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TIME: Are there any other world leaders with whom you enjoy a special personal chemistry? It's been said that you're friends with Mr. Berlusconi. Mr. Sarkozy has said admiring things about you. You and Madame Merkel speak in which language?
PUTIN: With all the people you mentioned, yes, I have very good relations. With some of them, we have very close, friendly, comradely type relations. With Mrs. Merkel, we usually talk German. Though now we've started to speak Russian more frequently. She has good pronunciation in Russian. Probably she has to work more to remember her vocabulary. With more practice, she'll do that.
TIME: Earlier you used the phrase, Thou shalt not steal. Have you read the Bible?
PUTIN: Yes, I have. And the Bible is on my plane. I fly frequently, you know. And on the plane I use, there is a Bible. I also have an icon there with some sewing on it. I fly long distances. We're a vast country. So I have time there to read the Bible.
TIME: I understand that you don't want to be public with your religion. But is there some way we can characterize your faith?
PUTIN: You could say that it is my deep conviction that the moral values without which humankind cannot survive cannot be other than religious values. Now, as regards a specific church or other establishment, that's a separate matter. As somebody said once, if God exists, he does know that people have different views regarding church.
TIME: Now the situation is emerging whereby the Russian Orthodox Church is apparently becoming a dominating force in Russia. It's the only church that has signed official relations on cooperation with the Ministry of Defense, law-enforcement agencies and the Foreign Office.
PUTIN: It's not about agreements. It's about the law.
TIME: Well, I understand. But when it's prohibited by law, for one church to become dominant in a secular society...
PUTIN: It's not true. Our law recognizes four traditional religions in Russia. Our American partners criticized us for that, incidentally, but it has been defined by our lawmakers. These traditional Russian religions are the Orthodox Church, Judaism, Islam and Buddhism.
TIME: I'm sorry, I wasn't referring to that exactly. Yes, it's still hardly proper in a secular country for the top military brass of the General Staff under the command of their Chairman to hold a service together with the top hierarchy, as occurred at the Orthodox Church at the Christ the Saviour Cathedral to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the Soviet nuclear bomb.
PUTIN: Well, I would say that if those General Staff brass were Jews, Muslims or Buddhists and would have chosen to celebrate this wonderful event at other religious shrines, I would welcome that. So you cannot talk about the inequality of any of those religions. But still some 80% of the Russians consider themselves Orthodox Christians, which makes the Russian Orthodox Church the largest of them all.
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