Question: Mr Putin, what did you discuss with Mr Poroshenko? How did the discussion go?
Vladimir Putin: We talked about the whole range of issues in Russian-Ukrainian relations, first and foremost, economic cooperation, taking into account that in the expanded meeting, we also talked primarily about this, as well as the situation that has unfolded in Ukraine. We certainly could not avoid this topic. We discussed the need to end bloodshed as quickly as possible, the need to transition to a political settlement of the problems, the whole range of problems, that Ukraine is facing in its southeast region.
For its part, Russia will do everything to promote this peace process if it is launched, and in our view, this process needs to be launched as soon as possible. In this regard, an agreement has been reached – this was during the expanded format meeting, and we confirmed it during our bilateral meeting – that the contact group must renew its work as quickly as possible, perhaps here in Minsk.
Both President Poroshenko and I feel that we need to renew our dialogue on energy, including the gas issue. Frankly, this is a difficult issue, it is in a deadlock, but we still need to talk about it. We agreed that we will renew those consultations. That’s the short version.
Question: Mr Putin, what about the outcome of the five-party meeting with EU representatives, with your Customs Union colleagues and with Mr Poroshenko?
Vladimir Putin: Overall, I give it a positive assessment. I think this meeting in that format was useful. Granted, I do not know how it will all turn out. But in any case, we had another chance to express our concerns. We agreed that we will intensify efforts in the trilateral working group of Russia, Ukraine and EU representatives and will try to draft proposals by September 12, if we can, regarding the concerns expressed by Russia and the Customs Union that I talked about.
We once again pointed out to our partners – both European and Ukrainian partners – that implementation of the association agreement between Ukraine and the EU carries significant risks for the Russian economy. We have shown this in the text of the agreement, directly pointing to specific articles in that agreement.
Let me remind you that this concerns nullifying Ukraine’s customs tariffs, technical regulations, and phytosanitary standards. The standards in Russia and Europe currently do not correspond. But, as you recall, the most classic example is the introduction of EU technical regulations in Ukraine. In that case, we would not be able to supply our goods to Ukraine at all. We have different technical standards. And according to the European Union’s standards, we will not be able to supply our machine-building products there, or any industrial goods. If that happens, we cannot accept Ukrainian agricultural production goods in our territory, because we have different approaches to phytosanitary standards. We feel that many problems would occur.
I must say that our colleagues do not agree with all my arguments, but in any case, we were heard and we agreed that we will intensify our exchange of opinions and try to find at least some resolutions. But I once again said that in order to avoid any surprises, we are constantly discussing this, including at the meeting in Deauville, as you know, where I also talked about this. If we do not achieve any agreements and our concerns are not taken into account, then we will be forced to take measures to protect our economy. And we explained what those measures would be. So our partners must weigh everything and make corresponding decisions. Each nation in this process has the right take any steps within the framework of its competence. All of us are sovereign states and we will respect any choice by our European and Ukrainian partners. We hope that they will treat our measures to protect our economy with the same respect.
Question: Mr Putin, did you discuss the reports from Ukraine about the arrest of Russian paratroopers? If this is true, how did they end up there and what will Russia do about this?
Vladimir Putin: Yes, Mr Poroshenko mentioned this. But you know that Ukrainian service members have ended up on our side as well, and not just 5–10 of them, but dozens; last time, it turned out to be 450 people. I have not yet heard the report by the Defence Minister of the General Staff. But the first thing I heard is that they were patrolling the border, they may have ended up on the Ukrainian side. After all, Ukrainian service members entered our territory with armoured equipment, and we didn’t have any problems. I hope that in this case, there also will not be any problems with the Ukrainian side.
Question: We were not officially told until the last minute whether you will have a bilateral meeting or not. But the meeting occurred. What was the reason, what circumstances served in favour of holding the meeting?
You talked about a ceasefire. Did you speak substantively about the conditions for a ceasefire to be possible?
Vladimir Putin: No. We did not discuss this matter substantively. Frankly speaking, we cannot discuss any conditions for a ceasefire or possible agreements between Kiev, Donetsk and Lugansk. This is not our business; it is a domestic matter of Ukraine itself. We can only support the creation of a environment of trust during this possible and, in my view, highly necessary negotiation process. We spoke about this. We spoke, where possible, about what Russia could do to make this process possible. But Russia did not impose any conditions. We cannot do that, we do not have any right to do so. This is a Ukrainian affair; it is up to Donetsk and Lugansk.
We expressed our concern with regard to the humanitarian component. That is true. And, indeed, President Poroshenko does not deny the complexity of the humanitarian situation. It cannot be characterised as anything other than catastrophic. We talked about the possibility – this is another topic, I did not mention it earlier – and the need to provide humanitarian assistance to Donetsk and Lugansk, and we agreed on how we will cooperate in this area. I will not get ahead of myself, but overall, we have certain agreements here as well. We will look into how to do this.
We talked about cooperating in various sectors. Why was this imperative? Currently, we are in a deadlock on the gas issue. You see, this is very serious matter for us, for Ukraine and for our European partners.
It is no big secret that Gazprom has advanced payment for the transit of our gas to Europe. Ukraine’s Naftogaz has returned that advance payment. The transit of our gas to European consumers was just about suspended. What will happen next? This is a question that awaits a painstaking investigation by our European and Ukrainian partners. We are fulfilling all the terms of the contract in full. Right now, we cannot even accept any suggestions regarding preferential terms, given that Ukraine has appealed to the Arbitration Court. Any of our actions to provide preferential terms can be used in the court. We were deprived of this opportunity, even if we had wanted it, although we already tried to meet them halfway and reduced the price by $100.
In other words, we have many specific issues to address and both Russia and Ukraine are interested in resolving these matters, as are our European partners. All this compelled us to meet bilaterally.
Thank you very much. Have a good evening.