President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen.
Let me start with a few words about the results of our work. First of all, I want to thank our hosts. They really have created a good environment for the G20’s work, friendly and business-like at the same time.
I think that our work took place in a very constructive spirit and produced results. Let me say a few words about the aspects I consider most important.
First, we discussed together the global infrastructure initiatives, and in this respect let me note the decision taken to establish an infrastructure hub in Sydney. Our financial institutions are also interested in this organisation that will be set up. This is an issue to which the Russian Government has paid close and constant attention of late. These decisions are valuable in that they identify best practice and create opportunities for exchanging information in this vitally important area.
The second important moment regards another issue that is always at the centre of our attention and indeed, we are putting considerable resources into addressing this matter. I am referring to unemployment and the labour market.
Let me remind you that the situation in Russia is good overall. We have a relatively low level of unemployment. Unemployment stood at slightly over 5 percent six months ago, and is currently at 4.9 percent. This figure might drop a little further perhaps by the end of the year. These are good figures, very good even, when compared to the situation many of our partners face.
This does not mean that we don’t have problems. We do have our problems too. For a start, the unemployment situation differs from one region to another across the country. Second, there are also issues regarding vulnerable groups in the population, people with disabilities and health problems, for example. There are problems with youth unemployment, especially in the country’s southern regions. We discussed all of these issues in great detail.
One matter that is not such a relevant issue in Russia but is a serious question in general is the need to close the employment gap between men and women. There are positive aspects here, and things we need to work on too. It is good to have a positive demographic trend of course, but we also need to ensure that young families have access to preschool establishments so that women can return more quickly to the labour market and not lose their professional skills. These are important matters and I think the discussion was interesting, substantive and useful.
We also looked at the energy sector and discussed these matters today. The discussion on initiating reform of international energy institutions is extremely important. This is all the more true when geography of energy supply is changing considerably and structural changes in the global energy system are taking place, and so of course we need new institutions to regulate this crucial area of activity. This issue was the subject of a very concrete and interesting discussion today.
I think it useful and important that we continued discussions on financial regulation and the tax system. Let me note that these matters were priorities too at the G20 summit in St Petersburg, and I was pleased to see that the Australian presidency continued this work. This is important for everyone. We had detailed discussions in this area today, looking at tax evasion issues, reduction of the tax base, and fighting offshores. As you know, in Russia we are not just discussing these matters but are taking action and putting in place the needed measures. Our parliament is examining a draft law in this area right now.
Let me mention too the BRICS group meeting that took place. Such meetings on the sidelines of the G20 summits have become part of our regular contacts. We coordinate our preliminary positions before meeting with our other colleagues from the G20. These are useful exchanges of views that focus us on our mutual interests. It was the case this time too, and we will continue this practice. The next BRICS summit, as you know, will take place in Russia, in Ufa in Bashkortostan on July 8–9, 2015.
Our colleagues will hold a discussion on future threats and challenges over lunch now. Serious diseases such as Ebola are one of the issues on the agenda. Let me tell you that I discussed this matter yesterday at a bilateral meeting with the French President. We agreed to make efforts to help each other in this area.
Several planes left Moscow tonight with a 200-bed hospital and special equipment for fighting particularly serious infectious diseases of this sort. I hope the authorities and specialists in Guinea, where the planes are headed, and the French doctors already at work there will appreciate this contribution and put the equipment we are providing to effective use. We are also providing the needed funding and our specialists are at work on developing a vaccine [against Ebola]. They are working actively on this. I hope this will achieve positive results.
That, in short, is all I wanted to say about the results of this G20 summit, but I must mention too the work we did in Beijing at the APEC summit, since we did not speak about this after the meetings in Beijing.
I must give our Chinese friends the credit they deserve. They did a tremendous amount of work to prepare the APEC summit and organised it very well, at the very highest level. I am not just talking about the external side of things. China is always good at this, they always do it well, always to the highest level in the fullest sense. But I am talking about the summit’s content too, which was interesting and useful.
We discussed regional development and how to develop trade and economic ties in the Asia-Pacific region. As you know, there are several proposed approaches here on how we can organise our work together in the future in this fast-growing and promising region.
I must say that our Chinese friends’ proposals look very good to us. Their position is that we should not just develop new institutions but also make sure they complement existing mechanisms, not separate countries and divide them into different groups, but on the contrary, encourage them to come together in a common effort.
Briefly, this is what I wanted to tell you about. If you have questions, please, go ahead.
Question: Mr President, in China and here in Australia the sanctions issue no doubt came up. In what circumstances was it discussed? At the general meetings, or perhaps at the bilateral meetings or during informal unofficial conversations?
Vladimir Putin: Yes, the matter was discussed, though only in its general aspects. We gave a lot of attention to issues concerning Ukraine of course during the bilateral meetings. As far as sanctions go, we discussed the view that sanctions are harmful for everyone concerned, for those hit by the sanctions and for those who impose them. It seems to me that we are already reaching a common understanding that this argument not only has the right to exist but is in fact the only correct view. We talked about what we need to do to gradually find a way out of this situation.
Question: In your interview just before the G20, you said that Russia has an action plan at the ready for if the economic situation worsens suddenly and oil prices tumble. Could you give some more detail about this plan and what exactly it entails?
Also, the situation with Rosneft has been the subject of intense debate just of late. Some people think it absurd to talk of giving this company money in the current difficult economic situation. What is your view on this? Thank you.
Vladimir Putin: There is nothing absurd here. In my interview I said – I’m not sure if that bit was broadcast or not – that there is nothing absurd in the idea of supporting Russia’s biggest companies in which the state holds a stake. The only real issue here is whether the desire to obtain such financial support is motivated exclusively by corporate interests, or whether this investment, if it is made, will be put to use for the benefit of the entire Russian economy.
Overall, Rosneft is fully self-sufficient. It has big projects and a good financial situation. They do not have any problems. The question here is one of being able to carry out an even greater number of projects. The issue to examine is whether these projects need to be undertaken right now or not, given the situation with energy prices. After all, as we know, there is no relation between developing additional production and rising energy prices.
I am not sure therefore that we should necessarily hurry into this. This is a matter for the Government to examine, a matter for the analysts working in this area. There is nothing out of the ordinary in the proposals themselves, and as for the matter of whether to make this money available or not, as I said in my interview, to answer this question, the experts need to first make all the calculations and analyse the situation, and only then can we make a decision.
As for the falling oil prices, I think this is a result of current circumstances linked to increased production and lower demand – these are the two fundamental factors at work here. There is a monetary factor too, the fluctuations in the dollar’s exchange rate, and I think there is no need to explain that this too affects oil prices.
But let me say again that the lower oil prices will not affect Russia’s budget, all the more so now that the Central Bank has decided to introduce a floating exchange rate. We used to sell by the dollar and get 32 or 35 rubles in return, but if you look at today’s exchange rate, we get 45, 47 or 48 rubles for every dollar’s worth of what we sell. In that sense, budget revenue has even increased.
But this is not the only issue. The matter is also one of the energy companies’ financial situation and their investment in future development and production and everything related to this. All of the global producers on the main markets understand this very well and I am sure that adjustments will follow. Perhaps this will not happen today or tomorrow, but next year these adjustments will certainly come.
As for our plans, I will not go into the details now so as not to take up your time, but let me just repeat what I have already said, namely, that we will not burn through our reserves, neither the Government reserves nor those of the Central Bank, which are intended for other purposes. We will adjust our spending of course if needed. Let me stress this point.
This year, all revenues related to oil prices are guaranteed because prices were relatively high at the start and middle of the year. We received good revenues and continue to do so. Prices fell towards the end of the year, but for the year overall, I am sure the prices will be what was planned in our budget. As for next year, let’s wait and see. If the situation does change, we will adjust our spending plans, but not our social spending commitments. These are not easy issues of course, but we have enough money at our disposal to manage the situation.
We might have to adjust spending or look for ways of increasing revenue in other areas. But what is important in all of this is that there are some positive aspects in this situation too. When you have windfall revenues in the energy sector, all the more so in oil and gas, no one wants to invest in other sectors, but when profits in the different sectors even out, people start investing in other sectors too, including in high-tech production.
Question: You spoke of a turbulent period in global affairs. Are there any predictions about how long this will last?
Vladimir Putin: It’s always a thankless task to make predictions. This doesn’t depend on us alone but also on our partners and on their vision of building international relations. If we adhere to the fundamental principles of international law and respect each other’s interests, this will not last long. But if people keep making attempts to settle all issues in their own interests alone and make their geopolitical interests their sole point of reference, it is hard to say just how long this situation might continue. I hope that realisation of our common interest in returning the situation to normal will encourage us to settle these issues, put us on a general development track and raise the role of international law.
Question: What results do you think this summit has brought Russia, given that it took place in a rather complicated foreign policy situation and at a time when sanctions have been imposed on the country? Were you happy with the atmosphere at the summit? Did you have the impression that your colleagues tried to put pressure on you over the situation in Ukraine?
Vladimir Putin: It seems to me that I already answered this question, but you obviously want me to answer you in particular. Alright, I will do so.
I am happy with the results and the atmosphere. What’s more, I want to thank the people of Brisbane who gave us such a hospitable reception. I think that you could see this for yourselves too. I realised there had been some attempts to raise the tension when I looked through the local press and other media outlets after arriving. In this particular case, reality and the virtual life in the media were very far apart.
Our host, the Australian Prime Minister, as I already said, did create a very positive environment for working together. Yes, we do not share the same views on every issue, but the discussions were substantive, friendly and concrete. I think they were very useful.
Question: Mr President, I would like to come back to the issue of Ukraine in more detail.
Vladimir Putin: Ukraine hasn’t even come up yet.
Question: Yes, all the more reason then to raise the issue now. Did the G20 discuss Ukraine, and if yes, in what context? How do you view the current state of developments in Ukraine? I think that things have reached a particularly worrying point. Thank you.
Vladimir Putin: Ukraine was not discussed in any official context during the G20 discussions. The issue did not come up at all and was not even mentioned.
But all of the bilateral meetings dealt practically entirely with Ukraine. I can tell you that these discussions were very frank, substantive, and I think very useful too.
I think that we and our colleagues were able to understand each other better and that they gained better understanding of Russia’s motivations. I think that my colleagues succeeded too in explaining to me their concerns. I think this will help us. I cannot yet say how much this will help and how quickly we will manage to settle all the difficult issues related to the situation in Ukraine. I hope very much that we can do this as soon as possible, together, and with our Ukrainian partners too of course, for without them it is impossible to settle this crisis. This is the goal Russia is working towards in any case.
It might sound strange to you, but I think there are good hopes for being able to settle the situation. After all, both sides have at least established organisations that can act with greater responsibility to resolve the tasks ahead, taking into account above all the interests of people everywhere in Ukraine, including in the southeast. This is the most important thing. What matters most for Russia is that there be respect for the interests of people throughout the country, including the southeast, that they all have equal rights, and that their lawful demands should be fulfilled.
I learned from the media that the Ukrainian President has issued an order that it seems to me essentially amounts to an economic blockade of Lugansk and Donetsk. I think this is a big mistake because in this way they are cutting off these regions with their own hands. I do not understand why they would make such a decision. I will discuss this matter with Mr Poroshenko. Yesterday, during my bilateral meetings with our European partners, I said that we cannot allow such a turn of events, and today I see that this is precisely what has happened. I do not think this a fatal blow though. I hope that life and practice in reality will yet make their adjustments to these plans.
If you think back to the tragic events we had in the Caucasus, even during the most difficult days, months and years, we never switched off financing for Chechnya, kept up regular payments of pensions and benefits, and even continued subsidising the regional budget. At first glance, this looked rather foolish when the people in control there at the time were not just stealing the money but could use it for very dubious aims indeed. But we did this because we had a moral duty to the people there. In the end, this turned out to be the best decision because it ultimately meant that people, including in Chechnya, could see for themselves and appreciate the efforts that Russia made to support ordinary people.
This was perhaps ultimately one of the main factors that enabled the Russian federal authorities and the people in key positions in Chechnya at the time to reach agreement, come up with a plan for full and final settlement, and work together to fight the international terrorists that had come to the region from abroad. This played a very positive role.
Why are the authorities in Kiev now cutting off these regions with their own hands? I do not understand this. Or rather, I understand that they want to save money, but this is not the right occasion and the right time to do this.
Question: Could you share your impressions of your meeting with Mr Abbot?
Vladimir Putin: He made a very good impression. He is a very business-like person, concrete, to the point, handles discussion professionally, has a sense of discipline and made sure that everything kept to schedule, but at the same time he didn’t offend anyone and if someone didn’t get the chance to speak at one session, they got the chance at the next. No one was left out. In short, he is an excellent moderator and a professional partner.
So as to avoid gossip and speculation, let me explain why I did not go to the general breakfast. Our Finance Minister is there and will explain there what I told you before about the efforts we are making to fight Ebola.
But we have a 9-hour flight from here to Vladivostok, and then another 9 hours from Vladivostok to Moscow. We still have to get home and be ready for work on Monday. It would be nice to be able to sleep for 4 or 5 hours. I went to Tony [Abbot] and explained the situation to him. He was understanding about the whole thing. There is nothing more to the situation. I said goodbye to some of my other colleagues too. I think that our work here is over now and has ended successfully.
Thank you very much.