President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Mr Prime Minister, ladies and gentlemen,
I want to start by noting our increasingly frequent meetings with our Italian partners and friends. Last month, we received President Sergio Mattarella in Moscow, and today, we had substantive and productive talks with Italian Prime Minister Mr Gentiloni.
Italy has traditionally been one of Russia’s major partners and our countries seek to build constructive relations based on equality and respect for each other’s interests.
We discussed the whole range of cooperation areas during the talks today, and outlined concrete plans for further development. We gave priority attention to promising areas for economic development.
Italy is one of Russia’s major trade partners. Our bilateral trade came to around $20 billion last year. Of course, as a result of the circumstances we know, this figure is considerably lower than the peak figure we had in 2013, but we do have grounds for hope because we saw bilateral trade growth of close to 30 percent at the start of this year.
It is very good to see that reciprocal investment remains at a high level. Italian investment in the Russian economy comes to more than $1 billion, and Russian investment in Italy comes to $2.4 billion.
I am sure that the implementation of the roadmap adopted last year on trade and investment cooperation will contribute to deepening business ties, as will the recent Italian government decision to select Russia as a target country for stepping up economic cooperation.
We invited Italian businesspeople to take part in the St Petersburg International Economic Forum that opens on June 1. I remind you that last year, we signed around 20 inter-corporate agreements for a total of $1.3 billion with Italy alone.
Of course, we discussed promising cooperation areas, including energy. Russia is Italy’s biggest natural gas supplier, covering 43 percent of its gas demand. We have agreed to continue developing our effective cooperation in this area.
We hope that Italian companies will take part in promising work to produce hydrocarbons and in projects to diversify Russian energy supplies to Europe. I am referring here to the construction of new mainline gas pipelines, in particular, along the southern route. In this respect, I note the cooperation agreement just signed between Rosneft and ENI.
We work together with good results in industry, science, and high-tech sectors.
I must mention too our productive cooperation in manned space flights. In two months’ time, an international team will fly to the International Space Station, with an Italian citizen among its members, Paolo Nespoli, as astronaut from the European Space Agency. This will be his second flight to the station.
Traditionally close ties in culture and tourism are one of the distinguishing features of our bilateral cooperation.
Italy is a very popular destination among Russian tourists. In 2016, 710,000 people from Russia visited Italy. We expect to see growing numbers of Italians visiting Russia too. Specialised tourism offices have opened in Rome and Milan, and this has already helped to boost the number of Italian tourists coming to Russia.
Our two countries’ museums are expanding their contacts. The Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow is currently holding an exhibition of Italian artist Giorgio de Chirico, and in June, the State Hermitage in St Petersburg will hold a unique exhibition of historic artefacts from the collection of the Egyptian Museum in Turin. In autumn, Days of Moscow will take place in Milan, Genoa, and Venice, and next year, the Russian Seasons will take place in Italy.
We discussed current issues on the international and regional agendas, of course, and looked at the crisis situations in Syria, Libya, Ukraine, and on the Korean Peninsula.
Russia and Italy support joint efforts by the international community to act against today’s greatest threat – international terrorism.
Overall, we agreed to continue deepening our foreign policy coordination. This is particularly relevant now, with Italy holding a non-permanent seat on the UN Security Council, and set to preside in the OSCE in 2018.
We discussed Russia’s relations with the European Union. It is not at all possible to call them normal right now, and we must try to avoid excessive politicisation and restore a constructive spirit for cooperation.
I am sure that greater economic cooperation between Russia and European countries and direct ties between the Eurasian Economic Union and the EU would help to strengthen trust across the entire Eurasian region.
I want to conclude by thanking Mr Gentiloni and all of our Italian friends and colleagues for this substantive and useful exchange of views. I am sure that the agreements we reached today will contribute to further all-round development of our bilateral ties.
Thank you for your attention.
Prime Minister of Italy Paolo Gentiloni (retranslated): I thank President Putin for the warm welcome in Sochi and our important talks, which will continue during our working lunch.
Bilateral relations are, of course, at the centre of our talks. We have always tried to maintain – even in the most difficult times, which may already be a thing of the past – the trust of Italian companies in the Russian market and the Russian business community. Our companies have always had trust in that country. I think it was the right choice, because the recent developments prove that following the difficult times – which were due to a variety of reasons – that the Italian and the Russian economies went through, today we can see positive signs of resumed trade exchanges between our countries.
Approximately 600 Italian companies are operating in Russia. The volume of trade remains an important issue, and, as the President mentioned, we saw new signs of it being restored in recent months. However, the data looks fairly positive against the background of Italy’s overall foreign trade. In terms of exports [to Russia], the Italian economy has reached a level unseen in the past seven years. Our companies prove that there is renewed interest in the Russian market (Astaldi, ENI, Tecnimont, and others). This is evidenced by the agreements that we signed today.
Prime Minister Renzi attended the St Petersburg International Economic Forum last year. This year, too, the forum remains an important event for our system. It will be attended by general directors of major Italian companies and an important Italian government delegation.
Keeping these economic relations in mind, I would like to mention another important and symbolic thing, which is our gratitude to Rosneft for giving the Marche region 5 million [euros] to rebuild a hospital after last year's earthquake.
We touched upon key international issues in our conversations as well. From my perspective, as the G7 chairman, I find it very important to understand President Putin’s viewpoint on these issues.
I think that there are opportunities for cooperation in fighting terrorism, and responding to regional crises. I'm talking about Libya, Syria, and Afghanistan, where Italy and Russia (and the international community in general) can and should cooperate. There are common threats, and I think that we should join efforts as we try to respond to them. Some threats are quite serious, such as, primarily, Libya. I think that we are doing well in this arena as well.
Finally, in recent years, Italy has been supporting an open dialogue between Russia and the European Union. Of course, this strategic partnership should not be suspended because of the crisis involving Ukraine. I think that all the paths for working within this partnership, including the partnership with the Eurasian Economic Union, should remain open. Therefore, I once again thank President Putin for the warm welcome in Sochi.
Question (retranslated): Mr Gentiloni, you mentioned Libya. Do you really think that Moscow can nudge General Haftar into reconciliation with the Government of National Accord in Tripoli?
And a question for President Putin: Do you believe it is possible to establish a united government in Tripoli? Do you believe national reconciliation is possible? I see Mr Lavrov is here, and I want to ask, did he brief you on his recent meeting with President Trump? Also, how do you assess Trump’s action so far as US president?
Paolo Gentiloni: A united Libya is the common goal. I think this is in the interests of both Italy and Russia. We both support UN Resolution 2259, which welcomes the creation of the Government of National Accord.
We realise, however, that the government should be broadened and we are working to ensure that this expansion will be as inclusive as possible and will include important political players such as General Haftar’s movement.
I believe that the international community can and should make joint efforts in this direction because a united Libya will boost stability in the region, while a divided Libya would be dangerous for everyone.
Vladimir Putin: I think that there are hopes for civil peace in Libya. The country has great importance in the region and is important for Europe too as it has become a transit point for many refugees, especially from Africa, trying to cross to Europe.
This situation cannot be put down to whatever serious events, whether in North Africa, Iraq, or in Syria. But on May 2, as we know, the first meeting between the various political forces, General Haftar and the government, took place.
We hope greatly that the agreements reached at this meeting will go ahead and that this will open the road towards swift restoration of civil peace and stability in Libya.
For our part, we will do all we can to facilitate this process, together with our Italian friends and with all those who seek to normalise the situation, including other countries in the region, particularly Egypt.
As for the results of Foreign Minister Lavrov’s visit to the United States and his meeting with President Trump, we assess the results highly. This was the first visit, a return visit by our foreign minister, after we received US Secretary of State Tillerson here in Moscow.
This is normal and natural international practice. At the same time, however, we see the growing political schizophrenia in the United States. There is no other way I can explain the accusations against the current president that he handed whichever secrets over to Lavrov.
Incidentally, I spoke with him [Lavrov] today about this matter, and I will have to give him a ticking off for not sharing these secrets with me. Not with me, nor with our intelligence officials. This was really not good of him at all.
What’s more, if the US administration has no objection, we are ready to provide a transcript of Lavrov’s conversation with Trump to the US Senate and Congress. Of course, we would do this only if the American administration so desires.
Initially, when we watched the first developments in this internal political struggle, we were amused. But now, the spectacle is becoming quite simply sad, and it is causing us concern, because it is hard to imagine just how far people willing to think up this kind of nonsense and absurdity might go. All of this is ultimately about fanning anti-Russian sentiment.
This does not surprise me. They are using anti-Russian slogans to destabilize the internal political situation in the United States, but they do not realise that they are harming their own country. If this is the case, then they are quite simply stupid. If they do understand what they are doing, then they are dangerous and unscrupulous people. In any event, this is the United States’ own affair and we have no intention of getting involved.
As for assessments of President Trump’s actions so far in office, this too is not our affair. It is for the American people, American voters, to give their assessment. Of course, this will be possible only once he is fully allowed to work.
Question: Mr Prime Minister, let me move from relations with the United States to a broader international topic. In two weeks, the G7 Summit will be held under your chairmanship. I would like to know what message you will convey to the G7 leaders after talks with Russia. And, Mr President, I would like to know what message would you like to convey to the G7 leaders?
Paolo Gentiloni: The message will be rather simple, namely, that Russia is a very important player in the international arena and, in particular, in the Mediterranean, which is of particular importance for Italy, but also in many other regions.
That’s why when discussing various world crises, the G7 leaders at this important meeting – important because most of the leaders will be taking part in it for the first time, so it is also unusual in this respect – should take into account the views and positions of Russia, they should be part of our discussion.
We know that there are things that bring us together and things that divide us, but we also know that we have common interests – international stability, the fight against terrorism and the settlement of a number of crises.
We just talked about Libya, and we can extend this conversation to Syria and even to the risks emanating from the Korean peninsula. So, I think it is the duty of those chairing the G7 this year to keep an important player like Russia in mind.
Vladimir Putin: As for my message that I conveyed to the Prime Minister, it is secret, I cannot talk about it, it is confidential information.
Question (retranslated): Going back to the G7, even though you said that your message is secret. But the question I am addressing to both leaders is this: Is there evidence or the expectation that the G7 will again become the G8 in the foreseeable future?
And one more question for Mr Gentiloni, if I may. The discussion of the electoral law in Italy is again at an impasse. Is it possible that the government will sooner or later get involved in this process?
Paolo Gentiloni: I wouldn’t want to bore my colleagues and the Russian journalists with issues concerning the Italian electoral law. Partly because it is not a very simple issue. You know that the government, from the moment it was formed, declared that the issue is within the competence of parliament, and we shall confine ourselves to supporting and contributing to this work as best we can. We’ll see in the coming weeks and months how it will work out.
As for the G7, I repeat, the issue is not whether the G7 will again become the G8. It is about working with a key partner like Russia and looking for common ground on international crises.
Although we are managing to take some steps forward in this regard, that is, in the positive work being done in Syria, there have also been difficulties, and there are some open questions regarding Ukraine, but the further we move forward the easier it will be to answer your question.
Vladimir Putin: We did not refuse to be in the G8. Our partners chose not to come to us. We will always gladly welcome anyone who wants to cooperate with Russia in any format.
We will shortly be working in the G20 format in the Federal Republic of Germany. Just recently the Prime Minister and I were in China where President Xi Jinping rolled out an impressive programme of cooperation, a diverse and multifaceted one.
I am sure that if we work in this format – without any restrictions, without any political bias, and with the aim of achieving the maximum result in the economy and also in the social sphere – we can achieve results.
It is necessary to pool efforts in the economic sphere, in combating terror and poverty, and protecting nature and the climate. If we act in concert then the result will be positive, and if we act out of short-term considerations of political expediency, nothing good will come of it.
Question: We know that the Italian government has always consistently opposed tightening the sanctions against Russia. Sectoral sanctions expire in July. Will you remain as consistent as before, and what are you prepared to propose to your European Union colleagues? Decisions in the economic sphere, primarily?
And a question for the President. Italy calls us a target country. Is Russia prepared to give similar priority to working with Italy and, if so, in what specific areas?
Paolo Gentiloni: Yes, we all know the nature of these sanctions, that the European Union’s decisions are connected with the Ukraine crisis and with compliance with the Minsk Agreements. But our view is – and we have insisted on it and will continue to do so in the framework of the European Union and NATO – the extension of sanctions cannot be automatic.
There has to be a serious discussion of the issue. Of course, while preserving the goal of maintaining the unity of the European Union and the North Atlantic Alliance, because nothing can be achieved separately, in addition to this unity we should factor in how things are going with respect to the Ukraine crisis.
If compliance with the Minsk Agreements remains our goal, we should clearly tell one another what the situation is. Italy, by the way, has extra interest in this because next year it will chair the OSCE, an organisation which plays an important role in monitoring compliance with some important concrete agreements made in Ukraine. So no one should think that Italy will alone challenge the opinion of its allies, but nor should anyone think that decisions such as the decision on sanctions can be passed automatically without a detailed discussion of the real situation.
Vladimir Putin: As regards priorities in cooperation with Italy, there are many, our cooperation is diversified. Above all this includes work in high-tech spheres, in the field of science and education. You have seen the signing of another agreement on cooperation between higher education institutions.
As I said in my opening remarks, we are working in the sphere of space exploration. We have completed a massive programme and there are good prospects for building planes, helicopters and engines. We have good and interesting results and good prospects in the sphere of infrastructure, not to mention energy.
There are all sorts of areas – hydrocarbon energy and renewable energy sources. I was just discussing with the Prime Minister the interest of the company Enel in developing wind energy. And there are other areas.
We discussed it in detail today and we don’t doubt for a moment that all these areas will be relevant and will develop. We’ll be able to look at the practical progress of many of these areas during the course of the St Petersburg International Economic Forum.