Question: You have spent the last four days working on questions regarding the Black Sea and Azov Sea regions. Why is this?
Vladimir Putin: It is linked to the need to sort out the country’s problems, including this region’s problems. This is a region of utmost importance for Russia. I already spoke about how this is the only part of our country that has a warm sea. This region gives us immensely important maritime links to our main partners in Europe. It is a very complex region in its national, ethnic and religious makeup. Unfortunately, in the south of our country not all conflicts have yet been settled.
There is also the problem of Chechnya, which is not far from here. We have not yet settled all border area issues with our closest partners and strategic allies. We still have not resolved the matter of our land border with Ukraine. Our respective Foreign Ministries still have not completed work on the Azov Sea. We still have a lot of issues regarding transport of our energy resources and the stationing of our Armed Forces in this region. In short, there is still a whole range of major problems to work on.
I must say frankly that we have not taken a systematic approach to settling these problems for a long time. For a long time our various ministries and agencies concentrated their efforts on settling the main issues regarding the Caspian Sea. I think that now the time has come to focus our attention on the Black Sea-Azov Sea region’s problems. This is why we held this meeting today. The outcome of it is that I have signed a work programme for the various ministries and agencies for resolving the problems that we discussed today and addressing the objectives that we were here to work on today.
Question: You flew along the coast. Did you notice anything new, anything you did not know about earlier?
Vladimir Putin: Yes. The Novorossiisk port is developing quite well. That is pleasing to see. We also discussed that, and I signed another document today on creating a base for the Black Sea Fleet in Novorossiisk. This does not at all mean that we intend to abandon the main Black Sea Fleet base at Sevastopol. All it means is that we should have various options for basing our fleet, which has a range of different missions. We will also have a naval presence in Novorossiisk. We talked today about strengthening the state border and creating the corresponding system that would enable this. The main tasks in this area will be completed in 2004, and by 2006 we will have completely covered the border from the Caspian Sea to the Black Sea.