Question: The document on setting up the Common Economic Space is of a framework nature and provides for a multilevel and multi-speed integration. Ukraine, for example, planned to sign the document with certain reservations. Does this live up to what you had hoped for, and doesn’t this document risk having the same fate as previous agreements reached within the CIS framework but still only existing on paper?
President Vladimir Putin: Specialists worked on this document for several months. It was Kazakhstan that initiated this idea of a Common Economic Space. I must say that Kazakhstan has shown great determination to resolve the problems that our economies face on the road to integration, and we should be grateful to Kazakhstan for this. I don’t think this is just a general document. Yes, the agreements are to a large extent of a framework nature, but they form a solid foundation for helping us resolve our economic problems together. I’ve seen the comments made by political figures, economists and diplomats. Unfortunately, there is an almost complete absence of professional comments on these matters. I get the impression that the people speaking out on the issue have either not read the documents at all, or have only given them a quick glance. Often comments come from people motivated only by short-term political speculation rather than considering the national interests of their countries. It is my firm conviction that we need these documents, and that have been carefully drawn up and correspond to today’s level of integration.
Why have we decided to take this step? Because the limits of the original CIS framework do not fully take into account our countries’ varying possibilities to further the integration processes.
What is the aim of the documents that we signed today? I would like to point out that these documents are aimed exclusively at economic cooperation. They are about lowering the infrastructure burden in the production, transport and sale of industrial and agricultural goods. Ultimately, this should make our goods more competitive on world markets. What these documents set out to do is to make it easier for producers and market players to work with each other throughout the territory of our four countries. At the same time, we have taken into account the economic and political particularities of each of the signatory countries, including Ukraine.
The documents reflect these particularities. We decided to adopt this multilevel approach to integration, keeping in mind that the principles behind it will be the same for all of us. Russia is happy with the quality of the documents, and is pleased that they were signed today. As for the reservations that were mentioned, we discussed this before the signature took place. The Ukrainian President informed us about this. Essentially, this removes nothing of the agreement’s substance. The point of the matter was that these documents we signed should not contradict the Ukrainian Constitution. As for whether they contradict the Constitutions of Kazakhstan and Belarus, the Presidents of these countries can give their own views. I doubt that there are any contradictions.
Question: We have learned that the Council has approved a declaration on the problem of Abkhazia. Could you say something about that please?
Vladimir Putin: Abkhazia is one of the most serious problems in the post-Soviet area. We all want this and similar problems to find a just solution based on international law and on the real circumstances in which we live. We want fair solutions that would be for the good of all the peoples living on the territory of regions in a state of conflict. Russia, like the other CIS countries, supported the Georgian President’s initiative to adopt this document that reminds of the problem itself and the principles for its regulation.
Question: Would you say there was more economics or politics at the summit? We’ve heard here about what the politicians and the commentators have to say about the creation of the Common Economic Space, but what do the populations of the four countries concerned think about it?
Vladimir Putin: I think in the end there was more economics, although we did also devote a lot of time to questions of political cooperation. For Russia it is important in this respect that our colleagues have agreed to send observers to the elections to the State Duma and to the presidential elections in Chechnya. We also discussed regulation of the situation in Abkhazia and approved a corresponding document.
I think that the Deputy Secretary General of the United Nations made a very interesting statement on fighting drugs. This was the first time, thanks to the Ukrainian President, who is currently chairing the Council, that the UN was represented in this way here. We always worked with the UN, but we did not have this sort of direct dialogue. I found it very interesting to learn that the head of the anti-drugs department went to Afghanistan, met with the commanders and went to the villages to meet with the people who actually grow the opium poppies. It must be said that the UN’s staff are very professional and courageous in their work, and we are keen to develop these kinds of contacts. This is very important for our countries.
As for free trade zones, I think they are a possibility, even given the plans of some countries to join the World Trade Organisation. But our position is clear: free trade zones are possible if they take into account the interests of the parties to the agreement, but this can be reached as a result of corresponding reservations and withdrawal from the free trade regime.
Concerning what our public thinks about these decisions to create a Common Economic Space, in Russia, the overwhelming majority, more than 90 percent, is in favour, in Ukraine there is 70 percent in favour, in Belarus – 90 percent, and I think the figure is the same in Kazakhstan. So we are not just convinced on a professional level that this is the right step to take, we are also carrying out the will of our peoples.
Question: It was the provision about creating a supranational body that led to the political discussions in the Ukrainian parliament that turned so heated. Many people said that through the economy this could lead to a loss of some of Ukraine’s state authority and even result in the revival of the Soviet Union. What do you think of this? What certainty do you have that the plan to create a free trade zone will go ahead, including with other CIS countries?
Vladimir Putin: I don’t think that creating a regulatory body can revive the Soviet Union. That is complete and utter nonsense. It’s just absurd. People don’t understand what they’re talking about. It makes you want to ask, “Did you really understand yourself what you just said then?” I don’t think they do understand. The Soviet Union is a very complicated page in the history of our peoples. It was heroic and constructive, and it was also tragic. But it is a page that has been turned. It’s over, the boat has sailed. Now we need to think about the present and the future of our peoples. If we take a responsible approach to this, we will be able to harvest all that was good in the legacy left us by the previous generations. They did a lot so that we could live today and bring up our children tomorrow. You can’t just sweep everything aside. The generations that went before us achieved a great deal, and we now have to take this legacy and handle it with care and professionalism. This is precisely the objective behind our work on creating a Common Economic Space, which aims above all at developing our countries’ economies.
In accordance with Ukraine’s position, we are not speaking of creating supranational bodies. We have chosen different terminology – regulatory bodies. Today in Ukraine, in Russia and the other CIS countries, we are all talking a lot about European integration and being oriented toward the European Union. Why is this? It’s because the economy there is performing decently and people there live well. And we want the same for ourselves. But over there, people are making responsible decisions rather than going in for political speculation. Over there, they decided to create supranational regulatory bodies, signed the Treaty of Rome and got to work, casting aside their own ambitions. Here, meanwhile, we still have people ready to speculate on this subject. We need to take a realistic and pragmatic look at what is going on in the world and in our countries and move ahead. We have all we need to do this, and we are determined to do it.