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TIME: What is NATO's purpose today? If Russia were invited to join would it do so?
PUTIN: I wouldn't call NATO a putrid corpse of the cold war, but it is a leftover of the past, indeed. Let's be frank. First, NATO was set up. Then, in response, the Warsaw Pact was established. There were two military-political blocs. While we're talking about the need to seek mutual understanding, we must now introduce new principles in international life. We have a multipolar world; it's as it should be. How can NATO efficiently fight terrorism? Did it stop the terrorists on 9/11? Where was NATO then? They were not there. They couldn't be there, because such threats can be addressed only if you have a trusting relationship with the actors that are capable of stopping this threat, including Russia. Russia has no intention of joining military-political blocs because that would be tantamount to restricting its sovereignty. But we want to have good relations, both with the U.S. and with other countries, including NATO countries. But today it's not possible to militarily corner others, to make other people obey. Formerly the U.S. was loaded with extra burdens and even perhaps compromised its position while trying to protect other countries from the Soviet Union. Now that context has changed. Therefore, internally this organization will need to reorganize around different principles. As regards the need to fight terrorism, drug trafficking, organized crime, poverty, which is a source of terrorismall this requires a broader cooperation than the framework of a single military-political bloc.
TIME: On the topic of organized crime, one of the perceptions that Americans have about Russia is that corruption is endemic here. How do you handle and control that?
PUTIN: Badly. We badly control it and handle it badly. I must say that in the transitional economy, and especially under the conditions of restructuring the political system, it is difficult to address such problems. Unfortunately, we have not worked out a system of oversight by civil society of the activities of government authorities. But I'm fully convinced that down the road these problems will be tackled more efficiently than they are today.
TIME: One of the issues that is being discussed in our presidential election is the role of faith in government. One of the old stereotypes that Americans have about Russia, and certainly the Russia of the U.S.S.R., is that it was a godless country. You have talked about your own faith. What role does faith play in your own leadership and what role should faith play in government and in the public sphere?
PUTIN: First and foremost we should be governed by common sense. But common sense should be based on moral principles first. And it is not possible today to have morality separated from religious values. I will not expand, as I don't want to impose my views on people who have different viewpoints.
TIME: Do you believe in a Supreme God?
PUTIN: Do you? ... There are things I believe, which should not in my position, at least, be shared with the public at large for everybody's consumption because that would look like self-advertising or a political striptease.
TIME: How does a lifelong KGB man raised in the Soviet Union become a believer in free markets, and is it a matter of continuing education for you?
PUTIN: Well, first of all, I graduated from the Leningrad State University. And my major was international private law which is very closely linked to economics. Secondly, one doesn't have to be a particularly bright highbrow to see the obvious, that the market economy has major advantages over an administrative system. If we remember the discussions during the Great Depression in the United States, then we can remember that even in the United States there were experts who believed that elements of state interference in the economy to overcome difficulties were not only possible but also desirable. President Roosevelt was precisely of that opinion. But today market tools are called for and are more efficient, though without the regulating function of the state, nothing would work, basically. This view has nothing to do with my service as a KGB officer in the Soviet Union, but it has to do with my education. We were always taught to analyze the prevailing realities and to constantly learn on our own from the experience of the prevailing world, and later, you know, I defended my Ph.D. thesis in economics. We've achieved success in recent years. We have had GDP growth of about 7% a year on average over the past seven or eight years. We'll do even better this year. We have paid off all of our multibillion debt and accumulated great resources. The real income growth is about 12% for the population, and for me, that is the main achievement. We are reestablishing and developing whole sectors of the economy. Principles are there, but, not unlike in the realm of foreign policy, much is done on the artistic level.
TIME: Could you explain the success of the Russian tennis program and why there are so many great Russia tennis players?
PUTIN: The successes scored by Russia's sportsmen and sportswomen can of course be explained in part by the successful development of the Russian economy. This is very important for us. This is our export product. And it raises the spirit of the nation and unites society.
TIME: You must feel lucky that the price of oil is so high, that demand for oil is so high.
PUTIN: Fools are lucky. We work day and night! Yes, there are positive foreign economic factors. But let us remember, during the Soviet Union, there were times when oil and gas were very expensive. Sky-high, with no benefit for the Soviet Union. We just dumbly bought some goods from the West and spent everything here. Now we pursue altogether different economic policies. We are retooling our taxation system. We've created reserve funds. We've restored and rehabilitated entire economic industries. We not only drill the earth for oil and gas, we are now diversifying our economy on the basis of innovation. We have set up special economic zones. As a result of all of this, we are paying special attention to the development of our education and science. Going forward we would like to develop based on innovation.
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