Briefing for Journalists at the International Press Centre 2006-07-17 09:13:09 Strelna, St Petersburg President Vladimir Putin: Good evening, I know that my colleagues have already met with their media pools. Practically everything has been said already and all I can probably do now is to sum up our assessment of the results of work together. The Russian delegation is satisfied with these results. We have reached all our objectives. We have adopted all the documents we planned to adopt practically without amendment. As you know, we adopted an additional document that was initiated by several countries, including Russia. This document sets out our assessment of the situation unfolding in the Middle East and our proposals on what needs to be done now. I think you also have this document. If there is any need to comment on any of the documents I have just mentioned, I am happy to do so. At the same time, I would like to start straight away by noting what I think are some key points. The first point concerns energy security. I think that all of you who have read the document will have noted a certain shift in accent in the very concept of energy security. Previously, energy security was interpreted as meaning stable supply of energy resources to the main consumers. Now we have convinced our partners that energy security is a much broader concept that extends to the extraction, transport and sale of energy. All these links in the chain, the representatives of all these links, bear equal and collective responsibility, and I think that this is very important indeed. Another issue that was one of the main items on our agenda is education. What I would note here first of all as being particularly important is that we have drawn attention to the issue of resolving problems arising from immigration and helping immigrants adapt with the help of education systems. Second, it has been discussed before, perhaps, but I think that for the first time it has been set out in a document of this kind that, as we see it, it is important in the modern world to pay attention to all three basic components of education – education itself, scientific research and innovation. We have agreed to work together in this area and to coordinate our work on the practical realisation of the agreements reached. Finally, regarding the fight against infectious diseases, I think you have already read this document. We will set up here in Russia a laboratory with the different strains. We have a good base for this work as far as eastern Europe and Central Asia are concerned. Together with our partners we will establish a centre for producing needed medicines for Central Asia. Of course, our friends and partners in Central Asia itself will be involved in this project too. We have agreed to create mobile detachments of specialists who can react quickly and effectively to events in the world involving the spread of epidemics and infections. These and other issues are reflected in the document and have been adopted. As for our declaration, our statement on the Middle East, you already know about it. As I said, if you want me to comment on anything that I just mentioned, I will be happy to do so. Thank you very much for your attention. Question (ISRAELI TELEVISION): I would like to ask about the document on the Middle East. How can Russia help to disarm the Hezbollah militia in accordance with the UN resolution? Can Russia use its influence in countries seen as defending the Hezbollah movement – in Iran and Syria? Vladimir Putin: First, not only can it do this but it is taking all necessary action in contact with our partners in the Middle East, in Israel and in Israel’s neighbours. We have made efforts through all channels to obtain the liberation of your soldiers. Through all channels. I have reason to believe that our efforts are not in vain. For a number of reasons I will not go into the details just yet. Second, we spent quite a long time discussing the content of this declaration. This is natural given that it was not worked through by our experts before we gathered in St Petersburg. We had to examine the situation as it unfolded over the course of the tragic events we are all witnessing. I would say that the key point is that, as the Russian delegation sees it, this is a balanced document. Regarding your interests, the interests of the state of Israel, I think that the document reflects them quite fully. Above all, the document refers to the two UN resolutions on Lebanon. We have reached an agreement that not only will we seek to ensure that these resolutions are enforced in full, but we will also call on the Security Council to draw up a plan for implementing these resolutions. There are also other provisions aimed at bringing about an immediate ceasefire on both sides and putting in place the conditions for holding peace negotiations, and this also includes the forces currently in confrontation with Israel. Question (VREMYA NOVOSTEI): Vladimir Vladimirovich, regarding the resolution referred to now, in particular, the part that speaks of the need to carry out resolution 1559 on Lebanon, there is no mention of Syria, though the first part mentions the extremists of Hezbollah and Hamas. Was the fact that Syria is not mentioned a compromise condition put forward by Russia in response to its partners’ demands? And secondly, there was some information that your meeting with Tony Blair played a certain role in the preparation of this resolution. Who initiated this meeting and why was it so important? Vladimir Putin: It was not a meeting with Tony Blair but was just part of the work on the resolution. We all very much wanted and felt that we should complete work on this resolution before breaking during the day. We agreed with our colleagues that Tony and I would take this initiative upon ourselves and we invited our experts who had been working on this issue, took the resolution itself and, in part, participated in its drafting. I think that we achieved acceptable results, compromise formulations that are, in my view, very balanced. Concerning the point that you made, the fact that the resolution does not name individual countries, yes, this was a position of principle for us. We believe that if we do not have sufficient grounds for accusations, then we cannot draw our conclusions and set them out, based only on our suppositions, in documents at such a serious state level, even if these conclusions seem logical. The fact of the matter is that we are very much aware of the situation in other parts of the world, including in hot spots in the Russian Federation itself. Fortunately, these hot spots are gradually cooling down, not least with the support of Muslim countries that are making a constructive contribution to resolving the serious problems in the North Caucasus arising from Chechnya. Looking at what is going on there, we know that support for extremist elements is coming from the territories of some countries, but we do not name them until we have serious evidence that we can show the international community, though there are more than enough hints. This is why I believe we took the right position, and we are grateful to our partners for agreeing to it. We also agreed to their position on some points, thinking that their logic deserves attention and our support. Question: Mr President, you adopted a text on energy security today. This text indicates that gas prices could rise again next year. Could you give some more detail on this? Vladimir Putin: This is a strange way in which you have linked the declaration adopted today to a possible price rise for natural gas. On the contrary, the more security we have in the energy sector, the more stable prices remain. Natural gas prices, all the more so Russian natural gas prices, are set not in the Kremlin, not through some kind of unilateral decision, but are determined by the market. I can tell you once again how this takes place. The gas price for an individual country is equivalent to the average gas price on the market the previous year plus a small coefficient, the average gasoline price plus a small coefficient and the average heating fuel price. The price of gasoline and heating fuel are pegged to the price of oil and do not depend on us. I would like this to be clear for once and for all. We have left behind the time when we set out own prices for our partners. Now it is the market that decides and I cannot think of a more transparent mechanism. Incidentally, oil prices are rising, and do you know why? The recent events in the Middle East have been one of the factors driving prices up, as have events in other countries in the region and various disasters in the oil-producing countries of Central and North America. These are all factors pushing up the price of oil on the markets. But I want to stress that all of our endeavours aim at minimising the risks and thus stabilising prices. Question (EGYPTIAN TELEVISION): Vladimir Vladimirovich, today’s statement on the Middle East makes reference to everything except to the fact that the root of the problem lies in Israel’s non-fulfilment of all the Security Council resolutions and the Roadmap. Do you not think that today’s statement mixes up the cause and effect? That is, the cause of this explosion in the Middle East is not that Hezbollah violated the border and so on, but that Israel is not fulfilling the Security Council resolutions. Vladimir Putin: I do not think that we are confusing the cause and the effect because no matter what the circumstances, there is no justification for abducting people or launching rocket strikes from the territory of one country against the territory of another. But there is a certain amount of truth in what you say and, to disclose a little of what went on behind the scenes here, we used this argument to arrive at some of the compromise wording in our statement. Question (IZVESTIA): Everyone thought that energy security would lead to stormy debates at this summit, but in the end everything seems to have gone quite smoothly. Why is this? Vladimir Putin: Because we worked very hard throughout the whole year. I would like to thank our colleagues and experts from the G8 countries for their hard and professional work all year. The documents were of a high quality and did not lead to particular discussion. Question (AL JAZEERA): Vladimir Vladimirovich, the G8 summit has responded very swiftly to the events in the Middle East, even sending a special representative to the region. Have you received any feedback from the conflicting parties, in particular from Hezbollah regarding the Israeli soldiers and their return, or from Hamas regarding the soldier it is holding? And have you received any feedback from Israel on ending military action? Thank you very much. Vladimir Putin: We do have feedback, not regarding our statement as yet, unfortunately, but regarding our attempts to work for a ceasefire and reduce the number of human casualties. We have this feedback from all the parties involved in the conflict. I cannot say that these are very optimistic observations, but I do hope nevertheless that common sense will prevail. We have two-way communication with everyone you have named. We have normal, practically ongoing, live contact. Incidentally, this helped us in our work today on the resolution. This is indeed perhaps Russia’s advantage – that it has kept open channels of communication with all the participants in this conflict. Furthermore, I think that we have quite a high level of trust with everyone involved. Question (The Moscow Times): We know that Russia seeks integration with the West, but at the same time the director of one of the biggest potential investors in Russia, Bill Browder, was recently denied a Russian entry visa. Many investors and Western diplomats are concerned about this and don’t understand why that happened, and many people think that this might defer the flow of investments to Russia. Could you explain why he was refused a visa without any explanation and whether there were any other such cases? Vladimir Putin: Sorry, I didn’t hear you. Who exactly was denied a visa? The Moscow Times: Bill Browder. He is the CEO of the Hermitage Fund, which is the biggest investor in the Russian stock market. And I think the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom might have discussed this with you today. Vladimir Putin: Well, to be honest I don’t know for what reasons that particular individual was denied entry into the Russian Federation. I imagine that person may have violated our country’s laws, and if others break our laws we will refuse them entry as well. At the same time, we will do everything to support and assist in every way those who come to Russia to work and to invest in the Russian Federation and in our economy. Foreign direct and portfolio investments in Russia are growing. I won’t give any figures now but they are very good, and we are very pleased about them. Capitalization of the Russian market keeps growing and last year it was the world’s highest. The highest capitalization in the world. So we are very much interested not merely in attracting investments but also in working with honest and professional investors who really want to work in the Russian economy on a long-term basis. Question (Georgy Nilosz, Hungary): With regard to the declaration on counterterrorism, it shows there are common values shared by the G8 members. Does that mean that in specific cases there is also agreement about who can be considered a terrorist? Mr. Zakaev, for example. Would he be extradited to Russia on the basis of that declaration? Vladimir Putin: Sorry, I didn’t catch your name. Georgy Nilosz? Thank you very much for that question. I don’t really need to comment on it because you put it in such a way as to highlight this very important issue, one of the most acute problems in countering terrorism. Of course, when we are told Syria or Iran, or some other country is to be mentioned in that context, then why not also mention those who harbor known terrorists on their territory? For that, one does not need to dig deep into archives. We have sufficient video recorded evidence of his criminal activities. And if these questions are raised, then we should not duck the issue or resort to mutual criticism, but should look for a compromise. It seems to me that our position is appreciated. It is true that in some countries judicial and legal systems are very complex, and criminals, particularly those involved in terrorism, take advantage of such complexity to destroy civilized countries and the basic principles underlying today’s democratic civilization. It’s time for us to understand that, to analyze the situation and to take necessary steps to rectify it. Question (Radio Liberty): Mr. Putin, prior to the summit you met with the Civil G8, and worked quite a lot with them, and you made a number of promises. You said that you shared their views and would pass their concerns on to your colleagues. What has happened, if anything? Can you tell us about that? Vladimir Putin: Yes, that’s what I did. And the position of the authorities of the Russian Federation does coincide with that of many NGOs on a lot of issues, more than I expected, to be honest; for example, on environmental security, energy, education and many other subjects we discussed today. I have done what I promised. And if you look through the records of my meetings with the NGO representatives in Moscow, see what we were debating, and then compare that with the documents which have been adopted, I think you will find a great deal of overlap. We have fully met the obligations that I accepted at the NGO meeting, at my meetings with the international business, with the G8 general prosecutors, and with trade union activists. We have formalized this in the documents, and I have raised the issues a number of times in the course of our discussions. Question (Estonian Radio): When will Russia adopt the kind of policies that will foster friendship with neighboring countries, such as Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Georgia and Ukraine? Vladimir Putin: As you know, we have inherited an uneasy legacy from the Soviet Union, because many problems were not apparent in the days when we all were one country; they were not visible. And, after all, why do we today look so closely at the relations between the federal center and the territories in Russia? The reason is there are two thousand potential territorial conflicts within the Russian Federation, and the same was true for the Soviet Union. So we have to stop the hysteria to calmly resolve these conflicts, keeping in mind that the future will only be assured if we manage to build up such friendly relations and to benefit from them. And the benefits can be enormous, especially for a country of Estonia’s size. One should know the extent of the revenues Estonia gets from transshipment of our cargos, and the aggregate revenues from multilateral economic cooperation with Russia, which we are ready to develop further. I can repeat that some of our historical heritage is very complex, but we wouldn’t like to see it additionally politicized. Instead, we would like to see the agreements reached being honored. For example, our agreement with your government on the border. It seems strange when a government signs a document while the parliament amends it to an extent that it becomes unacceptable to us. And our partners in Estonia are perfectly aware that it is unacceptable, so what are these games about? Let me say again that we have enough common sense and patience. I know there are people in Estonia who share this attitude, and we will work together. Question (Norwegian TV): Mr. Putin, I would like to ask about the Barents Sea oil extraction and related environmental protection measures. This has to do with energy security. Vladimir Putin: Well, we’ve written all this down. It’s all there. I think this is the first time we have looked at the safety of transit pipelines and infrastructure. That’s the first time that we have considered this in detail and included it in the documents. That’s the first point. Secondly, I’m not saying that all outstanding problems have been instantly resolved, but we have highlighted them. We have put them on our agenda and we are determined to tackle them. The next question is that of the Barents Sea. There is an enormous potential there for supplying Europe with energy. More so, not only Europe, but other markets as well, including North America. You have probably heard that we are engaged in negotiations with a number of countries on the development of various oil fields. We are talking to our Canadian colleagues and considering other potential partners. And Norwegian companies are among top candidates, as they are very good partners for various reasons. First, they are very down-to-earth, they work hard, and are very professional; they have a well developed infrastructure in the Arctic, but their extraction volume has been falling. And we can quite naturally join our efforts in order not to waste any money on an unnecessary infrastructure. We are prepared to share our capacities, if our partners are prepared to share theirs. And I think that both sides have demonstrated their readiness in this. Question: Mr. Putin, you have just mentioned that Russia is respected in the Middle East. And it is true. What, in your opinion, could be Russia’s role there, as all sides trust it, and as historically you have had good relations not only with countries but also with organizations? How would this strengthen the positions of Russia and of the Islamic Conference Organization? Will the process of Russia’s accession to this organization accelerate? Question number two: some think that you made a very bold step by inviting Hamas to Russia. Will you also invite Hezbollah? Vladimir Putin: I cannot tell you now what steps we will take to improve contacts with all the parties involved in the conflict that we are witnessing at the moment. We invited Hamas for a good reason and we regret nothing. We believe that if a political movement enjoys a legitimate vote of confidence of its people, which is exactly the case with Hamas, then, even if it is not a convenient partner for some, we should come to terms not with those who are comfortable negotiation partners, but with those who can lead the situation and their own people. The essential aspect is the trust people vest in an organization, whether others like it or not. That is what our relationship with Hamas is about. We need to engage in a dialogue no matter how difficult this could be, provided a compromise is reached and the obligations are met. If we choose a political force which does not enjoy the support of its people, there is no point in striving for an agreement with it. In our view, the process is a very complicated one and you know how it happens in most societies: you win some, and you lose some. We are trying not to put all the eggs in one basket, and to deal with all the participants instead. We will continue this line. As for Russia’s role, the most vivid example of our influence, without delving into details, is the discussions we had today on the relevant resolution, or, rather, declaration. If it were not for Russia’s stand, the declaration would have been worded quite differently, not as balanced as it is now. If we were to label some countries as terrorist states, we would have cut off all possible contacts with them. Would that have been in the interest of Israel? I do not think so. So our policy is and will remain well balanced. Question (MEGA TV, Greece): Mr. Putin, a number of Russian government officials warned of the danger of the conflict spreading throughout the Middle East region. Also, yesterday you mentioned some wide-ranging plans by the Israeli government. What are your specific concerns and worries? And, if I may, another question: do you see any role in this settlement for Tehran, like Mr. Prodi suggested earlier today? Is there any progress there? Vladimir Putin: Iran is an influential regional power, and one should take into account its positions and interests and work with it to make it instrumental in improving the situation. As for the first part of your question, that is why we were working on a balanced resolution. We do not want this conflict to spread. We think nobody stands to gain from it. Some parties may wish to employ military force, but everybody remembers the old days and does not want to have a replay. As I said, Russia will maintain contacts with all our partners, and I believe peace is quite possible. You asked me about Israel’s plans. I am not aware of any. I meant the information supplied to us by our sources in the Arab world, including those in Lebanon, the official Lebanese government sources. They are convinced that strikes against infrastructure have no direct relevance to the search for abducted soldiers or any other goals declared by Israel. At the same time, as I have already mentioned, missile strikes from a neighboring country are not something any state would be prepared to sustain. We have worded the problem in such a way that it is clear that we intend to urge the UN Security Council to think not only about the full implementation of the previous resolutions on Lebanon, but also about the possibility of deploying some international forces there. I would like to specifically stress that this is only possible under the auspices of the Security Council, and subject to all the mechanisms, rules and procedures of the Security Council. One of such rules is that this decision can only be made on an agreement of all the conflicting parties. Thank you for your attention. See you tomorrow.