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Nov. 01, 2005
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Putin Promised Dutch to Balance Out Turkey
Today Russian President Vladimir Putin starts his visit to the Netherlands. Before the departure, the Russian President gave an interview to Dutch television and newspaper. In this interview, he stated that he would be happy if Russia would join NATO and the European Union. Kommersant's special correspondent ANDREY KOLESNIKOV was interested in this interview because it gave him an opportunity to see from the outside how the president is talking to journalists.
The Dutch journalists were waiting their turn from the morning to take the interview from Vladimir Putin in Novo-Ogarevo. First, Putin met with Indian Minister of Foreign Affairs Singh, then he met with somebody else (I did not know and did not try to find out with whom -- some things are not for low-ranking people like me.)

All this time (several hours) Dutch journalists in the corner of the hall on the second floor were setting up their gear, and then they were re-setting it again. Jacoba Tonker from newspaper Handelsblat and Leonard Ornstein, anchor of TV program Netwerk on the Netherlands 1 Channel, were trying chairs in front of cameras, then were looking at the camera for a couple of minutes and were switching places after the manager's command. Everything was filled with some degree of nervousness and was continuing until the appearance of President Putin.

I asked journalists if they had a lot of questions for the Russian President. They answered that they have two lists: the main one, as they explained, and the reserve one. Mostly, the questions were about Putin's attitude to prostitution and drugs, about perspectives of Russia joining NATO, and also about how it is possible to rule over such a huge country. The reserve list started with question about YUKOS.

Putin came out to the Dutch journalists when it was already getting dark outside. Ornstein told him a story how once one high-ranking Russian official was looking for a long time on the globe for the "miniature country of Holland."

"What can such a huge super-power as Russia have in common with such a country as the Netherlands?" Ornstein asked the president of the superpower.

From the long answer of Putin it came clear that there is practically nothing in common. However, Holland sells Russia its agricultural products (but Russia could sell its own products to Holland with the same rate of success.) By the way, Putin said that the trade exchange between Holland and Russia is higher than between Russia and India.

The faces of Dutch journalists did not express much of enthusiasm. They were not impressed by the comparison of the Netherlands with India.

I was impatiently waiting when the Dutch would ask about the prostitution. The conversation on this subject would not be as smart as the trade balance. And finally my impatience was rewarded.

"We, at the Netherlands, are trying to maintain climate of tolerance, "Jacoba Tonker said.In our country there are such things permitted as euthanasia, light drugs and prostitution. What is your attitude towards that?"

While Putin was listening to this question, a smile was flittering across his face.

"We respect the choices of your countrys leadership, your representative organs," the Russian President answered. "However, the experience of the recent years shows that the legalization of light drugs does not reduce consumption of the heavy ones."

The Dutch journalists happily nodded.

"They say smart people are learning on the mistakes of others and stupid people are learning on their own mistakes," Putin was also happy that he found common language with journalists. "In reality, we are all learning on our own mistakes."

The Dutch were nodding and hoping that the President of Russia soon would say something really charismatic -- they were encouraging him to do so. He gave them what they wanted. It turned out that the leadership of the Netherlands made a political mistake when they allowed euthanasia, drugs and prostitution, he said. The beginning of this conversation was a promising one --at least for the journalists. They felt like they did not come in vain to Novo-Ogarevo.

"I don't want to say that what you do is a total mistake... I don't want to say that!" Putin caught himself at time. "In the mean time, we have a unique opportunity to look at your experience and make a decision."

It looked like Putin is going to the Netherlands to learn about the experience. In the mean time, Tonker received something from the Russian president that she did not even dream about. After that she called him one of the most influential people in the world. Putin relaxed... And that was a mistake. He should stay concentrated to the end of the question...

"But Russia looks too big to be effectively governed upon," Jacoba Tonker finished.

"The effectiveness does not depend on the size of the country," Putin answered so fast that it looked like he was thinking about this problem for the longest time. According to his view, the size is reflected on the forms of governing (Democracy, monarchy, dictatorship... - A.K.)

Do you wake up often with a thought that Russia has broken apart?a Dutch journalist asked the question from obviously the reserve list of question.

I never wake up with such thought. I completely exclude such thought, Putin answered like a responsible official should.
Next, was the question about the events in Nalchik: Does it mean that you are losing a fight against terrorism?

No terrorist can ever defeat people who defeated the Nazis, the President of Russia answered.

Starting from the anniversary session of the UN in New York, Vladimir Putin compares terrorism with Nazism. Besides, he surely knows that Holland suffered a lot from fascism.

Why can Russian troops still not find Basaev? Ornstein asked with some preoccupation.

Why Americans troops still cannot find Osama Bin Laden? Putin sounded a bit irritated. Because these people are like rats they hide behind other peoples back.

Basaev can move only on one leg, and so many servicemen (with two legs A.K) are still unable to catch him, Tonker tried to support her colleague as much as she could.

I gave you the example of Bin Laden, President Putin answered with even more irritation. And there are more criminals than just the one you mentioned. In the end, it is not all about such figures. It is about effectiveness of our action and awakening of our internal forces, the forces of Chechen people

It looks like according to Putin this resource is still not activated.

The Dutch asked if Putin ever thought about breaking the marriage with Chechnya, giving a fact that Russia fights with the people of North Caucus for already more than 200 years.

Putin remind the Dutch that Britain, whose marriage with Ireland is about 400 years old, is not in a rush to divorce. And, of course, it was not coincidental that for the last two centuries the leaders of the state did not think about breaking up Russia.

We had a lot of conflicts on the territory of our country, Putin said. Hundreds of years we had a confrontation among different ethnosis (ethnic groups A.K.).

The interpreter had a trouble with the last word. He looked at Putin begging for help.

Ethnosis, Putin stubbornly repeated without a mercy. As a result the country was created in which, different parts are stabilizing the existence of the state And I would (it looked like his piercing eyes were telling the Dutch And if I were in your place) think about what unites the country rather than creates problems.

But if you would look at Yugoslavia, they had such divorce in there, Ornstein tried to defend himself.

We had it happen with the Soviet Union, Putin explained. And we did that in a more civilized way. There they were nailing the children to the fences at their own houses. I do not want that for Russia. And, in actuality, the result of Yugoslavias break up still creates a few arguments. We still cannot resolve the Kosovo problem.

The Dutch journalists switched the subject to the freedom of the media. I have to admit I looked at them with gratitude. They remembered that Reporters Without Borders put Russia on 138th position in that respect.

You have a black hole instead of reports from Chechnya, Ornstein kept mentioning. The state control was established over the media

We just cant get out from the Chechnya subject, can we? Putin said that with the expression of the owner of the house whose patience is running short with obnoxious guests. Ill allow myself a last remark on this subject. Within the European political school of thought there is an established position of pacifying all terrorist: as long as they dont bother us. Take for instance, Chamberlain and Daladier, which at some point brought to their countries pieces of paper of with agreement with Hitler, and announced to their compatriots: We have brought peace! The World War started in the year. After that Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact was not the best solution but the necessary one in those conditions

Without any doubts one could understand these words as a full rehabilitation of the mentioned pact.

You cannot pay terrorists off! Remember that! Vladimir Putin stated with such force as though the poor Dutch journalists still agreed with Hitler. You cannot give terrorists even little things or provide them with shelter. The latest bloody events in some European countries are the best proof of my words.

Of course, the president meant the terrorist acts in London. And really, you cant find better argument.

Putin was laconic about the shameful 138th place of Russia in the list of Reporters Without Borders: I think, we need to look at this evaluation.

According to him, there are problems, and especially on the regional level (of course on the regional only: these problems are solved long time ago on the federal level). But the main thing is that the freedom is the basic idea for Putin. He showed very fast that this freedom exists and illustrated with an opposite point of view: We have 47,000 registered publications, 3,000 TV and radio-stations. It is practically impossible to control all of them! I am not even talking about Internet

The Dutch journalists kept silent probably, they were trampled by the iron logic of this man. (And they lost the opportunity to point out that the control does not have to be established over all publications just few major federal TV channels would be enough to control. And the rest of the crowd would quickly figure out which example to follow.)

We will as always accept constructive criticism, Putin concluded By the way, we are organizing a Public Chamber. Inside there would be a structure, which would support independence of the media.

Well, the chamber is not formed yet but it already gives positive effect in the international arena.

Maybe it is still worth improving, just a little bit, the situation with the freedom of the media? Tonker suddenly asked with warm and tender voice.

I already said about what are we going to do, Putin answered this time without any irritation in his voice.

After that for another 20 minutes Dutch journalists demanded from the President of Russia to give his agreement to join NATO and EU and to name the concrete date. Putin was trying to find some diplomatic formulas and avoid direct answer for these questions. However, in some point he realized that it is easier to say yes, than explain why he cannot say yes: I would be happy if this would all happen.

But you could ask to join yourself, Ornstein happily suggested.

I have always been taught from childhood: dont ask anything and dont regret anything, Putin revealed to Ornstein the deepest corners of his soul.

The time for the interview has expired. The conversation was going on more than an hour. The Press Secretary of Russian President Alexei Gromov let the Dutch to understand that it is all over for them.

Lets not sit here till midnight, if possible. So, go ahead, ask your questions, the president decided to help the Dutch.

They were happy with an opportunity to continue and went with the question from the reserve list: The case of Khodorkovsky created ripples all over the world. Do you think, as the statesman, that it could be done in the different way?

If you could earn billions of dollars for five or six years, you would too create ripples while defending your money, Putin answered without even thinking for a second. According to his further explanations, there was no other way. In other words, it was done the best we could.

After Russian President told about tremendous economic growth in our country, the Dutch journalist suggested that Russian citizens, it seems, are not very happy with their share within this growth.

I think, citizens in any country have right not to be satisfied with the actions of authorities, and voting on European Constitution was just another proof to that, Putin answered with some degree of compassion.

In the end, the journalists ask the president traditional questions about his plans after 2008.

Every normal person must have plans. I just cant picture a person without plans, the President of Russia responded.

At that point everyone, including the cameramen, open their ears. IIt looked like according to logic, Putin should tell about what kind of plans he personally has.

But to talk about future is bad omen, the president shrugged his shoulders.

After the interview, when we were coming back from Novo-Ogarevo, I asked the Dutch journalists why they were trying for so long to get Russian President to agree to join the EU. You see, Jacoba Tonker explained. Turkey should join the EU at any moment now. In this situation we need some sort of balance. And it looks like, we got it

It does feel good when people come from work with the sense of great accomplishement.


Andrey Kolesnikov

All the Article in Russian as of Nov. 01, 2005

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