Thursday, October 19, 2017

Meeting of the Valdai International Discussion Club - Part I + II

Vladimir Putin took part in the final plenary session of the 14th annual meeting of the Valdai International Discussion Club titled The World of the Future: Moving Through Conflict to Cooperation.
October 19, 2017
 Meeting of the Valdai International Discussion Club.
Meeting of the Valdai International Discussion Club.
The general topic of the Valdai Club this year is Creative Destruction: Will a New World Order Emerge from the Current Conflicts?
During the four days of the forum the participants are discussing political and social conflicts of the modern world and opportunities of society’s adaptation to the new factors and conditions. Through analysis of the current conflicts experts and political scientists predict the shape of the future world.
This year the Valdai meeting brought together over 130 participants from 33 countries.
Alongside the President of Russia the speakers at the final session included former President of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan Hamid Karzai, Research Director at the Norwegian Nobel Institute Asle Toje, and Executive Chairman of Alibaba Group Jack Ma.
* * *
President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Thank you very much.
I am not sure how optimistic it will sound, but I am aware that you had very lively discussions over the last three days. I will try, as has now become customary, to share with you what I think about some of the issues. Please do not take it badly if I say something that has already been said as I did not follow all the discussions.
To begin with, I would like to welcome Mr Karzai, Mr Ma, Mr Toje, our colleagues and all our friends. I can see many familiar faces in the audience. Welcome everyone to the Valdai Club meeting.
By tradition, this forum focuses on discussing the most pressing global political as well as economic matters. This time, the organisers, as was just mentioned again, have come up with a fairly difficult challenge asking the participants to try to look beyond the horizon, to ponder over what the coming decades may be like for Russia and the international community.
Of course, it is impossible to foresee everything and to take into account all the opportunities and risks that we will be faced with. However, we need to understand and sense the key trends, to look for outside-the-box answers to the questions that the future is posing for us at the moment, and will surely pose more. The pace of developments is such that we must react to them constantly as well as quickly.
The world has entered an era of rapid change. Things that were only recently referred to as fantastic or unattainable have become a reality and have become part of our daily lives.
Qualitatively new processes are simultaneously unfolding across all spheres. The fast-paced public life in various countries and the technological revolution are intertwined with changes on the international arena. The competition for a place in the global hierarchy is exacerbating. However, many past recipes for global governance, overcoming conflicts as well as natural contradictions are no longer applicable, they often fail, and new ones have not been worked out yet.
Naturally, the interests of states do not always coincide, far from it. This is normal and natural. It has always been the case. The leading powers have different geopolitical strategies and perceptions of the world. This is the immutable essence of international relations, which are built on the balance between cooperation and competition.
True, when this balance is upset, when the observance and even existence of universal rules of conduct is questioned, when interests are pushed through at any cost, then disputes become unpredictable and dangerous and lead to violent conflicts.
Not a single real international problem can be resolved in such circumstances and such a framing of the issues, and so relations between countries simply degrade. The world becomes less secure. Instead of progress and democracy, free rein is given to radical elements and extremist groups that reject civilization itself and seek to plunge it into the ancient past, into chaos and barbarism.
The history of the past few years graphically illustrates all of this. It is enough to see what has happened in the Middle East, which some players have tried to reshape and reformat to their liking and to impose on it a foreign development model through externally orchestrated coups or simply by force of arms.
Instead of working together to redress the situation and deal a real blow to terrorism rather than simulating a struggle against it, some of our colleagues are doing everything they can to make the chaos in this region permanent. Some still think that it is possible to manage this chaos.
Meanwhile, there are some positive examples in recent experience. As you have probably guessed, I am referring to the experience of Syria. It shows that there is an alternative to this kind of arrogant and destructive policy. Russia is opposing terrorists together with the legitimate Syrian Government and other states of the region, and is acting on the basis of international law. I must say that these actions and this forward progress has not come easy. There is a great deal of dissension in the region. But we have fortified ourselves with patience and, weighing our every move and word, we are working with all the participants of this process with due respect for their interests.
Our efforts, the results of which were questioned by our colleagues only recently, are now – let me put it carefully – instilling us with hope. They have proved to be very important, correct, professional and timely.
Or, take another example – the clinch around the Korean Peninsula. I am sure you covered this issue extensively today as well. Yes, we unequivocally condemn the nuclear tests conducted by the DPRK and fully comply with the UN Security Council resolutions concerning North Korea. Colleagues, I want to emphasise this so that there is no discretionary interpretation. We comply with all UN Security Council resolutions.
However, this problem can, of course, only be resolved through dialogue. We should not drive North Korea into a corner, threaten force, stoop to unabashed rudeness or invective. Whether someone likes or dislikes the North Korean regime, we must not forget that the Democratic People's Republic of Korea is a sovereign state.
All disputes must be resolved in a civilised manner. Russia has always favoured such an approach. We are firmly convinced that even the most complex knots – be it the crisis in Syria or Libya, the Korean Peninsula or, say, Ukraine – must be disentangled rather than cut.
The situation in Spain clearly shows how fragile stability can be even in a prosperous and established state. Who could have expected, even just recently, that the discussion of the status of Catalonia, which has a long history, would result in an acute political crisis?
Russia's position here is known. Everything that is happening is an internal matter for Spain and must be settled based on Spanish law in accordance with democratic traditions. We are aware that the country’s leadership is taking steps towards this end.
In the case of Catalonia, we saw the European Union and a number of other states unanimously condemn the supporters of independence.
You know, in this regard, I cannot help but note that more thought should have gone into this earlier. What, no one was aware of these centuries-old disagreements in Europe? They were, were they not? Of course, they were. However, at one point they actually welcomed the disintegration of a number of states in Europe without hiding their joy.
Why were they so unthinking, driven by fleeting political considerations and their desire to please – I will put it bluntly – their big brother in Washington, in providing their unconditional support to the secession of Kosovo, thus provoking similar processes in other regions of Europe and the world?
You may remember that when Crimea also declared its independence, and then – following the referendum – its decision to become part of Russia, this was not welcomed for some reason. Now we have Catalonia. There is a similar issue in another region, Kurdistan. Perhaps this list is far from exhaustive. But we have to ask ourselves, what are we going to do? What should we think about it?
It turns out that some of our colleagues think there are ”good“ fighters for independence and freedom and there are ”separatists“ who are not entitled to defend their rights, even with the use of democratic mechanisms.
As we always say in similar cases, such double standards – and this is a vivid example of double standards – pose serious danger to the stable development of Europe and other continents, and to the advancement of integration processes across the world.
At one time the apologists for globalisation were trying to convince us that universal economic interdependence was a guarantee against conflicts and geopolitical rivalry. Alas, this did not happen. Moreover, the nature of the contradictions grew more complicated, becoming multilayer and nonlinear.
Indeed, while interconnectedness is a restraining and stabilising factor, we are also witnessing an increasing number of examples of politics crudely interfering with economic, market relations. Quite recently there were warnings that this was unacceptable, counterproductive and must be prevented. Now those who made such warnings are doing all this themselves. Some do not even conceal that they are using political pretexts to promote their strictly commercial interests. For instance, the recent package of sanctions adopted by the US Congress is openly aimed at ousting Russia from European energy markets and compelling Europe to buy more expensive US-produced LNG although the scale of its production is still too small.
Attempts are being made to create obstacles in the way of our efforts to forge new energy routes – South Stream and Nord Stream – even though diversifying logistics is economically efficient, beneficial for Europe and promotes its security.
Let me repeat: it is only natural that each state has its own political, economic and other interests. The question is the means by which they are protected and promoted.
In the modern world, it is impossible to make a strategic gain at the expense of others. Such a policy based on self-assurance, egotism and claims to exceptionalism will not bring any respect or true greatness. It will evoke natural and justified rejection and resistance. As a result, we will see the continued growth of tensions and discord instead of trying to establish together a steady and stable international order and address the technological, environmental, climate and humanitarian challenges confronting the entire human race today.
Scientific and technological progress, robotic automation and digitalisation are already leading to profound economic, social, cultural changes, and changes in values as well. We are now presented with previously inconceivable prospects and opportunities. But at the same time we will have to find answers to plenty of questions as well. What place will people occupy in the “humans–machines–nature” triangle? What actions will be taken by states that fail to provide conditions for normal life due to changes in climate and environment? How will employment be maintained in the era of automation? How will the Hippocratic oath be interpreted once doctors possess capabilities akin to all-powerful wizards? And will human intelligence finally lose the ability to control artificial intelligence? Will artificial intelligence become a separate entity, independent from us?
Previously, when assessing the role and influence of countries, we spoke about the importance of the geopolitical factor, the size of a country’s territory, its military power and natural resources. Of course, these factors still are of major importance today. But now there is also another factor – the scientific and technological factor, which, without a doubt, is of great importance as well, and its importance will only increase over time.
In fact, this factor has always been important, but now it will have game-changing potential, and very soon it will have a major impact in the areas of politics and security. Thus, the scientific and technological factor will become a factor of universal and political importance.
It is also obvious that even the very latest technology will not be able to ensure sustainable development on its own. A harmonious future is impossible without social responsibility, without freedom and justice, without respect for traditional ethical values and human dignity. Otherwise, instead of becoming a world of prosperity and new opportunities, this “brave new world” will turn into a world of totalitarianism, castes, conflicts and greater divisions.
Today growing inequality is already building up into feelings of injustice and deprivation in millions of people and whole nations. And the result is radicalisation, a desire to change things in any way possible, up to and including violence.
By the way, this has already happened in many countries, and in Russia, our country, as well. Successful technological, industrial breakthroughs were followed by dramatic upheavals and revolutionary disruptions. It all happened because the country failed to address social discord and overcome the clear anachronisms in society in time.
Revolution is always the result of an accountability deficit in both those who would like to conserve, to freeze in place the outdated order of things that clearly needs to be changed, and those who aspire to speed the changes up, resorting to civil conflict and destructive resistance.
Today, as we turn to the lessons of a century ago, namely, the Russian Revolution of 1917, we see how ambiguous its results were, how closely the negative and, we must acknowledge, the positive consequences of those events are intertwined. Let us ask ourselves: was it not possible to follow an evolutionary path rather than go through a revolution? Could we not have evolved by way of gradual and consistent forward movement rather than at a cost of destroying our statehood and the ruthless fracturing of millions of human lives?
However, the largely utopian social model and ideology, which the newly formed state tried to implement initially following the 1917 revolution, was a powerful driver of transformations across the globe (this is quite clear and must also be acknowledged), caused a major revaluation of development models, and gave rise to rivalry and competition, the benefits of which, I would say, were mostly reaped by the West.
I am referring not only to the geopolitical victories following the Cold War. Many Western achievements of the 20th century were in answer to the challenge posed by the Soviet Union. I am talking about raising living standards, forming a strong middle class, reforming the labour market and the social sphere, promoting education, guaranteeing human rights, including the rights of minorities and women, overcoming racial segregation, which, as you may recall, was a shameful practice in many countries, including the United States, a few short decades ago.
Following the radical changes that took place in our country and globally at the turn of the 1990s, a really unique chance arose to open a truly new chapter in history. I mean the period after the Soviet Union ceased to exist.
Unfortunately, after dividing up the geopolitical heritage of the Soviet Union, our Western partners became convinced of the justness of their cause and declared themselves the victors of the Cold War, as I just mentioned, and started openly interfering in the affairs of sovereign states, and exporting democracy just like the Soviet leadership had tried to export the socialist revolution to the rest of the world in its time.
We were confronted with the redistribution of spheres of influence and NATO expansion. Overconfidence invariably leads to mistakes. The outcome was unfortunate. Two and a half decades gone to waste, a lot of missed opportunities, and a heavy burden of mutual distrust. The global imbalance has only intensified as a result.
We do hear declarations about being committed to resolving global issues, but, in fact, what we see is more and more examples of selfishness. All the international institutions designed to harmonise interests and formulate a joint agenda are being eroded, and basic multilateral international treaties and critically important bilateral agreements are being devalued.
I was told, just a few hours ago, that the US President said something on social media about Russia-US cooperation in the important area of nuclear cooperation. True, this is the most important sphere of interaction between Russia and the United States, bearing in mind that Russia and the United States bear a special responsibility to the world as the two largest nuclear powers.
However, I would like to use this opportunity to speak in more detail about what happened in recent decades in this crucial area, to provide a more complete picture. It will take two minutes at most.
Several landmark bilateral agreements were signed in the 1990s. The first one, the Nunn-Lugar programme, was signed on June 17, 1992. The second one, the HEU-LEU programme, was signed on February 18, 1993. Highly enriched uranium was converted into low-enriched uranium, hence HEU-LEU.
The projects under the first agreement focused on upgrading control systems, accounting and physical protection of nuclear materials, dismantling and scrapping submarines and radioisotope thermoelectric generators. The Americans have made – and please pay attention here, this is not secret information, simply few are aware of it – 620 verification visits to Russia to check our compliance with the agreements. They visited the holiest of holies of the Russian nuclear weapons complex, namely, the enterprises engaged in developing nuclear warheads and ammunition, and weapons-grade plutonium and uranium. The United States gained access to all top-secret facilities in Russia. Also, the agreement was almost unilateral in nature.
Under the second agreement, the Americans made 170 more visits to our enrichment plants, touring their most restricted areas, such as mixing units and storage facilities. The world’s most powerful nuclear enrichment plant – the Urals Electrochemical Combine – even had a permanent American observation post. Permanent jobs were created directly at the workshops of this combine where the American specialists went to work every day. The rooms they were sitting in at these top-secret Russian facilities had American flags, as is always the case.
In addition, a list was drawn up of 100 American specialists from 10 different US organisations who were entitled to conduct additional inspections at any time and without any warning. All this lasted for 10 years. Under this agreement, 500 tonnes of weapons-grade uranium were removed from military circulation in Russia, which is equivalent to about 20,000 nuclear warheads.
The HEU-LEU programme has become one of the most effective measures of true disarmament in the history of humankind – I say this with full confidence. Each step on the Russian side was closely monitored by American specialists, at a time when the United States limited itself to much more modest reductions of its nuclear arsenal, and did so on a purely goodwill basis.
Our specialists also visited enterprises of the US nuclear arms complex but only at their invitation and under conditions set by the US side.
As you see, the Russian side demonstrated absolutely unprecedented openness and trust. Incidentally – and we will probably talk about this later – it is also common knowledge what we received from this: total neglect of our national interests, support for separatism in the Caucasus, military action that circumvented the UN Security Council, such as the bombing of Yugoslavia and Belgrade, the introduction of troops into Iraq and so on. Well, this is easy to understand: once the condition of the nuclear complex, the armed forces and the economy had been seen, international law appeared to be unnecessary.
In the 2000s our cooperation with the United States entered a new stage of truly equitable partnership. It was marked by the signing of a number of strategic treaties and agreements on peaceful uses of nuclear energy, which is known in the US as the 123 Agreement. But to all intents and purposes, the US side unilaterally halted work within its framework in 2014.
The situation around the 2000 Plutonium Management and Disposition Agreement (PMDA) of August 20 (signed in Moscow) and September 1 (in Washington) is perplexing and alarming. In accordance with the protocol to this agreement, the sides were supposed to take reciprocal steps to irreversibly convert weapons-grade plutonium into mixed oxide (MOX) fuel and burn it in nuclear plants, so that it could not be used for military purposes. Any changes in this method were only allowed by consent of the sides. This is written in the agreement and protocols to it.
What did Russia do? We developed this fuel, built a plant for mass production and, as we pledged in the agreement, built a BN-800 plant that allowed us to safely burn this fuel. I would like to emphasise that Russia fulfilled all of its commitments.
What did our American partners do? They started building a plant on the Savannah River Site. Its initial price tag was $4.86 billon but they spent almost $8 billion, brought construction to 70 percent and then froze the project. But, to our knowledge, the budget request for 2018 includes $270 million for the closure and mothballing of this facility. As usual, a question arises: where is the money? Probably stolen. Or they miscalculated something when planning its construction. Such things happen. They happen here all too often. But we are not interested in this, this is not our business. We are interested in what happens with uranium and plutonium. What about the disposal of plutonium? Dilution and geological storage of the plutonium is suggested. But this completely contradicts the spirit and letter of the agreement, and, most important, does not guarantee that the dilution is not reconverted into weapons-grade plutonium. All this is very unfortunate and bewildering.
Next. Russia ratified the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty more than 17 years ago. The USA has not done so yet.
A critical mass of problems is building up in global security. As is known, in 2002 the United States pulled out of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. And despite being initiators of the Convention on the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons and international security, they initiated that agreement themselves, they are failing to meet their commitments. They remain as of today the only and largest holder of this form of weapon of mass destruction. Moreover, the USA has pushed back the deadline for eliminating their chemical weapons from 2007 to as far as 2023. It does not look proper for a nation that claims to be a champion of non-proliferation and control.
In Russia, on the contrary, the process was completed on September 27 of this year. By doing so our country has made a significant contribution to enhancing international security. By the way, the western media preferred to keep quiet, not to notice it, though there was one fleeting mention somewhere in Canada, but that was it, then silence. Meanwhile, the chemical weapons arsenal stockpiled by the Soviet Union is enough to destroy life on the planet multiple times over.
I believe that it is time to abandon an obsolete agenda. I am referring to what was. Without a doubt, we should be looking forward, we have to stop looking back. I am talking about this so as to understand the origins of the current situation that is taking shape.
It is high time for a frank discussion among the global community rather than just a group of the chosen, allegedly the most worthy and advanced. Representatives of different continents, cultural and historical traditions, political and economic systems. In a changing world, we cannot afford to be inflexible, closed off, or unable to respond clearly and quickly. Responsibility for the future – this is what should unite us, especially in times like the current ones when everything is changing rapidly.
Never before has humankind possessed such power as it does now. The power over nature, space, communications, and its own existence. However, this power is diffuse: its elements are in the hands of states, corporations, public and religious associations, and even individual citizens. Clearly, harnessing all these elements in a single, effective and manageable architecture is not an easy task. It will take hard, painstaking work to achieve this. And Russia, I will note, is willing to take part in it together with any partners who are interested.
Colleagues, how do we see the future of the international order and the global governance system? For example, in 2045, when the UN will mark its centennial anniversary? Its creation has become a symbol of the fact that humanity, in spite of everything, is capable of developing common rules of conduct and following them. Whenever these rules were not followed, it inevitably resulted in crises and other negative consequences.
However, in recent decades, there have been several attempts to belittle the role of this organisation, to discredit it, or simply to assume control over it. All these attempts predictably failed, or reached a dead end. In our opinion, the UN, with its universal legitimacy, must remain the centre of the international system. Our common goal is to raise its authority and effectiveness. There is no alternative to the UN today.
With regard to the right of veto in the Security Council, which is also sometimes challenged, you may recall that this mechanism was designed and created in order to avoid direct confrontation of the most powerful states, as a guarantee against arbitrariness and recklessness, so that no single country, even the most influential country, could give the appearance of legitimacy to its aggressive actions.
Of course, let us face it, the experts are here, and they know that the UN has legitimised the actions of individual participants in international affairs after the fact. Well, at least that is something, but it will not lead to any good, either.
Reforms are needed, the UN system needs improvement, but reforms can only be gradual, evolutionary and, of course, they must be supported by the overwhelming majority of the participants in the international process within the organisation itself, by broad consensus.
The guarantee of the UN effectiveness lies in its representative nature. The absolute majority of the world’s sovereign states are represented in it. The fundamental principles of the UN should be preserved for years and decades to come, since there is no other entity that is capable of reflecting the entire gamut of international politics.
Today, new centres of influence and growth models are emerging, civilisational alliances, and political and economic associations are taking shape. This diversity does not lend itself to unification. So, we must strive to harmonise cooperation. Regional organisations in Eurasia, America, Africa, the Asia-Pacific region should act under the auspices of the United Nations and coordinate their work.
However, each association has the right to function according to its own ideas and principles that correspond to its cultural, historical and geographical specifics. It is important to combine global interdependence and openness with preserving the unique identity of each nation and each region. We must respect sovereignty as the basis underlying the entire system of international relations.
Colleagues, no matter what amazing heights technology can reach, history is, of course, made by humans. History is made by people, with all their strengths and weaknesses, great achievements and mistakes. We can have only a shared future. There can be no separate futures for us, at least, not in the modern world. So, the responsibility for ensuring that this world is conflict-free and prosperous lies with the entire international community.
As you may be aware, the 19th World Festival of Youth and Students is taking place in Sochi. Young people from dozens of countries are interacting with their peers and discussing matters that concern them. They are not hampered by cultural, national or political differences, and they are all dreaming about the future. They believe that their lives, the lives of younger generations will be better, fairer and safer. Our responsibility today is to do our best to make sure that these hopes come true.
Thank you very much for your attention.
Fyodor Lukyanov: Thank you very much, Mr President. I would like to ask you to clarify something. You mentioned science and technology as perhaps the most crucial factor today. Yet even we, the current living generations, remember outbursts of euphoria over the importance of technology, and later that euphoria faded somehow and it became clear that what has always been, the fundamentals – territory, demography – are still eternal, and while technologies are adapted somehow, the fundamentals remain most crucial.
Why do you think it has the potential now to be a game changer?
Vladimir Putin: The things you mentioned do remain eternal, fundamental values. It is no accident that the Torah calls giving up territory a great sin. Both territory and the wealth of the land, people – those all remain the most crucial factors.
But today there has been a qualitative change. The rate of change is so high. Mr Gref must have told you (he can tell such tales till dawn) that it is becoming plain to see – science and technology is becoming the decisive factor in the area of military security and international politics. Everything is happening so fast, and the changes are irreversible.
Fyodor Lukyanov: Thank you very much, Mr President. I would like to ask you to clarify something. You mentioned science and technology as perhaps the most crucial factor today. Yet even we, the current living generations, remember outbursts of euphoria over the importance of technology, and later that euphoria faded somehow and it became clear that what has always been, the fundamentals – territory, demography – are still eternal, and while technologies are adapted somehow, the fundamentals remain most crucial.
Why do you think it has the potential now to be a game changer?
Vladimir Putin: The things you mentioned do remain eternal, fundamental values. It is no accident that the Torah calls giving up territory a great sin. Both territory and the wealth of the land, people – those all remain the most crucial factors.
But today there has been a qualitative change. The rate of change is so high. Mr Gref must have told you (he can tell such tales till dawn) that it is becoming plain to see – science and technology is becoming the decisive factor in the area of military security and international politics. Everything is happening so fast, and the changes are irreversible.
Fyodor Lukyanov: Thank you.
I give the floor to Hamid Karzai, who ruled Afghanistan for 10 years. Afghanistan is involved in the ongoing processes, however, unfortunately it is trying to deal mostly with the problems of the past centuries rather than those of the 21st century.
You have a wealth of unique experience indeed. Mr President, the floor is yours.
Hamid Karzai: Your Excellency, Vladimir Putin, the honourable President of Russia, honoured colleagues on the podium, ladies and gentlemen,
It is such a tremendous honour for me to be among you all today here. I have participated in the deliberations and discussions in the past two days. I have been to many such occasions in the past 15 years. This is among the best. And I hope Mr Bystritsky can invite me again next year.
Mr President, ladies and gentlemen. The Valdai Discussion Club has raised an issue of creative destruction: will a better world emerge from the current conflicts? Well, I am from a very small country with very limited means. But somehow our location in the past three centuries has thrown us in the middle of the greatest of games. And we have been the centre of those games for good or for worse.
And from my point of view and from the point of view of the Afghan discussion of creative destruction, I would rather use in our case the phrase used by the tsarist foreign minister of Russia at the time, Count Karl Nesselrode. He called the great game of the time a tournament of shadows. When you saw the game at play, you saw shadows but you did not see the actual hands behind unless you looked closer and deeper.
Afghanistan has gone through the tournament of shadows in the past two centuries at least. In the 19th century that Nesselrode called the tournament of shadows between Great Britain and the Russian Empire, Afghanistan was in the middle. We played both sides. But the British happened to be a bit more clever than the Afghans and we lost part of our territory.
And then in the 20th century, with the rise of the Soviet Union as our neighbour and as a great power, from 1919 to 1979 Afghanistan saw the greatest period of its stability on account of having us balanced the Soviet Union and the United States properly. Of course, we were more reliant on the Soviet Union, much closer to the Soviet Union, but also did shake hands in a warm way with the United States and allowed them to come and participate in the building of our country. With the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, Afghanistan became the hot spot of the Cold War, or the war turned hot on Afghanistan at the time.
It is this specific period of the Afghan resistance against the former Soviet Union that has left us with tremendous legacies, terrible legacies. While, on the one hand, the Soviet Union was trying to impose Communism on Afghanistan, as His Excellency Mr President referred to the Rogerwood, those who were helping the Afghan resistance, the Americans and their allies and our neighbours, especially Pakistan, they tried to use the Afghan resistance, which we were doing for our liberation, to defeat the Soviet Union through the use of religious radicalism.
So the arrival of those extremist elements into Afghanistan, the import of those elements into Afghanistan and the massive destruction that they tried to cause to the Afghan society, our tradition and culture… We were a Muslim country, a deeply believing Muslim country. But we were a moderate country, never an extremist country. We still are a moderate country. But the US and its allies tried to turn us into an extremist country in order to use religion to defeat the Soviet Union. So they would call our resistance to the Soviet Union as the Americans would fight to the last Afghan with the Soviets.
At the end of that conflict, there were only two losers who were before that close friends, the Soviet Union and Afghanistan. We both suffered badly, Afghanistan much more so. And we see the consequences even today. The United States for a while became the sole super power – or as they wish, the hyper power. Europe did better. Pakistan did much-much better. It became a nuclear power and got all intelligence tools that they needed. Afghanistan suffered and continues to suffer today.
The tragedy of September 11 suddenly brought us once again into the very centre of the world. The US after that tragedy, with the backing of the United Nations, with the backing of Russia, with the backing of China, with the backing of our neighbours Iran and India, and also in a way of Pakistan, and the rest of the international community, intervened in Afghanistan. That intervention in the initial stages succeeded dramatically and most efficiently. Not because of the military might of the United States – I must note this point. Not because of the, what are those planes called? F-52s? M-52s? B-52s. Not because of those planes, not because of the military might of the United States, but because the Afghan people cooperated, it was the first time in our history that the Afghan people cooperated with an invading force, with an arriving foreign force. It was for that that success came within a month and a half.
I do not want to go into the lengths of that. I just want to give you a small story of how I was personally involved.
When the US just arrived, I was in central Afghanistan in the place called Tarinkot in the Oruzgan Province. It was the month of Ramadan. I was having Iftar, or dinner with some colleagues. And suddenly, somebody came to say that the Americans who arrived that night in Tarinkot, a group of fourteen of them, the CIA and the military together, they wanted to see me. As they came in, the man sitting with me was narrating a story, telling me how, while chasing the Taliban, the US planes had accidentally bombed his house, in which he lost three or four of his grandchildren and a daughter. So I was embarrassed. I did not know if I should invite the Americans when this man had suffered so much. I asked them, “Gentlemen, should I invite the Americans?” He said, “Yes, please, by all means, bring them in.” So I invited the Americans. They came in, a colonel and a CIA officer, who later became the Deputy Chief of the CIA, recently retired. When they sat, I told them that this was what had happened to this man and he lost his family in their bombings. And then that man stopped me and said, “No, tell them that I have three, four more children. If in the liberation of Afghanistan I lose the other three children and grandchildren of mine, I will not mind. I want my country liberated.” It was the kind of enthusiasm that they had.
And for a number of years, we did very well. Education, health services, democratic institutions, women’s rights, their arrival on the scene of Afghanistan – because of the support of the Afghan people and because of the support of all the countries present here, primarily, the big powers, Russia, China, Iran and so on. I was taken to the United States on a US plane. I was brought to Moscow, Mr President, on a Russian plane. Your government may have not told you. I came here on a Russian plane. I went to China on a Chinese plane. The Indians provided the same facilities. It was this massive international cooperation with the United States and its allies that made a success.
But soon, we began to get troubles. Extremism arrived again, violence erupted again, terrorism arrived again. And the US did not pay attention to where it was coming from. It began bombing Afghan villages, it began killing Afghan people, it began putting Afghan people in prisons. And the more they did the more we had extremism.
Today, I am one of the greatest critics of the US policy in Afghanistan. Not because I am anti-Western, I am a very Western person. My education is Western, my ideas are Western. I am very democratic in my inner instincts. And I love their culture. But I am against the US policy because it is not succeeding. It is causing us immense trouble and the rise of extremism and radicalism and terrorism. I am against the US policy because on their watch, under their total control of the Afghan air space, the Afghan intelligence and the Afghan military, of all that they have, that super power, there is Daesh in Afghanistan. How come Daesh emerged in Afghanistan 14–15 years after the US presence in Afghanistan with that mass of resources and money and expenditure? Why is the world not as cooperative with America in Afghanistan today as it was before? How come Russia now has doubts about the intentions of the US in Afghanistan or the result of its work in Afghanistan? How come China does not view it the same way? How come Iran has immense difficulty with the way things are conducted in Afghanistan?
Therefore, as an Afghan in the middle of this great game, I propose to our ally, the United States, the following: we will all succeed if you tell us that you have failed. We would understand. Russia would understand, China would understand. Iran, Pakistan, everybody would understand. India would understand. We have our Indian friends there. We see all signs of failure there, but if you do not tell us you failed, what is this, a game?
Of course, we are not going to play the game of extremism there. That is why many people are asking in Afghanistan and elsewhere whether extremism and terrorism is a tool and a pretext, as the honourable President mentioned earlier. Are we really fighting extremism or are we pretending to be fighting extremism? And are we defending our interests at any cost? This is something that I have been facing for years in my deliberations and talks with our colleagues around.
My proposal today is, Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, that in order for us, the international community, with Afghanistan as a place where we have immense suffering… just today we had nearly 50 of our soldiers killed. Yesterday, we had 70 killed. And in the past two days the country has lost 300 people, young men, who have wives and children, who are all very young.
The way forward is this: the United States of America in Afghanistan must begin to re-engage in a new contact with Afghan people. Two: the United States in Afghanistan must begin to re-engage with our neighbours and big powers of the world – that means our neighbours, that means China, that means Russia, that means India – on a clear, transparent platform of objectives. And with this in mind, the international community must support the Afghan mechanism for the resolution of the problems that we have.
The Afghan mechanism today, the best available, is the Grand Council of Afghan People or the Loya Jirga. Your support of this mechanism and the coming together of the international community and really giving Afghanistan the opportunity to own its processes for peace and political development are going to free us from this curse of extremism. Pakistan, our neighbour, has a tremendous role here to play. I wish Pakistan participated in a very civilised dialogue with the Afghan people. Use of extremism, the exploitation of extremism is no solution. It causes trouble for all.
With this, I hope, since the President of Russia is here and we expect a lot of Russia as a neighbour, as an old friend and historical ally, to engage more formidably with the United States and the West on Afghanistan and to lend a supporting hand to the Afghan people to initiate their own mechanisms for the resolution of the problems we have.
And please do send your businesses and investors to Afghanistan. We are too close to you not to have your businesses in our country.
Thank you very much.
Fydor Lukyanov: Thank you, Mr President. You have brought us back to more practical current topics. I have only one small question for you. I hope you have a short answer to it.
You have said that you have democratic instincts in general. Could that be your problem? We often talk in the Valdai Club about democracy as a great form of government but in the modern world, it often comes across many difficulties and sometimes produces the opposite effect. Maybe democracy is not what Afghanistan needs? Maybe you should try something else?
Hamid Karzai: We are, as the Americans would say, a hell of a democratic country. Because, as I told you yesterday, each Afghan is a king to himself. We are a very egalitarian country. And egalitarianism gives you the foundations of debate. But it must be our own. It cannot be – I must say this, I am sorry, I do not like to mention this but I must say this – it cannot be John Kerry’s democracy. It has to be ours. He should not come to us to count our votes or to assign the number of votes to this or that candidate. When it is our democracy, when we practice it the way we are, according to our tradition, it works. So, as the Chinese would say, we must choose our own model of development. And that is the right course.
Fyodor Lukyanov: Thank you very much.
Vladimir Putin: Actually, John is bad at counting. The process takes him two or three months, so there is no result yet. (Laughter)
Fyodor Lukyanov: Yes, we can do this much better.
Vladimir Putin: He is a good guy, but maths do not seem to be his strong point.
Fyodor Lukyanov: Thank you. We look at the essence of democracy. We know that democracy goes hand in hand with a market economy, which has become global in the 21st century.
We are glad that our meeting is being attended by a person who looks at the world from a different perspective. He is Jack Ma, the founder of Alibaba Group. If you please.
Jack Ma: Mr. President Putin,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is my great honour to be invited. I was sitting there thinking why I should have been invited earlier. When I hear so many worries and fears that makes me feel that I am a very happy person because I do not have that much to worry about. I know I have a lot to worry about, but I do not have to worry as much as the Presidents have to worry about.
I was born in 1960s, in a country, China, full of Soviet movies, and stories and sounds. So I think Russia and China share a lot of similarities. Both countries came from a lot of problems, and came from a lot of suspicion. But every time I come to Russia, I feel more and more confidence in Russia, especially this time in Moscow. I spent three days walking around and looking around. I see that the city is getting cleaner. There is more order and, of course, more traffic. This is why we think that Alibaba should join forces with the development of Russia.
Yesterday I went to Moscow University, and I had a wonderful time with the young people, the talents there. I see their anxiety, and I see their creativity and the imagination the young people have in Russia. I think Alibaba should have the great opportunity to work with Russian young scientists, engineers, to develop something that is good for the future, for tomorrow.
Last year, I flew in the air for 867 hours, and I have been to many countries. I feel that the world is full of worries and fears. The area I worry about, an area a lot of people worry about, is technology. I think when we worry about technology, and worry that the technology will destroy our future, I think that if we have more imagination, if we have more confidence, we will feel much better.
In 1995, when I started my internet business in China, I was invited to join a group of experts, IT Expert Discussion, in Beijing, about 30 people. We sat in a room discussing how terrible the internet will be, what are the things we should worry about, any policy we should make. We had a whole night discussing the worries about the internet. Today, twenty years past, those things we worried about never came up. Those things we never worried about all came up.
I am very thankful for those worries, because this gave Alibaba opportunity. We did not have a lot of smart competitors join us. We grew so fast over the past 18 years, today we create more than 33 million jobs for China, and we ourselves made last year over $550 billion. Where other people worry, we try to figure out the way how to solve the worries.
Today, many things have changed, but people still worry about internet. They even worry more. It reminds me of the yearly days when people worried about cars, when automobiles were designed. People worried more about car accidents, rather the great things that the car would bring to human lives. I noticed that people worry about data, about privacy, people worry about security. I think that the worst thing we should worry about is the worry itself. A lot of countries, because of worry, they lose a lot of things. In Europe today, we do not see a lot of big internet companies. One of the reasons is that they worry too much, I think. The worry will stop us from being more creative, being more confident, and stop young people from getting more opportunities. We do not have solutions for the future, but there are solutions for the future. We do not have solutions for tomorrow, but our young people will have solutions for tomorrow.
Yesterday, when I saw young people at Moscow University, I know they are trying their best. I think they will have solutions for the future. So trust the young people, trust our future. Young people never worry about their future. In all the universities I go to, everyone I speak to, people never worry about the future. They worry about us. They worry about stupid decisions we make for them. Most of the stupid policy decisions we made are all out of great intentions, and are taken with kindness. This is something the young people worry about. I have been working in Alibaba. We have 60,000 great, excellent young people from all over the world. In order to lead them, to lead those smart people, they need a stupid leader like me. They need to stay foolish, stay optimistic, and always try to find solutions for tomorrow. This is how I work with smart people.
Today the world has 1.8 billion people using internet. They speak, they check information, they communicate, and do all those things you can do through the internet. But they are not happy, because today young people do not want to be informed, they want to get involved. My grandfather got all the information through a newspaper. My father got information through the radio. I got my information from TV. We were all told to do this. But the internet gives young people the opportunity to get involved. They want to be the masters of themselves. Very soon, we are going to have four to five billion people on the internet. All the problems we have today will become bigger problems, if we do not see this with great optimism.
The other thing I wanted to say is that if there is something we should really worry about, is we should worry about the education system. Whether you like or do not like it, the technology revolution is coming. Nobody can stop it. But the way we teach our kids, the curriculums we teach our kids, the subjects we teach our kids, will stop our kids from getting jobs. Because one thing is sure: the computer is going to be much smarter than human beings. If we keep on teaching our kids the way we taught over the past one hundred years, our kids will be losing jobs or will not be able to find jobs over the next thirty years. Computers can remember better, computers can calculate better, computers never have this kind of human anguish. This is something we should teach our kids: to be more creative. We should teach our kids to be more innovative. We should teach our kids to be more constructive.
I want every government to pay special attention to the education system over the next 30 years. We worry about data technology, but data technology is something that might be the solution to solve the world’s sustainability, solve the world problem of inclusiveness. We are entering into a new world, but very few people really understand how powerful it is, how revolutionary it is. If you do not think positively, you will not have a positive result. If you think negative, you will surely have a negative result. Today we worry, we feel pain about the internet. But I would tell you: we are not even entering the growing pain of internet technology. Every technology takes about fifty years. The first twenty years is about internet technology companies. The next thirty years is about the application of this technology. The next thirty years will be the years when the technology of those companies will be used to do good. The car was not invented in America, but America made use of it. Electricity was not invented in America, but America used it.
People talk about the digital time, and IT time. I would say, the world is shifting from IT to DT. DT is not the Digital Time. It is Data Time. Digital Time is the upgraded version of IT Time. DT is totally different from IT. I do not have time to explain it. Someday we will have a better time to discuss it.
Data Time is a new theory. Data technology is the solution to solve a lot of problems we have today. For example, people worry about privacy, people worry about security. We use data to use internet technology, to use internet financing. We have given loans to over five million small businesses. Every small business gets a loan from us of less than $5,000. The procedure is 3–1–0. They apply within three minutes. Within one second the money will be on the account, and zero people touch it. So the 3–1–0 approach solves a lot of problems for increasing financing. This is what data brings us. IT technology makes us strong. DT technology is to empower the others. With IT technology, we compete with knowledge. With DT technology, we compete with wisdom. IT technology we compete with muscle. DT technology – we compete with brain. IT makes us know the world better. DT will know the human being better.
People always say, what is the difference between smart and wise? Smart people know what they want. Wise people know what they do not want. This is what we believe. DT is the human behaviour. By learning the behaviours, we will understand ourselves better. When we understand ourselves better, we will know what we do not want. I believe that the world has a lot of worries and a lot of problems, because we want too much. A lot of things we want, we get, but actually we do not want them. In the IT Time, 20 percent of the countries succeed, and 80 percent of the countries do not have a chance. IT is 20/80, but DT is 80/20. We have to care for those 80 percent of the countries, developing countries, young people, and small businesses. We should ensure that the technology is inclusive.
About globalisation, I think globalisation has nothing wrong. But globalisation today is not perfect. It is only a baby. One thousand years ago, global trade was determined by a few kings and queens. The last thirty or forty years, globalisation benefited only 60,000 big companies. What if we can support 60 million small and medium-sized companies that can grow global trade? What if we can help young people so that they can buy, sell, pay, deliver and travel globally?
We think that over the last century, massive, large-scale standardisation is the key. This century, with personal-made, with small and medium-sized companies we may have a lot of things that are different. I want to say that with DT Time, the world will be different. We can make the world more fair. We will make the technology to empower more young people, more small businesses. Our businesses grow, because we support using technology, support young people only, we support SME only. Globalisation can never be stopped, because the world is movable.
The other thing is that we should never stop trade. When trade stops, war starts. Trade is something to build trust. When we build trade, we respect the other culture. When we do trade, it means that we appreciate the other culture. So we should encourage more trade. We should encourage more young people, small and big business to engage across the board. I think that the world needs not only a G20, we also need a G200. The world should not only have a B20, but also a B200.
Of course, the way we do trade will be totally different. We are not going to do trade going to trade shows, trade fairs. Most of the business will be done on the internet. In the future, the trade will not be done through containers. Trade will be done through packages. In the future business will not be B2C. In the future, the business will be C2B. This is what we believe. We think in the future there will be no Made in China, no Made in America, no Made in Russia. It is going to be Made in internet. You can design here, transport there, manufacture in this country. The thing is that we should not worry that trade will stop. We should worry about what kind of policies we should use to encourage global trade. With what kind of policies we can encourage young people, small businesses?
Finally, I want to say that DT technology will kill a lot of jobs. But most of these jobs are stupid jobs. These jobs are not supposed to be done by computers, are not supposed to be done by human beings. Over the past one hundred years, we made people like a machine. Now we make machines like people. But the right way to do it is to make over the next ten-twenty years a machine like a machine and people like people. A machine will never be able to conquer human beings. Machines are smart, machines are stronger and faster, but a machine does not have a soul, does not have values, does not have a belief that people have. So we should not make a machine think like a human being. We should make a machine learn like human beings.
This is what I want finally to say: technology is scary. The first technology revolution caused World War I. The second technology revolution caused, directly or indirectly, World War II. Now we are in the third technology revolution. What if a Third World War? If the human beings do not have the same enemy, we will fight among ourselves. The enemy should be poverty, the enemy should be environment, the enemy should be disease. I think that all those countries: China, Russia, USA, European, should share the technology, unite together to fight this war, and this is the war that, if we fight it together, young people will be much happier.
Finally, the bad news is that we are entering into a world that we do not know. The good news is no one knows. Please pay special attention to the next thirty years. Please, pay special attention to those people who are below 30 years old, because they might be the leaders of tomorrow. They are the challengers, they are the changers. Please, pay attention to those companies who have less than 30 employees. If we pay attention to small, and small is powerful, small is beautiful, and if we pay attention to the young people, small businesses, I think that the world economy could be much more sustainable.
Thank you very much.
Fyodor Lukyanov: So, this is the source of optimism. I love business, it makes things simpler. It shows that anything is possible. It is nice when a person believes and is certain that there is a solution for everything. I have no questions, because everything has become clear to me.
We need to balance our discussion again so the last person to speak will be Mr Asle Toje from the expert community. I hope you will bring a few shadows back to our discussion.
 Asle Toje: I will certainly do my very best. First of all, I would like to say that I am honoured to be here at this panel, representing, what I gather, is the academics, alongside the representative, the leader of a great power, the former leader of a small power and a titan of industry.
I would like to take this opportunity initially to thank the organisers of this Valdai Forum, the discussion club. You have done a great job, and the four days that have passed have been inspiring, and it’s given us a chance to get to know the Russian perspectives, but also to be discussing our common global challenges in the most forthright manner.
Then, to the matter at hand. Human history, my friends, is characterised by prolonged periods of stability being interrupted by short sharp shocks, and those shocks are often associated with war, creating creativity, but, let us be honest, mostly destruction. The most dangerous moments in international politics, political science teaches us, occur when a rising power is about to change places with an established power. The established power will then grow less inclined to uphold the rules of the system that it has created, being disappointed that it has allowed other actors to grow powerful within it. The rising powers, on the other hand, are frequently less unhappy about the established system, feeling that it has been weighed so as to prolong the dominance of the established powers, and this is frequently true, all sides of it.
What happens, according to scholars, such as Robert Gilpin, is that as the international community grows less certain about the established powers’ willingness to police the system, this can encourage risky behaviour, uncertainty, insecurity. Recently there has been a book making the rounds called The Thucydides Trap. Those of you not familiar with Thucydides, it is a Greek thinker who wrote about the Peloponnesian wars, and explained that wars that broke out between Athens and Sparta, and the wars at the rise of Athens, and the fears that this created in Sparta made war unavoidable. Graham Allison, who wrote the book The Thucydides Trap, he has examined 15 cases of power transition that has taken place in the 15th century, and what he found, he said, in 12 out of 16 cases, the established, the incumbent power and the rising power have ended up in war, and, therefore, this should really focus our minds, because we are living through a period of power transition right now.
Over the years there has been much discussion about the world becoming multipolar. I do not really believe in that. Frankly, if anything, the world is becoming more bipolar. The United States is still, by far, the most powerful actor in the international system, although China and its economy is growing so quickly that if it has not already surpassed the American economy, it will do so in the short to medium term, it depends on what measures one chooses. China is no match for the United States militarily, but Russia has still got one of the most awesome military arsenals, especially nuclear weapons, of any state in the world. And we have seen, well, in accordance, it is predictable when you look at the balance of power theory, the rapprochement between China and Russia, these two states sticking closer together. This is going to provide a great challenge to the United States and how the United States and the West meet this challenge, will determine how we will live, and if we will live, in the years to come.
I think the West has had great difficulties dealing with the rise of challengers. I would like to remind you that the West was never so powerful as it were in the years immediately after the Cold War. During the Cold War the West had developed, you know, to use a medical expression, a blood circulation system, a nervous system from institutions that allow a permanent flow of humans, capital, ideas, merchandise, which became the beginning of globalisation. And many in the West saw globalisation as westernisation, and it has come as somewhat of a negative surprise that other actors have taken aspects of globalisation and made it their own, and have been very successful in doing so.
Therefore, in the West, the current times are often seen as a time of uncertainty and fears. I think it was very well pointed out in the last presentation, this agonising over the future, and we often forget that for many others, especially on the Eurasian continent, this is a golden era, and in the Eurasian continent we’re seeing a lot of power accumulating, we’re seeing roads, cities, train networks snaking through the post-Soviet wilderness, and creating a fabulous amount of wealth and dynamism. And we see, and this is also globally, that we are living through a time of great technological progress, a time of engineering marvels that have been unsurpassed in human history. And at the same time, we see an international system that is, if not a new Cold War, then certainly at a low ebb since the end of the Cold War.
So, where the optimists, especially the champions of business, see connectivity and interdependence as being our future, the pessimists see chaos, a world that is no longer governable. I think that we will find that chaos and connectivity will coexist, and that we will have both at the same time. I think, in the West there is a crisis of liberalism, there is crisis of a very particular kind of liberalism that has been met with a great amount of public dissent in a great many countries. I do not think liberalism is dead, but I do think that the specific form of liberalism, the one-eyed over-certain type of liberalism so eager to impose itself on others, has gone somewhat out of fashion.
In Eurasia, I think, some of the adherents to authoritarian capitalism frequently forget that the great advantage of democracy is not unfiltered public opinion into the realm of policy. The great strength of democracy is independent institutions and dynamic institutions. And I think that adherents to authoritarian democracy will find a problem, as their countries are going through these titanic changes where people are seeing in their own lifetimes greater changes, changes to absolutely every single facet of their life: how they live, where they live, what they work with, how their families operate, everything, how they adhere to religion, everything. That is going to create a lot of uncertainty, a lot of anguish in these societies, and I think that the state institutions are going to find it difficult to keep pace with the public mood. That I think is going to be the corresponding challenge for countries that we, in the West, at least, call authoritarian, adherents to authoritarian capitalism.
We are now seeing a period of greater rivalry. And let us keep in mind: competition is good, competition is what drives humanity forward, we shouldn’t be afraid of competition. What we should be afraid of is making enemies of each other. The Russian President gave a comprehensive list of Russian grievances, and, as far as I can see, many of these grievances are legitimate, and should be taken very seriously. And I have to say that in the West, the West have their own list of grievances directed at Russia and other actors. I think it might be a good idea if we put those lists away somehow and try to cooperate better. It is quite interesting to see that the dynamism that we see in the globalisation of the economy has not been replicated in the dynamism of the international institutions. Many of the international institutions, as the Russian President rightly pointed out, have been eroded in the last years, and we do need to reverse that trend.
And I think that the path forward to peace, and nobody’s going to be surprised that I say this coming from the research wing of the Norwegian Nobel institute, I think we can learn something from the last will and testament of Alfred Nobel, where he singled out three charges, three suggestions for how to foster peace. He focuses on the importance of disarmament, the importance of institutions and the importance of good will, the will to work for fraternity amongst nations. And I think, in order to achieve this, we’re going to need statesmanship, there’s no way around it. And I think that is my appeal and my suggestion for this panel.
Thank you.
Fyodor Lukyanov: Thank you.
I know that you have no relation to the Nobel Committee, the organisation that awards the Nobel Prize, but you do work at the Nobel Institute. I cannot help but ask, now that it has been mentioned: just two weeks ago, we learned about the new winner of the Nobel Peace Prize – a movement that advocates a complete nuclear weapons’ ban. Forgive me, but do you think they really believe in this utopia – that anyone would abandon their nuclear weapons, which in some sense guarantee stability – or is this just a gesture to indicate the right way of thinking?
 Asle Toje: Well, if it is utopia, then Russia believes in this utopia, the United States believes in this utopia, this has been frequently stated in the UN, in the Non-Proliferation Treaty. The established powers have committed to working for a world without nuclear weapons. ICAN, when, and I do not speak on the behalf of the Committee, but in their statement the Committee said the Nobel Peace Prize had two issues that were lifted forth. One – bringing attention to the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of nuclear war, and I think this is something that cannot be stated too often. The use of nuclear weapons is totally unacceptable, and I think this is something where public opinion matters. I think that, especially, we have been talking about the young; I think the young need to weigh in on the policymakers.
The second issue is that ICAN has brought forth a new attempt, or a new path towards bringing about a world with less, with fewer, or with no nuclear weapons. This is one of the few new initiatives on the horizon at a time where many of the established policies are bogged down and are not moving at all. And I do not think anybody should be surprised that the Norwegian Nobel Committee focuses on nuclear weapons. No single issue has been singled out by the Nobel Committee more often than nuclear disarmament. Ten Nobel prizes has had this in its rationale, so nobody should be surprised.
Fyodor Lukyanov: Then I will have to try to convince you, Mr President. If they have awarded ten Nobel Prizes; and even in our time, our country – then the Soviet Union – put forward the idea of a complete ban, maybe we should return to it?
Vladimir Putin: Our colleague from the Nobel Institute is partly right.
I you ask me whether nuclear disarmament is possible or not, I would say, yes, it is possible. Does Russia want universal nuclear disarmament or not? The answer is also yes – yes, Russia wants that and will work for it. This is the good part.
 However, as always, there are issues that make you think. Modern high-tech nuclear powers are developing other types of weapons, with higher precision and only slightly inferior to nuclear weapons in their destructive force. Nuclear weapons include bombs and missiles that hit large areas, carrying a powerful charge that affects a huge territory with the power of both the explosion and radiation. Modern high-tech armed forces are trying to develop and put into service high-precision weapons, which come close to nuclear weapons in their destructive power; not quite, but close.
I think that if we take this seriously – I can see what is happening in the world: those who say they are ready, are ready as much as they have progressed in the development and deployment of new weapon systems. I must say right away that we will be ready for this too, while carefully following what is happening in the world, as soon as our country has new non-nuclear weapon systems, even non-nuclear ones.
Fyodor Lukyanov: I see. Thank you very much. Colleagues, we have come to the second part. We have a unique opportunity to ask questions.
Dmitry Suslov,let us begin with you.
Dmitry Suslov: Mr President, Dmitry Suslov, Higher School of Economics, Valdai Club.
I would like to carry on with the nuclear topic, or, to be exact, to emphasise the sector where, as I see it, there is destruction but no creation yet. I mean arms control, first of all nuclear arms.
You were right to say that the military and strategic situation in the world is changing fundamentally, or has already changed. This includes the precision-guided non-nuclear munitions, as well as the missile and even cyber defence, which is considered a combat sphere today. However, instead of developing a concept of the new international strategic stability or adapting the old rules of arms control to the new situation, we, unfortunately, see only the destruction of the old rules without the formulation of new ones.
You were right to say that 2002, when the US withdrew from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, was like opening Pandora’s box. Unfortunately, we have to admit that Russia is taking part in this dismantling process, as well.
You have mentioned the plutonium agreement, I mean the Plutonium Management and Disposition Agreement. Last year Russia suspended it. The process has gone so far that the 1987 INF Treaty [Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty] is in question, and the US Congress not only allows the Trump Administration to withdraw from it, but even approve a budget bill that would force them to produce the intermediate-range missile. And the extension of New START is also questionable.
It turns out that by choosing this way we, in fact, are regressing back to the 1950s, which, as you know, ended in the Cuban Missile Crisis.
Are we ready for this situation, taking into account the global strategic situation, which is more difficult and complex than in the 1950s? What must Russia and all of us do to provide for this evolutionary transition to new strategic stability?
Vladimir Putin: We are not going back to the 1950s. Attempts have been made to push us back there. You have mentioned some agreements. There are three agreements in which we have suspended our membership. Why did we do so? Because our American partners are not doing anything.
We cannot do everything alone. We took a unilateral decision to eliminate our chemical weapons, and we have eliminated them, as I said in my opening remarks. But our American partners said they would not do the same yet, because they do not have the money for this.
They have no money? The American mint is printing dollars, but they have no money. We found the money to build plants for the destruction of chemical weapons. I believe we built eight such plants, investing huge funds in construction and in training personnel. It was a titanic job. We are now thinking about other ways to use these facilities.
As I have said when speaking about plutonium, we have created a scheme for turning weapons-grade plutonium into mixed oxide fuel. It took money and effort as well, for the matter concerns investment. We have built a reactor and coordinated the method for destroying this plutonium with the Americans. But then they took a unilateral step in violation of the agreement without even notifying us of this as partners should. How did we know this? We learned about this from a budget submission to the Congress. They asked for millions of dollars to finance a new utilisation method and postponed the process for an unspecified period.
No, this is not how it should be. Under this new American method, plutonium can be converted back to weapons-grade. We have not withdrawn from these agreements, but we have suspended them, expecting a normal reaction from our partners. We hope they will resume the negotiations.
As for the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, I fully agree with you. I have said many times, and others have too – all experts agree on this – that this treaty was the cornerstone of international security in the sphere of strategic arms. But no, years of negotiations with our American friends have failed to convince them to remain within the limits of this treaty.
Now we hear that New START does not work either. We are not going to withdraw from it, although something may not work with us either. This is always a part of some kind of compromise. However, it is better to have some agreements rather than none at all. If we understand this, we will do everything to meet our commitments, and we will meet them.
 Now back to the INF Treaty, on medium and short-range missiles. They always said, well, not always, but recently we have been hearing many accusations about Russia violating this treaty by cooking up something. Maybe we would be tempted to do just that if we had no airborne and sea-based missiles. Now we have them. The US had such missiles, and we did not.
When we agreed to eliminate the intermediate- and shorter-range missiles, the deal concerned Pershing missiles, which are land-based, and our missile systems.
Incidentally, when our intermediate- and shorter-range missiles were eliminated, our chief engineer committed suicide, because he believed that it was betrayal of his country. This is a tragic story; let us change it.
However, the US still has both airborne and sea-based missiles. In fact, this was unilateral disarmament for the Soviet side as well, but now we have both airborne and sea-based missiles. You can see how effective the Kalibr missiles are: from the Mediterranean Sea, from the Caspian Sea, from the air or from submarines, whatever you wish.
Moreover, besides Kalibr, with an operational range of 1,400 km, we have other airborne missile systems, very powerful ones with an operational range of 4,500 km. We believe that we have only balanced out the situation. If someone does not like it and wishes to withdraw from the treaty, for example, our American partners, our response would be immediate, I would like to repeat this warning. Immediate and reciprocal.
However, we have complied and we will comply with our old treaties, as long as our partners comply as well.
Fyodor Lukyanov: Pyotr Dutkevich.
Pyotr Dutkevich: Pyotr Dutkevich, Carleton University, Canada.
Mr President, first of all, thank you for keeping in touch with us, it is a great pleasure.
At the beginning of October, Canada joined the Magnitsky Act. Many countries have announced that they are ready to support this law, too. Are you not worried about the consequences of this process? Would you mind commenting on this fact?
Vladimir Putin:When the situation with Magnitsky, who lost his life in prison, occurred, I was not working in foreign policy or security. I was Prime Minister of the Russian Federation, but, of course, I knew what was going on, I observed and discussed this with Dmitry Medvedev, who was the President back then. This seemed strange and completely unexpected for us that such a tragic event, and the death of a person whatever he was charged with is always tragic, became the source of such political games.
What do I think about what you have just said, about Canada joining or wanting to join, or about somebody else wanting to do it? These are all some very unconstructive political games over things, which are in essence not what they look like, to be treated in such a way or to fuss about so much. What lies underneath these events? Underneath are the criminal activities of an entire gang led by one particular man, I believe Browder is his name, who lived in the Russian Federation for ten years as a tourist and conducted activities, which were on the verge of being illegal, by buying Russian company stock without any right to do so, not being a Russian resident, and by moving tens and hundreds of millions of dollars out of the country and hence avoiding any taxes not only here but in the United States as well.
According to open sources, I mean American open sources, please look up Ziff Brothers, the company Mr Browder was connected with, which has been sponsoring the Democratic Party and, substantially less, the Republican Party during recent years. I think the latest transfer, in the open sources I mean, was $1,200,000 for the Democratic Party. This is how they protect themselves.
In Russia, Mr Browder was sentenced in his absence to 9 years in prison for his scam. However, no one is working on it. Our prosecution has already turned to the appropriate US agencies such as the Department of Justice and the Office of the Attorney General for certain information so we can work together on this. However, there is simply no response. This is just used to blow up more anti-Russian hysteria. Nobody wants to look into the matter, into what is actually beneath it. At the bottom of it, as usual, is crime, deception and theft.
Fyodor Lukyanov: Rein Muellerson.
Rein Muellerson: Thank you.
My question is to President Putin. In your speech, you mentioned Catalonia. My observations suggest that, normally, independence is achieved then and there, where some major powers or at least regional players are interested in this independence or in case no one pays attention to this.
In your speech in March 2014 with respect to Crimea, where, by the way, I was a month ago and I must say I really enjoyed it, you cited the advisory opinion of the International Court on Kosovo. The declaration of Kosovo's independence indeed violates international law. The aerial bombings of Serbia due to Kosovo were also in breach of international law.
It seems to me that Kosovo opened up Pandora's box. The independence of the Kurds in Iraq meets the aspirations of no one but the Kurds and perhaps also the Israeli interests. However, this is not enough. The whole of Europe and the European Union are worried about Catalan independence. Madrid is using force, relatively moderate force, against supporters of an independent Catalonia.
My question to you is as follows. Apart from following the principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of other states, how could Russia help resolve similar conflicts so as, on the one hand, not to encourage the “parade of sovereignties,” while, on the other hand, helping ethnic groups and minorities, whose aspirations are not met by the authorities? What would be Russia's position in such cases?
One thing I cannot help mentioning. You spoke of the “turbulent” 90s and I recalled how Andrei Kozyrev once told President Nixon that Russia had no national interests, only common human interests. Nixon shook his head.
Thank you.
Vladimir Putin: This shows that Nixon has a head, while Mr Kozyrev, unfortunately, has not. He has a cranium but no head as such.
As for the “parade of sovereignties,” as you said, and our attitude towards this… Actually, I believe, on a global scale, the creation of mono-ethnic states is not a panacea against possible conflicts, but just the opposite. Because after various partitions and sovereignties, the creation of mono-ethnic states might lead to clashes in the fight for the realisation of the interests of the newly established mono-ethnic states. That is what is likely to happen.
This is why people who live in a unified state within common boundaries have a greater chance that their state will pursue a balanced policy. Look at Russia. Muslims constitute nearly 10 percent of our population, which is a lot. They are not foreigners or migrants. Russia is their only homeland, and they see it as their homeland. What has this encouraged us to do? I suggested that we seek observer status at the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation. This influences our domestic and foreign policies, and makes our policy better balanced and attentive to this part of the international community. The same is true for other countries.
As for the ruling of the UN court, I have it. I did not cite it so as not to waste your time. I read the ruling because I knew that we would touch on this matter. You are experts, and so you know everything about it. However, I would like to remind you. On November 8, 2008, the UN General Assembly adopted Resolution 63/3. Question: Does the unilateral declaration of independence by Kosovo’s temporary institutions comply with international law? This question was forwarded to the International Court of Justice in The Hague.
On July 22, 2010, after two years of deliberations, the Hague Court issued an Advisory Opinion that the declaration of independence of Kosovo adopted on February 17, 2008 did not violate international law. The court ruling concerns not just Kosovo, but also the applicability of international law to the declaration of independence by any part of any state in principle. In this sense, you are absolutely right that this broad interpretation does not apply to Kosovo. It was a ruling that opened Pandora’s box. Yes, you are absolutely right about this. Bull’s eye.
Look at what the court ruling of July 22, 2010, says. Paragraph 79: “The practice of States in these latter cases does not point to the emergence in international law of a new rule prohibiting the making of a declaration of independence in such cases.” Paragraph 81: “No general prohibition against unilateral declarations of independence may be inferred from the practice of the [UN] Security Council.” Paragraph 84: “the Court considers that general international law contains no applicable prohibition of declarations of independence. Accordingly, it concludes that the declaration of independence of 17 February 2008 did not violate general international law.” Here it is, in black and white.
How all the Western countries pushed for it and pressurised this International Court in the Hague! We know for certain that the US had a written recommendation for the International Court. The State Department wrote, “The principle of territorial integrity does not exclude the establishment of new states in the territory of existing states.” Below: “Declarations of independence can (and often do) violate domestic legislation. However, this does not mean that it is a violation of international law.” Further, “In many cases, including Kosovo, the circumstances of the Declaration of Independence can mean fundamental respect of international law on the part of the new state.”
Germany: “This is a matter of peoples’ right to self-determination. International law pertaining to the territorial integrity of states does not apply to such peoples.” They decided to declare independence, well, good for them. And the integrity principles do not apply to this state.
The United Kingdom: “Secession, or the declaration of independence, does not contradict international law in itself.”
France: “It (international law) does not allow, but does not forbid it (secession or separation) in general.” So here you are.
Then there was the reaction to this Court ruling. Here is what Ms Clinton wrote (somebody may have worked with her) after the ruling: “Kosovo is an independent state, and its territory is inviolable. We call on all states not to become overly focused on Kosovo’s status and make their own constructive contribution to supporting peace and stability in the Balkans. We urge the countries that have not yet recognised Kosovo to do so.”
Germany: “The consultative ruling of the International Court confirms our legal assessment of the legitimacy of Kosovo’s declaration of independence. It reinforces our opinion that the independence and territorial integrity of the Republic of Kosovo are undeniable.”
France: “The independence of Kosovo is irreversible. The ruling of the International Court, which terminated the legal debates on the matter, has become a milestone and will allow all parties to dedicate themselves to other important issues to be resolved.”
Now, “other important issues” have arisen today, and today, when these “other important issues” have arisen, including in Catalonia, nobody likes it. Nobody! This is exactly what I called double standards. This example is the Pandora’s box that has been opened, and the genie that was let out of the bottle.
What is our position on this case? I said, I was saying, if you listened carefully, I was saying that we hoped that the problem would be resolved based on Spanish legislation and Constitution. I believe this is the end of it. The end of it. However, of course, we have to be careful in such issues and very sensitive to everything that is going on. We hope that everything will be resolved within the framework of democratic institutions and procedures; there will be no more political prisoners and so on. However, this is an internal issue of a country. I think this is enough.
Thank you.
Fyodor Lukyanov: For those of you who may have forgotten, President Putin is a lawyer by training, so debating him may be a challenge.
Margarita Simonyan [editor-in-chief of the Russia Today television channel], please.
Margarita Simonyan: Good afternoon,
Thank you, Mr President, for your shocking story about the American flags at our nuclear facilities.
Mr Hamid Karzai, thank you for your bold and honest position.
Mr Jack Ma, thank you for the inexpensive Chinese-made ceiling lamp that I bought on Alibaba. (Laughter)
However, if I may, I would like to talk about issues that concern me. You may have heard that Russia Today and Sputnik – our media working abroad – have been subjected recently not just to pressure, but real harassment at their place of work.
As recently as two days ago, Hillary Clinton said that the alleged Russian interference in the elections, for which we are primarily blamed (half of the CIA report on this topic was about Russia Today and Sputnik, and my name was mentioned 27 times in it) is comparable to the 9/11 attacks.
We are required to register as foreign agents. As we know from the media, the FBI opened an investigation into our activities. Our journalists have come under incredible pressure: every day they read about how they will never be able to get a job anywhere else. Yesterday, the Foreign Office of Great Britain chewed out deputies who continue to appear on our broadcasts. What will happen next is anyone’s guess.
A year ago, people from the State Department told me that they respect freedom of speech, and as long as no restrictive measures are applied to US media in Russia, no such measures will be applied to us. However, these measures are being applied to us already, at a time when huge numbers of American and other media, including Russian language media, continue to operate in Russia. I can only praise them, as they are doing a great job and have vast budgets that are tens of times larger than those available to our media.
You may be surprised, but by some criteria, such as citations in social media, Radio Liberty ranks first among all Russian radio stations. You once joked that you have no one to talk to since Mahatma Gandhi died. Everyone had a good laugh back then, but in the end this is exactly how it looks – we are in a situation where Russia is a more democratic country than the countries that taught us democracy. Russia maintains several positions. One of them is that our response should be proportionate, and only such a response will force them to leave us be. Another position is that we should turn the other cheek and take the high road. May I ask you, what is your position in this regard?
Vladimir Putin: First, about the situation around our information resources, such as Russia Today and Sputnik. Their capacity cannot compare with what our colleagues have in the US, in Europe; they simply cannot compare. We do not have so-called global media, mass media with global reach. This is the monopoly of the Anglo-Saxon world, primarily the United States.
Indeed, we have been told all along that it is absurd and even undemocratic to pressure any lawfully functioning media outlets, to close or persecute them, to exert pressure on journalists. There is only one democratic way to fight things one does not like, for both the authorities and the opposition: to express your opinion, but to express it so vividly, colourfully and brilliantly that people would believe you and accept your point of view, follow you and stand by you and support your position. All the rest is undemocratic.
What we see happening around our media now – I repeat, they are far less powerful than the US or British media – I simply do not know how to describe this. “Confusion” is too mild. They have turned everything upside down.
Regarding interference or non-interference: everyone knows, the whole world knows what the British or American media do. They directly and constantly influence internal political processes in almost all countries. How else are we to interpret what the media do, especially those outlets that work in, say, the political segment of the media?
They do influence things, of course, by expressing a certain point of view – in this case, we are talking about Russia’s point of view. And even so, they do not always take Russia’s point of view. I cannot monitor them all the time, but sometimes I see what Russia Today broadcasts. Its team includes journalists from various countries: Americans, and British, I believe, and Germans, too. They do excellent work. Really talented people. I sometimes marvel at the courage and talent they possess to lay everything out so clearly, precisely and fearlessly – my hat is off to them. Apparently, this is the key to Russia Today and Sputnik’s success, but it is also what they are hated for; anyway, it has nothing to do with democracy.
Now about “turning the other cheek.” I have already spoken about our nuclear facilities. It would seem we have disclosed everything we have, there is nowhere else to search, so we expected our American partners to do the same, well, at least to show some consideration for our interests, so that we would be full-fledged partners. As you can see, this is not the case, and even the opposite is true: as soon as they realised that our nuclear sector needs additional investment and modernisation, that our missile technology is growing obsolete, that there are other problems – aha, who would consider a weak partner? No one even talks to them or considers their interests anymore.
Therefore, in this case, all we can do is mirror their actions and rather quickly at that. As soon as we see any moves that limit the activities of our media in any way, a proportionate response will follow.
Fyodor Lukyanov: Mr Karzai, do you want to add anything? Do you also have problems with foreign agents?
Hamid Karzai: Just a little note on the media and the role of the international media where the West is very strong. I have a good deal of experience on that from my days in office and subsequently. The alternative media developed by Russia and China are closing the gap, which is very good news. I must also tell you that I know that RT reaches lots of homes in America. And so does CGTN. So the gap is closing. And this alternative availability of media is good for all of us. It is good for the Western audience and good for our audience. So I guess we are going to better days in terms of the free flow of information.
Fyodor Lukyanov: Mr Erlan Karin, please.
Erlan Karin: Thank you.
Mr President, we met here last year at a time when the situation in Syria, in particular in Aleppo, had deteriorated. Early this year, we launched the Astana process to settle the Syrian crisis. Delegates from various sides of the conflict and representatives from the guarantor countries – Russia, Turkey and Iran – met for the first time for negotiations in Astana, the capital of Kazakhstan. Since then we have achieved some results, have held several rounds of talks and have signed a number of documents.
How would you describe the intermediate results of the Astana process?
One more thing. These events have cast a new light on the crisis in the Middle East. I am referring to the Kurdish referendum in northern Iraq, which you have mentioned, the military operation in Kirkuk and changes in the overall military situation in Syria. What are the prospects for a settlement in Syria? What do you think about the situation in the Middle East as a whole?
Vladimir Putin: The first thing I would like to do regarding the Syrian settlement and the Astana process is to thank President of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbayev for making it possible for us and the other participants of this process to meet in Astana. Kazakhstan is not just a place where we meet; it is a very suitable venue because Kazakhstan maintains neutrality. It does not interfere in the complicated regional processes and is respected as an intermediary.
I would like to note that at a certain point President Nazarbayev took responsibility for preventing the parties to the conflict and the negotiations from leaving the table. It was a very positive thing to do, and we are sincerely grateful to him for this.
As for where this process stands, it is gaining positive momentum. There have been ups and downs, about which I will speak later, but overall, the process is proceeding positively. Thanks to the stand taken by Turkey, Iran and, of course, the Syrian Government, we were able to narrow the gaps in the sides’ positions on the key issue of ending the violence and creating de-escalation zones. It is the most significant result we have achieved in Syria over the past two years, particularly as part of the Astana process.
I have to note that other countries, including the United States, are greatly contributing; even though they are not participating in the talks in Astana directly, they are influencing these processes behind the scenes. We maintain stable cooperation with our American partners in this sphere, on this track, even though not without disputes. However, there are more positive than negative elements in our cooperation.
So far, we have managed to agree on many issues, including the southern de-escalation zone, where Israeli and Jordanian interests are also present. Of course, this process could not have been what it is now without the positive impact of countries such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan, as well as many other countries, small but important, including, by the way, Qatar.
What are the prospects? There is every reason to believe – I will put it cautiously – that we will finish off the terrorists in the short term, but that is no cause for joy, for saying that terrorism is over and done with. Because, first, terrorism as a phenomenon is deeply rooted – it is rooted in the injustice of today’s world, the raw deal that many nations and ethnic and religious groups get, and the lack of comprehensive education in entire countries across the world. The lack of a normal, proper, basic education is fertile soil for terrorism. Therefore, if we finish off the pockets of terrorist resistance in Syria, this certainly does not mean the threat to Syria, the region and the world as a whole is gone – absolutely not. On the contrary, you always have to stay alert.
The rough-going process between the opposition and the government is also a source of concern. The process is under way but is moving very sluggishly, feebly; the parties to the conflict are very distrustful of each other. I hope that it will be possible to overcome this. Based on de-escalation zones, we hope to move on to the next stage. There is an idea to call a congress of the Syrian people, bringing together all ethnic and religious groups, the government and the opposition.
If this could be done, also with support from guarantor countries and even major powers outside the region – Saudi Arabia, the United States and Egypt – that would be the next, additional but very important step toward a political settlement. And then perhaps toward drafting a new Constitution, but it is still early to talk about that. This is roughly the plan.
Fyodor Lukyanov: Mr President, will the de-escalation zones not lead to the division of Syria?
Vladimir Putin: Such a threat does exist, but as I said earlier, I do not want this to be a blueprint to partitioning Syria, but on the contrary, a situation where, once the de-escalation zones are in place, the people who control these zones would start making contact with Damascus, with the government.
Actually, this is what is already happening in many places. For instance, in southern Damascus, on a small territory controlled by the armed opposition, people go to work in Damascus and return home every day. You see, life is encouraging communication.
I strongly hope that this practice will evolve in other de-escalation zones as well and that gradually, step by step cooperation will begin on the day-to-day level, which, in my opinion, is bound to grow into long-term political agreements.

To be continued.

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