Original by Denis Davydov published by Vesti.ru; translated from Russian by J.Hawk
The reunification of Russia with Crimea was wholly consistent with international law, and the Minsk Agreements are not being implemented due to Kiev’s fault. This is was one of the themes of a big interview with German journalists. While talking to Bild correspondents, the President also explained why Europe remained divided after the end of the Cold War. He also named Russia’s biggest mistake after USSR’s break-up.
The latest Bild with Putin on the cover came out on Sunday night. The authors promise to acquaint the readers with “the thoughts of a politician who as more influential than ever.”
The Russian president met with the German journalists in Sochi a few days ago.
After greeting them in German, Vladimir Putin invited them to the table. The president without a tie, tea on the table. It’s not so much an interview but rather a frank conversation. The journalists ask: why is humanity being riven by conflicts again? It seemed that the Cold War was in the past, the Berlin Wall fell 25 years ago.
“I looked at documents concerning a discussion between the 1990 Soviet leaders with some German politicians. These documents were never before released. You and your readers will be the first to learn about that discussion in 1990,” Vladimir Putin tells the journalists.
Putin takes out the unique documents. After the fall of the Berlin Wall the TV viewers only saw the national celebration, punctuated by a few references to the meetings between Soviet and German leaders. Only those in the know were aware what the Germans insisted on, including its representative, the prominent politician Egon Bahr.
“He spoke of the need to create a new alliance in Europe,” says Putin about Bahr and unified Germany. “The unified Germany ought not to move in the direction of NATO. These were working meetings between Bahr, Gorbachev, and Falin who at the time headed the Central Committee’s international department.” Bahr told his Soviet colleagues: “If you don’t agree to that, but instead agree to the NATO enlargement, if USSR accepts that, I will never again come to Moscow.” You see, this was a very intelligent man. He had a profound understanding, he was convinced of the need to completely change the format, to leave the Cold War era behind. We haven’t done anything in that direction.”
We met with Viktor Falin who participated in that 1990 meeting. He recalls that Bahr was in favor of Europe’s unification and a separate alliance with equal rights for US and Russia. The German politician was not only in Moscow. He took his proposals to European capitals too.
“Bahr did not get a very favorable reaction. The British insisted Germany ought to remain in NATO and in all Western European economic organizations. Mitterrand was equally adamant. The Americans defended their own interests: we don’t care whether Germany reunites or not. But we want Germany to stay in NATO,” says Falin.
The fears came true. NATO literally threw itself eastward over the course of 25 years.
The alliance had 16 member states when USSR collapsed. A few waves of expansion later it has twice as many members and–it’s right against Russia’s borders. Europe is developing an anti-missile defense system. The ABM belt around our country is tightening. Its missiles and powerful radars cover a sizable proportion of Russia’s territory.
“What do you think, did Russia make any errors in these last 25 years?”, a German journalist asks the Russian head of state.
“Yes it did. We did not declare our national interests, and we should have done that right from the start. Perhaps the world would have been more balanced,” Putin answers.
Right now the world is threatened by terrorists. Countries are fighting individually against that absolute evil, but if they were a bit more cooperative they could unite against the treat.
German journalists mention Crimea. They say it’s the peninsula’s reunion with Russia that prevents the West from cooperating with Moscow.
“What do you mean when you say ‘Crimea’?”, Putin asks for a clarification.
“The change of borders,” replies Bild correspondent.
“And I mean 2.5 million people. Those are people who were frightened by the coup, who were anxious by the overthrow of government in Ukraine. We did not fight, we did not occupy anybody, we didn’t fire anywhere, nobody died as a result of the events in Crimea. Nobody! We used our armed forces only to hold off the over 20 thousand Ukrainian troops located there from interfering with the free expression of political will by the people who live there. People came to the referendum and voted. They wanted to be part of Russia,” Putin explains.
The president reminds: everything was within the framework of international law. The people decided with whom to be during the referendum. Yes, the process did not take into consideration Kiev’s view, but the right to self-determination was defined by the UN international court already during the Kosovo case. In 1999 it was the opinion of the inhabitants and not of the government that was defining.
But in the case of Crimea the West took a different tack and introduced sanctions against Russia.
“I believe that’s a stupid and erroneous decision. When considering the reaction by our Western partners, it seems to me it was in error and aimed not at supporting Ukraine but to limit Russia’s growth potential. Seems to me that should not have been done, that was the biggest error. Instead we should use one another’s capabilities to ensure mutual growth and to jointly deal with problems which we face”, Putin insisted.
The Russian economy is also being hurt by the dropping oil price. It’s a painful topic for many countries, but Russia is suffering greatly from it since its budget depends so heavily on raw material prices. Putin acknowledges that, but also points out that the domestic economy is gradually diversifying away from oil cash. High-tech manufacturing is growing.
“We have observed an annual GDP decline of 3.8%, with a 3.3% decline in manufacturing, inflation increased to 12.7%. That’s a lot, but we still have a trade surplus. And we were able, for the first time in many years, to increase the volume of high value added exports. We are going to gradually stabilize and grow our economy. We’ve adopted a whole range of programs, including concerning import substitution, which represents investment in high technology,” Putin answers.
The issue of lifting sanctions was also mentioned. The West stated it’s willing to soften sanctions as soon as the situation in the South-East of Ukraine stabilizes. The journalists suggest the ball is in Kremlin’s court.
“Believe me, this is now becoming a theater of the absurd–one cannot demand of Moscow that which Kiev is supposed to do. For example, the most important aspect of the conflict resolution process is the political question, with constitutional reform at its center. That’s point 11 of the Minsk Agreements. It says right there: constitutional reform in Ukraine which is to enter into force by the end of 2015. But 2015 has already ended,” Putin emphasizes.
“Constitutional reform should have been done after all fighting had ended. Isn’t that what it says?”, a Bild journalist tries to object.
“No, it’s not. Look, I can give you these documents in English. And what does it say? First, constitutional reform, political processes, and then the creation of an atmosphere of mutual trust and the completion of all the processes, including the closing of the border. But our European partners, including Germany’s chancellor and France’s president, should really pay more attention to those problems,” advises Putin.
“There is a theory there are two Putins. One is the young one, from before 2007, who talked of solidarity with the Americans and whose friend was Schroeder. And then after 2007 another Putin appeared. I have a direct question for you. When are we getting the first Putin back?”, the Bild correspondent wants to know.
“I have never changed. First of all, I feel young today. I was Schroeder’s friend and I am still Schroeder’s friend. Nothing has changed,” Putin answers. “Relations between countries are not like relationships between individuals. I am not anybody’s friend, bride, or groom. I am the President of the Russian Federation. 146 million people! These people have their interests and I am duty-bound to defend them. We are ready to do it in a non-confrontational manner, we are ready to compromise but, of course, on the basis of international law.”
The discussion lasted more than two hours. Then the journalists flew back to Germany. In their video report they referred to the discussion as tense, but assured that they were able to learn Putin’s world view.