Vladimir Putin: Ladies and gentlemen,
First of all I would like to heartily thank our Greek partners and friends for the cordiality and hospitality shown to the Russian delegation here in Athens.
Today we, together with Mr Karamanlis, the Prime Minister of Greece, and Mr Parvanov, the President of Bulgaria, held three-way negotiations. This format was not chosen accidentally. The questions which we discussed today are of fundamental importance for our three countries. Above all, they concern a partnership between Russia, Bulgaria and Greece in the energy sphere.
As you know, the subject of energy cooperation and energy security was one of the main items at the St.Petersburg summit of the Group of Eight. We consider that reliable access to energy is crucial to the dynamic and stable development of civilization. This can be achieved only by taking into account the interests of all participants in the energy chain: producing, transit and energy-consuming countries.
Russia is one of the largest suppliers of energy resources to European and world markets. In this connection, Bulgaria and Greece, being our long-standing and dependable partners, are of special interest to Russia.
Favorable geography and the possibility of organizing in these countries large regional centers for the transit and processing of Russian energy resources are opening up new avenues and prospects for our cooperation.
Russia has repeatedly stated its readiness to take part in the development of the energy infrastructure in Bulgaria and Greece and particularly in the construction of the Burgas-Alexandroupolis oil pipeline.
In the joint declaration adopted today, we pointed to the long-term goals and current objectives of our countries in the energy field. It is my belief that this sphere is capable of becoming a driving force of a Russian-Bulgarian-Greek partnership both in the near future and in the longer term.
In conclusion I would like to thank my colleagues for their businesslike and interested approach to the issues discussed.
Clearly the results of today’s meeting will significantly strengthen our partnership and further enrich the already multi-faceted Russian-Greek and Russian-Bulgarian relations. Of course, during the meeting we talked not only about energy and not only about the Burgas-Alexandroupolis project; we also talked about coordinating efforts between me and my Greek colleague and partner. We will have an opportunity to discuss the full range of Russian-Bulgarian ties with Mr Parvanov.
I wish to thank our Greek friends once again for their hospitality, as well as for their speed and readiness to develop relations between our countries.
Thank you very much.
Question: Mr President [Vladimir Putin], what is your attitude to strategic cooperation between Russia and Greece after the today's meeting with the Greek Prime Minister? Thank you.
Vladimir Putin: In fact, this is what Mr Prime Minister and I discussed at the beginning of our meeting. We both noted that our relations are truly strategic and are not limited to energy problems. We should not only expand this sphere but also think how we can refine our trade and economic ties and how we can achieve a relevant balance, so that our trade balance reflects not only the volume, but also the quality of our trade and economic ties. We have discussed cooperation in the military-technical sphere. We have spoken about coordinating our efforts on the international stage, where our countries have many common interests related to key issues on the international agenda. All this allows us to speak of the truly strategic nature of our ties and relations with Greece. And we are very satisfied with the level of our relations and hope that they will continue developing at the same pace.
Anna Nikolayeva, Vedomosti: I have a very simple question for all the leaders. Would you please say what and, perhaps, who could now hinder trilateral cooperation in the energy sphere, especially the construction of the Burgas-Alexandroupolis oil pipeline? And could you please elaborate on when the construction is expected to begin? Have you discussed a specific date? Thank you.
Mr Karamanlis (translation from Greek through Russian): I do not believe that anyone can hinder it. We have used this occasion to express our political will at the top level to carry out this initiative as soon as possible. We have set up a schedule so that all procedural issues can be settled and we can sign the agreement in 2006. This allows us to be optimistic even about specific commitments on the implementation of the project.
Mr Parvanov: Ladies and gentlemen! Of course, the principles that unite us played an important role in our conversation. It is very important for me that we have a common position on the specific steps that are to be taken. As representatives of the mass media, you know there is only a short period during which you can control whether the agreements we reached are complied with. We have just a few months to draft an inter-state agreement; an international designing company will do research and launch the project. It would be hard to achieve more, at least at the current stage. I will say once again, from now on it is up to those who have to implement specific agreements.
Mr Putin: Energy is a complicated sphere with tough competition. The project we discussed today is definitely in line with our national interests. When we study the need to carry out this project, we see that all our partners that will be involved in the project are not simply interested in it. This is not a routine interest; it raises the status of all countries involved in this work, the status of their involvement in solving Pan-European energy problems. It is easy to understand that discussing energy security problems in Europe is one thing and having an energy infrastructure – oil and gas storage facilities, terminals, pipeline networks – on your territory, to levy taxes on them, and to have influence, real influence on the European energy policy is another thing. And this is what we propose. The most important thing is to learn to recognize your national interests and consistently work to achieve them, despite any competition. I believe that today's agreements prove that we are able not only to understand the importance of what we are discussing today, but also to achieve a specific final goal. I hope that the timeframe we have agreed upon for the project will be met.
Question: A question for President Parvanov. You mentioned energy security. What was the Bulgarian position you were defending during the meeting, what are our terms? And a question for Mr Putin. What are the tough terms Russia has set for pipeline construction to be launched?
Mr Parvanov (translation from Bulgarian through Russian): We did not enter these talks with any preliminary conditions. Perhaps, one of the reasons for the project's slow implementation is that discussions on the details of specific aspects are too long. You should not expect a forum of two heads of state and a head of government to discuss details. The terms are general and we do not have any disagreements on them. It is very important that each party should understand that it benefits from the general idea and not try to benefit from particulars, i.e. this country's share in the project's implementation.
Bulgaria receives security and reliability. Any country that has such an oil pipeline is protected from many international threats.
Bulgaria receives an advantage in energy security. Clearly, Bulgaria and Greece are countries that will be very important for energy shipments in the future. Is there a better role for our countries in the context of the common European processes that are developing in this direction?
Thirdly, our countries, our people and our businesses will benefit from the economic development opportunities derived from such a project. Involvement in construction, transportation and transit means many more economic leverages for each of the parties. This project will have a much more significant social effect if it is completed before the deadline we have set.
Mr Putin: I would like to say that the people of our countries, including Bulgaria, have been informed about the idea for the project and our agreements. Russia has not set any tough terms. We only want such projects with our traditional partners to be fulfilled.
As I told my counterparts, two and a half months ago we decided to build an oil pipeline from Siberia to the Pacific coast, and we launched the project. Work has been underway for two and a half months. We have already laid over 250 km of pipes. In two and a half months. The Burgas-Alexandroupolis pipeline is just 277 km long. And we have been negotiating on it since 1993. The Baku-Ceyhan [pipeline] has been built in the meantime. The Blue Stream gas pipeline has been laid across the bottom of the Black Sea to Turkey. If we continue cooperating with our traditional partners like this, there will be no result. All routes will bypass us. And this will mean lost profits, both political and economic. You should not think that someone is looking for any special advantages. Any project in the modern world has to be first of all economically efficient. Specialists will have to work on it. The political will to carry out this project, as well as other similar projects, has been formulated today in the declaration we adopted.