Excerpts from Vladimir Putin’s news conference following BRICS Summit
Question: One of the top news stories these days is the US decision to shut down several Russian diplomatic facilities, which in essence amounts to another instance of seizing diplomatic property. The Russian Foreign Ministry has used the words “seizure” and “searches”. You have not said anything on this matter so far. Will you comment on it now? Will Russia respond to all this? If so, what response would it be?
Vladimir Putin: The thing is that we have agreed with our partners that Russia and the United States should have parity in terms of personnel or diplomats in their missions in each other’s country. I believe there were 1,300 American diplomats working in Russia and 455 Russian diplomats in the United States. We have balanced the figure. I would like you to take note of the fact that this figure, 455 Russian diplomats working in the United States, also includes (provisionally) the 155 Russians working at the United Nations. Strictly speaking, they are not diplomats accredited at the US Department of State but diplomats working at an international organisation. When the United States wanted the UN to be headquartered in New York, it pledged to properly ensure its operation. So strictly speaking, the number of American diplomats in Moscow should be not 455 but 155 fewer, if we are talking about parity. So, we reserve the right to take a new decision on the number of American diplomats in Moscow. We will not do this immediately but will see how things develop. The Americans had the right to reduce the number of our diplomatic offices. It is another matter altogether that they have done this in way that was absolutely uncivil. This does not do reflect well on our American partners.It is difficult to talk to people who confuse Austria and Australia. But there is nothing we can do about this; this is the level of political culture among part of the American establishment.
As for the American people, America is truly a great nation if the Americans can put up with so many politically uncivilised people.
Question: My question is also related to North Korea. The US has declared that it wants to toughen sanctions and urged Russia to join them. How can such statements be evaluated given the renowned sanctions law where Russia is put on the same list as North Korea and Iran?
Vladimir Putin: True, it does not make sense to put us on the list alongside North Korea and then ask us to help with sanctions against it. But it is being done by people who confuse Austria and Australia and then ask their President to persuade Russia to toughen sanctions.
But that is not the point, we are not going to pout, hold a grudge or laugh at anyone. Our position on this issue, as well as on all other issues, is based on principles.
The point is not that we have been put on the same list with North Korea, which is absolutely absurd. I already said why I think (and our Foreign Ministry spoke about that too) that sanctions have reached their limit and are completely ineffective.
There is also the humanitarian side to this issue. No matter which option we choose to influence North Korea, its leaders will not change their policy, whereas the suffering of millions could increase many times over.
Regarding Russia, there is nothing to say here. Absolutely nothing, because our trade is almost zero. I asked the Energy Minister, who told me that we only send them 40,000 tonnes of oil and petrochemicals per quarter.
As a reminder, Russia exports over 400 million tonnes of oil and petrochemicals to the global market, so 40,000 tonnes a quarter is as good as nothing. Moreover, none of our large vertically integrated companies exports anything to North Korea. This is the first thing I wanted to say.
The second issue concerns the North Korean workforce. Indeed, we have some 30,000 North Korean workers in Russia. Is this a lot? No, this is perishably few. Should we leave these people without a means of subsistence? Besides, the Russian Far East needs more hands. Therefore, there is nothing to talk about. As the Foreign Ministry has said, the usefulness of sanctions has been exhausted.
Of course, we are willing to discuss details, but we need to consider them first. We will work on this. We are cooperating with all those involved in this process. Actually, Russia co-authored a relevant resolution, at least it became a co-author during the debates on this resolution, which has been adopted and came into force. We are complying with this resolution in full.
Question: I would like to follow-up on the question on relations with the US, by way of clarification, whether you have grown disappointed with Donald Trump since his election as US President, and since you talked with him. The relations have been spiralling, as our side is saying.
Also, do you take into account, as the Foreign Ministry spokesperson has recently pointed out, that not all US heads of state stay the full term they were elected to be in office for? In your analysis have you considered the possibility of Trump being impeached, and what is your approach to relations with the US?
Vladimir Putin: Now, about the President of the United States. I think that it would be inappropriate for us to discuss how the situation in the US could play out on the domestic front. This is none of our business, and something the United States has to deal with on its own.
As for whether I am disappointed or not, your question is very naïve. After all, he is not my bride, and I am not his bride or fiancé. We hold public offices, and each country has its own interests. Trump is guided in his activities by his country’s national interests, and I am guided by my country’s interests.
I do hope that we will be able, as the current President of the United States said, to find compromises in resolving bilateral and international issues so that they can be settled in the interests of the American and Russian people, and in the interests of many other countries, taking into account the special responsibility for international security that lies on our two countries.