| SENIOR INTERNATIONAL ADVISOR, AKIN GUMP STRAUSS HAUER & FELD LLP TOBY TRISTER GATI (retranslated from Russian): I will speak in the spirit of the Valdai forum. I hope you will understand my question in this same way.
Several weeks back, Mr Obama spoke of three challenges: Ebola, the Islamic State, and Russia, the Russian Federation, because of the events in Ukraine.
This statement greatly angered the Russian leaders. And I must say that what I heard from you today was not talk of three challenges, but of a single global problem that you outlined – the United States.
Some in the United States will welcome what you said because these are not statements about ‘soft power’, perhaps, not about a Cold War, but about a ‘hot war’ in the global system created by the United States.
Others will be surprised at your words and your tone, because many in the United States do not think that it is a good idea to completely destroy our ties, and I am one of these people.
I do not think that foreign policy should be based on not taking Russia’s interests into account, but I think that America’s interests need to be respected too.
To be honest, I do not recognise the country that you described in your statements.
My question is, who is the ‘they’ that you refer to in your statements? Is it President Obama, is it the US elite, which sets the foreign policy, or is it the American people? What did you describe as the ‘United States’ genetic code in the post-war world’? Did you say that you cannot work with the United States in general or with their closest allies?
One more question: do you see any special role that other countries could play, in particular China?
Finally and most importantly, what response do you expect from the Americans to your words?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: First of all, I did not say that we perceive the United States as a threat. President Obama, as you said, views Russia as a threat. I do not think that the United States is a threat to us. I think that, to use a hackneyed term, the ruling establishment’s policies are misguided. I believe that these policies are not in our interests and undermine trust in the United States, and in this sense they damage the United States’ own interests by eroding confidence in the country as a global economic and political leader.
There are plenty of things we can pass over in silence. But I already said, and Dominique mentioned the same thing too, that unilateral action followed by a search for allies and attempts to put together a coalition after everything has already been done is not the way to reach agreement. This kind of unilateral action has become frequent in US policy today and it leads to crises. I already spoke about this.
President Obama spoke about the Islamic State as one of the threats. But who helped to arm the people who were fighting Assad in Syria? Who created a favourable political and informational climate for them? Who pushed for arms supplies?
Are you really not aware of who is fighting there? It is mostly mercenaries fighting there. Are you not aware that they get paid to fight? And they go wherever they get paid more.
So they get arms and they get paid for fighting. I have heard how much they get paid. Once they’re armed and paid for their services, you can’t just undo all that. Then they hear that they can get more money elsewhere, and so they go there, and then they capture oil fields in Iraq and Syria say, start producing oil, and others buy this oil, transport it and sell it.
Why are sanctions not imposed on those engaged in such activities? Doesn’t the United States know who is responsible? Isn’t it their own allies who are doing this? Don’t they have the power and opportunity to influence their allies or do they not want to do so? But then why are they bombing the Islamic State?
They started producing oil there and were able to pay more, and some of the rebels fighting for the so-called ‘civilised opposition’ rushed off to join the Islamic State, because they pay better.
I think this is a very short-sighted and incompetent policy that has no basis in reality. We heard that we need to support the civilised democratic opposition in Syria, and so they got support, got arms. And the next day half the rebels went off and joined the Islamic State. Was it so hard to foresee this possibility a bit earlier? We are opposed to this kind of US policy. We believe it is misguided and harmful to everyone, including to you.
As for the question of taking our interests into account, we would love to see people like you in charge at the State Department. Perhaps this would do something to help turn the situation around. If this does not happen, I ask you to get the message across to our partners, the US President, Secretary of State and other officials, that we do not want or seek any confrontation.
You think that with some respect for our interests many problems could be resolved. But this needs to be about action, not just words. Respecting others’ interests means, as I said in my opening remarks, that you cannot just put the squeeze on others by using your exceptional economic or military clout.
It is no good thing that they are fighting in Iraq, and Libya ended up in such a state that your ambassador there was killed. Are we to blame for these things? The [UN] Security Council took the decision at one point to declare a no-fly zone in Libya so that Gaddafi’s aircraft would not be able to bomb the rebels. I do not think this was the wisest decision, but be that as it may. But what happened in the end? The United States started carrying out air strikes, including against targets on the ground. This was a gross violation of the UN Security Council resolution and essentially an act of aggression with no resolution to support it. Were we to blame for this? You did this with your own hands. And what was the result? Your ambassador was killed. Who is to blame? You can only blame yourselves. Was it a good thing for the United States that an ambassador was killed? It was a terrible thing, a terrible tragedy.
But you should not look for scapegoats if you are the ones who made the mistakes. On the contrary, you need to overcome the desire to always dominate and act on your imperial ambitions. You need to stop poisoning the minds of millions of people with the idea that US policy can only be a policy of imperial ambitions.
We will never forget how Russia helped the United States to obtain independence, and we will never forget our cooperation and alliance during World War I and World War II. I think that the American and Russian peoples have many deep strategic interests in common, and it is on these mutual interests that we need to build our foundations.