Russia's Putin: Interview Transcript

ByABC News
November 7, 2001, 4:08 PM

M O S C O W, Nov. 5 -- In his first interview with an American journalist since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke to Barbara Walters about terrorism, Afghanistan and Russian-U.S. cooperation. Following are excerpts, with Putin's responses translated from Russian.

Mr. President, you were in your office, and saw on television, the attack on the World Trade Center. What did you think? What did you feel when you saw it?

I was working at the time. It was a usual working day. But I had very mixed feelings. Above all, first of all, it might seem a little bit strange, but I had the feeling of guilt for this tragedy. You certainly know that we have talked a lot and in very many places about this fact of international terrorism. We have talked about the possible threats to the United States and to other countries. But well, we're not able to face(?) who, where and how can strike. And this was the first feeling I have: the feeling of anger and to some extent the feeling of guilt.

I should say at the same time that I understood quite well that what the American people and the American leadership felt at that time. Because quite recently, in 1999, we were the victims of a terrorist attack. And I'm not just referring to the Chechnya and the Caucasus. I'm referring to the explosion of residential buildings in Moscow and other cities as a result of which hundreds of innocent people died. So I understood the feelings that the Americans were feeling at that time, so I feel bad.

Did you feel guilty because you did not warn us enough? I know that when you met with President Clinton, you warned them about the bin Laden problem. And you have said that you were ignored, and that surprised you. Did you feel guilty that you hadn't told us more so that we would have been better prepared?

I wouldn't want to go into any assessments of my colleagues or counterparts, including the former president of the United States, because he was in a very difficult situation as well. But even at that time we certainly were counting on a more active cooperation in combating international terrorism.

I don't know whether it would have been possible to prevent these strikes on the United States by the terrorists, but again, we were counting on a close cooperation. Again, it was a pity that our special services didn't get the information on time, and warn the American people and the American political leadership about the tragedy that came to pass.

President Bush said that you were the first world leader to telephone him. He was very grateful for that. What did you say to him when you telephoned him?

Well, first of all, I expressed our solidarity with the American people. I said that Russia itself suffered terrorist blows and explosions in the city of Moscow as well. And perhaps I understood better than many people what the American people and American president felt, so I wanted to express my solidarity to the American people, and not just on my personal behalf, but on behalf of the people of Russia. I knew that this was important and I did this not just out of emotional influences, but out of pragmatic considerations as well. Because at that time, and now, I understood, and do understand, that putting the efforts of the international community in fighting terrorism is very important to ... like it was very important to give American people to understand that in this dire moment in time, they are not alone.

Russia and the West

After the events of Sept. 11, you seem to have made a strategic and historic choice to become much closer to the West, to the United States. This could be a risk for you here at home, where not everybody wants you to be that close. Why did you do it?

Oh, you know, I may tell you right now something that may sound quite unexpected to you. This is a choice that Russia made for itself quite a long time ago. Unfortunately it was not noticed by everybody. But after Sept. 11, it was impossible not to notice it. More than that, there was a realization that Russia not just can, but should be a strategic ally of the entire civilized community including certainly the United States. And I believe that the tragic events of Sept. 11 opened our eyes to that. To this. And underscored the fact that if we want to be protected, we should be together.