Question: I have a question for both Presidents. It is no secret that in the 1990s the relations between Poland and Russia were strained, to put it mildly. Would it be true to say that that difficult period is behind us and we are entering a fundamentally new stage in Russian-Polish cooperation?
Vladimir Putin: I don’t think we should see anything unusual or unexpected in the way relations between Poland and Russia have shaped up over the past decade. It is a natural period of building mutual relations on a new basis. Why is it natural? Because one must not ignore and one must honestly admit that the former Soviet Union tried to dominate not only Eastern Europe, but many other parts of the world. It did little good to the Russian people and it certainly could not have elicited a positive reaction from our quasi-partners, our partners against their will. It certainly was against the will of the Poles, freedom-loving people who tolerate no diktat. It is no accident that this period saw the emergence of political forces which not only took advantage of the situation but tried to get political mileage out of it forgetting the basic interests, the national interests both of the Russian and Polish peoples.
But change has to mature. I think that a revival in Russian-Polish relations is now on the agenda precisely by virtue of the pragmatic, mutual underlying interests of the two countries I have just referred to. And such interests exist. Poland is interested in having full-scale, healthy relations with Russia just like Russia is interested not only in economic, but also in political relations with Poland. And in the new world the comparative sizes of our countries are not that important. To us Poland is an equal partner. This is the political basis on which we will seek to build our relations. And I do not have to tell you about the economic benefits. They are obvious even to ordinary citizens. We have proceeded on that basis in the last year and a half- two years and we will continue to act in this way. Our meeting today is a milestone event that completes the creation of a new platform and a new basis for moving forward.
Question: Mr President, even before your visit began most Polish commentators described it as historic, a turning point that ushers in a new stage in Polish-Russian relations. You stress the good atmosphere around this meeting, but does it really signal a new stage in our relations? And if so, what does it mean not only for the heads of state, but for the ordinary citizens in Poland and Russia?
Vladimir Putin: Regarding it being a milestone and why we call it that, what we expect, and what the new quality of our relations that may emerge during and after this visit mean. I think we should speak about several dimensions of our interaction. The first is in the sphere of security and the building of new and equitable relations in Europe and the world. For us, cooperation with Poland is important for several reasons: in terms of building new relations between Russia and NATO, in terms of the future accession of Poland to the EU and the building of Russia’s relations with the united Europe.
Several considerations of a pragmatic character, to use an expression that has cropped up several times during this news conference, are emerging on the agenda. We have a whole plan of interaction with the united Europe in the energy sphere and in other fields. Poland is best placed to use its geographical position and its special relations with Russia, its knowledge of Russia to play its part not only for itself, but also for the whole of Europe, and, in my opinion, it can make a very real difference for the ordinary citizen you have referred to. I must say that this is uppermost in our minds.
For example, today we had a very hands-on discussion on our energy dialogue. We have plans of cooperation with other European countries on gas supplies, but do ordinary people in Poland know that buying gas from countries other than Russia would cost 25–30% more? It is more expensive today and it is likely to be still more expensive tomorrow. The same can be said of our interaction in the energy industry. Our interaction in some hi-tech areas is so close and intensive that it can compete with the efforts of our partners and rivals from other countries. All these are practical results that make a difference to the life of the ordinary citizen. The reason is that the interests of politics, security, the economy and the social sphere are closely intertwined in the modern world. We will address the whole range of issues, which gives us reason to claim that we are entering a new phase in our relations because we take a comprehensive approach to these relations on a new basis and with an understanding that such cooperation benefits both Poland and Russia.
Question: What should be the approach to the issue of paying compensation to the Polish citizens who were victimized during the Soviet period?
Vladimir Putin: Regarding financial compensation to the people who suffered during the Stalin purges, I will try to be utterly frank with you and I hope that you will bear with me. We do not want to compare and equate the problems connected with Nazism and the Stalin reprisals, the aggression of Nazism in Europe, Poland and the Soviet Union and the reprisals under the Stalin regime. At the same time we are not going to turn a blind eye to the negative aspects of the Stalin regime. As you know, we have passed a law on the rehabilitation of the victims of political repressions. It applies above all to the Stalinist period of Soviet history. I think Polish citizens who had suffered during that period can well invoke that law.
I think the Russian Government may try to create conditions that would offer, in a practical way, access for Polish citizens to exercising their rights under that law on an individual basis. We have discussed this topic with the President, he raised it and for my part I have instructed the Government to think about creating, if necessary, a legal or administrative basis for dealing with that problem.
Question: A question for both Presidents. You began by mentioning the good atmosphere during your talks. I would like to know how you have been getting along on a personal level. Mr Kwasniewski, it has been suggested that you are Mr Putin’s number one partner in Central and Eastern Europe. Are you prepared to shoulder that burden? Mr Putin, how do you feel about it?
Vladimir Putin: I feel positive about it and I welcome it. I have already spoken in the beginning about the role President Kwasniewski has played in the last one and a half to two years in the building of relations between Russia and Poland. I should tell you that to some extent it set an example to me of how one should work professionally and consistently to promote interstate relations relying, among other things, on personal contacts. We have indeed developed a very good relationship. We are on first-name terms with the President and that of course helps us to deal with the challenges facing us. I have no doubt that it will continue to be the case and I find it very appealing that we can openly discuss practically any topic, as the President has said. There are no taboo topics between us, which is very important. It creates a very good atmosphere for tackling the most complicated issues. And I would like to stress that Mr President’s approach to any problem is constructive and very friendly, which always makes one feel like reciprocating.
Question: What can the Poles and the Russians do together in the Kaliningrad Region? What opportunities do you see? And the second question. We have waited for a Russian President’s visit for eight years. Your second presidential term will end six years from now. Can we expect to see you in Warsaw again?
Vladimir Putin: You see, I don’t want to discuss the second term now. I have to complete my first term so that the voters, the people of Russia are satisfied with my performance during the first term. As regards the chances of my visiting Poland, with your permission I would like to visit Poland in my capacity as the President of the Russian Federation and after I step down and live the life of a normal ordinary citizen. I hope such a time will come. Poland is a very attractive country in terms of European history. Polish culture has always evoked a particular interest in Russia, in effect, it is classical European history. So, like all the Russian people, I have a very keen interest in Poland. There are things to see, places to visit and I will avail myself of Mr President’s invitation and I hope to be able to visit Warsaw many times.
As regards the first part of your question, you have touched upon one of the most pressing problems with which we are wrestling. I regret to say that we have still not been able to establish effective interaction on the issue with the European Union. We have repeatedly raised the issue and we all – the leaders of the European Union and Russia – are aware of the complexity of the problem which is drawing relentlessly closer and closer. With the admission of new members to the European Union a Russian enclave will be formed in the Kaliningrad Region and the problem will affect not only the residents of that region, but also the European Union: how would people move and travel and visit other parts of the Russian Federation? How would they cross the border when going west?
The Kaliningrad Region has a population of 1.3 million. We cannot surround them with a fence and keep them locked in. It will not only be our problem, but a problem for the European Union. So we have proposed to tackle the problem at once, before the European Union enlargement, to tackle it within the working group which we have proposed to create together with the European Union, Poland and other potential EU members. At the political level everybody is in favour and everybody understands what needs to be done, but we have yet to start practical implementation of our plan. So I vigorously support President Kwasniewski’s proposal that bilateral work on the issue should be intensified both with Poland and Lithuania. Mr President has proposed that the heads of these countries meet in Kaliningrad and that we meet with the European Union leaders there too. I think this is a positive step forward and we intend to give it every support and indeed initiate such meetings in order to solve all these problems.