There is only one measure of power and that is people’s trust. There is no other measure. All the rest is just an illusion of power, and a very dangerous illusion it is. Trust is the most important component of power and it is something I value immensely. I am very grateful to people for thinking that I really have spent these last eight years working honestly, toiling like a galley slave every day. And I see that there are also people who do not see things in this way, do not perceive it as I do, but I do not blame them for this, I blame myself for not having managed to reach out properly to these people. This means I did not work hard enough and could have done more. But overall, what I am most grateful for is people’s trust.
VLADIMIR PUTIN: ... I will allow myself to answer this question in a slightly philosophical way. It is true that during humanity's two major tragic conflicts, the first and second World Wars, Russia and the United States were allies. So there is something that objectively leads us to come together in difficult times. I think we do so probably because of geopolitical alignment and geopolitical interests. But, obviously, there is also some kind of moral component in our cooperation during the most difficult times. Of course the Cold War period was a tragedy in our relations. And I would very much like to see us overcome this inheritance from our previous relations, both today and in the future. I think that you will not be offended, you wanted me to be honest and I will allow myself to speak frankly. It seems to me that over the past decade, and perhaps even during the past 50 years, the idea of American exceptionalism has captured the public consciousness of the American population. Perhaps there are specific reasons for this, there is a historical phenomenon whereby in 250 and some odd years a small colony became a prosperous world power, one of today's leaders. This bears witness to a great deal, namely the talent of the American people and the optimal arrangement of the political and economic spheres. But, as a rule, leaders do not benefit from special rights. In general, they receive responsibilities. And if leaders start to believe that they have special rights then they often lose their leadership position. And when we had two major world communities, the so-called Western bloc led by the United States and the Eastern bloc led by the Soviet Union, then we had the possibility of maintaining rigid discipline within this bloc mentality, this form of interaction. But today, when the overwhelming majority of the international community does not feel the same external threat that used to exist, and I would ask you not be offended by what I am saying, and one country starts to dictate an agenda in international affairs, this will not meet with understanding but rather resistance. Today's world requires that we use other methods and instruments to communicate with one and other, and other ways to fight against today's threats. In order to be successful today we need to be able to negotiate and find compromises. And the ability to compromise is not just a diplomatic formality you reach with a partner, rather it is respect for their legitimate interests. In that case, when and where we are able to work in such a regime, where and when we are able to reach an agreement in light of each other's interests, each other's real interests, we will arrive at the right results.
Unilateralism vs. International Diplomacy: North Korea & Terrorism:
There [North Korea] we have had patience, adopted a serious attitude, started thinking about each other's interests and all the interests linked to this issue, and the problems we are trying to resolve in North Korea itself. And through this approach, we might not have fully resolved this problem but we have at least made significant progress. And wherever we cannot be guided by these basic considerations, wherever certain steps are simply a tribute to a given country's economic or political egoism, then we are not able to reach the agreements that would allow us to truly solve today's problems. You mentioned one of them. But it is not only terrorism. Incidentally, I would not add the adjective 'Islamic' to a definition of terrorism. In our opinion and according to my own personal conviction, terrorism does not have a national or religious component. Terrorism is international. And there are extremists in all fields, in all countries, and, if you want to talk about the religious component, in all denominations. From time to time something simmers and then occasionally erupts. But we are not fighting with any kind of religious manifestation, but rather with the ideology of intolerance, in whatever form that may take. So that's an area in which we really are beginning to take into account each other's interests and achieve long-term solutions. And, unfortunately, wherever we are unable to cope with our political or economic selfishness, we will not find such solutions. But I think that the understanding that we need to behave in precisely this way – taking into account the interests of the international community – is prevailing. And as an example I would point to the meeting on the Middle East that was held in Annapolis. I am deeply convinced that President Bush has taken on an enormous responsibility, and a personal assignment, and I would like to congratulate him. I think that he has done a good thing. This represents a serious step towards resolving one of the most difficult, pressing and long-standing issues in the international arena, namely the Middle Eastern peace settlement. For our part, we will do and have done everything to support him and we will do everything possible to continue working together in this same regime.
Our position on Iraq is well known. I believed from the outset that it was a mistaken decision and said so publicly. Not only is there no reason to change these views today but, on the contrary, all the events over the past years show that this attitude was correct. If we look at a map of the world then Iraq is much less noticeable than, say, Russia or the United States. And it seems easy to 'crush' such a small country. But the ramifications, the ‘splashes’, are such that even today we don't know what to do. This is a small but very proud people. And problems have arisen, problems that were not visible before. People no longer perceive the occupation as part of the fight against Saddam Hussein's tyrannical regime, but rather as a personal insult. And terrorists capitalize on this. And while there were previously no terrorists in Iraq, they have now appeared. Nevertheless, I believe that we should now talk less about what was done well and what was done incorrectly. I don't think that this will help resolve the situation today. Today we must think about what to do next, in the near future. And in general I agree with President Bush when he says that we need to do everything possible so that the Iraqi authorities are able to resolve their security problems independently. We need to help them create their own army, security services, police and to transfer this type of issue to the Iraqi people. But where my opinion and George's diverge is on the issue of timing. He does not think it possible to impose a timeframe for the withdrawal of foreign forces from Iraqi territory. In my opinion, it would be better to do so and would encourage the Iraqi leadership to be more active. Because if they know that American bayonets will always be there to protect them, it is possible that some would find this situation very comfortable. And, on the other hand, if they know that there is a deadline after which the American and other troops will go, then already today they will have to do something to prepare for that date. I believe that this would be the best option. But ultimately this is a decision that we must take together within the framework of the United Nations.
CIA: Iran NIE & 'Tapes'
We need to ask the Director of the CIA and senior officials in the American administration why they chose to do this now, and why they did it at all, just as you need to ask why they destroyed the records of the interrogation sessions of suspected terrorists. These are not questions to me, but rather to them. As for whether it reduces the threat of military action? If this CIA report has been published simply to divert the Iranians' attention from the real preparations for military action, something that is theoretically possible, then I believe that this would be very dangerous because any military action against Iran would represent yet another very big mistake. And if we assume that the report was actually published to provide an objective picture of events, then this simply confirms that the Russian side, in formulating its foreign policy position on a given issue, is guided by objective data. And I cannot help but be happy about this. This also bears witness to the fact that there are people in the American administration who believe that we need to speak the truth. And this too pleases me. This shows that we, basing ourselves on objective data, can construct an honest dialogue.
... Now, as to the thesis about the national leader. I don’t think that this is an administrative or even a political category. A leader is not determined by the number of telephones at a given working desk. Rather, it is a moral category and it is founded on the people's trust.
US Presidential Campaign, Popularity Ratings & Kasparov Arrest:
Why do you think Mr Kasparov was speaking English rather than Russian when he was detented? Did this not occur to you? I think that first and foremost his deeds were not aimed at his own people but rather at a Western audience. A person who works for an international audience can never be a leader in his own country. He should think of the interests of his own people and speak in their native language. And now about 'enviousness'. Envy is a bad feeling and encourages misconduct. One simply requires a good analysis of what is happening and the corresponding reaction. Along with this, the reaction to events should be designed to strengthen relations between peoples and states. We expect that this will take place in the future. I do not want to offend anyone, but let us recall that the elections for the first term of the current President of the United States were associated with certain difficulties. After all, the fate of the presidency was solved in a court of justice, rather than by direct plebiscite. In Russia, the head of state is elected directly by secret ballot, and in the U.S. by an electoral college. As far as I remember, in the first case the electoral college voted for a president who had less of the popular vote than the other candidate. Is this not a systematic problem in American electoral legislation? And I would like to draw your attention to the fact that, I think, at the end of the 18th century there was another president elected in a similar way. We do not force you to change your laws, we believe that this is the sovereign right of the American people and the legislators. Why do you believe that you have the right to interfere in our affairs? And, frankly speaking, this is the main problem in our relations. Indeed, in recent years it is as if people are saying to us: we are waiting for you, we want to welcome you into our family, into our civilized western family. But, first of all, why have you decided that your civilization is the best? There are many civilizations that are more ancient than the American one. And, second, we are quietly made to understand, people whisper in our ear, that 'we are ready to accept you but you should understand that we have a patriarchal family. We are more senior than you and you must listen to us'. Indeed, this is the continuation of the first question that you asked. In today's world such relationships no longer have a place. The 'bloc' mentality should be phased out, and instead we should adopt a completely different system of international relations. A system that does not just take into account each others' interests, but also develops common rules, known as international law. And we should strictly abide to these rules. Ultimately this could provide stability in the world and protect the interests of small countries but also large ones, and even super powers like the United States. And now, with regards to detention and so on. You know that everyone received the right to express their opinion, just as they will have the right to do so during the presidential election campaign. And in accordance with the law all participants in the parliamentary and presidential elections have access to the media, but not only that. If you look at some television channels, the so-called opposition figures were simply permanent features there. Yes, they appeared less on other channels but they definitely appeared within the legislative framework. And on some channels they appeared constantly. They had important, very important financial support. They had every opportunity to publicly express their views, to clarify their positions in the streets and town squares, but where permitted by law and the local authorities in accordance with the law. However, if they see their task as more than simply expressing their views, then they have another task: provoking the law enforcement agencies, ensuring that they are detained, and then appealing to their supporters, in this case not within the country but abroad, to show that there are problems in Russia. And in this sense they have of course achieved their goals and will achieve them in the future because we are going to continue to require that everyone comply with the laws of the Russian Federation.
Endorsing a US Presidential Candidate:
I see that you did not understand anything I said. The principle that guides our work is our sense that it is harmful to interfere in other countries' internal affairs. We would not allow ourselves to intervene, and we are not preparing to intervene in other countries' affairs. You know that, strangely enough one of my European colleagues said: 'I thought that Moscow supports a given candidate'. I was extremely surprised to hear that, since we do not work this way. We think that this is simply indecent and harmful, and harmful to ourselves because if we were to allow ourselves to do so, then we would compromise the person that we wanted to see at the head of a given state. Because the population of a given country can start to doubt which interests a given person in the public authorities is representing. We have no particular preferences in this matter. And, moreover, I am deeply convinced that independently of whoever is elected to this high office as President of the United States of America, the objective course of international affairs and the mutual interests of Russia and the United States will inevitably push the Russian and American leadership to construct a good partnership. Look at what is happening in the world. We are seeing rapid growth and new emerging economic and, therefore, also political centres of influence. The world has changed a great deal and in the next 30-50 years will change even more. .... And I am therefore absolutely confident that Russia and the United States, not only today but also in the future will need each other even more and need to have good relations. And the future Russian and American leaders who understand this will be in demand and be successful.
QUESTION: If possible, I would like to return to the issue of national leader. As you said, this is not a political or an administrative category, rather it is a moral one. But how should we understand this situation? Suppose there is a national leader in a given country whose authority is a moral one, Mahatma Gandhi, for example, who was not part of administrative or political structures but, rather, acted as a touchstone for the system of government and the state. But what happens if a person who has such a status in their country remains part of the governmental institutions and takes a position in accordance with the Constitution, even though it is not technically the highest position? Does this not create an imbalance? How effectively can you avoid creating an imbalance?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: This means that such a person exposes themselves to danger because they carry a great responsibility in decision making, and certain decisions may not be met 'with hurrahs', but rather with misunderstanding and even resistance. But in that case you need to prove your point, be honest with people, conduct a direct dialogue, and prove that perhaps these are not very pleasant but nevertheless necessary measures. And that in the final analysis these measures will have a positive result in the medium- or long-term perspective. But it is very important that people believe that this will be the case. And this means that such a person should never lie. Everyone has the right to make mistakes but you have to be honest with regards to your actions and try achieve a positive result. And if such a dialogue exists, then it is the best guarantee of success.
I think that the United States is already aware, and will further understand in the future, that only a strong Russia is in the fundamental interests of the United States.
[NATO] QUESTION: I would like to touch on the topic of NATO. Can we consider NATO as a living organism, or it is still the legacy of what you were just talking about, the world divided into blocs? What is its purpose today? If, for example, Russia was offered the chance to join NATO, would you join?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: I would not say that NATO is the stinking corpse of the cold war. But it is certainly something that is a holdover from the past. There is no point in pretending otherwise, let’s look at its history: first NATO was created, and then, in response, the Warsaw Pact was created. It was two military and political blocs opposing each other. If we say that we need not only a new architecture, but also to use new principles to promote international understanding, if we recognise the need to seek common ground and compromise on the basis of respect for each other's interests within the framework of a multipolar world, an organisation such as NATO is not a panacea for today’s problems. How, for example, can NATO effectively fight terrorism? Did NATO prevent the September 11 terrorist attack on the United States that killed thousands of Americans? Where was NATO to respond to this danger, to eliminate it, to protect America from it? It didn’t, it couldn’t, because these threats can be addressed only by increasing trust in each other by interacting on a regular basis with countries who can deal with such threats. Of course one of those countries is Russia. Russia is not going to join a military-political bloc in order to limit its sovereignty, because participation in a bloc is of course a restriction of sovereignty. But we want to have good relations, not only with the United States but with all countries, including the member countries of NATO and with the organisation itself. Certainly in a general sense NATO can be an instrument of international policy and can help in solving certain problems. But I think that the organisation itself has to change a lot. Already it is impossible for someone to line up, discipline, or drive other countries into a corner, because things are different today. If previously the United States bore the greatest burden and subjected itself to danger defending the Western world from the threat of the Soviet Union, today there is no such threat, because there is no Soviet Union. Therefore within the organisation they have to construct relationships according to other principles. And this involves the fight against crime, against drugs, which really do damage to our countries, against terrorism and organised crime, and ultimately against poverty, which is one of the causes of terrorism. For this we need a wider sphere of cooperation than is available within a single military-political bloc.
QUESTION: Mr President, you mentioned organised crime. One impression that the Americans have about Russia is that corruption there is widespread, and that this is an obstacle for you. How are you dealing with this issue? How can you resolve it? How can you control corruption?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: Unsuccessfully. We are addressing this issue unsuccessfully. Our attempts to control corruption have been unsuccessful. Here I must say something that I think you already know: that in a transitional economy and during the restructuring of an entire political system, dealing with such issues is more difficult, because unfortunately there is no reaction from civil society to this. Unfortunately we must speak frankly and openly admit that we have not worked out a system that encourages social control of the activities of public institutions. We have tremendous opportunities in terms of the acquisition of material resources and money available to specific individuals and specific companies. But incomes in the public sector for government officials still do not correspond to the nature of the decisions that they have to make. That is, the payment for their labor, on the one hand, and the importance of the decisions they take, on the other, are incompatible. Still, in the public mind it is not yet fully understood that the activities of officials on whose decisions billions depend should be rewarded appropriately so that there is no temptation. All of this, including increasing opportunities for the media to expose corruption, all of this together is certainly one of the tasks that we have to deal with together. I am absolutely convinced that by strengthening the political system, civil society, by improving market mechanisms, including making governmental and administrative decisions about economic management, that, eventually, we can address these problems more efficiently than we are doing today.
QUESTION: You mentioned civil society. I would like to take up this question from a slightly different angle, from the point of view of religion. You yourself have talked repeatedly about faith . What role in your view does faith play in your leadership? And speaking of religion, what role should faith play more generally in one’s life and in society?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: In addressing management issues, in the formulation of management challenges, first and foremost we must of course be guided by common sense. But that common sense should be based on moral principles. There is no morality or virtue in the world that exists in isolation from religious values nor could there be in my view. That's all I want to say. I could say more, but I would like to stop there, because I do not want to impose my views on people who have a different opinion about this. There are such people in Russia and they are entitled to their opinion.
QUESTION: Could you say a little more about this: do you believe in a supreme being?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: You know, there are things that I consider someone in my position should not submit to public display, because it ends up looking like an exercise in self-advertisement or a political striptease. I think both are inappropriate.
QUESTION: I would like to continue along the same lines. We know that you have interesting, dynamic relations with the leaders of world governments. Do you have close personal relationships with the heads of major international companies? How much do you, as a business leader, involve yourself in specific things such as talking to captains of industry?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: I set certain rules for myself concerning interacting with business representatives, even when I was working in St Petersburg as First Deputy Mayor of the city. I think that these are people on whom a great deal of the country’s economy depends. They help determine how the budget will be designed, address social challenges by creating jobs, and create decent work for people. But for such figures, the ones we described as captains of industry, the principal task is to make a profit. They do all their work with this in mind. And this is not the main task of the state. The main task of the state is to ensure that the welfare of ordinary citizens increases. And so I have always thought that with the heads of large companies one needs to have good, solid, trusting relationships. That said, they must know that, despite having major capital assets and lots of money in the bank, they must comply with the law, like any other citizen of the Russian Federation. And so that they had no illusions about being allowed more than that, I thought it was appropriate to keep my distance from them. This is what I did in St Petersburg and what I’ve done for 8 years here, and I think that is the right way to interact with these people for whom of course I have great respect.
QUESTION: Since this subject has come up, perhaps I could ask another question in this vein. You had difficulties with the oligarchs and they had difficulties with you. Could you talk about the role of the state in regulating or restricting the activities of certain oligarchs? Some of those involved in the television business left Russia; another, an expert on oil production, is in custody. Why did the oligarchs, as they were called, come to the attention of the state?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: Why did they come to the attention of the state? If you don’t swindle people you will not come to the attention of the state. That is the problem we had. It wasn’t that they had particular difficulties with me; they had difficulties with the Russian people and with the law. Because when people break the law they line their pockets, and tens of millions lose the rather modest savings that they’ve acquired over a lifetime. It is a matter of the distrust and alienation felt by the overwhelming majority of the population while a small group of individuals amassed billions of dollars in 6 or 7 years. That creates a lack of trust and that is the most important issue. As I understood it, my task was first – I repeat once again – to remind everyone that they had to live within the law, that they had to obey the law regardless of the amount of wealth they had amassed. Secondly, to humanise Russian business, to make it more socially responsible and to remove the wall of alienation separating the people and businesses in the Russian Federation. To understand business you need to understand its social responsibilities. Its main task is not to fill its bank accounts with money and then send it abroad, but to realize itself here, in its own Motherland. The value of a man and a businessman is not how much wealth he has acquired but what he has done for the people, by whose hands he managed to achieve such results. These are the new moral principles that can emerge and break down the wall of alienation between the people and the business. Then people will have more confidence in those who direct the large companies and have great wealth. And the final thing is this: we need to do everything we can to overcome poverty, because a person who does not have the most basic things or lives in difficult conditions does give a damn about all these maxims. You cannot explain anything to him. And he is right, this person, because it means that neither the state nor business has done anything to improve his life. And in his opinion they could do better since they have amassed such resources. And in this sense, the ordinary citizen is right. But this means that together we have a lot to do to resolve this problem, to create a feeling of trust between the people and big business.
QUESTION: I have been in Russia for a week and I regularly read about Russia on the Internet. It seems that some of the people very close to you have enriched themselves by corruption. I would like to ask this question. Is there a threat of social upheaval if living standards do not continue to rise and the corruption situation deteriorates?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: If the standard of living continues to rise, then there is no danger of social upheaval. But the situation with regards to corruption does not suit us either. You said that some people have made money from corruption. This means that you know who and how. Write out your allegations and send them to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation or to the prosecutor. I beg you to do this. Because if you are so sure about what you are saying, that means that you can name names, that you know about corrupt schemes. And I can assure you and everyone listening to us, watching us, or reading about our meeting today, that the response will be quick, immediate, and of course within the framework of existing legislation in Russia. In the past and in recent years I have not just talked about it, but by my actions prompted law enforcement agencies and public organisations not to tolerate manifestations of this kind. For the state any situation in which those engaged in corruption feel privileged cannot be tolerated. And so if you have any concrete evidence of such practices, please write out your allegations. I will be very grateful to you.
QUESTION: You worked in the KGB. We already talked about that. What influence has your work in that organisation had on you? It’s sometimes said after all that, once an intelligence officer, always an intelligence officer.
VLADIMIR PUTIN: That’s all just fables. We’re all real people. Of course some aspects of past experience leave their mark, things we can draw on in life today, and other aspects fade away. But whether it was in university or in the KGB, where I was sent to work after graduating from university, I think that the main thing was that in both places we were taught to think independently, to collect objective information, analyse it, and use it as the basis for making independent decisions. That is the first positive aspect that I was able to apply to my future experience, including to my work today. The second aspect, which is above all true of my time in the intelligence services, of course, is the ability to work with people and, above all, to respect the people with whom you work. I’ll share with you some real inside information on the way the intelligence services work. There are several basic principles for working with information sources, with the people who help the intelligence services. They are given different names in different countries, but in general they are referred to as agents. The foundations for this cooperation can vary: the person might be dependent on the intelligence service, be working for material gain or share the same political views, but the most solid foundation of all, without which nothing can be achieved, is that of trust and respect for your partner. At the very least you always have to look upon the person with whom you are working as being your equal. You have to understand that in some way he is better than you. In the context of intelligence work, when I was working with people who were cooperating with Soviet intelligence, I always thought that the people I was dealing with were better than me if only because they were risking more than me. That was already enough to make me feel great respect for these people. I think that these people felt this respect and I had very good relations with them. This respect for one’s partners is also very important in politics, I think.
QUESTION: What have you learned through your dealings with foreign journalists?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: The issue is not one of journalists themselves or of political or military details. I am talking here about human relations. What can I say about foreign journalists? What I always appreciated in them is that they are professionals. Many of them have specialised in this or that area and become experts on different issues, and this is something for which I feel respect. I always find it interesting to speak with people who have in-depth knowledge of different issues. But to be frank with you – you can decide for yourself whether to print this or not – there are people who are really not objective, despite all the freedom the Western press, including the American press, enjoys. These are people who are simply doing what they have to do to earn the money their owners pay, and who want to avoid disputes with their bosses. Truly independent people, people who are not afraid to spoil their relations with their bosses or lose their jobs, people who really write what they think, are quite few and far between. They are few and far between not just in the media world but in life in general. These are the true objective spirits, people who have a bit of a dissident streak in them whatever the environment they’re in. But it is precisely these people, selfless and honest people, who earn respect wherever they work, whether as journalists, politicians, or in whatever other field.
~?~?~?~ ** ~?~?~?~
QUESTION: I have a personal question. When you were growing up, when you were a mid-level intelligence officer, did it ever enter your head that you would one day be running the country, especially at a time of change, a troubled time?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: I never thought about it and of course it never entered my head.
QUESTION: Does it still surprise you that it happened?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: Yes, I think it does. I arrived in Moscow from St Petersburg in the summer of 1996. Three years later, in August 1999, I became prime minister, and another six months later I was elected President. When I arrived in Moscow in 1996, I had no real connections or friends to rely on. I came to Moscow because the man I worked with in St Petersburg, Mr Sobchak, lost the election and I simply did not have a chance of finding employment there, no one would take me on.
QUESTION: How did it all happen then?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: I’m amazed myself. It seems to me that it all happened because people close to First President Yeltsin realised that I would be absolutely sincere and would give everything to fulfilling my duties, would be honest with regard to the First President and would do all I could to protect the country’s interests. I think this was the main motivation behind the decision of President Yeltsin and the people close to him when they made this proposal to me.
QUESTION: So he saw something new in you, he saw something that suggested that you in particular would be able to handle this work?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: Yes, I think so. We talked about this several times. The first time he made the proposal I answered with a refusal. For a start, I understood just what situation the country was in, and then, it was also a completely unexpected proposal for me. I said that I didn’t know…
QUESTION: You realised that this would be a difficult task and this made you hesitate?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: Yes, of course. That was clear immediately after the 1998 default. I said that I wasn’t sure, that this was a very difficult fate and that I wasn’t sure whether I was ready for it or not. But President Yeltsin was insistent. He said, “We will come back to this conversation. I ask you not to say ‘no’”. So I said, “Alright then, we will talk about it again later”.
QUESTION: You have spoken very confidently about Russia’s role in international affairs. People say that it was harder to carry out this policy at the start of your presidency, but now that you have become a very strong president, I want to ask you: when did you become a national leader? What determines this position? When were you able to say to yourself, “Yes, now I have become a true leader”?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: First of all, this is something I never thought about, just as I never thought that I would one day be President. And now, to be honest, I try not to think about it because I think that when people start to think they are somehow exceptional, some kind of exceptional leader, they start to lose touch with reality. I never called myself a national leader. It is others who have called me this. I did not think up this term and have never sought it. When I became President the country found itself unwillingly plunged into the chaos of civil war in the Caucasus and faced enormous economic difficulties, the collapse of the social sphere and a huge number of people living below the poverty line. I can say to you with all certainty that I did not just take this job, step into this office, as it were, but I decided for myself that I was ready to do everything I could, to make any sacrifice, in order to restore the country. I made this the main purpose of my life and I decided that my own life in the broad sense, my personal life and interests, therefore ended. Destiny has given me the chance to play a positive role in the history of my people, and I see myself as a part of this people and feel very strongly my connection to them. I have always felt this and I feel it now, and from the moment I made my decision I have subjugated my entire life to this goal. I think that these goals have been reached to a large extent. We now have other problems, just as big, that we must address, but these are already problems of a different kind, and we have every opportunity for making progress. So when you ask me when I first had this feeling of being a leader, I can say that I haven’t had this feeling and I don’t have it now. I feel like a work horse that is hauling along a cart filled with a heavy load, and I can tell you that the satisfaction I feel from my work depends on how rapidly and effectively I manage to make progress along this road.
QUESTION: Do you not see the 1990s as something of a paradox in this respect? On the one hand, you say it is a period that gave Russia freedom, but on the other hand, you often say that it was a time of total ruin and a great tragedy, referring to the collapse of the Soviet Union. How do you explain this paradox?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: I do not see any paradox. The command economy system and the Communist Party’s total domination of political life had brought the country to a point where most people no longer placed any value on the state. They did not need that state. So it was no surprise that they saw the state as they did and felt no regret at seeing it go, imagining that things could surely not be any worse without it. But then it became apparent that things could indeed be worse. The tragedy is that people’s hopes were disappointed because freedom to do as one pleased was called democracy, and the theft of millions to enrich a few, the plunder of immense resources that belonged to the whole people, was called the market and market relations. What did the collapse of the Soviet Union mean? Twenty-five-million Soviet citizens who were ethnic Russians found themselves outside Russia’s border and no one gave them any thought. This is equivalent to the population of a large European country. They found themselves suddenly in the position of being foreigners without ever having been asked about what they themselves wanted. And how did the Soviet collapse actually take place? In any democratic country, in Belgium at the moment, for example, complex processes can take place. But in countries where these processes are taking place, before making a decision, the public is asked, “do you want to live separately from this country with which you currently live together, or do you want to stay together?” I am sure that if a referendum had been held, the majority of people in many of the former Soviet republics would not have said that, “yes, we want to separate from the Soviet Union”. But they were never asked. Is this a democratic means of resolving problems of this kind? We do not make an issue of this today, do not talk about it, but it is nonetheless the reality of the situation. So, 25 million people found themselves abroad without means of existence, in a climate of rising nationalism and in a situation when they could not return to Russia, their historic homeland, and could not even see their relatives because they did not have the money to buy a plane or train ticket. They do not have apartments in Russia. They have nowhere to live and no jobs. Is this not a tragedy? This is what I meant when I spoke of the tragedy of this period. I had in mind not the political aspect of the Soviet Union’s collapse but the humanitarian aspect. And is this not a tragedy? Of course it is a tragedy and a great tragedy too.
QUESTION: President Bush said that he looked into your eyes and saw into your soul. Did you see into President Bush’s soul when you looked into his eyes, and what did you see there?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: I don’t think I have the right to give personality assessments and evaluations. When he said that he looked into my eyes, he was saying what he felt. I will therefore take your question literally and speak about my own feelings. I do indeed have good relations with him and this is something I value. I consider him a very reliable partner and a decent person. When I have had the pleasure of speaking with some American intellectuals – I will not name names – they begin to argue with me on this point. I would like to say that my term in office as President is coming to an end soon and I have no reason to make compliments just for the sake of it, all the more as I will soon be leaving this post. I do not need to make compliments for personal or for business reasons. What I say I say in all sincerity. I do not agree with those in Russia or in America who deny Bush’s decency, honesty or even competence. We all make mistakes. I think that Iraq was a mistake, for example. But Bush is someone with a lot of experience, a lot of experience in life and in state affairs, and there is no doubt that everything he does is aimed at protecting the interests of the United States. .... I think he is someone with a lot of experience in life and in state affairs. He was governor, after all, and I have an idea of what it takes to run a region. I was deputy mayor of St Petersburg, and he was the top official in the state. Only at first glance does this seem like nothing much, just a matter of looking after roofs, roads, looking after the linen, but this is not the case at all. This work involves serious matters and the decisions taken affect the lives of thousands, millions, of people. He has a lot of international experience, though, as I said, there are some areas where I think he has made mistakes, some things I would not have done. I already mentioned Iraq. But I have absolutely no doubt that he is acting in America’s interests, that he devotes himself fully to this work, and that he is honest with his partners.
QUESTION: Mr President, you know that in America, being ‘green’, ecologically-minded, is the new religion, and the chief hierarch is former Vice-President Al Gore. I have two questions in this respect. How do you view the ‘green movement’ as it is developing in Russia, and what is your policy in this area? And the second part of my question: in America and the West there is a need to use alternative energy sources so as to reduce dependence on fuels such as oil.
VLADIMIR PUTIN: Regarding the ecology movement, I very much support it and share their ideas very much. Protecting nature, protecting the environment in which we live is one of the priorities for all of humankind. People who devote their time and their lives to this work unquestionably deserve our support. It is also clear that we cannot stop human development. There will always be a conflict between development and environmental protection. It is important that humanity realise the dramatic nature of the events taking place and channel development in such a way as to cause minimal damage to nature, or try to find ways of excluding all such damage. Modern technology can help us to achieve this. It is easier to resolve these problems today than it was even 15 years ago, because in a situation of confrontation between two rival blocs such as we had back then, confrontation that threatened total mutual destruction, people were not much concerned with what happened to the environment during this competition, which was a struggle of life or death. But today we have left this situation behind and there is no need to destroy the environment in the way we did previously. Today we therefore have a unique political opportunity to look after what God has given all of humankind. Our eco-system is very vulnerable. It is amazing that the Earth still survives today. Our planet evolved through a combination of billions of circumstances and continues to exist thanks to the fact these billions of circumstances somehow interact and work together. Our planet, which is in constant movement through what is essentially the hostile environment of outer space, is faced with the constant threat of destruction. It could be hit by large cosmic bodies. We have a very thin ozone layer and our atmosphere in general is really quite thin. There is a very fine line beyond which damage becomes irreversible, and we might not even notice that we have crossed this line. In this respect we must always remember this and always strive to minimise the possible negative consequences for the environment. But what I do not like is that people sometimes use environmental issues as an instrument in competition, particularly in economic competition, in order to stifle competition. This undermines trust in the environmental protection organisations and their work. This is the negative side of the question. But overall, we must strive to come up with rules of behaviour that would protect the environment for humankind in the long term.
QUESTION: But to give Americans a better idea of you as a person, what do you like and value most of all, and what do you feel some kind of passion for?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: There is only one measure of power and that is people’s trust. There is no other measure. All the rest is just an illusion of power, and a very dangerous illusion it is. Trust is the most important component of power and it is something I value immensely. I am very grateful to people for thinking that I really have spent these last eight years working honestly, toiling like a galley slave every day. And I see that there are also people who do not see things in this way, do not perceive it as I do, but I do not blame them for this, I blame myself for not having managed to reach out properly to these people. This means I did not work hard enough and could have done more. But overall, what I am most grateful for is people’s trust.
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