President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Ladies and gentlemen,
We have held very constructive and substantive talks both in restricted and expanded formats.
This year is special for Russian-Austrian relations: we are marking 525 years since the first exchange of diplomatic missions and 90 years since the establishment of diplomatic relations between our two countries.
Mr President and I have agreed to launch joint events to commemorate World War II. It is very important for us that Austria shows such care for monuments and graves of Soviet soldiers. I would like to thank the Austrian public and leadership for this effort.
Special thanks go to public organisations and individual volunteers, such as Peter Sixl. He initiated the publication of a Book of Tribute to the Soviet citizens who died during World War II, which contains over 60,000 names. This is a very noble and substantive work that the Russian public is sure to appreciate.
In the course of our meetings and talks, we dealt with key issues of bilateral cooperation. We are happy to note the growth of trade and economic ties, as Mr President has just said. I will not repeat the figures, which are very good. The main thing is that there is a positive trend both in trade and investment, as well as in implementing major projects.
Cooperation in energy stands out in the overall economic cooperation between our two states. As we all remember, Austria was the first West European country to sign in 1968 a contract on natural gas supplies from the Soviet Union. During all these years the Soviet Union and later Russia have been strictly complying with its commitments.
Gazprom is actively cooperating with its Austrian counterpart OMV. The construction of the Austrian section of the South Stream gas pipeline is at the top of their agenda, and Mr President has spoken about it in detail. We find this project strategically important for the stable supply of energy to all of Europe.
As you may know, today Gazprom and OMV signed the Shareholders’ Agreement of the joint Russian-Austrian company, which is a very important practical step towards the implementation of the South Stream project.
We will continue discussing economic cooperation today at the meeting with Chancellor Faymann and during our joint meeting with Mr President with representatives of the Austrian business community, where we have quite a few friends and reliable partners.
We have traditionally enjoyed a broad range of humanitarian ties. We have exchanged views on prospects for their further development.
Mr President and I have also discussed in detail burning international issues, including – and my colleague has just spoken of this – the dramatic developments in Ukraine. Our views coincide largely, though there are issues that require additional consideration. However, we agree that we should not only talk about the need to stop the bloodshed, but make sure this bloodshed really comes to an end.
Unfortunately, I have the latest reports here saying that fighting is underway now in one of the problem areas, near Slavyansk. Troops have landed there and there are already casualties. This is a tragedy. We must make sure that declarations are supported by actions; otherwise, we will not resolve a single problem of this kind.
At the same time, we certainly support the intention of the Ukrainian authorities and of President Poroshenko not only to declare a truce, but also to achieve results. I agree with Mr President that seven days are clearly not enough, especially given that the purpose should be not simply to stop military action, but to reach agreement between all the conflicting parties.
In conclusion, I would like to thank Mr President and all our partners for their hospitality and for organising our meetings. I will repeat that I am still to meet with Mr Chancellor. However, the agreements we have managed to reach in the course of the first stage of our talks are quite significant. This will undoubtedly serve the cause of resolving complicated conflicts, including the one in Ukraine.
I am grateful to Mr President for voicing his views on all the issues we discussed. Undoubtedly, we will take Austria’s position into consideration in our practical policies.
As for other issues pertaining to human rights: true, we considered this as well. I would like to note that despite certain stereotypes that exist regarding Russia, including on the so-called issues of sex minorities, to a large extent this is a fictional idea. I would like to remind you that, unlike some other states, Russia does not have criminal prosecution for homosexuality and other types unconventional sexual behaviour. We do not have criminal sanctions against this, while in other countries, including some very big ones that consider themselves democratic states, such a criminal offence is envisaged by law. Just as the death penalty, which, as opposed to many other countries, Russia does not have and does not apply.
Nevertheless, we agree that we have to think of the future and improve our legislation. We have heard Mr President and we will definitely stay in touch on these issues.
Thank you for your attention.
Question (retranslated): Austrian television.
Mr President Putin, the European Union is trying to use sanctions to correct its policy in Ukraine, to encourage Ukraine to follow a different policy. Today, you are a guest in Austria. Do you view Austria as an ally in the fight for Ukraine?
Vladimir Putin: We feel that Austria has a very measured and objective approach to assessing the situation. And it has very clear suggestions and objective expectations with regard to the development of this conflict. Namely – I have already said this and Mr President just spoke about it – we feel that seven days of ceasefire is not enough.
I told Mr President and can tell you about it, we also said this to the Ukrainian side, including President Poroshenko: declaring a ceasefire is not enough. We must begin substantive talks, as the diplomats say, focusing on the heart of the problem. If we hear or continue to hear that we have seven days and we must disarm within those seven days of ceasefire, but not a single attempt is made during that period to reach a substantive agreement with east Ukraine, then all the efforts will be for nothing and there will be no results.
But if we see that substantive talks have begun, so that people in east Ukraine can finally understand how their legal interests will be guaranteed, then there is a high chance of success. This, in my view, is the key issue today and in the talks that have begun.
I am very pleased and happy to note that yesterday, the first direct contact between authorities in Kiev and representatives from southeast Ukraine in Donetsk and Lugansk occurred. Yesterday, they sat down at the negotiating table for the first time. Yes, it is true that no major agreements were reached, but the fact that the dialogue has begun is, in my view, very important, and certainly a good sign.
Question: Ekho Moskvy.
Mr President, today you practically cancelled or, more accurately, asked the Federation Council to revoke the right given to you to send Russian troops to Ukraine. Let’s hope that the Federation Council will most likely support your proposal.
Look at what is happening in Ukraine. Hostilities continue; another helicopter from the Ukrainian army has been shot down with nine people killed (one hour ago). Talks are underway, but in these talks the Ukrainian side is being represented by its former president, and there is nobody from the new government. And Mr Medvedchuk, who is the moderator, is practically billing himself as the leader of the separatist movement.
So in reality, the fact that talks are underway, as you said, is important, but the result is not very clear. You just said, “Substantive talks are needed.” What does Russia consider to be substantive talks and how much time could this take? Because it is clear that seven days – or ten days, or five months – is probably not enough.
Vladimir Putin: The part of your question regarding my letter to the upper chamber of the Russian parliament asking to cancel the resolution empowering the President of Russia to use the Armed Forces on Ukraine’s territory.
It is true that I sent such a letter today to the Federation Council. Why? First of all, the granting of this right and my request for it occurred at a time when the events surrounding Crimea were taking place. I did not rule out the possibility of using the Armed Forces.
As you know, thankfully, we did not use the Armed Forces directly, for any combat operations. Moreover, we did not even increase the presence of our Armed Forces in Crimea above the number provided in the international agreement. And in this regard, the President of Russia did not use the right given to him by the upper chamber of parliament.
Yes, I will not deny, as I have already said, that we used our military units to guarantee the free expression of will by the people of Crimea; we blocked the activities of some Ukrainian army units so that they did not get involved in the process of expression of will, and to ensure there were no victims. But fortunately, Russia’s Armed Forces were not used in Crimea for any military action.
Today we know that, even with disruptions I already spoke about and you just mentioned, but President Poroshenko proposed a ceasefire and expressed readiness for a peace process. In my view – and I have told him so too – the steps taken so far are insufficient for really overcoming the crisis because it is not enough to say: “We are ceasing military action for seven days, and those who do not disarm in seven days will be annihilated.” That is not a path toward peace. But nevertheless, it is an important step in the right direction. We hope that first, the ceasefire will be extended, and second, this time will be used for substantive talks.
To answer your question on what we feel to be the most important part of these talks. The best approach is not to demand disarmament, especially from the eastern part of Ukraine, especially while radical forces such as the “Right Sector” and the like are still not disarmed, although they have talked about it many times and promised that these unlawful formations will lay down their arms. They have not laid down their arms, and they still have not even vacated Maidan. Demanding the militia groups to lay down their arms in these circumstances is, in my view, simply pointless, because they reply, recalling what happened in Odessa: “Today we will lay down our arms, and tomorrow we will all be burned alive.”
But the proposal to call a ceasefire and begin talks is certainly the right one. And we – Russia and myself as the head of the Russian state – want to create the conditions for this peace process. That is why I called on the upper chamber of the Russian parliament to revoke the resolution on the right to use the Armed Forces in Ukraine. But I count on the peace process to develop in the direction of resolving issues concerning the lawful rights of citizens living in the eastern part of Ukraine.
We need to talk about amendments to the fundamental law, about how people will live there and how their rights, which I already spoke about, will be guaranteed.
But the revocation of the resolution on the right to use force does not at all mean that we will not pay attention to what is happening there. Of course, we will always protect ethnic Russians in Ukraine and the part of the Ukrainian population, the Ukrainian people, who feel not just an ethnic but also a cultural connection to Russia, who feel themselves part of the greater Russian community. And in addition to monitoring this carefully, we will also respond accordingly. I hope that the armed forces will not be necessary for this.
Question (retranslated): Here’s my question to the President of Russia. Mr Putin, you have already said that real steps need to be taken. What specific steps would you like to suggest for achieving a peaceful resolution and what conditions do you lay down for this?
Vladimir Putin: First of all, we are not laying down any preliminary conditions during the talks between the authorities from Kiev and east Ukraine, mainly because Russia is not a party to this conflict. I want to stress this.
As for specific further actions, I just basically spoke about this, answering your colleague’s question. We believe, and it is impossible to avoid it, that talks need to be launched on the future structure of Ukraine itself and ensuring the rights, the lawful rights and interests of the people living in southeast Ukraine.
We have talked about this many times, and I simply cannot allow myself to reflect on it too much, but it is clear where the conflict originated. There was a military coup d’état, with one part of the country supporting it and the other opposing it. People in central and western Ukraine took up arms, while people in the east said, “Well, if they can take up arms, why can’t we?” And they too rose in arms to protect their interests. Now they are being told, “You must disarm!” They say, “No. First, let’s disarm those who took up arms first.”
You see, this is a never-ending circle of problems. This circle needs to be broken. And how can that be done? By launching substantive talks on how the interests of all people living in that nation will be guaranteed.
Question: Rossiya TV.
A question about South Stream. The President of Austria just spoke extensively about how this project is very important and necessary for Austria, but we nevertheless all hear the statements made by the American side and the statements coming from certain European officials. In this regard, how viable are the Russian-Austrian agreements on South Stream, in your view?
Vladimir Putin: You know, we are holding talks with our contracted partners, not with other nations. Our American friends are unhappy with South Stream; they were unhappy in 1962 as well, when we began the gas-for-pipes project with Germany. And now they are unhappy with this as well.
Nothing has changed; the only thing that changed is that they themselves want to supply gas to the European market. But I assure you, it will not be cheaper than Russian gas. Pipeline gas is always cheaper than liquefied gas. Shale gas needs to be extracted, it needs to be turned into liquid, transported across the ocean and then regasified. This involves a lot of money. It is certainly more expensive than our pipeline gas.
But the Americans are competitors nevertheless. This is a normal situation. And they are doing everything possible to break up this contract, same as many decades ago. There is nothing unusual here. This is typical competition.
Political means are used in this competition as well. They talk about Europe’s overdependence on Russian gas. We believe that any of our partners have the right to, they can and they should, perhaps, create the most favourable conditions possible for themselves, maintaining contacts and contracts with many partners.
We do the same. Just recently, we signed a contract with the People’s Republic of China. We will continue to promote our product in developing markets in Southeast Asia and Asia overall. But this is our natural movement to expand our transport infrastructure.
Incidentally, answering your Austrian colleague’s question, I can say that this is not about a desire to bypass Ukraine. These projects were initiated long ago. And what about Nord Stream – was that an attempt to bypass Ukraine? No. And what about our Blue Stream to Turkey under the Black Sea? This project exists and is working. Is that a desire to put someone in a difficult position? No, these are simply our direct contacts with Turkey.
There is another gas pipeline through Belarus and Poland. Is that an attempt to bypass Ukraine? No, we are simply developing our transport infrastructure. You cannot always insist that we are doing something against someone. We are doing this in our own interests – ours and those of our partners.