Vladimir Putin's interview with the BBC

Issue Number: 
52
Author: 
By DAVID FROST / British Broadcasting Corp.
Published: 
2000-03-13


During Vladimir Putin's first interview with a foreign journalist, I asked him about relations with the West, Chechnya and his past in the KGB. Before that, I asked him about his political opposition.

Frost: Looking at the opinion polls today which show that your rating is in the range of 60 percent and Mr. [Gennady] Zyuganov's is 23 percent. This must make you very happy.

Putin: ... We were always taught to treat any partner, adversary with respect. This means that you must always remember that in something your adversary is stronger than you, that he can outdo you in something. That is why I am not inclined to think that the outcome is a foregone conclusion. ...

Q: Let's move on now to the subject of Chechnya. ... You said that that part of Russian territory has been occupied by the world of crime and has been turned into a real fortress. What makes you feel so strongly about Chechnya?

A: When I think about Chechnya, I think first of all about the fact that the Chechen people have become a victim of international extremism, that ordinary people in Chechnya are suffering from the policy that was pursued in Russia in recent years.

Chechnya was granted de facto, and I want to emphasize this, full state independence since 1996. Unfortunately, no state formation of any sort was created there. Extremist forces made use of this vacuum. They split the territory of the Chechen Republic into separate small entities. At the head of each such formation, outside of any constitution, outside of any laws, was a leader, a so-called field commander. What happened as a result was a sort of mini-Afghanistan. ...

Last summer, there was an absolutely unprovoked attack on the Republic of Dagestan, a neighbor of Chechnya. The bandits attacked apartment buildings in Moscow, Volgodonsk and other major regions and towns of the Russian Federation. In an act of vengeance they blew up and destroyed almost 1,500 peaceful inhabitants.

From that moment on it became clear, understandable and obvious to us that if we did not deliver a blow at the very nest of terrorism, at their bases on the territory of the Chechen Republic we would never rid ourselves of this blight, this gangrene. By their actions, the terrorists forced us to take the action that we took. ...

We have no aim, we have no task of driving that people into a corner, into a cave. We believe it would be wrong to create in the Chechen people a syndrome of a defeated nation. They must realize that they are not a defeated nation but a liberated nation, liberated from outside pressure.

Q: Tell me about your views on NATO, if you would. Do you see NATO as a potential partner, or rival, or an enemy?

A: Russia is a part of European culture. I simply cannot see my country isolated from Europe, from what we often describe as the civilized world. That is why it is hard for me to regard NATO as an enemy. I think that such a perception has nothing good in store for Russia and the rest of the world. ...

We strive for equal cooperation, partnership, we believe that it is possible to speak even about higher levels of integration with NATO. But only, I repeat, if Russia is an equal partner. As you know, we constantly express our negative attitude to NATO's expansion to the East. ...

Q: Is it possible that Russia will ever join NATO?

A: Why not? I do not rule out such a possibility. I repeat, on condition that Russia's interests are going to be taken into account, if Russia becomes a full-fledged partner. I want to specially emphasize this. ...

When we say that we object to NATO's expansion to the East, we are not expressing any special ambitions of our own, ambitions in respect of some regions of the world. ... By the way, we have never declared any part of the world a zone of our national interests. Personally, I prefer to speak about strategic partnership. The zone of strategic interests of any particular region means first of all the interests of the people who live in that region. ...

Q: Biographies about your life always say that you always wanted, that it was your ambition, to join the KGB, to be a secret agent, a James Bond. Was it always your dream?

A: You know, we have our own heroes, and they are not theatrical ones. I never wanted to be a James Bond. But I really wanted to work in the security service. I was still in school when I began to think about this. But, as you know, young people tend to have a whole variety of ideas. That was not my only dream. ...

Q: And in international intelligence you were working in Germany. Was that a productive period in your development?

A: Yes, I would say. It seems to me that work in an information service, and an intelligence service is first and foremost an information service, is always beneficial. ... I believe I was influenced by movies, books. You know, in the Soviet Union, it is not outer effects that were highlighted. On the contrary, patriotism was cultivated, love for one's country.

Q: And so, as you look at Russia today and the journey along which it is moving towards a freer economy and such things, how far has Russia advanced along the journey towards the Russia of your dream, where is Russia now, half way, nearly there, a long way from it?

A: In this sense it can be said that we are still far from the aim. I believe we are only at the beginning of the road. But I have no doubt that the road we have chosen is an absolutely correct one. It is our task to advance along this road. And we must make our policy absolutely open and understandable to the majority of our citizens. ...


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