Russlands Präsident Wladimir Putin hat am (gestrigen) 17. Dezember seine traditionelle Pressekonferenz zum Jahresende gegeben – mit etlichen Aussagen auch zur Außen- und Sicherheitspolitik, an erster Stelle zum militärischen Einsatz in Syrien. Die Nachrichten dazu gab’s schon gestern, hier zur Dokumentation (und zur besseren Lesbarkeit) aus dem Gesamt-Transkript der Pressekonferenz in der vom Kreml veröffentlichten englischen Fassung einige der außenpolitisch interessanten Aussagen. (Aber auch das Nachlesen der gesamten Abschrift lohnt…)
Türkei & Syrien
Yelena Teslova: Yelena Teslova with the Anadolu news agency. I have a similar question. I would also like to start off with the fact that in your Address to the Federal Assembly, you said that we should not put the Turkish people and the part of the Turkish elite that is directly responsible for the death of our military personnel in Syria on the same plane. On a day-to-day level, however, the impression is somewhat different. Complaints are coming to the Turkish embassy in Moscow from students saying they have been expelled and from business people who say they are about to be deported. What is to be done about this?
The second question concerns Syria. The position on the fate of the Syrian president is well-known. Russia says it should be decided by the Syrian people while the United States and its allies insist that he has no political future. Did you address the issue with John Kerry during his visit to Moscow? Will this issue be raised in New York? Thank you.
Vladimir Putin: And your question please.
Fuad Safarov: Mr President, Fuad Safarov with the Turkish news agency Cihan.
The rapid deterioration of relations between Russia and Turkey benefits neither side. What is more, this has only harmed both sides. Do you believe there is a third party in this scenario?
The second question, if you allow me. An Islamic anti-ISIS coalition was established recently, but we know that there is also the NATO-led coalition and the Russian-Syrian coalition. It turns out that there are three coalitions against ISIS. Is it really so difficult to deal with this evil? Maybe there are some other goals and some other plans here? Maybe it is not ISIS that is the problem? Thank you.
Vladimir Putin: Okay, I will talk about Syria in the end. Now, regarding the conflict that has flared up. We believe that the actions of the Turkish authorities (in relation to our warplane, which they shot down) are not an unfriendly, but a hostile act. They shot down a warplane and our people were killed.
What outraged us so much? If it was an accident, as we heard later, apparently, the Turkish authorities did not even know it was a Russian plane… What is usually done in such cases? After all, people were killed. They immediately make a phone call and straighten things out. Instead, they immediately ran to Brussels, shouting: “Help, we have been hurt.” Who is hurting you? Did we touch anybody there? No. They started covering themselves with NATO. Does NATO need this? As it turned out, apparently it does not.
What is the most important thing for us? I want you to understand this. I want our people to hear this and I want Turkey to hear this as well. Apart from the tragedy, the fact that our people were killed, what has upset us so much, do you know? After all, we have not abandoned cooperation. When I was last in Antalya I had contact with Turkey’s entire leadership. Our Turkish colleagues raised very sensitive issues and asked for support. Even though our relations have soured now (I will not say what the issue was – this is not my style), but believe me, they raised issues with us that are very sensitive and that do not fit into the context of international law when we consider the decisions proposed by the Turkish side.
You will be surprised, but we said, “Yes, we understand, and we are willing to help.” You see, I had not heard about the Turkomans (Syrian Turks) before. I knew that Turkmen – our Turkmen – lived in Turkmenistan, and so I was confused… Nobody told us about them. But after we indicated our willingness to cooperate on the issues that are sensitive to Turkey, why did not they phone us via the cooperation channels between our militaries to say that during our discussions we overlooked a certain part of the border where Turkey has vested interests. They could have expressed their concerns or asked us not to hit certain areas. But nobody said anything.
As I said, we were willing to cooperate with Turkey on very sensitive issues. So why did they do it? Tell me, why? What have they accomplished? Did they think we would just pack up and go? They could not have thought that of course, Russia is not that kind of country. We have increased our presence and increased the number of warplanes [in Syria]. We did not have air defence systems there, but after that we dispatched S-400 systems to the area. We are also adjusting the Syrian air defence system and have serviced the highly effective Buk systems that we had sent them before. Turkish planes used to fly there all the time, violating Syrian air space. Let them try it now. Why did they do it?
You asked if there is a third party involved. I see what you mean. We do not know, but if someone in Turkish leadership has decided to brown nose the Americans, I am not sure if they did the right thing. First, I do not know if the US needed this. I can imagine that certain agreements were reached at some level that they would down a Russian plane, while the US closes its eyes to Turkish troops entering Iraq, and occupying it. I do not know if there was such an exchange. We do not know. But whatever happened, they have put everyone in a bind. In my opinion – I have looked at the situation and everything that has happened and is happening there – it appears that ISIS is losing priority. I will share my impressions with you.
Some time ago, they invaded Iraq and destroyed that country (for good or bad is beside the point). The void set in. Then, elements tied to the oil trading emerged. This situation has been building up over the years. It is a business, a huge trafficking operation run on an industrial scale. Of course, they needed a military force to protect smuggling operations and illegal exports. It is great to be able to cite the Islamic factor and slogans to that effect in order to attract cannon fodder. Instead, the recruits are being manipulated in a game based on economic interests. They started urging people to join this movement. I think that is how ISIS came about. Next, they needed to protect delivery routes. We began attacking their convoys. Now, we can see that they are splitting up with five, six, ten, fifteen trucks hitting the roads after dark. However, another flow, the bulk of the truck fleet, is headed for Iraq, and across Iraq through Iraqi Kurdistan. In one place there – I will ask the Defence Ministry to show this picture – we spotted 11,000 oil trucks. Just think of it – 11,000 oil trucks in one place. Unbelievable.
Whether there is a third party involved is anyone’s guess, but a scenario whereby these moves were never agreed with anyone is quite likely. However, today, the Turkish authorities are taking quite a lot of heat – not directly, though – for islamising their country. I am not saying if it is bad or good, but I admit that the current Turkish leaders have decided to let the Americans and Europeans know – yes, we are islamising our country, but we are modern and civilised Islamists. Remember, what President Reagan said about Somoza in his time: “Somoza may be a son of a bitch, but he is our son of a bitch.” Just keep it in mind, we are Islamists, but we are on your side, we are your Islamists.
There may be such an overtone, but nothing good came out of what happened. The goals, even if Turkey had any, not only were not achieved, but, on the contrary, only exacerbated the situation.
Now, regarding Turkic peoples residing in Russia. Of course we should maintain contacts with those who are close to us ethnically. I am saying “us,” because Turkic-speaking peoples of Russia are part of Russia, and in this sense the Turkish people, whom I mentioned in my Address as a friendly people, and other Turkic-speaking peoples remain our partners and friends. Of course, we will and must maintain contacts with them.
We have learned from experience that it is hard or almost impossible to reach common ground with the current Turkish leadership. Even when we tell them “yes, we agree,” they are trying to outflank or stab us in the back for absolutely no good reason.
Consequently, I do not see any prospects for improving relations with the Turkish leaders in terms of state-to-state relations, while remaining completely open to humanitarian cooperation. However, even this area is not without issues. I think that Turkish leaders have actually gone beyond their own expectations. Russia is forced to impose restrictive economic and other measures, for example, in tourism.
You know, the creeping islamisation that would have made Ataturk turn over in his own grave, affects Russia. We know that there are fighters from the North Caucasus on Turkish soil. We have told our partners time and again: “We do not do such things with respect to Turkey.” But these fighters are still there, they receive treatment and protection. They benefit from visa-free travel arrangements and are able to enter Russian territory using Turkish passports and disappear, while we have to go after them in the Caucasus or in our million plus cities. For this reason, we will certainly have to do it along with a number of other initiatives to ensure our national security.
The fate of the Syrian president. I have said it many times, and I would like to repeat it: We will never agree with the idea of a third party, whoever it is, imposing its opinion about who governs who. This is beyond any common sense and international law. Of course, we discussed it with US Secretary of State Kerry. Our opinion remains the same, and this is our principled approach. We believe that only Syrians can choose their leaders, establish their government standards and rules.
Therefore, I will say something very important now. We support the initiative of the United States, including with respect to the UN Security Council draft resolution on Syria. The Secretary of State’s visit mainly focused on this resolution. We generally agree with it. I think Syrian officials will agree with the draft, too. There may be something that somebody does not like. But in an attempt to resolve this bloody conflict of many years, there is always room for compromise on either side. We believe it is a generally acceptable proposal, although there could be improvements.
As I have said before, this is an initiative of the United States and President Obama. This means that both the US and Europe are highly concerned with the current situation in the Middle East, Yemen, Syria and Iraq. We will do what we can to help settle the crisis and will aim to satisfy all parties with our solutions, however complicated the situation.
But first, it is necessary to work together on a constitution and a procedure to oversee possible future elections. It must be a transparent procedure that everyone trusts. Based on these democratic procedures, Syria will decide which form of government is the most suitable and who will lead the country.
Anton Vernitsky: Back to the Syria issue. Mr Putin, do we have a clear-cut plan on Syria or we are acting impulsively? I mean, Turkey shot down our plane and we immediately increased our military presence in Syria. When will our military operation end? What will you regard as the end point of our military operation in Syrian airspace?
Do you believe that the intra-Syrian conflict can, after all, be switched to a political track? Though you already talked about it, is it possible?
VladimirPutin: I was trying to answer this just now. We think that, A, it is possible; and, B, we believe that there is no other way to resolve the situation. This will have to be done in any case sooner or later, and better sooner than later because there will be fewer casualties and losses, and there will be fewer threats, including to Europe and to the United States as well. Look, 14 people were killed in the United States − ISIS has made its way into the US. US law enforcement has acknowledged that it was a terrorist attack committed by ISIS, so it is a threat to everyone. And the sooner we do it, resolve this, the better.
Let me repeat, there is no solution to this problem except a political one. Do we have a plan? Yes, we do, and I just spelled it out. In its key aspects, strange as it may sound, it coincides with the American vision, proposed by the United States: cooperative work on the constitution, creating mechanisms to control future early elections, holding the elections and recognising the results based on this political process.
Of course, it is a complicated objective and of course there are various mutual grievances: some don’t like this group and others do not like that group, some want to work with the Syrian Government and others refuse do so categorically. But what is necessary is that all conflicting parties make an effort to meet each other halfway.
Anton Vernitsky: And the military operation?
Vladimir Putin: What about the military operation? We said a long time ago that we will carry out air strikes to provide support for offensive operations by the Syrian army. And that is what we have been doing while the Syrian army conducts their operations.
By the way, I have recently said publicly – the idea was proposed by Francois Hollande – that we should try to pool the forces of the Syrian army and at least part of the armed opposition in the fight against ISIS. We have succeeded in working towards this goal, even if partly.
At the least, we have found common ground with these people. This part of the Syrian opposition, these irreconcilable and armed people want to fight against ISIS and are actually doing so. We are supporting their fight against ISIS by delivering air strikes, just as we are doing to support the Syrian army. When we see that the process of rapprochement has begun and the Syrian army and Syrian authorities believe that the time has come to stop shooting and to start talking, this is when we will stop being more Syrian than Syrians themselves. We do not need to act in their place. And the sooner this happens, the better for everyone.
Dmitry Peskov: Mr Brilyov, do you have anything to add?
Sergei Brilyov: Thank you. Yes, I want to add to what my Turkish colleagues and Anton [Vernitsky] have said.
Mr President, first I would like to ask if the Turkish ship has sailed. Can President Erdogan do anything to reverse the situation? And second, we do not have to be more Syrian than Syrians themselves, but since Turkey’s actions have forced Russia to increase its contingent at Latakia, maybe we should keep that base to ensure stability in Syria and the rest of the Eastern Mediterranean?
Vladimir Putin: I do not want to answer for other people and the leaders of other countries. If they believe it possible and necessary to do something, let them do so. We do not see any change so far. So why should I speak about it now? That is my answer to the first question.
As for the second question, about the base, opinions differ, you know. Some people in Europe and the US repeatedly said that our interests would be respected, and that our [military] base can remain there if we want it to. But I do not know if we need a base there. A military base implies considerable infrastructure and investment.
After all, what we have there today is our planes and temporary modules, which serve as a cafeteria and dormitories. We can pack up in a matter of two days, get everything aboard Antei transport planes and go home. Maintaining a base is different.
Some believe, including in Russia, that we must have a base there. I am not so sure. Why? My European colleagues told me that I am probably nurturing such ideas. I asked why, and they said: so that you can control things there. Why would we want to control things there? This is a major question.
We showed that we in fact did not have any medium-range missiles. We destroyed them all, because all we had were ground-based medium-range missiles. The Americans have destroyed their Pershing ground-based medium-range missiles as well. However, they have kept their sea- and aircraft-based Tomahawks. We did not have such missiles, but now we do – a 1,500-kilometre-range Kalibr sea-based missile and aircraft-carried Kh-101 missile with a 4,500-kilometre range.
So why would we need a base there? Should we need to reach somebody, we can do so without a base.
It might make sense, I am not sure. We still need to give it some thought. Perhaps we might need some kind of temporary site, but taking root there and getting ourselves heavily involved does not make sense, I believe. We will give it some thought.
Dmitry Peskov: Colleagues, let’s be respectful of each other and ask one question at a time, OK? So that everyone can get the chance to ask a question. Terekhov, Interfax, please go ahead.
Vladimir Putin: Sorry, here’s Ukraine, our sister republic. I’m never tired of saying it over and over again. Please go ahead.
Dmitry Peskov: Microphone to the first row, please.
RomanTsimbalyuk: Thank you for the opportunity to ask a question, even though we are not Turks, but Ukrainians.
Vladimir Putin: I can see that, yes.
Roman Tsimbalyuk: Mr Putin, as a follow-up to your allegations that there are no Russian servicemen in Donbass, Captain Yerofeyev and Sergeant Alexandrov, Third Brigade, the city of Togliatti, send their regards to you.
Are you going to exchange them for Sentsov, Savchenko, Afanasyev, Kolchenko, and Klykh? And the list goes on.
One more question, if I may, just to continue my first question: The Minsk Agreements are coming to an end, and none of the parties have complied with their provisions. So, what should we expect from you come January 1? Are you going to launch an offensive again, come up with some negotiation ideas, or maybe forget about Ukraine for a while? Thank you.
Vladimir Putin: Regarding exchanges. We’ve never said there are no people there who deal with certain matters, including in the military area, but this does not mean that regular Russian troops are present there. Feel the difference. This is the first point.
Second, you mentioned two or three people you propose exchanging and then offered a long list of persons to exchange them for. First of all, the exchange should be equitable. Second, we should discuss everything calmly with our colleagues, talk and propose what we have always insisted on and what the Ukrainian President has proposed. People who are being held on one side and those held on the other should be released. This applies above all to people from Donbass, southeastern Ukraine, and Ukrainian servicemen who were detained in these territories. However, the exchange should proceed on an equitable basis.
What am I talking about? It’s no secret that the Ukrainian authorities regard all those detained and held in Donbass as people who are subject to exchange while those who are held in Kiev prisons are considered criminals and therefore outside the scope of this exchange. People in Donbass don’t agree with this. This should be treated fairly and it should be said: Let’s exchange all for all, as President Poroshenko proposed, not selectively – we’ll exchange these but not those. This is the line to take here and we support it. We have a lot of disagreements with the Ukrainian authorities but here we have a common position.
Now regarding January 1. On January 1, regrettably for us, we predict a deterioration in our economic relations because we had to make the decision that from January 1, we will no longer treat Ukraine as a member of the CIS free trade zone.
EU leaders have proposed and asked me not to expel Ukraine from the free trade zone and not to strip it of preferences in trade with Russia in the hope that we will negotiate in a tripartite format – Russia-EU-Ukraine – for a year and make certain changes in various formats, so that if the EU association agreement itself is not changed, we will introduce certain amendments through additional protocols to address our concerns and guarantee our economic interests. In the period before July, we had asked a hundred times for a tripartite meeting. Contact was only established in July, you see? The result was practically zero.
Only recently, I met with the German Chancellor and President of the European Commission in Paris. We received a document. It was their chance to gain a respectable audience. I’ll explain the specifics shortly. We’ve tried to maintain good economic relations with Ukraine, since Ukraine is member of the free trade area which offers mutual preferences and zero rates. In its economic relations with Russia and the CIS, Ukraine has used standards, technical regulations and customs rules which we inherited from the past and which we are gradually changing together. Ukraine is unilaterally withdrawing from this system and joining the European standards. Those, for example, state that all the goods in the Ukrainian market must comply with EU technical standards and regulations. But see, our products don’t comply with them yet.
Does this mean Ukraine has to keep our goods from its market? Okay, they heard us. Now Ukraine is officially allowed to keep both compliant and non-compliant products in their market. It’s not an obligation but a right. Whether it uses it or not, we don’t know. They have the right to establish a subcommission to decide, but again, it is not an obligation. However, Russia is expressly required to maintain all preferences in place. No, it doesn’t work that way.
Moreover, one doesn’t have to be an expert to see that Russia is required to bring CIS customs regulations into compliance with EU standards.
In Paris, I told them: this doesn’t make any sense. The three of us (Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan) have argued for years about these customs duties. And you want us to change the CIS customs regulations just because Ukraine entered into this agreement with the EU. This is not a fair requirement. It will take years to accomplish.
Also, it was stated that we must comply with EU phytosanitary requirements. Ukraine is willing to do so but nobody discussed it with us. It is expressly written that Russia has agreed to comply. Since when? We may be in favour of the idea but it will take time. How can you not understand that it takes time and money? Tens, maybe hundreds of billions of dollars. We need time too.
By the way, they told me in Paris, “But our standards are better and maybe you had better switch to those standards.” Well, it is true, and we want to, but we need money – we need investments. And we still have our access to external financing blocked. You understand that it is impossible, I said, so why did you write all this? They said, “But we have not read this yet.” Look, you have not even read it, but you sent us this official paper. Should we agree with it?
Now, about what we will do. We are not going to impose any sanctions on Ukraine – I want this to be heard. We are just switching to a most-favoured-nation treatment in trade. Which means conditions for Ukraine will not be any worse than those for our other foreign partners. But of course, Russia will grant no more privileges or preferences to Ukraine from January 1, 2016.
What will this mean in practice? In practice, it means that the zero tariffs in trade between Russia and Ukraine will change to the weighted average tariff of 6 percent. Various rates will range from 3 to 8 or 10 percent. But this is not our choice. We have fought for this not to happen. But they did not want to listen to us. They did so unilaterally and in the style I just described to you. But we have to work in the conditions we have.
Now, about launching offensives. I tell you frankly that we are not interested in exacerbating the conflict. On the contrary, we are interested in resolving this conflict as soon as possible, but not by way of physical annihilation of people in southeastern Ukraine. By the way, take a look at the results of the municipal elections and see the voting pattern in the area. In nearly all the regions – nine or ten, I think – the opposition bloc came first or second.
Even in those territories of Donbass that are controlled by the Ukrainian authorities, the Lugansk Region, more than 43 percent voted for the opposition. Don’t the Kiev authorities see this? Are they so reluctant to take into account the sentiments and expectations of their own people? We very much hope that we will have an open, honest dialogue.
Now about the Minsk Agreements. We have heard it a hundred times that Russia must comply with the Minsk Agreements. And this is what we want! Let’s look at their provisions. First – to introduce amendments to the Constitution and coordinate them with Donbass on a permanent basis. Has this been done? Transitional provisions were amended, it seems. And what are those amendments? The law on the special status was incorporated into the transitional provisions. “On a permanent basis?” I ask all my colleagues. They all say, “Yes, permanent.” I say, “Do you know that this law has only been adopted for three years? A year has already passed.” They all say, “Really?” I say, “Yes.” “Is that true, Mr Poroshenko?” He answers, “Yes.” This is almost a direct quote. Everybody says, “You know, he should do it on a permanent basis.” I say, “He should, nobody is stopping him.”
Now the law on the special status. Has the Rada passed this law? Yes, it has. Under the Minsk Agreements, it should be “implemented within 30 days by having the Rada adopt a resolution to this effect.” Have they adopted the resolution? Yes. But how? They added an article, I think number 10, to the law, which stipulates that it can only be implemented after elections, which means more delays. I told them, “Listen, it says here that the law must be implemented.” “No, it does not. It says: the Rada must pass a resolution. We have done it. That is it.” But this is a manipulation.
If we really want to resolve the problem, let’s stop this, let’s work together. And we are willing to influence people in the southeast of the country and persuade them to accept a compromise. We are willing and we want it to happen, but we need our partners in Kiev to be willing as well.
Syrien & wirtschaftliche Auswirkungen
Vyacheslav Terekhov: Hello, Mr President. You just talked about a significant expansion of the military presence in the conflict zone in Syria.
Vladimir Putin: There you go again about Syria. Ask me about the national economy.
Vyacheslav Terekhov: No, about Russia, not Syria.
Sanctions are in force, oil prices are falling and there are not only sanctions but also a crisis. Will Russia have enough resources for all this?
Vladimir Putin: For what?
Vyacheslav Terekhov: For military operations, the expansion of its military presence, for survival. In addition to this, there are more than enough other problems to deal with. Meanwhile, resources – this is not only money and military officers. A popular expression has just come to my mind: “It’s easy to start a war but difficult to end one.”
Vladimir Putin: We did not start a war. We are conducting limited operations with the use of our Aerospace Forces, air-defence systems and reconnaissance systems. This does not involve any serious strain, including strain on the budget. Some of the resources that we earmarked for military training and exercises – we simply retargeted them to the operations of our Aerospace Forces in Syria. Something needs to be thrown in, but this does not have any significant impact on the budget.
You see, we hold large-scale exercises. Take the Centre or Vostok-2015 drills alone. Thousands of people are involved. Thousands are redeployed from one theatre to another. There are hundreds of aircraft and so on and so forth. We simply direct a part of the resources to the operation in Syria. It is difficult to think of a better training exercise. So, in principle, we can keep training for quite a long time there without unduly denting our budget.
As for other components, yes, that is an issue – I mean the economic problems we are faced with. We know what needs to be done and we know how to do it, and we talk about this publicly.
What can be said in this regard? If we go back to the economy, of course, here we need to implement import replacement programmes (I believe I mentioned this earlier). Not just import replacement as such, but we need to modernise our economy, enhance labour productivity, improve the business climate and ensure effective public demand. This is an element of our economic drive.
We need to carry out an array of measures that the Government has publicly announced. And this is what we will do.
Koalition gegen ISIS
Question: Good afternoon, Mr President, I have two questions. The first one is about Egypt.
When will you open Egypt to Russian tourists? This is my first question.
My second question is as follows. Two days ago, Saudi Arabia announced a new Islamist alliance. As far as I know, this new Islamist alliance brings together the Sunnis, and the Shiites will be in trouble. This will be an anti-Russian alliance, and it includes Turkey. This is dangerous. I would like to hear what you think about this alliance and, of course, your answer to my first question.
Vladimir Putin: (…)
With regard to the coalition created in Saudi Arabia. We don’t think this coalition will have an anti-Russian slant. In addition to the country you mentioned, Turkey, which we don’t consider hostile. They have committed a hostile act against our plane, but saying that we consider Turkey a hostile state would not be true – our relations have indeed soured, and I’m not sure yet how we’ll get past this situation, but in any case, the ball is not in our court, but Turkey’s – but there’s Egypt, and other countries. This alliance was initiated by Saudi Arabia. We have both different and similar approaches to resolving the Syrian crisis, and we maintain contact with Saudi Arabia.
I recently met with the King [of Saudi Arabia]. We often meet at various meetings organised by our respective foreign and defence ministries. We are now considering joint projects in t military-technical cooperation with Saudi Arabia. It’s a multibillion dollar programme. We aren’t even thinking that this alliance may be directed against Russia.
On a separate note, in order to effectively address the challenges facing us in fighting terrorism, we must join our efforts rather than disperse our possibilities. I’m not quite sure what happened. The United States has created an alliance which includes all those countries, including Saudi Arabia. What’s missing? Why was it necessary to create another alliance, if there’s already one led by the United States? Do they have a plan of their own? Are there any internal contradictions? There may be contradictions.
Because regional interests of the regional powers are one thing and global interests in fighting terrorism are another. Europe is suffering from the ripple effects coming from that region. We have seen terrible terrorist attacks in Paris. The United States recently came under a terrorist attack that killed 14 people. The threat of more attacks remains.
We all need to join forces in fighting terrorist organisations, no matter what they are called and whatever slogans they may use to cover up their activities. I hope that the recently created alliance will uphold common interests and that we’ll develop common approaches and rules and establish effective cooperative actions and agree on the tools that we’ll use in this fight.
Question: Good afternoon. I come from Tula, and Tula, as its anthem goes, is a city of arms makers. Tula has a centuries-old history of arms manufacturing.
My question has to do with defence procurement. According to certain reports, it is set to increase by 10 percent annually, but given the situation with the price of oil and the economic situation, could it be frozen or reduced? I’m raising this issue because for Tula residents, this is about jobs, salaries and, of course, the country’s defence capabilities.
Vladimir Putin: Listen, manufacturing in general and, even more so, the defence industry, is about long-term projects. It makes more economic sense to complete the projects already underway rather than stop them.
For example, if you start building a ship – ok, Tula doesn’t make ships, but it does make other types of military equipment with long production cycles – or airplanes or missile defence systems, and invest money in the project, it would cost more to freeze the project than to complete it. In fact, once you discontinue financing, you have to pay for maintenance, staff, workers, engineers, who still need to be paid, while not actually doing anything. Otherwise they have to be let go, which is extremely risky and should be avoided, because it will make recruiting highly-skilled workers impossible afterwards.
This goes to say that following through on the projects makes more economic sense for us. All these projects are envisaged in the State Armament Programme until 2020. Given the real budget constraints we currently face, the lower price of oil, etc. what do we do? There will be projects, and I want it to be clear, since no one is making any secret out of it, there will be projects that the industry itself is not prepared to complete by 2020. These projects won’t be launched, which will allow us to save money.
As economists and financial experts like to say, these projects are being shifted further down to the right of the chart. Everything already underway will be completed. The projects that will be pushed back beyond 2020 are not critical for the country’s defence capability, while helping free up resources and putting less strain on today’s and tomorrow’s budgets.
This is a very soft approach that requires a lot of attention by the industry and the Ministry of Defence. This is why we meet twice a year in Sochi, so that no one interrupts our work. We sit down after all the necessary calculations and submit proposals. This is one of the main, but not the only, aspects of how we work together with the military and the representatives of the defence industry. All the targets factored into the defence procurement programmes will be achieved if not in 2020, then in 2021 or in 2022 at the latest.
Vladimir Putin: Sevastopol, please. Please pass the microphone.
Sergei Gorbachev: Sergei Gorbachev, the Novy Chernomorets newspaper, Chairman of the Union of Journalists of Sevastopol.
In Sevastopol, the most popular toast is ”To the Supreme Commander!“ these days.
Vladimir Putin: Thank you.
Sergei Gorbachev: Regardless of the occasion, regardless of its scale.
Vladimir Putin: It is not necessary to make it so often…
Sergei Gorbachev: This Stalin-era toast expresses cordiality, sincerity and great gratitude to you for Sevastopol and Crimea.
The problems that have become apparent over the last year and a half appear to be related to the fact that there is no definition of Sevastopol’s role at the state level. What we have is this counterproductive discussion at the regional level at least about what Sevastopol’s status should be: whether it is a Silicon Valley, an IT-centre, a centre for tourism or recreation.
In fact, Sevastopol was designed to be the main naval base, hence its status as a city of federal significance, a standalone entity of the Federation, not like Vladivostok, not like Kronstadt, with all due respect to them, but Sevastopol. It seems to me, on the state level, perhaps you need to confirm that the main role of Sevastopol is not the cultivation of elite vineyards, but the fact that it plays a special role in the country’s defence as the main base of the Black Sea Fleet.
And one more thing. The Navy is a conservative organisation, one that largely depends on tradition. There is one tradition, even a privilege, a system of incentives: when an officer is discharged, transferred to the reserve, he retains the right to wear his uniform, and the naval uniform also calls for a marine cutlass. However, in the last two years officers began to have their daggers confiscated.
I have served in the Navy for 36 years, and I don’t understand who would want my cutlass with the Soviet emblem on it. And if you, as the Supreme Commander, decide that former marine officers can keep their daggers, as was the case in the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union, and later, too, I think you will earn the gratitude of thousands of naval officers and their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, who will also serve Russia in the oceans, in the fleets.
Vladimir Putin: First, with regard to the importance of Sevastopol and ways for its development. I find it hard to accept the fact that from the naval point of view Sevastopol is more important than the base in Vladivostok or even more so the base on the Kamchatka Peninsula, which is home to our second-largest submarine nuclear fleet with missile carriers and strategic nuclear weapons on board.
We have done a lot to keep this base, and we will develop it in the future. In the North and Far East, our Navy has direct access to the oceans. Back in its time, the Soviet government – and this is an opportune moment to say a few kind words about it – did a lot to develop infrastructure in the North, including outside Murmansk, in Murmansk itself and in the Far East.
Our duty is to make sure that these efforts were not in vain. We must take up where our earlier generations left off, and take it to the next level. Sevastopol is also an important component of the naval infrastructure in Europe. As you can see, we equip the Black Sea Fleet with new ships and submarines. The Rostov-on-Don submarine is the most recent addition, though it went to Novorossiysk, not Sevastopol, where we have created another modern, I underscore, modern naval base. If I remember correctly, it must have six such submarines. As you may be aware, these submarines are equipped with the latest Kalibr missiles which worked well in Syria. There will be new surface ships there as well. The Sevastopol naval base will also grow and improve.
Wherever you look, there are problems that we inherited from the last century. We are now dealing with power generation. The Krymenergo equipment hasn’t been upgraded since the 1970s. As if there was no need to. The naval base is the same. Much needs to be done there to develop the infrastructure. However, saying that Sevastopol must be a solely naval base would be incorrect.
We still have to accomplish a lot in Vladivostok. But still Vladivostok has changed for the better. Some time ago, it too was an off-limits territory that was used solely as a naval base. The city was in a tough spot: no infrastructure, no airport, no roads, no modern social facilities, or theatres and museums. However, things are changing. In the modern world, people, wherever they live, especially in Sevastopol, should be able to enjoy all this, and have access to it. I’m sure that Sevastopol must be developed in several areas at a time. How? First, it’s up to Sevastopol residents and authorities. I know there may be different approaches.
Some want to develop it as a Silicon Valley, as you said. Nothing wrong with that. Developing high-tech industries instead of building hazardous production facilities makes sense. It’s quite possible. Former Navy personnel can be part of this work. They are intelligent and properly trained people. There are many other professionals out there as well.
Also, Sevastopol sprawls beyond its city boundaries and it’s a vast area that can be used for building resorts and all kinds of recreational facilities. Why not do it? It must be done. It’s necessary to do so and help people do so. We will help Crimea in general and Sevastopol in particular.
And Navy officers must have their dirks back.
Thank you so much. Let’s call it a day. Thank you.