Vladimir Putin: I would like to thank our host, the Prime Minister of Belgium, for the excellent conditions provided for our work and for the positive commitment to achieving concrete results. Our communication has been – perhaps as never before – very concrete and very hands-on. We discussed the real concerns which both Russia and the EU want to address.
The strengthening of European and international security was of course one of the main issues on our agenda. Now that we are building a new European security structure, constant interaction between Russia and the EU is becoming an imperative. I would like to note the creation of the mechanism for monthly Russian-European consultations. That was the initiative of the current Chairman, the Prime Minister of Belgium.
In the wake of the 9/11 tragedy, the European states are realising the need to review the effectiveness of existing regional security services called upon to ensure peace and stability on the continent. We share the serious and responsible approach of our European partners to these objectives. Obviously, it is high time to move from a mere exchange of opinions to jointly planning concrete measures and initiatives. The summit has made an important step forward in that direction. We hope that the mechanism of regular consultations will be a prototype of a special body to address security issues. The provisions and principles of interaction in this field that we have agreed upon are all in the final document of the summit. It provides a good foundation for further joint work.
As regards the common European economic space, we have entered a stage of practical decisions. The summit has appointed the leaders and determined the mandate of the working group. We expect that the implementation of the models of a common economic space and security space will contribute to our common goal of building a single and prosperous Europe. There is potential for such work, as this summit has convincingly demonstrated.
We have discussed issues connected with our scientific and technological potential. It is obvious today that creating a single research-and-development space is also crucial for advancing our cooperation. We have paid due attention to trade, economic and investment matters and to possible consequences of the expansion of the European Union, including the problems of life support of the Kaliningrad Region. We have agreed to set up a task force to deal expeditiously with visa issues and the problems of life support of the Kaliningrad Region in the light of EU expansion.
I think I can speak for all the participants in the meeting if I say that between the Moscow summit and today progress in these areas has not been impressive. We hope that our experts will catch up on lost opportunities. It can already be said that the results of the meeting attest that the partnership between Russia and the united Europe is gathering momentum and becoming ever more profound and diverse. And I appreciate the positive mood of our colleagues. Thank you.
Question: You have referred to a common international security system. How will it square with the expansion of the EU and NATO? You have earlier indicated that you are opposed to NATO expansion. At the same time, you are not against the enlargement of the EU.
Vladimir Putin: One can comment on NATO and EU expansion endlessly. Our approaches to the expansion of NATO and the expansion of the European Union should be different because these are different organisations. As for security matters, we have seen that to our common regret the security systems established so far do not guarantee security and no one can feel securely protected. I suggested in Berlin that we all give thought to it. And we have discussed it today and will have more discussions later in the day. Yesterday we discussed it quite thoroughly with my colleague, Prime Minister of Belgium. We are all concerned about it. We have become aware of our vulnerability today. I am absolutely sure that we will be able to solve these problems if we unite. And I’d like to stress that today’s agreement on regular consultations is a step in the right direction. We hope that a special permanent body will be created to deal with security issues.
As for NATO expansion, that problem can be looked at in a different way if one proceeds from the ideas that have been repeatedly voiced in Europe, namely, that NATO is transforming and is becoming more of a political organisation. We would of course change our position on enlargement if we did not feel sidelined from this process. The nature of that process should be the subject of our common discussion in order to reach some understandings. We have some ideas about it, and we are ready to discuss them with our partners.
Question: What concrete results have been achieved in the energy dialogue? Did you discuss concrete fields and transportation projects? And if so, could you name them?
Vladimir Putin: Energy dialogue is one of the key issues we have discussed regularly, including on this occasion. The problem, like the issue of the common economic space, was raised by Chairman Mr. Prodi. We believe it is the right time to address it. Russia is interested in supplying its energy to Europe, but Europe is equally interested in having its energy needs met on a permanent and stable basis. I would like to repeat what I told my colleagues today: Russia is not behaving in a selfish way and has always been a highly reliable partner.
I’ll tell you what our worry is. As the European Union expands, the new members of the community will be covered by existing EU rules regarding certain barriers in the way of cooperation with non-EU countries in the energy field. I think we should put our heads together to make sure that problems do not arise for Europe in getting Russian energy and no damage is done to the Russian economy. We had a discussion on this today and the conversation will continue. But this is not the only topic. We believe that the energy dialogue should be approached in the broadest sense. It applies to all types of energy: nuclear energy, gas and electricity. There is something to ponder there. As for concrete fields, we have some proposals. Today we proposed to think about the development of the Shtokman field. It may become a pilot project in a way. But not necessarily. If there is commercial interest, we are ready to work together. If we don’t find interested partners in Europe, we will do it alone or together with partners from other countries. But the opportunity to work together exists — to exploit the Shtokman gas field, which is one of the largest in Russia.
Question: There are continued human rights violations in Chechnya. Do you intend to introduce any changes in the federal policy in that republic?
Vladimir Putin: I already said this to journalists yesterday and I can repeat it today for the benefit of those who didn’t hear me. We are not going to take advantage of the situation in the wake of the terrorist attacks in the United States on September 11 to speculate on the events in Chechnya in the past year and a half.
I want to make three points.
First, it is evident to us that there is a link between those who are trying to further their ends in the North Caucasus and especially in Chechnya by force of arms and international terrorists. The explosions of residential houses, markets and other places where people congregate, and explosions in New York and Washington are indisputable proof of the link. They reveal the same hand. We have proof that the substance used for these terrorist attacks has been produced in Chechnya. It has been proven by the investigation. Some of the people who have blown up residential houses and other property in Daghestan have been put on trial and have been convicted. There are no doubts.
Second point. In attacking neighbouring republics the militants announce that they seek to annex these territories from the Russian Federation and create a new fundamentalist state. That has to be understood. What does it have to do with the independence of Chechnya? What is the connection? There is no connection.
Third point. We proceed from the assumption that the events in Chechnya have a pre-history, and that the international terrorists merely took advantage of the situation that arose after Russia withdrew from Chechnya in 1995 leaving a religious, ideological and power vacuum. They quickly filled that space and made the Chechen people a hostage to their goals, which have nothing in common with the interests of the Chechen people. We proceed on the basis that there are people who are still misguidedly fighting for false values, as I said in my television address in Russia. And we are prepared to have dialogue with these people. I said it publicly a few days ago. All we demand is that all the armed people in Chechnya cut all their links with international terrorist centres and organisations, which still provide them with funds, resources and weapons and train militants for terrorist operations in Chechnya and other parts of the Russian Federation. You speak about human rights violations. Whose rights specifically? Give us names, safe houses. We should speak the same language and not use the clichés that obscure the substance of the problem. We recognise the concerns of the European Community about possible human rights violations. We understand that innocent people may suffer during military operations. We do all we can to minimise these losses. You know that the militants in Chechnya use the same methods as terrorists everywhere. Members of the Chechen administration are murdered every day, ordinary Chechens, moderate religious leaders, representatives of traditional Islam and not its extreme fundamentalist wing, are murdered. It happens almost every day, at least every week. Let us bear this in mind.
We should not allow fundamentalists and terrorists to use democratic institutions to attack these very democratic institutions. There should be no fiddling with concepts. As for basic values and human rights, we are ready to cooperate with everyone. We are ready not only to listen but to react to what we are told on that subject. I must say that our interlocutors – Mr Prodi, Mr Solana and the Prime Minister of Belgium – are mindful of this. We are discussing these things frankly and honestly and, I repeat, we are ready to seek solutions together. Thank you.
Question: As you said, the fight against international terrorism was one of the main topics and a joint statement has been issued. In addition to the working groups you have mentioned, what other joint steps will Russia and the EU take to fight international terror?
Vladimir Putin: (adding to Solana’s answer): I would like to make the point that the fight against terrorism cannot and must not be confined to military actions. There is much that we can do together with Europe through international organisations, through fighting poverty, by addressing the problems that underlie the phenomenon of terrorism and resolving international conflicts, for example, the Middle East conflict. I think that it is very important for Russia and the European Union to be more active in the long-simmering conflict in the Middle East.
But let us not limit ourselves to this. The Russian Federation has established very good exchanges of special information with certain European countries, which is extremely important for our joint struggle against terror. We should know in advance what these forces are planning and where. I don’t need to tell you how effective it can be in terms of fighting terrorism, if such work is properly organised. I think all these issues will be dealt with within the new mechanism of monthly consultations.
Question: You spoke about your vision of NATO as an organisation in the process of transformation, as it becomes more and more a political organisation. You have also suggested that Russia could be involved in the process of such transformation. Could you give us an idea of what functions “a new NATO” could perform as a political organisation? Do you think that as a result of such transformation of NATO the chances of Russia joining it will significantly increase?
Vladimir Putin: It was not I who first said that NATO is transforming itself, this is a widespread opinion in Europe. People inside NATO say that it is already more of a political than a military organisation. We simply go along with that assessment. We believe that if this process really proceeds like this, it changes many things. In terms of political interaction, Russia could contribute far more than it does today. I won’t expand on it, I think you are with me there. Still, to be quite frank with you, I do not yet have an answer to your question. We discussed this topic with the Chancellor in Berlin, and I asked him to think about it and to bring in German experts. We will discuss it at the upcoming meeting with the British Prime Minister, Mr Blair, who is shortly to come to Moscow. We discussed it here in Brussels with the EU leaders. We should think together and choose an approach acceptable to all. That the problem is there is obvious. If we want to combine our efforts to oppose the threat we have recognised, then corresponding mechanisms should be set up. There is no other way. Things have moved into a practical phase. The solution of the problem depends on all of us. We all want the problem to be solved. I have scheduled meetings with the President of the United States. He is very positive about a Russia-NATO rapprochement. We will discuss everything with our counterparts and then we will be ready to inform the public if we arrive at any decision.
Question: Has any progress been made today on the problem of creating a common security space in Europe?
Vladimir Putin: (adding to Solana’s answer): We appreciate the agreements reached today in the security sphere, on the problems of expansion and the problems of the common economic space. I can attest that this time our discussions were very substantive. As for common security structures in Europe, those who watch developments will know that while no qualitative breakthrough has occurred there have been substantial incremental changes. Previously, we couldn’t agree on a mechanism of permanent consultations. Now a monthly meeting between the “European troika” and Russia to discuss security is a prototype of a permanent security body.