Vladimir Putin: The Commonwealth of Independent States will be 10 years old next year. And we would like to mark that date. We have agreed to hold the jubilee meeting in Moscow. We have discussed the state of affairs in the CIS in detail. And the main conclusion is that the Commonwealth is developing. Obviously, we all perceive the CIS primarily as a useful and in many ways indispensable instrument for addressing a number of specific tasks.
Its potential has not been exhausted. One can see that from media coverage. I think media coverage now is much more positive than before, and less sceptical regarding the CIS than several years ago. Not only the heads of CIS member states but observers and the public in our countries highly rate our joint potential. And one can see that we are all interested in still more dynamic and effective cooperation. We want the practical outcome of our decisions and joint actions to be greater. And the simplest criterion of efficiency is that cooperation should bring real benefits to the peoples of our countries. We are going to proceed from this understanding.
As usual, we have paid great attention to international politics because coordination of our efforts on the world scene is one of our priorities. A fair amount of attention was devoted to this topic during the meeting of heads of state in a restricted format. Among the problems discussed were strategic stability and more active cooperation in international organizations and in the trade sphere.
The settlement of armed conflicts was discussed in detail. The heads of state were at one regarding the need for the CIS to take part, along with the UN and the OSCE, in providing international guarantees to prevent the resumption of the conflict in Georgia, on the territory of Abkhazia. At the initiative of the Georgian side the term of the stay of the Collective Peace-Keeping Force in the conflict zone has been extended by another six months, i.e. until the end of this year.
We recently celebrated our common Victory to which all the CIS peoples made such a great contribution. I would like to stress that this is our common holiday. Another memorable date is approaching, the 60th anniversary of the beginning of the Great Patriotic War. In this connection the heads of state launched an appeal to the peoples of the Commonwealth and to the international community.
We have also discussed the issues of social security for the war veterans. These are sensitive issues in all the countries and they have to be addressed immediately.
On the whole I would like to say that our meeting was not just fruitful and constructive, but very pleasant in human terms.
Thank you for your attention.
Question: The CIS is almost 10 years old. To what extent and how have the goals set at the creation of the Commonwealth been implemented? In your opinion, what is the ideal level of interaction that can be achieved among the Commonwealth member states?
Vladimir Putin: I’ll tell you what my attitude is. When the CIS was created as an organisation, many had a feeling that it was designed to replace the former Soviet Union. These expectations, of course, have not come true. Let us face it, it was impossible. But that is precisely why there occurred a certain pause and a measure of disenchantment. But at present all my colleagues, if I am not mistaken – and we discussed it today in a very frank manner – are aware that the organisation is necessary, useful and must be preserved. There are no ideal organisations. You have mentioned some contradictions between the states. And are there any organisations where there are no contradictions? It is a natural process of countries upholding their national interests. The question is how to address these problems: in the spirit of good neighbourliness, friendship and cooperation – or of confrontation. Such organisations as the CIS have been created so that all the problems that arise between states are solved for the benefit of our peoples. We are well capable of doing that. And the CIS serves that goal.
Question: A new organization, the Eurasian Economic Community, was formed in Minsk yesterday. Yet another structure active in the CIS is the GUUAM. Don’t you think that the existence of these organisations weakens Russia’s own potential?
Vladimir Putin: Far from weakening, it adds to the potential. Take such a country as Ukraine. As I was saying at the meeting with the heads of state, it is a major European country of 50 million people. And, of course, that country has many interests of its own and many projects of its own. If Ukraine believes it is possible to solve some of the tasks facing it together with some other members of our organisation we would welcome that. If we believe that some CIS countries are able to address their regional large-scale economic tasks and promote cooperation on a bilateral or multilateral basis we must use all the instruments, I stress, all the instruments, to ensure the prosperity of our peoples. We do not see that as a problem. We believe that these regional organisations do not impede but, on the contrary, complement the CIS.
Question: A question about the free trade zone. After this CIS summit can we speak about a timeframe for the introduction of a free trade zone?
Vladimir Putin: I think a free trade zone practically exists. The Russian Federation has signed bilateral agreements with all the CIS states. There is an outstanding issue only with Ukraine. We are coming to grips with the problems that were raised during the negotiating process and I hope that all the disputed issues will be finally agreed before the end of June. Thereafter we will be able to say that a full stop has been put to this issue.
Question: You said yesterday that the signing of a framework treaty between Russia and Georgia would solve many problems between the two countries. Can you say with certainty that the signing of this treaty will solve the problems of concern to Georgia and the lifting of the visa regime will move forward the settlement in Abkhazia, which has now stalled?
Vladimir Putin: You know that the introduction of the visa regime was prompted by just one circumstance, the need to step up the fight against terror. Unfortunately, the citizens of other CIS states often become victims of terrorists, including in Georgia itself. Hostage taking and killings, etc. are real facts on the ground. So, that topic was also discussed at the summit. We talked about it yesterday and today. It was a very hands-on conversation and a very frank one, or so it seemed to me.
Our law enforcement bodies are in contact with each other and joint work is proceeding energetically, I can say that. We have an idea of how we should organize this work together. Joint solution of the problems in this area and removal of the causes that prompted the introduction of the visa regime would create conditions for the lifting of the regime. We would very much like to be able to solve the issue within the framework of the treaty which we are currently preparing.
As you know, the treaty is being prepared and finalized at the initiative of the Georgian President. We appreciate that initiative and we want relations between the Russian Federation and Georgia to develop positively in every area. As you know, the Russian Federation is doing a great deal to make sure that the situation in one of the fraternal republics, as we used to say – and we do regard Georgians as our brothers in faith and common culture – should develop positively. You know the great impact of Georgian culture on Russia, and we appreciate that highly. We would like the signing of that treaty to remove all the obstacles in the way of our cooperation. Russia will work towards that end.
Question: What do you think about the recent efforts to settle the Transdnestr conflict and about the prospects of its settlement?
Vladimir Putin: Speaking about the efforts of the new Moldavian leadership aimed at settling the situation in Transdnestr, we take a very positive view of these efforts. Russia is closely following the development of the situation and will exert the maximum positive influence so that the conflict will finally be solved for the benefit of all the peoples inhabiting the territory of that country. We take a stand of principle on the problem. You know our position. We favour the preservation of the integrity of the Moldovan state, but we believe, and that is also well known, that the interests of all the citizens living on that territory must be secured. We are ready to act as a mediator and guarantor of the agreements that will be achieved inside Moldova. We are not trying to interfere and we believe that it is above all a matter for the citizens of that country. But I repeat: we will exert a positive influence on the solution of the issue.
Question: The final declaration of the “Caucasus Four” names the fight against international terror and other forms of extremism as a priority of joint cooperation. In this connection the international community is increasingly concerned about the existence of such zones as Chechnya and Nagorny Karabakh, which are not controlled by sovereign states and are increasingly used as zones for the transit of smuggled narcotics and weapons. How will you go about solving these problems within the “Caucasus Four”?
Vladimir Putin: As regards the efforts of the “Caucasus Four” and the CIS in combating terrorism, our position is clear enough. We discussed the issue today and we spoke of the need to strengthen the anti-terrorist centre which, as you know, has been set up at the initiative of the President of Kazakhstan. We believe our law enforcement bodies should have greater coordination and that we should pool our efforts in the fight against that international evil externally. Today we spoke of the need for greater coordination of our foreign policy activities. We devoted much time to it. As regards the “Caucasus Four,” I must say that the fight against terror is one of the key topics of practically all our meetings. We will work in these areas. In my opinion, the instruments proposed by the CIS heads of state can be fairly effective. As for drug trafficking, I can tell you that there is nothing new in that respect in the CIS. Everything is trivial and simple. It is the “chicken and egg” problem: it is impossible to say which comes first. More often than not terrorism is but an attempt to cover up the economic interests of drug barons with political slogans.