The years pass - I am 76 and in four months I will be 77. Today, my priority is the child I have created - my favorite child: Green Cross International. Without doubt, the world's number one problem today is ecology.
During the first few years of Green Cross, we felt we were talking to a wall - there was no reaction. Now, we know that everyone has realized the importance of this issue.
So what happened with Rio de Janeiro [1992 Earth Summit]? We formulated a good strategy of sustainable development, but it is a very complex issue and cooperation is crucial. We sowed an idea, but it did not go any further. Indeed, some people said that Rio achieved nothing at all. [However] people no longer wait for the press or the politicians to tackle the subject. This is an enormous change in mentality and it is the reason why we created our organization.
Chernobyl demonstrated just how vulnerable we are. We had to spend 14 to 16 billion rubles to halt the disaster in a single reactor. The whole country was involved. It was then that the whole force of the thing struck me. For me, there was life before Chernobyl and life after Chernobyl.
Possible future armed conflicts over water
There are already a great many conflicts around the future of forests and lakes, and around the supply of water for irrigation. It is therefore not surprising that Kofi Annan said that future wars would be fought not over oil but over control of fresh water. You know that one billion people do not have access to clean water, and live under very difficult conditions of health and sanitation.
On Russia's recent economic growth
Wealth is giving the inhabitants of Russia bad habits - there is a huge amount of waste. During perestroika, we had already started to fight against the squandering of resources. Now, the situation is changing for the better thanks to the stabilization of the country by Putin, after the chaos of the Yeltsin years. Now, we are embarking on modernization and I believe that Putin is on the right track, because we cannot keep the country going on the drip-feed of oil. Of course, it is interesting to note that we have been lucky with oil prices under Brezhnev and under Putin, but when perestroika started, I was dealing in 1985 and 1986 with an oil price that had fallen to 10 or 12 dollars a barrel, and I said: "If only it was at least 30 dollars, not even 50, 60 or 80..." If oil had been 30 dollars a barrel at the time, perestroika would have been protected.
Appearance in advertisements
I am happy to talk about this since I have absolutely no problem with this subject. Let me tell you a true story. I was taking a walk with my good friend François Mitterrand. We were strolling around Paris together. Various Parisians came up to us and asked us to sign autographs. Mr. Mitterrand said: "The President of France does not give autographs." But I took their books and I said: "The President of the Soviet Union does give autographs" and I signed my name! I believe that this anecdote closely reflects my personality - for me, this is not a problem; it's something normal and legitimate. Two ads featuring Mikhail Gorbachev in 10 years, that's nothing extraordinary. For me, it was a period when I had to settle financial problems for my foundation and I agreed to do an ad for Pizza Hut. I was very well paid for this.
Political regrets and the final days of the U.S.S.R
No one forced me into retirement! I did not officially hand in my resignation. The collapse of the Soviet Union... was the fault of the West. When I saw the agreement that had been signed to create a new community of states, I went on television and declared that I would cease my activities as president. I was not forced to do so, I could have stayed, I could have convened the Congress of People's Deputies, the Supreme Soviet. I could also have called on the army but I saw that what was happening was irreversible, that the people would be divided, even if they had voted in March for the preservation of the Soviet Union. But I didn't want any bloodshed, so I did not take these measures.
[I regret] first of all, the collapse of the Soviet Union! We were too slow with our reforms: people were for reform and at the same time they wanted to preserve the Soviet Union. Almost 78% voted to preserve the USSR. That was what I proposed: I wanted to organize a referendum since I thought that it was for the people to decide, that we could not decide that without them, that it would not be democratic. So, that is my main regret, that I was too slow in reforming the party, which slowed down perestroika.
There are many other regrets too. You know, your former prime minister Raymond Barre said to me one day: "Listen Mikhail, Vladimir Putin is facing a very tough situation. In this kind of situation, no matter what system you have in place, to succeed you must have recourse to authoritarian measures!" But from what I know of Putin, he is not going to establish an authoritarian regime. I can say that Putin has his problems, that sometimes he makes mistakes, but that he is moving in the right direction. He is carrying out reforms, he is modernizing. True, some of his actions are authoritarian, but after Yeltsin, the army was on the point of breaking up, the social services had all stopped functioning; the health system and the schools were not working... What do you expect him to do - consult the etiquette books for advice?
[Myself and Putin] are not close friends but we are on friendly terms; we trust each other. It is not my opinion [that Putin is a new dictator]. Putin is a man who is very serious about his presidential obligations. He pulled Russia out of chaos and now the country has picked itself up and it's working! During the Yeltsin-era, workers' salaries weren't paid for months or even years. If that had happened in France, there would have been chaos and the French would have risen up and overthrown their government! Well, in Russia, people were very unhappy about this too.
I think that Putin reacts to criticism in a serious way. He told me that he is for a free press, but it must be a responsible press. I believe that is the right attitude because the press sometimes goes overboard and abuses its freedom and I believe that it is not always done in harmony with morality or responsibility. Without these rules, the press cannot function normally.
Anna Politkovskaya's murder
You know I am a shareholder in this newspaper [Novaya Gazeta]. I have been associated with this newspaper for several years. I hope [they find her murderer], but there are many murders that have never been solved. I believe that it is Putin's intention to do whatever is necessary to find her murderer.
Everyone thinks that we have made a great deal of progress in democracy, but we are simply emerging from a period of transition and moving towards firmly established democratic institutions. These issues are often raised by the Americans - they say they want us to have the same kind of democracy as they have. I am delighted! You must think that we are extremely talented people. Of course, we are more talented than you, but do you really think that we can do in 200 days what you have been doing for 200 years? We have barely emerged from 70 years of a totalitarian system that repressed any form of democracy, where one party controlled everything! So, you have to wait, you must be patient.
Russia's political and economic resurgence
It's not a question of pride. The country has picked itself up, it's moving forward and that's because people have succeeded in resolving their problems and emerging from the crisis and, of course, economic conditions have been very favorable. I believe that God has helped us, is helping Russia emerge from the crisis. We should not forget that in the West and the East, our friends were not very worried about the situation in Russia and they applauded Yeltsin. What we saw was that things were going badly and the West was applauding! So, I asked myself, what does the West want? Are you going to applaud because Russia is on its knees? Are you satisfied because you can write negative articles about Russia?
Personally, I am very happy that we got rid of Yeltsin - in fact he left of his own accord; only 2% of Russians supported him, that is to say, almost nobody. Now, Russia has picked itself up; it is still Russia, with its experience, its culture and its history. Russia's absence from the world stage when the country was in crisis was very bad for Russia, for Europe and for the world. But now, the voice of Russia is listened to, this voice is present and Russia accepts this responsibility. Russia will be a reliable and stable partner, but maybe it's more interesting for Europe to talk of Russia blackmailing you over energy.... I don't know who is the hostage of whom. If you stop buying from us, we will be in a bad situation too.