The two presidents discussed prospects for developing economic cooperation and humanitarian ties between Russia and France, cooperation in European security, and current issues, particularly the political crisis in Syria.
Following talks at the Elysee Palace, Vladimir Putin and Francois Hollande gave a joint news conference.
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Excerpts from the news conference following Russian-French talks
President of Russia Vladimir Putin: First of all I would like to thank President Hollande for his invitation.
Mr President has named practically all the issues we discussed. There is nothing for me to add except to say that we analysed these matters in great detail, both the questions pertaining to bilateral and international relations, as well as security issues. The only matter that my colleague did not mention is our discussion of the European missile defence system and missile defence in general.
We have reached an understanding on many issues, or at least we are capable of hearing each other out, and I think that, as it has been for so many years, we are able to negotiate with France and to find compromises on very complex issues.
”We have reached an understanding on many issues, we are capable of hearing each other out, and I think that, as it has been for so many years, we are able to negotiate with France and to find compromises on very complex issues.“
Our conversation was very frank, and I would say it was conducted in a friendly way, for which I want to express my special gratitude to Mr President.
We did not just talk about the possibility of Mr Hollande’s visit to Russia. I invited Mr President and he promised to come. I hope to see him soon, in the foreseeable future.
Perhaps it’s time to move on to your questions.
Question: Mr President, you mentioned that you and Mr Hollande discussed European missile defence. In your opinion, have you made any headway in your discussion, especially in the light of the NATO Summit in Chicago? Have you made any progress, or does this issue remain frozen and unresolved?
Vladimir Putin: We cannot make progress on missile defence through dialogue with only one of the NATO countries. We are aware of France’s position, which is the consolidated position of all the countries in the bloc. Many issues were discussed and decisions on them were adopted without consideration for Russia’s position, as it seems to us, and without regard for our security interests. We talked about this in detail.
I would like to note that this is one of the issues on which I believe that France not only listens but also hears us. We hope that France, as a NATO member and a nuclear power, understands our concerns, and we hope that we can establish constructive dialogue with the whole block.
We are constantly being told that the missile defence system is not directed against Russia. We have heard many such statements. What we would like to receive is not just assurances but military and technological guarantees fixed in legally binding documents. Only then can we feel safe and hold a partner-like dialogue. So far the decisions have been made unilaterally and all our concerns have prompted the same response: “There may well be a threat to your security but it is not emanating from us because we will not use this system against you.”
”We are constantly being told that the missile defence system is not directed against Russia. We have heard many such statements. What we would like to receive is not just assurances but military and technological guarantees fixed in legally binding documents.“
We have heard many different statements and promises. There was a time when we were given a promise that NATO will not expand; later we were promised that no military bases would be set up in the new member-countries. Now we can see that NATO has expanded to the East and military bases are springing up all around us like mushrooms.
Statement like “Don’t worry, we promise that nothing will happen” are clearly insufficient in the modern world. This is childish. We need guarantees and serious agreements in the security sphere.
But I repeat once again, and I want to stress this to you and to all other colleagues: we are not going to cause tensions to escalate, but, as we have told our US and European partners, we are calling for constructive dialogue.
It seemed to me during our conversation with President Hollande that such a dialogue with France is possible, and therefore, I hope, with other NATO countries as well.
Question (re-translated): You talked about UN sanctions against Syria. What is the US position on this issue? How much time will you give the Annan Plan to resolve this crisis?
Vladimir Putin: Mr Annan is a very experienced and very honest man. We must do everything to help his mission succeed and I think it is counterproductive to declare in advance that his mission is doomed to failure. That would be a mistake.
With regard to sanctions, such issues should be discussed in the UN Security Council first, as I am sure you know. Sanctions do not always work effectively.
The main thing we must do is prevent the crisis from escalating in line with the worst-case scenario and we must avert a civil war in Syria. We discussed this in great detail. I explained Russia’s position on this issue to Mr Hollande. We agreed to continue our consultations and mutual efforts to achieve reconciliation in Syria and to reach conflict settlement there through political means.
QUESTION: Mr Putin, today you visited Berlin before flying to Paris. France and Germany are Russia's key partners in the EU, but I would like to ask a somewhat provocative question: which of these countries holds more priority for us?
And a second question. You met the new President of France in person for the first time today. People say that first impressions are the most important ones. What impression did Mr Hollande make on you?
Vladimir Putin: As you said yourself, the question is both inappropriate and provocative. We are bound by long-standing partnerships with both France and Germany. Relations between our countries have passed through different stages, but it is clear that both Germany and France are our strategic partners, and we very much value our relationship with both. It is no accident that I travelled to Berlin and Paris.
”The main thing we must do is prevent the crisis from escalating in line with the worst-case scenario and we must avert a civil war in Syria. We agreed to continue our consultations and mutual efforts to achieve reconciliation in Syria and to reach conflict settlement there through political means.“
Naturally, we talked about our economic cooperation. In this regard we can say that our trade with France amounts to $28 billion (we calculate it in dollars), while with Germany it is $72 billion. You can see the difference.
We have invested – Russian business has invested – almost $6 billion in Germany’s economy. And Germany has invested $29 billion in Russia, I think. Just last year we invested $5,6 billion dollars in the German economy, while we invested $140 million in France. That is part of an answer.
Are our current levels of cooperation in line with the economic potential of both countries? Clearly they are not, but there are very good prospects ahead of us. And we discussed this in great detail with Mr President.
Russian-French economic cooperation is distinguished by our determination to develop contacts in the real sector of the economy. We cooperate in nuclear energy, we have agreed to cooperate and manufacture joint products in the field of nuclear engineering, and we have even set up a joint venture.
We have agreements and cooperate in the power industry and hydrocarbons – fields in which French companies are currently operating in Russia – and we look forward to working with them in third countries.
We cooperate in aviation and our French partners are involved in the manufacture of two of our good aircraft: both medium- and short-haul ones. With regards to outer space, we have planned 14 launches from French Guiana over the next 15 years. This all represents a huge amount of work.
We have very good prospects in engineering. If we actively support this field and provide administrative assistance where necessary, naturally we will achieve much more impressive results.
As you noticed and observed, we talked for quite a long time. It was a very detailed and thorough conversation, and I am confident that we will develop very good business relations. In any event, I was very comfortable discussing these issues with Mr President, even when we touched on quite controversial ones.
Question (re-translated): Mr Putin, if Russia was asked to [provide political asylum to] accept Bashar al-Assad and his family, what would you answer? And the second question for President Hollande: what political solution is possible for the situation in Syria, and how much time do you think the so-called Annan Plan needs to work?
Vladimir Putin: We have very good and long-standing relations with Syria, but when I hear rumours that Russia has certain special interests there, I want to tell you that this is a complete fallacy. We have neither a significant amount of trade and economic ties, nor military cooperation.
The only thing we care about with regards to Syria is the possible radicalization of the situation, having it spiral out of control, and the death of civilians. We are now talking about, for example, the tragedy that recently occurred in one of the country’s villages: I think 14 or 15 people were killed there, and some were tortured. This became known to you, your colleagues, and to the entire international community. And how many civilians were killed by the opposing party, by the so-called rebels, do you know? There too the number is in the hundreds.
Our goal is to reconcile all parties to the conflict. We are not involved in choosing allies and opponents; we want to take care of all and to bring the situation to a point where it is possible to reach a peaceful, political solution to the problem.
”Russian-French economic cooperation is distinguished by our determination to develop contacts in the real sector of the economy. If we actively support this field and provide administrative assistance where necessary, naturally we will achieve much more impressive results.“
As for a meeting with Mr al-Assad, I can say that he was in Paris much more often than in Moscow. So let's look at this issue from this perspective.
Vladimir Putin: You can look at the problem and compare the situation with other countries in the region: what is happening in Libya, in Iraq, in other countries in the Middle East? Has life there become safer and better? In which direction are they going? What is the answer? So far no one has it. Therefore, we are suggesting that we act in a careful, balanced manner, at least here in Syria.
Question (re-translated): A question for Mr Putin.
Mr President, is it possible for you to accept what my colleague just described, namely a Syrian regime without Bashar al-Assad, bearing in mind that you really do have strategic interests in Syria?
Vladimir Putin: Everything that is acceptable to the Syrian people is acceptable to us. In order to find a workable solution we need to stop the violence by both sides, all parties to the conflict need to sit at the negotiating table, and we need to create an atmosphere in which they can negotiate. And if we see that this process is gaining momentum and becoming a reality, then of course we will support it.
But we cannot resolve issues concerning the form of government or the country's leadership for the Syrian people. If you think that we can decide for other nations, go to Cairo today and take part in the elections for the President of Egypt. You cannot do so and this is also impossible in the Syrian case. And no one can do it.
But why do we persist in thinking that if we remove someone in the current leadership from power, then tomorrow everything will be perfect? What is happening in Libya? We all know what a tyrant Gaddafi was. Perhaps. And you know what happened in Sirte, after the rebels entered the city? Why did you not write about it? Did humanitarian grace triumph there? No, it did not.
We want the situation to be less violent. I repeat: we are not for al-Assad, nor for his opponents. Rather, we want to achieve a peaceful situation which does not lead to a large-scale civil war. That is the goal of our policy with regards to Syria.
Question (re-translated): I would like to know if you talked about Ukraine and Yulia Tymoshenko. Mr Putin do you feel, like Francois Hollande does, that Ms Tymoshenko should be released from prison? The [European] football championship will start very soon in Ukraine. Is there any agreement between Russia and France on this issue?
Vladimir Putin: Our positions on this topic are actually quite close. I really do not think that certain sporting events should be boycotted for political reasons. I am a categorical opponent of mixing sports and politics. This, incidentally, is contrary to current Olympic ideals.
With regard to Ms Tymoshenko, her conviction, Russia's position, and my own are all well-known. Ms Tymoshenko was sentenced for signing gas contracts with the Russian Federation. Before these contracts were signed our lawyers carefully analysed all relevant Russian, international, and Ukrainian legislation.
We would never sign contracts that are contrary to the laws of the counterparty, in this case those of Ukraine. And we already talked about this publicly. Moreover, we also publicly offered to bring Ms Tymoshenko to Russia if necessary, to receive treatment at the very least.