Vladimir Putin: President Chirac and I would be glad to brief you on the results of our work yesterday and today, and we will answer your questions.
And I have to say that I am genuinely glad to have held another meeting with the French President. We are satisfied to note that Russian-French relations are on the rise. Yesterday we discussed in an informal mode practically all the issues that are of interest to France and Russia. We attach great significance to the Joint Statement on Strategic Stability. On the basis of that Statement France and Russia will be able to interact in the field of international security even more effectively. During the talks yesterday and today I have reaffirmed that Russia welcomes the reciprocal readiness of the United States to reduce strategic offensive weapons. Specifically, our proposal is that we are ready for further verified reduction of strategic offensive arms to the level of 1500 warheads and even less. I would like to stress the words “verified reductions”. However, we closely link that problem with the preservation of the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. We discussed in detail further improvements of the comprehensive system of international security. Russia supports the initiatives of the French President aimed at holding corresponding international forums on the issue.
We paid much attention to the building of the relations between Russia and the European Community. As you know, just recently, on the initiative of Romano Prodi, we began discussing in Moscow the topic of the common economic space in Europe. In this connection I am reminded of the remarks by President De Gaulle about the need to build a single Europe from the Atlantic to the Urals. Which is why I am particularly pleased to discuss this topic with President Chirac. We feel that the French leadership adheres to the same principles that were proclaimed in his time by De Gaulle. I am not going to enlarge on the subject of Italy, but there too we felt genuine interest in moving towards each other.
Of course, we paid much attention to bilateral relations, and not only in the political field, but also in the sphere of economic development and the building of relations between the two states. We mentioned some areas that are of particular interest both for France and for Russia. Energy dialogue is undoubtedly one such area. It has to be said that Russia, in the meeting with the French colleagues, reaffirmed its readiness to develop energy relations with Europe to make the energy market stable so that it provides jobs today and ensures a positive development of the European economy on the basis of Russian energy. Russia will support major French investors and our partners such as Total and Gaz de France on the projects in which they already take part and in which they plan to expand their activities in our country.
Another important sphere of interaction is cooperation in high technologies. That includes telecommunications, space exploration and aviation building. When we spoke about economic cooperation we could not but touch upon the problems of the environment. We reiterated our adherence to the Kyoto accords.
We could not but touch upon such a sensitive sphere for both countries as cooperation in the field of culture, education and science. We know very well that for a long historical period the peoples of our two countries have had a special relationship in that sphere. A meeting of Russian and French cultural and scientific workers took place in St Petersburg yesterday. We will do everything to support civil society groups in their efforts to expand contacts between our states.
On the whole I must say that the talks with the French President have been both interesting and very useful for me and my colleagues.
In conclusion I would like to say that Mr President, as one of the most authoritative leaders in Europe, is also a very pleasant interlocutor. We spent a very pleasant time together. I would like to warmly thank Mr Chirac for that.
Jacques Chirac: For my part I would like to express appreciation on my behalf and on behalf of my delegation to the Russian President for the warm and friendly atmosphere that has prevailed during our meetings. I must say that our talks have been very interesting.
Russia and France together added many glorious pages to human history. And all these pages are filled with mutual respect and friendship. Today France and Russia have in many ways a common vision of the future. My visit has helped to strengthen Russian-French partnership in all areas. We share the common principles of multipolarity, without which it would have been impossible to ensure peace, overcome the aftermath of the Cold War and contribute to the process of reunification on the European continent.
We discussed security issues in the same vein. During our talks we confirmed the key principles aimed at ensuring strategic stability and peace: they are respect of the law, renunciation of the policy of armament, and stepped up international efforts to preserve the non-proliferation regime. All these principles are reflected in our joint statement.
We have achieved important agreements in the field of bilateral trade and economic cooperation, including aerospace. That is very important. I won’t dwell on details because my Russian and French colleagues have just had a joint conference on the issue.
We also signed an agreement on air links at the initiative of transport ministers.
We have found that we see eye-to-eye on the new threats to our planet and especially on the importance of compliance with the obligations under the Kyoto Protocol.
We also spoke of the need to expand our cooperation at the level of the civil society in the two countries.
Our industry and trade ministers have had important talks on the issues related to energy and gas.
We have exchanged opinions (many of which, by the way, are identical) on the situation in the Middle East, Macedonia, Nagorny Karabakh and other hot spots.
Although my visit is not over yet, I can already say that I have achieved the main aim of my trip: we have managed to strengthen our bilateral relations and make our contribution to the emergence of a multipolar world based on the principles of peace and democracy.
Question: What is the French position on the issue of the creation of a national missile defence by the US? And what are the prospects for economic cooperation between France and Russia?
Jacques Chirac: As regards the ABM Treaty, it is above all up to Russia and the United States to decide whether or not it should be updated. But in our opinion one cannot replace one security system which is binding in character, by another if it is going to be non-binding because such a step would fling the doors wide open for various excesses and other threats.
Vladimir Putin: Of course the 1972 Treaty was signed between the Soviet Union and the United States, and formally and legally it applies to Russia and the US. But it is not our goal to monopolise the relations with the US in that sphere because the security of mankind depends on how the issue is handled. That is why I have already said that we support President Chirac’s initiatives on holding international forums.
As regards the prospects for economic cooperation between France and Russia I have this to say. Today trade between our countries is in excess of $3 billion. That is not a bad figure. But that is not all that we can do together. The French agency that ensures the transactions of French exporters has resumed its work in Russia and has offered an insurance coverage to the amount of 200 million francs. That too is a good sign.
I have already mentioned our areas of cooperation. I won’t repeat myself. In reality, there are more such areas than I have mentioned. As of today, further joint work to put in place a legal framework for cooperation is highly relevant in my opinion. As for the specific area of cooperation in aerospace, which is probably what interests you most of all, we have made several steps forward in that respect. I would like to stress that Mr Chirac is in the best sense of the word an energetic lobbyist of the interests of the French economy and the European economy because we discussed that topic in great detail yesterday on his initiative. I am referring to our interaction in the space and aviation fields. We have agreed to continue our discussion regarding the use of the Kourou space launching site for the launching of Russian Soyuz carrier rockets. We will continue joint work in the field of aviation building. And that cooperation must have a multilateral character. We are talking about possible purchases and sales of aircraft and cooperation in the production of individual units, parts and planes. I think we have created a good political basis for our specialists to be able to determine the decisions that are to be taken in the near term.
Question: Did you have a chance to discuss the fate of President Milosevic? What does the Russian President think about it?
Jacques Chirac: We have not yet raised that theme with Mr Putin. But I would like to express my own opinion on the issue. To me it is a very special moment, a special moment for Europe, for France and for me personally. When I was elected I had to deal with a serious crisis: we got bogged down in Bosnia. At the time the spread of terror in the region brought great misery to its inhabitants, in particular, the Serbian people. France has followed a consistent course in Bosnia and on the Kosovo problem, and today, after Milosevic has been handed over to the Hague Tribunal, we can be proud of our position. It is a victory of the rule of law over violence, it is a victory of democracy over tyranny, it is a moment of hope for justice and freedom in the world. That is how I feel at the present moment.
Vladimir Putin: When answering that question we should keep in mind the goals that we set ourselves. We want democracy and stability to prevail in that region and in Europe in general. We want to see stable and predictable development. Has the extradition of Milosevic to the Hague Tribunal achieved that goal? Have these actions brought nearer the goals I have mentioned? I doubt it. I don’t want to act as a prosecutor or a defence lawyer. But I would like to remind you that the Tribunal was created during the Bosnian events because the national judiciary was paralysed.
Today dramatic changes have taken place in Serbia and Yugoslavia. Some time ago a democratic leader, Mr Kostunica was legitimately elected in Yugoslavia, who is committed to Western values. A national judiciary system is functioning in that country. Don’t we trust Mr Kostunica and the country he leads? Is it our aim to undercut that political leader? Is it our aim to undercut the country? The answers to the first, second and third questions are: no, no, and no. Now look what has happened. Yugoslavia has been destabilised. The President of Yugoslavia has been destabilised. We may be facing a new spiral and a possible disintegration of the country. Evil must be punished. That is true. The question is how: To do it like a bull in a china shop or to do it carefully and cautiously achieving the goals the civilised community sets before it?
Question: How do you assess the talks on the Balkan topic?
Jacques Chirac: We are very worried about the situation in the Balkans, especially in Macedonia. The situation in that region is deteriorating because of the actions of the Albanian extremists. The consequences of such actions can be very serious not only for Macedonia but for the region as a whole, including Serbia. We hope that the actions of the international community, especially Russia, Europe and the KFOR will help to eliminate the danger of destabilisation in the region. We must be vigilant.
Vladimir Putin: As regards the problem of the Balkans I think our views on the development of the situation there are almost identical. We are ready, together with the European community and our American partners, to make our contribution to the settlement in that region. We believe that it is very important to have a common position formulated in a clear and understandable manner so that no one, especially the forces leaning towards extremism, could slip between the countries that are parties to the settlement.
I think I have to stress the following. We have agreed with our French colleagues that there can be no dialogue with extremists. I believe that we should not only say it, but we should act accordingly. And I don’t think that is always the case. People who have taken up arms and are trying to solve political problems by force of arms cannot take part in any negotiations. Such a tough stand is the only option if we want to achieve a positive result in this work. I would like to stress that today, when we speak about extremists we are dealing with people who see no other way for themselves than achieving their goals through force and violence. They want to fight, they are ready to fight and they are ready to die. None of the parties to the pacification process are ready or will be ready for that. We can only counter that by pooling our efforts on a democratic and absolutely moral basis. The strength of the international community lies in such unity.
Question: Not a word has been said today about Chechnya. Does it mean that France has given up hope to influence the situation? Does it mean that the grave situation in Chechnya will remain?
Vladimir Putin: The French President initiated a discussion on the problem yesterday. I told him in detail about what is happening in the North Caucasus, including Chechnya. As you know, no large-scale actions are taking place there. There are only sporadic sorties by terrorists. The last such sortie was by a group of militants who had come from abroad, mostly foreign mercenaries bringing large quantities of heroin. These are the kind of people we are fighting and will continue to fight.
As for political issues we will solve them by political means, and I have told the French President that the OSCE mission has recently resumed its work in Chechnya. Experts from the Council of Europe are working alongside it, the Russian law enforcement bodies are building up their efforts enforcing compliance with the law by all the parties which are involved in restoring order in the Republic. That applies to local citizens and to the federal forces in Chechnya.
Jacques Chirac: Mr Putin has just told you about the content of our talk. I would just like to reiterate our position. We believe that it is necessary to explore every avenue for the political settlement of the Chechen problem.