G-8 Interview with Vladimir Putin 'I am a True Democrat'

Part 2: Will Russia Deploy Similar Systems in Cuba?

QUESTION: Would you want to deploy similar Russian systems in Cuba or Venezuela?

Putin: We are not going to do that. We recently dismantled our own base in Cuba. And Americans are now trying to deploy their missile bases in Romania and Bulgaria in Europe. We dismantled that base because our post-Soviet policies changed their nature -- because the nature of our society changed. We don't want a confrontation, we want co-operation. We do not need any bases in somebody's back yard. We are not planning to do anything of the kind. Those are purely political decisions.

QUESTION: The Western media are currently interested mainly in two issues: the case of murdered Russian citizen Alexander Litvinenko and the investment experiences of Shell and BP in Russia. Are there conditions under which Russia could agree to Great Britain's request to extradite the murder suspect, Andrei Lugovoy, to London?

Putin: Are there possible circumstances under which Russia could extradite Lugovoy? Yes there are. And those would require amendments to the constitution of the Russian Federation. Very important grounds are also necessary. According to the information I received from the prosecutor-general's office, such justification has not been provided by the British side. There was a request to extradite Mr. Lugovoy, but there were no materials based upon which we were supposed to do that. There is no substance in that request.

A criminal case has been initiated in Russia with respect to the possible extradition of Lugovoy to Great Britain, and if our law-enforcement agencies find enough materials or evidence to prosecute anyone -- and if any citizen of the Russian Federation faces enough evidence for the case to be sent to court -- then this will be done. And I really hope that we will receive effective assistance from our British colleagues.

I have mixed feeling about this particular request. If the people who sent this request to us did not know that the constitution of the Russian Federation prohibits extradition of Russian citizens to foreign states -- if they had not known that, then certainly their level of competence is questionable. If they knew that and still did send that request, then it's only a political PR step. From whatever angle, it's complete nonsense.

Finally, the British authorities have allowed many thieves and terrorists to live in their country, and this is precisely the real danger to British citizens.

QUESTION: And what about the problems that Shell and BP have encountered in Russia with respect to their licenses for oil and gas production?

Putin: Have you read the Shell contract? It was a colonial agreement that had nothing to do with the interests of the Russian Federation. I can only regret that in the early 1990s, Russian officials did something like this, something for which they should have been sent to jail. The implementation of that agreement resulted in the fact that it allowed others to exploit our natural resources for a prolonged period of time without us getting anything in return.

Gazprom headquarters in Moscow: "Each country has its own laws."

Gazprom headquarters in Moscow: "Each country has its own laws."

If our partners had honored their commitments, then we would not have had the chance of correcting this situation. But it was their fault that they violated our environmental legislation. This was a fact that has been confirmed by objective data, and our partners don't even deny it. In the past, Gazprom received several offers to invest in the project, but it declined to do so. Gazprom didn't just get on board and deprive somebody of something. Gazprom brought in a lot of money: $8 billion dollars. This was a market price.

QUESTION: And what about the BP case?

Putin: Each country has its own laws governing the exploitation of natural resources. If someone thinks that in Russia those rules don't need to be observed, they are mistaken. Russian businessmen, like Viktor Wexelberg and Vladimir Potanin, are also investors in the Kovytka field. All partners are jointly obligated to exploit the field. Contrary to the agreement, however, they had done nothing to date. They bought the licenses back in the early 1990s. There are certainly various problems there, but how much longer should we continue to wait patiently? After all, we are talking about 2 trillion cubic meters of natural gas, which is more than Canada's total reserves. The possibility of withdrawing their licenses once again is certainly on the table.

QUESTION: Do you believe that Russian investors are discriminated against in the European Union?

Putin: Fears of foreign investors is certainly an issue, but these fears are unfounded. In the 1990s, everyone became accustomed to sending humanitarian aid to Russia. Now we come as investors, and they should be appreciated. They don't want to take anything away -- they secure jobs. Cooperation would save jobs at EADS. We have something to offer, especially in the aviation industry. But if the Europeans don't want us, we will simply look for other partners. Boeing also has an office in Moscow.

QUESTION: Are the veto powers in the United Nations Security Council even capable of developing a compromise anymore over independence for Kosovo?

Putin: If I knew a compromise, I would have come up with a proposal long ago. I don't know. But we must continue to search for one patiently.

QUESTION: How will Russia react if Kosovo unilaterally declares its independence?

Putin: Kosovo isn't an isolated case. In three regions in the territory of the former Soviet Union -- Abkhazia, South Ossetia and Transnistria -- the people have had their own parliament, their own president and have considered themselves independent for the past 15 years. We cannot grant independence in the case of Kosovo and refuse to grant these other regions the right of self-determination. An independent Kosovo would provoke separatist movements in Europe itself -- among the Basques, in Scotland and not to mention the Balkans. Why would we want to provoke all this? This is damaging and dangerous.

Police deployment against Putin's political opposition in St. Petersburg: "Let us not be hypocrites as far as democratic freedoms and human rights."

Police deployment against Putin's political opposition in St. Petersburg: "Let us not be hypocrites as far as democratic freedoms and human rights."

QUESTION: How do you respond to critics who want to see Russia excluded from the G-8 for violations of civil and human rights?

Putin: This is another piece of nonsense. Our economic importance is growing and will continue to grow. We have the world's third-largest foreign currency and gold reserves. We became the world's No. 1 oil producer last year and have long been the top producer of natural gas. We are a nuclear power and a member of the Security Council of the United Nations. One cannot solve the problems of humanity by converting the G-8 into an exclusive club. On the contrary, some consideration has been given to enlarging (the G-8) to include, for example, China, India, Brazil, Mexico and South Africa.

QUESTION: Mr. Putin, are you the "flawless democrat" that former German chancellor Gerhard Schröder once described you to be?

Putin: Of course I am an absolutely true democrat. The tragedy is that I am alone. There are no such other democrats in the world. The Americans torture at Guantanamo, and in Europe the police use gas against protestors. Sometimes protesters are killed in the streets. We have, incidentally, a moratorium on the death penalty, which is often enforced in other G-8 countries.

Let us not be hypocrites as far as democratic freedoms and human rights. I have just read the latest report by Amnesty International, in which the United States, France, England and Germany are also criticized. But let us not forget that other G-8 members did not go through such dramatic transformations as Russia experienced.

QUESTION: How do you want to go down in history?

Putin: Historians will be the judges of what my people and I achieved in eight years. We reestablished Russia's territorial integrity, strengthened the state, moved in the direction of a multiparty system and re-established the potential of our armed forces. Our economy grew by 7.7 percent in the first quarter of this year. When I became president, 30 percent of Russians lived below the poverty line. That number has dropped to 15 percent today. We have paid off our foreign debt, which was very high. For a long time, we had capital flight of $15-20 billion a year. Last year, for the first time, more capital came to Russia than left it -- a total of $41 billion.

This enables us to address existing social problems and close the income gap between those who are very rich and those who have little.

QUESTION: At beginning of his term (former German Chancellor) Gerhard Schröder argued in favor of limiting the chancellorship to two terms -- as is the case in Russia. Do you think this is right?

Putin: I believe that such limits are necessary in a democracy. We took over the four-year term from the Americans. Perhaps this is a little short for Russia at the moment. You need at least two years to properly learn the ropes, and then it's already time for the next campaign.

QUESTION: Who will your successor be?

Putin: Our population will conduct a secret vote. It should be an honest, decent and highly professional politician with a great deal of experience. Someone who most voters can trust.

QUESTION: And what will you do after that?

Putin: I have not yet reached my retirement age. It would be silly to just sit at home without doing anything, but exactly what I am going to do, I would not want to speak about at this point.

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