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TIME: Do you think Ukraine will ever again become part of Russia?
PUTIN: Of course not. We don't want it. We do not want to include anyone into Russia again because for us it would only bring an additional economic burden. We want to realize our national competitive advantage in the world economy. We can only speak of economic integration. It's quite useless to try to force upon anyone new state structures without the will of the relevant people. In the modern world, it's not even necessary. Look at Europe, where national borders are no longer as important as they used to be.
TIME: President Bush famously said that he looked into your eyes and got a sense of your soul. So my question for you is, Have you gotten a sense of President Bush's soul, and if so, what did you see there?
PUTIN: I do not wish myself to give a character description of this President because when he said that he looked into my eyes, he said what he felt. But I have a very good personal relationship with Mr. Bush, and I cherish it very much. I consider him a very reliable partner, a man of honor. When I have the pleasure of conversing with some American intellectuals, whom I won't name, they argue with me on this. I do not agree with those, both in my country and in the United States, who deny that Mr. Bush is a man of honor and of principle. Yes, Iraq was a mistake, but he is a person who has had a very rich personal life and experience governing a state. He is a fair and honest man. I have no doubts about this.
TIME: Do you think there was a missed opportunity after 9/11 for the United States and Russia to work more closely on the antiterrorism front because of Iraq?
PUTIN: We could have acted in a more coordinated and therefore more efficient way. That is true. But cooperation between our Secret Services is happening, and is achieving results, including in terms of ensuring the direct security of the citizens of Russia and of the United States. What I am saying is not small talk. It's based on the results of specific action to prevent very specific acts against both Americans and Russians.
TIME: Can you describe this cooperation? Are there institutional structures that now exist between American and Russian intelligence in the field of fighting terrorism?
PUTIN: Yes: the so-called partnership channels. Recently the work has been quite successful, including cooperation to prevent terrorist acts against the citizens of the Russian Federation and the United States, including possible large-scale terrorist acts. These involved timely exchanges of information, and preventive action on both sides, which haven't been publicized. I recently discussed this with President Bush over the telephone. I gave him specific examples and informed him about some joint activities in this area.
TIME: So you're saying that Russian intelligence helped avert an attack in the U.S.?
PUTIN: It had to do with a threat to both the United States and Russia. It had to do with countering the threats against both nations. I cannot say anymore at this stage.
TIME: What is the state of Russian-Chinese relations?
PUTIN: Russia and China are very natural partners. We are neighbors with an immense common border. For 40 years, we've been negotiating with China to settle border issues, and I'll now pay close attention to that. The quality of Russia-China relations today is unprecedented. Never before was there such a trustworthy relationship between us.
TIME: You've also dealt with President Clinton. I'd love to hear you compare Bush and Clinton, their styles, their intellect, their actions.
PUTIN: Well, I respect both politicians too much to allow myself to make any comparisons or comments or remarks like that. But I can talk about how I first got to know Bill Clinton. President Yeltsin sent me to New Zealand to the APEC summit in 1990. I was then prime minister, with still unclear political prospects. I didn't have a clue at the time, what was going to happen. Clinton at that time, however, was a renowned man, well respected in his own country and elsewhere in the world. At a dinner there, Clinton walked past a long table with many APEC leaders and approached me and spoke to my ear: Volodya, I suggest we walk out together from this room. To me it was quite a surprise. What happened next was, we were both on our feet. Our colleagues moved aside, and we walked down the corridor and everybody applauded. I will remember that forever. I am very grateful to him for that, and despite our different views, we share a special personal chemistry.
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