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

Russian President Vladimir Putin discusses the missile dispute with the United States, the risks of cooperating with Western companies in the production of Russian natural gas and what he describes as democratic deficiencies in the United States and Europe.


Russian President Vladimir Putin: "For the first time in the history of the European continent there will be elements of the nuclear potential of the United States."
REUTERS

Russian President Vladimir Putin: "For the first time in the history of the European continent there will be elements of the nuclear potential of the United States."

Rublyovka, Moscow's highway to the West, is where Russia's new moneyed aristocracy lives. The rustling pine forests are filled with expensive dachas and high-end car dealerships, and the colorful wooden cottages in the Russian capital's suburban villages have been turned into folkloric scenes of idyllic kitsch.

After a hard day's work, Russian President Vladimir Putin also heads home along the Rublyovka highway, to his residence, "Novo-Ogaryovo." Behind the compound's four-meter walls, Putin has driven with George W. Bush through the park-like grounds in a classic car, and former German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder and his wife met with Putin there to discuss the adoption of their daughter Viktoria.

Putin uses the place when he needs a private environment to win over guests to his plans. He did so last Friday, when he invited foreign journalists to the residence for interviews and dinner: one representing each of the G-8 member states, Canada, France, Italy, Japan, Great Britain and the United States. Stefan Aust, SPIEGEL's editor-in-chief, was there to represent Germany. The occasion was the G-8 summit in Heiligendamm, Germany, and the issues the journalists addressed were the new discord between East and West, Moscow's energy policy and the missile dispute.

On the Kremlin's agenda, the meeting marked the end of a week of intensive public relations work. Previously, Russia had sent the West a clear political signal when Putin's military officers test-fired two new missiles in a much-touted PR event. The message was that the Kremlin would no longer accept exclusion by the United States and NATO. For the first time, Putin spoke publicly of a "new arms race."

Nine months before the end of his term in office, Vladimir Putin offers his countrymen the picture of an isolated Russia. America has been written off as a possible partner, at least for the time being, and the Russians have little trust in the Germans these days. The word in Moscow is that the West can no longer be convinced to abandon its erroneous image of Russia. Friday evening at Novo-Ogaryovo was the last attempt, for the time being, to bridge East and West once again.

QUESTION: Mr. President, it looks as though Russia has lost its fondness for the West. Your relations with Germany have deteriorated, and those with the United States even more so. Are we moving towards another Cold War?

Putin: In international affairs and relations between the states, one can hardly be using any terminology which would be appropriate in the relations between people -- especially during the honeymoon or just before a man and a woman plan on going to church to register their marriage. In relations between the states ... the interests of the country should be correlated with the interests of other countries, and compromise is to be found when resolving the most complex issues.

The largest complexity today is that some of the participants in the international dialogue believe that their ideas are the ultimate truth. This does not facilitate the creation of an atmosphere of trust. We should not be dramatizing the situation. If we are expressing our position in an open and fair way, it doesn't mean we are looking for a confrontation. I am absolutely convinced we should re-establish in the international arena the practice of not simply fair and honest discussion, but also the skill of finding compromise -- this would be to the benefit of everyone. Some crises which the international community has had to face would not have been possible in such a case, and they would not have been as detrimental to the internal political situation of some countries. Even the events in Iraq would not give cause for such a headache for the United States. You remember that we were opposing the military actions in Iraq. We are still convinced that the goals which were in front of us at the time, they could have been attained through different means. And the results in my view would have been better than the one we are seeing today.

Russia's new intercontinental ballistic missile dduring a test launch on May 29.
REUTERS

Russia's new intercontinental ballistic missile dduring a test launch on May 29.

QUESTION: One of the biggest problems between Moscow and Washington is the American plan to install a missile shield in Eastern Europe. Russia has reacted very sharply to the plan. But the White House insists on having the weapons system, which in turn gives rise to even greater displeasure on Russia's part. What does Russia achieve with such rigid opposition to the system? Do you hope that Washington will abandon its plan, or do you have other goals in mind?

Putin: We have not simply stated that we are prepared to fulfil this treaty -- we have in reality implemented it. We have brought all our heavy weapons beyond the Urals and we have reduced our military forces by 300,000 and taken some other steps. But what do we have in return? We see that Eastern Europe is being filled with new equipment, with new military, in Romania and Bulgaria as well as radar in the Czech Republic and missile systems in Poland.

What is happening is that there is the unilateral disarmament of Russia. And we would expect that there should be preparedness of our partners in Europe to do the same, but instead of that there is a pumping-in of new weapons systems into Eastern Europe. What should we be doing in such conditions?

QUESTION: But does the system truly pose a danger for Russia?

Putin: Speaking about the missile defence system -- of course this is not simply a missile defense system per se as it is -- when it is created and installed, it is going to work in an automatic mode, in conjunction with all the nuclear potential of the United States. For the first time in the history of the European continent there will be elements of the nuclear potential of the United States, which fully changes the whole configuration of international security.

How is it being explained? That it is necessary to defend oneself against the Iranian missiles. But there are no such missiles. Iran does not have missiles with a range of 5,000 to 8,000 kilometres. We are told that the anti-missile defense system is being installed for protection against something which doesn't exist. So we believe there are no reasons and no grounds for establishing the anti-missile system in Eastern Europe ... and of course we will have to respond to that.

QUESTION: What exactly do you want?

Putin: What are we striving for? We want to be heard. We do not exclude (the possibility) that our American partners might rethink their decision. I think that everyone possesses common sense. But if this does not happen, we cannot be held responsible for our reciprocal steps. Because it is not us who have initiated the arms race that is pending in Europe. We want everyone to understand that we will not assume any responsibility for that. Nor will we allow ourselves to be blamed if we now improve our strategic nuclear weapons system. This system of missile defense creates the illusion of being protected, but it increases the possibility of unleashing a nuclear conflict. So there is a violation, an imbalance of strategic equilibrium in the world, and in order to provide for the balance we will need to establish systems that would be able to penetrate the missile defense system.

QUESTION: Why are the Americans so obstinate about putting these plans into practice, if it is so clear that they are unnecessary?

Putin: Possibly this is to push us to make reciprocal steps in order to avoid further closeness of Russia and Europe. I am not stipulating that, but I cannot exclude this possibility. But if it is so, then it is another mistake again.

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