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.
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.
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.
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.
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.