24 april, 2010 18:44  

Following negotiations, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and Federal Chancellor of the Republic of Austria Werner Fayman give news conference


Transcript of the beginning of the meeting:

Moderator: Welcome to the press conference with our guests, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and Federal Chancellor of the Republic of Austria Werner Fayman.

Werner Fayman (as translated): Esteemed Mr Prime Minister, thank you very much for your visit. I would also thank you for the fact that we have had this opportunity for a lengthy discussion about economic cooperation and the current state of affairs. Everyone in Europe is now wondering how to stimulate the economy and fight unemployment. We are also thinking about how we can use new technology to solve problems related to environmental pollution.

Another important issue is energy security. Six months ago I visited Moscow and we discussed this issue. The situation has improved much since then, as you have mentioned, Prime Minister.

At that moment we were greatly concerned with whether agreements on Russian energy supplies across Ukraine would be carried out. Since then the situation has improved and the project that we are signing agreements on today (cooperation on the South Stream project) demonstrates that the import of Russian natural gas is a very important issue for us.

We import 60% of our gas from Russia. This issue is important to us, because that is a large proportion, and Russian natural gas is a significant supplement to our renewable energy sources. We can store the gas for as long as we need it.

Naturally, we are investing in renewable energy sources because we can only resolve environmental issues by making progress in this sphere.

Mr Prime Minister, thank you very much again for visiting Vienna and Austria. I hope we will be able to discuss the issue of a broad-gauge railway line during our working lunch.

Vladimir Putin: Mr Chancellor, ladies and gentlemen. First of all, I would like to thank my counterpart for this invitation. We did indeed meet in Moscow six months ago and today we continued our dialogue. We discussed issues related to the global financial downturn and shared approaches to their resolution.

I gave the Federal Chancellor a detailed account of the current state of the Russian economy and its future trajectory. I also told him about our large social projects.

Naturally, the energy industry plays a special role in our dialogue. Here I am referring to oil we well: we plan to increase exports. And then there is natural gas. I very pleased to see that we have arrived at the signing of two significant documents. The first is a cooperation agreement between business entities. The second document is an intergovernmental agreement that, in fact, concludes our work formulating the necessary legal basis to commence construction on the South Stream pipeline. We intend to see this project to fruition in any case, given the need to diversify our gas supplies to European consumers.

You will know that we have already started building the off-shore section of the Nord Stream pipeline. Work in the Baltic Sea is in full swing. We are ready to start work in the Black Sea as fast as we did in the Baltic Sea.

I would like to remind you, and this is something the Chancellor has already mentioned, that Austria imports a large proportion of its natural gas from the Russian Federation. When South Stream is commissioned, Russian gas imports will increase by two billion cubic meters. I assure you that the gas supply will be stable, reliable, guaranteed and that it will contribute to Austria's energy supply security. The pipeline will also positively impact the energy security of Europe as a whole.

Of course, our cooperation is not limited to the energy sector alone. We have already touched upon the development of the transport infrastructure and will continue our work on it.

My counterpart has mentioned the construction of a broad-gauge railway line to Vienna and a corresponding terminal here in conjunction with our partners from the neighbouring country. We are working on this project. And we will implement it jointly.

But I think the most important issue is the diversification of our economic relations. In this regard, I would like to note that Austrian companies are being very active.

Despite the fact that our trade showed a slight decrease, from over $5 billion to almost $4 billion, Austrian direct investment surged by almost $1.5 billion. This is a good sign. It indicates the Austrian businesses' trust for the Russian economy. I hope that Russian companies will respond accordingly.

We will discuss these issues later today. I would like again to thank the Federal Chancellor for this invitation and for the constructive start to our work today. Thank you.

Question: Good afternoon. I have a question for both Prime Ministers. Austria is putting a great deal of effort into the South Stream project, including today's agreement. But Austria is also involved in the Nabucco project. That pipeline is meant to ensure Austria's independence from the Russian natural gas supplies. Do you see any conflict here?

Werner Fayman: No, we see no conflict here. We have already said that diversification means we have a range of opportunities. And we do not yet know whether natural gas will be supplied via Nabucco. It also shows that we are interested in a variety of opportunities to diversify our gas imports but there is no conflict of interest here.

Vladimir Putin: I hear this thesis all the time, that it is necessary to ensure independence from Russian gas supplies. And I always want to ask a question: why would you want that? There is a good saying: it if ain't broke, don't fix it.

Do you have any idea how big Russian natural gas reserves are? There are 55 trillion cubic meters of gas reserves in Russia's north-east alone. This is in just one gas province.

In fact, we have more than one province like that. These natural gas reserves are unparalleled anywhere else in the world. We can meet the growing demand of the Russian economy and that of our main customers... practically all of our customers in Europe for the next hundred years.

The question is not whether Russia will be able to meet this demand. The question is how to diversify ways of delivering natural gas to European customers. The South Stream pipeline we are talking about today is the answer to this question. As for the other projects, we are not at all opposed to their implementation. They are in competition to South Stream but we are not against them. The question is about the resources with which to fill the pipeline. If those who plan to build that pipeline have the resources then the project is worth implementing.

I would like to draw attention to something that specialists are well aware of: before building something you first need to sign a supply contract.  Building a pipeline without any contracts is senseless and highly risky. No one in this business would do that. Please, name at least one contract that has been signed under the Nabucco project. We can sign such contracts for the South Stream but I do not see anybody who would be keen to do the same under Nabucco. However, this does not mean that the project is impossible to implement. Who knows, the situation in Europe may change, Europe could start consuming so much natural gas, that demand would grow so fast that European consumers would cling to any opportunity. Then it would make sense to consider alternative routes. I believe that this is still premature.

Moderator: And now for a question from the Russian journalists

Question: You said, Mr Putin, that you discussed the construction of the Kosice-Bratislava-Vienna broad-gauge railway, which would connect Central Europe with the Trans-Siberian Railway and so on. Please explain, and this is a question for both the prime minister and the federal chancellor, what has already been done specifically in this regard, and when, at least approximately, can we expect it to open? Thank you.

Vladimir Putin: You know, in terms of coordinating positions this is a considerable undertaking, and there are very many interests of all those involved in the process. We find this project interesting, because as we all well know, it will connect the Trans-Siberian Railway with end-users of various products who are practically in the centre of Europe. This is, of course, also both interesting and beneficial for Austria and Slovakia. But it took a rather long time to coordinate our positions: how much, where it will be built, where the main cargo flow will join up and so on. I hope that that we have virtually completed this coordinating work. The actual work on-site will go rather quickly. Talk to the experts; right here you have the head of the company and his Austrian colleagues. They will tell you how long it will take to implement the project. If any help is needed from government, including financial aid, we are ready to consider the issue.

Werner Fayman: I want to take this opportunity to also thank the members of both delegations, the ministers and directors. You have touched upon a subject that we will discuss during our working lunch. I have known Mr Yakunin for a rather long time and we have a good rapport. Minister Bures (Doris Bures, Federal Minister of Transport, Innovation and Technology) is also present. Currently research is being conducted which will clarify how this project should be implemented.

We also need to consider the issue of re-orientating the bulk of freight traffic from the roads to the railways. We need to estimate the cost of this project and we will, of course, continue to discuss this issue over lunch. But I know that Austrian Railways and Russian Railways are working well together on this.

But the idea itself of transporting goods by railway from Russia to Central Europe, thereby creating an alternative to road transportation, is itself a very important issue, it is an environmental issue.

Another question from a representative of the newspaper Kronenzeitung

Question: Mr Prime Minister, how do you rate the development of bilateral economic ties between Austria and Russia since your last visit in 2007? And could you possibly tell us that in the near future, we will see this cooperation intensify? For example, in construction or in car making? Is such joint cooperation planned?

Vladimir Putin: I have already answered that on the whole, I feel that our trade and economic relations are developing positively. This means consistent growth, of course not counting trade, which saw a slight decline associated with the global financial crisis. But I think that we will quickly make up for the time we lost in the past year.

A sign of this is investment growth, primarily Austrian investment in the Russian economy. You know, almost 2,000 companies with 100% Austrian capital or with (mixed) allied Russian-Austrian capital are operating in Russia. This is a very good indicator.

But we lack, and you also mentioned this in your question, we lack significant depth and diversification. Of course, I would very much like us to develop our relations in engineering: we could seize this opportunity in the ongoing construction of major facilities in Sochi, where the experience of Austrian builders and experts would be extremely in demand.

Of course, I would like us to develop our contacts and for our mutual interest in high-tech production to grow. I recently talked with our co-chairman of the Intergovernmental Commission. Of course, we would like those advantages that the Austrian economy has in, for example, information technology, to work for the common good.

All of this will be the subject of our negotiations today.

Question: Good afternoon, Interfax News Agency. I have a question for both the Chancellor and the Prime Minister. Have you discussed the issue of abolishing the visa regime with the Russian Federation? A number of European countries support this idea. What is Austria's position? Mr Putin, what will this mean for Russian citizens and for Europe, if it ever happens? Thank you.

Werner Fayman (as translated): We did not have enough to discuss the problem in detail. We have not raised this issue yet, but, of course, I have researched it quite well within the context of the European Union.

We are involved in the process of negotiations in European Union on all issues related to the visa regime. We are actively participating in these negotiations and we, of course, still have time to discuss this issue in detail.

Vladimir Putin: We have not yet begun to discuss that issue. But we will certainly talk about both sides' visa provision. We understand perfectly that Austria must act within the framework of the European Union and its collective decisions. But this dialogue is developing well both with the European Union and with individual European countries.

Some EU countries are using the opportunities afforded by Europe-wide agreements and are moving towards a degree of liberalisation in their bilateral relations.

But on the whole, of course, we must think about arranging these relations with the European Union as a whole.

Our Austrian colleagues support us on this road. What does that give us?

You know, whoever we may meet, whichever country in which we hold meetings with business circles, everyone one asks us, asks me, the same question: how can the issue of liberalising the visa regime be resolved?

The Russian side is asked virtually the same question in every single European country. I always answer that such problems can only be solved on a mutual and bilateral basis.

It needs to be said that both our Austrian and European colleagues understand this, in the broadest sense of the word. We are seeking to resolve complex issues associated with securing our borders and other procedures, such as readmission.

We have already taken many steps to meet each other halfway. I hope that we will continue moving further in this direction.

What will this mean? I already said that business circles are interested. Of course, this will significantly ease contact between people and will simply create a common European cultural space.

But it will also be economically important. If today, say, there are 200,000 Russian tourists in Austria, and they play a certain role in the economy, then after this there will immediately be a minimum of one million. We have a million in Turkey now.

Why am I giving this figure? Because almost a million Russian tourists travel to Turkey each year and there is practically a visa-free regime there for them. Whenever a visa-free regime is introduced, the number of compatriots travelling to the country in question increases exponentially. Exponentially! And the benefit is obvious. We will continue our work.