Austrian President Heinz Fischer: Dear ladies and gentlemen, I would like to warmly welcome you to this meeting. I am pleased to be able to welcome the President of Russia to Austria for the first time. We regard this visit as very important and very valuable. We developed its programme together and intend to discuss all issues and, simultaneously, to work on further developing Austrian-Russian and EU-Russian relations. We reviewed our economic relations and are pleased with how the figures reflect our successes: over the past six years our volume of trade has doubled. We are expecting a significant increase in our economic relations following the agreements that we reached during this visit.
We also discussed cultural and scientific issues. And I am very pleased that we agreed that certain archival records that are presently in Russia will be returned to Austria, along with certain books. We have a green light for all of this.
We also discussed the issue of human rights — we discussed all aspects of the issue and talked about the legal status of non-governmental organizations. I asked Mr Putin whether a UN representative will travel to Russia in the near future. This issue has been addressed.
President Putin also described the situation in Chechnya. We discussed another two issues: the legal status of the Russian Orthodox Church in Austria and the Kosovo problem. We spent a lot of time discussing the latter. We expressed our opinions. We have different points of view on this subject. And we are not so naive as to think that we might solve a problem that Europe has already been working on for a long time in 20 minutes. One can say that the best solution would be one that is supported by both parties, by both Serbs and Albanians. The question is: when will this happen? And what happens if no specific agreement is reached?
We also talked about the media’s situation, the freedom of the press, and the extent of this freedom. Mr Putin is ready to repeat the audience he gave yesterday at another suitable time.
In sum, I can say that our conversation was very positive. I am very optimistic about the future development of Russian-Austrian relations. I am also confident that the spirit of our conversation will act as a positive stimulus to EU-Russian relations.
President Vladimir Putin: Dear ladies and gentlemen!
First and foremost I would like to thank the President of the Republic of Austria for the invitation and for our substantial and trusting conversation — both one-on-one and, just now, in an expanded format. We were once again convinced that our Austrian colleagues, our friends, are intent on developing fruitful and friendly relations with the Russian Federation.
We discussed a wide range of issues, both bilateral and international ones. I would point out that with regards to trade and economic cooperation — and Mr President mentioned this as well — we already have very serious accomplishments, and have taken important steps forward. Our volume of trade amounts to more than five billion dollars. True, I said that our trade with your neighbours — with the Czech Republic — is already worth 7, 4 billion dollars. This is a good example to follow. We have much to do. Investment cooperation is also increasing and is becoming a two-way street. The volume of our mutual investments is growing: Austrian investments in Russia amount to about two billion dollars and Russian investments in Austria to about a billion.
We attach particular importance to a constructive energy dialogue, to the delivery of Russian energy supplies to Europe, and, of course, these supplies will be available for the Austrian economy in the long-term. The contract between Gazprom and its Austrian partners is valid until 2027. This is the first new long-term contract with European partners and I would like to emphasise that it was signed with Austrian companies.
A memorandum of understanding between Gazprom and its partner OMV is ready to be signed and will act as a good basis for further, closer partnership. In addition, Austria is the most important and, I would emphasise, reliable transit country for Russian energy entering Europe: about a third of Russian gas supplies to Europe pass through Austria.
We also talked about important prospects linked with implementing joint institutional projects in machine building, metallurgy, innovation and transport. The Russian-Austrian business forum that was held today in Vienna also bears witness to the fact that our representatives, our industrialists and our entrepreneurs intend to intensify their partnerships. They want to help strengthen direct links between the Russian regions and the Austrian federal states. This certainly represents an important reservoir that will help develop and diversify our cooperation.
We also discussed ways to improve the legal framework of our cooperation. We agreed to quickly finalise preparations on signing an agreement on cooperation in combating crime and on providing assistance in the event of natural or man-made disasters.
Russia and Austria are linked by a long-standing traditional friendship and by cooperation in the cultural sphere. We discussed the problems that Mr President mentioned, problems concerning the transfer of valuables. We are going to work in a spirit of partnership and look for solutions to any problems that we have inherited.
Austrian youth are increasingly interested in learning Russian — there are around 11,000 students of Russian in Austria. Projects in the spheres of culture, science and education are increasingly interesting and deserve our support.
By the end of 2007 we will prepare and adopt the latest programme for cultural cooperation and exchanges. In the near future we will extend our 1997 intergovernmental agreement on scientific and technical cooperation.
Almost 90,000 of our compatriots who gave their lives to free Austria from Nazism are buried in Austrian soil. And I therefore could not help but express my sincere gratitude to the authorities and citizens of the Austrian Republic for their respectful, considerate attitude to the military cemeteries.
During our discussion with Mr President we paid a great deal of attention to Russia-EU relations. I told Mr President about the results of the Russia-EU Samara summit. I hope that Austria will continue to make a positive contribution to developing relations between Russia and the EU.
I would like to emphasise that the existence of problems — and such problems inevitably arise in the course of large-scale work — should never obscure the good prospects for cooperation between Russia and the EU. The Samara summit clearly proved this point.
As our exchange demonstrated, Russia and Austria’s attitudes to European and global development coincide in many respects. We are in favour of uniting the international community’s efforts to prevent the spread of weapons of mass destruction and to settle regional conflicts. There are issues on which we must continue consultations. They include Kosovo, for example. Mr President also talked about this. I think that during this joint work we will find solutions that will benefit Europe, Russia and all interested parties.
Thank you for your attention.
Question: President Putin, in the west we hear a lot of criticism of Russian democracy. Sometimes we hear that Russia is not yet ripe for a fully developed democracy. Do you oppose or share such views?
Vladimir Putin: Mr President and I discussed this issue today. I must say that I consider that the existence of human rights organisations, institutions such as the European Court of Human Rights and other structures, which bring the attention of a given country’s authorities to the problems that you mentioned is a crucially important component of today's globalised world. And I think that we in Russia must listen to others’ criticism. Just like some of our partners in European countries must not forget that they have quite a few such problems. Both in the investment sector and in the humanitarian sector the process of trying to find solutions to any problems and issues that arise should always be done in a friendly way.
We should recall that as early as 1993 the European Court of Human Rights made a ruling on the restrictions linked with issuing permits for radio and television stations in the Austrian Republic. And quite a few permits continued to be denied after that ruling. European structures as well as international human rights organisations have drawn attention to shortcomings in Austrian immigration laws. They have drawn attention to the fact that immigrants, and particularly African immigrants, were wrongfully arrested, beaten, and often tortured.
These are the problems of a globalised world and are part of contemporary life. We must think about these problems and resolve them together. But we cannot accept that someone starts lecturing or preaching. However, this does not apply to our Austrian colleagues: we were met with understanding and a desire to work together on resolving all issues, including the ones you mentioned.
Question: The first question is to the Russian President. What specific role does Austria play and could play in the future in Russia-EU relations which, as we know, have become a little more difficult lately? And a second question to both presidents: you already mentioned a number of positive developments in your bilateral relations. Along with that, are there any problematic issues that would inhibit partnership and mutual understanding? And if these issues do indeed exist, then what are they?
Vladimir Putin: First of all, I will take the liberty of saying — and we remarked this today during our discussions with Mr President — as a whole we do not have any problems within our bilateral relations, not one troublesome factor. Strange as it might seem, our relations are purely positive ones. But if we look at the problems we inherited, then the problem of returning valuables is the only one that remains and it is one that we inherited from previous generations. And we would like to solve this problem and are moving forward, taking decisions, and will move further in this direction.
As to Austria’s role in developing Russian-EU relations, then it always was an important one. I have already said so. I do not think that we have any particular problem with the EU. We have always had certain difficulties in our relations with our closest neighbours. And I think that if we look at the past then we see that the Soviet Union is somewhat to blame for this and that our partners must get rid of their past predjudices. This takes a certain amount of time.
Of course with EU expansion all these problems have now moved to the European stage. This is not conducive to quickly developing our relations with the EU. But there are certain advantages, namely that the new EU members — despite their acting with a certain economic self-interest (something we see on occasion and that I already mentioned) motivated by the desire to receive certain items more cheaply than what they would be on the world market — will eventually be forced to play by common rules. I think that one must be patient, respect the positions of our partners in central, eastern and western Europe. And of course Austria can play a positive role in this respect.
Heinz Fischer (back translation from simultaneous translation into Russian): To begin I would like to confirm that Russian and Austrian bilateral relations really have developed extremely well. And the purpose of today’s visit consists in further promoting these positive developments, the result of many years’ work. I have already said that we discussed the Kosovo issue in detail. Austria is of the opinion that the existing proposals are equitable ones and we, therefore, support this project. However, we do still have our differences on this issue. As to European issues, Austria is both a loyal and an active EU member. We participate in decision-making within the EU and therefore support the positions taken and decisions made by the EU. However, there are still some issues that Russia and the EU need to discuss. We have different points of view but our role consists in helping make sure that this discussion takes place in a just and mutually respectful atmosphere. We are not a country that would renege on European solidarity.
Question: Mr President, you already mentioned that the Russian economy is booming. The Russian economy demonstrates great confidence in the Austrian economy. Can the Austrian economy manifest the same amount of confidence in the Russian economy, particularly with regards to long-term energy supplies? Could you provide guarantees on this issue?
Vladimir Putin: Our cooperation is the guarantee. We have worked with our Austrian partners for over forty years. We pumped more than 450 billion cubic metres of gas through Austria for our European consumers. And there never was a single interruption of gas supplies. Since problems do not arise from the Russian side — problems arise when transit countries want to take advantage of their unique position to receive one-sided benefits and advantages outside of existing market relations, advantages based on certain preferences, holdovers from the Soviet Union. We consider this unfair. We are working with these partners and in general we have already managed to reach agreements with almost all of them. Unfortunately, we were not always able to agree without problems, without disagreements but that is how life goes. We never had any problems with our Austrian partners. And I hope that this is also true for Austrian partners that work with our companies.
Austria consumes about 6,6 billion cubic metres of gas. Tomorrow we are opening a big gas storage facility in the Salzburg region that can hold 2,4 billion [cubic metres]. This amounts to a third of Austria’s domestic requirements. This is a huge reservoir. This represents a good step towards stabilising our energy relations. Today we will certainly talk about other areas in which we cooperate with Mr Federal Chancellor, with our colleagues and with Austrian ministers.
With regards to the general reliability and stability of our relations, entrepreneurial structures bear witness to the fact that our relations are both stable and reliable. And if we look at the total volumes of investments, then our Austrian partners tend to trust their Russian colleagues more than Russians trust Austrians, since Austrian investments in Russia are about twice as much as Russian investments in Austria.
Question: Radio Mayak. I have a question for both Russian and Austrian presidents. As the President of Austria said, you spent a lot of time discussing Kosovo, and you said that you have differences of opinion. What are those differences and how would you assess the situation in the region? One gets the impression that the situation in Kosovo is very volatile. What will be the result?
Heinz Fischer: We believe that the region we refer to as the western Balkans is a very important and sensitive region. Our main goal consists in bringing peace, stability and economic development to this region. We consider that this goal can be achieved thanks to a European outlook. This region, like other parts of Europe, will become a peaceful place, one in which prosperity and peaceful development reigns. The problem of Kosovo remains unresolved. This problem is like a wound that has not yet healed. The UN requested that the special representative make certain proposals. We believe that these proposals are fair and are leading in the right direction. We are concerned that a consensus between Serbs and Albanians does not seem possible and, therefore, we cannot put off finding a solution for too long. We exchanged opinions and talked about the impact of such a settlement for other regions. It was a very business-like discussion that helped us understand each other’s point of view.
Vladimir Putin: Our position is based on the fundamental principles of international law — one of the most important such principles is the principle of territorial integrity — and on previous UN Security Council resolutions, in particular Resolution 1244. And both the resolution itself and its annexes speak to the fact that Kosovo is an integral part of Serbia. Our position is clear, honest, absolutely open and justifiable. If a member of the international community considers that these international legal principles must change, then it would be possible to change them, but this cannot be imposed on any of the conflicting parties. We need to engage in dialogue and ensure that all parties to the conflict agree with these decisions. And finally, the last thing. If we introduce certain principles then they must be universal ones and be applied just as readily in one part of the world as in other, similar situations.
Question: Relations between Russia and the European Union are still tense, in particular because of Russia’s ban on imports of Polish meat. Can you imagine finding a compromise solution to this problem?
Vladimir Putin: You know, the problem is even more complex than it seems at first glance. I have already talked about this and I will repeat it once again. The EU is engaging in large-scale subsidies for agriculture. We are talking about billions and billions of dollars or euros. Russia cannot afford such subsidies for its agriculture but, what is even worse, the subsidies for eastern European countries result in the following: the agricultural goods produced as a result of these subsidies are then dumped on our market. And our European partners are not yet ready to discuss this serious problem with us. I consider that this is both unfair and wrong: we must think about our own interests, about our producers, just as you do in your countries. And in this respect we need to conduct a dialogue with all our cards on the table. That is the first thing.
The second. We would very much like for the dialogue to take place as provided for; and today we have the legal framework to do it on a bilateral level. You know, rules for importing agricultural products into EU territory exist but the export rules are very liberal. And the issue is not limited to — and I have already spoken about this — Polish farmers. The issue is that, in our opinion, the Polish authorities are not very good at supervising their own people that are involved in trade — not production but trade. They are importing products from third countries, from Latin America and Asia, and then dumping them on our market. That is too much! This is simply killing our agricultural production. And here we need to engage in direct dialogue with Poland. With regards to agricultural producers in Poland itself, on May 2 we sent proposals on the subject of allowing our health inspectors to give Polish farms the go-ahead to supply livestock for slaughter to our companies. There has been no answer. We are waiting for an answer. And I think that our Polish colleagues’ desire to support those involved in trade is in direct conflict with the need to support Polish producers. But we are going to look for a solution and continue our dialogue. We intend to engage in normal, constructive work.
Question: My question is for the President of Austria. What is your attitude towards the deployment of an American missile defence system in Europe? Was your country consulted on this issue? And in connection with this, a question for the President of Russia: has the Russian party changed its position after your recent contacts with the Americans?
Heinz Fischer: We did not discuss the missile defence system during our working meeting because we did not have enough time. We might be able to discuss this issue tonight at dinnertime. The Austrian attitude on this issue is well-known. We are not involved in this issue but it is very important to us that these issues be discussed openly in the appropriate institutions. Our general position is as follows: as much security as possible, as few weapons as possible. That is our main stance on this issue.
Vladimir Putin: We did not have talks with the Americans today, we had talks with the President of the Republic of Austria. But we have not changed our position in any way following the contacts we had with our American partners. We have not changed our position because we have not heard anything new. We consider that this is simply a harmful thing that is not necessary either in Europe or in the world. What negative developments are taking place in Europe so that you need to fill eastern Europe with new and newer weapons? Why do you need to open a new base in Bulgaria? Why do you need to open a new base in Romania? Why do you need to have a radar station in the Czech Republic? Why do you need to deploy missiles in Poland? What happened that worsened the situation in Europe and requires such actions? Nothing, and nothing will happen except a new arms race. We consider that this is both completely counterproductive and harmful. And we will try to prove to our partners that we are correct during an open, honest and — I hope — very substantive discussion. Not with generalities but with facts and at the expert level. Against which missiles is this missile defence system being deployed? Iranian ones? Iranian missiles have a range of 1700 kilometres and that is all! I think that Iran is planning to get missiles with a range of 2400 [kilometers] by 2012. But in order to be able to protect Europe from Iranian missiles, to justify it, Iran would have to have missiles [with a range] of 5800 kilometres. They are not even planning this! And missiles have already been deployed. Why? Who can explain this? There really is no adequate explanation.