10 may, 2009 09:00  

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s interview to Japan’s Kyodo Tsushin News Agency, the NHK Japan Broadcasting Corporation, and the Nihon Keizai Shimbun newspaper (The Nikkei)


"The national interests of Japan and Russia coincide on many issues, but more importantly, there will be more and more shared interests in the short, medium and especially in the long term perspective. Proceeding from these considerations we should do everything to eliminate any irritants in our bilateral ties."

Vladimir Putin From an interview to Japan’s Kyodo Tsushin News Agency, the NHK Japan Broadcasting Corporation, and the Nihon Keizai Shimbun newspaper (The Nikkei)

Vladimir Putin: Good afternoon. 

Question: Mr Putin, thank you very much for finding the time for this interview.

Soon you are going to make your first visit to Japan as Prime Minister. Could you please tell us what you are going to discuss with your Japanese counterpart, and what results you expect from this visit.

Vladimir Putin: We have been preparing for this visit for a long time. I am grateful to the Japanese leadership for the invitation. I always visit Japan with great pleasure, primarily because our bilateral relations have been making steady headway over the past few years.

It is enough to say that in the last four to five years our trade substantially increased, from seven to 30 billion US dollars, which is more than four times in five years, and this is a very good indicator. The Russian economy has experienced a growth in investment from Japan. We are witnessing diversification of bilateral ties. They are becoming increasingly meaningful and trustworthy. I have no doubt that this visit will benefit bilateral relations, give them a new lease on life and open up new prospects.

We are going to sign a number of intergovernmental agreements. I believe that representatives of our business communities will also sign important contracts. I hope very much that these plans will be carried out, and that I will be able to meet people with whom I have developed very good personal relationships over the past few years.

Question: Do you expect a Russian-Japanese intergovernmental agreement on peaceful use of nuclear energy to be signed during your visit to Tokyo? If so, how could it boost bilateral economic cooperation?

Vladimir Putin: As you know, one of Russia's aims is to diversify its economy and make it more innovative. Japan is positioning itself as a global leader of technological progress in the 21st century. I must say that we agree with this. We are all happy about the successes of our Japanese friends and colleagues. We see how successfully Japan is developing high technologies. Needless to say, I consider very important Russia and Japan's cooperation in using their potentialities in this direction.

In this context, we are looking at the development of our contacts in such traditional spheres as the energy sector. This also applies to hydrocarbon energy sources. We are implementing quite important projects in Sakhalin, in the Russian Far East. We are building an LNG plant, for example, and it also belongs to the sphere of high technologies to a certain extent.

The nuclear power industry may also become a promising direction. The share of Russian nuclear fuel on the Japanese market has already reached 15%. Contracts are being signed now to increase it to 25% in the next few years. I think this is already quite an impressive target, and we must and will reach it.

We are also aware of the developments in this sphere. We know that Japan is going to take part in major international projects, in which Russia participates as well. We are talking about potential joint research in the sphere of nuclear energy. It goes without saying that all this work has been conducted strictly in line with IAEA rules and will continue to adhere to them.

Question: Could you please tell us whether the relevant agreement on the peaceful use of nuclear energy is going to be signed?

Vladimir Putin: At the moment our experts are completing this work. I think that a relevant intergovernmental agreement will be signed.

Question: The Japanese Government believes that it is necessary to resolve the territorial issue and conclude a peace treaty to secure further comprehensive development of Russian-Japanese relations. The Russian side proceeds from the premise that bilateral relations are not limited to the territorial issue. How are you going to develop these relations in this context, considering that at the February meeting in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk the leaders of the two countries agreed to adopt original, unconventional approaches to resolving this problem and to make specific proposals to this effect? Is Russia ready to elaborate such specific proposals?

Vladimir Putin: During my visit, I am planning to devote primary attention to trade and economic contacts. We know the position of our Japanese colleagues, and we are aware of the territorial issues and the peace treaty problem. Russia has always been ready for negotiations. Considering that President Dmitry Medvedev and the Japanese Prime Minister held a meeting, which you have just mentioned, established direct contact and started dialogue on this problem, there are grounds to expect continued discussion of this problem in a constructive spirit, which has been our approach in the last two or three years.

We believe that if we want to resolve problems, even if they are extremely complicated, we need to create the conditions for this rather than deadlock them with endless grievances and confrontation. As I have already said, it is necessary to create the conditions, and to develop our ties in every field to resolve such complicated problems at this level. We should display patience, attention, and respect for each other's interests. Russia is ready for such a dialogue with Japan.

Question: I would like to ask you one more question about the territorial problem. Not so long ago, some officials in the Japanese Government suggested to divide the total area of the islands in half and to resolve the territorial problem in this way. However, the Japanese Government has not expressed a clear-cut position on this issue and continues to proceed from the view that to resolve the territorial issue, a decision must be made on all of the four islands.

What do you think about this? Are you ready for compromise to resolve this issue?

Vladimir Putin: The art of politics amounts to a search for acceptable compromise.

As for the fifty-fifty proposal, which you have mentioned, you said yourself that the Japanese Government has not yet determined its position. How can I comment on what has not been determined? Let us continue our dialogue, and let us give our experts and foreign ministries a chance to work on this issue.

Allow me to repeat once again that we proceed from the premise that questions of this level and complexity require an attentive and respectful attitude to each other's interests, as well as patience.

Question: I would like to ask you another question to clarify one detail. The President has so far played the main role in conducting top-level dialogue on the territorial issue. As Prime Minister, what role are you going to continue playing in this respect?

Vladimir Putin: I have already said that to effectively resolve such questions it is necessary to create the conditions of mutual trust and cooperation, and to develop interstate relations all along the line. This is the role I would like to fulfil, that is a role of a person who heads a state structure, the Government of the Russian Federation, whose duty is to develop interstate economic, social, cultural and humanitarian contacts. It is the development of cooperation that will build up trust and create the conditions for resolving problems of any complexity, including the one you have mentioned.

As for decisions on foreign policy and relations with foreign countries, they are definitely within the competence of the President of the Russian Federation.

Question: Now I would like to ask you a question about economic cooperation.

Russia is now actively building the Eastern Siberia-Pacific Ocean pipeline and supplying Japan with gas from Sakhalin. What other projects are expected in the near future, and how can Japan promote the development of Siberia and the Far East?

Vladimir Putin: By agreement with our Japanese partners, our Ministry of Regional Development has drafted a number of regional projects. We believe that Japanese companies could take part in these projects. Today, this ministry has given the list of potential projects to our Foreign Ministry, which will send it to our Japanese colleagues in the next few days. This list includes many projects, and not only in the Far East or Eastern Siberia, but also in the rest of the Russian Federation.

Many Japanese companies have extensive experience of working in Russia. As you know, Toyota has already commissioned a plant, and another major Japanese company will inaugurate its plant in the near future (in early June). I would like to draw your attention to the fact that this is taking place in the midst of the global economic crisis. In other words, our cooperation here is very much in demand. This is beyond any doubt. We also have many other spheres for cooperation.

I have just talked with your colleague about the power industry, and nuclear power industry. There is also timber processing, machine building, which I have mentioned, space - we are taking part in the International Space Station programme - and telecommunications. We have already carried out the project on laying two optical fibre cables between Russia and Japan. We also have timber processing, as I have already said, chemistry and metallurgy. In fact, our Japanese partners and friends can take part in projects in any Russian region. Take assembly, for one. We are ready to help organise car assembly in the Far East.

You have mentioned major projects - Sakhalin and the laying of the oil pipe to the shores of the Pacific Ocean. These projects are in the development stage, but we will bring them to completion. In principle, we are in a position to keep to the schedule. Despite the economic and financial crisis, these projects are funded out of the federal budget and will not be cancelled.

In this context, our Japanese partners can use the results of this work as well. Incidentally, 60% of the energy resources from the Sakhalin project are supplied to the Japanese market. When the oil pipe approaches the Pacific Ocean, Japan will have more opportunities to avail itself of this resource. However, we expect Japanese companies to show interest in expanding their investment in all the fields I have just mentioned.

Question: Mr Putin, as you have said, Russia is now actively involved in economic development of its Far Eastern regions. Why is it important for Russia to cooperate with Japan and other Asian and Pacific nations?

Vladimir Putin: A considerable part of Russia's territory is located in Asia but we are aware - and so is Japan - that the population density is very low there but the resources are enormous. And considering the development rates of Asia and the Pacific, Russia should by all means use its Asian advantages, its Asian roots, so to speak, in order to integrate itself in this economic space. Initially, we can naturally supplement each other, and supply to the Asian market the goods it is short of. However, at the same time we would like to hope that our relations would be gradually diversified, primarily, as I have said, in the sphere of high technologies.

Question: As you have said, in recent time Russian-Japanese energy relations have been making steady headway. However, Japan is also following the development of Russia's energy relations with other countries, in particular, with Ukraine.

There is a concern that Russia may continue using questions of energy supply in relations with other countries. How would you comment on this?

Vladimir Putin: Russia does not use energy in its relations with other countries. Russia trades in these resources and we want to sell these resources on market terms and at world market prices. There are recognised international rules and there is a recognised international formula for determining the price of a commodity and transit services.

For a long time - for 15 years - Russia met its partners, the former republics of the Soviet Union, halfway and sold them energy at a fraction of the world price. During that period we subsidised the economies of these countries to the tune of tens of billions of dollars.

We believe that period is over. It is necessary to move on to market relations. After the sad events at the end of last year and the beginning of this year, we have managed to reach an agreement with Ukraine and seal these agreements in contractual obligations on both sides: We are adopting market relations with regard to price and transit. That is the main and principal guarantee of stable relations in this sphere.

The Ukrainian partners have agreed with us and have signed the relevant contracts. Supplies are flowing without interruption. So far our Ukrainian partners have met their payment obligations. At the very first disruption of payments our companies will be entitled to demand 100% pre-payment. If the pre-payment is not made we have the right to cut off the supplies.

We very much hope that it doesn't come to that. We are aware of the problems faced by the economies of the consumer countries. However, all countries pay up. We expect that all our partners in Western and Eastern Europe and our closest neighbours will do it.

The thing is that the price formula I have mentioned is closely linked to the price in the world oil exchanges and the world oil price. If the price of oil falls, the price of gas also falls. That is a fair approach.

Moreover, we are even prepared, together with out partners, to consider the possibility of some kind of support for them in raising the funds to secure these payments, but we will not pay for anyone anymore.

Question: Will Japan be able to get steady supplies of energy from Russia? Can you confirm this?

Vladimir Putin: I would like to remind you that even at the time of very tense relations in the world during the Cold War the Soviet Union never cut supplies of energy to its consumers for a day or an hour, wherever these supplies were destined.

All the problems with out closest neighbours stemmed solely from the fact that that they refused to pay the market price for the commodity they received and set below market prices for themselves as a condition for the transit of energy resources to our main consumers in Western Europe. 

As I imagine Japan has never set such conditions to anyone. Japan always pays a fair market price. Japan is a reliable partner and Russia will be an equally reliable partner of Japan.

Question: I have another question.

For about a year now Russia has had a political configuration called "the power tandem". This year has seen fairly complicated situations, including the conflict in Georgia and the economic crisis. How do you assess the results and outlook for the "political tandem" in the top echelon of power in Russia?

Vladimir Putin: Such tandems exist wherever the post of the head of state is separated from that of the head of the executive branch. Wherever there is a head of state and a head of Government there has to be a tandem. If such a tandem does not exist one can only feels sorry for such a country.

In our country, indeed, a very good relationship has formed between the President and the Prime Minister. That is an important factor of political stability in Russia.

President Dmitry Medvedev and I are on very good terms. Each of us does his own job. Each has his own niche. But of course, at such a level, questions often arise that overlap.

But over the many years of working together - more than 17 years of working together - we have long established a mechanism of consultations and of hammering out a common position. Everything we had agreed upon at the start of our joint journey is being implemented and is working effectively.

Question: Recently we have noticed some things in Mr Medvedev's statements that we find confusing: In particular, his firm statement "I am the leader of the country." In an interview to Novaya Gazeta he indicated that he was not quite pleased with some of the actions of your Government. How, in this context, do you assess the prospects of interaction in the future?

Vladimir Putin: I have no problem with that.

First, the President communicates and has always communicated with the representatives of all the diverse political structures and with the media. The fact that Mr Medvedev, the President of the Russian Federation, has decided to meet with the opposition press is absolutely normal. It is a dialogue that shows that the head of state is the President of all Russians and not some political parties, movements or currents, and that he is conducting a dialogue with the representatives of all the political forces.

As for the actions of the Government, a critical view of the Government's work is an absolutely normal thing. I myself am not always pleased with what some ministries and agencies are doing. In time of crisis its current activities must come under particularly close scrutiny. That is the only way to find the most effective and valid solutions. It has been the case and I am sure it will continue to be the case.

Question: President Medvedev has amended the Constitution changing the presidential term of office. That poses a question, for example, that if President Medvedev decides to run again in 2010, what will be you reaction? Will you support him as a candidate or perhaps Mr Medvedev will ask you to take the job of Prime Minister again? How do you see the prospects in this field?

Vladimir Putin: I don't understand why you said 2010. The presidential term runs out in 2012. You must have made a mistake there. We are indeed due to have a presidential election in 2012.

You know, the world is going through a major financial and economic crisis. All the government structures in all countries face great challenges that we must meet; we must help people to live through this difficult period of time which sees job cuts and falling incomes. We must come up with solutions that people believe in. At least they should believe that we have done everything we could under the circumstances.

Both President Medvedev and I will decide what we will do - both he and I - depending on the results of our work. As for him personally, you should ask him, but I repeat, I have known him for a long time and I know that he is a very decent man and he will look at his political future proceeding from the interest of the country and the results of our joint efforts. Time will tell.

Question: One more question about the tandem.

If you look at the results of opinion polls the President's approval rating is higher than that of the Prime Minister. In this context, do you believe you did the right thing in becoming Prime Minister after you were President?

Vladimir Putin: First, I have great respect for the Russian Constitution. I believe that it is the fundamental document that sets down the principles of our political system and the activity of the state, and one has to treat it with great care.

Second, we must create a tradition of constitutional transition of power and demonstrate to the country and the world that it is possible in Russia and that this is not a catastrophe, but on the contrary, our state is in some ways becoming stronger.

As for the hazards of occupying one or other government post, they exist everywhere. Our task is not to hold on to our jobs at all costs with both hands. Our task is to address the challenges and problems the country faces.

This, the opportunity to tackle challenges, is the highest reward for any person who has devoted his life to politics.

Question: I would ask you about international affairs.

President Barack Obama has proposed to sign a new agreement on strategic offensive weapons. Russia has its own position on the issue. Will it in any way be connected with the problems of missile defence to whose deployment America is still committed?

Vladimir Putin: As far as we understand, the new US Administration has not yet made up its mind about the future missile defence system, at least in Europe. But it is obvious that the offensive and defensive parts of strategic forces are inseparably bound up. This has always been so and this has always been the assumption. That is why the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty was signed in its time.

When the United States unilaterally withdrew from the Treaty and "buried" it, a natural danger arose of disproportions in offensive and defensive systems. I don't think you have to be an expert to understand that if one side wants to or has an "umbrella" against various threats it can begin to suffer from the illusion that it is permissible to do whatever it likes and then its actions will become many times more aggressive and the threat of a global confrontation will reach a danger level.

Russia will of course link the issues of missile defence and everything related to it with strategic offensive weapons. This was in fact what President Obama and President Medvedev agreed upon during their last meeting in London: They agreed to instruct their Foreign Ministries to review the situation in the light of today.

Question: Now a question about Russian-US relations. Of late there has been talk about "resetting" these relations. However, in connection with the military exercises in Georgia and the fact that there are no visible signs that the United States is revising its position on anti-missile defence in Europe, I have this question: Do you think a "reset" of Russian-American relations is possible in principle?

Vladimir Putin: We do not talk about "resetting" our relations. It is the US Administration that has proposed to "reset" them. We agree with that and, of course, we would like to give a new positive impetus to Russian-US relations.

Regarding the NATO military exercises in Georgia, that is a signal in a different direction. It is clear what is happening in Georgia. We all see it. I think no matter how far Japan may be people who are interested in politics read in papers and see on television what is happening in Georgia.

What exactly is happening there? Rallies are violently dispersed, opposition leaders are wounded, shot at with rubber bullets, there is blood in the streets, there are more and more political prisoners, mutinies in the armed forces. Against this background it has been decided to hold military exercises. Of course it can only be seen as support for the present regime. What is the regime that is being supported? I think I have already characterised it. Why support such a regime?

I am not now referring to the bloody events in August last year, when the Georgian regime unleashed a war in Southern Caucasus. Even in terms of a traditional approach of our partners - the United Stats and Western Europe - to democracy, Georgia does not meet any standards today. Why then hold military exercises which send a clear signal of support to the current regime?  We believe this is a step backwards. But we understand that it takes time for brakes to take effect. We very much hope that the current US leadership will "step on the brake hard" and slow down the negative trends in the development of links between our states, and will take the necessary steps to invest them with really new content.

There are also some positive signals, and we see them, including the disarmament agenda. The previous Administration ignored, practically ignored, the disarmament issues. Today we see that the American partners would like to return to these issues.

Considering that the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty expires this year, we are ready to revisit these problems in a most active way together with out American partners, and to discuss them with a view to concluding a new treaty.

Similar positive signals are coming with regard to Russia's accession to the World Trade Organisation and in some other areas.

Let us hope for the best. But we will proceed from reality.

Question: Mr Prime Minister, how do you assess the growing American influence in the post-Soviet space? I mean Ukraine, Georgia, Kyrgyzstan and other countries. What is your perspective on this?

Vladimir Putin: That is a natural question. I would like to remind you that Russia was in fact the initiator of the sovereignty of these countries. If we were the initiators and from the outset supported the independence of these states we can only feel happy for them that they are emerging as fully-fledged participants in international affairs. It is their sovereign right to decide with whom, in what areas and on what scale to maintain relations at the government level. We will always treat that with respect. However, we all understand that our bilateral interstate relations have a history. There are many people in all these republics who are in one way or another linked to Russia. It would be wrong and mistaken to pretend that this is none of our business, at any rate with regard to the people who live there and who, I repeat, are closely linked with Russia.

Therefore we will have full respect for the sovereignty of these states and their choices, but we expect that in our bilateral relations we will always seek ways to promote out links with respect for mutual interests.

Question: I think that the official positions of Russia and Japan often coincide in the world community, especially in North-Eastern Asia. But I have never heard about "strategic partnership between Russia and Japan", a phrase that is often used, for example, in Russian-Chinese relations.

When and under what conditions shall we be able to use these words, "strategic partnership in Russo-Japanese relations"?

Vladimir Putin: I fully agree with you that the national interests of Japan and Russia coincide on many issues, but more importantly, there will be more and more shared interests in the short, medium and especially in the long term perspective. Proceeding from these considerations we should do everything to eliminate any irritants in our bilateral ties. As soon as Japan and Russia feel that there are no such irritants, from that moment we will adopt a different terminology. I would like it to happen as soon as possible.

Question: I have another question on nuclear disarmament. As you probably know, Japan is doing a great deal to completely give up nuclear arms. In particular, it has been working to make sure that the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty takes effect as soon as possible, and for China to join nuclear disarmament efforts. What do you think of these activities?

Vladimir Putin: I approve of them. I think we should work towards universal and total nuclear disarmament. We should all share this goal. Yet no one should abuse it, using these terms and this field of international philosophical thought for selfish ends.

If this plan is implemented, it should be universal. One or two countries cannot afford unilateral disarmament while others build up their nuclear arsenals. Disarmament is a long and complicated process-but there is a saying: "A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step." This step must be made.

Question: Now, let's turn to North Korea. It has launched a missile and announced the resumption of its nuclear programme. Russia is emphasising the importance of further six-party talks. What initiatives can you launch to stabilise the situation in the Korean Peninsula and settle the North Korean problem?

Vladimir Putin: It was with great regret that we learned that North Korea had unilaterally walked out of talks we consider quite acceptable. Their six-party format has proved its practical worth. They have helped us to arrive recently at decisions which all the parties involved consider adoptable.

What do I think should be done? We should document all positive achievements of the six-party talks, and resume them without irrelevant emotions and everything that might impede the process.

At the same time, I think it would be completely wrong if we heightened the emotional intensity of our response to the present events and used it to upset the situation in the region or to start an arms race. I think that would be the greatest possible mistake, which would lead us to a dead end.

So, I think the six-party talks should resume.

Question: I would like to ask you about the domestic economic situation in Russia. As we know, negative growth is expected, and the IMF is very pessimistic in its estimates, while the Russian Government's forecasts are somewhat more positive. What do you think of the situation?

Vladimir Putin: Estimates coincide, on the whole. Negative growth is probable, but it will be negative compared to last year. The global economic crisis began when the Russian economy was fundamentally different from what we had, say, during the 1998 crisis, and that is good.

The present-day Russian economy is much stronger, and has greater stability. Its scale has changed cardinally, and we have sizeable reserves. So we can afford to address acute social issues, at any rate, and we are dealing with them.

That is not enough, however. As you know, we are energising the economy, modernising certain institutions and agencies, and supporting the labour market, banks and production.

It took us a long time to elaborate those measures-but then, they demanded thorough analysis. We have approved the federal budget recently, and budget allocations are reaching the economy. We are aware of certain practical improvements even now.

Naturally, regional and national efforts are not sufficient to improve the situation cardinally. True, effectiveness demands coordinated international efforts. The world market needs a new impetus to revive demand. That is what the G20 leaders are working towards. They have had a summit on this issue, and there is going to be another one in the near future.

We hope all these efforts will bear fruit, just as measures taken on the national scale. Russia is taking such measures.

Question: You said in your speech at the Davos forum that the Russian market needed to be open. However, after that you introduced protectionist measures, the toughest in the automotive industry. How can you explain it?

Vladimir Putin: If you had followed my Davos speech with attention, you would have noticed that I called to avoid protectionism whenever possible. It is the words wherever possible" that you seem to have missed. What I said was that there was no chance to rule out market encapsulation completely.

Look at the United States, your principal trade and economic partner. If I am not mistaken, it has even passed a law known as "buy American".

Practically all countries are closing their markets. That is not the best thing to do but it is often necessary to rescue a domestic industry.

I want you to know that we are not only limiting car imports but also opening our borders to technologies and removing customs barriers for commodities which Russian industry and the entire economy may use for technological modernisation.

I want our Japanese partners to see that they can fully use the privileges we have formulated and are implementing.

Question: I would like to ask about increased import duties. As you know, a mass protest rally was organised in Vladivostok. Protesters went so far as to demand your resignation. Did you expect such strong resistance?

Vladimir Putin: Of course I did. Trade in used cars from Japan has become a large-scale business in the past few years. I, for my part, do not intend to strangle any business, and the Government does not have it in its plans. We would be happy to promote that business, too.

However, the crisis forces us to make a choice between the interests of traders and of domestic manufacturers. The Russian automotive industry employs several hundred thousand people, which actually means millions if we consider the employees' families. Here, our choice is not between the good or the very good but between the not so good and the downright terrible. Which, do you think, the Government should prefer-strikes in the automotive industry or traders' strikes?

I repeat, the last thing we want to do is to encroach on anyone's interests. However, this particular situation gives us no choice. Or, to be more precise, the choice exists and it has to be made in favour of domestic manufacturers.

Public unrest in the Russian Far East has moved us to make many supplementary decisions. In particular, they are connected with a drastic cut on railway fares for shipments of Russian-manufactured machinery to the Russian Far East. There are token fares now, and they fully concern car manufacturing companies with 100% foreign investment. Our foreign investors are welcome to manufacture cars in demand in certain parts of Russia, and the Far East is no exception.

Car shipment costs to the Russian Far East are extremely low. It is also possible, as I have said at the beginning of our talk, to start production in that region. We will support such production. This fully concerns our Japanese partners, as well.

Toyota is great success in Russia, and Nissan intends to open a plant, if I am not mistaken. Any company will be welcome to Russia. We will support it. I hope we will soon implement another production project in the Russian Far East. It involves a Russian company but, I repeat, any partners are welcome to join, foreign companies being no exception.

Question: Another question about the automotive industry. GAZ may buy a block of shares in Opel. What do you think of such deals between industrial giants?

Vladimir Putin: Opel is not a German company-it is German-based. As things really stand, it has been an arm of General Motors for many decades now, since before World War II. If I am not mistaken, Opel and General Motors have been partners since 1926. Such industrial restructuring is the norm in today's world.

If you take an interest in the German market, Volkswagen and Porsche have just announced a merger. Similar processes are underway worldwide. It is also quite normal and natural for an Italian company to make plans to purchase Opel.

There is another competitor-the Austrian-Canadian Magna. It has addressed Russian financial agencies and GAZ car manufacturers to make relevant proposals to Opel on its own behalf. This is pure commerce. Decision-making cannot start before thorough consideration of the corporate economy and social implications. The Government is closely monitoring the situation without direct intervention.

Question: You released a judo DVD last year. It is very popular in Japan. As you say in it, the Japanese believe that judo demands respect for the opponent. Have you ever encountered an opponent or an enemy in diplomacy and elsewhere you found hard to respect? What can you say from your experience?

Vladimir Putin: If you don't respect your opponent, you will probably lose because it means you underestimate his strengths and possibilities.

You should respect every partner and opponent, even those you might consider an enemy. That is my conviction. You should always realise that someone may be superior to you in some respect. That is the only way to success.

Question: I have a question about swine influenza. Do you think its epidemic might have an impact on the Russian economy? What is the Government doing to prevent its spread to Russia?

Vladimir Putin: There are no patients or carriers in Russia now, thank God. However, we have promptly responded to the spread of the disease in Mexico, the United States, some European countries, and Asia.

Russian monitoring, veterinarian and sanitary agencies are taking preventive measures. We will certainly make due preparations for autumn and winter because danger persists even though the epidemic is subsiding in Mexico and other countries.

There is no reason for panic but we must be ready-have enough vaccine and other medicines, and take medical and administrative preventive measures. Relevant agencies will deal with it.

Question: I have another question on the economy. The eight years of your presidency made the Russian economy prosperous. Now you are the Prime Minister and, by sheer coincidence, the economy is on the decline for the first time in 11 years. Will it influence the social situation? Are you alarmed?

Vladimir Putin: I have already answered a similar question during this interview. It is certainly not easy to lead a Government during a crisis but it is the most responsible and necessary job today. It is another test for the Government, the country and me personally.

I have already talked about how Russia approached the global crisis. It did not come through my country's fault. But the crisis has come. It is a hard fact, and we have to deal with it. Russian people are wise and intelligent, and they will judge us not only by our worth but also by the effect of what we are doing.

It is our duty to achieve the utmost effect possible in this situation. That is what I proceed from. If the nation sees that we are doing our best, the response will be reasonable, I am sure.

As you know, global economic forecasts differ. Some experts say the crisis will finish by the middle of 2010, at the earliest. Others think the world will see light at the end of the tunnel towards the end of this year. No one says we will never see that light. Hard times will pass, sooner or later.

Question: I want to mention another international problem-Afghanistan. Russia has stepped up partnership with the NATO countries on that issue, in particular, concerning Afghan law enforcement officer training. Can this partnership go further? Is it possible that Russian troops could be sent to Afghanistan?

Vladimir Putin: That is impossible. The Russian public strongly objects even to putting the matter under consideration, and I agree with that position.

As for help against extremism, we remain participants of those efforts. We are willing to assist everyone who is working towards restoring normal life in Afghanistan. Regrettably, the international forces have worked to small effect until now. Drug trafficking from Afghanistan has increased several tenfold, as well as heroin output.

We all see the Taliban getting more active. Military action has been ineffective, too. Isn't it a tragedy when because of blunders, when bombs and missile miss their targets more than a hundred innocent civilians are killed at a time?

World media outlets mention it only in passing, for some reason-as if it did not concern anyone. That's wrong.

When armed contingents are present in any country on a noble mission, we have every reason to expect efficiency of them, and we all count on it.

As you know, Russia has agreed on civilian cargo transits with several European countries, the United States and NATO. This is our practical contribution to the cause of normalising the situation in Afghanistan.

Our secret services are providing relevant information to the coalition.

Russia will further develop bilateral relations with Afghanistan, and render every help in its military and economic rehabilitation.

You have just mentioned training Afghan and Central Asian anti-drug specialists. Several dozen Afghan experts have been trained in Central Asia, and we intend to continue such training.

Voice: Thank you, Mr Putin.

Vladimir Putin: Thank you.