PRESIDENT VLADIMIR PUTIN: Good morning, ladies and gentlemen!
Our talks with the President of France, Nicolas Sarkozy, have come to an end. This is his first visit to Russia as head of state. And we hope that it will be an important milestone in the development of our bilateral cooperation.
In a relatively short period of time we have now met twice. We first met "in the margins" of the G8 summit in Germany, and the principal result of that meeting was to confirm the stability and continuity of the Russian-French partnership. Today's full-scale summit was devoted to a thorough, detailed and in-depth discussion of all aspects of bilateral cooperation, and an exchange of views on the current situation in various areas of concerted action to determine the specific outlook for our relations.
Let me say at once that we are pleased with the outcome of these talks. We extensively discussed key regional and global issues, the critical issues on our bilateral agenda. We noted that there has been significant progress in political, cultural and economic cooperation between Russia and France.
I recall that in the past, in 2006, our trade increased substantially, to13.5 billion dollars. This is an increase of 37.5% over 2005. And in the first half of this year, trade reached nearly 7 billion dollars, a figure significantly higher than it was in the same period last year.
This potential for cooperation is far from exhausted. And it is in the interest of both countries to give a new impetus to the whole area of business cooperation. We can do this by implementing major joint projects, especially in such high-tech fields as aviation and the automotive industry, space exploration, telecommunications and transport infrastructure. If Russian and French manufacturers join forces in world markets they will have an important competitive advantage.
Accordingly, I would like to mention the most significant projects. First and foremost is the creation of a complex for the launch of Russian SOYUZ-ST Launcher at the Guiana Space Centre. The commercial launch of satellites from the space centre in Kourou with the help of Russian delivery vehicles could start as early as next year. And today we also talked about this with the President.
Links between the European group EADS [European Aeronautic Defence and Space Company] and the United Aircraft Manufacturing Corporation and Russian air carriers continue to develop apace. Joint efforts on a programme for creating the regional Russian aircraft Superjet 100 are moving ahead at full speed.
There are significant prospects in the energy sector, including nuclear energy. The [oil and gas] company Total is of particular interest in this connection, since it is developing the Shtokman Gas Field. We have talked about this with President Sarkozy on numerous occasions, including during telephone conversations.
Cooperation in the area of culture is improving. As you know, in the near future we will be holding a major event during the Year of Russia in France. And we have agreed to hold the Year of France in Russia in 2010.
In the annals of centuries-old friendship and mutual bonds of our peoples there are many glorious pages. One is the common struggle against Nazism. In both Russia and France we treasure the memory of the heroes of the Second World War. And today President Sarkozy and I will be unveiling a monument to the legendary aviators in the Russian-French Normandy-Neman Squadron.
An important part of the talks was to discuss cooperation between Russia and France on the international scene: first and foremost, as part of Russian-European cooperation.
We paid particular attention to France's assuming the presidency of the EU in the second half of 2008. We very much hope that France will play its part in the dealings with our European partners. We talked a lot about international issues, the situation in Kosovo, the Iranian nuclear programme and the situation in the Middle East.
No doubt the Russian-French partnership will continue to grow steadily, in the form of new and interesting projects, both on a bilateral and multilateral basis.
PRESIDENT NICOLAS SARKOZY (translated from a Russian translation): Thank you, Mr President, my dear Vladimir!
We have had in-depth, open and cordial discussions. France wants to become a privileged partner of Russia. It seems to me that our Russia friends are of the same mind. Incidentally, I have invited the next President of Russia to come for a visit on the occasion of the launch at Kourou. That will be in late 2008. And, in addition, I said to Vladimir that I would be happy if he took me up on my invitation to make this his first trip abroad after the end of his term as President of Russia. I think that he has agreed.
Russia is an essential partner. Russia is a powerful country. Russia has international responsibilities and wants to live up to them. I think that is positive for stability and the fundamental strength of the world. That is why we discussed all the major issues. We have thoroughly discussed the Iranian issue. We listened Mr Putin's views on the eve of his visit to Tehran. And, in general, I think that our positions are somewhat closer.
Now with regard to Kosovo: I think it is very important that Europe remains united on the issue, indivisible. And to do so we are counting on our partnership with Russia. We believe that this is a European matter, but we are trying to work out a solution that will not humiliate anyone.
Regarding Syria and Lebanon: we discussed this issue. We also talked about ballistic missile defense, and we encourage our Russian friends to continue discussions with the Americans. We also discussed major economic issues. And we want to ask our close advisers to meet next week. They will discuss all the major economic issues and will try to resolve them. It will be a big job but we are looking forward to progress in the area of aircraft construction, space, and the possibility of cooperation between France and Russia in the energy sector, in particular, nuclear energy and in all problems related to energy. I told Vladimir Putin that we want to work together and avoid confrontation. We understand Russia's concerns, and they are perfectly normal. And we also want everything to be transparent and the rules of the market to apply.
Regarding contacts at the level of civil society, we want them to develop. I am referring to the exchange of year-long events celebrating our cultural ties, sometime in 2010. Vladimir Putin has appointed a representative from the Russian side to deal with this. In general, we will give this issue our particular attention.
During a working breakfast, we will also talk about cooperation within Europe. We are natural partners in Europe. I think that cooperation is in our interest. And France is ready to strengthen its friendship with Russia, in the service of Europe as a whole.
And after the working breakfast, we are going to pay tribute to the brotherhood of arms between France and Russia, the Normandy-Neman fighter squadron.
I want to say to Mr Putin that I welcome the frankness of our exchange. Our discussions on absolutely every issue could not have been more wide open or more friendly. We kept our composure. I think that it was a very interesting and positive meeting.
QUESTION: The newspaper Le Monde. A question for President Putin and Mr Sarkozy (that is, if Mr Sarkozy wants to comment on it). Mr Putin, it has been said that your positions on Iran are getting closer. What does that mean? Regarding the nuclear programme: do you think that Iran is producing nuclear weapons, as Mr Sarkozy thinks, or not?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: We have no data that suggest that Iran is seeking to produce nuclear weapons. We have no objective data of that sort. And so we believe that Iran does not have such plans. But we share the concern of our partners, that Iran make all of its programmes absolutely clear and transparent. We agreed yesterday, and President Sarkozy has reaffirmed it, that Iran is taking steps to accommodate the international community, so that this state of affairs can be achieved. We are cooperating with our partners at the UN Security Council and are intent on working with them in the future.
NIKOLAS SARKOZY (as translated): What Mr Putin has said is particularly important, especially a few days before his visit to Tehran. I have been told that the Iranians are cooperating, and that they are willing to go on cooperating. This is important. Of course, perhaps we do not see the situation in that country in quite the same way. Let us see if they continue to cooperate. Overall, this is subject to interpretation. But what is important is the will to cooperate. I think this is a significant moment, not just for us but for the entire planet.
QUESTION: Did you discuss the issue of the acquisition of assets by Russian companies in France and of French companies in Russia? Mr Sarkozy, are you a supporter or opponent of protectionism in Europe, which could limit the natural competitive advantages of Russian companies, such as Gazprom? And a question for President Putin: Vladimir Vladimirovich, do you think our Russian companies are ready to expand their activities abroad and what are the prospects for foreign companies in our country?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: We have said that the cooperation between our major companies will continue. As far as I understand, President Sarkozy is an active supporter of this process. And the understanding is that French companies will also be given the opportunity to work in Russia, to be part of the Russian economy. We don't have to go far for examples. We already have examples of large-scale investment. Many French companies are working with us in the most varied sectors of the economy: in energy, the automotive industry, and in resolving problems in aviation and the development of infrastructure with their Russian partners. All this bodes well for future cooperation. We have already laid out, and I described this in particular, our approaches to developing this cooperation. In my view, this is an absolutely fair, transparent, mutually acceptable approach when our companies use the capital of their European partners and European partners acquire blocks of shares in Russian companies. In this way we have a situation of interdependence and mutual supervision, which I think is crucial, and this means, predictably enough, joint action and efforts in other countries' markets. I want to emphasise that without a doubt this will enhance the competitiveness of the European and Russian economies. We have an understanding that we should move in this direction.
And the second question?
QUESTION: To Mr Sarkozy: what do you think about the protectionist measures against foreign companies, such as Gazprom?
NICOLAS SARKOZY (as translated): Mr Putin and I have suggested that our representatives at the highest level meet to discuss openly all economic issues in order to avoid misunderstandings of this kind. That is, so that everything is transparent, so that everything is mutually beneficial as far as advantages are concerned. We are talking about a market, and it should be transparent. And we understand that some Russian firms want to become shareholders in our companies. Our Russian friends already have assets in EADS. And I told Mr Putin that French investors are ready to become shareholders of the major Russian companies, such as Gazprom. So there will be no protectionism on our side: we just want to have mutually beneficial agreement for both sides. We have discussed it and try to work it out. There are no taboos, no limits, boundaries, as long as everything is mutually beneficial and transparent.
QUESTION (as translated): A question for Mr Sarkozy: we understand that you plan to visit the organisation Memorial. This is a non-governmental organisation. They have denounced crimes committed in Chechnya. You should pay attention to human rights in France. We will involve ourselves in your affairs more often, because so far we haven't. And for Mr Putin, what you think about this?
NICOLAS SARKOZY (as translated): I can answer that calmly. First, I acknowledge that, yes, I will be meeting with this organisation. We have informed Mr. Putin, I myself told him about it. And he told me that, when he invites people, of course he doesn't interfere in any way with meetings that have been planned, including ones with this particular organisation. Mr Putin can confirm this. So I can calmly answer that question.
I want to say more precisely that France is not about to give anybody any lessons. We understand the specific character of these events. I have my own views. I gave them sincerely. Mr Putin also spoke very sincerely. We both believe that when people are friends, then they say what they really think. And if on some issues we disagree, we must find solutions. This is how it was, there are no surprises here. I have already spoken about transparency. On the economic side, we will try to ensure it too. On political issues, we will also maintain transparency. I listened with great interest to Mr Putin's story, in particular to his account of the evolution of Russian society. And I think that he also listened to my arguments. For these reasons, the meeting we had was interesting and positive for both sides.
VLADIMIR PUTIN: What do I think about this? Thank God that there are such organisations in the world, capable of taking responsibility for showing those in positions of power their mistakes. It is unfortunate if individual states use these organizations as instruments to achieve their own foreign policy ends. But in this case such organizations compromise themselves.
With regard to our relationship to the case in general, I can tell you that a council, composed of organizations of this kind, was created by the President of Russia to promote civil society. And I am pleased that I have a chance to hear directly their criticism of the authorities. We can accept this as valid or not, but we need to hear what these people think the authorities need to hear.
As for the organisation Memorial, it is part of this council. I meet with representatives of this organisation and with others, not as often perhaps as I would like but quite frequently. Therefore I don't see anything out of the ordinary if the French President wants to meet with representatives of Memorial, or with those of any other organisations.
QUESTION: I would like to hear your views on the further convergence of Russia and France, Russia and the EU, on the whole issue of the visa regime. Mr Sarkozy, before coming here, you seemed quite well disposed to this idea. Have your views changed? And Mr Putin: you have said many times that Russia itself must do a great deal, undertake a long journey to change to visa-free entry. How far have we gone down that road?
VLADMIR PUTIN: We all know that the collapse of the so-called socialist camp in Europe created unique conditions for the return to normal relations between countries and people. The idea was not to build more virtual Berlin walls. And I think that we all aspire to this. Of course, it is a prerequisite for economic development, for the development of cultural contacts in Europe. Our common goal, to move to a visa-free regime, is clear and feasible.
When I said that we in Russia must do a lot to create the necessary conditions, I meant that we must ensure the security of our external borders and protect our European partners by making sure that criminals, terrorists, drugs and so forth do not find their way into our country. Of course, this is a challenge for the whole of Europe, but a lot of the responsibility rests on us. Has Russia done something in this area recently or not? Yes, it has. We have significantly strengthened our external borders, and we have invested substantial sums in border infrastructure, especially in the Caucasus, but also in other areas, including on the Asian side.
Just recently, I talked about this with our Central Asian counterparts. We are working together and will continue to do so, but not only that. We have signed agreements with our European partners on readmissions and will of course comply with all their commitments. We have agreed with the Europeans on a simplified visa regime for a certain class of our citizens, for Europeans as well as Russians. But this is only the first step towards a visa-free regime in its entirety.
NICOLAS SARKOZY: We are ready to take all necessary steps to ensure that Russian students, tourists and businessmen come to France, and our embassy is doing remarkable work to ensure shorter wait times for visas. We are ready to take all necessary measures to reduce delays.