Meeting of the Valdai International Discussion Club (transcript concluded)

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Meeting of the Valdai International Discussion Club (transcript concluded)
Published 30-10-2014, 04:24
PRESIDENT AND FOUNDER OF THE CENTRE ON GLOBAL INTERESTS IN WASHINGTON NIKOLAI ZLOBIN: Justice has prevailed. Nikolai Zlobin, Centre on Global Interests, Washington, D.C.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: Your name sounds menacing. [The surname Zlobin derives from the Russian root zlo - evil].

NIKOLAI ZLOBIN: Do you know the TV character Doctor Evil? That's what my wife calls me sometime.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: That is quite a wife you have.

NIKOLAI ZLOBIN: It is all about contrast, Mr President, as you have just said.

You surprised me a bit today, because, frankly speaking, I expected to hear stronger assessments in your speech. You were rather diplomatic.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: It's my surname: as opposed to yours, it seems to indicate that we are moving in a certain direction. [The surname Putin derives from the Russian root put' - path].

NIKOLAI ZLOBIN: The direction is exactly what I would like to find out.

Incidentally, I made a note of the way you described the modern world, and overall I agree with it: injustice, monopoly on power, attempts at pressure, manipulation and propaganda. Frequently this is exactly how political life in Russia is described in Washington, where I live. This is just to give you an idea of the opposite point of view. However, my question has nothing to do with this.

On September 11, 2001, I was in America. I watched America change after that day. It is different now. It has become more hardened. Tolerance levels have gone down. The President's rating went up sharply. Everybody became very patriotic. America became more aggressive in its foreign policy and closed itself to the rest of the world.

Perhaps I am mistaken, and if so please convince me that I am wrong, but I get the impression that Russia is beginning to repeat the mistakes made by America. Your rating is very high and that's great. However, this fantastic patriotism you have in your country in my view is beginning to break up into the right and wrong kinds of patriotism. The right kind refers to those who support you and everything you do, while the wrong one applies to people who have the nerve to criticise you or, say, disagree with you on some issues. I think in some cases, patriotism finds its expression in a very dangerous form of nationalism, which is sharply on the rise in Russia, the way I see it.

Simultaneously I will try to argue with one of the statements you made in your address. I think Russia has become closed to the world lately. This is not only because the world is shutting Russia out, but also because Russia is doing things that shut it from the rest of the world. Certain educational exchange programmes have been shut down, certain NGO's have been cut off from funding even though they were not involved in politics, and there is a search for foreign agents and registration of dual citizenship. There are many things I can name here - things that, in my view, speak of a certain tendency. I used to believe that the more Russia was integrated into the global community and the world into Russia, the safer it would be. However, now it seems you have decided differently: the less Russia - Russian society, civil society - is integrated into the world, the safer Russia would feel.

Over the years since September 11, America, where I live, proved to me that it has become less democratic. I have the impression that Russia is becoming less democratic. If I am mistaken, please show me where I went wrong.

Thank you.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: First, regarding whether Russia is shutting itself off or not. I already said this in my address and will say it again - we do not intend to shut ourselves off. The fact is that others are trying to seal Russia off. This is obvious. Your leaders say as much in public - they say they want to punish Russia and it will pay dearly, it will become an outcast and so forth. However, it is unclear how they intend to resolve global issues with such an outcast - and it seems as though they also realise that it is impossible.

Therefore, I would like to reiterate that we do not intend to seal ourselves off - this is not our goal. Moreover, I believe this would only do us harm. Meanwhile, I can say to those who are trying to do this to us that it is futile and impossible in the modern world. Some 40 or 50 years ago, this may have been possible, but not now. Clearly all such attempts will fail. And the sooner our colleagues see this, the better.

As for the growing patriotism, you compared it to the United States. Yes, this is true. Why did it happen in the United States? Why is it happening here? The reason is the same: people felt endangered. In the USA after September 11, people did not feel safe and they rallied around the country's leadership. Meanwhile the leaders had to react in a way that would match the level of trust. I am not sure they did everything right. Now that all this time has passed since the introduction of troops into Afghanistan, there are so many losses. Now the coalition intends to pull out, while it is not clear what will happen next. You see, this is complicated. Nevertheless, this is how they reacted. That is one thing.

The second point has to do with various NGO's and so forth. This does not mean shutting the country off at all. Why did you think so? This is self-defence. We were not the ones to adopt the foreign agents' law. This was done in the United States where you now live, that is where this law was passed. True, they tell me now that this was done back in the thirties to protect against Nazism and propaganda. Then why haven't you abolished it? You have not.

Moreover - and I have already mentioned this - certain participants in political activities are being questioned by the relevant US agencies. The law is still in force. We are not shutting down the NGOs that are, say, working with the United States or living off their grants, if we take the humanitarian sphere, education or healthcare. You said some educational programmes have been stopped. No, they have not. The Government has announced the implementation of one such programme only recently. I don't know if this may have to do with some budget limitations, but nothing else.

We invite teachers to our leading universities; they even come to the Far East, and work at all our universities. We are introducing a system of so-called mega grants, when leading scholars and teachers from various universities around the world, including the United States, come to work here for months, for six or more months, forming research teams.

We are against having political activity within Russia financed from abroad. Are you trying to say this is permitted in the USA? They do not let observers even close to polling stations. The Prosecutor General threatens them with prison. They even chase away OSCE representatives, and you are telling me about democracy.

A former European leader told me, "What kind of democracy is it in the USA - you cannot even consider running in an elections if you don't have a billion, or even several billion dollars!" What kind of democracy is that? Besides, you elect your president using a system of electoral delegates, while we have a direct democracy. Moreover, as I have said many times already, you know that the Constitution is designed in such a way that the number of electors voting for a given candidate may be greater, while the number of people they represent is smaller. Thus, the President can be elected by a minority of voters. Is this democracy? What is democracy? It is power of the people. Where is people's power here? There is none. Meanwhile, you are trying to convince us that we don't have it.

We certainly have our drawbacks. They apply to the system. Many of them clearly come from the past. There is a lot we need to change. We are doing it gradually, but not through revolution - I would say there were enough in the 20th century, we have had enough - but through evolution.

I am aware of the criticism of the selection system [of candidates to the posts of regional leaders] through the local bodies of power and so forth. However, this practice exists in quite a few countries that you do not find undemocratic. We pay attention and we try to fine-tune this system. We have no desire to return to our totalitarian past. This is not because we fear anything, but because this path leads to a dead end - I am certain of this, and more importantly, Russian society is sure of this. These are the instruments of a democracy; they actually vary and have to correspond to the current level of society's development.

For instance, they have just held elections in Afghanistan. Your Secretary of State was there to organise the elections, telling them what to do during the vote count. Nonsense! Is that democracy?

I remember they told me of Afghanistan as a sample of democracy, which has come to that country. This is ridiculous. It would have been funny if it were not so sad. Therefore, we are ready for dialogue and for change.

You spoke of NGOs; many of them were 'cased' as we say, though they were not involved in politics. This was a mistake. This needs to be set straight.

NIKOLAI ZLOBIN: What about nationalism?

VLADIMIR PUTIN: Patriotism can turn into nationalism. I agree with you here, this is a very dangerous tendency. We have to keep this in mind and make sure it does not happen. It is dangerous for the country. I am the biggest nationalist in Russia. However, the greatest and most appropriate kind of nationalism is when you act and conduct policies that will benefit the people.

However, if nationalism means intolerance of other people, chauvinism - this would destroy this country, which was initially formed as a multi-ethnic and multi-confessional state. This would lead us not only into a dead end but also to self-destruction. Russia will do everything possible to make sure it doesn't happen.

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