Vladimir Putin’s recent visit to France, which ended May 30, left European mass media in mixed feelings. Respectable newspapers, like Britain’s The Times or Switzerland’s Neue Zurcher Zeitung, wrote in their articles that Putin had received an inappropriate welcome in Paris, which did not match his official position of the prime minister. European journalists were surprised to see that Putin’s meeting with his French counterpart Francois Fillon was held without reporters. To crown it all, President Sarkozy invited Putin for private dinner.
Western journalists believe that Putin arrived in Paris to discuss not only common issues of economic cooperation, but also issues of foreign politics, which are generally not included in the powers of a prime minister. However, Putin strictly adhered to the official protocol of foreign visits during his public appearances in Paris.
A recent issue of Le Monde newspaper, which published an exclusive interview with Vladimir Putin, dotted all the “i”s on the matter.
Who rules Russia, Medvedev or Putin? That was one of the first questions which French journalists asked Putin. The Russian prime minister replied that there was no ambiguity in the question at all. “Politicians execute certain functions and remain human beings at that. First and foremost, I deal with economic and social issues. However, as a member of Russia’s Security Council, I am pertinent to the questions that we discussed with the President of France,” Putin said.
Putin described his stance on virtually all major issues of Russia’s foreign politics answering other questions from French reporters.
“The expansion of NATO is the construction of new Berlin walls in Europe – invisible walls, which are equally dangerous,” Putin said answering a question about the threat of Ukraine’s and Georgia’s possible incorporation in NATO.
Putin reminded that NATO had been set up during the opposition with the USSR. The Soviet Union collapsed long ago, although the North Atlantic Alliance continues its existence. “Against whom does this friendship exist now? Which are the current global threats? The proliferation of nuclear weapons, terrorism, epidemic, international criminality, drugs. Can these be solved within the framework of a closed political bloc? No. NATO builds new borders in Europe with its expansion. This restricts opportunities of taking the mutual effort to struggle against today’s current threats, because it sows distrust to each other. It is an obstacle,” Putin said.
The Russian prime minister also criticized NATO’s aggressive methods of working. “We both know where the decisions are taken, as a rule: in one of the leading countries of the bloc. They are legitimatized afterwards and obtain an attractive and many-sided meaning,” Putin said.
The head of the Russian government exemplified his point of view with the deployment of the US missile system in Europe. “At first they made a decision and then they started to discuss it in Brussels. They started the discussion against the background of Russia’s pressure and criticism. We constantly talk about the arms control in Europe . We did everything necessary while Western countries were doing the talking. As a result we have two army bases near Russia’s borders and will soon have missile deployment areas in Poland and the Czech Republic,” Putin said.
“We fear that if Ukraine and Georgia become NATO members today, then missile systems might be deployed there tomorrow. Eighty percent of Ukrainians do not want their nation to join NATO. Have they solved everything for the Ukrainians? Is their opinion of interest to anyone? And you want to tell me that this is democracy?” Putin said.
The problem is the same as far as Georgia is concerned: the Georgian authorities and the people of Abkhazia cannot seem to come to mutual understanding. Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili suggested a plan stipulated Abkhazia’s authority as a part of Georgia , although the unrecognized republic refuses to acknowledge it. “I just hope that Saakashvili’s plan will come true gradually, because it is a correct plan on the whole. However, the other side needs to agree with that. The plan must suit Abkhazia first and foremost,” Putin said.
Translated by Dmitry Sudakov