Vladimir Putin: I would like to thank the President, the Rector and all of you for the opportunity to speak here at Kiev University.
I would like to share with you my point of view on the present and future of Russian-Ukrainian partnership. That is all the more logical and relevant because the graduates of your university have made a major contribution to the development of a sovereign and democratic Ukraine and are actively involved in the development of Russian-Ukrainian relations. I am convinced that our cooperation is long-term and strategic in character. It contributes not only to the development of the two countries, Russia and Ukraine. This cooperation has always been and is again emerging as a key factor in world affairs and in the Commonwealth of Independent States.
We have covered a long distance during the last ten years and we have realised that sovereignty is no obstacle to cooperation; that our common historical heritage is not just a fact, but a valuable basis in the search for mutually beneficial practical interests in the new period.
Our countries are tackling tasks that are in many ways similar. The structures of societies and economies are very similar, so the tasks are the same. We approach them in the same way as Ukraine, and Ukraine approaches them in the same way as us. We strengthen the institutions of democracy and civil society, we work to modernise our economies and to strengthen the positions of our economies in the world markets. We understand that an important ingredient of our common success can be mutual assistance and support based on the potentials of our countries. That understanding prompted the conclusion of the framework treaty between Russia and Ukraine in May 1997. It determined the character of the strategic partnership between our countries and set benchmarks for the future. They include such important principles as equality, mutually beneficial cooperation and respect of each other’s interests.
Today we are building Russian-Ukrainian relations proceeding from historical experience and current realities; above all, as two modern democratic states. States which owing to their position in the world can contribute not only to greater stability in Europe, but to the solution of other complex international problems. Bilateral interaction between our countries is a key element in the integration processes of the Commonwealth of Independent States.
We have similar views on the character of modern threats and challenges, so Russia and Ukraine are developing cooperation in the fight against terrorism, transnational crime and drug trafficking. We discussed these issues with [Ukrainian President] Leonid Kuchma yesterday evening and this morning. We will work both bilaterally and within the framework of regional and international organisations. A great deal can be achieved by the more efficient use of the instruments of the Commonwealth and its working bodies.
There is a tremendous potential in economic cooperation. The implementation of business projects, especially in infrastructure – transport and energy – may go a long way in changing the configuration of the European economic space. I am not exaggerating if you consider the trend in the European and world economy towards greater use of energy. We can talk not only about energy security, but about the formation of new and more effective transportation schemes and new markets for hi-tech products. There is still a lot of untapped potential in the aerospace area, engineering and biology.
Before coming to Kiev, I had another look at the structure of our trade. On the whole, Russia supplies more to Ukraine than Ukraine to Russia. But the structure of Ukrainian trade is better than ours. Only 16% of our exports to Ukraine are machinery and equipment, which account for 36% of Ukraine’s export. There are things we must think and talk about and things that we must change, both in terms of the volume and the quality and structure of trade. I must say that we have good prospects for breaking into the markets of third countries. A businesslike and pragmatic approach is far more effective than all sorts of trade barriers and local economic wars which merely diminish our chances in global economic competition.
The results of the past year have demonstrated how effective Russian-Ukrainian partnership can be. It has seen many interesting events and highlights. The overall success is obvious. Links between our regions and between scientific and business communities have noticeably increased. The single cultural and information space is being restored, and it is being restored on a new basis, on the basis of mutual interest. I think it would be no exaggeration to say that during this admittedly short period, Russia discovered for itself a “new” Ukraine and Ukraine will discover a “new” Russia.
The Russia Year was officially launched in Ukraine yesterday. It means that everything that was initiated a year ago will be developed. We welcome it and hope that the new year will be at least as fruitful. I would like to make a special note of the positive trends in humanitarian cooperation. This is an area of partnership that undoubtedly defines the level and character of our interaction in general.
Today we signed two agreements on cooperation in youth policy and on creating branches of higher education institutions in Russia and Ukraine. We want the people who enter a new stage in their lives after graduation to be able to decide where to acquire a higher education before they start work and to know that they can work in Ukraine and Russia without any restrictions no matter where they have studied. Today the Rector of Moscow University said that in addition to 600 Ukrainian students who study at the Moscow University Branch in the Crimea, 600 Ukrainian or Moscow students simply came and passed their entrance exams. 600 people is a powerful group. I assure you it is not easy to gain admission to Moscow State University, and I am sure that these are very talented people. It means that Moscow University is scoring successes in competing for intellectual resources. The more talented people from Ukraine that come to study in Moscow and other higher education institutions in the Russian Federation the better.
Some other regions, for example Sevastopol, have similar experience, but we hope that Ukrainian higher education institutions will open their branches in the Russian Federation. We have discussed it in practical terms and we are interested in it considering the high degree of cooperation between our industries. Many of our enterprises are partners. So, training specialists both in Ukraine and Russia is very important for sustaining that level of interaction. And of course it is necessary and useful to exchange fresh ideas and achievements both in education and science.
In conclusion, I would like to stress again that our peoples have common traditions going back thousands of years and we have a uniquely strong basis for continuing and developing them: friendship and spiritual affinity, common successes and shared historical memories.
We recently marked the anniversary of the Dneproges power plant. It is the best evidence of what we did together in former years. We remember the tragedies of the past, the reprisals, the terrible famine in the early 1930s which struck Ukraine and the Volga Region in Russia. Those were shared tragedies, but we have also had shared triumphs.
Much was said yesterday about the Battle of Kiev. We will shortly be marking the 60th anniversary of the Battle of Stalingrad. These are our common red-letter days. It is up to the young people to work for the future of our countries and determine our relations in the new conditions and in the new age. I am absolutely convinced that by pooling our efforts we will make our countries prosperous and powerful.
I would like to wish you all the best, great discoveries in your creative work, your studies and in your lives.
Thank you for your attention.
Question: The reform of higher education is being actively discussed in both our countries. What are the main characteristics of that process in the Russian Federation, what are its aims and the most pressing problems?
Vladimir Putin: Competition for intellectual potential and skilled manpower is one of the key areas of competition in the world today. The countries that can offer the most favourable conditions for the application of the latest developments based on modern information technologies can attract capital and skilled labour, so that they gain an advantage.
In an open society and in a market economy it is impossible to keep capital, technologies, information and human resources within a single country by administrative methods. This is a global economic challenge of competition for resources which move very fast in the current world ignoring state borders and tending to concentrate, I repeat, in the countries which offer the best conditions for them.
As for the process of personnel training, of course we cannot afford to stand still and we intend to improve that system. However, the fact that a large number of specialists, especially young ones, are leaving the Russian Federation shows that the level of training at Russian higher education institutions is very high and that our “intellectual product” is highly valued in the labour market. Nevertheless we will of course develop our education system further.
I must say that the number of young people who study free of charge has been increasing in Russia in recent years. I don’t think that trend will grow, but we will provide free education while at the same time developing fee-paying education. But we will toughen requirements to the new higher education institutions which claim to be providing adequate training and issue corresponding diplomas and we will apply more rigorous requirements to the training of young graduates.
Question: What are the prospects for the CIS becoming a free trade zone?
Vladimir Putin: The prospects are good. In general free trade zones are steps in the right direction. They make the relations between the agents in the market less bureaucratic, which boosts trade. I don’t mind telling you about a certain problem that Russia has. You have common sense and you will understand it. The problem is that the structure of our trade differs. Ukraine is a major energy consumer in the CIS. We supply more energy to Ukraine than to Kazakhstan or even to Belarus. The main obstacle that prevents the problem from being solved is that Russia has shifted to the scheme of collecting indirect taxes in the country of destination. In other words, the good is produced here, but for there to be a real free trade zone the taxes must go to the country to which the goods have been shipped. Because the lion’s share of Russian exports is energy, introducing that scheme for four main commodities – oil, petroleum products, gas and gas condensate – would mean that the revenues will go not to the Russian but to the Ukrainian budget. It would cost Russia about $650–700 million a year. When trade is balanced, when it is not lop-sided, as in our case, then your country taxes our goods and our country taxes yours. Ukraine does not match the amount of Russian exports and so our Government believes that it spells direct losses for the Russian budget. But we are ready to consider that option too. I think we can and must adopt that system in order to promote the relations between the two states, considering the character of our strategic partnership.
Experts must do some work to finalise the arrangements. I believe it would be possible if Ukraine became more active in EurAsEC where it is currently an observer. We should analyse everything in detail and I think we will be able to solve these problems. We have signed bilateral agreements on the issue with all the other CIS countries. It remains to settle the issue with just one country, Ukraine. This is not surprising because Ukraine is the biggest consumer of energy. We don’t have such problems with other countries, we don’t sustain such budgetary losses. I think we will solve that problem.
Question: Russia has occupied a unique position in international relations: it is the only country that is both a close ally of the United States and maintains good relations with the “axis of evil” countries such as Iran, North Korea and Iraq. That is realistic foreign policy, which prompts my question: Is it the “formula for success” that Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov speaks about in all his public speeches? What steps will Russia take to bring about a settlement of the Iraq problem?
Vladimir Putin: A very serious question. A lot of work lies ahead. Having said that, we have managed to make our foreign policy more active and capable of solving what is the main task for us: creating favourable conditions for the development of the state. We have achieved a good level of relations with the United States and we value this. It is one of our leading trade and economic partners, and we are engaged in a meaningful dialogue to resolve a number of international problems. But it does not mean that our opinions and views fully coincide. We often differ in our approach to various problems. But the quality of our relations, which are marked by a considerable degree of trust, does not allow us to tolerate any downturns in the links between our countries. We will work together on complicated problem issues, including with the countries you have mentioned.
It is not surprising that Russia must and will maintain good-neighbourly relations with all the states you have mentioned. The reason is that they are our neighbours. We have lived together for thousands of years and we will continue to live together. So we intend to go on developing our relations with Iran and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
As regards Iraq, so far we have managed to build our relations with the United States through the UN Security Council. We don’t think that all the political and democratic measures have been exhausted. Our common position is that if Iraq has weapons of mass destruction they may be a threat. We, the permanent and non-permanent members of the UN Security Council, have agreed to send inspectors, experts of the IAEA and other organisations who specialise in this problem, to find out what the real situation is. Currently, these experts have no complaints about obstruction or problems in their work. We trust these inspectors. They should be allowed to work, to carry out inspections and to report back to the UN Security Council on the situation regarding the weapons of mass destruction in that country. If Iraq resists these inspections or sets obstacles, I do not rule out that Russia may change its position, and we intend to cooperate with other members of the Security Council, including the Untied States, in working out alternative solutions. I am not going to speak about them now, but they would be tougher than the current ones.
Whatever happens and no matter how the situation in Iraq develops, the main thing is that such disputes can only be solved on the basis of international law and within the framework of the UN Security Council. That is the key issue, more important than Iraq itself, because after the Warsaw Pact collapsed, NATO remained but it is undergoing serious internal changes. They admit themselves that when the bipolar world ceased to exist mankind, oddly enough, has faced greater dangers and unpredictability. The future design of international security is still an open question which has not been totally understood nor clarified. How we will build the edifice of international security is a far more important issue than Iraq. And if we permit ourselves to go beyond international law today, it would be a controversial move. I would not like to make predictions nor dramatise possible scenarios, because in any case measures will be taken.
Question: What do you think about the prospect of introducing a visa regime between Russia and Ukraine?
Vladimir Putin: Today the Ukrainian President and I signed a Treaty on the State Border which is very important for normalising relations between our states. It must, I think, be not so much pragmatic and applied as political in character. We want everybody, in Russia and in Ukraine, to understand that Russia is willing and ready to develop its relations with Ukraine as an equal partner and a state that is independent in every way. It means that we will pragmatically uphold our own national interests. It should be a two-way street. The treaty is to some extent a compromise. Experts have argued for a long time, but eventually they realised that they were arguing over details and they managed to rise above trifles.
In general, such treaties are necessary in the relations between normal sovereign states. It does not mean that in tackling the border issues we should create difficulties for our citizens in communicating with each other and for legal persons located in neighbouring countries. On the contrary, the European community offers the best example: they do not have such a long common history, on the contrary, they had many more problems than there are between our countries. I mean not only Ukraine and Russia, but the entire post-Soviet space. They had far more problems. Suffice it to recall the First World War: 600,000 Germans and 350,000 Frenchmen died. Today the leaders of these countries have declared that their goal is to create a united state. They have already introduced a single currency. They have put in place the economic framework: they exist and develop under common rules. Having a common currency and a common space, people move about freely. They gain obvious and significant advantages in global competition.
Leonid Danilovich [Kuchma] has raised the issues he considers to be important. They include the question of international passports. We will work on these problems together and try to cut down on red tape, everything that impedes the communication between the citizens and business in the two countries.
As you know, the Europeans began with the free movement of capital, manpower and finances. That is the minimum we must do here, and the sooner the better. If we do not do it, we won’t be able to achieve anything. That is why we say that even though Russia may suffer direct losses from the creation of a free trade zone, we will all gain in the long run, in the strategic sense. But we expect that it will be a two-way street.
Question: What would you advise young diplomats and all young people in Ukraine to keep them from making mistakes in the future and what is the mistake that they should guard themselves against most of all?
Vladimir Putin: You should always remember that Ukraine’s strategic choice corresponds to the national interests of friendship with Russia.