President Vladimir Putin: Good afternoon.
Question: Vladimir Vladimirovich, I would like to come back to the first stop on your travels, the town of Vilyuchinsk. You reacted quite sharply to the reports by the heads of the various ministries and agencies. What conclusions have you drawn as a result of those discussions and can we expect to see any changes?
Vladimir Putin: Conclusions will come later, but as far as the state of progress of work in the Far East goes, we cannot be satisfied with the way implementation of our plans for developing Russia’s Far East region is going. As far as the military is concerned, I am happy with the way my instructions regarding Vilyuchinsk itself have been implemented, but here too these are only the first steps.
You saw what kind of social infrastructure is in place there. We need to develop the coastal area both in military terms and in terms of social infrastructure. As we said, and I repeat it again now, Russian officers are living in unacceptable conditions. I instructed the Defence Ministry to draw up a social development programme for Vilyuchinsk and I have no doubt that the state will carry out this plan, work purposefully and make the necessary resources available. We will do this.
Regarding the Far East in general and Kamchatka in particular, this is a more ambitious undertaking, but here too, if we put in the necessary effort we will achieve our objectives. So far, I have yet to see the necessary effort from some of the government agencies.
Question: Coming back to Indonesia, to be honest, it is not an everyday event to see Russia offer a billion-dollar credit. How was this decision taken, and what was the authorities’ principle motivation in taking it? My generation remembers how the Soviet Union lent money to other countries and got nothing in return, at most sugar cane or palm oil.
Vladimir Putin: This is a completely different situation. There are several different aspects to this deal. The first is political, namely, to strengthen Russia’s position in the region. The second and no less important aspect is economic. This loan is being made to Indonesia but the money will be going to Russian defence enterprises and will effectively be funding their development and consolidation. Finally, as far as repayment goes, this is a very important matter. Indonesia’s economy is growing fast and the country has GDP growth of around 6.5 percent a year. It is an oil and gas producing nation it exports mineral resources. The country is fully solvent and we have no doubts that this loan will be paid back.
Question: I would like to know more details about the discussions at the APEC summit on international investment. In particular, the United States has passed a law…
Vladimir Putin: Yes, it has passed a law on foreign investment, and under this law a national council or some kind of similar body is to be established. This official body will include the heads of the intelligence services among its members. Naturally, in our view, this could lead to some restrictions on investment activity, which would be a step away from a liberal economy. In this respect we remember the time when we had quite limited economic possibilities, to put it mildly, including in investment, and we were always being told by others that we should make our economy as open as possible and provide opportunities for foreign companies to invest. Now that we have economic possibilities of our own other countries, our partners, are taking steps in the opposite direction and are effectively closing or creating conditions that close their markets to us, at least as far as investment is concerned.
This raises concerns for us, of course. In Russia we have debated for some time now the need for a law of this kind, but we have held back from taking any decisions so far. Now the United States has passed this law and several European countries are actively discussing the possibility of passing such a law. Of course, if things continue moving in this direction, we will be obliged to take steps to protect our own interests.
Question: This is your first visit to the United Arab Emirates. You have clearly received a warm reception here. Has the visit lived up to your expectations, and what are its results?
Vladimir Putin: This visit to the Emirates marks a stage in the development of our relations with this part of the Islamic and the Arab world, which we have seen over these last years. Russia has traditionally had very good relations with the Islamic world and with the Arab world in particular, and we now want to expand the geography of these relations. Our bilateral trade turnover with the Emirates will reach around $1 billion by the end of this year, and Emirates investment in the Russian economy comes to a similar figure. Our companies are very much interested in working here, in investment, in minerals production and transport infrastructure development, and there are also excellent prospects for our military-technical cooperation. I am sure that this visit will give an additional boost to our relations and will help to develop our bilateral ties.
Question: Coming back to Australia, you invited your U.S. counterpart, George Bush, to go fishing with you. If this visit will take place, then when and where, and will you really enjoy this fishing expedition?
Vladimir Putin: If I got no pleasure from these kinds of contacts I would not make such invitations and proposals. I have very good relations with the President of the United States, good and friendly relations, and it would be my pleasure to spend some time with him. Of course, such visits always have implications from a work point of view. As for the time and place, I leave that up to him. The proposal has been made and it is now up to them to make their decision. We have plenty of possible locations: the Far East, Lake Baikal, Siberia, the northern part of European Russia, all of which offer very beautiful and fine locations. George likes fishing, as far as I know, and I have no doubt that he will enjoy himself.
Question: I would like to know, regarding the dialogue on our main differences with the United States, is a compromise on missile defence possible?
Vladimir Putin: I think that the chance is not lost yet and we still have a dose of healthy optimism. As far as our differences go, differences have always existed, and with such substantial relations and ties in such a wide variety of areas there will always be differences somewhere. We have differing approaches regarding many issues on the international agenda, and we even have differences in our bilateral relations, including in the economy. This is only natural. The question is one of what means we use and in what spirit we resolve these problems. We can take a confrontational approach and rattle our sabres, try to scare each other, and we can look for compromises and come to agreements. Our hope is that we can take the second road.
Question: You have not lightened your schedule any…
Vladimir Putin: Do you think it’s time I did? Do I not look well?
Question: It is difficult not only for us but for you too, no doubt. Do you intend to keep up this pace of work through to May 2008 and even after May?
Vladimir Putin: One of our country’s best-loved sports is ice hockey, and we know how true professionals play right up to the very last second. In my Address to the Federal Assembly I said that I intend to work in this spirit and that I will do everything to ensure that everyone, the ministers, the Government and the Presidential Executive Office, work in just this spirit.
As for this trip, if we went all the way to Australia not to sit back and relax but to take part in a major international event, it would have been a sin not to take up the proposal of our Australian partners and hold the bilateral meetings that made up the visit.
As you noticed, the working meetings in Indonesia took place on the way to Australia, and the meetings here took place on our way home. It is a lot more effective to package everything into one trip rather than making separate trips to different countries and losing a lot more time. This makes for a double burden of work, of course, but it makes sense.
Question: Do you change your watch to local time?
Vladimir Putin: No, my watch is always on Moscow time.