Question: Could you say a few words about your visit to Morocco, your impressions of the last part of the visit, and perhaps a few words about your personal impressions of the royal palace?
Vladimir Putin: This was my third meeting with the King of Morocco. After he visited Russia, we identified and began developing our relations in all different areas. We began having regular political contacts and our respective foreign ministries often consult with each other on key issues, above all the situation in the Middle East, of course, and African issues. But our economic relations have also livened up, with bilateral trade tripling since 2002. This is certainly a positive change in the economic situation. According to our figures, bilateral trade is now at $500 million, while Moroccan figures put it at $1.5 billion. The difference in figures is due to the fact that part of the trade goes through intermediaries. The actual figure is, of course, somewhere round $1.5 billion. This is a good result. And what is interesting and important regarding our trade with Morocco is that the goods we export there include machine tools, equipment and chemical products, that is, quite a varied range of exports when compared with our trade with some other countries.
We are currently working on expanding our cooperation in the energy sector. There are good prospects for work together in the nuclear energy sector, the electricity sector and in prospecting and perhaps even joint production of fossil fuels. There is, of course, also the agriculture sector. All of this gives us reason to see Morocco as a very reliable and promising partner.
As you know, this visit has resulted in the signing of nine agreements. They are all practical in nature and I am sure they will play a positive part in further developing our relations.
Question: Energy prices are skyrocketing and stability in many energy-producing regions leaves a lot to be desired. In this context, is a politically stable Russia ready to act as guarantor of sufficient energy supplies for world energy consumers? Do we have the strength and the resources to do this, and would the United States and the European Union, who are worried about becoming dependent on Moscow for energy, accept it? Not a day goes by without them raising this subject.
Vladimir Putin: First of all, I think that Russia has always been a reliable energy supplier for its partners. It still is today and it will continue to be so. This is something we can guarantee. We are increasing production and increasing the amount of energy we supply to world markets. This in itself is a significant contribution to stabilising prices and resolving energy problems in the world.
As for the concerns expressed in some quarters, I am sure that these worries are groundless and that they arise above all out of a desire to make use of them as an instrument in competition. We will develop market relations in this sector of the economy, but we will also aim to achieve a balance between national interests and private initiative. I think we have been successful in this objective over recent years. As I said, production is increasing and we will continue to work in this direction. We will not only continue to develop production of the energy raw materials, but will also work on developing the electricity and nuclear energy sectors. In this respect we do have issues to raise with our partners because as things currently stand, we do not see that we are getting equal treatment on the market for nuclear fuel. Russia is seeing its interests ignored in this sector and we will work towards achieving more balanced relations with our partners in keeping with mutual interests in this area.
Question: Looking at your visit overall, if we look back at Russia’s relations with African countries, we see that there have been ups and downs, and now we are seeing renewed interest in Africa. What does Africa represent for Russia today? Does Russia have an interest in developing relations with African countries?
Vladimir Putin: The Soviet Union’s relations with the African continent were built on several main principles and interests. There was above all the ideological interest, the expansion of the Soviet Union’s ideological influence in the world and on the African continent. There was a geopolitical interest. When it helped the peoples of Africa fight colonialism and, in the case of South Africa, fight apartheid, the Soviet Union was of course pursuing its geopolitical interests. It was expanding its zone of influence and reducing the zone of influence of its main rivals, and we should be clear about this.
Today, times have changed. The Soviet Union paid a lot in its time to build up this positive political capital, and today we need to transform this into pragmatic economic relations. Practically all the African countries are of great interest economically, including for Russia. They offer opportunities to increase production of minerals and to import essential products that our country does not and cannot produce. Above all, this is true in agriculture. Tropical fruits, for example, do not grow in Russia and never will. So, we need to develop these economic relations and continue to build up our political cooperation.
Let us not forget that the countries of Africa and the non-aligned countries in general have huge influence in the world. We have traditionally had good relations with these countries. We need to maintain and build on these relations and transform them into pragmatic ties that will help us to reach our economic goals. This is a very promising direction for our foreign policy activity and for our economic expansion – economic expansion in the positive sense of the term, not as something anyone should be afraid of. Judging by the results achieved over recent years, this is a very promising vector for work. We will continue to work hard in this area in the future.