President Vladimir Putin: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen.
I am truly glad to welcome British Prime Minister Mr. Blair to Moscow once more.
Russian-British cooperation has always been, and remains, an important factor in Russian foreign policy. I must say that political dialogue between Russia and Great Britain stands out for its high dynamics and high level of trust. Tony and I just agreed on upcoming contacts — at the G-8, at the Russia-EU summit, and later my work visit to Great Britain. These intensive contacts emphasise the interests of both sides in developing cooperation.
Today we talked about bilateral relations and the international agenda. We talked in detail about the G-8 meeting that will be held in Scotland. For Russia this is especially important, as next year we are scheduled for presidency in the G-8.
Considerable attention was given to processes of common European integration. I am very grateful to the Prime Minister for sharing his views on the development of the European situation as applied to cooperation between the EU and the Russian Federation. We very much hope that despite the difficult process of ratifying the new European constitution, despite these difficulties, relations between Russia and the EU will develop positively. I mean the realisation of plans for building the four common spaces.
Great Britain is one of our major trade and economic partners. Last year the volume of trade turnover exceeded $9 billion. Cooperation is actively developing in the fuel and energy sector. Individual British investors are investing enormous funds – the sum comes to billions, to tens of billions of dollars. One of the most important projects in the near future may also be our involvement in the North European gas pipeline.
I would like to express my satisfaction with today’s talks, and thank Mr. Prime Minister for accepting the invitation and coming to Moscow. I am sure that this will be a good stimulus in the development of bilateral ties.
Anthony Blair (translated from Russian): Thank you very much, Mr President. I once again want to say how happy I am to be here. If you will allow, I would also like to say a few words on another matter. As you know, due to the fact that the celebrations of the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II took place just after the British general election, I was very busy forming the new British government at that moment and, to my great regret, was unable to attend the jubilee celebrations.
I would like to take this opportunity now to pay tribute to the courage and heroism of the Russian Armed Forces in the way that they fought Nazism, fascism, and in doing so gave our generations the chance to live in a free world.
I would also like to recall, in this respect, that cooperation between Britain and Russia during World War II played a key part in helping to ensure victory over Nazism.
I am also very pleased to note that bilateral relations between Britain and Russia are in a very good state. The President and I had the opportunity to discuss a whole number of questions regarding our relations. This particularly concerned our trade relations, where, as was rightly said, our ties are developing rapidly, especially in the energy sector, but also in other sectors too.
We also had a very interesting, and for me a very informative, discussion on the current state of affairs in Russia and on how Russia plans to move forward. Of course, we also paid considerable attention to the issues on the agenda for the upcoming G-8 summit. The President and I discussed the main issues the summit will be examining: Africa, climate change, Middle East peace settlement. I am very pleased to note that there is a great deal of understanding between us on these issues.
I would also like to take this opportunity to once again wish Russia the greatest success during its upcoming presidency of the G-8 next year. We, of course, are ready to help in whatever way we can to ensure that this work brings successful results.
Thank you once again, all the more so as today, as I have learned, is a holiday in Russia.
Question: My question is for the Prime Minister and the President. You just mentioned Russian-British cooperation within the G-8. But recently, as you know, there has been a lot of scepticism over just how effective this organisation’s mechanisms actually are. Could you comment on this issue, please. Thank you.
Anthony Blair: I think the G-8 is a genuinely useful forum that gives people the chance to get together to discuss topical and vitally important international issues. Of course, the G-8 does not have its own officials and cannot obtain concrete results on its own as a separate organisation. But I think that if we look at the discussions that have taken place within the G-8 over the last several years on concrete problems such as the fight against terrorism, the situation in Africa and economic development, I think we can see quite a solid foundation that proves that this forum really is a useful instrument. I very much hope that these traditions will continue, not only this year under our presidency, but also under the Russian presidency next year.
Mr Putin: As far as scepticism about various international structures is concerned, there is more than enough of it. Quite recently we took part in the continuing discussion about the United Nations, for example, and about other issues.
Of course, the G-8 has always been called a club of rich countries. Russia, of course, is rich in resources, rich in history and culture, but we cannot say, for example, that in per capita income Russia is a rich country. We already have enormous currency reserves now, currency and gold reserves, but I repeat, if we judge by the main criterion of wealth – by per capita income – we are still a long way from the levels that we would like to reach. And perhaps because of this it makes sense for Russia to work within the G-8, not just because it is a major nuclear power, but because it is easier for it to understand the problems of countries with a transitional economy. So we support the ideas that were formulated by the British leadership and the Prime Minister about the agenda of the G-8 in Scotland, and hope that this tool of coordinating positions on important problems of the modern world will continue to be effective.
We are thankful to the Prime Minister and the British government for their readiness to provide us with assistance in preparing the G-8 summit next year.
Question: This is a question for both the Prime Minister and the President. After today’s talks, how do you see prospects for a final deal during the upcoming summit in Gleneagles, in particular on the question of Africa? And a question for the Prime Minister: what are the prospects for a compromise solution to the issue of the British rebate on its contribution to the European Union budget?
Anthony Blair: Concerning the future finances of the European Union, I can tell you that our position remains unchanged.
Concerning the G-8, I think there are very good chances that we will make real progress on Africa and on climate change, although there is still a lot to be done. I think it would be wrong to go trumpeting our success right here and now, but I do think that the agreement on debt cancellation that was announced a few days ago is a very good signal. We really do need to establish a genuine partnership with the African countries in these matters.
As for climate change, I very much welcome what the President just said. We really do need to develop a new plan for sustainable and environmentally friendly economic growth in all our countries in the future. This is a matter of vital importance, regardless of all the short-term issues on our agenda. The long-term issues of ensuring sustainable development and developing sustainable energy supplies are absolutely vital for us.
In general, let’s wait and see, but I think that there are good prospects for reaching a compromise deal.
Mr Putin: I can only agree with Mr. Prime Minister. We devoted a lot of time today to discussion of these very issues. The issues which were formulated by the Prime Minster on the problem of climate change are very close to our approach. As you know, Russia has ratified the Kyoto protocol, and this was not a simple process. It is important for us how it develops in practice. It is important for us to continue dialogue with the countries which have not joined or which have only formally joined this document and this process. I completely agree with Mr. Prime Minister.
As for Africa, we generally support Great Britain’s initiative. I would like to note that in the volume, in absolute figures, of writing off debts for the world’s poorest countries, Russia is in third place after Japan, if I am not mistaken, and France. After today’s meeting I will formulate an appropriate order to the Finance Ministry of the Russian Federation, so that together with our British and other colleagues in the G-8 they could bring to conclusion all proposals of the British side, which Russia could agree with and support.
I won’t hide the fact that we also discussed another problem. Just as the situation in African countries is important for Britain, the situation in the independent states, in the republics of the former Soviet Union, is important for us. I hope that next year we will be able to assess the situation in many of these nations just as objectively with our colleagues. Our relations with several CIS countries are not easy, but all of them need the support of the international community. Some of them can by objective figures already be classified in the HIPIC group, i.e. among the world’s poorest countries. And some, which may not be included in this list according to formal categories, still need support. They include Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Georgia and Moldova.
And we must not turn this area into a field of battle or rivalry. We must turn it into a field for cooperation and for the development of common approaches to providing assistance to the peoples of these nations in state organisation and economic development.
Question: Mr Prime Minister, you said, in opening the meeting, that Britain will be holding the European Union presidency at an “interesting time” – this interesting time when two countries have not ratified the EU constitution and Britain has decided to postpone its referendum. Do you think that this will slow down the pace and quality of Russian-EU cooperation, and will the plans, the “roadmaps,” approved at the Russia-EU summit in Moscow still go ahead? Thank you.
Anthony Blair: First of all, I want to say that I do not think the discussions currently taking place on the European constitution should in any way limit the development of relations between Russia and the European Union. Starting from July, we will make it our responsibility to ensure that these relations develop and prosper as they should.
Concerning the four “common spaces”, I think it is very important to make progress here. They offer many potential gains for the European Union through its relations with the Russian Federation, and vice versa, and I also think that common economic spaces are precisely the mechanism we need to be able to get together and discuss our economic concerns and other issues such as the fight against crime, immigration, and other matters of crucial importance for our countries. I would say then that the four common spaces are just a framework and we now have to fill this framework with concrete substance in order to continue consolidating the ties between the EU and Russia. I think this task is all the more relevant now given the economic development and security situation in the world. So I think the moment is ripe indeed for making headway on this question. We are looking forward to the opportunity of holding a Russia-EU summit in London in October, during which we will concentrate precisely on providing concrete and detailed content for the framework we have.
Mr Putin: The area of cooperation between Russia and the European Union, including in the four “common spaces” were formulated before the vote on the European Constitution in France. If the constitution had been passed, then this would have meant that a new situation was created. I hope that it would have changed for the better as far as Russian-European relations are concerned. But as the constitution was rejected, nothing has changed for us. I do not expect any complications in building our relations with the European Union.
Question: First a question for the Prime Minister. Mr Prime Minister, after Moscow you are heading for Berlin and Paris. Do you intend to give these countries’ authorities the message that the EU Common Agricultural Policy represents a European budget “discount” for France?
And a question for the President. Mr President, one of the main messages the G-8 has sent to Africa is that African countries need to improve the situation with human rights, developing democracy and the rule of law. Would you agree that, regarding Russia, many people raise these same issues?
Anthony Blair: Yes, we will indeed discuss issues regarding both the European Union and the G-8 during my visits to Berlin and Paris. I will be diplomatic, as always, but firm, when it comes to the European Union budget. We need to keep in mind the context in which this discussion is taking place. Two countries have already rejected the European Constitution. Why? Because their people are not happy with how the current European system is addressing their principal concerns.
We need to keep this situation in mind in our discussions of the European budget. We cannot, therefore, discuss only the British rebate on its budget contribution without also discussing all aspects of the European Union’s financing, including the fact that 40 percent of the European budget today is allocated to agriculture, a sector that employs only five percent of the European Union’s population. I think that now, in the twenty-first century, we need to ask ourselves if this is the right approach to Europe’s problems. I think it is not the right approach. But it is not right to paint a picture that would have Britain simply saying a final “no” on the rebate issue and leaving it at that. This is not the situation. We are ready to discuss this matter, but on a realistic basis that takes into account all the different aspects of how we plan to finance the European Union in the future.
Mr Putin: Today Mr. Prime Minister and I also discussed the problems of development of democratic institutions in the world in general and in Russia in particular. We in Russia, of course, know about various points of view on the development of democratic institutions in our country. We also know about criticism, such as the criticism of the events in Chechnya. Just as Great Britain often and for prolonged period of time heard criticism about the events in Northern Ireland.
If we are talking about the problems of democracy development and protection of human rights, we believe it is necessary to talk about the situation in the world as a whole, in Europe and in Russia. And we pay attention to the friendly position concerning the development of democratic institutions in our country. The only thing we are opposed to is using these tools as a means of interfering in our internal affairs in order to pursue one’s own foreign policy goals in the Russian direction.
As for Africa, there are indeed many problems there, and we also talked about this today. I expect that along with providing financial aid and writing off debts of enormous amounts we must at the same time solve issues of democratisation and control of flows of money. At the same time, we know that in some African countries until quite recently it was the practice to eat one’s political opponents. We do not have this practice or this “culture”, so I consider any comparison in this area to be tactless.
Thank you for your timely question.