Vladimir Putin: Dear friends,
First of all, I would like to thank our Belarusian colleagues for their hospitality and for the excellent organisation of the work of the Council of the Heads of State and other statutory Commonwealth bodies. We are very satisfied with the results of the Minsk summit. We have achieved basic agreements to continue the course for deepening practical interaction among the CIS member countries.
The heads of state focused on the joint fight against international terror and extremism. Some important results have been achieved in this key area of ensuring the security of our states. The Statute on the Anti-Terrorist Centre of the CIS States has been approved, which will enable that organisation to start work immediately. We considered the body of issues connected with the settlement of the conflict and the peace-keeping operation in Abkhazia. Decisions have been taken to extend the stay of the Russian peace-keepers, who make up the collective peace-keeping force in the conflict zone. As you know, the term expires on December 31, 2000.
On the eve of the 10th anniversary of the Commonwealth we agreed to hold a meeting of the Council of Heads of State to review the experience of our multi-lateral cooperation. We will discuss new promising areas of partnership.
On behalf of the heads of CIS states, I would like to say that on the basis of the information from official observers of our countries we support and confirm the democratic character of presidential elections in Kyrgyzstan as well as parliamentary elections in Azerbaijan and Belarus and welcome the results of these elections.
Ria Vesti: Mr Putin, last night, after your five-hour talks with the Ukrainian President, Mikhail Kasyanov described their results as a breakthrough. How do you assess them?
Vladimir Putin: I think we can well call Minsk a lucky place for Russian-Ukrainian relations. It was clear from the outset that a final decision had to be taken, a balanced decision in the interests of both sides. I am pleased to say that such a decision has been found. In my opinion, it goes way beyond the framework of energy cooperation. Our interaction in this field is important not only for Ukraine and Russia. Russia is a major supplier of energy resources to Europe, and we have ambitious plans to develop relations with European countries in this field. Our European partners have been closely following the Russian-Ukrainian discussion and wondering: “What do they think they are doing and what will be the outcome of all this?” I must say that Russia had to agree with the Ukrainian arguments on a number of issues. We admitted that some of the fairly tough arguments made by the Ukrainian party were valid. But Ukraine also walked its part of the way on a number of positions. The most important thing is that we know exactly who, when and how will pay us for the gas supplies. All these procedures and agreements will be formalised in documents and approved in the near future. We have even agreed on the language. And I think that now no one will have the right to say that Ukraine is stealing Russian gas like a thief by night. It is a very responsible decision. It normalises the Russian-Ukrainian relations and creates an excellent basis for their development. It lends a new quality to our relations, which are based on mutual trust between the two countries.
(Adding to Leonid Kuchma’s answer): I would like to add that we took a very thorough look at the issue of cooperation in the energy sphere. We went over the balances and prices pencil in hand. We repeatedly said we would guarantee the supplies of gas to Ukraine in any contingency. Secondly, as Mr Kuchma has said, and it is also important for us – Russia and Ukraine will take part in major European energy projects as independent partners: Russia as a supplier and Ukraine as the country which will offer its infrastructure for transit.
Adzharia Television: This is the last CIS summit in this millennium. We would like you, Mr Putin, to give us some kind of guarantee here in Minsk that everything that is taking place in the relations between Russia and Georgia will be positive, in line with the historical traditions that link our countries. The introduction of a visa regime will hit the ordinary people the hardest. A favourable solution of this problem could be a milestone in the relations between the two countries.
Vladimir Putin: With your permission, I would like to say a few words about it. In addition to holding small and full-format meetings, our bilateral meetings have been very useful. To me, the meeting with Mr Shevardnadze was very important. We discussed current bilateral and regional issues with the Presidents of Moldova, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. In addition to the meeting with the Ukrainian President, we had a very interesting, fruitful and important bilateral meeting with the Belarusian President because we discussed major problems, including the fight against terror. Of course, we are concerned about the fight against terrorism in the North Caucasus. It cannot but leave an imprint on our cooperation with our partners.
As regards our relations with Georgia, I can say the following. In recent years more than 600,000 people who were previously permanent residents of Georgia have moved to Russia. Russia welcomed these people as brothers. The absolute majority of these people have found jobs, are working and regularly send money to their families in Georgia. The sum is variously estimated at between $700 and $900 million a year. Russia is actively developing economic relations with Georgia. We are cooperating in the energy sphere. I would hate to mention the prices at which our energy comes to Georgia because the Ukrainian President, if he learns it, will never again pour me a glass of gorilka [Ukrainian word for vodka]or give me a piece of salo [type of bacon] to go with it. We have agreed to the restructuring of Georgia’s debt to Russia. We work together in the markets of third countries and are successfully participating in joint foreign economic projects. The introduction of the visa regime is an issue connected exclusively with the problem of fighting terrorism. Opinions vary among our experts about what exactly is happening on the border, but the fact that clashes are taking place has become known to the public. Obviously, not everything is right there. Some armed people who came to Georgia have recently been detained. Where are these people? Because they have “got lost in the crowd”, some of them may surface somewhere in St Petersburg or Moscow, or in Dagestan. We are ready to do all we can to make sure that law-abiding citizens are not affected by the introduction of the visa regime. We are ready to expand our personnel in Tbilisi as much as necessary. We are ready to open consular facilities anywhere by agreement with Georgia. I repeat, all that can be done so that the measure does not have an adverse impact on law-abiding citizens. I have proposed it and Mr Shevardnadze has agreed. I agree with his remark that the introduction of the visa regime must be temporary. And we have agreed with the Georgian President to start exploring new possible areas of our relations.
1+1 TV Channel (Ukraine): International organisations are considering the issue of financial assistance to Ukraine in connection with the closure of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. Have the CIS countries considered similar assistance to Ukraine?
Vladimir Putin: We have discussed this topic. It was raised by the Ukrainian President. We did not discuss financial aid to Ukraine from the CIS states, but I can tell you that the North-Western Thermal Power Plant is shortly to open in the Russian Federation. It is built to a totally new design and its capacity is 450 megawatts. It will increase our export potential. We discussed it with Mr Kuchma. This morning I talked with the head of RAO UES, Anatoly Chubais. He believes that it will give us the technical and economic opportunities to partially meet Ukraine’s need for power caused by the closure of the Chernobyl nuclear plant. That will be the subject of separate negotiations. I have invited the Ukrainian President to visit Russia, partly for the purpose of these negotiations. He has accepted the invitation.