President Vladimir Putin: Ladies and gentlemen,
Today, here in your presence, we have just presented for the first time a joint award of the President of the Russian Federation and the Prime Minister of the Republic of Italy for exceptional services in developing bilateral cooperation. I am sure that this award will become a good tradition in the relations between our countries.
I think it is logical that figures in the arts world have become the first recipients of the award. Our two countries really do have endless potential in culture. The unique national traditions of our countries have drawn on the best features of European civilisation and have always aroused mutual interest in our peoples. The recipients of the awards today are exceptional figures in the cultural world – Irina Antonova, Director of the Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts, and the famous Italian director Franco Zefirelli.
Irina Antonova has been director of one of Russia’s leading museums for 43 years now, a museum in which the masterpieces of great Italian artists have a central place. We are very proud of this. She has spent almost her entire creative life working with Italian art. During our talks today we noted the role she played as organiser of the exhibition “Russia-Italy through the centuries”, which the Italian Prime Minister called a major event in our cultural cooperation over recent years.
Our country became acquainted with the work of Mr Zefirelli back in 1970 during the Moscow premiere of the film “Romeo and Juliet”. He has staged the operas “La Traviata” and “Tosca’ with success in the Kremlin in recent years. As far as I know, there is also a joint initiative – the “Art of the Show” exhibition – that Irina Antonova and Franco Zefirelli plan to carry out together.
It has become tradition for cultural figures to also work directly in the political sphere. We all had the pleasure of watching the signing of the European constitution. As far as I know, it was Mr Zefirelli who organised the staging of this event.
I want to congratulate the first recipients of this joint award and express my gratitude for their immense contribution to developing our bilateral cultural cooperation. I wish them good health and much creative success.
Now a few words about the results of our work today.
I would like to note that this meeting has once more confirmed the special nature of the partnership relation between our countries. These third enlarged intergovernmental consultations, with the participation of the heads of key Russian and Italian ministries, took place precisely in just such a spirit of partnership and trust. We discussed issues concerning our work together in European and international politics, in particular, we discussed the fight against terrorism and against its roots, its causes. We both agree that the United Nations should play the coordinating role in this respect.
Our joint declaration also reflects our positions on other topical international issues, including relations between Russia and the European Union, Russia and NATO, the fight against drug trafficking, the situation in Iraq and Middle East settlement. Of course, we also gave considerable attention, both during our informal talks yesterday evening and during our meeting today, to economic, scientific and cultural issues and public ties.
Our trade and economic relations are developing successfully. I would like to note the work being done in Russia to establish industrial districts drawing on the Italian experience. This work, like many other projects, was initiated by Prime Minister of Italy Silvio Berlusconi.
We have good resources to draw on in cooperation in high-technology sectors. This concerns above all cooperation in the aviation and space sector, military-technical areas, telecommunications and information technology. We are ready to begin major specific projects in the energy sector both between our two countries and at European level.
Our cooperation in education is developing. We are putting in place better conditions for contact between our citizens. Work has begun on simplifying visa procedures for Russian and Italian citizens. I would also like to note that the forum, Dialogue between Civil Societies, has now begun its work.
As I said at the beginning, all of this confirms the high level and quality and the real substance of the bilateral dialogue between Russia and Italy. I would like to thank all our Italian colleagues who prepared this meeting. It involved a lot of hard work on the part of all the ministries. I am confident that our work together in all the areas I mentioned will be successful. Thank you.
Prime Minister of Italy Silvio Berlusconi: Thank you, Mr Putin, for these words.
Relations between our two countries are developing in all areas, including in international life, regarding international issues, on which our countries hold common views that show a healthy approach to the possibility of settling complex problems on the international stage.
It is hard to imagine a higher level of friendly relations, mutual trust and cooperation than that we have achieved between our two countries today. There is a common desire to continue on this road that will lead to even stronger relations and closer cooperation in diverse areas of culture, the economy and trade.
We would like to express our positive assessment of the reform policies carried out by President Putin. We hope that the ongoing presence here of Italian entrepreneurs and cultural figures will help make a contribution to the success of these reforms.
I would like, on my own behalf and on behalf of my team and everyone working with me, to thank the President of Russia personally and all his team for the excellent reception we have been given. I want to assure you that we will try to be up to the same standard when you come to our country. I hope that we will receive a visit from you in the very near future.
Long live Russia! Long live Italy!
Question: When Italy held the European Union presidency, relations between Russia and the EU got a considerable boost. Another Russia-EU summit is planned to take place next week. My question is for both the Russian President and the Italian Prime Minister: how do you see the state of relations between Russia and the EU at the moment?
Vladimir Putin: Relations between Russia and the European Union have a fundamental character. United Europe and Russia are both interested in developing their contacts in all different areas. Our relations are indeed developing quite well. Framework conditions are now in place for new boosts to development. We have established common aims and have worked out the instruments we will use together to achieve these aims. Unfortunately, however, the new European Commission has still not been formed and it is perhaps because of this that preparations for the upcoming summit are dominated by administrative questions that need settling.
We do not want to lose the positive development impetus we have. But we are in contact with our colleagues and we hope that all of these administrative issues will be settled sooner or later and we will we be able to move ahead on putting into place the necessary conditions to establish the four common spaces in the economy, external and internal security, and in the humanitarian sphere, in education. We will keep working together.
Silvio Berlusconi: As for me, I cannot but stress once again the immense strategic significance and importance of closer cooperation between the European Union and Russia. I know that there are still problems we thought would be settled by now. This includes the Kaliningrad region problem. But I am sure, and it is also my desire, that the new European Commission will successfully settle this issue. In any event, I can assure you that Italy, as before, will continue to do all possible to ensure that these problems are overcome.
Question: We now know that [George W.] Bush has won the U.S. presidential election. What new prospects are there for cooperation on joint security? How will this affect security and stability in the world, in particular, the common fight against international terrorism?
Vladimir Putin: First of all, you always know more than we do. That is pleasing. As for the result, we have to wait for the official result, hear the official outcome.
You have linked your question to the fight against international terrorism. I have already said that it is my belief that international terrorism had set itself the goal of preventing Mr Bush’s re-election in the United States. Mr Bin Laden’s appearance just at the close of the election campaign in the United States was the best confirmation of this. If Mr Bush really has won the election, then I can but be happy that the American people have not let themselves be frightened and have taken the decision they think best.
I think that no matter who wins the election, the dialogue with the United States will not be easy. There are always some problems or other between countries such as Russia and the United States that have such a large number of mutual interests.
I remember very well how our relations began when President Bush was elected to his first term in office and 50 Russian diplomats were expelled from the United States for activities incompatible with the status of diplomat. We responded, as is tradition, by expelling a few dozen Americans. Over these last four years, however, our relations have undergone a serious transformation and have improved considerably to the benefit of our peoples and to the benefit of international security. I hope that in any event, we will not have to start all over again.
As for the fight against international terrorism, Bush has proven himself to be a firm politician, a man of strong character, consistent, a reliable and predictable partner. This struggle is a serious one, one that will continue a long time and that demands great effort from us. We now have the instruments for cooperation in place. We still need to do a lot to ensure that our cooperation is more effective. I hope that we will achieve this goal and be able to show our unity in the fight against this threat.
Silvio Berlusconi: For my part, I can say that the possibility that Bush has won the election clearly indicates that Italy’s relations with the United States will be facilitated in the future, for it is no secret that Italy has established friendly ties with the current Bush administration, ties based on mutual trust and sympathy.
On the political level, I think that if Bush has been re-elected President of the United States, the United States’ political role in the world will remain that of a driving force for freedom and democracy in the world. On the other hand, I think that if Kerry becomes President, this would not have a significant influence on U.S. policy. Whatever changes there would be would affect domestic politics, as can be seen from the campaign programmes presented.
In conclusion, if Bush wins, the decision taken by the American people could be said to due in part to the economic success achieved during Bush’s term in office during which the decision to cut taxes was taken.
Question: The fight against terrorism is on the agenda at all high-level meetings. Has Russian-Italian cooperation brought results in this respect? If yes, then could you, Mr Putin, or you, Mr Berlusconi, give us an example?
Vladimir Putin: Yes, I can name an area of our cooperation on security and the fight against terrorism that I think is developing well, and that is our work together on settling the situation in Afghanistan.
As you know, we do not have servicemen there, but we are cooperating actively with the international coalition that is present there. I have every reason to say that as a result of this cooperation the lives of many servicemen and civilian personnel from the coalition countries present in Afghanistan today have been saved. We provide support together for the government of [Hamid] Karzai and we hope that the democratisation process in the country will continue and will take into account the interests of all the different ethnic groups there. Our special services our also cooperating actively. I hope that this cooperation will develop further both at bilateral level and within the framework of international institutions. Thank you for your question.
Silvio Berlusconi: I fully agree with President Putin’s words. I want to add that it is our desire to develop our cooperation in this area in all different directions. I am thinking here of cooperation between our special services, our police forces and our armed forces, including our navies.
Question: In the light of the U.S. election result and given that it looks like George Bush will be the winner, do you think there will be any change to the current U.S. administration’s foreign policy priorities? In particular, it has been noted that previous U.S. Presidents elected to a second term have followed a more multilateral policy, and do you think this will happen here, or will Bush continue to pursue the unilateral approach we have seen so far? I also wanted to ask, did you discuss the question of relations between the United States and Europe during your talks, and how do you think they will develop following this election? I note, too, that Prime Minister Berlusconi mentioned Bush’s tax policy as one of the factors that enabled him to win the election. Do you intend then to make this issue a part of your own election campaign and make it as important a matter in the development of Italy’s life, and a factor contributing to a successful election outcome?
Silvio Berlusconi: I will spare President Putin from having to reply to such a long and far-reaching question.
First, I do not think that if Bush is re-elected, his policy will change. I think the main policy priorities will remain the fight against international terrorism, the search for a solution to the situation in Iraq, Middle East settlement and the nuclear issue in Iran. Second, a multilateral approach is the only possible approach to settling international issues at the moment. An international conference on Iraq will take place at the end of this month at Sharm el-Sheikh in Egypt. The idea of holding this conference was initiated by President Vladimir Putin. We support his proposal that, aside from the thirty countries that are guarantors for holding the conference, representatives of other countries that would like to make a contribution to settling the situation in Iraq also take part.
Third, I can say that relations between the European Union and the United States have grown stronger of late. This is probably explained by the fact that both sides have an interest in closer contacts, and also by the fact that the West is a single entity, not two entities.
Finally, you wanted to ask about the Italian situation. Let us talk about that in Italy.
Vladimir Putin: Most of these questions do not concern me, at least, not the first part about what Bush will do if he is re-elected. It would be better to ask Bush himself. I will make just one comment.
Aside from politics, there is also the personal factor. I have known Bush for four years and I know that he is a decent and consistent person. If he has been re-elected, then we congratulate him upon this occasion and we are happy that none of the mud that was flung at him has stuck. We also hope that he will make use of his best qualities and the experience he has gathered over the last four years as President of as big and important a country as the United States.
We will wait for the official result of the election in the United States.
Thank you very much.