Larry King: Good evening. This is a very special evening for the Larry King show and our guest in the studio is once again Vladimir Putin, the Russian prime minister and formerly president of the Russian Federation. It is a great pleasure for me to welcome him to the Larry King show.
Vladimir Putin: Good evening. It’s evening here and morning there. Good morning, Larry. It is very good to see you again. I remember our first interview.
L.K.: Mr. Prime Minister, thank you for joining us. Let us start right off. You could run for president again in 2012? Are you thinking about doing that?
V.P.: President Medvedev and I work together closely. We made up our minds long ago that we would make our decision concerning the 2012 elections in the interests of the Russian people.
L.K.: So your answer is “maybe."
V.P.: We’ll see. The elections are still a long way away. They are slated for April 2012. I repeat, we will consult with each other and we will come to a decision that takes account of the economic, social and political situation in the country.
L.K.: OK, let us get to current things.
V.P.: By all means.
L.K.: What do you think of the leak of military and diplomatic correspondence by the WikiLeaks group?
V.P.: Some experts believe that someone is deliberately “inflating” WikiLeaks, building up the site’s authority in order to use it to further their political ends. That is one possible theory, and this is the opinion of experts, which has some currency in our country, too. I think that if this is not the case, it shows that the diplomatic service should be more careful with its documents. Such leaks have happened before, in the previous era. I don’t see it as any kind of catastrophe.
L.K.:.What about the statement by the U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates that Russian democracy has disappeared and that the government is being run by the security services? What is your response to the American secretary of defense’s statement?
V.P.: I am personally acquainted with Mr. Gates, I have met him on several occasions. I think he is a very nice man and not a bad specialist. But Mr. Gates, of course, was one of the leaders of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency and today he is defense secretary. If he also happens to be America’s leading expert on democracy, I congratulate you.
L.K. : So he is wrong in saying that your country is being run by secret security services?
V.P.: He is profoundly wrong. Our country is run by the people of the Russian Federation through legitimately elected bodies of power and administration: through representative bodies (the parliament) and executive bodies (the president and the government of the Russian Federation).
As for democracy, this is a long-running argument we have been having with our American colleagues. I would like to remind you that twice in the history of the United States the presidential candidate who ultimately became president of the United States won more votes in the electoral college but lost the popular vote. What’s democratic about that?
And when we tell our American colleagues that there are systemic problems in this sphere, we hear: “Don’t poke your noses into our affairs. This is how things work here and this is the way it is going to be.” We are not butting in, but I would also like to advise our colleagues not to poke their noses into our affairs. This is the sovereign choice of the Russian people. The Russian people unequivocally backed democracy in the early 1990s. They will not be swayed from this path. No one should have any doubts on that score. This is in Russia’s own interests. And we will definitely continue along this path.
The issue Mr. Gates raised in the course of this diplomatic correspondence is clearly related to his desire to bring some pressure to bear on the allies over concrete issues. There are many such issues. Russia is seen as deserving this pressure because it is undemocratic: These measures have to be taken because there is no democracy there. We have heard this a thousand times. We have stopped paying attention to it. But it is still being used as an instrument of U.S. foreign policy. I think this is the wrong approach to take in building relations with the Russian Federation.
L.K.: How would you describe your relationship with President Medvedev? As you know, there are some who say that he is Robin and you are Batman, to refer to those all-American heroes. Or in fact, to get it straight, that you are Batman and he is Robin.
V.P.: Well, you know when Mr. Medvedev and I were considering how to structure our relations and how to run the 2008 presidential election campaign, we were very well aware that many would try to create a split in our common approach to building the Russian state and the development of our economy because our interaction is an important factor in the country’s domestic policy. But it did not occur to us that it would be done in such an impudent, brazen and aggressive fashion.
Such claims, of course, are aimed at insulting one of us, at damaging our sense of pride and at provoking us into taking steps that would destroy our effective interaction in running the country. I have to tell you that we have already grown used to this. I urge all those who are engaged in such attempts to calm down.
L.K. I hope to be able to visit your country someday soon and to meet you in person. Last time we met in New York, we were in the studio together, and now we are communicating via satellite. What is your assessment of the situation on the Korean Peninsula? You have said that there is a colossal danger that the conflict will intensify. Do you share that fear?
V.P. Yes, the situation is acute and very worrying. It cannot but worry us because everything that is happening is happening in the immediate proximity of our borders.
But we sincerely hope that reason will prevail, that emotions will take the back seat and that a dialogue will begin. Reaching an agreement is impossible without dialogue.
Alongside our partners, including the United States, we are working hard towards resolving the North Korean problems, those connected with nuclear programs and the settlement of the situation between the two parts of Korea. At various stages, this work has yielded a range of results, some were quite impressive and positive. I very much hope that we will be back on track with this positive work.
L.K.: China has proposed holding six-party talks: the two Koreas, China, Russia, Japan and the United States. Do you support this idea?
V.P.: The president takes the lead on our foreign policy, and the question should, in the first place, be directed to him, but overall I think that Russia would like to see this dialogue continue.
L.K.: Do you think that China should do more to resolve the situation, because it has great influence over North Korea?
V.P.: This is the U.S. State Department’s position, but in principle we should do everything we can to normalize the situation. The People’s Republic of China has leverage, especially in economic terms, but it should be remembered that we must respect the interests of the Korean people, both those in its Northern and Southern parts.
We should be patient, get the tone of the dialogue right and formulate a common position for all the six states that are involved in this fairly complicated negotiating process. A common approach is a very important precondition for overall success.
L.K.: You share other states’ concerns that Iran is moving towards becoming a nuclear power. How does Russia feel about that?
V.P.: Iran has been implementing its nuclear program for 20 years now and in recent years, Iran has in one way or another indicated its readiness to engage in dialogue with the international community and with the IAEA. Yes, we are aware that questions remain concerning the early stages of the program and we share the IAEA’s desire for exhaustive answers.
You will, of course, know that we are concerned about any indication of proliferation, about any possibility, even if it is a theoretical possibility for the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. This applies to absolutely all states, including Iran. At the same time, we have no grounds for suspecting Iran of seeking to possess nuclear weapons. But we are cooperating with all our partners, including the United States, within the framework of the United Nations. As you know, so far we have managed to agree on the decisions taken. Our position is open and Iran is aware of it. We will continue to cooperate with all participants in this process until the problem is entirely resolved. I very much hope that this resolution will transpire. I think this is in the interests not only of Iran’s neighbor, Israel, which has great fears about the nuclear programs, and the other parties involved in this process, but also those of Iran and the Iranian people.
I see nothing reprehensible, nothing that infringes upon Iran’s national interests, in it opening up all its programs and responding adequately to the legitimate interest that the IAEA has taken in its work. I see nothing to fear here, but at the same time I am still of the opinion that Iran has the right to pursue nuclear programs under the supervision of international organizations.
L.K.: There's a lot of concern now about this new treaty. Your president, Medvedev, warned that there would be a new arms race if NATO and Moscow don't agree on a joint missile shield. And what happens to the relations between the two countries? Will there be another arms race if the United States doesn't ratify?
V.P.: No. In his state-of-the-nation address to the Russian parliament earlier today, President Medvedev said only that we made a proposal concerning the shared problem of security. He said that through joint effort and shared responsibility, we can eventually solve this problem.
But if there are only negative reactions to all of our proposals, and if a threat emerges on our borders in the form of a new incarnation of the Third Site program, Russia will just have to protect itself using various means, including the deployment of new missile systems to counter the new threats to our borders and the development of new nuclear-missile technology. This is not our choice. We don’t want this. It’s not a threat. We are simply talking about what to expect if we can’t agree to work together. That’s all. Again, we don’t want to see this happen.
L.K.: Well, you're saying it's not a threat, but it does sound like a threat. The Wall Street Journal is reporting today that America believes that you're moving short-range tactical nuclear warheads near NATO allies, as recently as this spring. Was that true?
V.P.: Larry, listen, I’d like to make this clear to you and to all Americans, or, at least, to the audience of your show today. It’s not Russia that is moving missiles close to your border; it’s the United States that is planning to deploy missiles near Russia’s border. We keep hearing that the purpose is to protect yourselves from the threat of a nuclear missile attack by Iran, for example. But Iran poses no such threat at the moment. And if anti-missile and radar systems are set up near our border, even in 2015, they will undermine our nuclear capabilities. So it’s only natural that we are alarmed by the prospect. And we are obligated to take some measures in response. This is a response; we are not making the first moves.
While in Lisbon, President Medvedev put forward some concrete proposals about NATO and Russia sharing responsibility for security in Europe. We could reach an agreement with NATO and, by extension, with the United States, on information sharing and on jointly managing these systems. Military experts can do it, provided there is goodwill. But we continue to be told: “We don't want to take your interests into account, we are going to do whatever we want.” So we’ll just have to view it as a threat to our security, and we’ll be forced to respond accordingly. That’s what I’d like to get across to the American public.
L.K: What is your assessment of President Obama?
V.P.: Assessing his performance is the responsibility of U.S. voters, the people who voted him into office, and American citizens in general.
But as an outside observer, I can say that President Obama has been faced with some formidable challenges, primarily economic and social.
It’s not my place to judge whether he did the right thing by pushing for the healthcare law in Congress. But there’s no doubt, in my mind, that he did his best on this highly sensitive issue for Americans. He has done everything he can to respond to the aspirations of the American people, which he made the basis of his election platform. He made a promise, and he delivered.
As for his foreign policy, we are grateful that he has softened the rhetoric in U.S.-Russian relations, and that, in terms of practical achievements, he has delayed the implementation of the Third Site program for a missile defense shield in Europe. This has created new opportunities for dialogue; and we’ve won some time to try to translate the plan President Medvedev put forward in Lisbon into reality.
L.K.:Ten Russian sleeper agents were arrested in the United States earlier this year, then sent back to Russia in a spy swap. You met with them after their deportation. What was your impression? What was this all about? What did they tell you?
V.P.: We talked business for a bit. The conversation was wide-ranging.
Well, what can I say? These people deserve respect, I think. I said earlier, and I’d like to repeat this, that their activity in no way undermined the interests of the United States. As you know, these were deep-cover agents. This kind of agent has special objectives, and they are usually called on in times of crisis, for example, when diplomatic ties are severed.
Thank God this isn’t the case in U.S.-Russian relations at the moment, and I hope it never will be.
L.K./: So they do no spying under your direction?
V.P.: They had their own assignments. Let me make it clear once again that we’re dealing here with deep-cover agents who only become active during crises and when diplomatic ties are severed, when other forms of intelligence become ineffective or impossible. Again, those agents have not harmed the national interests of the United States. But it’s common knowledge that every country, including the United States, operates a foreign intelligence network of its own.
By the way, the methods employed by our special services differ in a good way from those used by U.S. special services. Thank God, neither the agents in question or any other Russian intelligence officers are known to have been involved in creating secret prisons, kidnappings or torture.
L.K.: The former Soviet Union spent nine years fighting in Afghanistan. In fact, I believe we discussed this the last time we were together ten years ago. Some call it the Soviet Union's Vietnam. Do you think the United States will do any better in Afghanistan?
V.P.: First of all, I don’t think the comparison is accurate. Our troops withdrew from Afghanistan in a calm and orderly manner, and after the pullout, the Soviet-backed government remained in power for another three years. The Taliban managed to overthrow it only after the Soviet Union collapsed, when Soviet assistance was no longer an option.
I believe the Soviet Union made a lot of mistakes in Afghanistan, the most serious being that we sent in troops. We should not have done this. This much is clear.
The ongoing presence of U.S. and coalition forces in Afghanistan is another matter. As I said, our campaign in Afghanistan can’t be compared with the Vietnam War. Similarly, it would be wrong to compare the current U.S. and international operations in Afghanistan to Russia’s back in the 1980s.
I believe that the coalition forces have an important and positive mission to accomplish in Afghanistan. We cannot and will not contribute militarily, but we are providing some non-military assistance to our partners from the United States and other coalition countries. We’ve agreed to allow transit [through our territory], both by air and over land, and we’re doing just that.
We also share important information, including intelligence obtained by our special agents, whom you mentioned a short while ago. These are all positive examples of cooperation, I think. There have been cases of Russian helicopter pilots rescuing U.S. and Dutch troops under enemy fire.
And there are other ways of contributing to international efforts in Afghanistan. Providing assistance to the Afghan government and armed forces, for example. There is a wide range of cooperative measures, and we hope they’ll yield positive results.
L.K.: Let's discuss the former president, George W. Bush. In his new memoir, Decision Points, he describes you as a man who is sometimes charming, sometimes very serious, and cold-blooded. He said, when he first met you, that he looked into your eyes and saw your soul. How would you describe your relationship with the former president?
V.P.: They were warm – good, cordial, human relations. He visited me at home, and I visited him. I stayed at his ranch. We take different views of many problems but I can say one thing with complete confidence: George W. Bush is a man of great integrity and a pleasant colleague to have. He has a lovely family, too. I really enjoyed my time at his father’s home.
L.K.: I gather from that, you really liked him.
V.P.: I do like him as a person but, I repeat, we took different approaches to solving the same problems.
L.K.: Will you read his book?
V.P.: I have seen some excerpts from it. I am not in complete agreement with everything he wrote, and I think there are some things he has forgotten about. I’ll remind him of them if we meet again.
L.K.: I know that you're working on your English. You spoke in English at an International Olympic Committee meeting. You did an interview with Matthew Chance for CNN two years ago and spoke in English. Are you ready to start now, and address our audience in English?
V.P.: My English is very bаd (in English). It is better to be precise speaking to you and avoid any mistakes. I am learning songs in English with my teacher, and we try to sing them together. It’s more of a game. It is not like proper language classes, just taking the language up again, as a break. But if we meet when you come to Moscow, I will try to talk to you in English. I understand a great deal, of course. At any rate, I do not need an interpreter when I meet with my colleagues in a semi-official or semi-informal atmosphere.
L.K.: OK. Later this week, FIFA will announce which country is to host the 2018 FIFA World Cup. Do you think you have a good chance of hosting it?
V.P.: I think we have a chance. I base this on our rivals’ emphasis that they have everything ready to host the World Cup. But why should a country that already has all the required facilities host the World Cup? FIFA’s philosophy involves promoting international football and extending its global reach. Eastern Europe has never hosted a World Cup, which is why Russia is a natural contender.
We have a problem, however. Mud has been thrown at FIFA members lately during this bidding race. Attempts have been made to discredit them in ways I think they really did not deserve. As an organization, FIFA does not only arrange football matches. It is today performing a crucial role in the world: Not only does it promote a healthy lifestyle - turning a huge number of people, particularly young people, away from drugs and alcohol, but it also builds bridges between people, nations and countries. This is a crucial function.
We are counting on FIFA members to make their decision in Russia’s favor.
L.K.: Who is acting like that?
V.P.: Many people in the race are trying to do that. We know that a great deal of information has appeared on the BBC, but accusations are one thing and proof is another. So I think these tactics amount to unfair competition in the bid to host the World Cup.
L.K.: Will you go to Zurich to make a personal appeal?
V.P.: You know, that’s something I thought about, of course. But I think that now, when FIFA members are coming under such pointed attacks and attempts to discredit them, they need the space to make an objective decision without any external pressure.
As you know, I’ve been a sports fan all my life, and I love football, but I don’t think I should appear there before the vote lest my presence be regarded as an attempt to exert some kind of pressure on the decision-making process.
L.K.: Something, Mr. Prime Minister, I don't think you've ever been asked. We have quite a dispute about it in America. What is the Russian policy towards gays and lesbians in your military?
V.P.: I’ve tried to answer similar questions before. There is a rather acute demographic problem in Russia, as in the rest of Europe. We are making serious efforts to improve the situation, and we are having success. I think we have the best indicators in Europe in terms of the rate of improvement. For the first time in the last 10 to 15 years, we are seeing a sustainable trend of rising births, and the country’s population has even increased somewhat this year.
As for same-sex marriages, they do not produce offspring, as you know. So we are fairly tolerant toward sexual minorities, however we think that the state should promote reproduction, support mothers and children, and look after their health.
L.K.: Are gays permitted to actively serve in your military and be able to say that they are gay?
V.P.: There is no ban on it. Sodomy was a criminal offense in the Soviet Union. It’s not a crime under current law. There are no prohibitions.
L.K.: You recently took part in a summit in St. Petersburg on saving tigers. You hailed the actor Leonardo DiCaprio for managing to attend that meeting despite a lot of obstacles. What is your interest in the tiger?
V.P.: It’s not just tigers. I love nature. Thank God there are a lot of people in the world who feel like I do. I am just one of many.
As for tigers, my interest in them also has something to do with the United States, strange though it may seem. I once saw a news report on television about American and Russian experts working together in the [Russian] Far East to protect tigers. To be honest, I was ashamed in a way to see American experts helping their Russian partners to solve these problems. I went there and we developed a program to protect tigers in the Far East.
On the whole, everything done in the Soviet Union and Russia has brought about improvements. Several decades ago, we had just 20 to 30 tigers, while now there are more than 500 thanks to our targeted efforts. But tigers are not our sole concern. We protect other endangered species, too, and I’m counting on more and more people getting involved in the search for solutions to these problems because many people are eager to help. They just don’t have the opportunity. I do, so I think it is my duty to help.
L.K: Some personal questions in our remaining moments, Mr. Prime Minister. And again, I hope next year to visit and spend some time with you in Moscow, and bring the family as well. You seem to keep your family life private. Many of our viewers may not know that you have two daughters. Why do you tend to shield the family?
V.P.: Unfortunately, Russia has many problems with terrorism, as you know. It is our duty to think about the safety of our family members and our children – especially our daughters. They live a normal, ordinary life. They go to university. They are content. They have friends. Everything is alright. But I don’t think it’s necessary to force them into the spotlight, and besides they don’t want it.
L.K.: Does your wife enjoy being a first lady?
V.P.: She’s not the first lady. The president’s wife is the first lady in Russia.
L.K.: Did she enjoy being the first lady?
V.P.: Generally speaking, she does not enjoy publicity. I think she handled the burden with poise, and she certainly managed her responsibilities.
L.K.: Do you plan a trip to the United States anytime soon?
V.P.: There are no plans for a visit. The issue is the specific reasons for making the visit. Currently, I’m focused on the economy above all. If there are reasons requiring a visit in the future, I will be happy to come meet with my colleagues and discuss current issues and the prospects for our cooperation.
L.K.: Do you keep in touch with Mr. Gorbachev at all?
V.P.: I meet with him, though very rarely. He calls me occasionally. So we keep in touch.
L.K.: Mr. Prime Minister, finally, are you optimistic at all about the state of this world or pessimistic?
There are more problems today than ever before. But I am an optimist, and I think that we can reach agreements on even the most acute problems, which might seem insolvable to us now. If we work together, we will ensure that our countries will continue to make progress, and we will solve key problems regarding security and development.
L.K.: Mr. Prime Minister, I thank you so much and look forward to seeing you again soon on your soil.
V.P.: Larry, please do come to Moscow. I’d love to see you. You’ve never been to Moscow, and I’m sure you will like it here.
L.K.: I thank you again so much, Vladimir Putin, prime minister of Russia. Thank you.
V.P.: Can I ask a question? I’m not sure why, but the king is leaving us. There are many gifted and interesting people working in the American media, but there is only one King. I’m not asking why he’s leaving us, but I want to know when we will be able to say, “Long Live the King!”? When will there be another figure as popular around the world as you are?
L.K.: Thank you. I have no answer.
V.P.: Thank you very much.
L.K.: Thank you. I'll see you next year.
This transcript originally appeared at http://premier.gov.ru
All rights reserved by Rossiyskaya Gazeta.