President Vladimir Putin: Good afternoon, dear gentlemen, dear colleagues.
I am very pleased to have this opportunity to meet with you in Moscow and I am happy to have this chance to exchange views with you on how our bilateral relations are developing. I am sure that you will have substantial and interesting meetings with your colleagues from the Government of the Russian Federation. We, of course, also see your visit as part of the preparation for the visit by Prime Minister Berlusconi to Russia. I think that by the time he comes we will have prepared and be ready to sign a whole package of important documents in the area of economic development, and, as far as I know, documents are also being drawn up that will develop our relations in computer technology and telecommunications and in cooperation between the law enforcement agencies, in particular through the Interior Ministry.
There are a several points that I would ask you, as Italian Deputy Prime Minister, to give particular attention to, and I would ask your Russian colleagues to do the same.
Unfortunately, trade between Russia and Italy has dropped over the last seven months. This is an unusual result for us because trade with all our other traditional partners has shown a considerable increase. We need to analyse the causes of this situation, draw conclusions and take energetic measures to correct this state of affairs. We are therefore very pleased to see you here and we hope that your visit will give our bilateral dialogue the boost it needs.
Finally, on behalf of the entire Russian leadership I would like to thank Italy, the Italian people and leadership and Prime Minister Berlusconi for the vigorous support Russia has received in the fight against terrorism and for the emotional support the people of Italy gave the residents of Beslan during the hostage-taking tragedy there.
I am sure that practically all Russian citizens felt especially warm feelings towards the Italian people when they saw on our national television channels the demonstrations of support attended by thousands of people with candles in their hands in Rome and other cities.
Deputy Prime Minister Gianfranco Fini: Mr President, first of all, I would like to thank you for finding the time to meet us. I consider this a privilege for myself. I wish to pass on the fraternal greetings of Prime Minister Berlusconi and the entire Italian people.
I would like to assure you that people in Italy showed sincere friendship, condolence and sympathy after the tragedy in Beslan. These feelings were deeply sincere. The tragedy that took place in Beslan shows us once again that terrorism is an enemy of every people and that we must be firm and do all we can to fight it. There can be no analyses and explanations that somehow justify terrorist acts. The entire international community must show solidarity in the fight against terrorism. In expressing our solidarity with Russia, and above all, of course, with the victims of these terrorist acts, we want to reaffirm our friendship with your country and our support for the Russian Government, which, under your leadership, is fighting terrorism. As for our bilateral relations, I think that we can be mutually satisfied with our relations, thanks also to the excellent personal relations between yourself and Mr Berlusconi.
I think it would be no exaggeration to say that Italy is today one of Russia’s closest partners in dialogue, one of Russia’s closest friends. This can help our countries within the framework of the European Union and also within the framework of the entire international community. It can also help in the further development of our bilateral relations. I think that the Russian-Italian summit planned for the beginning of November will provide the impetus needed for broader development of our bilateral relations.
We are not worried about the slight decrease in our bilateral trade because, according to our analyses, we will reach and perhaps even exceed last year’s level by the end of this year. So, we are not concerned about this. Our trade has reached a figure of $9.7 billion for the first nine months of this year. Last year’s figure came to around $12 billion and I think that we will achieve a similar result this year.
Of course, we do have more potential opportunities to develop our bilateral relations. In order to ensure the continued development of our economic ties we consider the Russian leadership’s action to reinforce stability extremely important. Even as economies and trade modernise, it is natural that political crises do have an impact on trade, and terrorist acts do affect countries’ economies. Naturally, all of this has an effect on investment and the work of entrepreneurs. This is why our leadership reacted positively to the reform programme that you announced following the tragic events in Beslan.
We know that not all the European Union countries share the view that security and stability must be guaranteed while reforms are pursued.
I think that the relations that have formed between our governments do not depend only on the personal ties between yourself, Mr President, and Prime Minister Berlusconi, and on the role played by Italy at the time when it presided the EU. We think that the development of a partnership between Russia and the European Union is in the interests of both our countries and in the European Union’s interests. I think that Mr Berlusconi will say the same thing when he comes here on his visit. It is our firm intention to do all we can to ensure the partnership between the EU and Russia develops rapidly and decisively.
If I may, I would like to say a few words not for protocol. I would like to draw the attention of the journalists here to the openness and transparency of our meeting. Everything is discussed frankly here in their presence. Let them write about this, because there are still a few prejudices in Italy with regard to Russia.
Vladimir Putin: I fully agree with what you said about the fundamental nature of state relations that, of course, go far beyond the personal ties between myself and the Italian Prime Minister. My relations with Mr Berlusconi are just an accompanying factor that helps to develop our ties, but at the core of our relations are the to-a-great-extent similarly understood national interests of our two countries.
Regarding the political transformations and the economic reforms we are carrying out, and the way we organise our state and society, we are absolutely transparent in all of this and have no plans to do anything that our colleagues in Europe would not be informed about or that would not be acceptable in European countries or in the European Union overall.
Taking, for example, the question of electing the parliament based on the representative principle, that is to say, based on party lists. As far as I know, the European Parliament is elected on just such a basis. But we do hear those within Russia who do not like our proposals calling for a change to the way the European Parliament is elected? I cannot recall any such appeals. Or another example, we are proposing that regional leaders be nominated by the Russian President and elected by regional parliaments. In some European countries regional leaders are essentially directly appointed by the central authorities, but no one considers this a breach of democratic principles.
Since the collapse of the Soviet Union Russia has been searching for the best way of organising its society and state based on our traditions, the reality we face, our vast territory and the huge number of different ethnic groups that live in this country. These are all Russia’s specific features. But no matter what the specific features, we will act in accordance with the Constitution and in accordance with democratic principles for organising society. There can be no doubt on this point.
In any event, we always listen attentively to any comments from our colleagues, including our colleagues from the European Union. We will not ignore the opinions expressed, but will give them consideration, including when they are critical of us. We see this in a calm and positive way and are indeed grateful for any interest and attention that our colleagues from Europe give to what is happening in the Russian Federation.