Tony Blair: Good Afternoon everyone. Can I say I am absolutely delighted to welcome President Putin to the United Kingdom. Following this press conference we will return to Chequers to continue our discussions and I am also very pleased of course that his wife, Ludmilla, is able to join him and they will be staying overnight as our guests at Chequers.
This is a relationship that I value hugely. Even before President Putin was elected I took the view that here was someone with a very clear vision of Russia's future and a very clear strategy of how to make that future happen, and also that it was going to be enormously to the benefit of Russia, of Britain, of the wider world that we develop close ties between us. I am therefore delighted again to say that the relations between Britain and Russia have not been as close as this for many, many years and that is enormously to our mutual benefit.
We began our discussions today, as you would expect, by reviewing the situation in Afghanistan. As we said, yesterday was 100 days since the attacks of 11 September and a huge amount has happened in that time and I believe that the international coalition and the international community can take great pride in the progress that has been made, military, diplomatic and humanitarian, and Russia can also take great pride at the key role it has played within that international coalition. If I may I would like to thank again those UK forces who have arrived in Afghanistan and who are already making a difference there on the ground. They and forces from the United Kingdom and from other countries will make up the International Security Assistance Force who have an essential role in stabilising the future for Afghanistan. Tomorrow, in a further indication of the progress that has been made, the new interim government will be inaugurated in Kabul. As I have said many times before, we will support them for the long term, but it is their country, it is their future and our role is to help the people in Afghanistan to build a fairer and better future for the people there, that future controlled and governed by the people there.
Again I would pay tribute to President Putin for the support Russia has given within the United Nations Security Council both on diplomatic and military questions. It is perhaps a measure too at how relations between our countries have strengthened that we can say that co-operation on intelligence matters since 11 September has been unprecedentedly close. To build on those links that have developed, we have agreed to the formation of a new bilateral working group on terrorism. That will get under way as soon as possible and allow our two countries to co-operate in defeating this attack upon the civilised world.
We discussed also Russia's relations with NATO. The proposal that has been made for a step change in NATO-Russia relations has achieved I believe broad acceptance and we can now enter into the detailed discussions on the working of the new NATO-Russia Council. What I have found extraordinary and encouraging is the way not just Russia but our NATO partners have embraced the idea of this new relationship in a way again that would have been frankly unthinkable a few years ago. There is an openness to explore common ground which I believe will help improve security and make the world a safer place. So we see a Russia today that is changing its relations with the United States, with us, with NATO, with the European Union and becoming an ever stronger player on the world stage.
We also agreed to further co-operation on the destruction of chemical weapons. The Defence Secretary is signing an agreement with his Russian counterpart on this and we have set aside some Ј12 million of assistance. We hope next year to be in a position to complete agreement on assistance for the clean-up of nuclear submarines.
We discussed of course also the situation in the Middle East and our desire to see progress there despite the difficulties. I was interested to get from the President himself an assessment of the economic reform programme he is putting forward, with Russia set for growth this year of some 5%, which is a remarkable achievement. We discussed a number of trade issues and I would like to place on record our strong support for Russia's membership of the WTO and our determination as Britain and within Europe to work with Russia to make sure the accession to the WTO can happen as swiftly as possible.
So once again Vladimir, welcome here, it is wonderful to see you here. Thank you for the discussions we have had already and thank you perhaps most of all for the leadership that you have shown in these past months which is daily contributing to a new relationship between Russia and the rest of the world.
Vladimir Putin: Good evening, ladies and gentlemen,
First of all, I would like to sincerely thank the British Prime Minister and Mrs Blair for their invitation. It is a great honour for me and my wife to be at the home of the Prime Minister of Britain. And it is also very interesting. It is an old building with its own history and Mr and Mrs Blair have been kind enough to tell us something about the place.
But the most important thing of course is the chance to have an informal exchange of opinions not only on bilateral issues, but also on the international problems of practical interest both for the people of Great Britain and for the peoples of the Russian Federation.
I agree with Mr Blair’s statement: I also believe that this year has been in many ways a turning point in the destiny of the world. Not only have we become aware of the common danger of terrorism, but we have realised the need to fight it together. In this context we devoted considerable time and attention in our first discussion to our cooperation in counter-terrorist activities. Among other things, we discussed the current situation in Afghanistan and the future of Afghanistan.
The discussion between Russia and NATO will continue in a constructive mood. The idea of the “20” was first proposed by Mr Blair when he was on a working visit in Russia. He proposed it at my home, and I think he will come up with some more good ideas now that he is at his home. Just recently he launched an initiative to bring Russia and the EU closer together. I would like to stress that the initiative regarding Russia’s accession to the WTO was put forward by Mr Blair and Mr Berlusconi. As for NATO, the formula proposed by the Prime Minister suits Russia quite well. And I think that it is one of the few possible ways of changing the quality of relations between Russia and NATO and, even more importantly, it is one of the few real ways of changing the situation in the world in terms of a single security system in Europe. It is important that we have agreed on a schedule for further work and by May 2002 we must determine the details of the new “20” format of political interaction. The Russian side is prepared to work on such approvals, as I have indicated.
This year the relations between Russia and the European Union have been developing positively and dynamically. The EU is our priority partner. And its role in this capacity must grow. This applies to our political dialogue, interaction on security issues, countering terrorism and, last but not least, to trade and economic interaction. We have discussed in detail the problems of EU expansion and its consequences for the economic cooperation between Russia and the European Union. Of course we devoted some time to strategic stability. I reiterated Russia’s approach to the ABM Treaty and our position on the US decision to withdraw from the Treaty. But I would like to repeat that we are not inclined to dramatise the situation and hope that the dialogue will continue, including with our American partners. I told the Prime Minister about my recent telephone conversation with the US President and I told him that we have agreed to intensify our contacts in this sphere early next year through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. I had the impression that our position met with a favourable response.
We have also discussed some regional problems and the situation in the Middle East. On the whole the discussion of the entire range of current international issues confirmed my conviction that the character of our cooperation in the world fully matches the spirit of the relations between Great Britain and Russia, and the relations that have shaped up between myself and the Prime Minister.
On the subject of bilateral ties, we focused on the basic issues of bilateral trade and economic interaction. I had a meeting with the Confederation of British Industry and some representatives of British businesses. These companies have multi-billion projects in the Russian Federation and their activities, I am sure, will contribute not only to Russia’s economic growth, but to creating favourable and stable conditions for economic development in Europe.
Britain is among the top five trade and investment partners of Russia. We highly value the assistance of your country in implementing structural and market reforms in the Russian Federation. But the most convincing demonstration of Russia’s economic attractiveness is provided by the work of such British giants as Shell and British Petroleum, whose managers I have just met with. Their participation in joint energy projects, as I have said, is measured in billions of dollars. Their interest in the Russian market has picked up recently, which perhaps may soon translate itself into a series of new large-scale projects. We welcome the British Government’s decision to renew guarantees of British export credits and insurance of investments in Russia. For our part we could propose the use of the “one stop” principle in implementing some agreements, the principle we have introduced for the registration of businesses. We are prepared to step up our work in the field of production sharing agreements.
A reciprocal gesture could be a review of anti-dumping procedures with regard to Russian goods and producers which now exist at the EU level.
Some major events are planned for next year in the sphere of economic cooperation. The Russian Economic Forum in London in April 2002 will be the high point of these events. Our choice of the British capital as the venue for the presentation of the Russian Federation and Russian economy is not fortuitous; we proceed, among other things, from the high level of relations that has recently been achieved between Russia and Britain. We are grateful to the Prime Minister for his support of the event, which, we believe, opens up good prospects for mutually beneficial contacts between our countries.
In conclusion I would like to say that we look forward to next year with hope. A good headstart has been made in our bilateral relations, and there is every reason to hope that in 2002 our contacts will develop just as intensively. I would like to wish a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to the press as this is likely to be our last meeting this year.
Question: Prime Minister, can I ask you to comment on the interdiction of a tanker in the English Channel and express what concern you have about the possibility of terrorist material being smuggled into Britain? And can I ask you both whether you had the chance to discuss Iraq, whether you are concerned at the suggestion that they are developing weapons of mass destruction, and particularly President Putin, do you believe that military action would be an appropriate way to deal with any threat of development of weapons of mass destruction by Iraq?
Tony Blair: First of all in relation to Iraq, I have nothing really to add to what I have said already. There will be a Phase 2 of the actions against international terrorism, we have made our position very clear about the need to deal with weapons of mass destruction and the importance of ensuring that the United Nations resolutions in this regard are properly implemented. But as I have said many times before, I know that in that phase 2 any action that is taken will be within the deliberation and consultation of key allies.
In respect of the first part, which is the interdiction of the ship earlier today, I can't comment on the potential nature of the threat itself but I can simply say this, that we remain on top level vigilance throughout these coming weeks and even if the risk is only a potential risk we will not hesitate to take any action that we think necessary in order to investigate any potential threat. This is a time when even if it is from an excess of caution that we act, I think it is important that we do so. So it is too early to say frankly what the investigation of the particular ship has shown, but even should it be the case that in this particular instance it turns out that we can satisfy ourselves that there is no threat, nonetheless I believe it is absolutely essential that we remain totally vigilant and even if the possibility of any such threat is remote, that we act, and I hope that people understand that. We do not wish to cause inconvenience or difficulty to anyone but the protection of our national security must be paramount.
Vladimir Putin: I didn’t know what was happening in the Channel, and when a British colleague told me what happened just before the press conference I replied facetiously: “You should search more carefully”. On a serious note, I fully agree with the Prime Minister that it is no joking matter. When it comes to national security, one should proceed within the law, proceed carefully, but vigorously and professionally. And replying to the second part of your question regarding nuclear terrorism, let me note that, first, we have an initiative on the issue in the framework of the United Nations, we are in favour of passing a corresponding document setting down the rules in the fight against this kind of terrorism. And secondly, it should be central to the joint work of the proposed “20” within the NATO framework. Issues of non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and their delivery and the fight against terror are key real threats that worry all of us today. This is what we propose to discuss and I think that if we combine our efforts, if we act jointly, our work will be many times more effective.
Question: I would like to ask the Prime Minister and the President of Russia if possible, after you have given such high appreciation to this joint decision of working at 20 in the format of Russia-NATO, could you tell us a few words about this possible new mechanism, what will it look like?
Tony Blair: As you probably know, the idea is that in certain key areas, defined areas, and action against international terrorism is one of them, that what we do is we actually come together at 20 and I think that the idea therefore of a new Russia-NATO Council where we are working closely together in these defined areas and where there is genuine joint decision making is an indication of the greater confidence there is in our relationship today. Because the fact is we can see, in dealing with issues like international terrorism, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, as the President was saying a moment or two ago, we have got common interests in these areas. For the security of the world we need to make sure that these evils are combated and defeated, and so to be able to have a serious discussion where we followed through with action at the level of 20 I think is important. Now as was just being said a moment or two ago, there are many issues that have to be decided and consultations to take place before we can move forward on it, but I think there is very broad acceptance of the principle of that idea.
Vladimir Putin: I think two approaches are possible. The first approach is to identify the areas of interaction from which Russia will be excluded and to state that on all the other issues Russia will be a fully-fledged participant. The other approach is to identify two, three or four issues on which Russia will be a fully-fledged participant on the understanding that it will not be in on all the other issues.
The former is a more serious and a more radical approach, but we could settle for the latter too. I think if we select the issues that I have mentioned and that are of interest for all of us – and nobody is challenging that – then gradually, as our work together proceeds and confidence in each other increases, the list of problems to be tackled jointly can be expanded.
Russia does not claim to be a fully-fledged participant within NATO, it does not claim the right to influence decisions in accordance with Article 5 of the UN Charter, and it does not seek to influence the defence policy. But there are areas where we can act together very effectively. I have mentioned them and I need not repeat them. Such an approach suits Russia.
Question: Prime Minister, how surprised have you been by the extent of Russian co-operation in the wake of 11 September?
Tony Blair: Perhaps I have been less surprised than others because I have had the opportunity to establish a relationship with President Putin over a period of time and I have seen him develop a very clear vision and strategy for Russia. But I do think that the part that Russia has played in the international community since 11 September has been remarkable. We have co-operation today in the international coalition against terrorism, we have co-operation at an intelligence level, we have a co-operation in terms of the way our people work together, military, political, diplomatic, that would have been really unthinkable just a short time ago. And yet I am convinced this is the right thing to do. The truth is Russia is a country that has undergone enormous change in the past few years, 11 September has brought home to all of us the common interest in fighting this evil of international terrorism. People sometimes forget that there were hundreds of people killed in Moscow in terrorist acts before 11 September a couple of years ago. This is not something new for any of us. And to me the big change that has happened in the world is that with the end of the Cold War and the unification of Europe taking place now, we have a completely common interest in economic prosperity and international security and to make sure that change where it happens in an orderly way, not with chaos. The important thing about political leadership in this situation is to recognise that the world has changed and act accordingly. And so I am not minimising the fact that there will be all sorts of different and difficult issues upon which different positions may be taken, often for historical reasons frankly, but what I would call the big picture in international politics is now very clear and the closer that America, and Europe and Russia, and indeed our other major partners, are working closely together, the better for all of us because we share in fact in the end common interests and common goals.
Vladimir Putin: I would like to add something, although the question was directed to the Prime Minister and not to me. I would just like to thank the Prime Minister for remembering the victims of terror in Moscow and other major Russian cities. Believe me, it is very important for us that people here know about it and remember it. And in general we appreciate the initiative of the Prime Minister in establishing early contacts with the Russian leadership and with me personally. We had no doubt that we were being listened to and understood. It was a very good start, which enabled us to organise effective joint work to neutralise the threat of international terror, in this case in Afghanistan.
Question: My question is to both of you, to the Prime Minister and to the President. Mr Prime Minister, you have taken upon yourself leadership functions, you have sent troops to Afghanistan. What is the remit of your troops, how long will they stay there, what tasks are they going to tackle? And after that, could the President please comment.
Tony Blair: Well the troops will be going there as part of the International Security Force that is now mandated by the United Nations and was asked for by the provisional government and the purpose will be in Kabul and the surrounding areas to provide the security that the new provisional government requires in order to enable them to fulfil their function. As we have made clear, we don't anticipate staying there more than a few months, but I think most people recognise that as Afghanistan enters a new phase of its development, such security forces as are necessary at least to help the provisional government through its initial stages, and I would very much thank again not just those countries that have contributed, or will be contributing, also to that force, but also say that we have agreed ourselves, myself and the Russian President, to keep in close touch at a political level in respect of the force and how it operates. And I think that when tomorrow the new provisional government is actually inaugurated it will be a very healthy sign that a new future is indeed opening up for Afghanistan and I think it is important, as we said throughout the conflict, that we do not walk away from Afghanistan but give it that commitment to help it find that better future.
Vladimir Putin: International forces are being introduced in accordance with a UN decision, as has been said here, and you know that Russia took an active part in preparing that resolution. In the final stages we had active consultations with the members of the provisional administration in Afghanistan and as a result we can say that a decision has been found that is acceptable to all.
And secondly and just as importantly, it is something that has to do with Russia’s interests, which is to have Afghanistan as a friendly neutral neighbour, which will not allow any terrorist training bases and will not send them to the North Caucasus in the future. In that sense the presence of an international force to maintain order and help the legitimate government of Afghanistan fully meets our interests.
Question: Prime Minister, did you raise the question of Chechnya? If not, why not? And do you share the assertion that the problems of Chechnya is simply one of terrorism?
Tony Blair: First of all, yes, we did discuss that issue. The President was able to tell me of the political initiatives that are being taken there, but it is important to remember that whatever cause people have, terrorism is not the way to pursue it. And I made mention a moment or two ago of the people that died in their hundreds from terrorist acts inside Russia and I think it is important therefore to have some understanding of that position, and I know that this is something that has been raised with me at press conferences many times over the past couple of years and I have always said that whilst we want to see political progress made, of course we do, and that is recognised indeed by Russia itself. We condemn wholeheartedly any acts of terrorism carried out.
Vladimir Putin: As regards Chechnya, I have talked about it recently, including in my interview in Britain: the situation is not all that simple and we are not going to pretend that we are dealing only with manifestations of terrorism in Chechnya, although many of the problems there are created by international terrorists. That is an indisputable and universally recognised fact. International terrorists and their sponsors are financing the people who have not laid down their arms. There are many mercenaries, particularly from the Arab countries, who are still fighting there.
But some of the people who have not laid down their arms can hardly be referred to as terrorists because they are driven above all by the ideas of separatism. Of course, at present all these elements are intertwined and in practice it is hard to tell one from the other. As for the other part of the problem, the problem of separatism, everybody knows that it is a problem that confronts not only Russia, but many other parts of the world, including Europe.
We do not support separatism in other countries and we hope that no one will support our separatists. It would be a gross error, which would plungeEurope into an endless succession of ethnic and religious conflicts. At the same time it does not mean that everybody should be allowed to do whatever they like, including in the human rights field. As for the humanitarian aspects, human rights and so on, I repeat that we are ready to cooperate closely with international organisations.
I have told Mr Blair about our plans to use all the possible political means to resolve this problem.
Question: If I may, a question to the Prime Minister. Sir, a lot of praise and good and nice flattering words have been said about Russia and the west recently, and at the same time there are no realistic decisions and measures taken to integrate Russia into Europe, we have talked a lot about WTO but it is still conversation and still words, how you could comment on this situation?
Tony Blair: First of all, I think there are two very important initiatives that are taking place. One is the proposals that we have made on the new relationship between NATO and Russia which have moved way beyond the idea of mere words, there are concrete proposals on the table that will come finally to fruition next year, that is a huge step forward. Secondly, we have made progress on Russian membership of the WTO but not enough, not nearly enough, which is why myself and other European leaders are trying to help move this situation forward as soon as we possibly can. And I would say the third thing is this, you know earlier we were meeting business leaders from Britain who want to invest in Russia. I think the whole perception of Russia in Europe and in the west has been transformed. People believe that Russia has a clear direction today, they believe that the economic reforms that have been introduced by the President are working, they are anxious now to invest and I can tell you the biggest vote of confidence that you can ever get from any country is when its business people want to go and put their money there. And so I think that yes of course these things take time to achieve, but I think we are on a completely different path now in relations between Russia and Europe, and indeed America too, and I think that is right, it is a very exciting time for all of us and I hope very much that it is strongly supported by British people here and by Russian people in the Russian Federation.