9 major points of "Direct Line" with Vladimir Putin
Yesterday, 14th April 2016, Russian President Vladimir Putin held the traditional Direct Line. Each year, the Russian president speaks for hours with regular citizens of the country from different regions of Russia as well as famous cultural figures and politicians. Among other issues touched upon, there were topics related to the development of the Russia's foreign policy. The President remained unchanged: the main aims are the protection and defense of the sovereignty of the country and building a fair world system.
1. Free-market fundamentalism
First, the president touched on economic issues. According to Putin, the economic strategy that is elaborated by the liberal economic block of the Russian government is, in general, correct. According to him, Russia is successfully coping with the consequences of the crisis and the pressure of sanctions. Putin demonstrated that he continues to be a supporter of a liberal, market-based approach to the economy. Moreover, he stressed that the neoliberal trend in the Russian economic policy will only intensify. Former Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin, hated by the patriotic part of Russian society, and is closely associated with the pro-Western opposition, takes a position close to the president:
“We have agreed that he will work more actively at the Presidential Expert Council, possibly as a deputy chair. He can also work at one of the more effective agencies, including those created in the past, such as the Centre for Strategic Research, formulating a development strategy for the immediate future, the post-2018 period and a more distant future.”
2. The balance of power
At the same time, Putin has sought to maintain a balance between representatives of liberal and patriotic forces in the ruling elite. He hastened to defend the Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov, against who the liberal wing of the Russian elite started active defamation campaigns. Putin stressed that Kadyrov is a figure that provides security for the Russian Caucasus:
“He would have never headed any Republic within the Russian Federation if he had not been confident that he was making the right choice. You know, these people are ready to risk everything, including their lives. One day he told me: " Let me die in dignity!" They are ready for it, but only if it meets the interests of their people.”
The key foreign policy issue that is the situation in Syria also does not escape the President's attention. According to Putin, the withdrawal of the Russian troops was timely, and stopping the attack on Aleppo was necessary. However, the Russian president hinted that Russia is not going to completely back away from Syria.
“But in Syria, it is not a case of that we simply got up and left, abandoning everything. Let me note that we did indeed withdraw a substantial portion of our forces, but we made sure that after our withdrawal, the Syrian army would be in a fit state to carry out serious offensives itself, with our remaining forces' support. And we see that after our withdrawal, the Syrian army took Palmyra and a number of other important strategic towns.
The number of towns now enforcing the ceasefire has increased since our withdrawal. We hope very much that this ceasefire, with support from whichever quarter, including from Russia, will pave the road to a peace settlement.”
4. The relations between Russia and Turkey
Relations with Turkey were also in the spotlight. The President of Russia has demonstrated a willingness to restore friendly relations with this country, thus Putin said:
“On the whole, we have good relations with our neighbours. We see Turkey as a friend, and the Turkish people as friendly people with whom we will definitely continue building good-neighbourly and friendly relations.”
At the same time, commenting on the actions of Erdogan and the leader of Ukraine Poroshenko, Putin hinted that their anti-Russian activity against the nationals of their countries and can only lead to the collapse of these regimes:
“I would say, you cannot save someone who has decided to drown. But of course we are ready to lend a helping hand and friendship to any of our partners, if they want to take it”.
The Russian President once again stressed that he would pursue Ukraine's implementation of the Minsk agreements and granting special status to Donbass. In addition, he called on the West to put pressure on the Ukrainian authorities. They are sabotaging the implementation of the peace agreements and, moreover, provoking a new round of escalation of the conflict:
"However, if the Ukrainian authorities and our European partners really want us to travel that road and come to the right goal, it demands teamwork with partners in Kiev, where the President, the incoming and outgoing prime ministers, and the entire opposition are linked with Western countries one way or another. Exercise your influence on them, then, instead of repeating again and again that Moscow should implement this and that. We have done everything we were supposed to do, and they also have to do something now."
Russia is ready to make maximum concessions in the Ukrainian direction, acknowledged President, saying he agrees with including OSCE peacekeepers on the contact line.
6. Nagorno-Karabakh conflict
Putin stressed that Russia is interested in the stabilization of the South Caucasus and the reconciliation of Armenians and Azerbaijanis:
“This is a very sensitive issue, and I believe that we should be very cautious in dealing with it, just as the well-known, "Do no harm," principle in medical ethics goes. This is a long-standing issue, a conflict that has been frozen. Unfortunately there has been a surge in violence. We will do our best to resolve it and find solutions that would be acceptable for both parties.
Of course, Karabakh needs long-term solutions. Let me emphasize that they can be reached only through political means and compromise, which is a common thing to say, but I can not think of anything else.”
7. Offshore and Goldman Sachs
According to the President of Russia, US multinationals are behind the organization of so-called Panama Papers. In particular it is Goldman Sachs:
"However, who is engaged in these provocations? We know that there are employees of official US agencies; an article was written - I asked [my] press secretary Peskov where it first appeared - in Süddeutsche Zeitung. Süddeutsche Zeitung is part of a media holding that belongs to the US financial corporation Goldman Sachs. In other words, those behind this stick out, but they never blush.”
8. Against the American ideology
Once again the Russian leader criticized the ideology of American exceptionalism. The Russian President stressed the incompatibility of the current American ideology with the multipolar world order sought by Russia:
"However, if they act on the false premise of their own exclusiveness, this will mean that they will lay claim to a special status and special rights. This is a gnoseological mistake, some experts say. It is essential to go to the root of the problem and act not from the position of force and dictate, not from the position of imperial ambitions, but to act respectfully with regard to all partners, and of course, with regard to Russia. Without this, it is impossible to build modern democratic international relations."
9. The EEC and the EU
The subject of the difference between Eurasian integration and the European one was also touched upon by the president. Putin underlined the growth of euroscepticism, highlighting the emergence of a powerful new political force in Germany – the "Alternative for Germany" party:
"Today, amid the ongoing crises, the refugee flow and the [public] discontent, new parties are emerging: Alternative for Germany."
The Eurasian Union, in contrast to the EU, according to Putin, should be built as a voluntary association of sovereign states. This is the model of integration advocated by the European Eurosceptics, who have negative sentiment only towards those ugly bureaucratic forms that are now in the EU, and not to the ideas of European solidarity.
"Will the EurAsEC get a national currency?" This is a vast subject. Generally speaking, it is an interesting one. Perhaps one day it will become possible, but only at a stage when member states of the Eurasian Economic Union are on the same page in terms of economic development and structure.
We should by all means avoid the mistakes of the European Union when it introduced a single currency. The difference between the economies of its member states was so huge that it led to major challenges, such as for example the Greek crisis. The country received hand-outs from the EU, but these hand-outs did nothing to foster economic development or improve the structure of the Greek economy.
We have to take these issues into account within EEU and move forward step by step. Of course, this is all voluntary, and we need to have full consensus on this matter. We must all want it, including Russia and its EurAsEC partners."
Responding to a female scientist from Lithuania who had moved to Russia, Putin said that the liberal ideology dominant in the EU is vulnerable to the threat of terrorism, hinting that abandoning the Schengen can be a solution:
"Indeed, Europe is facing serious challenges, and you probably feel more safe in Siberia than, say, in Paris or Brussels. And I say this without any irony, just the opposite, I am totally serious, giving due credit to our colleagues, who are making attempts to effectively tackle terrorism amidst the uneasy conditions of European liberalism.
The freedom of movement, the Schengen Area and many other things related to today's freedoms are used effectively by terrorists, and it is quite difficult to combat this under the present laws.
Russia is not part of the Schengen Area, and I think you can rightly talk about a greater feeling of security than in Europe as a person living currently in Tomsk in Siberia."