I had never visited any Arab country. My colleagues and I wanted to get in direct contact with these countries, so I began in Egypt responding to an invitation from President Mubarak, with whom I developed a close relationship. Russia always maintained close ties with Arab countries, sometimes with ups and downs but they were always cordial and warm. Over 300 million people live in the Arab world and it is clear that the problems of today’s world can not be solved without taking them into account. The main priority of our policy toward the Arabs is to develop a climate of stability that allows for the settlement of regional disputes and to develop economic ties. Currently, Russia is experiencing a significant increase. Our main problem is the deterioration of the state services that we are re-structuring.
We have not ceased developing our commercial relations with Egypt. Russia has no future without democracy and that is why we are working for the democratization of the Russian society learning from other people’s analysis and criticisms. However, we will not accept the use of the slogans of democratization to interfere within Russia’s domestic affairs:
Muslim countries have condemned the taking of hostages in Beslan and we are grateful for that because they understood the real nature of the situation in the country, in Chechnya and in all Russian regions. Very few people know that dozens of mosques have been built in Russia in recent years. Very few people take into account our calls in favor of stability in Chechnya, and our proposal of amnesty for all those who do not want to impose their ideas through force. We held dialogues with the Chechens and they accepted a constitution which states, as one of its major foundations, that Chechnya is an integral part of the Russian Federation with a big autonomy. The member states of the Arab League and the Organization of the Islamic Conference recognized the validity of this vote.
Russia and the United States have opposed opinions with respect to Iraq they are natural partners regarding issues of international stability, non proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and countering terrorism. We had spoken about these topics with George W. Bush and we did not want to go back. We opposed the war in Iraq and time proved us right. The situation in that country will not improve until the new government holds a dialogue with all Iraqis.
We think that it is impossible to build a democratic system without respecting the law. Likewise, it is impossible to build a democratic international order without respecting international law. However, today it is necessary to reform the United Nations or it will have the same fate as the League of Nations.
Currently, we are working with Iran on the nuclear issue. We think confrontation is not the solution but we are against nuclear proliferation. We have signed a series of agreements with Iran in this respect.
Russia is participating in the resolution of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict as a member of the Quartet (Russia, The United States, The European Union, The United Nations) but we do not intend to replace the negotiating parties. We have good relations with Israel and we support the creation of a viable Palestinian state. I think that Mahmud Abbas is making all he can so that there is peace again and Egypt can have an influence in this regard.

Al-Ahram (Egypt)

" Renewing old ties ", by Vladimir Putin, Al Ahram, April 28 - May 4, 2005. Text adapted from an interview by Ibrahim Nafie.