President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Ladies and gentlemen,
It is a pleasure to meet once again in Moscow with the Greek Prime Minister, our old friend Mr Konstantinos Karamanlis. I am sure that this visit will help us to continue building on the friendly and historically close relations between Russia and Greece and bring our peoples even closer together.
We had very productive talks today on a wide range of bilateral and international issues. The meeting took place in a very positive and constructive spirit and reaffirmed our countries’ genuine desire to development mutually beneficial and effective cooperation.
We agreed during the talks on the next steps in carrying out our joint energy-sector projects: the Burgas-Alexandropoulis oil pipeline and the South Stream gas pipeline. They aim to substantially increase energy security not only in the Balkans but across the entire European continent.
One of the most significant results of the talks was the signature of an agreement on the construction of the Greek section of the South Stream gas pipeline. This agreement opens up new horizons and new opportunities for cooperation between our two countries.
I am sure that this genuinely farsighted and pragmatic approach taken by the Greek leadership will bring tangible benefits very soon in Greece, in the Balkans, and in Europe as a whole.
Mr Karamanlis and I looked in detail at the results our countries have achieved in advancing our political dialogue, trade and economic cooperation, and our humanitarian ties. One of the important tools we have for developing effective bilateral cooperation is the Action Plans. We are happy to see that the first Action Plan, for 2005–2006, was successfully implemented. We are now in the process of implementing the Action Plan for 2007–2009.
Of course, we examined specific means and directions for further expanding our traditionally close and multifaceted cooperation. I want to emphasise that over the last four years, our relations with Greece have developed into a real partnership, and Russia places great value on this fact.
We exchanged views on current issues in European and international politics, among them, the situation in the Balkans, the Kosovo issue, a settlement in Cyprus, and cooperation between Russia and Greece in European affairs. It is important to note that our respective positions on these issues are very close. We support strict compliance with the principles and provisions of international law, respect for each other’s interests and resolution of all problems through a process of negotiations.
I want to thank the Prime Minister and all of our Greek colleagues for these constructive talks.
Prime Minister of Greece Konstantinos Karamanlis: I would like to thank President Vladimir Putin for this invitation to visit Moscow. We have had the opportunity to analyse the state of our close cooperation.
I am very pleased that this visit also gives me the chance to meet with President-Elect of Russia Dmitry Medvedev, with whom, I am sure, we will continue the excellent and very constructive cooperation that we began and have been carrying on with President Putin.
I congratulated President Putin on the successful and very important work he has carried out as leader of the country, producing impressive results reflected in a growing economy and increasing international influence that work for the good of the friendly Russian people.
Our meeting at this point has particular symbolic significance and affirms our exceptional personal ties, the strategic nature of the relations between our countries, and our commitment to continuing to develop these relations in the future.
Bilateral cooperation with Russia rests not only on a solid historical and cultural foundation but holds great promise for the future. We also share common views on many foreign policy issues.
We discussed the development of our cultural ties today. As you know, in 2013, the Year of Russia in Greece will be organised, and the Year of Greece in Russia will also take place as Russia prepares to hold the Sochi Winter Olympics. We also agreed to expand our cultural cooperation and our work in the tourism and construction sectors in the run-up to the Olympics.
As for our cooperation in the energy sector, we concentrated above all on the construction of the Burgas-Alexandropoulis oil pipeline and the South Stream gas pipeline in our discussions today. Our cooperation in the energy sector has become particularly dynamic. It is very good to see that we signed today an agreement on the construction of the Greek sections of these two pipelines. This development of events shows us once again that through our systematic and intensive efforts we can achieve tangible benefits for both countries.
Both projects meet the energy demands not only of our country but of Europe as a whole and are part of our general policy of diversifying our energy sources and turning Greece into an important energy resource transporter.
We also discussed international issues, of course. As you know, recent efforts within the UN framework have brought new signs of progress in resolving the Cyprus issue. I want to stress that we are grateful to Russia for the position it has taken over many years on this issue. We also discussed developments in the Balkans and the Kosovo issue. I informed my colleague on the latest developments regarding the name of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia following the conference in Bucharest. I also received an invitation to attend the international conference on the Middle East, which will take place in Moscow in June.
I would like to conclude by once again thanking Mr Putin for the invitation and for his hospitality.
Question: My question is for the Greek Prime Minister.
You spoke about the importance of cooperation between Russia and Greece in the energy sector and mentioned the construction of the South Stream gas pipeline. But a number of European countries have raised their voices of late, saying that this type of cooperation could make European countries increasingly dependent on Russia and make them vulnerable as a result. What is your response to these fears? Do you agree with this view? Do you think that this kind of cooperation between Russia and Greece and between Russia and the European Union in general is ultimately beneficial? I would also like to ask the Russian President to comment on this.
Konstantinos Karamanlis: In my view, the South Stream project is one of the most important projects in southern and central Europe. It is part of our energy resource diversification plan. We are aware of the growing demand for natural gas, and the construction of the Burgas-Alexandropoulis oil pipeline and the South Stream gas pipeline will create closer cooperation between our countries.
Greece’s energy policy choices are based on the principle that we must ensure legal security not only for our country but for our European colleagues too, and we must ensure secure deliveries of energy resources from the producer to the end consumers. We receive natural gas not only from Russia but also from Algeria, in the form of liquefied natural gas, for example. We receive 3.8 billion cubic metres. This volume is predicted to increase to 7 billion cubic metres. In other words, natural gas consumption and electricity consumption are on the rise. We need to increase natural gas supplies in order to ensure that all of Europe has the resources it needs to meet its energy consumption demands. This is an essential condition for the natural resources market in Greece.
Vladimir Putin: The first thing I want to say is that carrying out the South Stream project does not mean that we are against alternative projects. If others can propose similar projects that would develop gas pipeline systems on economically acceptable terms and provide them with sufficient supplies, we would be only too happy.
Second, this project without a doubt will guarantee supplies for our Greek partners’ growing demands, and according to our preliminary estimates, which the Prime Minister confirms, gas consumption in Greece is set to at least double over the coming eight years. This project will enable us to guarantee the needed supplies for Greece and it will turn Greece into an important link in Europe’s overall energy policy. This will without any doubt increase energy security in Europe and make a substantial contribution to resolving energy issues.
Finally, if Greece needed some kind of ordinary goods, watches, underwear or ties, say, it could buy them wherever it pleased, in China, Switzerland or Italy. But the countries able to supply Europe with the necessary volumes of energy resources at a competitive price can be counted on the fingers of one hand. I think that our offer is the optimum and most competitive proposal. We are able to reach all the objectives that have been set, and we will do this in cooperation with our European partners, of course.
Question: The situation in the western Balkans remains unstable. One of the sources of instability is Kosovo, now that it is has declared independence. Another issue of great interest for Greek diplomacy is that of talks on the name of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. You, no doubt, discussed these issues. I would like to hear your comments on the subject.
Vladimir Putin: Yes, we did discuss Kosovo. Our positions are well known. Russia’s position has not changed. We consider that Kosovo’s unilateral declaration of independence is unfair and unlawful. We do not accept the argument that this is simply some kind of fait accompli because this situation did not just develop on its own but received the active help of some of the players in the international community.
If arms were not supplied to the conflict zone and promises of independence not made, this situation would not have arisen. We do not understand why it is that in one part of the world people who fight for independence are called ‘fighters for independence’, while in another they are called ‘separatists’ and appeals are made to combat them. We think that a common standard should be applied in all cases.
We need to respect the provisions of international law. Only then will all countries, big and small, feel secure. Any other approach only increases tension and fuels the arms race, as small countries end up feeling that only their own defence capability and not international law will be able to protect them. But this is a separate big issue.
We will continue our discussions with all members of the international community and strive consistently to ensure that we work together to draft and to enforce the provisions of international law.
As for Macedonia and the country’s name, we did speak about this today, and we will work towards reaching an agreement between Greece and Macedonia. We will support any agreement that these two countries feel they can both accept. We will support this process in the United Nations too. The Prime Minister and I discussed this matter in quite some detail today.
We know that this issue was the obstacle that prevented Macedonia from being able to join NATO. Our position on NATO’s expansion is well known. We consider that such expansion is counter-productive today because modern challenges will not be addressed simply by this military-political bloc’s expansion.
NATO is expanding but it is not offering at the same time more effective instruments for combating terrorism, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, infectious diseases or organised crime. Combating these threats requires multilateral cooperation between all countries. This is a separate issue. As I said, regarding the relations between two specific countries, between Greece and Macedonia, we will do what we can to help find an acceptable solution for the two parties.
Konstantinos Karamanlis: This issue is not new. It has been around for a long time now. It is important for good-neighbourly relations between the republics in the Balkans.
Greece wants, of course, to see a solution that would be accepted by both parties and supported by the UN Security Council. At the NATO summit in Bucharest we reached our conclusions and we hope that the political leadership in Skopje will show understanding of our concerns and our position. We seek, of course, only a positive and constructive solution to this issue. We count, of course, on support from Russia, which as a permanent member of the UN Security Council will take a constructive line.
On the question of Kosovo, our position has always been that we support a negotiated settlement. But the unilateral declaration of independence has now created a new situation and this is having a destabilising effect in the Balkans. What steps will we take from here to build relations and respect the interests of minorities? The issue is one of recognising the situation that has arisen, but this is the affair of each individual country, something that must be done after detailed study of the development of events and the general situation in order to maintain regional security.
Question: My question is for the Russian President and the Greek Prime Minister. I have the impression that you are both energetic personalities and as a result have developed close relations, even personal relations, as friends and partners. To what extent have your personal relations contributed to the high level of cooperation between Russia and Greece in international and bilateral affairs?
Vladimir Putin: The Prime Minister is a tough negotiator. He is always very good at defending his position, his interests and the interests of his country. But over these years of work together we have indeed developed very good and friendly relations. This helps us to find compromise solutions, of course, and it is always a big advantage to be able to count on the support of good personal relations when settling business issues.
I would like to take the opportunity your question offers to thank the Prime Minister for our work together over these years and for the atmosphere that has been created in large part thanks to his character, his efforts and the attention he has paid to developing relations between our two countries. Thank you.
Konstantinos Karamanlis: As I see it, we have many common or very close positions on many issues. This opens the way for very close cooperation. I must say that our relations are characterised not only by friendship but also by trust. I see in Mr Putin someone who has played a very big part in building and developing the Russian Federation and in taking relations between Russia and Greece to a new level.
I am very pleased to have the chance to meet with Mr Medvedev as well. I hope that we will develop our relations, but I also hope to continue my relations with the current President too, with Mr Putin.
Question: I first want to put a question to Mr Putin, and I would like to thank him on behalf of all Greek journalists for always answering our questions and for his hospitality. You were elected President of Russia eight years ago. The Burgas-Alexandropoulis pipeline project was already on the agenda back then and it is still on the agenda today. Could you give us a timetable? When will this oil pipeline be completed? In Greece, and not only in Greece, these delays have made the whole eastern European region shaky. I would like you to outline your vision of the south-eastern European region.
Vladimir Putin: Energy projects are generally very capital intensive and economically very profitable. But they also have political overtones because they generally end up bolstering the role of one party or another, in this case, European energy policy, increasing its influence and importance.
Russia had several options for infrastructure projects of this sort, including natural gas transport and crude oil transport options. We chose the project you named, one of the options before us. We decided it would be best to establish a direct channel to deliver additional oil supplies from Russia to the European Union countries.
But we are not the only participants in this project. Two other countries are also involved, and we have to respect their views and their interests. This is a very complex negotiation process. I can assure you that over the course of these negotiations, the companies and countries that are our common competitors spared no effort, and will continue to spare no effort, to torpedo these projects or delay their implementation. They use all arguments, from environmental to political. But I repeat that we will continue to negotiate calmly, consistently and respectfully with our partners and arrive at solutions acceptable to all parties.
We think that the technical and economic feasibility studies should be complete very soon. As soon as this stage is completed we will be able to say for sure when actual work on the project will begin. Russia would like to see this happen as soon as possible.
Konstantinos Karamanlis: I would just like to add a few words. There were indeed lengthy delays. Delays continued up until 2006, and for 13–14 years there was no progress at all. But in September 2006, when Mr Putin visited Greece, if you remember, we achieved a breakthrough in the situation.
A shareholders’ agreement was signed in Sofia in January 2008. This means that the national companies from the countries taking part in the project, and the international company, have already been settled. This enables us to give the project the needed impetus and now, in any case, concrete work and close cooperation on implementing the project are already underway. Of course, we do not forget the need to respect the environment too.