On 31 August Russian President Vladimir Putin was in the Far Eastern city of Vladivostok where he toured several newly constructed facilities, including the new Ocean National Children’s Centre, as well as a hockey and sports complex under construction, and interior of the new Opera and Ballet Theatre.
In the evening before returning to Moscow Mr. Putin answered questions from members of the press. The topics included investment plans for developing the Far East of Russia, the upcoming G20 summit in Saint Petersburg and the subject of Syria and recent posturing by the USA on a possible attack on Syria.
QUESTION: Mr President, you have been on a working trip for almost a week now, to Siberia and the Far East. Is this occasioned by severe weather conditions and their consequences, or by something else?
PRESIDENT VLADIMIR PUTIN: First and foremost my trip reflects the importance that Siberia and the Far East hold for Russia.
In general my trip was planned. But of course, after the well-known, difficult events triggered by floods and linked with flood control, we had to modify the agenda a little bit, and spend more time on precisely those issues.
And naturally I think that we did the right thing. A large number of Russian Government ministers have travelled here. And when they see with their own eyes what is happening on location, the difficulties that people face, then it becomes easier to take the necessary decisions, which are also more balanced.
I am sure that the decisions outlined here by almost the entire Government, the result of three days of work, are optimal. And you heard the figures; in general they have to resolve the main problems our citizens face.
The most important thing is that all this be implemented on time, both quickly and well.
QUESTION: You mentioned the topicality of a trip to the Far East, but Syria is also very topical. Last night the British Parliament voted against military intervention, and some countries, including Germany and even the NATO alliance have expressed their negative attitude towards military intervention in Syria. Did you expect this – the British Parliament’s decision – and what do you think about it?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: I will say honestly that it was a complete surprise for me. I think that in recent years all of us, myself included, have become accustomed to the Western community accepting everything without much discussion, or so it seems to outsiders, in accordance with the wishes and policies of their senior partner, that is the United States.
If this time something went wrong then I repeat: I did not expect this, and what’s more I’m even surprised by it.
On the other hand, this obviously speaks to the fact that in Great Britain, even though it is the United States’ main geopolitical ally, and, I think, in Europe too, even there are people who are guided by their national interests and common sense, and who value their sovereignty.
But above all this is also a conclusion drawn from what has happened in the past few years. I am referring to the tragic events that occurred in the Middle East and other countries too.
And despite the stated goals, achieving them remains very problematic: I mean in Afghanistan, and all the more so in Iraq, Libya and other countries. As for Egypt, we know what is happening there. So I think and am confident that people analyse events, draw conclusions and act accordingly.
QUESTION: Mr President, can you please tell us who you personally believe used chemical weapons in Syria? And can you give us your evaluation of the resulting situation there?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: We have been discussing this issue with our American partners. You know our position.
As regards the possible use of weapons of mass destruction – any weapons of mass destruction, including chemical weapons – our position is consistent. We are categorically opposed to them, we condemn them and, accordingly, if their use can be proven, we will participate in developing countermeasures.
With regards to this case specifically: as you know, the Syrian government already asked the international community to conduct inspections, as they believed that rebels had used chemical weapons. But unfortunately nothing happened. A reaction occurred only after [August] 21, when these weapons were used once again.
What do I think? Common sense speaks for itself. Syrian government troops are on the offensive. In some regions they have encircled the rebels. Under these conditions, the idea of giving a trump card to those who are constantly calling for foreign military intervention is utter nonsense. It is not logical in the least; especially when it [the attack] coincides with the day UN inspectors arrived.
Therefore I am convinced that [the chemical attack] is nothing more than a provocation by those who want to drag other countries into the Syrian conflict, and who want the support of powerful members of the international community, especially the United States. I have no doubt about this.
As for the position of our American colleagues and friends who claim that government forces have used weapons of mass destruction, in this case chemical weapons, and that they have evidence thereof: let them present it to UN inspectors and the Security Council. Claims that proof exists, but that it is classified and cannot be shown to anyone are beneath criticism.
It’s simply a lack of respect for their partners and participants in international activities. If there is evidence, they must produce it. If they don’t, then there is none. Allusions to the fact that there are certain communications intercepts do not prove anything, and cannot act as the foundation for making a fundamental decision like whether or not to use force against a sovereign state.
QUESTION: Recently you have had a lot of important telephone conversations with the British Prime Minister, the German Chancellor, and the President of Iran. And did you talk about Syria with U.S. President Barack Obama? And if so, what did you agree on and what didn’t you, and perhaps you would like to tell him something now?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: Thank you for offering your services as an intermediary.
Indeed, I have had conversations with the Chancellor of Germany, the Prime Minister of Great Britain, the Prime Minister of Turkey, and the President of Iran. Of course we also discussed this problem with the President of the United States during the G8. And by the way, at the time we agreed that together we would facilitate peace talks in Geneva, the so-called Geneva-2 talks.
The Americans took on the responsibility to bring the armed opposition to these negotiations. But I understand that this is a difficult process, and apparently they failed. But I have not had such discussions with Mr Obama in recent days, especially after new charges that the Syrian Government has used chemical weapons.
As for our position, it is well known. What can I say? I don’t even know. You know, I would first and foremost address [Barack Obama] not as my colleague, not as the President of the United States and the head of state, but as a Nobel Peace Prize laureate. We need to remember what happened in the past decade, and the number of times the United States initiated armed conflicts in various parts of the world. Did this resolve even one problem?
I already talked about Afghanistan and Iraq. After all, there is neither peace nor democracy there, what our partners allegedly sought. There is no elementary civil peace and balance. We must look at all this before deciding to carry out air strikes that of course will bring casualties, including among the civilian population. Is it not possible to think about this? Of course, I am convinced it is.
And what I would say to my colleague? In the near future we will meet in St Petersburg. I hope that the President of the United States will be among the [G20] participants, and we will certainly have the opportunity to talk in an expanded format, including about the Syrian problem.
Of course, the G20 is not a formal legal authority. It cannot act as a substitute platform for the UN Security Council, the only one able to authorise the use of force. But it is a good platform to discuss the problem. Why not take advantage of it?
Incidentally, with regards to U.S. interests: even in the U.S., look at the American media, and pay attention to what politicians and experts say. People evaluate different instances of military intervention differently. For example, most analysts are now inclined to think that intervention in Iraq was a mistake. But if we admit that there were mistakes in the past, why should the prospects [of an intervention] be considered infallible now?
All this should make us think about why we must not rush into such decisions. And is it in the interests of the United States to once again flaunt the international security system, and violate the fundamentals of international law? Will it strengthen the country’s international prestige? Hardly.
We urge consideration before making decisions that clearly go against the opinion of the international community, violate the entire security system and, of course, have harmful effects for many people. Obviously, something must be done. But to hurry into these things can produce completely undesirable results.
QUESTION: Mr President how likely do you think it is that the Americans will strike? And what will Russia do if they deliver such a blow?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: How do I know? You have to ask them. I can tell you why this is happening and why it is being discussed.
You see, it is elementary for people who have been following the course of events. The Syrian government’s army is on the offensive. The so-called rebels are in a difficult position. They do not have the weapons that government forces do: they have no air force, no missile technology, no modern artillery or missile systems.
What can those sponsoring the so-called rebels and those behind these sponsors do? Provide them with military support. How? Fill in the missing link in their capabilities. You cannot simply give them airplanes and missile systems – it is impossible to teach them. There is only one way, and that is to strike yourself. If this happens, it will be very sad.