President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Ladies and gentlemen,
I have just concluded talks with Prime Minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu. The atmosphere was open and constructive. We have discussed the entire range of bilateral issues and shared our views on pressing international matters.
Mr Netanyahu’s visit was timed to coincide with the 25th anniversary of restoring Russian-Israeli diplomatic relations. Of course, our relations actually extend further back in history: we established diplomatic relations in 1948, and the Soviet Union was the first country to recognise the state of Israel at the time.
We noted in our statement today that in the quarter century since restoring diplomatic relations we have developed our cooperation in a dynamic and productive way. We have a solid foundation of trust and understanding to rely on as we make plans for the future.
We focused on our trade and economic relations. The unfavourable situation in the global markets has affected our trade as well. We discussed the resources at our disposal to spur economic cooperation.
I am confident that a free trade area between the Eurasian Economic Union and Israel could boost our business relations. My EAEU colleagues and I talked about it in Astana recently. We will hold substantive talks on this matter this year.
With regard to individual areas of cooperation, I can point to the successful joint work in high-tech sectors, such as aeronautics and pharmaceuticals. We worked in conjunction with our Israeli partners on the Superjet-100 and the new Russian MS-21 aircraft, where our Israeli partners worked on reliability and logistics control systems.
One of the world's leading pharmaceutical companies, Israel’s Teva, opened a pharmaceutical plant in Yaroslavl, Russia, in October 2014. Joint research on using natural gas as motor fuel is another promising project.
Good prospects are opening up in agriculture. Israeli producers can significantly expand their presence in the Russian market. The Russian-Israeli Centre Agrotechnologiya has been operating since 2013. Its first project was to build an innovative dairy cluster in Chechnya with a total investment of around 2.5 billion rubles.
I would also like to mention strong inter-regional ties. For example, trade between Tatarstan and Israel quadrupled in 2015.
Our traditional priorities include close humanitarian ties, as one and a half million former Russian and Soviet citizens now live in Israel.
We will expand cooperation in the sphere of education. Currently, about 440 Israeli students are studying in Russia, including 110 at the expense of the Russian budget. Student and faculty exchange programmes are underway.
Israel is one of the most popular tourist destinations for Russians. I believe that the number of our tourists in Israel will also increase.
At our meetings, we always discuss a topic that is very sensitive to us. I am referring to the memory of World War II. Our peoples fought Nazism, and paid a heavy price for the victory. Therefore, we must and we shall keep alive the memory of the heroes and victims of that war, and counter attempts to rewrite its outcome and to forget the tragedy of the Holocaust.
We have focused a great deal on international issues as well. Of course, we talked about the situation in the Middle East, including Syria.
We have reaffirmed our principled position regarding lasting peace in the Middle East, including the Palestinian track. We are for a comprehensive and just settlement of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Joint efforts, including within the Middle East Quartet, are a strategic imperative for us. Russia is willing to participate in this work.
We also talked about the need to join ranks in countering international terrorism. Israel knows first-hand how to fight terrorism, and, in this sense, we are unconditional allies. Our countries have considerable experience in combatting extremism. We will continue strengthening contacts with our Israeli partners in this area.
In conclusion, I would like to thank Prime Minister Netanyahu for a thorough and candid dialogue, and for his visit today.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (retranslated): President Putin, I would like to thank you for the warm welcome in Moscow and here in the Kremlin.
We have competed an effective and extensive working meeting. It was effective for the interests of our two countries and our two peoples. We have signed several agreements that are important for both countries in the area of power engineering, agriculture, pensions, social rights, and a customs agreement.
I would like to thank you for contributing to the advancement of all these and many other agreements, and for the cooperation between our two countries, which you have so aptly described in your remarks.
Today, we celebrate the 25th anniversary of restoring diplomatic relations between our countries. I remember those days, those first years following the restoration of diplomatic relations. I remember participating in a meeting between Yitzhak Shamir and Andrei Gromyko in New York.
Since then our relations have been developing systematically and at an accelerating rate. This visit is, without question, a very important step in our relations. There was a sturdy bridge in place for restoring relations and for the emotional bonds that exist between our countries and peoples.
We have never forgotten, and will never forget, the tremendous role that Russia and its people played and the efforts made to defeat Nazi Germany on the Eastern front, alongside the efforts made on the Western front. The monument erected in Netanya is a visible, material expression of the historical memory we share.
There is also a living bridge between our countries – the more than one million Russian-speaking Israelis who have come from the CIS countries. They constitute a wonderful, living bridge for the development of our relations.
We discussed today the first 25 years since restoring diplomatic relations. However, our focus was on the future: what the next 25 years of our relations will be like. We cooperate in technology, innovation, high tech, economy, trade and culture. Quite soon, we will see an example of this cultural cooperation in an outstanding event to take place in Moscow today. We are advancing cooperation in many other fields as well.
We have reached agreements on practical matters, including on the specific people on both sides that will work to expand technological cooperation. I noted that we highly appreciate the fact that there is a centre of modern Hebrew and Israeli studies not far from here, from the Kremlin, which enjoys Russian government support.
I also expressed hope that, with time, the number of Hebrew speakers in Russia will be comparable to the number of Russian speakers in Israel. This will take some time, of course. However, such a centre is another demonstration of the links and contacts between our countries. The future is ours.
Question: Good evening, Mr Prime Minister. Although we are in Moscow now, the Mimran case is gaining momentum in Israel. Your office has provided comments on this matter several times, but I would appreciate hearing your comment on what Mimran said in court in France and in his interviews to the media. If I may, a short question about Rami Sadan from Channel 10. Can he continue to hold office if the statements attributed to him are true?
Good evening, Mr President. The Turkish foreign minister said that the Turkish-Israeli reconciliation is closer than ever. In light of the tensions between Moscow and Ankara, how do you feel about the soon-to-be-completed negotiation process between Israel and Turkey?
President of Russia Vladimir Putin: I am exceptionally positive about it. We believe that any movement of these states and peoples towards each other will have a positive impact on the international situation in general. The fewer problems there are between the states, the better. We welcome this process.
Benjamin Netanyahu: With regard to your first question, it is a case of the mountain giving birth to a mouse. Even a little mouse, if that. Whether this is about a million euros, or the 2009 election campaign. It is neither about one million euros, nor about campaigning, nor about 2009. This was a legitimate donation made to a public fund newly created by me in the interests of the State of Israel. This was in 2001, and I was a private citizen back then. So, this bubble is burst. Clearly, this is part of systemic political persecution. Whatever they failed to achieve through voting, they are now trying to achieve by making false accusations, by fanning it in the media. I must say that they are using every avenue to do so, including smearing the image of my spouse as they try to make it look worthless.
What are the people saying about a daughter, who feeds her dying 99-year-old father, and who hired a nurse and paid her using family savings? I suggest that all of you read an important piece written by Professor Ruth Gabizon yesterday, where she talks about these things. She wrote that in democratic countries prime ministers are replaced in the course of elections, not in a public or legal war of attrition. I believe in our judicial system, and all these attempts will amount to nothing, and you know why — because there is nothing behind them.
With regard to Rami Sadan, he denies ever saying these words. To begin with, we should find out what he said and what he did not. If he did say these words, then, of course, he must apologise for them. But first, let us clarify the situation.
Question: Mr Netanyahu, this question is for you. Until recently our oil and gas companies, in particular Gazprom, had been expressing interest in participating in energy projects in Israel. However, everything came to a halt during preliminary discussions, including due to legislative restrictions in Israel.
I would like to hear from you, as the head of government, whether Israel is interested in having Russian energy companies and what it is willing to do to attract them, particularly in terms of legislation.
I have a short question on energy for you too, Mr President, if I may. What has become of our projects for delivering energy resources across the Black Sea? Are there any prospects of seeing them implemented, or has this issue been closed for good? Also, what do you think about the statement made by Poland, which decided not to renew its gas contract with us?
Vladimir Putin: What do the Jewish people have to do with that?
There are no legal restrictions on Russian companies participating in gas projects in Israel. What really limited and slowed down our participation in gas field development projects with all the companies was the time it took to adopt the decision which allowed us to expand and develop our gas fields, regardless of the company. We managed to resolve this problem, so our door is now open to all companies from all countries that have vast experience in developing gas fields, including, of course, Russia.
We had a project to deliver Russian gas to Israel, and we discussed it with our partners from Israel. However, after our Israeli friends discovered their own gas off the shelf, this project fell through, which is natural. That said, energy cooperation is possible. One project — a small but good one — is to switch public transport in Israel to liquefied natural gas.
Israel has made enormous technological strides in this regard. We will benefit from this cooperation by implementing this technology in Russia. However, we are examining possible cooperation in other areas as well. Everything is possible.
With regard to export routes across the Black Sea, there are certain well-known difficulties of a political nature with Turkey. However, we have not abandoned any of the projects, neither the South Stream, nor the Turkish Stream. What we need is a clear, understandable, and unambiguous position from the European Commission. We do not have that yet for any of these projects.
With regard to Poland not renewing the gas contract with us, our partners — economic agents at the corporate level — have not said anything on that account yet. However, the statement that you are referring to was made by a high-level government official, and the company that purchases our gas is run by the state, so we believe that this is possible.
Gazprom, as Chairman of the Board of Gazprom Mr Miller told me yesterday, is exploring possibilities and plans to make an offer, in the near future, to other prospective partners (Polish, European, or any other for that matter) to buy this gas from us at the Belarusian-Polish border after the contract with Poland expires, by signing a new contract for 10–15 years.
These could be Polish, German, Austrian, Italian, or French companies – it does not really matter. Someone, I believe, will buy gas from us. If not, we will start looking for other markets, no big deal. Perhaps, the Israelis will buy this gas from us and sell it to Poland – this is also an option. (laughter)
Benjamin Netanyahu: I would like to add to that, to clarify things. Once again, I encourage Russian energy companies to participate in all tenders in this area.