9 december, 2010 20:20  

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and French Prime Minister Francois Fillon hold a joint news conference after the 15th session of the Russian-French commission on bilateral cooperation


Vladimir Putin's opening remarks:

Mr Prime Minister,

Ladies and gentlemen,

We have completed the 15th session of the Russian-French commission on bilateral cooperation. As usual, it was a very businesslike and constructive meeting. We have discussed practically all key areas of Russian-French interaction. As you can see, the meeting led to the signing of a hefty package of joint agreements.

Traditionally, economics has been the focus of attention. It has to be said that trade, investment and economic links between Russia and France are gradually recovering from the downturn and are returning to a trajectory of sustained growth. Mutual trade grew by nearly 40% in the first nine months of 2010 and has almost reached the pre-crisis level, which it is expected to meet by the end of the year.

Cooperation in investment and infrastructure is becoming more important. This is very evident in transportation – especially in the railway and energy sectors, in which Russian and French companies are implementing joint projects. These include the Nord Stream and South Stream pipelines as well as the development of massive oil, gas, and other resources. One thinks of the famous Shtokman project, which has been put on hold due to events in the world market, but we will nonetheless continue its work with French companies acting as full-fledged participants. As for the energy sector, I can tell you that French companies are our most promising and truly strategic partners in global markets and that we intend to continue pursuing development in our own nations as well as in others – and that is where we are sure to succeed.

The outlook is good in the aviation, shipbuilding, and automobile industries, as well as in general transportation, science, space exploration, and other areas of mutual development. We are focusing on science-intensive, innovative sectors in which Russia and France have already engaged serious technological and human resources.

Today our countries have signed a joint statement on partnership in modernisation. Let me underscore that in this sphere, France is Russia's natural and privileged partner.

Among the major French companies that are active in the Russian market are Peugeot-Citroen, EDF, and Gaz de France. Gazprom and Rosatom are strengthening ties with French companies. Special mention should be made of the alliance between Avtovaz and Renault-Nissan, which is aimed at modernising this, Russia's largest automaker.

In line with the trend towards closer cooperation, agreements were signed today between OJSC RusHydro and Alstom on strategic partnership in the production of high-tech energy equipment in Bashkortostan.

Our countries have also agreed to construct a joint energy efficiency centre (you watched us sign these documents), which will develop and introduce conservation technologies that build upon our previous experience in the field. I am referring to the joint venture of Inter RAO UES and EDF to promote high-tech energy efficiency and conservation technologies in the Russian market. The joint venture is already engaged with several domestic enterprises and has plans to use state-of-the-art technologies and equipment.

All these projects and initiatives attest to the serious interest that Russian and French partners show in one another. For our part, the prime minister and I have agreed to do all we can to support and encourage this mutual interest so that agreements are fulfilled on pace and on schedule.

I cannot help mentioning that 'Russia Year' in France and 'France Year' in Russia ended yesterday. It was a milestone event and hugely successful, and it met with broad enthusiasm in many hearts.

The rich and exciting programme of these two 'Years' raised the humanitarian links between Russia and France to an entirely new level, and, indeed, our joint project did not only play a big role in bilateral relations, but, I can safely say, was an event of a trans-European scale.

We have ambitious plans: we are discussing holding a Russian language year in France and a French language year in Russia in 2010. This is an area of activity that will undoubtedly strengthen the foundations of our interaction.

Thank you very much.

Francois Fillon (through an interpreter): Ladies and gentlemen, I would like to thank Vladimir Putin for the quality of the reception accorded to the French delegation that is with me here. A new meeting of the Russian-French commission has been held. We had six hours of talks over two days. We discussed all the issues of Russian-French relations and all international issues as well.

I met with President Medvedev this morning. The impression I got from all these talks is that Franco-Russian relations are in excellent, excellent shape. For several years, they have been progressing in terms of diversity, content, and mutual trust. We assumed a mutual obligation to perfect our relations through sincere and trusting partnership. And it is the kind of partnership that is not only about the achievements of our enterprises or the contracts we sign – important as they are for providing French workers with jobs or meeting the needs of the Russian economy. For us, our partnership is also about building a certain space – a common European space in which goods, people, and culture will circulate in the future. This European partnership will also be a security space, because we must meet the challenges of globalisation even as they rock the economies of France, Europe, and Russia.

We must get together, work together, and build an economic and social model to the exclusion of those models that would be unwillingly imposed upon us.

Russia is France's strategic partner of the first order. France wants to work together with Russia in modernising its country and, by the same token, France expects support in the international arena. France will soon assume the presidency of the G20 and, in a few months, of the G8.

We want to regulate globalisation, and we very much count on Russia's support.

My visit has a twofold context: the closing of the reciprocal France-Russia Year (to much regret, we missed the Bolshoi Theatre gala last night because of a blizzard) and the 15th meeting of the Russian-French commission.

The France-Russia Year was a tremendous success in both countries, with over five million people attending its 350 events. The French displayed great interest in Russian culture, and vice versa. I would like to mention landmark events such as the Holy Russia exhibition at the Louvre or the Picasso exhibition held at the Pushkin Fine Arts Museum in Moscow and the Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg. Mr Putin and I opened a national exhibition at the Grand Palais last June. The intensity of the year is a token of our nations' undiminished reciprocal interest.

2010 is a year not only of cultural exchanges but also of dynamic and noteworthy political interaction between France and Russia. President Medvedev paid an official visit to France in March, and Mr Putin visited Paris in June. President Sarkozy attended the St Petersburg economic forum, while President Medvedev came to Deauville in October for trilateral French-German-Russian summit talks.

We should preserve this year's level of political interaction next year. That's our main challenge. In particular, I think that we should erect a monument to Russian soldiers who fell for France during World War I. It will be unveiled in spring, and I hope that Mr Putin will attend the ceremony.

There are other events in our calendar. The present meeting crowns a year that was extremely eventful in terms of bilateral partnership: our economic exchanges grew by 30% in the first ten months of 2010, which means that the economic recession has become a thing of the past. As for the volume of Franco-Russian trade, I would like to remind you that our investors are determined to stay in Russia despite a downturn that hit joint projects in the banking and automobile industries, among others. I believe that they are economically justified and that the Russian economic revival promises them fine prospects. Indicatively, France is the fifth-largest foreign investor in and exporter to Russia, while it was ranked only 9th in 2007. We have outpaced the United States in terms of investment. I would also like to emphasise that France will surely welcome Russian investments. The contracts just signed between our companies spectacularly illustrate the dynamic progress we see.

We have also talked about modernisation and innovation. We determined during the Rambouillet talks to bring about cooperation in new fields. The agreements being signed now, particularly on energy conservation and agriculture, support this premise. We pin great hopes on agricultural cooperation. It is highly promising, and both parties will gain much from it. Last but not least, there is the financial cooperation reinforced by today's Moscow forum.

In conclusion, I would like to say a few words about international politics. We warmly greet the summit of the European Union and Russia held in Brussels two days ago. It helped us make headway on the short-term visa issue, to which we gave a good incentive. France displayed strong determination to do everything possible for travel between the European Union and Russia to become visa-free.

I also want to greet the progress made in the procedure for Russia's acceptance into the World Trade Organisation, and I would like to thank Mr Putin and President Medvedev for their support at the UN Security Council on the situation in the Ivory Coast. I think it is a strong position, and it will promote a peaceful settlement of the crisis to the benefit of the population of the Ivory Coast.

Question: Much has been said about the reciprocal France-Russia Year today. Is it possible to assess it from an economic standpoint and calculate its economic effect as manifested in practical agreements and treaties? My second question is related: did you discuss cooperation in shipbuilding today – in particular, with regard to the supply of Mistral class vessels? Which company won the Defence Ministry contract? And when can we expect the signing of such a contract?

Vladimir Putin: I will start with the latter question. As for the contract bid, we should wait for its results and see what it's about. Our experts visited France yesterday to meet with French experts and sort out matters of interest to Russia. They came back very late last night and will report back later.

Mr Fillon and I only mentioned this issue in general today. The job is mainly up to experts. Prices are important, among other factors. As we have said many times, Russia is interested in such transactions when they involve technology transfers. It is important for our shipbuilding industry and its future. We will consider it all in its entirety; however, we did not discuss this issue in detail today.

As for overall economic results, we have discussed them already. I think that the trend is highly positive: we will return to a pre-crisis trade level within this year, which has given us good momentum. This pace is not a godsend – we have achieved it through diligent effort – particularly the effort of our French partners.

Apart from routine jobs, which we also discussed, we have many large-scale joint projects in high technology, space exploration, and aircraft manufacture. We talk about the Superjet 100 constantly – but then, it has French engines. We have also talked today about the prospects of advancing this joint project on the European market. It is very important to us if we are to work with third-party countries – and there's no chance of winning a war if you stay at home.

We will work together in the energy industry, as well. There are ambitious projects in the sector. One company has presented a project worth $15 - 17 billion today. We are evaluating the prospects of French corporate participation in other areas as well.

Our French partners' courage during the AvtoVAZ crisis goes without saying. We made it a point to support them. I would like to point out that we made the first instalment to keep the company afloat, and we did it in such a way so as not to dilute the French share. We must acknowledge that our partners reciprocated with the determination to hold fast – introducing cutting-edge technology and launching the production of pioneer vehicles. There are positive achievements in all of these fields – all of them, mind you!

Question (through an interpreter): I want to ask about the weather in France. There was recent turmoil over the blizzard because it caught the state unawares... I have another question, too: there is a president and a prime minister in France, just as in Russia. May one consider the prime minister the stronger of the two?

Francois Fillon: As for the snowfall, due to which I was three hours late yesterday and could not make it to the Bolshoi Theatre, it was the strongest we have seen. Paris has experienced nothing of the kind for twenty years. The French weather service forecasted 3 centimetres of snow, but it reached 12 centimetres – even 20 in some parts of the country. So the street cleaners were naturally caught unawares.

I understand the irritation of people stranded by snow, and I assure you that things are improving. All government and municipal services have been instructed to bring traffic back to normal. Thierry Mariani, the secretary of transportation, will hold a meeting tomorrow after lunch with all relevant government agencies to assess the lessons of this misfortune so that we may act properly in the future.

As it happens, I mentioned the incident to Mr Putin in the car and said we were not accustomed to such things, unlike Russians, to which he replied: "Well, we have such things in Russia, but it's terrible all the same."

As for your other question, Russia and France both have their own institutions, which determine the distribution of duties and missions. As you know, France has a president and general elections. The president leads the country as he has been elected. There is also a prime minister and his government. He administers the policy chosen by the majority that elects the president. That's all there is to it. Period.

Vladimir Putin: The prime minister paraphrased my remark about the snow. I said that we have lots of it every winter. We get prepared for it all year round, but nasty winters always come unexpectedly!

As for the distribution of duties in tackling various problems, I quite agree with my colleague: everyone should mind his own business. Incidentally, it's up to municipal authorities to arrange the snow sweeping in Paris, just as in Moscow.

Question: Allow me to address Mr Fillon. Mr Prime Minister, you have spoken now about partnership and simplifying the visa procedure. My question pertains to it. This issue has been much discussed as we meet with our European partners. However, quite recently, during the Russia-EU summit in Brussels, you hinted that it might be too early to abrogate visas. Has the issue come under discussion at today's meetings? What's your opinion on it? Please allow me to ask another question. Did you discuss the construction of the St Petersburg-Moscow highway, in which French investors are involved? Thank you.

Francois Fillon: The talks started at the level of the European Union. The European Union is already knowledgeable on the issue after having arranged trans-border migration in the Schengen zone according to European rules. So we should comply with these rules. I must say that the discussion two days ago in Brussels shows that the annulment of short-term visas between Russia and Europe is ultimately our shared goal. We are making progress on it. Without waiting for its realisation, I told Mr Putin that I would make a number of decisions at the national level to work within the strictures imposed by current EU rules to the utmost. In particular, we should automatically issue long-term visas when short-term visas are renewed. In other words, aside from the initial procurement of a visa, the Foreign and Interior ministries will take steps towards its automatic renewal and the protection of long-term visas.

As for the highway, it is up to the Russian authorities. French companies certainly wait for its construction to begin, but the French government is not the one to speak on this matter.

Vladimir Putin: We discussed the visa problem. We see our partners' concern as a result of the combat against organised crime. We also realise, however, that criminal enterprises would do their business with or without visas. They know their work and know what they are after, and they don't care a fig for our rules. As for contacts between our people, we should surely work to implement the prime minister's plans. He said something just now that I wrote down: "We are building a common European space." What kind of common space can one have with visa restrictions? I think this is what we will work towards.

As for the Moscow-St Petersburg highway, I have not discussed it with Mr Fillon. The issue was taken up by some of our French partners, including representatives of the company that shares an interest in the project. The Russian Ministry of Transportation and the Ministry of Natural Resources will arrive at a joint conclusion after which a final decision will be made.

As for the cold winter in Europe, we have agreed to step up energy partnership and allow our partners to buy more gas from Russia.

We have arranged for Gazprom to increase Nord Stream exports by 4 billion cubic metres. A contract may be signed to increase that figure by another 1.5 billion cubic metres for France alone. That's what we are doing.

Question (through an interpreter): Allow me to address Mr Fillon concerning Mistral. Experts are currently considering the problem. Do you think the French delegation is drawing out the anticipated Mistral sale?

Second, diplomatic messages on WikiLeaks show that many countries believe that Russia is not a very democratic country. However, all of these messages come from American sources that refer to corruption reaching the highest state echelons in Russia. Do you find it an exaggeration?

Francois Fillon: As for your first question, you might know that I was among the first to insist on France providing the Mistral technology to Russia in its desire to purchase such amphibious assault vessels. I greeted the prospect. France was chosen in a competition. Indicatively, many NATO countries were eager to take part, which shows that criticisms of the French decision, in particular, during the Rambouillet meeting, were sheer hypocrisy.

We are now at the technical stage of development. A high-level Russian delegation has come to Saint-Nazaire. They are talking prices. We know that Mr Putin is a tough customer on this matter. Then, there are some technical issues to settle. I feel obliged to say – particularly after I heard some radio commentaries – that there is no issue concerning a technology transfer. It poses no problem. Mistrals are crew transportation vehicles, so there is not even a shadow of a problem here, and we are sure that the talks will be success.

Regarding the second question, I would like to say the following: the French government does not need the diplomats of any country to ascertain what Russia is like, how it works and develops, whence it comes and what road it is following. We have a very good presence in Russia. We have our diplomats, we trust in them, and they tell us everything. We keep in touch with Vladimir. We are in intimate contact because many French and Russian people are present here who are responsible for our integration. Many businesses invest in Russia. There are researchers and university people working in Russia.

We are aware of the problems Russia faces. We are aware of everything it has to overcome. At the same time, we see the progress it is making.

Last but not least, there's WikiLeaks. I'll never comment on stolen information. I think we should all ask ourselves about the use of stolen documents. Every country in the world qualifies theft as crime. It is no different than the sale of stolen goods.

Vladimir Putin: Allow me to say a few words by way of conclusion. First, concerning the information circulated by the famous WikiLeaks. Do you yourself think the U.S. diplomatic service is an immaculate information source? Do you really think so?

Second, as far as democracy goes, it should be complete democracy. Why, then, did they put Mr Assange behind bars? Is this the way democracy should be? There's an American saying: he who lives in a glass house shouldn't throw stones. This is my response to our American colleagues.

Thank you very much.