Vladimir Putin answered questions from Russian journalists following his participation in the 70th session of the United Nations General Assembly.
President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Good evening! Or good night, if we’re talking in Moscow time. Please, go ahead.
Question: Mr President, could you please share your first impressions of your visit? How do you like New York? What are your thoughts on the speeches by the world leaders?
Vladimir Putin: As you can understand, I didn’t get to see New York at all; I went straight from the airport to the UN headquarters. During the drive, I was talking with our UN representative, so unfortunately, I did not see New York. It’s too bad, of course – it’s a large, great city.
As for the leaders’ speeches, from what I was able to hear, I thought they were very constructive; the problems were raised in a timely, sincere and deep way. I think that although events like this are celebratory, they are nevertheless very useful for current global politics.
Question: Mr President, I suppose my question about your meeting with Barack Obama is not very original; the meeting lasted longer than planned. How would you describe the current state of relations between Russian and the United States? How do you assess the possibility of dialogue with the United States on Syria and Ukraine? And, accordingly, ahead of the October 2 meeting in Paris, do you feel it’s possible for the United States to play a major role in settling the Ukrainian crisis?
Vladimir Putin: Unfortunately, the relations between Russia and the United States are at a fairly low level; this is clear without any comments from me. But it was not our initiative to cause such a slump in relations between Russia and the United States. That is the position of our American partners. Is it good or is it bad? I think it is bad – both for bilateral relations and for global affairs. But that is the choice made by the United States. We are always prepared to develop contacts and restore full-scale relations.
As for today’s meeting, it was very useful and, what is particularly pleasant, it was very sincere. I think that our American partners explained their position quite clearly on many issues, including settling the situation in Ukraine and Syria, as well as the Middle East overall. Indeed, surprising as it may seem, we have many coinciding points and opinions about all these issues. We also have differences, which we have agreed to work on together. I hope that this work will be constructive.
As for the possibility of the United States’ more active participation in settling the Ukrainian conflict, the US is already participating quite actively, although it is not at the forefront like the work by Russia, France and Germany in the so-called Normandy format.
Nevertheless, the United States stands behind the Kiev authorities to a certain extent and they are in constant contact with the Europeans. However, Russia and the United States have established good regular working contacts through the Foreign Ministry and the State Department. And today’s consultations showed that our American colleagues are fully involved and they do, of course, have an impact on this process.
Question: Mr President, the United States, France and Australia are actively making airstrikes at ISIS, unsanctioned by the UN Security Council. Has anybody asked us to join in these airstrikes? Especially considering the reports that Russian aircraft are already in Syria.
Vladimir Putin: We did speak about this today: combat aircraft from Australia, France and the United States are dealing missile and bomb attacks not only at ISIS formations on the territory of Iraq, which is technically understandable from the point of view of international law because there was a request from the Iraqi Government.
Regarding Syrian territory, this is illegal; this is also something we spoke about today. There is neither a Security Council resolution on the issue, nor a corresponding request from the official authorities in Damascus. We have discussed this. As for our involvement, we are considering it. We do not rule out anything, but if we do act, this will be in strict compliance with the norms of international law.
Question: Mr President, you had many bilateral meetings today. It seemed to us many of them were not scheduled, or at least not announced. Could your talks today mean that the isolation that the United States had a hand in has failed?
And my second question: Petro Poroshenko demonstratively led his delegation out of the hall during your address. Could you have insulted him in any way? How would you comment on this?
Vladimir Putin: Firstly, I never get personal. Never, because practice and experience show that personal contacts can always come in handy when settling relations between states or in resolving issues that affect millions of people. Therefore, one should leave any personal ambitions to himself, for safekeeping. This is one thing.
The other is that I did not notice that the Ukrainian President was absent during my address.
Third, it was not really that important for me to see everyone without exception there. Moreover, those who do not find it interesting do not have to be there.
You began with the failure. You know, from the start we have been saying that the policy of sanctions and isolation in general is ineffective in the modern world and does not usually reach its goals. This is practically impossible regarding a country like Russia. It is enough to simply look at its geographical map.
Question: Good evening, Mr President. It has been reported recently that Russia, Iran, Iraq and Syria have set up an information centre in Baghdad to exchange information about their actions in the region. Could you tell us in greater detail about the purpose of the centre?
Could any other country join it? Did any of the leaders express such a desire during your meetings here at the General Assembly? Generally, could you expand on Russia’s plans to cooperate or coordinate its activities with the United States, for instance, in Syria?
Vladimir Putin: We have already said that the information centre set up in Baghdad, in Iraq, is open to representatives of all countries that are interested in combatting terrorism. The purpose is to coordinate the efforts of the regional states in their fight against ISIS and other terrorist organisations.
What does this imply? It does not imply a command centre and combat action headed by it, of course, but at least coordination of efforts. Look what is happening: your colleague asked about airstrikes dealt at ISIS on Syrian territory by representatives of various states. These include Australia and the United States, and France has now joined them. What is the outcome? A few days ago, our military have calculated that US aviation made 43 strikes at Syrian territory within 24 hours. What is the result? Nobody knows if there is any.
If we set ourselves the target of resolving specific issues and achieving specific goals, this work should be coordinated in order to be successful. The centre was set up to coordinate efforts. I would like to repeat that it has been set up for all who are interested in combatting terrorism to join in.
We have just been talking about interaction between the United States and Russia on this anti-terrorist track, as diplomats say. We have an understanding that there is a need to at least enhance our bilateral efforts. We will now jointly consider the creation of appropriate mechanisms.
Question: Mr President, you said bilateral efforts – does this mean between Russia and Syria?
Vladimir Putin: Between Russia and the United States.
Question: How do you see Russia’s actions in this situation in its joint efforts with Syria to combat the Islamic State and terrorist organisations: would these also be airstrikes or is there a need for land-based operations?
Iranian President Rouhani said, as you do, that airstrikes are ineffective and called for an operation on land. Is Russia ready to send troops there? Did you speak with Barack Obama about these aspects and some specifics of military cooperation in this region to combat this threat?
Vladimir Putin: President Obama and I discussed various aspects of a settlement in Syria in general and combatting terrorist organisations on that country’s territory in particular.
As for Russia’s participation in these efforts, we are considering what we could do additionally to support those who are on the ground, as it were, resisting and fighting terrorists, including ISIS. These are not many: on Syrian territory, this is primarily the Syrian army and Kurdish resistance units, as I said in my address.
We are considering what kind of additional support we could give to the Syrian army in fighting terrorism. I would like to stress that we believe that these anti-terrorist efforts should be made alongside political processes within Syria. No land operations or participation of Russian army units has ever been considered or ever could be.
Question: Since we are talking about Syria, I would like to ask you to clarify a few things. In their speeches here both Barack Obama and Francois Hollande said that for them the figure of Bashar al-Assad is absolutely unacceptable. You, in turn, said that this army is actually resisting terrorism and we should work with al-Assad not because he is good or bad, but because his army, his pro-Assad resistance is working. Have you eventually agreed on anything? What will happen to al-Assad next? Will Russia support him in any way? Are there any connections here?
And another question: you completely rule out land operations, but there is a feeling that we might take part in an air operation. Do you not fear what they call friendly fire, when all sorts of craft are flying around there, the French and so forth? Will there be some appropriate coordinating centre here?
Vladimir Putin: I have already said that coordination is necessary in any case, but I would like to draw your attention to the fact that pursuant to the UN Charter and international law one can fly over a country’s territory, moreover, conduct airstrikes, only either under Article 7 of the United Nations Charter and given a UN Security Council Resolution, or by invitation from the country’s government. Therefore, any other actions, even taken to combat terrorist organisations, cannot actually be considered legal. This is one thing.
The other is, I repeat, that there needs to be some informational coordination in any case.
Regarding al-Assad. I have great respect for my colleagues – both the American President, and the French President – however, as far as I know they are not citizens of the Syrian Republic and therefore should not take part in determining the future of another state’s leadership. This is the Syrians’ business.
However, this is a deep conflict, and a bloody one, unfortunately, which is why I said that alongside support to the official authorities in their struggle against terrorism we would insist on political reform and a political process to be conducted at the same time. As far as I know, President al-Assad agrees with this. He said so directly in his recent interview with the Russian media.
Question: I also have a question on coordination. We have already mentioned countries here whose structures are coordinating efforts to combat ISIS. Quite a few of them have been set up in the past few weeks. Thus, you had talks with your Israeli colleague, President Netanyahu, and agreed that our military, in this case, would coordinate efforts at General Staff level. Will this structure with the Israelis be separate or will it be coordinated with the other mechanisms that are being set up now?
Vladimir Putin: First, this is not a structure, simply cooperation between military agencies, General Staffs, to be more specific. Israel is a regional nation in the sense that it is located in that region. We should, naturally, respect the interests of the Israeli state, and Israel cares what is going on in that country.
At the same time, there are things that cause certain concern, that have to do with the airstrikes at Syrian territory. This should all be considered by experts, and this will be done without setting up any bilateral structures.
Question: Mr President, in your address at the General Assembly today you spoke of a coalition to combat terrorists and compared it to the anti-Hitler coalition, which is naturally very important for our country. At the same time, you did not mention any country in this possible coalition. Would it be correct to say that when you spoke with President Obama now you discussed bilateral relations in combatting terrorism?
Vladimir Putin: So far, yes.
Question: However, speaking of regional nations, would you consider the possibility of Iran, Saudi Arabia or Egypt being part of this coalition? What set of countries do you think could join the coalition and would mainly be interested in it?
Vladimir Putin: Primarily these would be the regional countries, of course, and you have listed almost all of them: Iran, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Jordan – all who are interested in combatting the terrorist threat.
As for the comparison with the Nazis, I believe this was no surprise to anyone. Look at what they are doing, at their atrocities: they are beheading people, burning them alive, destroying monuments of world culture and so forth. Doesn’t a comparison with the Nazis come natural here? This is exactly what the Nazis did in their time. Therefore, there is nothing surprising here. I would very much like for us to understand this and bring as many countries as possible together to fight this threat.
Question: The last time you had proper talks with Barack Obama was in 2013. Two years have passed, and many things have happened in those years. If you compare the atmosphere at the talks then and now – how has it changed? Maybe it was more difficult to talk, or, on the contrary, considering you did not speak for two years, it was easier, more constructive? And my second question…
Vladimir Putin: Let me answer the first one. I do not remember the atmosphere in 2013. We are very busy. I don’t think Barack remembers it either, you see.
However, our conversation today, as I said, was very constructive, businesslike and surprisingly very frank. We found many things we shared, but there are also differences. Generally, everyone knows them and there is no need to go over them. In my view, there is a possibility to work together on common issues.
Question: My final question, if I may. Only two days before your trip here a White House spokesperson said the Russian President, the Russian side was actively working to arrange a meeting with the US President.
Your aide Yuri Ushakov said this was not so. I would like to hear from you how the meeting with Barack Obama was arranged. Who was the initiator, how did it all happen?
Vladimir Putin: Our American partners suggested we have the meeting, as my aide said. I believe they suggested two possible time slots, and we chose one. That is all.
Remark: This was in September, right?
Vladimir Putin: Yes, just the other day.
Remark: So you did not request this meeting?
Vladimir Putin: She just won’t let go. (Laughter)
You said the US President and I did not speak for two years or something. This is not so. We did speak: we had telephone conversations and met at international venues, met briefly, but discussed all the key issues of both bilateral relations and international affairs.
Therefore, the fact we did not have such publicised meetings does not mean we did not communicate. We never broke off contacts. There should be no concern over this and no speculations.
Question: Mr President, are you generally satisfied with the results of your visit?
Vladimir Putin: Yes, it was very intensive and very useful, I must say. Such events are beneficial because you make many contacts, often of an informal nature, but they are very productive because there is no need to stick to protocol: you directly address issues of either mutual or global interest. In this sense, the visit was very useful.
Question: Not on politics: the UN has issued a photograph from the official luncheon hosted by the UN Secretary-General to mark the 70th anniversary. It is a photo of you and President Obama greeting each other with raised glasses. But Ban Ki-moon’s chair is empty. What happened to Ban Ki-moon? Did he go away to leave you tete-a-tete? And what were you toasting? What did you raise your glasses to?
Vladimir Putin: You press people never stop too amaze me – I love your spontaneity (Laughter). The glasses were raised to a toast made by the UN Secretary-General, and he was at the stand. The President of the United States, being a polite person, simply raised his glass and we toasted the Secretary-General’s health and the development of the UN.
Now you are trying to make something out of it that has nothing to do with reality. There was nothing behind it; this was a protocol event, that is all. The conversation we had, however, was, as I have said, very constructive, substantive and, in my opinion, very frank.
Thank you. All the best.