TRANSCRIPT: The Arctic: Territory of Dialogue international forum. [excerpts re Putin]
(Kremlin.ru – March 30, 2017)
Vladimir Putin is taking part in the filurth international forum The Arctic: Territory of Dialogue.
The forum’s theme this year is People and the Arctic. The participants are discussing ways to improve the quality of life in the Arctic, maintain its unique environmental potential, boost sustainable socioeconomic development of the Arctic regions and strengthen international cooperation for these purposes.
CNBC TV anchor Geoff Cutmore, moderator of the plenary session: Presidents, distinguished guests, friends and those who are joining us on our international television feed, welcome. It is a great pleasure having you here with us today.
My name is Geoff Cutmore, I work for the CNBC network, and I’m delighted to be here to run this plenary panel.
Before I invite the presidents to the stage, I just wanted to make a few observations, and I think they’re obvious to everybody who’s in this room who has any dealings with the Arctic.
The first one is, the Arctic is a pristine wilderness that it is critical for all of us to protect. It is a potential larder, of course, of mineral resources, and economic opportunity. And of course it is also a strategic theatre, with the risk of becoming remilitarised.
Now all of these issues can be managed with cooperation. And of course, cooperation requires communication. Which is why we are all here to participate in this dialogue.
So what I’d like to do now is get started. And I’d like to invite the President of Finland, Sauli Niinistö, the President of Iceland, Gudni Johannesson, and of course, the President of Russia, Vladimir Putin, to come on stage and kick off this event.
President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen, Mr Niinistö, Mr Johannesson,
I wholeheartedly welcome all of you to Russia, to Arkhangelsk.
It is the second time that Arkhangelsk is hosting The Arctic: Territory of Dialogue international forum. This is symbolic, because Arkhangelsk is closely connected with the events and individuals that have opened the polar latitudes to the world.
We will mark one of such “polar” events this year. I am referring to the 85th anniversary of the famous Otto Schmidt expedition, which for the first time covered the route from the port of Arkhangelsk to the Pacific Ocean within one navigation season, launching regular navigation along the coast of Siberia, the legendary Northern Sea Route.
The importance of the Arctic has increased manifold. The attention of many nations is focused on the Arctic as a region whose wellbeing determines the global climate, a treasure trove of unique nature and, of course, a region with a huge economic potential and opportunities.
Preserving the Arctic as a territory of constructive dialogue, development and equal cooperation is a matter of fundamental importance. This forum, whose theme this year is People and the Arctic, has a great role to play in this.
The forum has brought together respected academics, business leaders and politicians and has become a venue for serious professional discussions of the current situation and the future of the Arctic, as we hoped it would. The forum is important for promoting different forms of Arctic partnership. Your expert views and initiatives are also taken into account at the Arctic Council, which has over the past 20 years served as an example of effective international cooperation that continues unabated by external change.
Russia, which accounts for approximately a third of the Arctic zone, is aware of its special responsibility for this territory. We aim to ensure its sustainable development, create a modern infrastructure, develop natural resources, strengthen the industrial potential, improve the quality of life for the indigenous Northern people, maintain their unique culture and traditions and provide government assistance towards these goals.
However, these goals must not be viewed separately from the task of preserving the biological diversity and the fragile ecosystems of the Arctic. It is gratifying that the protection of the Arctic environment is a key priority of international cooperation in this region, including research cooperation. I would like to remind you of one more important date in Arctic history: the 80th anniversary of the Soviet drifting ice station North Pole. Its traditions have been taken up by the Russian drift station Barneo, which is home to researchers from around the world.
Academic cooperation and the exchange of experience and programmes are extremely important, considering the large-scale plans for the development of this region, particularly within large international projects. A recent positive example is the Yamal LNG project, which is being implemented by seven countries.
Russia believes that there is no potential for conflict in the Arctic. International law clearly specifies the rights of littoral and other states and provides a firm foundation for cooperation in addressing various issues, including such sensitive ones as the delimitation of the continental shelf in the Arctic Ocean and the prevention of unregulated high seas fishing in the Central Arctic Ocean, which is surrounded by the exclusive economic zones of the United States, Canada, Denmark, Norway and Russia.
I would like to reiterate that Russia is open to constructive cooperation and does its utmost to create a proper environment for its effective development. We have drafted a fairly extensive economic programme for the Arctic designed for many years to come. It already includes over 150 projects with investments estimated at trillions of rubles. First, we will support the initiatives that have a multiplier effect for the Arctic regions and our country in general, including public-private partnerships and what is known as core development areas, which we treat not just as territories, but primarily as a set of coordinated and complementary projects, as well as state support tools.
These and many other activities will be included in the revised state programme for the development of the Russian Arctic. In particular, it deals with forming a block of modern research and technological solutions designed specifically for the harsh Arctic conditions, improving the environmental monitoring system and developing offshore deposits. We pay special attention to the Northern Sea Route, which I mentioned earlier in my remarks.
Changes in the ice situation and the availability of new up-to-date vessels makes it an almost year-round artery, at least, it will become one in the near future. It will be an effective and reliable transport corridor with great potential for the Russian and global economies. I have already instructed the Government to work through the issues of creating a separate entity, which will be in charge of the integrated development of the Northern Sea Route and contiguous core areas, including infrastructure, hydrography, security, management, and all associated services.
We invite our foreign colleagues to make active use of the opportunities offered by the Northern Sea Route, which will cut transportation costs and delivery time for goods between Europe and Asia. However, we are well aware that for that corridor to be competitive, all-purpose, and usable by carriers of all types of goods ranging from bulk cargo to containerised freight, transport companies must enjoy the most favourable terms that meet the latest international standards.
In closing, I would like to thank all the participants for their participation in the constructive discussion of the Arctic issues, and their passion with regard to its future.
Special thanks go to my colleagues – the President of Finland and the President of Iceland – who took the time out of their busy schedules and attended today’s forum in person. Such a broad and authoritative international representation is a good sign of the political will of the Arctic and other states to preserve the Arctic as a territory of peace, stability and mutually beneficial cooperation.
Geoff Cutmore: Before I invite the President of Iceland, I just wanted to pick up on that last point. Would you be keen to invite both President Putin and President Trump to a leaders’ meeting immediately you take up the chair of the Arctic Council?
Sauli Niinistö: Surely, we would be very pleased to have the possibility of hosting such a summit. But to host a summit, you have to have also something to say out of that summit. And we want to, surely, see how the situation is going on, how the discussions are going on, whether we find some new common points of view, and then, surely, we would be very proud to have such a summit.
Geoff Cutmore: And President Putin, if Finland did set up such a summit, which would come obviously several months ahead of the potential July G20 meeting with the US President, would you be very happy to meet with President Trump at the Arctic Council?
Vladimir Putin: Finland is our very good neighbour and it has very good experience in organising such important events. The Helsinki process, as you know, began in Helsinki, where very important documents were signed. In this respect, I believe Finland is a very appropriate country and Helsinki is a very appropriate venue for such events.
However, the President of Finland has just said that such events should be well prepared, and prepared by both sides. If this happens, we will be pleased to participate and I will be pleased to take part in such an event. If not, then such a meeting can take place within the framework of our usual meetings of this kind, like the G-20, I think.
Geoff Cutmore: Thank you very much for the answer….
Geoff Cutmore: Thank you so much.
So what I’d like to do now is have a meaningful conversation about how we make progress on a number of these issues. And I’d like to start, President Putin – if I could just pick up where your speech focused on the 150 projects and the trillions of rubles. One of the challenges, it seems to me at the moment, is the relatively low cost of oil and other minerals. The projects in this part of the world appear to be economically unviable. Does that mean that the pace at which these projects are embarked upon will be relatively slow, and do you see any change in the near-term price outlook for many of these commodities that would make your priorities different?
Vladimir Putin: No, nothing is likely to change our priorities in this region. There are several factors here. First, even now, companies operating in this region account for 10 percent of Russia’s GDP and their share is constantly growing.
Among the essential circumstances are the growing changes and greater efficiency of new technologies. Today we received the first tanker in the newly built port of Sabetta. It is an absolutely new port that was built from scratch in the Arctic zone, in an empty space, so to speak. Until very recently, it would have been impossible to do this with such quality. The ship that entered this port today is all about modern technology. It breaks through ice up to two metres thick like an icebreaker. This is all about new technologies.
The second essential factor that bolsters optimism on our part is climate change. Now President Niinistö spoke about this, and he spoke very convincingly. The period of navigation along the Northern Sean Route has been significantly expanding recently. This goes to show that transport capabilities are improving.
As you may know, yesterday, I visited an extreme northern region, Franz Josef Land, 900 kilometres from the North Pole. Our specialists, our scientists there told me that they are observing the constant melting of the ice and glaciers, and the President of Finland also spoke about this.
This shows that climate change provides more favourable conditions for economic activity in this region. If these trends continue, we can see what will happen. Today, 1.4 million tonnes of goods are shipped along the Northern Sea Route. By 2035, this will be 30 million tonnes. This is growth for you.
As part of Yamal SPG, one of our major projects (which is further evidence that such programmes can be carried out in these latitudes), an absolutely unique new plant has been built. It is nearing completion. In the old days, it was even hard to imagine such things, but it will be up and running by the end of the year. It is as good as finished. It will produce 16.5 million tonnes of liquefied natural gas. The volume of shipments via the Northern Sea Route will immediately quadruple. Importantly, it can work in two directions: towards both Europe and Asia.
All of this goes to show that our plans to develop this region are absolutely viable….
Geoff Cutmore: President Putin, does it then seem odd or challenging at this stage that we now have an American administration that has appointed as the head of the EPA apparently somebody who doesn’t believe in the scientific judgement of how climate change happens. There is no American on the stage here. But how do we address this difficulty when the current US administration appears to be embracing policies that will only increase the ice melt and probably heat up the north even faster?
Vladimir Putin: First of all, thank God, there are Americans here. I can see Ambassador Tefft. Welcome.
Second, you know, what I am going to say now may not be very popular, but I believe President Niinistö said they will comply with all the Paris agreements. Russia is also determined to do so, just as we complied with the Kyoto Protocol.
However, as Sauli [Niinistö] said, [global] warming will continue all the same, and this is definitely the case.
What is the question? Look, as I already said, yesterday I visited Franz Josef Land. There was an Austrian researcher working there, Mr Pyer. Then he left. He described the glaciers there, among other things. About 20 years later, the future king of Italy went there and took some photos and showed them to Mr Pyer. The latter had a photographic memory. In addition, he had drawn maps, the maps of glaciers, and he discovered that during those 20 years the number of glaciers had declined.
In other words, warming had already begun. There were no such man-made factors, such emissions, at that time, but warming had already begun. The question is not how to prevent it. I agree with those who believe that the question is not how to prevent it, because this is impossible. This may have to do with some global cycles on earth or even some planetary cycles.
The question is how to adapt to it. Mr Johannesson spoke about the distribution of fish, where they go, where they appear. Research is necessary. The question is how do mankind and people who live in this region adapt to it.
So the proposals and positions of those who disagree with their opponents, including – I do not even know the name of the gentleman that you referred to… they are not so silly after all. What did he lead in America? May God give him wellbeing and success, but we should all listen to and hear each other, and only then can optimal solutions to these problems be found, and of course they exist.
Geoff Cutmore: Well, Mr President, his name is Scott Pruitt, and he is getting a lot of media coverage at the moment. And you have said that Russia will abide by the Paris accords, but does it not concern you that we don’t hear the same commitment from Washington?
Vladimir Putin: I do not think we should talk about concerns but rather about the need for compromises. I remember that Mr George Bush Jr and I used to have a very good personal relationship. I knew about his position. When he came to power, he was against these actions, including within the framework of the Kyoto Protocols. We eventually reached compromises. I believe that the same will happen now. I would not dramatize anything and would not use these factors, which are of global importance, for political infighting in the United States.
Geoff Cutmore: President Niinistö, given the comments you’ve made, maybe I could ask you the same question. Are you disappointed at this stage that we don’t have a very clear commitment from Washington on the Paris accords?
Sauli Niinistö: Actually, I do agree a lot with what Vladimir said. It’s now very important that we continue discussions and try to, first, understand each other, and then, try to find compromises or solutions. I wouldn’t describe the situation yet as a disaster, with the Paris Agreement.
I’ll take one example, and I’ll come back once again to black carbon. It is due to incomplete burning of fossil materials. How could we get rid of that? It needs investments to renew those plants. And that might very well be a common task: first, to make very close studies, and then, try to build up together. It’s a problem – it’s a problem in Russia, but it’s a problem in the United States and Canada, wherever, probably also in Finland. And if we could find some common means how to invest to renew those plants, that would be a route forward with no damage – it doesn’t hurt anybody’s economic thinking, but it benefits us all.
Something like this, I think, might be a good start to find the common points of view, and maybe, going forward, even with the Paris Agreement.
Vladimir Putin: I think I will permit myself to respond to what Mr Niinistö has said about soot emissions. It will be the third time I will be referring to my yesterday’s trip to the islands, where we inspected glacier ice. This glacier formed hundreds or even thousands or millions of years ago. In one of its layers, we saw soot sediments – you will see it, too, if you go there. This sediment is thousands of years old, it was deposited at a time when there were no plants emitting soot into the atmosphere.
I would like to tell you that several Etna eruptions do more damage than the humankind’s current emissions. We need to carefully analyse this information.
Geoff Cutmore: So let me just follow up and come back to you. How do you make sure that the economic projects that you’ve talked about that will be rolled out over the coming years – how do you ensure that those have minimal environmental impact?
Vladimir Putin: I would like to comment on what my colleague, the President of Iceland, has said about working with the researchers. What guarantees can there be? Only an insurance policy can provide a guarantee, while we must work to find a technological solution and take responsible decisions at the government level.
Russia has a targeted government programme on Arctic development that is focused on preserving biological diversity and protecting the environment, nature and the interests of the indigenous people. We simply need to use modern technology not just to produce mineral resources but also to protect the environment.
I have spoken here about a project we are implementing jointly with seven other countries, Yamal LNG. It aims to produce 16.5 million tonnes of liquefied natural gas a year. Of these seven countries, two are shareholders of the company that is implementing the project, and several other countries are helping us with project management, technology and equipment. Their technology allows us to implement the project without any emissions or wastes, because everything is put to use or removed to the mainland and eliminated in an eco-friendly manner. If we use only such technologies, nothing will threaten the world.
Geoff Cutmore: Clearly what is coming through very obviously is that there needs to be dialogue, and there needs to be continued communication with all parties who are on the Arctic Council. But we know that we are actually at a very low point in relations between Russia and many Western countries, and part of that is to do with Ukraine and Crimea. But I don’t want to go over that territory here. What I do want to say, though, or I’d rather like to ask the question, President Putin, is: how do we build confidence from here when we are at such a low ebb in international relations? Because it seems to me that it’s difficult to get cooperation on issues like the Arctic if in America today, even as we’re speaking, there is a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing as to whether Russia has used disinformation to affect the outcome of the last presidential election.
Vladimir Putin: I knew it would end this way. (Laughter in the hall, applause) Seeing the positive spirit of this discussion on Arctic issues, I really would not like to see this platform taken over by Russian-American bilateral issues, but out of respect for you, Geoff, and out of respect for your company, CNBC, which no doubt gave you this instruction, I’ve simply no choice but to go along.
First of all, thank you for the fact that in raising this issue, when you spoke of the problem with Ukraine and Crimea, you made a distinction between Ukraine and Crimea. This is right.
Now, as for the substance of your question, we have said before, and I stress again now, that we know and are certain that, as public opinion surveys show, Russia has many friends in the United States.
I want to say first of all that we consider and treat the United States as a great power, with which we want to develop good partnership relations. Everything else is lies, fabrications and provocation in Russia’s regard.
This is all being put to use in the domestic US agenda. What do I mean by this? Particular political forces inside the USA are playing the anti-Russian card in their own interests, in order to bolster and cement their own positions at home.
I mentioned before that the US Ambassador is present here today. He has come to this forum and can meet here with all participants, with Government members, and with representatives of Russia’s big companies. We do not hinder these contacts, but on the contrary, facilitate and encourage them.
But our ambassador in the United States finds his contacts restricted. Any meeting he has is met with criticism and seen as an act of espionage of some kind. What kind of absurdity is this? What is an ambassador’s job if not to meet and maintain contacts with members of the political elite, businesspeople, members of Congress and the Senate, members of the Government and Administration? Why else do we have ambassadors? This is normal diplomatic practice around the world.
People are raising questions about the meetings our businesspeople and bankers have. But US businesspeople come here and meet with people here, including Russian Government members. How else are they supposed to go about their work? Of course there are contacts.
I do not think it is in the American people’s interests to take to absurd levels this situation in our bilateral relations just for the sake of the internal political agenda of the moment. Do we want to break off our relations completely? They are practically at zero as it is, with bilateral trade down to around only $20 billion. Our trade was at $27 billion, which is pitifully low for two countries such as ours, and now it is down to $20 billion. Do we want to break off our diplomatic relations entirely and go back to the 1960s, to the time of the Cuban missile crisis? And where do we go from there?
These people who take this irresponsible line, where are they leading us all, including the American people? I think this is a big mistake, and I certainly hope that at some point, and the sooner the better, this situation will return to normal.
Now, regarding Ukraine, we know that in the USA and some other places, some hold the view that the worse the relations between Russia and Ukraine, the better it is for them, because it weakens Russia and hampers whichever integration processes that would strengthen Russia, including economically. They would rather see Russia too busy with issues on its borders with its neighbours to be able to stick its nose into international issues such as Syria, the Middle East and others. They think this is to their benefit.
This is a mistake. No one benefits from this because if we attempt to restrain whichever country through whatever means, including such dangerous means as regional conflicts, this could lead to disasters on a global scale, even to global conflict. On the contrary, we must strive to resolve all conflicts, and I hope that our American partners will take this road of cooperation. Let me say again that the sooner we resolve these problems, the better.
Regarding the Arctic region, we work together with our American partners in the Arctic Council. As you know, the USA currently heads the council. We worked together with the USA at the expert level to draft a decision that will be adopted soon, in Alaska, I think this is planned. This decision concerns use of joint scientific research in the Arctic region, and I think this is very important.
Strange as it might sound in today’s climate, but we continue our bilateral cooperation on border matters. For example, Russian and US citizens living along the Bering Strait coasts can travel back and forth without visas. Our visa-free regime in this region continues, fortunately. This is a great help to the people living in these areas and means they can maintain contact with the friends and relatives on both sides. This is an excellent base for developing such cooperation in the future.
Finally, there are concrete regional issues in which the USA and Russia both have an interest and want to see resolved. In the Bering Strait region again, for example, shipping has increased rapidly and the USA and Russia therefore both have an interest in ensuring safe shipping in this region. We also need to take action to preserve polar bear populations, for example, and, as the President of Iceland said, organise fishing, catch and use of bio-resources, and so on. This is all in our common interests.
This is not to mention the tremendous opportunities we have in developing production of hydrocarbons and other minerals in the Arctic. We have excellent examples here and are working together with ExxonMobil, as you know, and with other partners on developing this region. This offers huge opportunities for Russia, for the United States, and for the entire world.
I hope very much that we will arrive at this two-way street and will improve our bilateral relations for the good of both peoples and of the entire world.
Geoff Cutmore: So, Mr President, I just want to be very clear about this. You, and the Russian Government never tried to influence the outcome of the US presidential election, and there will be no evidence found.
Vladimir Putin: I think it was [Ronald] Reagan who once said, on the subject of tax, “Read my lips: No”. (Applause)
Geoff Cutmore: So I know President Niinistö is very keen to get in, and I’ll let him come in, but I just want to ask one more question before I move on from this, and please forgive me for this, but I think it’s very important for the international audience to see you answer these questions. So let me just follow up here.
We have seen a very prominent businessman, Oleg Deripaska, offer himself up to the committee, because he feels that things have been said about him that are wrong and inappropriate. I know it would be unprecedented, but would there be any way in which the Russian Government would be prepared to make available people to appear on that committee, or those committees, just to clear up this business?
Vladimir Putin: Look, we hear all these endless and groundless accusations of whatever intervention, and talk about cybersecurity. You know that we long since proposed to draft, together with the Americans, a joint agreement, a joint document – an intergovernmental agreement on cybersecurity. We proposed this, but the Americans refused. Why? Perhaps because it is more convenient for them to be able to accuse us depending on the needs of their domestic political agenda?
As for speeches, whether in the [US] Congress or in the Russian Duma, I know for a fact that we have simply informed our deputies and have repeatedly appealed to Congress and the Senate, inviting them to come to Moscow, or offering to come to Washington, in order to meet, explain, and discuss openly the key issues in our bilateral relations and on the international agenda. But we have had no response.
We made two or three such proposals. Just recently, we made another such proposal, but still no answer. If some Russian businessperson goes there and speaks in Congress, fine, it is his right to speak where he pleases, and we have nothing against this. We had a businessman planning to go, and, as far as I know, he was blocked from entering the United States, on what grounds, I do not know. No one has given any explanation. Let them tell us why. Let him go to the USA and address Congress.
If the law enforcement and intelligence services have genuine grounds for refusing him entry, based on evidence, we would at least understand the motivations for the decision. Anything can happen. Business is a complicated thing and all kinds of violations are possible, but we do not know the situation in this case. If there are charges against him, let them make them known.
I think this would be a good signal and good practice. Let me repeat that we are ready to welcome members of Congress or the Senate here in Moscow, and we would certainly be happy to see our many American friends from the business world too, who want to work and continue to work in Russia. Welcome. We will help them….
Geoff Cutmore: President Niinistö.
Sauli Niinistö: Yes, I’ll go back to a couple of minutes ago, when you described that tensions are growing worldwide. I do not actually agree with you totally. Because what we have seen, specifically in Europe, is that the need for dialogue has been widely confessed. And I see now very many of my European Union colleagues visiting Moscow, even our neighbour, the Foreign Minister of Sweden, met her counterpart in Moscow. The dialogue is increasing, and that’s not tension, that’s getting rid of tensions. We have this kind of very positive development going on in Warsaw. The NATO countries had a meeting last summer, and every member underlined the importance of dialogue with Russia.
But there is a question, and that is the question dealing with relations between the United States and Russia. We don’t know, actually, at the moment, how it will develop. And surely, it’s a matter for Russia and the United States going forward. But it is of huge interest also in countries like Finland what is going to happen.
I remember even the years of the Cold War. We are not close to those, but nevertheless, we understood then that Washington and Moscow somehow knew each other. They didn’t agree, but they had quite a clear picture of what the other one is thinking. And this is even a positive thing, even if you don’t agree. And now we are waiting [to see] how this relationship is going to develop. And we wish for the best.
But back again to the Arctic and the Arctic Summit…
Geoff Cutmore: Well I think, personally, that these things are all connected to the Arctic, to be quite honest with you.
Sauli Niinistö: If we are really feeling that there are tensions, what would be a better surrounding than a cool Arctic to solve those tensions? Everybody stays cool.
Geoff Cutmore: President Johannesson, you want to come in.
Vladimir Putin: We should better listen to what the ‘hot-headed Finnish guys’ have to say. (Laughter, applause)
Gudni Johannesson: Iceland is also very cool. And Finland, for that matter.
I think it would be hard to find seated next to each other presidents of countries more dissimilar in size and power. Russia, the greatest landmass on Earth; Iceland, a small island in the North Atlantic – we don’t even have a military – we have a better soccer team though. Sorry.
Vladimir Putin: Need help? (Laughter, applause)
Gudni Johannesson: Sometimes being small can help you. I do not want to belittle the seriousness of the issue, the accusations. We had a presidential election in Iceland as well, and nobody has ever asked us about outside interference of any kind. We, however, survive as an independent, sovereign state, because respect for international law has grown in the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st. We need to hold onto that. We need to hold onto the respect for international law, international treaties. And we were talking about the Paris Agreement, and if I’m not mistaken, even a company like ExxonMobil actually would encourage the US administration to maintain adherence to the Paris Agreement.
So, respect for international law, respect for international treaties, and also, like the President of Finland mentioned: trust. You knew where the other player was as during the Cold War. And President Putin mentioned a favourite remark of Reagan, but do you remember another remark of Ronald Reagan during the Cold War years? It was a Russian saying: “Trust, but verify.” Доверяй, но проверяй. And that was his favourite saying. We need to build that trust again. We, the smaller nations of the world, cannot influence the world stage, but we can possibly assist, and ultimately, it is in our own interests that the greater powers at least get along. So a symposium like this, where we meet and discuss, is all the better for us, and therefore, we participate.
Geoff Cutmore: Thank you very much. The warmth coming off you three is going to melt the ice outside, I think. But I’m not going to let you get off the hook quite so easily, and let me come back to this. You are a NATO member, your security, in a sense, is ensured by NATO, and America is a key participant in that organisation, and Finland of course has been a high-profile attendee at NATO events for many years. When US Defence Secretary James Mattis took up his position, he described what he saw as Russian moves in the Arctic as “aggressive steps.” Now how is this helpful in deescalating the tension, President Putin?
Vladimir Putin: What do you mean? Our aggressive behaviour?
Geoff Cutmore: It’s a quote from James Mattis, the US Defence Secretary, as he took up his position. And he pointed to what he saw as an upgrading of bases in Russia’s Arctic North, and of course, the introduction of new military technology in the region. And I think that’s why he made those comments. But I’m quoting verbatim from what he said. So this is not me making this up.It’s a quote from James Mattis, the US Defence Secretary, as he took up his position. And he pointed to what he saw as an upgrading of bases in Russia’s Arctic North, and of course, the introduction of new military technology in the region. And I think that’s why he made those comments. But I’m quoting verbatim from what he said. So this is not me making this up.
Vladimir Putin: Look, this border and military activity we are developing is taking place on Russia’s own territory. We take the view that we are acting no differently to any other country here. The United States, which is our neighbour in the Arctic, is also developing its military activity. We think its military activity does represent a threat to us, because what we are doing is local in nature, but what they are doing in Alaska is global in scale. They are developing this whole missile defence system. This system is one of the biggest security problems in the world today. It is not a purely defensive system, but is a part of nuclear capability, established at the periphery. It is not about preventing missile and nuclear strikes, but is about minimising a possible counterstrike. These are the things that are postulates today, and the experts understand this perfectly well.
The United States is developing its infrastructure, developing new technology, and has withdrawn unilaterally from the ABM Treaty, which I think was the cornerstone guaranteeing strategic stability. The USA withdrew from this treaty and is now actively developing this infrastructure.
What we are doing on the islands and the coast, for example, is local in nature, and, as I said, is about rebuilding infrastructure that was also used to ensure safe shipping in this region. We must work together to prevent any illegal economic use of the Arctic’s mineral and biological resources. Together, we need to combat all kinds of smuggling and piracy. We all know about piracy in southern seas, but this kind of thing happens in other parts of the world too, and we must act to prevent any negative development of events.
We are not developing a military infrastructure alone, but, as I said yesterday, we are building an infrastructure that is dual and even triple purpose in nature. Our Emergency Situations Ministry will use this infrastructure, for example, along with the services responsible for preventing or minimising the consequences of possible oil spills in this environmentally fragile region. This infrastructure will also be used by our scientists studying the Arctic, and the meteorological services will use it too.
We are developing a comprehensive infrastructure, including the military component. I think that this is the right direction to take. Furthermore, we are completely open in this respect and we invite others to join us in this work, including our American partners.
Geoff Cutmore: Unfortunately, the shared military exercises that used to take place in the Arctic have now stopped. Again, to get back cooperation, how do we get to that point? Given the difficult relationship and the sanctions.
Vladimir Putin: During my visit to Finland last year, President Niinistö expressed his country’s concern over Russian aircraft flying over the Baltic Sea with their transponders off. Transponder is a device that informs the air traffic controller that there is a plane in the air, just a plane, or, in this case, a military aircraft. I promised the Finnish President that Russia would urge all countries that are engaged in military activity in the Baltic region to make it obligatory for their pilots to use transponders.
Technically, this is not a simple task, because Russia and the NATO countries use different types of transponders. Hence, additional steps must be taken for these devices to work effectively and for their signals to be received by air traffic radars. We said that we were willing to do this and held a meeting on this issue in Brussels. But the reply was: “No, the NATO countries won’t do this.” Why not? Ask them. The problem is the same in this case too.
I cannot understand why this happens. First, NATO’s air activity is much higher, several times higher than ours. If we look at the number of aircraft – Russian and NATO ones – flying over the Baltic Sea, we will see that their activity is several times higher. And yet some people claim that we are behaving aggressively. This is hypocrisy, a tall tale for the media. But experts take not of this; they are aware of the problem.
The same is true about the Arctic. We are not going to fight or compete with the United States in the Arctic. Everyone knows that US defence spending is higher than the defence budgets of all other countries in the world taken together. If you pile up together the defence budgets of all countries in the world, the United States’ spending will still make a bigger pile. This year again, it has decided to increase US defence spending by $40 or $60 billion.
Despite this, Russia and the United States are the world’s largest nuclear powers. They have a special responsibility for global security to the planet and the international community. And the sooner we develop military cooperation, the better it will be. By the way, our cooperation on some sensitive issues, such as cooperation in Syria, is improving and growing deeper and broader, despite any public statements. We feel our American partners’ interest in developing our interaction, which is a good sign. We hope that it will also spread to other parts of the world, including the Arctic.
Geoff Cutmore: Did you want to come in, President Niinistö?
Sauli Niinistö: Why not? First of all, I will go to Baltic Sea air space and transponders.
First of all, Vladimir, I did not say that only Russians are flying without transponders. I said to you last summer that there are planes flying without transponders. How I saw that question is – it’s a minor step surely: one piece of globe, just the Baltic Sea air space, just a question of transponders, technical equipment. But it might be a small step to build up co-understanding. And I thank you, Vladimir, for supporting and pushing forward. I know that you have done a great job in Russia in developing technically your place.
But I don’t see that we have actually missed the case because I remember in Munich, that was a couple of months ago at the Security Conference, both Foreign Minister Lavrov whom I see there and Secretary-General Stoltenberg were very positive on that initiative. And now this group of experts, civil experts inside the ICAO that are studying the case and they have promised to take up also transponders in their discussion, and that is a military question.
So we have not closed the case but I think that the most important, like I said, it is a small step. But if you can take a small step that is an indication that you can make even bigger step someday. And that is the whole idea.
Geoff Cutmore: And I think, to President Putin’s point about the cooperation that is taking place in Syria, with forces very close to each other. It is clear that there is operationally a requirement for both American and Russian forces to talk to each other. And President Trump believes he is going to launch a new campaign against ISIS. He talks about wiping them off the face of the Earth. Would this be something that you would, if President Trump reaches out to you, is this something where you could find common ground and work together early on?
Vladimir Putin: We certainly have a shared priority. That is the fight against international terrorism. President Trump is quite right to set this task. We will certainly support this work. In my address to the United Nations on its 70th anniversary in New York, I said that we cannot combat terrorism effectively unless we join efforts. This is not a problem that exists in some isolated place – it is a global problem. As the King of Saudi Arabia said to me one day, Islamic countries are the first victims of terrorism. That is true. Terrorism emerged long ago, many hundreds of years ago. It has upsurges now and then, and now we are seeing one of such upsurges. That is extremely dangerous. We see it in the tragic events the world over: Europe is affected by it and the United States has suffered global disasters – I mean September 11. Russia is also an object of continuous terrorist attacks.
However, if we at least try to use these forces to achieve some political ends, we will never be able to strangle it. I don’t say “vanquish” but at least to minimise, choke it. The fact that President Trump has set this goal certainly inspires us to team efforts. We firmly count on eventual transition to such constructive cooperation.
Geoff Cutmore: And could I ask, is this something that you will reflect to Mr Tillerson when he goes to Moscow? I believe he will be in Moscow sometime before you meet with President Trump?
Vladimir Putin: Yes, the fight against terrorism is certainly among the key items on our agenda. If Mr Tillerson visits us – I have met him on several occasions, two or three times – we will certainly discuss this issue among others. However, I must tell you, and you know it better than I do, that to make this job efficient we need interaction not only with the Department of State but also with the CIA and the Pentagon. We will not achieve any positive results without constructive teamwork with our colleagues in these fields.
Geoff Cutmore: So I want to wrap up this area of sovereignty and security just by addressing Russia’s claims in the Arctic because, as we know, there are some competing claims for the same area. Russia’s claim to territory in the Arctic Ocean beyond 200 marine miles continues, it seems, to be a source of low-level conflict and discussion. How do we resolve that, President Putin, to everybody’s satisfaction?
Vladimir Putin: First, you cannot please everyone. A compromise entails mutual concessions, when the parties defer to each other. Here is a good example: after years of talks with Norway, we came to an agreement on the division of the Barents Sea in 2008 or 2010, if memory serves, and we marked the state border in a way that suited both Russia and Norway.
My colleague on my left, Mr Johannesson, has said that his country does not have an army, that it is a small country. Norway is not a big country either, compared to Russia, and their armies cannot be compared to each other, but we never did and never will build our relations on the might is right principle. We believe that the settlement of disputes must be based on justice and international law. We have done this in our relations with Norway. I am confident that if we respect this principle we will also come to an agreement with Denmark and the other Arctic nations.
Geoff Cutmore: President Johannesson, please come in on that because it seems that this is still a thorny issue. And, as President Putin says, maybe not everybody will be satisfied. Are you ready to be dissatisfied?
Gudni Johannesson: No. But we live in a world of options and you do not always get what you want. And we have done well in the Arctic region within the Arctic Council. We have had satisfactory methods to resolve disputes. True, we disagree, especially when it comes to catches. And there are issues. Not as we speak, but there have been in the past two weeks meetings between Russian and Icelandic officials where there are disagreements. But if we approach the problem in a non-provocative manner and respect the opponent’s view and, furthermore, believe in scientific evidence. We have discussed many things today here. Global warming. We’ve come from the Arctic to Syria, to the US, even stopped by in Iceland and Finland.
One thing that should concern us is, I dare say, the decreased respect for scientific results. People will just say: this is your view, this is my view. Whereas if we lose the respect for obvious facts then we are in trouble. And we have done okay when it comes to fisheries’ research and fishing delimitation. We have heard scientists on both sides of the table who will say, yes, these are the undeniable facts. And if we do not agree on how to divide the catch then both of us will lose. So in this spirit, I am confident that we can move on forward. So this is the guiding principle for us. And, as President Putin pointed out so correctly, we would be in deep trouble if the size of armies mattered at the negotiating table.
Geoff Cutmore: Let us move on and talk about how we see the Arctic developing from here. And I am aware as I look out into the audience in this venue, there are people from many countries that are not involved in the Arctic Council. There is a large representation here from China. China has talked about its own near-Arctic position and its interests in the Arctic.
President Putin, how would you see some of these non-Arctic countries being involved in some of the projects that you have talked about here? Is it purely about putting in investment or do you see them having a larger role?
Vladimir Putin: We have the Law of the Sea, an agreement on the Arctic and the Arctic Council of the eight Arctic countries, and we also coordinate common approaches with non-Arctic states.
We believe that all countries have the right to work in this region. We only need to coordinate our work there and reach agreements on this. I have mentioned the Yamal LNG project. In addition to its shareholders, which include Russian, French and Chinese companies (there are two Chinese companies involved), equipment for this project is being supplied by Korean, Japanese and several other companies from seven countries. The two Chinese companies will be involved in production. US ExxonMobil, working together with Russia’s Rosneft, has discovered one of the largest Arctic deposits, Pobeda (Victory). Indian companies are involved in hydrocarbons production in the Extreme North, which is also an Arctic region. We are using their services.
Our Chinese partners want to take part and are discussing their contribution to building railway lines towards deep-sea ports in Russia’s northern regions. You know, we will not prevent non-Arctic countries from helping us develop the Arctic. Moreover, we are interested in using their resources and capability for this provided they respect the standards and rules of environmental safety, the safety of biological resources and the interests of the indigenous people living in this region. This is something we can and will coordinate. In fact, we are already working to coordinate this cooperation….
Geoff Cutmore: President Putin, you can now blame President Johannesson for my question on sanctions since he brought it up.
Gudni Johannesson: It was bound to happen. But you’ve never asked me about the Reykjavik summit though. You asked my colleague, President Niinistö about a summit in Helsinki, but not Reykjavik.
Geoff Cutmore: Well, you know Slovenia is also bidding to host the first meeting between President Trump and President Putin, so why notReykjavik? I am sure President Putin would be happy to travel there as well. It seems to me you are reaching out on this platform actually to President Trump and his office to organise a meeting soon.
Vladimir Putin: What can I say? I have already said that we are ready for meetings; we need to discuss the parameters, the content of these meetings. This largely depends on the American side. We can see what’s happening there. I just do not want to go into this. You see, you keep dragging me into your squabbles. We can see what is happening. The newly elected President is being hampered and prevented from implementing most issues on his election agenda such as healthcare, other issues, international affairs and relations with Russia.
We are simply waiting for the situation to recover and stabilise, without interfering in any way. And it seems to me, by the way, that this is the best evidence that we never ever did so. I hope it will end sometime. We will decide where we will meet, what we will discuss, these are mere technicalities.
There are many questions that are long overdue, including the economy, security and regional conflicts. We are ready for this discussion. But it is necessary for the other side to show goodwill and readiness to work constructively.
Geoff Cutmore: You have said on many occasions at many platforms that I have been involved in that non-interference is your principle. But this week we have heard not only Washington but also the EU in Brussels saying that you should release protesters, you should release the leader of the opposition. They have been making calls upon you. The fact that there is an apparent interference from them, will that have consequences?
Vladimir Putin: All these calls come amid police crackdowns such as for example on Paris protesters against the murder of one of the citizens directly in his home, a Frenchman of Chinese descent. Therefore, this kind of appeals to Russia – we believe these are politicised moves aimed at influencing the domestic political life in our country.
As for our internal political developments, we consistently support anti-corruption efforts, since corruption is indeed a serious problem for us (although declining somewhat in recent years, judging by opinion polls, among other things), and for other countries. This is relevant, and we are working on it, and people can see it. I personally support keeping anti-corruption issues constantly in the focus of public attention, and always take a positive view when people take note of these issues. The only thing that I think is wrong is for certain political forces to try to use this in their own interests, for self-promotion in the political arena ahead of political events such as elections rather than to improve the situation.
We know perfectly well, and I would like to draw your attention to this: this tool was also used at the beginning of the so-called Arab spring. We also know that this led to the bloody events in the region. We know that this was one of the motivations and reasons for the coup d’état in Ukraine, our neighbour. We also know that these events have plunged Ukraine into chaos.
Therefore, we say yes to the fight against corruption – and no to using this tool for narrow and selfish political purposes. Everyone involved in political processes should act within the framework of the law. Anyone who breaks the law must be punished in accordance with Russian legislation.
Geoff Cutmore: One of my viewers actually sent a question in for this discussion. An American. And he said, if you take further consequences against the Americans over sanctions, would you stop giving them rockets so that they can get to the space station?
Vladimir Putin: We never use the “get a ticket and off you go” principle. And why should we? We never take any steps that can harm us. Americans have long been buying our rocket engines. It is advantageous to them as it saves money, including taxpayers’ money that should have gone to build their own facilities, but it is also advantageous for us because it keeps our factories working.
We never make steps that damage business, damage our international relations. And we are not going to do anything of the kind here. What the previous US administration did, I think, hurts the US economy, the American people. And as the Obama administration urged the Europeans to take the same measures, it hurts the European economy, bringing down the competitiveness of the European economy, leading to hundreds of thousands of lost jobs, and it has already led to the loss of hundreds of thousands of jobs.
It violates the principles of the World Trade Organisation and international rules in this area, and these are crude violations both in the economy and in human rights protection.
We keep talking about human rights, incessantly, including with regard to the rallies in Moscow and other Russian cities. Yet they just imposed sanctions in connection with the Crimean events on individuals who had nothing to do with the events, they never even had the slightest idea of what was being planned, and they learnt of what was happening from the media. Yet sanctions were just imposed on them. Where are the human rights here? Their bank accounts were closed, they cannot even use funds for making transactions for their family members and so on. Well, what are we talking about? What human rights are we talking about?
It means they should be observed in one place, and shouldn’t in another. There is no logic, no equal approach to these issues in the modern world. Unfortunately, we have arrived at such a degradation of international law and international relations. It should be rectified. Can this be done or not? It can, and let us strive to do it together. But this can only be done from both the sides.
Geoff Cutmore: Mr President, I think at the beginning you said what we need is an open and constructive cooperation. And I think we have had a plenty of open and constructive dialogue here.
And I want to finish on a positive note because I think the conversation has had many positive notes, and very quickly because I am being told that we need to wrap up now.
Maybe if I could just ask each of you to give me one perhaps thing that you hope we can achieve before we meet again at this event. One thing that would take us forward in terms of that cooperative dialogue on the Arctic.
Gudni Johannesson: An agreement to continue in the vein that the Arctic Council has worked so far for twenty years or so, that we base our agreements and conclusions on the Arctic, on scientific evidence with full respect for the opinions, wishes and needs of all those concerned, leading to constructive, reliable and viable compromises.
Geoff Cutmore: President Niinistö.
Sauli Niinistö: Well, I would like to see all of us and other members of the Arctic Council sitting at the table to at least understand profoundly what the other one is saying. That is the minimum and I already got that we do not know at the moment exactly what kind of relations, for example, the biggest members or participants of the Arctic Council have. That would be a way forward. First you have to know what each of us thinks. And then you have a possibility maybe of finding solutions.
Geoff Cutmore: President Putin.
Vladimir Putin: I can only join in with what my colleagues, President Johannesson and President Niinistö, have said. This is the right approach because the aspiration to build positive relations is the motto of the Arctic Council and of this forum. As we say, the Arctic is a space for cooperation and dialogue, and I would like very much the example of positive teamwork in this part of the world to spread elsewhere where we could address our problems using the experience of our cooperation in the Arctic.
As for the Arctic, we certainly see Russia’s future in it, as well as the future of the global economy. It possesses huge untouched reserves of natural resources, and it is at the crossroads of many international interests. If we find the tools of tackling our problems here, it will inspire us to address problems in other parts of the world by similar means.
In conclusion, I would like to thank my colleagues, as I said in the beginning, for having found the time in their schedule to come to Russia. I would also like to thank you as moderator. You have moved us, so to say, to discuss problems outside the Arctic region. As a matter of fact, this is what makes such discussions topical and very interesting.
Thank you very much.
Geoff Cutmore: Let us thank our presidents. Thank you.