Vladimir Putin: I would like first of all to say I am satisfied with the results of our discussion. They were further confirmation that the dialogue between Russia and the Italian Republic is active and rich.
Regular meetings have become an integral part of effectively developing bilateral relations.
Today, key Ministers of both Governments took part in high-level talks. This is the second time a meeting of this kind has been held. And this approach, as we see, gives our relations a new impetus and quality. I believe that the work of the Ministers present here deserves the highest estimation.
I agree with the Prime Minister, that if today we can see very good results of our joint work, this is because today’s meeting and talks were well prepared by our experts.
The results of the meeting have been reflected in the Joint Statement on Bilateral Cooperation and in the whole set of documents signed today.
We positively assess the prospects of our economic interaction. This fact only confirms that cooperation in this area can and should get a “second wind”. New major projects – above all in energy and high-technology areas – move the emphasis in our ties from the already customary trade dialogue to investment projects.
Good prospects are opening up in the gas industry, which will make it possible to ensure further growth of deliveries of Russian energy resources to Italy. I want to note that during the intensive, but very constructive dialogue between Italy and Russia, and the European Commission the Russian side has changed the quality of its relations with its Western European partners. We have given an Italian company the right to export Russian gas to third countries. We proceed from the prospects of liberalising the market, and organise joint work on providing energy resources to the European economy.
I can also name promising initiatives in the aerospace industry, in the sphere of information and communication technologies, and in the sphere of military and technical cooperation.
We attach great importance to the creation of “industrial districts” on Russian territory – this is the initiative of the Italian Prime Minister. Many Russian regions are already prepared to provide special conditions for the development of small and middle-sized Italian business.
Currently, a presentation of the North Western Federal District is being held in Milan, along with the multi-industrial combined exhibition, “St Petersburg’s 300th Anniversary: Russia Open to the World”. This year, similar presentations have already been held by the Siberian Federal District and the Sverdlovsk Region. We believe that interregional cooperation requires active support at government level. It contains an enormous resource of growth in our relations.
On the eve of the Russia-EU summit, we highly value our interaction during the period of Italy’s chairmanship of the European Union, and we expect that it will be possible to extend the positive atmosphere of Russian-Italian relations to the entire complex of relations between Russia and the European Union.
Recently at our meetings, we have regularly discussed the topic of the visa regime. I must say that we rate highly the position of the Italian leadership on this issue. And we have agreed to introduce simplified visa procedures soon – today we signed relevant agreements on this issue. I expect that these agreements will be an important step towards achieving a visa-free regime between Russia and the EU.
A topic of separate discussion was the state and prospects of our relations in the humanitarian sphere. I think that the agreements reached will significantly further our cooperation in the sphere of education, culture and science.
And finally, we held a constructive dialogue on a number of the most serious global problems – the war on terrorism, opposing the threat of proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and supporting stability in the world. We talked about the Middle East, Iraq and Iran. We also talked about the central role of the United Nations in the new conditions. I am certain that this close interaction between Russia and Italy is becoming an increasingly important factor not just in European affairs, but in international affairs as well.
I would like to thank the Prime Minister for the very relaxed and friendly atmosphere in which our work proceeded today.
Question: Mr Putin, my question is not about your visit. Today it was reported that the Ministry of Natural Resources may revoke YUKOS’ s mining license. Can you confirm this?
Vladimir Putin: Firstly, I would like to say a few words about what the Prime Minister said. Italy is our second partner after Germany. But we are not just talking today about deepening and expanding our cooperation with Italy, we are talking about a new quality, a new dimension and a second wind.
As concerns the realisation of the Prime Minster’s ideas about Italian small and middle-sized business joining Russia’s economy, I am sure that this result will be reached quite quickly.
Now for the possible revocation of YUKOS’s license. I found out about it 10 minutes ago, so it’s hard for me to comment on this yet. But my reaction is as follows: The Russian Ministry of Natural Resources constantly monitors how mining companies carry out and realise relevant agreements on mining and the mining licenses received from the state. This activity should take place all the time, and the reaction should be swift. And it should not be connected with a specific criminal case. At any rate, we know that the General Prosecutor’s Office has arrested a certain package of shares of this company. Many specialists expressed their doubts that this step was advisable. But in any case there is some judicial logic in the actions of the Prosecutor’s Office, if we are talking about the necessity of ensuring the interests of the state in the civil process. As for the possibility of revoking the company’s license, I am extremely doubtful that such steps are advisable. Because it looks like this: one state structure arrests shares, another revokes a license on the basis of this. One gets the impression that the state’s goal is to put a stop to the activity of this company. The state cannot and should not set itself a goal of this kind. The state can only set itself one goal – to establish order in implementing existing legislation. I expect that the Government will refrain from making such steps.
Question: Mr President, I would like to ask what options there are for starting the restoration process in Iraq and participating in this process to restore peace there?
Vladimir Putin: I think that to solve the problem in Iraq – and solve it quickly – everything must be done to transfer all the power in the country to the Iraqi people themselves, so that the Iraqi people are given back the sovereignty of their own country. Only after this can we say that conditions will be created under which Iraqi society will sincerely cooperate with the international community to establish order in their own country. Until then, until we create these conditions, this will give fuel to all kinds of destructive elements and terrorists. They, of course, will exploit this situation, when the situation in Iraq is controlled by occupying forces, and resistance will grow. The way to do this, in my opinion, is clear: we have a good example of cooperation on Afghanistan. Our American partners have done a great deal there, and a great deal was done there thanks to the tough and consistent position of the US President.
As for our possible participation in the restoration of Iraq, we are ready for this work. At the current stage, it may consist of active and wide participation of our companies in the work connected with restoring objects of infrastructure and industry in Iraq. We have a big positive experience in this area. Our specialists are regarded there as friends and partners. For them, I am sure, a good atmosphere will be created for joint work with Iraqi specialists.
As for any cash injections or the participation of the armed forces, appropriate conditions should be created for this. We helped to pass the last UN resolution on Iraq in order to avoid any contradictions in the international community’s position on this issue. We hope that this is a step in the right direction. But for full financial or military participation, there are not yet sufficient conditions. You know our position: we were categorically opposed to resolving the Iraqi problem by military means. Nevertheless, this took place. And it would be foolish now on our part to send our soldiers there and put their lives in danger. That’s how I’d like to put it: we’re not that foolish.
We were against it, and everything was done against our will. May God help them, we won’t interfere. We will help and cooperate. We want for everything to be done as quickly as possible. But at the moment, at the present stage, there are certain restrictions for us. We do not rule out the possibility that we will expand our participation there. For us, there is nothing new in the situation when Russia uses its armed forces in the framework of UN peace-keeping operations. We, perhaps, will at this stage also approach our joint work in this format. But the necessary conditions should be created for this.
Question: I have a question that is not exactly about politics. You often meet with Silvio Berlusconi. Your families are literally friends. What links you besides politics? How do you feel about each other?
Vladimir Putin: You know, it is very interesting for me to meet with almost all my colleagues in all the countries in the world, including in Europe, but what sets the Italian Prime Minister apart is that he is a very down-to-earth and practical person. He always knows what he wants. He clearly and precisely outlines Italy’s interests. He listens, takes note and reacts to his colleagues’ interests during discussions. And if we agree to something, he also keeps to this agreement. In this sense, he is a very reliable partner.
Question: President Putin, I would like to ask you: are the efforts of the West sufficient for the war on terrorism in Chechnya?
Vladimir Putin: Of course, a court and a prosecutor’s office are not places which give awards, certificates, orders, medals and cash prizes. The prosecutor’s position is that cash prizes have already been received, and it is necessary to find out whether they were received legally. For us, the most important thing is that all citizens of Russia, regardless of their official position or financial situation, are equal before the law. There should not be a group of people who use the excuse of certain difficulties and think that they should and can live outside the bounds of existing legislation. If there are some problems with the law, then let us make amendments and change it. But this should be done publicly, through the parliament of the country, with the knowledge of society. Society should agree with a decision. Until this happens, everyone has to obey the law. This is the most important thing. For me, the most important matter is the activities of the law-enforcement bodies, which in all their manifestations and actions should remain within the bounds of the laws of the Russian Federation. This is the most important thing. As long as the law-enforcement bodies act within the bounds of the law, they are right. As soon as they step outside these bounds, there should be an appropriate reaction, including on the President’s part as the guarantor of the Constitution.
I don’t believe that I should keep away from this activity in this sense. But I should establish a line beyond which I believe I am right to intervene. As long as there are no such violations, there are no grounds to intervene. The most important thing is not to allow a repetition of the Soviet period in non-judicial and non-procedural verdicts of criminal cases. This would be a huge mistake.
As for the participation of our European partners in solving the Chechen problem, you asked whether the West was doing enough to make sure the conflict in Chechnya ends as quickly as possible. I will allow myself to make a very gentle and critical remark. I think that it is not doing enough. Furthermore, I have the impression that certain political forces are trying to use the problem of Chechnya as a means of pressure on Russia, in order to achieve preferences and advantages in relation to Russia.
The actions of Al-Qaeda, for example, are considered criminal, but no one notices the actions of Al-Qaeda in Chechnya. We held a referendum on the Constitution of the Chechen Republic, and over 80% of the population of Chechnya came to vote. We held presidential elections in the Chechen Republic, and the turnout was greater than we even see in certain regions of the Russian Federation.
The former parliament of Chechnya, which we did not acknowledge de jure, held an impeachment of Mr Maskhadov. We are in contact with all the political forces of Chechnya, apart from terrorists and terrorist organisations. No one seems to see this. We now say that we are ready to sign an agreement with Chechnya on delimiting powers, giving it wide autonomous rights. And no one notices this. We say that we will help Chechnya elect a parliament in the near future. And no one seems to hear this. We see this is a sign of non-partner relations towards Russia in this area. This does not apply to many countries in Europe, including Italy, although Italy has always been critical of what is happening there. The Prime Minister always asked me awkward questions, and I thought that he was right to ask such questions. I informed him in detail about this.
I know that European organisations believe that everything is bad in Chechnya. But they should have come to the elections and said: we aren’t happy with this, and this and this. This is wrong, that is wrong, and there are mistakes here. But they didn’t come at all. Did anyone come to the elections? Were there international organisations there or not? There were. The League of Arab Nations and the Organisation of the Islamic Conference. They came and looked, were present at each polling station, held checks and made their conclusions. One gets the impression that some people want to be more Muslim than the Muslims themselves. I think that this is an unprincipled approach to this serious problem, to which we are all interested in finding a solution.
And in conclusion I would like to say the following: if we want to fight positively against terrorism, then we must understand – if we allow it to appear in one place, it will appear in another. We need to achieve the unity of the international community on this very important contemporary problem – the war on terrorism.