Vladimir Putin: Good afternoon,
I am glad to welcome you to the Russian Caucasus. You know that the “Caucasian Four” is gradually – if not as fast as we would like it to on some matters – gaining momentum. So far we have worked as heads of state and some work has been done through the channels of various other agencies. The four Ministers of Internal Affairs of the Caucasus group of CIS countries have been doing a good enough job. But such a high-level political meeting as the meeting of the secretaries of the security councils merits particular attention, I think.
It is no secret; we all know very well that the potential for conflict in the Caucasus is still fairly high. So the efforts aimed at the resolution of all the issues between our countries, and possible local conflicts, deserve every support. You are facing a challenge. In a general way, of course, we face common tasks. They are to achieve peace, good-neighbourliness, and prosperity for all our countries. Of course, certain principles must be observed, as we have repeatedly stressed at the level of heads of state.
First of all, total and unconditional respect for the sovereignty of all our countries; respect for their independence of choice in foreign and domestic policy, and respect for their independence of choice in addressing key issues in the development of their countries.
Secondly, a commitment to the peaceful settlement of local conflicts in accordance with the universally accepted norms and principles of international law, and there we all have something to think about. I will later dwell on the issues that are of particular concern for us.
Third, the need to prevent an escalation of military and political rivalry in the region and the emergence of new obstacles to cooperation.
I must note that much is being done in all these areas. Both non-governmental and research organisations have recently been tackling all these problems. In general, this is welcome, but at the same time one has to admit that only we ourselves can solve these problems at the level of practical politics. I think the “Caucasian Four” provides a very promising format and one that is acceptable for all its participants.
That format enables us to deal with the most complex problems that are of concern to all of us. One of these is the problem of terrorism; the threat of terrorism and the fight against it. The fight against that evil must be pursued consistently on a long-term basis and in many ways: in military-political ways, by cutting the channels of financing, and in administrative and ideological ways. In that sense, the meetings of the secretaries of security councils are also very promising, because although your functions in your respective countries differ, they are nevertheless comprehensive in character. In practically all our countries the security councils are called upon to regulate and coordinate the activities of law enforcement and security agencies and the special services. And this is exactly the area – I mean the fight against terrorism – which is at the focus of all these ministries and agencies.
The transparency of our actions is of course hugely significant. Primarily, because they may affect the interests of neighbouring states. That is why timely and accurate information about counter-terrorist operations is so vital. I think you had a chance to exchange such information and to consult on urgent problems and so on.
The settlement of local conflicts is a relevant task for the region. I have already mentioned it. One can break the vicious circle of confrontation here only by strengthening confidence and cooperation. That is why it is so important to establish interaction within the framework of the “Caucasian Four”, involving all the ministries and agencies I have mentioned and such government structures as security councils. It is important to develop human contacts between people in the South Caucasus, to re-open transport communications, the transport routes in this region.
I do not mind telling you that we are of course worried about the aggravation of the situation in the Georgia-Abkhazia conflict zone. I know that it worries the people of Abkhazia and the whole of Georgia. Eduard Shevardnadze and I discussed it thoroughly during a meeting in Kazakhstan. It is especially important to prevent the resumption of hostilities in the immediate proximity. Naturally this applies to Russia because the region is in the immediate proximity of our borders. We will seek in every way to bring about a final resolution of the conflict. We must not forget about the refugees who are waiting to return home, but Russia cannot remain indifferent to the fate of more than 50,000 Russian citizens living in Abkhazia. We very much hope that all the parties to the conflict will eventually manage to resolve it. For its part, I repeat, Russia will seek to achieve pacification and resolution of the complex issues in the interests of all those who live in the region.
Today both Tbilisi and Sukhumi must make energetic efforts to prevent events from taking a tragic turn. As for the negotiating process, the deadlock can be broken on the basis of the document on the delimitation of constitutional powers between Tbilisi and Sukhumi prepared by the special representative of the UN Secretary General. In addition, we have the positive experience of the Georgia-Ossetia settlement. I think we should bear it in mind. For my own part, I would like to stress that we are ready to contribute to the process of rapprochement in every way we can.
We pin great hopes on the continued dialogue between the Presidents of Azerbaijan and Armenia to find a scheme for peaceful settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. My colleagues know that Russia pays great attention to this and in my own meetings with the presidents of the two countries I myself pay considerable attention to it, and together we all try to find a formula for settlement. We are aware how difficult it is. But some prerequisites must be met if the problem is to be solved in the historical perspective. Chief amongst these is goodwill. I have the impression that the presidents of the two states have such goodwill. Of course, it is a very complicated and painful process and compromises will be required to resolve the conflict. Looking for compromises is always a complicated, but not an impossible process. Ultimately, the peoples of Azerbaijan and Armenia and the whole region are interested in finding a peaceful resolution to the conflict. I must tell you honestly and frankly, and I repeatedly said it to the presidents of the two states, that Russia is interested in a settlement because we want to develop full-scale relations with both Armenia and Azerbaijan. The current situation denies us such an opportunity.
The Minsk Troika, comprising Russia, the US and France, will continue to contribute to the search for a negotiated settlement. We hope that the new Armenian-Azeri negotiating mechanism with the participation of mediators, which is shortly to be launched in Prague, will help to overcome all the accumulated problems.
Your agenda included an exchange of opinions on a wide range of regional security problems, including energy, ecological and information security, as well as military and military-technical cooperation, the opportunities and outlook for the re-opening of ground transportation routes in the Caucasus. It is a very important problem. We must not walk in a circle, and wrestle with one and the same question: what came first, the chicken or the egg? We must some day make a decision and take a step forward. I am sure this would be useful because if we make the solution of any one issue conditional on the achievement of compromises on other issues, we will never move forward. But this, on the other hand, is precisely the approach that can end the stalemate, change the situation for the better and create the necessary conditions that would truly foster good-neighbourliness and goodwill, thus creating conditions for the establishment of direct contacts and direct interaction, above all in the economic sphere, and create conditions for communication between people. That in turn would help to move the political process forward. In general it is better to avoid moves that could lead to a stalemate, but move instead in directions in which movement is possible. If it is possible to move in a certain direction, steps must be taken.
All that, of course, is important for the security of each of our countries and for regional security as a whole; it is our duty to look for joint approaches.
In conclusion I would like to thank you for finding time to gather here in Russia, in the Russian Caucasus. I would like to thank you for your constructive joint work and to express the hope that your meetings will become regular and will undoubtedly make a substantial contribution to the development of links between Russia, Azerbaijan, Armenia and Georgia.