President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Mr Prime Minister, ladies and gentlemen, friends, colleagues,
I would like to note right away that the visit of Prime Minister of Italy Matteo Renzi turned out to be very dynamic and intensive. First, we had a detailed, constructive conversation on key issues of bilateral cooperation at a meeting in narrow format, and then we held an expanded-format meeting with the participation of Government members and a broad cross-section of the business community.
We discussed practically the entire range of bilateral issues with Mr Renzi. Our meetings on the sidelines of major economic events are becoming a good tradition. A year ago, on June 10, we opened the Day of Russia at the World Universal Exhibition EXPO-2015 in Milan. This year we are receiving Italy as the main guest of the St Petersburg International Economic Forum. Mr Renzi’s personal participation in this event ensured that the Italian business community was well represented. In all, over $1.3 billion Euros worth of contracts have been signed with Italian businesses on the sidelines of the forum. The latest one – I understand it’s the largest – is worth about one billion dollars.
Italy is fifth among Russia’s foreign trade partners. At the same time mutual trade decreased in 2015. Regrettably, the recession continued into the beginning of this year. Understandably, the ups and downs of the economic situation and different political restrictions have played a role in this.
During the talks we paid special attention to developing specific steps to bolster trade and economic cooperation. We understand how difficult this task is but will consistently work to resolve it.
We see that our Italian friends are also ready to normalise business relations. The talks showcased a common desire to revive the work of the main mechanisms of practical bilateral cooperation. Energy remains the strategic area of Russian-Italian cooperation.
Italy is one of the largest consumers of Russian natural gas. Despite lower price value last year, deliveries grew 12 percent in physical volumes. Russian and Italian companies continue to work together on large-scale joint projects. You have seen the contracts that, on our side, were signed by Rosneft and NOVATEK. The agreements centre on geological exploration, oil extraction and refining, condensed gas production and transportation. Production in Russia of cutting-edge equipment for the energy industry is also in the deals.
We see on the whole great opportunities for Italian companies to base production in Russia. The talks with our Italian partners showed us that they are interested in that, too.
Expanding interregional ties and promoting cooperation in such high-tech industries as the aircraft engineering and space could have a positive effect.
You were present during the signing of the relevant documents, but the road towards them did not start today. Finmeccanica, for instance, has been on our market for a long time and has achieved a good reputation. We talked with them today about ways to deepen our cooperation and make it more stable.
Russia and Italy are working together to explore near-Earth space. An Italian astronaut is currently in training for an ISS mission in 2017.
Italian companies readily engage in large-scale infrastructure projects in Russia. For example, here in St Petersburg, Italian companies are building the Western High-Speed Diameter, while they also are engaged in the Moscow-St Petersburg motorway, and the M5 Ural federal motorway projects in the Chelyabinsk Region.
Russian-Italian dialogue also continues in the humanitarian sphere. Mr Prime Minister emphasised this during our talks today. Our countries are making a great contribution to the preservation of world cultural heritage. We have agreed that our experts should coordinate their efforts on the preservation and restoration of historical monuments in Palmyra. When talking about international issues, we paid special attention to the threat of terrorism. Both Russia and Italy share a view that an adequate response to this global challenge can only be found through a common effort of the international community. Of course, we discussed the settlement of crises in Ukraine, Syria and other areas, where there is no peace yet.
I would mention one more fact. Traditionally and historically, Italy is deeply involved in North Africa, and, particularly Libya. We discussed this as well with Prime Minister Renzi today.
In conclusion, I want to thank our partners for an interested and constructive conversation and express my hope that all the projects that we mentioned today will be implemented.
Prime Minister of Italy Matteo Renzi (retranslated): President Putin, my heartfelt thank you for the invitation. It has been a pleasure and honour for us, for Italy, to visit the forum, to be among the guests of the St Petersburg International Economic Forum.
I would like to once again express my appreciation to the organisers and to the city, and to stress the high level and quality of the discussion. This is a new contribution to our bilateral relations.
As to us, this is our fifth bilateral meeting; we met previously in Milan and in Turkey on the sidelines of the G20 summit. Even the sixth meeting, I forgot about Australia. And at all of our meetings we tried to work together on all the dossiers, as we did today.
I am grateful to President Putin for his sensitivity regarding North Africa issues, which are priority issues for us. We have discussed the challenges of international magnitude, including publicly, I stress, and including those we disagree on, on the issues of European and international politics and geopolitics. But whatever the case, we had a chance to discuss everything quite frankly, in depth, and I hope, very fruitfully.
Regarding our bilateral relations, we have emphasised, on our side, the points highlighted by Mr Putin in his speech: the extraordinary significance of our energy partnership and everything arising out of it for all our companies, and not just a few companies; opportunities opening up in agriculture. We would like to put a stake on the Made with Italy model in agricultural sector to uncover its potential because both Russia and Italy can make mutually beneficial steps forward. This also undoubtedly includes everything concerning scientific research, as Mr Putin reminded us, and overall issues my colleague has mentioned.
Our position is that it is building bridges rather than walls that has strategic importance. I am saying this because Italian journalists have participated today and have seen how the Astaldi company works. It has nearly completed, in strict observance of the schedule, the construction of a 14-kilometre long bridge here, in St Petersburg. I believe Mr Putin will open the bridge in a few weeks’ time. I also believe that this is not so much a matter of infrastructure as a symbolic act. Today, we need to resume building bridges.
And one more small detail in conclusion. It does not happen every day that you learn from President Vladimir Putin that Team Italy scored a goal on the 88th minute, as it happened to me today. I hope this will bring us good luck. Let me remind you that the next match is on Tuesday, and I will be waiting for very good news from you.
All right, jokes aside, let us hope that it will bring good luck, including good luck to Russia in holding the 2018 FIFA World Cup.
Question (re-translated): A question forboth leaders, if I may.
While recognising Russia’s fundamental role in the search for acceptable solutions on all the international dossiers, from the Iran dossier to the military intervention in Syria, is it possible to suggest that Russia will also get involved in looking for a general solution of the Libya issue?
Prime Minister of Italy Matteo Renzi: We have been talking about it for a long time, and Russia is already working together with the international community. Russia is not only a large international power, it is also one of the countries that have a permanent membership in the UN Security Council. That is why everything, Libya included, passes via President Putin’s and Minister Lavrov’s desk, and Mr Lavrov has an excellent relationship with Italy’s Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni.
I believe that at the moment efforts are aimed at minimising tensions in Libya, trying to arrive at a government that would be capable of running the country and influencing the reality so as to finally bring peace to that nation after many years since the interference began. It was probably not the best type of interference, let’s be straight about it, it was a mistake to organise military involvement in such a way. We hope that the nation will finally see peace. We were looking for Russia’s involvement, and Russia never spared efforts for us.
Vladimir Putin: I share Mr Prime Minister’s opinion on the fallacy of the actions in Libya and in some other countries of the region. I also agree with him that in this case we should not so much look back but rather look forward in search of a solution. The situation is very complicated: the government, the parliament, armed groups, the tribal concerns, economic, ethnic and other issues – it is fairly difficult to narrow all that down to a common denominator.
In the course of our conversation I assured Mr Prime Minister that Russia will be working in a very constructive way with the international community in the interests of the Libyan people, of course, and not with the aim of causing any kind of dissonance in the joint work but to look for a solution acceptable for all the parties.
Question: At the opening ceremony, former President of France Nicolas Sarkozy, speaking about the sanctions, said that, in his opinion, Russia should make the first move and abolish the counter-sanctions, which in fact were introduced in retaliation to European sanctions. His reasoning is that the stronger opponent is always first to extend his hand – and the stronger one is Russia and you personally, he said – and Europe will reciprocate. How would you comment on this proposal? Do you see this compliment about you being stronger a disguised dare for you to act?
Vladimir Putin: There are many ways to characterise people and countries. Some may be strong, others less strong; some are smart, and others not so smart. Some are clever. Mr Sarkozy is certainly very friendly to our country, and we can be sure that he supports a rapprochement between Russia and the EU.
We had a lengthy discussion on the subject at the meeting the day before yesterday, and I think there is a constructive aspect to his proposal, something we should listen to. We would be willing to take this step if we were more confident that they would not pull a fast one on us, to use a popular term, as has happened before. We need to be sure that any unilateral moves by Russia will be followed by reciprocal steps, real steps, not, as a well-known classic said, “one step forward, two steps back.”
It is hard to say at this stage who could even convince us that our partners are geared to such work. I would say that here and now, we are not the ones who need to be convinced, but rather it is necessary to convince our partners in Kiev to perform the clear obligations they have undertaken by signing the Minsk Agreements. You know, I do not even want to talk about this again. These are not some secret agreements; the entire text is available online. What does it say?
Kiev agreed to amend the Constitution by the end of 2015. We cannot do it for them.
To adopt the amnesty law. It has been adopted, but never signed. I am not the President of Ukraine, so I cannot sign the law for him.
To implement the special status law. The legislation was adopted, but never put into effect; instead it was postponed in a clever way: by adopting another amendment, Article 10 or something, which delayed its enforcement.
Well, they could manoeuvre endlessly, but they cannot expect us to do something we cannot do.
I understand that it is not easy to make such decisions in Ukraine now, that they require a lot of political courage and support of the public and key political forces. But if they signed the agreement, it means they made a commitment.
As for our European partners, knowing all this, they should not shift all responsibility for the current developments onto us, especially for things that are beyond our control. Why don’t they work with their allies in Kiev instead, if they really mean well for the Ukrainian people.
They need help to get out of this never-ending spiral. The conflicting parties must finally establish a direct dialogue, direct contact and direct negotiations. And if we see at some point that everything is, in fact, being done, we will be willing to take the first step – to amend various restrictions on trade and the economy.
Question (re-translated): Italy was a country that treated the sanctions with a lot of reflection, for example, it insisted on a non-automatic extension of the sanctions. In the past few days a proposal emerged worded by Italian entrepreneurs, among others, on extending the sanctions for three rather than six months which means the next date for the decision on extending sanctions will be closer. What do you think about this proposal? Do you think you could get it across to our partners?
Mr President, good evening. I would also like to ask you a question about Russia’s good relations with a set of political parties and movements of Eurosceptics, who do not support political integration. They include a movement in Hungary and Marine le Pen’s National Front in France. The question I want to ask is whether you prefer to have a dialogue with a strong integrated Europe with a united voice, or with a weaker and more diffused Europe, let’s put it this way.
Matteo Renzi: Italy’s position is very simple. The sanctions are not extended automatically as if it were usual business. Mr Putin has stated his position a number of times saying that the longer the sanctions last, the longer it will take to find different solutions. But the fundamental question is whether there is an active stance on what is going on, and it is discussed, there are political debates, or the sanctions turn into a routine, both sanctions and counter-sanctions, for the reasons President Putin has just stated. So I can assure you that we shall ask the ambassadors at their next meeting in Brussels not to automatically extend the sanctions and to find out what stage the implementation of the Minsk Agreements has reached.
We shall ask regarding the Minsk Agreements, and they are not secret, as Mr Putin has said, one can read their text online, to state who has done what and by which date. In this case the discussion will be conducted by the foreign ministers. But the central issue is that all the parties must be urged to implement the Minsk protocols.
We are doing it with our European partners who are responsible for the project, we are doing it with our Russian friends and with Ukrainians as well, we say clearly to them, and Mr Putin has already said so, that the agreement should be implemented not just by one party but by all the parties. This is a very serious stance, and I think it is also very logical. We have been saying this since day one.
Vladimir Putin: As to your question: it is made up of several parts, and some of it repeats the widespread European cliché that Russia supposedly supports certain nationalist parties and has special relationships with them. As far back as ten years ago, I told my European friends that the policy they pursued would lead to inevitable rise in popularity of nationalist movements and parties, which is precisely what is happening today, amid the growing inflow of refugees and migrants. But we have nothing to do with it, so you would have to ask those who are involved in this work in Europe. This is an extremely sensitive humanitarian issue, and people fleeing from war do need help. But it is also clear that, while offering help, a country should primarily think of its own citizens.
But we are not going to interfere in these matters, and we maintain contacts with all political forces in Europe: those in power and those in opposition. This is my answer to the first part.
The second part seems to be related to the so-called Brexit. Do you really want me to tell you how Russia feels about this, or if Russia prefers to deal with a strong or a weak Europe? Of course, Russia wants to interact with a strong Europe, because a dialogue with a weak partner is more trouble than it is worth: they can always be pressured by a third party, and all agreements and cooperation plans go down the drain. A strong partner would never allow this.
But what would we call a strong Europe? This problem is waiting for a painstaking researcher, and I would rather it is you, not us. Will Europe be stronger if Britain votes to leave or to stay? Some experts say that Europe will be more focused, others that it is the first step towards the collapse of the rest of Europe, and so on and so forth.
I certainly have my own opinion on this matter. We discussed this with my European colleagues, both yesterday and the day before. I heard different points of view, different approaches. I am not going to express my opinion publicly today. I believe that we must respect the choice of the British people, whatever that choice is. We just need to wait a few days and see what happens.
Question: Mr Prime Minister, my congratulations on the victory, your advancement to the play-offs, the Italian team has a lot of female fans in Russia.
But I would like to ask a serious question. Italy has traditionally been Russia’s long-term and reliable partner in energy projects, in particular, in increasing Russian gas supplies to Europe. Meanwhile, a number of projects have been frozen: first the South Stream, then the Turkish Stream.
Is Italy still interested in Russian gas? Can the frozen projects be revived, or is there a discussion of some new projects comparable with the South Stream and the Turkish Stream?
Vladimir Putin: Let me be the first to answer. Yes, our Italian partners do have an interest in continuing our cooperation, including cooperation in the infrastructure sphere. We had a very lively discussion about it today. We spoke about the mistakes we made in the past, we spoke about what can be done to avoid them in the future, and about what is of interest to us in the near and mid-term future.
This is an opportunity to work further in the southern direction as well. As you know, just recently Gazprom, Italian and Greek partners signed a memorandum on searching for such joint projects. We spoke about Nord Stream 2, and I will be frank, there is nothing classified about it. We spoke about expanding our interaction to new areas in the energy sector.
In fact, we think none of the issues have been closed. We, the Russian side, are ready for this cooperation, yet we are still waiting for our European partners, including Italian ones, will adopt the same attitude, so that we can work to implement the plans on our agenda. There are many plans. You witnessed the documents being signed today at this desk, very important documents, for example, on Yamal, or Rosneft’s cooperation with its partners in the Barents or Black seas. This is also in one way or another related to infrastructure development. Gazprom has been and will continue cooperating with ENI. We are generally satisfied with how the work is progressing. As to some complexities, say, Europe’s third energy package and the like, I think we will gradually find solutions and resolve those complicated issues as well.
Matteo Renzi: In the course of our almost four-hour talk, we certainly addressed energy issues more than once. Italy's position is as follows. We have traditional friendly relations with the Russian authorities. As President Putin said, the agreements signed here during these hours convey the idea of what we think and do. We have signed agreements worth more than a billion euros, and potentially, these agreements will open up opportunities for partnerships worth another four to five billion. This suggests we have given attention to this sphere.
I would prefer the South Stream project to continue. This is not the case. But neither Russia nor Italy is responsible for that. This is what I think. In the next 20 years, going back to what I said in my speech, Russia and Italy will have several areas of cooperation. I could bet that the energy sector will remain a priority and that, using common sense, as President Putin said, we will be able to find a solution. Efforts should be made by the Russian authorities, and certainly by European governments as well.
In conclusion, I would like to make this point, and I will try to be very clear, also in the European context. As you may have noticed today, at the end of his speech, President Putin sounded more like an Europeanist than I did, because he said: ‘True, Europe can have problems, and I believe that Europe has a future if it looks towards that future. I think we have taken a small step in that direction today.’