Vladimir Putin: Good afternoon. Permit me to brief you on the results of our work.
The Russian side highly assesses the results of the Russia-EU meeting. Our meeting with the European Union troika was very constructive and full and extremely useful, in our opinion. In fact, we discussed all the aspects of our cooperation and I think it can be said that we were discussing how to strengthen long-term strategic partnership.
The European Union is one of the key partners for us. Let me note that the concept of the Russian foreign policy considers links with the EU as a priority. During the meeting we looked at the prospects for political dialogue, including security problems. We reaffirmed our mutual interest in developing relations in such areas as energy, science, high technologies and space. We intend to step up our joint work in the spheres of justice, interior affairs, environmental protection and nuclear security. We are ready to work to create a common social and economic space in Europe.
In this connection, I would like to draw your attention to the following circumstances: during the discussion President of the European Commission Romano Prodi proposed setting up a high-level commission to develop, jointly by the EU and the Russian Federation, the principles of a common economic space in Europe, including Russia. The Russian side appreciates that proposal and we have made a corresponding entry in the final document.
I would like to stress again that our joint work is aimed at improving the well-being of people both in Russia and in the united Europe, provided the democratic principles that underpin our activities are observed. We discussed related problems. The Prime Minister raised the issue of developing civil society institutions, including freedom of the media. We spoke about human rights in Chechnya, discussed ways to coordinate our efforts on the international stage, including the Balkans and the Middle East, we discussed the problems of ecology and strategic stability in the world. The European leaders briefed us on the trip to North Korea. We agreed to exchange information on the issue and to coordinate our efforts to involve North Korea in international cooperation.
In conclusion, I would like to say that it was a very open and effective discussion and I would like to thank my colleagues for the atmosphere that prevailed during the discussion.
Question: Mr President, a group of EU Ambassadors recently visited Chechnya and they found: first, that the civilian population mistrusts the Kremlin, the Grozny Administration and the federal forces, and, secondly, that the Russian authorities are not doing enough to win such trust. Do you agree with these findings and if so, what, in your opinion, needs to be done?
Vladimir Putin: I would start answering your question in the following way. First, we should draw the fundamental distinction between the civilian population in Chechnya and the forces against which we are fighting. The people who provoked the conflict in the summer of 1999 cannot even be called separatists. They are simply people who have aggressive religious extremist views and who seek to create a new state from the Black Sea to the Caspian, similarly to the terrorists in Kosovo who speak about creating “a great Albania”.
I would like to take advantage of your question to warn the people of Europe about the danger that is in store for them. An uncontrolled territory in the centre of Europe will not only be a source of spreading narcotics, prostitution and arms smuggling. It will be a territory from which a criminal invasion of the economy of Europe will begin – first gradually, but then more and more, by using the proceeds from drugs trade. And the first victims will be small and medium businessmen who are absolutely unprepared to stand up to such a serious threat.
We must counter that evil by displaying united political will. Of course, this is accompanied by serious negative phenomena. If the disease has gone too far – as happened here in Chechnya – of course the civilian population, unfortunately, suffers. One cannot allow the situation in Europe to be brought to the same state as here in Chechnya due to failure to comply with Resolution 1244 on disarming the Kosovo Liberation Army.
I agree with the overall assessments made by the European Ambassadors, although I could take issue with some of their findings. But on the whole it has to be admitted that there is not much trust among the population in Chechnya towards the federal authorities. I agree also with the findings of the Ambassadors to the effect that the federal authorities in Russia have not done everything they could to strengthen confidence. Having said that, it depends on how you look at it: you can say that the glass is half-empty or you can say that it is half-full. So, while we say that not enough has been done, one has to admit that something has been accomplished in a very complicated situation.
Now for your question about what can be done to strengthen people’s confidence in the authorities. First, all the efforts of the destructive elements who are trying to destabilise the situation in the region should be stopped so that people feel safe. As you know, destructive elements and extremists are committing widespread terrorist acts against the local population, including religious figures. They murdered them. So the first problem is to ensure the safety of the local population. Second, the fulfilment of social and economic obligations to the population. Third, to secure the return of temporarily displaced persons to their permanent residence. And finally, if we are to achieve any of the above goals, the prerogatives, rights and opportunities of the local administration should be broadened, above all, the rights of the local administration in the law enforcement sphere.
Question: What are the prospects for the interaction between Russia and the European Union in the field of defence and security on the European continent?
Vladimir Putin: I agree with Mr Javier Solana that there are many issues of mutual interest in this area. We believe that Europe can be a participant in the discussions of strategic stability. Today we have received detailed information on the actions of the united Europe in the defence field. We are satisfied with this information, and we believe that if these exchanges continue there will be no problems in our interaction. For example, we have already been invited to take part in some activities in this sphere.
Question: How do you see the outlook for cooperation between Russia and the EU in the energy sphere?
Vladimir Putin: We have discussed this topic in some detail. It has to be noted that in spite of the difficult conditions experienced by oil consumers, Russia has never cut its production and export of oil and gas. That is another proof that a very good instrument of cooperation in this sphere has been created between the united Europe and Russia. We have agreed to continue the work of the energy dialogue commission and we are preparing to continue discussing this theme at the next summit in Brussels.
We have concerns about the restrictions on Russian exports of nuclear products, but that issue, like other working aspects, is being addressed in a constructive manner.