President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Madam Chancellor, ladies and gentlemen,
I would like to thank Federal Chancellor of Germany Angela Merkel for accepting Russia’s invitation to come to Sochi on a working visit.
We have many subjects to discuss. We completed the first part of the talks, and after the news conference, we will continue in an extended format.
We have already exchanged views on bilateral political, trade, economic, cultural and humanitarian ties. We also discussed pressing international matters.
Russia and Germany believe that maintaining regular contacts is necessary and important, despite the challenging international environment and the diverging views we have on a number of global issues. Russia is ready to work with our German colleagues on a mutually beneficial basis, taking into consideration the interests of our peoples.
Germany has traditionally been one of Russia’s main foreign trade partners, second only to the People’s Republic of China. In 2017, bilateral trade increased by 23 percent, and was up by 13 percent in the first two months of 2018.
Investment cooperation is on the rise. Russian investment in Germany currently exceeds $8 billion, while Germany has invested more than $18 billion, almost five percent of the total direct foreign investment in the Russian economy.
Almost 5,000 German companies operate in Russia with a total turnover that exceeds $50 billion, and some 270,000 jobs. At the same time, about 1,500 Russian companies operate in Germany.
We believe that the governments of the two countries must remain proactive in their efforts to facilitate bilateral trade, as well as cooperation in industry and technology.
Energy is a priority area in terms of the partnership between our countries. We discussed all aspects of our cooperation in this field, including infrastructure projects such as Nord Stream 2.
Let me point out that we always viewed this as a purely economic project, which has always been handled by business entities, and has always been kept free from any political considerations.
I would also like to note that Russia does not intend to stop gas transit though Ukraine once Nord Stream 2 is launched. Madam Federal Chancellor and I also discussed this today, since she raised the question. Let me emphasise that transit will continue, if it makes economic sense for the economic actors involved.
I would like to mention our humanitarian and cultural cooperation. We are now completing the Year of Municipal and Regional Partnerships between the two countries. We are getting ready to hold the Year of Scientific and Educational Partnerships, and a large concert programme Russian Seasons in 2019. We continue active contacts between our civil societies, in particular, the St. Petersburg Dialogue, Potsdam Meetings and the Germany-Russia Forum.
I discussed in detail with Ms Chancellor a number of key international issues. First, we exchanged views on the situation around the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action on the Iranian nuclear issue after the unilateral withdrawal of the US from the agreement. We also exchanged opinions on the exacerbated situation in the Middle East.
We discussed the problem of the Syrian crisis. We stated that it is necessary to make a contribution to a political settlement, in particular at the Astana and Geneva venues, to stabilise the situation on the ground, and provide humanitarian relief to the population of Syria.
We acknowledge the striving of the Federal Republic of Germany to take a serious part in restoring the socio-economic structure of that country. It is important that any assistance be granted by agreement with the legitimate authorities.
We touched on the situation in Ukraine. We both believe that there is no alternative to the Minsk Agreements in terms of a settlement. Of course, we will continue to work together in the Normandy format and facilitate the productive activities of the Contact Group in Minsk. We instructed our foreign policy offices to seriously consider the creation of a UN mission on facilitating the protection of OSCE observers in Donbass.
In conclusion, I would sincerely like to thank Ms Federal Chancellor once again for a meaningful and open exchange of views that was timely and useful.
Thank you for your attention.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel (retranslated): I am also grateful for the opportunity to be here today and to participate in the talks. Last year, around this time, I was here as well, when we discussed preparations for the G20 summit, and we enjoyed close and friendly cooperation.
We discussed bilateral cooperation. There are also economic ties, and the Petersburg Dialogue, which the President mentioned. For my part, I stressed that media issues are crucial in some cases and proposed reviewing them again, as well as issues pertaining to freedom of culture.
We always welcome Russia’s cultural institutions’ activities, such as concerts; though the Year of Science will also be important for cooperation and civil society, and we support it.
We maintain a regular and open exchange with each other to discuss differences of opinion.
Of course, we covered Ukraine extensively in our conversation. There are the Minsk Agreements, which are the only foundation that we can use to conduct our work. Unfortunately, major ceasefire violations took place today. Therefore, we need to continue to think about the UN mission.
We coordinate our actions, and our foreign ministers should continue to work on this. It would be a step forward in terms of stabilising the situation in order to carry out certain political steps, which were agreed upon in Minsk.
We also discussed the importance of gas transit for Ukraine. Germany is convinced, and Peter Altmaier, our Economics Minister also held talks this week to make sure that even after the construction of Nord Stream 2, Ukraine's role as a transit country should continue, as it is of strategic importance.
Germany is also willing to play its part and provide assistance. We also consider Nord Stream 2 an economic and commercial project, but it has other angles as well, so we need to think about guarantees for Ukraine in this regard.
We spoke about Syria; we had a very intensive exchange on Syria. I think the UN-led process presents an opportunity we must explore. There is the Astana group and the so-called small group of states.
Further steps need to be taken to work out a joint action plan that would be discussed in working groups. We are doing all we can to support the work of the UN Special Envoy Staffan de Mistura.
We discussed the complex situation brought about by the US withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal. The agreement has the support of Germany, Britain, France and all our European Union colleagues. We will continue to adhere to it. An unusual situation has arisen and we on the European side are discussing it with Iran.
I do not think this agreement is perfect, but it is better than no agreement, so these negotiations with Iran should continue and we agree that the ballistic missile programme should continue to be discussed.
In general, the situation in the region is fairly tense, so everything should be done to conduct the political negotiations that would gradually lead to a political solution. Therefore, it would be good if what we have agreed upon in Sochi – the constitutional process – that representatives be appointed for it. That would create one element sought for by Mr de Mistura.
These are important negotiations. I think these major problems can only be resolved if we discuss the topics on which our opinions differ, discuss these topics, analyse them, and try to bridge the gaps, to discuss the facts together and to seek solutions; therefore, the negotiations have been important and we will continue these negotiations later.
Question (retranslated): A question for the Federal Chancellor. You spoke about a renaissance in German-Russian relations against the backdrop of problems with the US President. Ms Chancellor, German and other Western companies are complaining that the Russian Parliament is drafting a law that will require foreign companies to not abide by the sanctions and will threaten them with fines if they do. Does this not subvert the efforts of German and other foreign companies to invest in Russia? Why do you think this law makes sense?
Angela Merkel: We have a firm trans-Atlantic friendship that has endured many opinions and positions in history. I think this time it will be the same. This does not call into question the intensity of trans-Atlantic relations.
It is in our strategic interests to maintain good relations with Russia, and in the most difficult times, I have always been for the continued work of the Russia-NATO Council and EU contacts. I believe it is absolutely vital to maintain a dialogue.
Our civil societies maintain extensive ties, and this German-Russian cooperation has to withstand serious and fundamental differences. But again, I will emphasize that if we want to solve problems, we need to communicate with each other, we need to conduct a dialogue.
There are matters on which we have a common opinion and there are also matters on which we do not agree. At the same time, when we speak a lot about each other, we should always find an opportunity to talk to each other and this is always an element of our cooperation. Therefore, I think we are meeting at a good time now.
Vladimir Putin: If you allow me, I would also start with the first part of your question.
I do not think there is any need to link relations between Russia and the Federal Republic of Germany with our relations with third countries. As I said, Germany is one of our key trade and economic partners.
Several years ago, our trade stood at around $80 billion, now, thank God, [after a slump] it has started growing again to reach $50 billion. Hundreds of thousands of jobs, both in Russia and in Germany, by the way, depend on our cooperation. Hundreds of thousands.
We have once again started buying large quantities of German goods. This supports jobs in Germany. Add cooperation and joint ventures – it adds up to thousands. This is an important factor that makes a difference to the lives of Germans and Russians. We have never suspended contact with each other even in the most complicated times.
Life moves forward, develops, and new opportunities arise. Old problems cannot be solved without a dialogue, I think everybody understands that. Therefore, Russian-German relations have their own dynamic and are important in their own right.
As for the law you mentioned, the one currently discussed by the State Duma, I agree with you that it needs to be balanced. However, MPs in this country and in yours are often guided by emotion.
However, concerning the existence of such a law, I would like to draw your attention to the fact that Europe has such a law, and as far as I know, it has been mentioned in Brussels, indeed our colleagues in united Europe want to make use of this law to protect their interests against transborder sanctions, in this case sanctions on the part of the United States.
I see nothing extraordinary in Russia passing a similar law. However, and I agree with you there as well, it has to be balanced; it should not harm our own economy and those of our partners, who work honestly in Russia. I am sure this will be the case.
As you may know, parliament has postponed the adoption of this law to allow for additional consultations with the Russian Government, which was only formed today.
Question: Good afternoon. I have a question for both leaders. As is customary, you discussed the situation in Ukraine. Given the circumstances, is it important to return as soon as possible to interaction under the Normandy format at the highest level? Did you discuss a possible date for the next Quartet meeting?
One more about Ukraine, if I may. Ms Merkel, Ukraine has come up with a dangerous precedent related to freedom of speech. For absolutely far-fetched reasons, the editor-in-chief of RIA Novosti Ukraina news agency was detained there. In this regard, I would like to convey to you a request from all Russian reporters to use, perhaps, your substantial influence with the Kiev authorities to have him released and to stop this practice altogether. I am talking about Kirill Vyshinsky. Perhaps, Mr President, you too can directly address the Kiev authorities.
Vladimir Putin: As for the Normandy format, as I said, we consider this an important instrument for settling the situation in southeastern Ukraine, and Russia is willing to work in this format. Moreover, we consider it critically important. At least for the time being, there is no substitute for it. We did not discuss a specific date, but we spoke about the possibility. A summit should always be well prepared and worked through; our colleagues are working on this, including our respective aides and foreign ministries.
With regard to the detained journalist, I agree with you, this is something unprecedented. A person is being charged with high treason for what he did publicly and for performing his professional duties. I have not seen anything like it in a long time. I cannot remember such a thing ever happening. We touched upon this, just like other issues that we run into in Ukraine, but I am not going to go into details.
Angela Merkel (retranslated): Of course, a summit can be held as part of the Normandy format but it needs to be properly prepared to bring results. The respective foreign ministers are already on it, and our new foreign ministers and the newly appointed Russian Foreign Minister have started working on it. They have started the preparations.
Our advisers are maintaining contact. I think the next step should include the UN mission. We should try to develop a joint mandate to be able to discuss this topic at the Security Council later.
There should also be a provision whereby the heads of state and government can meet any time, but such a meeting should be substantive and lead to actual progress. Much work is being done to get there, because the situation remains unsatisfactory.
Second, with regard to the journalist, I will of course discuss today's visit with the Ukrainian President. I will bring up the fact that a Russian journalist was arrested for doing his job. We are concerned about that.
Question (retranslated): Madam Federal Chancellor, Germany accepted over 700,000 Syrian refugees, most of whom probably want to return home. What signal do you have from Russia that it will exert pressure on Syria to resume the political process finally?
And, Mr President, one question about Sergei Skripal, who left the hospital today. Can you give us your reaction? What do you think about the results of the investigation that has been complicated from a diplomatic standpoint?
Angela Merkel: I have already said that the issue of Syria was discussed and support expressed for the UN proposal to start the constitutional process. There were signals yesterday that Syria will also appoint its representatives from the Astana and Sochi groups. Other representatives should also be appointed.
The political process is a must and it should begin. We want to facilitate it. I have already spoken about our concern, Executive Order 10. In Syria, people lose property if they do not declare it within a certain timeframe. This is very bad news for all those who would like to return to Syria in the future.
We will discuss this in more detail today. We will ask Russia to use its influence to prevent Assad from doing this. If this happens, it will be a very serious obstacle to the return of refugees.
Vladimir Putin: As for the first part of your question, I would like to emphasise that refugees are already returning in large numbers to the regions liberated by the Syrian army. Moreover, people were transferred with the help of our military police to other regions of Syria, including Idlib, from areas that they left of their own free will, for instance, Eastern Ghouta. They are returning and asking to return. We are seeing this movement, it is taking place.
We are talking about thousands of people. But what should be done? It is necessary to depoliticise humanitarian relief and economic recovery in Syria. If the Europeans want people to return home from Europe, it is necessary to remove the restrictions on aid to Syria that we do not understand, at least in the regions that are controlled by the Government of the Syrian Arab Republic.
How will people return there if everything is destroyed? To be honest, Syria does not have much ability to fix this; they are very limited in what they can do. If Europe wants people to return home from Europe, it is necessary to help Syria rebuild its economy and provide real humanitarian relief. This process must be depoliticised. I am absolutely certain of this.
Take Raqqa, for instance. Everything has been destroyed there and people continue to be killed by mines to this day, corpses lie amid the ruins, and on and on. How can people return there? Therefore, we should think and work on this together.
Now regarding Mr Skripal. Yes, I also heard from the media today that he has been released from hospital. We wish him the best of health, we are really very happy. I have several considerations in this respect.
First. I think if a combat-grade nerve agent had been used, as claimed by our British colleagues, the man would have died on the spot. A nerve agent is so powerful that a person dies instantly or within several seconds or minutes. Fortunately, he is alive, he got well, was released from hospital and I hope he will live a healthy and safe life.
As to the investigation, on our part we offered every assistance in the investigation to our British partners on a number of occasions, and asked for access to this investigation. There has been no response so far. Our proposals remain in place.
Question: Mr President, you said you and Ms Merkel discussed the unilateral withdrawal of the United States from the JCPOA. In this connection, my first question is addressed to Ms Merkel. Secondary Iran sanctions will affect not only Russian but also European companies, including German ones. What measures do you contemplate to take in order to protect them?
And in the follow-up to the topic of sanctions. Mr President, it was revealed that Donald Trump said the realisation of Nord Stream 2 is contrary to Europe’s interests and threatened to impose sanctions on those companies that will take part in the project.
Vladimir Putin: Has he threatened to impose sanctions?
Question: To impose sanctions… What is your forecast for the prospects of Nord Stream 2 in this context? And your forecast too, Ms Merkel.
Angela Merkel (retranslated): On behalf of Europe and Europeans, we have our contacts with Iran; we speak about it so that Iran adheres to the agreement because I think it guarantees greater control and greater security. It was announced that Iran has complied with the agreement, according to the IAEA, so we shall see.
It is possible that companies who want to invest money in Iran will be able to do so. We are discussing this in Brussels – a block, a blocking mechanism. But there must be no illusions here, the compensation will not be very large. These are economic decisions taken by the companies themselves.
Nevertheless, our position is that it would be in Iran’s interests to continue to comply with the JCPOA. This agreement was endorsed by the UN Security Council, which means it has an international foundation. And it would also be beneficial for Iran to say, Yes, we are going to comply with our commitments.
Vladimir Putin: With regard to Nord Stream 2 – I already mentioned it earlier; we discussed it in the context of our other energy projects. We maintain diverse cooperation in this sphere, which has been going on for many decades quite successfully.
The position of the United States on Nord Stream 2 has long been known. In this sense, you could say it is a rare instance of continuity between the current administration and the administration of President Obama. We see nothing new here. This position is dictated by two considerations, as we are told.
First, it is about supporting Ukraine, which does not want to develop relations with Russia, but gladly takes our gas transit money. This is about $2–3 billion a year. They want us to give Ukraine a little bit of our money. As a matter of fact, we do not mind. I have already said that we would be willing to keep this transit in place provided it makes economic sense, which can be achieved through negotiations. We are ready for such negotiations with Ukraine.
After all, the fact of the matter is that Nord Stream 2 can be used not only to supply gas directly to Germany. It can also be used to supply gas to other European countries, with the falling production in Great Britain and Norway in mind.
The European countries’ need for this commodity is on the rise, and their own production is falling. That is the point. However, Donald is not just President of the United States, but also a good, strong businessman, so I think he is promoting his business with an eye towards securing US liquefied gas sales on the European market. Is that possible? It is. However, it is expensive – about 25, even 30 percent more expensive than Russian pipeline gas supplied to Europe.
They have built a bunch of LNG terminals in Europe, which are used at about 25–30 percent of capacity. That is it. Why? They do not make much economic sense. Liquefied gas is too expensive. That is the snag. However, I understand President Trump. He is protecting his business and wants to promote his product on the European market.
However, it is up to us and our ability to build relationships with our partners. It depends on our partners in Europe. The project is open to other partners, not just the ones who are already on board.
As far as I know, the construction of a gas pumping station in Germany began at a Nord Stream 2 gas delivery point. We are also doing our part. We believe it is a lucrative project for us. We will fight for it.