Monday, December 22, 2014

President of Russia

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Press statements and answers to journalists’ questions following meeting of the Russian-Ukrainian Interstate Commission

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PRESIDENT OF RUSSIA VLADIMIR PUTIN: Mr Yanukovych, colleagues, ladies and gentlemen,

I am very pleased to be here in Yalta today, to have the opportunity to meet with Mr Yanukovych, as well as our friends and colleagues.

Mr Yanukovych and I have had very long-standing, good, friendly relations for many years. I would very much like for these personal relations to be transformed into interstate relations of the same quality or, in any case, to be a factor that positively influences the development of our interstate relations.

We traditionally respect each other, I mean at the interstate level, respect each other’s interests; today’s meeting is another proof to that.

The meeting of the Russian-Ukrainian Interstate Commission was constructive and productive. As you saw, we signed a range of documents. We were open, we did argue on certain issues, and you know, I am glad, not because we have disputes on certain specific issues, but because we have such issues at all.

Our cooperation is very extensive – our trade is over fifty billion US dollars (the President of Ukraine already mentioned this), and we have every opportunity to increase it manifold in the coming years.

I will not go into details now, but it is very clear that energy, oil and gas should not be our only absolute priority, although these are important, of course. Our priorities should be the high-tech production sectors: aircraft engineering, air and space, telecommunications, transport. That is where our common future lies. These matters were much discussed today, and I hope that today’s discussion of all these topics was not only productive, but will be useful as well.

"Our cooperation is very extensive – our trade is over fifty billion US dollars, and we have every opportunity to increase it manifold in the coming years."

It is also in our common interests to foster the continued expansion of cooperation between regions, as Mr Yanukovych just stated. Indeed, I want to confirm that Nizhny Novgorod is planned to host the next [Russian-Ukrainian Interregional Economic] Forum this autumn, which has already become a tradition.

We must create additional opportunities in the cooperation of our regions where the effect of our economic entities already has a palpable influence: new jobs and new production plants are being created, while the old cooperation chain is being maintained.

We also spoke about the Russian Black Sea Fleet in Crimea. We briefed our colleagues, and I will later talk with Mr Yanukovych in more detail about the integration processes in the post-Soviet space within the associations in which Ukraine does not yet participate.

Naturally, we also discussed humanitarian issues, although in some general terms. Nevertheless, we are giving them a great deal of attention. I know that this fall, Ukraine will hold Days of Russian Education and Culture, and within the framework of these events, presentations will be made on Russia’s leading universities and research schools. There will also be presentations regarding current achievements by educators and scientists, as well as interesting educational programmes.

I hope that Mr Yanukovych will respond favourably to my invitation and come to the Russian Federation on a state visit this autumn.

Thank you for your attention.

QUESTION: I have a question for both presidents about the documents signed today, specifically, the first two.

Regarding the Declaration on Strategic Partnership between Ukraine and Russia, what does this document contain, what is it about?

Also, regarding the agreement on dividing the Sea of Azov and the Black Sea, what principles is it based on? 

VIKTOR YANUKOVYCH: The Declaration reflects the overall nature of our relations in all the different cooperation fields. In short, it highlights these relations’ strategic nature.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: I agree with Mr Yanukovych’s assessment. We see this as a fundamental bilateral document of the kind our countries have not yet had. It really does reflect our cooperation priorities – political cooperation, economic ties in various sectors, and our cooperation in border areas and so forth. 

What I want to stress, in other words, is that this is a basic document that lays the foundations for our relations in practically every area of cooperation.

"It is very clear that energy, oil and gas should not be our only absolute priority, although these are important, of course. Our priorities should be the high-tech production sectors: aircraft engineering, air and space, telecommunications, transport."

Regarding the agreement on the Sea of Azov and the Black Sea, it is not about dividing these seas: we are not about to divide up the Black Sea between us, and will leave the Sea of Azov alone too. The agreement is about definitively demarcating our borders here."it is very clear that energy, oil and gas should not be our only absolute priority, although these are important, of course. Our priorities should be the high-tech production sectors: aircraft engineering, air and space, telecommunications, transp"

Let me note in this respect that our foreign ministries and our experts have reached principled agreements on how to ensure that this meets both countries’ interests. We all examined this today, and overall, Mr Yanukovych and I both agree with the approach proposed.

The point of this document is set our colleagues in the spirit for completing this work and signing the relevant agreement. What we did today was to confirm the principles upon which this work will be based. By and large, the rest is now just a question of legal procedures.

QUESTION: I have a question for the President of Ukraine.

Mr President, you recently sent your Presidential Address to the Parliament and for the first time did not deliver it personally there. The Address contains an interesting passage on Ukraine’s foreign policy, naming integration with Europe as the top priority. Russia, meanwhile, got placed in a fine group that includes the USA and China. 

De facto this document is yours, but de jure you have not said this. My question, therefore, is, does it state your personal position, the Foreign Ministry’s position, the state authorities’ position, and, in the run-up to October, is there some kind of public consensus on this issue?

VIKTOR YANUKOVYCH: This document is not something new but is based on the strategy that has already been adopted in the form of some of our basic documents. The law on the basic principles of our domestic and foreign policy, for example, states that Ukraine makes integration with Europe a priority. This same law defines Ukraine’s status as being outside all blocs, and so on.

As for the Address, it is also a strategic document with lengthy preparation gone into it, and what it states is the natural and consistent continuation of the policies that we began in 2010.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: I would just like to add a couple of words.

That Russia has been put together with countries such as the People’s Republic of China and the United States of America does not offend us in any way but on the contrary flatters us. We are happy to be with them.

As for the European Union taking precedence, this does not offend us either, because we understand the scope of cooperation, technology and so on that is behind this. Ultimately, deciding priorities of this kind is the sovereign choice of each country and people, and we will of course respect these decisions. 

I hope that the EU, despite the problems it is going through with Greece, Portugal, Spain, and Italy, will pay attention to the post-Soviet countries too, which have declared their choices so clearly. I hope the EU will draw its conclusions in this respect. We all want cooperation with Europe. Russia wants it, Ukraine wants it, and so do the other post-Soviet region countries. 

QUESTION: I have a question for the Russian President on the gas sector. Under what conditions would Russia be willing to revise the price formula for gas sales to Ukraine? Kiev has been seeking this for more than two years now.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: Do you remember the words of that book we all love so much, ‘Can I get the chairs in the evening and give you the money in the morning?’ ‘Yes, but the money comes first!’

We have valid signed agreements, above all corporate agreements. We have agreements at government and presidential level to send the impulse to our companies, Gazprom and NK Ukraine [Alliance Ukraine oil company], to get them to examine all possible options for improving their energy sector relations, including in the gas sector.

We know and respect our partners’ position. There are some matters on which we have yet to reach agreements, but we do want to settle these issues and will work towards this.

QUESTION: I have a question for the President of Ukraine.

Mr President, you met yesterday with the club of CIS chief editors and answered a few questions for our newspaper [Izvestia]. You said, in particular, that you hope to modernise relations with Russia and you spoke too, about migration within the CIS. These were somewhat general words, however, and we’d like to hear some detail.

In this respect, I have a question: You and Mr Putin discussed issues such as Ukraine joining the Customs Union and the Common Economic Space. Has there been any change in Ukraine’s position on this matter, and if not, under what conditions would you consider rethinking your position?

VIKTOR YANUKOVYCH: We discussed this matter and continue to discuss these issues, seeing as they are directly related to our national interests. We are following very closely the development and successes of these integration projects.

We are observers in the Eurasian [Economic] Community, and are currently in the process of building mutually advantageous relations with the Customs Union. We are in constant dialogue. I proposed today that we begin our economic integration at the sector level. I think that this offers good prospects for integration with the Customs Union. That is for a start. 

We realise that the Customs Union will be constantly changing – not changing its rules of the game – but adapting in line with the integration processes taking place in the world. Russia’s accession to the World Trade Organisation is just one example. As far as we know, the accession is due to take place on August 9.

Kazakhstan is next in line. I think that the developments that take place within the Customs Union after these countries join the WTO will go a long way towards bringing us closer in our principles, given that the Customs Union too, is based on WTO principles. We are therefore not saying ‘no’, but are studying the integration developments very closely and attentively.

I am sure that the integration processes taking place in the EU and the Customs Union will only complement each other and help to remove barriers to foreign trade, financial flows, and labour mobility. This is what the big economies are striving for today, and it is what will help us to overcome the economic crisis.

Any integration has only benefits. It makes us happy to see that our colleagues, friends and neighbours are taking the initiative and inviting us to join in these processes. We are grateful for their initiative in this respect. This is a good thing. As for the future, we will soon see how things develop.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: I have commented on this matter before, but I just want to add one thing now. Neither Russia nor its partners in the Customs Union and the Common Economic Space have any intention of imposing anything on anyone. This would be the counterproductive approach here. Any country has to weigh up the whole situation, look at the economic aspects above all, weigh up all the pluses and minuses that would come from taking part in this or that integration project.

I gave our colleagues an example today: our calculations show that Belarus has gained a total equivalent to 16% of its GDP through lowered energy costs alone since the Customs Union began operation. Lower energy costs are far from the only bonus what’s more. They resulted from a general decision in the context of other economic issues. But there are advantages of a purely systemic nature to be gained as well. 

Let me say again that any partner country considering joining has to weigh up for itself whether this is in its advantage or not. But we always draw attention to one circumstance in particular, and that is the integration that is underway within the Customs Union and the Eurasian Economic Community. We are in the process of settling the conditions and signing agreements, and as this work progresses it will be harder, if not impossible, at some later date to change all of this for new members, given that this is quite a complex negotiating process. 

The negotiations on setting up the Customs Union and the Common Economic Space took years. Mr Azarov [Prime Minister of Ukraine Nikolai Azarov] knows, as he was involved in these negotiations 5-7 years ago, and he knows what a complex process this is.

We are in constant dialogue with our Ukrainian partners of course, and they know what is going on and can assess the situation. The final choice is up to them. Going back to the last question, on gas prices, since 2010, the discount that our Ukrainian partners have received has resulted in a saving of $8 billion. I want to draw your attention to this fact.

Though our partners might dispute it, the price is completely comparable to the price at which we sell gas to Ukraine’s neighbours. We do have some preferential relations, with partners in Germany, for example, but this is to do with the particular relations that we have formed there.

We are letting them take part in production in Russia and have built a pipeline system on a fifty-fifty basis across the Baltic Sea, and they have let us connect to their pipeline system in Germany. You understand the situation? We have ever deeper cooperation there. This is a different economic cooperation model.

Overall, let me say again, we are ready to work together on the future shape of our relations in this area. We spoke about another issue too, incidentally, and drew attention to the fact that our Ukrainian friends and partners pushed us towards signing a free trade zone agreement between the CIS countries. Ukraine was always the leader in deciding this matter.

In the end, after being pushed along by Ukraine’s President and Prime Minister, we signed and ratified this agreement, while Ukraine has yet to do so. This was unexpected for us.

VIKTOR YANUKOVYCH: It’s in the parliament…

VLADIMIR PUTIN: We hope that, with support from the public and the media, this will happen.

VIKTOR YANUKOVYCH: It is going through our internal procedures now and I hope that the parliament will ratify the agreement very soon.

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