Vladimir Putin: Let me begin with the topic with which my colleague, Mr Federal Chancellor, began. We were together at the Piskarevskoye Memorial Cemetery, and with us was a group of veterans from both Germany and Russia. We paid tribute to the victims of the Second World War, and that is a very important gesture. I want to thank our German colleagues for this. What is particularly important is that we did it here, in St Petersburg, a city that suffered so much during the Second World War and whose civilians in particular suffered. After the ceremony veterans of both sides went to the German war cemetery, which was established near St Petersburg some time ago. I think it is a very good signal to us from the people of the older generation, a signal that should convince us that we are doing everything right in promoting cooperation between our two countries.
Indeed the relations between Russia and Germany have been making headway recently. This is the fourth meeting between the top leaders of our countries. Six summit meetings have taken place since June 2000. The last one took place in Stockholm just two weeks ago. I would like to note the very tangible results of the discussion of trade and economic issues. Visible results have been achieved in this area since the previous talks in Berlin. The slump in mutual trade that we observed a year and a half or two years ago can be said to be over. Last year trade reached 41.5 billion marks. That is comparable to the Soviet Union’s trade with the two German states in 1990. We approved of the performance of the high-level working group on strategic aspects of economic and financial cooperation. A number of ideas, a whole variety of model projects are being developed alongside German experts. Russia’s credit rating has been upgraded. In short, we agreed to extend the mandate of the group by another year, and concrete instructions have been given to the relevant agencies. We think much remains to be done to restore economic links between Russia and the Eastern part of Germany, and we should work in that direction. An inter-governmental agreement on space cooperation has been finalised. It is heartening and very symbolic that the work has been completed in time for the 40th anniversary of the first manned spaceflight and in time for an international conference in Moscow on preventing the militarisation of outer space. Representatives of 80 countries are expected to attend these events.
Partnership in science and advanced technology loomed large during the course of negotiations. I would like to note the positive results of training Russian managers in Germany. Between 1998 and 2000, 1,500 Russian managers have had internships at German businesses. I would like to thank our German colleagues for cooperation in this area. The benefits of the programme are evident. We welcome the fact that our German partners are ready to extend the programme to 2003.
We have exchanged opinions on key international issues arising in the G8 and relating to EU enlargement, and we have touched upon regional cooperation. This summer Russia will succeed Germany as the President of the Baltic Council. We have discussed ways to ensure continuity in implementing regional cooperation projects. This has to do above all with economic partnership, cooperation between law enforcement bodies and environmental problems. It also has to do with military-political interaction in the Baltic area and confidence and security measures. The Foreign Ministers of the two countries discussed these issues in detail.
Cooperation between law enforcement bodies and Internal Affairs Ministries is making good progress.
You will know that a Russian-German citizens’ forum called “The St Petersburg Dialogue” was held yesterday. We are sure that it will provide a good place for debate and will lay the intellectual groundwork for cooperation.
To sum up, I would like to say that Russia sees Germany as a reliable partner, a strategic long-term partner. And in conclusion, on behalf of my esteemed colleague, the Federal Chancellor, and on my own behalf, I would like to thank the people of the city for their hospitality. I hope that the police this time around did a good job and did not cause any undue inconvenience to the citizens. But if it did happen, I offer my apologies.
Question: Are you satisfied with the current level of economic cooperation between Russia and Germany?
Vladimir Putin: We reckon that the slump has largely been overcome. But of course we are not satisfied with the current level because it could be much higher. Germany is the second largest foreign investor in Russia. That sounds good. But if I tell you that German investments in Russia account for just 1% of Germany’s total foreign investments, you will see that the result could be much more significant. But that depends to a large extent on the Russian side, which has to create the necessary conditions. We can cooperate in a variety of areas: the energy dialogue, cooperation in high-tech areas, in the financial sphere and in personnel training. I must say that not only bilateral relations but also Russia’s relations with the united Europe come into the picture. Some of these proposals have received active support from other European leaders. For example, the Belgian Prime Minister has actively backed the idea of extending the principles and rules of the energy dialogue to cooperation in the high-tech sphere. There are many areas that we consider to be priorities. Because Germany is one of the leading European countries, we very much hope that cooperation with that country will help to strengthen Russia’s ties with the European Union.
Question: Don’t you think that the problem of missing items of cultural heritage could complicate relations between Russia and Germany?
Vladimir Putin: As you know, this problem arose after the Second World War. We want to get rid of all the factors that complicate our relations and we will continue to work towards that goal. We have told our experts to think of a way of addressing these complicated problems that would satisfy public opinion in both countries, contributing not only to cultural exchange, but also creating a good basis for our relations in other spheres. You know the damage Russia suffered during the Second World War and how many items of cultural importance were lost and what cost it exacted. Today many art works which rightfully belong to Russia are in private collections abroad. Part of the cultural heritage of Germany is also both in private and government-controlled collections. Russia has recently passed some legislation regulating that sphere. We cannot ignore these facts, but we will seek to resolve the problems.
Question: Have you managed to bridge the gap between your positions on Russian debts? What is preventing the final solution of that problem? And is it true that the law enforcement agencies of the two countries are carrying out a near-sensational joint operation?
Vladimir Putin: Let me begin with your last question on the cooperation between the law enforcement and special agencies. It is up to the heads of law enforcement bodies to decide how much information to reveal to the public.
As for debts, by and large I confirm what Mr Chancellor has said, with a minor correction: Russia is servicing not its own debt, but mainly the debt of the former Soviet Union. We have been doing it; and having once assumed the obligations, we will do it. You may or may not know that recently the Finance Ministry disbursed a large instalment that carried over from January of this year. Dialogue on this subject was very frank, substantive and productive. We thank our German partners for their readiness to discuss the topic and support Russia during the negotiating process if economic conditions take a turn for the worse. As of today, I see no points of dispute.
Question: Germany is one of the most influential members of the European Union. Have you discussed with Gerhard Schroeder the current situation in Europe and Europe’s attitude to the Chechen situation? And could you comment on the latest developments around NTV? Are you going to interfere?
Vladimir Putin: The German side is interested in what is happening in the North Caucasus. In the light of what is happening in Macedonia, many in Europe are coming to understand our actions in the North Caucasus. We agree with what was said during our discussion about the humanitarian aspect of the problem.
As regards human rights, we are ready together with the international community to raise these issues, discuss them and solve them. Russia is interested in a civilised solution, which is why military tribunals and courts are active in the Chechen Republic. Practically the whole judicial system has recently been restored in the republic. Both terrorists and members of the Russian security services, if they have broken Russian laws, are brought to account. Everybody should be equal before the law.
As for NTV, it is a complicated situation: there are claims and counterclaims within that media holding and without. The Prosecutor-General’s Office is investigating a criminal case of fraudulent appropriation of $1.5 billion, and all the parties involved in that complicated process try to enlist either the head of state or the international community on their side. I don’t think I should step into that mess and clear up all that has been created in recent years. We should separate an economic dispute from the problems of freedom of expression, and secure the rights of the owners. There is only way to solve this problem, and that is through the law courts.