Press Conferences

10 january, 2009 20:52

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek of the Czech Republic – the President of the European Union – summarise their talks at a news conference

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek of the Czech Republic – the President of the European Union – summarise their talks at a news conference
"Everyone should be clear that there are two problems here. One concerns Russia's sales of gas to Ukraine, while the other concerns Russian gas transit to European users via Ukraine. European consumers should not be made hostage to Russian-Ukrainian economic relations."
Vladimir Putin
Joint news conference with Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek of the Czech Republic.

Vladimir Putin: Ladies and gentlemen,

Mr Topolanek's visit to Moscow shows that the Czech Republic, the current holder of the Presidency in the European Union, realises how serious the situation is with this gas crisis as Ukraine sabotages Russian natural gas transit to Europe. We fully realise the hardship of many European countries resulting from the Ukrainian leadership's adventurist decision to stop Russian gas transit - which boils down to a European gas blockade.

I want to stress that we had warned our EU partners about the danger well beforehand. As you know, on December 18 Russia forwarded a special message to the European Union leadership and to the prime ministers of European countries importing Russian gas to warn them about tentative interruptions in gas supplies caused by Ukraine. Our stance on the resumption of Russian gas transit via Ukraine is absolutely clear and explicit - we will expedite it immediately after international observers are posted at gas terminal points on the Russian-Ukrainian border and, accordingly, in Ukraine and Russia. In compliance with the document we have agreed to, these observers will also work in the European importing countries. That is the only way to guarantee the contracted supplies of Russian natural gas to European clients.

We were satisfied to hear from Mr Topolanek, our guest today, that observers had started arriving in certain European countries and in Ukraine. They are arriving in Moscow, too. As for Russia, we will do everything we can for those observers to start work as soon as possible. Their primary goal is providing a united export corridor from Russia to Europe.

Everyone should be clear that there are two problems here. One concerns Russia's sales of gas to Ukraine, while the other concerns Russian gas transit to European users via Ukraine. European consumers should not be made hostage to Russian-Ukrainian economic relations.

The present crisis proves that what we need is real diversification of energy export routes to our principal clients in Europe. We rely on the Czech Republic as President of the European Union to promote the construction of the Nord Stream gas pipeline and the South Stream on the Black Sea bottom.

I want to remind you that Ukraine has signed and ratified the Energy Charter, so European countries to whom unlawful activities by the Ukrainian leadership have done damage might appeal to the Energy Charter Secretariat in compliance with Article 27 of the Charter for the establishment of a special arbitration court. I recommend they do so, and I wonder why they have not done so yet.

I also hope that Ukraine will proceed from so-called European values by complying with its pledges on this international agreement and on the contract between Russia, Gazprom and the relevant Ukrainian companies on Russian gas transit to Europe.

Mr Topolanek said today that he had managed to get the Ukrainian President and Prime Minister to the negotiating table. I give him credit for his political skills. If he gets some other members of the political elite to one table, it will prove that he is a politician gifted in the extreme, in the most sublime sense of the word.

We have agreed on monitoring, and I have some additional proposals to make. I deem it possible and expedient to arrange representation of the mass media -Ukrainian, Russian and European - at all monitoring points.

We were pressed for time, and so could not discuss all problems in detail - but we had an opportunity to talk about Russian-Czech bilateral relations and relations between Russia and the European Union.

We have drawn a pressed schedule of meetings at different levels. The Russian Government and the European Commission will meet on February 6, to be followed by a Russia-EU summit. To be sure, we should settle gas and other energy problems today. We are willing to do everything we can. I thank Mr Topolanek for his constructive approach to the discussion of today's problems.

Mirek Topolanek: I thank Mr Putin for his extremely effective approach to promoting gas supplies to the European Union. I soberly evaluate the signing of the relevant document, which still lacks certain signatures. I hope that once the document is signed elsewhere we will see quick compliance.

The treaty fully reflects every party's public and political mood. I don't intend to delve into the intricacies of Russian-Ukrainian relations now. This is not my goal - which does not mean the European Union will dismiss the matter later. The EU countries' energy ministers will discuss and settle the issue immediately - on Monday. We will do everything in our power to rectify the situation.

I thank Mr Vladimir Putin personally, and I look forward to our future meetings and partnership.

Question: I have two questions. The first is addressed to Mr Topolanek. You have just returned from talks in Kiev. How do you estimate the chances of Ukraine joining the protocol?

The other question is to Mr Putin. The protocol makes the presence of international observers in Russia and Ukraine a compulsory condition for transit resumption. To what extent do European leaders, you have worked with, support that position? Are they siding with it now?

Mirek Topolanek: I want only to stress that the document was signed by European Energy Commissioner Andris Piebalgs, and Czech Industry and Trade Minister Martin Rziman will initial it.

Vladimir Putin: Mr Piebalgs will be duty bound to sign it.

Mirek Topolanek: Yes, he will. Yesterday's talks in Ukraine made me rather optimistic. I don't expect any obstacles to Ukraine signing the protocol. That is why we have asked the two Parties to submit documents fully reflecting their demands. I think the signing of the treaty will arouse enthusiasm and gas will once again flow through the pipeline to help European countries solve their essential problems.

Vladimir Putin: As for monitoring, the parameters of which we have coordinated and which have been signed by the Russian side today, I should point out that the relevant initiative came from the German Chancellor and received support from the European Commission leadership. Jose Manuel Barroso, the President of the European Commission, confirmed it to me in a telephone conversation. We approved the initiative. As I talked over the telephone with Ms Merkel and Mr Barroso yesterday, both said they were eager to see the facility working as soon as possible. It envisages monitoring arranged all over the Ukrainian and Russian gas infrastructures, on the Russian-Ukrainian border, on the borders of Ukraine with European countries, and in the countries bordering on Ukraine.

Mr Barroso also told me that he coordinated the monitoring personnel with Mr Yushchenko last night. These will be spokesmen of the Ukrainian National Oil and Gas Company, Gazprom, European Commission experts, Russian and Ukrainian energy ministries, European import companies, and International Monitoring Organisation experts. We agreed to enlarge the list with Norwegian Gas Concern experts, as Mr Topolanek suggested.

I repeat once again: Mr Barroso told me yesterday that he had coordinated it all with the Ukrainian President. As Mr Topolanek has come to Moscow from Kiev and brought a document we practically wholly approve, I proceed from the assumption that Kiev will also sign it today. I see no grounds for withholding the necessary signatures.

Question: Are there deadlines for expert observers' activities?

Mirek Topolanek: There are none.

Vladimir Putin: As for Russia, we think that the longer they work there the better it is for us, for Ukraine and, what matters most, for our European clients.

They might pitch tents there, as tents were pitched in Maidan some years ago, and they might stay there monitoring round the clock. That would be to the benefit of their cause.

Question: Ukraine has often accused Russia of instigating the dispute, and the other way round. Do you think it is a political or economic dispute?

Vladimir Putin: It is certainly economic. However, we are the victims of Ukrainian domestic political problems. A tough political tug-of-war is on in Ukraine. As I see it, it is degenerating into strife between parties. They are all anxious to get to financial sources and gain profit. Upcoming elections at many levels are one of the reasons.

Don't forget that our Ukrainian partners are buying Russian gas at prices far below domestic resale prices in Ukraine. More than that, our Ukrainian partners race every year for the right to re-export our gas to Europe - which certainly has nothing in common with the interests of Ukrainian consumers or the Ukrainian nation. This means that particular persons and commercial financiers rush to buy cheap from us and gain by selling to you at a mark-up.

This has no bearing at all on Russian-Ukrainian political issues. Neighbours always have disputes. Russia, however, proceeds from its special relations with Ukraine, which are rooted in history, and we will always work from that point of view. We don't mean to make the Ukrainian situation worse - on the contrary, we want to improve it - in particular, by helping the Ukrainian people get rid of swindlers and bribe-takers, and make their economy transparent and effective in the market.

I was asked about our relations with Belarus yesterday or the day before. Though we have a special alliance with Belarus, we have signed a contract with it to switch gradually to European price-formation patterns. Every year sees a step in that direction. Prices will go up this year, too - minus 30% customs duties because of our special bilateral relations. These are interstate relations of a special quality.

Russia is arranging its sales relations with all countries on market patterns. That also concerns post-Soviet countries that have joined the European Union - I mean the Baltic countries. There are no political implications yet to underlie our economic contacts.

Question: Allow me to address the Russian Prime Minister. Mr Putin, will our country do anything to further ensure gas transit and to guarantee itself and its European partners against further crises?

Vladimir Putin: First, for today's decision. We shall resume gas supplies as soon as the monitoring system goes on line. We will check the amount of gas reaching and leaving Ukraine. If we see a certain quantity of gas is missing in Ukraine again, we will cut supplies by the missing amount. I want this to be clear lest Russia be accused of deficient deliveries. We will not play to a dishonest hand, come what may.

As for the future, the best guarantee lies in a transition to clear and understandable market relations in gas supplies and transit, based on market prices for gas and its transit. Second, supply routes should be diversified with the construction of the Nord Stream and the South Stream. The Blue Stream to Turkey might be extended. We should also build gas liquefying plants and new tanker ships. Russia should also diversify its sales with partners in the Americas and Asia.

Thank you.