President Vladimir Putin
Interview with German ARD Television Part 2
Sochi, Russia
September 19, 2001

QUESTION: You will come to Berlin and the current plan is that you will meet with the Chancellor who together with the majority of the German population, at least as I see it from here, very quickly took the American side. The Chancellor did not rule out that even the Bundeswehr will take part in possible retaliatory actions or at least could take part. The Bundestag fully backed that position. Does that worry you at all? Aren't you going to try to influence the Chancellor to renounce it? Will you, perhaps, tell him: Be careful, or are you quite relaxed about it and you will tell him, That's the right thing to do?

PUTIN: Let us face it, the positions of Germany and Russia differ if only because Germany is an active member of NATO, which Russia is not. The Alliance has decided to invoke Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty and all the NATO members are in full solidarity with the position of the United States. We are not members of NATO, they don't want to admit us. So, of course, our positions will differ.

As for the possible participation or non-participation of the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Germany, the decision rests with the German government, the German people, the parliament and the Chancellor. I am the President of the Russian Federation and not of the Federal Republic of Germany.

At the same time I think that if you ask me whether the participation of German Armed Forces in a military action outside the territory of Federal Germany will cause any concern in the Russian Federation, my answer would be no. I see nothing worrisome about it. The Federal Republic has the right and the possibility to comply with its obligations within NATO. If such a decision is taken, so it will be. The decision is up to the German people.

QUESTION: You are not going to comment on it. In general, it's a free state and that's that.

PUTIN: I've said everything.

QUESTION: Yes, yes, that's true.

Let us now turn to the economy. It is an important topic for both countries. To listen to what is said in the German business community, at enterprises and in the midst of managers, they say that there has already been some positive change under President Putin. But they also say, mainly out of sight of TV cameras, that old problems still remain. They are a lack of legal protection or insufficient legal protection. Let me quote one manager who says that "adventurous customs practices, the tax system, although somewhat improved, the mechanisms of its implementation still remain very complicated, at least from the German point of view, and there is red tape." So, obviously, something has changed, but not enough. Why can't it be changed?

PUTIN: We have just been discussing global problems, the problems of world politics and even possible deployment of military operations in some regions of the world. But, you know, we have a saying, probably a very sound one, that war or no war, lunch must be served on time.

So, in this area, too, I attend to economic issues practically every day and communicate with ministers, vice premiers and the chairman of the Russian government. We discuss the budget which the State Duma has now begun to debate and we discuss our immediate tasks that we have to accomplish by the end of the year in order to improve the economic mechanism in the country.

Unfortunately, in the previous ten years because of a measure of political instability, normal economic life has not been put on track. Now that we see a degree of consolidation, political consolidation in society, a great deal has been accomplished in the economic sphere. No such economic results have been achieved in the last 30 years in the Soviet Union or in the Russian Federation. In general, it is not a bad platform to build on. We have done a great deal in terms of creating a sound legal basis. But, of course, it was impossible to accomplish everything within a year and a half. As you know, we have passed some very serious laws in the field of taxation. Just today I discussed with the vice premier who is in charge of economics and finance the priorities for the next half year. They include the land reform and adoption of the Labor Code. You have mentioned the legal system. Improvement of the activities of the law courts and what we call the reform of the justice system is on the agenda. And you are absolutely right to draw attention to it. There is something to discuss here, and there are many shortcomings. You have mentioned the problem of the customs. It exists and we see it and are aware of it. Intensive work is underway on a new edition of the Tax Code. The main meaning of the proposed changes will be to minimize the decision-making powers of the bureaucrats and to make the provisions of the law self-implementing so that customs regulation should not be governed by internal departmental instructions but directly by the provisions of the law.

And there are other provisions and plans, including improved administration, that are sure to improve the situation in this area. So, we are aware of all this, we see this, but it is a fact that movement, fairly positive movement, has begun.

QUESTION: Mr. President, a major event in European economy will take place at the end of the year. The euro will become legal tender. Aren't you worried that Russia will be isolated from Europe because it will introduce the euro whereas the Russian economy and, in fact, partially your daily life, are geared above all to the dollar? How are you going to proceed in this situation? How will you counter the possible threat of isolation?

PUTIN: As for the dollar, I think it's pretty simple. It's you and not us who made it the main reserve currency of the world. You are introducing the euro now and I think you are doing the right thing. All this strengthens the European space as a center of world politics, as one of the leading centers of world politics. The issues may be simply technical. First, I must draw your attention to the fact that today we should discuss this topic very cautiously. We know that the terrorists have struck not only at the prestige of the United States, but also at the world economy. The basic foundation of the American economy is very strong as the recent trading in the stock market has shown. All this should reinforce our conviction that the terrorists have not achieved and will never achieve the goals they set before themselves. But we should act and speak circumspectly, including on the issue of the dollar because it is, properly speaking, to a large extent the basis of the world economy. Whether it is right or wrong, this is so. And we should be considerate of this.

This is not to say that we are not following the processes in Europe attentively. On the contrary, Europe already accounts for 35 percent of our trade and after the admission of possible new members in the European community the figure will rise to 40-45 percent. Naturally, we cannot and do not want to be in isolation. The Central Bank of the Russian Federation is today actively studying possible ways of introducing the euro in the settlements between our partners in Europe and Russian legal entities. We very much count on effective support in this matter from the Central European Bank. And, frankly speaking, I see no problems there.

There is one technical detail which we must draw your attention to. But this is not something we can resolve ourselves, we can only resolve it together with the Europeans. Our main currency revenues come from the sale of our traditional commodities in the foreign market. These commodities are normally traded in exchanges and the settlements in exchanges are in dollars. It is not our invention, it's yours. So, we should think about this problem together. I repeat, the Central Bank of the Russian Federation and its colleagues are working actively on what we will do after January 1, 2002 and how.

QUESTION: There are three more concerns in Germany in connection with Russia. Perhaps, they are not only German concerns, but they certainly worry my country and with your permission I would like to touch upon them. You are criticized, not only you, but also you specifically, for your policy. The question is that your critics claim that your strategy is not aimed at creating an open democracy which we in Germany call the civil society, but at creating an authoritarian state that will be geared not so much to democracy as to the power of the army and the special services. How can you respond to this criticism?

PUTIN: You know that if we look at Western Europe itself, it's not a large entity territorially, even there democracies differ markedly from one another. You can take the example of France or the Federal Republic of Germany, Italy or some other European country. Democracies are different everywhere. The forms of democracy and the practice of democracy differ everywhere. This is due to history, tradition and so on.

There are, of course, basic things that everybody shares and of course Russia will try to see to it that these basic things totally and fully integrate Russia into the European humanitarian and political democratic space. And there is no question, in this context, that the security service or the army will acquire a special and independent political power or political significance. All these structures, all these power structures, as we call them, should be under the control of the state and society.

QUESTION: There is yet another concern and I confess that I share it. The Russian Union of Journalists has spoken about it and it can present proof that the work of journalists, especially in the provinces, is not only taxing, but that many journalists are at the mercy of state power, the power of governors and administrations and that under the pressure of that power they can work very little or poorly, if at all. Do you share that concern? And if so, what can you do about it?

PUTIN: In any normal democratic society the mass media and the press are, as a rule, in opposition to the establishment. This is a natural position. At the end of the day that is how it should be, otherwise it makes no sense. And from that point of view we will, of course, support press freedom. But the problem with us is that at present the main thing required for press freedom is lacking, no economic basis for freedom has been created. At present our media market and the advertising market that make it possible for the mass media to function as a commercial enterprise is practically non-existent. Normal effective information media as a commercial enterprise can hardly exist without the assistance of some outside sponsors. And once it is so they have to cater to economic interest groups. This is where the problem lies. And I see my task in creating such an economic base for press freedom. I won't challenge the fact that the press faces some difficulties in the regions. And I don't think everything is perfect in that way in the center either. And of course, there is a lot to be done. It is a complex and multi-farious work that calls for constant attention, above all, in the sphere of the economy and in strengthening the legal framework for press independence. We will certainly move forward on that.

QUESTION: I have two questions and a favor to ask you.

Let me begin with two brief questions. Your visit to Germany will almost coincide with the first anniversary of the sinking of the Kursk. Perhaps, the submarine will be lifted, with luck, while you are in Germany. Can you tell us today what caused the sinking of the Kursk, because it is a question that worries many people in Germany?

PUTIN: You know, to get at the causes of the disaster a lot has yet to be done. First, we hope that the sunken submarine will be successfully lifted and towed to dock and the first to board the submarine will be the investigators of the Prosecutor General's Office. You are the first to learn it. So far, neither military specialists, not the navy men know about it. It is a firm decision. The first to go on board the submarine, if everything goes well (and I expect it will), will be the investigators of the Prosecutor General's Office and the technical specialists who will work under their control.

We very much hope that the information obtained will bring us closer to solving the riddle that confronts us today, to solving the question of the causes of the disaster. I don't think I need explain to you why we have decided to go ahead with this complex and costly enterprise of lifting the submarine. Above all, we need to meet our moral obligation to the relatives of the dead, and also to solve the ecological issues, the ecological problems that may arise if the submarine is not raised. As we know, there is a nuclear reactor and a large number of missiles. If they can be removed and put into their places of storage, it must be done. We have analyzed this situation together with West European specialists and both our and West European specialists, I repeat, came to the conclusion that the Kursk can be lifted. And this work can be done absolutely safely. There is constant monitoring there, including radiation monitoring. No alarm signals have yet come.

QUESTION: And the last question is of a personal nature.

You spent your vacation in Karelia. I saw many pictures covering your vacation, including pictures on Russian television. You were often seen in churches. You received blessings and you took part in church ritual. Doesn't it indicate that in the year and a half that you have been the President of Russia you have drawn closer to the Church than before? Haven't you, perhaps, established a more intimate relationship with the Church? Have you become a believer?

PUTIN: As for faith, I prefer never to discuss it publicly. That's one thing.

And secondly, my visits to such places have come to attract attention only now because all my movements inside the country and even more so abroad have attracted such attention. There was no such public attention before and I could afford to do what I wanted. All I want to say is that it doesn't mean that I haven't visited such places previously.

Thirdly, it was pleasant for me to spend the short week-long vacation that I took in my native places, and that is the Northwest of the country. You know that my birthplace is Petersburg, it's a very beautiful place. So, I just wanted to be in my native region.

As for Church, I can tell you honestly that there was a certain additional agenda to this trip. You see, after the collapse of the communist ideology we have been left without any ideology. The Church is separated from the state, it has been in a humiliated position over decades, but man cannot live without a moral basis. And so, attention to the Church is just a manifestation of attention to moral human values. I think it is very important for Russia today.

And besides, I got added proof that the material basis of the Church is in a sorry state. Churches in Moscow, say, and cathedrals in Petersburg have a shiny, festive look. But as soon as you are out of the regular tourist beats you see the real position of the Russian Orthodox Church. It is deplorable. And I think it would be right for Russian society to pay attention to it.

QUESTION: I have no more questions left, but in conclusion I would like to ask you for a favor which you may do us if you are kind enough. Could you tell our TV viewers a couple of words in German in connection with your forthcoming visit and in connection with the crisis situation in the world and the fear that exists, including in Germany, that things may come to a large-scale war? You can answer it in German if you feel like it.

PUTIN: (in Russian) As for the fears that humanity may be on the brink of large-scale military actions, a big war, I think these fears are without grounds. I don't think anything like that will happen. The leading countries will not allow that to happen. There needn't be such fears. There is nothing to presage a large-scale military conflict. At any rate because all the leading countries of the world, all the permanent members of the UN Security Council are determined to combat terrorism together, and terrorism and religious extremism of the most diverse stripe are always the main causes of unrest.

As for the German language, I will have an opportunity to speak German in Germany.

QUESTION: I thank you cordially for this interview. I thank you also for the open way in which you answered my questions. Thank you very much.

PUTIN: Thank you.


© Publication of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation.