Question: Some time ago you reached an agreement to set up a gas consortium with major European countries. How is work progressing on the harmonisation of the document, and when will it be signed?
Vladimir Putin: It is progressing well, I must say. Mr Kuchma and I once signed a memorandum in St Petersburg to define the philosophy and principles of work. Almost immediately we invited our partners in Western Europe to take part in that work. Germany was the first to show interest. But we know that France and our partners in Italy are showing no less interest. Experts are working on documents and work intensely. I cannot say the progress is smooth, but it is positive. There are things that must be treated for their pragmatic interest rather than for their cult value. Above all, their economic interest. It seems to me we are within sight of agreements that observe the interests of all parties to the process.
Vladimir Putin (following Mr Kuchma’s answer): If Russia takes part in the project, if it warms to it, then we will ship our product through Ukraine’s gas transport system and promote this product together with Ukraine, our partner, on the market of third countries. If not, we will seek other avenues. We will build other pipelines and so on … But it is absolutely absurd to do this without taking Ukraine’s national interests into account. We are perfectly aware of that, realise it and are in a mood for positive efforts. I strongly hope that the undertaking, as the Ukrainian President described it, will end on a positive note.
Question: What really needs to be done to make next year a breakthrough year in trade and economic relations between our two countries?
Vladimir Putin (following Mr Kuchma’s answer): At a time of a constructive effort, when one is up defending one’s national interests, these interests often clash and lead to disputes. Unfortunately, our current coordination is not well honed. We had a common state, but it went to pieces. We do not rightly know yet how to build civilised relations between ourselves on a new foundation and under new conditions. On the one hand, there are special relations and a background feeling entitling us to press for particular preferences from each other. I do not say Ukraine expects something from Russia, but Russia, too, often expects from Ukraine what it does not expect from other partners. We must get used to working in a civilised fashion by respecting each other and meeting each other halfway. When we produce the full range of agreements, treaties and legislative acts, then, I think, these relations will become fully normalised in the economic sphere.
But what is of fundamental importance is that we are in a mood for such work. In this context the Year of Russia in Ukraine appears to be a very important undertaking, a very substantive undertaking, because it creates the kind of atmosphere we need.
Thank you very much.