Vladimir Putin (following Leonid Kuchma’s statement):
Leonid Danilovich said virtually everything, but I would like to reiterate a few things.
I shall start with the main point – the signing of the Treaty on Co-operation in the Use of the Sea of Azov and the Kerch Strait. This document creates a basis for further work on all aspects of Russo-Ukrainian interaction in this region.
Moreover, we adopted a joint declaration on the Sea of Azov and the Kerch Strait. It establishes the positions on which our countries have no differences.
Of course, we shall not rest on our laurels, as we still have work to do. In my view, we now have a very good basis for this work. Furthermore, a constructive atmosphere has been created for a start to equal interaction and co-operation in the Azov-Kerch waters. We intend to develop it energetically, while strictly observing the balance of interests of both countries.
We also discussed today a series of issues about Russia’s economic integration with Ukraine, Belarus and Kazakhstan. In particular, a number of basic measures to form a single economic space were agreed upon and adopted. This document, which was prepared by a high-level group, contains specific areas for future joint work, including customs and tariff policies, the natural monopolies and transit, as well as taxation and the service sector.
I would like to remind you once more: these measures aim to improve our economies and raise their competitive level. We are convinced that it is important not to slacken our efforts. Therefore, Leonid Danilovich and I availed of this opportunity to sign joint instructions from the presidents to the four governments to start implementing the provisions contained in the basic measures. The presidents of Kazakhstan and Belarus, as we agreed, will sign the instructions in working order. Leonid Danilovich and I have just spoken to the President of Belarus and he confirmed that he was in favour of this document. The President of Belarus will sign it in the near future.
(In reply to a remark made by Leonid Kuchma): I also spoke to Nursultan Abishevich Nazarbayev. He is ready and is waiting for this document. Now that we have signed the document, Belarus and Kazakhstan, respectively, will follow suit. We were the first to sign it simply because our working plans allowed us to do so; we met to discuss other issues concerned with the Azov-Kerch waters.
In conclusion, I would like to point out that we have made serious headway towards the goals set out in Yalta. I am certain that if the document adopted today is implemented successfully, our integration model will become a good example for other Commonwealth partners.
Question: A question to both presidents. Has the problem of the Azov-Kerch waters been solved completely?
Vladimir Putin: As to the Kerch Strait and the Sea of Azov, Russia is faced with three main tasks. The first is to guarantee free passage for Russian and Ukrainian merchant and naval vessels through the Kerch Strait. Conditions have to be created to guarantee free passage. This is the first task.
The second task is to guarantee free navigation in the Sea of Azov for both countries’ ships.
The third task is to approve the internal nature of these waters for both Russia and Ukraine and to create a situation in which a third country’s naval ships can only sail in the Sea of Azov with the permission of both parties, Ukraine and Russia. This is the essence of the agreement laid down in the Treaty. In case Russia invites third countries’ naval ships to enter the Sea of Azov, it has to obtain Ukraine’s agreement. The same applies to Ukraine, if it invites naval vessels of third countries to sail in the Sea of Azov. So much for the agreement on naval ships of third countries.
And, finally, there is a fourth, no less important task – to defuse the situation and make it mutually acceptable. This means creating a good basis for developing inter-state relations in general, eliminating all the tense moments in our relations, if they do appear, and creating favourable conditions for co-operation and a normal life for people in this very important region of the Azov-Black Sea basin.
In my view, a good basis for solving these problems has been laid. We agreed, and this is obvious from the text of the Treaty itself, that the future settlement of the Sea of Azov issues will be decided in a separate agreement. Experts have to do more work on this score. We shall speak about the Kerch Strait separately.
However, I repeat, the basic principles have been laid down in the Treaty. These principles are acceptable for both countries and meet our national interests – the interests of Russia, and, as experts and senior state figures in the person of the President of Ukraine have confirmed, the national interests of Ukraine. In this sense, in my view, major and positive work has been done.
Question: How is co-operation advancing in the development of the gas consortium?
Vladimir Putin: We did not consider this issue today. Work is continuing in good order. So far we have not seen any alarming signals whatsoever with regard to our joint work in this sphere.