President of Slovakia Ivan Gasparovich: Ladies and gentlemen,
I would like to say that my talks with the President of the Russian Federation were very open and active. I want to emphasise that this is the first historic visit by the head of such a strong state to independent Slovakia.
Mr Putin thanked the Republic of Slovakia for organising such a significant and historic event as the meeting between the President of the Russian Federation and President George W. Bush, the leader of just as strong and powerful a state, the United States of America. Both sides confirmed their great interest in expanding cooperation not just in economic relations but also in the areas of culture and science.
Mr Putin confirmed his invitation to come to Moscow to take part in celebrating the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II and the victory over fascism. He also confirmed that when Slovakia celebrates the 60th anniversary of the liberation of our country, Russia will send a representative to take part in this event.
During his talks with the Slovak Prime Minister, Mr Putin discussed expanding economic cooperation between our two countries, especially in the area of energy supplies. He also spoke of regional cooperation, which is a very important subject, and relations between the European Union and Russia, stressing that exports to the European Union account for around 50 percent of all Russia’s foreign trade turnover. We see the results of these economic relations very positively.
We also discussed the subject of NATO, of what NATO represented in the past and what it represents as an organisation today. We discussed cooperation with NATO through the Russia-NATO Council and spoke of how this cooperation should be transparent at all levels. We, the Republic of Slovakia, recognise Russia’s position in world politics. The Russian Federation’s position in the world depends on its economic and military potential as a country and this is something we must take into account. We also discussed possible and much needed reform of such a serious organisation as the United Nations.
That, briefly, is what President Putin and I were able to discuss during the time we had.
President Vladimir Putin: Ladies and gentlemen,
First of all I would like to thank President of Slovakia Ivan Gasparovich for the hospitaliy we have received in Bratislava and for his warm words about my country.
I am happy with the outcome of our talks and the atmosphere in which they took place, and I am happy with the trusting and open spirit in which we discussed our bilateral relations.
Slovakia has always been and will remain a reliable and important partner for Russia. We conduct an intensive political dialogue and have active economic, cultural and humanitarian relations. Today we reconfirmed our common desire to expand our multifaceted cooperation.
One of the main subjects we discussed was our economic ties and how to develop our work together in this area. We are pleased to note that our bilateral trade is increasing. In 2004 alone it rose by more than $300 million and reached the $3-billion mark.
Our task now is not just to maintain this pace and volume of growth but also to improve considerably the quality of our trade and our trading ties in general. I am sure that the intergovernmental agreement on economic and scientific-technical cooperation we signed today will open up good new opportunities for pursuing this objective.
Priority areas for our work together include sectors where we traditionally have strong ties such as the energy and metals sectors and the chemicals industry. There are also good prospects for developing our military-technical ties and encouraging direct contacts between our countries’ regions.
We also intend to continue expanding our cultural relations and our cooperation in science and education and to work towards bringing our peoples closer together.
A series of events, the Days of Russian Culture, will take place in Slovakia this year. The aim of the concerts, exhibitions and theatre performances that are planned as part of this programme is to open up the world of modern Russian art to the Slovak audience.
The President already mentioned another important subject we discussed – the preparations for celebrating the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II. Our peoples fought together against Nazi aggression and we are very aware of how important it is to know and remember the lessons of this past war so as never to let it happen again and to learn how to join forces against the new threats we face today.
One of these new threats is terrorism and we are grateful to the Slovak people and the leadership of your country for the moral and political support you give Russia in the fight against international terrorism.
Mr Gasparovich and I also had a substantial discussion of developments in the situation in Europe and the world. The President informed me of several problems linked to building the new Europe. We are impressed by Slovakia’s balanced approach to key international and European issues. For my part, I informed the President of Russia’s plans for developing our relations with the European Union.
Russia and Slovakia both support strengthening the United Nations’ central role in maintaining global stability and security, though at the same time, we are also aware of the need to bring its activities into line with modern demands and carry out reforms of the major international organisations, not so as to weaken them but in order to strengthen their ability to influence developments in the world situation. It is important for us that Slovakia, though it has chosen the road of integration in the European Union and NATO, also strives to develop its relations in every area with the Russian Federation.
In conclusion, I would once again like to thank the President of Slovakia for what was a constructive and candid discussion. I will be very happy to welcome him in Moscow on May 9, this year.
I am sure that the agreements we reached today will inject new energy into Russian-Slovak relations in general and, of course, will help to strengthen the friendship and trust between our countries and our peoples.
Thank you very much for giving me the opportunity to meet with the U.S. President. We are aware that this all caused some inconvenience for the people of Bratislava and we would like to apologise for that.
Thank you for your attention.
Question: President Putin, it seems to me from the general tone of the press conference that the main emphasis during this, your first official visit here, was on the economy, so my question will be on this same subject. If I understood correctly, during your recent interview at the Kremlin you expressed considerable dissatisfaction with the economic restrictions that were introduced after Slovakia joined the European Union. My question is, did you discuss this matter today, and has anything been done to lift these restrictions or relax them in some way?
And a second question, I learned that during your talks with Slovak Prime Minister Dzurinda a few hours ago you said that two firms have shown an interest in shares belonging to Yukos. If it is not a secret, could you name these firms?
Vladimir Putin: I would like to say once again that our economic ties are developing dynamically and I named the priority areas for our cooperation. Overall, we are happy with the way work in this area is progressing. We think that the main area where we still have big reserves of opportunity to draw on is in joint investment activity. Total Russian investment in the Slovak economy comes to only $90 million. That is virtually nothing. In some European countries our companies invest hundreds of millions in a single year, and so there definitely are opportunities for us here to expand our cooperation.
I want to repeat that we have no problems in our relations with Slovakia. As for the restrictions linked to Slovakia’s joining the EU, our experts think that they are minimised. Also, Russia plans to develop its relations with individual EU member countries and with the European Union as a whole. As you know, we are currently engaged in negotiations with the European Commission on creating four common spaces in the economy, in internal and external security, in the humanitarian sphere and in education. This will give us additional possibilities for expanding our cooperation with the EU overall and with individual EU members, including Slovakia.
We consider our cooperation in high-tech sectors to be very important and we have concrete projects in this area, including the construction of a centre in Bratislava. Then, of course, there is the energy sector. I want to assure you that energy supplies to Europe in general, and to Slovakia in particular, will remain stable. Russian companies fulfil all their commitments with regards to their partners and this will continue to be the case. The supply schedule for January this year was carried out strictly in accordance with the agreements reached. Furthermore, major Russian companies have signed long-term contracts for oil and gas supplies to Slovakia and this cooperation will take place over several years.
As for the names of the companies interested in acquiring 49 percent of the shares that Yukos holds in transport enterprises, Russian company Tatneft has expressed an interest in this deal. Thank you.
Ivan Gasparovich: Of course, the European Union legislation differs somewhat from Russia’s legislation. We are members of the European Union and will always uphold its laws. But we also have the right to look for legal solutions, new solutions, that, without bypassing the law, offer us new possibilities and free us from restrictions. It is as important for the European Union to cooperate with Russia as it is for Russia to cooperate with the European Union. This is a huge market worth billions of dollars, and who would want to lose such a big market? To answer your question on whether I will go to Moscow for the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II, yes, I will accept President Putin’s invitation and I will be there.
Question: How do you view the debate going on at the moment in the Baltic states over the fact that they have still not decided whether or not to accept the invitation to go to Moscow and are attempting to reinterpret in some way the outcome of World War II?
Ivan Gasparovich: Talking about my decision, it is my personal decision to take part in the events in Moscow celebrating the 60th anniversary of victory. I believe that fascism was vanquished and I would like to pay tribute to that victory and remember all those who gave their lives in the fight against fascism. Those who think differently, that is their opinion, their view. I think we must remember those who helped us, the modern generation, to reach these days. We should remember those who sacrificed their lives so that we can live today. Mr Putin and I took part in a wreath-laying ceremony today at the Slavin Memorial, commemorating the many thousands of Soviet soldiers who gave their lives to liberate Bratislava and Czechoslovakia.
Vladimir Putin: If you will allow, I’d also like to say a couple of words on this point. We realise that there can be different ways of looking at the results and events of World War II. We respect the view of those people in the Baltic states who consider that the end of World War II also brought with it the tragic loss of their countries’ independence.
I think we should also respect the view of those who consider, for example, that it was Latvian riflemen who helped the Bolshevik government hold on to power when an attempt was made to topple it. History in this part of Europe and in Russia is very complex and we need to be careful and attentive in how we treat it. We respect the different views of all the diverse groups of people in our countries but we nonetheless believe that we should also look towards the future. We invited the leaders of the Baltic states in order to establish a constructive dialogue and normalise our relations, including on border issues. We have proposed signing agreements settling these border issues.
We extend a hand of friendship but it is not up to us whether it is accepted or not. This is a decision for the leaders of the Baltic states. Whatever their decision may be, we will still seek to develop our relations with these countries. We hope that in this case common sense and the interests of their own peoples will prevail and that political ambitions will be left aside and will be something for historians and specialists to study.
Question: Jan Birsek, TA-3 television channel, Slovakia. My question is for President Putin. Mr President, in explaining why it was that Russia and the United States chose Bratislava for their summit, our politicians have been saying that this is a sort of reward or encouragement for our balanced foreign policy. It’s not hard to see why such encouragement might come from the Americans when the balance in our foreign policy has leaned noticeably towards the West since 1998. We have joined NATO and we have joined the European Union, our soldiers are active in Iraq and our politicians travel a lot more often to Washington and Brussels than to Moscow.
So, what is it, in your view, that compensates for this imbalance in favour of the West and makes it possible for you to talk so easily of our balanced foreign policy, and what specific steps do you expect Slovakia to take in Russia’s regard in the near future?
Vladimir Putin: It is all compensated by one thing and that is the Slovak people’s attitude towards Russia. What’s more, we get a sense of pragmatism in the Slovak leadership’s approach to developing relations with Russia and we hope that this policy will continue in the future.
Question: Nothing very concrete was said yesterday at your press conference with President Bush. Are you happy with the way the talks went and with their outcome? Could you say what were the points of agreement and disagreement with regard to the main subjects of discussion?
Vladimir Putin: We are happy with the talks and with their outcome. I think that our American partners share this same assessment. I don’t know what they will say at the official level, but the meeting was very positive in both spirit and substance.
We concentrated a lot on issues such as developing our economic ties, and we also talked about international security issues, energy issues and cooperation in outer space relative to our joint work on international projects, our cooperation on the International Space Station and also promising projects such as studying the Moon and projects in some other areas.
We agreed to develop our cooperation in ensuring greater security for nuclear materials and nuclear facilities, and we also agreed to step up our work together on counter-terrorism. We discussed practically the entire international agenda and looked at all the key points, including Iraq, Iran, the Middle East and the North Korean nuclear programme. We share very similar positions on practically all these issues. We spent almost an hour, perhaps even more than an hour, the President and I together, discussing the present and future of Russian-American relations. This was a general discussion but it was very useful and substantial.
I see the meeting’s outcome as very positive indeed and I think that it was not just a summing up of the results of our cooperation over the last four years but that it also set the agenda for our work together over the coming three-four years.