Vladimir Putin: Good afternoon.
First of all, on behalf of the Russian delegation, I would like to thank the Italian Prime Minster, all his colleagues and all of you for your hospitality, for the warm atmosphere of this place, both literally and metaphorically.
This is already the fifth time the Prime Minister of Italy and I have met this year. I must say that each meeting has been useful. They are useful for bilateral relations, and to strengthen stability in Europe and the world. These are truly partner relations of mutual respect aimed at focused on a long-term perspective.
The meeting between Mr Berlusconi and myself in Sardinia has been both official and informal. I am very grateful to the Prime Minister for the invitation. He visited my government residence in Sochi on the Black Sea coast last year. And at that time, we already realised that in this apparently informal situation, we could talk about serious issues much more productively than when we are restricted by protocol.
We have openly discussed a wide range of international and bilateral issues. Today we are giving particular attention to prospects of cultural cooperation, and have talked a great deal about the development of the situation in various regions of the country. When we finish the talks, the main points of which we have already agreed on, we will make joint statements.
We support the idea of creating a special Russian-Italian forum (Mr Berlusconi has already talked about this) directed at the development of dialogue between the civil societies of the two countries. We have already organised this with several European countries. Italian people also believe that the communities of Russia and Italy have something to discuss. On our side, we will do everything to ensure the success of this forum.
We have also talked about the institution of a collective award of the Russian President and the Italian Prime Minister. It will be given to citizens of both countries for services in developing cooperation in the sphere of the economy, science and culture.
Mr Berlusconi proposed what I consider to be an important initiative to organise a joint forum to support youth exchange programmes. I think that it is very important to support exchanges between young people. It is obvious that young people are the ones who will build a new Europe, build new relations between the two countries, and supporting them here is a very important task. Important support on this path would be to simplify visa procedures for individual categories of citizens. We talked about this today in considerable detail.
We know the position of the Prime Minister, of course, and we thank him for it. I know that in Italy, and in several other European countries (I don’t think Silvio will be offended, he knows about this himself), people think that he is rushing ahead. But he truly believes that Russia is an integral part of Europe; and this honest position, although it may seem premature at first glance, is the right one. It essentially sets out the vector of development of relations between Russia and Europe. But the Prime Minister and I fully understand that we must act carefully, stage by stage, and that in practice we are not intending to rush ahead. Today we are only talking about simplifying exchanges among scholars, young people and students, and above all for representatives of business, administration, and perhaps certain organisations for disabled people. For the people who need our support.
I believe it is important also to make additional efforts to improve our education systems, and to bring these systems into line. This will make it possible to simplify the enrolment procedure, to increase the number of students, and student and academic exchanges.
We also discussed in detail the important topic of the development of Russian-Italian cultural ties. I won’t say anything new here. You know that Russian-Italian cultural ties have a long tradition and deep historical roots. We are certain that the development of our cooperation in the cultural sphere will help our joint projects, such as museum exhibitions. This autumn, Leonardo da Vinci’s masterpiece “Madonna Litta” from the Hermitage collection will be displayed in Rome. In 2004–2005 there will be a major exhibition in both our countries, “Russia-Italy through the Centuries”. We expect that these and other projects will be successfully realised. And this means that Italian and Russian people will have new opportunities to get to know each other.
We will continue to discuss these issues at the upcoming meeting with the heads of the leading Russian and Italian museums after this meeting with you. I do not doubt that our colleagues, the people who have devoted their lives to art, have interesting ideas and suggestions. We will listen to them with pleasure, and not just listen to them but also attempt to formulate joint steps to realise the ideas that they suggest. I know beforehand that they have specific suggestions. I won’t rush ahead now. On this note I would like to end my speech, and thank you for your attention.
Question: You have said that you discussed the situation in several countries around the world. Taking into account the continuing deterioration of the situation in Iraq, don’t you think that it’s time to hand over responsibility to the UN and develop a plan on restoring the sovereignty of Iraq?
Vladimir Putin: We have witnessed an escalation of violence in Iraq. The spiral of violence is unwinding more and more. This undoubtedly has a negative effect on international security and the world economy. And the first task is to stop this escalation of violence. In this sense, the most effective way in our opinion would be the real involvement of the United Nations in the regulation processes in Iraq. We must tell the Iraqi people: there was a dictatorial regime, and this page has been turned; there was a war, and this page has also been turned. Let’s start living from a new leaf. We can begin a new book. And the international community in the form of the UN is the best executor of this plan. We already have an example of joint effective work. And we are able to do this.
But I do not think this will be easy. In my opinion, it is the optimal path to the development of the situation. Today, we are not just seeing the unwinding of the spiral of violence. We are seeing a filtration of international terrorists into the territory of Iraq. I want to confirm this fact, it concerns us a great deal; and we are in contact with both our European and American partners. We are holding an intensive dialogue on this theme. Russia is open to discussion on this problem. We have our own specific initiatives. A mission is working on projects of possible resolutions. The agreement of all the participants in the process is needed for them to be passed.
Question: What do you expect from the promise which was almost made by Prime Minister Berlusconi that Russia will become a member of the WTO, and from the other promises that he made? What do you expect from the six months of Italy’s chairmanship of the European Union? Why did you bring the “Moscow” cruiser here with you?
Vladimir Putin: First of all, about the promises. The Prime Minister and I do not resemble a bride or a groom, and we do not make any promises to each other. Our business is politics, and we try to improve the relations between our countries, to create conditions for the citizens of our countries so that they can meet, develop relations, profit from mutual contacts, so the economy develops, cultural and academic ties develop, and so on. We have a structured state administration, some of which deals with foreign policy, some with the economy, some with issues of defence and security; and in each of these directions we hope to move ahead.
At the same time, I would like to say that for me the chairmanship of Italy is not connected to any figures or specific achievements. Something else is more important. If there is any European identity that exists, it is founded on the common values of European culture. And in this sense, Russia is undoubtedly a part of greater Europe. Our task is to move away from the divide that was placed between Russia with its enormous territory and large population, defence potential and scientific reserves, and the rest of Europe. This is a strategic task, a gradual strategic coming together. And in this sense, the chairmanship of Italy is extremely important for us, because Italy is our long-standing and reliable partner, and the head of the Italian government is a great friend of Russia. We expect that this tendency will not just be maintained, it will be strengthened. And this is the most important thing.
As for the “Moscow” cruiser, which I am supposed to have brought with me – I didn’t bring it here. Fortunately, our cruisers can move by themselves. Planes and rockets can also fly; and this is a planned visit, it coincided with my meeting with the Prime Minister here. But the fact that it is a planned visit is a very good sign. It shows that our cooperation is developing also outside the economic sphere, and incidentally, our political and economic contacts develop parallel to each other, unlike many other countries. One does not lag behind the other. But military-technical cooperation is also gradually moving in a positive direction. We developed a 21st century plane, the Yak-130, together. The Italians decided to make it a training plane, but in Russia it will not just be a training plane, it will be a plane of the front aviation. We work together in space, and we have planned joint naval training in 2004 in the Mediterranean, using the submarine and surface fleet. We also work together in this area. And it seems to me that this is a good sign.
Question: What do you expect from the Rome summit and the state visit to Italy? How do you assess the cultural cooperation of Russia and the European Union?
Vladimir Putin: I share Mr Berlusconi’s opinion. I only want to remind you of what he said. In this sense, the simple and noble task is to support everything that was developed by previous generations in former times. Our cultural relations have a very good base. Relations need to be developed further on this base. We have something to work on, and we will do this. It is no coincidence that a number of Italian cultural figures have orders of the Russian Federation, and a number of Russian cultural figures have state awards from Italy. It is not just a sign of attention; it is an acknowledgement of real services. Work is underway. It will continue in future. Our colleagues are here right now. I can see Mr Piotrovsky, the director of the State Hermitage Museum. Incidentally, he is the holder of an order from the Republic of Italy.
Question: I would like to return to the subject of Iraq. There is something that I would like to understand better. I would like to understand Russia’s position. Is it prepared to accept UN intervention under US command?
Vladimir Putin: We shouldn’t act like little children and arrange policies for someone or against someone. We like some people and dislike others. Someone will be the leader, and someone will be a subordinate. We should be ruled by other principles, we should look for solutions which will be realisable and which will lead to a positive result. We must look for solutions which will defuse the situation. What solutions can there be? There can only be solutions which satisfy the Iraqi people, the Islamic world and the Arab countries. This is fundamentally important. We must make all the participants in the process into allies. How can this be achieved? It can only be achieved if all the participants in the process, on whom the result will depend to a significant degree, I want to make this quite clear, not in words but in deeds, are convinced that the international community in the form of the United Nations takes part in deciding the fate of the Iraqi people. This organisation does not varnish the situation over. It does not hide anyone’s activity, but makes decisions on behalf of the international community. And these are decisions that are capable of solving as quickly and effectively as possible the sovereignty of the Iraqi people on their territory, their natural resources and their future. This is what we must work on, and these are the solutions that Russia supports.
Thank you once more for the invitation. I would like to say that I spent my short holiday in Siberia, and the weather there was very good. If the Prime Minister has problems with the weather in Sardinia, I invite him to take a holiday in Siberia next year. I’m sure he will like it.