Meeting of the Valdai International Discussion Club – October 24, 2014 – Sochi
Vladimir Putin took part in the final plenary meeting of the Valdai International Discussion Club’s XI session. The meeting’s theme is The World Order: New Rules or a Game without Rules.
[…] BRITISH JOURNALIST SEUMAS MILNE (retranslated from Russian): I would like to ask a two-in-one question.
First, Mr President, do you believe that the actions of Russia in Ukraine and Crimea over the past months were a reaction to rules being broken and are an example of state management without rules? And the other question is: does Russia see these global violations of rules as a signal for changing its position? It has been said here lately that Russia cannot lead in the existing global situation; however, it is demonstrating the qualities of a leader. How would you respond to this?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: I would like to ask you to reword the second part of your question, please. What exactly is your second question?
SEUMAS MILNE (retranslated from Russian): It has been said here that Russia cannot strive for leading positions in the world considering the outcomes of the Soviet Union’s collapse, however it can influence who the leader will be. Is it possible that Russia would alter its position, change its focus, as you mentioned, regarding the Middle East and the issues connected with Iran’s nuclear programme?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: Russia has never altered its position. We are a country with a traditional focus on cooperation and search for joint solutions. This is first.
Second. We do not have any claims to world leadership. The idea that Russia is seeking some sort of exclusivity is false; I said so in my address. We are not demanding a place under the sun; we are simply proceeding from the premise that all participants in international relations should respect each other’s interests. We are ready to respect the interests of our partners, but we expect the same respect for our interests.
We did not change our attitude to the situation in the Middle East, to the Iranian nuclear programme, to the North Korean conflict, to fighting terrorism and crime in general, as well as drug trafficking. We never changed any of our priorities even under the pressure of unfriendly actions on the part of our western partners, who are led, very obviously in this case, by the United States. We did not even change our positions even under the sanctions.
However, here too everything has its limits. I proceed from the idea that it might be possible that external circumstances can force us to alter some of our positions, but so far there have not been any extreme situations of this kind and we have no intention of changing anything. That is the first point.
The second point has to do with our actions in Crimea. I have spoken about this on numerous occasions, but if necessary, I can repeat it. This is Part 2 of Article 1 of the United Nations’ Charter – the right of nations to self-determination. It has all been written down, and not simply as the right to self-determination, but as the goal of the united nations. Read the article carefully.
I do not understand why people living in Crimea do not have this right, just like the people living in, say, Kosovo. This was also mentioned here. Why is it that in one case white is white, while in another the same is called black? We will never agree with this nonsense. That is one thing.
The other very important thing is something nobody mentions, so I would like to draw attention to it. What happened in Crimea? First, there was this anti-state overthrow in Kiev. Whatever anyone may say, I find this obvious – there was an armed seizure of power.““
In many parts of the world, people welcomed this, not realising what this could lead to, while in some regions people were frightened that power was seized by extremists, by nationalists and right-wingers including neo-Nazis. People feared for their future and for their families and reacted accordingly. In Crimea, people held a referendum.
I would like to draw your attention to this. It was not by chance that we in Russia stated that there was a referendum. The decision to hold the referendum was made by the legitimate authority of Crimea – its Parliament, elected a few years ago under Ukrainian law prior to all these grave events. This legitimate body of authority declared a referendum, and then based on its results, they adopted a declaration of independence, just as Kosovo did, and turned to the Russian Federation with a request to accept Crimea into the Russian state.
You know, whatever anyone may say and no matter how hard they try to dig something up, this would be very difficult, considering the language of the United Nations court ruling, which clearly states (as applied to the Kosovo precedent) that the decision on self-determination does not require the approval of the supreme authority of a country.
In this connection I always recall what the sages of the past said. You may remember the wonderful saying: Whatever Jupiter is allowed, the Ox is not.
We cannot agree with such an approach. The ox may not be allowed something, but the bear will not even bother to ask permission. Here we consider it the master of the taiga, and I know for sure that it does not intend to move to any other climatic zones – it will not be comfortable there. However, it will not let anyone have its taiga either. I believe this is clear.
What are the problems of the present-day world order? Let us be frank about it, we are all experts here. We talk and talk, we are like diplomats. What happened in the world? There used to be a bipolar system. The Soviet Union collapsed, the power called the Soviet Union ceased to exist.
All the rules governing international relations after World War II were designed for a bipolar world. True, the Soviet Union was referred to as ‘the Upper Volta with missiles’. Maybe so, and there were loads of missiles. Besides, we had such brilliant politicians like Nikita Khrushchev, who hammered the desk with his shoe at the UN. And the whole world, primarily the United States, and NATO thought: this Nikita is best left alone, he might just go and fire a missile, they have lots of them, we should better show some respect for them.
Now that the Soviet Union is gone, what is the situation and what are the temptations? There is no need to take into account Russia’s views, it is very dependent, it has gone through transformation during the collapse of the Soviet Union, and we can do whatever we like, disregarding all rules and regulations.
This is exactly what is happening. Dominique here mentioned Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan and Yugoslavia before that. Was this really all handled within the framework of international law? Do not tell us those fairy-tales.
This means that some can ignore everything, while we cannot protect the interests of the Russian-speaking and Russian population of Crimea. This will not happen.
I would like everyone to understand this. We need to get rid of this temptation and attempts to arrange the world to one’s liking, and to create a balanced system of interests and relations that has long been prescribed in the world, we only have to show some respect.
As I have already said, we understand that the world has changed, and we are ready to take heed of it and adjust this system accordingly, but we will never allow anyone to completely ignore our interests.
Does Russia aim for any leading role? We don’t need to be a superpower; this would only be an extra load for us. I have already mentioned the taiga: it is immense, illimitable, and just to develop our territories we need plenty of time, energy and resources.
We have no need of getting involved in things, of ordering others around, but we want others to stay out of our affairs as well and to stop pretending they rule the world. That is all. If there is an area where Russia could be a leader – it is in asserting the norms of international law. […]