Excerpts from the Direct Line with Rusian President Vladimir Putin

April 14, 2016.

Yevgeny Rozhkov: So there are questions from Ms Korableva and me, which we selected while preparing this programme. Alexander from Dubna asks: “How would you comment on Barack Obama’s admission that Libya was his biggest mistake?”

Vladimir Putin: First, it proves once again that the incumbent US President is a man of integrity. I am not being ironical in the slightest, because it takes courage to make such confessions. Even when he was a Senator, Mr Obama came down on the then Administration for the campaign in Iraq. Regrettably, when he became President, he made the blunders in Libya he has mentioned now. It is good and correct for my colleague to be brave enough to make such statements. Not everyone can do it. Whatever criticisms might be piled on him from all sides, it takes a real strong man to do so. This is good.

What is bad about it is that more blunders are following. There was a narrow escape from a repeat of the same error in Syria, and we do not know what the end will be. However, I would like to call your attention to the fairly positive turn which we have given the job of late: we are working together fairly intensively through the military, secret services and foreign ministries to find the way to settle the Syria conflict. I hope that these team efforts will bring us a positive result we will share, as was the case in other areas in the recent past.

***

Valeriya Korableva: Mr Putin, there is something else people are interested to know. Last year, you said you would come to the rescue of a drowning Obama. If you found Poroshenko and Erdogan drowning now, whom would you save first? Varya Kuznetsova, 12 years old. (Applause.)

Vladimir Putin
: Varya, you have put me on the spot. I do not know what to say. I would say, you cannot save someone who has decided to drown. But of course we are ready to lend a helping hand and friendship to any of our partners, if they want to take it.

Eduard Ladov: Why are you not responding to the slander coming from the Western media? Perhaps you should hire good lawyers and sue the media for publishing false information about offshore businesses? Thank you.

Vladimir Putin: I thought that we put this issue behind us, but if you are interested, I can say more about it. However, who is engaged in these provocations? We know that there are employees of official US agencies; an article was written – I asked [my] press secretary Peskov where it first appeared – in Süddeutsche Zeitung. Süddeutsche Zeitung is part of a media holding that belongs to the US financial corporation Goldman Sachs. In other words, those behind this stick out, but they never blush.

We should not expect any repentance from them. They will keep doing this anyway, and the nearer the elections, the more such stories will be planted. However, they should understand that this is not about specific individuals, whatever their position in Russia. This is about a country that cannot be manipulated, cannot be forced to act and dance as somebody may want it to, to dance to somebody’s tune.

If they treat us respectfully, if they seek compromise solutions, the way we do, then we will find a solution that will suit everyone: both ourselves and our partners. Russia should simply be treated as an equal partner. This is the only correct conclusion based on what is happening now.

***

Valeriya Korableva: A question about elections, not in this country but in America. “Mr President, who is worse for Russia, Clinton or Trump?”

Vladimir Putin: You know, we should look for those who are better. I can only repeat what I said at the end of my response to the previous question, namely, that we have had moments in the history of our bilateral ties when we interacted very closely and achieved very good results on the national and international level.

Today there are also examples of such cooperation, relating to issues of nonproliferation of weapons of mass destruction, the fight against terrorism, the resolution, say, of Iran’s nuclear problem, chemical weapons in Syria and the fight against terror in general.

There are also other examples of positive interaction, but our partners, to reiterate, if they act on the assumption… You see, it is not even a matter of specific individuals there. However, if they act on the false premise of their own exclusiveness, this will mean that they will lay claim to a special status and special rights. This is a gnoseological mistake, some experts say. It is essential to go to the root of the problem and act not from the position of force and dictate, not from the position of imperial ambitions, but to act respectfully with regard to all partners, and of course, with regard to Russia. Without this, it is impossible to build modern democratic international relations.

***

Dmitry Zykov: Good afternoon, Mr Putin. My name is Dmitry Zykov. I am a farmer, and I work in livestock production.We are concerned about the possibility of the sanctions being lifted. If they are, our products will never find their way to the market. We also have bank loans to repay. If cheap foreign products make it to Russia, we, unfortunately, will be unable to make good on these loans. And this will be the end for us.

Vladimir Putin: You have outlined your situation and made your concerns known. You know, I do not think that our partners will repeal the restrictions and limitations with regard to this country any time soon, even despite the fact that the Minsk agreements regarding southeastern Ukraine are being complied with in a dreadful manner. It is not our fault, but, as I am sure everyone understands now, the fault of the Kiev authorities. Still, they are unable to admit that they are now in a dead end. Therefore, they will come up with something in order to keep these restrictions in place. Accordingly, we will maintain the appropriate restrictions on their food exports to our market.

If eventually they come to the realisation that repealing these restrictions serves their own interests, then, of course, they will create a difficult situation for us, because under the WTO rules, we will wind up unprotected if we keep our counter-sanctions in place.

We will closely monitor this process. There are many ways to support our agricultural sector. We can see – I have already mentioned it today – our farmers picking up momentum and producing more milk, meat, fruits and vegetables, as well as increasing their processing capabilities. There is an extensive support programme in place, and we will certainly do our best to carry it out. However, let us look at this problem not with fear, but rather with optimism.

***

Valeriya Korableva: Well, on to a different subject. Here is a question from our programme’s website. You have mentioned the Minsk agreements already today. The question is: “Why all this talk about Minsk 2? The Minsk agreements are not implemented and, to all appearances, will not be implemented by Kiev. What will become of Donbass? Will another war break out?”

Vladimir Putin
: Right, much has been left hanging with implementing the Minsk agreements. I will try to be very careful, but there are obvious things. Their obviousness lies in the following:

Political issues are the top priority when we address all those problems in southeastern Ukraine. The population of these territories must feel safe and realise that they have modern civilised rights, and the right to exercise these rights.

What I mean is this. Constitutional changes should come first. According to the Minsk agreements, the Ukrainian Constitution should be amended before the end of 2015. However, as we know, these changes came through the vote in the first reading but got stuck in the second. After all, it is not up to us to change the Ukrainian Constitution.

As was stipulated, the law on the special status was to be introduced de facto within 30 days upon its signing. It has not been introduced, however. The endorsement of the amnesty law was also stipulated. It has been adopted but the President has not signed it. It is not our duty to do that. Is this clear? They keep complaining that shooting is heard from time to time along the demarcation line. It is a false excuse, however convenient it might be for those who do not want to comply with the Minsk agreements – excuse my bluntness.

They start shooting and get return fire, and there they have a skirmish. Does this mean that there is no need to implement the Minsk agreements? No. There is no alternative to the implementation of the Minsk agreements if the problem is to be settled. The United States, Europe and our other partners say: You know, they have a complicated domestic political situation, so they cannot do it. Maybe they cannot, but what do we have to do with it? You see, that is what the problem boils down to.

However, if the Ukrainian authorities and our European partners really want us to travel that road and come to the right goal, it demands teamwork with partners in Kiev, where the President, the incoming and outgoing prime ministers, and the entire opposition are linked with Western countries one way or another. Exercise your influence on them, then, instead of repeating again and again that Moscow should implement this and that. We have done everything we were supposed to do, and they also have to do something now.

Let us see how the situation develops. We are willing to promote the process in any possible way. I proceed from the assumption that there will be no active fighting anymore. On the contrary, when I talked with President Pyotr Poroshenko recently, he suggested – it was really his suggestion – that the OSCE presence should be enlarged, particularly, that armed OSCE officers should be present along the demarcation line, to have the ceasefire fully observed.

I think this is the right thing to do, and we support it. Now, we should work with our Western partners for the OSCE to pass this decision, increase its staff substantially and, if necessary, authorise its officers to bear firearms.

***

Viktoria Korablyova: While we are on the air, Ukraine has got a new prime minister. As expected, Vladimir Groisman headed the Cabinet. What do you think of the new Ukrainian Government?

Vladimir Putin: Nothing. I cannot think of the new Ukrainian Government, as I know nothing about it. I know nothing about its composition, about what priorities it will set, about what it is going to do. I only know what was planned to do and what was really done.

If I am not mistaken, the Ukrainian Government, the former Ukrainian Government now, approved a plan of action in late 2014, which consisted of nine points. Only two of them were implemented – and incompletely. I am not going to comment on them, you can find this information on the Internet.

The results are certainly harsh. In Russia, we have the expression “to shift challenges and problems to the people’s shoulders.” Today’s Ukraine is just the case. We say we have very high inflation – 12.9 percent. Yes, it is high, but it tends to decrease, even significantly decrease. But inflation in Ukraine is over 48 percent, can you imagine that? It is beyond all reason. Gas prices rose not by a few percent but by 3.3 times; heating prices – by over 50 percent, if I am not mistaken; electricity prices grew by some 53 percent last year and are expected to rise by another 63 percent this year.

I think it is economically unfeasible. Why? Because the share of population paying for gas, for example, was the lowest among CIS countries: I do not remember the exact number – something about 20 percent, Mr Miller told me about that. But if gas prices grow by over 3 times, nobody will pay then – that is the problem.

However, we need a stable and prosperous Ukraine. And we really hope that our expectations will come true. Although the crisis that began there due to the well-known EU Association Agreement is some kind of man-made, some kind of nonsense. I cannot understand why this was done. It seems to me that it just served as a tool for regime change, nothing more, and nobody cared for the people.

They signed an agreement; it entered into force: “This was a civilized choice.” What civilized choice are we talking about? Oligarchs are still in power. Some are trying to make a scandal concerning offshore assets, but in Ukraine, even the national leaders are billionaires and entrepreneurs with offshore companies. Okay, he earned a few billion and then handed the control over to a nice girl who, for example, a great lawyer – and so what? Did he forget about these offshore assets? Nonsense. Anyway, he will continue to control them and give orders on what should be done. De-tycoonisation? No way, oligarchy is becoming stronger. It is not even certain people to blame but the clan management system that has strengthened in recent years. And this is not just our assessment but also that of our Western partners. I am telling you, I know what I am talking about.

Nevertheless, we are interested in Ukraine getting back on its feet, in having a reliable partner and in ensuring that what is happening now, even in the economic sphere, does not happen. We have established zero customs tariffs with Europe for them, while [their] trade turnover with Europe fell by 23 percent and with Russia, by 50 percent. Who has gained from this? Why was this done? This is incomprehensible.

Yes, we introduced countermeasures in response to Ukraine joining the EU sanctions against Russia, but we introduced them half a year after they did. And then my colleagues tell me: “Why did you do this?” I say, “Listen, you, the EU, introduced sanctions against us and we did nothing for half a year; we were waiting for you to come to your senses.” “Well, this makes no difference to you, but it is hurting us because…” Well then, they should not have done that.

Nevertheless, I hope that the new government will draw conclusions from what has been happening recently and will act pragmatically and in the interest of the people, its own people, and not be guided by some phobia or another just to please some foreign agencies.