10 june 2010

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin gives an interview to Agence France Presse and France 2 television channel ahead of his working visit to France


Question (as translated): Good evening, Mr Prime Minister. Thank you very much for agreeing to meet with us in the run-up to your working visit to France, scheduled to take place on June 10-11. Please tell us, has the decision to purchase the Mistral amphibious assault ship been finalised? Does this herald a new era in French-Russian cooperation?

Vladimir Putin: It seems that we have not yet overcome all the consequences of the global financial and economic crisis. Does this explain why the French public and media are so interested in whether or not we buy the Mistral?

This is a good deal for the French ship-building industry because one such helicopter carrier costs about 300 million euros. This deal would interest us only if it stipulates simultaneous technology transfers, so as to facilitate the high-tech development of Russia's military and civilian ship-building sectors.

Russia and France maintain productive cooperation in the aviation sector. Our French partners are developing the engine for our advanced Superjet-100 medium-haul airliner in Russia's Far East. When last year I visited that enterprise, which is based a very long way from France, I heard people speaking French there. French specialists are upgrading aircraft on the spot.

 The purchase of the Mistral is primarily a matter for the General Staff. We need answers to the following questions: How will the ship be used? Where will she be used? What components will be manufactured and where?

I repeat, we want to know what components and in what volume will be manufactured at Russian enterprises. This matters a great deal to us.

There are very many issues that have not yet been considered by experts. We should get this work underway, and then we will see.

As we know, the Russian defence industry is sufficiently well developed. Russia is a major global arms manufacturer and a leading arms exporter.

Just as in any other sector, experience, technology and production end-result exchanges are, of course, useful because this primarily concerns state-of-the-art technology. This is the first point.

The second point is that cooperation in such a sensitive sphere as defence production, naturally, facilitates greater mutual trust. In my opinion, this is no less important than the first, economic or production, aspect.

Question: Mr Prime Minister, some of Russia's neighbours are worried by the Mistral purchase. What would you say to them?

Vladimir Putin: To the best of my knowledge, their concerns are linked with the fact that some countries believe Russia would use offensive weapons systems like it to violate their interests. Does France have such amphibious assault ships? Yes, it does. Does France plan to attack anyone? No, it does not. Why do you think that Russia would use such systems to attack someone?

Let's say what we mean here, perhaps you are referring to our Georgian neighbours. Georgia has an extremely long land border with Russia. People were killed as a result of a criminal conflict unleashed by President Mikheil Saakashvili two years ago. Consequently, Russia was forced to defend the lives of its peacekeepers and South Ossetian citizens. I want to emphasise the fact that it was put in a position where it had to use armed force to defend them.

We stopped 15-20 km from Tbilisi because we did not want to seize that city not because we could not do it. To be honest, we did not have any desire for armed conflict. This is why our peacekeepers were stationed there.

As you know, that would not have been the best occasion to deploy weapons systems like the Mistral. God willing, I hope there will be no more armed conflicts between Russia and Georgia. In the past, we did everything possible to prevent this from happening, and it is our intention to continue doing everything to prevent this tragedy from repeating itself.

Modern offensive weapons make it possible to conduct any military operation against any part of Georgia from Russia itself. We would not need the Mistral for that.   

Question: Bearing in mind your longstanding friendship with Jacques Chirac, how would you describe your relationship with Nicolas Sarkozy?

Vladimir Putin: President Sarkozy and I are on extremely good, comradely and, I would say, even friendly terms. I would like to note that contacts between top state leaders are primarily motivated by business considerations, rather than personal likes or dislikes. Russia and France are longstanding historical partners. We have mutual and coinciding interests. We pursue these interests in order to facilitate the security of our two countries, and in the interests of economic and social development.

I am confident that our relations with French leaders, including Jacques Chirac, Nicolas Sarkozy and French Prime Minister Francois Fillon, are based on such considerations.

I spent a longer period of time working with President Chirac. Naturally, we had more contact. It would not be an exaggeration to say that he is a very interesting person with encyclopaedic knowledge. No matter where we gathered, including G8 summits and other forums, he was always at the centre of attention. This was not because of anything particular about his behaviour, but rather was due to his erudition and his readiness to conduct an in-depth discussion of any agenda raised by his counterparts, whatever the issue was that we had gathered to discuss.

Although I have worked less with today's French leaders, former President Chirac had passed the baton of extremely kind and friendly relations on to the incumbent President Sarkozy and Prime Minister Fillon. We also value this highly. I personally hope this will continue in the future.

Question: Ten days ago, the media focused on Israel and the Gaza Strip. Does Russia demand that the Gaza blockade be lifted immediately?

Vladimir Putin: We have always called for the blockade to be lifted. I do not think such measures are the best way to tackle problems in the region.

Unfortunately, Russia has also experienced similar dramatic situations and ordeals. I am confident, and it is my deeply held conviction, that regional problems cannot be solved this way. I will not go into the best ways of solving these problems now, but this approach will achieve nothing.

You know our stance concerning the Gaza Freedom Flotilla raid, it was formulated by our Permanent Representative to the United Nations. We have condemned the raid and mourn the loss of life. The most tragic aspect is that it took place in neutral waters. This entirely new situation requires careful assessment. We need to do everything possible to prevent similar occurrences in the future. Nevertheless, I want to emphasise the fact that we have always proceeded from the fact that all people, including Israelis, have a right to safe national development. Specific means for tackling these problems and attaining this goal are issues that require separate examination and a separate discussion after the latest tragic developments.

Question: What do you think about the Iranian initiative? Does this amount to escalation or provocation?

Vladimir Putin: Although I don't want to speculate or accuse anyone, we all know about Iran's attitude towards Israel. This attitude itself causes concern because Israel is a state recognised by the entire international community, and it is inadmissible to declare the need for a UN member-state to be destroyed. But in reality it does happen, and we have heard such calls.

In this context, if our Iranian partners still voice this stance they will find it difficult to initiate anything. But I don't think that I should comment on this issue or on someone's stance. You should ask the President of Iran.

Question: Do you think that sanctions against Israel should be considered or not?

Vladimir Putin: You know how cautious we are towards sanctions against Iran. I think that sanctions are not a very promising option. We should strive to find acceptable solutions for all parties in any particular situation. This also concerns Israel. Instead of using sanctions to pressure anyone, we should find ways of solving problems. International practice makes it possible to assess the results of these sanctions. Can you name at least one case where sanctions worked?

I don't want to discuss all current global developments in terms of ethical considerations. Although sanctions are applied in the most serious cases, as the Arabic proverb has it, the dogs may bark, but the caravan moves on. Sanctions are mostly ineffective. We should be able to solve these problems.

Question: What is your attitude towards Iran? Have you toughened your stance, and is it possible to say that Russia and the United States are ready to vote for new sanctions against Tehran?

Vladimir Putin: President Dmitry Medvedev recently noted that the new resolution has virtually been agreed. In the past, we have cooperated effectively with all our partners on the Iranian issue. We have always reached consensus, and our stance has not changed greatly. We are ready to seek a solution to the Iranian nuclear problem alongside the entire international community. We will continue along this path, calling on Iran's leaders to move to a position that would eliminate the international community's concerns about the Iranian nuclear program.

Question: When you expressed readiness to support new sanctions, Iran reacted harshly, saying that such action by Russia was unacceptable. What do you think about this attitude from the Iranian side?

Vladimir Putin: In this case, the international community is trying to influence the Iranian leadership, which is defending its position. I see nothing unusual in that. I think it was an entirely adequate response. But I very much hope that discussion and public debate will enable us to find ways of interacting with the Iranian leadership that would allow it and, most importantly, the people of Iran, to feel that we are not infringing on their right to work in high-tech projects, including in the nuclear sector, and at the same time meaning that neither the international community nor Iran's neighbors need be concerned over that program. We must resolve these problems.

For our part, we have proposed several solutions. Unfortunately, the Iranian leadership has rejected them. We regret that decision. We think it would be good if uranium were enriched in Russia, if we set up a uranium enrichment center in Russia and supplied nuclear fuel to Iran's nuclear enterprises for the development of its nuclear power industry.

We have been working and interacting with Iran openly and, as you know, we have our own perspective on that problem. Russia is building a nuclear power plant at Bushehr; the project is nearly complete. But this does not prevent us from working with other members of the international community on the issue of Iran's nuclear program, which provokes international concern, as I have said before.

From the audience: The IAEA leadership has proposed that France, the United States and Russia send observers to Iran to answer that question.

Vladimir Putin: We should coordinate this with the Iranian leadership. In general, there are IAEA observers in Iran, including at the nuclear reactor in Tehran.

Its program is being monitored, but the IAEA has some unanswered questions. If the IAEA thinks it needs additional observers from Russia, France and the United States, we should consider this question. I repeat that we should not force any solution on Iran; we should reach an agreement on the problem.

On the other hand, I think Iran should want to make its program as transparent as possible. The Iranian leaders have told me, and my colleagues in Europe and America, that our concerns over Iran's nuclear program are unjustified, that we have nothing to fear from it. If this is the case, why not make it absolutely transparent, demonstrating that there is indeed nothing to fear?

In this sense, additional measures aimed at enhancing transparency would be of assistance. Practical measures are quite another matter. We could discuss the proposal put forward by the IAEA director. We should consider it.

Question: Why don't you close the door on the possibility of Iran avoiding these sanctions?

Vladimir Putin: Sorry, I didn't get you. What do you mean, close the door on the possibility "of Iran avoiding these sanctions"? We have always believed that we should use sanctions so as to allow Iran to avoid them by taking the necessary steps to meet the concerns of the international community. We have always acted on that precept. We have always believed that we should avoid taking unwise steps that might close the door and create deadlock.

Can you imagine a situation where the international community and the IAEA have no control over the situation at all? Would that be better? And what would we do then?

The use of force, which is being discussed now, should be taken off the table altogether. I think it would result in tragedy, without yielding any positive result regarding the issue we are trying to resolve. Because nobody knows what would happen to the nuclear program [in this case], whereas the consequences would be catastrophic: the radicalization of the Islamic world and regional destabilization.

Question: What about the sanctions against North Korea? What do you think about its nuclear program? Should sanctions be applied against it?

Vladimir Putin: This is what I have been trying to tell you, or at least what I have hinted at. Sanctions are being applied against North Korea, but this has not stopped it from developing its program. Moreover, at some stage the North Korean leadership announced that it has nuclear weapons.

Where does this leave sanctions?

On the other hand, we made considerable progress when we agreed at the six-party talks that the interests of North Korea, primarily its economic interests, must be safeguarded. In fact, the North Korean leadership declared its readiness to halt its nuclear weapons program. This is a good example showing that agreement is possible even in such a sensitive sphere as nuclear proliferation, provided it is sought peacefully taking into account the opinions of all parties.

Question: The eurozone was shaken by a crisis of confidence several months ago. Russia has a large proportion of its foreign currency reserves, about 40% of the total, in euros. Do you still trust the common European currency, the euro?

Vladimir Putin: Yes, we trust it and we believe in it. Otherwise euros would not have accounted for such a considerable share of our international reserves.

There are problems, but I do not want to get into their causes now. European leaders have spoken about this at length, convincingly, and I think correctly. [Financial] discipline must be strengthened and the budget deficit must be closely monitored. Overall, there is much to be done, such as changing the currency laws, which should be the same, or at least as close as possible, in all EU countries.

On the whole, the foundations of the European economy are sufficiently strong. There are clear leaders in terms of economic stability, such as Germany and France. And nobody wants to destroy the European Union. I think that Ms. Merkel was correct when she said that there would be no EU without the euro, even if the organisation would still be called the European Union.

Therefore, we have no wish to see the European Union destroyed; it is an organisation that was created by the efforts and hard work of many generations. I am confident that it was a good idea, a positive idea for the world, for the global economy and security. Nor are there any objective reasons for the euro fall. Yes, there are some problems, but I think they are temporary. Of course, the European Central Bank will have to print more euros since it announced its intention to buy state bonds. Where can it get the money for that? Only by printing more of it, of course.

I think the EU has a large market, 300 million people. Many countries use the euro as a reserve currency, and the euro is accepted in many countries. I don't think, in fact, I'm sure that the additional issue of euros will not affect the European economy. Besides, they have reserves that can be used.

So, in general Europe's economic authorities are acting quite correctly, which is another reason why we are not planning to change our attitude to the euro as a reserve currency or part of our international reserves.

Question: How has the crisis influenced economic activity in Russia and Russia's economy? Do you expect a rise in economic activity in 2010?

Vladimir Putin: Of course we do, we are already witnessing it. First, the fall was considerable and painful, and one of the reasons for that was how the Russian economy is structured. We must diversify it; this is apparent. We talked about it five years ago. But the current structure of our economy developed over decades, and such a dramatic change seems impossible, especially when the global market prices of our main commodity exports - metals, chemicals and hydrocarbons - are so high.

Of course, investors are trying to channel their funds into sectors of the economy that will yield considerable revenue and do it fast.

This is how the Russian economy is structured, which is why it contracted dramatically when demand and prices for these goods fell on the global market.

For example, our coal industry received 60% or even 65% of revenue from exports. When demand and prices for coal fell, the industry was hit with a double-whammy which subsequently spread to the metals industry, and the picture is almost the same in the hydrocarbons, chemical and automotive industries.

However, we registered considerable growth in industrial production and GDP already in the first quarter of this year. In other words, our economy has resumed growth. The trend can be traced back to late 2009 but it is now gathering momentum.

As for the euro weakening, it will benefit the European economy, including the French and German economies, which rely on exports. This will create problems for us, because Russia and France are partners in some spheres but rivals in other fields, such as the nuclear power industry and electricity generation equipment. A weak euro is a clear benefit for French producers and a challenge for the Russian mechanical engineering. Our companies must roll out higher quality, cheaper products, and they can.

In general, our trade has grown in parallel with our economic growth. In the first quarter of this year, trade between France and Russia grew by about 30%, which is very good. I hope that growth will become even more powerful and positive. Our trade with some other European countries, for example Germany, grew by 50% in that period.

Question: There is concern in the European Union that democratic freedoms in Russia, such as freedom of the press, are occasionally infringed. Do you understand this concern?

Vladimir Putin: I do. Imposing their standards and rules on others is a long-standing tradition among European countries. Recall the period of colonisation of, say, Africa. Europeans went there with their regulations, their rules to educate and civilise the natives.

I have the feeling that this old tradition has transformed itself into a democratisation drive in places where Europeans and our western partners would like to secure a greater foothold. After all, there are very ancient civilisations across the world and they should be respected.

As for infringements, they are to be found everywhere. Take, for example, human rights abuses in the French penal system, in prisons...

Remark: Do you think it is comparable?

Vladimir Putin: Absolutely. A couple of years ago international human rights organisations produced some weighty tomes on human rights abuses in French prisons. Such violations exist and need to be fought.

I think there is much in the Russian political system, too, that requires correction, change and improvement, but this process is a natural part of any society coming of age: not in a fragmentary way, now here and now there, but as a whole. And we are moving in that direction. After all, what was our starting point? We had Tsarism, followed by Stalinism and Communism. In the early 1990s, we began to build our society on different principles. It all takes time.

Question: Do you think the model of democracy, the western model, is not very good, especially for Russia now?

Vladimir Putin: Can you tell me what the "western model of democracy" is? France has one, while the United States has another. A French politician told me one day: you won't get anywhere in the American elections, be they for Senate, Congress and particularly in presidential elections, without a large sack of cash. Where then is democracy? Democracy for whom? For those with lots of money? In the United States, they have a presidential republic, and in Great Britain, a monarchy. These are all elements of democracy. Which one are you referring to? There is no one concept of western democracy. It does not exist.

Let's not discuss France: I am going to visit it soon. I do not want to cite examples from French political life. Tony Blair is a good pal of mine. His party won the elections under his leadership. To a considerable extent, and I think you will agree with me here, the electorate voted for his party, its programme and also for Tony Blair himself. Then due to domestic political considerations, for party reasons, the Labour leaders decided that Blair should go, making way for another man. Tony left, with Mr Brown taking his place and automatically becoming prime minister, the top office of state. Without an election. What is that? Democracy? Yes, it is democracy, whether good or bad, such as it is.

I used to have a lot of discussions with my American colleagues. I would say: how come the majority of the population voted for one person, but got quite another as president? Through the electoral college system. The Americans responded: Don't get into it, we're used to it and it'll stay like that. We don't get involved in it. So why then do you feel you have the right to? We will sort things out and decide what to do ourselves.

Question: In a very recent conversation with a rock star, you spoke about democracy and freedom. Do you think the process could be quicker and if so, how?

Vladimir Putin: It could, of course. I want to draw your attention to the following. I talked about issues of democracy, including freedom of the press with him, and our discussion was aired on all Russian television channels. Was that in itself not a manifestation of democracy? If there were no freedom of the press, it would be logical to expect the authorities to censor that footage. But it was shown. It was broadcast by all leading media, not to mention the internet: it's a hot topic there. Incidentally, we have no restrictions on the internet, none at all. Unlike in some other countries.

What did we discuss? Let me remind you: I was asked if rallies would be allowed. That was point one. The second point was that everyone must be equal before the law. I tried to bring home to my discussion partner, very accurately, that if we are all equal before the law, it means those who want to hold a rally also have a responsibility to act in accordance with the law, the law of the Russian Federation. Whether to allow or forbid a rally, and to choose where it should be held are matters for the local municipal authorities. If you advocate equality before the law, first observe the law yourself and only then demand that others do the same.

Democracy cannot be separated from legality. And legality cannot exist outside democratic society. Laws must be passed by a legally elected parliament representing the interests of society as a whole. This is a complex and sophisticated mechanism. And I want to stress once more: it does not mean that we have everything organised ideally, we see where the problem lies, including in the media. I do not want to say that everything is perfect. You know that all over the world, wherever you point a finger, authorities always try to put a better face on things and to curb the media to some extent. But in any country with a well-developed civil society these attempts, as a rule, do not succeed. Where society is immature or weak, authorities find it easier to manipulate it. In this sense, our goal is for our civil society to mature, grow, gain in strength and understand its own strength. This is the direction in which we will continue to move rather than being primarily concerned with the adoption of another law or rule, although that is of course also important. The fundamental guarantee is having a mature civil society.

Question: Let me ask you a more personal question. The French press often publishes pictures of high officials involved in fishing, hunting and other activities depicting them as strong characters. Does Russia need a strong leader, a strong personality as its ruler?

Vladimir Putin: I think that any leader needs to have certain qualities to be able to organise the process of management. It is the same in small companies, cultural institutions, or the media. To be in control is particularly difficult in the media, because people working in this area are quite peculiar: everyone has their own opinion and believes that they are very competent, if not a genius. Managing a group of people like that is really challenging. And we are talking about a whole country! The size of its economy or territory does not matter much. Of course, there is a difference between countries such as, for example, the United States and Luxembourg. But the heads of government of Luxembourg and the US bear the same responsibility. I think that Luxembourg is lucky to have a prime minister who is, despite his country's small size, such a significant European political figure. Bearing such great responsibility is, of course, always a special feeling. So I do believe that one needs special qualities to be able to organise the process of management.

Question: I have mentioned qualities describing a man of character because we noticed that you also try to seem a strong man, both on the tatami mat when you're doing judo and in other situations.

Vladimir Putin: You know, I have done judo since I was a child. It would just be ridiculous to keep it secret or to promote something I don't care about. I have a black belt in judo. It is an activity I have been involved in my entire life. And when this became public due to the media, it drew a surprising amount of attention. To be honest, I was surprised because for me, it is quite ordinary, routine, it is something I do every day. Well, not every day, every other day. When as a young man I was preparing to participate in the USSR judo championships, I trained with the national team every day. I did not take part in the competition in the end, but was involved in the training. It is part of my life. I don't really know what to say. Should I hide it?

Question: Sometimes it all, the judo included, seems like a cult of personality or something of the sort.

Vladimir Putin: What exactly? What do you mean?

Question: You often appear here and there in the image of a strong man, who is wise and competent, whose activity is widely covered by the media. It creates the impression that something like a cult, a cult of personality, is being created.

Vladimir Putin: You know, first, in life and work I do what I can do. I don't construct anything or make anything up. I do what I enjoy. We only get one life, and we ought to try to enjoy it, despite the limits that every person has. Second, speaking of a cult of personality, I think this is something Russian citizens know quite well, and citizens of western countries might have heard that a cult of personality does not just mean focusing on an individual, it involves mass violations of the law and repression. Even in my worst nightmares I could not imagine that this could happen in Russia again. I have already talked about the maturity of civil society, and believe me, our society would not allow any repeat of what we experienced in the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s.

Question: Turning to the 2012 presidential election. Russia has a president and a prime minister. Who makes the final decisions at the present moment? Russians, at least those we asked, apparently believe that it is you who have the last word...

Vladimir Putin: You know, there's no secret here. Everyone knows that when my term in office came to an end, I actively supported Dmitry Medvedev's candidacy for President. We have known each other for a long time, but it is not about familiarity. We have worked together for many years. Back then I would send many of my decisions to the presidential executive office, headed by Mr Medvedev, for thorough consideration. I can say he is one of the co-developers of Russia's domestic and foreign policy. True, our roles did change after the election. But the government, under the Russian Constitution and legislation, has its own great scope of functions, for which it bears full responsibility. There are issues for which only the President is responsible. We both have a huge, really huge amount of work to do and there is no need to interfere in each other's activity. At the moment, we are working on the country's budget. Now, in a time of economic slowdown with decreased budget revenues, we have to seriously think about expenses. We planned a great deal when the economy was booming. And now we have to decide how to consolidate these diminished resources in our key industries. We have to clearly define our priorities. This is a very difficult and sometimes painful task. I mean, we will not abandon our social commitments. It may be news to many French people that during the crisis, we decided to increase pensions by up to 46% this year. In 2011, we will see comprehensive reform in the healthcare system. All this requires huge resources.

And when making a decision on the key issues, Mr Medvedev and I have to work out a coordinated position. And like before, I can call him and say, "Listen, let's discuss this." We develop a coordinated position and make it even more stable and solid. After all, you know, there is always a battle of motives and opinions. Some people come to me, some to Mr Medvedev. And when we feel that there is any danger of it getting out of balance, we meet, have a discussion, make a decision together and then implement it. Mr Medvedev does the same - sometimes he just calls and says: "We need to talk. Let's think about this issue, I would like to hear your opinion." This is a natural process; there is no vanity, no showing off. On the contrary, we strive to work out the most acceptable and effective decisions to improve the economy, domestic policy and, in some cases, foreign policy. Sometimes we discuss security issues, too. The President is the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, and the Government has to set the size of the Defence Ministry's budget. The Government has to determine the guidelines and timeframe for developing the defence industry, including shipbuilding, and this also involves the Mistral project and other similar projects. But there are issues in overlapping areas and of course we meet and discuss them. And believe me, Mr Medvedev and I cooperate very productively.

Question: Would you like to be president or prime minister in 2012?

Vladimir Putin: It would be premature to make such plans for 2012, we're still in 2010. The most important thing for me is that I have the opportunity to serve my people and my country. I would like to stress once again that not only the level of responsibility is enormous, but also the price of each decision made is very high. So I like what I am doing now. And as we approach 2012, we'll see. President Medvedev and I have given this issue some thought and have agreed that, rather than getting caught up in it before we have to, we would instead concentrate on more important issues such as discharging our duties before the Russian people with honesty, dignity, consistency, professionalism and a sense of responsibility for what we are doing. And then, on the basis of the results achieved, we will take a decision for 2012.

Question: If you could work in any other area apart from being prime minister or president, what area would you prefer to be engaged in? What life would you like to lead?

Vladimir Putin: The Russian people twice entrusted me with being head of state. I was born into a family of workers - as you know, my father and mother were ordinary workers - and I highly value the trust which the Russian people place in me: twice electing me president and then, after my second presidential term ended, electing Dmitry Medvedev, whom I myself actively supported. And the Russian people also supported elections to the Parliament, which to an extent was also a response to my call for support. I consider this a great honour. I say that in all seriousness. It is something I am aware of every day, something I will never forget, just as I will never forget my roots. I always consider how the decisions we make will affect ordinary people.

As for what I would like to do outside politics, I have never thought about that. But I think that the most interesting work there is, involves being creative. I, for one, enjoy doing research in various areas, primarily in the politics, law and the economy, of course. So far, I haven't thought about it specifically.

Question: The 2014 Olympics will be held in Sochi, and I would like to ask you a question connected with the situation in the Caucasus, I mean all these explosions. Will you be able to ensure the safety of the visiting delegations at the 2014 Olympics?

Vladimir Putin: Our security-related services and law enforcement agencies are competent, well organised, well equipped and very experienced. By the way, we cooperate successfully with France in this area. Our partner relations with French secret services are better than those with other European secret services. We have professional, business-like and trustworthy relations with them. Relying on our own capabilities, with the support of our European and international colleagues, we will do our best to ensure those visiting and participating in the Olympics are safe. There is no doubt in my mind that we will accomplish this.

As for the situation in the region, it has been tense for quite a while. Not in Sochi, thank God, but in the North Caucasus, and we will work on that. As for Sochi itself and its Olympic facilities, we will do everything possible to avoid any trouble.

Some of your colleagues in the media expressed the same concern ahead of a G8 summit in St Petersburg. As you know, there were no problems there. We upheld the high standards at the summit.

We are now planning our budget expenses and considering what amounts of money should be allocated to the Olympics. Our security-related services would like to get more money, so they will be glad you asked this question and will ask us "Give us more funds, so we can ensure people's safety." We will give them the exact amount needed to provide safety and not more than that.

Question: Where a danger may come from?

Vladimir Putin: We might be hit by a meteorite, the Icelandic volcano might erupt again, danger can come from anywhere, but the security-related and law enforcement agencies will do their utmost to ensure everyone is safe.

Remark: Thank you very much, Mr Prime Minister, for answering our questions here, in Sochi.

Vladimir Putin: Thank you.


After the interview, Vladimir Putin answered a number of additional questions posed by French reporters

Reporter: Do you like Sochi a lot? You come here very often.

Vladimir Putin: I do not spend my vacations abroad. I spend all my free time within Russia: in Sochi, the Far East and Siberia. Ours is a very large and interesting country.

Reporter: You have a whole continent all to yourself, so you have quite a choice!

Vladimir Putin: Yes, you are right. We have the Lena River in the north of the country that flows into the Arctic Ocean. The Lena delta is the world's second largest delta after the Mississippi. Did you know that?
Reporter: No.

Vladimir Putin: Neither did I. And I am ashamed about that (laughs). There are many such unique places in Russia.

Reporter: I would like to ask you another question regarding the FIFA World Cup. How did it happen that Russia isn't taking part in it? What team will you be rooting for? What team do you think will win?

Vladimir Putin: We may root for your team.

Reporter: You will probably be the only person cheering for France.

Vladimir Putin: Why's that? Who will the French be supporting?

Reporter: The French national team gave a disappointing performance, but we haven't lost hope.

Vladimir Putin: You know, the outcome of any competition is unpredictable. France has a very good football tradition and a lot of world-famous footballers. Platini alone was worth a whole team.

Reporter: That's true.

Vladimir Putin: So anything is possible. We'll live and see. We have got a lot of fans. We submitted our application to host the 2018 world championship. This is, in fact, another opportunity for additional development, because countries with rich football traditions have all the facilities needed to host football championships, while Russia will have to build a great number of new stadiums in ten different cities. This will certainly give a boost for the development of football in Russia.

Reporter: Russia has never hosted a world championship, am I right?

Vladimir Putin: Never ever. The whole of Eastern Europe never hosted a world championship.

Reporter: Poland and Ukraine soon will.

Vladimir Putin: That is the UEFA European Football Championship, I was talking about the FIFA World Cup. Every step is accounted for, never fear (laughs). And, of course, this will help us popularise football.

By the way, apart from the Sochi Olympics, we are preparing another major sport event - World Summer Student Sports Games in Kazan in 2013. It will draw more participants than the 2014 Olympics, because there are more summer sports than winter sports. Apart from all we are doing in Sochi, we are building a range of facilities in Kazan: hotels, student hostels and new sports facilities. I was there a couple of weeks ago, when I attended the ceremony laying the foundation stone in a new stadium that will seat 45,000 fans. A new sports facility is completed there almost every month.

Reporter: So it's good for the economy?

Vladimir Putin: This is absolutely very good for the construction industry. So, despite our concerns, the construction industry did not suffer that much during the crisis.

Reporter: I guess you have an extremely packed schedule. Is your life always this stressful?

Vladimir Putin: On the contrary, this is better than it usually is.

Reporter: You don't even look tired. How do you manage to look so well? You look less tired than we do.

Vladimir Putin: I'll tell you about it next time...

Reporter: So we will have to come back again.

Vladimir Putin: By all means, do come back. Thank you very much.