KYUSUN YEON: First of all, I would like to thank you for taking time for this interview out of your busy schedule.
PRESIDENT OF RUSSIA VLADIMIR PUTIN: Thank you for your interest.
KYUSUN YEON: I do hope that this interview will be a good opportunity to strengthen the relationship between our two countries. Let me ask my first question regarding the relations and partnership between our countries.
It has already been 20 years since these relations were established. And during this period, our two countries have been building a strategic partnership. What is your assessment of this? What are your considerations?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: First, I would like to thank the President of the Republic of Korea for her invitation and an opportunity to visit your country.
I made my first visit to the Republic of Korea in the early 90s, when I still was a deputy mayor of St. Petersburg, and, already back then, I was deeply impressed by your country. We visited not only Seoul, but also the south part of the country, including Busan, as well as a large number of various industrial facilities. Even then, we were talking about the possibility and the need to develop our relationship not only on the national level, but also on the level of the regions of the Republic of Korea and the Russian Federation.
And you are right that we have achieved a substantial progress in a number of areas over these years. The Republic of Korea has become one of our key partners in Asia, which is reflected not only in the growing trade and a solid diversification of our relations, but in the strong ties even in such sensitive areas, as military and technical cooperation. This gives me enough reasons to believe that the upcoming visit will bear fruit and create a positive and meaningful incentive for further development of our relations, both political and economic. I am sure that we will be able to cover all these topics in much more detail.
KYUSUN YEON: Now I would like to ask a question relating to the six-party talks. How do you assess the meaning and significance of these six-party talks and what role could Russia play in them?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: I definitely understand the frustration of those involved in the process which is due to the failure of talks. As far as we have no other mechanism and the composition of participants seems to be optimal, provided that there is good will on both sides, first of all, on the part of the DPRK, Republic of Korea and, as a matter of fact, of other participants in the process, and it is even more true as there are three nuclear powers among them (Russia, the USA and People’s Republic of China) – all this still gives me some optimism, and I very much hope that this mechanism will play a positive role in the future. In any case, I would like it to happen, and the Russian Federation will strive in every possible way to facilitate the process. I have already said while answering your question that we have good and even trusting relationship with the Republic of Korea, but traditionally we have maintained good contacts with the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. I think that this is a kind of advantage that Russia has, and that, without any doubt, we intend to and we will take to get things moving.
KYUSUN YEON: Some people believe that the resumption of the six-party talks is possible in case North Korea meets a number of preconditions. What do you think about it?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: I suppose that the most important objective is to unblock, to resume the talks as well as to eliminate all the obstacles which hinder the process. If we constantly set preconditions for the start of talks, they may never begin. It seems to me that it would be better if the talks resumed and all the participants returned to the negotiating table and then resolved the issues that had brought them together. I think that this is more promising. On the contrary, when we try to agree on some complex and sensitive issues and adopt an extremely tough attitude, give ultimatums, as a rule, this does not lead to the expected result. Of course, I perfectly understand and I am aware of the fact that even for the start of the talks we need good will and understanding that it is crucial for all its participants.
KYUSUN YEON: I would like to ask you about the prospects for the development of the Far East. South Korean businessmen are showing great interest in the development of the Far East and Siberia. In your opinion, what is the possibility for the development of these regions?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: I have already said that we have prospects for cooperation in various fields. These are engineering, space, transport machinery and transport infrastructure. The Russian Federation sets an objective to ensure accelerated and priority development of Siberian regions, especially the Eastern Siberia and the Far East. We are neighbours exactly in this region of the world, almost neighbours with the Republic of Korea through the territory of North Korea, at sea we are practically very close. Therefore, bearing in mind the potential of the Republic of Korea, its highly developed industry sectors which we expect to develop at a rapid pace (I’ll speak about this), it seems to me that there are a lot of areas where we could effectively work together. Which areas, for example? Shipbuilding, for instance. We want to revive the shipbuilding cluster in the Far East, we have been negotiating this for a long time with our South Korean partners. Unfortunately, various reasons have still prevented us from establishing practical work even though it seemed to be about to start. We value the high expertise of our South Korean friends in the area of shipbuilding and I would like a lot to see these projects implemented, including those involving South Korean companies. We talked a lot and now are hatching plans for the development of transport systems in the Far East, namely, we plan to expand the Trans-Siberian Railway’s capacities, the Baikal-Amur Mainline, we even plan to allocate money from our reserve funds, from the National Welfare Fund.
In this regard we should support the contacts that have been established between our Development Bank and the relevant financial institution of the Republic of Korea, between our Investment Fund and the respective Fund of the Republic of Korea. Of course, we could work very close and effectively with each other in this respect.
I have spoken about other areas, such as space exploration, and you know that now we are building a new launch site in the east of the country just for the purposes of the national economy, for civil purposes. It seems to me that the Republic of Korea could take part in this work as well. Cooperation in the fields of science, education and health care are beyond discussion. Here we have subjects to talk about as well. As you know, last year we hosted the APEC summit and gave all the facilities that we have prepared for this event to our Far Eastern Federal University, which I hope will become a very good place for training personnel not only for Russia, but also for the entire region. Of course, we could effectively cooperate also in this area in the present and in the future.
KYUSUN YEON: I also was in Vladivostok when the APEC summit was being held there and I saw how the city was changing.
And now I would like to ask you about the initiative put forward by Ms. Park Geun-hye to bring Eurasian countries closer together. What is your opinion about this “Eurasia Initiative” of Ms. Park Geun-hye?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: I think this is a remarkable initiative. Moreover, it is fully in line with specific Russian proposals in this regard that we laid out several years ago. One of such initiatives – which is no longer just an initiative written on paper as we have already taken certain practical steps aimed at its implementation – concerns linking the Trans-Korean and Trans-Siberian Railways in order to ensure quick, reliable, safe and rather low-cost transportation of goods between Asia and Europe. I believe this is a highly interesting joint project. As I have just mentioned, our leading company “Russian Railways” has already taken specific steps, having renovated, if not built almost from scratch, quite a long stretch of the railroad in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. If South and North Koreas, overcoming certain political difficulties, could agree to reconstruct the Trans-Korean Railway, if South Korean companies chose to join the development of rail transport infrastructure, including port facilities in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, this would be an important contribution to the realization of the programme proposed by President Park Geun-hye which is indeed very interesting and promising.
In this regard, I would also like to mention once again and to remind you of a major integration project which is being carried out by Russia, Kazakhstan and Belarus – the Customs Union – and our plans to make the following step towards deeper cooperation and the creation of a Eurasian Economic Union. By now, several dozens of countries have already shown interest in establishing cooperation with the Customs Union, including Vietnam which I also plan to visit in the near future. In this context, the Republic of Korea could certainly make use of these opportunities as well, and if such interest exists we could discuss the possibilities together with our colleagues in the Customs Union. In my point of view, the 170 million people market could definitely be of interest to our South Korean partners.
KYUSUN YEON: I visited the ceremony of connecting the railways and commissioning the Khasan-Rajin railway section. I know that there are plans to transport coal on this part of the railway. What can you say about it?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: Yes, this is one of the options but it is not the only one. We could arrange other types of transportation including transportation of containers, bulk cargoes, anything actually. The industrial needs of the Republic of Korea are well known. And I would like to repeat, that if there were an agreement with your northern neighbor – the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea – then the capacities of the Russian Far East and Eastern Siberia could definitely meet the needs of industrial facilities in the south of the Korean peninsula, and vice versa. Then we could talk about cooperation. I have already mentioned the shipbuilding industry. It also implies transportation of cargoes and transfer of technologies. Infrastructure, if developed, will always be utilized. We need to address certain political issues and difficulties.
Of course, we should respect the concerns of North Korea related to the security issues.
This process requires professionalism, patience and respect for each other. I think that today such conditions are in place, and I truly hope that this project will be completed.
KYUSUN YEON: Let me now ask you about natural gas exports.
At the OPEC summit in Brunei you suggested that a pipeline from Russia to South Korea could be built in the sea floor.
Can you comment on that, what did you specifically mean by that, what was the motivation behind this initiative?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: This initiative was, first of all, motivated by the need of our South Korean friends in this energy carrier, energy source, as well as by our ability to supply it. The answers to how to do this and what option to choose should be given by experts of course, but I can assure you that Russia is a reliable and a very convenient supplier, especially for Korea, in terms of proximity of the two countries. At present, however, our companies are also starting to carry out gas liquefaction projects in the Russian North, the Yamal Peninsula, and the Russian Far East, including the Vladivostok region. This is one of the ways of supplying liquefied natural gas (LNG). Another option is to construct pipeline networks and supply the so-called pipeline gas. We believe this can be done in two ways: by building a pipeline system either buried on the ocean floor, or going through the territory of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and extending to South Korea, the Republic of Korea.
It is much cheaper and safer, of course, to construct a land pipeline, political problems put aside. Should this project be realized, that would certainly be the optimal solution. But it is not our business to interfere with the relations between Korea’s north and south, between the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and the Republic of Korea. If the two Koreas arrive at an agreement, this plan could be carried through rather quickly. The pipeline can be buried on the ocean floor as well. On the basis of preliminary estimates, though, I can tell you straight away that this project is not a simple one. The ocean is very deep there, and there is another thing to bear in mind: the project will bring profit only if a certain volume of supply is provided on the basis of clear pricing principles established for a long-term perspective. And in this case we will definitely need to sign the so-called long-term contracts meaning that the investments in this infrastructure will pay off over time.
KYUSUN YEON: Thank for your explanation. I also reflected a lot on the economic feasibility of the project, but due to your explanation, it all has fallen into place.
And now I’d like to ask you about the situation on the Korean Peninsula. Korea has been divided into North and South for more than 60 years. Do you think there’s a possibility of their unification and what role could Russia play in the process?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: We definitely support the aspiration of Koreans for national unification. It’s a natural process. However, I take as point of departure that it should be exclusively peaceful and take into account the interests of the North, as well as of the South. Nothing (as I’ve already said in this interview) should be imposed on partners, otherwise the process will become destructive instead of having a positive outcome. And, on the contrary, if the partners’ interests are respected with consideration for the obvious longing of the people – and I believe that every Korean in his or her heart thinks of a possible unification of the country irrespective of his or her political views – this process can be very fruitful, constructive and bring great and positive results for the international politics, ensuring security in the region, as well as for the economics of the rapidly developing region.
Such process is positive for Russia. We welcome it taking into account those special considerations I’ve just told you about. If it happens, I believe, cooperation between Russia and Korea as a whole will take on even new aspects. We will definitely advance, since all possible limitations connected with political issues will be overcome. And then it’ll probably be easier to implement joint infrastructure projects. However, I’d like to repeat that we’ll support an exclusively peaceful process, we’ll support exclusively those means, which in our modern and civilized world lead to a positive outcome instead of conflicts, tragedies and destruction.
KYUSUN YEON: I would like to ask you a very simple question, if I may…
I am aware that Forbes magazine has recently called you the world’s most powerful person. What role would you play in future as the Russian President?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: I appreciate Forbes experts’ opinion but I personally believe that, first, it always makes you cautious because it limits you a little bit – it can limit you – let’s say, in making decisions. Today one leader is called the most powerful person; tomorrow – someone else and the day after tomorrow – the third one. This is normal; experts are doing their job, and I wish them all the best. But I prefer to pay less attention to such things. Again, if you pay too much attention to that it is going to influence the decision-making process. And this would be most regrettable.
As for the influence of Russia, I can say the following: it mainly depends on the economic situation of this country. Both our countries are among the twenty largest economies of the world, Russia takes the 5th place and the Republic of Korea holds the 12th position. In fact this is the influence. There is, however, another component that, in my view, is very important – the moral principles inherent to a certain society and the means used by authorities to protect those principles. I would like to see such a situation when these moral principles and the means to protect them are as close as possible. I believe, in this case our influence in global affairs could grow many times compared to the present situation.
KYUSUN YEON: Thank you for spending so much time on the interview to our broadcasting company. I hope that now our audience will better understand you and Russia.
I hope your upcoming visit to Korea will be fruitful for both of our countries.
VLADIMIR PUTIN: Thank you very much for your interest in this visit, I am looking forward to it. Again, even after my first trip which was very brief, I had a very good impression of Korea. I saw how the Koreans could work because we visited a lot of facilities, flew by helicopter over southern regions, from one plant to another. And it was extraordinary to see how people work and what impressive results Korea achieves accordingly.
Thank you very much.