AN INTERVIEW WITH VLADIMIR PUTIN
ORT, Avtorskaya Programma Sergeya Dorenko (Sergei Dorenko Program), January 15, 2000, 21:00
Question: I would like to talk about the most urgent political issue in Russia: Chechnya. I would like to know what is going on, because since the New Year various rumors have appeared: either we have stopped and do not intend to liberate Grozny, or reports came in about new battles in Shali, then rumors appeared that we reached an agreement about a ceasefire. The situation is not clear.
Vladimir Putin: I am surprised that such questions have arisen. I thought that everything is going according to plan, and the plan was not changed. Nothing has happened to make us think that something unusual is going on. Perhaps there was one thing – the pause for Orthodox Christmas and the Moslem religious festival. I should say that the opposing side asked us to suspend battles for the time of the festival, and we responded to it. We know how people who oppose us used this pause – they attempted to attack two settlements, Argun and Shali. I must say that the professional and resolute counteractions of our servicemen sorted things out. In fact it was a propaganda action, though it was a dangerous one.
Q: But we lost people.
VP: There were no losses among servicemen of the Defense Ministry. There were losses among servicemen of the Interior Forces. I cannot say that those who commanded the operation did everything right. I must say that the terrorists proved to be more artful. We will draw a conclusion from this. But I want to assure you that the situation did not change and will not change.
Q: I think we have two options: either to start negotiations with the terrorists, thus preventing losses among civilians; or to close our eyes and carry out a quick operation.
VP: You and I have different approaches to this issue. We consider the civilians of Chechnya to be citizens of the Russian Federation, and we will never sacrifice them in order to achieve certain military aims. We will never do it.
Q: When will the operation be finished?
VP: The timing of the operation will be defined by what is advisable. We will act strictly there, but not cruelly. If we do not meet resistance, if civilians force the terrorists out of their villages – although they run a great risk in doing so – we will help them and cooperate with these people. We will be able to succeed in this operation only by cooperating with the Chechen people. It takes time and patience. But we must understand that it is a civilized method of solving the problem. Other methods are hardly possible. If we bomb Chechen settlements it will become a heavy burden for Russia. Such a victory would become a heavy burden for the whole country. I do not think we should achieve our aims using such methods.
Q: You used the word “success”. Success is a political solution. In other words the success of the counter-terrorist operation must be followed by a political process.
VP: I’d like to mark all steps of the events in Chechnya. We will take Grozny. That is the first phase. The second phase involves completing the operation in mountains. We will do this, whoever may run and hide there.
Q: And then the elections?
VP: The Chechen operation is not connected with the elections, and must not be connected with political processes in Russia. If we connect these counter-terrorist measures, which entail losses, with certain political campaigns, it will not do any good for these campaigns or for the counter-terrorist operation. We will have a terrible mess.
Q: I am sorry, perhaps I put the question incorrectly. I meant the elections of a new Chechen president.
VP: That is quite a different matter. We have to ask the population of Chechnya about it, we have to consult with them regarding their view of their own future. It will be a political process. The law gives us various methods for resolving this issue.
Q: Do the Chechens support Maskhadov’s authority?
VP: I doubt it. As you know, Maskhadov has become a puppet of terrorists. Where is he? He proposes that we should meet with him. We are ready to do it, but we have certain conditions: he must release hostages, and give up bandits and terrorist whose names are known to us. We do not see results. At the same time terrorist circulate smears against our servicemen. I think that he has lost the status of an independent politician, if he ever was a politician. You see, when the Chechen people began to look at the realities, they understood that they had been cheated and robbed. Just look what is happening there. Total misery on the one hand, and palaces on the other. Using whose money?
Q: It is a grotesque picture.
VP: Yes, a grotesque one, because misery has no limits there. At the same time we see these palaces. The sources of money are well known: it is either the use of natural resources, oil and so on, which belong to Chechen people but not to one or two ringleaders of gangs; or it is money stolen from the federal budget which has been transferred there over three years for paying pensions and social welfare. No one in Chechnya received pensions during these three years, to say nothing about wages.
Q: In talking about Chechnya we touched on the issue of corruption, the issue of theft, the issue of crimes against property, and against life. Recently we heard you state that you hope the presidential campaign will be carried out without compromising materials. Does it mean that presidential candidates may do whatever they want, without fear of being caught out?
VP: I am glad that you asked this question. I think a presidential campaign without smear tactics means that we must not overheat the situation in society. But we must respond to each infringement of the law if it really happened not during election campaigns, but always. By the way, it is the prime task of law enforcement agencies.
Q: I think that this super-elite special services agency which you are creating, now being much spoken about, will handle such cases.
VP: We do not have plans to create any special super-elite agency. I heard about it from you.
FEDERAL FORCES WILL STORM GROZNY
Russian Television, January 15, 2000, 21:00
According to sources of RIA-Novosti in the Defense Ministry, the Russian military leadership has decided to storm the center of Grozny. Judging by the information of the agency, the evacuation of civilians will begin on January 16. Armored vehicles and infantry are being moved to the city. Aviation is clearing a path for them, bombing the central districts of the Chechen capital. There are about 1,500 guerrillas in Grozny. They are divided into small mobile groups and are preparing ambushes.
FATHERLAND TO NOMINATE PRIMAKOV FOR DUMA SPEAKER
TV Center, Sobytia, January 13, 2000, 22:35
The leadership of Fatherland thinks that Yevgeny Primakov is the optimal candidate for Duma speaker.
Andrei Isaev, first Deputy Secretary of the Political Council of Fatherland: “Yevgeny Primakov is a political centrist. He will be able to create a solid political balance in the Duma. The Duma will be neither left nor right. If he is elected it will be a victory for common sense.”