On May 8, 2005, 60 Minutes broadcast an interview with Russian President Vladimir Putin. The correspondent was Mike Wallace.
Here are excerpts from that interview. Because President Putin spoke with Wallace in Russian, all of his answers, as represented in this transcript, are translations. This transcript has been edited, but the order of the questions has not been altered.
The interview begins with Mr. Putin and Mr. Wallace looking at photographs. Mr. Wallace asks Mr. Putin how he met his wife, Ludmilla.
MIKE WALLACE: Please tell the story.
PRES. PUTIN'S TRANSLATOR: Well, we met each other in a theater. We were sitting next to each other. Our seats were close. When we started our relationship, she lived in another city. She was in Kaliningrad.
WALLACE: And she used to fly to have a date with you?
TRANSLATOR: Yes. Well, she was a stewardess, so she was able to fly to Leningrad so that we could be together.
WALLACE: Your daughters, Katya and Masha, they're 19 and 20 now?
TRANSLATOR: Well, one of them just celebrated her 20th birthday, and the other is 19. They're a year and four months apart.
WALLACE: And one of them wants to be a manager. And the other wants to be a furniture designer or interior decorator?
TRANSLATOR: Well, they have not decided yet. But this is what they're moving toward.
WALLACE: You didn't want a boy?
TRANSLATOR: Well, I believe everything is right that God has given us. And the most important thing is for them to be healthy and happy.
WALLACE: God? You are a religious man?
TRANSLATOR: Well, I believe that every person must have faith in their heart. This is very important – your inner world, the condition of your soul.
WALLACE: Is that what brought you and George W. Bush together at the beginning? Your feeling about some spirit?
TRANSLATOR: Probably. That mutual feeling appeared during our first meeting.
WALLACE: When he looked into your eyes and saw your soul, what about you? Did you see his?
TRANSLATOR: Well, he impressed me as a reliable person, consistent in his actions.
WALLACE: And you still feel that way?
TRANSLATOR: Well, yes, I still do. You know that we have different opinions on some things, but my first impression of him was correct: he is truly a reliable person who does what he says he will do.
WALLACE: But you disagreed with him when he went into Iraq. You thought it was a bad idea.
TRANSLATOR: Well, I thought it was a mistake and I told him so. We openly and freely talked about that, and other things. But he is the President of the United States of America, and he's the one who makes the decisions.
WALLACE: And he was not upset that you thought it was a bad idea to go in?
TRANSLATOR: Well, I told him that he made a wrong decision, and I told him why I thought that.
WALLACE: Why a mistake?
TRANSLATOR: And this is exactly what I think now.
WALLACE: What-- what--
TRANSLATOR: Well, for a number of reasons. The most important is that democracy cannot be exported to other places. Democracy must be a product of internal domestic development in a society. The second point is that in order to create democratic world order, it is important to comply with international law. Also, it hadn't been confirmed that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. But the decision was made to go to war, and there's no need to go back over this point that had divided us. Strange as it might sound to you, while I don't agree with his decision, I defend and protect it.
WALLACE: How do you mean protect it?
TRANSLATOR: I'll clarify. We all had suspicions that Saddam could possess weapons of mass destruction. At the same time, we also knew that during the wars with Iraq and Iran it was confirmed that Saddam Hussein possessed these weapons. That's why we can't say that the president of the United States had no reason to think that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. There were grounds for his thinking so.
But our differences were over how to solve the situation. We thought the solution should be handled by the international community and through peaceful means. We thought this would be a more constructive solution. But again, I don't think it's necessary to go back over these differences. Right now we have other challenges in Iraq.
The Russian Federation, together with the United States, needs to help the Iraqi people, since we traditionally have had good and friendly relations with our Iraqi partners. Our specialists and our experts are involved in civilian projects in Iraq, such as electricity. This will help the country's economy recover. It's important to provide Iraqis with an opportunity to find, as soon as possible, a balanced solution so that all religious and ethnic groups can share power in the government. And we need to determine when it would be appropriate to remove foreign troops, because we believe that without that, there can be no final settlement.
WALLACE: And how long is that going to take for the United States? A guess? A speculation?
TRANSLATOR: Well, this is a tough question.
WALLACE: Of course.
TRANSLATOR: A complex one. I thought the military action itself was a mistake. But if the U.S. were to leave now and abandon Iraq without establishing the grounds for a united country, that would definitely be a second mistake.
WALLACE: Do you think there was sufficient planning on the part of the United States for post-war reconstruction?
TRANSLATOR: Well, I see that there are some positive changes going on. Elections have taken place there. Attempts have been made to create a balanced political leadership in the country, and we think that those are positive signs. Only time will tell whether the steps that have been taken are the right ones. In any case, both on the international level and within our bilateral context with the United States and Iraq, we will help find a way to help the Iraqi people.