President Putin and the Future of Russia
─An Interview with the Guardian Spirit of Vladimir Putin─


Impress Me, and I’ll Give You Back the Islands

Putin’s G.S. Yes. It’s a question of how far Japan is willing to go. Of course there will be conditions attached, right? I’m waiting to see how much Japan is willing to offer if it wants all four islands back. Of course this is a fight. As you can see, right now the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Prime Minister of Japan have nothing better to offer than waza-ari and yuko. As long as they don’t give me anything stronger than that, I won’t give them much, either. But if they come at me with bolder moves, I intend to show them some of my stronger techniques, too. The islands are just tiny little dots, so they’re not really that important to us.

―― I guess Siberia would be one possibility for a stronger move, right? You’re thinking of things like large-scale joint developments?

Putin’s G.S. Yes that’s one example. Large-scale developments in places like Siberia would fall under that category.

I want to see large-scale developments in Siberia that could prop up the entire Russian economy. The population there is scarce with just a few million people, so if the Chinese really wanted it, they could take it. Of course, if they start saying that they want to move 100 million people there (laughs) this could be a problem. It would really be a problem if people migrated there from the steppes. We have to protect ourselves from that.

That’s why if Japan and Russia were to form strong ties, and work well together economically, there would be advantages for both sides. And if regional security could be protected at the same time, I would definitely think about returning the four islands to Japan. Japan would need to think about its relationship with the U.S., however. In a new three-cornered relationship between Japan, Russia, and the U.S., the U.S. would definitely get jealous.

―― If Russia gets stronger, the four disputed Islands will seem less significant to you. You could sell nuclear weapons to us to maintain friendly relations in the long run.


Russia is Willing to Sell Nuclear Weapons to Japan

Putin’s G.S. Yes. I’m willing to sell them to you. We can set a price per missile. We have more than we need. They will just get rusty here anyway, so if you take them off our hands, I’m happy to sell them to you. How about 10 billion apiece?

What a great idea. I’ll sell you all the missiles you need to crush North Korea at the drop of a hat. You’d only need about a hundred, wouldn’t you?

They’re on their last legs anyway, aren’t they? It would be easy. It would all be over in a day. You’d only have to let it be known that Russia sold Japan a hundred nuclear missiles and North Korea would give up. That would be the end of it.

――Do you really mean that?

Putin’s G.S. I do. If Japan really wants to build a good long-term relationship with Russia – I’m not talking about a short-term one – I’m willing to help you defend yourselves against North Korea. More than willing. But the U.S. will get jealous, and I don’t intend to take responsibility for the problems that come with a three-cornered relationship, so you would have to deal with that yourselves.

Putin’s G.S. We have nothing to be afraid of selling a hundred nuclear warheads. After all, we have tens of thousands of them. We’ve got more than enough.


North Korea’s Kim Jong Un is Crazy

――First, I have a question about North Korea. You said just now that it wouldn’t bother you if North Korea was crushed…

Putin’s G.S. It would be no big deal would it?

――What do you think of Kim Jong-un?

Putin’s G.S. He’s crazy. He’s crazy, but he’s young, so maybe he has simply inherited his father’s madness. Either way, he can’t be trusted. There’s no way I’m going to let him go on a rampage, shooting missiles every which way.

Their missiles may be aimed at Japan, but what if they land in Russia? No way can I allow that. Of course, I could send in our troops to seize North Korea, but that would take time and may cause casualties. I think we should all deal with this problem together.The sooner he gets taken care of the better.

――When North Korea sank the South Korean patrol ship, Russia took North Korea’s side and defended them saying there was no clear evidence. Do you have links with North Korea?

Putin’s G.S. Well, I think that was a product of outdated logic. How can I put it? The Cold War structures are still in place to a certain degree, so I think we probably just acted instinctively.

――China also defended North Korea.

Putin’s G.S. Yes, well, when something like that happens both Russia and China cover it up. That’s just the way we function. We still instinctively assume the West is the enemy. As for me, I don’t really think like that. I’m not that mean-spirited.

Launching a sneak attack like that, sinking another country’s ship, and claiming that there’s no proof of who did it? Declaring that he’s going to fire a missile when his father dies, and he rises to power? He’s completely insane. It wouldn’t matter if it were just fireworks. I have no objections to him setting off fireworks. But this is a bit different, isn’t it? These are actual weapons we are talking about. It’s crazy. Someone like that needs to be removed like a tumor.


North Korea is a Relic of the Cold War and Needs to be Changed

――Are you talking about getting rid of Kim Jong-un or the whole country?

Putin’s G.S. Hmm, well, I think the system needs to be changed.

The thing is, we’re closed in by snow in the north, which poses tremendous problems. Actually, we would like to build friendly relations with lots of different countries but they’re scared of us.

――By building friendly relations are you not referring to Russia’s traditional policy of southward expansion – the idea of making the entire Korean Peninsula part of Russia?

Putin’s G.S. I think that at the very least we should establish good economic and diplomatic relations with South Korea, and it would be better if people could come and go freely between South Korea and Russia, but of course the problem remains North Korea. It is a remnant of the Cold War, a dinosaur. After East Germany fell apart we should have dealt with North Korea next. It is taking too long. North Korea has been left alone for more than 20 years.


If China Joins the West, Russia will Follow

Putin’s G.S. You see, when the Chinese saw the Soviet Union disintegrate, they changed their policy. To keep China from disintegrating next, they adopted a cunning two-pronged policy of clamping down politically but allowing some partial economic freedom. They had a contingency plan.

You see, it’s better to be a bit more open. If China is going to move towards the West, then I think they need to do it properly. If China moves towards the West, then we will follow. I don’t mind doing it with them. It’s hard to know who is a friend and who is a foe in today’s world, which is causing Europe to remain wary of us.

I’m not that interested in unifying Eastern Europe and attacking Western Europe, as some people think I am. You don’t have to worry about that.


Russia and China Could Make the U.S. Bankrupt – But I Have No Such Intention

―― So far, Russia has frequently displayed an anti-American stance, taking the side of countries like China and Iran, and using its veto rights with China in the United Nations Security Council. Could you explain your position regarding the U.S.?

Putin’s G.S. I think Obama has a problem with me being Russia’s head of state.

―― You think so?

Putin’s G.S. Yes, he has already burned his fingers dealing with China and probably wants to avoid confrontation. I think he doesn’t like it that I was reelected in Russia, and he is probably not happy about the fact that nobody will let him act like a czar in his own country. Right now, it would be difficult for the U.S. to take on two countries. The U.S. is actually in a similar position the Soviet Union was in when it fell apart. If the U.S. tried to finance a war against both Russia and China, it would go bust. It would have to declare bankruptcy.

That’s how the Soviet Union lost the Cold War. We had to give up when we’d spent all our money on military and financial battles with the U.S. The same thing is happening to the U.S. right now.

If China and Russia teamed up against the U.S., and adopted a combative stance towards this supposedly mighty country, it would go bankrupt. So if we wanted to, we could do that. But I’m not interested in that.

Putin’s G.S. I think the best direction for Russia today is to restructure itself and aim for a system more similar to Japan, the U.S., and Europe. But the national character of the Russian people is not going to change overnight. It will take time.

There was a period under Yeltsin when Russia tried to move towards a more democratic structure, but this resulted in a lot of chaos and weakened Russia significantly. The country became so poor that we had to bring back a certain degree of authoritarian rule. To some it must have looked like we resurrected the old dictatorship in Russia, but stabilizing the government and making the people believe in a strong Russia brought the country back together. In that sense, I think I can honestly say I did my share in the making of history.

As I said, I could crush the U.S. if I wanted to. Both China and Russia possess an enormous number of nuclear weapons. Right now, the U.S. would pale at the idea of taking on both countries at the same time. But honestly, I have no desire to do that. As long as I am the President of Russia, there will be no war between Russia and the U.S. This is how I really feel about things.

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  • Kan Ito's Column on Foreign Policy

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    -----Prime Minister Medvedev visited the four northern islands again, maintaining that it was Russian territory and he would not give an inch to Japan.

    It is appropriate to analyze this issue looking at the big picture. There is no point debating the minor point of whether it is Medvedev or Putin that is anti-Japan….

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President Putin and the Future of Russia
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