Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Joint news conference following a Normandy format summit

Following a Normandy format summit, Vladimir Putin, Emmanuel Macron, Angela Merkel and Vladimir Zelensky gave a joint news conference.
December 10, 2019
* * *
Joint news conference following the Normandy format summit.
Press statement and answers to media questions following a Normandy format summit  

Starts at 2:14:34

President of Russia Vladimir Putin:

Colleagues, ladies and gentlemen,
In principle, I agree with what the participants of these talks have said today.
We adopted a final joint document, which has reaffirmed the absence of any alternative to the strict observance of the Minsk Agreements signed on February 12, 2015 and highlighted the importance of launching a direct dialogue between the conflicting parties.
The participants in the talks welcomed the disengagement of forces and weapons in three pilot areas, as my colleagues have said. As we see it, this is indeed a major step towards a continued de-escalation in the southeast of Ukraine and a comprehensive ceasefire. We hope that the disengagement process will continue and that mine-clearing and de-fortification processes will be launched in the disengagement areas.
We also need to coordinate the reconciliation process in Ukraine with the political reforms that are stipulated in the Minsk Agreements.
First of all, the Ukrainian Constitution must be amended to formalise the special status of Donbass on a permanent basis. Of course, the duration of the agreement on the special status of separate Donbass districts must be extended and ultimately made permanent, as it is stipulated in the Minsk Agreements I have mentioned before. Certain amendments should be made to the agreement, primarily those related to the implementation of the Steinmeier Formula. There should be no delay in the implementation of the other commitments either, primarily regarding amnesty and a statutory ban on the persecution of persons in connection with the events that took place in the southeast of Ukraine.
The parties to the talks have supported the idea of coordinating the exchange of detainees based on the “all for all” principle.
It is important to increase the number of checkpoints on the contact line and to create the best possible conditions so that the hundreds and thousands of local residents, who have to wait in line for hours now, can cross of the border quickly. We tend to discuss large projects and major humanitarian issues, but we must not forget about the people who live there, and all our agreements must be aimed at improving their lives not in a distant future, but now.
Ultimately, I believe, as we all agree, that this meeting was useful. I would like to express gratitude to President Macron for his initiative and to thank him and Chancellor Merkel for paying so much attention to this matter, which is not one of their direct duties, but they believe that it is important for all of us, for both Ukraine and Russia, as well as for our European neighbours. We greatly appreciate it that they are paying so much attention to this and doing so much to attain a final settlement. For its part, Russia will do everything in its power to contribute to these efforts.
Thank you.
Question (retranslated): Good afternoon, Messrs Presidents, Madame Federal Chancellor,
Can we say this evening that a real thaw has started in Europe? Or is there still a risk that the conflict will continue? Will we have yet another frozen conflict in Europe?
Mr Putin, do you think we are witnessing a détente or thaw? Do you think that we can move forward towards real peace?
I would like to take advantage of Mr Putin’s presence here in Paris to ask one more question. WADA has decided today to ban Russian athletes from the Olympic Games in Tokyo and Beijing. This is certainly a significant decision. Will you appeal it? Do you think, just as Prime Minister Medvedev, that there is a serious problem with doping in Russia? Thank you.
Vladimir Putin: Speaking about a thaw, yes, I do believe that it has started. What else can I say? First, there has been an exchange of detained persons. It has taken place. We have brought about disengagement in three areas. It has taken place. We have met in the Normandy format and discussed a broad range of very important issues, and we have achieved progress on many of them. It has taken place. Taken together, all of this is reason to believe that the process is moving in the right direction.
As for Russia’s position, I said in my opening remarks that Russia will do everything in its power so that all problems are solved and all questions settled, and the conflict ultimately ends. However, I would like to point out that it is very important, as I have said before, that the conflicting parties talk to each other, that they engage in a direct dialogue. This is what matters. No conflict was ever settled without a direct dialogue between the conflicting parties.
Regarding doping, the WADA decision and Russia’s potential appeal against it.
First of all, we need to analyse this decision. Here is the obvious part, which I can see immediately. For example, there are no complaints to the National Olympic Committee. If there are no complaints, the country must be able to take part in competitions under the national flag, according to the Olympic Charter. This means that this part of the WADA decision contradicts the Olympic Charter. Therefore, we have good reason to appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS).
There are also some other arguments, but first our experts and lawyers should analyse everything so that we can talk with our partners competently. However, I believe that the main thing, and everyone seems to accept it, is that punishment must be individual and based on the acts committed by an individual, as it has been since the Roman Empire. Punishment must not be collective, that is, applied to the persons who have no connection with a given crime. Everyone is aware of this. I believe that the WADA experts are aware of this as well. But if they take decisions on collective punishment, I think this is a reason to believe that these decisions do not seek to keep sports clean but are based on political considerations, which has nothing to do with the interests of sport and the Olympic Movement.
Question (retranslated): Deutsche Presse-Agentur.
Madame Chancellor, you held a bilateral meeting with President Putin before the summit today. I would like to enquire whether you discussed during that meeting the assassination in Tiergarten, Berlin, because it had exerted a very strong influence on relations between Russia and Germany. One had the impression that Russia was willing to cooperate with the investigation into this assassination.
Mr Putin, you said two German diplomats would be expelled, and you announced retaliatory measures. When will these measures be introduced? How grave is the crisis in relations between Germany and Russia?
Vladimir Putin: You said that a Georgian national was killed. This is not quite true. I know that a man died in Berlin. And he is not just a Georgian, he is a man who took an active part in combat operations on the side of the separatists in the Caucasus. He is not an ethnic Georgian.
This man was on Russia’s wanted list, and he is a very cruel and blood-smeared man. He killed 98 people during just one operation he was involved in. He was one of the organisers of explosions in the Moscow Metro.
I do not know what has happened to him; this is a criminal milieu, where absolutely anything can happen. But I believe that it is incorrect to expel diplomats who have nothing to do with this matter, solely on the basis of preliminary conjectures.
You asked about retaliation. There are unwritten practical rules, unwritten laws for such cases: you have expelled our diplomats, we will expel yours. That is all. Is this any kind of crisis in relations? There is no silver lining to it, but I do not think that there is a crisis or that one should arise. But I agree with Madame Chancellor that we must investigate this matter. We will do our best to find out the truth and to help our German colleagues.
Incidentally, it would have been good if we had cooperated before these tragic circumstances occurred. The Russian side repeatedly urged our German colleagues to extradite this criminal and murderer. Regrettably, we failed to reach an understanding.
Question (retranslated): I have a question for President Zelensky.
It concerns the next Normandy format meeting, which is scheduled to take place in four months. Are there any preliminary conditions, so that we can see if there is any progress? Are we correct in understanding that although progress has been made regarding the exchange of “all for all”, no agreements of principle have been reached on the local elections in Donbass, which should take place in the autumn of 2020, and no final solution has been coordinated regarding the control of the Ukrainian border? Why is that?
And here is my second question: Will the problem of gas transit after January 1 be settled?
I also have a question for the President of Russia. Why are you so strongly against Ukraine’s desire to control the border with Donbass during the elections? Is this really a stumbling block? Can the settlement of this problem help to launch the peace process in eastern Ukraine? Will you continue to offer explanations for the protection of Russian speakers now that Ukraine has a Russian-speaking president, who is also supported by people in the southeastern regions?
Vladimir Putin: Do you remember a popular children’s poem: “We have gas in our flat. And do you?” And you do have it too, and will have it. But it may cost you much less if we agree to work honestly together. It could cost 25 percent less than the end consumers, primarily industrial facilities, are paying now. Because the price of gas for household consumers is subsidised, and we cannot calculate [export] gas prices based on this subsidised price. This is ordinary economic logic. This is how it is.
As for the border, Mr Zelensky and I have different positions on this issue. Our position is very simple: we stand for the implementation of the Minsk Agreements. The Minsk Agreements say – you can read it for yourself – that Ukraine will be able to start restoring control over that territory, over that section of the border on day one after the local elections. This is what it says. And this process should end after the completion of a comprehensive political settlement. This is what the text of the agreement says. Why should the Minsk Agreements be reopened and revised? All the measures set out in that package are interconnected. If we revise one of them, this will lead to the revision of others and we will lose the agreements and create a situation where nothing can be done. This is our logic, and I believe that it is justified.
Regarding Russian speakers. We do want Russian speakers, and not only in Donbass but throughout Ukraine, to have equal democratic rights. I would like to point out that 38 percent of Ukrainian citizens regard themselves as Russian speakers. However, all of the so-called Russian schools will convert to the Ukrainian language starting next year. By the way, as far as I know, the other [national minority] schools – Hungarian, Romanian and Polish – are to start the process in 2023. As if there are more Hungarian speakers than Russian speakers in Ukraine. You must admit that this raises questions to which we have no answers.
But I hope that we will keep our focus on this issue, just as all the other pending problems. This is why we will meet in four months.
Question: RIA Novosti.
A question for President Putin. You spoke about the Minsk Agreements being inviolable and having no alternative. But Chancellor Merkel said just now that the Minsk Agreements are flexible. So have you ultimately reaffirmed the agreements’ inviolability and their non-alternative nature?
Vladimir Putin: You see, any agreement has some degree of flexibility, because some things written on paper can be interpreted by the parties in different ways. And we did have a discussion today on some aspects of the Minsk Agreements. There are things spelled out directly, and it is quite difficult to argue with those. But there are other things, which emerged as compromises during our discussions in Minsk in 2015. And different parties interpret them differently. In this sense, I agree with Madame Federal Chancellor – she is right.
Well, this is what we meet for – to arrive at a common understanding, a single standard in what they call legal engineering. But I also agree that there is no alternative to the Minsk Agreements, and we must make every effort to ensure that they are fully implemented.
See also
December 9, 2019

December 9, 2019

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Interview to TASS News Agency

Vladimir Putin gave an interview to TASS Russian State News Agency on Russia – Africa Summit in Sochi.
October 21, 2019
Question: The Sochi Summit is meant to open a new chapter in the relations between the Russian Federation and African countries. Its participants will bring to Sochi their ideas about ways to develop cooperation. What does Russia, in its turn, have to offer to the states of the African continent? What is Russia's biggest competitive advantage that you will present to the heads of delegations at the Summit? What volume of Russian investment in African economies do you expect to achieve, say, in the next five years?
President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Russia and African states have traditionally enjoyed friendly, time-tested relations. Our country has played a significant role in the liberation of the continent, supporting the struggle of its peoples against colonialism, racism and apartheid.
Later on, we helped the Africans to protect their independence and sovereignty, gain statehood, form the basis for national economies, and create capable armed forces. Important infrastructure facilities, hydroelectric power plants, roads, and industrial plants were built by Soviet – and subsequently Russian – specialists. Thousands of Africans received quality professional education at our universities. This is well remembered by many current African leaders, who value our support. We too keep the memory of those pages of history.
Today, the development and strengthening of mutually beneficial ties with African countries and their integration associations is one of Russia's foreign policy priorities. We will shortly be witnessing an unprecedented, benchmark event: on October 24, Sochi will host the Russia-Africa Summit. This will be the first full-scale top-level meeting, to which we have invited leaders of African states and heads of Africa's major regional associations. The idea to organise such an event emerged quite a long time ago; however, it has taken some time and considerable preparatory work to make this Summit a starting point for building fair partnership relations based on equality and mutual practical interest.
We expect that our African colleagues, representatives of the business community will come to Sochi with a solid package of proposals aimed at enhancing bilateral relations, while heads of Africa's regional organisations will share their ideas as to how we could jointly develop our multilateral cooperation. We will consider these initiatives with great interest and decide what could be launched right away and what will require further elaboration.
Russia also has its vision of how to ensure further development of its ties with the African continent. We intend to discuss relevant ideas with our partners, systematise and reflect them as concretely as possible in the final declaration. Besides, it is important to identify mechanisms for implementing agreements that would be reached at the top-level meeting in Sochi.
I am sure that the Summit will be a success since all the necessary prerequisites are there. Today, the Russian-African relations are on the rise. We maintain a close political dialogue, including on the issues of global and regional security. The ties between our parliaments are expanding. Our mutual trade is steadily growing and diversifying.
Russia, together with the international community, renders comprehensive assistance to Africa, inter alia, by way of reducing the debt burden of its states. With a number of countries we are carrying out debt-for-development swap programmes. Russia supports efforts aimed at controlling the spread of infectious diseases (including Ebola haemorrhagic fever), natural disaster relief, settlement of existing conflicts and prevention of new crises. Russian universities provide professional training for national specialists from African countries both free of charge and on a commercial basis. Our defence and law enforcement agencies are stepping up their cooperation as well.
However, these are by no means all the items on our cooperation agenda. Our African partners see and appreciate the fact that Russia's foreign policy, including in relation to their continent, is of constructive nature; that Russia, as one of the UN Security Council permanent members, advocates democratisation of international affairs, supports the legitimate aspiration of African states to pursue their own independent policy, to decide on their own future without imposed 'assistance' by third parties. When doing so, we do not make our support and joint development projects which we offer contingent upon the fulfilment of political or any other preconditions or so-called 'exclusive', but in fact enslaving trade and economic preferences; we do not impose our views, respecting the principle of ”African solutions to African problems“ proposed by the Africans themselves.
As for the potential level of investment in Africa in the next five years, the figure is expected to be quite high, with a number of billion-dollar investment projects with Russia's participation currently in the pipeline. Both Russia and Russian companies have substantial resources. We hope that our partners, in turn, will create the necessary stable and predictable business environment and investment protection mechanisms and ensure favourable investment climate.
Question: Competition in today's world is extremely high. Is Russia ready for tough rivalry in Africa, say, with China or the US? Do you think there are risks of using protectionist policies, trade wars or unfair competition against Russia? What methods do you intend to apply to address them? Won't this rivalry adversely affect the African partners?
Vladimir Putin: Indeed, interest in developing the relations with African countries is currently visible not only on the part of Western Europe, the US and the PRC, but also on the part of India, Turkey, the Gulf states, Japan, the Republic of Korea, Israel, and Brazil. This is not accidental, as Africa increasingly becomes a continent of opportunities. It possesses vast resources and potential economic attractiveness. Africa's infrastructure needs are increasing, and African population is rapidly growing, as are its demands. All of this, in turn, calls for an expanded domestic market and greater consumption. Of course, where there are promising prospects for investment and profit, there is always competition, which, unfortunately, at times goes beyond the bounds of decency.
We see a number of western states resorting to pressure, intimidation and blackmail against governments of sovereign African countries. They hope it will help them win back their lost influence and dominant positions in former colonies and seek – this time in a ”new wrapper“ – to reap excess profits and exploit the continent's resources without any regard for its population, environmental or other risks. They are also hampering the establishment of closer relations between Russia and Africa – apparently, so that nobody would interfere with their plans.
We certainly take note of these factors and draw conclusions. We are not going to participate in a new ”repartition“ of the continent's wealth; rather, we are ready to engage in competition for cooperation with Africa, provided that this competition is civilised and develops in compliance with the law. We have a lot to offer to our African friends. This will be discussed, among other things, at the forthcoming Summit.
And, most certainly, we, together with our African partners, are committed to protecting our common economic interests and defending them against unilateral sanctions, including by reducing our dollar dependency and switching to other currencies in mutual settlements.
I am confident that the Africans are by no means interested in the escalation of confrontation between the major powers in the continent. On the contrary, they would like the rivalry to give way to cooperation in addressing urgent challenges for Africa, such as terrorism, crime, drug trafficking, uncontrolled migration, poverty, highly infectious diseases. I would like to reiterate that this is the kind of work Russia is willing to participate in.
Our African agenda is positive and future-oriented. We do not ally with someone against someone else; and we strongly oppose any geopolitical ”games“ involving Africa.
Question: The Soviet model of cooperation with African countries often involved the lending mechanism. Did this policy prove effective? Does Russia plan to resume the practice of providing loans to African countries? What other mechanisms for offering support to African countries are you prepared to discuss?
Vladimir Putin: Indeed, the Soviet-era model – with its pros and cons – proved quite effective at the stage of the development of statehood in African countries. We still continue rendering financial assistance to African states. While in the past, these decisions were primarily politically motivated, now they are part of the humanitarian assistance.
As far as granting loans is concerned, today these loans are market-oriented. For example, a decision was made to grant a loan to Egypt in the amount of $25 billion for the construction of four power units for El Dabaa NPP. This is specifically market-oriented lending.
Let me point put that in the post-Soviet period, at the end of the 20th century, Russia cancelled $20 billion of African countries' debts to the Soviet Union. This was both an act of generosity and a pragmatic step, because many of the African states were unable to service those debts. We therefore decided that it would be best for everyone just to start our cooperation from scratch.
There are other schemes that are currently applied to some of the remaining debts. For instance, intergovernmental agreements with Madagascar, Mozambique and Tanzania are being implemented in the framework of the debt-for-development swap programme. We expect that Ethiopia's remaining debt to Russia ($163.6 million) will be settled under similar conditions. The relevant draft agreement is currently being elaborated.
Let me also remind you that Russia makes contributions to international programmes of assistance to Africa in the framework of the UN Development Programme, the World Food Programme (WFP), and the International Civil Defence Organisation. Sometimes in-kind support is provided. Since 2011, WFP offices in Africa have received 258 KAMAZ trucks. Another batch of 75 trucks has been shipped most recently.
At the same time, the use of new financial mechanisms does not rule out the practice of granting loans, but rather provides for a wider and more diversified toolkit in support of development. It contributes to establishing mutually beneficial cooperation between Russia and African countries.
All these issues will be examined at the Economic Forum on October 23‑24. We are ready to hear proposals from our African partners and share our considerations.
Question: Earlier, military technical cooperation was among the areas of interaction between Moscow and African countries. Are there any plans to enhance it? Are you going to discuss any specific projects or contracts with the Summit participants?
Vladimir Putin: Indeed, the traditions of our military technical cooperation are deeply rooted. It was developed back at a nascent stage of establishment of African states and played its role in the fight of peoples of the continent for their independence. And our African partners highly appreciate it.
Today, we have agreements on military technical cooperation with more than thirty African countries which we supply with a wide range of military equipment. Of course, part of it is being transferred at no charge. But this is common practice followed by all leading world countries.
It is encouraging that military technical partnership continues to evolve vigorously. What’s more, African countries often initiate such cooperation themselves, because they understand that one should be able to protect its independence and sovereignty, including from extremist and terrorist groups. It is yet another incentive to cooperate with Russia, which has abundant experience in fighting terrorism, including in Syria.
Our African partners actively participate in military-technical fora and military exercises organised by Russia, in the framework of which they get acquainted with Russian advanced weapons, military hardware and experience of its use. For our part, we will further contribute to training military personnel of African states and take part in training African peacekeepers.
Question: Social and humanitarian cooperation is declared as a theme of the Summit. Why does Russia help Africa if far from all its own social problems are resolved?
Vladimir Putin: Humanitarian assistance is being provided to Africa by many world countries, yet none of them – be it the US, France, China or any other country – has fully resolved all of its social problems, including in healthcare, education and culture.
Russia too provides humanitarian assistance to African states, but not by reducing the amount of funding for its own programmes. After all, good traditions of charity and support in times of need are a hallmark of our people.
I will give a recent example. Russia, as many other states, provided aid to the African countries affected by tropical cyclone Idai in April 2019. Russia sent humanitarian supplies to Zimbabwe, Malawi and Mozambique, i.e. large tents, blankets and food products weighing about 30 tonnes for each country.
We continue to take an active part in efforts to provide comprehensive assistance to Africa. Russia is involved in the UN World Food Programme’s school meals project valued at $40 million, which has been implemented in Mozambique since October 2017, and in the project to introduce modern technology and equipment for disinfection worth up to $15 million in Madagascar.
We also provide assistance to our African friends in healthcare development, as dangerous communicable diseases respect no borders. Russia was among the first to react to Ebola haemorrhagic fever outbreak, having allocated $60 million to combat it. There is now a microbiology and epidemiology research centre in Guinea. Russia contributed $20 million to the World Bank programme to implement the global malaria control initiative.
And such examples are plenty. I would like to emphasise that Russia's participation in fighting poverty, dangerous illnesses and other global threats, as well as reduction of potential risks ”at distant approaches“ are fully in line with our national interests.
Question: Security issues are particularly acute in some African countries. This affects the operation of Russian companies there. Are you going to raise issues of security at the Summit and propose measures to strengthen it? What help is Russia ready to provide to settle conflicts across the continent?
Vladimir Putin:An important element of Russia's interaction with African countries is regional security cooperation. Our Summit's slogan – For Peace, Security and Development – is not accidental. Steady progress is not possible without resolving these problems.
The situation in many parts of Africa is unstable: inter-ethnic conflicts and acute political and socioeconomic crises remain unsettled. Numerous terrorist organisations, such as ISIL, al-Qaeda, Boko Haram and Al-Shabaab, are highly active in North Africa, the Sahara-Sahel region, Lake Chad area and the Horn of Africa. Armed forces and law enforcement bodies of African countries cannot oppose militants alone and need significant aid.
We will further increase contacts between special services and law enforcement agencies of Russia and African countries in the field of countering terrorism, organised crime, drug trafficking, money-laundering, illegal migration and piracy.
In demand is the practice of training military and law enforcement personnel of African countries, including at a reduced cost and free of charge. For example in the past five years alone, more than 2,500 service personnel from African countries completed studied at the military educational institutions of the Russian Defence Ministry.
Our African partners take an active part in Russia-organised events, such as the International Military-Technical Forum and meetings of high representatives for security issues. Eleven African countries participated in the 2019 International Army Games. And the number of those willing to join them is growing.

Ultimately, all those programmes have the same goal – to help Africans solve existing security issues themselves, as it will strengthen African states, their sovereignty and independence. And hence, the world will be more stable and more predictable.

Monday, October 14, 2019

VLADIMIR PUTIN -- Interview with Al Arabiya,Sky News Arabia and RT Arabic

In advance of his visit to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates Vladimir Putin answered questions from Al Arabiya senior presenter Mohammed Tomaihi, Sky News Arabia senior presenter Mohannad Khatib and RT Arabic Public and Political Programmes Department Head Salam Musafir.
October 13, 2019
Mohammed Tomaihi (retranslated): Dear viewers, welcome to this unique interview with Russian President Vladimir Putin, which we are recording in Sochi.
With me here today are Mr. Mohannad Khatib, a reporter at Sky News Arabia and Salam Musafir, a reporter at RT Arabic.
Thank you very much for this unique opportunity, considering your upcoming visit to Saudi Arabia.
President of Russia Vladimir Putin: It is my pleasure. I think it is a good tradition to meet with a country’s media before visiting it.
As for the visit to Saudi Arabia, we attach great importance to it. It is, in a sense, a return visit after the visit by King of Saudi Arabia, Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, to Russia. It was the first, historic visit. We consider it historic, and it really is.
There is one more thing that I believe is important to note. In Soviet times, relations between Saudi Arabia and the Soviet Union were at a rather low level. In recent years, the quality of our relations has changed dramatically. We consider Saudi Arabia a friendly nation.
I have very good relations with both the King and the Crown Prince. We have been making good headway practically in all fields.
I will start with the economy. There is still a lot to be done, but we have set a good pace. Last year it was up 15%. In the first six months of 2019 growth was as high as 38%. We are considering some good joint projects. Our Russian Direct Investment Fund and the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia have jointly established a $10 billion platform. $2 billion have already been invested. Work is underway on other projects, and some promising and interesting projects have already been implemented.
We also consider it possible to operate on the territory of Saudi Arabia. One of our companies is exploring the possibility of building a petrochemical facility with investments of more than $1 billion. It is SIBUR Holding, Russia’s largest company in this sector.
We are fostering a partnership in the trust-based, sensitive area of military and defence cooperation. We have been negotiating for a long time.
Equally important are our joint efforts to resolve the regional crises. In this regard, I would like to emphasise the positive role Saudi Arabia has played in resolving the Syrian crisis. We are working especially closely with Turkey and Iran, as you all know. But I believe that without Saudi Arabia’s contribution towards a Syrian settlement, it would have been impossible to achieve a positive trend. Therefore, I would like to express our gratitude to both the King and the Crown Prince for this constructive approach. I am confident that my visit will help to build up the momentum both in developing bilateral relations and enhancing cooperation in international organisations.
Mohannad Khatib (retranslated): Mr. President, thank you very much once again for giving us the opportunity to record this interview.
During interview with Al Arabiya, Sky News Arabia and RT Arabic.
During interview with Al Arabiya, Sky News Arabia and RT Arabic.
Your visit to the Middle East will possibly have an impact on the United Arab Emirates as well. What do you think about strategic cooperation between Russia and the UAE, and how will this cooperation evolve? Can this cooperation play a certain role in strengthening collective security, considering the Russian initiative to establish a collective security architecture in the Gulf region, especially in the area of the Strait of Hormuz?
Vladimir Putin: You have just mentioned the strategic nature of our cooperation. Indeed, we signed a strategic partnership memorandum last year, and we see the United Arab Emirates as one of our very close and promising partners. The signing of this document was not a coincidence, it demonstrated the quality and nature of relations between the United Arab Emirates and the Russian Federation.
I have to say that, as is the case with Saudi Arabia, our partnership is vigorously developing in all areas. Of all the Gulf countries, we have the highest level of trade, $1.7 billion, but of course, this is not enough, we are well aware of that. So currently, we are working with the UAE’s sovereign fund. The joint platform is worth approximately $7 billion. $2 billion have already been invested, work is underway on other projects. And of course, it is safe to say that the United Arab Emirates greatly contribute to resolving regional crises, and play a stabilising role in the region.
It is no great secret that we maintain regular contacts with the leadership of the United Arab Emirates. There is even an established tradition, a practice to compare notes regarding different topics. In my opinion, we are doing it for the benefit of both parties, and the region as a whole.
Salam Musafir (retranslated): Mr. President, in the more than 10 years of your presidency some harsh, dramatic developments have taken place in the Middle East, and the statehood of several countries has been undermined, namely Iraq, Libya. We see that this could be the fate of other states as well.
We see what happened in the Syrian Arab Republic, what catastrophic events took place there. Now, many members of the Arab public think that Russia can really bolster its role in the region. You surely know that our network, RT Arabic, covers Russia’s foreign policy as well.
Many of our viewers have been asking straightforwardly: why has Russia taken such a harsh stance in the case of Syria, but the position regarding Libya and Iraq was perhaps not as hard?
Vladimir Putin: First of all, during the crises in Iraq and Libya, I was not in office. But this is not the main reason. The thing is that, as is commonly known, in the case of Iraq, the United States circumvented the United Nations Security Council. The US had no mandate to use force against Iraq.
Actually, I was President at that moment. Anyway, Russia did not support the invasion. Russia, France and Germany did not support the US plans regarding Iraq. What is more, we warned about the potential adverse implications, and that is exactly what happened.
The initial euphoria of military victories soon gave way to despondency and pessimism about the consequences of the victory. Because all Iraqi government institutions were destroyed, but no new institutions were established, at least in the beginning. On the contrary, the radical forces got a boost, and terrorists groups became stronger.
Many former officers of Saddam Hussein’s army and security service agents resurfaced and joined the ranks of what later evolved into ISIS. So, those who led and supported this campaign had not considered the ramifications.
We do expect that there will be some positive developments in Iraq, and despite some internal problems, the country will continue to move forward. Although there are still a lot of problems to deal with, we are perfectly aware of that.
As for Libya, the chaos wrought by the military operations still prevails, but in this case, our Western partners played a trick on us, using the vernacular term (I do not know how this will be translated). Russia voted for the corresponding Security Council resolution. After all, what does this resolution say, if you read it carefully? The resolution prohibited Gaddafi to use aviation against the rebels. But there was nothing about allowing any air strikes on Libyan territory. But that was what actually happened. So, basically, what happened there was done circumventing the UN Security Council. And we are all aware of what happened next. There is still chaos and confusion; a flow of migrants went through Libya to Europe. Gaddafi had always warned about that, he said that he stopped African migrants from going to Europe. As soon as this ‘wall’ was gone, they started pouring into Europe. And now they have what they were warned about. But that is probably not even the main issue. Most importantly, it is destabilising the entire Middle East region.
In advance of his visit to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates Vladimir Putin answered questions from Al Arabiya senior presenter Mohammed Tomaihi (centre), Sky News Arabia senior presenter Mohannad Khatib (left) and RT Arabic Public and Political Programmes Department Head Salam Musafir.
In advance of his visit to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates Vladimir Putin answered questions from Al Arabiya senior presenter Mohammed Tomaihi (centre), Sky News Arabia senior presenter Mohannad Khatib (left) and RT Arabic Public and Political Programmes Department Head Salam Musafir.
As for Syria, we came to Syria to support the legitimate government, and I would like to emphasise the word ‘legitimate.’ It does not mean that they do not have internal problems; I am ready to talk about it in detail later. It does not mean that the current leadership is not responsible for what is going on there. They are, but it does not mean that we were to allow terrorist organisations to capture Syria and to establish a terrorist pseudo-state there. We could not allow militants to move to former Soviet republics. We do not have hard borders or a visa regime with them. We could not allow militants to infiltrate Russia from there. We already had such an experience and we know what this might lead to. We still remember what happened in Russia’s North Caucasus region not that long ago. This is why we made a decision to support the legitimate government.
We have not just provided assistance to the legitimate government. We proceed from the premise that internal political contradictions must be and can be resolved by political methods only. That is why we were so adamant. I am glad to see it happening now as part of the political process, as a result of the establishment of the so-called Constitutional Committee.
This idea was conceived right here, in Sochi, at the Syrian National Dialogue Congress that brought together various political forces, including the opposition and the government. And here Syrians agreed among themselves to set up a constitutional committee that would work on changing the Syrian Constitution or drafting a new one.
We have trodden a hard, arduous, and long path to form this committee. Now it has finally been formed, on behalf of the government, on behalf of President Assad, and on behalf of the opposition. I expect that in the coming days, it will take its first steps in Geneva under the auspices of the UN.
Mohammed Tomaihi: Mr. President, you spoke earlier about the relations between Saudi Arabia and Russia. As you know, it is a strategic partner of the Russian Federation in terms of energy security. You must be aware of the two missile and bomb strikes on the oil refinery, and of the most recent developments.
There has been talk in Saudi Arabia about Iran playing a destabilising role in the region. You said that evidence had to be found to prove that Iran was really behind that. What is the official position of the Russian Federation regarding this incident?
Vladimir Putin: Our official position is as follows: we condemn any such actions, end of story. This is the official position. We said this at the very beginning, and I have recently reiterated it at the Russian Energy Week forum in Moscow. There should be no room for doubt here. Such actions never yield any results for anyone, including those who plot and execute them. Why? If someone may have wanted to deal a blow to the oil market, they failed. There were indeed some fluctuations in prices, but I do not think it was anything too serious, even though the initial response was quite strong. The prices went back to normal in the very first week, because the fundamental factors that the market depends on will never allow the prices to either skyrocket or take a nosedive.
Secondly, we – and I personally – maintain close contacts with the leadership of Saudi Arabia, including the Crown Prince. We discussed the incident, and I told him that I thought it necessary to collect evidence, to find the perpetrators behind that incident. Mohammed bin Salman agreed with me in principle, and asked me a question: “Could Russia take part in the investigation?” I said yes, we are ready to share anything that might be necessary, everything we have for a thorough investigation. Our position remains unchanged. It is counter-productive to put the blame on someone before finding out exactly who was behind the incident.
Mohammed Tomaihi: Mr. President, can Russia give any assurances that if it is revealed that Iran masterminded the attack, Russia will join other countries in condemning it?
Vladimir Putin: I have just said it and I will repeat, regardless of who stood behind the incident, we condemn any such actions. That is exactly what I said before, and I really meant it. There is no other way to interpret this.
Mohannad Khatib: Let us now put these attacks on the oil facilities aside. I think you are well aware of the tension that has mounted in the region, and you must have been analysing this situation yourself. There is concern about Iran’s role in not only these recent attacks, but also in what is happening in other countries – in Lebanon, Yemen, Iraq, Syria, and some others.
Do you think Russia has the same concerns about Iran’s activities, which we think are having a destabilising effect? Can Russia do anything to change Iran’s behaviour?
Vladimir Putin: As I said, we have an unprecedented level of partnership, I would even say friendly relations with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. But Russia will never be friends with one country against another. We build bilateral relations that rely on positive trends generated by our contacts; we do not build alliances against anyone. This is my first point.
Secondly, you and your audience understand, I believe, that Russia and Iran are neighbours; this is a factor we always bear in mind.
Thirdly, Iran is a major regional power, an ancient country with a rich cultural legacy. If we want to build good relations with a country – and I believe every country in the region would want to have good relations with each other, no one seeks a standoff or, perish the thought, any conflict. No one does. I know that there is no one looking for a showdown and that is true for both Saudi Arabia and the UAE. If we want to set a positive agenda, we need to acknowledge that our partners have their own legitimate interests. I am not weighing in on what is legitimate and what is not. I just want to underscore that it is only natural that a big country like Iran, which has existed on its territory for thousands of years has its own interests. Persians and Iranians have lived here for centuries. And we should respect those interests.
Of course, it is debatable what is legitimate and what is not, which interests are legitimate and which cross the line. However, you need to have dialogue to understand each other, to puzzle out all the nuances, intricacies and issues. Without dialogue, you cannot solve any problem. That is why I think I can share the concerns of the UAE and Saudi Arabia, but in the case of bilateral issues, it is up to them to resolve them.
As for Russia, we will do everything in our power to create the right conditions for positive change. Russia has cordial relations with Iran and is on very good terms with our Arab friends. Back in the Soviet times, we did not have any particularly deep relations with Saudi Arabia, but we were truly close with almost all the Arab countries. The Soviet Union was on very good terms with the entire Arab world. Today we are back to the same level of partnership. Therefore, if we put to good use the cordial relations that we have with Iran, the Arab world, Saudi Arabia and the UAE, I think we can come up with something that would be of interest to everyone.
Previously, I mentioned the positive role that we play in Syria. It is true that we – Turkey, Iran, and Russia – work hard, shoulder to shoulder, to achieve positive results. However, it would have been impossible without support from Saudi Arabia, and we all understand that. And, of course, without assistance from the UAE as well. It means that, despite acute contradictions, there is still something that brings us together towards a common goal. You just need to find such a goal and then apply concerted efforts to reach it. That can create the right setting for the normalisation of relations between the countries in the region.
During interview with Al Arabiya, Sky News Arabia and RT Arabic.
During interview with Al Arabiya, Sky News Arabia and RT Arabic.
Mohannad Khatib: Staying with Iran. Some say that the P5+1 talks should be resumed. Moreover, the common opinion is that the agreement should also cover the ballistic missile programme. What is Russia’s position here regarding the call to revive that framework and possibly modify the agreement, extending it to some other issues?
Vladimir Putin: There is the JCPOA or the Iran nuclear deal, which specifies certain limits and commitments for Iran, and Iran has accepted them. Let us be frank here, otherwise the conversation will be too dull: the countries of the region do have some contradictions, and you have just mentioned them. There is disagreement between Iran and Israel, Iran and the US. I believe that attempts must be made to settle those disagreements, to seek a way out of the complicated situations that we observe today. However, if we agree that there are contradictions between regional powers and Iran, then who can take up the role of an arbitrator and decide whether Iran complies with the JCPOA or not? First and foremost, an arbitrator should be impartial, right? Second, an arbitrator should be a professional. Third, it should be someone respected by the international community. We have such an arbitrator, the IAEA, the International Atomic Energy Agency. And the IAEA has publicly, without any hesitation, said that Iran fully complies with all of its obligations.
What we are seeing is not quite productive. Not to mention that it is just unfair to blame Iran for failing to deliver on some commitments. It is counter-productive because when a person or a country is treated so unfairly, they start acting in a way different manner, not the way existing agreements require. When one party does not abide by its obligations, why would the other still honour them? Nevertheless, I believe that Iran should follow both the letter and spirit of the agreement. But that is a different question.
As for the missile programme, I suppose the issue can and should be part of the discussion too. In Russia, there is a saying, and I think Muslims would understand the meaning as well: “You should know the difference between God’s gift and fried eggs [dollars to doughnuts].” These are two different matters. The missile programme is one thing, and the nuclear programme is something different. It does not imply that the missile programme should not be part of the conversation, especially since it raises certain concerns. There is a place for discussion, but let us not mix apples and oranges here; otherwise, all the progress that has been made could be totally lost.
Therefore, I think that such a discussion can take place, but it should not cancel out all the achievements on the principle track, that is putting a cap on Iran’s nuclear activities.
Salam Musafir: I would like to ask you a question on the matter, namely security in the Gulf region. It has truly seen a lot of developments recently. There have been many dramatic incidents: detention of tankers, a missile and bomb attack on the Saudi Aramco refinery, and the aggression that continues around Yemen. The recent attacks on Saudi Aramco’s oil facilities strongly affected sentiment in the region, as we can see.
In your view, what will be the impact of all these high-profile incidents on cooperation under the OPEC+ agreement? So far, regional powers have not made any specific statements regarding Russia’s proposal for a collective security strategy in the region.
How do you plan to promote that collective security initiative? Do you think it will ever see the light of day?
Vladimir Putin: Your questions seem to be linked, but still deal with separate issues. Our cooperation within OPEC+ is one thing, while regional security and stability and our proposals is a different one.
First, if anyone thinks that seizing tankers and attacking oil infrastructure can in any way affect cooperation between Russia and our Arab friends, Saudi Arabia and the UAE, that they can undermine or break down our cooperation with OPEC+, then they are profoundly wrong. On the contrary, we will forge ever closer ties because our main goal is to stabilise global energy markets. Technically, we need to cut global reserves to some sensible level, so that these reserves do not affect prices.
We have made some good strides and whatever we have managed to achieve has served not only oil producers, but also consumers. Neither producers nor consumers want high prices, rather we all want stability in the global market. Let me be straight with you, all that has been done under the leadership of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Overall, those were his initiatives, and we just backed them. Now we see that we did the right thing.
We need to respond to any attempt to destabilise the market. Russia will certainly continue working with Saudi Arabia and other partners and friends in the Arab world to counter any attempts to wreak havoc in the market.
Now let us turn to Russia’s initiative to stabilise the situation in the Gulf region. We put that initiative forward some time ago. We proposed to establish some sort of an organisation that would bring together the countries of the region as well as several other stakeholders, the US and the EU, to name just a few. This organisation would serve as a platform to discuss crises and all kinds of pressing problems. Some have already voiced their support; others say it is too early to launch such an initiative. And the reason for that, by the way, is the serious contradictions between regional powers. From my point of view, these deep contradictions call for such a platform, so that countries could at least sit at the negotiating table. As you may be aware, sometimes it is not the negotiations that matter, but a handshake. A handshake can mean a lot.
Salam Musafir: A follow-up question, if I may. Can we rely on Russia’s efforts as a mediator between the Islamic Republic and Saudi Arabia, or on a larger scale in order to help relieve the tension in the Gulf region?
Vladimir Putin: The role of mediator is not a rewarding one. I believe that our partners in Iran and Saudi Arabia do not need any mediation.
Since we maintain very friendly relations with all the countries in the region, including Iran and the Arab states, such as Saudi Arabia and the UAE, we could certainly help relay some messages between the parties, so they could hear each other’s position. But since I personally know the leaders of these countries, I am perfectly sure that they have no need for any advice or mediation. What you can do is maintain a friendly conversation with them and present some ideas from a friend’s perspective. I am convinced that as highly intelligent people they listen and analyse everything they hear. From this point of view, yes, we could play a positive role in the process, to some extent.
Mohammed Tomaihi: Mr. President, if you allow me, I would like to ask a straightforward question. You have just said that all allegations against Iran in regard to these strikes are premature. You recently met with President Rouhani. Did he assure you in any way that Iran had nothing whatsoever to do with these strikes and was not involved in this in any way?
Vladimir Putin: Yes, that is exactly what he said. He said that Iran had nothing to do with this. We met “on the sidelines” of an international summit. It was the summit of the Eurasian Economic Union, an organisation we created with a number of ex-Soviet states. A few months ago, the Eurasian Economic Union and Iran signed an interim agreement on a free trade area. We have a free trade area agreement with Singapore and Vietnam, and we are also working on one with Israel and Egypt. The Eurasian Economic Union has enjoyed successful cooperation with many states across the globe. Iran is about to join this process, and we discussed these prospects just recently, on the sidelines of the summit in Yerevan, Armenia.
Mohammed Tomaihi: One more question, if I may, Mr. President.
Russia certainly plays a role in the Gulf region, and your intelligence agencies have a huge capacity. It is hard to believe that Russia does not know what really happened to those oil facilities. Is it possible?
Vladimir Putin: Believe it or not, we do not know. I asked the heads of the Foreign Intelligence Service and the Ministry of Defence the very next day. We do not know. I will refrain from any further comments as to who should know in order not to hurt anyone’s feelings, but I can say that we do not have any definitive information regarding the incident.
Mohannad Khatib: Can we move to Syria now, Mr. President?
You recently announced a suspension of large-scale combat operations in Syria, and everyone is now hopeful that political settlement will work. You spoke about it at the Valdai Forum here in Russia. You said that Syria could become a good example of how such conflicts must be approached and settled.
Do you think that we can talk about a political settlement while other countries’ forces are still deployed in Syria? I mean the United States, Russia, Turkey and Iran? Is there hope to achieve stability in Syria amid these destabilising factors?
Vladimir Putin: There is always hope. Do not ever give it up. I can only agree with you that all the forces deployed illegitimately inside any sovereign state – in this case Syria – must leave. This is true for everyone. If Syria’s new legitimate government chooses to say that they have no more need for Russia’s military presence, this will be just as true for Russia. Right now, we are discussing this openly with all our partners, including Iran and Turkey. We spoke about it with our American partners many times. And I will be as open with you as I have been with my counterparts: Syria must be free from other states’ military presence. And the territorial integrity of the Syrian Arab Republic must be completely restored.
Mohannad Khatib: Do you have a vision for Syria’s political future? And what role does Russia play in it?
Vladimir Putin: It is a difficult question, and it is a question that only Syrians can answer. I hope that they do so not by taking up arms and fighting a war against their own people, but through negotiations, in this case, as I said, in Geneva. The very first step along this path is to work on the country’s Constitution, whether by amending the existing Constitution or drafting a new one. In either case, it must protect the interests of all the ethnic and religious groups. People need to know that they live in their own country and that it protects them by law. This must be equally true for Sunnis and Shia, for Alawites and Christians, because Syria has always been a state with many religions, and it could pride itself on this. Only insane people could have started a deranged, purging campaign, killing other people, as these terrorists did in Syria.
Again, it will not be easy; it will be a difficult process, but I believe it can work. Do you know why I feel positive about it? People are returning home. We are talking thousands of people. They are returning from abroad and from other Syrian provinces. They are coming home. This is a sure sign of the trust they have in the situation we have today; they trust the government and its guarantees, and they trust the guarantor states.
I am happy to say that Syrians welcome and trust Russian troops and Russia’s military police. The military police units deployed there are doing a good job. They are mostly Muslims from the North Caucasus. And the local residents trust them and feel free to ask them for help and protection. I have reports of such cases. I am happy to say all this, but in order to have long-term peace, people need to find a way to settle things between themselves. The worst peace is always better than the best of wars.
Salam Musafir: Let us leave the Middle East and the Gulf region for now.
You always say that Russian-American relations need to improve, because otherwise, if there is a ‘fault’ in these relations, this may change the situation for the worse globally.
Today, as you look at the Trump Administration, as you read Donald Trump’s tweets, do you see any hope for any steps to improve relations between the two countries? You surely follow the US President’s statements, don’t you?
Vladimir Putin: I must say that I do not have any Twitter account or anything, so I do not follow anyone there. Of course, I get reports from my staff from time to time. The opinion of the President of the United States always matters; it is always very important for many parties and for the world overall, but I do not follow him personally.
Salam Musafir: Let us assume President Trump is re-elected next year. Do you think he could be the more promising president, that he might have more courage to de-escalate tension between Washington and Moscow? And will Russia be willing to resume dialogue?
Vladimir Putin: You work for Russia Today, don’t you? Well, it is because of people like you that Russia will be accused of meddling in the election, because you said just now that Trump could be re-elected. They will say, “Gotcha! This is Russia interfering with the election campaign”.
Jokes aside, we all know what President Trump says about Russian-American relations and how he talks about them. We know that during his previous campaign, he called for relations to get back to normal, but unfortunately, nothing has been done. But we do not hold it against anyone because we can all see what is going on in the American domestic political scene these days. The domestic political agenda prevents the incumbent president from embarking on a drastic improvement of relations between our countries.
In any case, we will work with any administration to the extent it is willing to work with us. However, we cannot help but feel concern over overall global security and strategic balance. This is obvious.
In 2002 (and President Trump has nothing to do with it), the United States withdrew from the ABM treaty, which, I would like to reiterate, was the cornerstone of the entire global strategic security system, because it imposed limits on the missile defence systems of our countries. Do you see the point? The point was to make it clear that neither party can ever win a nuclear war, should it happen. That was the whole point. The United States withdrew from the treaty in order to secure some serious strategic advantage for themselves, thinking that they might shield themselves from a threat, unlike Russia. It would leave Russia in a very vulnerable position, while the US would be protected by an ABM system.
Back then, I told our US partners that there is no way of knowing how well such a system would work and so we will not waste tens of billions on it. But strategic balance must be maintained, which means that we will develop offensive weapons that will defeat any ABM system. And we have developed them, and everyone knows it by now. The ABM systems are designed to intercept ballistic missiles, i.e. missiles that follow a ballistic trajectory whereas what we did was we enhanced and improved ballistic missiles significantly and developed a new weapon that has no rivals in the world. We have hypersonic missiles that follow a low trajectory rather than a ballistic one. No one has hypersonic missiles today, except us. Of course, the world’s leading powers will one day develop them, sooner or later. But we will be able to come up with something new by that time. I know what projects our scientists, researchers, designers and engineers are working on right now. Unfortunately, this has led to an arms race of sorts. But that is what has happened. It is a fact. Sadly, this is true.
Now, recently, the US also withdrew from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty. It think it was a mistake, too, and that they could have gone a different path. I do understand the US concerns. While other countries are free to enhance their defences, Russia and the US have tied their own hands with this treaty. However, I still believe it was not worth ruining the deal; I believe there were other ways out of the situation.
The New START Treaty is actually the only treaty that we have to prevent us from falling back into a full-scale arms race. It serves to further reduce and limit strategic offensive arms, that is to limit the entire range of strategic weapons, the entire strategic triade: land, sea and air-based combat inter-continental ballistic missile launchers. This treaty expires in 2021. To make sure it is extended, we need to be working on it right now. We have already submitted our proposals; they are on the table of the US Administration. There has been no answer so far. Our understanding is that they have not made up their minds yet as to whether they need to extend the treaty or not. But if this treaty is not extended, the world will have no means of limiting the number of offensive weapons, and this is bad news. The situation will change, globally. It will become more precarious, and the world will be less safe and a much less predictable place than today.
Mohammed Tomaihi: Let us get back to disarmament. Mr. President, do you think that a new arms race could plunge us back into another cold war?
Vladimir Putin: I wish it does not happen. In any case, Russia will be the least affected party because, as I said, we already have the next generation of weapons, and these are unprecedented, with unmatched capabilities. In that sense, we have done our homework. We do not need to rush now and can calmly think of what could be done next.
Military spending also plays a role here. It may or may not come as a surprise to you but Russia ranks seventh in terms of defence spending. Saudi Arabia is third. The US military spending totals 716 billion, if I am not mistaken, and next year they asked for 750 billion. Next comes China with around 177 billion, followed by Saudi Arabia, with 59 billion, right? Trailing behind are the UK, France, Japan, with 48.1 billion, based on the data I have, and Russia is only seventh with 48 billion. However, we have unmatched military capabilities.
What has made it possible? It comes as a result of focused research on priority areas, and the credit here goes to our specialists, their ability to identify those areas, mobilise resources. It has been made possible thanks to research institutions, production know how, fundamental knowledge and competences.
Therefore, an arms race is a bad thing, and it will not be good for the world. However, we will not be dragged into exorbitant budget spending games.
Mohammed Tomaihi: Despite this, NATO continues to press forward. Do you feel that the alliance’s march towards Russia’s borders is a threat? How will you respond to it?
Vladimir Putin: We do feel it, certainly. We have always felt it and voiced our concerns. We were told, “Don’t be afraid. You are not the target and there is nothing to fear. NATO is changing, it is no longer a military bloc, it does not have belligerent intentions”, and stuff like that. In the meantime, the North Atlantic Treaty remains in place, in particular Article 5, if I am not wrong, that guarantees military support to other members, etc. It is a military bloc. As its infrastructure is moving closer to our borders, we are not happy about it.
There is another trick. I think it is clear to everyone that NATO is just a US foreign policy tool. Europe is aware of it. Take the French president. I do not need to make anything up. Another trick is that once countries join NATO, they have no say over the arms that are installed on their territory. This was the case in Romania with missile defence. Poland will soon get it, too. It will be really close to our border. It is certainly a threat to us. We see it as an attempt to neutralise our strategic nuclear capabilities. However, it is clear their efforts are doomed to failure. I believe experts now see this as well. Now that we have the cutting edge systems that I mentioned earlier, these moves are no longer a threat to us. I do not want to say what we really think about it. Still, there is nothing positive about it. So yes, we do see this as destructive activities that escalate tension. There is nothing good about it.
Mohannad Khatib: Mr. President, another issue that used to be in the limelight. I am referring to the Palestinian-Israeli settlement. Like the Soviet Union, Russia has played an important role in resolving the issue. Take the Madrid conference, for instance. However, in recent years, Russia has not been very active on that track while the US is trumpeting a so-called deal of the century. In the meantime, the Israeli government is going ahead with its arbitrary authoritarian policy. What is Russia’s role in resolving the issues that are so fundamental to the Middle East?
Vladimir Putin: This does not depend on us or our actions. It is up to all the stakeholders whether they want to see someone in the process or not.
Incidentally, we have very good relations with Israel as well. Almost 1.5 million Israelis come from the former Soviet Union. Israel is almost a Russian-speaking country. The Russian language is often heard in shops everywhere. We do care about what is happening in Israel. However, we have a principled position on the Israeli-Palestinian settlement: we are fully committed to all the UN decisions and believe that they must be executed.
Now on the ‘deal of the century’. We will support any deal that will bring peace but we need to know what it is about. The US has been pretty vague about the details of the deal. Washington has kept in the dark the global and domestic public, the Middle East, and Palestine.
We believe it is important to ensure a two-state solution and establish the State of Palestine. We suggested hosting direct talks in Moscow between the Israeli Prime Minister and the head of the Palestinian Authority, but the meeting never took place, unfortunately. We have been doing what we can: we have held several meetings between different Palestinian groups. Restoring Palestinian unity would be a major contribution to the process. Speaking with different voices undermines the united Palestinian stance. But we are working on it.
It does not mean that we have quit the process altogether, and are no longer interested in it. We are deeply committed primarily because we believe that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is key to resolving many other regional issues. Unless it is resolved, it will continue to feed radicalism and terrorism, among other things. When people feel they have no legal ways to uphold their rights, they take up arms. In this sense, I feel the Israelis are also interested in a long-term, ultimate solution, not just the Palestinians.
Mohammed Tomaihi: Mr. President, we are running out of time. We do not want to steal time from our colleagues.
You have made fairly positive comments about Saudi Crown Prince Muhammed bin Salman. You seem to have close and good ties with him. Do you count on the positive role that he can play in fostering the Russian-Saudi relationship and in the Middle East agenda in general?
Vladimir Putin: That is exactly his role today, and he has been quite successful. Indeed, we have very good personal ties. He has been behind many of our initiatives, and these projects are being put into practice. As I said, he came up with OPEC+, he endorsed the joint platforms of our investment funds. Two billion worth of investment has been made by now. He raised the need for broader defence cooperation, and we have a good plan of joint activities in that area. This is already happening. Hopefully, our collaboration will continue to expand going forward.
As for Saudi Arabia’s role in the region, it is definitely one of the key countries there. It does have an impact based on its capabilities and its position in the energy market. Saudi Arabia can be safely called a global player since it has an impact on the world energy market, on world energy in general.
This is why cooperation with Saudi Arabia, its King and Crown Prince bin Salman is very important, and we will develop our relations going forward.
Salam Musafir: Before we came here, we did a poll on RT Arabic’s website. We asked a simple question: “If you had a chance to meet the Russian President, what would you ask him?” It generated a lot of interest, and we picked the most popular questions. I will not list all of them, but one of the biggest concerns among our Arab audience is the future of Russian-Arab ties when you will no longer be the President of Russia. What will be the stance of your successor on the issue?
Vladimir Putin: It is not about the name of the Russian president, it is about our national interests. It is in the interests of the Russian and other nations of the Russian Federation to nurture relations with the Arab world. It has always appealed to Russia with its enigma, culture, opportunities and potential. I have no doubt that Russia is set to boost the pace of its interaction with the Arab world in the years to come.
Salam Musafir: Thank you.
Mohannad Khatib: I will try to be brief. The Arab world is following the recent developments, in both Russia and the Arab world, as part of the so-called Arab spring. The situation is rapidly changing in Sudan and Algeria; Tunisia just had an election. Do you see any positive signals? Do you think the region is entering a new phase that will culminate in a stable Middle East?
Vladimir Putin: Clearly, the region is not in a state of stability. We all understand it; we can see it with our own eyes. But all things pass. I hope it will be over one day. It will not get better quickly on its own, if you just leave things as they are, without attempts to improve the situation. Russia will do all it can to make sure things get back to normal and as soon as possible.
We do not think you can and should handle the situation ‘from above’. As I said, we have many friends in the Arab world. It is time to get Syria back into the Arab family, to re-instate it in the Arab League. We will work hard to bring it back to normal and to help our friends. However, the pace of improvements will ultimately depend on the people who are responsible for the situation in their countries. I am convinced stabilisation is inevitable and I wish it happens as soon as possible.

Remark: Thank you so much, Mr. President, for the productive interview.