President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Ladies and gentlemen, Mr President,
Once again, please let me welcome you, Mr President, and your entire team, which came to Moscow at our invitation and participated so actively in discussions of bilateral and international issues. I must say at the outset that we discussed the most interesting and important of these issues in some detail.
Our talks confirmed the unchanged, traditional nature of Russian-French relations. Friendly, multifaceted and mutually beneficial relations do good to both countries.
From Russia’s perspective, France has always been and remains an important strategic partner. Today we can say with confidence that the task Mr Hollande and I set in June last year of ensuring continuity in our bilateral relations has been achieved.
We are constantly supporting fruitful political dialogue and strengthening our humanitarian ties. Joint production and cooperation with a focus on innovation and high-tech has increased our overall economic cooperation.
We are implementing a number of large-scale projects in high-tech sectors such as space, the aviation industry and energy, including nuclear energy.
Our joint programme, Soyuz, at the Guiana Space Centre is of significant interest for consumers of space services and satellite operators. Already in the second half of 2013 we will put another six satellites into orbit.
We also have significant opportunities in aviation. France is actively involved in the creation of modern Russian aircrafts MS-21 and Sukhoi Superjet 100, as well as in promoting them in international markets.
I would make particular mention of French businesses’ involvement in major infrastructure projects. I’m referring to Nord and South Streams (gas transmission systems), preparations for the 2014 Olympic Games in Sochi and the 2018 World Cup, transport infrastructure and so on.
In 2012 Russia’s automotive market became the second largest in Europe and French carmakers have fully appreciated the possibilities it offers. The Renault-Nissan and AvtoVAZ alliance is already producing tangible results. Another successful example of cooperation was the start of full-scale production at the Peugeot Citroen automotive plant in Kaluga Region in 2012.
French capital is present in almost all Russian industries. We expressed our desire to see Russian investors contribute more to France’s economy.
We will use the opportunities offered by Russia’s Direct Investment Fund and France’s Deposits and Consignments Fund [Caisse des Dépots et Consignations] to this effect, and just signed a memorandum of understanding in this very room.
”Multifaceted and mutually beneficial relations do good to both countries. From Russia’s perspective, France has always been and remains an important strategic partner. We are constantly supporting fruitful political dialogue and strengthening our humanitarian ties. Joint production and cooperation with a focus on innovation and high-tech has increased our overall economic cooperation.“
We hope that the Russian-French Council for Economic, Financial, Industrial and Trade Issues [Conseil Economique, Financier, Industriel et Commercial Franco-Russe (CEFIC)] will continue to effectively promote the full range of our bilateral commercial ties and their further diversification, as well as launch new and interesting projects. The Russian-French Business Council, established in November 2012, must carve out its own niche in our economic cooperation.
We have traditionally paid a great deal of attention to developing our contacts in the cultural and educational spheres. The interpenetration of Russian and French cultures truly is full-enhancing. Respective cultural years and seasons marking Russian language and literature in France and French language and literature in Russia represent major events that have marked our countries’ cultural lives.
In this respect both Russians and our French friends have put forward a number of new initiatives and fresh ideas. For example, an interesting new project, involving respective seasons for theatre and cinema in 2013–2014, is being discussed.
Naturally, relations between Russia and the EU were the focus of our attention. We noted that the abolition of the visa regime with the EU would significantly facilitate tourism and youth exchanges, and help businesses on both sides, since obstacles and tit-for-tat measures only hinder business cooperation.
Russia is involved in providing international support to suffering European economies and in collective efforts under IMF auspices to address global economic problems. We are committed to working closely with France during Russia’s G20 presidency.
We did not fail to pay attention to a number of serious regional and international issues. I am thus referring to both the Middle East and North Africa. Despite the nuances differentiating Russian and French positions, we both favour maintaining an integral, democratic Syrian state. And our approaches to and assessments of the situation have a lot in common.
We should not allow the Syrian tragedy to be exploited by radical groups and international terrorists. Just last week a barbaric terrorist act was committed in Damascus near the Russian embassy. No Russian citizens were injured, but many people, including children, were killed and injured. It is obvious that the entire international community must strongly condemn such actions.
We touched on the situation in Mali. We support French efforts to direct the country back towards constitutional democracy.
And in conclusion I would stress that we attach great importance to further increasing our cooperation with France.
I would like to thank Mr President for the very dynamic and honest discussion of virtually all the issues we touched on today, and to thank all our colleagues for their teamwork.
Thank you for your attention.
Question: President Putin, President Hollande, judging by your statements, you have many common views on the situation in the Middle East and Africa, and I mean Mali and Syria in particular.
But how would the President of France explain the fact that France opposes the militants in Mali, in support of the legitimate government, while at the same time in Syria it supports the rebels against the legitimate government? Russia, on the other hand, supports the legitimate governments of both countries.
”The interpenetration of Russian and French cultures truly is full-enhancing. Respective cultural years and seasons marking Russian language and literature in France and French language and literature in Russia represent major events that have marked our countries’ cultural lives.“
Could you please tell us whether you have succeeded in bringing your positions closer? It is one thing to talk about a shared view on the nondissolution of the state, and quite another to fight on different sides.
Francois Hollande (retranslated): You said that we have been working in parallel but we must combine our efforts. That is not so simple. Nevertheless, we can state there was a significant progress.
As I said earlier, we share a common goal: to fight terrorism and prevent the disintegration of the country. Of course, we have different views on how to achieve political dialogue; each of us has his own vision. We believe that this is not possible to achieve it by cooperating with Bashar al-Assad. There are others who believe that he is a representative of the Syrian people who can begin dialogue. If we remain in these positions, it is unlikely that we will come to some kind of rapprochement.
Accordingly, let's try to imagine a political dialogue that can involve all the parties to the conflict. That is the stage where we are now. We are involved in a political dialogue, we try to keep to our positions but we shouldn’t waste time. Every day that we waste causes tens and maybe even hundreds of civilian casualties. I am talking about terrorist attacks, as well as the radicalisation of the public, which at some point can lead to tragic consequences. My responsibility is to find a political solution to this crisis. That is what President Putin and I tried to achieve together, and we will try to make this a reality in the near future.
Vladimir Putin: We have a principled position and we are consistently realising it in practice. We indeed support legitimate governments and fight against radicals and terrorists. In this we are certainly on the same side as France, where it clearly implements this policy. Therefore, we supported France's operation in Mali.
As for Syria and other countries, I must say that we had a very active discussion and even argued on some points. I think that Mr President has come to agree with our opinion on some matters. I think that we should listen to our partners’ opinions on certain aspects of this complex issue too. I got a feeling that it would be hard to resolve without a bottle of good wine, or even a bottle of vodka. We have to sit down together and think some more. But in the course of our discussion, Mr President formulated some new proposals that I think we could discuss with all our partners and try to implement them.
Francois Hollande: A bottle of port would probably be best.
Question: Good evening. I have a question for Mr Hollande, but it would be very nice if Mr Putin could also comment on it.
The question concerns human rights. 2012 was the hardest year for Russia since 1991 in terms of human rights. How do you, as President of the French Republic, qualify the situation with regard to human rights in Russia?
”Russia is involved in providing international support to suffering European economies and in collective efforts under IMF auspices to address global economic problems.“
Francois Hollande: The commitment to human rights is always present in our foreign policy. I raise this issue at all international venues, and I do it with all sincerity and at the same time with full accountability.
It is not for me to judge or assess; all I can do is state the facts. When violations take place, I speak about it openly and I do it so that the situation can improve and not just for the sake of sabre-rattling that can be quickly forgotten about. That is France's role. We must work to ensure that progress is made everywhere with regard to human rights.
Vladimir Putin: You could say that we have no banned subjects in discussions with our French friends and colleagues, including President Hollande. We discuss everything openly and objectively.
I do not believe that we had any special problems with human rights in 2012. It was the year of the presidential campaign, and at the end of 2011 we actually had two election campaigns: the campaign for the State Duma, the parliament, which was immediately followed by the presidential campaign. And I am sure you will agree with me when I say that every country experiences a culmination in political competition during election campaigns; each party has grievances against the others, and this is always accompanied by the calls for support to the other parties. There is always talk about violations, that is common practice everywhere in the world.
I do not think that anything changed in Russia in 2012. We made a principled choice for the development of democratic institutions in the early 1990s, and Russia is determined to stay on this course.
Question: A question for both presidents about money and investments. French investments in Russia total more than $9 billion, while Russian investments in France amount to a little more than $180 million. A question for Mr Putin: what are the reasons for this? Are Russian businesspeople too lazy to invest in France, or are there perhaps certain difficulties there?
And a question for Mr Hollande: everyone talks about the fact that the investment climate in Russia is not very good, but statistics suggest otherwise. Maybe French entrepreneurs still have some criticisms, and did they communicate them to you? And how much detail did you go into when discussing investments during your talks? Thank you.
Vladimir Putin: Regarding complaints, as the question was first and foremost directed at me, then they always exist. I do not know whether French businesspeople related anything to the President of France, but they complained to me. Not only French but other foreign entrepreneurs too, and Russians as well for that matter. The business community always has complaints against the authorities. I am sure that this is also the case with the French business community and the French authorities.
”We are committed to working closely with France during Russia’s G20 presidency.“
We are working hard to improve various mechanisms and our legislation, to eliminate excessive administrative barriers, and to create the best possible conditions for investing in the Russian economy. In my opinion, the whole process is proceeding very well. As regards the insufficient level of Russian investments in France, I think that the problem is not so much in the French politics, but in the general status of these issues in the EU. There is a great deal of technological and legal obstacles to overcome.
I am not going to talk about this in detail now, but there is another component that we discussed today, namely the fact that interacting is quite difficult. Visa problems and visa regime interfere with normal interaction. This is a complex issue that concerns other countries, not just France. If we look at other EU countries, there is a similar imbalance. In general, European investments in Russia are significantly higher than the reverse. And the potential of Russian investors is very high and constantly increasing.
I very much hope that today’s decision to sign a memorandum of understanding between our investment fund, the Direct Investment Fund, and our French partners will help solve these problems. I want to thank our French friends for supporting this process.
Francois Hollande: Yes, as President Putin just said, there are always certain procedures that must be followed. There are always reasons to block the process and create obstacles. I’m not saying that no one should complain to the authorities. It is their job. And accordingly, for our part we must do everything possible to simplify procedures and facilitate their simplification. There are customs procedures, banking procedures, and a wide variety of other issues. And for my part I would like to see a review of existing investments and for the imbalance to be rectified.
And I want to say that I think the situation in which a French company comes to Russia to increase exports, which, in turn, helps create jobs in France, represents progress. Russian investments in France are measured both in capital, in opportunities to create new jobs, as we have witnessed with GEFCO, and in a partnership that allow us to enter new markets. All of these procedures exist and it is our role to simplify them.
”We are working hard to improve various mechanisms and our legislation, to eliminate excessive administrative barriers, and to create the best possible conditions for investing in the Russian economy.“
With regards to banking procedures, investors that enter foreign markets should not be treated with suspicion. On the contrary, they should be trusted. For our part, we have signed a memorandum of cooperation between France’s Deposits and Consignments Fund and Russia’s Direct Investment Fund. We hope that this will bring our cooperation to another level and speaks to our common desire to simplify various procedures.
Finally, with regards to visas. I hope that one day they will be absolutely easy and that this procedure will be as simple as possible. As for the Customs Union, we shall see what we can do about it. But it is very difficult and incorrect that if an artist, painter or investor wants to come to France, bringing with them the best of what he or she has, various obstacles to stop such people from going to a foreign country are created. I hope that things will improve quickly after my visit.
Question: A quick question about your personal relations. During your first meeting in June we saw you engage in a sincere dialogue, but not a very warm one. Today, you’re sitting side by side in front of us once again, speaking to us sincerely, but I do not see more warmth. Can we say that relations between Russia and France have become closer, and has your meeting enabled them to become even warmer?
Vladimir Putin: Come closer, you will feel the heat. (Laughter.)
Francois Hollande: President Putin always answers questions so sincerely. For my part, I’m also acting with all the warmth I’m capable of.
Today we are meeting for the second time, but we’ve spoken on the phone several times between our meetings, the first of which was held in June last year. This is my first visit to Russia since then and I can say that it is very easy to communicate with President Putin as he simply says what he thinks. Accordingly, it is very simple to find common ground and shared opinions, if they do exist. And in the future we will have to move into the realm of action, adopt a practical approach to resolving existing problems, and quickly implement the measures we are talking about in economic and other sectors.
As for its warmth, I leave it to you to take the temperature of our relationship.