Vladimir Putin: I would like to welcome the Prime Minister of Spain and all his colleagues who have arrived at our invitation. We have had a very energetic exchange of opinions on the whole range of bilateral relations between Russia and Spain.
First of all, I would like to say that we are totally satisfied with the level of relations between our countries, their dynamics and results. We have reached some practical results today. We have seen the signing of a number of documents of mutual interest both for the Spanish and the Russian sides. We hope and I would say that we are sure that the decisions we have reached today will not only improve the overall character of our relations but will yield practical results.
Our concerted actions should make both the Spanish and Russian economies more competitive, create new jobs and ultimately raise the living standards both of the Spaniards and the Russians.
We discussed the interaction of the law enforcement bodies. We discussed international problems, strategic stability in the world and in Europe, we discussed the Middle East and the Balkans. I would like to say that on many issues our views practically coincide.
We paid great attention to cooperation in the humanitarian sphere. We have agreed to conduct a series of exhibitions and to have cultural exchanges. In the course of the expanded meeting we agreed on the opening of the Cervantes Institute in Moscow. The Russian side has taken the necessary steps and has made some concessions on taxes. I think that was a reasonable thing to do.
At the same time we welcome the decision of the Spanish authorities to upgrade the Russian Federation in terms of risk insurance. We believe that today’s agreement to convert part of the Russian debts into guarantees of the Russian Federation and to offset part of the debt by supplying goods is an important agreement.
All this, as well as our plans to promote bilateral ties in the legal field, create a good basis and give us hope that the relations between the two countries will continue to develop positively and very dynamically.
I would like to thank Mr Prime Minister and all his colleagues for an open and very positive dialogue.
Question: What will be the main thrust of Russian-Spanish cooperation during the Spanish presidency of the European Union?
Vladimir Putin: You know that a Russia-European Community Summit has just been held in Moscow. We had a very good exchange of opinions on all the areas of cooperation between Russia and the United Europe. We have noted that despite certain problems, on the whole cooperation is moving ahead.
Given that new members are shortly to be admitted to the United Europe, Russian trade with that part of the world will account for 50% of our total trade.
We have agreed to search for new areas of cooperation and we will diversify it. One of these areas may be broader cooperation on high technologies. By the way, the Prime Minister today spoke of the need to expand scientific exchanges between Spain and the Russian Federation.
At the suggestion of Chairman Romano Prodi we decided to set up a high-level commission to deal with the problem of creating a common economic space in Europe, including the Russian Federation. I don’t know how the Prime Minister will define these goals, but I believe that if Spain is President of the EU, it will seek to implement the agreements reached between Russia and the United Europe.
Question: Is President Putin happy with the position of Spain regarding the Russian policy in Chechnya?
Vladimir Putin: As regards Chechnya I must say that Spain’s position is not that much different from that of the European Community, from the position presented to us by other European colleagues. The Prime Minister drew our attention to the humanitarian problems and said that it was a concern of the Spanish side. We understand that concern.
At the same time Spain, more than any other European country, understands what the problem of terrorism is all about. It makes it much easier for us to talk with the Spanish colleagues who, I repeat, know these problems.
As regards the question directed to my colleague about the Spanish foreign policy, Russia for its part is aware of the interest of the Spanish leadership in the development of bilateral relations and I can assure you that it is highly pragmatic interest based on the interests of the Spanish economy in the context of growing contacts between Russia and Europe. We are constantly aware of this. So, as regards Russia, we see not only an ongoing dialogue, but a constructive development of ties between our countries. We note the positive role of Spain in the expansion of cooperation between Russia and the European Union.
Question: What is the position of the Russian and Spanish leaders on the situation in the Middle East?
Vladimir Putin: You know Russia is engaged in fairly intensive negotiations with all the parties to the conflict, with all the countries that are trying to bring about an immediate end to the violence.
Just yesterday I had a meeting with the Israeli Foreign Minister. Our Foreign Minister talked over the phone with five of his counterparts in Arab countries. Yassir Arafat will shortly visit Moscow. We have held consultations with our colleagues from the European Union and, as you know, Mr Javier Solana is in the region now.
Of course, we discussed that problem with the Prime Minister. Our Foreign Ministers today agreed a joint statement on the issue. Right off, let me say that these are not new initiatives. We have agreed to work towards the most important goal that must be achieved within a short space of time. It is well known and has long been formulated: to end violence and sit down at the negotiating table. We will use all the opportunities at our disposal to this end, we will hold consultations and try to persuade the parties to the conflict to solve the very complicated problems of the region by peaceful means.
The main thing is that our position should be united so that no parties to the conflict should have any illusions about taking advantage of some kind of special relationship with the international community to solve certain problems unilaterally. So, we will continue consultations with the US Administration and with the European Union.
Question: What do you think of the articles in the magazines Der Spiegel and Focus?
Vladimir Putin: As regards this article and my attitude to it I think it is a provocation aimed at destroying the emerging positive relationship between Russia and the European Union and individual EU countries.
Some smart people here, when asked about their health, reply: “You’ll never live to see me die.” I think I would apply that principle to the case in point.