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Tuesday, 6 March, 2001, 17:34 GMT
Putin live: Transcript of webcast part three

This is part three of the full text of Russian President Vladimir Putin's webcast live from the Kremlin.


 Click here to watch a recording of the webcast in English


[Bridget Kendall] If so, if the treaty is violated in your opinion, then talks end, by law.

No, we will be prepared to hold more talks. We are simply proceeding from the fact that things should not be taken that far, that today we need to look, within the framework of a negotiating process, for ways out of our current concerns regarding international security which could make it possible not to violate the existing system of international agreements in this sphere but to determine the degree, the level and the nature of threats which could be common to the USA, Russia, Europe or other regions of the world.

And then, after determining the nature of these threats, to think together how to neutralize them without instilling a lack of confidence and suspicion in each other.

[Bridget Kendall] Do you think it is possible to maintain good relations with the new US president George Bush, like it was with the former president? Will it be more difficult because of this issue?

[Putin] I do not think it will be more difficult. I hope very much that common sense and a deep understanding of the national interests in the sphere of security will bring our American partners and us to a positive search and the final result, jointly.

Vladimir Vladimirovich, I would like to go back to our audience. I have to admit that the vast majority of questions are about a professional army. When will a professional army be created in Russia? When will the law on compulsory military service be changed?

As you know, Russia is a continental country and few continental countries have a professional army. Can you name me a European country with a professional army? Practically all European countries have military duty, conscription. I must say that even today most of our military men belong to the professional military class.

For example, serving in the navy, in the air force, in the space troops, and so on, there are professionals. Practically 100% are professionals. And yet, moving towards a fully professional army is in my opinion right - given both the political and the social situation, and given the fact that the modern army uses more and more advanced equipment.

To be able to operate it efficiently, one has to be a professional and to serve not for two or three months, or even a year, but to devote one's whole life to it. This is the right approach and we shall act accordingly. I would like to assure you of that.

The issue here is of course that of the time frame. And the time frame depends on the economic capabilities of the state. They are not significant but I have instructed the economic group within the government to deal with this issue.

And I think that time will come, and it is not too far away, when we will be able to name a specific schedule for, if not a 100% one, then at least an extensive transition to a professional army. And this time frame will be a feasible one.

Will it fit in within two presidential terms?

Possibly.

Here is a question coming from several regional correspondents, including the Rosbalt Agency in Saint-Petersburg, the Novosti Pskova newspaper. The question is in continuation of what Bridget has been saying, on international issues.

Is the integration of Russia in united Europe a priority task for you? If so, will Russia be able to defend effectively its national interests and at the same time stay within European integration processes?

You see, one should be realistic. Today's united Europe is a complex body. Quite strict rules are in operation there. I am not sure Russia totally conforms with these rules.

Take the external issues, for instance. We are still a state without well-protected external borders. We still have no well-protected borders in the south. Despite all their democracy, strict customs and border rules are in operation in united Europe. Within the Schengen agreement, a step left or step right is considered an escape and a jump on the spot is a provocation. Everything is very strict and serious, in a grown-up manner.

Therefore, at the moment, this is unrealistic for us, but - and here comes an answer to your question - I think it would be right if we build up our legislative base in tune with how different areas, including, and first of all, the economy, are regulated with the European community. As a matter of fact, this is how we are acting, in a majority of cases. Thus, we will gradually be building up Russia, Russian economic life, according with the rules which are in operation on the continent, of which Russia is an inalienable part.

That is the first thing. And the second thing is that already today foreign economic ties - or rather the volume of foreign economic ties - between Russia and Europe is very high - they account for more than one third.

Central and Eastern European countries will, of course, play a big part in this. Once they are included in a united Europe we shall ask our partners that they should, at least for a certain period of time, not break their special relationship with Russia in their own interests and in the interests of Europe and Russia and that some sort of preferential relationship should be maintained between these states and Russia.

Our European partners are understanding about this and we are grateful to them for this and count on this understanding in the future. All this gives us grounds to expect that in the longer term - but we shall, of course, be getting closer and closer to European standards - at some stage of development we can, of course, become a fully-fledged part of a united Europe.

[Bridget Kendall] And now a second kind of question. We're just a day or two away from 8 March [International Women's Day]. My question is that I would like to know what the president will give to his wife as a present.

That's a question from Yelizaveta from St Petersburg who asks what the reason is for the fairly strict patriarchal behaviour of the Putin couple in public. Are you afraid to repeat the error of the Gorbachevs in the eyes of the electorate or is this how Mr Putin really sees the role of women?

And another question from Denmark. It is from Jetta Westfalis from Aarhus who says that when she looks at various levels of power in Russia she is unable to see any women at the top. Where are the women leaders? It is just men everywhere.

That's a correct remark. Let me start with the final bit of your sentence. As we are aware, the level of the freedom of society and the level of the democratic nature of society are defined by the situation of women in this society.

Given that unfortunately the number of women in the state power agencies is very small, we still have a lot of problems in this sphere.

As for how my wife and I behave in public, well, this is our way of behaving. Some may like it and some may not. I think that the citizens of Russia elected me - rather than my wife - as the president. I must perform certain functions. I am very grateful to her for playing her difficult part as she does. It is not easy for her. As for the behaviour style, this is very much individual.

[Kendall] Have you discussed how the first lady of Russia should behave? Perhaps, this is not the way -

I cannot give her instructions. Our relations are such that if I start doing this, this will backfire. She behaves the way she considers to be appropriate. As for the present I am going to give her for 8 March, I think I should not speak about it in public right now because in that case it would not be a surprise. I would like to arrange a pleasant surprise for my wife on 8 March.

This is really a question to finish off with. Many readers and journalists are asking how you assess the year which will soon have passed since you were elected, with regard to the main objectives, failures or plans for the future and such like. I would also like to ask a question of my own.

In your last address to the Federal Assembly you named three principal objectives and areas for the authorities. The first referred to building an efficient state, the second implementation of reform of the federal system to equalize the chances for the various constituent parts of the federation and bring the country together, and the third refers to creating the legal guarantees for the development of the Russian economy.

What would be your assessment? On which of these areas have you managed to have made the most progress during the year and in which have you had the biggest problems.

The first thing I would like to say is that it was a very tough year. It was a full working year. I must say frankly we worked very hard. We managed to make progress on virtually all these areas. Perhaps we could have done more on some of them.

However, I repeat, there was progress made on virtually all these areas and I am generally satisfied with the results of the work done during the year.

[Bridget Kendall] This is a question about the freedom of the press and the freedom of speech.

Don't say last, say next, last is too final.

It is from Gordon Ackerman, an American living in London. He writes: I am concerned that there appear to be attempts by yourself, Mr President, to suppress reasonable criticism of your government and its actions. Are my concerns justified? Thank you.

This a rather cheeky question from our correspondent, not a very tolerant one, but still I will try to answer it as I see it.

Very many positive and destructive processes have taken place in our country during the last decade. The subjugation - and not always lawfully - of entire economic sectors and political structures to a small group of people, who wish to safeguard their economic interests, was one of these destructive processes.

To a certain extent this can be described as privatization of state structures and the mass media. We will develop political processes in the sense of the word that is traditional - and I wish to stress this - traditional for Western democracy. But this does not mean that anarchy and total permissiveness must flourish in Russia.

But if some people, either here in our country or abroad, do not like the fact that we are trying - and I am not saying that everything we are doing in this area is working out, some mistakes have probably been made - but if they do not like the very fact that we are trying to restore order in this area, that we are trying to make sure the entire country lives by the law - I would guess there are people who would like to live by the previous rules, to fish in muddy waters. But that will not happen.

Nor we will go to the opposite extreme. Democratic structures and institutions will not be broken up and there will be no withdrawal from the rule of law. That will not happen either. Not only would that be counterproductive, it contradicts the entire philosophy of what we intend to do in the country. So our questioner's fears are, in this sense, groundless.

I wish to assure him that I will do my utmost to make sure that Russia will continue to be a democratic country and that it will develop in precisely in this direction.

Our interview is drawing to a close and I'd like to thank you once again for your straightforward answers to difficult questions from our readers. We would like to thank our readers for having send their questions.

Naturally, we were unable to answer even the best of these questions. Nevertheless the topics you have raised are important and significant for us. As journalists we will cover them and keep you posted. I hope our president will read us too. Therefore we will keep our president in touch with our readers. Thank you all very much.

You'll be able to find the full text of the interview on the president.kremlin.ru site in a short while. The text with the video can be found on strana.ru, gazeta.ru and bbc.co.uk sites. Thank you.

I too would like to thank you. Thank you very much. I looked at the screen and found very interesting questions for which we have not had time. Frankly speaking I would love to answer them. I would like to thank you for the opportunity you gave me to get in touch with Internet users. Thank you.

BBC Monitoring, based in Caversham in southern England, selects and translates information from radio, television, press, news agencies and the Internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages.

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06 Mar 01 | Europe
Putin live: Transcript of webcast
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