However he went on to say, “The level of our economic relations is very low, just $16 billion. That is no good at all. Our trade with Germany is $72 billion and with Great Britain it is just $16 billion. What is that? It’s almost zero.”
Harding said, “ You simply have nothing to sell”, to which Putin replied “We have started negotiations on Britain joining Nord Stream, for example, because Great Britain is gradually becoming a gas importer.”
“We have some other projects, very serious ones,” he added. “I very much hope that the volume of our trade and economic relations, and then other aspects of our cooperation will increase
“I enjoyed attending the G8 summits; I regularly met with Tony Blair at the time and he visited me at my home here. I visited him at Chequers, and we even spent a night at Chequers.”
Asked if he would come to London for the Olympic Games Putin said, “We’ll see. We will be in the midst of forming a new government. I would be glad to go to the Olympic Games. One of us will definitely go, either me or Dmitry Medvedev. We would of course be interested to see how London will organise the Olympic Games. It is of practical importance for us because we will host the Winter Olympic Games in Sochi in 2014.
“We did not yet discuss which of us will go, but either me or Mr Medvedev will certainly go,” Putin said.
On Syria Harding said, “When people follow international developments, they come to believe that Syria is Russia’s problem since Damascus uses Russian arms. So the question is: do you think it is possible to put a stop to violence in Syria?”
Putin replied, “You just said people are following the developments is Syria. But James, they see these events through your eyes. They perceive the events the way you describe them or show them on TV. I don’t think many people have the opportunity to go to Syria and see what it’s like for themselves.
“Unlike the majority of people, we are trying to look at what is happening there in reality, rather than be guided by what you write and show.
“So what is happening in Syria? There is an armed civil conflict. Our goal is not to support one of the sides, the Syrian government or the armed opposition, but to achieve a national settlement.
“We don’t want another Libya, do we? You’ve seen the medieval lynching of Gaddafi, haven’t you? You have written hundreds of pages on the adverse events in Libya. There were many adverse events, I agree: the local regime was absolutely deranged and obsolete.
“But do you also know what happened in Sirte when it was stormed by the insurgents? Do you know that they raped women and killed men and children? Did you write about that? Not much, to be perfectly honest. Most international media ignored these facts, or mentioned them in passing.
“We do not want another Sirte. We want the parties to the Syrian conflict to reach an agreement, to find consensus and stop killing each other.
“You mentioned Russian arms. I don’t know how many arms we sell to Syria. Russia’s economic interests in that country are not greater than those of Britain or any other European country. Moreover, when Assad took over as president, he first went to France, Britain and other countries. He visited Moscow after three years of presidency.
We do not have any special relations with Syria. But we have a position of principle as to the way such conflicts should be resolved. We are not supporting any of the sides.
“Our conviction is that none of the parties to a conflict should be supported. They should be persuaded to sit down at a negotiations table to reach some mutually acceptable terms and stop augmenting human casualties, to resort to political procedures and political reforms, which, again, should be acceptable for all the parties to the conflict, instead of driving the conflict into an impasse and allowing one of the sides to raze the other. I am confident that if this is how we act, we will eventually bear the responsibility for the side being razed.
“So why did Russia vote down the UN resolution that our partners proposed? Russia and China rejected it. Did you read that resolution? I bet you didn’t. But I did. It says that all of the government troops had to be pulled out from the cities they hold. But, if the government has to pull out, then the opposition should have to pull out as well, right? Otherwise, do we want Assad to withdraw his forces to give way to the opposition? What kind of a weighted approach is that?
“One could express emotions about this forever, put these emotions into words and present them to the public. But let us not be guided by emotions, but look at the reality instead.”