Vladimir Putin: First of all, I would like to thank the Prime Minister for keeping his promise: he has arrived in Moscow at the head of such a representative delegation. The visit is very timely, because as we were just saying, in spite of the high level of political interaction, including in the international arena, we are not satisfied with the level of our economic ties.
You know that the Russian economy is on the rise, it has stabilised, and our relations with many countries of Europe and the US are developing very successfully, we see a growth of mutual trade. Unfortunately, our trade with Canada dropped slightly during the past year. So, the arrival of “Canada United” is very timely. Today we busied ourselves with identifying the causes of the state of affairs and mapping out ways to promote our contacts, including in preparing and putting in place the necessary legal framework for cooperation.
I am glad to note that our experts have practically agreed the bilateral documents on customs and have made considerable progress in preparing agreements on investment support. We note with great satisfaction that during this visit more than a billion dollars worth of agreements, contracts and protocols of intent are to be signed.
We are very glad that the Prime Minister is accompanied by business people and the heads of various provinces because we attach particular significance to cooperation between the regions of Russia and Canada. Such Russian regions as Moscow, St Petersburg, Samara, Tatarstan, Tyumen and some others have had fruitful relations with partners in corresponding provinces of Canada for many years.
The Prime Minister has paid special attention to the need to promote our interaction in humanitarian spheres: education, culture and other areas of this kind. We welcome the interests of Canadian partners in cooperation in these areas.
My opposite number, Mr Jean Chretien, constantly stresses that we are neighbours through the North Pole, and that is indeed so. He has long been suggesting that we meet on the North Pole, and I think we will do it some day.
Question: Mr President, it is a question about military policy, specifically the policy of the US. Aren’t you worried about “saber-rattling” with regard to some countries and what do you think about the possible consequences of such a policy? Are you not worried to a certain extent by the fact that some countries, including perhaps Canada, increasingly become “tacit” partners of the US in this field?
Vladimir Putin: As regards the Russian position, it is well known that one can follow two paths in building relations between states. One can keep stressing contradictions and gradually move into an impasse. But one can take a different approach: look at what unites us and seek ways to remove some contradictions or different approaches. We believe, just like our colleagues and partners in the US and Canada and other countries, that the problem of fighting terrorism is one of the real global dangers of today. That unites us.
Secondly, we believe that it is a truly global international problem. And we understand that this is how it should be seen. More specifically, we know the representatives of what countries, the citizens and subjects of what states were fighting on the side of the Taliban in Afghanistan. We know who financed the activities of the Taliban and from what countries. Iraq was not on that list. But it does not mean that the international community has no problems with Iraq, as my colleague, Prime Minister Jean Chretien, has just said. We are actively discussing this problem and seeking a solution together with our partners at the UN and the Security Council. We intend to continue to work on these problems jointly. As regards relations between Canada and the US, this is not my business. Canada and the US have long-time and traditionally very close partnership. It does not scare us, it does not in the least worry us. In general, it is none of our business. We do not discuss these matters with the Prime Minister. We discuss bilateral Russian-Canadian relations and I think we are doing a good job. It pleases me.
Question: Canadian business has sustained significant financial losses during the past ten years. Our businessmen have been expressing their mistrust of the Russian justice system which is not helpful in solving various issues. You have spoken about legal reforms. What specific steps are to be taken?
Vladimir Putin: Business is notoriously prone to take fright easily. It doesn’t work where there are no favourable conditions. And it doesn’t work especially where it suffers losses. During our meeting with the Prime Minister today we cited some success stories in the field of cooperation. They are Canadian firms which are now working throughout the Russian Federation. They engage in consulting and engineering, and transformations, for example, of the railway transport, they mine gold in Magadan. Jointly with Russian partners they work in hi-tech areas such as aerospace. The President of Tatarstan has just spoken about good cooperation in the production of helicopters and components. Russian experts use Canadian avionics and engines. Pratt and Whitney has been working in Russia successfully over the past 8–10 years. An excellent oncological centre has been built in Samara with Canadian assistance. Surely if there were nothing but losses I wouldn’t have had anything to tell you today. And speaking about losses, they are of course connected with the 1998 crisis. But let us be fair: it was not Russia that caused the crisis, it was its victim.
We admit that there are some problems whose solution depends only on us. Our Canadian colleagues have raised these issues with us today. They had to do with small and medium-sized business and other areas. The recent changes in the Russian economy are impressive: a revolutionary cut of the tax burden, the fight against red tape and adoption of a whole package of laws that regulate labour relations and promote a market economy. I must say that one of the positive factors is the increasing purchasing power of the population. The growth of the economy in the last year and a half was driven mainly by internal factors. Important decisions have been made in regulating land relations. That work will continue next year. I think that any Western government that could accomplish, during its term, half of what we have done would have received good marks. And the last point in your question was the reform of the justice system. A whole package of laws has been passed in this sphere. They are aimed at raising the level of responsibility and making the whole court system more efficient and protecting the rights and legitimate interests of citizens better and on a larger scale. All this gives us grounds for claiming that although much still remains to be done, we are moving in the right direction and we are determined to adhere to this policy in the future.
Question: A question for Jean Chretien. Canada has recognized the market character of ferrous metallurgy in Russia, but it is still conducting anti-dumping procedures against Russian producers. That is one reason why trade between our countries has dropped. Could you comment on that?
Vladimir Putin: I’ll take advantage of your question to make a remark. You have mentioned some really problem issues. But I must say that all or most of them will become irrelevant if Russia joins the WTO. In that sense Canada is an important partner for us because it supports the Russian bid to join the WTO on terms that are acceptable to us.