President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Good evening, ladies and gentlemen.
I have just ended talks with the President of Serbia, Mr Nikolic. We will also hold talks in expanded format with the government ministers and big business representatives, but we had a detailed discussion just now one-on-one.
This was our second meeting, and I want to start by noting the friendly and trusting spirit in which it took place. Our relations continue to grow today, and remain true to the historic friendship between our two fraternal peoples. Of course we base our ties on the reality of today’s situation too, and we are committed to deepening our cooperation in all areas. Our plan is to build our relations up to the strategic partnership level.
Trade and economic ties were at the centre of our attention today. Our bilateral trade increased by 42 percent in 2011 and reached a figure of more than $2 billion. We have made some good progress in investment cooperation. Russian companies are well represented in key sectors of Serbia’s economy. This includes the energy sector, where Gazprom Neft and LUKOIL are active. We are carrying out mutually advantageous projects in non-ferrous metals, machine building, tourism, and the banking sector. At the same time, there are plenty of opportunities for continuing to intensify our ties.
We link our energy sector prospects not just to supplying Russian energy resources, but also to taking part in big joint projects at the European level, projects such as South Stream, for example. Our companies are ready to act as partners in modernising Serbia’s energy sector. We already have some successful examples of cooperation here, such as the reconstruction of the Banatsky Dvor underground gas reservoir.
We have interesting infrastructure projects too. In particular, we have plans for joint development of Serbia’s railway network. Russia’s Emergencies Ministry is also cooperating actively with its Serbian colleagues.
A unique humanitarian centre was set up in Nis. It helps people during the winter cold, and provides assistance during the summer fire season too, including with aircraft. Operating through this centre, our aircraft have worked in neighbouring countries in the Balkans too. A lot of work has been done over the last years to clear mines on Serbian soil. Total area of more than 1 million square metres was cleared in 2011–2012.
We discussed efforts to revive interest in studying Russian in Serbia. The Russkiy Mir Foundation is very active here. We certainly also think it important in humanitarian terms, even if this is not large-scale work, to support Orthodoxy in Serbia and Kosovo. The kind of assistance I am talking about involves help in looking after and restoring Orthodox holy places.
We discussed Kosovo, of course. We will firmly adhere to the principle of the United Nation’s unconditional primary role. We think that a solution should be found through negotiations and on the basis of UN Security Council resolution 1244.
In conclusion, I want to thank Mr Nikolic and all of our Serbian colleagues for a very interesting, substantial and frank discussion.
President of Serbia Tomislav Nikolic (retranslated): Ladies and gentlemen,
It was an honour, pleasure, and big responsibility today to head the Serbian delegation on this first official visit to the Russian Federation as President of the Republic of Serbia.
Relations between our two countries have always depended on the governments rather than the peoples. If our people were asked down the ages, they would always speak in favour of the closest possible cooperation between our countries.
I am sure that we have opened a new chapter in our relations. Our ties are based not only on common history, faith, traditions, culture, and similarity of languages, but also on mutual economic benefit.
We discussed the big projects in which Russian private and state capital can take part, working together on other countries’ markets, and political relations. Serbia is working towards fulfilling all the conditions for becoming a full member of the European Union, and Russia does not see here any obstacle for cooperation.
We also discussed the extent of our cooperation and the standstill in our work together at the start of this year. We talked about intensifying cooperation and about how to take our relations to the level our good and friendly fraternal ties deserve.
I hope that we will start work on the [South Stream gas pipeline] 400-km stretch across Serbia by the end of the year. I hope that we will have the honour of seeing the Russian President at the launch of work on the gas pipeline.
We have also opened a new chapter in our military technical cooperation. But more than anything, we want to thank the Russian Federation for the help its aircraft based in Nis provided in fighting fires in Serbia. I hope that our neighbouring countries, which also got such help, will join in this gratitude.
Our intergovernmental commission now has a lot of work ahead, for all of our various desires must now be embodied as actual projects. We hope to see President Putin make a visit to Serbia very soon.
Question: I have a question for President Nikolic. President Putin said just now that you talked about Kosovo. Could you share the details? Did you discuss the situation in the region?
Tomislav Nikolic (retranslated): Serbia is faced with the end of ‘supervised independence’ in Kosovo. European Union representatives were involved in carrying out these measures. We have been in talks with the interim administration and interim institutions in Kosovo, in Pristina, with the purpose of ensuring that our citizens have better and safer lives there. But we cannot take part in talks that would consolidate independence. Serbia cannot allow any change of status through the use of force. After all, we renounced the use of force in 1999. Serbia is grateful to the Russian Federation and the other Security Council members who did not agree with Kosovo’s self-proclaimed independence. Let me say to you as a person that no one who agrees with Kosovo’s independence would ever win in Serbia. We will not resort to force in any way, however, but will act within the UN framework.
Question: Mr Putin, you spoke about energy cooperation. We know the problems Gazprom is having in Europe at the moment, or rather, the claims it faces, and the investigation underway. What kind of future energy sector cooperation would be possible in Serbia aside from the South Stream project?
I have another unrelated question. In your recent interview to Russia Today television channel, you commented on Mitt Romney’s designation of Russia as America’s main foe. He has a good chance of winning the election. If he does, how will you work with him?
Vladimir Putin: On the energy sector cooperation issue, first of all, we hope that any matters still unclear for our partners on the European Commission can be clarified soon so that we can all keep working together calmly. I hope this will be the case. We are involved in big infrastructure projects such as Nord Stream together, and indeed, we expect to have the confirmation soon that the second part of the work on this project has been completed, and we have planned a ceremony to launch the pipeline’s second line on October 8. Western Europe is the primary consumer of the gas to be piped.
I mentioned the South Stream project, in which Serbia will take part. This is another big infrastructure project that is in the interest of all of Europe. Of course we must do all we can to avoid any complications and problems with our European partners. We will try to ensure this throughout the talks we conduct. No doubt, we will look for opportunities to sell our products on other markets too. I spoke with many Asian leaders about these possibilities while in Vladivostok. They are hoping to see Russia bring its resources to their energy markets. We will speed up work on liquefied gas exports, and will offer our energy resources to the global market.
In this context, Serbia has a good location as a European transit country and could play a very advantageous part not just for itself but also for its partners in Russia and Western Europe. Our big energy companies are among the biggest taxpayers in Serbia. They are the biggest investors and the biggest taxpayers, and I hope they will continue to consolidate their positions there.
I mentioned the Banatsky Dvor underground gas reservoir. I hope that our cooperation will not end here. Not only LUKOIL and Gazprom Neft are operating in Serbia, other companies are also looking for opportunities to cooperate. Our companies are ready to work with not only Serbian partners but also with European partners on the Serbian market, if such opportunities arise. These are all possibilities as far as the energy sector goes.
Turning to your second question, yes, in my interview on Russia Today I said that Mr Romney considers Russia the USA’s main foe, but if he is elected president we, I included, will work with him as the elected US leader.
Every situation has its pluses and minuses. It is a minus that Mr Romney sees us as his country’s main foe, but the fact that he states this so frankly and openly suggests that he is a direct and candid person, and this is a plus. We will look at the pluses rather than the minuses.
In fact, I want to thank Mr Romney for stating his views so clearly and freely. In doing so, he confirmed once again that we are right in our stance on the missile defence issue. I think he has convinced not only us, but also the international community and our European partners. He has strengthened our negotiating position on this sensitive and very important issue, bolstered Russia’s position in these talks.
His election is not something we can influence, and we have no intention of trying. I already said that election campaign rhetoric plays a big part in all of this. But even casting aside the rhetoric, Mr Romney’s words do reflect a real view that exists. The important thing, as we see it, is that even if Mr Romney does not win this election, in four years’ time, he or someone with similar views could come to power in the United States, and we are to keep this in mind as we work on ensuring our country’s long-term security.