President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Mr Vice-Chancellor, colleagues, good afternoon. It is a great pleasure to see you.
Let me start by saying that we see a regrettable fall in our bilateral trade, and this decline continues. There are many reasons for this, subjective and objective. At the same time however, businesspeople in both countries continue their work and are making active efforts and carrying out their projects, including long-term and large-scale projects.
Our cooperation on the international stage continues quite intensively. True, it is focused on quite narrow subjects, but the work continues nonetheless. In this respect, I must say a few words about the most sensitive subjects – Ukraine and the situation in the Middle East.
Today, with the whole world, and especially Europe, facing a refugee problem, it is worth my recalling the position the German government took when it expressed active opposition to military operations in Iraq. Indeed, after those military operations took place and other countries in the region were destabilised, this threat emerged and transformed into the very real refugee problem we see now.
You know our position well. We take the view that the way to overcome this situation is to help to strengthen statehood in the places where it still exists and help to rebuild government institutions in the places where this process is underway today. We need to facilitate the political process, the process of finding political settlements to all matters of conflict, including in Syria.
But at the forefront right now of course is the fight against the common evil that is terrorism. Only once we have defeated terrorism or at least dealt it a serious blow can we talk about making progress on the political track.
If you think we can and should discuss other matters too, my colleagues and I are ready to discuss any subject of mutual interest.
Vice-Chancellor and Minister of Economic Affairs and Energy of Germany Sigmar Gabriel (retranslated): Thank you very much for finding the time for this meeting. These days, you have a great deal of work related to the conflict in Syria. I am very happy that you found time for me.
If we look at the world as it is today and what is happening in it, we can only state that the conflicts, which have arisen between Russia and the West – the European Union and the US – impede our ability to jointly overcome conflicts.
My personal opinion is that we must do everything possible to implement the agreements we have reached, and as far as past situations and various interpretations of events are concerned, we should leave them in the past and find new ways to renew cooperation, especially between Germany and Russia.
Of course, it is clear to me that in discussing issues like Syria and Ukraine, your main partner is the United States, but on the other hand, I nevertheless feel that Germany and the EU can be important partners as well.
If we take a look into the past, back to the year 2000, when Germany and Russia had excellent relations, it is entirely unclear why the development of our two nations went in completely different directions.
I feel that the situation surrounding Ukraine is most likely a symptom rather than the cause of the problems that have occurred.
What’s most important now is to do everything we can to implement the Minsk Agreements. We are already seeing some initial progress.
Local elections have been postponed, I believe, to February. There is, of course, a challenge, in ensuring that all the objectives set forth in the Minsk protocol are fulfilled from your side and from Ukraine’s side.
The most important challenge will likely be the border between Russia and Ukraine, which will be controlled by Ukraine’s central government; this will be the biggest obstacle. I believe it is in our common interests for it to be successful.
And I feel that this is an enormous opportunity to overcome the conflict, especially since there are parties involved in Europe and the US who benefit from the continuation of this conflict, rather than its resolution. So we must do everything and use all our opportunities to overcome this conflict.
As for our economic relations, naturally, there are various opportunities to maintain them, in spite of the existing political issues, and our entrepreneurs are trying to use these opportunities.
You know that a platform was created for entrepreneurs; we no longer call it a strategic working group, so we have created a new platform for entrepreneurs. And our businesspeople will meet within the framework of that platform. Your colleague just met in this format with our state secretary. Mr Miller and Mr Matthias Warnig will continue to pursue Nord Stream 2 project. This is in our interests; but it is not just in Germany’s interests – it is a very interesting project even beyond Germany’s borders.
What’s most important as far as legal issues are concerned is that we strive to ensure that all this remains under the competence of the German authorities, if possible. So if we can do this, then opportunities for external meddling will be limited. And we are in a good negotiating position on this matter.
And in order to limit political meddling in these issues – you are, of course, aware, this is not just a formality – we need to settle the issue of Ukraine’s role as a transit nation after 2019. There are technical reasons for this: you know that Ukraine’s gas transportation system is not in very good state. And, of course, the financial and political role it will play for Ukraine, as will the backflow of gas.
As regards everything else, I believe we can handle it. What’s most important is for German agencies to maintain authority over settling these issues. And then, we will limit the possibility of political interference in this project.