News conference following Russian-Italian talks 2018-10-24 19:15:00 The Kremlin, Moscow Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister of Italy Giuseppe Conte gave statements for the press and answered media questions following Russian-Italian talks. A number of bilateral economic agreements were signed in the presence of Vladimir Putin and Giuseppe Conte on the sidelines of the meeting. * * * President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Mr Prime Minister, ladies and gentlemen, We are happy to welcome Giuseppe Conte, who is in Russia on an official visit for the first time. The Prime Minister and I have had substantive and quite productive talks involving almost the entire range, the entire spectrum of Russian-Italian cooperation. We have also held a meeting with the heads of leading Italian companies that operate in the Russian market, and we launched the new motor plant in Chelyabinsk via videoconference. The interdepartmental and commercial agreements that have just been signed are evidence of our mutual commitment to promoting bilateral ties in various areas. In this context, I would like to stress that Italy is a very important economic partner, and today Mr Conte and I have focused mostly on cooperation in trade and investment. In 2017 bilateral trade grew by more than 20 percent reaching $24 billion, with another 15 percent added in January–August of this year. Mutual investment is more than $7.5 billion, and, according to the data from the first quarter of this year, Italian investment in Russia grew more than $1 billion to reach $4.8 billion. The effective work of the Russian-Italian Council on Economic Cooperation and Industrial and Financial Cooperation has been widely helpful in reaching these figures. The next meeting of the Council will take place in Italy in December. Of course, we have had a detailed discussion of cooperation prospects in energy. Russia is a large supplier of natural gas to Italy covering 35 percent of the demand. In addition, our countries are carrying out a range of joint energy projects. Russian and Italian companies are developing gas fields and are involved in the production and supply of liquefied natural gas. We are studying the possibility of building main pipelines via the southern route to supply Russian gas to Europe. Italian corporations are assisting us in upgrading our electric power industry. ENEL is taking part in modernising Russian electricity grids and building wind farms in Russia. Mutually beneficial industrial cooperation is developing through the joint efforts of the two countries as well. Pirelli and Rostec – you just saw the documents being signed – cooperated in the technological renovation of the Kirov and Voronezh tyre plants. With the participation of our partners from Italy, the construction of a large ammonia manufacturing facility is nearing completion in Leningrad Region; and, the construction of the Amur Gas Processing Plant. Italian companies are part of infrastructure projects in Russia. In St Petersburg, the modern Western High-Speed Diameter Motorway and Pulkovo Airport project are complete. It is important that strong cooperation is underway in the scientific and technical sphere. The Russian Academy of Sciences and the Russian Foundation for Basic Research closely cooperate with Italian researchers. Russia's Kurchatov Institute and Italy's National Research Council are working together on innovative projects in thermonuclear fusion and on the construction of the Ignitor fusion reactor. Italians are also involved in a number of hi-tech projects at the Skolkovo Innovation Center. Successful cooperation can also be seen in manned space activity. Currently, preparations are taking place to send an Italian citizen to the International Space Station. We have agreed with the Prime Minister to take every effort to expand inter-regional connections. Russian and Italian regions are implementing over 40 joint agreements. Last year, Days of Moscow were held in several Italian cities. A presentation of the investment potential took place in the Kaluga Region. Of course, I must mention bilateral interaction in the cultural sphere. This year, events are ongoing in Italy as part of the Russian Seasons festival, and they are enjoying great success, including tours by music groups, ballet and theatre companies, as well as festivals and film screenings. By the way, Mr Conte and I have just watched scenes from a film by Andrey Konchalovsky about the great sculptor and painter Michelangelo Buonarroti. This is an exceptional collaborative work by Russian and Italian filmmakers, which will undoubtedly spark interest not only in Russia but also in Italy and, I am sure, in other countries. Large Russian museums regularly host Italian art exhibitions. Currently, there is an exhibition of 18th century Venetian paintings at the Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts. We understand that Mr Conte intends to visit it. I would also like to mention that Italy will take part in the 7th St Petersburg International Cultural Forum on November 15–17 as a guest country. Reciprocal tourism is growing. In the first six months of the year, 20 percent more Russians visited Italy and the number of Italians going to Russia is increasing. When we discussed current issues on the international and regional agendas, we said that the views of Russia and Italy on many matters were close. Russia supports Italy’s efforts topromote a Libyan settlement, in particular, the initiative to hold an international conference on Libya in Palermo on November 12–13. Mr Prime Minister and I discussed this in detail today. Unfortunately, the situation in Libya remains critical. It is important to prevent an escalation of the crisis and find ways to restore Libya’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. We exchanged opinions on the situation in Syria. We informed Mr Conte of the steps Russia is taking, including in the Astana framework, to promote a political settlement and to step up inter-Syrian talks. We also discussed the possibility of joining the world community’s efforts to provide humanitarian assistance to that long-suffering country. Restoration of Syria’s economy will create favourable conditions for the refugees to return and in this way will reduce the migration load on the European countries and Syria’s neighbours. In conclusion, I would like to thank Mr Giuseppe Conte, the Italian Prime Minister, and all our Italian colleagues and friends for these useful and constructive talks. I am convinced that the agreements we reached today will contribute to further developing our extensive Russian-Italian cooperation. Thank you for your attention. Prime Minister of Italy Giuseppe Conte (retranslated): I am truly happy to be here on my first visit to Moscow as the President of the Italian Council of Ministers. I would also like to thank President Putin for the warm welcome and the fruitful time we spent together. It was an opportunity to review the cooperation between Russia and Italy and improve it in culture, trade and the social sphere. It was a very positive and constructive meeting. Mr President and I stated a good trend in our relations and worked on their future prospects. As for the international perspective, we are facing a huge number of challenges for the security and development of Italy and Europe, and we believe that it is crucially important to discuss these issues with such a strategic partner as the Russian Federation. We need Russia to develop solutions to the main international crises; I have been saying this since the beginning of my term. It should be sustainable development and first of all, sustainable political decisions. I sincerely believe in Moscow’s constructive approach. As he already mentioned, Mr President and I touched upon the Libyan issue. The strengthening of the country’s institutes, as well as its economic and social development can only be achieved through an inclusive dialogue and reconciliation, which should be led by the UN and implemented by the Libyan people themselves. It is essential that the international community show solidarity and support for the UN. On November 12–13, Italy plans to hold a conference on Libya in Palermo. We invited all Libyan parties that are directly involved, as well as the main partners in the region and on the global stage. Russia’s participation is crucially important as it can ensure progress towards stabilisation in Libya. I shared my thoughts with Mr President and received his full support. Therefore, Moscow will make a significant contribution to this conference. We also exchanged views on the developments in Syria. We support the Geneva process and the actions of the United Nations to bring about stability and reconciliation of the parties, which is necessary and must be achieved through a peaceful, political, inclusive and sustainable solution. It is also necessary to involve all the main players in the region and the world, and Russia holds a fundamentally important place among them. We very much appreciate Moscow’s role in the demilitarisation of Idlib. Due to its efforts, it was possible to avoid a humanitarian crisis and a dangerous military escalation. We hope that efforts will be made to develop a long-term solution. We also spoke about the Ukrainian crisis, which remains a pivotal issue and needs to be resolved. This crisis has put the foundations of relations between the European Union and Russia into question. If we do not resolve this crisis, we risk losing the trust, cooperation and rules developed in the 25 years of our dialogue. Italy will facilitate this dialogue because all of Europe needs a security framework that all the main actors will share. There is no alternative to the Minsk Agreements. Italy fully supports the Normandy Four and the OSCE, in which Italy is currently presiding. As for the relations between Italy and Russia, Mr President already mentioned several issues. We also confirmed the excellent state of our bilateral relations. Despite the persisting conditions that resulted in the EU sanctions in this sensitive time for the global economy, I consider it right to maintain economic ties between Italy and Russia, in particular, to support the activity of numerous Italian companies that work in Russia in the interests of both our countries. In addition, I repeatedly said and want to confirm again here that sanctions have never been a goal for Italy; they are a tool that must be abandoned as soon as possible because dialogue is the best solution. Italy is a large industrial country and it should not be afraid of globalisation. On the contrary, it should be able to use the amazing opportunities it offers. Russia ranks fifth in terms of our exports, excluding the EU. There is a huge number of Italian companies, large, medium and small, operating in Russia. In 2017, our exports finally began to grow and in the first nine months of 2018, this trend persisted, so we believe that it can grow even further. Italian companies show a growing interest in the Russian market. The readiness to improve industrial cooperation is also proved by the signing of numerous agreements between Italian and Russian companies, which Mr President and I attended with great enthusiasm. In addition, we have wonderful cooperation in culture and science, and Mr President mentioned this as well. The popularity of the Italian language in Russia is huge. Russia has 50 schools that teach Italian. There are many formats of cooperation between research centres and universities, especially in physics and medicine, and I strongly hope that these relations between Italy and Russia will continue to develop. Question: Good evening. I have two questions. The first is for Prime Minister Conte because you hope that Russia will return to the Group of 7, or to be more exact, it should become the Group of 8 again. Considering the evident very good relations between Russia and Italy, how much is the Italian Government prepared to oppose the tacit extension of economic sanctions against Russia from the European Union? Do you mean to impose a veto? And a question for President Putin, if I may. Considering that Russia is already treated as a principal actor in solving large international crises, as I far as understand, you have received an invitation to personally take part in the conference on Libya in Palermo. Are you going there? And specifically, what is Moscow’s vision of a settlement of the Libyan crisis? Giuseppe Conte: First, I will answer your question. It is evident that, as I said, the Ukrainian crisis is a problem that created a bottleneck and that slowed and even blocked a dialogue that had been developing for 25 years. We cannot accept this. We need to overcome this by all means. It has lasted too long. You ask about a veto. Italy believes that productive work means persuading our European partners to move in one direction. This is why we would prefer not to make a decision now. We will make it in due time. Italy is very ambitious, and we would like to persuade our partners that the best way to find a solution is through dialogue. Vladimir Putin: Thank you for the first part of the question. In appreciation of this, I will do my best to answer your second question in detail. I mentioned that we support Italy’s efforts to settle the crisis in Libya. As you know, it was manmade, and not by Russia. Still, we support everything Italy is doing in this respect. I have already said and will repeat: I believe that our approach fully coincides with Italy’s approach, to the effect that ultimately the Libyan people themselves should solve internal Libyan problems. For our part, we can only provide assistance and act as guarantors. We hope for success at the scheduled conference in Palermo and at the moment I do not know if I will be able to take part in it personally. In any case, Russia will definitely be represented at a very high level. Question: I have a question on the INF Treaty, the subject being discussed these past few days not only in our country and in the US, but also in Europe. Due to the specifics of these arms –intermediate and short-range missiles – the Europeans could become hostages to the US if Washington withdraws from the treaty, as my colleague said yesterday. It is not clear yet if Washington is withdrawing or is revising the format of this document, however, whatever the case, if Trump and his administration move beyond words, what steps will you take? This question is addressed to both leaders. Vladimir Putin: This problem did not come up yesterday or even three days ago when the US President announced it. It came up earlier, and as you might have noticed, and we did notice, the United States Congress had already earmarked expenses for R&D on intermediate and short-range missiles. This means the decision has been taken. Once research and development is underway – and they do not do it so it can sit on the shelf and collect dust, it means that the next step will also be made. The budget was passed, the Congress approved it while a political statement was made several days ago. Yes, indeed, there are certain questions regarding progress in missile technology and the limitations undertaken only by the United States and the Soviet Union, now the Russian Federation. However, what worries us is that the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty has been scrapped. Now we are talking about the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. And the future of a new START Treaty on limiting strategic offensive arms is unclear. If all that is scrapped, then nothing will remain to limit arms growth. The situation will then become very dangerous, in my view. There will be nothing left but an arms race. Now regarding Europe. Of course, the key question, if the United States withdraws from the INF Treaty, the main question is what will they do with any new missiles? If they deploy them in Europe, we will naturally have to respond symmetrically, and the European countries that agree to this, if it goes as far as that, must realise that they will put their own territory at risk of a retaliatory strike. This is an obvious situation. We will go back to Pershings in Europe. I actually do not understand why Europe should be brought to such a high degree of risk? I see no reasons for that, but let me reiterate, this not our choice, we are not pursuing this. In answer to your question as to whether we will be able to respond – yes, we will, and this will happen very quickly and efficiently. What is the formal pretext for our partners’ withdrawal from the INF Treaty? Accusations that we are allegedly violating it. However, as usual, no evidence of this is produced, whereas the United States has already violated it by deploying Aegis anti-missile defense launchers in Romania, by placing them on land, on the territory. What have they done? The Aegis launchers can be used for offensive missiles, not anti-missiles. They only need to update the software and that’s it. This can be done in hours. We will not even be able to guess what is happening, we will not be able to see it from the outside. The US has already violated the treaty. How about unmanned aircraft? This is in essence also a direct violation. Drones are no different than intermediate and short-range missiles in this respect. This is an old trick, when nobody shouts ‘Stop thief!’ louder than the thieves do, but it will not work in this case. We are carefully analysing everything that is going on in real life. But let me repeat, we are ready to work on this with our US partners without any hysterics. What matters is what will follow, which decision will be taken. I hope we will be able to talk about all these issues with the President of the United State at least on the sidelines of the meetings in Paris on November 11. Giuseppe Conte: I would like to add that this is a matter of concern for Italy as well, since we are talking about intermediate-range missiles. For this reason, we cannot remain indifferent to the fact that this treaty may be cancelled. I told Mr Putin that I was very young at the time of Pershing missiles, and have no desire whatsoever to return to a time that we have managed to leave behind us. I will also inform President Trump during a telephone conversation that Italy will do everything it takes, as it usually does, to make sure that dialogue remains possible on this matter. We must focus on other cooperation opportunities and we must avoid any disruptions that would be a concern for everyone. Question (retranslated): Good afternoon. President Putin, what do you think about the possibility for Russia to invest in Italy’s government bonds, maybe using funds from the National Welfare Fund? And Prime Minister, a question for you. I would like to ask you whether there might be misgivings in Washington or Brussels should Russia decide to invest in Italy’s securities. In general, could this help stop the erosion of trust, improve bond spread and stop capital outflow from Italy? Vladimir Putin: We are aware of the current controversy between the Italian Government and the European Commission. In our view, this results from a difference in approaches to choosing the most effective way of ensuring economic growth and performance. This dispute has been going on for a long time now, and not just between Italy and the European Commission, but also on the expert level too. What is better: fiscal relief or restrictions designed to suppress inflation? In this case, this is none of our business. We are not going to interfere, so I will refrain from making even the slightest allusion regarding this matter. Despite all these complicated developments, we are aware of the debt burden together with the other challenges. We are quite aware of all this. Nevertheless, I do believe that the Italian economy has a solid foundation, and overall we have trust in what the Italian Government is doing. We have no doubt that these matters will be resolved in one way or another. Russia does not intend to create any political limitations in operating its National Welfare Fund. Of course, we are looking for various new investment options, since our funds are increasing quite rapidly. I think that our reserves are growing by seven or eight billion dollars per month, and I am not even talking about the Central Bank’s currency reserves that have reached 460 billion dollars. However, this is a question for economic actors. Let me repeat that there are no political restrictions here. As for the effect, in any case, it is always positive when an investor shows confidence in sovereign bond issuers. Let me reiterate that we did not discuss these matters today, and Mr Prime Minister did not raise these questions during the discussions that we had today. Giuseppe Conte: I would also like to answer this question. This question is also relevant for me. Let me be absolutely clear. Asking President Putin to buy Italian bonds was not the purpose of my visit here. The Italian economy is on a stable footing, as Mr President has said. However, while this is recognised abroad, not everyone in Italy would agree with this assessment. If the Central Bank of Russia or the National Welfare Fund take a decision of this kind, it will mean that they view the investment as a good deal. This is all I have to say about it. Question: Good evening. Since energy was discussed during the talks, as you have said, could you tell us whether the Nord Stream 2 project was mentioned considering the differences that exist in Europe regarding its implementation? And concerning the southern pipeline, what practical steps could be taken so that Italy receives Russian gas across the Black Sea and possibly joins projects to develop the gas transportation system in southern Europe where gas will be delivered via Turkish Stream? Vladimir Putin: In this sphere, everything is possible. As you know, hydrocarbon exports, including both gas and oil, from Russia to Europe are growing. We are active in other sectors as well, including alternative energy sources. Italian companies are involved in projects to build wind farms, as well as develop Russia’s power grids into what is referred to as smart grids. This goes to say that energy cooperation between our countries covers a wide range of initiatives and sectors. As for the specific question of infrastructure development, we are considering all possible options, including connecting Italy to various branches of the Turkish Stream, which could go through Bulgaria, or even through Serbia or Hungary or Greece, as well as stepping up ties in the context of increasing deliveries through Nord Stream 2, though we did not discuss Nord Stream 2 at this meeting. Let me inform you, just to make sure that you all remember this, that pipelines from Baumgarten, where Russian gas will be delivered by Nord Stream 2, to Italy is a Russian-Italian joint venture. In this sense, Italy must be interested in the Nord Stream 2 project. Let me reiterate that we are looking at all possible options. I would like to stress once again that they are not designed to be detrimental to the interests of any third parties, and do not target Ukraine’s interests. The purpose of the options we are considering is to satisfy the growing demand of the European energy sector and economies in general in hydrocarbons in the near future. It is obvious that there is a growing demand. It is increasing by the year. This year, Gazprom will produce and deliver to its European customers a record-high volume of 200 bcm, I think. For this reason, it is natural for us to promote these efforts, and this is what we discussed, broadly speaking. Thank you. See you soon.