President of Guatemala Oscar Berger: Thank you very much. Good afternoon. I wish a warm welcome to Mr Putin, the members of the Russian delegation, the representatives of our government, and the local and foreign media. It is a pleasure for us to welcome one of the most prominent world leaders.
President Putin kindly agreed to visit Guatemala in order to present the fine city of Sochi as a candidate for hosting the XXII Olympic Games in 2014. It is significant that a president of this calibre has found the time to help promote the bid of Sochi, which we have all come to know now. We would like to wish Mr Putin and his people success in this bid. We had frank and friendly discussions on a wide range of subjects in the aim of strengthening the cultural ties between our two countries, and President Putin has proposed increasing the number of scholarships made available for students from Guatemala. We were informed that a trade agreement is also to be signed today. The agreement’s objective is to develop Russian investment in Guatemala, encourage Russian tourism and lift certain duties so that our goods can have access to a market of around 140 million people. Very important technical cooperation is expanding, especially in the energy sector. As President of Guatemala, it is a great honour for me to welcome Mr Putin and thank him for these efforts. We hope that this will be a pleasant and successful visit and that the International Olympic Committee will choose Sochi to host the Winter Olympics. Once again, I thank you and your delegation, Mr President. We welcome you with open arms and with admiration and respect.
President Vladimir Putin: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen,
First of all, I would like to thank the President and all of our colleagues for their warm welcome. I am very much aware that hosting as big an event as the annual session of the International Olympic Committee takes a lot of work and expense and requires effort and resources. But I am sure that this event will benefit Guatemala and will raise its international prestige, which will have a positive impact on people’s attitudes, above all young people’s attitudes, to physical culture and sports. Ultimately, it will also benefit international cooperation. We are very grateful to the people and the leadership of Guatemala for giving us the opportunity to meet here today in your country in order to hear the Olympic Committee’s final decision on which city will have the honour of hosting the 2014 Winter Olympics.
We hope that Russia’s city of Sochi will be chosen and we thank you, Mr President, for your kind words about our bid and about Russia in general. I would like to say that we in Russia have always had great interest in the culture of the peoples of Latin America. During our discussions with the President just before, I recalled how one of our compatriots, Mr Knorozov, a resident of St Petersburg, deciphered the Maya writing, something he had devoted his entire life to. I think this is a serious and important contribution to developing above all the cultural relations between our countries.
But the relations between our countries today are not limited to culture. Prime place today goes to business and economic contacts. In absolute figures our trade and economic relations are not yet substantial and bilateral trade comes to less than $100 million, but there is an upward trend and this is good to see. Bilateral trade is growing at a rate of around 30–35 percent a year. I agree with you, Mr President, that the signing of agreements on trade and economic relations will open up new opportunities. We have many possibilities for developing our economic ties, including in the energy sector in general and electricity in particular, and also in infrastructure cooperation and the high technology sector. Thirty-three young people from Guatemala are currently studying in higher educational establishments in the Russian Federation and we are indeed ready to increase this number, including by making more state scholarships available.
Ladies and gentlemen,
I would like once again to thank you for the attention and the warm welcome you have given us and to express my hope that the relations between our countries will continue to grow and develop, especially after my meeting with the President. We wish the Guatemalan leadership and people prosperity and success.
Question: What kind of specific cooperation can Russia and Guatemala develop in the oil industry, fuel, and electricity sectors? Is Russia genuinely interested in supporting the construction of an oil refinery? Thank you.
Vladimir Putin: Yes, it really is, and we discussed the possibilities for cooperation in the energy sector during our talks today. I cannot say that our companies have established a serious presence yet in your country and in Latin America in general, but I can say with great probability that there is interest, interest from our companies in the gas sector and the oil industry. These companies have seen their possibilities increase markedly over the last 15 years and they are investing hundreds of billions of dollars abroad.
Guatemala’s good geographical location close to the common market of Mexico and the United States and close to big potential oil and gas production sites gives us reason to say that there could be good prospects for energy sector cooperation.
Furthermore, one of the biggest Russian electricity companies, RAO UES, is interested in building electricity production facilities in Guatemala. This is not to mention Guatemala’s traditional exports to Russia. The Russian market is indeed a big market, and there is not just Russia, for goods can move practically freely throughout the post-Soviet area. Just as we hope that the arrival of Russian business in Guatemala will also help our companies develop their economic activities and become more active in the surrounding countries, too, so your businesspeople can hope that promoting Guatemala’s traditional exports on the Russian market will also help them to expand into the market throughout the entire post-Soviet area.
Question: Good afternoon, Mr President. During your meetings with the IOC officials over these last hours before the vote, what will you be saying to them about Sochi? And why, in your view, is Sochi the best candidate?
Vladimir Putin: Sochi is a unique place. During the spring, when the Olympics take place, Sochi enjoys a mild climate and has a huge amount of natural snow. It is a place where we can create a completely new winter sports centre that will be a success not only with the Russian amateur sportspeople and Olympic athletes who will use it, but also with our guests from abroad.
Russia has made a huge contribution to developing the Olympic movement, especially when it comes to winter sports, but we have never yet had the honour of hosting the Winter Olympics. We have sufficient resources today to carry out the most ambitious projects. We have allocated $12 billion to this project. I am sure that we will fulfil our objectives in the best way possible, making use of the latest technology, and this will benefit the Olympic movement’s development in the world and will help to promote its ideals not just in Russia but in all countries that care about the health of their citizens.
Question: Good afternoon, Mr President. Judging by the results, the information on the talks that took place and the lack of a clear agenda, it looks as though the objective of your meeting with President Bush was to boost Russia’s image right before the vote on the Olympics. Are you disappointed by President Bush’s negative response to your proposal on the location of bases?
Vladimir Putin: My meeting with President Bush was in no way connected to the vote on the host city for the 2014 Winter Olympics. The aim of the meeting was to coordinate positions on important bilateral and international issues. I am happy with the spirit of the discussions we had and with the results we achieved.
Our foreign ministers have continued the discussions in Washington and today documents setting out our specific agreements will be published. These agreements concern above all strategic offensive weapons. This marks a significant step forward in terms of creating a safe and transparent world for the future.
There are also other agreements that we consider extremely important. The media was fully informed about all of the issues that we discussed, including the Iranian problem, the Kosovo situation and the missile defence issue.
Yes, I did make some additional proposals on international security cooperation during the talks, above all as concerns the architecture of a global missile defence system. We think that if these proposals are accepted it would lead to a gradual but steady strengthening of the international security situation and would improve the international security architecture. Furthermore, if this happens, it would also gradually change the nature of Russian-American relations, which would gain a steadily more strategic character.
We realise that it is difficult and even impossible to give an immediate response to all of these proposals. Our goal was to formulate these proposals and present them to the U.S. leadership, and this is what we have done. In my view, there has been a positive reaction, and we will now wait for the final answer.
Question: You mentioned cooperation with Guatemala in various areas but you said nothing about political cooperation. What is your assessment of the level of political relations between Russia and Guatemala, given that Guatemala’s role has been increasing noticeably, as the IOC session taking place here shows? And, incidentally, how do you assess Guatemala’s preparations for this event? And a question for the Guatemalan President: Are you happy with the results of your talks with the Russian President?
Vladimir Putin: As far as Guatemala’s preparations go, I think this is above all something for the IOC officials to evaluate. What we see meets the highest world standards, and we are thankful to our Guatemalan colleagues for their work on this event that has brought us here.
As for political contacts, we are interested in developing our relations with Guatemala through our work together in international organisations, above all in the United Nations and also in the organisations in which Guatemala takes part as a Latin American country. This is because Russia has growing political and economic interest in Latin America. The amount of investment in Russia itself has almost drawn level now with the amount of investment that Russian private enterprise makes abroad. We are talking about figures in the hundreds of billions, around $200 billion, $150 billion dollars. The possibilities opening up, the possibility of using Guatemala as a departure point for entering other Latin American markets, and the possibility of working in Guatemala itself are of considerable interest.
This is above all what explains our interest in political cooperation. To put it frankly, we see Guatemala as a promising partner, and this is the basis we will work from.
Oscar Berger: We have already taken steps and issued instructions, both President Putin and myself, to create a joint bilateral working group and coordinate work on the proposals discussed during the talks in order to make them reality at the earliest date. It is timely to mention that a presidential election will take place in Guatemala in 70–80 days. We are very pleased that this will be taking place in transparent conditions. Rigoberta Menchu, winner of the Nobel Prize, will be taking part. We are happy to have political freedom and the chance to participate, and I want to share this with Mr Putin.
Our meeting was very useful and it has produced concrete results. We thank everyone for their presence today and we would like to wish President Putin and the Russian people success in every respect, including as regards the decision on Sochi tomorrow.