Schiller Institute Sponsors Dialogue with
San Francisco Russian Consul General Sergey Petrov
The following dialogue took place on February 18, at a forum attended by approximately 50 people at the offices of the LaRouche Political Action Committee in Alameda, California. The dialogue, moderated by LaRouchePAC Policy Committee member Michael Steger, lasted approximately two hours. This transcript of the full event has been edited.
MICHAEL STEGER: By way of introduction, I have a couple things that I want to touch on, because I think it would be useful to get your thoughts on them. Your President Putin had a comment about the Obama administration that was very intriguing. He said there are two types of people. Some, for reasons of circumstances, leave without saying goodbye, but there are others who keep saying goodbye but never leave.
In that context, President Putin raised the Ukraine situation, intimating that something like the Maidan is happening here in the United States, or asking if it is happening here? I think, to many of us, there is a sense that there is a real response of that sort to this new administration, especially in the media.
So do you have any thoughts on that? Do you want to address that?
PETROV: As a diplomat, I should be 120% politically correct, especially in a situation such as now. I think that this country is big, very experienced, very diverse, and powerful, not in terms of military power, but in terms of internal power—the internal strengths that you have. So I'm sure that, despite the differences that came as a result of the Presidential campaign, this country will find a way to overcome these difficulties, overcome these divisions. Again, I think that California, and especially the Bay Area with its tradition of tolerance, is a place that is destined, is doomed, to play a role in overcoming this.
I see that this division as very unfortunate. Speaking not as a diplomat, but as a person who has spent many years living in the U.S. and Canada, I think that it's wrong when people fight over some ideology. Fighting is not right over anything. You can speak and talk and find a solution over many things. But ideology--ideology is something we invent ourselves. I think that's just wrong. People should not fight. People should help the discussion advance, have meetings, listen to each other, be tolerant, try to understand the other side.
And the media has a big role to play in that. The media is very important and very powerful. And this country is famous for its very powerful and independent media. And I think that the media is an instrument that could play critical role in overcoming this. I wouldn't even say it's a kind of difficulty; I think that it's some misunderstandings--that's how I will characterize it.
But again, I’m an outsider. You are Americans. You are to judge and understand. You understand this much better than I do. But as an outside observer, I feel that it's maybe not the best thing that happened here, but it will go away; it will go away.
STEGER: Here's a quick one. From your perspective, did the media play a similar role in the Kyiv Maidan process?
PETROV: I'm not sure. I don't know. I would say that if I speak, for example, about the media in Russia, it is becoming as powerful as the media here. And it's a very influential, very powerful instrument. I think the media should be neutral, and that's not the case in Russia now; you get very partisan media there. But for media it's important to bring out different views first, and to present different views--facts as well as different views of these facts.
But the media is not supposed to judge; media is not supposed to be a judge. We should be judges. They should present facts and different views, and we as viewers or readers, we will take the decision as to what is right and what is wrong. So I think that's important. And that is what we call free media, ones that are free of outside political influences. Media should be neutral.
So the media should bring out the facts, whereas we now have—what’s the popular expression, "fake news"--and nobody knows what's fake news. [laughter] Because even real facts can become fake news, when you have several facts, all facts, real facts, but you don't mention all of them; you mention just two, the ones that support your point of view, and you omit three others. What's this? On the one hand, it's not fake news, because the facts are real, but you present it in such a way that it becomes biased.
So, in my understanding, it should not happen like that with the media. The media should bring all the news and bring out experts that will give different opinions, and should not come to a conclusion. The media should not come to a conclusion and say, this is right and this is wrong. It's we who should come to this conclusion. We have to judge what is wrong and what is right. That's my view of it.
STEGER: That's good; that's useful. There's a question here from K.D. I'll ask the question and if I do it incorrectly, you can correct me. He wants to know what are the sanctions that have been placed on Russia by the Obama administration? And are there any efforts to remove them?
PETROV: There's a whole set of different rounds of sanctions that are being used against Russia. Some of them are of a limited nature, like, for example, depriving some officials of the possibility of travelling to the United States, so they will not be given visas, if they want to go to the United States. I don't think it's the right attitude, because, here again, with this decision you prevent the possibility of discussing things, talking to the other side. You should talk to the other side. It's the only way you can understand them, because, if you don't talk, you won't understand. If you don't talk, you will not just be unable to understand the other side, but to deliver your views.
But, there are some economic sanctions as well. And yes, I can say the economic sanctions have had pretty negative effects on our economy, especially when they coincided with the drop in the price of oil. So it was a double blow for the Russian economy at the same time.
In terms of the economic sanctions, the most painful was for the Russian companies that were cut off from international finance. Imagine this situation. You are part of bigger system, part of the world financial system; you get some credits from the banks. You use this credit, this money, to build some factories in Russia. And then one day you're told, "That's it. Give us all money back, and you will not get any new money."
So that was very, very difficult for the Russian companies, especially major companies that were taking billions of dollars as credits from the international financial institutions. Because you're in the middle of building this factory; you already used this credit that you got from the financial institutions, and now you have to repay them. It was painful, but not a single Russian company defaulted--not a single one.
I don't even speak about my government. We still have pretty significant resources, financial resources, to continue, and again we are starting to speak about the growth during this year, despite the fact that sanctions are still there, and prices for oil are still low. Our agriculture is booming. We haven't had such a growth in agriculture for decades--4%. Our revenues from selling agricultural products abroad last year were higher for the first time--I don't know, maybe for the first time in history--than revenues from selling arms.
And I hope that sanctions will be removed. We just think that it's the wrong instrument to be used in international affairs--it's just wrong. But it's not us who were involved in imposing the sanctions, certainly; and it's not us who will take part in removing them. So it should be the decision of those who introduced the sanctions against us. We will not be standing and begging for the removal of sanctions. We will continue, as we are continuing now, building our economy despite all the challenges and all the difficulties that we’ve had.
Q: Yesterday in Denmark the Schiller Institute had an event at the Russian Cultural Center that involved the Chinese, the Russians, Ghanaians, people from Indonesia, a kind of a dialogue of cultures which has been promoted very heavily by the Schiller Institute and Mrs.LaRouche.
I know from my childhood that there was Russian-U.S. space cooperation which continues to this day, I don't know more about such cooperation in fusion energy, or other frontiers of science research. But can you discuss the idea--because you did want to talk more about the future – of what kind of increased cooperation in cultural events, scientific events, might be possible in your view, for the future?
PETROV: To start with, I should mention to you that I was at this Russian festival enjoying the culture there, and I was thinking that yes, on the one hand every country, every nation, is interested in preserving its own culture, in preserving its own traditions, because it's part of your identity; because it gives you an understanding of who you are. But at the same time, preserving is not separating. Nobody is interested in just separating one’s own culture, one’s own tradition from the rest of the world. To the contrary. So at this festival we are putting our culture on display, and we are inviting people of other cultures to come, to enjoy, and that's the only way to make your own culture richer. It's the way to enrich it.
In more practical terms, yes, I think that we, unfortunately -- not I think, but I know that we, unfortunately, are not very good at having cultural exchange with the United States. We could do much, much better, by bringing more of Russian culture here, and bringing more of American culture to Russia.
There are some obstacles. It's not just that geographically we are far from each other; Europe is much closer; exchanges between Europe and Russia are much more extensive in the cultural sphere. But there are some political and some legal obstacles. One I would mention is that for years we had a demand by Hassidic Jews here in the United States, that some sacred books that are in Russia be given to them. It’s interesting that these books never left Russia. They were written by an Orthodox Jew in Russia, and they are part of the State Library in Russia. So we were ready for years to give these books to them to use, and actually many books were taken through these library exchanges, -- and never returned, by the way.
So, these books were put into a separate collection in our State Library for anybody to come and enjoy. But the groups or a group of these people, wanted these books for themselves, and they went to a court in New York and the New York court took a decision that, yes, these books should be given to them, -- not back to them, just given to them. And the court decided that they could seize any Russian government property that comes to the United States. And this is government property; all collections of our art are government property.
So, we have not been able for years now to bring wonderful pieces of art from the Hermitage, from other museums of Russia, to the United States, because we are not sure that they would be legally protected. The Russian government and American government for years were in discussions about an agreement that would protect these kinds of museum exchanges, from this claim. It was in the works for several years, and then this group of experts that were dealing with this agreement was stopped by the American side. So they don't even meet now, because this mechanism stopped. It was within this Presidential commission that it was happening.
So there we are; we cannot bring art from the Hermitage and other Russian museums to the United States, because we are not sure whether they will be seized, confiscated, or something.
That is very unfortunate, and there are many other such things. I think that this is one of the items that should be also high now on the bilateral agenda. The same as fighting terrorism and dealing with cybersecurity. Cultural exchanges, making sure that our people can enjoy the exchange of the cultural treasures that we have.
The same is true with scientific cooperation. And, by the way, you mentioned space cooperation. I am happy that it is still going on. There were some people who wanted that to be stopped, as everything else was stopped. Fortunately it was not stopped, and our space agencies are still talking to each other. We deal together with sending astronauts and cosmonauts to the International Space Station. American rockets are still using Russian engines to go into space, and will be using them for some time.
And it's normal! The same way we are using U.S. engines for our aircraft, which is normal. You do it because we managed in Russia to produce better and cheaper engines. So why should you as taxpayers to pay more for something that you can get cheaper and delivered? This is a normal situation in international trade, the international economy, the world economy.
So, space cooperation is very fortunate to be an exception, and I think it could serve as one of the examples again of what we can do together. For example, when I visited Lockheed Martin facility in Colorado and spoke to one of the vice presidents, he said that, if we start speaking about exploring deep space, that will take huge resources. He said, "I cannot see how we can even speak about exploring deep space without Russia and the United States cooperating on that theme together." Because it's a huge investment. It's very promising investment, it will bring many important technological things, scientific things for us that could be used here in our life. But to get all this we first have to invest, and these investments, I think, even for a rich and powerful country like the United States, are difficult to collect, difficult to deliver.
So, just speaking economically, it would be much easier for us to combine our efforts. That's why we have the International Space Station; it's a joint effort of many countries, because it's cheaper that way. It's practical that way, pragmatic. By the way, "pragmatic" was the word that was used by my minister when he spoke at this Munich conference lately, where he was speaking about relations with the United States; he said we need "pragmatic relations." Pragmatism, mutual respect and pragmatism--these are two things.
Another good example of cooperation that's still going on in the scientific field--I know the name for this thing in Russian, the "Androidnik Collider"—is the Hadron Collider. It's related to nuclear physics and was built in Europe as an effort of different countries – by CERN -- yes. So that's another example of what we can do together.
Science is an area in which Russia is very famous for making achievements in fundamental science, whereas the U.S. has been very effective, I would say, in using scientific findings to translate them into something practical in our life. A combination of these two aspects could be very effective. The Ukraine Issue
Q: Don't you think Russia should protect Russian people in western Ukraine more actively?
PETROV: One of my responsibilities, by law, as a Consul here in the United States, is to protect Russian citizens. It's a tricky issue. On the one hand--and that's how we function here as a consulate--we protect our citizens, but we protect them respecting the law of this country. We could not go, we would not go and protect them physically. We would call local police, and say that this person is in danger, please help. That would be that.
But there are some situations when that doesn't work, and Ukraine is exactly this kind of situation. Here we can remember the story with Crimea when the Russian population there was also in danger after this change in power in Kyiv. And there were people who were trying to come from the mainland of Ukraine to Crimea to influence how government in Crimea would act. They were sending what they called trains of volunteers that would come there.
So people in Crimea voted, and voted within a completely legitimate election, to be separate from Ukraine and to rejoin Russia. That saved them from an unfortunate situation that I think would have happened. It's probably wrong to speak like that of history, but I think that would have happened to Crimea, because the percentage of the Russian-speaking population there was even bigger than in Donetsk and Lugansk. And one of the first laws that was adopted by the parliament--but in the end it was not signed by the acting President, fortunately--but the first law that was adopted by the new parliament in Kyiv after this coup d'état, was to cancel, to prohibit, the Russian language. So the people in Crimea who were using the Russian language--many of them don't even speak Ukrainian; they speak only Russian--were supposed to stop speaking Russian and start speaking Ukrainian tomorrow. That would be wrong.
Take a good example, Canada. I spent eight years of my life in Canada, your neighbor: there the French language and English language are used freely. You would find people in Quebec who do not speak English at all; who just only speak French. That's OK.
So yes, we had no choice, personally – in my view. I will give you the example, again, of Canada: What if the French became a majority there, -- imagine this -- and would adopt a law prohibiting English-speaking Canadians from using their language. How would this country react? [laughter] Would you say that looked OK; that they're a sovereign power and can do anything they want. No, I don't think that would happen, and it didn't happen with Russia.
And especially with the ties between the countries. Because look, we have various connections all across the border. It’s pretty much just an official border, because families live on this side of the border, on that side of the border, and they still are there, in Ukraine and Russia . I have family members living in Ukraine. And so, we cannot be indifferent to that.
But we tried to make it as unpainful as possible. And look at how it happened in Crimea. Not a single victim, not a drop of blood. And now, this region is booming; and this is not my view: We have many international visitors, politicians from different parts of the world, from Italy, from France, from Germany, who visited Crimea and they saw it with their own eyes. They spoke to people there; are they happy with the situation, or is it an occupation by Russia? No, they say, that was our choice. Crimeans, several times before they rejoined Russia, had referendums and votes, and their attitude was the same: They wanted to be independent from Ukraine and rejoin Russia.
After the referendum in 2014, some Western polling agencies took some polls there to find out how Crimeans were thinking, what they were really thinking. And they found pretty much the same result as the referendum in 2014: That 96% of those who voted -- and 80% voted -- voted for independence from Ukraine and to rejoin Russia.
As for Donetsk and Lugansk, from the beginning of what happened, Russia was saying "we want the people in Donetsk and Lugansk to decide. Let these people decide what they want. They have every right to decide." My colleague in the United Nations, Vitaly Churkin, in a recent discussion with U.S. representatives, recalled a phrase from the U.S. Constitution that starts with "We the People..." So, it's for people to decide, not for the governments.
People in Donetsk and Lugansk said, "We want to be part of Ukraine, we don't want to be independent. We want to be part of Ukraine." And they're still saying that. They only add, -- "we want to be autonomous." What is wrong with autonomy? It's used all over the world. Why not allow them to be autonomous, with their being different in population, with a large Russian-speaking population living there? So they were different from many parts of Ukraine -- and they want autonomy. Why not?
But up to now, the government of Kyiv is unable to adopt a law that will specify how these regions should be within Ukraine. Changing it by force? I don't know -- I think it will not work. The more you press, the more you will get a response. And for Russia it's a difficult decision, difficult to find this middle ground: how to not leave these people without any support and again, to support them in a way that would not be against international law, against international norms.
Remember, just a couple of years ago, everybody was told that "Russian troops are in Ukraine, Russian troops are in Ukraine." CNN was stating, "Russian troops are in Ukraine."
Q: "Fake news."
PETROV: Their sources were Russian troops. You turn on CNN, they speak Russian, they're separatists. So, are they Russian troops, or separatists? Yes, they are people who -- and again, even saying they're separatists would be wrong, because they don't want to be separate from Ukraine! They want to be part of Ukraine, but they want to be respected by Ukraine! "By Ukraine" is wrong; they are Ukrainian themselves. They want to be respected by the government in Kyiv, as they were respectedby the previous government.
It's very unfortunate, and now it's important to stop the resumed hostilities. By the way, hostilities always start when we have something positive on our agenda. Remember this tragic situation when the plane [MH17] was shot down in Ukraine; on that very day, the European Union was supposed to take the decision to remove sanctions from Russia. So it didn't happen -- immediately.
Now we have a new administration in Washington, D.C., which is saying that we will review what's happening; we will look at what's happening in Ukraine, and we will take decisions. So there is a possibility of some change, hopefully for the better. Immediately hostilities start.
I was asked from the very beginning: Could Russia be interested in a hotbed of hostilities, military action, just 350, 400 miles from Moscow? Could we be interested? Would you be interested in hostilities going on in [inaudible 40:33]? People living here? I don't think so. The same is true for us. We would not be interested. We want it to be solved as quickly as possible, solved in such a way that people, including Russian people that we feel connected to, do not suffer.
It's human lives, and there's no easy solution for things like that, unfortunately. If we had a one, two, three, four, textbook recipes for dealing with a situation like that? Unfortunately, we do not. It's all human lives out there. There are historical facts and we should be very cautious with things like that. And I am hopeful. There were discussions and there was a meeting today in Munich, with the participation of Russia and Ukraine, as well as French and German ministers of foreign affairs, and they were discussing a possibility--and I hope that will happen--to again stop hostilities and withdraw heavy weapons from the frontlines. That was part of the Minsk agreements, and these weapons were removed, but then they started coming back. So we need to do it again, we need to try to do it again.
And yes, we certainly have some influence over people who are in Donetsk and Lugansk, just as the U.S. has influence, and the Europeans have influence, on the government of Ukraine; but the goal as we see it, is that we have to make them speak to each other. They have to speak to each other. They have to speak to each other, because, OK, even if we and the United States, and the Europeans, decide something for them, it would not be helpful. It would be very easy for them to say, OK, it's your decision, why should we follow it?
So our idea is that these people have to speak to each other. And they're all Ukrainians; they could be of some different background, but they are still Ukrainian citizens so let them speak to each other; and in speaking to each other, they will find a way, this or that, with us being behind them -- by us, I mean, Russia, United States, other countries in Europe standing behind them -- and making them talk to each other. That's how the Minsk Agreements were made.
Because Russia is not a party to the Minsk Agreement. Russia, as well as France and Germany, are guarantors; we only guarantee and support the agreement. The agreement was between Kyiv and Donetsk and Lugansk. They are the parties to the agreement. And everything that is in the agreement should be carried out by them, not by Russia, or United States, or Germany, or France. We only support that; we push the two sides to talk to each other, and to be true to the agreement.
Q: If Ukraine doesn't carry out the agreement, how do the guarantors, like Russia, France, or Germany, how can they push Ukraine to do that, right? They do not put sanctions on Ukraine; they do not take, I don't know, some military actions, or defeat military forces in Ukraine. Why do they let them do whatever they want?
PETROV: That's a question that we keep asking because one part of Ukraine -- Donetsk and Lugansk -- they are pressed, including by sanctions, to be cooperative; Donetsk and Lugansk are pressed by sanctions by the United States and Europe. So many people there in this part of Ukraine, are under sanctions.
As for us--I mean Russia--pressing would be probably the wrong word to use, but we do not use sanctions against them; to the contrary, we try to help them, but again, we try to influence them to cooperate, to talk to their government. And they are ready to talk. Donetsk and Lugansk, the authorities there, are ready to talk to the government in Kyiv, and there are exchanges in Minsk going on. There is a Contact Group that was discussing things, but they were discussing mostly some military things, stopping hostilities, removing weapons.
It doesn't go further. It's supposed to go into a political settlement. I mean a political agreement between these regions and Kyiv, as to how they will live together in the future. How will they live together, what would be the system? What would be the status of these two regions within Ukraine? How will they relate, what would be the legal system, what would be the economic system, what all these things would be?
So that is in the next step. And the government in Kyiv is not ready to discuss that with them. They continue pressing them militarily. For example, now these two regions are under blockade; they are physically under blockade, so goods going from Ukraine to these regions, and vice-versa from these regions to Ukraine, are stopped on the road and not allowed to move. People are not allowed to move--to visit each other, though we're speaking about the same families. I'm not even speaking about banking systems, pension payments; that stopped months ago unfortunately.
I hope that in the end there will be a dialogue. It started, but it hasn't reached the point where they have started discussing how they will live together within the united Ukraine in the future. So they're still discussing how to stop hostilities, how to remove weapons. It should be simultaneous: They should be discussing stopping hostilities, removing weapons, decreasing tension on this frontline; but at the same time, they should start discussing practical things. Only by discussing practical things will you start thinking about the future, about peaceful life, about how to live together—not how to fight each other, but how to live together.
We are now two years into the process, and it substantially hasn't happened. I hope it will happen. I'm optimistic that it will happen.
And again, I have relatives in Ukraine in two regions, including in Lviv. There are families where my mother was born, and there is family on my father's side. There are many connections, and I visited and spent time there as a child.
Q: How long do you decide to wait before they start to do something? Is there some international mechanism?
PETROV: Yes, the Minsk Agreement, that's the foundation. Everybody agrees that's the best we have now. Everybody agrees: Russia agrees, France, Germany, the United States, as well as the government in Kyiv, and Donetsk and Lugansk, we all agree that the Minsk Agreement is the only viable foundation for us to move ahead. But we have to do something with this agreement, with these political things.
Moving Out of the “Imperial Mindset”
STEGER: This is an emotional subject, this whole breakdown of the Soviet Union seems to be -- you see the emotional ties to it. I have many questions on that. But I want to ask one thing: Did you watch the press conference with Donald Trump that he held two days ago?
STEGER: He raised this question of nuclear holocaust, and the fact that people are -- "what you want me to do is strike the ship, people going to cheer if I strike the Russian ship off the coast? What is the problem with this situation?"
There's a question here from Ned, do you want to ask it?
PETROV: It's about this topic, nuclear holocaust?
Q: [Ned Nuerge] Yes. The foundation of the question is the church, based on the conversation that's developed. So, what I'd like to present is that the United States and Russia have much the same foundation historically. In the more recent period, and recent I say 200-plus years, we've been distinct allies, and we've won great victories because of that alliance.
Historically though, I think we anchor from the same problem, and the problem might be defined as an imperial mindset, or maybe as a system of empire, an imperial system. And I believe that what we are attempting to create in both of our countries--and maybe even in a larger sense--is a brand new system. I would propose that Alexander Hamilton in our country had the best original text written, methods for approaching this new system, and it proved rather successful for that day. And both of our countries since that time, if we use that as the beginning point of this new expression, both of our countries have gone back and forth between leaderships that have been imperial in mindset, imperial in intent, on the one side, and what might be called the American System, or maybe the Human System on the other.
So my question, with that as background, is how would you conceive that we could both, mutually, move together on what I propose is this new system, and cleanse not only our own nations internally. There have been times when your nation's been led by the American System; there's been times when your nation has been led by an imperial system, and our leaderships go back and forth. How do we move forward? Thank you.
PETROV: Thank you. Yes, it's a topic we could spend probably a couple of days on. But what I was reminded of when you started about this new system, I mentioned that our ministers just spoke at the Munich Security Conference, a very respected, international forum, probably #1 in terms of world security. And exactly ten years ago, 2007, was the one and only situation when President Putin spoke at that conference. A couple of days ago, our television aired his speech of ten years ago.
The main message which he spoke about was the necessity to build a new system in the world, and he called it "multipolar world." That it should not be one polar, as you say, one imperial power, but there should be different poles, and all these different poles meaning, different countries should be equal in dealing with the international issues.
It's like, OK, we are speaking about democracy. Democracy within one state, and it's considered now the best system in the world, democracy. What is democracy? People are equal. People deal with each other as equals.
What about the world, and the countries? If we can build a democracy within one country, why wouldn't we build a democracy in the world, where countries will be equal and will talk to each other as equals. That's what he meant by "multipolar world." And I think we have actually a pretty good model for that, in the United Nations. It's so far the most effective multipolar mechanism that we have in the world. And so, we have a foundation on which to start building. And I think that is the way we should try to follow.
Certainly it's not easy, and it will require change in mentality and understanding, and I'm speaking about everybody, including my country, including all the countries in the world. We should not speak "big and small," "powerful and weak," we should speak of people. And yes, a change of psychology, change of mentality, is necessary.
For example, you remember this part from the press conference: First of all, I think nuclear holocaust is something that our leaders are pretty much aware of. We heard it from President Trump and we’ve heard it many times from President Putin. They very much understand that this is the ultimate danger, and we should never be even close to it. And we should do everything possible to prevent getting closer to this tragedy, this catastrophe.
But the reason he mentioned holocaust, was that he was asked about Russian “provocations.” So a Russian ship in the international waters close to the U.S. territorial waters is a provocation. What about a U.S. ship, in the Black Sea, in international waters, but close to the Russian waters? It's not a provocation, it's a legitimate way of things? [laughter] Planes, Russian plane s that were checking the Russian territorial waters close to the U.S. ship, and flew pretty close to the U.S. ship, were called the provocation.
So we have to change this mentality. I'm sure that the Russian ship was not a provocation -- it's just the way things are now. The way things militarily are now: The U.S. sends its ships closer to Russia -- I don't know, I'm not a military man, what are the purposes of this ship. We send our ships into this part of the world .
Can we do differently? I'm sure, yes. We can. We should sit, discuss, and have an agreement. So let's have your ship never comes closer than 200 miles to our territorial waters, and our ships never come -- let's sign the agreement. OK, let's sign the agreement, we're fine. That's the way we should do things.
And it requires just a change of mentality, and we're getting to this new system, new thinking. A new multipolar world, or you can name it differently, but it requires a goal, a challenge to build a new system requires new thinking. We should think differently, we should try to think differently.
STEGER: I think there are a number of questions on potential collaboration between us, and I think --
PETROV: That's the best question. That was exactly the topic I was talking about throughout all our event. We have so many opportunities for working together. We missed many of them!
STEGER: Scott, did you have a question specifically on some projects you were thinking of?
Q: No, just what you most [inaudible] in regards to working together with the United States and with our administration. What projects did you find most inspiring, what projects are the Russians looking for?
PETROV: I would be happy to answer as we already said that -- culture, science, education. That would probably be the best topic on our agenda. But unfortunately we have to deal with threats: Terrorism, cyber-crime, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. That's very unfortunate, but we have to deal with that. We have to deal with that.
But we should not forget about other things, like enriching our cultures, having our people meeting each other, and sharing scientific, cultural and other ideas. So, I think we should do both of these, and we should be more energetic in that.
Because, I don't know,-- it's the history of the Cold War, that's one of the reasons. Another reason is geographically, we're pretty far from each other, though I mentioned during our last talk that actually the distance between us is just 4 km, 2.3miles,--that's it. But still geographically we are far from each other, and if we speak about us and Europe, we are much more interrelated as societies, I mean. The societies in Europe and in Russia are very much interrelated -- culture, all kinds of exchanges, tourism, huge. Although tourism from the U.S. to Russia, and Russia to the U.S. is growing, last year we issued 20,000 visa to Americans who wanted to go to Russia, and this number is growing.
So, it's probably the legacy of the Cold War, because I cannot explain it otherwise. We were Allies in the Second World War. We have a history of so many wonderful facts, where we were together in history before that. And how can we be that far from each other now, with so few kinds of exchanges between our societies -- not between politicians, within governments. But these connections between societies, people to people, business to business, scientific, culture to culture, artist to artist, all these small things, for all the potential we have, it's close to nonexistent.
Our trade is $30 billion; now even less. For big economies, like especially the U.S. and Russia, [that’s miserable]. With Europe we have $450 billion in trade. With the U.S. $30 billion; it's close to nonexistent, as with many other exchanges.
So it's not good. But what is going is that we have very good potential. [laughter] We should work together to improve!
Q: I heard that 10,000 Chinese women came to America to have their babies here last year. I wish 10,000 Russian women would have their babies here, as well and then, they could start running for public office here, and that would make some cultural steps.
PETROV: I don't know how many Russian women come here to have their babies, but there are some. We know there are some. Not as many as from China, but there are people who live here -- we have 28,000 Russian citizens registered with the Consulate. They live in California and the southwest part of the United States. But that number is just those who register because it's a completely voluntary procedure. So our estimate is we can speak about 100-150,000 citizens of Russia living here on a permanent basis. But if we take tourists, visitors, even more. And many of them have children here, those who live here on a permanent basis. They come to us, because if a child is born to parents who are Russian citizens, they have a right to claim Russian citizenship for their baby, and many do. So the number of Russian citizens is growing in this part of the world. [laughter]
As well, I'm sure, is the number of American citizens in Russia. With all the exchanges, it's growing. It's still not as big as it could be and some communities with much smaller countries than Russia, -- not just China; China's much bigger, naturally, but take Italians in San Francisco; very many are present, very many. Probably some people of Italian origin are sitting here in the audience. So very many. And Russians in proportion, much less.
STEGER: We'll take one more question: You've been very gracious with your time today and we appreciate it.
I'll let the person ask it, but I want to give a bit of an introduction to it. There's been a sense--I've talked to people who've been to Russia frequentl--that there's been quite a revival of a sense of Russian culture, or a sense of Russian civilization over the last 15 or 20 years. And there's a renewed sense of optimism, but there's a different process there. And so, did you want to ask your question?
Q: What I'd like to know, where is this Russian festival in San Francisco?
PETROV: It's Sutter Street between Divisidero and Broadway.
Q: And then, is there freedom of religion now in Russia?
PETROV: Oh, difficult question. [laughter] Yes. It's not an easy question, because what you will read here that Russian Orthodox Church is just the most influential one and other religions are not... yes, that's probably true. The Russian Orthodox Church is much more represented around in Russia, but it's an historical thing. That's how it happened; so other religions came in later to Russia, so it's quite understandable that the Orthodox Church is much better represented in Russia.
And then, the Russian Orthodox Church was so much part of the history of Russia. Many things that happened in Russia in the previous decades, especially in Tsarist Russia, were inseparable from the Church. The same was true about Europe and the Catholic religion; the same is true about Russian and Orthodox religion. So as far as I know, every religion is welcome to be in Russia, and I think all religions are represented in Russia, small or big.
The topic you will hear here is that there is no equality, but historically, the Orthodox Church will always be, I think, -- has been and will always be, the most influential religion. But it's not because we want it to be like that, but because it's historically like that. and it will continue like that. People just historically relate themselves more to the Orthodox Church more than any other religion.
But Islam is very much represented in Russia; take for example, Tatarstan, one of the most dynamic regions in Russia, a very industrially developed region: It's 90% Muslim. But, the President of Tatarstan was here several months ago and he was meeting Governor Brown and telling him about their experience with religious issues. And he said, you will not probably find another place in the world, where you have a mosque, and 100 meters in front of it, an Orthodox Church -- and they deal with each other fine, just fine.
And there are many other religions. I think Russia, with 150 nationalities in our country, we have all possible religions in Russia. The only issue is, again, how well represented they are, but why the Orthodox Church is represented much more is because of the history of Russia.
STEGER: Well! It's been a wonderful discussion. I think there are probably a lot more questions; I think there are a lot more questions on foreign policy, but I do think --
PETROV: We should wait on that!
STEGER: [laughter] Yeah!
PETROV: You should give us some time; give us diplomats some time! We need some time. We are not as quick as you want us to be. [laughter]
STEGER: But I think finding out more about Russia is actually one of the most important and beneficial questions for the American people today and as you emphasized, this cultural discussion, I think we participated and helped create that today.
STEGER: So, I think we should give a warm thank-you to Consul General Petrov. [applause] We appreciate his time, he's been very gracious.