Vladimir Putin: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen.
First of all, I would like to thank the President of the Republic of Poland, Mr Kwasniewski, for accepting my invitation and coming here to Kaliningrad to take part in the exercises of the Russian Baltic and Northern Fleets.
I think it is a unique event in our history and, as the Polish President aptly put it during our conversation today, we are demonstrating and exporting stability from the Baltic Sea region.
Indeed, year in and year out we demonstrate what we have managed to create in the previous ten years in this sphere, we demonstrate the unity of the Baltic states and their desire to develop relations and promote cooperation. This was what our meeting today was largely devoted to.
Poland and Russia have forged good cooperation together. A meeting of the Russian-Polish intergovernmental commission has just ended yesterday. We have an active citizens’ council “Poland-Russia” and as we could see today meeting with the veterans of the Navy, there are good friendly relations even at the level of non-governmental organisations and veterans.
We have lived here for decades and centuries and we believe that creating an infrastructure of our relations is a priority task. I refer above all to the infrastructure of roads and border crossings. Two of them will be expanded soon.
Trade and economic relations between our countries are developing successfully, and may reach a record $6 billion this year. We should pass on to the next stage of interaction, and my colleague has repeatedly mentioned mutual investments in the Russian and Polish economies.
Of course, we paid the due share of attention to the upcoming full accession of Poland to the EU and the Polish-Russian relations in this connection. We discussed international problems, and we had a sharp discussion of the Middle East and Iraq.
I must say that our positions are practically identical and we can do much to influence the situation in these regions in a positive way.
On the whole, our consultations have been very useful and I would like to thank the Polish President once again for accepting the invitation.
Question: How will the issue of free entry for the people of Kaliningrad to Poland and for the Poles to the Kaliningrad Region be solved? And another question is about the building of the gas pipeline along the bottom of the Baltic Sea: in the light of the memorandum signed in London, will Russia give up the construction of the pipeline?
Vladimir Putin: Let me start with the visa problem. The question has been raised by the Polish President. I agree with him that in line with international practice we should streamline that system as much as possible and get rid of all the hangovers of the past that prevent our citizens from communicating freely with each other. Your Foreign Ministry and our Foreign Ministry will be issued corresponding instructions to take another hard look at all these matters. We have agreed to be in contact on all these problems.
As for the second question about the building of the northern gas pipeline, if you look at the forecasts for the European economy and at Europe’s energy resources you will readily see that in the next 10–15 years the current resources in Europe will obviously not be enough. The resources of Britain and Norway may become depleted in the foreseeable future. Russian energy will become practically the only source of energy for northern Europe that is economically the most acceptable.
Russia is aware of its responsibility and together with its colleagues is looking at possible options of creating a normal and predictable situation in the European economy. As for oil passing through the Polish territory, the transit needs to be brought to the parameters that we have agreed upon earlier. It is operating almost at full capacity, but it can be further expanded and its potential capacity can be expanded. But even if we build a pipeline under the Baltic Sea, it may turn out to be not enough. Most probably it will not be sufficient and we are ready to consider together with our partners the expansion of these transportation routes, including through Polish territory.
Question: How do you assess the results of the Baltic exercises?
Vladimir Putin: The military exercises make a “satisfactory” grade. All the objectives set have been achieved. But to be quite specific, I can say that the results can be summed up and the final assessment can only be made after a thorough study of all the parameters built into the systems. The ships, the submarines, the aircraft and the used torpedoes, all the assets that took part in the exercises will be analysed and the maps will be compared whereupon the fleet commander will conclude who performed better and who did not and he will shortly report back to the Defence Minister and myself.
Question: In addition to meeting with the students did you have any other programme?
Vladimir Putin: We went to a restaurant on the sandbar with Valentina Matviyenko and Sergei Ivanov, the three of us. We ate Baltic eel. I strongly recommend it.
Question: During the official visit to Britain you managed to have a serious discussion on economics with Blair. What impressions do you have of the visit as a whole and the talks with the Prime Minister?
Vladimir Putin: It was a useful event. It was useful not only because it was the first event of its kind in the last 150 years. It was very full. I had many contacts with representatives of various political forces. I had many informal talks, including with the Prime Minister. On the final day he even invited us to his home. Not for long, about 30 minutes, but we managed to cover practically the whole range of issues that we always discussed. I don’t think it would be proper of me to make all that we discussed public. In a conversation you have a chance to present your position more accurately and understand your partner. I came away from this visit with a sense that our partners in Europe and Britain are interested in the development of good relations with us. I have no doubt about it. Of course, every country, in building its relations with other countries, has a pragmatic approach and is concerned about its own interests. That is understandable, and that is how we will behave. But the main thing is that we are building our relations as good neighbours, as friends without allowing our arguments – which do arise and will continue to arise – to develop into a conflict. And I think a state visit contributes a good deal to that.
Question: You have spoken about informal meetings, but to go back to the official…
Vladimir Putin: There was an extraordinary amount of protocol.
Question: Don’t your think that it is a little too much? Or did you like everything?
Vladimir Putin: You know, it may be beautiful to look at, but when you are immersed in all this protocol it is nothing but a hassle. I won’t be divulging any secrets if I tell you that it was the first time in my life that I wore tails, and I can’t say that I liked it. I don’t know what a figure I cut, I haven’t looked at the pictures yet, but it is very uncomfortable, anyway, this is not my kind of apparel. But there are certain traditions in the United Kingdom and although they are somewhat archaic, there is a certain standard set by the state protocol and many follow it. In general, I think it is good that the traditions have survived. I think many will agree with me that when we lost our own traditions we felt the poorer for that. We are trying hard to restore our Russian traditions. We have them and they have deep roots. I hope that over time, without undue haste, we will restore them. They are no less beautiful than in other countries.
Question: The Grenadier Regiment should be restored…
Vladimir Putin: But the process should not cause any frictions or strains in society. In general, we don’t need any strains. You know the tragic fate of that unit: it fought against the Red Army, it emigrated together with the soldiers and the officers and wandered in foreign lands together with the people who rejected the 1917 Revolution. Today we should think in terms of reconciling everyone with everyone else. We must unite the country and the best place for that glorious banner is in the museum.
Question: For the first time you have been making official statements in English. You speak German in Parliament, you correct French interpreters, you even corrected an interpreter in Dushanbe…
Vladimir Putin: It wasn’t easy. I must say that I study English. It is like a hobby, I sometimes spend 10–15 minutes a day. A kind of mental gymnastics. What I said in English, I felt that I had to do it, especially on the day when the whole of Britain was mourning the death of its soldiers. At the moment when many British families were grief- stricken we were partaking of a sumptuous dinner, and it was somewhat embarrassing, but it was impossible to break the rules of protocol and I thought I had to mention it and express condolences. And I thought it would best be done in English.
Question: You spoke about the military and political results of the exercises today. Have you gained any impressions on the purely human level? Surely, you have talked with officers, with the command, and you met with students yesterday. What is your opinion of Kaliningrad and its people?
Vladimir Putin: I haven’t seen enough of Kaliningrad yet: you can’t see much from the car window, but I can and must say something about the people of Kaliningrad. I have come to know some of them quite well. They are good and talented people. They face a difficult situation and they are under some psychological strain. Naturally, at a certain point they felt that they might be separated from the Russian Federation. I have a feeling that this inner psychological syndrome is going away. At any rate during a meeting with the students yesterday, and talking with the people in the street, many spoke about it and thanked us for what has been done recently to organise normal transit between Kaliningrad and the rest of the Russian Federation. People sounded confident that problems of this kind would be solved in the future too. But honestly, the fact that we have agreed on transit is not the main thing. The main thing is that the results of our work with our partners during the visit to Britain and the meeting with the Polish President and during the events to mark the 300th anniversary of St Petersburg, that all this should be translated into real work that would unite Europe to create a common economic and a common humanitarian space.
Question: What do you think about Valentina Matvienko’s decision to stand for the post of the Governor of St Petersburg?
Vladimir Putin: It was no secret for me. I confess that she had told me about these plans before. I back them. I can tell you for sure that Valentina Matviyenko has been one of the most effective Russian leaders for a number of years. She had the most difficult job because working in the social sphere is difficult in any country, but especially difficult in such a country as ours. If you look at the billions that the government owes to pensioners you will realise what a “pit” we had to climb out of. Now we are talking about raising wages. We raised them last year, we will raise them again soon, we raised pensions and we are about to raise them again. We have already forgotten how much we owed. Arrears ran into tens of billions and it seemed we would never be out of the debt pit. But we have not only paid up all the arrears, we have started raising living standards and pensions. Much of the credit for this goes to Valentina Matviyenko, but the final choice rests with the people of St Petersburg. I am sure that other worthy people will come forward and say that they will stand for Governor. Let them compete and let the citizens choose the worthiest candidate.