Question: Which questions did you address during your private meetings with the heads of states? Could you tell us more about what you talked about yesterday with the British Prime Minister, Anthony Blair?
Vladimir Putin: We touched on different themes. Basically, international issues and the prospects for the development of Russian-EU relations. The third theme that interested Prime Minister Blair was our country's internal political situation and, in connection with this, my evaluation of the prospects for future Russian-EU cooperation. The Prime Minister talked about his vision of this process, and about how he considers the relations should develop in the near future. I should emphasise that I completely agree with his appraisal. It is a very friendly approach and an optimistic evaluation of our cooperation's prospects.
Question: You have been on two visits and met with many European politicians. In your opinion, how are our relations taking shape? What is Europe's attitude towards Russia today?
Vladimir Putin: I can ascertain that lately there have been important positive developments. First of all, in my opinion, we are much better at understanding one another, and getting a feel for each other's positions. Mutual trust is also increasing. Most importantly, the amount of cooperation in economics, in culture, and in education is expanding. All of this gives us hope that we will be able to keep up such a positive rate of development in the near future. Concerning both the visits to London and Brussels, I want to note their outstanding pragmatism and the intensity not only of the negotiating positions but also regarding their end result.
We already spoke about moving towards a simplified visa regime, and we spoke about more than just this. As you know, the main issues were cooperation in the energy sector, space sector, and in the field of high-tech. We also spoke about the struggle against terrorism. I was pleased with our British partners' openness, including that which we saw when visiting the COBR centre for counter-terrorism. I had the opportunity to listen to the heads of the British special services and police. They spoke about how their work is progressing. As a matter of fact, it was a proposal for close cooperation with their Russian colleagues. And of course, we will reciprocate this approach.
Question: We sometimes have the impression that questions which arise within Russian-EU meetings are circular in nature. Perhaps this is a mistaken impression. Could you point out some concrete achievements?
Vladimir Putin: I think that these impressions are based on reality and are products of the fact that many pressing questions have been on the agenda for a long time, and arriving at their final answer is quite difficult. There are many causes for this. For example, changing the visa regime is linked first and foremost to our own borders' openness. And most of all in the south of the Russian Federation. These are problems which demand huge capital investments and many years of hard work. Huge capital investments. We are reaching a solution to the question of the openness of the Northern Caucasus borders only now. A preliminary estimate of the cost is half a billion dollars and several years worth of work. And what can we say about the other borders?
All of this, including cooperation in different sectors of the economy such as high-tech, requires a high degree of mutual trust.
But there are also positive developments. Our cooperation in outer space is a good example of our cooperation within the high-tech field. I do not remember the exact quantity of launches that took place with the help of our booster rockets, but there is more than this. More importantly, cooperation is close and already concerns joint ventures. For example, we spoke about associating our efforts in space navigation and about our other joint projects. All of this speaks to the fact that the prospects for cooperation are very good indeed.
Question: Vladimir Vladimirovich, how did you manage to penetrate the secret bunker – the COBR centre? Please tell us about it in more detail, and whether you saw something there that is not present in our own such bunkers?
Vladimir Putin: Seeing as our partners are interested in developing our cooperation, entering it was easy. The realization that defeating a global threat such as terrorism is only possible by joining our efforts with those of our partners in Europe and North America leads naturally to expanding our cooperation and increasing our trust. As a matter of fact, this is the most important key which has allowed us to open the door to positive teamwork. I repeat once again that we are ready to embark on such work.
Question: Did you see something there that is not present in our own such centres?
Vladimir Putin: You know, I saw how our British colleagues organise their work. They have some things that we can learn from. But I am confident that it will be useful to them to understand how work goes on in our special services and Interior Ministry. But as a whole these contacts are well set up. Presently, we have very good contacts at the professional level. I am confident they will develop even further.
Question: During your visits the Northern European Oil Pipeline comes up more and more often.
Vladimir Putin: It is called the Northern European Gas Pipeline.
Question: Could any one country prevent its construction?
Vladimir Putin: I do not think this will happen, especially because many states are interested in this project's implementation. Actually the whole European economy is interested in this project's implementation. Moreover, its implementation is not directed against any third country. Of course, this is why it interests both Russians and our European partners. As I have already repeated many times, we are not going to prevent anyone from taking part in our teamwork in the energy sector in Europe. We are going to work with all our partners, and consider politicizing economic relations harmful, counterproductive, and hope that this will not be the case here. We hope that we will not encounter such problems. To torpedo such projects means preventing Europe's energy security from getting stronger.
Question: As you said, deliveries of Russian oil and gas have a huge value for Europe. What can you tell us concerning their increase in volume? And, if you will permit me, I have a question concerning Gazprom. For Europeans, Gazprom also has a huge value. Now they are very attentively following the legalization of Gazprom's market shares. What kind of legalization will that be, and when can we expect it to take place?
Vladimir Putin: To answer the first part of your question, I want to say that rumours and suspicions concerning our European partners' excessive dependence on Russian energy resources are grossly exaggerated. If we take Great Britain as an example, let me draw your attention to the fact that the 13.1 percent of Great Britain's energy needs are covered by Russian oil, 15.1 or 15.2 percent by oil products, and 23 to 24 percent by coal. Do you consider this to be such a large dependence? Moreover, no gas is actually exported from Russia to Great Britain. If Russian gas were in the British market it would make an essential contribution to maintaining the energy equilibrium and reducing prices to a level that is more accessible to consumers. Therefore, countries such as Great Britain especially need to develop their energy partnership with Russia.
For this reason I want to draw your attention to the fact that the British do not simply buy our energy resources but are also our partners in extraction. For example, it is well-known that the company BP owns 50 percent of one of the major Russian energy companies, TNK BP. I want to draw your attention to the fact that a quarter of all of BP's extraction takes place on the territory of the Russian Federation. Which excessive dependencies and dangers are we talking about here? And as to gas deliveries, if they are non-existant today, it is planned that in 2010 Russian gas will account for only ten percent of the gas consumed in the British market. This must make us happy. Indeed, I am having trouble understanding what we are talking about.
Regarding the liberalization of Gazprom's shares, yes of course this is what the company is planning to do. This is the company's business. We will not interfere with this process. But everything that has been done up until now is only preparation for actual liberalization. I hope that this will occur sooner rather than later.