Vladimir Putin: Ladies and gentlemen,
The first part of my meeting with the Prime Minister of Italy, Mr Silvio Berlusconi, has just come to an end.
We had an extensive and productive talk, which was held in the spirit of mutual understanding and partnership that is traditional for Russian-Italian relations.
We worked on two areas: the first was mutual bilateral relations between Russia and Italy, and the second was the development of relations between Russia and the European Union.
Mr Berlusconi agrees with me: both sides still need to put in major efforts to realise the agreements reached in St Petersburg. This concerns a single economic space, the development of interaction in the economy, trade, internal and foreign security, and in the legal and humanitarian spheres.
I am certain that progress in these very important areas will to a significant degree depend on how successful we are in starting the mechanism of a permanent partnership between Russia and the EU.
We are grateful to the Italian head of government, our guest Mr Berlusconi, for supporting our methods and efforts to create a unified Greater Europe, without dividing lines on the continent.
Already today we discussed the first possible steps to simplify the visa process for several categories of citizens. We also talked about the process of Russia joining the WTO, and discussed international issues.
I would like to emphasise this once more – Russia believes that we should build relations on the international scene firmly based on international law, with the central role played by the UN. It is pleasing to note that in this we feel the support of Italy and the support of Mr Berlusconi.
This year, in November, I will make a state visit to Italy. And of course, we talked about what our work in November of this year will involve.
The development of bilateral relations between Russia and Italy corresponds to our national interests, and we are pleased to note that the results of today’s meeting have been positive.
I can say with certainty that bilateral Russian-Italian cooperation is being an increasingly important positive factor in European and international affairs.
Thank you for your attention.
Question: Will the economic integration of Russia into the European Union be long-term, and will it also be accompanied by political integration in the future? What can Russia do for a Greater Europe and what can a Greater Europe do for Russia?
Vladimir Putin: At the current stage and during consultations today we primarily discussed issues of economic cooperation and cooperation in the security sphere.
I should say that by the time Italy took up the EU presidency, a solid basis of cooperation had already been established between Russia and the EU. But we expect that the nature of trust, the nature of the high level of cooperation which has been established between Italy and Russia, will be transferred to the entire spectrum of relations between Russia and the European Union.
We want to solve common European economic problems in the spheres of energy, transport, communications, and the manufacture of high technology, and we are certain that this will inevitably be beneficial for citizens both of Russia and of European countries.
The Prime Minister also mentioned cooperation in the environmental sphere.
We face common threats, such as terrorism, drug trafficking and organised crime. Can we solve these problems on our own? It’s absolutely impossible! And this also involves our responsibility in establishing bilateral contacts and cooperation in all these areas.
If you are interested in our cooperation in the political sphere – what is it but a solution to the problems that our country faces? If this means theoretical discussions which have nothing in common with real life, I would not like to be involved with politics of this sort. And on the contrary, I would like to deal with matters that influence the daily lives of the ordinary citizens of our country, and which enable us all to live in a more comfortable, safer and more prosperous world. In this sense, we will deal with the solution of political problems with our European partners.
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Vladimir Putin (adding to an answer by Silvio Berlusconi on full EU membership for Russia): I confirm what Mr Berlusconi has said. We don’t want to go into details and give too much hope to people who expect this may happen tomorrow, and we don’t want to scare anyone who doesn’t ever want this to happen at all. Life itself puts many things in their place, but we should not interfere with this. We should help the development of the natural process of Russia becoming closer to its partners, of course taking into account the nature of economic cooperation. You know the volume of Russian trade and economic cooperation that Europe accounts for. The expanded European Union accounts for more than 50%. It goes without saying that we will create what we have discussed – a common economic space and a common humanitarian space. We will bring our own legislation in line with European standards. This requires significant efforts on our part. We must do a great deal in this area. We will advance along this path consistently and carefully.
Mr Berlusconi is indeed a great friend of Russia, and a person who understands the objective sides of the development of this process. Of course we also discussed issues of simplifying the visa system, because without solving these problems, without making it easier for citizens to have contacts with each other, it is impossible to talk about any kind of integration process. In the modern world, it is simply impossible to imagine things any other way. And so we talked about the possibility of simplifying the visa system for young people and for several categories of Russian citizens today, taking into account the current Schengen rules. But, I repeat, we intend to work on a definite plan together which will fundamentally change the situation in this area.
Question: Do you think that the UN Security Council should now pass a new resolution on Iraq, or do you think that the current resolution is fully adequate for expectations and the current situation?
Vladimir Putin: Above all, I would like to agree with what has been said about a settlement in the Middle East. Russia, as you know, is the co-author of the “road map”, and we welcome any efforts directed towards realising these agreements. We also highly rate the actions of American diplomacy and President Bush personally. We support contacts with both the Israeli side and the Palestinian side. We have reached an agreement with Prime Minister Sharon on his visit to Russia. We will specify the schedule for this through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
As far as Iraq is concerned, the situation there, as you know, is still quite complicated. There are several armed conflicts every week. Sometimes there are dozens of them. But we are all interested in improving this situation as quickly as possible. Russia is prepared to make its contribution to this process, and participate in rebuilding Iraq’s economy.
Our position on increased UN participation in normalising the situation remains unchanged. The last resolution, as you know, was passed unanimously. And this shows that the positions of all the participants of this process have come closer together. We already have an example of resolving a similar situation – the example of Afghanistan and the creation of an interim administration there. We do not insist on a new resolution, but we are open for consultations and talks. I do not rule out the possibility that one will be passed. On the whole, we are prepared to do everything we can to solve this problem. And, I repeat, as quickly as possible.