Press Conferences

28 april, 2009 21:12

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and Bulgarian Prime Minister Sergei Stanishev made statements to the press after intergovernmental negotiations

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and Bulgarian Prime Minister Sergei Stanishev made statements to the press after intergovernmental negotiations
"Our opinion exchange has once again proved our shared desire to develop Russian-Bulgarian relations in every field. As you know, the atmosphere of our relations that has taken shape over time is notable for the respect of mutual interests, and is aimed at ever new objectives."
Vladimir Putin
Statements to the press after intergovernmental negotiations with Bulgarian Prime Minister Sergei Stanishev

Vladimir Putin: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen.

I would like to start by thanking my esteemed colleague, the Bulgarian Prime Minister, for contributing to our successful teamwork and outspoken and fruitful conversation.

Our opinion exchange has once again proved our shared desire to develop Russian-Bulgarian relations in every field. As you know, the atmosphere of our relations that has taken shape over time is notable for the respect of mutual interests, and is aimed at ever new objectives.

This atmosphere has promoted our constructive discussion of topical international and bilateral problems.

We of course discussed the landmark events of this year - the 130th anniversary of the Tarnovo Constitution and of the establishment of Russian-Bulgarian diplomatic relations. The latter event will be celebrated on July 7.

No doubt, as we pay tribute to the landmarks of bilateral relations, we will pay great attention to the development of our partnership, as we have in the past. As you know, Mr Stanishev and I opened the Bulgarian exhibition in Moscow yesterday. This exhibition is one of the more than 100 events of the Year of Bulgaria in Russia. The Year has so far been a success, and enjoys great public interest.

The Russian-Bulgarian dialogue is making dynamic and confident progress, as Mr Stanishev and I stressed during today's talks. Our economic relations are also developing apace, with bilateral trade exceeding $5.5 billion last year.

We are implementing essential infrastructural projects on Bulgaria's initiative, advanced by its Prime Minister some time ago. The Caucasus-Varna sea train line has been restored from scratch. I hope the latest extensions of the transport infrastructure will enhance both countries' corporate activities.

The energy industry remains among the top priorities of our partnership. We talked in great detail today about the Belene nuclear plant construction and, to my mind, we have arrived at a very interesting means of implementing this project, which is essential for our two countries and the entire region.

We had a detailed discussion, opened yesterday, of teamwork on another essential project - the South Stream. As you know, it encountered certain technical problems at the corporate level. Mr Stanishev and I found a way of coping with them during yesterday's discussion.

Gazprom and its Bulgarian partners have initialled the relevant document today, or will initial it immediately. We hope it will be signed quite soon.

Another major project, the Burgas-Alexandroupolis oil pipeline, is being implemented, and we have no doubt that the work will be a great success. We will certainly pay due attention to the interests of all people connected with the project in some way - in particular, the population of the pipeline area and the people of both countries involved in construction. We will certainly proceed according to the highest environmental standards. No one should ever doubt this. Such standards concern nuclear, oil, and gas industries alike.

I expect such projects to benefit everyone.

I want to emphasise Mr Stanishev's attentive and constructive attitude to all these ambitious projects, and we hope Bulgaria will be as active as before in their administrative and political support.

This is all the more topical as President Dmitry Medvedev has recently announced the Russian proposal to conclude a new comprehensive energy treaty. We expect it to be an essential contribution to normalising European energy relations, and provide a sound legal basis for due consideration of the interests of all participants in the process - manufacturers, transit countries and companies, and main consumers.

I want to say once again in connection with this that the Energy Charter that was signed some time ago has regrettably not played its expected role. Russia has not ratified the Charter to this day, and therefore does not consider itself bound by the document, as we have always said. Today, we can say aloud that we find it pointless to even retain our signature on the Charter.

However, I repeat, this does not mean that we will not coordinate our efforts with our partners. On the contrary, as we implement the presidential initiative, we hope to arrive at energy agreements as soon as possible, and with unconditional consideration of the interests of all our partners. I want to thank Mr Stanishev for constructive teamwork yesterday and today. Thank you.

Sergei Stanishev (as translated): Thank you, Mr Putin. Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for your interest in this news conference.

I want to say that the constructive dialogue and decisions made every time I meet with Mr Putin are very satisfying. It is for just such a purpose that Ministers and Prime Ministers meet - their contacts aim to settle available problems and chart the course of their future partnership.

Recent years have given Bulgarian-Russian relations a pronounced new dynamism and content. Last year was the Year of Russia in Bulgaria, and this is the Year of Bulgaria in Russia.

Yesterday, Mr Putin and I were happy to open the Bulgarian National Economic Exhibition here in Moscow. The Bulgarian economy will hold its presentations in many parts of Russia to demonstrate the opportunities for bilateral trade and investing in Bulgaria.

We are glad to see how our exports to Russia are growing - by 96% in 2007 and by 50% in 2008. This progress is lucrative to Bulgaria, especially during the economic and financial crisis.

Mr Putin and I thoroughly analysed all aspects of bilateral relations, starting with the regular political dialogue, which is positive and constructive. We discussed bilateral trade and the contribution of the intergovernmental commission. The two countries are ready in practice to establish a new Russian-Bulgarian joint venture on the basis of the Avtoelectronica joint venture. The new company will organise and develop an industrial zone and a technology park. The relevant decision will be made before the middle of July, and will cancel an old issue that arose at the beginning of the transition period.

I said I was satisfied with the available agreement of social welfare and insurance concerning some 10,000 Bulgarian citizens employed in Russia before 1989, and numerous Russian citizens living and employed in Bulgaria at that time. The agreement will settle their problems.

I also asked the Russian Parliament to ratify the agreement as soon as possible in order to bring its implementation closer.

Naturally, the implementation of mutually lucrative strategic projects - in particular, the Burgas-Alexandroupolis, the South Stream, and the Belene nuclear plant construction - is prominent in our dialogue. Mr Putin and I discussed them. We had enough time for that yesterday before the opening of the Bulgarian exhibition.

As you no doubt understand, it takes time and efforts to implement each of these projects. Gazprom and the Bulgarian Energy Holding were at the negotiating table for several preceding months. Their talks concerned an agreement to regulate the two companies' relations up to the establishment of a joint-stock company. These essentially important talks occasionally encountered major problems.

I am glad that the process has received a new impetus after my talk with Mr Putin. Experts have done their part once again. The differences that had persisted up until yesterday have now been removed, and I am glad the premises essential to Bulgaria have been accepted and included in the agreement. We can now say with justified optimism that the agreement will be ratified and signed before the middle of May because our talks were beneficial to Russia and Bulgaria alike. I say this with full confidence.

We also discussed the implementation of the Belene project. The new plant will be essential for Bulgarian as well as regional energy security.

As you know, National Electric Company Bulgaria has a partner on the project - Germany's RWE, with a 49% stake. The main contractor is Russia's Atomstroiexport together with Siemens and other major companies. This is a good project, and its implementation has started already. Bulgarian government allocations made last year amounted to roughly 400 million euros, and a similar sum has been earmarked for this year. All relevant problems of project implementation and management will be settled within the next few weeks and months according to a schedule drawn up and implemented to satisfy all parties' wishes.

As for the Burgas-Alexandroupolis project, its development is exceptionally good. A transnational design company has been established. We met with its representatives and they are satisfied with Bulgaria's work.

All of these projects, we are sure, will enhance Bulgaria's energy role and help my country to better protect its energy interests. I thank Mr Putin once again for his constant constructive attitudes, for the opportunity for a productive dialogue, and for the permanent chance of positive settlement of all issues on our agenda.

* * *

Question: My question is addressed to both Prime Ministers. You have said that two companies, one Russian and one Bulgarian, will soon sign corporate papers on the construction of the South Stream Bulgarian stretch. Exactly when and where will they be signed?

You have said that there were differences, and they have all been settled today. What were they? Can you please disclose any details of the upcoming agreement?

The demand for energy is shrinking during the economic crisis. Is it worthwhile to launch such an ambitious project at such a time?

Last but not least on the energy theme: have you discussed the results of the gas summit that recently ended in Sofia? Thank you.

Vladimir Putin: So many questions at a time! Let us start with the last item. We have not discussed the outcome of the energy summit in Sofia, though we know everything about it. Russia was represented at a high level - in particular, by the Energy Minister. As soon as he returned from Sofia, he gave a detailed report of the discussions and their topics to the President and me.

As for the disagreements between Gazprom and its Bulgarian partners, they were purely technical. Ask Gazprom what it was all about. Such is the usual and natural decision-making routine. Opinions clashed over both parties' obligations to implement the future agreements. It was an entangled problem because it was closely intertwined with current economic activity and supplies. Contracts have been signed for a term through 2030, all of which needed to be summed up in a package acceptable to both the Russian and the Bulgarian party.

As I spoke with Mr Stanishev yesterday, we agreed that the talks could be finished as early as today. We proposed our own decisions, coordinated them with Russian and Bulgarian participants in the process, and saw that our variants were acceptable to the Russian and the Bulgarian party alike.

As I have said, these agreements must be initialled today and signed quite soon - within two weeks or so, as I have said already - which means that all disputes have been settled. This is what matters most.

Sergei Stanishev (as translated): Thank you for your questions. I, too, will start from the end. I think the gas forum in Sofia was an extremely timely event. As you know, it was convened on an initiative that the Bulgarian President advanced a year ago, after the January gas crisis.

The reliability of supplies and their principles and relations between supplier, transit, and consumer countries have become even more important now. It matters very much to me that so many countries and international organisations were represented at a high level, including the leaders of the European Commission at the gas forum. The forum resulted in simply general declarations, since only few energy forums achieve results that affect the performance of gas mining, transport and consumer companies.

As for the South Stream, I very distinctly remember the first time I discussed the theme with Mr Putin, then President. It was his initiative, and he advanced it in Athens when we signed the Burgas-Alexandroupolis agreement.

You should realise that any project as ambitious as this - a project of tremendous economic and political significance - implies many difficulties, given that there are a great many problems to settle for the sake of security and reliable gas supplies from Russia and to the European Union.

I want to express satisfaction with Mr Putin's constructive stance as every company seeks to protect its own interests to the greatest possible extent. To achieve strategic stability of the project, all parties' interests must be reckoned with and balanced out at every stage of its preparation and implementation.

I am glad that the wishes of the Bulgarian Energy Holding have been taken into account after our talk yesterday, and after instructions given to companies. These wishes are of major importance to Bulgaria and Bulgartransgaz. There is a transit agreement between Gazprom and Bulgaria, signed in 2006 and valid through 2030, that implies 17 billion cubic metres a year. We should realise that it will be implemented in compliance with its premises. We always arrive at the right decision to guarantee our interests, and that is a good thing.

Vladimir Putin: In short, the terms of the amount of pumped gas through 2030 will be complied with. No one has ever refused to do so.

As to greater amounts of gas supplies, everything that pertains to it demands separate talks. On the whole, the situation satisfies Gazprom and its Bulgarian partners, so we will proceed from the agreement in our work.

I have yet to answer one of your questions - whether it is worthwhile to deal with energy now that demands are shrinking. It most definitely is! We should be ready to meet the end of the crisis and prevent a repeat of what Russia, Bulgaria, and all of Europe have been through. Energy shortages should be ruled out during an economic boom because shortages boost prices and lead to new crises. To have vision and be responsible, one should prepare for post-crisis development even today. That is the only right thing to do.

Question: Have you discussed prospects for a new Russian-Bulgarian treaty on unmediated gas supplies during today's talks? Can you, after the talks, confirm Russia's political will to conclude the treaty before the year is out?

Sergei Stanishev: As you know, the question was posed by the Bulgarian President during his visit to Russia in February, as he was meeting with the Russian President and Prime Minister Mr Putin, because Bulgaria wants direct contacts with Gazprom. I think you can see my country's point.

This matter should not be politicized in Bulgaria. What we need is to maintain unambiguous relations and comply with explicit principles. This is understandable, and explains why Bulgargaz and Bulgarian Energy Holding have forwarded their proposals on treaty amendments to Russia and Gazprom and are awaiting a response.

Vladimir Putin: As for Russia, this is what I want to say. Gazprom has direct representation in the mediator company you have mentioned. Gazprom is among the co-founders of the mediator, so Gazprom does not care whether it has to do with a private entrepreneur or company, or with a state.

So, you see, when you have dealings with Russia, you have dealings with Gazprom. Bulgaria might have been interested in the arrangement. Otherwise, why would it have been made at all? As for Gazprom, it does not care who its purchaser is.

To us, it is no way a political matter; it is solely economic and juridical. Gazprom's relations with that company belong to the civil law, and we must see what is possible and necessary to do in this legal environment to establish direct ties with another partner in Bulgaria. If Gazprom has direct contract obligations to that company, certain procedures will be necessary to put an end to them.

In other words, what will we do with a contract after it has been signed? It is hard to say. If Gazprom does not behave the way the legal situation demands, it might merely face damages, because a legal claim might follow. That's all there is to it. This is not a political issue, and it does not require any political will.

Question: I have a question for both Prime Ministers. Russian-Bulgarian relations went through a certain decline after Bulgaria joined the European Union due to certain technical predicaments. Now our relations are developing apace. Can we say that Russia and Bulgaria are strategic partners?

Vladimir Putin: As you know, the decline was due not only to Bulgaria joining the European Union. Russia went through a major economic crisis in 1998. Do you remember it? Thus both countries had problems. I think they were mainly financial and economic.

The situation is quite different today. Even during a crisis, we see trade increasing considerably. It is quite possible that Russia leads the world for trade turnover with Bulgaria. It ranks 4th in other indices. Russia is Bulgaria's largest energy supplier - though there is a major imbalance in our bilateral trade. Anyway, chemicals account for 31% of Russian imports from Bulgaria, machines, 24%, and wine, 23%. I think that is good for Bulgaria.

By that I mean to say that Bulgarian exports to Russia have a sound structure. We should think what to do together next for mutual export/import diversification. It might be promoted by the projects we have mentioned today, and by an increase in investments. Russian cumulative investment in Bulgaria is roughly $850 million, while Bulgarian cumulative investment in Russia amounts to a mere $13 million - I blush as I cite this token figure to this representative audience.

All that does not mean that we have no opportunities to do what we want. We are aware of the difference between the volumes of the two economies - but there are always opportunities. It is our duty to create prerequisites at the government level for broader opportunities of partnership - and there are such opportunities.

Sergei Stanishev: I dare to correct the question, because Bulgarian-Russian relations not only did not shrink after Bulgaria joined the European Union, but in fact became more dynamic.

I mentioned signing the agreement on the Burgas-Alexandroupolis and South Stream pipelines and the implementation of the Belene project. I also mentioned the increase in Bulgarian exports to Russia - they almost doubled in 2007. Mr Putin kindly mentioned the structure of Bulgarian exports - high technologies, traditional commodities, and wines. The engineering and pharmaceutical industries became prominent among our exports in 2008, when the volume of our exports to Russia increased by 50%. The Russian portion of bilateral trade also increased spectacularly with skyrocketing international oil and gas prices.

I am glad to see an ever-increasing number of Russians coming to Bulgaria for recreation - an average of 250,000 a year. The Bulgarian Government made a decision last week that the host country would assume all expenses of visa issuing centres that cater to Russian citizens. Visas will be issued quicker now and cost Russian visitors less. Visa duties will be abolished. In this way, we hope to make Bulgaria more attractive to tourists.

Question: Mr Putin, you have said many times that the Belene nuclear plant is among the strategic projects. What are the terms Russia proposes for its government construction loan? This is the last question. On the other hand, I am a lady, and thus I dare also ask how you overcame the constraint caused by your absence from the energy summit. How did you manage to overcome tensions between our countries?

Vladimir Putin: Easily and spontaneously - as with everything we do. We did not even notice any tensions. There were none, in fact.

As for the Belene nuclear plant, Russia has offered Bulgaria a loan. That was our initiative, and the whole sum was earmarked in last year's budget. Bulgaria refused to make the loan, so we shifted the money to other purposes. Now, it needs a loan due to the global financial crisis, and it is an ordinary situation that we perfectly understand. Mr Stanishev asked us to consider the prospects again, though it implies several billion euros. We will appraise it and, I think, will settle the problem.

Sergei Stanishev: Belene is really an essential project for the Bulgarian energy industry. Unlike other nations, the Bulgarian public favours nuclear plants, as they provide us with energy independence and produce electricity not merely sufficient for domestic consumption but for export - naturally, with the highest safety standards. As you know, the European Commission has ratified the project and approved all its safety standards.

As you know, the project is funded by the National Energy Company and its partner, German RWE, selected in a contest. It is the basic supplier of project finance, though the financial crisis has created problems.

As I said when this news conference began, no projects of such a large scale would not face major financial, economic, environmental, and other problems. That was what Mr Putin and I discussed today. Both countries' Economics Ministries have done the same, and relevant companies are discussing such problems.

Russia offered to fund the project as early as last year, when it was unnecessary. Bulgaria can afford to fund the Belene construction now, as it could last year. Naturally, we should look for all flexible opportunities to continue the construction on schedule, which will necessitate an active dialogue between Bulgaria, Atomstroiexport as the chief contractor, RWE as the principal German partner, and other companies interested in project implementation. Bulgaria has confirmed its desire to reconsider last year's Russian proposal, and analyse its terms and tentative mechanisms. I hope we will be able to consider all technical aspects if goodwill is displayed.

As for the other aspect of the matter, we always proceed from sound arguments in our talks, as Mr Putin has aptly remarked. We lend an attentive ear to the other party's arguments, and we display goodwill in tackling problems. That is what Government work is about - and I think we have been successful.

Vladimir Putin: This is the way in which people linked together by centuries-long history, by friendship and mutual sympathy should settle all problems. Thank you.

Sergei Stanishev: Thank you.