Silvio Berlusconi: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen!
I'm sorry we're late, but we had a lot of things to discuss.
I am very grateful to the President of Russia for the fact that he has chosen to devote this time to me and my country. I am very happy to have had the opportunity, even before taking up the office of Prime Minister, to talk about and work through all the important aspects of cooperation with Russia. Of course we talked about all sorts of subjects, as you know. Of course the subject of gas supplies came up. We talked about the possibility of expanding and enhancing relations with the Russian Federation. We are Russia's fourth largest trading partner. As far as imports from Russia are concerned we are second; in exports to Russia we are seventh.
Certainly we would very much like to continue to develop cooperation with Russia, given its importance and the constantly improving economic situation in the Russian Federation. For example, we know that in the past and this year Russia's gross domestic product has grown and has already reached a significant level.
Naturally, we discussed all the critical points on the international agenda. Of course in summarising our conversation I told Mr President of the steps that will need to be taken to put a new Italian government in office. We came to an agreement on a variety of topics. And, finally, we discussed the topic of Alitalia (our main national airline), namely the possibility of setting up a working group to discuss the issue with the Russian company Aeroflot.
I want to turn the floor over to Mr President. (Turning to Vladimir Putin) I apologize, but I wanted to offer a general outline of the subjects and the issues that we discussed.
Russian President Vladimir Putin: Thank you, dear Silvio.
Ladies and gentlemen, first of all I would like to note that I welcome the opportunity to personally congratulate Mr Silvio Berlusconi on his convincing victory in the elections.
Let us hope that traditional relations of friendship, cooperation and partnership will continue after the formation of the new government. I think even the mere fact of today's meeting shows that our common goal is the further strengthening of the Russian-Italian partnership. In both Russia and Italy the election cycles have now run their course, and in the near future new governments will be formed in our country and in Italy. And for us it is very important that internal political processes do not inhibit cooperation but, on the contrary, facilitate an even more active development of the Russian-Italian dialogue.
In early April, I met with leading Italian businessmen in Moscow who have expressed the intention of expanding their presence in the Russian market. We in Russia support this idea, and we are counting on the support of Mr Berlusconi and his future government.
Last year's trade figures were a record 36 billion dollars. Among the most significant results I would of course single out the agreement in the energy sector (and this applies not only to hydrocarbons, but also to electricity). We are trying to diversify our ties by exploring various high-tech fields. We have large joint projects in the aircraft industry, transport, space, in the field of communications and military-technical cooperation. We have been particularly successful in establishing industrial districts in Russia by learning from the Italian experience, and Mr. Berlusconi was the initiator of this concerted action.
In recent years, we have come to think of Italy as Russia's traditional, reliable and long-term partner. Once again I want to wish Italy's future government success and express my hope for the development of bilateral ties in all areas. Grazie [Italian: thank you].
Silvio Berlusconi: Now we are ready, as they say, to answer your questions.
Question: Vladimir Vladimirovich, I want to ask you about rumours: During your presidency you have been beset by various rumours, ”canards“ about the country and about you personally. Here in Italy I have been looking at the Italian newspapers, and I was surprised to discover how popular the subject of your upcoming wedding to Alina Kabaeva was. I want to ask you about your personal attitude to all this and (of course you'll forgive me for raising such a sensitive issue), is it true that you are divorced from your wife, and that your daughter is married and living in Munich?
But that's not all, I want you to ask about another rumour. Is it true that you decided to visit Mr Berlusconi in Sardinia even before the tabulation of the official results of the parliamentary elections in Italy?
And Mr Berlusconi, in all seriousness I would like to ask …
Silvio Berlusconi: I would also like in my turn to ask about one thing: Are you representing all the journalists who are here?
Question: In this particular matter I represent myself.
Silvio Berlusconi: Okay, good, then we, probably, we'll be here until four o'clock, until it's time for takeoff.
Question (the same reporter for Silvio Berlusconi): … I want you to ask: during your previous term as Prime Minister you worked to improve the visa regime with Russia — are you ready to cancel the visa regime altogether? Thank you.
Vladimir Putin: We have talked about issues of international policy, energy, but you didn’t bother to ask me genuine questions about serious things…
I'll begin with the second part of your question. I asked Silvio for a meeting not only before the tabulation of the votes, but even before the vote was called. First, I had an invitation, and secondly – how shall I put it? – I hadn't seen him for a while, I missed him and felt the need to consult with him on a range of issues. The fact that this coincided with the elections and with such a stunning success in the elections was of course a particular pleasure for me.
Now for the first part of your question (just so there will be no suggestion that I am trying to duck it).
The first thing I want to say is this: there is not a word of truth in what you said. Second: You mentioned an article in one of our tabloid newspapers, which in fact does refer to our Olympic Rhythmic Gymnastics champion Alina Kabaeva. I think it also mentions Katia Andreeva, your colleague who has been working for Channel One on Russian television. In other publications of this kind there are references to other successful, beautiful young women. I think that nobody will be surprised if I say that I like them all, just as I like all Russian women. I think that no one will be offended if I say that I personally believe that our Russian women are the most talented and the most beautiful. The only women who can compare with them in this regard are Italian women. Grazie.
Third: Of course I am aware of the tired old cliche about politicians living in glass houses, and people certainly have a right to know how those who are involved in public activities actually live. But even in this case there have to be some limits. There is such a thing as one's private life with which nobody should be allowed to interfere. I have always reacted negatively to those who, with their snotty noses and erotic fantasies, meddle in other people's lives.
I was just thinking of something else: please observe that the notable, substantial growth of the Russian economy has been universally acknowledged. In a relatively short time we have reduced the number of people who live below the poverty line, by a factor of two in recent years. The real incomes of Russian citizens are rising, even after allowing for inflation, they are rising at 12 percent a year.
And, thanks God, no one is asking questions about Chechnya anymore, but if for lack of a more interesting topic someone wants to delve into the personal lives of Russian politicians – be my guest! But here too I think we have to observe a certain decency. Thank you.
Silvio Berlusconi: In any case, Vladimir, if in addition to what we have already discussed, you would like to suggest some additional topic, such as agreeing to an exchange, the Italian press for the Russian press, I would be all for it. Please, go ahead.
Question: I would like to ask a question about what is perhaps a more tedious, boring subject. Mr Berlusconi has already raised the topic of Alitalia: he said that in the negotiations that took place with President Putin, the topic was discussed. But we know that Aeroflot previously expressed its intention to participate in the tender for the company, and then dropped out of the game. I would like to ask in this regard, first President Putin, can you confirm whether Aeroflot is genuinely interested in Alitalia and how such an interest might manifest itself? And then Mr Berlusconi, I would like to know whether this plan, Aeroflot's plan, is an alternative to the one proposed by Air France, whether the issue has been discussed with Air France, and whether you have discussed issues related to European funding?
Silvio Berlusconi: Thank you. Before taking up your question, I would like to return to the previous topic: the visas between Russia and the European Union. I would like to say in this regard that I am convinced that we need to get rid of this practice, this business of using visas, and I shall assume the responsibility of raising this issue with the European Union. I would like to remind you that to resolve this we need to obtain the consent of all the European countries.
As for the other issue, the question of Alitalia, the situation remains completely open. There are still ongoing contacts with Air France, and we do not have anything against them. And we have talked about the possibility of creating a large international group, a group of affiliated companies, which would put Alitalia on an equal footing with other carriers, in particular Air France.
And I have to say that, once negotiations with Air France are over, then we will be able to talk about how to increase international involvement in the project. We discussed with President Putin the possibility of involving Aeroflot in this international project. Aeroflot has expressed its own interest in participating, and we discussed the possibility of organising a roundtable discussion, a forum in which representatives of Aeroflot and Alitalia can sit down together and discuss possible further cooperation, and perhaps sign an agreement to establish an international group of affiliated companies.
With regard to the last part of your question, I would say that the question of European funding is secondary. The main thing is to resolve the issue on its merits and make sure Alitalia remains the principal Italian carrier, the principal instrument for ensuring tourism and tourist links to our country. As you know, Italy has about 50 per cent of the world's cultural heritage, which is the main reason our country attracts so many tourists.
Vladimir Putin: We actually discussed this issue today. Mr Berlusconi presented his ideas for resolving this problem. It is clear that he is concerned about the preservation of the largest national carrier and is thinking about national economic interests. It is a difficult situation: you need to pay off debts and make the company profitable, and you probably need to talk about the company's reorganisation. And you cannot avoid negotiations with the government or with the trade unions. The alternative proposed by Mr Berlusconi was acceptable because it called for the resumption of contacts and an exchange of views. I talked today with Aeroflot's chairman of the board: they are ready to resume contacts with their Italian counterparts. Of course we don't know what the result will be: these are business negotiations.
Question: You probably discussed relations between Russia and the EU. Quite a few problems have arisen of late. Since Italy has always played a key role in the EU how can it help to facilitate the necessary dialogue (a question for both leaders)?
For Mr Putin: How do you see the resolution of this situation, in particular the question of beginning negotiations on the Partnership and Cooperation Agreement? You probably discussed specific projects with third countries — I am talking here about Libya, from which Mr Putin has just returned — did you discuss specific projects involving the participation of Russia, Libya and Italy, in particular in the energy sector? Thank you.
Vladimir Putin: We know that decisions in the European Union are made by consensus, and so we must work with all stakeholders, including those with whom we have been having problems in the last while, like our Polish partners, for example. The recent visit to Moscow of the Prime Minister of Poland, Mr Tusk, and our subsequent joint actions showed that all the issues that have thus far been so controversial are now completely resolved. But Italy has a powerful, significant voice, and we certainly look forward to the support of our Italian friends. Nevertheless, it seems to me that a new foundational treaty between Russia and the EU is in the interests of not only Russia but of our European partners as well.
Now with regard to Libya: we talked in detail about possible work in the energy sector in the markets of third countries. We already have such projects in principle: for example, ENI has access to resources in the territory of the Russian Federation, and Gazprom is counting on procuring adequate resources in other countries, in particular in Libya. The range of our joint projects is large: from the joint production of energy to participation in the development of infrastructure and pipeline transport, and the partners are in active dialogue with one another.
Silvio Berlusconi: I would like to confirm all this: there are indeed agreements and a desire for further continuation and development of energy cooperation. I am thinking in particular of ENI and Gazprom. I would also like to remind you of important projects like the Blue Stream gas pipeline under the Black Sea. Of course, our cooperation can be further developed and expanded.
Question: I would like to address two topics. First, you said that you discussed the international agenda and crisis situations, particularly those in the countries to the east of the European Union. I would appreciate any comments on this topic. And since we have already touched on some spicy topics today, I have a question for Mr Berlusconi: how would you characterise your relations with Mr Bossi?
Silvio Berlusconi: I would indeed like to confirm that we discussed topical issues and topical situations in the world. In particular, much has been said about whether the new government will change its policy towards some countries in crisis, a policy that was launched by the previous government, in particular insofar as Lebanon is concerned. I would like to say that we will continue to participate in the peace mission in that country. We will remain there along with our allies to ensure that a genuine peace is established and to consolidate democratic principles. As for the specific rules of engagement and the parameters of our participation in the peace mission in the country, we will discuss this matter in detail with the military. And I think that the proposals that I have got in this regard will be accepted.
By the same token, with regard to the second part of your question, I would like to point out that naturally such questions may arise during the formation of the new government, and any political force will want to make sure that it is well represented in the future government. As you know, it is the Prime Minister's responsibility to form a new team, the new government of Italy, but I would like to emphasise that Umberto Bossi and I enjoy excellent relations. We talked on the phone yesterday, and I think that on Monday or Tuesday I will be able to meet with him and discuss everything.
I would especially like to thank all the journalists, the Russian journalists who arrived here today and have gathered in this room. I wish you a pleasant stay in Italy, and I hope that you will come back on holiday. We will always be glad to see you here.
Once again I would like to thank Mr President Putin.
I would like to conclude by saying that of course the interests of both countries are very important in determining relations between heads of state, but it is also essential that those relations be based on the esteem, trust, respect and friendship that bind the two leaders together. In our case, I am sure this is in the interests not only of both countries but also the entire world community, given the important roles that Russia and Italy play in international politics at the present time. I would also like to say that President Putin and I have agreed to hold regular meetings. We have always enjoyed getting together and I hope that in the future this will continue.
Vladimir Putin: I would like to say that in all my years as President, my colleagues and I have seen how attentively the Italian public and the media follow the development of relations with Russia. I want to thank you most cordially for that. Thank you.