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TIME: In America even a sitting President would envy your popularity ratings. That's one reason that I think our readers and Americans in general wonder why the recent Russian election could not have been more open and they wonder why, for example, Garry Kasparov was put in jail, however briefly.
PUTIN: Well, what do you think: Why did Mr. Kasparov, when arrested, speak out in English rather than Russian? Just think about it. The whole thrust of this thing was directed toward other countries rather than the Russian people, and when a politician works the crowd of other nations rather than the Russian nation, it tells you something. If you aspire to be a leader of your own country, you must speak your own language, for God's sake. I wouldn't like to offend anyone but let's remember that the first election of the current U.S. President wasn't free of difficulties. It was decided through the court. We in Russia have a direct and secret ballot, but you have the Electoral College. We are not trying to force you to change your internal procedures. This is your sovereign right. Why would anyone think that they are entitled to interfere into our internal affairs? That is the main issue and problem in our relations. In recent years, we have been told, We are looking forward to meeting you and welcoming you to our civilized Western family of nations. Well, why would you decide that your civilization is the best? There are much more ancient civilizations in this world. Secondly, they tell us, or they hint to us, we are prepared to accept you but our family is a patriarchal family and we are the patriarchs here. In the modern world there may no longer be such relationships. The bloc system of relations must be replaced by an altogether different system based on common rules that are called international law, and those rules should be strictly abided by. At the end of the day, only this may ensure stability and respect for the interest of small nations and not just large ones and superpowers like the United States. As regards detention and so forth, everybody enjoyed the right to campaign, to express one's own opinion according to law. All the participants in the parliamentary and presidential race have access to the mass media. Just look at the TV channels here: so-called opposition figures were always on some channels. There was very serious financial support given to them. They were given all possibilities to publicly express their views, their positions, in the street, in the squares and elsewherebut only where it's allowed by the law and the local authorities, of course. But if they assign themselves the tasks not only of making their views known but also of provoking law enforcement agencies to see that they will be detained and then appeal to their supporters not in this country but abroad, we will ask that everybody abide by the laws of the Russian Federation.
TIME: It sounds like the reason Mr. Kasparov was challenged was because he speaks English. I want you to explain what the problem is there, and why that's a matter of law.
PUTIN: Well, you don't need to explain to me. You are asking to interview me, so I know why he did that. I don't need his explanation. If you want to ask me something ask me. It's not about him here.
TIME: We asked why a prominent opposition figure was detained and your original answer was because he speaks English. I wanted to ask you, is that in fact what you meant? But secondly, it makes one wonder, are you worried about the seeds of a destabilizing opposition? You have very high popularity numbers, but are you concerned that an "orange revolution" could take place?
PUTIN: Well, look at the outcome: 0.9%. The right opposition didn't even get 1%. Why should we be worried or concerned? In the political sense, there is no worry at all. It's not about this. It's about something else. The issue is, the tools foreign states are using to interfere in the domestic political affairs of Russia. This is the story. Now as regards to his detention, once again, all the people who have different views from authorities, all of them are given the right, and will be given the right, to express their view. Publicly. That's not the problem. The problem is they not only want to express their view, they want to be detained. They want to provoke authorities to take tough action. They were told, O.K., you can have demonstrations here, you can have slogans. It's not what they want. They want to go somewhere where it's prohibited, where they will violate the course of life in the city. When they consciously breach those laws, then the authorities correspond accordingly. And the authorities will continue to respond.
TIME: Let's talk about the U.S. election. Who do you think would make a good American President?
PUTIN: Well, probably you didn't get my point. The basis of our approach is we believe that it's detrimental to interfere in foreign affairs. We don't allow others to interfere in our politics, but we are not prepared to meddle in other people's affairs. Well, you know, strange as it might seem, one of my colleagues in Europe, said once, "I thought that Moscow supported this candidate." I was very surprised. It's not our policy. We think it's not decent. We don't have any preferences on this score. On top of that, I'm deeply convinced that whoever is going to be elected to such a high post as U.S. President, naturally there will be different colorings depending on personal preferences, sympathies or antipathies, but there is an objective development in the world. Reciprocity of interests, of Russia and the U.S., for that matter, inevitably will push both the Russian and American leadership to build on a good partnerlike relationship with each other. Just look at it. What's going on in the world right now? There is a rise of new powerful centers of economy and political influence. The world is drastically changing and in the coming 30 to 50 years, will change even more. India, China, Brazil, South Africa, some other countries. Japan also is becoming stronger. I'm not saying whether it's good or bad. What I'm saying is that it's going to be different, and in this regard I'm fully convinced that Russia and the U.S. will need each other and we will be forced to have good relations with each other. Future leaders of Russia and the U.S. will understand this.
TIME: You grew up in the Soviet Union, but you are now building a new system in a very old country. Could you talk about the most profound differences between the two systems and what, if anything, needs to be preserved from the old Soviet Union?
PUTIN: First and foremost, you're right, Russia is an old country with very deep roots and traditions, and a very powerful moral foundation. And this foundation is about loving one's country. Patriotism in the best sense of this word. Incidentally, I believe to a large extent that this is inherent with the American people as well. Now what should we get rid of? We should get rid of the period of our Soviet history when we tried to be at the head of the world communist league and to be world leaders of that movement and impose that way of life on other countries. I believe this was a mistake that was committed both by the Soviet Union but obviously, also, by others. This should be taken off the table of the current agenda.
TIME: During the cold war there were two superpowers. Now there is one hyperpower. Where do you see Russia's place 30 or 50 years from now?
PUTIN: I've just said that the Soviet Union wanted to be the leader of the world communist revolution and we don't need that. This was a blunder. We don't want to repeat such blunders in the future. We don't want to give commands to others. We don't want to be a superpower to dominate and impose decisions on others, but we want to have enough force to protect ourselves, to protect our interests and to build up good relations with our neighbors and others so that our partners are interested in helping develop and consolidate the Russian Federation. This is a difficult task and it can be achieved by consolidating Russian society first on the basis of economic growth. If we achieve that end, then Russia's worthy place in the world will be secured.
TIME: Do you think the U.S. wants to see a strong Russia, or a weak Russia?
PUTIN: I believe the U.S. already understands and will understand more and more that only a strong Russia will respond to the genuine interests of the United States.
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