President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Dear friends.
Let me cordially welcome you to Russia, to Crimea. I know this is not your first visit here, and I am very happy to see friends who want to see relations develop between Russia and Europe as a whole and Russia and France, in particular.
Many of you are involved in political activities and some are continuing this work now. I know that many of you want to return to politics and plan to run in elections for representative bodies at different levels. I hope that you and those in Europe who think likewise will do everything you can to restore normal relations between Russia and the European Union and between Russia and France.
As you can see, we have many friends in Europe and many friends in France that, like you, are motivated to develop bilateral ties in which the people of France, of Europe in general and of Russia are all interested. We are interested in this because we actively support each other in the economy and in global politics, and most importantly, we are linked by the common history of our nations. Our relations have been different in different eras, but the modern world and today’s development trends require that we pool our efforts to achieve a common result, common success.
We have many friends in Europe, and in France in particular, who think like you do, and I know this very well. We will do everything we can to develop relations with our friends in France and Europe as a whole.
I do not dare keep you for a long time. I just came by to welcome you and wish you all the best.
Thierry Mariani (retranslated): Mr President, thank you very much for this honour.
I would like to introduce our delegation. Jean-Claude Bouchet, a member of parliament representing one of France’s southern regions. Nicolas Dhuicq, mayor of the city where Napoleon did his military service. Sauveur Gandolfi-Scheit, mayor and former deputy from Corsica. Yves Pozzo di Borgo, senator and member of the French delegation at the Council of Europe. Michel Terrot has been a member of the European Parliament for 31 years. And lastly, Michel Voisin, another honorary MP and former chair of the French delegation at the OSCE.
Mr President, as you have already mentioned, you have many friends in Europe, including in France. This is absolutely correct. These people very much want to restore normal relations with Russia despite the sanctions. We are proud to have this opportunity to attend the celebration of the fifth anniversary of Crimea’s reunification with Russia because our 23-member delegation, all of them acting MPs then, was the first to visit Crimea thanks to the persistent initiative of [Chairman of the State Duma Committee on International Affairs] Leonid Slutsky, who has become a sort of ambassador of Crimea thanks to his consistent work on its behalf. Our visit to Crimea three years ago helped people in France better understand Crimea and its residents.
It was with great pleasure that we took part in the celebrations of the fifth anniversary, but like many other people, we are concerned about the international climate and the environment developing in Europe, where sanctions are aggravating differences. We do not know what this can lead to, but we fear that the consequences will be dramatic. These sanctions do not suit anyone of us, and we are trying to fight them as much as we can. Yves Pozzo di Borgo presented a resolution in the Senate on lifting sanctions from acting politicians, which an absolute majority of senators voted for. I submitted a similar resolution to the National Assembly, and it was adopted as well, but regrettably, the government of Francois Hollande cut this initiative short.
However, we should not look back on the past, but should better concentrate on the future. We are committed to the restoration of relations with Russia, because it is in the interest of both Russia and France. As French deputies, we are thinking about our country, while Russia is pursuing its own interests, but they are very similar to ours.
In the near future, we will be holding elections to the European Parliament, and this time around, it will be of crucial importance, I think, because the new European Parliament is expected to provide a springboard to try to restore relations with Europe. What recently happened in the European Parliament, just a few days ago, was amazing. They voted for a resolution that wants to put an end to the natural partnership between Russia and Europe. But it is scary. I assure you that at the level of the European Union and the Council of Europe, there are movements that do not want to end this relationship. I am referring to the party of Marine Le Pen, and Heinz-Christian Strache in Austria as well as parties in Italy, Slovenia, and Slovakia. They all do not want to severe relations with Russia. And I hope that in the new Parliament, they will form a group that will promote the restoration of relations with Russia, because it is not only in our interests, but in the common interest of everyone.
I personally will also run in this election, and I assure you that restoring relations with Russia will be one of our priorities. I even hope that we will be able to form a group that will rally a certain majority, and we will try to turn the course of things around with our active participation in changing the agenda.
I assure you, Mr President, that you have true friends in France, but not only in France. You know that in all European countries there are people who really want to be with you, want to be with Russia. We are very pleased that we have an opportunity to work with Mr Slutsky, who collaborates with us, with our organisation, the French-Russian dialogue (L’Association Dialogue Franco-Russe), which helps us to develop relations.
If I may, I would like to ask you a question: how do you see the future of Russian-French and Russian-European relations?
Vladimir Putin: You know, our relations are developing despite the problems you have mentioned. After our trade plummeted in 2015, it has started to grow again. We see that our partners, primarily business partners, are interested in developing these relations. Some people do not like this. I think that these are short-sighted people who are not acting in the best interests of their voters, because the development of our economic ties is in the interests of our people, including ordinary citizens of Russia and France.
Such ties create jobs, giving people an opportunity to make money for themselves and for their families. It is a direct result of our cooperation.
And this is to say nothing of such serious things as security in Europe or the joint struggle against modern threats, like the efforts to protect the environment. Work in this sphere cannot be effective unless we agree upon shared principles and take common decisions on environmental management. How can we achieve our goals in these spheres if the policies pursued in different parts of the continent are not coordinated? No, this is just impossible. When people say that they are for protecting the environment, they cannot protest against the development of bilateral relations.
The same goes for the fight against terrorism. Has not France suffered from this evil? Don’t we know and understand that terrorism is a common threat, and that the fight against it can only be effective if we join our forces? There is no other way out. Otherwise, these terrorist groups will find safe havens anywhere and will attack anyone. To act effectively and to protect our citizens, we must stick together.
I have enumerated only three obvious things: the economy, the environment and the fight against terrorism. But there is also the task of combating epidemics and diseases that threaten the lives of millions of people: can this fight be effective if waged separately in each individual country? Epidemics know no borders. To effectively combat them, we need to act together.
Therefore, when some people say they want to develop relations yet they need to deal with such and such problems first of all, they are not behaving honestly at the least. Because they surely know that this problems cannot be settled without cooperating with each other.
Based on common sense and the interests of our people – when people launch on a political career, they always say that they want to protect the interests of the people – based on this common sense, I am sure that we will be able to overcome all obstacles and will continue to cooperate. Especially because we have much in common historically. Take Mayor Brienne-le-Château, who, as you said, knows better than anyone else here that Napoleon did his military service there. But he also did military service in Moscow, though not for very long, yet this is part of our shared history. (Laughter.)
Thierry Mariani: Mr President, as a French national, I also would like to say that we are very happy that French companies have not left Russia. The Chamber of Commerce and Industry reports that France remains one of the main investors in the Russian economy. And the fact that French companies are staying in Russia is the best proof of the trust in our relations.
With your permission, let us give Mr Bouchet the opportunity to ask a question about agriculture.
Jean-Claude Bouchet (retranslated): Thank you, Mr President. I am happy to be here.
We are visiting Crimea not only to mark the fifth anniversary of its reunification with the great Russia, but also to talk about some current issues. The reintegration of Crimea led to European sanctions and Russia also took retaliatory measures against France and Europe.
I represent a large, mostly agricultural region of France. And I have a very simple question. Given that Russian measures are weakening our agriculture, do you think if tomorrow or in the near future the European sanctions are lifted, will Russia be ready to lift its own counter-sanctions against Europe? Would you do this fast or would you wait for some time?
Vladimir Putin: My answer will not make our agricultural producers happy, but I have to say that if Europe lifts the sanctions, we will have to lift our counter-sanctions as well, because the initial cause will be eliminated.
Thierry Mariani (retranslated): Michel Voisin, former chair of the French delegation at the OSCE.
Michel Voisin (retranslated): Mr President, thank you for your hospitality.
In 1975, the OSCE ensured that we maintain dialogue. The creation of that organisation helped us to put an end to the Cold War. Our two delegations – we have known Leonid Slutsky for 20 years – have always moved in the same direction and worked towards common goals. Yves Pozzo di Borgo, Thierry Mariani and all of us were on those delegations, and we have always had very friendly, warm and brotherly relations with the Russian delegates.
Today, the OSCE is playing a less important role in the fields of security and cooperation in Europe. Do you think it is possible, especially for the European continent, to restore stability, perhaps in the near future, at the upcoming summit meetings between the heads of different states?
A few words about sanctions: I believe that the sanctions that were imposed at the beginning have undermined Russia’s economy and, of course, that of the European Union, but I do not know who has benefitted from this.
Vladimir Putin: Nobody has benefitted from this. True, this has probably helped our farmers strengthen their positions on the domestic market. We have become the leader in the export of wheat, moving ahead of the United States and Canada. The United States and China grow more wheat, but they also consume more, while we are now exporting more wheat than any other country. This is also true for poultry meat and pork.
Our current goal is to increase our presence on the Chinese market. In other words, we now fully meet our domestic needs. So, when one of the French deputies, Mr Bouchet, spoke about lifting mutual restrictions, I thought that our partners would find it difficult to regain the positions they lost in some of our agricultural sectors. But overall, it is true that sanctions are a harmful thing.
These are abnormal economic relations. Our relations have been soured for political reasons or through the use of political methods as an instrument of unfair competition, which is damaging all sides. This is what the WTO and the IMF keep saying. They have confirmed that the damage to all sides is very great.
As for the OSCE, I believe that this organisation does not fully satisfy the requirements and goals for which it was created. There are very many problems on the continent, yet we are not dealing with them. Over the past few years, the OSCE has paid more and more attention to human rights problems in the post-Soviet space, which are very important, of course, but this is not enough. Ultimately, this is not what the organisation was created for.
We strongly hope that the OSCE will make a positive contribution – it has been working rather actively in southeastern Ukraine – to the settlement of this crisis, just as it has contributed to the settlement of many other crises in Eurasia. We are ready for this, and we will do everything in our power towards this.
Thierry Mariani: If you have a little more time, Mr President, another one of my colleagues, co-chair in the Council of Europe, would like to ask you a question.
Yves Pozzo di Borgo (retranslated): Frankly, I had my doubts about asking this question. I would like to make a remark.
We have had two important events during this visit – the meeting with you, of course, but also a meeting with Crimeans. We have seen how young people live, how Tatars live, how all segments of the population live. We were very interested to see how all these people live. And we found out that young people cannot travel, cannot move freely, like all Europeans, because of the sanctions – this is important for us. And it seems to me that now it is also one of the important problems that must be somehow sorted out.
Vladimir Putin: I am grateful to you for raising this topic, Mr Pozzo di Borgo, and that you have paid attention to this matter which is not only delicate but sensitive too. Honestly, I didn’t plan to bring Crimea up with you, because I do not want to put you in an awkward position. We are so pleased to have you here, and this in itself is already a courageous step to a certain extent, I am well aware of this. But since you did raise this question, this is what I can tell you.
Look: many around the world, and in Europe, for various reasons do not want to recognise the fact of the reunification of Crimea and Sevastopol with Russia. They talk about the annexation of Crimea by Russia. Ignoring the fact that a referendum was held and those people who live in this territory have voted for it.
If we derive from the assumption that the people’s will is the most important principle of democracy, then we will have to admit that this is an accomplished fact. When someone calls it annexation, it sounds like the people who live here had nothing to do with it, and were not responsible for it. If so, this was done against their will. And if this was done against their will, then why are they restricted in their rights? Why limit their movement? Their travelling abroad, obtaining passports. What are they being punished for if they had nothing to do with it? And if that was their decision, if they came and voted for it, then it must be admitted that their will is the most important principle of democracy. They did it, and for that they cannot be punished either. Or those who do this do not understand, do not know, do not want to understand or respect the principles of democracy themselves. But this is a matter for serious discussion.
Chairman of the State Duma Committee on International Affairs Leonid Slutsky: Mr President, we appreciate your time, every minute of it, which is why we are grateful to you for this meeting. As State Duma Speaker Vyacheslav Volodin says, the State Duma does not have its own foreign policy agenda; we have the President’s foreign policy agenda. Therefore, I believe that by acting within the framework of the Presidential agenda we have done a great deal to help Europe learn the truth about the Crimean Spring. In this context, we are grateful to the French delegation, which has come here for the third time, and personally to Mr Thierry Mariani. Of course, it was very important when the perspective changed in Europe overnight and nobody was talking about the oppressed Crimeans, demanding that the peninsula be returned to Ukraine.
Today, we have met with several hundred members of the different ethnic groups in Crimea and Sevastopol. Of course, there is interesting work ahead arising from the international environment. When our colleagues and other people, including the then PACE President Pedro Agramunt, spoke at our military base in Syria about the policy of Russia’s diplomatic achievements and the reconciliation of the opposing sides, our strategic friends, as I call them, shuddered.
Several thousand of our colleagues among the MPs and leading European experts, with whom we maintain regular contact, support our belief that the future of Europe must be formulated by the Europeans themselves, not anyone else. I believe that the elections to the European Parliament, which will be held in a matter of weeks, will be of crucial importance in this context.
I am sure that the political group, which Thierry Mariani has mentioned and which will consist of delegates from Italy and many other countries and political forces, will have a constructive influence on the future of Europe and the European Parliament, so that Brussels will no longer decide who must be the president of Venezuela, and such like.
Mr President, we will carry on our close ties with our French friends and with our other colleagues, who, though they are not present here, do not imagine a future for Europe without Russia, and with whom we are working on a number of very important issues.
Thank you again for this meeting. And I really do hope that there will be a continuation of this story. And as Europe learned the truth about the Crimean Spring, you are right, of course our relations will continue and will continue in any case as soon as possible. As for the developments concerning the political landscape, where decisions are often being made that are absolutely contrary to international law – I have a wish, no utopia, that these problems be sorted out starting this year, also following the elections to the European Parliament. I'd like to believe in this.
And thanks to our colleagues for being so helpful in resolving the most difficult problems – the situation immediately following the Crimean Spring being the very first, of course. Many have lost their mandates, but have become influential politicians far beyond the borders of their native France.
Many thanks again.
Vladimir Putin: Mr Slutsky just said in his remarks that at some point someone had cringed or shuddered somewhere. You know, I would like us to build our relations in such a way that no one will cringe or shudder and that our relations will be calm, positive, stable as well as predictable, and that they will develop in the interests of the peoples of our countries. Thank you very much for your visit and for today's meeting.
Thierry Mariani: A final question, if I may.
We visited Syria three times. Thank you very much for what the Russian army is doing in the interests of the Eastern Christians. We would like to commend the courage of the Russian military. Thank you.
Vladimir Putin: Yes, indeed, this is one of the serious problems. The Middle East, as we know, is the cradle of Christianity. Representatives of this religion find themselves in very difficult conditions now. They certainly need our common support. I am grateful to you for paying attention to this point.
Russia is a multi-confessional country, and this is how we have been building our country for more than 1,000 years, as a multi-confessional society. This fully applies to what we are doing in Syria in this case. We treat representatives of Islam with great respect, and we mourn with the whole world the recent victims of the terrorist shooting in New Zealand, an attack against members of the Islamic community. But today in the Middle East, we must certainly pay special attention and fully support the Christians of the Middle East. And I am very glad that you paid attention to this.
Thierry Mariani: Thank you.
Vladimir Putin: Thank you.