Vladimir Putin: First of all, I would like to thank my Lithuanian counterpart for accepting the invitation and not only coming to the Russian capital himself, but bringing along with him a high-powered delegation. We have held two rounds of talks, in the restricted and expanded formats. And I would like to note that in both cases the talks were marked by a very businesslike and at the same time open atmosphere.
We note with satisfaction that Lithuania has democratically resolved some key issues regarding the Russian-speaking population. In particular, the issue of obtaining citizenship has been solved democratically, which creates very good conditions for the development of Russian-Lithuanian relations in all areas that are of interest both to Lithuania and to the Russian Federation.
Not only does Lithuania honour universally recognized international documents, including those passed by the Council of Europe, but Mr President himself pays serious attention to inter-ethnic relations.
Today we focused on economic problems. We admit that there is much untapped potential here, even though a significant leap forward has been made. We have discussed the problems that are looming in connection with the proposed enlargement of the European Union, including the admission of Lithuania. Russia welcomes the enlargement of Europe and believes that in the process the economic interests both of the Russian Federation and the potential new members of the European Union must be ensured. That is in the interests of Lithuania as well. We have full understanding and we have agreed on joint actions in this field. Especially since the European community itself shares that approach. I discussed it just recently with the European leaders in Stockholm. For my part, I briefed the President on the results of the summit in the Swedish capital.
We have also discussed the problem of Kaliningrad in connection with these problems. I must say that our approaches are very similar. We take a positive view of our joint activities in solving the problem of transit links between the Kaliningrad Region and other parts of the Russian Federation.
We differ somewhat on the issues of building European security. We believe that the latest developments in the Balkans have confirmed that NATO enlargement does not make the countries in the region more secure. We believe that every country has the right to independently determine its security priorities.
In conclusion I would like to go on the record as saying that the issues and vital problems on which Lithuania and Russia see eye-to-eye far outnumber the issues and problems on which we differ. I would like to thank my Lithuanian colleague and all the members of his delegation for the constructive and very useful dialogue that we have had today.
Thank you very much.
Question: Mr President, Lithuania and Kaliningrad maintain very close ties. But there are fears that if Lithuania joins the European Union and possibly NATO, Kaliningrad will be separated from Russia. That would create problems. Does Russia have a strategy to deal with such problems?
Vladimir Putin: It is our common concern. We too have issues that we believe should be resolved before Lithuania joins the European Union. Both Russia and Lithuania are equally interested in seeing these problems solved.
Today we heard reports by our transport ministers. Lithuania is interested in moving transit cargoes to Scandinavia and Central Europe from Russia and Asia and it is interested in a more active use of the Trans-Siberian Railway. We are ready to jointly analyse the load of the Kaliningrad and Klaipeda ports. We call it the 2K project for short: Kaliningrad-Klaipeda. Of course we will pursue our negotiations with our European partners.
But I would like to draw your attention to one circumstance: we believe that three-way negotiations should be conducted even at this early stage: Russia — the European Union — Lithuania. The current proposal at the expert level is to hold talks first between Russia and the European Union and then with Lithuania. We don’t think this is an entirely correct approach to such a complicated problem. The Russian position is that Lithuania should be brought into the negotiating process now. But we do not see any insuperable obstacles to the solution of all the issues surrounding Lithuania’s accession to the European community, and the related problem of Kaliningrad.
Question: Was the issue of transport tariffs discussed during the talks? If so, in what way? Have any decisions been taken? Have any instructions been issued to the Governments?
Vladimir Putin: In our opinion, some decisions taken by both sides have not improved the situation in this sphere. For Russia it is connected with the problem of providing transportation services to the people in the Kaliningrad Region and other Russian regions. The Governor of the Kaliningrad Region who took part in the negotiations noted that the high tariffs are very hard on passengers. Our Lithuanian colleagues agreed with that.
Lithuania, for its part, is interested in reduced Russian tariffs for cargo haulage. We agree that harmony can and must be achieved in this area. The Governments will be given corresponding instructions to solve the matter in the framework of the intergovernmental commission. Lithuania has even suggested organising a meeting between the Prime Ministers. We will give very careful and thorough consideration to this and our reply will be forthcoming. There will be no problems as far as we are concerned. We are interested in this and we would like to thank our Lithuanian colleagues for the initiative.