President of South Africa Thabo Mbeki (back translation): First of all, Mr President, I would once again like to welcome you and your delegation. Your delegation includes representatives of the Russian Government and the Russian business community. Also present here are representatives of the Russian parliament – the State Duma and the Federation Council.
We were very glad, Mr President, when you accepted the invitation to visit our country. As you know, you are the first Russian head of state to visit the Republic of South Africa. In this sense you are something of a pioneer. I hope that we will see more visits to our country by future Russian presidents in the years to come. We are genuinely glad that you were able to come to our country.
Many South Africans have great respect for the Russian Federation, not least because your country supported us during a difficult time in our history, and as you have pointed out, many of our representatives studied in your country. Our health minister, for example, graduated from a Russian university, from one in Leningrad, what’s more.
Furthermore, your country helped us in our struggle for liberation, and in this sense your visit is a way for us to celebrate this common victory together.
We are also happy to see you here, Mr President, because your visit gives us the chance to examine and work through a very important issue, namely that, despite the excellent political cooperation between our respective governments, we still have much work to do on developing our trade and economic ties, and we are happy to see that your delegation includes Russian business leaders. This gives us the opportunity to identify the steps we need to take in order to expand the scale and extent of our trade and economic cooperation. I am very pleased that tomorrow you will be here to witness the signing of two agreements involving the participation of Russian and South African business. The signature of these business agreements will be a sign of stronger and deeper economic relations between our countries.
We are very pleased that we have just signed an agreement on friendship and partnership. This is an important basic document that lays the foundation and sets out the global framework for relations between Russia and South Africa in all aspects and in all areas. This document reflects the current state of relations between our two countries, relations of friendship and strategic partnership. We are pleased that these relations have now been given a legal seal that will help us to continue developing our cooperation.
Furthermore, Mr President, we would like to express our sincere gratitude for your response to our request regarding the need for close cooperation between Russia and South Africa as South Africa prepares to fulfil its duties as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council. South Africa will take its seat as a non-permanent member of the Security Council starting on January 1, 2007 and will hold this seat for two years. This is an important and serious challenge for us and we will need to play an active part in deciding on and dealing with the issues that come before the Security Council. We hope that we will be able to count on the support of the Russian Government in carrying out this mandate so as to properly fulfil our responsibilities over the next two years.
Finally, Mr President, there is one thing that I regret, and that is that we were unable to change the weather in order to give you an excuse for staying on a few days. Unfortunately, we have lost this battle and could not change the weather for the better.
But if the weather were even worse, you would not be able to leave. When we were preparing this visit, we informed the President and the Russian leadership that high-level guests visiting our country usually address our parliament and our nation. The President agreed to this and said that there would be no problem.
But we ran into a number of problems as we prepared this visit by the President of Russia. Above all, we had to ensure that the visit would produce practical results, and so we decided to concentrate at government level and among the business community on these practical issues. Unfortunately, these issues require a lot of time and we simply ran out of time to be able to include the address to the parliament in the programme. This is why I am complaining that we have too little time. But the President has decided to concentrate on very important and substantial issues of cooperation between our two countries. Of course, had we had more time, President Putin would have addressed the parliament and the South African people. In a sense, he will address the South African people today at the state reception. But, as I said, if his plane were unable to leave because of bad weather, the President’s visit would be prolonged and he would be able to include the address to the parliament in his agenda. I am sure, however, that the future will bring another opportunity to do this, and I would once more like to wish the President of Russia a warm and sincere welcome to our country.
President Vladimir Putin: Ladies and Gentlemen,
First of all, I would like to express my sincere thanks to the President for his invitation, and to all of our colleagues for their warm and friendly welcome and for the businesslike atmosphere of our talks today.
President Mbeki is always frightening me a little with the weather and the cold in South Africa. As I already said, when the President was in St Petersburg in July at the G8 summit, I asked him what the weather was like back home and he said that it was very cold. But the cold does not scare us, after all, the temperature in Siberian cities fell to minus 50 C last winter. We feel, though, with what warmth we are being received in South Africa.
Since our countries established diplomatic relations 14 years ago, we have reached a very high level of political contacts. President Mbeki already mentioned that Russia, the Soviet Union as it was then, made a significant contribution to the South African people’s struggle for freedom. Today we have sealed this moral foundation of our relations in international law by signing an agreement on friendship and partnership.
We have held very productive talks today covering the whole spectrum of our cooperation. We discussed our cooperation on the international stage and the contribution our countries are making to resolving crisis situations on the African continent and in the world as a whole. But trade and economic cooperation was the main focus of our talks. This is understandable given that the level of our economic cooperation lags far behind the level of political trust and cooperation that we have achieved over these last years. Trade and economic ties between our two countries cannot be compared in volume to the ties South Africa has with other leading countries. But at the same time, we have great potential for developing cooperation. We place great hopes on the active work of the intergovernmental commission and we welcome the decision by our respective Chambers of Commerce and Industry to establish a Business Council. We are grateful to the President and the Government of South Africa for the spirit of business cooperation that our companies find here. We discussed the possibilities for carrying out major, long-term projects.
In conclusion, I would like to pass on to the people of South Africa the very best wishes from the people of Russia. The history of our friendship and the deep-rooted mutual sympathy we feel for each other is the best foundation on which we can build our future relations.
Question: Mr President, you said that you discussed major, long-term projects with your South African counterpart. Could you say something about these projects in more detail?
Vladimir Putin: Yes, we have such projects and we very much hope that they will be carried out. We have projects in a range of different areas.
Here today are representatives of Russian companies interested in working in the South African market. We discussed long-term projects in the areas of metals production, the mining of various groups of metals. One of our companies plans to invest more than $1 billion in manganese ore production in South Africa. Another of our companies is ready to take part in developing electricity production in your country along with the construction of an aluminium smelter in parallel. An agreement has been signed for the supply of nuclear fuel to South Africa’s nuclear power plant through to 2010. We propose expanding this cooperation and developing long-term and large-scale work together in the area of peaceful nuclear energy development.
Our leading space exploration enterprise, Roskosmos, has prepared a whole list of proposals for our South African partners. This includes making use of our possibilities in this sector for organising telecommunications, space probes of the Earth and other types of space activity.
I think there are good prospects for developing our work together in the agriculture sector and in the chemicals production sector. And I will not hide that we would like to see more vigorous development of military-technical cooperation between our companies.
The first steps in organising cooperation are being taken by partners in the oil and gas sector. They are working on the possibility of supplying liquefied gas to South Africa, working together to develop deposits and cooperating in production and work on third country markets.
I could go on, but this is part of the list of our mutual interests and the possible major projects that I hope, and am quite confident, will be implemented soon.
I did not mention cooperation between De Beers and Russia’s leading diamond producer, Alrosa. They have major joint projects planned for many years to come.
Question: I read some of the South African papers today and noted that they differ widely in how they describe this visit by the Russian President to South Africa. Some newspapers are calling it a historic visit, while others are literally screaming about a ‘Russian invasion’ of South Africa. I would like to ask both Presidents their view.
Thabo Mbeki: I agree that this is a historic visit. Can we call it an invasion? Not from my point of view. President Putin just spoke about this and I think that we are lucky that Russian investors are showing such interest in and commitment to economic development in our country. I do not think therefore that we could call this process an invasion.
One of the agreements signed today concerns cooperation in space exploration. Just to give an example, in December this year we plan to launch a South African micro-satellite using a Russian launch rocket. This will enable us to increase our presence in space and catch up with other countries who have already achieved greater success in this area.
Another agreement signed today concerns building up our country’s potential in the area of medical research. This agreement also provides for training for our medical specialists in Russian universities. This is about cooperation between medical institutions and this kind of cooperation will undoubtedly have benefits for the health of our people.
President Putin spoke of the need for military-technical cooperation. We are certainly interested in this, all the more so as the experience of the United States, France, Germany and many other countries shows that many inventions and developments in the civil sector have their origins in the military-technical sector. Russia has immense potential in this area. You spoke, for example, of the prospects for our cooperation in space exploration, military-technical cooperation and cooperation in other areas.
There is no doubt that our country must modernise itself, and modernisation requires scientific and technical development. If we send our medical students to Russian universities, this will contribute to our country’s scientific and technical development. I am extremely happy that the President was able to come to our country. This is the first visit by a Russian head of state, and I am also very pleased that the President has brought with him such a high-level delegation. Present here today are the directors and deputy directors of some of Russia’s biggest companies, and this is most certainly a very positive development for us. I think it would be unjust to call this process an invasion.
Vladimir Putin: I prefer to be cautious in evaluating our work. The fact is that this is the first time a Russian head of state has visited the Republic of South Africa or indeed any country south of the Sahara. This was a necessary visit, a working visit.
Many South Africans do indeed have very warm feelings towards Russia because of our help in the South African people’s fight for freedom. We are aware of this. Now the time has come to give these feelings a legal basis in the form of intergovernmental documents and agreements.
I think it is, of course, nonsensical to speak of an invasion, given that our trade and economic relations are currently at a very low level. South Africa has bilateral trade of $6 billion-$7 billion with the major European countries, but its bilateral trade with Russia comes to barely $200 million, so how can we talk of an invasion? We are simply making up for lost time. Yes, we do plan to carry out major projects involving billions of dollars in investment, but this is investment in the South African economy. This shows that our cooperation is something positive. I think that those who write of an ‘invasion’ are simply afraid of honest competition.
Question: The first question is for President Thabo Mbeki. Next year, South Africa will become a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council for two years. In this context, what kind of cooperation can we expect with Russia on resolving problems such as the Iranian civilian nuclear programme, the Middle East conflict and a multilateral approach in general?
And a question for President Putin: Why have you taken so long to visit our country?
Thabo Mbeki: First of all, I want to say that Russia and South Africa have had well-organised cooperation on these international issues for some time now. You mentioned Iran, for example. I can tell you that both Russia and South Africa are represented on the IAEA Board of Governors and that in this respect we have been working closely together on this issue for some time.
[Russian Foreign Minister] Mr Lavrov, and before him [Former Russian Foreign Minister] Mr Ivanov have met regularly with their South African counterparts. Thus, we already have ongoing cooperation on international issues.
Regarding the specific issue of our non-permanent membership in the Security Council, I would like to say in this respect that South Africa will have to take important decisions regarding the adoption of resolutions. We are not talking about the proclamation of some common position on the issue, and in this respect it would be useful for us to draw on the experience and potential of the Russian Federation, which already has a great deal of experience in this area. Russia can help us to better grasp the essence of these issues in order to make the right decisions and make our contribution to resolving the conflicts that the Security Council is working on. This will be an important addition to the system of cooperation we already have on the international stage in this area.
Vladimir Putin: Now your question to me. First of all, I would like to say that our contacts with our friends in South Africa have been growing consistently over these last years. This concerns intergovernmental ties, relations between our parliaments and also my personal contacts with President Thabo Mbeki.
But visits at the highest level should be accompanied by business agreements and give a boost to the development of bilateral relations. Visits at this level should not become some kind of business or political tourism but should have concrete, serious substance.
To be frank, when the Russian economy was undergoing its transition to a market system 10–15 years ago, it was not ready for full-scale and extensive cooperation with many of our partners. Today the situation has changed dramatically. We have had economic growth of 7.4 percent over the last six months and an annual economic growth rate averaging seven percent over the last 3–4 years.
The Central Bank’s gold and currency reserves are growing so fast that I can hardly keep up with the figures. These reserves grew by $80 billion over the last seven months and now total around $300 billion, $280 billion, I think.
We have a stable budget surplus and in fact have a double surplus – a positive trade balance and a budget surplus. Our companies are now able to invest billions of dollars and are looking for areas in which to invest.
I think that today’s visit, the signing of documents today and tomorrow, are the best way of showing our willingness on both sides to seriously develop our relations.
I think that we need to meet not only in order to share sentimental recollections of the past, but in order to create the conditions for developing our future relations. In this sense, today’s visit comes at the right time.
Question: As far as we know, Russia and South Africa are creating a Business Council as a form of cooperation between our countries. In this respect, what will be its missions in the short and long term?
Thabo Mbeki: As President Putin already said, this council is being established by our respective Chambers of Commerce and Industry. As such, the business people involved will set its goals. Of course, as the President of Russia said, our economic cooperation is still at quite a low level. I am sure, however, that as we expand our economic cooperation, businesspeople from both countries will need the support of a body such as the Business Council because companies on both sides will need information about the country in which they plan to invest and knowledge of the local laws. This means that the businesspeople themselves will set their own goals and objectives. But as our economic ties develop, the government and the state will also begin to play a more active part in this process. We are certainly interested in developing mutually beneficial economic cooperation between our countries, and the private sector will play a key part in this process. We are interested in developing and increasing investment on both sides, in developing trade on both sides, in expanding our cooperation in scientific research and development and in using the results of intellectual activity to raise productivity and increase trade.
Of course, as representatives of the Government we would like the council to focus precisely on these major objectives. There is certainly a need to expand the opportunities for Russian and South African companies to increase their trade.
It is very good that the establishment of the Business Council coincides with this important meeting between the heads of Russian and South African corporations, because it is precisely these people who will become the driving force behind the development of our economic relations.
We must certainly make use of existing experience and of our development in order to create new technology and new processes that will enable us to make new breakthroughs. We are counting on rapid development of our cooperation.
Vladimir Putin: The Business Council’s creation is the initiative of both countries’ business communities, and not a government initiative. I would very much like to see the Business Council generate its own ideas and set objectives for our governments, rather than the other way round.