Vladimir Putin Interview to TASS News Agency
Vladimir Putin answered questions from Andrei Vandenko, a journalist of the Russian News Agency TASS. The interview was recorded as part of the Top Officials special project on November 13, 2014.
- ANDREI VANDENKO: What’s your health status now, Mr President?
PRESIDENT OF RUSSIA VLADIMIR PUTIN: All worries are in foes’ dreams!
ANDREI VANDENKO: The foes are making hints.
VLADIMIR PUTIN: Really? It’s the first time I hear about it. And what are they saying? Wishful thinking?
ANDREI VANDENKO: I won’t retell it to you. As a matter of fact, I’ve come to the original source.
VLADIMIR PUTIN: Well, let them think this way. It’ll make them relaxed, which is good for us, too.
ANDREI VANDENKO: But this isn’t idle curiosity, you know. The country’s health depends on your physical, moral and psychological condition. In a way…
VLADIMIR PUTIN: Do they call into question my bodily or psychic status?
ANDREI VANDENKO: Their assumptions differ.
VLADIMIR PUTIN: I’m fine. Everything is fine.
And what sport are you doing?
ANDREI VANDENKO: No sport for quite some time. Only on TV.
VLADIMIR PUTIN: That’s bad. Rooting in front of a TV is no sport. And work requires certain energy, stamina and physical activity.
ANDREI VANDENKO: But why did you ask about it? Just because you…
VLADIMIR PUTIN: I do sports regularly.
ANDREI VANDENKO: On a daily basis?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: Exactly. Absolutely every day. Frankly, though, I stopped doing it during visits. When the flight is long and the time difference is big you don’t sleep yourself out.
ANDREI VANDENKO: By the way, do you adapt easily to local time zones or do you live by the Moscow time?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: I don’t adapt well. And when you seem to have finally adapted, it’s time to return home… Therefore, I try to live mainly by the Moscow time but long trips make it impossible, of course.
ANDREI VANDENKO: Let’s go back to the issue I started with. Vyacheslav Volodin [First Deputy Chief of Staff of the Presidential Executive Office] said at the Valdai International Discussion Club: “No Putin – no Russia.” But you later said that the statement was absolutely wrong.
VLADIMIR PUTIN: Yes.
ANDREI VANDENKO: But this was a formula with a particular connotation, nowadays at least. Many people inside and outside of the country associate Russia with you personally.
VLADIMIR PUTIN: Well, I think that’s natural. The head of state, person number one in any nation is always associated with his country in one way or another. And not only in Russia. The person is elected by direct secret ballot, people have delegated him certain powers, and he conducts a certain policy in the name and on instructions of these people. And, of course, the nation expects its leader to act in a certain way. The voters proceed from the assumption that they elected the head of state and gave him a vote of confidence and he should meet their expectations, defend their interests and strive to improve their life in the economy, in the social sphere, in the international arena, and in matters of security. There are many tasks. There is nothing unusual or anything specifically Russian in the fact that associations of the kind spring up.
ANDREI VANDENKO: Still, very few leaders can boast the popularity ratings you have.
VLADIMIR PUTIN: That’s true but the problem is you’ll be unable to work if you think about ratings all the time. The worst thing of all is to get enslaved by contemplation of one’s ratings. As soon as someone starts doing it, he immediately turns into a loser. Instead of engaging in real business and moving forward with no fear of stumbling along the way, one who thinks about ratings abandons all activity. Then the rating begins a downhill slide. Vice versa, if a person concentrates on the essence and results of his work and thinks about the interests of the people, then even a mistake does not look so terrible. And he can speak of it straightforwardly and confess his blunder. And you know, this won’t affect the rating much, people will understand perfectly well the true intentions, appreciate sincerity and honesty and especially a direct dialogue. It is really valuable and people will always appreciate it.
ANDREI VANDENKO: But still, when the level of support exceeds 80 percent after 15 years in power… This is both obvious and incredible.
VLADIMIR PUTIN: I’ve already said that I feel like I’m part of Russia. It’s not just love that I feel for it. Anyone can say he loves his Motherland. We all love it but I really feel being part of our people and I can’t imagine even for a second living outside Russia.
Getting the support of compatriots for a long time, one cannot but make every effort to justify their trust. Quite possibly, that’s the key principle and groundwork for relations between the people and the leaders whom they elect.
ANDREI VANDENKO: But this is a stick with two ends. All the achievements are linked to the leader until a certain moment and then all the misfortunes may also be ascribed to him just as easily.
VLADIMIR PUTIN: Sure thing.
ANDREI VANDENKO: And what’s next?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: As the saying goes, once you pledge, don’t hedge. Need to work.
ANDREI VANDENKO: It’s clear that Uralvagonzavod is with you.
VLADIMIR PUTIN: It’s not about a specific enterprise.
ANDREI VANDENKO: It’s a sort of umbrella notion, you know.
VLADIMIR PUTIN: It was at Uralvagonzavod that people appeared there at some point and voiced their position openly, put forward some initiative. But were the enterprises that got government support during the crisis in 2008 few in number? It wasn’t really the question of the support we provided or the system of fairly efficacious prop-up measures, which we had devised and implemented. The government and your most obedient servant never shunned responsibility. At one of the events organised by the United Russia party at the end of 2008, I recalled the 1998 default and vowed publicly that we would not let it happen again. You can imagine that was a very risky statement. Taking on such a responsibility overtly and publicly was a risky thing at a time when we didn’t know all the aspects of the crisis and were not in control of all the instruments that had sparked it. But it was extremely important to give members of the Cabinet, administrative teams in the regions and, most importantly, the people in the street the feeling that top people in the government understood the situation and assessed it appropriately and knew what to do. In such situations, this might be even more important than specific steps. But our concrete actions, too, were quite adequate to the state of things at the moment.
* * *
ANDREI VANDENKO: I mentioned Uralvagonzavod as an example, meaning that you have a big group of supporters. But there are people who don’t accept your politics or language. How do you feel about it?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: That’s very good.
ANDREI VANDENKO: The hell with them, yeah?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: You see, we can call one another hurtful names endlessly. I’ve faced this situation for quite a few years and I believe that all depends on overall culture and on political culture. We can struggle with our opponents but refrain from insults and scuffles and things like that. Yet, this doesn’t mean we cannot defend our point of view. We can and should do it but within the law, as I’ve always said. If we сross this line we’ll dash into destruction, and then it’ll be too difficult for us to reassemble the things we hold dear.
ANDREI VANDENKO: But do you want to turn your opponents into allies, or is it like “let them be”?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: You can’t make everyone your ally and you shouldn’t even strive to do it. On the contrary, it’s good to have around some people who have doubts. But they should propose constructive solutions. If we face opponents of this type, they are very useful. But others who act along the ‘worse is better’ line exist too. And this is also inevitable, unfortunately.
The problem is that centrifugal forces seeking to pull the state down get into play every time when the state’s basic parameters become feeble. Just like in the human body: if your immune resistance is down you immediately catch the flu. These bacilli and bacteria are seeded in the organism and reside there all the time but if the organism is strong you suppress the flu with your immunodefence. Doing sports is a must!
ANDREI VANDENKO: This is indisputable but there are people who don’t agree with you on some other points. This doesn’t necessarily mean they are “the fifth column” and enemies, does it?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: No, of course not. And still this doesn’t mean there are no people who are serving foreign interests in Russia. They exist, too. Who are they? They use money from abroad in domestic political struggle and don’t have scruples when they take that money.
ANDREI VANDENKO: But our Motherland is making such borrowings increasingly more difficult. Suffice it to name the laws that make NGOs equal with foreign agents, restricting foreign ownership in Russia mass media…
VLADIMIR PUTIN: No. It may look more difficult but it is still possible. One will always find ways to get the money and use it for intended purposes. Of course, the recent decisions restrict the use of foreign funding in domestic political struggle in Russia. They kind of put up certain barriers but these barriers are bypassed and we should watch closely to prevent this. None of the foreign countries with a sense of self-respect will ever let the use of outside funds in internal political struggle. Try and do something like this in the US and you’ll land in jail at once. They have far more rigid state agencies there than we do here. On the surface everything looks goodly and democratic but all chances vanish as soon as you get down to such things.
Here, in Russia everything is far more liberal. Everything is possible. True, things related to the development of democracy are as crucial for Russia as for any other state, but we must understand that this isn’t democracy for the sake of democracy. This is democracy for the people so as to make their life better and give them access to the levers of practical control over the country. We should not create conditions letting foreign countries make us weaker, subdue us to their will and put pressure on us from the inside, impacting on our policy in their own petty interests. Just imagine they us and we agreed on Syria, the Iranian nuclear programme, the Middle East settlement, and rolled back some of the defence policy programmes. That’s what these instruments and this money are used for.
ANDREI VANDENKO: That’s taking a dig at who, as the Russian say?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: No digs at no one. I just explain my position. You asked me and I am simply telling what I think. If people have genuine interest in improving the structure of governance, public control over their work, citizens’ access to power agencies, law enforcement, administrative and all sorts of others, this is absolutely right and should be supported. And I will always support it. But if I see something done exclusively to satisfy someone “over there”, to dance to someone’s tune and force us to do the same, I will definitely fight back.
ANDREI VANDENKO: And doesn’t this fuel hatred in our society?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: I don’t see it today. It usually occurs everywhere during election campaigns, and we had it too, but as far as I can see we don’t have it today.
ANDREI VANDENKO: But look at the social networks’ stormy reaction to any landmark event, for example, events in Ukraine or the premiere of Nikita Mikhalkov’s new movie. Sometimes people’s unwillingness to respect or even listen to any other point of view forces whole pages and even websites to disable comments on hot topics.
VLADIMIR PUTIN: This has no link to our actions to ensure internal security or to free our domestic policy from any foreign influence.
ANDREI VANDENKO: I mean the state of our civil society.
VLADIMIR PUTIN: That’s what I am talking about. Our common culture. It means people still lack something. And would you say everything’s OK in other countries? If it were, there wouldn’t be any events like football fan brawls. There wouldn’t have been the recent attack on the immigrants’ camps in Italy where people got killed. We wouldn’t see a multitude of other events taking place all around the world and, unfortunately, here in Russia as well. We have to work towards making people with totally different outlooks sort out their relations and contest their opinions in a civilized way.
ANDREI VANDENKO: But still, as I said in the beginning of our conversation, much depends on you in terms of moral climate.
VLADIMIR PUTIN: No, that’s not true.
ANDREI VANDENKO: Yes, that’s true, Mr President.
VLADIMIR PUTIN: No, the situation just seems to be that way. People like you and your colleagues find it easier to put all the blame on someone else. Just look at yourselves! Look at how the media dish out information, how you influence the mindset of millions of people, and what kind of programmes our central TV channels put on air. Are we the country where federal channels only have to earn money and to think about of the price of one minute of advertising time and hence to fill the schedules with the so-called ‘defective’ stories from the early morning hours through to late night?
And do we have to confine all the positive, encouraging things, the ones that set the standards of worldview, the fundamental philosophical and aesthetical things to Kultura [Culture] channel? I don’t think so. And note one thing: state agencies are watching this situation the way outside observers do. We do not interfere with the editorial policy of even the state-run TV channels. From the point of view of liberal values, it’s very good. And unfortunately, we see the results on our screens.
ANDREI VANDENKO: Judging from the news reports or political talk shows on federal TV channels, we’ve been living in Ukraine. This has been the dominant theme of this year.
VLADIMIR PUTIN: But this doesn’t mean that all is related to me. That’s an unsound opinion, a misconception. It’s not like that. On the contrary, absolutely not like that! It only seems that everything is hinged on the country’s man number one. It’s true there are things of a fundamental nature. But clashes of different opinions occur all the time. Very frequently my colleagues come to me and say, we need your final opinion on this or that problem. [Prime Minister] Dmitry Medvedev and I meet to draft a unified position. Such things are really difficult to do without the president’s involvement. Besides the Government Cabinet, we have the Central Bank, the Presidential Executive Office, the Parliament… Their work has to be coordinated. And I have to get involved. But it’s definitely wrong to claim that the President always decides on everything and that everything always depends on him.
ANDREI VANDENKO: I think bewilderment will be short-lived if you declare imposition of a monarchy tomorrow.
VLADIMIR PUTIN: In the first place, I’m not sure if bewilderment will be short-lived and if people will approve of it.
ANDREI VANDENKO: I am not calling for it, I say if it’s an experiment.
VLADIMIR PUTIN: I see what you mean. That’s in the first place.
In the second, you asked about ratings. I don’t know if I managed to answer your questions and remarks in full but it seems to me another explanation is people put trust in the people they elect, including your obedient servant. People obviously proceed from the assumption that no reckless steps will be made. Fortunately or unfortunately – and let’s stay away from assessments right now – we are past that stage. We have closed the monarchic chapter of our history.
* * *
ANDREI VANDENKO: It’s not necessary to proclaim monarchic rule. It’s enough for you to move a finger and tomorrow they’ll revive the GULAG or, for example, the cult of personality so that a street named after Vladimir Putin appears in every town. Just recently, an action group emerged in Yekaterinburg that demands renaming of Sacco and Vanzetti Street named after the Italian-born anarchists who were electrocuted in America. They said Sacco and Vanzetti had nothing to do with Yekaterinburg, while Vladimir Putin prevented destruction of the country in 1990-ies and stopped the rampage of gangsters and oligarchs, and so on. And what do you think about it?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: I think people are doing it out of good and fair intentions.
ANDREI VANDENKO: And such intentions will be displayed in any city if you give them a sign with your eyebrows.
VLADIMIR PUTIN: I see but it’s too early to put up monuments to each other yet. I mean myself. There is still some work ahead and the future generations will assess the contribution to Russia’s development each of us will have made.
ANDREI VANDENKO: But what’s your attitude to such initiatives in general?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: As I’ve said, it’s too early to erect monuments...
ANDREI VANDENKO: What about the streets?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: The same applies to streets and squares.
ANDREI VANDENKO: But one street exists already.
VLADIMIR PUTIN: You mean in Grozny?
ANDREI VANDENKO: Yeah, in Grozny.
VLADIMIR PUTIN: Yes, and I won’t conceal it they didn’t ask me. But Chechnya occupies a special place in our most recent history. There are many links to the activity of the first President of the Chechen Republic, Akhmat-Hajji Kadyrov. Everything was tangled so tightly there. But what’s done is done now.
ANDREI VANDENKO: No one in the West has proposed monuments to you either?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: You recalled the early 2000-ies here, didn’t you? I haven’t forgotten how all of that was unfolding. The West would give even tougher assessments of my activity then. I lived through it all and I remember it.
What do we see? As soon as Russia rises to its feet, gets stronger and claims its right to defend its interests in the world, the attitude to it and its leaders changes in the twinkle of an eye. Recall how it was with Boris Yeltsin. In the first stages, the world approved everything. The West received everything he did with unequivocal cheers. But as soon as he spoke up in defence of Yugoslavia, he immediately turned into an alcoholic and a man with all the vices in the eyes of the Westerners. All of a sudden everybody learned he was partial to drink. But was it a secret before? No, and it did not hinder his contacts with the world. And as soon as the moment came to defend Russia’s interests in the Balkans and he stated it openly, he turned almost into an enemy of the West. Such was the reality in not so distant a past. And I have fresh memories of it.
We are talking about developments in Ukraine today, and our partners tell us all the time about the importance of observing Ukraine’s territorial integrity. They say that all those fighting for their rights and interests in the east of Ukraine are pro-Russian separatists. While those who fought against us in the Caucasus, including under Al-Qaeda’s guidance, for its money, with its weapons and even with Al-Qaeda militants involved in combat actions were fighters for democracy. It’s incredible, but it’s a proven fact. We were rebuked for a disproportionate use of force then. We were told then: “You’re firing from tanks and using artillery. There’s no way you can do it!” And what about Ukraine? The aviation, tanks, heavy artillery, and salvo systems. They’ve even used cluster bombs and ballistic missiles and the latter fact simply defies belief! And no one has said a word about the disproportionate use of force.
ANDREI VANDENKO: Because it is assumed the Ukrainian troops are counteracting Russia.
VLADIMIR PUTIN: Because it is assumed that Russia has interests there but we are being denied our right to defend our interests and to protect people living in those territories. You personally come from Kharkov, don’t you?
ANDREI VANDENKO: From Lugansk.
VLADIMIR PUTIN: OK, from Lugansk. You definitely know that if you ask a person, whose ethnicity is identified in his passport as Ukrainian, you will see he doesn’t give much thought to it. People there perceive themselves as part of the greater Russian world. No doubt, the Ukrainian nation has its own culture, its own language, and self-identity – unique, with marvellous sounding, and very beautiful. But fairly recently a colleague of mine showed me documents dating back to 1924. The passport states ‘Velikoross’ (the ‘Great Russian’) as ethnicity. And today Ukrainians wrote it as ‘Maloross’ (the ’Little Russian’). There was no difference in practical terms. We are being told, why are you pressing forward with the idea of the Russian world all the time, what if people don’t want to live in it? No one is pressing forward with it, which doesn’t mean however that it does not exist.
When I speak to people from Crimea, for example, or from the east of Ukraine, I ask them “What is your nationality?” Some of them tell me: “We don’t draw any difference.” But when Russia begins to speak about it and to defend people and its own interests, it turns into a bad guy at once. And do you think it’s the east of Ukraine that really matters? Does the problem lurk in our position on eastern Ukraine or Crimea? Not at all. Were it not this particular pretext, any other would be found. And this has always been so.
Take a look at our millennium-long history. As soon as we rise, some other nations immediately feel the urge to push Russia aside, to put it “where it belongs,” to slow it down. How old is the theory of deterrence? We tend to think it dates back to the Soviet era though it is centuries old. But we shouldn’t fan any passions over it on our side because that is how the world functions. It is a battle for geopolitical interests and, consequently, for the nation’s significance, as well as the ability to generate a new economy, to resolve social problems, and to improve living standards. Our position is not aggressive a bit. But if you take the United States, our American friends…
ANDREI VANDENKO: Friends?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: Surely, they are all our friends. Americans are printing dollars and have turned their national currency into a global one, although they gave up the gold equivalent several decades ago. But all the same, they have the printing machine and they are obviously capitalising on this.
ANDREI VANDENKO: Good guys!
VLADIMIR PUTIN: Good guys. But why did this happen? The US achieved a certain position after World War II. Why do I say this? The struggle for geopolitical interests leads to the situation when a country either becomes stronger, resolving its financial, defence, economic and subsequently social issues more effectively, or slides into the category of third- or fifth-rate countries, losing a possibility to safeguard the interests of its people.
ANDREI VANDENKO: And what about our attempt to vie with the West?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: We don’t need to vie with them.
ANDREI VANDENKO: Are we strong enough?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: We don’t need to vie with them. We simply don’t need to do this.
ANDREI VANDENKO: And what are we doing now?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: We simply need to calmly implement our agenda. Many say that oil prices are falling, including because a tie-up is possible between traditional producers, in particular, between Saudi Arabia and the United States. They say this is being done specially to let the Russian economy down.
If you talk to specialists now, I mean real specialists, not the ones like me…
ANDREI VANDENKO: And who are real specialists, if not you?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: We have such specialists – the Economic Development Ministry, the Finance Ministry and the Central Bank. What will they tell you? Some things lie on the surface. Look, oil prices have fallen. Why did they fall, by the way? Supply has increased. Libya is producing more, as well as Iraq, no matter how strange it may seem, despite all its problems. Illegal oil has appeared at $30 per barrel, which the Islamic State is selling on the black market. Saudi Arabia has increased extraction. Meanwhile, consumption has contracted due to the period of certain stagnation or, say, slower-than-projected global economic growth. There are fundamental factors. Let’s assume that there are also some purposeful steps by the partners on the global energy market. Can we presume this? Yes, we can. What is the result? This leads to the depreciation of the ruble, our national currency. This is one of the factors, not the sole one but one of them. And what does this mean for the Russian budget? We don’t calculate the budget in dollars. The ruble’s value has fallen and it has depreciated a little.
ANDREI VANDENKO: By a third.
VLADIMIR PUTIN: By 30 percent... But look: we earlier sold a product worth $1 and got 32 rubles for it. And now we get 45 rubles for the same product costing $1. Budget revenues have increased and not decreased. Yes, there are certain corridors and certain constraints related to the fact that the situation is deteriorating for production sectors and enterprises that are oriented to buying abroad with foreign currency. But this is not so for the budget, and we are resolving social problems confidently. This also concerns the tasks related to the defence industry. Russia has its own base for import substitution. Thank God, we have inherited a lot from the previous generations and we have also done a lot in the past 15 years to modernise the industry. Does this damage us? It does partially, but not fatally. If energy prices are lowered deliberately, this also affects those who introduce these restrictions.
Today the world is interdependent. This does not at all mean that the sanctions, a sharp fall in oil prices and the depreciation of the national currency will bring about negative results or disastrous consequences solely for us. Nothing of this kind will happen. Problems arise, they do exist and they will increase, making the situation worse but not only in Russia but also in our partners’ countries, including in oil and gas producing countries. We talk about falling oil prices. This occurs, among other things, because the United States has started to extract shale oil and shale gas and now covers its energy needs with its own raw materials to a considerable extent. Not fully so far, but to a considerable extent. But what is the breakeven point of this production? It differs in various regions of the United States. Estimates range from $65 per barrel to $83. Now the oil price has fallen below $80 per barrel. Shale gas production is becoming unprofitable. Perhaps, the Saudis especially want to ‘kill’ their rivals…
ANDREI VANDENKO: But would it be better for us, if a neighbour’s horse died?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: It depends on the neighbour, his horse and how he used it.
* * *
ANDREI VANDENKO: Forbes has named you the world’s most powerful leader for the second consecutive year…
VLADIMIR PUTIN: You know, this is even less significant than domestic ratings.
ANDREI VANDENKO: But it’s a pleasant thing to know, don’t you agree?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: No, I can’t say if it is pleasant or unpleasant. The point is that global leadership is determined by a state’s economic and defence capabilities.
ANDREI VANDENKO: We are obviously not No. 1 by these parameters.
VLADIMIR PUTIN: This is what I’m talking about. If we turn to person-to-person comparisons, I don’t know how Forbes made these assessments, it is their business. Perhaps, they do this on purpose to exacerbate my relations with President Obama, ranking him second. The President of the United States and I know each other. I can’t say that we have quite close relationships but he is an intelligent person and he is capable of assessing all this. This could be a method of internal political struggle in the United States, especially ahead of the elections to the Senate. Let them sort out these things themselves…
Everything that is done in the course of electoral campaigns has meaning and significance. I don’t want now to assess the US President’s actions on the international arena, we have a lot of contradictions and our views frequently diverge and, all the more so, I don’t want to assess his internal political initiatives as this is a separate topic but I know that President Obama realistically assesses what is going on in his country. I’m sure that he considers these ratings as one of the internal political struggle instruments aimed to harm him.
ANDREI VANDENKO: This is what the US independent press means: it writes to spite the president.
VLADIMIR PUTIN: How can it be independent, if it is working together with political opponents of the head of the White House? There is no independence in this regard. This is full dependence and the serving of certain forces. But these are my assumptions.
ANDREI VANDENKO: We don’t even have such an alliance in our country.
VLADIMIR PUTIN: We have everything in our country. If you read some of our publications, and you surely do this, then you’ll see what expressions they use to characterise my activity or that of the Cabinet. And frequently, they descend to personalities…
ANDREI VANDENKO: Do you read this?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: Sometimes Dmitry Peskov brings all these sorts of dirty things.
ANDREI VANDENKO: What do you do in response?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: Listen, those who do this want me to respond.
ANDREI VANDENKO: They’ll never get it as you have said?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: This is also a method of self-promotion. If you pinch a higher-ranking person and he responds, this means that you are a tough guy. All these techniques are well known. But I have no time for such things because I try to do real work rather than to confront someone. If I see something really sensible in this criticism, I take note of that so that I can use it.
ANDREI VANDENKO: For example?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: It is difficult for me to give an example right now. These are things related to the organisation of power, the activity of political parties and society’s control of the Presidential Executive Office’s work. Or it is about creating a more favourable business environment or concerns registration of enterprises. Please note that we have done a lot in this regard in recent years. Perhaps, not everything and we need to do more but much has been implemented.
ANDREI VANDENKO: Another question about the rating. According to the latest data, Russia is in the 130th and something place out of 170 countries in terms of corruption. It stands close to Benin in the rating.
VLADIMIR PUTIN: You know, first of all, it is necessary to see who draws these ratings.
ANDREI VANDENKO: These ratings are largely drawn abroad, not in our country. This particular one was compiled by the TRACE International association.
VLADIMIR PUTIN: Well, that’s clear. Take the ratings of higher education institutions. Who draws them and what criteria are used? We ourselves take efforts to raise the quality of our education but the ratings of higher education institutions are drawn by the corresponding agencies, proceeding from the size of endowment, the accumulated special capital, which a higher education institution can use itself. But we have a completely different pre-history of the higher education development. It is therefore possible to assign zero ratings to all our higher education institutions. And this rating is used effectively in the competition for the education services market.
ANDREI VANDENKO: Please, don’t get away from the question.
VLADIMIR PUTIN: I’m just approaching it. The same can be seen in geopolitics. Various instruments are used: accusations of the state’s undemocratic nature, of suppression of the freedom of press, and weak efforts to fight terrorism and separatism. All methods are used, including ratings…
But this does not mean we don’t have corruption. We constantly speak about it ourselves. I believe this is one of very serious problems, which we have inherited from the past when the administration at any level thought it had the right to do everything and no one could have the right to encroach on its powers and control it somehow. But then something else was added to this, which made the situation even worse. I mean the non-transparent privatisation. This was awful and this was a big mistake. We are all clever people, retrospectively. Perhaps those who made the decisions back then would have arranged things differently today. Incidentally, this was also in the 1990-ies when the Europeans told us that we should not listen to American experts. But we went along this road. The non-transparent privatisation made people think: well, if they let them steal billions from the state, then why can’t we take away something less expensive? Why are they allowed and we are not?
ANDREI VANDENKO: You are talking about the 1990-ies but we are now living in late 2014.
VLADIMIR PUTIN: But mentally, all this has remained in people’s minds.
There is also another aspect. When we were taking decisions on creating market mechanisms and the functioning of society’s democratic institutions, we somehow forgot that democracy and a careless attitude to law were not the same thing. Law has to be observed by everyone. There is no impassable gulf between a market economy and state regulation. Incidentally, as soon as we notice crisis manifestations, everyone thinks about the state. But it is not even a matter of the principles of building economic life. The point is that while on a transition to a market economy, we failed to create instruments of control.
We sometimes observe really odd situations at major joint-stock companies. People believe that an owner would never steal from his company. This is hardly so! They do steal and in huge amounts. Why? Because those who hold the majority stake do not want to share it with minority shareholders. So they create hundreds of schemes for the withdrawal of resources from companies. And this can be observed in many areas.
We’ll have not only to tighten fiscal policy or law-enforcement sanctions. We need to raise awareness, create an effective, modern and market-oriented system of relations in the economy, which should actually limit the possibilities for corruption. We need to work on this, analyse the world’s best practices and implement them. Of course, this requires time, efforts, persistence and the will but we have no other way.
ANDREI VANDENKO: And there should not be any untouchables.
VLADIMIR PUTIN: I absolutely agree with you, this is one of the components.
ANDREI VANDENKO: There are no such persons?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: I don’t know. It seemed to me there were none. We will strive to make it that way. If I see that something like this emerges and such people appear, we will certainly fight this and respond to this. By the way, for this very purpose we have introduced public control on the platform of the Russian Popular Front. It works quite effectively.
* * *
ANDREI VANDENKO: I’ve mention Uralvagonzavod as an umbrella notion. There is also another idiomatic expression – the “Friends of Putin.”
VLADIMIR PUTIN: Yes, please.
ANDREI VANDENKO: This expression is used not only by our domestic opposition but also by the State Department.
VLADIMIR PUTIN: In what connection?
ANDREI VANDENKO: The US wanted the first package of sanctions to hit exactly President Putin.
VLADIMIR PUTIN: I understand. The Americans have made one error, which is very pleasant for me and is a systemic error.
ANDREI VANDENKO: “Pleasant” in quotes?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: No, literally. What does this error mean? They proceeded from a false assumption that I have some personal business interests due to ties with the people on the list. And by pinching them, they were a kind of hitting me. This does not absolutely correspond to reality. I believe, we have to a great degree put an end to the so-called oligarchy. What is this? This is money having influence over power. Today, I can definitely say that we have no such situation in Russia. We have no oligarchic structures, which substitute state power or influence upon state decisions in their interests. This fully refers to those people whom you have mentioned. All of them are rich and they made their fortunes a long time ago…
ANDREI VANDENKO: In different ways.
VLADIMIR PUTIN: Yes, but mainly a long time ago, and absolutely within the law. They took nothing, they privatised nothing like what it was done in the 1990-ies.
ANDREI VANDENKO: Are we talking about Rotenbergs, Kovalchuks, Timchenkos?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: Yes. What state property did Timchenko get? Please name at least one asset. Nothing.
ANDREI VANDENKO: I will say another thing.
VLADIMIR PUTIN: Yes, please.
ANDREI VANDENKO: I quote the newswire. Gennady Timchenko believes the US investigation against oil trader Gunvor on suspected money laundering seeks to target the President of Russia. Then word-for-word, “I am 100 percent sure that this is the case.”
VLADIMIR PUTIN: This is good that you quote Mr Timchenko. Probably, this is so. But I told you what a systemic error is. The US believes some of my financial interests are seated there and they are digging.
ANDREI VANDENKO: But they aimed at you.
VLADIMIR PUTIN: Probably, yes.
ANDREI VANDENKO: Do you feel bitter for your friends?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: They are Russian nationals, they consider themselves patriots of this country and this is true. Someone has decided they should be punished for this. And it just strengthens the acknowledgement of such their quality. There is nothing offensive in this. I believe this is a gross violation of human rights. Some of those blacklisted, as far as I know, have filed lawsuits but not in order to protect themselves but to show the unlawfulness of the decisions taken. In what way is anyone of them involved in the corresponding decisions I took on Crimea? In none whatsoever. They did not know anything in the very least. They learned about it from TASS or the TV news. They were being chased for nothing… This is a direct violation of human rights. That’s why they have turned to court. If courts in the United States and Europe are indeed independent and unbiased, the decisions will be taken in their favour, and if not… This is a very good litmus paper.
ANDREI VANDENKO: Mr President, you have a reputation of a person who does not let ‘his’ men down.
VLADIMIR PUTIN: Yes, I try, if they behave decently and do not violate anything. And if they try to evade law then they are no longer ‘my’ people.
ANDREI VANDENKO: But what if your friends are offended…I meant this when I asked whether you feel bitter for them?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: On the contrary, I am a kind of glad about this. I am glad that I do have such friends, whom our opponents, let’s call them so, blame for the fact that Crimea has become part of the Russian territory. This does credit to my friends. They have no relation to this, but this does credit to them.
ANDREI VANDENKO: Isn’t this the reason to take a different attitude to those who offended close friends?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: I believe this is the result of wrong decisions that are taken based on false information, including inside Russia itself. They throw something and say: “These are the friends of Putin and they should be punished. They will revolt, and there will be a mutiny aboard.” There will be nothing like that.
ANDREI VANDENKO: Does it affect your contacts with the G7 leaders?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: No, absolutely not. Listen, during the grave events in the Caucasus I saw and heard things that were far beyond this. I gave you the example: when we were fighting for our territorial integrity against international terrorism, we were refused this right. I heard many things at that time. Those who did so believed that Russia will always be in a vulnerable position. And they went on to always press on the tender spot.
Now the situation is different. We have a consolidated country. Despite the natural presence of the opposition and people who do not accept what we are doing, the society is still consolidated. I assure you that the West doesn’t like it much. And the attempt to punish my friends, whom I am not going to abandon, is a desire to sow discord within the elites, and then maybe within society.
ANDREI VANDENKO: Now I am talking not about your friends, but about you. You once spent a night at Mr Bush’s ranch, who looked you in the eye and saw something there…
VLADIMIR PUTIN: The soul.
ANDREI VANDENKO: Exactly! He got the sense of your soul. And you and Obama now talk “on feet.”
VLADIMIR PUTIN: So what? You know, if we want us just to pat each other’s shoulder, call each other friends, pay visits and go to G8 summits, while the actual value of informal communication would be allowing us to sit close by, without taking into account our interests and our position in resolving various problems, then what is this for? I became the President of Russia not to satisfy my personal ambitions. I do not need this if Russia’s interests are neglected. Then, we will not pay visits to each other but will meet at these or other venues and in a business-like atmosphere. But we need to discuss all these problems in a principled and open way, if not as friends, then as partners. I hope it will be like this in the practical work.
ANDREI VANDENKO: So, you don’t feel any discomfort about the fact that there has been a cooldown?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: No, I don’t. What discomfort should I feel? I need the result.
ANDREI VANDENKO: It turns out that you were right when you said that after Gandhi’s death, there had been no one to talk to.
VLADIMIR PUTIN: You see, I said this with a certain degree of irony.
ANDREI VANDENKO: You are often ironical when speaking.
VLADIMIR PUTIN: Yes, but your colleagues preferred to ignore this irony. By the way, they also cited ratings back then (I do not remember what year this was) and asked: Don’t you feel that you have no one to talk to? That’s utter nonsense! I understand perfectly well that the leaders of both Western and developing countries are people who have gone through an ordeal of internal political fight and through a process of making up of a personality. All of them are prominent political leaders. They defend the interests of their states just like I am trying to do the same in the interests of this country.
* * *
ANDREI VANDENKO: Correct me if I am wrong, but it seems to me that when a person holds the post like you do, he is alone all the way. That’s his destiny.
VLADIMIR PUTIN: They always say this kind of things.
ANDREI VANDENKO: And in fact?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: In fact, this is partly so. You have mentioned my friends. I do not go and give up on them publicly but this is also very approximate. This does not mean that we meet every day, drink champagne or vodka and chatter.
ANDREI VANDENKO: And what do you prefer?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: I prefer tea.
ANDREI VANDENKO: What are you drinking now as we talk?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: Just tea. Would you like some? They serve it in a special teaware to keep it warm.
On top of everything else, I have a rather tight schedule. I even see my daughters once or twice a month, but I still need to find time to meet with them.
ANDREI VANDENKO: In what country do they live?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: In Russia, where else?
ANDREI VANDENKO: Here?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: Of course, they live in Moscow. We meet at home…
Yes, I have good relations with those people whom you have mentioned. I also try to keep in touch with my fellow students from the university.
ANDREI VANDENKO: Are they not necessarily billionaires?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: Not at all! They are ordinary people. They are mostly people who work in law enforcement, in the Interior Ministry, Prosecutor General’s Office, attorney offices and administrative authorities.
ANDREI VANDENKO: Let’s name them all. They will be pleased.
VLADIMIR PUTIN: Well, there are plenty of them, some 80 people! Someone will be pleased, others, on the contrary, will not, as some of them live in the former Soviet republics, and the fact that they have contact with me also poses a certain threat for them.
ANDREI VANDENKO: And in Ukraine?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: Yes, in Ukraine and in Georgia and in other countries.
ANDREI VANDENKO: The agents of influence?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: No, they are not agents and they influence nothing. They live their own lives. They are ordinary citizens in their countries, very loyal and loving. But given the events in their countries, our acquaintance is a certain burden… While those businessmen whom you have mentioned, were clamped down there immediately just for having contact with me, and sanctions were imposed against them, those people that I just spoke about are absolutely ordinary people. They have no capitals and they cannot be subjected to sanctions. But there are other measures of influence, which are very hard-hitting and maybe even dangerous. That’s why we should better not talk much about these people.
ANDREI VANDENKO: Still, on the subject of solitude.
VLADIMIR PUTIN: Well, I have told you, I have so much work that it does not allow me to have a lot of friends.
ANDREI VANDENKO: But given the fact that you can actually find out anything about anyone …
VLADIMIR PUTIN: Yes.
ANDREI VANDENKO: …and it’s possible to learn all sorts of things about a person…
VLADIMIR PUTIN: Yes.
ANDREI VANDENKO: …maybe this also affects?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: No, I try not to use my possibilities in this regard.
ANDREI VANDENKO: In order not to be disappointed in humanity once and for all?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: No, just because… I have spent nearly two decades working for the KGB and I know how statements are written. These reports and materials are not always objective. I try to rely on my personal impression, and direct contact and communication are important for me. And often my impression about a person is different from what I get from official documents. I judge from my own perception of a person, not from papers or statement.
ANDREI VANDENKO: So, is it intuition?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: It is not even intuition. It’s intuition only partly. Personal contacts are more important. Though when we are talking about decision-making, especially personnel decisions, there are certain rules. You need to get information from various sources first, and this is natural. But eventually, I try to draw conclusions based on my own impression of a person.
ANDREI VANDENKO: What’s your personal sphere?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: You know, I don’t feel lonely at all. Odd as it may seem. I might not have that many contacts or communication even with those people who are considered to be my friends and are under sanctions. That’s true. But loneliness, I believe, is something different. It is not the lack of opportunity to see people. It’s a state of one’s soul. There is no such feeling of loneliness in my soul.
ANDREI VANDENKO: People around you are always trying to look you in the eye, eager to find favour there, expecting something from you, waiting or may be even asking for something…
VLADIMIR PUTIN: I have long got accustomed to that, and I don’t believe that these people do something wrong. When people get in touch with me, they are expecting certain decisions to be made or some action to be taken. That’s absolutely normal. Many just want to talk about something, discuss things, but it is always about getting some kind of decision. That is true and it could hardly have been otherwise.
ANDREI VANDENKO: You are said to be an excellent listener. And you often agree with your interlocutor. And the person leaves with the feeling that Mr Putin is his ally, but this is not necessarily so.
VLADIMIR PUTIN: You know, I am trying to treat people with respect, after all.
ANDREI VANDENKO: No, I am asking about something different.
VLADIMIR PUTIN: It is a matter of respect – respect for other people, for their opinions, and even for their requests. I will never forget when in the beginning of 2000, a woman approached me and handed me a note. I took a look at it. I won’t say anything about what sort of request it was; it concerned not that woman personally, but some of her relatives. That paper got lost somehow. I still remember that as an impermissible oversight on my part. Possibly, there had been no way of meeting her request, but everything should have been done then to have that petition worked on properly. Possibly, I would have been told: “No, there is no way of settling it!” Then I would have given instructions to write back to that lady to explain why there was no way of helping her. But just losing it was very careless… You know, I still feel remorse. I feel awkward. Let me say once again, this does not mean that all appeals and requests that I get when people look at me with hope in their eyes or hand me their notes must be sustained. Certain things cannot be resolved the way people would like them to. It is impossible and against the law.
ANDREI VANDENKO: Did it take you long to learn to say ‘no’?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: You know, in Chinese there are sixteen ways of saying ‘no’. And yet none of them sounds like real ‘no’.
ANDREI VANDENKO: And how many options are there in your vocabulary?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: It is not a question of form; it is a question of meaning. It is impossible to always say ‘yes’, though I am always tempted to do that. But still I am forced to refuse…
ANDREI VANDENKO: And who can object to you and what consequences may follow?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: Only I myself and the law. Nobody, even the top officials, is allowed to violate the law.
ANDREI VANDENKO: You are talking about yourself and I am asking about others. Are there any brave guys who don’t just listen humbly, but dare argue?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: There are independent people, with an opinion of their own. I appreciate people who can say: “I think you are wrong, Mr President.”
ANDREI VANDENKO: What if we name some of these heroes?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: Let’s avoid bolstering their publicity. But there are such people.
* * *
ANDREI VANDENKO: In the book called First Person you mentioned your low sense of danger. For an intelligence officer it is a weakness.
VLADIMIR PUTIN: That’s what a psychologist wrote down in my personal characteristic.
ANDREI VANDENKO: Is it also a weakness for the President?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: This is not exactly what one can call a great merit. One should master the skill of evaluating all likely effects and take into account all possible scenarios and forestall the unfavourable ones when making decisions.
ANDREI VANDENKO: In other words, no reckless moves?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: Indeed. No reckless moves should be allowed. The price of a mistake is too high.
ANDREI VANDENKO: Have there been any during your presidencies?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: No.
ANDREI VANDENKO: Have you gauged them this time? The consequences of the actions taken on Crimea and what will follow.
VLADIMIR PUTIN: Yes. It was a strategic decision.
ANDREI VANDENKO: Good. All is well that ends well.
VLADIMIR PUTIN: You are quite right. I believe it will be precisely this way. Because we are stronger.
ANDREI VANDENKO: Stronger than who?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: Everybody. Because we are right. The strength is in the truth. When a Russian feels he is right, he is invincible. I am saying this with absolute sincerity, not for the sake of just saying. If we knew we had done something bad and were unfair, then everything would be hanging by a thread. When you lack the inner certainty that what you do is right, this always causes some inner hesitations, and these are dangerous. In this particular case I have none.
ANDREI VANDENKO: But there are no people who make no mistakes.
VLADIMIR PUTIN: True. As for me, I did commit some flaws, of course.
ANDREI VANDENKO: Such as?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: I won't be discussing them now, but when some major, large-scale undertaking is in progress, there is always something that possibly should have been handled differently. But there has been nothing global or strategic in this sense, and I do hope nothing like that will happen in the future. You know, I have a certain style of my own that has developed over years. I never take arbitrary decisions, decisions that may entail consequences I can’t foresee. And if I cannot foresee the consequences, I prefer to take some time. It’s like overtaking another car on the road: never try unless you are certain. First, take a good look if the road is clear for the manoeuvre. But that’s not all. The road may look empty because it goes down in front of you and then up and you may be just unaware of another vehicle speeding in the opposite direction. You have to be absolutely sure that nobody is driving the other way, that you really see the whole road ahead of you. That you are in control of the situation. If you are sure, go ahead.
ANDREI VANDENKO: And we are not in the opposite lane at the moment, are we?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: It's those trying to race us who are in the opposite lane now. We keep driving along ours at a steady speed. If you do everything right, it’s no use hurrying or making a fuss. It is like in the world of sports, which you are so reluctant to join. Certain things are perceived on the basis of the first-signal system, but still with reliance on the previous experience and your understanding of how the situation should evolve, and your reaction must be fast.
ANDREI VANDENKO: I hear a judo wrestler speaking now. The philosophy of judo leaves no room for hustle and bustle.
VLADIMIR PUTIN: Basically, yes. But if you indulge in reflections for too long, you will reach nowhere. A specific result is a product of not just good research, but of a specific decision, of real action that follows, and not just reflections on the subject.
ANDREI VANDENKO: Before our conversation, I had the deepest impression that this year has been the hardest for you.
VLADIMIR PUTIN: No really. When were things easy in Russia?
ANDREI VANDENKO: Let’s recall the ‘wealthy years’.
VLADIMIR PUTIN: They might have been wealthy for some, but we had a war in the Caucasus. Wealthy! What was it so easy about them? Take Russia’s recent history, starting from 2000.
ANDREI VANDENKO: I am referring to this particular period.
VLADIMIR PUTIN: I understand, and what about the earlier years? Take any period in Russian history. Take the Soviet era. Take the pre-Soviet era.
ANDREI VANDENKO: No, we shall not journey back to time immemorial. The focus is on you. You surely remember 1996, don’t you?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: Oh, yes, of course, we lost the election back then, [Anatoly] Sobchak lost the post of St Petersburg’s mayor, and I went jobless. In that sense, yes, I spent a while thinking how to arrange my life, where to look for a job, and how to earn a living for the family. Literally, without an exaggeration. Of course, it was not easy. But you know, such things, such moments can happen in anyone’s life. One may also recall 2000, when a decision had to be made on how to act in response to the attack on Daghestan. There were proposals to build a wall around Chechnya. A real wall. But that was absolutely unacceptable. Both for the people in Chechnya who trusted us and for Russia it would have been absolutely counterproductive, dangerous and harmful. Then there would have followed other walls and other separation lines. That would have been the end of it all. The country would have been lost.
You have mentioned the ‘wealthy years’. We had to rebuild the economy, at least the basics of it. There was much criticism over what we were doing wrong. We were told we had given the people too much, that we had raised wages too high. That’s a reproach addressed to me. Our labour productivity falls behind wages. I am being told: “That shouldn't have been done!”
But could I have acted otherwise? You know, it is very good when our capabilities match our expectations. But the situation we had in the country in the 1990-ies and the early 2000 was such that we had to show the people we were moving in the right direction and their life was getting better somehow. Hadn’t we done that, we would have possibly missed the chance of consolidating society and achieving certain results in restoring the country. We were told by our colleagues in the liberal market economy-oriented bloc: “You shouldn’t by any means adopt the maternity capital programme.” I myself heard it many times: “It’ll be like pouring huge funds into a black hole. There's no way of calculating how much is needed!” And the result will be nought, we were warned. The programme would cause no effect on the birth rates. And we were given the examples of some West European countries where very large childbirth benefits are paid to little avail. When I heard the opinions of almost everybody who was for and who was against, when I reviewed the results and situations in the European countries, I finally arrived at the conclusion that our situation was different. We should give our people a different family planning horizon. The quality of life in Europe is different. In Russia an extremely low level of incomes was one of the factors restricting birth rates. The family just could not afford to have a child, let alone two. It is most important for us, in particular, in the regions.
There had been fears if the budget would cope with the extra payments, if the people wouldn’t be deceived. Now we can see we have not deceived anyone and succeeded. In combination with the other birth rate support measures it worked. Russia has not had a birth rate like that over the past decades.
ANDREI VANDENKO: But aren’t we cancelling the maternity capital now?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: It is a different question. I shall speak about that in the address to the Federal Assembly. I would not like to discuss this beforehand. One has to be very precise and careful here. The programme ends in one year’s time from now, and everybody should remember that. But, of course, it is necessary to give thought to mechanisms of supporting population growth. We have the perinatal centres, we have the maternity capital, we have a network of extra medical institutions, and we have benefits not only for families but also for medical institutions for the quality of services they provide to mothers-to-be. A great deal depends on their opinion… The package of measures has brought about a result that has surpassed our expectations. The demographic rates are positive and stable. Why am I discussing this in detail? I was the one who made the final decision, because there were votes for and against.
ANDREI VANDENKO: Mr President, you are proving now what I said in the very beginning. No matter which way you look at it, it all eventually rests on a single person.
VLADIMIR PUTIN: No, no. Not everything.
ANDREI VANDENKO: Well, a lot.
VLADIMIR PUTIN: And I say that not everything and I repeat it. Yes, I often take part in the strategic decision-making. Eventually, what is the use of the person number one if he is doing nothing at all? If he just sits and reigns?
ANDREI VANDENKO: One more quote. Nikolai Berdyaev: “A Russian loves Russia, but is not used to feeling himself responsible for Russia.”
VLADIMIR PUTIN: He was a genius and well respected.
ANDREI VANDENKO: His words can be addressed to Russia’s state officials and businessmen.
VLADIMIR PUTIN: There is no such nationality as a state official or a businessman as they mean the fields of expertise. The common mentality that people have, it, definitely…
ANDREI VANDENKO: Which is ‘we will wait to see the master – he will tell us what to do’.
VLADIMIR PUTIN: If you let me finish my thought you will find out my stance… Where does it all root from? As a rule, an ordinary Russian person had nothing to own and permanently worked for his master. So, what was left over for him was a blessing, and he knew that they could snatch away everything. It all takes roots from the times of serfdom.
We cannot say that there was no responsibility for the country. There could have been no proper attitude to current affairs, business and property. It had not been formed just like in the countries with the developed market system, when a person is aware that he must struggle for his own wealth and for his family’s. Our set of mind and mentality are hinging on community life. This is good and not so good at the same time. It is good because there is a sense of community. It is not so good because there is no individual responsibility. But saying that a Russian is not valuing… Or what did Berdyaev say exactly?
ANDREI VANDENKO: “…is not used to feeling himself responsible for Russia.”
VLADIMIR PUTIN: I would say that I personally feel responsible. All depends on a person on the whole. The simpler the person is, the more responsibility he has for his Motherland.
ANDREI VANDENKO: I am talking about big-shot bosses, who are used to, you know, to…
VLADIMIR PUTIN: Berdyaev was not talking about bosses – he was talking about a typical Russian man.
ANDREI VANDENKO: It is just simpler when there is only one person to make all decisions, while others are implementing them.
VLADIMIR PUTIN: Perhaps this is so, but you have quoted Berdyaev, and I may even allow myself some impudence and argue with the classic. I will repeat it again, that the simpler the person is, the closer he is to his roots, the more responsibility he holds for his Motherland. I will also explain why. He has no other Motherland, he is not going to either board a plane, train or mount a horse to take a leave or buzz off from here. He knows that he will be living here on this land, his children, grandchildren and grand-grandchildren will be living here as well. He must take care of them. If he does not take care of them then nobody will. This is the foundation of the nationhood and patriotism of an ordinary Russian person, as well as of a person of any other nationality living here. We know well who initiated the people’s militia in 1612: an ethnic Tatar gathered people, gave away all his money on the militia and became a saviour of Moscow and Russia. “The strength is all about unification!” – and this kind of personal patriotism of an ordinary Russian is very strong.
ANDREI VANDENKO: You are speaking about an ordinary person, therefore you are separating the elite.
VLADIMIR PUTIN: No, not at all. I said that an ordinary person has it more, but in general this is the common mentality of all Russian people. Yes, those who have billions feel themselves as global citizens. They feel more freely, particularly if their money is on offshore banking accounts. They have gone abroad and stay there, feeling good…
ANDREI VANDENKO: Is this bad?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: I think this is bad. This is certainly bad. A man cutting off his roots eventually regrets it. There is nothing more near-and-dear than your native land, friends, relatives and the culture, in which one was raised.
ANDREI VANDENKO: The world has no borders now.
VLADIMIR PUTIN: It has always been without borders. Was it different in the times of Lermontov or, for example, Pushkin? Just pack your bags and go. People went to spa resorts in Europe, travelled by sea to America. This is what we see today again. On the whole, nothing has changed much. There was a relatively short period of time in history, when the world was isolated with borders.
ANDREI VANDENKO: Are we trying now to set up new ‘curtains’?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: No, not us – and we will not. We realize the fatality of the ‘iron curtain’ for us. There were periods in the history of other countries, which tried to isolate themselves from the rest of the world and paid very dearly for that, practically by degradation and collapse. Undoubtedly, we are not taking this path. And nobody is going to build a wall around us. It is impossible!
* * *
ANDREI VANDENKO: Have you been thinking about what comes afterwards?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: Afterwards after what?
ANDREI VANDENKO: Once you are summoned before the Creator to give an account of your actions.
VLADIMIR PUTIN: You know if one gets there, there is only one phrase that is appropriate to say, “Glory to you, O Lord!” What else?
ANDREI VANDENKO: Is the president’s chair forever with you?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: No. This is not good and it is detrimental for the country and I do not need it as either. There are terms set forth in the Russian Constitution. I believe it is important to observe requirements stipulated by our fundamental law. We will see what the situation will be like, but in any case the term of my work is restricted by the Constitution.
ANDREI VANDENKO: But the Constitution allows re-election in 2018.
VLADIMIR PUTIN: Yes, it indeed allows but it does not mean that I will make such decision. I will proceed from the general situation, the inner perception and my personal feelings. Isn’t it too early to think about it right now? We are still in the year of 2014, and you are talking of 2018. There’s a lot of time ahead and a lot can change…
ANDREI VANDENKO: Do you have any secret desires?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: No. You see I am in such position that there are no secret…
ANDREI VANDENKO: You mean you are that much fed up with all of this?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: No, this is not the case. I proceed from the present-day realities and mid-term perspectives. There is no sense for me…
ANDREI VANDENKO: To stare beyond the horizon?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: …to clutch at anything. You must understand there is no sense at all.
ANDREI VANDENKO: You already have everything one may dream of?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: I have everything in terms of serving my Motherland. I know that I have sincerely served and keep serving, and I do everything possible to realize myself in this. But I repeat that clutching at something is counterproductive, detrimental and in no way interesting. There is the Constitution and it is necessary to act and live within its framework. Yes, there is a possibility of my nomination for a new term. But I don’t know for the moment if it will be realized.