Russian President Vladimir Putin: Dear ladies and gentlemen! Dear Mr Prime Minister!
I would like to point out at once that this trip to Moscow is the new Italian Prime Minister’s first visit outside of the European Union. We highly appreciate this and consider it to be a sign of the special respect that our partners pay to developing Russian-Italian relations. For our part we sincerely wish Mr Prodi and his cabinet success in their work for the benefit of the Italian people.
Our visitor today is one of the most authoritative and influential European politicians. He has experience not only in national government but also in the European Commission. I will point out that while he was head of the European Commission Mr Prodi did a great deal to increase cooperation between Russia and the EU. As a matter of fact, he was the author of the so-called common spaces in Russian-EU relations and did a great deal to implement these plans. We expect that this constructive dialogue in the interests of stability and developing of integration processes on the European continent will continue.
Of course, today first and foremost we discussed the condition and prospects of our bilateral relations in detail. Contacts between members of our countries’ governments are developing actively and we are getting ready to hold the ninth session of the Russian-Italian Council on Economic, Industrial and Financial Cooperation.
We have paid close attention to the prospects for developing Russian-Italian business ties. It is obvious that despite the significant growth of our volume of trade – which has now reached 23 billion dollars – our partnership in this important sphere has not yet reached its full potential. We consider that we have room to improve in the high-tech field as well as the energy and investment sectors. We certainly support and welcome the agreements signed today between Sukhoi and Finmeccanica concerning a strategic partnership.
During our talks we touched on pressing international issues. Our approaches to finding a Middle Eastern settlement practically coincide. I informed Mr Prime Minister in detail about my talks with the President of the Republic of Iran. And we agreed to hold talks on this question in the future.
We also had an interesting conversation with respect to other problems. And finally we exchanged opinions on issues concerning the forthcoming G8 summit that will take place in St Petersburg.
In conclusion I would once again like to thank our Italian friends for their frank, business-like approach to talks and to express the hope that the Prime Minister’s visit to Russia will act as a good stimulus for further developing intergovernmental ties.
Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi: It was with a great deal of pleasure that I accepted your invitation to visit the Kremlin as Prime Minister of the Republic of Italy. I have not been in Russia for a year and a half. But I noted with pleasure that the friendly atmosphere and strong cooperation between Russia and the EU is the same as when I was head of the European Commission. And it was in this spirit that we touched on the most serious and most delicate questions on today’s agenda. And of course, we touched on the situation in Iraq and Iran and I am very thankful to President Putin for making the commitment to exchange opinions on these issues on a regular basis.
Both parties expressed their concern regarding the situation in the Middle East because, of course, a certain amount of progress has been made but we are a far cry from attaining the peace settlement that we would have liked.
Our bilateral relations have already reached a new phase in the energy sector. Our relations are no longer those between a seller and a client; Italy is already present in the Russian market for electricity production. And we will soon see a Russian presence in the Italian market.
Of course we were disturbed when we were informed that Ukraine is not pumping gas into underground storage facilities, in other words that they are not creating strategic reserves. Of course we would like to avoid the risk that we were faced with last winter. Certainly, we will do everything possible to create these reserves in advance and in sufficient quantities so that we will be able to provide for next winter.
Regarding business relations I will point out the great value of the agreement that was just signed. This agreement finalizes Russian and Italian participation in constructing civil aircraft, a sector in which we can produce a great deal of planes. This is only the beginning and we would like our exchanges in this area to develop more and more intensively.
In conclusion we discussed the issue of small and medium-size Italian businesses participating in Russian industrial zones, and not only in zones that already exist but in other areas such as the production of consumer goods. This is a sector in which Italy is a big producer and in which Russia has been a consumer up until now but would like to also become a producer. We also discussed creating a joint Russian-Italian Bank in which we would participate on a 50:50 basis. Establishing this bank is necessary to facilitate and encourage both Italian and Russian investments.
In several weeks we shall meet again in St Petersburg where Russia will organize the G8’s most important summit meeting for the first time. There we will have the opportunity to continue our discussion with respect to both international and bilateral issues.
Question: Mr President, Mr Prime Minister, during the conversation you must have spoken about cooperation between Russia and the European Union, about the Russian G8 presidency and about dialogue in the energy sector. Could you tell us about this in more detail?
Vladimir Putin: Regarding the development of relations between the European Union and the Russian Federation, I already told you what a big contribution Mr Prodi made as head of the European Commission. About 80 percent of our activities with the European Commission are aimed at implementing the four common spaces. And it was Mr Prodi who actually initiated the first and most important project, the common economic space, right here in a room next door at a Russian-EU summit a while ago.
On a bilateral level Italy was one of the first countries to sign an agreement with Russia about simplifying the visa regime for certain categories of Russian citizens. As a matter of fact these agreements constitute the basis of a similar agreement we came to with the entire EU at a recent meeting in Sochi.
Also with regard to our bilateral relations, for me it was extremely important to listen to Mr Prime Minister’s opinion supporting increased cooperation in the high-tech field. The fact that Mr Prodi just mentioned industrial zones is also an important sign since this was the previous government’s initiative and it was pleasant for me to hear that the new government also supports this. It was also extremely important for us to hear Mr Prime Minister’s opinion on allowing Russian companies to enter the Italian energy market in exchange for our readiness to allow Italian producers to extract oil and gas on the territory of the Russian Federation. The same thing that we are doing today with, for example, our German partners from BASF. As a matter of fact, in practice this amounts to implementing the provisions of the Additional Protocol of the International Energy Charter without formal legal ratification from the parliament of the Russian Federation.
In other words we are ready to do this but not with everyone – only with those partner countries that are ready to compromise and are ready for cooperation based on equal rights.
And finally we agreed to look at the possibilities for developing cooperation in the military technological sector and simply military cooperation since both would increase the level of trust between our countries. In July of this year the Chief of Staff of the Russian army will make an official visit to Italy.
Thank you very much.
Romano Prodi: I cannot add much to what has already been said. I can only say that I am very satisfied with how I see cooperation with Russia developing at the European level. I remember that at our first bilateral meeting in the room next door I was asked the following question: ‘How do you perceive Russian-EU relations?’ And I answered: ‘I see them as vodka and caviar’. I do not know what vodka is or what caviar is, I only know that they go very well together. And for that reason, from that moment we started an integration process that continues today and is impossible to stop.
Regarding other themes I completely agree with what President Putin said. I can only add that I pay a great deal of attention towards cooperation in creating industrial zones. Perhaps it is because my past forces me to advertise these zones but it is also a really good way to prevent creating barriers that would stop small and medium businesses from making investments.
Vladimir Putin: We will now show our Italian friends just how well vodka and caviar go together. We will pass to practical matters … They will not let us start serious work.
Romano Prodi: I have good news: we already learned that there will be vodka and caviar.
Vladimir Putin: This learning process will be completed, I promise.
Question: Good evening. I have a very short question that I would like to ask President Putin and Prime Minister Prodi. At your meeting you touched on important themes in international politics. You declared that you are of the same opinion regarding various crises and that you will regularly consult on regional crises, including those in Iraq and Iran. As regards Iran can I ask the following question: did you discuss in depth the theme of Iran’s being able to use nuclear energy for peaceful purposes and did you talk about whether countries will coordinate their positions within the UN Security Council?
Romano Prodi: Yes, we certainly discussed this theme in detail and it is important that we established a system of mutual contacts so that we can coordinate our efforts to resolve the Iranian crisis. I declared that Iran is Italy’s main trading partner. And even if Italy is not participating in work undertaken by the Six, we still have vital interests in this country and for that reason we think it is a very positive thing that we be kept informed about evolutions in Iran. These evolutions hold vital importance for us.
Vladimir Putin: Italy is one of Russia’s major partners in Europe. As we just heard, Iran’s cooperation with the Republic of Italy is very important since the volume of trade and economic relations between the two countries is very large. It follows from what I said at the very beginning regarding the importance of Russian-Italian relations that we will take Italy’s position into account. And Mr Prime Minister and I agreed that we will create the corresponding mechanisms to hold consultations on this topic.
Regarding the Security Council’s participation in this issue, as a matter of fact, the problem of the Iranian nuclear programme is already being examined by the Security Council. But our task consists in using the negotiating process between the six countries and our Iranian partners to bring this issue back within the IAEA framework. And from what I heard from our Iranian partners at a meeting in Shanghai it seems to me that this is quite possible.
Thank you very much.