Jan Peter Balkenende: Mr President!
I am very grateful to you and your delegation for visiting the Netherlands. This visit highlights the special relations that exist between the Russian Federation and the Netherlands.
We can also say that until now your visit has been very successful. Your visit with her Majesty the Queen, your dialogue with the members of parliament, your discussion with Dutch business representatives and the talks with the Kingdom's government have once again proved it. We highly value these contacts.
President Putin will not take offence that at the beginning of our press conference I will recollect the cowardly murder of Theo van Gogh which took place one year ago. Following the murder, friends, family and all of Dutch society was in mourning; it was a great shock for us. In addition, we have already spoken about this during our private talks and the talks with our delegations. For this reason today is doubly emotional, since on the one hand we are full of grief and sorrow, and on the other we are very pleased that the President of the Russian Federation is in the Netherlands.
In this way, today, November 2nd, is characterised by these two important moments.
Ladies and gentlemen!
The President of Russia's visit is very important for several reasons. The first is the active economic contacts that exist between our countries. All know that the Netherlands are one of the largest investors in the Russian Federation's economy. The opportunities for technological cooperation are immeasurable. Regarding the energy sector, we cannot overestimate the importance of good cooperation between our countries. In particular we spoke about gas pipelines. In addition, we spoke about the Kyoto protocol, and on possibilities of cooperating in ecology. We also spoke about outer space.
Yesterday an important conversation with Dutch business representatives took place. During today's talks we emphasized the necessity of further strengthening economic contacts.
The second reason is that today, as we remember the murder of Theo van Gogh, strengthening and deepening political dialogue is especially important. We understand the importance of the media's role, freedom of speech, supporting human rights, and developing democracy and a lawful state. With the President we have come to the conclusion that dialogue in these areas is possible. I am grateful to you for that.
We spoke about the growth of extremism, fundamentalism and radicalism. These problems are worrying for everyone. In such cases dialogue is necessary.
It is necessary to talk about human rights. Certainly, we spoke about the situation in Chechnya. I told President Putin that the Netherlands are concerned with the human rights situation in the Chechen Republic. We came to the conclusion that an open and honest dialogue on this problem is what is most important.
The third reason is the mutual aspiration to intensify our cultural contacts. After celebrating the year of Peter the Great in 1997 we have achieved significant progress in this sphere. We can learn much from one another and will do everything we can so that cultural ties will be strengthened.
We discussed our ties in economic, political and cultural spheres and we wish to strengthen these ties. We spoke in a friendly way, very concretely and openly. The exchange of opinions was very useful, and I am very happy about this. Relations between the Russian Federation and the Kingdom of the Netherlands have attained a new level, and for this, I am very grateful to you Mr President.
Vladimir Putin: Thank you very much, Mr Prime Minister! Dear ladies and gentlemen!
First of all, I wish to thank Her Majesty the Queen for the invitation and for giving my delegation and myself the opportunity to have a state visit to the Netherlands.
I wish to express my gratitude to Mr Prime Minister and his colleagues for the detailed discussion that took place today and also for the substantial, thoughtful organization of our visit.
Both yesterday and today we spoke about the strong traditions of friendship and mutual enrichment which have linked our countries' people over centuries. Certainly, we spoke about prospects for the 21 st century.
The meetings with the heads of both chambers of the Estates-General were very useful and fruitful. We highly value the results of the talks that just took place with the Prime Minister.
Our relations are developing dynamically and becoming more substantial. Our shared task is to keep the rhythm up.
Special attention was given to trade and economic ties. The Netherlands are one of Russia's leading European partners. In 2004 trade was more than 16,6 billion dollars and this year we can realistically reach the 25 billion dollar mark.
I am convinced that combining the natural competitive advantages of Russia and the Netherlands, first of all in technology and resources, is a way to increase the potential of our national economies. In which sectors do we cooperate? They are of course energy, the agricultural industry, the food industry and the high-tech sector, including in space exploration.
Today a number of agreements that create a good, additional legal base for expanding our cooperation were signed. Cooperation between regions is also increasingly substantial. We have reached a good dynamic for mutual contacts in the fields of science and education. Undoubtedly, cooperation in the cultural sphere has a special meaning for our peoples who have rich creative potential. I am pleased in the Dutch public's interest in the new building Hermitage on the Amstel, which opened in Amsterdam in 2004. We are going to provide government support for similar such projects.
Regarding international issues, first of all we touched on cooperation between Russia and the European Union. I noted with pleasure that in the parliament of the Netherlands, as well as during talks with the government and with Mr Prime Minister, we met people who believe, understand and support the process of integrating Russia and EU partners.
It is in our shared interests, that the stability and security of the whole European continent be strengthened, as will be our ability to effectively combat new threats, including of course international terrorism. We are ready for the widest possible cooperation in antiterrorism, both on a bilateral and a multilateral level.
In conclusion I would like to say that Russia highly appreciates the desire of the leadership of the Netherlands to develop friendly relations with our country.
I would also like to thank Amsterdam's inhabitants for the warm welcome, which could not be overlooked. Many thanks to you.
Question: Mr Prime Minister Balkenende, what is your personal attitude towards the construction of the Northern European Pipeline under the Baltic sea? Do you intend for your country to take part in its construction?
And a question for President Putin. In which capacity is Russia interested in the Netherlands' participation? And one more question, Vladimir Vladimirovich: the Prime Minister mentioned the anniversary of the murder of Theo van Gogh. What can you say in relation to this?
Jan Peter Balkenende: You are right to mention the Northern European Pipeline. It is a very important theme. The Netherlands are very interested in what happens because the Netherlands are directly affected by future energy deliveries. The Russian Federation is an extraordinarily important country and the Netherlands are interested in participating in such projects. We discussed this issue with President Putin. We know what is happening with the pipeline and we know about Great Britian's participation in the discussion. We will continue this dialogue.
Vladimir Putin: For my part I can note that we are interested in more of our partners participating in the construction of the system of pipelines. But this also depends on other countries already participating in the implementation of this project as well as on us. But in any case, I would like to tell you that this project will be much more grandiose than simply a pipeline under the Baltic Sea. There is also the construction of different gas containers in various European countries including the Netherlands. It also includes the construction of additional services under the Baltic Sea, possibly from the Netherlands to other countries, including Great Britain. The Russian party received an offer from our Dutch partners, and it will be closely studied.
I will say for myself that on the political level we shall only welcome our partners' activities, partners who are working in a major sector of the European economy, the energy sector. Regarding the tragic murder of Theo van Gogh, this was an awful thing. I think that first of all today we should think of Theo van Gogh's loved ones and have sympathy for them.
Certainly this is part of a wider problem of international terrorism. Russia has been fighting this evil for quite a long time, including in Chechnya. We are dealing with very cruel people, with animals in human clothing who do not understand and do not want to understand the time and world in which they live. Thus our actions should correspond to the threat they pose for modern civilization. We have great, and often irreplaceable losses. But if we show weakness for just one minute, our losses will increase many times over. And to work effectively we must join our forces; we talked about this today with Mr Prime Minister.
Question: A question for Mr President and Mr Prime Minister regarding the human rights situation. Mr Balkenende, you spoke about human rights and about Chechnya. Therefore the discussion was described as an open dialogue. The President of Russia's statement did not contain the words “Chechnya” and “human rights”. Is this the result of Mr Putin, yesterday at the formal reception Queen Beatrix praised Russia and spoke about its stability, but noted that democratic institutions and press freedom can be further developed. It is true that a lot has been done regarding stability, but as for democracy and human rights, it must still be worked on.
Jan Peter Balkenende: All of us know that the problem of the Chechen Republic is a very difficult one. The Netherlands government and other western European countries always require that human rights be respected. At the same time we know that Russia points out that terrorism in this region is very dangerous. We can say that concern for human rights and for human rights activists exists. We spoke about this during the visit. And I also noticed that the President listened very carefully to our concerns. However, he also expressed his anxiety. For this reason I am very glad that we discussed such subjects during our dialogue and that we did not avoid them during a state visit. We were able to
Vladimir Putin: As a matter of fact, I already answered your question when speaking with your Russian colleagues. But I shall add to it.
I said that our actions in the struggle against terrorism must correspond to the threat terrorists represent for our societies. But of course we should act in a civilized way. We cannot allow them to use principles and democratic ideals to fight with democratic institutions. I consider that in the Caucasus and in Chechnya we are protecting both our interests and your interests. If we allow terrorists to raise their heads in one region, than they will appear in yet another one.
Regarding human rights, this is a pressing problem. It is present everywhere where is violence. But we are ready to cooperate and we are open. We have completed some major political events in Chechnya: we took a referendum on accepting a constitution, presidential elections have taken place. We always invited our colleagues from European organizations to take part, at least as observers. Nobody came. Representatives of international Muslim organizations participated in these events – both from the Islamic Conference Organization and the League of Arab States.
I sometimes have the following question: would some Europeans like to be more Muslim than the Prophet Muhammad? We have the expression 'being more Catholic than the Pope'. I sometimes have the impression that certain European politicians want to be more Muslim than the Prophet Muhammad.
But we will consider the offers of European colleagues with a great deal of attention, and recently in Brussels we formulated a joint action plan, including in the Chechen Republic. We accept this with gratitude and shall work together.
Question: How you can explain such a high volume of trade and economic relations between our countries? In general, there are many countries with developed economies such as the Netherlands in Europe, but they do not have such indicators. And in connection with this how do you evaluate the creation of a Russian-Dutch business council?
Vladimir Putin: You know, it is difficult even for me to answer that question. First of all the Dutch government creates favourable conditions for the development of mutual trade and for encouraging Dutch investments in the Russian economy. Secondly, probably the Dutch business community itself keenly feels the prospects for cooperation and the development of the Russian market. And the third is what we have mentioned frequently over the past two days – our relations have a long tradition. These are not just empty words.
Question: Mr Putin, do you not think that since your country enjoys growing stability it is necessary to support democratic establishments and independent mass media?
Vladimir Putin: We have spoken about this many time during this visit, such as during the discussion with the parliament of the Netherlands, where I presented the internal political situation in Russia and talked about the motives and the essence of the decisions regarding the new system of having elections by regional parliaments determine the Russian regional authorities. I talked about our plans to strengthen the country's multiparty system by changing the way the parliament is formed through party lists. I talked about our plans to decentralize power in connection with the laws on the development of the municipal level of government and giving this level a significant share of power and financial resources. I talked about our plans to support, first and foremost economically, mass media. Let me remind you that in Russia today more than three thousand radio and broadcasting corporations, along with more than 47 thousand printing houses are functioning. Internet is developing very quickly and absolutely freely, something which causes certain problems and raises certain issues, and I think not only in our country, but also in western European countries. But despite these questions, Russia is not undertaking any steps to restrict the freedom of the Internet. This is the general situation.