QUESTION: Yesterday’s SCO summit saw the adoption of a political declaration, a communiqué and an inter-bank agreement, that is to say, political and economic results. Today we have these military exercises. What is the SCO more about: economy and politics, or military matters? Western observers are already likening the SCO to a military organisation that would stand in opposition to NATO.
VLADIMIR PUTIN: This does not reflect the reality. This kind of comparison is inappropriate in both form and substance. The Shanghai Cooperation Organisation was created to help settle border issues following the Soviet Union’s collapse between the newly established sovereign states and the People’s Republic of China.
We have successfully attained this goal. I remind you that talks between the Soviet Union and China on settling the border issue lasted for forty years. Not so long ago, we signed border agreements - after agreeing to a number of compromises - that both sides are happy with. The other members of the SCO have also completed their work in this area with positive results.
There was clearly a great need for this kind of work and the SCO has thus begun to expand its activities. The SCO is above all an organisation dedicated to political and economic matters, with the economic aspect taking the leading role.
I would like to remind you that we work on infrastructure issues (communications, roads), financial matters, and are encouraging business activity in all the member states.
Other countries in the region, including Pakistan, India, Iran, and Afghanistan, are showing a lot of interest in the Organisation’s work. As you had the chance to see, all of these countries regularly send observers to the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation’s summits.
As for the military component, it is not a military component as such but rather a counterterrorism component. Unfortunately, many countries, including Russia, still face a terrorist threat today. The recent event on the Moscow-St Petersburg railway demonstrates that we have still not done everything necessary to eliminate this threat. This is why, both at home and on the international stage, we are in contact with our partners around the world and will continue our counterterrorist work.
I repeat that the military component is not the dominant and most important part of the SCO. Moreover, the SCO is not a closed organisation. It is not a bloc organisation. We hold military training exercises not only with the SCO member states but also with other countries, including with NATO member countries.
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I would like to conclude today’s meeting with the following remarks.
Today we witnessed counterterrorism exercises being carried out, and they were a great success. Seven-and-a-half-thousand servicemen and almost 1,500 units of military equipment all worked smoothly together without any hiccups at all. This training ground is certainly the best in Russia and I am sure that it is one of the best in Europe. It is equipped with modern technology and communications systems. If all of this were not in place, it is unlikely that today’s operations would have been so well organised and coordinated. We will continue to develop our country’s armed forces because, although what took place today was an international exercise, such events help to mobilise our military specialists and improve their preparation.
Our work does not end here. We are working in many different areas, and I am happy to give you the following information.
In 1992, the Russian Federation unilaterally stopped sending its strategic aviation on long-range patrols. Unfortunately, not everyone has followed our example and other countries’ strategic aviation continues patrols to this day. This creates certain problems for the Russian Federation in ensuring its security.
In response to this situation, I have decided that Russia’s strategic aviation will resume patrols on a permanent basis.
At midnight, today, August 17, 14 strategic missile-carriers, support and refuelling aircraft took off from seven air force bases in different parts of the Russian Federation and began a patrol involving a total of 20 aircraft. As from today, such patrols will be carried out on a regular basis. These patrols are strategic in nature. The aircraft involved in today’s patrol will spend around 20 hours in the air, with refuelling, in coordination with the Navy.
The patrols will take place above all in areas where Russian Federation shipping and economic activity is most active.
We hope that our partners will show understanding towards the resumption of patrols by Russia’s strategic aviation.
Our pilots have spent too long on the ground. We have strategic aviation but it spends practically no time in the air. Flights took place now and again only during large-scale military exercises, and as you know, we have held very few such exercises over the last 15 years. As I said, our pilots have spent too long on the ground. I know that they are happy to now have this chance to begin a new life and we wish them luck.