President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Madam Federal Chancellor, ladies and gentlemen,
Once again, I want to thank you for inviting Russia to be the main partner at this year’s Hannover Messe. I want to congratulate the fair organisers: we saw today just what a grand-scale, substantial and interesting event it is.
I was able to get a sense of the mood among business people and industry representatives from Russia and Germany. They are happy with their work, happy with their cooperation, and they are talking about big prospects for joint work.
We have just looked around the stands our major energy companies have organised. Each of them has development projects worth tens of billions of euros. Given the advances our German friends and partners have made in high-tech fields, there could be numerous opportunities for German companies to join in these projects and the contracts they offer.
All of this benefits our economies and our peoples. This is no exaggeration. I said yesterday at the fair’s opening that in Germany alone there are more than 700,000 jobs related to production for Russia and jointly with Russia. These are no trifles – these are serious things, especially with the continued problems in the global economy.
”All of our discussions with German partners are constructive in spirit, very friendly and open. I think that this kind of work together will certainly lead us to new achievements.“
Russia is broadly represented at this fair with 20 regions and 160 companies exhibiting in an area of 5,000 square metres. I am very happy to see that our businesspeople feel at home here. This is a result of the close and friendly contacts we have with our partners.
We discussed a wide range of issues during our talks yesterday evening, and Madam Federal Chancellor listed these issues just now, so I don’t have anything to add here, but I want to say that the discussions were absolutely frank and honest, and I would call them very productive.
Of course, we saw that we have different points of view on some issues, and this is something we have taken note of. But at the same time, let me stress that all of our discussions with our German partners are constructive in spirit, very friendly and open. I think that this kind of work together will certainly lead us to new achievements. We already have solid achievements: our bilateral trade with Germany comes to $74 billion, and this is not the limit.
I am leaving now for a brief visit to the Netherlands. The strange thing is that the Netherlands has a smaller economy than Germany, but our bilateral trade with them comes to $82 billion. This shows that we and our German partners absolutely have the potential to take our bilateral trade to at least $100 billion in the near future. We will definitely do this.
The Federal Chancellor has already spoken about our discussions of international issues. As I said, I have nothing to add. If there are any questions you still have, we will do our best to answer.
Once again, let me thank the fair’s organisers, the government of Lower Saxony, and residents of Hannover for all their patience. These kinds of events always put a burden on the local infrastructure and involve some restrictions for local people. We ask them to forgive us for this, because, ultimately, these sorts of events bring benefits for the region and host city, and for our bilateral ties.
Thank you for your attention.
Question (translated from Russian): There has been further escalation in the Korean conflict, with more talk about the possibility of using nuclear weapons. What possibilities do you see for de-escalating the conflict?
I think the international community should take a more united stand. Russia can play a big part here, China too. I think that we share the overall common goal of getting North Korea to fulfil its international obligations. We should always try to keep talks going. The international community needs to stand as one.
”We are concerned about the escalation on the Korean Peninsula because we are neighbours. If something were to happen it might make Chernobyl, the consequences of which we know full well, pale in comparison.“
Vladimir Putin: We have already clearly stated our position on the North Korean nuclear issue. First, we oppose the spread of weapons of mass destruction.
Second, we seek denuclearisation of the entire Korean Peninsula. Finally, referring to your question, I do not hide the fact that we are concerned about the escalation on the Korean Peninsula because we are neighbours. If something were to happen it might make Chernobyl, the consequences of which we know full well, pale in comparison. I think that this threat is real.
But at the same time, we should not overreact, and I would call on everyone to calm down, sit down calmly together at the negotiating table, and start sorting out all the problems that have built up there over the years. I think that the United States took a very important and correct step by putting off their ballistic missile test in order not to provoke things any further. I think that we should all thank the United States’ government for this decision. I hope that our partners in North Korea will note it too and draw the according conclusions, and that everyone will calm down and start working together to defuse the situation.
Question: My first question is about NGOs. How much of a detailed discussion did you have on this issue during your talks yesterday? What were Germany’s concerns? Has Russia succeeded in putting to rest Germany’s concerns that NGOs face obstacles in their work in Russia?
My second question is about Cyprus. This issue also has Europe worried. Do you think that the solution proposed for Cyprus could become a universal solution for dealing with financial and economic problems in other Eurozone countries facing difficulties?
Vladimir Putin: Non-governmental organisations was an issue that the Federal Chancellor spoke about yesterday in an official setting, and mentioned just before too, and of course it is something we discussed in quite some detail during the talks yesterday. I think that I did succeed in explaining to the Federal Chancellor our concerns related to NGOs’ work and the scale of the funding they receive from abroad – this was the issue in question – and I want the German public to know about this.
All of the steps we have taken are not about closures and bans, but are about establishing oversight of the money coming into Russian NGOs that are involved in domestic political activity and are being funded from abroad.
Let me give you the figures once again. Over the first four months alone since Russia passed the law on NGOs, these organisations received a total of 28.3 billion rubles from abroad. That is the equivalent of almost $1 billion in just four months. Such a situation cannot fail to raise some questions, and our public has the right to know where this money is coming from, and what it is being used for. As for these organisations’ freedom, it is in no way restricted. I want to stress this point. All we are asking them to do is to register. Other countries have similar laws in effect, including the United States, where a law on these lines has been in effect since 1938.
Tying in with your second question, on Cyprus, this money – a billion dollars is no small sum – could have been put into helping out countries in difficulty, including Cyprus, and then there would be no need to fleece unfortunate depositors. We discussed this issue in detail too. Russia has made its position very clear. But I think that we are looking at a one-off solution here and that this approach will not be used as a means of addressing the crisis in other problem countries in the Eurozone.
Russia is making its contribution here too. We approved a state loan of $2.5 billion for Cyprus at the end of 2011. The European Commission has asked us to restructure this loan, and we have agreed to do so. This is our real contribution to settling the problem in Cyprus.
Question (translated from Russian): One more question: some young women held a protest and called the [Russian] President a dictator because of setbacks over these last months in developing the rule of law in Russia. Mr President, do you see the contradictions that we in Germany see about what is happening in Russia? You talk about cooperation with Germany, about the road to democracy, but at the same time, you greatly mistrust organisations that cooperate with partners in the West and receive funding from abroad.
”All of the steps we have taken are not about closures and bans, but are about establishing oversight of the money coming into Russian NGOs that are involved in domestic political activity and are being funded from abroad. As for these organisations’ freedom, it is in no way restricted. All we are asking them to do is to register.“
Vladimir Putin: Actually, I liked the protest. We knew that such a thing was being prepared. We should thank these Ukrainian girls for giving the fair some extra PR. Without actions such as their protest, it is quite likely that events like the fair would get less publicity. To be honest, I didn’t really hear what they were shouting because the security guards stepped in very quick. I don’t really think it proper that the girls had these beefy fellows come down on them. They could have been less heavy-handed in their response. I didn’t catch just what it was they were shouting, didn’t even see what they looked like. But we are all used to these kinds of protests and I don’t see anything to make a fuss about. True, it’s better to respect law and order, and if you want to discuss whatever political issues, it’s better to do so with your clothes on rather than naked. There are other places for taking your clothes off – FKK, nudist beaches. But it’s warm enough here, so they won’t catch cold at least.
As for German organisations, including NGOs or governmental organisations working in Russia, you said that we are putting them under our control. Let me say again, in case you didn’t hear my answer to the question your Russian colleague asked: we are not putting anyone under our control. All we want to do is know how much money is coming in from abroad, through which channels, and what it is being spent on in Russia. Above all, we want to know if these organisations being funded from abroad are involved in domestic political activity. We passed a law on this matter, and everyone has to respect it.
Question: Did the talks bring Russia and Germany any closer on the Syrian issue, or was this one of the issues on which you noted differences in your respective positions?
I have a second question on the future of bilateral relations with continuing instability in the Eurozone. Mr President, do you in Russia still have confidence in the euro as a currency?
Vladimir Putin: Syria is an issue that we discussed at some length. I set out all the nuances of our position in considerable detail, and I think the Federal Chancellor heard and understood our words.
Germany’s government is as concerned as we are about the bloodshed, and we, like our colleagues in Germany and other countries, want to find a solution that would at least stop the bloodshed at this stage.
I said that we noted differences in views on a number of issues, but Syria was in fact one of the issues where this was least the case. NGOs were the issue where the Federal Chancellor, like the German journalist just now, expressed concern that we are restricting the activities of German organisations.
I explained to the Federal Chancellor here and yesterday too, that we are not in any way restricting German organisations’ work in Russia. What’s more, we welcome them, and we hope that the organisations already registered and working in our country will continue to work with success and develop their activities. I can tell you, for example, that we have 2.3 million people in Russia studying German, and we are grateful to our colleagues who are helping in this work, and we will assist them in every way we can.
We have not yet reached a decision on Syria. I think the first thing to do is stop arms supplies to all sides in the conflict.
Second, when people say that Russia is supplying arms, let’s not forget that we are supplying them to the legitimate government, and this is not prohibited under any international rules. But we are ready to get together with everyone to discuss and find a way of ending this blood bath. There is the desire on both sides to end this conflict, this is a fact, and so I hope that we will be able to continue a constructive dialogue.
On the Eurozone, I already spoke about this in my interview with the German media. We regret the situation that has taken place with Cyprus, but there are nonetheless fundamental basics in the European economy and Germany’s economy, and Germany has been showing good growth and demonstrating its economy’s reliability. We therefore do not have any big concerns and we wish our partners success. It is a bit awkward in the Federal Chancellor’s presence to say this, but since you are asking me, I can repeat what I have said before and say that I personally agree with her approach to resolving the current economic problems, including in the Eurozone. The first thing to do is to resolve the systemic problems and then inject capital where needed, and provide help to the countries who need it. I think this is the only correct approach, but as I said, this is not our affair.
Let me conclude by saying that we have confidence in the European Commission’s economic policy and in that of our German friends.