President Vladimir Putin: Dear Mr President!
Dear ladies and gentlemen!
We have just completed negotiations with the Greek delegation and with the President of the Hellenic Republic. I would like to immediately mention the traditionally friendly and trusting atmosphere in which these negotiations took place. The same atmosphere that has always characterized relations between our countries.
We discussed the whole range of bilateral issues in a constructive and meaningful way, and we also were able to exchange opinions on various current international issues.
I hope that Mr Papoulias would agree with me when I say that the Russian-Greek dialogue is developing as dynamically as ever. And our countries relations are stable and have very good prospects.
Trade, economic and investment cooperation are all progressing. I agree with Mr President that they could increase much more. Energy is an important field in which we cooperate. In March 2007 we signed the Agreement on Cooperation in the Construction and Operation of the Burgas — Alexandroupolis Oil Pipeline.
I believe that this significant project, one that is important not only for our countries but for Europe’s entire energy market, will be implemented as quickly as possible. Russia has solid energy potential and Greece has an advantageous geographical position for transport. And this tandem certainly is a promising one. Including with respect to ensuring energy security in Europe.
We would like to further expand and diversify our partnership. And we intend to embark on new projects in science and technology, in agriculture, and in other sectors.
Tourism plays a significant role in Russian-Greek cooperation. And one can also say that this sector is a promising one: more than 250,000 Russian tourists visit Greece every year. And this number is constantly increasing.
The potential for Russian-Greek cooperation in the political and economic spheres is significantly expanding.
I would place special emphasis on the constant contacts between Russian and Greek Orthodox churches. Their dialogue has undoubtedly had a positive impact on Russian-Greek relations. We intend to continue expanding our mutually beneficial cooperation in the cultural and educational spheres as well as contacts between youth.
Specific aspects relating to our future cooperation are outlined in the Joint Action Plan for 2007–2009 that our foreign ministers just signed. Implementing this document is in the best interests of Russian and Greek citizens.
Greek President Karolos Papoulias: Dear ladies and gentlemen!
Please allow me to begin by expressing how happy I am that we visited Russia and that we were able to meet with Mr Putin. I think that we are witnessing the very best years of our bilateral relations, and this was reflected both in the talks that I had with President Putin and in the talks between our ministers.
President Putin and I discussed a range of bilateral and international issues: relations between Russia and the EU, between Russia and NATO, relations in the Middle East, the Kosovo problem. We paid special attention to the Cyprus problem. This is an international problem stemming from the military occupation of a sovereign state.
We thoroughly examined our bilateral relations and found that significant progress has taken place. The Action Plan for 2007–2009 creates a clear framework for further developing our bilateral relations.
Signing the agreement on the construction of the Burgas-Alexandroupolis oil pipeline is particularly important with respect to diversifying energy transport at the bilateral and multilateral levels.
It was particularly gratifying to see that our cooperation in the military and technical sector is progressing very well, which will be reflected in a joint communiqué by our ministers, and also to see progress in tourism and in cultural relations.
The further development of our trade and economic relations holds special significance. During our visit we have repeatedly observed the need for such cooperation and it is for this reason that our delegation includes members of our countries’ business communities. And the work done by the business council that we visited this morning is establishing the basis for further developing these relations.
Russia is a country that plays a significant and distinctive role in international affairs and that also carries a significant weight in economic ones. A strong powerful democratic Russia whose citizens are prosperous is not only positive for Russia. We live in an era in which there are many threats to international peace.
At the same time, our responsibilities to future generations pose a unique problem. The contribution of your great nation to these matters of international importance has a special significance.
Please allow me to thank President Putin once again for his exceptional hospitality. I invited him and I hope that he will once again visit Greece.
Question: Last year there was much talk about energy security and energy stability. How does Greece, one of the world’s energy crossroads, approach this problem?
And a question for Mr Putin: how close are the two countries’ approaches to this problem?
Vladimir Putin: I will start, if I may.
With regards to energy security, Greece is one of our priority partners and, I hope, that Greece feels the same way about Russia. We already mentioned today that Russia provides 40 percent of Greece’s oil requirements and about 80 percent of its natural gas requirements. We can also expand our cooperation to include the electricity sector.
As to energy security in general — in the world, in Europe — we discussed this in detail at the G8 summit in St Petersburg. This is a major issue for global security as well as for the world economy, and for that reason we need to resolve several problems. We need to share responsibility more equally between suppliers, consumers and the countries that transport energy resources. We need to work towards diversifying energy supplies to our main consumers. We have the impression that our Greek partners share our understanding of energy security.
Our position is open, completely transparent and market-based for all our partners, independently of our political relations with any country at a given time. This applies to all countries in the Caucasus. We have an identical approach to absolutely all of them: to Georgia, Azerbaijan and Armenia. This also refers to our western neighbours, to Belarus and Ukraine. Absolutely identical approaches.
But there is something even more important. In agreement with the EU we are moving towards equal conditions and price setting within Russia. We are doing this for ourselves, first and foremost for our economy. So that there are no distortions in our energy sector. But this also amounts to implementing our agreements with our European partners. We hope that we will continue to engage in constructive dialogue on this issue.
Karolos Papoulias: I would like to add something on this account.
First of all I would like talk about the Burgas-Alexandroupolis pipeline. I was one of the instigators of this idea. I remember how it all began and the period of so-called pre-natal growth. And we are now witnessing considerable achievements. We have moved forward in this project and we are now at the point when it is necessary to create a company which will implement the Burgas-Alexandroupolis oil pipeline, a project that is useful not only for our three countries — for Russia, Bulgaria and Greece — but that also makes a significant contribution towards resolving energy problems in all of Europe. I fully agree with Mr Putin’s statements on this account and about diversifying energy supplies.
Question: In light of your interest in Russia, how do you perceive this phase of the country’s history?
Karolos Papoulias: I think that Russia is a great European power. And I would say that Russia’s historic European role has been evident in the past century. I would like to emphasise Russia’s role in the Great Patriotic War, in the fight against fascism.
Of course, everyone would agree that there would be important shortcomings in relationships within the European Union if Europe were to move without Russia. And I am not only talking about the energy sector, a sector in which Russia plays an enormous role. I would also mention culture and say that Russia’s contribution to Europe’s cultural heritage is particularly important. Russia has always contributed to and continues to contribute to European culture — to music, ballet and art.
For us Greeks, continuing to develop relations with Russia is very important. And both the meetings that took place and my personal conversation with President Putin act as proof of our common political will to ensure that these relations develop further. Personally, I am confident that this will occur. Please let me thank President Putin once again for his warm welcome and hospitality.
Question: President Putin! Recently we have often heard about certain concerns of the United States, of the European Union with regards to the role that Russia plays and there are certain tensions in their relations with Russia. But we also see that Russia has excellent relations with Vienna and with Luxembourg. Today we observed the same thing with Greece. My question is: where are these fears coming from, is there reason to be worried and, if not, why do such issues arise?
Vladimir Putin: You are referring to the problems that arise between Russia and certain countries or groups. Such problems always have arisen and in all likelihood they will continue to do so. The question is how to react to them and the prospects for the future.
Why do these problems arise? We think that they arise because the world has changed and there has been an attempt to turn it into a unipolar one. Some members of the international community would like to impose their will on all, by refusing to harmonise their actions with the generally accepted norms of international law. And we consider this to be very dangerous and harmful. And they are replacing or trying to replace the norms of international law with so-called political expediency. What is this political expediency? What determines it? In our opinion, it is nothing other than a dictatorship, nothing other than imperialism. We need to say this straight out and to call a spade a spade. We are against using such methods in international affairs. And we defend our positions on certain international problems. When our partners find that it is very difficult to overstep certain limits and to convince Russia that they are right, then the problems you mentioned arise, as does the desire to find ways to influence our position within the multilateral dialogue.
One of the most important problems is the problem of strategic security. Our American partners withdrew from the antiballistic missile treaty. We immediately warned them that we would take retaliatory steps to preserve the strategic balance in the world. This is extremely important for maintaining world peace. And our responses will be asymmetrical.
Yesterday we completed a regular test of a new strategic ballistic missile with a large number of warheads. We made new tests on a new cruise missile. And we will continue to improve their capabilities.
But I draw your attention to the fact that it is not us who are starting a new arms race. We have signed and ratified the Adapted Conventional Armed Forces in Europe Treaty. We are fully implementing it. We took all of our heavy weapons out of the European part of Russia and put them behind the Ural mountains. In recent years we have reduced our Armed Forces by more than 300,000 people. But what about our partners? What are they doing?
They are filling eastern Europe with new weapons: a new base in Bulgaria, another base in Romania, a missile launch area and new missiles in Poland, a radar station in the Czech Republic. What should we do? We cannot unilaterally continue to respect or to enforce all of our agreements. Of course we said that we are not going to do anything unilaterally: either you ratify the treaty and enforce it or we will withdraw ourselves. And this obviously displeases some people.
One should not fear Russia’s actions. They are not aggressive. They are only responding to quite rigid and completely unfounded behaviour by our partners. And these actions are designed to maintain equilibrium in the world. This is a crucially important element for maintaining world peace and security.
We intend to depoliticize all of our contacts in our economic relations. Even considering that we have not had the very best relations with the Baltic countries in recent years, right until 2006 we sold our energy to the Baltic countries including to, shall we say, Latvia, at prices that were a third lower than what they should have been. Ask our Latvian colleagues and they will tell you: a third cheaper than to Europe. Why? Because they made a fair agreement with us to gradually move towards European pricing. We are ready to agree with all of our partners in any field but, of course, in an atmosphere of mutual trust and respect for each others’ interests.