Question: Hotbeds of separatism manifest themselves to varying degrees in the CIS, and they nearly always provide a spawning ground for terrorism and impede full-scale cooperation within the Commonwealth. The Statement on the 10th Anniversary of the CIS signed by the CIS heads of state says that the heads of state will seek an early settlement of the armed conflicts making better use of the potential of the Commonwealth and that these conflicts will be settled by peaceful means. At the same time, the analytical report contains the reservation that the CIS countries, with an exception of Azerbaijan, intend to use the Commonwealth potential more fully. Does it indicate that there are doubts about the effectiveness of the Commonwealth in solving these conflicts?
Vladimir Putin: I think that the CIS has a good chance to work in this sphere. And the best proof of that is our successful activities in the settlement of the conflict in Tajikistan. It is in general a unique example of solving such issues in the present-day world. Frankly, I do not know of any other examples. It is a credit to the CIS, all the heads of state present here because each of them in his own way contributed to the resolution of this conflict and influenced the situation in his own way. The CIS as a whole has had a positive impact on the situation in Tajikistan. It gives us grounds to believe that in other areas too the CIS can make its contribution to resolving conflicts in the Commonwealth countries. At the same time, I would like to stress that while in the USSR the contradictions were as a rule of an inter-ethnic character, today they have an inter-state character, which has merely exacerbated them. It has become more difficult to settle such conflicts after the break-up of the Soviet Union. But it can safely be said that because the CIS was created, these mechanisms were functioning on post-Soviet territory, even though they were weak. It enabled us to avoid a worst-case scenario, to avoid “Yugoslavisation” of the former Soviet Union, and that is a big plus. Of course, there is a lot to be done, but we are in a positive mood.
Question: Georgian territory was bombed recently and there are conflicting claims regarding as to whose planes did the bombing. How would you comment on these theories? What are the ways out of this situation of worsened relations between the two states? What concrete steps need to be taken?
Vladimir Putin: First of all, I would like to thank the Georgian President for displaying his usual statesmanship and coming to Moscow in spite of all the problems. I think he has come in order to meet and talk, and exchange opinions on this situation and on the relations shaping up between Georgia and Russia.
For my part, I have this comment on your question: I agree with the Georgian President on the need to look into this issue more closely and not to postpone it until the next incident. We hope we won’t see anything like it again. But an investigation must be put in place and a bilateral commission must be created now.
At the same time, I would like to mention the following circumstances: if it is alleged that Georgian villages have been bombed and at the same time we hear that there are no victims, the question arises: what sort of air raids were they if they struck communities and claimed no victims? Of course, it prompts some questions. It means that either there were no air raids or that they were not aimed at communities. And if the clashes that may have occurred there – we do not rule it out, and according to our tentative data there were clashes between militants – claimed no victims either, that calls for further examination and study. I absolutely agree on that with Eduard Shevardnadze.
I would like to inform you that before noon today Russian special units carried out an operation in Chechnya and captured a well-known deputy of one of the most odious Arab mercenaries in Chechnya, Abu Sayad, who was bringing money, organising terrorist attacks in the Russian Federation and maintained contacts with his units in Georgia. These are accurate data of the Russian special services. From our data – and we have made them available to our Georgian colleagues – some of these international terrorists are on Georgian territory. Regrettably for us and I think for the Georgian authorities, and certainly for the Georgian people, it means de facto occupation of part of Georgian territory. I repeat, we are ready for joint work to investigate what happened there. I find it hard to imagine how we will go in there to carry out the investigation because these territories are hard to access even for official representatives. The area where the incident occurred does not just have militants, their bases and ammunition dumps, it has enterprises for commercial production of narcotics. The markets for these drugs are our peoples, they are poisoning the people of our countries. All that naturally creates problems and we intend to discuss them very thoroughly with the President today. And of course that enclave has relay towers which the militants in Chechnya use to communicate with their sponsors in the Gulf countries and in Afghanistan. All this is a very real, and not an imagined problem for us. And I appreciate the Georgian President for his readiness to discuss these problems frankly. Our special services are in contact with each other and I hope that these contacts will result in practical joint work.
Question: If Russia joins the World Trade Organisation, won’t it create problems in cooperation within the Eurasian Economic Community?
Vladimir Putin: Let me finish my answer to the previous question: where do we go from here? I think we can continue to cooperate positively in accordance with the Georgian President’s proposal on drafting a new joint treaty. I can say more, I recently met with the potential participants in the process on our side, including State Duma deputies who are getting down to the business of drafting that joint document.
As for the Eurasian Economic Community and the WTO, I can say that we discussed the problem with Kazakhstan’s President yesterday and we have agreed to coordinate our efforts and our interaction with the international economic organisations, including the WTO. I have no doubt that the coordination will be successful.
Question: Don’t you think that EurAsEC will duplicate the goals and tasks of the CIS as a whole?
Askar Akayev: I think the two will mutually complement each other. I am convinced that the sooner we realise the goals set before the Eurasian economic community, the sooner it will help solve such issues as the introduction of free trade zones and other aspects of economic integration that will contribute to the strengthening of our Commonwealth. I believe in the future of the CIS, and I think it will benefit the social and economic development of all the Commonwealth countries.
Vladimir Putin: I have nothing to add, I subscribe to what has been said.
Question: The Russian Federation will withdraw the first military echelon from the famous arsenals near the village of Kalpast tomorrow. Does it mean that Russia will stick to the Istanbul Agreements and to the deadlines set? And a related question: what do you think of the decision of Transdnestr’s authorities not to accredit the main Russian TV channel, RTR? How does that square with the principles of the common information space?
Vladimir Putin: First, Russia intends to comply with all its obligations, including in the framework of the OSCE. We do it in sometimes difficult conditions. The Moldovan leadership knows it and we coordinate our actions with the leadership of Moldova and, as you see, we achieve some positive results. We will continue to work in this area and we will fulfil all our obligations.
As for the failure to accredit our television channels, it is deplorable.
Question: In the two years that you have been President, has your attitude to the CIS changed in any way? And if so, in what way?
Vladimir Putin: I can say without exaggeration that during my term as the President of Russia and working with my colleagues from other Commonwealth states, I have been reinforced in my conviction that the organisation is necessary to maintain stability in our region and to ensure economic growth. I agree with the opinion of those heads of state who believe that we must improve the mechanisms of cooperation in the areas discussed and that the results will benefit the people of our countries.
Question: What novel features has this summit brought to the themes of cooperation of the CIS countries in the fight against international terrorism, including on the territory of the Commonwealth?
Vladimir Putin: I have to say that the CIS countries were confronted with the problem of terrorism much earlier than many other countries. That is why we are able to be pro-active within the CIS. It is because we are aware of the scale of the terrorist threat that we have agreed our positions on key aspects of the fight against terrorism in a timely manner. That is why we have created the Anti-Terrorism Centre. That is why we have created rapid deployment forces which, as you know, have already had exercises in Bishkek. All this shows that such acute issues and problems as the fight against terrorism can be tackled very effectively in the framework of the Commonwealth, in any case we devoted much time to it today and we will keep this topic under review until the problem has been solved.
Question: One cannot fail to notice the successes achieved by the European Union, and they are achieved mainly due to massive development of economic relations, trade and so on. But we in the CIS often focus on military and political issues. My question is, how soon will the concepts of economic development be worked out and free trade zones created? What will be the basic principles in the further development of the CIS, proceeding from the experience of development and practices of the first 10 years?
Vladimir Putin: Thank you for your question and I absolutely agree with you that any integration – be it political or military – must be based above all on addressing economic problems. But, replying to this question, I would like to say that in addition to being the Chairman of the Council of CIS Heads of State, I also happen to be the President of the Russian Federation, and in addressing all these issues I will be guided by the national interests of Russia, just like my partners behave when discussing these issues.
As regards the creation of a free trade zone, we are having a very intensive and positive dialogue on the matter. We have agreed on all the issues connected with the introduction of the regime with practically all the countries with the exception of three: Tajikistan, Ukraine and Belarus. I hope that our experts will manage to finalise the unfinished work soon. Thereafter Russia will implement in full on its territory the agreements reached on this highly sensitive question. I have no doubt that further integration in the economic field will provide the basis for improving our interaction in the military, diplomatic and other fields.
Ladies and gentlemen,
In conclusion I would like, in your presence, to sincerely thank the heads of state who have gathered in Moscow today for their very positive attitude and constructive joint work. And not only the work today – and today it was indeed highly constructive and businesslike – but for everything they have done in the previous years. These were very difficult years for our countries: there have been ups and downs in internal political spheres, ups and downs in terms of the economic situation of our countries.
Now we are experiencing a kind of upsurge. In any case, the vast majority of CIS countries are experiencing noticeable economic growth. This is due to many circumstances but not least due to the state of the Russian economy, which is connected by thousands of threads with the economies of the Commonwealth countries.
Our shared commitment to positive work gives me confidence that we will be able to solve all the problems facing us through joint efforts.
Once again, I would like to cordially thank all my colleagues for the meeting today.