Vladimir Putin: Good evening dear ladies and gentlemen.
I am grateful to you for gathering here. I also want to tell you at once that nothing sensational will happen here. We assume that in order to best help us and yourselves, that we should orient ourselves around what is happening today in St Petersburg. The work has not yet properly begun and you already know the results of our meeting with the President of the United States. Along with this I would like to start by expressing my sincere gratitude to all my colleagues, heads of G8 countries, for giving Russia the opportunity to assume the presidency and organize this event in Russia. I am thankful that they agreed to St Petersburg as the place where we will do our joint work. We prepared for this event very seriously and were met with understanding and support from all our colleagues in G8 member countries.
Since the beginning of our presidency we have hosted more then 60 events. And after it is over we plan to hold around another twenty events to continue our joint work. Arrangements to this effect already exist and, I hope, will be confirmed tomorrow and the day after tomorrow during our teamwork.
As you know, I was able to meet with representatives of civil society – more then seven hundred nongovernmental organisations gathered in Moscow. We met with representatives of trade unions, churches, with participants in the conference of prosecutors general, and listened closely to the business community’s recommendations. And, I am not sure how much you are impressed with it, but it seemed to me that our Junior G8 was quite a success. In any case, I met with young people from eight countries and I have a very pleasant impression – they are very gifted, clever young people who are really interested in the discussion they are leading among themselves. I am confident that my colleagues will find it pleasant to meet with them after our main work here in St Petersburg is done.
I would also like to express my gratitude to the leadership of St Petersburg and all the city’s inhabitants for giving us the possibility to work in St Petersburg. And for our part we will do everything we can to minimize inconveniences for city dwellers.
I think that we have managed to establish the necessary working atmosphere for media representatives. And I would very much like for you to be able to do more then just work hard, but also get to know one of the most beautiful cities in Europe and Russia, the city of St Petersburg. And I want to welcome you all to St Petersburg and to wish you fruitful, successful and interesting work here in St Petersburg. Thank you very much for your attention and I am ready to answer several questions. I will warn you at once that there will be no earthshaking revelations here since work has just begun.
Question (Television Channel ”AL-JAZEERA“): First of all, Vladimir Vladimirovich, allow us to thank you and your assistants for the excellent organisation of the event. Everything has really been well organised for us, for journalists. And I think that the majority of my colleagues will agree with me. In connection with this: Vladimir Vladimirovich, do you consider that the war in Lebanon will spoil the picture that we see now? And do you think that the peace process in the Middle East has already failed?
Vladimir Putin: I hope that the picture is a pretty one but at the G8 it is never simply a happy one. Because we are gathered here to work. We have other opportunities to relax together, to gather in less formal conditions and, as you know, from time to time we use these opportunities.
We gather at the G8 to discuss current world problems and look for joint solutions in what is perhaps the most important and most difficult area in which we cooperate on the international arena. Certainly this concerns the Middle Eastern problem. We — the Russian party – regret that just before the G8 and during our work we are observing such escalation of tensions in the Middle East.
I already said and would like to repeat that whatever difficult questions there are we still need to expend a maximum amount of efforts towards resolving them with peaceful means. We do not think that peaceful means to resolve conflicts have been exhausted in the Middle East. It is not just that we don’t welcome, but we condemn any terrorist attacks, including kidnapping. But we have the impression that in addition to wanting to ensure return of the kidnapped servicemen, Israel is pursuing larger strategy goals. And we hope that peaceful means for resolving them will be found.
Question (Television Channel RTV): I have a question on your attitude towards expanding the G8 to include other countries such as Brazil, China and perhaps India. This issue has been discussed for a long time and many of these countries would like to see the G8 become a G10 or G11. Thank you.
Vladimir Putin: As you well know, Russia joined the G8 not long ago and has taken on the presidency for the first time. I hope that this will be a successful event and experience. For that reason we certainly have our full say in making decisions, including that type of decision. I will simply tell you honestly that for the next while I would consider it inappropriate to put forward such an initiative.
Along with this, you are absolutely right, it is difficult to imagine effectively resolving economic, financial and energy problems without economies that are developing as quickly of those of China or India. And it is certainly true that for the American continent, in terms of development, the most powerful and promising country is Brazil. And if our partners consider it possible to put these issues in practice then of course we would support decisions of this kind.
Question (BBC, Russian service): Vladimir Vladimirovich, regarding the discussion between you and President Bush on Iran. Did your positions become any closer, and does Russia look at the possibility of introducing sanctions against Iran more favourably?
Vladimir Putin: Today at the press conference with the President of the United States we already said that we are satisfied with how the six-country forum began its work and we consider that this forum must be used to develop common approaches towards resolving this problem. The question consists not in toughening our positions but in uniting them. And as a matter of fact this is the most difficult thing to do but could also be the most effective way to resolve the Iranian nuclear question.
Question (”DELHI NEWS“): Mr President, I represent ”Delhi News“ from India. What is your view of negotiations between India, China and Russia that are taking place for the first time? What is the meaning of these three-party negotiations and how will they affect development in the region? Thank you.
Vladimir Putin: China is our neighbour and our historical partner, the same as India. You are well aware that Russia and India have long-standing partnership relations, very close relations. And I believe that the prospects, first and foremost for economic cooperation, are very great. As of yet despite the high level of political cooperation, we have not managed to engage in effective economic cooperation. For that reason when we meet in such a format we will first of all be concerned with developing economic relations between the three states. And we have already worked in this area for a long time with a view to establishing effective mechanisms for cooperation. I believe that this will certainly increase trust not only between our three countries but in the region and the world as a whole.
Question (”SMENA“ Newspaper, Grozny): Dear Vladimir Vladimirovich for six years now, and contrary to Russian and international legislation, no foreign travel passports have been issued in the Chechen Republic. Please give your comments on this situation? Thank you.
Vladimir Putin: I am very grateful to you for bringing this up. I will tell you frankly that I didn’t even know that passports are not being issued. We will try to correct this state of affairs in the near future. I think that the problem consists in the fact that the whole process of providing valid identification papers has not yet really been carried out in Chechnya but this is not a reason for not doing what you said and not resolving the issue that you raised. I will certainly pay attention to this problem and thank you for bringing it to my attention.
Question (Persian Television): Mr. President, I am from Persian Television and I would like to follow up, if I may, on the Iranian issue. You seem to be firm in your stance on Iran. You talked with the Iranian president when he was in China. How far are you willing to go, and do you have any assurances from the Iranians that they will accept this package? And if I ask you to speculate: what is the next step for Russia with regard to the Iranian nuclear activities? Thank you, Mr. President.
Putin: Well, I have said a lot about this already in public, and I find it difficult to imagine what I could add. We would like all countries in the world, including Iran, to have the right to gain access to all high technologies, including nuclear high technologies. I mean, you can’t just prohibit countries from using nuclear energy and keep that technology only for some countries. And that is a problem not only with respect to Iran but also other countries that would like to develop their nuclear energy sector. So for that reason it is extremely important that we manage to put in place conditions that will allow for the development of peaceful nuclear energy, eliminating of course the possibility of the proliferation of nuclear weapons, or preventing the proliferation of nuclear weapons. And that is precisely why we came forward with the initiative of setting up a network of international centers to enrich uranium and make it possible to reprocess spent fuel. I mean, if there were such a network of centers then each country would have democratic access to nuclear technology on an equal basis and the international community would no longer have to fear the proliferation of nuclear weapons.
Question (The Japanese economic newspaper Nikkei): Mr. Putin, in the course of your bilateral meeting with Prime Minister Koizumi of Japan, did the Japanese side come forward with any new initiatives regarding the building of the second section of the Far East pipeline? I mean, was it discussed?
Putin: Well, quite frankly, no. The Japanese side wants this project to be implemented, and that’s consistent with our plans as well. At the present time, our Japanese partners would like us to enter into an inter-company and inter-state agreement on that issue. Our position is that this is a purely commercial project and that the state should not be taking on any commitments in connection with the implementation of this project. It’s a very promising project, very viable and efficient. The Asian and Pacific Ocean region is developing very quickly and needs more and more energy sources, and there is a huge demand for the resources that we have. So we believe that providing additional state guarantees – something that we refused to do in connection with commercial projects just a few years ago – would not be appropriate at the present time. We will continue to discuss the project with our Japanese partners and I do have the feeling that we’ll find a mutually acceptable solution.
To find the resources for the construction itself is not such a big issue – the problem lies elsewhere I mean, it’s really an issue of having the pipeline run at full capacity from Skovordino to the Pacific Ocean. To that end the Eastern Siberian fields and deposits need to be further developed.
Question (The Daily Telegraph, Great Britain): Mr. President, I’m from the Daily Telegraph of London. The British Ambassador to Moscow earlier this week attended an opposition conference, and as a result made it pretty clear that the British government was sort of disappointed with some elements of your government’s policy towards democracy building. What’s your response to this criticism and what will your message be to Prime Minister Blair later today?
Putin: Well, you know, we regularly take up issues of this nature with all our colleagues, including the Prime Minister of Great Britain. We talk about such issues very openly, frankly and sincerely. It’s a subject – it’s an item that comes back to the agenda almost every time we meet. I have already spoken on this issue today. We carefully hear out all of our partners, we take into consideration their views on such issues, but we make our decisions ourselves.
In connection with this there are also other issues, such as combating corruption. And it would be very interesting to hear about your experience on corruption including the case with Lord Levy. There are other issues and other problems and not only in Great Britain but in other G-8 countries. So we will have a broad agenda to work upon.
Question (Georgian National Television): This morning you said that there was some discussion with President Bush of conflicts in neighboring areas. Will you discuss Georgia and the conflicts on Georgian territory be discussed during the summit? And what would you say about the current situation in South Ossetia?
Putin: I am convinced that we will be talking about the entire post-Soviet area and in particular those hot spots where calm has not yet been restored. When I said today that we talked about conflicts in neighboring areas, well, we were in fact talking mainly about Georgia.
I’m convinced that during tomorrow’s discussion and the discussion the day after tomorrow these hot spots in the post-Soviet area will be discussed. Insofar as South Ossetia more specifically is concerned, we are of course very concerned about the situation there: I mean there are assassinations taking placethere all the time. I’m sure you’re worried about it in Georgia as well. It’s a very tense situation and that tension is not being defused. And we hope that our Georgian partners and friends will manage to find some means of interaction and cooperation with their South Ossetian brothers to avoid the occurrence of such incidents.
Question (Media holding AzerRoss): Mr. Putin, this is a follow-up question to the one put by Georgian television. The issue of Nagorno-Karabakh, that’s another regional conflict. Will it be discussed, will that be taken up? And what is your view of the Nagorno-Karabakh issue?
Putin: I think that we will – in fact, I’m sure we will touch on the Nagorno-Karabakh issue. Especially since most of the G8 countries are involved in attempts to find a solution to that conflict. President Chirac is very closely involved in those efforts, President Bush as well, and others also. We would very much like to see Armenia and Azerbaijan find a mutually acceptable solution. Insofar as the Russian Federation is concerned, I can stress once again our position, which consists in not imposing any solution either on the Azerbaijani side or the Armenian side. The nations, those two nations, must reach a compromise themselves. But of course the Russian Federation and other G8 countries as well are prepared to act as guarantors when it comes to the implementation of whatever agreement is reached.
Question (Radio Mayak, Russia): My colleagues have already spoken about how well the summit has been organized. You have invested a lot in the summit personally. What does it mean for you and what do you think could be the most productive outcome of the summit — on July 17, after it is over?
Putin: Well, we believe it is an important event. I’ve already said that one should neither over- or underestimate the importance of any event. In the international community there are institutions that are the foundations of international life. And of course those are, first and foremost, the United Nations and the Security Council. It is there that the most difficult issues are discussed and that the ultimate decisions are taken. Under Article 7 of the UN Charter, you know, decisions can be made even to force countries to adhere to decisions made by the Security Council. And, therefore, countries involved in settling such vexed, contentious issues as the Iranian issue or the North Korean issue insist that the Security Council consider these issues and make decisions to be implemented.
The G8 is not one of such institutions. That does not mean that the G8 is not an important international forum. It is! And in the course of preparation at the expert level, the ministerial level, the prime ministerial level, also with representatives of civil society and the business community, various issues put forward by the presidency for discussions at the summit, they all go through that whole process of discussion. And this is extremely important for coming up with coordinated decisions at the summit. So, I hope it won’t just be a question of running through the agenda, I hope we will, in fact, manage to agree and adopt those documents that have been prepared through all of those processes.
Question: Good evening, Mr. Putin, my question is a very simple one. 2008 is a year that has often been referred to as a turning point for the Russian Federation. Now, with respect to those countries whose heads of state you are hosting, do you in fact see this as some sort of a turning point in the future of our economy, of our political scene? I mean, is this really a strategic aspect? Will you be taking into consideration what you hear on that issue from our partners, that the situation in the Russian Federation is very difficult, very complex, that the future is unpredictable? But you, as a sort of a future guarantor, could you say that today the Russian Federation is a fully equal strategic partner of all those countries you are hosting?
Putin: Well, I am not a future guarantor. I am the guarantor of the Constitution until 2008, and not beyond. But I am fully convinced, and all the work that I do, am doing now and will be doing in the immediate future, aims at making all of this process of democratization and setting up the market economy irreversible in the Russian Federation. It is also aimed at putting in place the conditions required for the Russian people to make their own free choice. It is not myself, it is the Russian people who have never and never will let down their partners. Russia is a reliable ally.
Thank you very much, ladies and gentlemen, for your great interest in the G8. If holding press briefings at the summit is of interest to you, …. then we can continue the tradition. I see that everyone is in favor, so I will be meeting with you every evening when our work for the day comes to an end. [Applause] Thank you. And once again, I wish you not only hard and interesting work, but also a pleasant stay in the beautiful city of St. Petersburg, and I hope the weather treats you well.
Thank you once again.