…We have had 11 meetings with the Chancellor in two years, and during this period our trade has increased by 80%, so the meetings were not useless. I would like to stress that the talks with the Federal Chancellor have been marked by trust and frankness. We very much hope to preserve this tone and style of our contact. I hope it will continue to be a good tradition in Russian-German relations.
I would like to mention just several of the areas where progress has been achieved. One is the problem of “transferable roubles” referred to by Gerhard Schroeder. Russia does not see it as an ordinary credit problem. In fact transferable roubles are not a credit in the direct sense of the word. It is about summing up the results of the economic activities between the former GDR and the former Soviet Union. At first glance we were talking about quite large sums. But experts should take into account all of the circumstances, including the prices at which the GDR bought energy from the Soviet Union. To cut a long story short, we settled for 500 million euros. Russia is ready to pay in three instalments over three years: 350 million in the first year and then 75 million a year in the following two years.
The Federal Chancellor told me that Germany intends to double the insurance coverage of credits in Russia through the Hermes insurance company. We think it is an important signal for those who seek to take advantage of the new opportunities of Russian-German cooperation.
In the wake of the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington our countries have been among the initiators of a worldwide pooling of efforts in the fight against terrorism. That is further proof that our assessments of that global threat are similar. We are one in believing that the fight against terrorism must be consistent and unambiguous and must be covered by a clear-cut legal regime. Only such an approach can form the basis of a new international security system.
We have also exchanged opinions on other aspects of European security and strategic stability. The idea of a new mechanism of cooperation between Russia and NATO “at twenty” is gaining more and more support. I think the German position recognises our bilateral interests and the tasks of Russia’s relations with NATO and the European Union.
Question: How close are the positions of the two countries on Iraq? Was that topic discussed during these talks and what do you think about the level of interaction?
Vladimir Putin: That topic was discussed in some detail. We have no differences in assessing the developments around Iraq, and we have a full idea of how the world community should act on the issue.
Just like on the issue of the Middle East, I absolutely agree with the Chancellor that we must act jointly if we want to act effectively, on the basis of the relevant UN resolutions.
Question: Is there any truth in the statement that Colin Powell is setting out on his Middle East tour partly as an envoy of the four co-sponsors of the peace process? Will this practice continue? And what is the role of the document prepared by the German Foreign Minister in the Middle East peace process?
Vladimir Putin: The US Secretary of State can and must perform his duties solely on instructions from his Government and the President and not on instructions from any sort of group, however important it may be, but he can act on the basis of an adopted document. I believe that the reason representatives of Russia, the US, the UN and the European Union gathered in Madrid was to work out a common platform.
Igor Ivanov tells me that such a platform has been worked out and it will be used by the US Secretary of State during his Middle East tour which begins tomorrow, from my information. Igor Ivanov and Colin Powell will meet in the evening to discuss disarmament problems and the issues that are being prepared ahead of the visit to Russia by George W. Bush in late May of this year.
As for the German position and our attitude towards it, and I don’t mean only the statement by the Foreign Minister, we consider Germany to be a key player in international affairs. We build our policies with due regard for the interests of our partners. If we consider Germany to be our strategic partner, we always take its opinion into account. We are not indifferent to what the Federal Chancellor and the Foreign Minister think. That is why Igor Ivanov talked for almost three hours with Joschka Fischer before leaving for Madrid yesterday.
Question: Could you explain in more detail what new quality the format “at twenty” will confer on Russia-NATO relations? How does it affect the level of international and European security? What does our country stand to gain, or perhaps lose, from it?
Vladimir Putin: As regards “at twenty” format, what is important is the change in the quality of relations. If that level of quality is achieved, we will consider that a start will have been made in changing the way the new security system is built. What does it mean? We have a mode of interacting with NATO today. It is the Permanent Joint Council within which 19 NATO member countries take decisions, work out a common policy before offering it for discussion to their Russian partners. It is an advisory body that practically takes no decisions. Instead the proposal is to set up a new body of 20 countries: 19 NATO countries and Russia.
The idea is to identify several key issues of common interest to the world and to Europe that would be discussed and on which decisions would be taken on an equal basis without any preliminary consultations. Russia would have an equal vote in the discussion and adoption of decisions on such topics. We do not claim the right to veto any fundamental decisions dealing with internal NATO matters. We do not seek to take part in the making of decisions connected with Article 5 of the Treaty of Rome.
But such issues as the fight against terrorism, proliferation of nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction, humanitarian actions and perhaps some others cannot be effectively decided without Russian participation. This was highlighted by events in Afghanistan. If our partners think along the same lines as us, we may speak about a change in the quality of our relations and, I repeat, the start of building of a new world and European security system. We will lose nothing but the outdated Cold War ideology if we decline such a format of cooperation.
Question: Could you speak in more detail about your view of the problem of Russian debts?
Vladimir Putin: You are referring to debts, but actually the problem is the Paris Club. Like that of transferable roubles, it has nothing to do with Russia’s debts. These are the debts of a non-existent state, the Soviet Union, to another non-existent state, the German Democratic Republic. Besides, these are not financial resources transferred from one country to another. It is more like a striking a balance in the trade settlements over a certain period of time.
When that balance was struck, the prices for energy the former USSR supplied to the GDR were not taken into account. Many other things were not taken into account. Experts have worked on this for a long time and studied the issue, and have arrived at the agreement which we presented to you together with Gerhard Schroeder.
Let me stress that the Russian Federation, having declared itself to be the legal successor to the Soviet Union, assumes all the liabilities of the former Soviet Union. Accordingly, we expect that Russia, as the legal successor to the Soviet Union, should be the owner of the property in other countries, including Germany, but we have agreed to continue consultations on that problem. I hope they will end with a positive result.
Question: Are the decisions on transferable roubles political or economic? Will they influence the economic cooperation between Russia and Germany?
Vladimir Putin: I agree with the Federal Chancellor that it is above all an economic decision, but based on a high level of political interaction and on a level of trust and awareness that we should clear away some of the past logjams in order to build a new relations on a solid foundation of trust. Trust cannot arise without resolving the problem of mutual obligations.
I repeat, Russia will assume that, as many times in the past, it will be a two-way street. We feel it. There are mutual relations between Russia and Germany, and the result is that Germany has emerged as our main economic partner today.
We think it is a fair decision. And of course we will comply with it, just like the problem of the Paris Club.