Vladimir Putin: First of all, I would like to thank the Federal Chancellor for the opportunity to meet him, to exchange opinions on bilateral relations and on the international issues of concern to both countries. It was impossible to break off our talk midway. We understood each other very well during this conversation.
We share many Austrian positions on international issues, for example, on normalisation of the situation in the Balkans, and we are ready to make our further contribution to this effort. I filled the Chancellor in on the changes taking place in Russian society and the Russian economy, I told him about our efforts and plans to join the World Trade Organisation and I think it met with a positive reaction on his part. We discussed plans to expand Russia’s cooperation with the European Union, our joint work in the international organisations and the OSCE, and of course we discussed ways to improve trade and conditions for bilateral economic ties. These were very useful talks and, along with the documents signed yesterday and today, it is a very substantial and positive part of our visit. Thank you.
Question: Did you discuss the topic of Austrian neutrality and Austria’s ambition to draw closer to NATO?
Vladimir Putin: I will try to use my colleague’s “assist” and take up the issue where he left off. Europe is experiencing the processes of integration, including in the security sphere. We are not pushing this process forward and we are not hindering it, we cannot influence it. It is taking place as a matter of expediency for the European states. This is not to say that it does not worry Russia. But we would like these processes, including in the sphere of so-called European security identity, to be open, transparent and understandable so that Russia and Europe cooperate in this area from the start, if only through exchange of information. As for the neutral status of Austria, we are aware of the legal side of the matter. It is not our intention to speculate on it. Ultimately, it has to be the choice of the Austrian people. Of course, in addressing the issue one has to be aware that by preserving that status Austria won’t be able to do some of the things it wants to do. Nobody wants new dividing lines to emerge in Europe. We are sure we’ll be in contact on all these issues and all our efforts will be aimed at strengthening and not destroying European security.
Question: Economics is always a theme present in all international talks. In Russia the economy was rather weak, now it is in a period of stabilisation. Did you feel that your partners were aware of it during the negotiations yesterday and today?
Vladimir Putin: Of course, Russia and Russian players in the market, including the European market, are becoming more understandable and reliable. Russia adheres to the macro-economic parameters, and the situation in the country is becoming more predictable. The investment environment is improving, and it is becoming easier to discuss economic problems. Until recently we were on the receiving end of what were absolutely fair remarks: “We know about the good intentions of the Russian Government, the good intentions of Russia; but good intentions alone are not sufficient, we need to see a result.” Now the result is there. Admittedly, it is modest, but we are obviously moving in a positive direction: political stability, economic growth, tax cuts, reduction of red tape in the customs sphere. But that is only the beginning. A lot has yet to be done. We should strengthen the judiciary, arbitration and banking systems in the country, cut down on bureaucracy in the currency regulation and economic regulation generally. Decisions to the effect are being prepared, though not as quickly as we would like to. I hope that our partners will make the best of all these changes.
Question: You have said that there should be no new dividing lines in Europe, but you are still opposed to NATO enlargement. You have also said that Russia has not been invited to join NATO. Do you expect to join NATO some time in the future, or to join some other European security structure?
Vladimir Putin: NATO was created as a counterweight to the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact. The Warsaw Treaty Organisation is gone, the Soviet Union is gone, but NATO still exists. What for? We know the answer. But in our opinion, all these are attempts to justify the existence of an organisation which has lost much of its relevance because the tasks for which the organisation was created no longer exist. We do not question the independence of the states which are NATO members and can themselves determine how to ensure their security and structure their policy in this sphere. Some time ago when asked by an American journalist whether Russia could join NATO, I replied: “Why not?” That was all I said. Several days later we heard from US Administration officials that so far Russia could not become a member because the situation was not ready and there were many problems to be sorted out, etc. And this justified my response: “Well, if they don’t see us as members, then it should be clear why we oppose decisions of that organisation.” And this is still our stand. We believe that NATO expansion will set new barriers and draw new dividing lines in Europe. I think that over the past ten years Europe at least has come to understand that no threat comes from Russia or ever will come. One does not have to be a foreign policy analyst to understand that for decades ahead the Russian foreign policy priority will be to create favourable external conditions to enable it to tackle the ambitious tasks it set itself in the economic sphere and in the social sphere. Many international instruments have been created, for example, the OSCE, which can keep a close watch on the security situation. One does not have to enlarge military blocs for that. This is Russia’s policy.
Question: What is the outcome of the discussion on MiG supplies? In fact, it was the first time that you vigorously lobbied on behalf of the Russian manufacturer at international negotiations. Will you take a similar stand in all international negotiations?
Vladimir Putin: I must tell you that in the event I lobbied not only interests of Russian producers but also of German ones. Because the plane is a Russian-German plane. It is a plane that is absolutely adapted to the European market, and of course the final choice rests with the buyers, with the Austrian side. We offer a very good package: along with supplies of the warplanes we propose to start production of a transport and passenger plane in Austria, we offer unique financial terms that are very favourable for the buyer because he will have to pay about 50%, all the rest can be worked out through the debts of the former Soviet Union. It means that Austria will have hundreds of millions of dollars to address social and other issues that face the Government regardless of whether it is a rich or a poor country, a developed or a developing country. But we know that the decision can be taken only through a tender, and we have powerful rivals. We hope that our producer will be allowed to bid, and that the decision is fair. As for supporting the Russian producers, wherever I go, this is one of my tasks and it will be in the future. Thank you.