President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Madam Federal Chancellor, ladies and gentlemen,
Today, Ms Merkel and I laid wreaths at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and honoured the memory of the victims of the Great Patriotic War, which was such a tremendous tragedy for the entire world and for our nations. We stand in agreement in our assessment of these events and on the historical lessons to be learned.
Today’s joint ceremony reminds us of the difficult road that Russia and Germany traversed in the name of reconciliation. We went from bitter, hardened feelings to mutual understanding and cooperation. I am grateful to the Federal Chancellor for her sincere words of regret over the crimes that Nazi Germany committed against our citizens.
The Federal Chancellor and I held substantive talks and discussed a broad range of bilateral and international matters. It is no secret that Russian-German relations are not going through the best of times due to our differing positions on the events in Ukraine.
Our bilateral trade decreased by 6.5 percent in 2014 – the first drop in the last five years. The drop exceeded 35 percent in the first two months of this year. This situation is not in the interests of either Russia or Germany. In this respect, I must say that the business community in Germany itself would like to see the lifting of these artificial barriers to developing our mutually advantageous trade and economic ties.
Businesspeople are pragmatic by nature. They are therefore not leaving the Russian market and are assessing the current opportunities for doing successful business here. More than 6,000 German companies have a presence in the Russian market, and total accumulated German investment in the Russian economy comes to more than $21 billion. I remind you that around 100 German companies took part in just the single project of preparing the infrastructure for the Sochi Olympic Games. They had contracts worth a total of 1.5 billion euros and they performed the work and received the money as agreed.
There are other areas where the cooling in our bilateral relations has affected our business ties. But there are also areas that continue to develop. Interregional cooperation is one such area. For example, 23 Russian regions have solid ongoing contacts with 14 regions in Germany. A large conference of twin cities is scheduled to take place in Karlsruhe at the end of June, and around 100 pairs of twin cities are expected to attend.
We are developing our cooperation potential in the cultural and humanitarian sphere. We are now summing up the results of the reciprocal years of the Russian and German languages and literature, which took place in 2014–2015. Around 200 events were organised as part of this programme, many of them focused on our two countries’ youth. This prompted the idea of organising a year of youth exchanges in 2016. I think this is an important initiative with a focus on the future.
I want to remind you that our countries have succeeded in pursuing constructive cooperation in much tougher conditions and more difficult times than the situation today, times when it seemed that insurmountable ideological barriers divided us. There were plenty of positive examples of cooperation back then. I will not go through them now, I think that you are all familiar with them.
Naturally, our discussion of the international agenda focused primarily on the situation in Ukraine. Ms Merkel and I are in regular contact on this issue, including through our joint discussions with the Presidents of France and Ukraine in the Normandy format talks, which has shown itself to be quite an effective instrument for international facilitation of a peaceful settlement for the conflict in the Donbass region.
Yes, it is true that we differ considerably in our assessment of the events that led to the anti-constitutional coup in the Ukrainian capital in February 2014. But at the same time, I am sure that you will all agree, and the participants in the peace talks say this constantly, that there is no alternative to a peaceful diplomatic solution. To achieve this, we must fully and strictly abide by the Minsk agreements reached on February 12 this year. I remind you that peace settlement measures form a package that ties together all of the key aspects for a settlement: political, military, socioeconomic and humanitarian.
I think that we have every reason to say that the Minsk process is making progress, not without difficulties along the way, but it is moving forward. You know that after February 12, in spite of all the problems in southeastern Ukraine, the situation has been quieter there, even if there are still the problems that we know about. I firmly believe that the only way to guarantee a reliable and lasting settlement is to organise direct dialogue between Kiev, Donetsk and Lugansk.
I think this is one of the key conditions for a settlement in general. I also think it essential to lift the economic embargo, restore financial and banking ties, and carry out constitutional reform with the southeastern regions’ involvement. The Minsk Agreements of February 12 cover all of these areas, and as I said, they must be implemented.
We are happy that after the Normandy format consultations on April 30, when we had another telephone conversation, the four sub-groups set up to address specific areas of the settlement process began their work in Minsk on May 6. We will do everything possible to make their work effective, though success here depends above all on the people who have power, above all the authorities in Kiev.
We will exert all possible influence on the authorities in Donetsk and Lugansk in order to ensure that this process goes at the hoped-for speed and quality. Ms Merkel and I agreed to work more closely on the crisis in Ukraine, including through the Normandy format.
We also discussed our bilateral relations and spoke about the need to continue our talks on Ukraine’s association agreement with the European Union with respect to its impact on our economic interests. I want to inform you that a Russian delegation headed by the Economic Development Minister will go to Brussels on May 17–19.
Thank you for your attention.
Question: Mr President, at a meeting with historians at the end of last year, you asked a rhetorical question: “What was wrong with the Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact?” Recently, Minister of Culture Mr Medinsky, called this pact a triumph for Stalin’s diplomacy from the point of view of the Soviet Union’s state interests.
Such words stir fears in Poland and the Baltic states. Yesterday, at the parade, you spoke of the need for a new security system. How can we build a system that would take into account the interests of Poland, the Baltic states, Moldova, Georgia and Ukraine? What can Russia and Germany do to assuage these nations’ fears?
Vladimir Putin: This is the sort of question that we could discuss all night long. But when it comes to assuaging fears, this also has to do with the internal state of those who have these fears. They need to step over their fears, move forward, stop living with the phobias of the past and look instead towards the future.
Concerning the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, let me draw your attention to the historical events, when the Soviet Union… It is not even so important who was in charge of diplomacy at the time. Stalin was in charge, of course, but he was not the only person thinking about how to guarantee the Soviet Union’s security. The Soviet Union made tremendous efforts to put in place conditions for collective resistance to Nazism in Germany and made repeated attempts to create an anti-Nazi bloc in Europe.
All of these attempts failed. What’s more, after 1938, when the well-known agreement was concluded in Munich, conceding some regions of Czechoslovakia, some politicians thought that war was inevitable. Churchill, for example, when his colleague came back to London with this bit of paper and said that he had brought peace, said in reply, “Now war is inevitable.”
When the Soviet Union realised that it was left to face Hitler’s Germany on its own, it acted to try to avoid a direct confrontation, and this resulted in signing the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. In this sense, I agree with our Culture Minister’s view that this pact did make sense in terms of guaranteeing the Soviet Union’s security. This is my first point.
Second, I remind you that after the Munich Agreement was signed, Poland itself took steps to annex part of Czech territory. In the end, following the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact and the division of Poland, they fell victim to the same policy that they tried to pursue in Europe.
We need to remember all of this, not forget any of it. If you paid attention to what I said yesterday, I said that a truly effective security system must be built not on a bloc basis, but on the basis of an equal approach to security for all actors in the international community. If we could build our work on these principles, using the United Nations as a base, I think we would achieve success.
Question: Mr President, how do you view the fact that the German leader has come to Moscow today, the leader of the country that we fought against during the war, but the leaders of the other nations in the anti-Nazi coalition did not come? I spoke with German journalists today, and they say that deep down, you surely feel offended by this. Is this the case?
Vladimir Putin: Regarding the tragedy that was the war, our country fought not against Germany, but against Nazi Germany. We never fought Germany, which itself became the Nazi regime’s first victim. We always had many friends and supporters there. Yesterday at the parade, if you recall, I said this too.
Many people of different political persuasions ended up in concentration camps and lost their lives. We see today’s Germany as our partner and a friendly country. I think it is natural that the Federal Chancellor should have come to Moscow today.
As for the leaders of other countries, including the countries in the anti-Nazi coalition, this is their choice, their decision. I think that current political considerations are less important in the end than the more fundamental issues of maintaining global peace and preventing a repeat of the past catastrophes, if we remember the disaster of World War II. But this is their decision.
You know, yesterday at the reception, veterans from the Unites States, Britain, Poland and several other countries came up and thanked me for all that was done during the war. They are the main participants in these celebrations, and I was very happy that they were here together with us.
Question: Mr President, this is your first meeting since the marathon negotiations in Minsk. You said that the diplomatic process has stalled somewhat, and that at the same time, military action has resumed and people are again being killed. Although weapons were supposed to have been withdrawn, the separatists often say that new attacks have taken place. Ms Merkel spoke about President Putin possibly using his influence on the separatists. Why is President Putin not using his influence more boldly to give this diplomatic initiative a chance?
Vladimir Putin: First of all, we need to have some common criteria for assessing and responding to events taking place in the world, a common set of rules. Look at what is happening in Yemen and what we are seeing at the moment. A coup took place there and the president stepped down. Now, other countries, with which Russia has good relations, want to return him to power, and everyone is calling this a coup. After the coup in Ukraine took place, we heard goodness knows how much venom heaped on former President Yanukovych, and saw all manner of support for those who carried out the coup.
If we apply different standards to the same kind of events, we will never be able to agree on anything. We need to abandon the ‘law of the strongest’ and ‘rule of the fist’ in international affairs and base ourselves instead on norms of international law that the entire international community accepts, understand in the same way, applies and defends.