Press Conferences

18 november, 2011 17:36

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and his French counterpart, Francois Fillon, hold joint news conference

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and his French counterpart, Francois Fillon, hold joint news conference
“I’m convinced that today’s talks, the constructive discussion at the commission meeting and the adopted decisions will create new opportunities for further advancing the Russia-France dialogue,” Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said.


Vladimir Putin: Ladies and gentlemen, Mr Fillon,

At the 16th session of the Russian-French Commission on Bilateral Cooperation and at our meeting with Mr Fillon, we have discussed a range of priority issues of cooperation and some international topics, such as the current developments in the Eurozone. I would like to say from the start that we welcome the efforts of our European partners and friends to overcome economic difficulties and support their measures to consolidate financial stability. In turn, we are ready to render practical assistance to our European partners. We are all interested in leaving these difficulties behind as soon as possible.

It is only natural that we have devoted much of our attention to further developing our bilateral trade and economic ties in all spheres at the session. I’m pleased to note that the scope of trade and economic ties between Russia and France is growing. Over the first nine months of this year, bilateral trade increased by 37% to reach $22 billion. I think that by the end of this year it will be no less than $30 billion.

We are carrying out joint work on a large scale – both in traditional fields of cooperation and in completely new areas. We have just signed the bilateral action programme on partnership in modernisation. Its implementation will help us to enhance cooperation in high-tech spheres and start active work on science-intensive innovation projects. We have reached considerable success in the space programme. The first Soyuz carrier rocket was launched from the Kourou spaceport in French Guiana in October of this year. It put into orbit two communications satellites for the European Galileo navigation system. We have thus launched a programme that will guarantee jobs for its Russian and French participants for at least the next five years. This means new jobs, more taxes and in general the development of high technology and space exploration.

The development of a fundamentally new space carrier will be the next step. Russian and French scientists, engineers and workers are already involved in these developments under the Urals project. French companies are playing an active part in the development of the Sukhoi Superjet-100 and the MS-21 modern aircraft and the modernisation of the Russian car industry. We have other directions of cooperation in aviation, for instance, in helicopter construction.

We are stepping up cooperation in the energy industry, including major joint initiatives in the oil-and-gas sector, civilian nuclear projects, energy effectiveness and energy-saving. Our French partners are making a practical contribution to the development of new routes for hydrocarbon deliveries to Europe. These routes are vital for the energy security not only of France, but also of the rest of Europe. As we know, quite recently Mr Fillon, our other European colleagues and President Dmitry Medvedev took part in the Nord Stream commissioning ceremony.

We hope that French companies will play an active part in the development of Russia’s transport infrastructure, including motor road and railway construction, and in the preparations for major international sporting events – will continue their work on the Sochi Olympic Games facilities and start preparing for the 2018 FIFA World Cup. It is important that French investors are planning to participate in developing the tourist cluster in the North Caucasus.

Needless to say, we have reviewed such a meaningful area as humanitarian cooperation. After successfully holding a Year of Russia in France and a Year of France in Russia, a new project is underway – next year's season of the Russian language and literature in France and of the French language and literature in Russia.

The contract with the Bouygues company to build a Russian Orthodox Church and a cultural centre in Paris fits in well with our humanitarian contacts. I’d like to say this again and I spoke about this at our talks today. The majority of Russians are Orthodox Christians. The French also adhere to Christian traditions. Many are Catholics, but their moral values are the same. We hope that the construction of this centre will facilitate the spiritual rapprochement of our people.

The treaty on cooperation in child adoption and the agreement on the formation of the commission on protecting children's rights in family conflicts have also had a positive effect. At the session, we also spoke about family conflicts that evoke a wide public response in both countries. We are very pleased that we signed these documents. I’m convinced that today’s talks, the constructive discussion at the commission meeting and the adopted decisions will create new opportunities for further advancing the Russia-France dialogue. I would like to thank both our Russian and French colleagues for their highly constructive work over the year and at today’s conference. Thank you very much for your attention.  

François Fillon (speaking via interpreter): Ladies and gentlemen. I’d like to begin by expressing my gratitude to Mr Putin for having me here, in Russia, for already the fourth time. Indeed, since I was fortunate enough to be appointed prime minister of the French Republic, our efforts to promote bilateral trade and to realise emblematic technology projects have yielded extraordinary results. These results have been achieved thanks in large part to Mr Putin and to the atmosphere of trust that he has created.

At our previous intergovernmental meeting, which capped off the 2011 Year of Russia in France and the Year of France in Russia, we voiced our intention to do all it takes to ensure that our relations continue to evolve. And we’ve taken action on this. We’ve managed to broaden the political dialogue, exchange programmes and cooperation at the highest level between Paris and Moscow. The Year of Russia in France and the Year of France in Russia will be followed by a mutual language & literature festival, starting next January.

We are also planning many new projects, which speak to the excellent quality of our cooperation. One example of this is the recent launch of the Russian rocket booster Soyuz at Kourou, the European spaceport in French Guiana. This event was the culmination of several decades of French-Russian cooperation in space exploration. I was personally involved in the implementation of this project while serving as France’s science minister.

Our two countries have also signed a contract for the supply of Mistral helicopter carriers. Another emblematic project is the newly inaugurated Nord Stream pipeline, which brings to the fore the mutually beneficial interaction between Russia and Europe in the supply of energy and in energy security.

France enjoys excellent relations with Russia in many areas. We have many shared interests and common views within the G8, the G20 and the UN Security Council. We see eye to eye on major [international] issues, such as the streamlining of economic regulations in the world in order to enhance their solidity and transparency. I’m pleased that Russia is on the verge of entering the World Trade Organisation. Now that Georgia has agreed to drop its claims, Russia’s WTO accession is just around the corner, which is good news for Russia itself, as well as for its EU economic partners, France in particular.

During this intergovernmental meeting, we’ve also demonstrated that we can further expand the scope of our interaction, opening up new possibilities beyond agriculture and healthcare. I'm happy to explore these new areas of cooperation, such as justice, urban development and transportation.

We’ve adopted an important declaration on nuclear power, which highlights the importance of the reliability and safety of all such programmes. This is a crucial prerequisite, especially in the wake of the Fukushima disaster.

French-Russian exchange is guided by the principles of partnership and modernisation. Our partnership manifests itself in heavy mutual investment, with the major investor companies such as Alstom, Novatek, among many others. As for modernisation, Russia knows it can rely on the support of French companies and the French government any time if it seeks to involve itself in joint infrastructural projects.

The first example to come to mind is the Skolkovo technopark project (excuse me, I always struggle to pronounce this name correctly), as well as large infrastructural projects for the Sochi Olympics and the 2018 FIFA World Cup. Fortunately, the economic ministries of France and Russia are led by highly competent people, who have contributed to the efforts to make these sporting events beneficial for both Russian and French companies. I also have in mind the project to promote the tourism industry in the North Caucasus region as well as the Greater Moscow development project, which in many ways is similar to our Greater Paris project. We have projects in energy security and many other areas as well. It was within this context that I reminded Mr Putin about the importance that we attach to the development of the Stockman deposit and to projects to build high-speed railroads.

Our cooperation with Russia is just as intensive in culture. Incidentally, we’re already applying new legislation to ease visa requirements for Russian and French nationals travelling between the two countries.  During the next EU-Russia summit on December 15, this issue will be discussed with our European counterparts. We’re also working out an agreement on child adoption. I hope that this work will bring about tangible results as well as answers to painful and sensitive questions.

One of the agreements that we just signed sends a positive message for the further development and expansion of the French Lycée. This is good news for both French and Russian families interested in enrolling their children. The lycée is now going to be expanded into neighboring buildings, which will take place next September. To me, this is a symbolic event in the context of French-Russian exchange with the upcoming Language & Literature season. Thank you for your attention.

Question: I have a question for French Prime Minister François Fillon. All of the biggest headlines in the European news these days are somehow related to the economic crisis. Everyone is discussing the critical situation in the Greek and the Italian economies, and the newly adopted packages of austerity measures there. France, as a leading Eurozone economy along with Germany, is a driving force behind the efforts to pull Europe back from the brink of a financial collapse. Mr Fillon, do you believe that Europe will be able to overcome this crisis?

And here’s a question for both prime ministers. I'm wondering whether this economic crisis could affect Russian-French economic relations. Thank you.

François Fillon: Yes, Europe will by all means overcome this crisis. And it will emerge from it even stronger. This has always been the case in the past. The current crisis is related to national debt; it has come about because of major transformations that have taken place in the economic activities of many countries with which the European Union has become entwined. In October, we made an important decision within the framework of the European Council, the mechanism of which should help us resolve the crisis. Our governments have committed themselves. [EU] countries facing economic difficulties promptly take anti-crisis measures similar to those of Greece. [Greece’s] new Cabinet has already begun its work; it has just received a vote of confidence from parliament, which will make possible the application of all the provisions adopted by the International Monetary Fund and other organisations, concerning the disbursement of bailouts to the Greek government. The same thing is happening in Italy. [Prime Minister Mario] Monti’s Cabinet has made some important commitments. Monti reaffirmed this during a telephone conversation last night with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and [French President] Nicolas Sarkozy.

Quite a few measures have also been taken to address collective issues. The European Parliament has adopted a whole number of reform packages providing the EU with enhanced tools of economic and financial oversight in the Eurozone. We must by all means redress the imbalances in that sphere that we’re currently facing in several European countries.

We will have to adopt the necessary measures and even sanctions if need be to make sure all commitments are complied with. Finally, each EU member-country will take measures to improve the common economy.

I’d like to recall that we are surrounded by countries that have a bigger national debt than we do. So, not all are suffering in the same way. Britain’s debt, for one, will exceed 9% this year and it has taken tough economic measures to cope with this crisis. The EU countries are also facing difficulties connected with the organisational structure of the European Union. All these measures are bound to help countries cope with the crisis. The EU Central Bank is taking measures to make its money-and-credit policy effective in the Eurozone. I’m absolutely convinced that the bank will continue doing all it can to counter the ongoing crisis in the EU.

Finally, the Eurozone’s main headache is the slowing of economic growth rather than inflation. We must take all the necessary measures to give new stimulus to the European economy. This stimulus must produce adequate economic growth rates that will allow us to cope with our economic issues.

Vladimir Putin: Needless to say, we are worried by what is happening in the Eurozone. The EU is our biggest trade and economic partner, accounting for more than half of Russia’s trade. We are confident in the ability of our colleagues to cope with all difficulties. I don’t think they will hurt Russian-French cooperation. It’s the other way round – our cooperation will help overcome the difficulties.

Let me recall that this year our economy will grow at the rate of about 4.2%. Industrial production will increase by more than 5%. This year we will have a deficit-free budget and will have the lowest inflation in our recent history. It is still high by the European yardstick – about 7%, but for Russia this is the lowest figure in the last 20 years. Our gold-and-currency reserves are growing. They have reached about $530-540 billion (these are Central Bank reserves). The government’s reserves are growing in parallel. It has two reserve funds – one has about $50-60 billion and the other about $20 billion. This is a good safety cushion and a good resource for implementing all of our projects with French partners. They are long-term and funded by both sides. I’m sure they will be carried out.

Question: Here are two questions to both prime ministers. As for Syria, the first question is for Mr Fillon and the second one for Mr Putin.

Mr Fillon, did you speak about Syria and Iran at your meeting? If so, what does France and Russia think about them? Have you managed to bring your positions closer during the meeting? Do you think Russia that used its veto in the past will vote for the resolution against the al-Assad regime that is now being drafted by many European countries (the UN draft resolution on Syria)?

And the second question is for you, Mr Putin. The crackdown in Syria continues despite the Arab League’s ultimatum. Russia vetoed a decision of the Security Council last year. Now that the circumstances are so grave, is Russia ready to support a resolution denouncing the Syrian regime if it is sure that France will not mount a military operation on Syrian territory? A month ago Mr Medvedev said: “Mr al-Assad must carry out reforms or quit.” The reforms do not seem to have been carried out. In view of the aggravating circumstances of the last month is Russia ready to now say: “yes, Mr al-Assad, it’s time for you to quit?”

Francois Fillon: Mr Putin and I have spoken about this. I have already said that our positions on many international issues are very close. But we have some differences, on Syria as well. We think that this situation is becoming increasingly tragic. More than 3,500 Syrians have lost their lives; an enormous number have been wounded. The Syrian people behave very boldly despite the regime’s brutality. The matter deals with general mobilisation. We have strongly denounced the crackdown. Initially, we urged the Syrian president to implement reforms but he has lost reliability and respect as a national leader. We drafted a number of sanctions and warned him that we will use them if the reforms are not implemented. But Mr al-Assad turned a deaf ear to us and to the Arab League’s appeal. Diplomatic offices in the country were attacked and now it is necessary to bring more pressure to bear on the Syrian regime to prevent al-Assad from further destabilising the situation in the region. The Arab League has adopted commitments and taken active measures. It has adopted a whole number of economic sanctions that we support. We support the efforts of all Arab League member-countries to protect civilians in Syria. Let me repeat once again that we have never suggested and are not suggesting military intervention in Syria. We have submitted a resolution to the UN General Assembly in order to denounce al-Assad’s conduct and hope that this resolution will be soon adopted and supported.

Vladimir Putin: Why do we love France? France thinks and resolves everything at once. There is a saying: “Fate is playing the man, but the man is playing the trumpet [Everyone decides their own fate].” The average Eurozone debt is 85%, while some countries have more – I think Italy’s is 124%. Russia’s debt is only 10%, out of which 2.5% is foreign debt. In principle we in Russia prefer to deal with our own business but we are not going to quit active foreign policy. We believe that the people of this or other country should be granted the right to decide their own fate. We have some positions that certainly bring us closer with France and other European partners. Our common view is that human rights must be observed in all countries, including Syria, France, Russia (probably, we also have problems here and must take measures to prevent any mishaps) and the United States. As we all know, now the police are actively dispersing the demonstrators from the Occupy Wall Street Movement in New York City. We hope that law-enforcement and repressive bodies will not resort to any disproportionate use of force.

We are analysing the situation in the world in general and this region in particular. We don’t yet know the outcome of turbulence in many North African countries, for instance, Egypt. These processes are not yet over and we are already prepared to see an abrupt change in Syria. This is a very sensitive issue for us; it is close to our borders. Mr Fillon and I discussed this today. We want to understand what is happening there and what the outcome may be.

We know that our European partners (France, Germany and the United Kingdom) have submitted a resolution to the General Assembly. In fact, our European friends have done what Mahmoud Abbas has done to gain international recognition for the Palestinian statehood. They have followed the same path. 

That may be a good thing in terms of upholding one’s own stance. We’ll be carefully following developments there, listening to what our friends have to say and maintaining dialogue with everyone.

While posing your question, you said France isn’t ready for combat operations in Syria. Well, at least there’s something for us to be thankful for here. We believe, though, that in dealing with such matters, the use of military force should be avoided. The situation in that country is, indeed, complicated. We have no clarity at this point as to how the situation in Afghanistan will unfold. The situation in Pakistan is extremely complicated, too, because the central authorities there don’t have all of the country’s territory under their control, while this is a nuclear power, mind you.

In short, we’re willing to cooperate with the global community and will do so. But we’re calling for restraint and prudence. That is what our stance is about. That said, we aren’t going to evade cooperation or ignore our partners’ opinions. We’ll continue working together. Thank you.

Question: I have a question for both prime ministers. You talked about trade and economic cooperation between Russia and France, highlighting its successful development. But speaking of mutual investments, France’s investments in the Russian economy run into billions while Russia’s in France are much smaller. So the question is: Is this because [Russia’s] business community is unwilling to bring in more? Or rather because the French side is reluctant to accept more investments from the Russians?

François Fillon: First of all, I‘d like to point out that our trade and economic cooperation keeps growing. It has increased dramatically in recent years, thanks largely to Russia’s major role in the energy sector. As for Russian investments in France, they are still rather weak, and this is something I discussed with Mr Putin earlier today. I just asked [French Economics and Finance Minister François] Baroin [co-chair of the Russian-French Council on Economic, Financial, Industrial and Commercial Issues, or CEFIC] to examine, along with his Russian colleague, the reasons behind this phenomenon and to carry out an inventory of all the sectors where there is a need for Russian investment and where it could be beneficial to the French economy. We also discussed the creation of a Russian agency for exports. This is essential for improving our trade and economic relations. We raised the issue of financing large-scale French infrastructure projects, so we’re aware such a problem exists and are going to address it within the framework of the Economics Ministry.

Vladimir Putin: Neither do we believe this is a result of some special policy on the part of the French authorities. I hope, though, that the heavy French investments in the Russian economy (the accrued amount currently totals $9 billion) is a sign of the Russian government’s success in creating an investor-friendly climate. We’ve discussed this problem, and the French side does appear interested in attracting foreign investment, including from Russia.  Russian companies’ investment potential keeps growing, and it wouldn’t be an overstatement to say it’s already running into billions. So we are ready to step up. We just have some preparatory work to do at the governmental level, and then the situation will begin to change.

Question: You just signed a declaration about nuclear power. Would you agree that the agreement concluded between [France’s] Socialists and its Green Party puts the future of [nuclear power engineering] at risk? Will the French government be still able to have its way?

François Fillon: First of all, I’d like to say that I’m really surprised at the fact that the Socialists and the Green Party constantly try to impose their transparency concerns on us while being unable to explain what their agreement is all about. Their stance remains quite vague. I believe this agreement is a serious defeat for the Socialists and, by extension, for the nation as a whole. It provides for the closure of almost half of our nuclear reactors and for the gradual cessation of nuclear waste processing, thus calling into question the development of civilian nuclear power engineering. If this agreement is enacted, all initiatives in [nuclear} engineering and recycling will be put at risk. We’ll then have much fewer technological capabilities. France’s entire nuclear industry will be negatively impacted by this. We’ll stand to lose out to increasingly fierce international competition. There’s a huge problem arising here, if only in terms of security and reliability, because [the Socialists-Greens agreement] is about ceasing the construction of new reactors and upgrading existing ones. In my mind, this is an absolutely irresponsible decision.

We are set to go in a different direction, upgrading our nuclear reactors and enhancing the safety of our nuclear programmes. Following the Fukushima disaster, we’ve decided to team up with Russian counterparts to create a rapid-response system, which could bring together some of the two countries’ best experts to manage emergency situations in this sector.

Obviously, a lot of negative effects could have been avoided at Fukushima if that potential had been used more promptly and sensibly. With this in mind, we’re now working to advance our cooperation with Russia, seeking to ensure the highest possible safety and reliability standards. That is the decision we’ve taken, and it’s a responsible decision, one aimed at letting France preserve its excellent expertise in nuclear power engineering. The decision that the Socialists are pushing for would result in a sharp increase in energy prices. But we shall continue working in this industry, where France and Russia have both excelled.

Summing up, I’d like to say that the agreement at hand has put an end to the years-old consensus we enjoyed in France while Mr [François] Mitterrand was serving as president of the French Republic. In those days, our nuclear power programme was developing in an atmosphere of mutual consent, making us more competitive on foreign markets. And Mr Mitterrand made sure that social responsibility was at the heart of these activities.

Vladimir Putin: Annual cooperation with France in nuclear power engineering currently stands at 1 billion euros. This is a large amount, and it can be increased further, both through bilateral cooperation and collaborative projects in third countries. Already we are working together with Areva in the People’s Republic of China, building reactors at the Tianwan power
plant. This is one of the world’s best nuclear power plants, including in terms of safety.  

We’re ready to expand that cooperation further. As I said, we could work in many areas, including in third countries. We propose working in Bulgaria and Turkey. We appreciate the French government’s decisions to support those of their manufacturers who are willing to cooperate with Russian counterparts and in Russia. The first step in this direction is the Baltic nuclear power plant in Kaliningrad. We are going to increase our output to 25% in the next decade, up from today’s 16%. This may seem like a modest target as compared with France’s current 80%. But we believe that power engineering should be well-balanced and that diverse sources should be used to generate power.

The decision to develop nuclear power or not is the sovereign choice of each of our European partners. If France or other European countries decide to put their nuclear power programmes on hold, we’ll be willing to move to other segments of the energy industry, including hydrocarbons and alternative energy sources. We’ve already built the first leg of the Nord Stream pipeline. Next year we’ll complete the second one. Their aggregate capacity will be 55 billion cubic metres of gas.

Mr Fillon said that together we are working on the South Stream project to build a gas pipeline across the bed of the Black Sea. French companies such as Gaz de France, Electricité de France and Total, are actively working in Russia. They are major shareholders in Russian heavyweight producers, and operate on large deposits, including Stockman, in the Barents Sea, one of Europe’s and the world’s largest deposits. We’re planning to start natural gas liquefaction in 2017. France will thus get a product its economy needs badly. The Total group has bought 12% in one of Russia’s largest private gas companies, Novatek, and is seeking to expand its stake further. For our part, we are wiling to work with France in all areas. But it’s up to the French government and the French people to decide whether or not their country should continue generating nuclear power. But if you ask Gazprom, it would be only too glad to see France curtail nuclear power (as the Greens also advocate), as in this case it would be able to dramatically boost its sales on the French market and elsewhere in Europe.