OK, so this is a dramatic escalation of rhetoric: Vladimir Putin has announced to a small group of journalists before the G-8 meetings this weekend that in retaliation for U.S. missile defense sites, Russia would aim its missiles at European cities. Have we really arrived to this point? The Wall Street Journal has some interesting excerpts from the interview:
Excerpts from an interview Russian President Putin gave a small group of G-8 journalists on June 1, 2007. * * * On U.S. Missile-defense plans in Europe: I am against any kind of arms race. We studied the experience of the Soviet Union and we won’t be dragged into any arms race, but will respond. Not in an identical fashion but with means that are no less effective. It’s called an asymmetric response. The U.S. is building an enormous expensive missile defense system that will cost tens of billions of dollars. We won’t get dragged into this race. We will build a much cheaper but quite efficient system… and that way we’ll retain the balance. Regardless of the fact that we have found this response, we are not increasing our military spending relative to GDP. It was 2.7% and that’s how it will stay. We plan to keep it at that level in the next 5-10 years. Q: Are we returning to the time when Russian nuclear missiles were targeted on Europe? A: Of course we are returning to those times. It’s obvious that if part of the strategic nuclear potential of the U.S. is located in Europe, which in the opinion of our military experts represents a threat, we will take the corresponding steps in response. Of course we will have to get new targets in Europe. Which weapons will be used to destroy those targets that in the opinion of our military specialists pose a threat to the Russian Federation — ballistic missiles, cruise missile or it could be completely new systems — that’s a technical matter… We often hear talk of European solidarity. What solidarity? Two countries have taken a decision to host the missile defense system, the Czech Republic and Poland. We are told that it’s for the defense of Europe. Has anyone asked Europe? Was there some kind of general European decision or even a decision in NATO, even for appearance’s sake? No. They didn’t want to ask anyone. At the beginning we even suggested that we work together on this but immediately got rebuffed. And then later, when they saw our position in the world and in Europe on this and the circumstances changed, they said they wanted to talk. Do you know what they wanted by way of cooperation? Our American partners wanted us to provide our missiles for target practice. Brilliant! We have received no substantive proposals about serious cooperation from them and we know that we won’t receive any because this system is being created as a part of the American nuclear potential and of course it’s absurd to talk of allowing Russian into the holiest of holies. There’s nothing to talk about. We need to be serious about this. If we saw some signs that our opinions were being taken into account, that they were thinking about our security and about the balance of forces and it wouldn’t threaten us, then we would work together. But I think that is highly unlikely… And as regards the missile defense system, it is not an anti-missile system just by itself. When created it will start operating automatically as part of the United States’ nuclear capability. It will be an integral element of the nuclear capability of the U.S.A. It’s the first time in history that elements of the nuclear capability of the United States of America appear on the European continent. That simply changes the whole configuration of international security. How is it being explained? That it is necessary to defend oneself against Iranian missiles. And there are no such missiles. Iran does not have missiles with a range of 5-8 thousand kilometers. You are being told that the antimissile system is for defense. But it’s a defense against something which does not exist. It would be funny if it was not so sad. We are not satisfied with the explanations we hear. We see no grounds for deploying the missile defense system in Europe. Our military experts believe that this system will of course affect… Russia. And naturally we will have to react to it. What are we trying to achieve? Firstly, we want to be heard. We want our stance to be clear. We don’t exclude the possibility that our American partners could revise their decision. We don’t impose anything on anybody but we are relying on common sense. And I think that everybody possesses common sense. If it does not happen, we will divest ourselves of the responsibility for any retaliatory steps, because it is not us who are initiators of the new arms race which is pending in Europe. We were not the instigators of withdrawal from the ABM treaty. But when we were discussing this subject with our American counterparts, what did we tell them? We told them that we do not have such resources and that we don’t wish to create such a system. But you and I at a professional level understand that a situation when one side has a missile defense system and the other side does not creates the illusion of safety and increases the possibility of a nuclear conflict. I am speaking strictly theoretically, it does not have any personal dimension. The strategic balance in the world is being upset. In order to restore this balance without creating our own missile defense system, we will have to create a system to overpower this new system. That is what we are doing now. We are used to hearing from our partners that there is nothing to fear of because “We are not enemies,” “We won’t be working against a friend.” And we remind them, that we have been warning you, that we will respond in such a situation. We are doing what we said we would do… I would not like there to be an illusion, that we have fallen out of love with someone. But sometimes personally I wonder why all this is being done. Why are our American partners so persistently trying to breathe life into plans to deploy a missile defense system when it is obviously not needed for defense against Iranian missiles let alone North-Korean missiles. Do they even know where North Korea is situated? Or what those missiles’ range would need to be like for them to reach Europe? It’s clear that it is not against them, it is clear that it is not against us, because it’s obvious for everybody that Russia does not intend to attack anybody. So what is the purpose then? Maybe it is being done specifically in order to make us take retaliatory steps and in order to prevent any further rapprochement between Russia and Europe. If it is like that — and I’m not saying I think it is, this is just one of several theories — but if it is like this, it is one more mistake because we won’t improve the international security situation or promote international peace in this way. On Russian domestic politics: Q: Do you consider yourself a “dyed-in-the-wool democrat,” as Gerhardt Schroeder once called you? A: Of course I am. I am an absolutely pure democrat. The real tragedy is that I am the only one. Elsewhere in the world there just aren’t any others. Let’s look at what is happening in North America — nothing but horror. Torture, homeless people, Guantanamo and the detention of people without trial. Let’s look at what is happening in Europe. Look at how they deal with demonstrators. The use of tear gas in one capital or another, the murder of demonstrators in the street. Then look at the post-Soviet space. Ukraine, all our hopes were on the guys in Ukraine, but now they are drifting towards tyranny and a complete breach of the constitution. Since Mahatma Gandhi died, there’s just no one left to talk to. Q: Are the harsh police crackdowns on opposition marches in Russia backfiring and creating more support for Kremlin critics? A: Look at how the police in Europe work — with truncheons, tear gas and electric stun guns. In Germany, 70 people have died after being subjected to electric stun guns. Rubber bullets… Everyone needs to know that you have to live according to the law. Permission to hold such demonstrations is the prerogative of the local authorities. Without a doubt, people who want to express their opinion have that right and the government is obliged to ensure that anyone who wants to express an opinion has the right whether these people agree with the government’s politics or not. But in exercising that right they should not bother other citizens, they should not disrupt transport, they should not prevent people getting to work or create dangerous situations for the health or lives of other citizens. But when people deliberately provoke law enforcement organs and deliberately gather in places where they are clearly disrupting normal everyday life or the city’s organism, then the authorities have to take corresponding steps and bring order. Thank God we haven’t yet seen any extreme methods that are used in west European countries. Everyone who wants to hold a demonstration has the right to do so, but in locations stipulated by the authorities. Q: Are there circumstances under which Russia would extradite Andrei Lugovoi to the U.K., where prosecutors charge him with the murder of Alexander Litvinenko? A: Are there conditions that would allow us to extradite Lugovoi? Yes there are. For that we would have to change the constitution. For that we would need grounds. According to the information I have received from the general prosecutor, the British side has so far not presented us with such information. There is a request to extradite Mr. Lugovoi but no material explaining on what grounds we should do this. We have our own investigation into the death of Litvinenko in Great Britain. If our law enforcement organs collect enough information to put someone on trial over this — whoever it may be — we’ll do it. And I’m counting on us getting effective help from our British colleagues… Of course I’ve got really mixed feelings about this request. If the people who sent us this request didn’t know that under the Russian constitution we’re not allowed to extradite Russian citizens, then of course that puts a question mark over their competence. Law-enforcement officials of that level should have known this. If they didn’t, then instead of working in law enforcement they should work in a different area, such as in parliament or for a newspaper… If they knew that the constitution prevents us from extraditing anyone, why did they send this request? It means it was some kind of political act. If that’s the case, it’s bad. Whichever way you look at it, it’s just pathetic. Stupidity. There’s nothing positive in what has been done. On Shell and BP investments in Russian energy: [Shell’s contract on Sakhalin] was a colonial agreement. It had nothing in common with the interests of the Russian Federation. I regret that at the start of the 1990s, Russian officials allowed themselves to sign up to this, something they should in fact have been jailed for. According to this agreement, we allowed others to exploit our natural resources for an extended period but got nothing in return — almost nothing. But if our partners had fulfilled the terms of this agreement as they should have done, of course we wouldn’t have had the chance to correct it. But they are guilty themselves in so far as they breached ecological legislation. That’s been recognized and confirmed by objective data. Our partners don’t even deny that. When ecological problems were uncovered and the possibility of fines arose, the entry of Gazprom saved the project. Gazprom didn’t simply enter the project under pressure from us. They paid out huge funds to be able to join the project. Eight billion dollars. It was a market price. As far as I understand, our partners were mostly satisfied with the outcome. On BP’s Kovykta project: In every country there are certain rules for working with mineral wealth. Those rules exist in Russia, too. If someone thinks that in Russia those rules don’t need to be observed, they are mistaken. We’re not just talking about BP or foreign partners here; there are Russian economic partners and residents involved in this, too. They took on this project and responsibility for exploiting these resources, but unfortunately didn’t fulfill the conditions of the license. They still haven’t started production. Last year, according to the license, they were supposed to start extraction and take out a certain quantity of gas, but unfortunately they didn’t do this. There are a mass of complications associated with this, such as getting access to the pipeline network, but they knew that when they obtained the license. They knew about these problems and about the possible limitations. I won’t even mention how this license was obtained in the first place. There are about three trillion cubic meters of gas there, almost as much as Canada’s entire reserves, so you can understand the importance of this for the country. If they’re not doing anything to develop it, how long should we put up with this? Clearly the Ministry of Natural Resources has raised the question about the withdrawal of this license, although for now talks are going on. I don’t know how they will finish. I don’t know what decision the ministry will take and the shareholders of the company. In BP’s case its reserves are growing in large part thanks to Russia… and 25% of its revenues are from Russia. We welcome their participation in the Russian economy and will continue to help and support the company… but only in the framework of current legislation.