Vladimir Putin: Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen. I am very pleased to have met once again with the Serbian Prime Minister, Mr Kostunica. I very much hope this visit will mark a new stage in furthering the traditionally friendly and constructive dialogue between Russia and Serbia. We value highly the results of these consultations and we note that the partnership between Russia and the State Community of Serbia and Montenegro has gained in substance and become more dynamic over recent years. This is true of all areas in which we cooperate, of our political, economic and humanitarian ties.
Russia has traditionally been one of Serbia’s biggest trading and economic partners and I am very pleased to note we still have excellent prospects today and that our trade is growing. Trade between our countries reached almost $1.5 billion in 2003, taking into account the construction contracts that Serbian and Montenegrin organisations carried out on Russian territory. We also have excellent prospects in the fuel and energy, banking and investment sectors.
We looked in depth at the situation in Kosovo during our discussions on key international issues. We, like Serbia, are concerned about the situation that has developed in the region. The recent outbreak of violence provoked by extremists shows that many crucial issues remain unresolved. Above all, this concerns guaranteeing the safety of the non-Albanian population and observing basic human rights and freedoms. The signals of concern coming from Russia have not yet met with understanding and an adequate response from all parties involved in the settlement process. I agree, of course, with those who consider that this situation jeopardises all the previously reached agreements on Kosovo. I think the international community should take more decisive measures to settle the situation in Kosovo based on United Nations Security Council Resolution 12/44. The Serbian Prime Minister spoke in detail about the political situation in the republic and about the prospects for the Serbian-Montenegrin community. Russia is interested in developing its relations with Serbia and Montenegro and we will provide every possible assistance in strengthening the community’s positions in Europe and world.
In conclusion I would like to emphasise what seems evident: the partnership between Russia and Serbia is solidly rooted in deep historic and spiritual traditions and a longstanding, successful experience of cooperation. We firmly believe that our ties will continue to strengthen and grow. Thank you for your attention.
Vojislav Kostunica: Ladies and gentlemen, it gives me pleasure to say that this was my third meeting with Mr President, and I think this meeting will help us continue to develop our economic and trade ties and other forms of cooperation. I informed President Putin about the situation in the State Community of Serbia and Montenegro, the situation in Kosovo, and, of course, about the processes that are beginning in Serbia – our plan to strengthen our institutions, introduce new laws, ensure an independent judicial system and come down hard on corruption. Knowledge of the laws and a firm stand against corruption are essential for attracting foreign investment, including investment by Russian companies. We also discussed Serbia’s and Montenegro’s debts to Russia and came to the conclusion that settling these questions should not entail simply payment of these debts but should also give impetus for further development of the economic and trade ties between our countries. Serbia, Montenegro and Russia all have an interest in developing various forms of cooperation, including economic and banking cooperation. I can also say that our two countries had a very good level of military-technical cooperation. We discussed the visit of a Serbian ministerial-level delegation to Russia in the second half of June and the possibility of then holding a meeting on military-technical cooperation. We also discussed the question of stepping up the intergovernmental commission’s work. As for the issue of Kosovo and Metohija, President Putin assured us that the Russian Federation will take part in the settlement process through the contact group. What I can say now is that our talks here were very important, especially regarding trade and economic cooperation.
Question: My question is both for the Russian President and the Serbian Prime Minister. You have just described the situation in Kosovo as being difficult. What turn do you see events taking there? Can the UN Security Council resolution be of any help? Looking back now, how do you view NATO’s actions in forcing a change of regime in Yugoslavia? What are the prospects for Russian-Serbian cooperation and for rebuilding the damaged energy and transport infrastructure and other facilities in Serbia?
Vladimir Putin: You have not just one question but a whole lot of questions. Regarding Kosovo, I firmly believe that the situation there can be settled only if the international community takes a more active stand, becomes aware of the reality of events taking place there and acts more decisively and firmly against extremism. As for Russia helping to rebuild the Serbian economy, there are several areas and ways in which we can participate in this work. The first and most natural way is for our companies to take part in Serbia’s economic life, but not on a discriminatory basis. We already have some good examples here and we will encourage our business community to work in Serbia and Montenegro.
Regarding the damage inflicted on the Serbian economy by military action and bombing, I personally think that those who destroyed facilities and infrastructure in Serbia and Montenegro should contribute funds to rebuild them. It was one thing to destroy them, but now they don’t want to rebuild them. The bridges in Belgrade across the Danube are still not repaired and this is causing losses for all European transport companies. Russia is ready to take part in the international community’s efforts to resolve humanitarian issues.
As for our views on attempts to bring about political change within this or that country through the use of force, we have already made our position clear: we categorically oppose such a policy. We oppose this policy no matter what the motives guiding it. As we all know, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Moreover, I firmly believe that if the international community had had the strength and the courage to prevent the bombing of Belgrade back then, we would not be facing such a difficult situation in Iraq today. The situation there would be completely different in nature.
Vojislav Kostunica: Looking at Kosovo and Metohija and resolution 12/44 in general, which gives a framework for settlement in Kosovo, we must realise that Kosovo’s Serb and Albanian communities need to see real and tangible steps taken. We believe, and I spoke to President Putin about this, that the Serbian government plan for a political solution in Kosovo opens the way for just such steps. Of course, we do not insist that this plan be adopted exactly in its current form, but we think it provides an initial basis for finding a long-term solution to the Kosovo problem. And as President Putin said, we also need real protection and real security guarantees for the Serbs living in Kosovo. As for our trade and economic ties, I would like to add that Serbia is interested in attracting Russian companies to our country and this will happen without any kind of discrimination. Regarding the 1999 bombings, we often forget about them now and it was good that Mr Putin mentioned them. These bombings constituted an intervention that did no good and caused only great damage. And, so as not to spend too long on this subject, I will say only that the failure of this unsuccessful intervention was reflected in what happened on March 17 this year, and not only on March 17 but also the events that led up to it.
Question: What is your opinion of the Serbian government plan for political settlement in Kosovo, and what can Russia do specifically to help approve and implement this plan?
Vladimir Putin: Our view is positive overall. Of course, what we are looking at here is a framework proposal. We realise that it needs to be worked through with all the parties involved in the process, with the international community and with the people in Kosovo. As a rule, the most effective solutions in these kinds of situations tend to be the result of a compromise. But I think that the Serbian proposals do provide a good basis for work.
What can Russia do? Russia will continue to take an active part in the work of all the international organisations involved in settlement today. If we come up with a solution together that we think has a genuine chance of achieving a real settlement, then we are ready to increase our involvement in this work considerably. But I emphasise that this will be possible only if Russia sees and is convinced that we are needed, that the solutions adopted are done so with our participation and that we think they really can bring about a settlement.
We withdrew our military contingent from Kosovo not because we are indifferent to what happens there, but because our military contingent’s presence there did not solve anything, did not have any influence on the situation, and so it seemed senseless to remain there. We did not want to simply provide cover for changes in Kosovo that we see as moving in a mistaken direction. I do not think that our military contingent could have done anything to prevent the recent outbreak of violence had it remained there, and we would then have carried the responsibility for this. This, I think, is unacceptable for Russia. But I repeat that we will continue our participation in work on achieving a settlement and we will not only take part but also, if the conditions are right, will become more actively involved.