18 October / 2018

Remarks by Vladimir Putin, President of the Russian Federation, at the 15th annual meeting of the Valdai International Discussion Club (Sochi, October 18, 2018)

Terrorism is one of the most serious and challenging evils. I have said many times, including at the 70th session of the UN General Assembly in New York, that the only way to effectively stand up to terrorism is to join efforts. Unfortunately, in the true sense of the word, we have not put this cooperation in place yet. There are some aspects of cooperation where we have succeeded but this is not enough. By the highest standards, we have failed to join efforts the way we should so far, while this could be done, based on the relevant international rules of law and UN resolutions.

We did a lot of damage to the terrorists in Syria. Many of them were eliminated, and some of them decided they wanted out: they laid down their arms after losing faith in the principles they considered right. This, I would say, is the most important outcome.

The second, no less important thing, is that we have preserved Syrian statehood and in this sense helped stabilise the region. Therefore, I believe we have generally achieved the goals we had set for ourselves in starting the operation in the Syrian Arab Republic; we have achieved a result. We have liberated almost 95 percent of the entire territory of the Syrian Republic. This is my first point.

Second. We prevented the state fr om collapsing. True, there are still many problems. Now we see what is happening on the left bank of the Euphrates. Probably, our colleagues know: this territory is under the patronage of our American partners. They rely on the Kurdish armed forces.

But they have obviously left a loose end: ISIS remains in several locations and has begun to expand its area of influence recently. They took 130 families hostage – almost 700 people.

I think few of those present here know that they have made ultimatums, extended demands and warned that if these ultimatums are not met, they would shoot 10 people every day. The day before yesterday, 10 people were shot. Executed. They have begun to fulfil their threats.

This is just horrifying. We need to do something about it. Why do our colleagues keep silent? According to our information, several US and European citizens are among the hostages. Everyone is quiet, there is silence as if nothing is happening. Therefore, there is still much to be done; this is true. But I repeat, on the whole, we have achieved our goal.

The next step is a political settlement at the UN in Geneva. We need to form a constitutional committee now. Progress is not easy, but we are still moving forward. I hope that we will move ahead with our partners in this area.

The demilitarised zone, on which we agreed, is being created in the Idlib de-escalation zone with a depth of 15-20 kilometres. Not all heavy weapons have been withdrawn yet, and not all members of the terrorist organisations ISIS and Jabhat an-Nusra have left, but our Turkish partners are doing their best to fulfil their obligations.

It is not up to Russia to persuade Iran to leave Syria. After all, both Syria and Iran are sovereign countries, and they should build their own relationship. Yes, Russia does have serious, deep-rooted ties both with Iran and Syria. Moreover, we have been able to resolve certain issues by engaging in dialogue and discussions with our Iranian partners, including on withdrawing offensive systems fr om the Israeli border and the Golan Heights.

As for the complete withdrawal, this is a separate issue that has to be resolved through dialogue between Iran and Syria, as well as between Iran and the United States. We are ready to join this discussion.

Third, in order for Syria to move forward with the help of its allies, including Iran, the Syrian state needs a safe and enabling environment.

This means that those who want Iranian troops to withdraw fr om Syria must guarantee non-interference in the domestic affairs of the Syrian Arab Republic, stop funding terrorists or using them for political aims to fight the legitimate regime in Syria, its government, and so on. This is a complicated matter that is relevant for all parties to this conflict.

As I have already pointed out in public, Russia believes that once the decisions of this kind are taken, including the definitive victory over terrorists, all foreign troops must leave the Syrian Arab Republic as the country improves its defence capability and in keeping with the wishes of the Syrian government. This is the main criteria.

We are not creating any problems for anyone. Are we the ones creating problems? No. Instead, we are being accused of things. They say that Russia was “highly likely” to have done this or that, intervened at one place and wreaked havoc at another. But, no one believes it is necessary to produce any evidence.

For me it is clear, and I have said this: this is the result of the internal political struggle in the Western world as a whole. Now they are fighting over the conditions for Britain’s exit from the EU; the Democrats and the Republicans are fighting in the United States, and there is controversy among the Republicans themselves. So someone has apparently decided that playing the anti-Russia card would be a very convenient way to resolve domestic political problems. This is bad for everyone.

I hope this will pass, but apparently we need to wait for internal political crises to be resolved. Whether this will happen after the Congressional election or not, I do not know yet, but maybe. Or maybe it will happen in 2020, with the next US presidential election.

Were our meetings with President Trump harmful or helpful? I believe that, despite the attempt to discredit these meetings, they nevertheless were more positive than negative. Why? Because we can see what is happening there. We can certainly see, we know how to read after all, we look at what is happening there in the domestic political landscape. Still, it is better to communicate and interact with each other than, forgive my language, engage in a never-ending dogfight.

Our meetings have hardly improved US domestic politics, I guess. Probably because, again, there are those who are always trying to play this card in the domestic political struggle. I would say the incumbent president is geared to stabilise and level Russian-American relations. Let's see how the situation develops. We, in any case, are ready for this at any time.

Stirring up emotions is not our approach. Generally speaking, it is irresponsible to lead the world to the brink of a global crisis whose consequences are hard to foresee. We have never used such a policy, and we will not do so in the future.

We are not afraid of anything. Given our territory, our defence system, and our people that are ready to fight for independence and sovereignty. Nobody can change these things, and this makes us certain that we can feel secure.

We live in a world wh ere security relies on nuclear capability. Russia is one of the largest nuclear powers. You may be aware, I have said it publicly, we are improving our attack systems as an answer to the United States building its missile defence system. Some of these systems have already been fielded, and some will be put into service in the coming months. I am talking about the Avangard system. Clearly, we have overtaken all our, so to speak, partners and competitors in this sphere, and this fact is acknowledged by the experts. No one has a high-precision hypersonic weapon. Some plan to begin testing it in one or two years, while we have this high-tech modern weapon in service. So, we feel confident in this sense.

We are prepared and will use nuclear weapons only when we know for certain that some potential aggressor is attacking Russia, our territory. I am not revealing a secret if I say that we have created a system which is being upgraded all the time as needed – a missile early warning radar system. This system monitors the globe, warning about the launch of any strategic missile at sea and identifying the area from which it was launched. Second, the system tracks the trajectory of a missile flight. Third, it locates a nuclear warhead drop zone.

Only when we know for certain – and this takes a few seconds to understand – that Russia is being attacked we will deliver a counter strike. This would be a reciprocal counter strike. Why do I say ‘counter’? Because we will counter missiles flying towards us by sending a missile in the direction of an aggressor. Of course, this amounts to a global catastrophe but I would like to repeat that we cannot be the initiators of such a catastrophe because we have no provision for a pre-emptive strike. Yes, it looks like we are sitting on our hands and waiting until someone uses nuclear weapons against us. Well, yes, this is what it is. But then any aggressor should know that retaliation is inevitable and they will be annihilated. And we as the victims of an aggression, we as martyrs would go to paradise while they will simply perish because they won’t even have time to repent their sins.

Naturally, there are many other risks, but they are shared risks, such as environment, climate change, terrorism, which I mentioned, and proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. If we are unable to put an effective end to this, it is not clear wh ere it will lead to, and in whose hands this deadly weapon may end up.

Crimea is our land. Why is it our land? Not because we went there and took it. Even if someone decides to argue with me, the dispute will immediately come to a dead-end. Everyone is democratic here, right? What is democracy? Democracy is the power of the people. How is it exercised, this power of the people? It is exercised through referendums, elections and so on. People came to a referendum in Crimea and voted for independence, first, and then for being part of Russia.

Let me remind you for the hundredth time that there was no referendum in Kosovo, only the parliament voted for independence, that was all. Everyone who wanted to support and destroy the former Yugoslavia said: well, thank God, we are fine with that. Here, however, they disagree. Ok then, let's have a discussion, go over the UN documents, see what the UN Charter is all about, and wh ere it talks about the right of nations to self-determination. This will be an endless discussion. However, we proceed based on the will expressed by the people who live on that territory.

The US and China exchange blows that cost some $500 million. And if they keep doing so, it will amount to $1.5 trillion, which is 0.4 percent of the global economy. It will be one of the reasons for a future recession of the global economy. Everyone will feel it and nobody wants it to happen. Therefore, it is possible to stir up a wind at some point, but a moment will come when it will not benefit anybody.

The Chinese civilization is very old, the Chinese people have a lot of patience and I think the fundamental structure of the Chinese economy will allow them to endure everything. In terms of volume, the Chinese economy has outgrown the US economy; the per capita figure is still smaller, of course, taking into account China’s huge population.

Of course, the American economy is high-tech and introduces contemporary innovative technologies quickly, so both Russia and China have something to work on and to learn from our American colleagues. Nevertheless, the world is changing and so is the global economy; the growth rate of the Chinese economy is high.

It has adjusted, as we see, but it remains high. It will inevitably lead to a change in the economic situation between countries and in the global economic environment. This poses certain threats, and not only for countries, but for the global economy as well, I would say.

We are talking with Japan about increasing trust, about the possibility of signing a peace treaty, of reaching some compromise on the territorial issues that Japan constantly raises, although we do not believe they even exist, and yet, we do not reject this dialogue.

At the request of Prime Minister Abe, we have established simplified formalities for Japanese citizens visiting these territories, so they can visit their historical places, family graves, and so on. That is, for our part, we are trying to create the necessary conditions of trust.

However, Japan has imposed sanctions against us. Do you think this looks like a step towards increasing trust? What does Syria or Crimea have to do with Japan? Why did you do it? To increase trust? Yet, we still do not refuse; we are ready to continue this dialogue. We are not avoiding contacts.

We have been having a discussion over territorial issues with China for many years, for 40 years, in fact. Can you imagine that? Forty years. Russia-China relations saw a lot in that time, but in the end, we signed a friendship agreement. And we have reached a level of understanding between Russia and China that is assessed as unprecedented by both our countries. However, the territorial issue had not been resolved yet by that time.

But the fact that we signed these documents with China, with our Chinese friends, the fact that we have built such a system of relations – did it put an end to our debates over the territorial issues? No, it did not. On the contrary, this created an environment necessary for resolving these issues, which is exactly what we did in the end – we signed the necessary document, finding compromise.

I said the same thing to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. I said that if we fail to sign this peace agreement now, without resolving the issue of those islands, this would not mean that we would consign it to the dustbin of history and go on as if nothing happened. The example of our relations with China showcases the opposite: we created an environment of trust, and then resolved the issue. This was exactly what I suggested.

Our dispute with Japan over these issues dates back 70 years, and we cannot seem to find a solution, a way out of the dead end. But let us finally sign this peace agreement, work on improving our level of trust, refrain from creating new problems in bilateral relations and move on, and keep discussing these territorial issues.

Prime Minister Abe said that as of today, Japan finds this approach unacceptable, and we must first find solutions to the issues that are key to resolving the territorial issues, and then start discussing a peace agreement. We can do that, but we have been doing it for 70 years, and there seems to be no end in sight. We are talking about carrying out joint economic activities on these islands, and the ideas are good, but so far, they are being implemented on a very small scale – that is the problem. However, we are ready to keep working on this, certainly.

The situation around the Korean Peninsula is moving in a positive direction in general. Direct contacts between the US administration and North Korea are ongoing. I hope they will continue soon, in the near future. We hear that preparations for a new meeting between President Trump and Kim Jong Un are underway. I also hope it will take place.

Let me express my position once again; I have already spoken about this. I do not think that this work will be effective if it is a one-way street. Demanding total disarmament and total denuclearisation from North Korea without providing any security guarantees is hardly a good approach.

Nevertheless, anything is possible. If North Korea believes the promises of the US, this could be the best way to de-escalate the situation. It is difficult for me to say.

What positive role could Russia play here? We could implement those trilateral plans we have discussed many times: connecting the South Korea – North Korea – Russia railway; power lines; and a pipeline from Russia to South Korea via North Korea, including gas routes. We still could establish some joint enterprises. Of course, it would be a contribution.

This is because joint work in the economy unites us and creates conditions to resolve political and security issues. Let us not forget that China has done a great deal in this regard. Russia and the People’s Republic of China have a joint platform. We are trying – I will not repeat this now because I have said it many times – to comply with these joint agreements.

What else can Russia do? I think that it is very important to establish security guarantees for North Korea. Of course, Russia could also play a certain role here, because I believe that if we want these guarantees to be effective they should be international.

We do not want to see any military action there or any tensions. Russia and North Korea are neighbours; so Russia, as a permanent member of the UN Security Council and a nuclear power, as well as other participants of this process – China and the United States – could of course make a contribution by creating and participating in the system of guarantees.

As regards China's Belt and Road Initiative and everything related to it, including the economic aspect. This initiative of our friend, and I indeed consider him our friend, Chinese President Xi Jinping, is becoming even more relevant. This is because all economic restrictions are, on the one hand, putting pressure on the global economy and markets, which is a negative factor, yet these actions create certain windows of opportunities.

This means that in these circumstances Russia can carve out an additional niche. For instance (this is not the key point, but still): Americans used to deliver a great deal of soybeans to China, and now we will slowly enter this Chinese market with our soy, and we will give our Chinese partners the opportunity to produce soybeans in the Russian Far East in the event they want to invest their money in this agricultural sector.

Say, in aircraft engineering. Indeed, China like us was a major purchaser of Boeings. And now together we have intensified the work on a wide-bodied long-range aircraft. We will move on and construct big heavy helicopters. We will jointly continue our work on space programmes.

We have a huge trade turnover when it comes to the field of military-technical cooperation and we have agreed that we will engage not only in sales but we will also transfer technology. We are interested in this not to the detriment of our security and nobody should have any doubts about this. This is why I mention the high level of trust between our countries that we have attained.

The development of infrastructure is extremely important for the region in general, so we welcome, say as part of this Chinese initiative – the Silk Road – participation of our Chinese friends in the development of the Northern Sea Route. These are absolutely specific things.

The Chinese Silk Road Fund is one of the shareholders of our new LNG enterprise in the Arctic established by our company NOVATEK jointly with the French company Total. This is real work.

Our trade turnover with EU countries is actually growing. It shrank by 50% but now it is increasing year after year. Trade with the Asian-Pacific region is expanding at priority rates. While the EU share in our trade turnover is 42 percent, the Asian countries have already reached 31 percent and it is on the rise.

Of course, we are interested in building infrastructure, including in the field of transport. Of course, we are interested in building up the operations of the Trans-Siberian and Baikal-Amur railways. We expect the railway cargo traffic to go up four times and the cargo traffic along the Northern Sea Route to grow up to 80 million tonnes.

And all this is absolutely naturally compatible with the Chinese initiative and our development within the Eurasian Economic Union.

We are not making an effort to redirect our foreign trade from Europe towards Asia. This is just happening naturally. For example, our trade with the European Union was 450 billion (euros or dollars, I do not remember exactly, but that’s not important), and today it doesn’t even amount to 300 billion, or even 250 billion. But there is growth: last year it was 23 percent and during the first eight months of this year it was 22 percent.

In Asia, mutual trade is growing slightly faster. So, as I mentioned, Russia’s foreign trade is 41 percent European Union, and 31 percent the Asian countries. If this trend continues, the figures will soon become equal.