President Vladimir Putin's reply to a BBC question during his annual news conference Moscow, 17 December 2020
Steve Rosenberg, BBC News: Mr President, ‘a new Cold War’ is an expression that one can hear more and more often when it comes to Russia-West relations. And we hear Russia regularly blame external forces for these tensions. It may be America, or Britain, or Nato. But after having been at the helm of power for 20 years, don’t you believe that you are at least partly responsible for the deplorable state of those relations, especially if one recalls Russia’s actions over the recent years, from annexing Crimea to using a chemical weapon on British soil, in Salisbury? Or are you not? Are Russian authorities ‘white and fluffy’? And when it comes to chemical weapons – have you read the Bellingcat report that sets out in detail that the attack on Alexey Navalny was orchestrated by the Russian State? Thank you.
President Putin: I have already spoken today on the attack on the famous blogger. I can only add – and we have also repeately made it clear – that we are prepared to conduct an investigation. If anyone has information showing that a chemical weapon was used – in this case, Novichok, as they keep saying – we are asking you: give that information to us please. We have proposed for our experts to be dispatched on the ground, to Germany, to Sweden, to France, so as to tackle this problem together with colleagues. Alternatively, we are asking you to come to us, to bring the biological materials, or at least to provide us with an official report. Steven, can you explain why, despite the numerous requests made by the Office of the Prosecutor General of the Russian Federation, we haven’t yet been provided even an official report? German authorities have tranferred the whole file to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. They [OPCW] do not provide us with anything either, saying that Germany has prohibited them to give out any information. And Germany is saying: you are welcome to get all the information at OPCW. Can you explain that, Steven? Why are we not provided with an official report on Novichok use?
Steve Rosenberg: Are you asking me?
President Putin: Yes, I am.
Steve Rosenberg: Well, I am a journalist, I am asking questions and you are replying.
President Putin: OK, please accept my apologies, and I will continue my answer to your question. Let’s consider that question of mine to remain hanging in the air. Regarding whether we are ‘white and fluffy’ and whether we feel any responsibility for what is going on – I feel responsibility for what is happening with Russia and its people, and I will do everything that is in the interests of the Russian Federation. This is also true regarding the return of Crimea into our Russian State. Let me draw your attention to the fact that this was done on the basis of people’s will. In Kosovo, the parliament took a decision [on independence], and you swallowed it and said that that was the right and democratic thing to do. In Crimea, people came to a referendum and voted, yet you don’t like it for some reason. Let me remind you that democracy means power of the people. One needs to either recognize it or to renounce that term, globally. Crimeans are subjected to various sanctions. For what are you introducing sanctions against them? If this was an annexation, then they are not guilty of anything – why are they being punished? And if this was not an annexation but a result of a vote, then this must be recognized as democracy and they must be left in peace, and the claims against Russia over an ‘annexation’ must stop.
Now as regards whether we are ‘white and fluffy’. Compared to you – yes, that’s the case, we are white and fluffy. Countries and peoples that wanted to develop independently, we agreed to free them from certain Soviet diktat. We heard and heeded your assurances that Nato would not expand eastwards. But you have not delivered on your promises. Right, those were unwritten assurances, but oral ones including on the part of Nato. But you haven’t done anything. There have been two waves of [Nato] enlargement, and Nato’s military infrastructure is coming closer to our borders. Are we supposed not to react?
Was it Russia who abandoned the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty? It was not us, but we are compelled to react by creating new weapon systems that eliminate the threats that we are facing. Then, our colleagues left the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. Was it us? No, these were our US partners. Then we told them: well, we will not produce or deploy that kind of weapons until US weapons [of that kind] appear in Europe. Nobody is replying or reacting to this.
Thereafter, they left the Open Skies Treaty. What are we supposed to do? Shall we leave everything as it is? So that you, being a Nato member, would fly over our us and transfer everything [the imagery] to the Americans, while we would not have that opportunity with regard to US territory.
You are smart people, aren’t you? Then why do you think that we are idiots? Why do you think that we cannot analyze this kind of basics?
There are other issues that we are concerned with. We have to react to them. Today, the ‘New Start’ Treaty is under threat of being discontinued. If that happens, no limits will remain when it comes to an arms race, nothing at all. We have been, and continue calling upon our [US] partners to extend that Treaty at least by one year, so as to allow us a year to hold substantive negotiations (to use a diplomatic catchphrase) over how to proceed further. We realise that Russia has acquired modern weapon systems, hypersonic ones, that nobody in the world possesses. We fully recognize this, and we are not against taking this into account [in the negotiations]. But so far, nobody is talking to us on that. Similar systems are being developed by European countries, by Britain, by the United States. We are open for negotiations, but nobody is conducting any with us. So this may help you to figure out who is ‘white and fluffy’ and who is ‘thorny and aggressive’.
We have two or three [military] bases, and then only in areas prone to terrorist threat, namely in Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Syria. And what about the other side, I mean the United States? A huge network all around the world! Do you know the size of our defence budget? 46 billion [US dollars]. Britain is way ahead. The US has 770 billion. Russia is something like sixth in the world by defence expenditure. The US, China, Saudi Arabia, Britain, France, Japan – they are all ahead of us.
So who is ‘white and fluffy’ and who is aggressive? Aggressive, certainly not us. Maybe we are not spotless, but on any account, quite respectable and inclined to have dialogue and find compromise solutions. I’d like to recall the words of Leopold the Cat from one our cartoons: ‘Guys, let’s all get along!’.