Question: During this visit, you had three officially planned meetings: with the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, the President of France and the Chancellor of Germany. This is essentially the European “group of three.” What agreements were reached? And one clarification concerning the first meeting – with [British Prime Minister] David Cameron. How did it begin?
President of Russia Vladimir Putin: The same way meetings usually begin: we sat down and began talking about the most acute problems. This concerned several international and bilateral issues, but naturally, we mainly spoke about settling the situation in Ukraine.
As for the meeting with the German Chancellor, it was held today, as you know. The meeting was quite lengthy; we spoke for nearly an hour, about the same topics.
The most substantive conversation, of course, was yesterday, with the French President. We spoke in more detail about our bilateral contacts and international problems, including the Iranian problem, Syria, and several other issues of mutual interest. I think the exchange of views was very helpful.
Question: Mr President, as we know, you had several unplanned meetings today. Who did you speak with? Were you able to overcome any of the differences between you?
Vladimir Putin: I don’t really understand what differences you are referring to. But today, I had many contacts and meetings, with nearly all the participants. Perhaps not all of them, but with very many participants in today’s events and with the crowned heads.
You saw that I was sitting next to the Queen of Denmark and representative from Luxembourg, spoke with the Prime Minister of Norway and the President of Greece. I cannot even remember everyone because I had so many contacts.
Question: Obama, Poroshenko?
Vladimir Putin: Of course, I also spoke twice with Mr Poroshenko and the President of the United States, quite substantively in my opinion.
Question: Could you clarify about Mr Poroshenko? Were you able to reach any mutual understanding with him? What issues did you discuss, and in what format? Do you plan to continue contacts at any level? And how soon?
Vladimir Putin: Regarding the format, I already stated while still in Russia that I am not planning to hide from anyone at this event – that would be impolite, that’s not right. And moreover, the President of France and the Chancellor of Germany asked me to have a meeting with Mr Poroshenko, with their participation.
This meeting took place, as they say in this case, “on the sidelines” of the main event. We sat down at a table and spoke for about fifteen minutes. I cannot say that this was a comprehensive discussion, but nevertheless, we touched on the main issues pertaining to settling the situation and developing economic relations.
As far as settlement is concerned, I fully welcome Mr Poroshenko’s position that the bloodshed in eastern Ukraine must cease immediately, and he has a plan to do this. However, it’s better to ask him what that plan is, not me. He mentioned it briefly, but it is one thing to say this here, in France, and another matter to speak about it in his own nation.
I once again stressed that it’s not Russia and Ukraine who should be the parties involved in talks on this matter – Russia is not a party to the conflict – but rather, the Kiev authorities and representatives from among those who favour federalisation in the East. I cannot say exactly how all this will be implemented, but I thought the general attitude seemed right; I liked it. I hope that is what will happen. If it happens, then we will create the conditions to develop our relations in other areas, including economic relations.
As for the economy, I spoke in detail with the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, with the President of France, with the Chancellor of Germany, and Mr Poroshenko as well about the planned signing of the well-known association agreement between Ukraine and the European Commission, the European Union.
I warned that we will be forced to take measures to protect our economy, our market; as soon as the agreement is signed and comes into force, we will be forced to take measures to protect our own economy.
Let me remind you that currently, Russia and Ukraine have zero customs tariff rates within the CIS free trade zone. The proposed agreements do not allow Ukraine to participate in other agreements aside from its association with the European Union.
But that’s not even the main issue; the main issue is that if we maintain zero rates while Ukraine opens its market to European goods, then all the European goods will enter our customs territory via transit, which we cannot allow, and we did not agree to that with Europe.
We will be forced – not to impose sanctions of some sort, I want to stress this again, but to change to the regular most-favoured nation regime used around the world.
However, I think that ultimately, this will be difficult for Ukraine, because it is unlikely in this case that its goods will be competitive even on the Russian market. I think that Ukraine’s leadership understands this.
In addition to everything else, you know that we have special procedures for Ukrainian citizens to enter and stay in the Russian Federation; it is even more favourable than for the Eurasian Economic Union citizens who can stay in Russia for one month, but we make an exception for Ukraine: Ukrainian citizens can stay and essentially work in Russia for up to three months without having to register.
And what do they do next? After that, they don’t even leave, but simply send their passports to Ukraine, where they get stamped and sent back. According to our data, out of Ukraine’s 18 million able-bodied citizens, about five or six million are working in Russia. This is a huge figure, and we will also need to think about how we must regulate this aspect of our relations.
Overall, there are many questions that require a serious approach in my view. I hope we will restore some sort of contact with the European Commission. We agreed to hold consultations. So far, we have not had any consultations, as I said to the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, the Chancellor of Germany and the President of France.
But we are waiting for suggestions because we have already shown initiative on this matter many times, and so far, there are no suggestions. But everything was said, and I think we discussed everything. We will see how the situation actually develops.
Question (retranslated): Mr President, how likely do you think is a ceasefire in Ukraine after your today’s meetings with Mr Poroshenko and President Obama? What can you do and what will you do to put an end to hostilities? How soon could this be achieved?
Vladimir Putin: I think this needs to be done immediately: the counter-terrorism operation in southeast Ukraine must be stopped immediately. This is the only way to create the conditions necessary to launch real negotiations with the supporters of federalisation.
After all, they still have not received any concrete word from anyone, nobody has proposed anything specific to them. And people simply do not understand how they will continue their lives in these conditions, and what will be the main parameters of the future Constitution. After all, there is no talk of this.
In any case, there are discussions and there are disagreements. There was a discussion and a disagreement, various disagreements, including between participants in the presidential race. But nobody invited representatives from southeast Ukraine.
And this situation must be changed radically. The presidential elections in Ukraine are over and the fight for the presidency is complete. It’s time to get down to substantive work, as diplomats say, to work directly with people.
Question: How realistic would it be to achieve a ceasefire after the fairly important meeting that occurred today?
Vladimir Putin: I think the Ukrainian leadership must show goodwill – or, if you will, demonstrate government wisdom. This [counter-terrorism] operation must be stopped immediately, a ceasefire must be declared immediately. This is the only way to create the conditions for negotiations. There is no other way!
You see, when, for example, the “Right Sector” – the unofficial armed formation – gets involved in the hostilities, takes its own men and executes Ukrainian army soldiers in the field on a ‘no trial, no record’ basis, simply because they refused to shoot at the people or, they occupy a hospital and execute the wounded there, can this be called normal conditions for beginning the negotiation process? Of course not!
All this needs to be stopped immediately. Naturally, I told many of my partners during today’s talks that we are waiting for a thorough investigation into all crimes, including the tragedy in Odessa.
Question: I asked you a question two months ago after your Direct Line; at the time, you commented on the situation with the Dozhd channel, and many people perceived this as a positive signal. Advertisers began to return and call, since you said the channel was interesting and such. But the key players (cable companies and satellite operators) still say ‘okay,’ but there is no command'. The situation is getting worse, the staff has been downsized.
Vladimir Putin: Maybe they are being cunning. Do you think I command all the cable companies and all your advertisers?
Question: They are speaking abstractly: there was no command. So I want to ask you, who could this command be coming from?
Vladimir Putin: I don’t know, I don’t give such commands. I did not give the cable channels a command to stop working with you, and I do not feel it is my right to give them any instructions to start this work. You should be the ones to work with them.
Question: You recently spoke about the need to recapitalize Gazprom. What did you mean? Did you mean additional issue in the government’s interest?
Vladimir Putin: Yes, possibly.
Question: And what is the volume in question?
Vladimir Putin: That is one of the possible options; it is among the possible options for the use of the gold and foreign exchange reserves. Right? If we have a construction project worth 55 billion (approximately, or maybe even more), then this is a very safe way of investing our money. But it does not at all mean that this is what we should do. This is simply one of the possible options. Although there are others.
Of course, for such a long-term contract of 30 years, Gazprom could easily raise money from the market as well. And moreover, we have an agreement with our Chinese friends and partners that they are prepared to make advance payments, in essence, and reduce the cost of this project significantly. So here, different options are possible, including recapitalisation of the company itself.
Question: Were gas prices discussed?
Vladimir Putin: No, Mr Poroshenko and I did not discuss gas prices, but I know that Gazprom and its Ukrainian partners are close to finalising agreements. It is not out of the question that we could meet the Ukrainians halfway, support them, provided, of course, that they pay the debts that have accumulated recently.
But there is one fact that all of us, including our European friends and partners, must take into account: the risk of non-payment remains very high, and if somebody thinks that they can resolve the problems of Ukrainian energy supply through reverse supplies, they are deeply mistaken.
For two reasons: first, if we see that somebody is violating our contracts for gas supplies, we will reduce the volume, and the physical volume on the European market will simply be insufficient, there will simply not be enough.
Moreover, the high risk of non-payment remains, given that Ukraine’s economy is in a tight situation and these risks of non-payment will then fully fall onto the shoulders of our European partners. I do not think anybody in Europe wants this.
We know what we are doing, and how. We have enormous resources. We are prepared to work constructively. Indeed, people have been discussing this throughout all previous months. We could have suspended supplies a long time ago, going back to advanced payment system.
We kept putting this off; even when Gazprom had announced, a week or two ago, that it is going back to pre-payment system, I asked the company to postpone this with the hope of reaching an agreement. I must note that the European Commission and European Energy Commissioner Mr Gunther Oettinger, who heads the energy vector in the European Commission, have played an unexpectedly constructive role in this case. Let me repeat again, I hope that we will figure things out as soon as possible.