Question: What issues were on the agenda of your talks with Jacques Chirac, and did it seem to you that there have been any changes in the French President’s view on the Iraqi problem?
Vladimir Putin: There are no secrets at all. I will tell you in detail. I told the French President about the results of my talks in Rome with the European Union. France supports Russia in many areas of cooperation. And it was important for me to see once more that the position of the French leadership has not changed on these issues.
Then we talked about bilateral relations in the economic and political sphere, and also, of course, about international problems.
One of these problems is Iraq and the situation in the Middle East as a whole. We are concerned about the situation which is forming around Syria. The French President has his own opinion about this issue. We discussed this issue in considerable detail. As for Iraq, France’s position on this problem has not changed. The opinions of Russia and France coincide on this issue.
Question: What do you think, after your talks in Rome were you able to advance the discussion on economic problems here in Paris, problems that may arise in the light of the upcoming expansion of the European Union?
Vladimir Putin: This was one of the main topics of the talks in Rome, because, in our opinion, the restrictions that exist in the European Union – tariff restrictions, quotas and so on – do not apply in ten countries that are joining the European Union, but will be automatically applied to them thereafter. In our opinion, this will lead to a drop in Russian exports to these countries, and accordingly will damage our economic ties with Central and Eastern Europe. We showed this in figures. I should say that the EU experts did not agree with us, but they did understand our concern. We agreed to hold the necessary meetings at expert level in the near future, and we will calculate the possible losses with pencil in hand, as they say. If this is confirmed, if our opinion is proved correct, our European colleagues have agreed that it will be necessary to think about this issue together, and look for a way out of the situation.
Question: Yesterday, Mr Prodi said that the common goal is for Russia to join the WTO next year. Does this really mean there is progress in talks on key issues, such as energy dialogue, or is it a declarative statement?
Vladimir Putin: It is not a declarative statement. We believe that our European colleagues do want to achieve this result. At the same time, we will accept the conditions that we are offered only if they correspond to our interests. So far, we have not been able to reach a final agreement in the discussion process with the European Union on the parameters for Russia joining the WTO. But the discussion on this issue was very substantial, and I would say quite tough on both sides.
I think that it was very positive. We did not reach a final decision on solving the problem, but we felt that we had been heard, and our concerns were understood. Furthermore, there was quite a positive reaction.
We agreed with Mr Prodi that he would come to Moscow soon, and that we would continue this discussion.
Question: The European Commission expressed its disagreement with the opinions stated yesterday by Mr Berlusconi that there are still doubts on Chechnya and the “YUKOS affair”. What would you say to people who still express concern about these two issues?
Vladimir Putin: I already said everything yesterday at the news conference. I think it’s pointless to repeat the same thing ten times. It’s a waste of time. I talked about the YUKOS affair in detail yesterday.
As for Chechnya, I can say that I think the concerns which are being expressed now are made out of inertia, and are invented. If in other regions of the world there had been the same progress that we have seen in Chechnya, we could live much more peacefully than we feel today. We are in talks with all the political forces in Chechnya. I want to emphasise this: with everyone except terrorists.
Question: Is there a growing understanding in Europe about what Russia is doing in Chechnya and on the YUKOS affair?
Vladimir Putin: I think so, yes. We talked about this in considerable detail, and explained everything that is going on. Those who wanted to listen and understand have listened and understood. But it’s pointless to talk to those who don’t want to listen.
But in Europe, we don’t see people who don’t want to understand. It seems to us that dialogue is moving in quite a positive way that is understandable for both sides. Furthermore, we believe it is our duty to explain the realities of the events to our colleagues.
Question: Mr Putin, it seems that the pressure on the Kyoto Protocol was not very strong this time?
Vladimir Putin: No, that’s not quite true. The thing is – I will be frank – that our experts are concerned that ratifying the Kyoto Protocol may lead to certain problems that will restrict the economic growth of Russia.
If at the same time, an excessive burden is put on us in the discussion on Russia joining the WTO, such as in the energy dialogue, and if our natural advantages are restricted, which Russia has because of its energy resources, then of course, we are being pressured on both sides.
Quite naturally, we cannot agree with these policies, with this approach to Russia’s interests. This was said directly, and I think our European colleagues understand this. They treated our concerns with understanding.
Question: Three bilateral agreements have been signed on simplifying visa formalities, with Germany, Italy, and today with France. Why is the European Commission not taking any decisive steps on this issue? Does this mean that we will now make agreements with everyone bilaterally, or will there really be dialogue on visa matters with the European Union?
Vladimir Putin: You know, civil servants never do anything decisively. That’s what officials are. There’s nothing surprising about this. Civil servants are no better or worse, whether they’re international or national. They receive a salary, and not a percentage of the profits which do not exist. So there’s nothing surprising here at all.
But there is also another thing that is absent. I am quite sure of this. This concerns both the European Commission and individual countries of Europe. There is no desire to push Russia outside the bounds of Europe. We should keep within the realm of real life. Realities are realities. We understand the processes that are going in Europe. We support, incidentally, the integration processes in Europe, and want Europe to become a strong, independent centre in the world.
Naturally, we are concerned that during this unification, damage may be done to Russia’s relations with European countries. We are looking at different ways to tackle these problems. The visa issue is a serious problem that affects millions of people.
Gradual steps need to be made. We need to understand where we are going, to make plans, and do today what we can do today. Today we can decide problems on a bilateral basis, without putting them off, for young people, for businessmen, for politicians, and for other categories of citizens. If this can be done today on a bilateral basis, then it needs to be done today. And we are very grateful to our colleagues from Germany, France and Italy.
There are also offers from other countries that are prepared to make these positive steps. We will take this path today. And at the same time we will talk with the European Union on Russia’s full entry into the visa-free zone.