TRANSCRIPT: [Putin at] Meeting with heads of international news agencies

Vladimir Putin file photo with VOA logo; screen shot from video still

(Kremlin.ru – June 17, 2016)

Vladimir Putin had a meeting with heads of leading international news agencies.

The meeting was attended by representatives of news agencies from France, Spain, the United States, Great Britain, Canada, Germany, China, Japan, India and Italy.

President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen,

I have delivered so many speeches today that I think I will skip any introductory remarks, as you have likely attended some of the events here and have already heard a great deal. There is no point in repeating things. If I have missed something and you have questions or want me to give additional comments or information, it will be my pleasure.

I just want to say that I’m happy to see so many of you here representing so many international news agencies. I will not mention how many publications are based on your news feeds every day, you know that better than myself. The importance of your work does not need spelling out. I hope you will continue to try to be as unbiased as possible in your Russia reporting.

That is all for the introduction. I will now answer your questions. Please, go ahead.

TASS Director General Sergei Mikhailov: Mr President, first of all, congratulations on the forum’s success. We all are certainly very impressed by your remarks and the remarks of your colleagues.

Thank you for allowing time in your very tight schedule to meet with the world’s major news agencies for the third year in a row. I believe about 90 percent of global information distribution is present.

As these meetings have already become a tradition, we have our conventions, one being that we give the floor to a woman first. We have only one woman at this table today, and I am happy to pass the floor to Alessandra Galloni, Global News Editor at Thomson Reuters. Please.

Alessandra Galloni: Thank you very much, and also thank you, I think, on behalf of all of us for hosting us after a busy day. Now we understand why there is lemon tea for the throat.

Today we are at the St Petersburg International Economic Forum, and today in your speech, you spoke about the effect of sanctions on Russia and on Europe. I would like to ask you a question on Russian economy. Recent figures show that capital investment by Russian companies in Russia fell 5 percent year-on-year in the first quarter and have been falling at least for the last eighteen months. This would seemingly have little to do with falling oil prices, and would suggest that Russian companies are not willing to invest in their own country. Does that not point to some structural problems that need to be tackled, and if so, how do you plan to tackle them? Thank you.

Vladimir Putin: Both. This does have something to do with oil prices because revenue from the oil industry and the energy industry in general are declining as a result of slumping oil prices, while substantial investment in recent years has been in oil, gas, energy and the related infrastructure. Therefore, there is a direct connection, no doubt.

Look at the investment programmes of our major energy companies. Do you think they can invest in expanding production as much as they planned before, now that demand is lower? This is why investment is decreasing. Certainly, this situation affects a country that is so dependent on the energy sector. Although you are correct in saying that this is not the only reason.

One of the key tasks of our economic policy is to diversify our economy. This has been on the agenda for years. I cannot say that we have been very successful, but we are getting there.

There is a Russian saying: if it were not for bad luck, there would be no luck at all. What do I mean by that? When revenue from the energy sector is declining, companies start looking for better opportunities to use capital in other areas – and they find them, much to our relief. Our job is to support this approach. We have and we will continue to create the most favourable conditions for a diversified economy, as I said.

Of course, we have seen some decline in investment, for the reasons I stated. This is not just a result of companies wishing or not wishing to invest. When an industry that used to be profitable is suddenly less so, they would rather not invest. I already said that. However, obviously, we need to create conditions for investment in other areas. Our focus now is on attracting more investment, both domestic and foreign.

Look, capital outflow has declined dramatically. I am not sure if I mentioned this today, but in my opinion, it did slow down to a trickle. It is about one-ninth of what it was – I would not want to mislead you, so you need to look up the figures. Please look them up to get the numbers straight. What does this mean? It means that the money remains in Russia because it has become more attractive here.

However, there are formal indicators as well. What do they say about further diversification? It is still slow, not as fast as we would like, but still: our exports decreased in absolute numbers, including equipment and technology products, but they have grown in terms of percentage. I mean the overall volume went down, but the export structure has improved, we have been seeing this trend for a few months.

By the way, we had projected a small recession at the end of this year, but we are actually seeing growth, 0.6 percent in the manufacturing industries, and 2.2 percent in agriculture, about 0.5 percent on average. Therefore, we have had some success, but we intend to continue to move along, toward further diversification and a greater inflow of investment.

We have developed a set of tools for this, including, for example, what we call priority development areas, as well as certain incentives and benefits relating to specific projects we consider a priority – primarily high-tech projects – an entire range of government policies we have prepared and backed with the appropriate resources. These policies stimulate the manufacture of high-tech products in Russia, but they also encourage domestic companies to research foreign markets and ensure that the products they make are competitive. We need to commercialise our scientific discoveries, the work of our technical researchers, primarily in the applied sciences.

Yet, when attracting foreign investment, like many countries, we insist on using as many local resources as possible. I have met with leading global manufacturers, our partners, today. We agreed, for example, that in one sector, as much as 70 percent of the product components would be manufactured domestically. Our partners generally agree with this, which indicates that this is adequately lucrative. So these are the projects we will tend to select, this is what we will focus on.

Sergei Mikhailov: Mr President, I am pleased to introduce and welcome to this conversation our good friend, Mr Gary Pruitt, the President and CEO of the Associated Press. This is the first time Gary has attended SPIEF. It is also his first time in St Petersburg. Last year, Gary made a very important proposal on behalf of the media community to establish a new international legal convention for protecting journalists, which would equate the murder and kidnapping of journalists to war crimes. The Associated Press is the oldest news agency, marking 170 years this year. Please, Gary.

Gary Pruitt: Thank you Sergei. Thank you very much for giving us this time to meet with the world’s leading news agencies and congratulations on the successful forum. Today, after you spoke, the IAAF upheld the ban on Russian track and field athletes participating in the Rio Olympics. I was wondering what your reaction to that decision is and do you think Russia is being treated fairly or unfairly?

Vladimir Putin: I spoke about this here at the forum. Of course, this is unfair.

There are commonly recognised rules of law, one of which states that liability must be personalised. If a member of your family commits a violation, is it fair to hold the entire family accountable, including yourself? This practice does not exist.

People who have nothing to do with a violation should not suffer for others. This is beyond civilised behaviour. The doping issue is outrageous and we do what we can to prevent it and hold the guilty parties responsible. However, clean athletes should not suffer. This is completely beyond my comprehension.

I hope we can find a solution to this problem but it does not mean we are going to take offence and say that we will not do anything about doping. On the contrary, we will take tougher measures against doping. I have said this and there was a statement from our law enforcement agencies. The Prosecutor General’s Office and the Investigative Committee are looking into the media reports on this issue. We will thoroughly investigate all the allegations.

Let us go back to this infamous meldonium, which I had not even heard of before, although it was invented in the Soviet Union, specifically, in Latvia. What is doping? According to the World Anti-Doping Agency, doping is any substance that gives you an advantage in competition. Meldonium does not give any advantage. It only helps maintain the cardiac muscle during strenuous physical activity. It had never been considered doping and had been used without any consequences for years. It was also very well known that meldonium was invented in the former Soviet Union and was used almost exclusively by Eastern European athletes. This was a commonly known fact. But no, they had to single out this drug.

There had never been any clinical research on its washout period. First, it was claimed that meldonium is expelled over two weeks, then one month. Then suddenly, it is claimed the drug can remain in the system for six months. Nobody knows yet.

I believe the decisions regarding this were premature. Only after clinical research can you say that if meldoinium was detected after a certain period then the athlete is guilty. How can you claim that if you do not know its washout period? Everybody can make a mistake and our partners may have, too.

As far as today’s decision is concerned, over the past six months, our athletes have been tested by foreign doping officers. The samples were examined at foreign labs. Do they not trust them? If I am correct, the tests were conducted by UK Anti-Doping. We agreed to that as it was recommended by WADA. For the last six months, our athletes were tested by foreign experts and each time the samples were taken for evaluation. My question is: who is supposed to take samples so that everybody trusts the results? We can ask our Chinese colleagues to do that. We do not mind. We agreed to cooperate with international organisations and our foreign partners. We agreed to all their terms. We never argued about it.

Let me finish my answer with what I said in the beginning. Responsibility must be personalised. Those who have nothing to do with a violation should not suffer. Therefore, I expect that we will have an opportunity to discuss this issue with the anti-doping agency again. I also hope for an appropriate response from the International Olympic Committee.

That is it, I believe.

Sergei Mikhailov: Italy is the honorary guest of this year’s forum. We heard Matteo Renzi speak at the plenary session. Now, I am pleased to pass the microphone to CEO and Managing Director of the leading Italian news agency ANSA, Giuseppe Cerbone. At our media session today, we discussed when artificial intelligence might finally replace human journalists and robots would do the writing. Giuseppe is engaged in this area professionally and holds a degree in artificial intellect development. Go ahead, please, Giuseppe.

Giuseppe Cerbone: Thank you Mr President for this yearly appointment and thank you to Sergei for his kind words and for inviting us, every year. The young St. Petersburg Economic Forum which today is the 20th birthday of the forum and in which Italy, as Sergei said, is participating as a guest of honour thanks to the good relationship, looks like a new beginning of good traditional relations that exist between Moscow and Rome. To this end, Russia and Italy have both declared a strong interest in the southern gas pipeline. Is this, Mr President, a way to find the balance in light of the completion of the northern pipeline, Nord Stream 2 project, or Russia has a new long-term strategic interest in the furniture in the Mediterranean given that this project has had alternative fortunes in years? Thank you very much Mr President.

Vladimir Putin: I have to remind you how the South Stream project to transport gas under the Black Sea to Bulgaria started.

We in Russia believed that access to the EU from the south would diversify energy shipment to Europe. However, before that, the European Parliament had adopted a decision dismissing this route as inconsistent with the interests of the EU, and the European Commission had sent a letter to the Government of Bulgaria, confirming the European Parliament’s decision and demanding that the Bulgarian government stop all preparatory work. The Bulgarian government complied.

Look, how could we even start laying a pipeline system in the sea, how could we spend 9 billion euros just to have all this metal sink into the sea, without having secured the right to enter Bulgarian territory? But of course, as soon as we realised what was happening, we shut down any further work. We did not abandon the project, we were stopped from implementing it.

Then the international consortium proposed continuing the Nord Stream project and building a second line, Nord Stream 2. I must say that it is not an alternative to South Stream and in this sense, they are not competing, because Nord Stream is designed to compensate for declining production in Northern Europe and to meet growing demand in the northern and central European economies, including Germany.

Furthermore, we need to bear in mind that Germany has announced publicly that it is phasing out nuclear power. If I remember correctly, nuclear energy accounts for 34 percent of power generation in Germany. What will replace it? No matter how attractive wind turbines and solar energy are, they will not be enough, and they are too expensive today.

I understand the German leadership’s concerns over its energy future. The weakening of the German and European economies and the loss of competitiveness will not benefit the global economy either. However, one should consider this well in advance.

But this is not a Russian-German project alone. It also involves our French and Dutch partners, and Britain has shown interest too. I do not know what decisions were made, but I know that some time ago experts discussed – I do not follow it too closely – the possibility of a branch-off to the UK. Resources are dwindling and needs are growing. How can they be met?

There is always shale gas from the US of course. However, think about it, first it needs to be produced, God knows how – it is a complicated process, and the cost of production is higher than the extraction costs in Siberia and Yamal. Then it needs to be liquefied, transported across the ocean, regasified and then delivered to the consumer. Funny, I do not know if it will be competitive in Europe. If it is – good, it will revive the market, and we are not worried about it.

Therefore, first of all, we do not think of Nord Stream 2 as an alternative to South Stream. Second, this is a purely commercial project; the government is not directly involved. Third, the shareholders agreed on a second Nord Stream line at the start of Nord Stream 1. So having completed the first part of the project, and having done this well and efficiently, they moved on to the second part, which, I repeat, had been agreed on earlier.

Of course, it is unfortunate that we were prevented from completing South Stream. But today I asked our colleagues: why didn’t you fight for this project before? Couldn’t the countries that were interested in it, particularly Bulgaria, have said anything? They could have appealed to the European Parliament, met with the parliamentarians to explain how important the project is for their countries and have an open debate. I am not saying that they should have been aggressive, but they could have explained things. They could have appealed to the European Commission. However, everybody kept their mouths shut. All we heard was Russia did this and Russia did that as if Russia was plotting another conspiracy.

A good friend of mine from Germany told me: we had this flood in Bavaria and I got the impression they could blame you for the flood, too. This cannot continue forever. They stopped us, we suspended the project. Now they say, oh, the project failed, how so? Well, where were you when this happened?

regarding our interest in Mediterranean projects, it is still there. As you know, Gazprom signed a memorandum with an Italian company and a Greek one to look for cooperation options. We are considering this opportunity as well.

We have also not completely given up on transit via Ukraine. The question is how much and where it will run. Recent experience has shown that a monopoly is not a great idea. When somebody holds a monopoly over something, it is immediately abused. If Ukraine comes to understand that it does not have exclusive rights to shipping Russian energy to Europe, certain officials in this country will not be blackmailed anymore and we will be able to cooperate in a normal businesslike manner.

In this regard, I would like to emphasise that, in general, we may still consider involvement in Ukraine’s gas transit system. We suggested that ourselves at the time. Moreover, there is a memorandum signed by President Kuchma, Chancellor Schroeder and myself. We suggested establishing an international consortium involving our European partners. In order to comply with Ukrainian law, we proposed leasing the Ukrainian gas transit system through an international consortium instead of buying it, committing also to the maintenance and improvements. The memorandum was signed but then discarded. Then the crises of 2008 and 2009 followed. As you may recall, it came down to their demand that we drop the price to the lowest rate and offer Ukraine a non-market rate, or they will shut down transit. They will just cut it off.

We must secure ourselves against issues like this and continue normal cooperation with Ukraine. By the way, if our Ukrainian partners offer us an economically feasible project today that would guarantee secure supplies and economic efficiency we would work with them.

As a matter of fact, despite our difficulties, we did not suspend distribution to Turkey for a day. Blue Stream is in full operation between the two shores of the Black Sea and the supplies are running smoothly along the on-shore leg. This is how we will keep working. We will continue pursuing attractive opportunities, mainly based on economic parameters.

Sergei Mikhailov: Mr President, you are soon to visit China. Today, we have here Mr Liu Siyang, Vice President of the Xinhua News Agency. This year marks Xinhua’s 85th anniversary, as well as the 80th anniversary of cooperation between TASS and Xinhua. It is a year of anniversaries, actually.

Mr Liu Siyang, you are welcome.

Liu Siyang (retranslated): Mr President,

You have just mentioned that the Russian economy’s growth is 0.5 percent. Actually, many countries are experiencing difficulties with economic growth. We also believe that the general economic recession at the global level can only be tackled through joint, collective efforts. This forum has focused on seeking solutions to the current situation in the global economy.

How would you describe Russian-Chinese cooperation in science and technology, in innovation?

Vladimir Putin: I have just spoken about this to your colleague, we thoroughly discussed it, but I will say it again.

We highly value the level of our cooperation. It should be noted that both Russia and China need new technologies. However, we can complement each other in this regard. The scientific and technical groundwork for fundamental science with prospects for further application in Russia is rather extensive.

We discuss cooperation in various areas with our Chinese partners, including nuclear power, missile technology and aviation, with further prospects in both civil and military applications. We have a high level of trust with China in this area, and we will continue to cooperate.

What pleased me, as I have just mentioned, is the fact that for many years, we have been speaking of the need to change the structure of our exports to China, and now I am pleased to note that despite a slight decrease in the overall export volume, Russia’s exports of machine and technical products to China have increased considerably. This is a very positive fact that indicates that we have a great opportunity for growth in these areas.

Speaking of cooperation in science, we consider it a priority and expect to turn it into high technology production. Again, there is nothing new here: we are perfectly aware that within the next decade drastic transformations based on the latest scientific and technical achievements will take place in production.

You know well about the production process and how it has always been. As Michelangelo and Rodin said, to produce a work of art one has to choose a block of marble and chip away at whatever is not needed. Then, there is stamping – a method of production that is similar but more technical. And now we have “cloud” technology, which is quite similar, but with even less material waste. The transformation in production will be massive, there will be a real revolution in this field.

Today, we have discussed transportation methods, and our colleague from the United States mentioned the introduction of tube train technology, with speeds of up to 1,000-plus km per hour.

This will be a new chapter, a new life, new spheres of application, with a vast number of inefficient jobs being eliminated. People will have to be provided with jobs – and this is what we should work on with China today, and this is what we will set our minds to.

Sergei Mikhailov: Mr President, let us go back to Europe now and give the floor to our friend and a regular participant in our meetings, Mr Clive Marshall, Chief Executive of PA Group, parent company of the Press Association, the UK’s leading multimedia news agency. Mr Marshall is well known in our media world. He is also President of the European Alliance of News Agencies (EANA) where Russia is represented by TASS, and on May 23, he was elected President of the News Agencies World Congress.

Vladimir Putin: Listening to you I get the impression that all we have is friends. Where do all the questionable articles in the Western media come from, I wonder.

Sergei Mikhailov: Well, this is the way it works in the media world.

Mr Marshall, welcome.

Clive Marshall: Mr President, in six days’ time the British people will vote on whether to remain or leave the European Union in a referendum that the British Prime Minister David Cameron has described as one of the biggest decisions this country will face in our lifetime. President Obama and Chinese President Xi have both publicly supported Britain remaining in the European Union. The British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond has said that Russia is the only world power that would welcome a British exit from the European Union. Mr President, what is the Russian position on Brexit and your advice to the British voters? And if the UK does decide to leave the EU how will that affect its relationship with Russia and Britain’s position on the world stage?

Vladimir Putin: I think I mentioned our “guilt” in the floods in Europe. I think this is another such joke. Actually, I think it is indecent to mention Russia when speaking of any issue, even those we have nothing to do with, to make our country out to be some kind of scarecrow. This not what intelligent people would do, I think.

As for the British Prime Minister: Brexit is now a very big issue, but why did he initiate this referendum, why did he do it? To intimidate Europe, or to threaten someone? What is the point of this if he himself opposes the idea?

I should say that this is absolutely none of our business. This is the choice of the British people. I have my own opinion on it, I do not know the results and no one does until they are made public, sentiments are split about 50/50 with a narrow margin. Who knows at this point? Nobody.

I do have a personal view as to whether this is good or not, but I will refrain from expressing it now because I think it would be inappropriate. Whatever I say will be interpreted in favour of a certain decision. This referendum is a matter for the EU and the British people.

Various experts have given different opinions as to whether the UK’s withdrawal from the EU will do good or harm. Most of them agree that it will damage Europe, but some say that Europe will only get stronger and more stable.

For the UK itself… You have fishermen running fishing boats on the Thames and saying they have issues due to fishing restrictions. Yes, they have their problems, but there are advantages in other sectors. It is not easy to consider all the implications.

It is important that the voters receive objective information to make their own decision being fully aware of the consequences – both negative and, possibly, positive as well. This is all I want to say and have the right to say on the matter.

Sergei Mikhailov: Let us now go back to the American continent. Malcolm Kirk has been representing Canadian Press, Canada’s national news agency, for three years at our meetings. On September 1, the agency will celebrate its 100th anniversary, and I hope that being a huge fan of hockey Mr Kirk will use this centenary as an opportunity to play hockey, and maybe you would even invite him to play in the Night Hockey League.

Vladimir Putin: With pleasure, but only if he plays on my team, since Canadians are so good at ice hockey.

Malcolm Kirk:Thank you. We look forward to welcoming Russia and other countries to Toronto and to Canada later this summer for the World Cup of Hockey so it should be a great event. I’ve seen a few of your hockey moves. You know how to score a few goals, Mr President. So your stats are pretty good. Thank you again for inviting us to this meeting with you. It is a privilege and we certainly appreciate the opportunity to spend some time with you. I am going to ask you: there are some reports that Canada is under pressure from the United States to join Britain, Germany and the US in the NATO initiative that would see four troop battalions stationed in Poland and other Baltic states. These countries may feel this is perhaps an act of deterrence in the event that Russia was to perhaps invade their territory. How would you view Canada’s participation in NATO plans should the Canadian government make the decision to do so? And I guess generally how would you characterise Russia’s relations with Canada now that we have a new government? Thank you.

Vladimir Putin: Let me start with the last part of your question. Since the new Prime Minister took office in Canada, there has been a chance that relations between Russia and Canada could improve. This is what the Prime Minister told me in person at the G20 Summit in Antalya. He said he wanted to think of ways to fully restore our relations. We welcome initiatives of this kind and are ready to combine our efforts in delivering on this objective. We will work together, but there are specific steps that should be taken by both sides before we get there.

As for the missile defence system, look, people in this audience are all adults and are very experienced. I am not asking you to mirror everything I am about to say word for word in your coverage or to influence press coverage. I just want to tell you something in person, and remind you of some things. After all, the world is free of large-scale wars or military conflict, and we all know that. This is due to the so-called strategic balance that emerged when two nuclear super powers agreed to limit their offensive and missile-defence arsenals. Everyone understands that if one side is more successful in developing its missile defence than the other, it gains an edge and has the temptation to be the first to use these weapons. It is for this reason that missile defence and agreements in this regard are one of the cornerstones of international security.

It is not at all my intention to berate or accuse anyone of anything, but when our US partners unilaterally withdrew [from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty], this was a major blow. In fact, this was the first blow to international stability in terms of upsetting the strategic balance of power. I said back then, “We are currently unable to develop this technology due to the high costs, and secondly, it has yet to be seen how it will work. Instead of simply siphoning off money, we will go the other way by improving Russia’s offensive weapons in order to maintain the balance. This was the only purpose, and it had nothing to do with threatening anyone.” Here is what we heard in response: “It is true that our missile defence system is not intended to oppose Russia, and we assume that what you do is not against us, so you may do as you please.”

I can explain this by saying, as I did at the plenary session today, that it was the early 2000s when Russia was in a very complicated situation, with a ruined economy, an actual civil war and the fight against terrorism in the Caucasus, the defence industry collapsing and the Armed Forces dramatically weakened. Who could imagine then that Russia would build up its strategic weapons? They probably thought that the weapons Russia inherited from the Soviet Union would eventually become degraded. And so they told us to go ahead and do what we wanted. However, we informed them about our plans, which we are implementing. Trust me: Russia has moved a long way on this path. I will not read out the entire list, but I can tell you that we have modernised our weapons and are creating new-generation systems, not to mention the weapons that are designed to penetrate ballistic missile defence systems.

Despite all our objections and offers of real cooperation, our partners do not want to cooperate with us; they have rejected all of our proposals and are working to their own plans. I believe it inappropriate to say certain things in public, but I can assure you, and you can choose to believe me or not, that we offered practical cooperation alternatives that were rejected.

Eventually, they built a BMD system in Romania. They kept saying that they were doing this to protect themselves against an Iranian nuclear threat. But where is this threat now? It does not exist. We have signed a treaty with Iran, and it was the United States that initiated it. We did our best, helping as much as we could, but the treaty was only made possible through the position of the US. This success should be credited to President Obama. I believe it is a good treaty, which has eased tensions around Iran, and President Obama should definitely give himself the credit for this.

Anyway, there is no Iranian threat, but the BMD system is being built nevertheless. This might mean that we were right when we suspected our partners of being insincere, of deceiving us with references to an alleged Iranian nuclear threat. Yes, this is how it was; they attempted to cheat us again.

They have built this system and are now delivering missiles there. You probably know that the launch systems of the Tomahawk sea-launched intermediate-range missiles will be used to launch anti-missiles with an effective range of 500 kilometres. However, technology does not stand still, and we know more or less precisely when the Americans will create a new missile that will have a range of 1,000 kilometres or more. From that time on, they will be a threat to our nuclear arsenals.

We know what will happen and in which year, and they know we know it. They are just throwing dust in our eyes, as the saying goes, and you in turn are throwing dust in the eyes of your people. What bothers me is that people are not aware of the danger. We fail to understand that we are dragging the world into a completely new dimension. This is what this is all about. They are pretending as if nothing is going on. I do not even know how to put my message across.

We are being told that this is part of a defensive, not offensive, capability, that these systems are intended to ensure defence against aggression. This is not true. This is not the way things are. A strategic missile defence system is part of an offensive strategic capability, and is tightly linked to offensive missile strike systems. Some high-precision weapons are used to carry out a pre-emptive strike, while others serve as a shield against a retaliatory strike, and still others carry out nuclear strikes. All these objectives are related, and go hand in hand with the use of high-precision conventional weapons.

All right, even if we put aside the interceptor missiles that will be developed in the future, increasingly threatening Russia, but the launch tubes where these missiles are stored, as I said, are the same that are used on navy ships to carry Tomahawk missiles. You can replace interceptor missiles with Tomahawks in a matter of hours and these tubes will no longer be used to intercept missiles. How do we know what is inside them? All they need is to change the software. This can be done seamlessly; even the Romanians would not know what is going on, since they cannot access these facilities, right? No one will know, neither the Romanians, nor the Poles. I know how this is done. In my opinion, this is a major threat.

When we discussed this with our US partners, they had the idea of creating nonnuclear ballistic missiles. We said, “Listen, do you understand what this would be? Imagine that you fire a submarine-launch or land-based missile. A ballistic missile is launched. How do we know whether it is carrying a nuclear warhead or not? Do you understand the kind of threat this would create?” As far as we know, this programme is currently suspended. They have stopped it for now. However, they are still working on it.

I do not know where this will take us. However, Russia will definitely have to retaliate. I know already that we will be accused of acting aggressively, even though all we do is respond. It is clear that we will have to ensure security, and not just in Russia, since ensuring the strategic balance of power globally is a matter of great importance for us.

I would like to conclude my answer with what I started with: it is the strategic balance that ensured and guaranteed peace on the planet, sparing us from major military conflict over the last 70 years. This should be viewed as good, even though it is based on mutual threat. However, this mutual threat brought about global peace for decades. I do not know how anyone could want to destroy it. I believe that this would be very dangerous. Not only do I believe it, I am certain of it.

If Canada wants to join, go ahead, what can we say? We cannot order you. Do as you please, and we will do as we deem necessary in terms of ensuring our security.

Sergei Mikhailov: Thank you, Mr President.

Spain’s biggest news agency, EFE, headed by Mr José Antonio Vera, is the Spanish-speaking world’s biggest information agency. Mr Vera took over as the head of EFE not so long ago, in 2012, and one of the main professional issues he has been focusing on is terrorism, which is also a subject very close to our own hearts, a sensitive issue for all of us.

Mr Vera, you have the floor.

Jose Antonio Vera: Thank you very much, Mr President, for the invitation and for the opportunity. You know that this week we have in Spain a repetition of annual votation, political elections. You know too that we have a new party, Podemos. The name is Podemos. You know that it has some special allies and friends like for example Alexis Tsipras in Greece. Would you like that Podemos get the power in Spain? How do you see the next election in Spain? And in the same sense, another short question, please: who would you prefer to see as the president of the United States, Hillary Clinton or Mr Trump?

Vladimir Putin: I already gave a detailed account of my views on Mr Trump and Ms Clinton today. Should I repeat now what I said earlier? Please refer to what I said at the panel discussion earlier.

We will work with whoever is elected president. It is regrettable to see that the Russian card gets played the way it does during nearly every US election campaign, and I think that this is very counterproductive, but no matter what the campaign rhetoric, we will look not at the words, but at the deeds of whoever takes office in the White House, and we will look for ways to normalise relations of course, and set our cooperation in the economy and international security back on track.

There are many issues that we can resolve effectively only by working together. This includes the issue to which you devote your professional efforts, as Sergei said, the fight against terrorism. However, we will judge by concrete action.

As for the election campaign in Spain, this is not our affair. It is no secret, and I mentioned at the discussion earlier that I already said to my European friends 10 years ago that regarding the European model of social development, I do not know if a model that builds society with an emphasis on immigrants’ interests is a liberal model or not. Certainly, it all sounds very attractive, but ultimately, it could end up arousing discontent among the local people. It is better to take a gradual approach and not try to do things in a hurry. You can only take in as many immigrants as the country is able to absorb into its local labour market and help adapt to the local language and cultural traditions.

There are people who have lived in Spain for decades but do not speak Spanish. Is this normal? You are surely aware of these facts. You can let in more and more people who will live 15-odd years in Spain and still not speak the language, but it seems to me that this will sooner or later lead to the kinds of problems we are seeing now. But it is up to you yourselves to respond to this and take decisions on what to do about this issue.

We have no shortage of problems of our own in this area and we ourselves are far from always finding effective solutions, even though we all live within one unified country and have developed together as a multi-ethnic state over a thousand years. Nevertheless, it is not an easy task. Now we have large flows of people coming in from the former Soviet republics, making it even more difficult to resolve the problems that arise.

We feel no malicious joy of any sort observing this situation, and we are not blaming anyone, after all, we ourselves have problems in this area too. However, I believe that your problems are even more serious because the immigrants arriving in your countries are people from a completely different background altogether. This is not the case here, as the people coming here, even from the former Soviet republics, once shared a connection with the common country we used to live in. Most of them speak Russian, not always very well, but they generally know the language, and they share a similar understanding on what constitutes our common values, although there are nonetheless quite a few problems here.

We need to step up our efforts in this area, but you have an even harder task. It is up to you to decide how to go about it. We have no preferences in this respect. As with the US, we will work with whichever party and whichever leaders win the elections.

Unfortunately, I have to get going; otherwise, I will not be able to leave this venue for a number of technical reasons. Perhaps we could take a concluding question?

Sergei Mikhailov: Let us give the floor to our Indian friends. Raj Chengappa, chief editor of India’s biggest media group, India Today, is taking part in our meeting for the first time. He is one of India’s best-known journalists and says that he owes his career to an interview you gave him in 2000. Back then, when the interview was over, you said to him “see you later”. Sixteen years have gone by, and now here he is together with you again.

Vladimir Putin: I kept my word: here we are again, just as agreed.

Sergei Mikhailov: That whole issue of the magazine sold out. Mr Chengappa asked me to show you a photocopy to show that it was all just like I said.

Vladimir Putin: Who is this young man?

Sergei Mikhailov: Mr Chengappa, go ahead with your question.

Raj Chengappa: Thank you Sergei, thank you Mr President. You are still looking as young as ever since I saw you in 2000. My question number one is: India recently applied for membership of the Nuclear Suppliers Group. Russia has always backed India. But China is opposing India’s membership. Will you speak to the Chinese President and persuade him to drop the objections?

The other question is: Prime Minister Modi had a successful visit to the US last week. Is India being on the right side of the US putting it on the wrong side of Russia? How do you see relations between India and Russia? Many say it hasn’t reached its full potential.

And finally, a fitness question: will you be doing yoga on World Yoga Day? Have you tried yoga before? You are extremely fit, I know.

Vladimir Putin: Let me start with your final point. With yoga, I am certainly more of a spectator than a practitioner. I greatly envy those who achieve tangible results here, genuinely envy them. That they can achieve these results says a lot about their character. Sometimes you can hardly believe what you are seeing.

In general, we love Indian culture here. Russia is probably the only country that has a rental channel where you can watch Indian films all the time.

Regarding our relations, they go back a long way, as you know, and we treasure them greatly. We have a very trusting relationship and all of our political forces, and I believe all political forces in India support continued development of our bilateral ties.

We see that the opposition and the parties in power have their differences, they quarrel on occasion, but both support developing relations with Russia. We see this and we value it very much. Let me assure you that the political consensus is the same here in Russia on the subject of developing relations with India.

However, we most certainly need to transform this positive historical and political capital into concrete cooperation projects. Our level of bilateral trade is still too low and really does not at all match our potential.

It is good that we are helping India to develop its civilian nuclear energy programme, but this is not enough; we need to further diversify our relations. We should develop and expand investment flows and projects. It is not enough to limit ourselves to generic medicines in the pharmaceuticals sector, for example. We should build production facilities and develop our own formulas and components in this sector. This is what we should be doing, taking this cooperation to a deeper level. The main thing is that we can do this. We have everything we need. The same applies to a wide range of high-tech sectors. I will not list them all now.

As for our nuclear sector cooperation, Russia’s work with India in this field is entirely within the limits of international law. We think that a country like India with its huge population, considerable economic problems, and the challenges it faces in the energy sector and in national security cannot be put in the same category as other countries. We must work within the framework of international law, but at the same time look for ways to guarantee India’s interests.

Regarding India’s rapprochement with the United States, we think this is a perfectly natural process. I am not sure who is getting closer to who here: India to the US, or is it the US trying to build closer ties with India? At one point, the US imposed sanctions on the current Prime Minister, Mr Modi, and banned him from entering the country, but later they said that bygones should be bygones and after he was elected Prime Minister, they lifted the sanctions. This suggests that the US sometimes make decisions rather spontaneously and without giving consideration to the long-term consequences and results. However, we see now that the US seek to develop relations with India, and we welcome this too.

In general, it would be absurd for us to imagine we could have some kind of exclusive relationship with a vast country like India with its population of more than a billion people. India has its own interests and it has the right to these interests. We are respectful of this. We know that our cooperation involves some very sensitive areas, and in developing our cooperation, including in these sensitive areas, we should take other countries’ interests into account too. Is this possible? I think it is. I believe we can gradually assuage others’ concerns and I am confident that we will succeed in this.

Raj Chengappa: On the Nuclear Suppliers Group, would you speak to the Chinese President to back India’s claim to be a member?

Vladimir Putin: Have I not answered all of your questions yet? You want me to go even deeper? I think we can say that I have answered your questions, all right?

Of course, we must discuss issues such as these. We discuss all issues very openly. Our Chinese friends and we have no secrets from each other. We make it our general rule to always discuss things openly, all cards on the table. I said this already, but if you want to hear it again, I will repeat it now.

Of course, we must take everyone’s concerns into account because if we do not do so in a timely fashion, otherwise we would not solve problems but only create new ones. Can we resolve problems in this way? I think that we can, provided we are careful in our actions and work to reach agreement with each other.

Please, forgive me for not being able to take everyone’s questions, but technical reasons really oblige me to leave this building right now. We have some problems of our own with transportation.

Let me thank you for your attention to our joint work and wish you all success. I am sure we will meet again, at any rate, we will certainly try to make this happen.

Thank you very much.

Sergei Mikhailov: Thank you very much, Mr President.

[featured image is file photo from different occasion]