NPR News: Vladimir Putin

Vladimir Putin speaks with NPR's Robert Siegel
Photo: Antony Nagelmann

Vladimir Putin: the NPR interview

listen Putin Speaks to America [audio of entire interview]
Listen as President Putin speaks with NPR's Robert Siegel, taking calls and e-mail from listeners across America.

The following is a transcript of National Public Radio's interview and listener call-in with Russian President Vladimir Putin, broadcast Nov. 15, 2001. © Copyright 2001, Federal News Service Inc.

listen question 1: Putin at ground zero

NPR's Robert Siegel: With me at our bureau in New York City is Russian President Vladimir Putin. President Putin, welcome and thank you very much for appearing with us tonight on this broadcast.

President Vladimir Putin: Thank you.

Mr. Siegel: You have just been to Ground Zero in Lower Manhattan, and I want to ask you first your reactions on seeing that.

President Putin: It was a very emotional experience. Of course all of this I had already seen a number of times on television, and I must tell you that as far as the official schedule of my visit, the trip to New York was not part of it. However, I could not help but come here, both to New York itself and of course the Ground Zero, the disaster site. And it made a very big impact -- not just on me personally, but on Russia as a whole. And what I wanted to do was not just to go visit that place, but to pay my respects to those who had suffered in this tragedy. And I wanted to once again by doing that, by going to the site, to attract the attention to this tragedy, to do everything that I can to make sure that nothing like this happens in the future, that there is no repetition of this in the future. And I would like to express my admiration for the courage displayed by the New Yorkers. I also would like to say that there was a poster across the street from the Russian flag, because of course there were some Russians among the casualties -- and I signed the poster. And what I wrote there was that, quote, "This great city and the great people of America will no doubt prevail," unquote.

listen question 2: the ABM Treaty

Mr. Siegel: Well, I know that you are eager to hear from our listeners. Before we go to phone calls and to some of the nearly 2,000 e-mail messages that we have received over the past couple of days in anticipation of you being here, I would like to first ask you about your summit with President Bush this week. You and President Bush seem to have both agreed to cuts in nuclear warheads, but not on the ABM Treaty. What's the problem? What is the obstacle to your agreeing on the American plans for a missile defense, and Russia's insistence on the ABM Treaty?

President Putin: Well, the problem is not so much about the administration's plans to build up the system. The problem is that in the whole we do share the concerns of the U.S. administration regarding possible future threats. And in this regard we do have a common platform on which we can engage in a discussion and to decide what the optimal way is of providing security for both our two countries and the rest of the world.

Where we do have differences is how to move along towards that objective -- how to reach that level of security. Our position, Russia's position, comes down to the fact that the best, the most optimal way, is to preserve the agreements that have been signed and put into effect before, and to develop the international agreements and accords in the security area -- also to put an end to the nuclear proliferation and to the proliferation of missile technologies, and to engage in arms cuts. That we believe is the ultimate road.

We also believe that the 1972 treaty that we have now is flexible enough for us to use it for different kinds of efforts towards a greater level of security, both for the United States and Russia. The U.S. administration has its own approach to how this problem can be solved, but I don't have any doubts whatsoever that no matter which scenario unfolds, our bilateral relationship will not deteriorate from the level it is at now, and we at the end of the day will be able to arrive at a solution that will be acceptable for everyone involved.

listen question 3: the ABM Treaty [cont.]

Mr. Siegel: But is your relationship with President Bush strong enough now that you have confidence the United States would not simply break the ABM Treaty unilaterally?

President Putin: First of all, indeed we have heard quite a lot that such a scenario is possible, but no final decision has been made. Secondly, I would like to reiterate -- I would like to emphasize once again that the level of our relationship -- and I am not just talking about my personal relationship with President Bush, but I am referring to the relationship between the United States and the Russian Federation -- the level of awareness of the need to strengthen this relationship vis-a-vis the new threats is such that we simply cannot fail to understand the importance of the quality of this relationship, no matter how difficult the challenges are and how difficult the problems are that we are solving, such as for instance the ABM Treaty and its future is. That is one of those difficult problems. That is why I am saying with this much confidence that no matter what the actual situation is, we jointly with the U.S. administration will be looking for a scenario that will be acceptable for everyone involved, and I am positive that we will find such a scenario.

listen question 4: missile defense

Mr. Siegel: As I've said, we have received hundreds and hundreds -- nearly 2,000 -- e-mail questions for you, which range from your thoughts on the future of world politics to who your favorite Beatle is -- every question imaginable. But here's one that's relevant to the point I just asked you about. George Poole of San Antonio, Texas, asks you if Russia might consider the United States and Russia bilaterally working on a missile defense, sharing the technology to create it and jointly building it.

President Putin: I believe that the most important is for us to be thinking about a future security system together. The most important thing is to work on a system that rather than generates mutual distrust and rather than deteriorate the strategic position of the partner, we engage in building a system that will work exactly towards the opposite end. And I believe -- I think that such a scenario is indeed feasible, and that's what I feel my partner and colleague President Bush is prepared to do.

listen question 5: religious persecution

Mr. Siegel: This is a completely different subject, and it's from Max Wilson of Mason, Texas. And he writes: "Dear President Putin" --

President Putin: Why is it that we have focused on Texas? Actually I believe that's the right thing to do --

Mr. Siegel: I think you are very popular in Texas right now, and we have quite a bit of e-mail from Texas. Mr. Wilson asks, "My wife and I support several village churches in Siberia, as well as an orphanage and a ministry to street children. We often travel to Russia to visit the people involved in these ministries. We are mainline Protestants, and are concerned about reports of persecution and discrimination against Western Protestant ministries and ministers. My question is: Are we really welcome in Russia?"

President Putin: Unfortunately we all live in a world where there are all kinds of problems that one still comes across. However, I don't think -- let me put it differently -- I am confident that there are no problems about the interaction of any confessions, representatives of any confessions, with the official authorities. I don't think that there will be any problems in that area.

Unfortunately some parts of the world -- in some countries of the world, the Russian Orthodox Church is running into problems. And in countries where as a matter of fact it has a long history of representation, a very solid representation. Our job is to create an environment where it will be possible to profess religions freely, and to engage in religious beliefs freely for all and any people, irrespective of their congregation. But for instance myself -- I have been doing everything that is within my powers to do, and I am positive that at the local level many people are doing the same. However, when there are or if there are certain episodes, certain problems of the caliber that have been mentioned by your listener, I think it would be appropriate if he were to send a letter with the description of those problems to my office, and I promise hereby that we will pay the closest attention to such a letter.

listen question 6: NATO expansion

Mr. Siegel: Listener Rimas Miksys of Seattle, Washington, asks: Do you oppose the admission of the three Baltic Republics, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, into NATO?

President Putin: You know, this is a question -- or this is an issue that cannot really be summed up in a yes or a no. I will try and express my position on this matter briefly.

NATO was built to counteract the Soviet Union in its day and time. At this point there is no threat coming from the Soviet Union, because there is no Soviet Union anymore. And where there was the Soviet Union once, there is now a number of countries, among them the new and democratic Russia. If -- and I have already said that, and I don't mind repeating that -- if we were to take to the streets of New York or to the streets of Washington, D.C., or Paris, or London, or Rome, or any and all other major capitals of the countries that are NATO members, and if we were to ask the man in the street, the ordinary person, whether he thinks that the enrollment of Estonia, with its 1,300,000 people and Latvia and Lithuania if they were to join NATO, whether or not it will increase their level of security, most likely, most probably almost everybody will say no -- no, their enrollment in NATO will not increase their security. Because unfortunately, mechanical enlargements of NATO is not going to increase the level of security in the face of new threats -- the threats of the 21st century.

However, if we were to ask the man on the street whether he thinks that Russia is in a position to help neutralize the newly-emerging threats, again most likely everybody will say, Yes, Russia can do that -- and that would be the right thing to say.

So what I am trying to say is that while Russia acknowledges the role of NATO in the world of today, Russia is prepared to expand its cooperation with this organization. And if we change the quality of the relationship, if we change the format of the relationship between Russia and NATO, then I think NATO enlargement will cease to be an issue -- will no longer be a relevant issue. I guess that would be my comment.

listen question 7: NATO expansion [cont.]

Mr. Siegel: That's a very long answer to our listener's yes-or-no question, but I take it that you are saying under present circumstances you do oppose, until the relationship changes?

President Putin: Not only I am not opposed to it, I actually don't think it makes any sense. If we were to deal with increasing its national security, NATO enlargement does not make sense. We of course are not in a position to tell people what to do. We cannot forbid people to make certain choices if they want to increase the security of their nations in a particular way. But I don't think that enlarging or enhancing NATO mechanically makes any sense.

listen question 8: handling terrorism

Mr. Siegel: Many listeners have called in on 1-800-989-TALK, and we are going to turn first to Michael, who is calling from Holland, Mich. Michael, your question for President Vladimir Putin.

caller: Good evening, Mr. Putin.

President Putin: Good evening.

caller: I was just wondering -- it seems like Russia has gone through pretty much what we are going through now with Chechnya with the terrorists. I was wondering what's the most important thing that he can tell us or any information, seeing how he already went through this ordeal. What would be, for our citizens, or for what he can tell Bush, what information does he have towards citizens?

Mr. Siegel: Advice to President Bush based on your experience of dealing with terrorism.

President Putin: Well, of course I have been asked not only about President Bush, but about advice in general, what I think is the most important thing when one is faced with the threat of terrorism. And what I'll try to do is to provide a very specific and brief answer. The most important thing is your society's morale. It's the society's preparedness to try and control terrorism and terror and any pressure that may come from the political leadership of your county. And I have a feeling that America has enough of that now.

listen question 9: Chechnya

Mr. Siegel: Our caller mentioned the experience of Chechnya. Many people have sent us e-mails about Chechnya. David Sloane of Somerville, Mass., asks: Would you consider bringing in outside mediators, perhaps the United Nations, to seek a compromise in Chechnya?

President Putin: No. And I'll tell you why. Chechnya is part and parcel of the Russian Federation. And it is our duty to decide matters in what is our home. And that's the first point I would like to make answering the question.

My second point is that the Chechnya issue has more aspects to it than just terrorism. It's not all about terrorism. The Chechnya problem is a centuries-old problem. The thing is that today, fundamentalists and terrorists are exploiting those centuries-old problems to accomplish their own objectives that have nothing to do whatsoever with the interests of Chechnya. They are taking advantage of those problems. And of course, because there are many things and many questions that can be asked about this, please allow me to -- please bear with me, I will say something else regarding this.

In 1995, Russia virtually gave Chechnya de facto statehood and independence even though, de jure, it didn't recognize Chechnya as an independent state. And I would like to emphasize strongly that Russia withdrew all of its troops, we moved the prosecutors, we moved all the police, dismantled all the courts, completely, 100 percent. Starting from that moment, what happened was the beginning of a fundamentalist invasion of that territory -- fundamentalists, and as a matter of fact, foreign mercenaries virtually invaded that territory.

What happened was that an international terrorist enclave was set up in Chechnya. And all of this, of course, led to the fact that in December of 1999, terrorists attacked a neighboring republic, Dagestan, which also happens to be a Muslim republic. And their motto was -- their direct motto was to alienate new territory from Russia, to take away the new land from Russia, and to set up a new fundamentalist state between the Baltic and the Caspian seas. And as we all understand, this has nothing to do with the independence of Chechnya, and cannot have anything to do with the independence of Chechnya. And this is something that Russia could only respond to in a rigorous and armed manner.

And, as of now, in Chechnya, about 500 foreign mercenaries have been destroyed in Chechnya and in the territory of Chechnya, according to our data, there are several hundred mercenaries. That is why we and the Chechnyan people will engage in political means to find a final solution. And as far as international terrorists are concerned, we will bring them to justice or physically destroy them.

listen question 10: ground troops in Afghanistan

Mr. Siegel: Rather than continue talking about Chechnya, which could occupy the rest of our time together, I know a great many people have sent in comments of great concern about human rights abuses there, and we're going to go on to other questions right now. And we're going to turn right now to Prentiss, Maine -- this is in the other corner of the country from where you've just been -- and our listener, Liz, has a question for you.

caller: Yes. President Putin, what advice do you have for the U.S. regarding the deployment of ground troops into Afghanistan? And what were your casualties there? Spasiba (Thank you).

President Putin: As you can see so far, the situation has been evolving, as we planned -- as President Bush planned, and as we both discussed this situation some time ago, including in Shanghai.

From our perspective, as of now, the Afghans are being -- the Northern Alliance and its own forces are being and have been sufficiently effective. We sought to liberate the north of Afghanistan, and the capital of Afghanistan at the first stage, and these objectives have been accomplished.

Mr. Siegel: You say "we" -- you say "we," sir, the alliance, that you count Russia as part of that action.

President Putin: Yes, of course. Let me finish answering that question first. I believe that, first of all, we must focus on the Afghans themselves. And we should put them in a position where they can liberate their own country and their own nation from fundamentalists and foreign mercenaries. While we should be doing that supporting them with aviation and special forces and special means, and helping them with food supplies and weapons. And as we can see, once again I would like to say that so far this line of action has been effective. And as far as a large-scale ground operation is concerned, as of now -- as of now, that doesn't seem to be an appropriate line of action. Everything will depend on how the situation will evolve in the future.

As far as the comment from our host, yes, Russia does see itself as an integral part of the international community which is fighting terrorism. We have been supplying our partners in the United States with reconnaissance, with intelligence. We have provided corridors for air traffic. We provide political support to our allies from around the Central Asian republics in terms of -- that have been providing assistance to the U.S. armed forces.

But, in addition to that, in this particular region, and more specifically in Tajikistan, we have a fairly large ground formation of the Russian armed forces. Our border troops are protecting the border between Tajikistan and Afghanistan -- and I'm talking about a 10,000 contingent, 10,000 strong contingent -- and in Tajikistan, we have a mobilized division of 12,500 personnel strong -- which is to say that the Russian armed forces have 22,500 people on the ground in this part of the world. And that, I think, is acting as a major stabilizing factor for the situation in this region. And, our relationship with the United States in this area has been developing in a highly productive manner.

listen question 11: martial arts

Mr. Siegel: Well, let's turn to another call from the audience, and this time from Mendon, Mass. Our listener's name is Larry. Larry, what's your question?

caller: Good evening, President Putin.

President Putin: Good evening.

caller: There are a great many of us here who would like to know what type of martial arts you practice, how old you were when you earned your black belt, and do you still find time to practice in your busy life?

President Putin: I started practicing this sport when I was 14, and as a matter of fact, what I did start engaging in was something called sambo, which is a Russian acronym for, quote, "self-defense without arms," unquote, which is a Russian wrestling technique. And, after that, I joined a gym that was teaching judo. And I was what they call a master of sports. We have our sporting ranks, and the equivalent of the black belt I received when I was, I guess, 18, in judo. And all my adult life I have been practicing judo -- I guess I can put it this way -- and I do love the sport tremendously. And I think that there is more to it than just sport. I think it's also a philosophy in a way, and I think it's a philosophy that teaches one to treat one's partner with respect. And I engage in this sport with pleasure and try to have regular practices still. Yes, still.

listen question 12: favorite book

Mr. Siegel: This, by the way, there was an e-mail question, another personal question: Hubbard T. Saunders IV, in Jackson, Miss., asks what is your favorite book, and why?

President Putin: I love the Russian classics very much, the Russian classical literature. But I also read modern literature. As far as Russian literature is concerned, I am very fond of Tolstoy and Chekhov, and I also enjoy reading Gogol very much.

Mr. Siegel: Well, let's -- oh, many people have asked us about your background in the KGB. Thom Foulks of Colorado Springs, Colo., asks: American news media continue to point out that you were a former KGB agent, which carries with it a negative image. Is that unfair? And how do you feel your KGB experience may help you or hinder you in today's world?

President Putin: It helps me.

Mr. Siegel: It helps you.

President Putin: For instance -- I can see you are surprised to hear that -- for instance, it helps me establish a good relationship with you as we are working here today in the studio. It helps me establish human interaction, because working for the intelligence -- and that's where I was working, I was working in the -- I was working in the intelligence department of the KGB -- so working for the intelligence, you have to be working with and for the people. What I was doing, what was my specialty was the political intelligence. I basically engaged and researched into international politics -- of course, from a different perspective, in a different capacity. And I never, ever regretted working, taking up a job with the external intelligence department of the Soviet Union. I did my duty. I served my country. And I believe that I did a fairly decent job at that. However, one must not forget, of course, that we lived in an entirely different world then, in a world that is no longer here. As far as I know, though, in the United States, there is a certain amount of experience where ex-intelligence employees became heads of state.

Mr. Siegel: You were visiting the son of one of them just this week, I believe.

President Putin: And I also had a meeting with the father as well.

listen question 14: UN's role preventing terrorism

Mr. Siegel: Dan in Atlanta, Ga., has a question for you, Mr. President.

caller: Good evening, President Putin. Do you believe that the United States and Russia should be willing to give more authority and yield some sovereignty to the United Nations in order to combat terrorism?

President Putin: Well, the United Nations' involvement in the counter-terrorism effort is extremely important, above all, in the international -- in the internationally legal area, as far as the international law is concerned. The United Nations should work out fundamental definitions and standards to describe terrorism and to help make these standards part and parcel of the national legislation of the member nations.

However, the United Nations is also deriving its strength from the strength of the individual member states. That is why the role that can be played by individual member states, especially the leading nations, such as the United States, for instance, is immense. And I don't think that, at least in certain individual aspects of the counter-terrorism effort, such individual role of some of the member states of the United Nations can be in any way replaced or substituted for by the United Nations itself.

listen question 15: America's acceptance abroad

Mr. Siegel: We're going to turn now to Cleveland, Ohio, where Pat has been on hold for a while with a question for you, Mr. President. Go ahead, Pat.

caller: Mr. President, you've spoken with leaders throughout the world. Now, based not on Russia's desires but what you've heard those world leaders say, what's the one thing that America should change to be best accepted by the community of nations?

President Putin: You know, while answering this question, I may come across as somewhat immodest. Advice of this kind is more or less a waste of time, really, because whenever somebody bothers to give this kind of advice, as a rule, the recipient wouldn't follow, wouldn't take that advice.

If you believe that the United States should actually do something so as to strengthen even more its international standing, then my impression is that these objectives should be put on the agenda of the United States by the citizens of the United States or by yourself.

listen question 16: President Reagan's phrase "evil empire"

Mr. Siegel: Here's a question from Philip Smiley in Fairfax, Va. It's an e-mail question. "What were you thinking about us -- that is, us Americans -- when President Reagan was calling the Soviet Union the evil empire?"

President Putin: I was thinking that he was being a little extreme, and I was thinking that that kind of an extreme attitude was unlikely to result in the accomplishing of an objective, even though those objectives that President Reagan himself was mapping out were noble.

My perspective is that generally a policy of any kind of restrictions or isolation is very ineffective. That's my perspective. And as far as the Soviet Union was concerned, I think that that assessment was more of a motto, a slogan, a slogan of the day, of the day when it was said, rather than a long-term policy pursued by Reagan himself. And as a matter of fact, the subsequent events did confirm what I just said, that it was more of a slogan for the day.

listen question 17: Bush's use of "the evil one"

Mr. Siegel: President Bush now speaks of Osama bin Laden as "the evil one." He uses the word "evil." Is he also exaggerating now, and is it also a slogan for the day, or do you think that's true?

President Putin: Actually, I think President Bush is being very mild in his choice of words. I have other definitions and epithets to offer, but I, of course, am being restrained by the fact that I am talking to the media and this is hardly appropriate.

The thing is that the people that you have just referred to, terrorists, especially terrorists who base themselves on man-hating fundamentalist ideas, these people, these terrorists, don't really treat the rest of humanity as human beings. We are not even enemies, as far as they're concerned. We're just dust. We're nothing and we're a bunch of nobodies. And as people, these criminals deserve the most serious of attention and the most rigorous of treatment.

listen question 18: Sept. 11 impacts on Russia

Mr. Siegel: Josh is calling from Tampa, Florida. Josh, go ahead.

caller: Good evening, President Putin. What effect, if anything, has the Sept. 11 tragedy had on the Russian economy and the citizens of Russia?

President Putin: As far as the economy is concerned, the impact was minimal, fortunately. As far as the citizens of Russia are concerned, I can tell you that it was both a shock for the United States and a very serious event for Russia. And it is no accident that hundreds of people in Moscow and in other cities of the Russian Federation where there is some diplomatic representation from the United States came to the buildings of these diplomatic missions and brought flowers with them.

I would like to tell you that sympathy from the Russian people towards the American people was something that the Russians were providing in a perhaps, I don't know, conscious, knowing way than sympathy shown by other nations.

And I'm not afraid to say that openly, and I can tell you why, because exactly two years ago Russia was the first to come across the kind of terrorism that the Americans had to deal with on Sept. 11. And, of course, the scale was not as large but it was just as horrendous, where, in downtown Moscow and in other cities of the Russian Federation, residential buildings, apartment buildings, were exploded. And as a result of those acts of terror, hundreds of completely innocent people died.

That was two years ago. That is why I think I'm in a position to say that the citizens of Russia, probably more intimately than the other nations of the world, held this tragedy to their heart and sympathized with the Americans.

listen question 19: Andrei Sakharov influence on Russia

Mr. Siegel: On another subject, our listener, Alfred Friendly Jr., sent us this question. He wants to know what influence you believe Andrei Sakharov and other human rights advocates and their supporters in the West had on the course of Soviet and Russian history.

President Putin: I think that was a crucial impact that they provided. It was a fundamental impact that they provided to the Russian history. At different periods, certain periods of time in the life of any nation, there will be people who turn on the light, if you will, and they show a road for the nation to follow. And no doubt Andrei Sakharov was one of those people who turned on the light.

Mr. Siegel: A visionary for the Russians.

President Putin: Yes, exactly, a visionary, and also someone who was able to not only see the future, but to express, to articulate his thoughts, and do that without any fear. And that is also very important.

listen question 20: human rights groups' criticism

Mr. Siegel: Does it disturb you that human rights groups that supported Sakharov in his day will now criticize you for the Russian army's behavior in Chechnya or for restrictions on the press, for example?

President Putin: No, it doesn't bother me. I think that people who criticize the authorities -- there should always be people who criticize the authorities. And at the end of the day, it is good for a regime, for the authorities, to have this kind of people, because what these people are trying to do is casting light on a problem from every single perspective, including from a perspective that the authorities themselves may fail to notice because the authorities are busy dealing with the daily challenges of everyday life and they may not see a certain aspect of a problem.

listen question 21: freedom of the press

Mr. Siegel: But are the Russian media free today to cast light on even the most controversial, most sensitive issues in Russian life? Can they go in and report freely? Or should they, as we read here, be concerned that there may be government pressure on them?

President Putin: I believe that the Russian mass media are as free as in any other nation. There is a problem that is specific to nations with an underdeveloped market economy, with an insufficiently-developed market economy. And this problem, of course, projects itself to the mass media before anything else.

I believe that mass media can be genuinely, completely free only in the context of a democratic society and a market economy when they become economically free. That's the only way for them to be genuinely free, when they no longer depend on handouts from outside people, when they no longer perform a function that is assigned to them by their financial sponsors. And in this sense, in my country we still have a lot of work cut out for us if we were to make our mass media independent, especially in some of the regions of the Russian Federation.

listen question 22: Russia's future

Mr. Siegel: So when you think ahead to what Russia will be like 10 years from now, 20 years from now, as any number of people want to ask you about your vision for the country, do you imagine Russia will be, because it has a more complex market economy by then, a more developed democracy with a freer press, for example?

President Putin: The choice was made, and I am absolutely, 100 percent confident that this is an irreversible process. And everything that you have just mentioned, I am positive will continue to evolve in a positive manner. And the basics of the democracy, the foundation of the democracy, will continue to be strengthened and the market economy will again continue to progress. And I have no doubt whatsoever that this will happen. The point of no return is way in the past.

Mr. Siegel: And it'll be bringing a more vigorous press and media along with it?

President Putin: I think that if you were to go to Russia now, to come to Russia now, and if you could see for yourself how active and proactive the Russian press is now, I think many of the questions that you are about to ask, you probably even wouldn't bother to ask.

listen question 23: invitation to Moscow, Idaho

Mr. Siegel: The last question from one of our listeners, Linda in Idaho. Linda, you have the last word to President Putin.

caller: Good evening, President Putin. I'm a city council member here in Moscow, Idaho, and we in Moscow look forward to peace and understanding between our countries. But, you know, we need to talk together and we need to get to know each other. So, because of that, I'd like to invite you and other Russians to come to the other Moscow. Mr. President, will you come to Moscow, Idaho?

President Putin: I am very touched by your kind invitation. I have a lot of places to visit in this sense in the United States, and I think there's a city that's called St. Petersburg in the state of Florida, and I of course was born in St. Petersburg -- not Florida, in Russia -- and I would very much like to visit Moscow, Idaho and St. Petersburg, Florida.

One thing, however, that I absolutely agree with you is that a genuine friendship between our two countries is only possible if and when these relationships are maintained at the grass-roots level, and in the citizens of our respective countries.

listen question 24: "White Nights" Mr. Siegel: And before you go, I have to let you clarify a confusion about your invitation to President Bush the other day. You suggested that he come to St. Petersburg for the White Nights in December, which isn't what you meant, I presume?

President Putin: Yes, if we were to refer -- as if we were to use the phrase "white nights" to describe nights that are covered in snow, and streets that are covered in snow -- (laughter) -- when the streets are covered in snow, then December might do just fine. However, we will be happy to welcome President Bush on Russian soil at any time that is convenient for him.

But the actual phrase "white nights," when used correctly, refers to several weeks between late May and the middle of June. That is why, because in the latitudes where St. Petersburg is located, the sun basically never goes down and stays above the horizon virtually through the night, and sets for just a few moments during the night, and this is an exceptionally beautiful season, especially in a city that is exceptionally beautiful itself, St. Petersburg, Russia. And what I was referring to when I extended my invitation to President Bush of course was the few weeks between late May and the middle of June. But our specialists, our experts from the U.S. State Department and from the Russian Foreign Ministry, I hope will be able to select a time that happens to suit the president best, and that is the most convenient time for him.

listen question 25: closing statement Mr. Siegel: Well, President Putin, thank you very much for sharing so much of your time with us this evening on National Public Radio.

President Putin: Thank you very much for organizing this event. And I would also like to thank the audience and the callers. I would also like to thank everybody for the interest that they have shown in today's conversation. I also would like to take advantage of this opportunity to thank the American people for the extremely warm and cordial welcome that has been extended to me. And I saw it with my own eyes when I went to Texas. I could see posters and Russian flags flying virtually on every house, and there were greetings -- and there were posters and greetings written across the posters. And that's actually something that some of your listeners, some of the callers have mentioned today -- that is, where the feeling of friendship and the feeling of human interaction goes down to the grass-roots level, to the level of the interaction of individual citizens. Thank you very much, Americans.

Mr. Siegel: Vladimir Putin, the president of Russia, has been our guest. He's got to go.