Mr. President, you head for Osaka shortly as the senior statesman
at the G20.
Nobody has been to so many international meetings of
this grouping and the G7 over the last 20 years while you have
been in charge of Russia.
Before we talk about the G20 agenda
and what you hope to achieve, we know that there are rising
tensions between America and China in trade, the risk of
conflict in the Gulf.
I would be very grateful if you could talk
a bit about how you have seen the world change over the last 20
years while you have been in power.
Vladimir Putin: First, I have not been in power for all
these 20 years.
As you may know, I was prime minister for four
years, and that is not the highest authority in the Russian
But nevertheless, I have been around for a long time
in government and in the upper echelons, so I can judge what is
changing and how. In fact, you just said it yourself, asking
what has changed and how.
You mentioned the trade wars and the
Persian Gulf developments. I would cautiously say the situation
has not changed for the better, but I remain optimistic to a
But, to put it bluntly, the situation has
definitely become more dramatic and explosive.
LB: Do you believe that the world now has become more
VP: Of course, because during the Cold War, the bad thing was
the Cold War. It is true. But there were at least some rules
that all participants in international communication more or
less adhered to or tried to follow.
Now, it seems that there are
no rules at all. In this sense, the world has become more
fragmented and less predictable, which is the most important and
LB: We will return to this theme of the world without rules,
fragmentation, more transactional.
But first, Mr. President, tell
us what you want to achieve in Osaka, in terms of your
relationships with these other parties? What are your main goals
for the summit?
VP: I would very much like
all the participants in this event,
and the G20, in my opinion, is a key international economic
development forum today, so I would like all the G20 members to
reaffirm their intention - at least an intention - to work out
some general rules that everyone would follow, and show their
commitment and dedication to strengthening international
financial and trade institutions.
Everything else is details that complement the main topics one
way or another. We certainly support Japan's presidency.
the development of modern technology, the information world, the
information economy, as well as our Japanese colleagues'
attention to matters such as longevity and the environment - all
this is extremely important, and we will certainly support it
and will take part in all these discussions.
Even though it is hard to expect any breakthroughs or landmark
decisions in the current conditions; we can hardly count on it
But in any case, there is hope at least that during these
general discussions and bilateral meetings we will be able to
smooth out the existing disagreements and lay a foundation, a
basis for positive movement forward.
LB: You will have a meeting with [Saudi Crown Prince] Mohammed
bin Salman in Osaka. Can we expect an extension of the current
agreement on oil production? Limitations?
VP: As you know, Russia is not an OPEC member, even though it is
among the world's largest producers.
Our daily production is
estimated at 11.3m barrels, I believe. The United States has
surged ahead of us, though. However, we believe that our
production stabilization agreements with Saudi Arabia and OPEC
in general have had a positive effect on market stabilization
I believe both energy producers, in this case, oil producing
countries, and consumers are interested in this, because
stability is definitely in short supply at present.
agreements with Saudi Arabia and other OPEC members undoubtedly
As for whether we will extend the agreement, you will find out
in the next few days. I had a meeting on this issue with the top
executives of our largest oil companies and government members
right before this interview.
LB: They are a little bit frustrated. They would like to produce
more. Is that correct?
VP: They have a smart policy. It is not about increasing
production, although that is a major component in the work of
large oil companies. It is about the market situation.
a comprehensive view of the situation, as well as of their
revenues and expenses.
Of course, they are also thinking about
boosting the industry, timely investments, ways to attract and
use modern technology, as well as about making this vital
industry more attractive for investors.
However, dramatic price hikes or slumps will not contribute to
market stability and will not encourage investment. This is why
we discussed all these issues in their totality today.
LB: Mr. President, you have observed four American presidents at
close quarters and maybe five, you have had direct experience.
So, how is Mr. Trump different?
VP: We are all different. No two people are the same, just like
there are no identical sets of fingerprints.
Anyone has his or
her own advantages, and let the voters judge their shortcomings.
On the whole, I maintained sufficiently good-natured and stable
relations with all the leaders of the US.
I had an opportunity
to communicate more actively with some of them.
The first US president I came into contact with was
Clinton. Generally, I viewed this as a positive experience. We
established sufficiently stable and business-like ties for a
short period of time because his tenure was already coming to an
I was only a very young president then who had just started
working. I continue to recall how he established partner-like
relations with me. I remain very grateful to him for this.
There have been different times, and we had to address various
problems with all other colleagues.
Unfortunately, this often
involved debates, and our opinions did not coincide on some
matters that, in my opinion, can be called key aspects for
Russia, the United States and the entire world.
this includes the unilateral US withdrawal from the
Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty that, as we have always believed,
and as I am still convinced, was the cornerstone of the entire
international security system.
I made very energetic attempts to convince our US partners not
to withdraw from the [ABM] treaty... the world would be a
different place today, had our US partners accepted this
We debated this matter for a long time, argued and suggested
In any event, I made very energetic attempts
to convince our US partners not to withdraw from the treaty.
And, if the US side still wanted to withdraw from the treaty, it
should have done so in such a way as to guarantee international
security for a long historical period.
I suggested this, I have already discussed this in public, and I
repeat that I did this because I consider this matter to be very
I suggested working jointly on missile-defence
projects that should have involved the US, Russia and Europe.
They stipulated specific parameters of this co-operation,
determined dangerous missile approaches and envisioned
technology exchanges, the elaboration of decision-making
Those were absolutely specific proposals.
I am convinced that the world would be a different place today,
had our US partners accepted this proposal. Unfortunately, this
did not happen.
We can see that the situation is developing in
another direction; new weapons and cutting-edge military
technology are coming to the fore. Well, this is not our choice.
But, today, we should at least do everything so as to not
aggravate the situation.
LB: Mr. President, you are a student of history. You have had
many hours of conversation with
Henry Kissinger. You almost
certainly read his book, World Order.
Trump, we have
seen something new, something much more transactional. He is
very critical of alliances and allies in Europe.
something that is to Russia's advantage?
VP: It would be better to ask what would be to America's
advantage in this case.
Mr. Trump is not a career politician. He
has a distinct world outlook and vision of US national
interests. I do not accept many of his methods when it comes to
But do you know what I think? I think that
he is a talented person. He knows very well what his voters
expect from him.
Russia has been accused, and, strange as it may seem, it is
still being accused, despite
the Mueller report [on the
investigation into allegations of Russian meddling in the 2016
presidential campaign], of mythical interference in the US
What happened in reality?
Mr. Trump looked into his
opponents' attitude to him and saw changes in American society,
and he took advantage of this.
You and I are talking ahead of the G20 meeting. It is an
economic forum, and it will undoubtedly have discussions on
globalization, global trade and international finance.
The middle class in the US has not benefited from
Trump team sensed this very keenly and clearly and they used
this in the election campaign
Has anyone ever given a thought to who actually benefited and
what benefits were gained from globalization, the development of
which we have been observing and participating in over the past
25 years, since the 1990s?
China has made use of globalization, in particular, to pull
millions of Chinese out of poverty.
What happened in the US, and how did it happen? In the US, the
leading US companies - the companies, their managers,
shareholders and partners - made use of these benefits. The
middle class hardly benefited from globalization.
pay in the US (we are likely to talk later about real incomes in
Russia, which need special attention from the government). The
middle class in the US has not benefited from globalization; it
was left out when this pie was divided up.
The Trump team sensed this very keenly and clearly, and they
used this in the election campaign. It is where you should look
for reasons behind Trump's victory, rather than in any alleged
This is what we should be talking about
here, including when it comes to the global economy.
I believe this may explain his seemingly extravagant economic
decisions and even his relations with his partners and allies.
He believes that the distribution of resources and benefits of
globalization in the past decade was unfair to the US.
I am not going to discuss whether it was fair or not, and I will
not say if what he is doing is right or wrong. I would like to
understand his motives, which is what you asked me about.
this could explain his unusual behavior.
LB: I definitely want to come back to the Russian economy.
what you said is absolutely fascinating. Here you are, the
President of Russia, defending globalization along with
[China's] President Xi Jinping whereas Mr. Trump is attacking
globalization and talking about America First.
How do you
explain this paradox?
VP: I don't think that his desire to make America first is a
paradox. I want Russia to be first, and that is not perceived as
a paradox; there is nothing unusual there.
As for the fact that
he is attacking some manifestations of globalization, I made
that point earlier. He seems to believe that the results of
globalization could have been much better for the US than they
These globalization results are not producing the desired
effect for the US, and he is beginning this campaign against
certain elements of globalization.
This concerns everyone,
primarily major participants in the system of international
economic collaboration, including allies.
LB: Mr. President, you have had many meetings with President Xi,
and Russia and China have definitely come closer.
putting too many eggs in the China basket? Because Russian
foreign policy, including under your leadership, has always made
a virtue of talking to everybody.
First of all, we have enough eggs, but there are not that
many baskets where these eggs can be placed. This is the first
Secondly, we always assess risks.
Thirdly, our relations with China are not motivated by
timeserving political or any other considerations.
Let me point
out that the
Friendship Treaty with China was signed in 2001, if
memory serves, long before the current situation and long before
the current economic disagreements, to put it mildly, between
the US and China.
We do not have to join anything, and we do not have to direct
our policy against anyone. In fact, Russia and China are not
directing their policy against anyone. We are just consistently
implementing our plans for expanding co-operation.
We have been
doing this since 2001, and we are just consistently implementing
Over the past 25 years... the share of G7 countries in the
global GDP has declined from 58 per cent to 40 per cent. This
should also be reflected in international institutions in some
Take a look at what is written there. We have not done anything
that transcends the framework of these accords. So there is
nothing unusual here, and you should not search for any
implications of the Chinese-Russian rapprochement.
Of course, we
assess the current global developments; our positions coincide
on a number of matters on the current global agenda, including
our attitude towards compliance with generally accepted rules in
trade, the international financial system, payments and
The G20 has played a very tangible role.
Since its inception in
2008, when the financial crisis flared up, the G20 has
accomplished many useful things for stabilizing the global
financial system, for developing global trade and ensuring its
stabilization. I am talking about the tax aspect of the global
agenda, the fight against corruption, and so on.
Both China and
Russia adhere to this concept.
The G20 has accomplished a lot by advocating quota changes at
the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. Both Russia
and China share this approach.
Considering the major increase in
the global economic share of emerging markets, this is fair and
right, and we have been voicing this position from the very
beginning. And we are glad that this continues to develop and to
proceed in line with changes in global trade.
Over the past 25 years or so (25, I believe), the share of G7
countries in the global GDP has declined from 58 per cent to 40
This should also be reflected in international
institutions in some way. That is the common position of Russia
and China. This is fair, and there is nothing special about
and China have many coinciding interests, this is
true. This is what motivates our frequent contacts with
President Xi Jinping. Of course, we have also established very
warm personal relations, and this is natural.
Therefore, we are moving in line with our mainstream bilateral
agenda that was formulated as far back as 2001, but we quickly
respond to global developments.
We never direct our bilateral
relations against anyone. We are not against anyone, we are for
LB: I am relieved that this egg supply is strong. But the
serious point, Mr. President, is, you are familiar with Graham
Allison's book, The Thucydides Trap.
The danger of tensions or a
military conflict risk between a dominant power and a rising
power, America and China. Do you think that there is a risk of a
military conflict in your time between you, America and China?
VP: You know, the entire history of mankind has always been full
of military conflicts, but since the appearance of nuclear
weapons the risk of global conflicts has decreased due to the
potential global tragic consequences for the entire population
of the planet in case such a conflict happens between two
I hope it will not come to this.
However, of course, we have to admit that it is not only about
China's industrial subsidies on the one hand or the tariff
policy of the US on the other.
First of all, we are talking
about different development platforms, so to speak, in China and
in the US. They are different and you, being a historian,
probably will agree with me. They have different philosophies in
both foreign and domestic policies, probably.
But I would like to share some personal observations with you.
They are not about allied relations with one country or a
confrontation with the other; I am just observing what is going
on at the moment.
China is showing loyalty and flexibility to
both its partners and opponents. Maybe this is related to the
historical features of Chinese philosophy, their approach to
China is showing loyalty and flexibility to both its partners
and opponents... it is hard to say whether the US would have
enough patience not to make any rash decisions, but to respect
its partners even if there are disagreements
Therefore I do not think that there would be some such threats
from China. I cannot imagine that, really.
But it is hard to say
whether the US would have enough patience not to make any rash
decisions, but to respect its partners even if there are
But I hope, I would like to repeat this again, I
hope that there would not be any military confrontation.
LB: Arms control. We know that the Intermediate-Range Nuclear
INF agreement, is in grave jeopardy.
Is there any place,
from Russia's point of view, for future arms control agreements
or are we in a new phase when we are likely to see a new nuclear
VP: I believe there is such a risk.
As I said already, the US unilaterally withdrew from the
Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty, and has recently quit the INF
treaty as well. But this time, it did not just quit but found a
reason to quit, and this reason was Russia.
I do not think
Russia means anything to them in this case, because this war
theatre, the war theatre in Europe is unlikely to be interesting
to the US, despite the expansion of NATO and NATO's contingent
near our borders.
The fact remains, the US has withdrawn from
the treaty. Now the agenda is focused on the Strategic Arms
Reduction Treaty (New Start). I hope that I will be able to talk
about it with Donald [Trump] if we happen to meet in Osaka.
We said that we are ready to hold talks and to extend this
treaty between the US and Russia, but we have not seen any
relevant initiative from our American partners. They keep
silent, while the treaty expires in 2021.
If we do not begin
talks now, it would be over because there would be no time even
Our previous conversation with Donald showed that the Americans
seem to be interested in this, but still they are not making any
practical steps. So if this treaty ceases to exist, then there
would be no instrument in the world to curtail the arms race.
And this is bad.
LB: Exactly, the gloves are off.
Is there any chance of a
triangular agreement between China, Russia and America on
intermediate nuclear forces or is that a dream, pie in the sky?
Would you support such an end?
VP: As I said at the very beginning, we will support any
agreement that can advance our cause, that is, help us contain
the arms race.
It should be said that so far, the level and the development
scale of China's nuclear forces are much lower than in the US
and Russia. China is a huge power that has the capability to
build up its nuclear potential.
This will likely happen in the
future, but so far our capabilities are hardly comparable.
Russia and the US are the leading nuclear powers, which is why
the agreement was signed between them.
As for whether China will
join these efforts, you can ask our Chinese friends.
We must respect North Korea's legitimate security concerns. We
must show it respect, and we must find a way of ensuring its
security that will satisfy North Korea
LB: Russia is a Pacific power as well as a European and Asian
power. It is a Pacific power. You have seen what the Chinese are
doing in terms of their build-up of their navy and their
How do you deal with those potential security
problems, territorial disputes in the Pacific? Does Russia have
a role to play in a new security arrangement?
VP: You mentioned the build-up of naval forces in China. China's
total defence spending is $117bn, if memory serves.
The US defence spending is over $700bn. And you are trying to
world with the build-up of China's military might? It does not
work with this scale of military spending. No, it does not.
As for Russia, we will continue to develop our Pacific Fleet as
Of course, we also respond to global developments and
to what happens in relations between other countries. We can see
all of this, but it does not affect our defence development
plans, including those in the Russian Far East.
We are self-sufficient, and we are confident. Russia is the
largest continental power.
But we have a nuclear submarine base
in the Far East, where we are developing our defence potential
in accordance with our plans, including so that we can ensure
safety on the Northern Sea Route, which we are planning to
We intend to attract many partners to this effort, including our
Chinese partners. We may even reach an agreement with American
shippers and with India, which has also indicated its interest
in the Northern Sea Route.
I would say that we are also primed for co-operation in the Asia
Pacific region, and I have grounds to believe that Russia can
make a considerable, tangible and positive contribution to
stabilizing the situation.
LB: Can we just turn to North Korea? How do you assess the
current situation and do you believe that in the end, any deal
or agreement will have to accept the fact that North Korea has
nuclear weapons and that total dismantling is just not possible?
If I could just add,
Mr. President, I ask you this because Russia
has a fairly small but still a land border with North Korea.
VP: You know, whether we recognize North Korea as a nuclear
power or not, the number of nuclear charges it has will not
We must proceed from modern realities, which are that
nuclear weapons pose a threat to international peace and
Another pertinent question is where this problem stems from. The
tragedies of Libya and Iraq have inspired many countries to
ensure their security at all costs.
What we should be talking about is not how to make North Korea
disarm, but how to ensure the unconditional security of North
Korea and how to make any country, including North Korea feel
safe and protected by international law that is strictly
honored by all members of the international community.
what we should be thinking about.
We should think about guarantees, which we should use as the
basis for talks with North Korea. We must be patient, respect it
and, at the same time, take into account the dangers arising
from this, the dangers of the nuclear status and the presence of
Of course, the current situation is fraught with unpredictable
scenarios, which we must avoid.
LB: You have obviously thought of this as an experienced foreign
policy and security analyst and a strategist.
How do you see the
North Asia security situation over the next five to 10 years,
given you have Russia, you have China, you have Korea and Japan?
VP: You have said correctly that we have a common border, even
if a short one, with North Korea, therefore, this problem has a
direct bearing on us.
The US is located across the ocean, and
the UK is located far away, while we are right here, in this
region, and the North Korean nuclear range is not far away from
our border. This why this concerns us directly, and we never
stop thinking about it.
I would like to return to my answer to your previous question.
We must respect North Korea's legitimate security concerns. We
must show it respect, and we must find a way of ensuring its
security that will satisfy North Korea.
If we do this, the
situation may take a turn nobody can imagine today.
Do you remember what turn the situation took after the Soviet
Union adopted the policy of detente? Do I need to say anything
LB: Mr. President, you have been in power or very close to power.
I think in Davos I said to you when we met - you were not in
power but still calling all the shots.
After 20 years at the top
or near the top, has your appetite for risk increased?
VP: It did not increase or decrease.
Risk must always be
well-justified. But this is not the case when one can use the
popular Russian phrase:
"He who doesn't take risks, never drinks
This is not the case.
Quite possibly, risks are
inevitable when one has to make certain decisions. Depending on
the scale of any decision, risks can be small or serious.
We said [to the
previous US administration], suppose Assad steps
down today, what will happen tomorrow?... the answer we got
was very amusing... they said,
'We don't know'.
But when you
do not know what happens tomorrow, why shoot from the hip today?
Any decision-making process is accompanied by risk. Before
taking one's chances, one has to meticulously assess everything.
Therefore, risk based on an assessment of the situation and the
possible consequences of the decisions is possible and even
Foolish risks overlooking the real situation and
failing to clearly comprehend the consequences are unacceptable
because they can jeopardize the interests of a great number of
LB: How big was this Syria risk in terms of your decision to
VP: It was sufficiently high.
However, of course, I thought
carefully about this well in advance, and I considered all the
circumstances and all the pros and cons. I considered how the
situation around Russia would develop and the possible
I discussed this matter with my aides and
ministers, including those in charge of law enforcement agencies
and other senior officials.
In the long run, I decided that the
positive effect from our active involvement in Syrian affairs
for Russia and the interests of the Russian Federation would far
outweigh non-interference and passive observation of how an
international terrorist organization grows ever stronger near
LB: What has the return been like on the risk taken in Syria?
VP: I believe that it has been a good and positive return. We
have accomplished even more than I had expected.
First of all,
many militants planning to return to Russia were eliminated.
This implies several thousand people. They were planning to
return to Russia or neighboring countries with which we do not
maintain any visa regime.
Both aspects are equally dangerous for
us. This is the first thing.
Secondly, we have managed to stabilize the situation in a nearby
region, one way or another. This is also highly important.
Therefore, we have directly strengthened Russia's domestic
security. This is the third thing.
Fourthly, we have established sufficiently good business-like
relations with all regional countries, and our positions in the
Middle East region have become more stable. Indeed, we have
established very good, business-like, partner-like and largely
allied relations with many regional countries,
Turkey and other countries.
Primarily, this concerns
Syria, we have managed to preserve
Syrian statehood, no matter what, and we have prevented
Libya-style chaos there.
And a worst-case scenario would spell
out negative consequences for Russia.
Besides, I would like to openly speak of the mobilization of the
Russian armed forces. Our armed forces have received such
practical experience that they could not have obtained during
any peacetime exercises.
LB: Are you committed to Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad
remaining in power or can we see, at some point, the transition
in Syria that Russia would support, which would not be Libya?
VP: I believe that the Syrian people should be free to choose
their own future.
At the same time, I would like the actions of
external players to be substantiated and, just as in the case of
the risks you have mentioned, predictable and understandable, so
that we can consider at least our next moves.
When we discussed this matter only recently with the previous US
administration, we said, suppose Assad steps down today, what
will happen tomorrow?
Your colleague did well to laugh, because the answer we got was
very amusing. You cannot even imagine how funny it was.
"We don't know."
But when you do not know what happens
tomorrow, why shoot from the hip today? This may sound
primitive, but this is how it is.
Therefore, we prefer to look at problems thoroughly from all
possible angles and not to be in any hurry. Of course, we are
perfectly aware of what is happening in Syria. There are
internal reasons for the conflict, and they should be dealt
with. But both sides should do their bit.
I am referring to the
LB: Mr. President, does that same argument apply to Venezuela? In
other words, you are not prepared to see a transition in
Venezuela and you are absolutely committed to President
VP: Oh, and it seemed we had started so well.
Please do not take
offence to what I am going to say next. You won't, will you? We
were off to such a terrific start, talking seriously, and now
you have moved back to the stereotype views on Russia.
We have no nothing to do with what is happening in Venezuela, if
you know what I mean.
LB: What are those advisers doing then in Caracas?
VP: I will say this now, if you just let me finish. There is no
problem with that.
Back under President Hugo Chávez we sold weapons
without any limits and problems. We did this absolutely legally
just as it is done all around the world and as every country
does, including the US, the UK, China and France. We did this
too - we sold weapons to Venezuela.
We signed contracts, which say what we have to do when it comes
to servicing this military equipment, that we must train local
specialists, ensure that this equipment is maintained in combat
readiness and so on.
We provide maintenance services for this
I have already said this many times, including to our
American partners: there are no Russian troops there. Do you
understand? Yes, there are Russian specialists and instructors
there. Yes, they are working there.
Only recently, I believe it
was a week ago, a group of our advisers and specialists left the
country. But they can return.
We have an agreement that our aircraft fly there from time to
time to take part in exercises. And this is it. Are we
regulating the rebels' actions as some of our partners are
doing, or the actions of President Maduro? He is the president,
why should we control his actions? He is in control.
is doing well or not, this is another matter altogether. We do
not make any judgments.
I believe that many things could have been done differently
there when it comes to the economy. But we do not meddle in
things; it is none of our business. We have invested billions of
dollars there, mostly in the oil sector.
So what? Other
countries are doing the same as well.
It looks like everything is preserved only by Russian weapons.
This is not true. It has nothing in common with reality. Where
are the self-proclaimed presidents and opposition leaders? Some
of them have taken refuge in foreign embassies and others are in
What do we have to do with this? This problem should be
sorted out by the Venezuelan people themselves. This is all.
But is it enough that [Juan Guaidó] entered a square and
proclaimed himself 'president'? Is the entire world supposed to
support him as president?
LB: I was just applying your theory and your experience of
seeing what happened in Libya and Iraq to Venezuela.
therefore, logically, you would say,
"We are committed to
Maduro because we do not want to see regime change from
Is that the Russian position? Or might you be willing
"We will support [Venezuela's opposition leader Juan] Guaidó because we have important oil interests in Venezuela"?
VP: We are prepared for any developments in any country,
including Venezuela, if they are taking place in accordance with
internal rules and the country's legislation, its constitution,
and in line with the people's will.
I do not think that Libyan or Iraqi statehood would have been
wrecked if there had been no intervention there.
It would not
in Libya, the situation was absolutely different
there. Indeed, [former Libyan leader Muammar] Gaddafi wrote his
books there, set forth his theories, and so on, which did not
meet specific standards, and his practical work did not meet
European or American perceptions of democracy.
Incidentally, the president of France said recently that the
American democratic model differs greatly from the European
So there are no common democratic standards. And do you,
well, not you, but our Western partners, want a region such as
Libya to have the same democratic standards as Europe and the
The region has only monarchies or countries with a system
similar to the one that existed in Libya.
But I am sure that, as a historian, you will agree with me at
heart. I do not know whether you will publicly agree with this
or not, but it is impossible to impose current and viable French
or Swiss democratic standards on North African residents who
have never lived in conditions of French or Swiss democratic
institutions. Impossible, isn't it?
And they tried to impose
something like that on them. Or they tried to impose something
that they had never known or even heard of. All this led to
conflict and intertribal discord. In fact, a war continues in
So why should we do the same in Venezuela? Do we want to revert
to gunboat diplomacy? What do we need it for? Is it necessary to
humiliate Latin American nations so much in the modern world and
impose forms of government or leaders from the outside?
By the way, we worked with President Chávez because he was
president. We did not work with President Chávez as an
individual, but we worked with Venezuela.
That is why we
channeled investments in the oil sector.
And where did we plan to deliver Venezuelan oil while investing
in the oil sector? As you know, Venezuela has unique oil that is
mostly delivered to US refineries. What is so bad about that? We
wanted the Venezuelan oil and gas sector to operate steadily,
predictably and confidently and to make deliveries to those US
I do not understand what is so wrong with this.
First, they faced economic problems, followed by domestic
political problems. Let them sort things out by themselves, and
these leaders will come to power by democratic means.
But when a
person enters a square, raises his eyes to the sky and proclaims
himself president? Let us do the same in Japan, the US or
Germany. What will happen? Do you understand that this will
cause chaos all over the world? It is impossible to disagree
with this. There will be pure chaos.
How could they act like
this? But no, they started supporting that person from the very
Listen, all this fuss about spies and counterspies, it is not
worth serious interstate relations. This [Skripal] spy story, as
we say, it is not worth five kopecks. Or even five pounds, for
He may be a very good person. He may be just wonderful, and his
plans are good. But is it enough that he entered a square and
proclaimed himself president? Is the entire world supposed to
support him as president?
We should tell him to take part in
elections and win them, and then we would work with him as the
LB: Let us talk about another democracy in Europe, my own
You are going to have a meeting with
which is going to be one of her last meetings before she steps
down as prime minister.
Do you think that there is a possibility
of some improvement in Anglo-Russian relations and that we can
move on from some of these issues that are obviously of great
sensitivity, like the
Skripal affair? Or do you think that we
are going to stay in a deep freeze for the next three or five
VP: Listen, all this fuss about spies and counterspies, it is
not worth serious interstate relations.
This spy story, as we
say, it is not worth five kopecks. Or even five pounds, for that
matter. And the issues concerning interstate relations, they are
measured in billions and the fate of millions of people. How can
we compare one with the other?
The list of accusations and allegations against one another
could go on and on.
"You poisoned the Skripals."
Firstly, this must be proved.
Secondly, the average person listens and says,
"Who are these Skripals?"
And it turns out that [Sergei] Skripal was engaged in
espionage against us [Russia].
So this person asks the next
"Why did you spy on us using Skripal? Maybe you should
not have done that?"
You know, these questions are infinite. We
need to just leave it alone and let security agencies deal with
But we know that businesses in the UK (by the way, I had a
meeting with our British colleagues in this same room), they
want to work with us, they are working with us and intend to
continue doing so. And we support this intent.
I think that Mrs. May, despite her resignation, could not help
but be concerned that these spy scandals made our relations
reach a deadlock so we could not develop our ties normally and
support business people, who are doing what?
They do not only
earn money, this is what is on the outside. They create jobs and
added value, plus they provide revenue at all levels of the tax
system of their countries. This is a serious and multi-faceted
job, with the same risks you mentioned, including risks related
to business operations.
And if we add an unpredictable political
situation, they will not be able to work at all.
I think that both Russia and the UK are interested in fully
restoring our relations. At least I hope that a few preliminary
steps will be made.
I think it would be easier for
maybe, because she is leaving and is free to do what she thinks
is right, important and necessary and not to bother about some
domestic political consequences.
LB: Some people might say that a human life is worth more than
five pennies. But do you believe, Mr. President that whatever
VP: Did anybody die?
LB: Oh yes. The gentleman who had a drug problem and he died
after touching the novichok in the car park. I mean somebody did
that because of the perfume. It was more than one person that
died, not the Skripals. I am just...
VP: And you think this is absolutely Russia's fault?
LB: I did not say that. I said somebody died.
VP: You did not say that, but if it has nothing to do with
Russia... Yes, a man died, and that is a tragedy, I agree.
But what do we have to do with it?
LB: Let me just ask this and I really want to talk about the
Do you believe that what happened in Salisbury
sent an unambiguous message to anyone who is thinking of
betraying the Russian state that it is fair game?
VP: As a matter of fact, treason is the gravest crime possible
and traitors must be punished. I am not saying that the
Salisbury incident is the way to do it. Not at all.
must be punished.
This gentleman, Skripal, had already been punished. He was
arrested, sentenced and then served time in prison. He received
his punishment. For that matter, he was off the radar.
anybody be interested in him? He got punished. He was detained,
arrested, sentenced and then spent five years in prison. Then he
was released and that was it.
As concerns treason, of course, it must be punishable. It is the
most despicable crime that one can imagine.
LB: The Russian economy.
You spoke the other day about decline
in the real wages in the Russian workforce and Russian growth
has been less than expected. But at the same time, Mr. President,
you have been accumulating foreign exchange reserves and
international reserves at some 460bn.
What are you saving for?
What is the purpose? Can't you use some of this money to ease up
on the fiscal side?
VP: Let me correct a few very small details.
Real wages are not
in decline in Russia. On the contrary, they are starting to pick
up. It is the real household disposable income that is falling.
Do not think that this money [Russia's reserves] is just sitting
on the shelf. No, it creates certain guarantees for Russia's
economic stability in the midterm
Wages and income are two slightly different things. Income is
determined by many parameters, including loan servicing costs.
People in Russia take out a lot of consumer loans and interest
payments are counted towards expenses, which drags down real
Also, the shadow economy is undergoing
legalization. A substantial part of self-employed people - I
believe, 100,000 or 200,000 - have already legalized their
business. This, too, affects real incomes of the population,
This tendency has persisted for the past four years. Last year
we recorded a small increase of 0.1 per cent. It is not enough.
It is still within the margin of error. But it is one of the
serious problems that we need to deal with and we are dealing
Real wages started to grow recently. Last year there was an
8.5-per cent increase. This year, the growth rate of real wages
has significantly decreased due to a whole range of
circumstances. I mean that last year we saw a recovery growth
and there are some other factors involved. However, it
And we really expect that it will have an effect on
real household disposable incomes.
Even more so because lately we have adopted a number of measures
to speed up the growth of retirement pensions. Last year the
inflation rate was 4.3 per cent and, based on these results, in
the beginning of this year pensions were adjusted for inflation
by 7.05 per cent.
And we set ourselves a goal, a task
- which, I
am certain, will be achieved - to adjust pensions by a
percentage that is above the inflation rate.
Now, real incomes were also affected because we had to increase
VAT from 18 to 20 per cent, which affected people's purchasing
power because the inflation rate exceeded 5 per cent.
In other words, we expected that the negative impact of the VAT
increase would be short-term, which is exactly what happened.
Fortunately, it worked out and our calculations proved right.
Now the inflation rate is going down, the macroeconomic
situation is improving; investment is rising slightly. We can
see that the economy has overcome those difficulties that were
caused by internal and external shocks.
The external shocks were
related to restrictions and slumping prices on our traditional
export products. The economy has stabilized.
The macroeconomic situation in the country is stable. It is not
accidental and all rating agencies registered it. The three
major agencies raised our investment rating. Economic growth
last year was 2.3 per cent. We do not think it was enough but we
will, of course, work on speeding up the pace.
The growth rate
in industrial production was 2.9 per cent and even higher, up to
13 per cent in some industries (light industry, processing and
garment industries and several others).
Therefore, overall, our
economy is stable.
But the most important task we need to achieve is to change the
structure of the economy and secure a substantial growth of
labour productivity through modern technologies, Artificial
Intelligence, robotics and so on.
This is exactly why we
increased VAT, to raise budget funds for performing a certain
part of this job that is the state's responsibility, in order to
create conditions for private investment.
Let us take transport
and other infrastructure development.
Hardly anybody besides the
state is involved in it. There are other factors related to
education and healthcare. A person who has health problems or
has no training cannot be efficient in the modern economy. The
list goes on.
We really hope that by starting this work on key development
areas, we will be able to increase labour productivity and use
this basis for ensuring an increase in the incomes and
prosperity of our people.
As concerns the reserves, you are not exactly correct here,
either. We have over 500bn in gold and foreign currency
reserves, rather than 460bn. But the understanding is that we
need to create a safety net that would let us feel confident and
use the interest on our existing resources.
If we have 7 per
cent more, we can spend those 7 per cent.
This is what we plan for the next year and there is a high
probability that we will succeed. Do not think that this money
is just sitting on the shelf.
No, it creates certain guarantees
for Russia's economic stability in the midterm.
LB: The central bank has done a very good job in helping to
secure macroeconomic stability even if some of the oligarchs
complain about banks being closed.
VP: You know, first of all, we do not have oligarchs any more.
Oligarchs are those who use their proximity to the authorities
to receive super profits.
We have large companies, private ones,
or with government participation.
But I do not know of any large
companies that get preferential treatment from being close to
the authorities, these are practically non-existent.
As for the central bank, yes, it is engaged in a gradual
improvement of our financial system: inefficient and
small-capacity companies, as well as semi-criminal financial
organizations are leaving the market, and this is large-scale
and complicated work.
It is not about oligarchs or large companies; the thing is that
it affects, unfortunately, the interests of the depositor, the
We have relevant regulatory acts that
people's financial losses and create a certain safety net for
them. But each case should be considered individually, of
In general, the work of the central bank, in my opinion,
deserves support. It is related to both the improvement of the
financial system and the calibrated policy regarding the key
LB: Mr. President, I would like to go back to President Xi and
As you know, he has pursued a rigorous anti-corruption
campaign in order to clean up the party, maintain the legitimacy
and strengthen the party. He has also read the history of the
Soviet Union, where [Mikhail] Gorbachev essentially abandoned
the party and helped to destroy the country - the Soviet Union.
Do you think that Mr. Xi is right in his approach that the party
is absolutely crucial? And what lessons do you draw for Russia?
If I can just add, you said something interesting a few years
ago about the break-up of the Soviet Union being the greatest
geopolitical tragedy of the 20th century.
VP: These two issues are not connected.
As for the tragedy
related to the dissolution of the Soviet Union, this is
something obvious. I meant, first of all, the humanitarian
aspect of it. It appears that 25m ethnic Russians were living
abroad when they learned from the television and radio that the
Soviet Union had ceased to exist. Nobody asked their opinion.
The decision was simply made.
Most (over 70 per cent) of the citizens of the USSR spoke in
favor of retaining it. Then the decision was made to dissolve
the USSR, but nobody asked the people, and 25m ethnic Russians
found themselves living outside the Russian Federation.
is this not a tragedy?
You know, these are issues of democracy. Was there an opinion
poll, a referendum? Most (over 70 per cent) of the citizens of
the USSR spoke in favor of retaining it.
Then the decision was
made to dissolve the USSR, but nobody asked the people, and 25m
ethnic Russians found themselves living outside the Russian
Listen, is this not a tragedy? A huge one! And
family relations? Jobs? Travel? It was nothing but a disaster.
I was surprised to see the later comments on what I said, in
particular, in the Western media. They should try to live
through seeing their father, brother or any other close relative
finding themselves living in a different country, where a whole
new life has started. I assure you...
As for the party and the party state building in China, this is
for the Chinese people to decide; we do not interfere. Today's
Russia has its own principles and rules of life, and China with
its 1.35bn people has its own.
You try to rule a country with
such a population. This is not Luxembourg, with all due respect
to this wonderful country.
Therefore, it is necessary to give
the Chinese people the opportunity to decide how to organize
LB: Again a big picture question.
I talked at the
beginning of our conversation about fragmentation. Another
phenomenon today is that there is a popular backlash against
elites and against the establishment and you have seen that - BREXIT in Britain.
Perhaps you were speaking about Trump's America. You have seen
it with the AFD in Germany; you have seen it in Turkey; and you
have seen it in the Arab world.
How long do you think that
Russia can remain immune to this global movement of backlash
against the establishment?
VP: You should look at the realities in each particular case.
course, there are some trends, but they are only general. In
each particular case, when looking at the situation and how it
unfolds, you should take into account the history of the given
country, its traditions and realities.
How long will Russia remain a stable country? The longer the
better. Because very many other things and its position in the
world depend on stability, on internal political stability.
Ultimately, the wellbeing of the people depends, possibly
primarily, on stability.
One of the reasons, the internal reason for the Soviet Union's
collapse was that life was difficult for the people, whose
take-home wages were very small. The shops were empty, and the
people lost the intrinsic desire to preserve the state.
They thought that it could not get worse no matter what
happened. It turned out that life became worse for very many
people, especially at the beginning of the 1990s when the social
protection and healthcare systems collapsed and industry was
It could be ineffective, but at least people had
jobs. After the collapse, they lost them. Therefore, you should
look at each particular case separately.
What is happening in the West? What is the reason for the Trump
phenomenon, as you said, in the US? What is happening in Europe
The ruling elites have broken away from the people. The
obvious problem is the gap between
the interests of the elites
and the overwhelming majority of the people.
Of course, we must always bear this in mind.
One of the things
we must do in Russia is never to forget that the purpose of the
operation and existence of any government is to create a stable,
normal, safe and predictable life for the people and to work
towards a better future.
There is also the so-called liberal idea, which has outlived its
purpose. Our Western partners have admitted that some elements
of the liberal idea, such as multiculturalism, are no longer
When the migration problem came to a head, many people admitted
that the policy of multiculturalism is not effective and that
the interests of the core population should be considered.
Although those who have run into difficulties because of
political problems in their home countries need our assistance
That is great, but what about the interests of their
own population when the number of migrants heading to Western
Europe is not just a handful of people but thousands or hundreds
LB: Did [German chancellor] Angela Merkel make a mistake?
VP: Cardinal mistake.
One can criticize Trump for his intention
to build a wall between Mexico and the US. It could be going too
far. Yes, maybe so. I am not arguing about this point. But he
had to do something about the huge inflow of migrants and
Nobody is doing anything. They say this is bad and that is bad
as well. Tell me, what is good then? What should be done? Nobody
has proposed anything. I do not mean that a wall must be built
or tariffs raised by 5 per cent annually in the economic
relations with Mexico. This is not what I am saying, yet
something must be done. He is at least looking for a solution.
What am I driving at? Those who are concerned about this,
ordinary Americans, they look at this and say, Good for him, at
least he is doing something, suggesting ideas and looking for a
As for the liberal idea, its proponents are not doing anything.
They say that all is well, that everything is as it should be.
But is it? They are sitting in their cozy offices, while those
who are facing the problem every day in Texas or Florida are not
happy, they will soon have problems of their own. Does anyone
think about them?
The same is happening in Europe. I discussed this with many of
my colleagues, but nobody has the answer. The say they cannot
pursue a hard-line policy for various reasons.
Why exactly? Just
because. We have the law, they say. Well, then change the law!
We have quite a few problems of our own in this sphere as well.
We have open borders with the former Soviet republics, but their
people at least speak Russian.
Do you see what I mean?
besides, we in Russia have taken steps to streamline the
situation in this sphere. We are now working in the countries
from which the migrants come, teaching Russian at their schools,
and we are also working with them here. We have toughened the
legislation to show that migrants must respect the laws, customs
and culture of the country.
In other words, the situation is not simple in Russia either,
but we have started working to improve it.
Whereas the liberal
idea presupposes that nothing needs to be done. The migrants can
kill, plunder and rape with impunity because their rights as
migrants must be protected. What rights are these? Every crime
must have its punishment.
So, the liberal idea has become obsolete...
It has come into
conflict with the interests of the overwhelming majority of the
population. Or take the traditional values. I am not trying to
insult anyone, because we have been condemned for our alleged
homophobia as it is. But we have no problems with LGBT persons.
God forbid, let them live as they wish. But some things do
appear excessive to us.
They claim now that children can play five or six gender roles.
I cannot even say exactly what genders these are, I have no
notion. Let everyone be happy, we have no problem with that.
this must not be allowed to overshadow the culture, traditions
and traditional family values of millions of people making up
the core population.
LB: Does that include - this is very important, like you say
- the end of this liberal idea, because - what else did you say
- uncontrolled immigration, open borders, definitely, as you say,
diversity as an organizing principle in society?
What else do
you think is just finished over in terms of the liberal idea?
And would you say - if I could just add
- that religion
therefore must play an important role in terms of national
culture and cohesiveness?
The liberal idea cannot be destroyed either; it has the right to
exist and it should even be supported in some things. But you
should not think that it has the right to be the absolute
VP: It should play its current role. It [religion] cannot be
pushed out of this cultural space. We should not abuse anything.
Russia is an Orthodox Christian nation, and there have always
been problems between Orthodox Christianity and the Catholic
world. This is exactly why I will now say a few words about
Are there any problems there? Yes, there are, but
they cannot be over-exaggerated and used for destroying the
Roman Catholic Church itself. This is what cannot be done.
Sometimes, I get the feeling that these liberal circles are
beginning to use certain elements and problems of the Catholic
Church as a tool for destroying the Church itself.
This is what
I consider to be incorrect and dangerous.
All right, have we forgotten that all of us live in a world
based on biblical values? Even atheists and everyone else live
in this world. We do not have to think about this every day,
attend church and pray, thereby showing that we are devout
Christians or Muslims or Jews.
However, deep inside, there must
be some fundamental human rules and moral values.
In this sense,
traditional values are more stable and more important for
millions of people than this liberal idea, which, in my opinion,
is really ceasing to exist.
LB: So religion, religion is not the opium of the masses?
VP: No, it is not. But I get the impression that you are
detached from religion because it is already 12.45am Moscow
time, and you continue to torture me.
As we say here, there is
no fear of God in you, is there? (Laughter).
LB: This is history. I have waited a long time for this. I have
got one last question. And thank you for your - go on please.
VP: Please, go ahead.
Henry Foy: Mr. President, would you say - I was reflecting on
what you just said: some of the themes you were referring to
would echo in people such as [former Trump adviser] Steve Bannon,
and Mr. Trump himself, and the groups in Europe who have come to
Do you think if the
end of the liberal idea is over, is now the time of the "illiberals"? And do you see more and more
allies growing around the world to your way of seeing the human
existence at the moment?
VP: You know, it seems to me that purely liberal or
traditional ideas have never existed.
Probably, they did once
exist in the history of humankind, but everything very quickly
ends in a deadlock if there is no diversity. Everything starts
to become extreme one way or another.
Various ideas and various opinions should have a chance to exist
and manifest themselves, but at the same time interests of the
general public, those millions of people and their lives, should
never be forgotten. This is something that should not be
Then, it seems to me, we would be able to avoid major political
upheavals and troubles. This applies to the liberal idea as
well. It does not mean (I think, this is ceasing to be a
dominating factor) that it must be immediately destroyed.
point of view, this position should also be treated with
They cannot simply dictate anything to anyone just like they
have been attempting to do over the recent decades. Diktat can
be seen everywhere: both in the media and in real life. It is
deemed unbecoming even to mention some topics. But why?
For this reason, I am not a fan of quickly shutting, tying,
closing, disbanding everything, arresting everybody or
dispersing everybody. Of course, not. The liberal idea cannot be
destroyed either; it has the right to exist and it should even
be supported in some things.
But you should not think that it
has the right to be the absolute dominating factor. That is the
LB: You really are on the same page as Donald Trump. Mr.
President, you have been in power for almost 20 years.
VP: For 18 years.
LB: You have seen many world leaders. Who do you most admire?
VP: Peter the Great.
LB: But he is dead.
VP: He will live as long as his cause is alive just as the cause
of each of us. (Laughter). We will live until our cause is
If you mean any present-day leaders from different countries and
states, of the persons that I could communicate with, I was most
seriously impressed by former president of France [Jacques]
He is a true intellectual, a real professor, a very
level-headed man as well as very interesting.
When he was
president, he had his own opinion on every issue, he knew how to
defend it and he always respected his partners' opinions.
In modern-day history, taking a broader view, there are many
good and very interesting people.
LB: Peter the Great, the creator of the Greater Russia. Need I
say any more?
My last question, Mr. President. Great leaders
always prepare succession. Lee Kuan Yew prepared succession. So
please share with us what would the process be by which your
successor will be chosen.
VP: I can tell you without exaggeration that I have always been
thinking about this, since 2000.
The situation changes and
certain demands on people change, too. In the end, and I will
say this without theatrics or exaggeration, in the end the
decision must be made by the people of Russia.
No matter what
and how the current leader does, no matter who or how he
represents, it is the voter that has the final word, the citizen
of the Russian Federation.
LB: So the choice will be approved by the Russian people in a
vote? Or through the Duma?
VP: Why through the Duma? By means of direct secret ballot,
universal direct secret ballot. Of course, it is different from
what you have in Great Britain. We are a democratic country.
In your country, one leader has left, and the second leader, who
is for all intents and purposes the top figure in the state, is
not elected by a direct vote of the people, but by the ruling
It is different in Russia, as we are a democratic country. If
our top officials leave for some reason, because they want to
retire from politics like Boris Yeltsin, or because their term
ends, we hold an election through universal direct secret
The same will happen in this case.
Of course, the current leader
always supports someone, and this support can be substantive if
the person supported has the respect and trust of the people,
but in the end, the choice is always made by the Russian people.
LB: I cannot resist pointing out that you did take over as
president before the election.
VP: Yes, this is true. So what? I was acting president, and in
order to be elected and become the head of state, I had to take
part in an election, which I did.
I am grateful to the Russian people for their trust back then,
and after that, in the following elections. It is a great honor
to be the leader of Russia.
LB: Mr. President, thank you for spending time with the Financial
Times in Moscow, in the Kremlin.
VP: Thank you for your interest in the events in Russia and your
interest in what Russia thinks about the current international
affairs. And thank you for our interesting conversation today.
believe it was really interesting. Thank you very much.