(Retranslated from Russian)
Tony Blair: Good afternoon to everyone and welcome to the news conference held after the end of a very fruitful series of talks with President Putin, whom I am happy to see in London. Some time ago I had a very successful and constructive visit to St. Petersburg. Today I am pleased to welcome President Putin in London.
I believe Vladimir Putin is a leader who is ready to embrace a new relationship with the EU and the US. He wants Russia to be a strong and modern power, and to have firm relations with the West. I also believe that his election was important not only for our country, but also for the European Union and for the whole of the Western world.
We have discussed a broad range of issues – the economy and the forthcoming G8 summit on Okinawa. Naturally, we discussed political issues bearing on Chechnya, the Balkans, Kosovo, Iran, Iraq and other countries where we have common interests. I would like to see Russia engaged economically, and I also wish Russia and the West to work together for stability and peace. If we compete against each other, problems can be contained but not resolved. If we cooperate with Russia as equal partners, prospects of resolving global problems will open up before us.
As I said, we started with discussing the Russian global economy and plans for the Okinawa summit. The president described his plans for reforms to promote enterprise and to resolve social problems in Russia. There is no doubt that he talks our language of reforms, and judging by the comments of our leading businessmen who met with Vladimir Putin this morning, I think they also recognise his commitment to economic reforms in Russia.
Of course, we discussed many foreign policy issues in detail. I raised the question of our concerns about the situation in Chechnya and urged, as we always do, a proportionate response, political dialogue and full access for observers and investigators. I welcome Mr Putin’s commitment in his statement last week that all reports of human rights violations would be investigated. Some say that because of our concerns about Chechnya we should keep some distance from Moscow. I have to tell you that while I share those concerns, I believe that the best way to register those concerns and to get results is by engaging with Russia and not isolating Russia.
We also had a good discussion on international security issues. I congratulated Vladimir on the ratification of the START II Treaty by the Russian Duma, in which the Russian president played a key role. We had very useful debates on closer cooperation in the fight against organised crime and drug trafficking. I told him about our efforts in these directions. Kate Helliwell, the British coordinator on countering drug trafficking, will visit Moscow in July to further develop our coordination.
We also discussed questions of mutual interest in different parts of the world. I would like to emphasize once again that closer relations with Russia meet Britain’s fundamental national interests. I believe it is very important to build understanding between Russia and the West, including Britain, our allies in Europe, and the US. Russia’s participation in the resolution of global problems would be in the interests of all of us. If Britain can play any role in this as an EU member and a close ally of the United States, we would like to achieve this.
Finally, and I see it as a sign of stronger British-Russian relations, we have agreed to intensify our bilateral contacts and to meet in London or Moscow at least once a year.
So, I would like to welcome Vladimir Putin here once again and to say how extremely useful, informative and constructive I consider today’s talks. I am hoping for joint work with him and for further international cooperation between Britain and Russia.
Vladimir Putin: Thank you. First of all, I would like to thank Prime Minister Tony Blair for inviting me to visit Britain, and for a chance to hold talks with him and with British businessmen. This is where we have started today.
I share the prime minister’s position. Moreover, I think that today we have turned a page in Russian-British relations, and made our bilateral policies more transparent, more predictable and more effective. Of course, there is a road towards isolation but I firmly believe that this choice is unacceptable – it will harm not only Russia, Britain, or the whole of Europe. The best example is what we have seen in Russia recently. I do not want to exaggerate but I can assure you that the very visit of the British leader to Russia some time ago in a situation complicated with the difficulties in the North Caucasus, encouraged Russian society’s trust in the Western community. It also largely influenced, at least indirectly, the decision of the State Duma deputies to vote for the ratification of the START II Treaty.
The British prime minister came to Russia with his own opinion on certain issues, such as the situation in the North Caucasus. His position was and still is considerably different from that of the Russian leadership, of the Russian Federation. But I believe that by stating his opinion openly, and inviting us to discuss this issue, the prime minister has helped us to find solutions to some important problems.
It was announced in Moscow earlier today that Russia has set up a non-governmental independent commission on human rights in the Chechen Republic. This is exactly what Mr Blair called for during his visit to Russia. I must say that this commission, which consists of well-known and reputable Russian politicians, will receive every support from the Russian government. It will be in a position to contact the Prosecutor General’s Office, military departments, and a number of governmental organisations.
Now I’d like to address our current negotiations. We have discussed a number of problems in the field of economic cooperation. I have told the prime minister about the processes going on in the Russian economy today, and the objectives that we have set in the economy and business, about our efforts to minimise red tape in both spheres, and our commitment to dynamic market reforms and economic liberalisation.
We have talked about international security. I believe it is extremely important that we had a chance to inform a Western leader about the Russian position on the ratification of the START II Treaty on the one hand, and on the deployment of a national ABM system, on the other. The latter should involve some elements that are being deployed on West European territory. This directly concerns West European countries, and I believe that for this reason discussion of this issue is an important element in our relations with Europe.
We have also discussed bilateral relations in different spheres, including defence, and the fight against organised crime and drug trafficking. We have talked about the need to continue consultations on different issues on a permanent and informal basis, and to hold regular annual meetings alternatively in Russia and Britain. These facts, as well as the character of our contacts, the spirit of our cooperation and the openness of our discussion give us confidence that Russian-British relations will help both Russia and our partners in the West to tackle a wide range of major problems facing humankind today, and will allow us to avoid the threats that may challenge the world in the future.
ITAR-TASS: I have a question to both leaders. What do you think about the investment climate in Russia? I would like to ask Mr Putin to answer this question in the context of his today’s talks with British businessmen, and Mr Blair in connection with the parliamentary and presidential elections in Russia.
Tony Blair: I believe you have already seen comments made by British businessmen this morning after talking with President Putin. They are very positive. There is no doubt that there exists a huge potential for increasing investment and trade between Britain and Russia along the clear-cut lines of economic reforms suggested by the president. I believe the British industry and the whole Western world are ready to cooperate with Russia as partners in defining the ways of promoting trade and investment, and increasing their scale. As for my personal opinion, based on the debates I had with Vladimir Putin today, I would look into the future with optimism. I mean not only the direction in which the Russian economy is developing, but also trade and investment opportunities for our two countries, and for Russia and the Western world as a whole.
Vladimir Putin: As far as the investment climate in Russia is concerned, I must say that one of the main problems for us and our partners has been a certain degree of instability of the political situation in Russia. But there is no doubt that the elections to the State Duma and the presidential elections have relegated this main concern of our partners into the background. This is the first point I want to make.
Secondly, we still have a lot of work to do in order to create favourable conditions for business growth in Russia. We must, above all, rid the Russian economy of red tape; adopt clear, firm and consistent measures to protect the rights of the owner and the investor; take more resolute action against corruption; and establish a more effective judicial system. We need to implement financial reforms and overcome negative trends in taxation, including customs duties.
I discussed all these issues with British businessmen today. I listened to their suggestions and remarks. Several key Russian government officials attended this meeting. We have not only received the message of top British executives, but will take it into account in our work in the near future.
We still have a great deal to do to create a favourable climate. I must say that although we have already gone far along this road, we still have to cover quite a distance. But we are fully resolved to create the groundwork for promoting economic cooperation with our Western partners, including, of course, British businessmen.
Itn: (Retranslated from Russian.) Many observers in Britain and other Western countries know that for a long time you worked for the discredited KGB, and are worried about the war you have been waging in Chechnya. How are you going to prove that all these fears are groundless, and reassure the people that the freedoms that have been won in Russia with such a painstaking effort will be guaranteed for a long time to come?
Vladimir Putin: I’m very grateful to you for this question. I want the people in the West to know that the actions of Russian troops in Chechnya have nothing to do with the destruction of civilised society, and should not raise concerns about Russia’s democratic achievements. Russia’s return to the Chechen Republic has actually brought back civilisation to this territory. Today, we do not have problems with Chechnya’s independence. Our problems in the North Caucasus are absolutely different. They have nothing to do with this.
Unfortunately, our voice does not reach Western public opinion. I would like to use this opportunity to explain our position.
The problem is that the people who staged an unprovoked attack on the neighbouring republic of Dagestan – I’d like to emphasise that this is a Muslim republic as well – were not motivated by the idea of Chechnya’s independence. They came under other slogans, notably, the terrorist slogans of seizing additional territory. We have every reason to believe that these aggressive actions against Russia are nothing other than the use of Chechen territory for these aggresive purposes. In effect, this amounts to the use of this territory as a bridgehead for attacking us. Those people, who are still based in some areas of Chechnya, have not given up their plans. It is untenable to have a Russian republic being used as a springboard for staging aggression, for eroding the institutions of Russian statehood. Russia will never allow this, just like any other civilised state wouldn’t. But this does not mean that we are ready to resolve this problem at any cost or by any means. In other words, we will observe all human rights on this territory, and will investigate all crimes committed there, no matter by whom and from which side.
More than a hundred military investigators and other law-enforcement teams are already working in Chechnya. As I said earlier, an independent non-governmental commission has been established in addition to that. We are interested in co-operating with international organisations on this issue because our aim is not to enslave the Chechen people. Our aim is to free Chechnya from international terrorists and extremists, who are threatening Russia and other European countries in an equal measure. I have every reason to say that this international radicalism, which is acting under the cover of Muslim and other religious slogans, poses a threat to some Central Asian countries.
We have seen its manifestations in some European countries as well. When I am told that some European leaders cannot support Russia for fear of a Muslim response in Europe, I reply that this is a wrong position. It is wrong because if we let extremism thrive, in Western Europe in particular, we will have insurmountable problems. This also applies to Western Europe. In this, we count on support of our efforts to counter international extremism, no matter what its slogans are.
I would like to stress once again that Russia’s actions are not aimed against Muslims or against the Chechen people. They are aimed exclusively against international terrorism and extremism. In this case Russia is fighting against this global evil single-handed, and this is not right, because extremism is a common enemy of the civilised world.
Reuters: (Retranslated from Russian) Could you imagine a situation where you would agree to changes in the 1972 ABM Treaty? Have you discussed with Mr Blair the British role in the American plans of creating a nuclear defence shield against rogue countries?
Vladimir Putin: The START II Treaty’s ratification bill states unequivocally that a national ABM defence system cannot be deployed. Under this law, if it is deployed, Russia can consider itself free of these and other arms control commitments.
Of course, we discussed this problem with Mr Blair because some elements of a national ABM system are to be deployed in Europe. Needless to say, Russia cannot ignore this problem, and it is only natural that we must discuss it with the European leaders. Today, Mr Blair is ready to talk about it, and we are very grateful to him for that. It goes without saying that we are closely following these developments.
We have a firm position on these points; let me repeat that our law has linked these two issues. But I would like to draw your attention to the fact that at one time, on American initiative, we have drawn a line between strategic and non-strategic ABM defence, and we are ready for dialogue.
ORT TV company: This is a question both for Mr Blair and Mr Putin. Could you comment on the commission that has been established today? This is a new institution. What role will it play in helping resolve the problem? And here is a separate question to Mr. Blair: What role do you think this commission should play?
Vladimir Putin: As for the commission set up by the public today, it is difficult for me to comment on it because I learned about its formation here in London. I know that prominent and highly respected politicians have joined it, for example the former Minister of Justice who is now a State Duma deputy Pavel Krashenninikov, a former presidential candidate, and also the editor-in-chief of Izvestia, one of the most popular daily newspapers. As far as I know from the press, the commission’s task is to monitor human rights observance in the North Caucasus. I have already said that we are ready to give them every opportunity for fulfilling their functions and implementing the goals they have set. I will be able to give more details only after I have studied the commission’s documents.
I have already said that Mr Blair’s visit to Russia has played its role in establishing the commission since we discussed this in St Petersburg.
Tony Blair: (Retranslated from Russian.) I believe all of you have noted how vehemently President Putin defended Russia’s position on Chechnya. I think we should understand how deeply he is committed to this view. Our role in this respect should be to formulate three ideas. First, as we have emphasised, any response to the situation in Chechnya and Russia’s concern about it should be proportionate. We have repeatedly expressed our concern on this issue. Second, it is necessary to switch to political dialogue as soon as possible, and to launch political initiative. We have had a meaningful discussion on this issue. Third, we urged the formation of a full-fledged non-governmental commission to investigate all statements about human rights violations. In this sense I believe we should applaud the step made in Moscow earlier today. This commission, as Mr Putin has just mentioned, is non-governmental, and includes independent representatives. It will be important for us that the commission does its work in a serious and resolute manner. Although the differences in Western and Russian views are clear, I very much hope that we have reached an understanding and that we are engaged in dialogue and discuss each other’s positions. This is the right road to the resolution of this problem. I’m sure that this is what it boils down to.
Sky TV: (Retranslated from Russian.) Mr Blair, what do you think about changes in the financial markets, in particular, the high-tech sector, on which you have pegged great hopes? Mr Putin, you are the elected leader of a post-communist country. What do you think about drinking tea with Her Majesty the Queen?
Tony Blair: (Retranslated from Russian.) Vladimir, I cannot advise you on the second question. As for the first one, let me say that the parameters of the financial markets are prone to change, and there is nothing I can add. All I can say is that we should always take into account the global distribution of securities of the companies representing new economic sectors and new technologies. I mean not only information technologies and electronic trade that is embracing the whole world, but also all components of the economy. I am talking not about a new class of companies, but about the emergence of a whole system of a new type that exerts fundamental influence on all companies engaged in business. To sum up, I think some often draw a totally wrong line between the so-called new economy, or the companies dealing with new technologies, and the old economy, by which they mean, say, production. We need viable dynamic production as an inseparable part of British or any other industry regardless of whether this is production, services, or the so-called industry of new technologies. New technologies are important as such. So, I have nothing to add to my comments about the events on the stock market, but it is very important to consider what I have just said about the new economy.
Vladimir Putin: Needless to say, we have discussed this problem today with Mr Blair, and I asked him: “What do you think about this? Is it the beginning of the end or just a bad turn?” He replied that he would like to think it was a bad turn generated by the market, but no more than that, and that it would not trigger off any negative global effects. We are also hoping very much for this. Russia does not have a great influence on this market. However, it is telling us once again that we should diversify our opportunities, and rid our economy of red tape to make it more balanced and able to be effective in some sectors despite negative market changes.
We do not believe this is some disaster. We proceed from the premise that this problem can and must be resolved. The market will certainly adjust since we don’t see any external signs of an apocalypse. Nothing in the world economy gives us reason to be particularly nervous and expect a potential collapse of the market. We believe it is just an episode, and that before long this economic sector will become more stable.
Nezavisimaya Gazeta: A question to the prime minister. We would like to hear your opinion about Russia’s worry over the destruction of the ABM Treaty. In particular, what does Britain think about the prospect of the elements of the American national anti-ballistic missile defence system being deployed on its territory?
Tony Blair: As I said to President Putin during the course of our talks, our role in this is very much to try and build understanding of respective points of view, both of Russia and the United States. The US firmly believes the rogue countries that may acquire nuclear technologies pose a threat. On the other hand, we are deeply committed to the efforts to continue reducing the nuclear threshold, and enhancing peace and stability all over the world. Now we understand the concern expressed by Russia. What is the best approach to this situation? Clearly, we should not to try to come to terms about everything right now, standing at this rostrum at the news conference. I think we should act with patience, and, of course, to the extent to which this process concerns us, resolve this problem through dialogue with our friends and partners both in the West and in Russia because it may potentially cause serious complications in our relations. As I have already said, our role is to try to bring the sides together so that we could resolve the problem on a reasonable basis in a way that would suit all sides. In my opinion, the best way to do this is tough, patient and diplomatic efforts.
The Sun: (Retranslated from Russian.) President Putin, the world has learnt the bitter truth that the money that was sent as relief to Russia has landed in some secret foreign bank accounts. As I understand, you have asked Britain to help find some of this lost money. Could you tell us what you are doing to ensure that those mafia elements that control much of Russian business comply with the law?
Vladimir Putin: I would not say that gangsters are running the show in the Russian economy. This is an exaggeration, a hyperbole as literary experts would say. But it is, of course, necessary to fight against crime in the economy and other spheres, and we are going to do so. This is one of the Russian government’s main challenges in the near future.
I have discussed with the prime minister the problem of the export of capital, but I must say that it is not criminal as some people are trying to present it. Regrettably, laws are such that there is no need to take bags of money out. The problem is more complicated and simpler at the same time. We must put cash flows under control but do this without harming the Russian economy.
We know sad examples of some Latin American countries where the leaders resorted to tough administrative measures in a bid to shut down all potential channels for the outflow of capital, but the amount of money leaving the country increased even more. In this case, extreme measures can produce the opposite effect. But nevertheless we intend to take certain steps in order to control this sphere. We are going to upgrade our cooperation with the Russian Central Bank, restructure our financial and banking sector, and, of course, toughen monitoring of the seamy side of this business. There is no doubt about this. However, I would like to emphasise that we will concentrate our efforts on the economy, rather than the criminal sphere. I think this would be much more effective.
Finally, I want to make a point about the return of capital. We are having talks and maintaining contacts with the representatives of our hosts today, corresponding agencies in Britain, as well as our partners in other West European countries. Once again, the main emphasis is not on the criminal side, but on encouraging the return of exported Russian capital from abroad, and its investment in the Russian economy. Maybe, this process is not visible yet, but it has started. Regrettably, it goes through off-shore zones and companies, but by and large its start is still a good sign. Russian capital is coming back to the Russian economy, and this is a positive signal for other potential investors. It shows that the terms for investing in Russia have become more predictable, clear and reasonable. This allows us to say that the investment climate in Russia is improving.