President of Armenia Robert Kocharian: Dear Vladimir Vladimirovich [Putin], ladies and gentlemen.
It gives me genuine pleasure to receive the Russian President and his delegation and to have this opportunity to discuss once again the state of our bilateral relations. I would like to note the very friendly and constructive spirit in which our meeting took place. The most difficult thing, given the extent of our bilateral relations, was to fit everything into the time we had. It seems we had rather too much on our plate, but this just goes to show what real potential for cooperation we have – cooperation in our political relations, in economic issues, which we have been developing over these last two-three years, and military-technical cooperation. Now we are also trying to develop our humanitarian cooperation.
One big event that a lot of preparation has gone into is the Year of Russia in Armenia. We spoke about the need to organise a substantial programme of events in order to, over the course of the year, give Armenians a full picture of today’s Russia, of what is going on there and what achievements have been made. This will concern culture, business and, indeed, the whole spectrum of our relations.
We looked specifically at the issue of our energy cooperation, an area in which we have interesting projects. Russia is very much present in this sector of our economy. We also discussed increased investment activity by Russian business in Armenia. This is something that Armenia welcomes and we will ensure the conditions for effective work here. Of course, we also exchanged views on international and regional issues. I am happy with the spirit and the results of our talks and it is with pleasure that I now hand the floor to my colleague.
President Vladimir Putin: Thank you very much. For my part, I would like to thank the President for his invitation and for the warm reception we have had. We have indeed held very substantial and useful talks on all areas of our bilateral relations and on regional and international issues. We are pleased to note that Russian-Armenian relations are showing stable development in practically all areas in which we cooperate – in the economy, in politics and in the humanitarian sphere.
The opening of the Year of Russia in Armenia is the best illustration of this development. I also hope very much that all the planned events – and there some 200 of them – will indeed take place. I think that the number of events will turn out to be even bigger, in fact. During our talks just now, Robert Sedrakovich [Kocharian] said that the programme’s organisers are suddenly getting more and more proposals from the regions. I think that the contacts and joint work carried out as part of this event will turn out to be even greater than was planned.
We agreed to continue encouraging Russian and Armenian business to take part in investment and privatisation activity. We see good prospects for developing our industrial cooperation and our work together in the energy sector and the banking sector. We also discussed the issue of transport infrastructure. You probably know that the first ferry sailed today from the port of Kavkaz to Poti with cargo on board, grain for Georgia, I think. We plan to use this route to transport goods to Armenia in the future. We hope that this route will work well in the interests of all the countries in this region and that it will attract private investment. I think this is a step in the right direction.
In our view, these kinds of steps open up broad new business opportunities, help create new jobs, generally intensify the region’s economic life and can contribute to strengthening integration processes and resolving the problems that have built up here.
We gave a lot of attention to regional issues. Both our countries have an interest in stabilising the situation in the Caucasus. This means that we have to build up an atmosphere of trust and establish the kind of relations that will foster rapid social and economic development.
Of course, we also spoke about the Nagorny Karabakh problem and we will do everything we can to work with our partners to find a solution to this conflict. We hope for a successful outcome to the next round of talks between the Presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan.
Another important focus of our meeting was our discussion of the partnership between Russia and Armenia within the Commonwealth of Independent States and other integration organisations in the post-Soviet area in order to combine our efforts to resolve problems such as terrorism, trans-national crime, drug and arms trafficking and the development of humanitarian and economic ties.
We have an important event coming up – the 60th anniversary of victory in the Great Patriotic War. Many of the events that will be part of the Year of Russia in Armenia will be celebrating this anniversary. Our peoples fought shoulder to shoulder against nazism and it is only natural that we should celebrate such a memorable date in our common history together.
I would like to thank the Armenian President for his decision to come to Moscow on May 9, indeed, on May 8, and take part in the celebration events on May 9.
In conclusion, I would like to thank the Armenian President and leadership for a constructive, friendly and practical approach to resolving our common problems and for ensuring that our work today took place in such a positive atmosphere.
Thank you for your attention.
Question: Good afternoon, please excuse the fact that my question is not related to the event that has brought us here today. But at the same time, it is impossible to ignore the events in Kyrgyzstan – events that are of concern to us too. How do you see these events and do you have any idea of how they will develop? Mr Putin, is it possible that Askar Akayev could come to Russia?
Vladimir Putin: Robert Sedrakovich, will you answer this question?
Robert Kocharian: You have more information on Kyrgyzstan. We don’t have an embassy there.
Vladimir Putin: The development of the situation in Kyrgyzstan was not anything unexpected for us. This is a result of the weakness of power, and the accumulated socio-economic problems in the country. At the same time, it is regretful that once more in a country in the post-Soviet area, political issues are decided by unlawful means, accompanied by riots and human casualties.
I very much hope that the leaders of the opposition, realising their responsibility before their own people, will take the situation under control as soon as possible, and sort out the situation. These people are well-known to us. Working in Kyrgyzstan bodies of power and administration over a number of years, they have helped the development of relations between Kyrgyzstan and the Russian Federation, and done a great deal to establish the current level of intergovernmental relations. I hope that in future our relations will develop in the same vector, i.e. positively, for the good of the peoples of Russia and Kyrgyzstan. There is every reason for this. And the recent statements by the leaders of the opposition confirm that this development of our relations is quite possible. I expect that this is how it will be.
For its part, Russia will do everything to ensure that the level of intergovernmental ties between our country and Kyrgyzstan are preserved, and that relations between our peoples develop.
As for the possible arrival in Russia of Askar Akayevich Akayev, if he wants to come to Russia, we will not object. I think that this is quite possible.
Question: Our countries have established close economic relations in all areas. Would you say that we have reached the limit of our economic cooperation, given the complex situation in the region? My question is for both Presidents.
Robert Kocharian: Vladimir Vladimirovich mentioned in his opening remarks that the ferry link has begun running now. This signals the beginning of a solution to the serious transport problems that have been holding back our economic cooperation, because trade has simply not been profitable in a whole number of areas where the transport factor plays an important part.
So this new ferry route could radically change the situation. Of course, we will need time to develop the route, make all the calculations, work out the tariffs and prices and see what it will all cost. But I am sure that this will open up new opportunities that we either did not speak about, over recent years at least, or did not fully calculate. I am convinced that our potential opportunities for cooperation are a lot greater. If we take the banking sector, for example, we see that active progress is being made. Respected Moscow firms are now involved in construction in Yerevan – something that was not the case two years ago. There is a lot of interest being shown. The Armenal enterprise is now undergoing reconstruction and it will become one of the leading companies in this sector, and this is a project involving investment of around $70 million.
As I said, we also have serious projects in the energy sector and we discussed their continuation today. What we are talking about here is a new quality of cooperation that will have regional significance and scale, and I am convinced that we have a lot of potential to draw on here.
Vladimir Putin: I won’t repeat what my colleague just said. I will add only that regional and investment cooperation also offer us great potential for developing our ties. A stable political situation and economic development constitute the foundation for expanding our work together. We have seen an increase in Russian investment of late. Investment has not been great so far but there are good prospects for growth. Another possibility that would be welcomed is Armenian investment in the Russian economy, especially in the sectors that Armenia itself has an interest in developing. Such sectors exist. This was one of the subjects we discussed today.
Question: Regarding cultural ties, do you not get the impression that cultural ties are becoming something that depends a lot on age? That is, the people in both Armenia and Russia who lived in one country, in the Soviet Union, place more importance on these ties than do young people.
Vladimir Putin: I think this problem probably does exist. It is due above all to the barriers to contacts between people over recent years. I think this is not so much of a political problem as an economic one, a problem of less cooperation, fewer cultural exchanges and quite simply the fact that it is more complicated for people to move around freely than it was when we had a single country. We are always discussing these issues and are always looking for ways to overcome these problems. All the integration organisations that have been established in the post-Soviet area are working in precisely this objective. In our bilateral work, too, we are always working on solutions to these problems. The more determination we show to settle these issues, the more effective will be the results. Of course, we certainly should focus more on youth exchanges and on getting young people involved in cooperation between our countries. We also discussed this matter today. I hope that the event we will be taking part in today – the opening of the Year of Russia in Armenia – will also help resolve this problem.
Robert Kocharian: You are right to note that there is an age factor in this issue. I think that we could make more active use of the possibilities of modern information technology, telecommunications in general, in this area. In this sense, having Russia’s Kultura TV channel broadcasting to Armenia is an interesting and important event. In my family, for example, it is one of our favourite channels. It really is an interesting channel with no advertisements and interesting programmes. I think then that we could use instruments such as this to make an impact on the situation in culture and the arts in our countries. I think that Russian television channels could make and broadcast more programmes on this area in Armenia and in other former Soviet republics. It would be a pity to simply lose what was built up by the past generations.
In the past, we always gained from mutual enrichment, especially through our cultural contacts. It would also be naive, however, to imagine that everything could be at the same level as it was in the past. There are real borders between our countries now and this is something we have to take into account. Emotionally it is a pity, but this is the reality we live with today, and so let us now try to create the instruments that will help us to ease the losses that, however we look at it, have inevitably taken place.
Question: This is a question for both Presidents. The Commonwealth of Independent States is now on the threshold of transformation. I would like to hear your view of the CIS’ future in light of the expected reforms and the new political situation taking shape, including the various “velvet” and not so “velvet” revolutions that have taken place in a number of the CIS countries.
Vladimir Putin: All the disappointments come from having had too high expectations. If someone was expecting some particular achievements from the CIS in, say, the economy, in political or military cooperation and so on, it is clear that this was not going to happen because it could not happen. The stated aims were one thing, but in reality the CIS was formed in order to make the Soviet Union’s collapse as civilised and smooth as possible and to minimise the economic and humanitarian losses it entailed, above all for people.
I think the CIS was successful in reaching these objectives and we should give it its due. But the CIS never did have any ambitious economic objectives or integration goals. This is why a lot of the expectations our citizens had never became reality, because there was plenty of discussion but never any serious work done to make them reality. Now we are beginning to lay the foundations of genuine integration-based cooperation and real economic integration within the framework of the Eurasian Economic Community and the Common Economic Space. But this is an entirely different matter. It turns out that many of our partners, for internal political reasons, or perhaps as a result of considerations regarding their own assessment of their economic priorities, are not ready yet for such steps, while others are showing clear interest. By building on this completely new foundation of voluntary integration and perhaps voluntary delegation of certain powers to these integration organisations, we will be able to develop a new integration-based community.
As for the CIS, it is a very useful organisation for exchanging information and discussing general problems, general political, humanitarian and administrative issues. I do not think we should let go of this instrument. It is important because there is a lot of interaction between the CIS countries. We have a great amount of economic interaction. Independent of even the deeper integration processes underway within the framework of the organisations I already mentioned, the Common Economic Space and the Eurasian Economic Community, for example, and between other countries, we have a great deal of economic interaction and a great deal of ties between our citizens. There are a great many problems to deal with and the CIS provides a forum for the leaders of our countries to meet regularly, discuss these problems and take rapid measures to resolve them and then seek solutions at either bilateral level or through the integration organisations. So, I think that we definitely should keep the CIS going and I think that we all have an interest in this, regardless of the political views of this or that force either coming to power or losing power in this or that country at the given moment. The problems we have are not going to just go away and people want to see them resolved.
Robert Kocharian: You know, at every CIS summit I also have bilateral contacts with at least two or three of my colleagues to resolve very practical matters. The CIS really is a good forum for resolving all sorts of different issues. All the discussions on reform arise from a certain pessimism regarding the CIS’ future and it seems to me that people have a certain mistaken impression that reform will transform the organisation into something like the European Union. The problems we have also arise from this constant attempt to compare the CIS and the European Union. The CIS will always lose out in such comparisons and we should not use them as a basis for evaluating its performance. The European Union has a completely different level of integration and is based on different principles.
It often happens that you get two people with the same living standards but with differing self-evaluations and what you usually end up with is that one of them is happy with what he has, while the other is deeply unsatisfied with his lot, even though both of them have the same situation. The same goes for the CIS. We should be happy with what we have, happy that we have this opportunity to get together and resolve problems. In reality, we have a lot of cooperation and we always have serious issues to discuss and concrete decisions to take, if not in complete format, than at least within smaller groupings. So, I would suggest that we also keep all this in mind in our evaluation of the CIS.
Vladimir Putin: European countries worked together within the European Union in order to achieve a union, whereas the CIS was created in order to achieve a civilised divorce. That is the difference, and all the rest is just political talk and trappings. But as we worked together in the CIS it became clear that it is the only forum for discussing and resolving many problems that cannot be worked on together anywhere else. Other organisations such as the Common Economic Space and the Eurasian Economic Community are being created to achieve genuine integration, but they focus on narrow issues and objectives. Our problems go far beyond just economic cooperation. We have many political issues, questions regarding ties between people, crossing borders, pensions and benefits. There are many problems we have inherited from the times when we lived as one country. Today, for example, Robert Sedrakovich and I discussed the problem of refugees. Here in Armenia there are thousands of people who came here from another country, from Georgia, and who carry passports of the former Soviet Union.
Robert Kocharian: They came from Abkhazia.
Vladimir Putin: The question now is how and where are they supposed to live? And which forum do we use to discuss all this? There are thousands of such issues. The CIS is a very convenient forum for meeting each other, raising these issues and working on solutions.
Robert Kocharian: The CIS does not really lose out in comparison with any other regional organisation of the likes of the European Union, so let’s be happy with what we’ve got.