about 2018.
Putin: You know, all the campaigns are in strict accordance with the Russian Constitution, in strict accordance. And I will do everything to ensure that the 2018 election campaigns are held in the same way – I repeat again, in strict accordance with the law and the Constitution.
Everyone will have the right to do so, and everyone will undergo the relevant procedures prescribed by law, can and will certainly participate, if they so wish, in elections of all levels: from legislative assemblies, to parliament, and even presidential elections. As for the candidates, it’s still too early to talk about it.
Question: Many thanks. I hope we’ll see each other soon. Thank you very much for this conversation for Le Figaro.
Putin is a gentleman and a scholar…
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