Le Figaro: You have come here in order to open the exhibition, which is dedicated to the 300th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Russia and France. Franco-Russian relations went through UPS and downs. How do You evaluate those relations today? What for You is a figure of Peter I, who in 1717 arrived in Versailles to commemorate diplomatic relations?
Vladimir Putin: the President Makron invited me to participate in the opening of this exhibition. But I must say that relations between Russia and France were established much earlier and have much deeper roots, we today have several times been recalled already with the President. In the eleventh century came the youngest daughter of one of our great Prince Yaroslav the Wise, Anna, who became the wife of French king Henry I. Her name was Anna Russian, Queen of France. Her son Philip I became the founder of two European dynasties: the Valois and the Bourbons, the second still ruled in Spain. So we have much deeper relationships, although for the last 300 years the relationship has developed the most intensively, it’s true. I very much hope that today’s event, the exhibition and the talks with President Makron will help to give these relations a new impetus.
I said today to his French colleague, to our French friends that Peter is first and foremost a reformer, a man who not only introduced the best and advanced. Of course, he was a patriot of his country, fought for a worthy place of Russia in world Affairs, but mostly he has transformed his own country, making it more modern, mobile oriented towards the future. He’s got quite a lot already if not all. He was engaged in science, education, culture, engaged in military Affairs and state construction. He left behind a tremendous legacy, which Russia uses almost still. I’m not talking about the fact that he founded my hometown of Petersburg, which for a long time was the capital of the Russian Empire.
— How was Your first meeting with Emmanuel Macron. Were you able to overcome the stage of mistrust?
— At any meeting, any dealings in any such events, especially if this is the first meeting, the first contacts — there are always some expectations. If these expectations, it is meaningless to hold such meetings. Of course, there were expectations this time. They were associated with the fact that I wanted a closer, first hand to know the position entered into the position of President of the French Republic on key issues on the international agenda, the development of bilateral relations. Of course, the newly elected President of France, entered into his position, has his own view on things, on relations, on international politics. Overall this is a very pragmatic view, I think. We definitely have points for the rapprochement of our positions to work together on key areas.
— The implementation of the Minsk agreements on Ukraine, it seems, today is in a deadlock. Did You President Makron to make progress towards the resolution of this conflict?
Progress on settlement of conflicts, including the conflict in the South-East of Ukraine, can and should achieve, first and foremost, parties to the conflict. The conflict in the South-East of Ukraine is the internal conflict, the Ukrainian conflict. It occurred after unconstitutional power takeover in Kiev in 2014. This is the source of all problems. The most important thing to do is to find the strength all the conflicting parties to negotiate, and above all, I am convinced, the ball, as they say, on the side of official Kiev authorities. They should first of all take care to fulfill the Minsk agreement.
— That will allow progress in this direction? Whether Russia can take the initiative to finally provide a truce?
— We always act with this initiative. We believe the main thing you need to do is to withdraw military forces from the contact line. This is where you need to start. At two points, the third point did not manage to do it. The current Ukrainian authorities keep saying that there shooting. But while the troops are not withdrawn, the heavy equipment is not reserved, and will shoot. It is necessary to take heavy equipment. This is the first.
The second thing to do: in the political sphere need in the end to implement the Ukrainian Parliament adopted the law on the special status of these territories. After the law was passed, but has still not entered into force. Adopted the law on Amnesty, the President has not signed it. In the Minsk agreements says that you need to conduct a social and economic rehabilitation of these territories of the unrecognized republics. Instead of having to do this, on the contrary, impose a blockade, that’s the problem. Moreover, imposed a blockade radicals, blocking the railroad tracks. The President of Ukraine first said that it condemns and will put things in order, tried to do it — and nothing happened. Instead of continuing their efforts, took and officially joined the embargo, issued a decree on the blockade. In such conditions it is impossible to speak about the situation for the better.
— After Your military intervention in September 2015 in Syria, what decision, in Your opinion, can save the country ravaged by six years of war?
— First of all I would like to note the constructive approach of Turkey and Iran, who together with us have achieved the cease-fire, and, of course, the Syrian government. It would be impossible to do, of course, without the so-called Syrian armed opposition. It was the first very important step on the path to peace.
And the second, equally important step is the agreement on the establishment of the so-called zones of de-escalation. Now we are talking about four areas. We believe it is extremely important on the path to peace, if I may say so, because without an end to the bloodshed to talk about the political process impossible.
Now, in my opinion, we have another problem: you need technically and, if you will, even technologically, to complete the process of creation of these zones of de-escalation, we need to agree on the boundaries of these zones, about how to function there institutions that will serve as the correlation of these zones with the outside world. We talked about this with President Makron. He particularly raised the issue of humanitarian convoys. Here he is right, and I agree with him. This is one of the points of contact where we can work together with our French colleagues.
After the formalization will take place on areas of de-escalation, I very much hope that will start any attempts of interaction between the government and the people who will control the situation in these areas. And I would very much like to see these zones became the prototype of future territorial division of Syria. On the contrary, I hope that the leaders of these territories can initiate communications with the official organs of the Syrian state. It will be the first fruits of cooperation. The next step is a political process: political reconciliation, if it is possible to draw up a Constitution and hold elections.
Western countries accuse Assad of using chemical weapons against its own population. Do You anticipate the political future for Syria without it?
— I generally do not consider themselves entitled to determine the political future of the country, with Assad or without him, this is a matter solely of the Syrian people. Nobody has the right to usurp some of the prerogatives that belong exclusively to the people of a particular country.
— You say “not necessarily with him, not necessarily without him.”
— Again, this should be determined only by the Syrian people. You have just said about accusations that the Assad government to use chemical weapons.
After this event occurred, associated with chemical weapons, we immediately offered our American partners and all those who it is deemed appropriate, to conduct an inspection of the airfield, which has allegedly rose the aircraft to use chemical weapons. If chemical weapons were used by the official military structures of the President at the airport inevitably there would be evidence, modern controls that would accurately recorded, it is inevitable. And the planes would remain, and at the airport. But all refused to perform this test.
We offered to check on the place where supposedly the kick was made of chemical weapons. But they refused to check, saying that it is dangerous. How come there is dangerous if the strike was reportedly carried out on some civilians and healthy part of the armed opposition? In my opinion, this was done for one purpose only: to explain why we need Assad to apply additional measures, including military nature. To our knowledge no evidence of the use by Assad of chemical weapons does not exist. In our opinion, Assad of these weapons was not used.
— Do you remember what the President Makron talked about the so-called red line regarding the use of chemical weapons. Do you agree with this?
— I agree. Moreover, I believe that the issue needs to be set wider and the President of macron agreed. Whoever used chemical weapons against these individuals against these structures, the international community must build a common policy, and the answer must be that, which would make the use of such weapons is impossible from anyone.
— After the election Donald trump in the US, many expressed their views relative to the new stage of Russian-American relations. These relationships do not appear to have marked a new start. Now I quote: “the Russian threat” — this was said at the last NATO summit last week. Are You disappointed by this attitude from the US?
— No. I’m nothing special and was not expecting. Of course, we heard during the election campaign, the intention is already elected and took office of President of the United States Mr. trump, heard about his desire to improve Russian-American relations. He talked about the fact that the situation could get no worse, we all remember. But we also understand and see that in fact the political situation in the States is developing in such a way that the people who lost the election, did not want to deal with it and, unfortunately, most active in the political struggle used by the anti-Russian card under false pretenses. So we’re in no rush and I very much hope that the normalization of Russian-American relations when something happens.
— In a perfect world, what would You expect from the United States in order to improve relations between the US and Russia?
Perfect world does not happen, and the subjunctive mood is also in politics does not exist. But why America is not reducing its military spending? USA today spend more on defense than the military budgets of all countries of the world combined. Therefore, I understand that the President of the United States when he wants to be part of this load to shift on their NATO allies. It’s a reasonable approach.
But what interested me? At a summit in Brussels said that NATO wants to establish good relations with Russia. Why increase military spending? Against whom was going to fight? There are some internal contradictions, but in fact it is not our business, let NATO understands who and what and how much to pay us is not very worried. We provide their defense, and we do it reliably, with the future in mind, we are confident.
— A number of Your neighbors want to ensure their security through NATO. Whether You find this fact disturbing.
— For us it is a sign that our partners in Europe and the United States conducted a short-sighted policy, they don’t look ahead, this habit disappeared from our Western partners.
When the Soviet Union ceased to exist, then the Western policy, we were told, it was not recorded on paper, but it was definitely said that NATO would not expand eastward. And some German politicians proposed the creation of a new security system in Europe with the participation of the United States and Russia. If this were done, then we would not have the problems we have faced in recent years. Namely, the expansion of NATO to the East right up to our borders, promotion of our borders the military infrastructure. Perhaps there would be no withdrawal of the United States ‘ unilateral withdrawal from the ABM Treaty, and the Treaty was the cornerstone of today’s and future security. There would be no construction of missile defense elements in Europe, in Poland, in Romania, which certainly poses a threat to our strategic nuclear forces and disrupts strategic balance, which is extremely dangerous for international security.
Maybe all of this would be possible, but it happened ago film in the history will not rewind is not a feature film. If we assume that we need to think about what we want in the future. And we want security, peace and cooperation. You need to stop to think of the mythical Russian threat, hybrid warfare, and so on. You’re all up, and then scare themselves. There is only one perspective: the cooperation in all areas, including on security issues. What is the problem today in the field of security? Terrorism. In Europe, blow up, blow up Russia, in Belgium, blowing up, war in the middle East — here’s what to think.
— Just on the issue of terrorism. Why not get to join forces with Europe to reach the goals?
— This question is for Europe. We want this cooperation and are ready for it. I said this, still speaking at the 70th anniversary of the United Nations at the UN, and urged to unite efforts of all countries in the fight against terror. But it is a very complex process. After a terrible, bloody terrorist attack in Paris came to us Francois Hollande. We agreed with him on joint action. To the shores of Syria approached the aircraft carrier “Charles de Gaulle”, but then the operation continued in the framework of the coalition led by the United States. Someone check on the senior, who is not a senior, who has what is the word, who on that claim. But we are open to cooperation. However it was very difficult to negotiate with the Americans on this area. Speaking of which, lately we’ve noticed a certain shift there are practical results.
I spoke with President trump on the phone, he generally supported the idea of creating areas of de-escalation. We are thinking about how to ensure the interests of all countries in the region in the South of Syria, bearing in mind the concerns of all countries who have problems in this region, namely Jordan, Iraq, and Syria, and, of course, we are ready to listen to the views of the United States, our European partners. But it is necessary to engage in meaningful dialogue, not to argue on non-existent topic.
— Suspicions of Russian interference in the election campaign in the US has caused a political storm in Washington. France also voiced such suspicions. What’s Your reaction?
— The Western media was talking about the Russian hackers. But on what basis are these conclusions made? Mr. trump once said correctly: “maybe someone put some kind of flash drive with the name of a Russian citizen?” Indeed, in this virtual world, you can do anything. Russia never does, we don’t have to. I have talked with many presidents: they come and go, but policies are not changing. You know why? Because a very strong power of the bureaucracy. Man chose, he comes with some ideas, people come to him with cases, in white shirts and ties and start to explain how to act. To change something is difficult enough, and I say this without irony.
— Today You say that such a political storm in Washington is based on absolute fiction.
— Yes, fiction. It relies on the desire of those who lost the elections in USA and wants to fix things due to the accusations of Russian meddling. People who lost the election, did not want to admit that they really lost that one who won, turned out to be closer to the people, he better realize what they want ordinary voters. They want rather to explain and prove to others that the policy of the Democrats was good, but that someone outside lied to the American people. Someone rigged the elections. But it’s not. They are just lost and need to admit defeat, find strength in myself. Once this is done, it will be easier to work together. But today Washington has used anti-Russian card, and this is detrimental to international relations. They could understand each other. Who is better, who is the smartest? Why attract foreign players? But it will pass…
2018 will be the year of elections in Russia, presidential and parliamentary. The opposition complains that preventing her to speak. She can do it democratically? Will You nominate a candidate?
— In Russia all the latest election campaign is held in strict accordance with the Russian Constitution. And I will do everything to ensure the conduct of election campaigns in 2018 the same way — in strict accordance with the law and the Constitution. All the people who have a right to, can participate in elections at all levels. As for my candidacy, it’s too early to say.