President Vladimir Putin: Dear friends!
Today the head of the Spanish government and I discussed a wide range of bilateral issues, and the second part of our meeting will be devoted to international issues and affairs.
I would like to stress that relations between Russia and Spain have always been special, and these talks have again demonstrated the spirit of trust and partnership that binds our two countries together. The positive momentum of our trade and economic cooperation is well established: since the beginning of this year, trade has grown by more than 40%.
Companies in both our countries have mutual interests in a number of large-scale joint projects. Spanish capital is involved in Russian engineering, food processing and the tobacco industry enterprises, and it has played a role in the development of infrastructure and the construction business. There are new ideas and initiatives in other sectors as well.
We hope that our entrepreneurs will be even more creative in future efforts to improve trade and economic ties, primarily through promising and mutually beneficial investment.
Russian and Spanish government officials, including the security forces, have also cooperated successfully. We have coordinated our efforts in such areas as fighting organised crime, drug trafficking, money laundering, disaster prevention and mutual assistance. Regular contacts between government ministries in our countries enable them to share experiences and to explore new means of cooperation.
In our talks, we also touched upon the prospects of developing links in the areas of culture, education and tourism. I think that these sectors represent a particularly large and promising field of activity. With the signing of the memorandum of understanding today, I hope that this work will become part of the Russian-Spanish Civil Society Dialogue Forum as well.
During the second part of the meeting, at a working lunch we will discuss international issues and talk about security and stability in Europe. I would like to touch on relations between Russia and the European Union, and Russia and NATO. I am very grateful that the Prime Minister accepted my invitation to come to Sochi. And I wish to express my thanks for the very frank and friendly character of our meeting.
Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero: President Putin!
Thank you very much for your warm welcome to the beautiful city of Sochi. Our meeting has given us the opportunity to see that relations between Spain and the Russian Federation are thriving and that we must give them a new impetus. These relations are developing apace. We enjoy regular bilateral political contacts, and our economic relationship is growing by leaps and bounds.
I had the great honour of a visit from President Putin in February last year. We signed eight agreements in the areas of law, tourism, and finance, and a joint declaration on combating terrorism. Since then we have expanded trade relations and contacts between our countries. Last year, for example, Spain’s exports to Russia were up 37% over the previous year, and Russian tourism in Spain reached the 350,000 mark. Spain is the favourite European destination for Russian tourists, which says a lot about how intelligent they are.
We discussed how well positioned various Spanish companies are to work in the areas of infrastructure and energy. Our enterprises are very strong and very competitive. We know that Russian business is developing very rapidly, with annual growth in the last seven years of seven percent per year.
For us Russia is a promising partner. It is important to note that our diplomatic services have also been hard at work. Here in Sochi today we have created a Russian-Spanish Civil Society Dialogue Forum. It will be co-chaired by two friends who have worked for a long time in the diplomatic field, ensuring good relations between our two countries, and defending democracy and civil rights. I am sure that Alvaro Gil Robles and Igor Ivanov will continue to work on our economic, social and political interaction.
I am very grateful to President Putin for these talks and for helping to resolve some of the issues that have accumulated, including the problem of the Cervantes Institute fiscal tax. The issue of the Cervantes Institute has been resolved.
I conveyed to President Putin Spain’s position on extending relations between the EU and Russia, giving them a greater impetus to create stronger relations between the EU and Russia.
As you know, the EU-Russia summit will be held in Portugal. Portugal is the current chair of the European Union, and we are confident that the summit will be the beginning of a new phase of more positive and more intensive cooperation between Russia and the European Union.
We expect to sign a new treaty, one which Spain considers necessary to give new impetus to relations between the EU and Russia. And, of course, we will discuss several international questions.
Since I became Prime Minister, we have met every year. And, of course, our priority has been investment in trade, economic agreements and generally developing this area.
Thank you, President Putin.
Question: Good evening! I have two questions for the two leaders. The first question: you said nothing about the issue of Kosovo. Yet this is a sensitive issue for both countries. I would like you to speak your minds on the recognition or non-recognition of Kosovo's independence. And the second question is also for the two leaders: could you say a word about the situation in Georgia?
Vladimir Putin: Regarding Kosovo, the position of the Russian Federation remains unchanged. Our position is well known. We hope that there will be direct talks between Priљtina and Belgrade as soon as possible. We do not think it appropriate to limit these negotiations, to force them into the procrustean bed of a negotiating schedule or timetable. We think that it should be a free exchange, devoted to searching for a compromise and agreeing to a compromise acceptable to both sides. We will continue our contacts with all the parties involved in the process, at the United Nations, and with the European Union and the United States. That’s it for that topic.
With regard to the events in Georgia: first and foremost this is of course an internal affair. The only thing to which I would like to draw attention is our hope that the mass protests will be peaceful, that both sides will show maturity and political vision, that these demonstrations will not lead to any confrontation or – God forbid – to any casualties. Look at what is happening in Burma, where unfortunately there have been people killed.
More generally, I should say that our friends often hold up examples for us of the democratic process in the countries in the post-Soviet area region, including Georgia. God forbid that we follow examples of this kind.
Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero: Concerning Kosovo: I would like to say that Spain's position is that there should be first and foremost the greatest possible consensus within the EU, that the EU position should constitute a general agreement among all the parties involved, that it be approved by the UN, and that we certainly hope to avoid any unilateral actions. To determine the status of Kosovo, of course, it is best to reach an agreement. This is difficult, of course, it is a very difficult task to reach an agreement, but we must work in this direction.
Question: I have a question for both leaders. I would like to know about Burma: whether your governments will decide to take any sort of action? And concerning Spain: will the Spanish government undertake measures to prevent the situation in Burma from getting worse? I also want to ask about the plan to hold a plebiscite on independence in the Basque Country.
Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero: I’ll start with the second question. I will listen to Mr Ibarretxe, the Basque Prime Minister, but I will also make clear to him the position of the Spanish government. Nothing will be done unless the constitution and the rule of law are respected. They can cobble together various programmes or make a declaration, but if they do not respect the constitution, there will be no plebiscite.
This dispute dates from 2001, and nothing new has happened since then. Parliament discussed the so-called Ibarretxe Plan, named after the leader of the Basque region, but he will have to listen to me, listen to what I have said to him repeatedly: “Dialogue is fine, but the rules, regulations and the very essence of the constitution must be observed, in all their manifestations“.
Regarding the first question, of course, the states which are respected are those states that respect freedom and democracy. This is my wish for the Myanmar regime and others that do not currently observe these freedoms.
Vladimir Putin: I agree with the Prime Minister’s assessment concerning Myanmar. We regret the loss of life and believe that the violence will stop. As for the possibility of adopting sanctions, this will be the subject of a special session at the United Nations. We must carefully examine whether these developments pose a threat to international peace and security. I think we first need an assessment by experts, and then government departments that deal with international issues can analyse the situation and give their advice. Until then, it’s premature to discuss sanctions.
By the way, concerning the previous question about Kosovo: it would seem that the principle of a state’s territorial integrity, which Russia is asserting in relation to the Kosovo issue, concerns many European countries. And we believe that it is irresponsible to disregard this principle today.
Question: The first question is for Mr Putin. How would you assess the first steps taken by the new government and the new prime minister? My second question is: is Israel preparing to abolish visas for Russians? What would Russia’s response be, and will Russia continue to liberalise its visa policy with other countries?
And a question for Mr. Zapatero: please give us your sense of the whole EU visa policy as far as Russians are concerned. A lot has been said about this, but one gets the feeling that not much has been done about it.
Vladimir Putin: Regarding the first steps taken by the new Russian government, they really are only the first steps, and so it would be premature to offer any sort of assessment. But in general the mood is good. And Viktor Zubkov, the new Prime Minister of the Russian Federation, has gone about his business very energetically. He has already toured the country, and he is working from Moscow with the regions in the most energetic way, with his colleagues, with departments and with ministries. Overall I have a positive impression.
In addition to all the other things, the government is full of new recruits, new in their ministerial quality, but very well known figures and high professionals. I am confident that this will ensure that the government’s work is of the necessary quality.
Concerning the possible abolition of visas between Israel and Russia, we are grateful to our Israeli partners and friends who have taken this initiative. Of course, these issues are usually resolved on a reciprocal basis, as they should be. And we are very well disposed to such a proposal.
Our guest today paid tribute to the preferences of Russian tourists. It is true that Spain is a marvelous country for tourists, very chic. I would like to say that we’ve always been intelligent, but we haven’t always had enough money. And because people’s financial resources have increased, Russia’s citizens have more opportunities for travel and they can spend their vacation in Europe’s best resorts. By the way, Israel is also a country that has not only holy sites but also great vacation spots. There are magnificent resorts there. I think that the abolition of visas between the two countries will certainly benefit the development of business and tourism, and will simply benefit the people by creating more opportunities for contact between them.
Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero: Yes, we have worked on this subject in recent years. Some indicators show an improvement and we will continue on this path. Of course, we must still comply with the rules of the European Union, but we will continue to work to ease visa issues with Russia.
Question: A question for Mr Zapatero. In Catalonia it has been suggested that the King is no longer the Commander in Chief in Spain. New photos of the monarch have appeared. What do you think about this situation? In Catalonia the sentiment against the monarchy is especially prevalent. What do you think about this? How do you plan to give fresh impetus to relations between the European Union and Russia? Great Britain has asked to extradite Mr Lugovoi. Spain has cooperated with Russia in this field. Do you think Spain will take London’s position? And what about Spanish investment in Russian energy?
Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero: First: what Esquerra Republicana proposed is absurd. I think it is simply nonsense. There is nothing to say about it. There was no support whatever for these proposals. It is an insignificant issue that has no political importance.
Second: as you know, over the last few days, some small groups have come out against the monarchy and against the figure of the Commander in Chief, and of course there must be a legal answer from the government, but I think this is an isolated declaration. I think that the best way to deal with these people speaking out, the small radical groups that have no other way of defending their ideas – of course they have the right to defend their ideas but they do it in an unseemly fashion – is not to say anything so as not to get into an argument with them.
And, as far as Spaniards are concerned, these ideas have no support whatever in Spanish society. These small groups have no support, as the views expressed by the people at elections show. Maybe they are people who want to provoke debate, but I think that this is not the best nor the most prudent or responsible way of doing it.
Vladimir Putin: Were you asking me or the Prime Minister about Mr Lugovoi? Then I’ll start on this topic.
According to our Prosecutor General's Office, about twenty Russian citizens are hiding out in the United Kingdom. I want to emphasise that these are Russian citizens who have committed very serious crimes according to our law enforcement agencies. Despite repeated requests by the Russian Federation to extradite these people, there they sit. No one is surrendering anyone to us. Mr Lugovoi is a Russian citizen. And, as we have repeatedly said, if there is evidence of any kind of illegal activity, the Russian law enforcement system will certainly take the appropriate measures to bring to justice any person who has committed a crime in whatever place.
Once again, it is unfortunate that the requests of our British colleagues to extradite Lugovoi are not supported by any documents indicating the commission of any illegal act. There are only demands for his extradition, and suspicions. But there is no evidence against him. I say again, if there is such evidence, our juridical law enforcement system will address these issues and will work constructively with our British colleagues. Let there be no doubt about this. And if someone wants to escalate the political passions surrounding a case of this kind, as usual no good will come of it.
With regard to cooperation with our partners, for example in Spain, we are pleased with the way the work is going. And I mentioned this in my opening remarks, when I referred to how the law enforcement agencies in Russia and Spain are working together. Using information supplied by Russian law enforcement agencies, our Spanish colleagues conducted a series of effective and timely actions to curb the activities of criminal elements in Spain. We are working together to arrest those suspected of money laundering, money from the proceeds of crime. We are working to combat the spread of drugs. We are working on trafficking in the business sector, as well as the prevention and response to man-made disasters and natural disasters. I must say that with Spain, as with many other European countries, our cooperation has been a very positive experience, which, of course, is to the benefit of our countries and our citizens. Russia is ready to do this with all our partners, including the United Kingdom.
Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero: Two things: I can certainly confirm the good cooperation between our Ministries of Justice, Security, and Internal Affairs. I hope the same sort of cooperation will develop between Russia and the other countries of the European Union. As President Putin rightly said, the Spanish law enforcement agencies have participated in successful joint actions. They worked on the basis of material provided by the Russian side. And I would like to reiterate that we discussed the topic of the Spanish company Berdola and the projects that we have in Russia.