President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Madam Federal Chancellor, ladies and gentlemen,
We are pleased to welcome Federal Chancellor of Germany Angela Merkel to Moscow during her working visit.
During today’s substantive and useful talks we touched upon the key issues of our bilateral relations in politics, the economy, and cultural and humanitarian area. And, of course, we had a detailed discussion of a number of international problems.
Let me underscore that Russia is committed to building up cooperation with the Federal Republic on the principles of respect, equality, mutual benefit and consideration for each other’s interests.
Germany is one of Russia’s biggest international economic partners; it follows the People’s Republic of China in terms of trade. The Russia-Germany trade amounted to $43.8 billion in January to October 2019. German investments in Russia total $20 billion whereas the reciprocal Russian investments in the economy of the Federal Republic stand at $9 billion.
Russia and Germany have a number of large energy projects to their credit. We highly appreciate the responsible position of the German Government in support of the widely known Nord Stream 2 project.
During the talks, we also spoke about the issues related to the continuation of the Russian gas transit through the territory of Ukraine. We noted the importance of the agreements reached on December 31 by Gazprom and its Ukrainian partners under which the transit of gas will continue in the coming five years.
These agreements are mutually advantageous and balanced both for Russia and Ukraine and they definitely meet the interests of the European consumers of Russian energy resources.
The focus during the discussion of the international and regional agenda was on Libya where, unfortunately, large-scale hostilities are ongoing, terrorist activities are on the rise while the economy and the social sphere are in decline, to everyone’s regret. All that undermines security and stability not just in that region but also has negative implications for Europe. I mean illegal migration, smuggling, and arms and drug trafficking.
It is crucial to put an end to the armed confrontation between Marshal Haftar’s Libyan National Army and the Government of National Accord of Mr Sarraj, to establish ceasefire and take steps to restart the political process with the ultimate goal of overcoming the split inside the country and forming national state institutions. It is these goals that we highlighted in the joint statement made recently by President of Turkey and me, calling on the conflicting sides in Libya to cease hostilities starting at midnight today. I gave a detailed account to the Federal Chancellor of the work we did in Istanbul.
We consider Germany’s initiative to hold an international conference on Libya in Berlin to be timely. For the Berlin conference to yield solid results it is necessary to ensure the participation of the states that are really interested in helping the Libya settlement, and the key issue is that its decisions must be previously agreed on with the Libyan parties. Ghassan Salamé, Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Libya, should also play a role in that.
Naturally, we did not neglect the situation in the Syrian Arab Republic during the talks. I shared with Madam Chancellor the results of my recent visit to Damascus and the talks with President al-Assad. We can confidently state that the situation in that country is stabilising. Syria is slowly returning to peaceful life, and its statehood is being restored.
Russia and Germany share the view that the final resolution of the conflict in Syria can be achieved exclusively by political means in accordance with the UN Security Council Resolution 2254. The main thing is for the Syrian people to have an opportunity to freely and independently determine their future, the future of their nation. It is exactly this approach that underlies the formation of the Constitutional Committee.
The Committee has already held two sessions in Geneva and established an editorial commission that will draft constitutional foundations for the Syrian state. At the same time, Russia together with Turkey and Iran will continue to support the Committee as far as possible within the Astana format framework.
We also discussed the issues of post-conflict restoration of Syria, improving the humanitarian situation and ensuring the safe return of the refugees. All responsible members of the international community have to join their efforts so as to help the Syrian state bodies, and Syrians in the broadest sense, to restore infrastructure facilities, water and power supply, hospitals and schools.
Meanwhile, any help to Syria must be rendered with proper approval from the legitimate authorities and cover all the affected territories without preconditions and politicisation.
We certainly could not ignore another issue which is vitally important not only for the region but also for the whole world – the issue of preserving the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action on Iran’s nuclear programme. After the United States withdrew from this fundamental agreement, the Iranian side declared that they suspended some of their voluntary commitments under the JCPOA. Let me underscore this – they only suspended their voluntary commitments while they stress their readiness to go back to full compliance with the nuclear deal.
Russia and Germany resolutely stand for the continued implementation of the Joint Plan. The Iranians are entitled to a support from European nations, which promised to set up a special financial vehicle separate from the US dollar to be used in trade settlements with Iran. The Instrument in Support of Trade Exchanges (INSTEX) must finally begin working.
Ms Merkel and I spoke in detail about the resolution of the intra-Ukrainian crisis. We share the opinion that there is no alternative to the Minsk agreements in normalising the situation in Ukraine’s southeast. It is crucial that the concrete tasks set during our recent Normandy format meetings should be implemented.
We hope that the Ukrainian side will start implementing the agreements on the political settlement. Extending the law on the special status of Donbass is a good move in the right direction. However, the law must not have a time limit, as it is stipulated in the Minsk agreements.
The special status of Donbass must be fixed in the Ukrainian Constitution, as it is also stated in the Minsk agreements. We are aware of all the challenges in the internal political process in Ukraine; however, if all the parties concerned want a final settlement, they should follow the Minsk agreements.
To conclude, let me stress again that during our talks with Madam Federal Chancellor we managed to substantively and constructively discuss many important issues relating to both Russia-Germany relations and the stability and security in the Middle East and the whole world.
I would like to sincerely thank the Federal Chancellor for today’s productive joint work.
Thank you for your attention.
Federal Chancellor of Germany Angela Merkel (retranslated): I would also like to express how grateful I am for this invitation to come to Moscow and for this opportunity to have very detailed and in-depth talks on both bilateral and international matters.
Actually, we can say that despite certain obstacles such as sanctions over Ukraine, we have very intensive economic relations in the fields of science and university education. Russia and Germany maintain intensive contacts and cooperation, and the citizens of our countries are closely interacting as well. This is very constructive.
Of course, we also talked about the Nord Stream project. It has been legitimised by means of the new European law. We need to carry it through. It is gratifying that a positive five-year agreement has been reached regarding gas transit via Ukraine.
We also monitored the developments around the opening of TurkStream. Germany and other European countries will benefit from Nord Stream. Nord Stream 1 is operational, while Nord Stream 2 is yet to be completed. All the sides are interested in diversifying gas supplies and will continue working towards this. But it is a very important project nevertheless.
We discussed international conflicts as well.
First of all, I would like to say a few words about Libya. I believe that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and President Vladimir Putin held a very constructive meeting in Istanbul. Ceasefire efforts are being undertaken within the framework of that meeting. This may become a step forward within the framework of the Berlin process between the five UN Security Council countries with veto powers. A high-level document has been prepared with the other countries.
We can now invite all participants to the Berlin conference to be held under UN auspices. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and UN Special Representative [for Libya] Ghassan Salame bear special responsibility for this process. The ultimate goal is for the Libyan parties to live in a sovereign country.
We are not going to interfere with Libya’s sovereignty, and therefore the conflicting parties – Mr Fayez al-Sarraj and Mr Khalifa Haftar – will also be involved in this process. We hope that the efforts that are being taken by Russia and Turkey will be successful. We will soon send out invitations to the Berlin conference.
We also discussed Syria. Regarding the meeting between President Erdogan and President Putin, they have reached very important results. I am delighted that last night they reached an agreement on two humanitarian corridors from Idlib, which have been opened because people there badly need them.
It is gratifying that a ceasefire was also discussed, because there is no military solution for Syria; a solution can only be found through talks, which is what we are hoping for. Therefore, for our part, we call for creating one more corridor towards northeast Syria for the delivery of humanitarian aid. There is readiness to continue the talks.
Second, we are for carrying on the process launched by UN Special Envoy for Syria Geir Pedersen. We need to find a political solution for creating conditions for a peaceful life in Syria, so that people will be able to return to their homes in Syria. Regrettably, there are very many such people. There are many Syrians in Turkey, which is shouldering great responsibility. To facilitate the constitutional process, we will continue to cooperate with Turkey, Russia and France.
Of course, we also discussed Iran. We agree that everything necessary must be done to preserve the JCPOA. Germany believes that there should be no nuclear weapons in Iran, and therefore we will use all the available diplomatic means to preserve this agreement, even though it is not perfect, but it includes obligations of all the sides.
I would like to say that 176 lives have been lost. Innocent people have died in an air crash in Iran. Tehran has announced that it was a big mistake and that those responsible for it have been identified and will be called to account. As of now, settlements should be made with the countries whose citizens perished in the air crash. Of course, we also need to discuss the consequences of this tragedy, which must be investigated in full. It is a real tragedy.
Therefore, we will do our best in relations with Iraq to combat terrorism and reduce tension in the region as much as possible.
We also spoke about the Normandy format. In my opinion, the Paris meeting was only partially successful because we could not settle all the problems. However, a prisoner exchange took place last year. Efforts are being made now to bring about a ceasefire. This is good. We will continue working to ensure progress at the next meeting in accordance with the Minsk Agreements. We have this basis, and we must continue working with it. There are certain hurdles, which will not go away overnight, but we are resolved to deal with them.
Overall, we had a very detailed conversation and a substantial exchange of opinions. I hope that meetings between Russia and Germany will continue with the involvement of other countries, so that we can help give diplomatic solutions a chance and support UN efforts in all these spheres.
Question (retranslated): I would like to talk about Libya. Just a few days ago, the Turkish President said that there were two thousand so-called mercenaries from the Wagner military company in Libya. This is a private Russian military company.
My question is to you, President Putin. Can you confirm this number? If not, how many Russian mercenaries from the Wagner Group are there in Libya?
Vladimir Putin: If there are any Russian citizens there, they neither represent the interests of the Russian state, nor receive funding from the Russian state.
Generally, there are many different mercenaries in the conflict zone, including, according to our information, a considerable number of mercenaries redeployed from the Idlib zone in Syria to the conflict zone in Libya. This is a very dangerous process.
Mr Erdogan and I were also discussing this yesterday. We hope that after our agreement, we proceed from the assumption that these will also be fulfilled by the conflicting sides in Syria and that combat operations will be discontinued. Simultaneously, the redeployment of additional contingents of mercenaries to Libya, including from the Syrian Arab Republic, will be discontinued as well.
Question: Good afternoon. My question is for both leaders.
Mr President, one cannot but ask about Nord Stream. Will we be able to build it on our own in a situation where sanctions have been imposed? If we do this, what is the timeframe for completing it?
I would like to ask Frau Merkel the same question. Is Berlin going to help Russia build Nord Stream in some way or other, and, for example, urge Washington to lift the sanctions with regard to this project at least for the reason that the Ukrainian gas transit issue has been solved?
Vladimir Putin: Yes, we will certainly be able to complete it on our own without inviting foreign partners. The timeframe is the only question that emerges in this connection. There is no doubt that its completion will be delayed by several months. I do hope though that this work will be completed before the end of this year or in the first quarter of next year and that the gas pipeline will become operatiional.
Angela Merkel: These political discussions are held everywhere, of course. This is primarily an economic project that we are talking about, and therefore we believe that this is the right project. The businesses involved have repeatedly called for this project to be implemented.
I think that the project can be implemented despite the US sanctions. The Russian President has said that there will be a certain delay but that the project will be implemented all the same. I would like to emphasise once again that despite all the political hurdles we believe that the exterritorial sanctions are the wrong path. For this reason, we will continue to support this project as we did in the past. But, let me reiterate, this is essentially an economic project.
Question (retranslated): I have a question for Madam Chancellor. We know that you had some pressing issues on the agenda, but we have learned now that there are common views on many matters, sometimes contrary to what the Americans think. Does this mean that there will be closer cooperation between Russia and the EU, possibly contrary to the United States?
Angela Markel: I have mentioned an issue on which we do not see eye to eye with the Americans, even though they are our allies with whom we are working together on many matters. But when it comes to German and European opinions, we are acting above all in our own interests, while Russia is upholding its own interests, so we should look for common interests in this process.
Despite certain obstacles, we have found common interests in our bilateral relations regarding the JCPOA with Iran. We have common opinions and different views, but a visit such as this one is the best thing. It is better to talk with each other rather than about one another, because it helps one to understand the other side’s arguments.
Regarding Libya, Syria and Iran, one thing is clear – that military means are only good for a certain period of time, whereas an ultimate solution can only be achieved by diplomatic means.
Today we spoke about ways towards finding such diplomatic solutions. There is some difference of opinions, but there are also areas where we agree.
Question: I have a question for both leaders. If possible, I would like to follow up on Libya, which is a very important matter now. Madam Chancellor mentioned the upcoming conference on Libya in Berlin. What are the goals you set for it, and what results, possibly the best possible results do you hope to achieve there?
I also have a question for the Russian President. Mr Putin, is there a chance for a ceasefire and can it take place within the timeframe you have coordinated, considering the Libyan sides’ reaction to the memorandum you have signed and the agreements reached during your visit to Turkey?
If possible, I would like to ask a more embracing question about the Middle East as a whole. It has dominated international headlines in the past few days, and the latest aggravation between Iran and the United States has even led some people to fear that the world is facing a new war. What measures can be taken to normalise the situation in the Middle East in general?
Vladimir Putin: As for the situation as a whole, I do hope that there will be no large-scale military conflicts. We can see that a war is in progress there, so-called low-intensity combat operations, but they are combat operations all the same, with people being killed. This is a fact. One really needs to hope that large-scale combat operations will be avoided.
If this happens, it would be a disaster not only for the Middle East but also for the world at large. We know what this will lead to. This will lead to new massive exoduses from traditional areas where people reside, to new refugee flows, and not only into Europe, but into other regions as well.
This would also be a humanitarian disaster. They will have a religious disaster plus an economic disaster on their hands, because this will lead to the destruction of or great damage to the global economy, the global energy industry.
We hope that by joint, combined efforts – we are meeting precisely for this purpose, including today, with Madam Federal Chancellor, we have met in Moscow to discuss our joint steps so that such unfavourable developments can be averted.
As for the intra-Syrian conflict and possible paths towards its settlement, I do hope that in a few hours today (actually in five hours), as we called for jointly with Mr Erdogan, the President of Turkey, the conflicting sides in Libya will cease fire and discontinue combat operations. After that, we would like to hold additional consultations with them.
As I mentioned in my remarks, we support the Federal Chancellor’s initiative to hold a UN conference in Berlin. Certain things have yet to be finalised. But I think that this would be the next step and a very good step in the right direction with the aim of preventing the negative developments that I mentioned in the beginning.
We could also set the stage for a gradual peaceful settlement of the conflict in Syria by political means.
Angela Merkel: I am very happy that we have managed to obtain information from the Russian side, which attended all the preparatory meetings in Germany, that we will soon be able to convene the Berlin conference.
We will also discuss this with other potential participants, and we hope that the Russian side’s efforts, particularly as regards the ceasefire in Libya, will be a success.
We have agreed to maintain close contacts on this matter both with the Turkish side and within the European Union. European foreign ministers have also maintained close ties; the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Egypt and foreign ministers of other countries are also participating in this.
We know that all of this is taking place under the aegis of the United Nations, the UN Secretary-General and his Special Representative Mr Salamé. We intend to support their efforts. This conference can only be a starting point in this process, and the most important thing is that the Libyan interests should take priority. The case in point is Libya’s future. A situation where too many countries from the outside would like to influence the state of affairs in Libya and push the Libyan interests onto the backburner should be avoided.
The African Union and African countries are also playing an important role. If we look at Libya’s neighbours, it is the neignbouring countries that are the primary victims of terrorism and escalation in this area. We can fight this and it will be easier to fight this, if Libya has government agencies and statehood of its own. This is our goal and we are working to achieve it. I do hope that we will be able to make headway on this within the next few days or weeks.