The Russian-Austrian consultations were also attended by Aide to the Russian President Yury Ushakov and Adviser to the Federal President of Austria for European and International Affairs Bettina Kirnbauer.
Later, the talks between Vladimir Putin and Alexander van der Bellen continued with participation of the Russian and Austrian delegations.
Following the meeting, Vladimir Putin and Alexander Van der Bellen made statements for the press and answered journalists’ questions.
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News conference following talks with Federal President of the Republic of Austria Alexander Van der Bellen
Federal President of the Republic of Austria Alexander Van der Bellen (retranslated): Mr President,
I am very happy to welcome you here in Vienna. I am especially pleased that President Putin made one of the first foreign trips after his election to Austria, to Vienna.
This was my first meeting with you as the Federal President but many years ago I met with you in the Austrian Parliament. I think I can say that together we found a good foundation for dialogue.
Good relations with Russia are important for me not only in the context of European policy but also for personal reasons. Russia played an important role in my family history – my parents spoke Russian with each other and I literally grew up on Russian literature although today this is no more than marginalia.
Russia and Austria have traditionally maintained very good relations that have a centuries-long history. These relations are not only political but also embrace such areas as culture, science, research, and music. For instance, 2018 is the Year of Music. Several days ago Schoenbrunn Palace hosted a wonderful concert in which Anna Netrebko and other performers took part.
One more important example of our cooperation is the joint commission on historical issues that is making a major contribution to facilitating understanding between our countries. And the importance of this commission should not be underrated. Usually or rather very often it is historians that influence the perception of different events by citizens of this or other country. For example, the French certainly write about Napoleon in a somewhat different way than Austrians or Russians.
We are also striving to promote understanding on the ground floor, so to speak – by developing direct contacts between ordinary citizens of our countries. This is why we discussed today the formation of an additional platform for dialogue at the civil society level. The first event opening this dialogue will take place today in Sochi. Ms Kneissl is taking part in its preparation on our behalf.
Of course, Russia is a very important market, including for Austria. Our direct investment in Russia is about seven billion euros, and Russian investment is 3–4 times larger.
Yesterday we marked a special anniversary: 50 years since the agreement on gas supplies from Russia to Austria was signed. The agreement was signed in 1968, between the Soviet Union and Austria back then. This means that Gazprom and OMV have been working together for 50 years. I believe this cooperation over the course of several decades already is mutually beneficial.
Soon, in less than a month, Austria will take over the Presidency of the EU Council. Unfortunately, I have to say that we live in a time when the tensions around the world are constantly growing. Austria has always tried to contribute to de-escalation, and we will continue to do so in the future.
Unfortunately, the issue of sanctions is very acute today, and, concerning foreign policy, Austria acts in concert with the other countries of the European Union, and will continue to act in concert with them. But at the same time dialogue with Russia has always been extremely important, and not just for Austria, but for the entire European Union.
I always get somewhat confused when I hear people say “Russia and Europe,” because Russia (at least a large part of it) is, of course, part of Europe and not some “foreign element.” We all know well that we can achieve peace in Europe only together with Russia, and a number of regional and global problems can only be resolved with Russia’s involvement.
President Putin and I have discussed various foreign policy issues, such as developments in the “triangle” between the US, Iran and Europe, if you will. I will not take much of your time: President Putin is a much more interesting figure for you than I am.
I am pleased to welcome the entire high-level Russian delegation here in Vienna. Tonight we will perhaps meet once again at the Art History Museum where a very interesting exhibition, Old Masters from the Hermitage, featuring a number of exhibits provided by the Hermitage Museum, will open.
This means that President Putin is not our only guest tonight: the Hermitage will be here for several weeks and months on behalf of the entire Russian nation.
Thank you very much.
President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Mr President, ladies and gentlemen,
First of all, I want to thank President Van der Bellen for the invitation to visit Austria.
The President expressed his determination to expand the entire scope of bilateral relations between Russia and Austria, which I fully support.
We have very good preconditions for that. Russia-Austria relations are based on a tradition of partnership and mutual benefit. We maintain regular contacts at the top level as well as between the ministries, agencies and parliaments of the two countries, between our businesses, representatives of culture, science, education and youth.
Our mutual trade is growing. Russia-Austria trade turnover grew by 40.5 percent in 2017. The growth rate reached almost 100 percent in the first quarter of this year.
One of the key areas of our bilateral cooperation is energy. Our visit marks the 50th anniversary of the first contract to supply natural gas to Austria from the Soviet Union. Since then, we have exported over 200 billion cubic metres of natural gas to the Austrian market.
Austria has become one of the major – perhaps, one of the most important – transit hubs for Russian gas in Western Europe and plays an important role in ensuring the energy security of the entire European continent.
Overall, this anniversary symbolises the mutually beneficial and time-tested partnership which both our countries intend to continue strengthening.
Russia’s Austrian partners have supported our plans to increase gas supply to European consumers, including as part of Nord Stream 2 and other energy and infrastructure projects. We will by all means continue to discuss this important topic with the Federal Chancellor of Austria.
We discussed with Mr Van der Bellen cultural and humanitarian ties that have been rapidly developing in the past few years. We noted that holding cross events has become regular practice.
The Russia-Austria Year of Tourism was a success in 2017. In 2018 the Year of Music and Cultural Routes is being held. Cross years of youth exchanges, literature and theatre are planned for 2019 and 2020. As the President just said, today we will open the exhibition Old Masters from the Hermitage in the Kunsthistorisches Museum Vienna.
The Federal President and I have agreed to facilitate the implementation of plans on creating a Russia-Austria public forum, the Sochi Dialogue.
We are satisfied with the joint work of Russian and Austrian historians. As members of the relevant Russia-Austria commission, they are making a tangible contribution to the unbiased study of our past and to resisting attempts to revise some complicated periods of European history.
I would like to express special gratitude to the government and people of Austria for the care they show for the burial sites of Soviet soldiers who liberated your country from Nazism.
Naturally, during the talks we exchanged views on a number of international and regional issues and talked about the developments in Ukraine and Syria.
In conclusion, I would like to thank Federal President of Austria Alexander Van der Bellen for a constructive and productive meeting that, I am sure, will facilitate progress in the full range of bilateral ties.
We would be happy to see the President in Russia at any time at his convenience.
Thank you very much.
Question: A question for both presidents. It has been emphasised that Russia and Austria are long-time reliable partners, and large mutual investors. You just mentioned the numbers – many billions of dollars, and you talked about a number of projects. Taking into consideration the current international situation, do you think there is potential for further growth in our economic relations, and if so, which areas are most likely to see it?
Alexander Van der Bellen (retranslated): There is still quite a bit of potential. Russia is an immense market with 140 million people. And the way oil and energy prices are progressing, this is also a good benchmark.
In particular, I was impressed: after a setback, if I can put it this way, that trade and direct investment have again grown in the past two years. And the growth was noted in both countries, especially in direct investment.
Vladimir Putin: Indeed, our relations are progressing very well, steadily. In fact, Russia is the second largest investor in Austria, I think, after the Federal Republic of Germany. Russia has invested almost $25 billion in the Austrian economy. Our Austrian partners have invested almost four billion. Over 500 Austrian companies have a presence in the Russian market.
Mr President said that it is a large market with over 140 million people (146 million). But if we consider the Eurasian Economic Union, it has 170 million people, including Kazakhstan, Belarus, Kyrgyzstan and Armenia. It is indeed a large, broad market, and a fast growing one at that. As I have said, our trade is growing at a very good rate.
I am not talking about energy. This is obvious. Thanks to cooperation with the Soviet Union and then with Russia, Austria has become the common European energy hub, which continues to develop very dynamically. In this sense, the role of the Austrian Republic in Europe’s energy industry is significant, large, and it will only increase.
But we are not limiting ourselves to these areas. We have good prospects in engineering, timber processing, transport and logistics in general. We have adopted a plan on modernising the economy. This includes several fields (up to 20), some of them have already been completed, others are in progress, as they say, and are being implemented.
We have very good prospects. I am confident that they will be realised, and I would very much like to see our work provide an impetus to fulfilling these joint plans.
Question (retranslated): I have a question for Mr Putin.
Mr President, in your conversation with President Alexander Van der Bellen, and the forthcoming conversation with Federal Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, would you like them to create a good atmosphere for lifting the EU sanctions?
Vladimir Putin: Sanctions, any politically motivated restrictions, protectionism – these are all the same thing. They are all ways of resolving political issues and are ultimately not effective at achieving the desired effect. They are harmful for everyone involved –those that initiate them, and those against whom they are used.
I can assure you that Russia has overcome the difficulties linked with these external restrictions. This was not easy for us a few years ago, because at that time we faced a considerable (double) reduction in the prices of our traditional exports. Nevertheless, we have not only preserved macroeconomic stability but also consolidated it.
As you may know, we reduced inflation to a record low in the history of modern Russia – 2.5 percent. We have a minimal unemployment rate – it has already dropped below 5 percent. Our gold and currency reserves are growing.
Our positive foreign trade balance is about $130 billion. Investment in basic capital is growing at the accelerated pace of 4.4 percent. We have reached economic growth – it is very modest so far, but stable.
This is why I say that sanctions are bad both for those that initiate them and those they are against. This is why I think everyone is interested in cancelling them. We are, too.
We realise full well that each EU country finds it difficult to talk about this on an individual basis. I will not talk about the reasons – you know them. But whatever is happening in this area does not prevent us from developing relations with the Republic of Austria. And we will do everything we can to continue developing them in the future and to carry out the plans I have talked about.
Question: My question is primarily for Mr Federal President of Austria concerning natural gas cooperation. Russia has been a reliable supplier of gas to Austria for 50 years. A new agreement is to be signed until 2040.
Meanwhile, Russia was often accused in the past years of using gas as a political weapon. I have the following question: has Austria experienced any external pressure in this area?
Alexander Van der Bellen: The fact is that not only Austria but the whole European Union has been importing gas from Russia and the former Soviet Union. Our experience has been very good.
Recently there has been, let us say, a reproach from some US politicians that EU dependence on Russia in this area is too great. Meanwhile, the fact that US liquefied natural gas is two or three times more expensive than Russian gas is overlooked.
Under such circumstances, there is little sense, from a purely economic view, to replace Russian gas with American LNG. And under such circumstances, I believe that future cooperation between Gazprom and OMV rests on a very solid foundation.
Question (retranslated): I have a question to both presidents. There is a grave crisis between the EU and Russia, and there is an impression that Russia is facing the problem of trust. What are you going to do to overcome this? And what will Austria do to stop this problem, to get rid of it?
Vladimir Putin: You mentioned the problem of trust and said that Russia has it. I want to disappoint you: I do not think so. I do not think we have any problem with trust. It is a problem for those who want the situation in Russia to be like that.
We are open and ready to cooperation, we had until recently a whole set of mechanisms and tools of cooperation with Europe you referred to and with united Europe. We used to have dialogue in 20 different areas in the economy, and all that has been practically wrapped up now, and through no fault of ours.
We are not the initiators of curbing this interaction, and we are open and ready for joint work. Slowly, gradually this work is reviving, we can see that. We have consultations and dialogue with Brussels officials in a number of areas, and in my view they are proceeding very constructively, although not quite smoothly. But let me reiterate, not only Russia but also our European friends are interested in restoring full-scale work.
Alexander Van der Bellen (retranslated): I do not have anything to add to that. The issue of trust turns up in politics every now and again. Therefore, there is nothing unusual here; even my personality, in retrospect, may arouse a veracity issue.
I do not see any specific problem regarding Russia but I think it is a matter of correct interpretation of statements or actions. It is quite normal, business as usual, as they say. This is normal working mode. I do not see any crisis of confidence.