Question: What do you think of relations between Russia and the European Union now and in 10 years’ time?
Vladimir Putin: For Russia, mutually beneficial partnerships with Europe have been its traditional foreign policy priority. This was stressed once again in last year’s concept of Russia’s foreign policy.
Russia has always felt it is part of European civilisation. We share with it a common history and long-established political, economic and cultural ties. Ancient Rus, you may recall, was known for its fabled Viking-Greek trade route linking the north and south of medieval Europe. We have cultivated our cooperation for centuries and now, I am sure, there is more to add to it.
The European Union is exercising a growing influence on our continent. It is therefore quite logical that we should pay very close attention to coordination of efforts with the EU. We treasure the trusting nature of our political dialogue with the European Union. I am convinced that new areas of EU work will enrich it. I am referring above all to defence and security. Together we could put up a more effective front against such threats as crime, corruption, terrorism and extremism.
Today the European Union is our largest trading partner, which accounts for more than one-third of Russian foreign trade. And as the EU expands, so will our trade. Now, countries of the European Union are Russia’s key negotiators on its entry into the World Trade Organisation. A Russia-EU agreement on cooperation in science and technology was signed last November, making it a major event. We are jointly preparing ground for cooperation in such a forward-looking area as power production.
True, our relations are not uncontroversial, particularly in the context of EU expansion and its effect on our trade and economic ties and their development. But I think a partnership derives its quality from the ability to solve jointly and in a business-like way problems as they arise. I think Russia and the EU have such an ability. And this must play a positive role in the development of Russia-EU relations in the strategic perspective.
We are not drumming up our entry into the European Union. But very close cooperation on a lasting contractual basis adequate to the demands of time will, I am sure, meet our common interests. I believe our EU colleagues think alike.
Question: What do you think of plans to enlarge the European Union? Do you welcome the Baltic countries’ joining the EU?
Vladimir Putin: The expansion of the EU is evidence of mounting integrative processes in Europe. They benefit all European countries. But we want to be assured that Russia’s interests will not suffer, and that new artificial barriers will not be erected to fragment Europe’s single political, social and economic space.
That is why we are engaged in permanent dialogue with the European Union on these matters and firmly expect to reach agreed decisions before the European Union admits new members. I would like to emphasise that our negotiations are not concerned with EU enlargement — it is an internal matter for the Union and candidate countries. They are concerned with the consequences of these steps, including for Russia’s interests.
A just and democratic solution of problems facing the Russian-speaking population in the Baltic countries can and must be one of the positive results of entry preparations.
Question: As the European Union is about to expand, a lot is being said about Kaliningrad and its surrounding region. What do you think expects this region in the future?
Vladimir Putin: It is of fundamental importance that the Kaliningrad Region should be made an integral part of long-term and large-scale cooperation between Russia and the European Union. This is why in tandem with consultations on the consequences of EU expansion for Russia as a whole, we are now starting a separate dialogue on problems connected with the Kaliningrad Region.
Our purpose is to conclude a special agreement between Russia and the EU, which will solve such crucial issues as free transit between the Kaliningrad Region and the rest of Russia, give favoured treatment to cross-border cooperation, promote fisheries, and ensure sustained power supplies. It should also include new programmes concerned with technical assistance, and preservation and expansion of commercial ties between the Region and current candidates for EU entry.
Given these conditions, the Kaliningrad Region, while remaining part of the Russian Federation and its domestic market, can become a testing ground for trying out new and effective forms of cooperation with foreign countries, the European Union included.
Question: You say that cooperation between Russia and Europe is very important, but of late you have made back-to-back visits to some Eastern countries. Do you consider Europe to be Russia’s most important partner?
Vladimir Putin: The reality is that a country with such a geopolitical position as Russia has national interests everywhere. The priority task here is to create around Russia a stable, secure and predictable situation. That would allow us to maximally concentrate efforts towards the solution of domestic socio-economic issues. To do so we pursue every foreign policy direction. One of the most important ones is, of course, Europe.