Vladimir Putin: Many thanks dear Mr President, dear ladies and gentlemen.
We have just had very comprehensive and productive talks with the Chancellor of Germany and the President of France.
The meeting took place in the spirit of openness and full mutual understanding that we have come to expect. Once again this meeting showed that this tripartite format is both in demand and produces positive results in practice. We see this format as a good and reliable mechanism to coordinate approaches and develop joint initiatives in the spirit of our strategic partnership.
Once again I shall emphasize that exchanging opinions in such a regular fashion allows us to not only better understand one another but also to react adequately to topical international threats and challenges, as well as coordinate our positions bilaterally.
Here I would like to point out at once the similarity of our positions on basic international problems. Jacques just mentioned this. And we once again confirmed our common aspiration to find a just settlement for the situation in the Middle East, including in Lebanon. Our common mood with regards to the political and diplomatic resolution of the situation surrounding the Iranian nuclear dossier was also evident. And we have similar opinions with regards to creating conditions for establishing long-term stability in other explosive areas as well.
During the meeting we talked about the results of the G8 summit in St Petersburg. I am confident that when transferring the presidency from Russia to Germany we will be able to cooperate productively, including in spheres that hold special priority for us such as energy, the development of education, and the struggle against infectious diseases.
We paid special attention to Russia’s relations with the EU. It is obvious that developing the four common spaces remains an unconditional priority in cooperation between Russia and the EU. We hope that the true interest in deepening cooperation between Russia and the EU that our French and German partners showed at this meeting will allow us to seriously turn towards resolving the tasks at hand. I consider that such an approach will be conserved during Germany’s forthcoming EU presidency and then by France.
With regards to the other sectors in which we engage in tripartite cooperation I would also note that cooperation in industry and in energy are priorities for us. Russia is interested in mutual cooperation relations and in implementing joint projects in the high-tech spheres: in aviation, aerospace and modern transport infrastructure.
Of course we talked about the space sector and about aviation in reference to concrete projects. As you know, just yesterday we signed bilateral documents which will give us the opportunity to implement transport and infrastructure projects together and, in this case, projects of more than ten billion USD with our French partners. We have big plans with Germany in the energy sector and in mechanical engineering.
All of this was at the centre of our attention and I must point out that our meeting was not only constructive but was extremely business oriented and concrete. I am very thankful to the President of France, Jacques Chirac, for creating such a business-like and favourable atmosphere.
Thanks very much.
Question: Could you please give some more detail about the agreements reached in the aerospace and aircraft building sectors? And, if you permit, I also have a separate question for Vladimir Putin. Vladimir Vladimirovich, you have said on several occasions that you will not seek a third term in office. But lately, several Russian regions have come forward with the initiative of holding a referendum on amending the Constitution to allow you to run for a third term. If such a referendum were to be held, it is not hard to guess what the outcome would be. Does this influence at all your decision regarding a third term? Thank you.
Vladimir Putin: Let’s begin with our work today. You asked about cooperation between Russia and European countries, in particular, France and Germany, in the aerospace sector. This subject has become all the more relevant since, as everyone knows now, a Russian bank acquired a five-percent stake in the European Aeronautic Defence and Space Company (EADS). We discussed this particular matter in quite some detail today and examined our cooperation in this sector in general. Above all, what I want to say is that we expressed interest in developing our cooperation in this sector. Our German and French partners affirmed their interest too in taking part in a number of space projects, including the project to build a modern space shuttle, a new generation space shuttle for cargo transport and manned flights. We have a whole programme for developing our contacts with EADS, including in the industrial sector, indeed, above all in the industrial sector, as the President of France emphasised.
Regarding the acquisition of a five-percent stake in EADS by a Russian bank, I can reassure you all that this is not a sign of aggressive behaviour on the part of Russian partners. It is a securities market operation. Our bank took advantage of a market opportunity that saw this corporation’s share price fall, and it acquired the stake. We have no plans to use this stake in order to make any functional changes to EADS, but we are ready to develop cooperation with this company. This cooperation will develop in substance, however, only if we reach the relevant agreements with our German and French partners. This can be done through the work of an expert group, which will outline the prospects for such cooperation. We agreed today to set up this expert group.
As for the initiative to amend the Constitution, seek a third term and so on, as far as I know, there are no limits in France on the number of terms in office a president can have, but in Russia such limits exist. I am very grateful indeed to the people in Russia who show this trust in me, but to answer your question as to what to do in this situation, there can only be one response, and that is to follow the law and the Constitution in force in Russia.
Question: If my impression is not wrong, aside from talking about Europe’s excessive dependence on Russia, everyone is talking more and more about the need to expand cooperation, especially in France and Germany, and I think the esteemed leaders have just confirmed this. Do you sense any change in mood in this respect, and how will Moscow respond to these changes? And a question for all three leaders: what is your assessment of the current cooperation in the energy sector and work on major energy projects? Thank you.
Vladimir Putin: We spoke a lot about energy today, understandably. And we once again reaffirmed the view that what we have in this sector is a situation of interdependence. Your consumers are dependent on energy supplies from Russia, and our suppliers are dependent on your consumers. Overall this is a positive form of dependence that strengthens our cooperation and creates stable conditions for developing the European and Russian economies.
If we avoid politicising things, we can all agree that this assessment of the situation is the right one. We see positive changes in European public mood and in the political and business circles in our partners’ countries. We not only see these changes but react to them accordingly. I informed my colleagues today on our plans in the energy sector. All of our transport infrastructure development plans are not directed against anyone else. The only objective these plans pursue is to diversify transport routes for our main consumers in Europe. Our traditional transit-country partners will not end up facing shortages on their domestic markets – this is not and will not be part of our plans. These countries will continue to play an important part as transit countries as they have done up until now. We do not plan to reduce transit through the countries that have traditionally been our partners in this area and will continue to be so. Russia will fulfil all its commitments to all of its partners in Europe. Furthermore, during one of her first visits to Moscow not so very long ago, Mrs Merkel raised the possibility of organising gas supplies from one of the biggest oil and gas deposits in the northwest of Russia, the Shtokman deposit, to the European markets. I can inform you that Gazprom is examining this possibility and could make a decision on this issue very soon. For your information, I can say that today we deliver around 55 billion cubic metres of gas to Germany, I think, but we could supply 25 billion-45 billion cubic metres of gas a year from the Shtokman deposit alone at peak supply period. You can just imagine what kinds of quantities we are talking about here, and what this would mean for the European economy and for the German economy. This deposit has enough reserves to ensure supplies for 50–70 years. This creates an absolutely stable and sustainable situation in the economy and on the European energy market, above all in the energy sector in Germany.
Question (For President Jacques Chirac): According to the newspaper l'Est Republicain, the French intelligence service has sent you a report about the death of Osama bin Laden. Can you confirm this? I would also like to ask, Mrs Chancellor, Mr Putin, do you have similar information?
Jacques Chirac: My first reaction is surprise that a confidential intelligence report should have been published, and I have asked the defence minister to carry out an immediate investigation into this affair and make the necessary conclusions. As for the substance of the matter, this information received, it is completely unconfirmed at the present moment and I have no comments to make on it.
Angela Merkel: We have no information on this matter.
Vladimir Putin: First of all, I would like to say that a very well-organised exchange of information exists between our intelligence services. We are happy with the level of cooperation we have, especially with our French partners. These are very competent and professional people and they are carrying out useful work together, including in the most serious area today – the fight against terrorism. As for various leaks, all I can say is that when we are dealing with reports of this kind and leaks of information occur, one cannot help but wonder if it was not done deliberately. But we have no similar information on this matter.
Question: Yesterday the leaders of Hezbollah held a large rally in Lebanon, at which they criticised the UN forces. In particular, they said that German naval forces and the UN forces in general had come to ensure Israel’s security. Mr Chirac, Mrs Merkel, Mr Putin, what is your assessment of this demonstration? And another question, you spoke about a just solution for Lebanon: would an international tribunal to try those guilty of the assassination of Mr Hariri be part of this fair settlement process?
Angela Merkel: I think that we are acting on the basis of resolution 1701 and this means that we are helping Lebanon and supporting it in carrying out its missions, that is, guarding its coast and preventing arms smuggling. Germany has taken a wide range of measures to ensure an independent, strong and sovereign Lebanon, and it is precisely in this work that we are supporting the Lebanese prime minister and government. At the same time, Israel, of course, has the right to exist, but in this particular situation what we are doing is implementing resolution 1701.
Jacques Chirac: I have said on many occasions, do the Lebanese want to live in a free and independent country? And the answer is unquestionably yes. But a country cannot be free and independent if its government is incapable of exercising its power throughout the whole territory. This is what the United Nations concluded when it passed resolution 1701, and this problem must be settled. The Lebanese can and should settle this problem themselves. This should be an internal process based on common sense. At the same time, you mentioned the demonstration, a sign of democracy, and it is clear that Hezbollah will need to play the role of political party in Lebanon, a party that is part of the Lebanese people and that takes its place within the rules and framework of democracy. This is what we want for Lebanon and for the Lebanese people.
Vladimir Putin: First of all, I would like to say that we are ready to make a decision on sending a small contingent of Russian military engineers to Lebanon in order to help it rebuild infrastructure destroyed by bombing. We plan to do this not as part of the UN mission but on a bilateral basis, and we think that this will make an important contribution to the international effort to rebuild Lebanon. We will do this, however, only if it is clear that all the political forces in Lebanon want this and that all the political forces welcome our participation.
Regarding the tragic assassination of Prime Minister Hariri, we think that an international investigation that results in court proceedings is absolutely the right direction to take and, as President Chirac and I discussed yesterday, it should make it clear to all that the international community will not accept such terrorist methods of resolving political problems. The murderers should be found and punished, whoever they may be.
Question: (For President Vladimir Putin) You said, regarding the ‘frozen conflicts’, that there is a common position. What is this position, in particular concerning the unrecognised territories in Georgia, especially in light of what Mr Saakashvili said recently about demilitarisation. Thank you.
Vladimir Putin: Mikhail Nikolayevich [Saakashvili] can be very intense about things, but then, political leaders in the Caucasus are known for their strong emotions. This is all the more so, of course, as he is concerned for his country and concerned about the complicated situation it is facing.
I think that dialogue and compromise should form the basis of any settlement, and that if all the parties to the conflict show the necessary political will, a solution can certainly be found. Russia is ready to act as guarantor of possible agreements reached. This reflects the common position to these ‘frozen conflicts’ that we noted today.