President Vladimir Putin: Good afternoon, dear colleagues. First of all, I would like to pass on the greetings of Ukrainian President Leonid Danilovich Kuchma, with whom I parted just two hours ago. We also discussed issues of our cooperation in the Sea of Azov and Black Sea region. But today I would like to talk about the Black Sea—Sea of Azov basin in general and the military and diplomatic issues in this zone that is of such importance for Russia. Essentially, it is a zone of our strategic interests.
Our discussions today should take in a whole range of political-diplomatic and economic aspects. I must say that this is the first time we are holding such a comprehensive discussion. Many of those present here today were actively involved in work on the Caspian Sea, and progress has been made on that issue. Many problems that seemed insurmountable over many years have now been settled. But I must say that the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov are every bit as important to us as the Caspian Sea.
The Black Sea region is of particular geopolitical importance. For a start, it gives Russia direct access to major global transport routes, including energy routes. We saw evidence of this yesterday when visiting the port of Novorossiisk. The port is developing well, but there are many more sites that also warrant the state’s attention. The marine territory itself and the unique coast are important natural resources that are vital for the economic development of not just the southern region, but also of Russia as a whole. Finally, this is the region where the Black Sea Fleet, which is responsible for Russia’s security in the strategic southwest direction, is based.
First of all, I would like to look at the question of military-political stability in the region. Russia has played an active part in creating the necessary system of confidence-building measures and security in the Black Sea basin. An international naval rapid reaction group has been formed to carry out humanitarian operations – the first such example in world practice. The mutual business interests of the region’s countries create opportunities for broad economic integration and for carrying out large-scale infrastructure, transport and environmental projects. But there are still problems in the region linked to unresolved territorial issues. A number of local conflicts also still have yet to be fully settled. What’s more, the activities of terrorist groups, trans-national crime and illegal immigration are all a real challenge for the region.
I think that today’s meeting should focus on the following key points: First: careful and thorough work must be done on regulating the legal status of the region’s borders, above all this concerns the straits, and the legal aspects regarding the use of the water area and the resources of the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov. Coming back to my meeting today with the Ukrainian President, our goal needs to be to ensure that the Sea of Azov and the Black Sea serve to unite our countries and help build up cooperation with our neighbours. The conditions are in place for this, and our partners also have the desire and the opportunity to make this happen. All we need to do is make a determined and professional effort to find solutions to the problems that would be in Russia’s national interests and also would strengthen cooperation with our partners and neighbours. We need to find compromise solutions that suit all sides. The solutions should have a view to the future and form a good foundation for developing relations between our countries in the long term, so as to avoid any friction arising.
But the process of definitively regulating the legal status of the Sea of Azov and the Kerch Strait is proceeding with difficulty. I do know, though, that the diplomats have made considerable headway on this issue. What’s more, Turkey is unfortunately attempting to restrict passage for ships through the straits of the Bosphorus and the Dardanelles into the Sea of Marmara. This particularly concerns oil tankers. We spoke about this yesterday at the meeting in Novorossiisk. There are some objective reasons for these decisions, but our partners’ temptation to do a little squeezing out the competition and promote their own interests is also present. I think the Foreign Ministry should follow this matter closely and keep watch on what is going on in this area. There are certain agreements and documents that have been signed, and everyone should comply with them.
Of course, environmental issues are of great importance. But here, too, actions should be based on international law and on the documents relating to this area. No one should go beyond the limits set by these documents.
I ask the Russian Foreign Ministry and other relevant agencies to ensure effective legal and diplomatic protection of Russia’s political and economic interests, and to keep this matter under particular constant control.
Second, putting in place fully equipped land and sea borders with all the necessary infrastructure is another serious matter. Borders need to be properly equipped to protect our country and to help ensure normal development of Russia’s economic ties with the neighbouring states. I think that all the various aspects of this matter should be subject to a more detailed discussion at one of the Security Council meetings.
Third, a few words on priorities for work in the Black Sea Economic Cooperation Organisation. We need to make a close analysis of, not the formal, but the real advantages of our participation in this organisation. What we need is an analysis that gives us the figures and calculations. Then we can work out future tactics and strategy. For the moment, this organisation’s resources are not being used effectively enough. The very promising project of ferry links between the Black Sea states, for example, has yet to go ahead. Problems with practical implementation of agreements on fighting terrorism and organised crime are also holding up our attempts to coordinate our positions. I think we need to draw up and propose to the organisation a suitable and substantial agenda that would be in Russia’s interests. I would like to emphasise that if we do all the necessary on our side, this organisation could make a real contribution to increasing international cooperation in the region.
One final remark. A number of the issues we are set to discuss today are to do with the development of the Russian Black Sea Fleet. This includes modernising the Fleet and its bases, including in cooperation with Ukraine, our closest partner.
Regarding cooperation with Ukraine, we need to work out together the procedures for use by both our countries of the existing navigation-hydrographic safety system for shipping on the Sea of Azov and the Black Sea. The same goes for environmental safety measures. During my visits to Rostov Oblast and some parts of Krasnodar Krai, people were constantly raising this subject. Today these are matters of concern not just for specialists, but also for ordinary people. I propose that we discuss this today.