Vladimir Putin: Ladies and gentlemen,
The first thing I can say is that we have had a very useful exchange of views covering the whole spectrum of relations between Russia and the European Union. The President has just covered the whole of our today’s agenda.
Our discussions focused primarily on practical implementation of the agreements we reached in St Petersburg and the concrete steps we will need to take to form a common space – in the economic sphere, in internal and external security, science, education and culture.
The main outcome of this meeting is that Russia and the European Union are both ready to further their work together based on the principles of equal and mutually beneficial cooperation.
Today’s summit has been marked by the approval of a sizeable package of bilateral agreements. This includes a joint statement that sets out our common positions on a wide range of issues. We have approved the concept for a common economic space. Russia and its partners have reaffirmed their interest in developing a dialogue on energy and laying out common principles for cooperation in security. These agreements are reflected in the appendix to the joint statement. Today Russia and Europol signed an agreement, and you were witness to this signing. A document on renewing the agreement for cooperation in science and technology was also signed.
Cooperation in science and education is an important step towards building a united European knowledge-based economy. We had a detailed and wide-ranging discussion on the consequences of EU enlargement for Russia. It is important for us that our partners understand our views and concerns and are willing to settle these problems before the enlargement date of May 1, 2004. This will enable us to extend the scope of the partnership and cooperation agreement that we have to the new EU member states.
Overall, the agreements we have signed during this summit and the documents we have approved all reflect the desire of both sides to strengthen the legal and agreement framework for relations between Russia and the European Union.
We also looked at how to make the Russia-European Union cooperation bodies more effective in their work at all levels and we talked about the importance of organising a permanent partnership council, including at ministerial level.
In conclusion, I would like to once again express my satisfaction with the results of this summit and to thank our Italian friends for the warm and hospitable welcome they have given us and for providing us with such good conditions for our work.
Question: Russia recently announced plans to carry out economic transactions in euros. When will Russia start using the euro?
Vladimir Putin: Our colleagues are always raising this question. In general, we don’t have anything against the idea of using the euro in our transactions, including in the energy sector. But not everything depends on us. International trade in oil and petroleum products goes through exchanges, for example, and all operations are in US dollars. That is why I say that not everything depends on us. If our European colleagues can build the corresponding system, we would be willing to use the euro for oil and gas transactions, but this would require mutual efforts on both sides. I think that since not all players in the world economy have an interest in this, there would be certain difficulties, which, I repeat, do not depend on Russia alone.
Question: Following the arrest of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, there are concerns here that Russia is moving towards a dictatorial regime. This also goes for the human rights violations in Chechnya. Were these issues discussed at the summit and do Russia and the European Union have differences of opinion on these counts?
Vladimir Putin (adding to a reply by Silvio Berlusconi): This is the first time that we have such a good lawyer. During our discussions, our partners raised awkward questions regarding Chechnya, expressed doubts over our policies and demanded explanations on behalf of the entire European Union, and this includes the Italian Prime Minister Mr Berlusconi. But experience shows that serious change has taken place.
We gritted our teeth and kept our patience in the face of quite serious crimes aimed at disrupting the political regulation process in Chechnya. But we went ahead nonetheless with the referendum and held presidential elections there. I would like to emphasise that we are in contact with all the political forces in Chechnya, including with all the members of the former parliament who are all actively involved in political life.
Now we are moving towards signing an agreement on the division of powers between the federal authorities and the regional authorities in the Chechen Republic, and this agreement will give Chechnya broad autonomy. We are now preparing for elections to the Chechen parliament. All the deputies in the former parliament have expressed their desire to take part in these elections and to participate in the elections to the State Duma in December. We discussed this subject in the past and we have discussed it today, too. The one thing I would like to particularly draw your attention to is that human rights and their observance is one of the main challenges we face in the modern world. Since it affects the whole world, we need to find universal solutions to this challenge. We need to react to human rights violations everywhere, wherever they take place. I won’t go into any more detail here. I hope that you are well informed and will realise what I am referring to. There are many human rights problems in the world. Let us not get obsessed with just one region. We bear responsibility for what happens there and we accept this responsibility. As you can see, we are working. We are working to improve the situation and we are working on ourselves, including by acting on the remarks we have received from our colleagues. It is important to me that this process develops in a positive way in Russia.
Now, regarding Mr Khodorkovsky. This does not concern relations between Russia and the European Union. But since this issue interests you, and I understand that you have been indoctrinated to ask this question, I will answer it. In any Western European country it would be impossible to make billions of dollars in just 5–6 years, but maybe these people did make the money legally. Having made their billions, they spend tens, hundreds of millions of dollars to protect their billions. We know how this money is being spent – to which lawyers, PR campaigns and politicians it is going, and on getting questions like this asked. I can tell you that our colleagues have also brought up this subject today. They wanted to know if the YUKOS affair would mean any change in Russia’s economic and political life. I can tell you with complete responsibility that this is not the case. There are no plans of this kind. The action that has been taken is motivated solely by the need to bring order to the country, force all citizens to abide by the law and fight corruption. There are always two sides involved in corruption – the side that gives the money and the side that takes it. It is not clear yet who is more guilty. Incidentally, it is Western business that suffers the most in Russia as a result of this corruption because it has the least protection. It does not have representatives in Russia’s state power system and organisations. Russian business understands this problem overall and is becoming more and more patriotic now.
We have a problem and I would separate it into two aspects. The first aspect is thinking over what happened during the privatisation process at the beginning of the 1990s. People often say, ‘the laws were very complicated, so if we broke some of them, let’s just not talk about it”. And as for the other 145 million citizens of this country, let’s not even bother them with this subject, because it doesn’t concern them anyway. I doubt that any democratic state would be willing to accept such logic.
First, even if the laws were complicated and contradictory, that is not an excuse not to follow them. Second, the state should pay attention to cases when crimes against people, including murder, were committed during the process of dividing up state assets. Some of those arrested – and a whole group of people has been arrested – are suspected of having organised murders. Third, everyone should have to follow the laws in force today. No one today can be allowed to ignore the laws. Among the charges made against the people arrested is that they violated laws in recent years – in 1999 and in 2000. This has nothing to do with the privatisation process.
As for the privatisation process, despite all the difficulties and contradictions that accompanied it, we cannot go back over it now because the consequences would be even worse. But the public does have a right to know what is going on, and if something can be corrected, then this must be done publicly. Everyone should know what is happening, and for this we have appropriate procedures, we have the Parliament and the Government.
Finally, we see our work as a general fight against corruption. If you have paid attention you will have noticed that not only Mr Khodorkovsky has been arrested, but so have some of his colleagues. We have also arrested high-ranking officials from the Interior Ministry. Searches were carried out in the central offices of the Interior Ministry. Criminal investigations have been opened against some of the heads of the country’s regions. In the case of a former federal government minister, investigations have been completed and the case is now in the hands of the courts. The minister in question resigned from the Government in connection with the charges made against him.
These are just the cases that are in the public eye. Our aim is to bring order to the country, and we will do this with firmness and determination, and regardless of these persons’ attempts to defend themselves, including by using blackmail. There can be no chance of success in trying to blackmail the state power.