Question: Nursultan Abishevich [Nazarbayev], could you please say when we can expect to see the practical creation of the hydroelectricity consortium and when the hydroelectric power station will begin operation?
President of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbayev: Central Asian cooperation goes back longer than 10 years, but we only organised the Central Asian Cooperation Organisation a few years ago. All these years we have talked about how all our countries live along these two rivers and use their waters. All of our countries are linked by their energy systems. Most important of all is that, if our region, Central Asia, Kazakhstan, with a population of 50 million people, unites, it would form a self-sufficient market. This region produces enough to feed everyone and it has enough energy resources to provide its entire population, all 50 million people, with oil, gas and coal, with whatever they need. And the transport routes cross all of our countries; we are all transit routes. If goods are going south, they cross Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan, and if they are going north they cross Kazakhstan. These are issues we must deal with, for we cannot move forward without first resolving these problems. This is a temporary desire. But because we ourselves could not find the way forward, there was a proposal to bring in the international financial institutions. As I have already said, we turned to the World Bank, the Asian Bank, the Islamic Bank, and asked all these specialists to study the situation and draw up a concept for us. Now this has been done and we have instructed our government to draw up agreements, normal agreements on setting up the consortium, covering everything from the analytical side of things to the creation of the transport consortium and how it will function, and the same for the energy consortium. In other words, we must settle transport and tariff questions. We must settle the question of ensuring a normal energy supply to all these regions. Once we settle all these contentious issues we will all be able to benefit from using cheap hydroelectricity from the Amu Darya and Syr Darya Rivers. I have already been proposing for a long time that we can build these hydroelectric power stations together. Again, we would have to study all the aspects, what we need or don’t need, the effectiveness, the mutual benefits for all the countries concerned. This is the next step towards settling these issues. Perhaps the question of building new rail and road links and expanding airports will arise. The same could go for building new oil and gas pipelines to ensure our supplies. In other words, this is a major undertaking with far-reaching prospects.
Question: Mr President of Russia, in your opinion, what is behind the intensification of combats in Iraq, and how will it affect the outcome of the presidential elections in the United States? Also, which candidate is better for you, Bush or Kerry? The next question is for the President of Kyrgyzstan. How will the Central Asian Cooperation Organisation change, in your opinion, after Russia joins.
President of Russia Vladimir Putin: We spent a lot of time discussing the fight against terrorism today. As for events in Iraq, everyone knows that Russia was always against military action there. Today our views still differ considerably from those of President Bush on this point. So, everything that I have to say on this subject will be the point of view of someone from the other camp.
My views are the views of someone who does not share President Bush’s position with regard to Iraq. At the same time, however, any objective observer can see that the increased activity by international terrorist organisations in Iraq at the moment – and no one disputes that international terrorism is present in Iraq, especially after the senseless and cruel murders of civilians, innocent people, and the bombing of Christian churches and other apparently senseless crimes – these attacks by international terrorism in Iraq are directed today not only and even not so much against the international coalition forces as against President Bush personally. International terrorism has set itself the goal of causing as much damage to Bush during the election campaign as it can. International terrorism aims to try to prevent Bush’s re-election as President of the United States. If they achieve this aim, they will, of course, celebrate their victory. They would be celebrating a tactical victory, but a nonetheless important victory for them over the United States, and over the international anti-terrorist coalition to an extent, given the considerable role the United States plays in this coalition. We have to understand that this would give international terrorism an added boost to their activities, would give them renewed strength and could lead to an increase in their activities in various parts of the world.
But, even with this in mind, we know that when American voters come to decide whom to entrust the leadership of their country for the next four years, they will cast their votes based on a lot more than just the situation in Iraq. We understand this and will certainly respect any choice the American people makes. At the same time, we should also keep in mind what I said before and not lose sight of reality. We must be prepared for any development of events.
President of Kyrgyzstan Askar Akayev (adding to Vladimir Putin’s remarks): I already said that Russia’s entry to the Central Asian Cooperation Organisation will be a significant new factor in activating and intensifying the integration processes in Central Asian cooperation. I want to add that I also think that Russia’s participation in the Central Asian Cooperation Organisation will give our cooperation new substance, and in particular will lead to more active participation by Russian capital, Russian investment in developing the economic potential of the Central Asian Cooperation Organisation countries. We were just talking about consortiums, for example, a hydroelectricity consortium, transport consortium, foodstuffs consortium. I firmly believe that Russia’s entry will encourage the investment process that will not only boost trade between our countries but will help develop our overall potential. Russia has already announced construction plans, for example. It has announced that it will help build the hydroelectric power station in Tajikistan. Russia and Kazakhstan have both stated that they will invest in the construction of a hydroelectric power station in Kyrgyzstan on the Naryn River. This already shows that Russia’s entry to the Central Asian Cooperation Organisation marks a qualitatively new stage in our organisation’s development.
President of Uzbekistan Islam Karimov: May I just add to the question that was raised? We can always give an answer to any question, but in giving our answer we always underscore the main element of the question. I would just like to add one point to what Askar Akayevich said, especially as it was on Uzbekistan’s initiative that Russia was invited to join the Central Asian Cooperation Organisation. I would like to say that there should be no illusions that we will reach such swift agreement on every question, even on absolutely objective questions, on the need to coordinate our action in the areas of hydroelectricity resources, transport links and even transit. That’s not to mention more serious questions that need to be decided upon together. We all firmly believe that we need to settle these issues together. But how to go about this, what mechanism to use? Even here we encounter a certain view that consists in trying to make no concessions to one’s neighbours. You have to understand my words the right way.
There is a certain element of prejudice and caution in our discussions. Taking a purely objective look at the situation, this is how it is, it is a fact.
Russia’s presence could be a positive force, I would say, in helping to settle the highly complex issues that Nursultan Abishevich spoke of earlier – essentially, the three main issues of hydroelectricity resources, transport links and foodstuffs. These are the three main issues that are the key to resolving our principal social and economic problems and bringing greater prosperity to our peoples, the peoples who live in this region. And we do indeed have a population of more than 50 million people in this region. In this respect, Russia has a great role to play. We do not see Russia simply as a donor that can make its contribution to carrying out many projects. Russia can also help us settle the contentious situations that we should not keep silent about and that can arise. I am not saying that we have conflicts at the moment, but we should recognise that they can potentially arise in our cooperation and our relations. I would ask the journalists to note this point too. Historical experience shows us that Russia has always been a country that has been able to settle many problems. I believe that today, when Russia itself is under such heavy attack from international terrorism, it is fully aware of the importance of ensuring peace and stability in this region, in Central Asia. Russia has a greater interest than anyone else in ensuring stability not just in this region but in the whole vast area that we call the Central Asian region. This is why I place great hopes in working with Russia and I think that Russia’s active participation in the Central Asian Cooperation Organisation’s work will definitely bring positive results.
Question: Mr President of Russia, the Central Asian Cooperation Organisation is not only involved in economic cooperation but also deals with political and social issues and ensures regional security. In this respect, what influence can the organisation have on stabilising the situation and getting the peace process underway in Afghanistan?
Vladimir Putin: Involving Afghanistan in working together with its neighbours would not only not be superfluous but would most surely benefit the people who are trying to return Afghanistan to normal life. All of our countries have longstanding ties with the Afghan people that go back centuries. This is important and our cooperation is a crucial factor in stabilising the situation in Afghanistan and restoring it to normal life. We will work together, find projects to carry out together and will fight threats together. If we do this together, our actions will be far more effective.
Question: Mr Putin, you said that the combats taking place in Iraq could affect the outcome of the U.S. presidential election. Mr Kerry, meanwhile, is making active use of American military casualty figures in Iraq in his election campaign. It would seem clear that this kind of talk only encourages international terrorism. Could you comment on this?
Vladimir Putin: I already said that we will respect whatever choice the American people makes in this election campaign and we will work with whoever is the elected President. I do not want, therefore, to ruin my relations with any of the candidates and so I would rather not answer this question.
Question: Could you comment on the situation with aid for Afghanistan?
President of Tajikistan Emomali Rakhmonov: The agreements signed during the Russian President’s official visit and the efforts made by Russia, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan to help settle the situation in Afghanistan have had an effect. This process has been going on for 13 years. Now we are helping them with electricity supply, building bridges. Now that the elections there have taken place, the country’s main problem is drug production. Drug trafficking has increased 3.5-fold since the beginning of the anti-terrorist operation in Afghanistan, despite the fact that the international community has spent more than $200 million trying to deal with this problem. I think it will take at least a decade to settle this problem. Drugs are used to finance international terrorism, extremism and organised crime. As I said recently when I met with European Union leaders, this is not just a problem for Afghanistan and the Central Asian region. It is not by chance that the Afghan Deputy Premier said here at the plenary session that his country’s biggest problem is drugs.
Question: Creating a single Central Asian market will require sorting out the problem of transporting goods through creating new ground and air international transport links. What are your views on this?
Islam Karimov: The transport link question is one of the key components of integration for the countries of our region. We fully understand the costs of importing and exporting goods for countries like Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan that are somewhat isolated from the main transport routes and that have to cross at least 3–5 countries to reach world markets. In Uzbekistan we are in a similar situation. The transport costs involved are sometimes higher than the unit cost of the goods we are selling. When we speak of creating a single Central Asian market, what we have in mind above all is the creation of infrastructure. Transport links and telecommunications are the key element here. We are unanimous that we do need to open our borders where possible, but we need to open them to the civilised market and not to smuggled goods.
Emomali Rakhmonov: Thank you to everyone.