1 september, 2009 15:53  

Following the talks, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and his Polish counterpart Donald Tusk held a joint news conference


Donald Tusk's introductory speech (as translated):

Good afternoon, colleagues,

This is an important meeting for our two countries. First of all, I would like to thank Prime Minister Vladimir Putin for accepting the invitation to attend the events in Gdansk which coincide with the anniversary of the start of World War II. This gesture is important not only for the Polish public.

Second, I would like to say that during our conversation we agreed that the Difficult Issues Commission, which we set up to separate the most sensitive issues of our common history from today's politics as much as possible, will help us come to terms. We will acknowledge the agreements of this group.

As for the future of our relations, this is a major step because we are searching for truth not only in tragedies but also in the positive events in our history. Only truth can build up trust between politicians, and, more to the point, between nations.

From the very start, we included one correct principle in the foundation of our talks - even our attitude toward the past, present and future. Formation of the Difficult Issues Commission, and of two bilateral centres and institutes, which will study our history, including the Katyn massacre, show that we are capable of gradually moving to a common understanding even on complicated issues.

The prime ministers of these two countries were not supposed to provide a general definition of our common memory - Russian and Polish. This was not our goal because politicians are unable to give such an unequivocal and binding definition.

However, we have agreed that we can gradually build up trust between our two nations. Proceeding from the truth about the past, and from our own memories, we can approach a common truth about the most tragic events in our history and work for a better future.

Therefore, we have devoted a big part of our meeting to the future of bilateral relations, which are now in better shape than ever before. This year's crisis has slowed this development somewhat, but this is not the main point. We want these dynamics to be even more tangible.

I was pleased to hear Mr Putin note how well Poles are coping with the crisis. It is good that Moscow has noticed Poland's leading role in overcoming the crisis. We have also discussed energy cooperation and a gas contract.

We have reiterated that gas supplies cannot have a political connotation in Polish-Russian relations. It should be based on mutual interest. This means we have a chance to complete the talks quickly and sign a gas contract.

Mr Putin, I would like to thank you once again for accepting this invitation. I am glad that despite different views on many issues, we can talk about our differences and find something in common. I believe that increasingly, we will find things in common, and that we will talk about history with respect.

I am convinced that we have made one more step for good neighbourly relations between Poland and Russia. What we have arrived at will form the foundation for our friendship.

Many thanks.

Vladimir Putin's introductory speech:

First of all, I would like to thank Mr Prime Minister for his invitation.

Today is a special day. This is the day marking the outbreak of one of the worst tragedies in human history - World War II, during which Russians and Poles were fighting together against their common enemy - Nazism. Poles have always been perceived in Russia as brethren-in-arms in this common struggle.

Today, we will remember the dead, and pay tribute to them, and will express our gratitude to the war veterans. They were fighting for our common future without caring for their own lives.

True, there are historical problems, which we should carefully study. We should analyze everything, which eventually led to the outbreak of this tragedy on September 1, 1939 with the only purpose being to prevent a repetition in the future. Knowing the nuances and facts of history, and without imposing one's own views on each other, we will be able to rise above the problems of the past, and build a future together. Objective circumstances compel us to follow this responsible, common policy.

At the beginning of our meeting, and just now Mr Prime Minister mentioned that Poland is doing well economically despite the global crisis. But this in no way means that we should not counter current challenges together. Their number exceeds by far the threats of the global financial and economic crisis. It is clear that we should join our efforts to overcome the current problems, and to avoid difficulties in the future.

We have done much in the trade and economic sphere in the last two years. We have reached record trade. As I mentioned at the beginning of our meeting, Russia has become Poland's second largest trade and economic partner after the Federal Republic of Germany. However, we understand that this is not enough.

It goes without saying that we will discuss our trade and economic contacts at this meeting. This applies not only to energy, a major component of our cooperation, but also transportation, high technologies, innovation, and mutual investment.

I believe that Russia and Poland will do everything to build our relations on the basis of pragmatism and mutual respect.

Thank you for your attention.


Question: A question for Prime Minister Tusk regarding the energy sector. When do you think it will be possible to sign a gas contract? And with regard to historical issues - which specific resolutions of the Difficult Issues Commission will be adopted first?

Donald Tusk (as translated): Regarding gas, it is not on our agenda to state the exact hour this contract will be signed. The firms involved in this issue must sign it. I believe that for me and for our guest, it is important that any political connotation that could influence our energy cooperation must be put aside. Poland's gas purchases should not be associated with politics, but with business and appropriate economic relations. Regarding these important gas issues, we know that politicians should support these decisions.

Today we heard from our guest that the declaration we heard about during our meeting with the premier in Switzerland, remains topical. And the technical issues that could be potential obstacles to signing the agreement must be resolved by the companies involved, and Prime Minister Putin and I would only like to facilitate this.

Sure, the clock is ticking. It is important for both sides that the contract be signed as soon as possible. This will happen most likely in early autumn.

Regarding the Difficult Issues Commission's recommendations, today I started my press conference by mentioning this. Because we know how important it is to come to terms on issues that now frequently divide Poles and Russians with regard to historical events. There are varying interpretations and versions. This is not only an issue for Russia and Poland. In many cases, the national versions of World War II events are divergent.

Prime Minister Putin and I agreed to a very important concept today - we created this group of experts and we must follow the recommendations of this group within the process that has been initiated. The agreement between Prime Ministers was important for establishing two Russian-Polish institutes both in Russia and in Poland to provide a mutual understanding on matters concerning Katyn, as well as on other events in Polish-Russian history.

We hold that this is an important practical step that will, among other things, tone down the political impact of these issues. I am pleased that Prime Minister Putin agrees with our recommendations and intentions.

Question: Good afternoon, I have a question for both prime ministers. This is your third meeting within the past year and a half. Last year, Mr Tusk paid a visit to Moscow, then you met at the Davos Forum, and now the Russian delegation is visiting Poland. Could one say that bilateral relations are thawing after a somewhat tense period? No high-ranking Russian officials have visited Poland since 2005, yet it is clear that bilateral talks have been revitalised recently. How have Russian-Polish relations changed within the past year and a half, in your opinion?

I've got one more question to Mr Tusk, if you don't mind. Did you discuss the construction of the Nord Stream pipeline, and what's Poland's stand on this issue? Thank you.

Vladimir Putin: I have mentioned that during the past two years Russian-Polish relations have improved, becoming friendlier and more business-like. You were right when you said that in the past our relations were not as cordial. I would like to stress that it was not Russia that tried to worsen our bilateral relations. We have always strived to reverse negative trends and to make our relations as positive as possible.

I am grateful to the incumbent Polish Government, specifically Prime Minister Tusk, for being a counterpart and a partner that I am happy to cooperate with. We can discuss the controversial issues of the past in a calm and benevolent atmosphere, free from political prejudices, as well as develop pragmatic relations in politics and in the economy today, all based on respect for each other's interests. I hope we'll be able to maintain this positive trend, which I mentioned in my brief remarks.

As you know, we have signed a series of targeted agreements on culture, transport and the energy industry, specifically the nuclear power industry. There are many joint projects which will be implemented I'm sure.

Naturally, everyone is concerned about gas-related issues. We have discussed them in detail with Mr Prime Minister today. There are certain problems in this area, but in my view, they relate primarily to routine work procedures.

The thing is, part of the Russian gas pipeline system is located in Polish territory. I would like to underscore that the current intergovernmental agreement holds that this pipeline system shall be owned 50/50 by the Russian and Polish companies. Although it is almost a 100% Gazprom funded project, a certain Polish individual has laid claim to 4% of it.

I am not going to blame anyone, but I think this decision-making process needs to be studied to find out whether it was corrupt, interrogating both the Russian and Polish parties. Obviously, it was impossible to proceed without the Russian party's consent. We must return to our intergovernmental accords. This is the first thing.

Second, we have always supplied energy, including oil and gas, to Poland in full, and are certainly ready to continue doing so. There should be no doubts about this. Poland purchased a part of its gas from RosUkrEnergo, a joint Russian-Ukrainian venture. This company was denied the right to trade in the market, following the Ukrainian Government's actions. It was not Russia's initiative. This was the initiative of our Ukrainian partners. Russia is willing to make up for the 2 billion (cubic metres of gas) that Poland bought from this company. The problem is that Poland stipulated a provision specifying a limit on Gazprom-supplied gas to the Polish market, which was incorporated in the intergovernmental agreement. If our Polish partners would like to increase this limit, the agreement must be altered. These are only technical issues. There are no problems in this respect.

As for the Nord Stream, I have reiterated on a number of occasions that certain parties would like to represent this project as part of an anti-Polish agenda. There is no anti-Polish implication here. I just mentioned the Russian pipeline on Polish territory. It's only natural that Russia and its European gas consumers would want to diversify gas transport systems. What's so extraordinary about that? It is common practice throughout the world. We didn't discuss this issue in detail today, but we are counting on Poland's understanding.

Donald Tusk (as translated): To clarify our position, I must say that Poland has no suspicions on this score. We do not suspect anyone of any political intentions, but we are critically analysing the economic and environmental aspects of this issue. Poland has not declared this position, and this is not the subject of our talks. Therefore, let's not look at it as a major element of bilateral relations. We should remember that Nord Stream is more about relations between Russian and German companies.

Poland has already expressed its attitude on this issue. We are critical, but we are also constructive and calm. We have prepared a number of proposals, and we could make them. The idea could be presented as a more inviting project from an economic and an environmental point of view. But each Government decides for itself what to do with its money and its gas.

Poland is always ready for serious negotiations, like those which are now being conducted on the Yamal-2 project. Needless to say, we are only spectators in questions which are of no concern to us.

As for the last two years, I would like to emphasize that the art of politics, and the task of any politician, including Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and myself, is to firmly build a better future in relations between nations and governments regardless of the circumstances.

Does this mean that we entertain some illusions? No, it doesn't. We want Russian-Polish relations, which have improved over the past few years, to be even better. We want them to rest on respect and historical truth.

Can this be done quickly? The answer is "no." Is any progress possible at all in this respect? At times, it seems to us that things are not going as they should. But I am not going to leave this road, a road of building new relations on the basis of faith, and with a view to the future, realizing how important it is for us.

The presence of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, Chancellor Angela Merkel, and other statesmen shows that despite the differences between us, which are sometimes very pronounced, we are here to demonstrate that our future lies in peace, tranquility, and free trade, and that this goal is facilitated by the evolution of our views.

We have also agreed with Prime Minister Putin that historical issues regarding WWII should not prevent us from conducting a dialogue which would enable us to overcome this enormous tragedy and the war-inflicted traumas. We cannot allow Russian-Polish relations to become worse than Polish-German or German-Russian relations. This is absurd.

In this context, we should continue to promote respect in our relations. If this was possible in the past between Germany and Poland, and between Russia and Germany, why should Russia and Poland not follow suit?

I think our current meeting is not easy but it brings us one step closer in the development of honest relationships and dialogue between Poland and Russia.

As for economic issues, it is important to sign these treaties. Some people may question this, but the conclusion of these agreements is important. There are some goals which cannot be achieved in bilateral relations for years, but we have agreed with Prime Minister Putin to settle many issues quickly, and we have done this. Hence, we should do what we can. I am very cautious for this reason. One needs to display caution on such a day and in such a place but I remain optimistic about the future of our relations.

Question: Good afternoon. I have a question for Mr Putin. Mr Prime Minister, today you spoke about a historically objective approach, and about the need not to impose one's version of history on others. When you were holding talks with your Polish counterpart in Moscow, the Russian Foreign Ministry organized a conference on Polish cooperation with the Nazis. Can you, please, comment on this? Also, when will Poles, among others, receive the Katyn documents? Many thanks.

Vladimir Putin: We have spoken with Mr Prime Minister about continued work of the Difficult Issues Commission, which is studying historical events preceding World War II. One of the focuses of its work is studying the archives. There is one rule for such cases in international practice - all actions are carried out on the basis of reciprocity.

It is probably natural that we are recalling history on this tragic day. But I would like very much, and I have discussed this subject at length with Mr Tusk today.... I cannot say that our views on this issue fully coincide, but we agree that we should look at the entire picture in all of its diversity. What does this mean? The people of Russia and I see permanent and persistent attempts to create the impression that World War II was triggered exclusively by the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact.

I would like to draw the attention of our esteemed colleagues to the fact that the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact was the last agreement of the Soviet Union, a European power, with Nazi Germany. It was preceded by the 1934 Polish-German agreement, and bilateral non-aggression treaties between Germany and the leading European powers, which were practically the same as the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact.

The Munich Agreement was signed in 1938. It is also called the Munich conspiracy. If I am correct, a day after the signing of this agreement in late September, the then Polish Government issued an ultimatum to Czechoslovakia, moved its troops onto its territory simultaneously with the Wehrmacht, and occupied two of its provinces.

I am not going to make any assessments today. I haven't come here to do that. I have arrived here at the Prime Minister's invitation to pay respect to the memory of those who died in World War II, and to pay homage to the courage and heroism of the Polish people in the struggle against Nazism.

If we want to discuss history without bias, we should understand that it is not just black and white, but multi-coloured. A host of mistakes were made by many sides, and all these actions created the conditions for the start of Nazi Germany's large-scale aggression, one way or another.

This is what we should work on if we want an objective picture. But if someone wants to find "raisins" in this "old and moldy loaf" for himself and leave the mold for the other guy, nothing good will come out of it.

This will not create the conditions for mutual understanding and trust, which we need so much of today. This is what we should be striving for. I am convinced that we will reach our goal if we continue our dialogue in the same constructive spirit as today.

Thank you.

Question: I'm sorry, but I have a question about Katyn. I have already asked when Poles will receive an opportunity to look at the Katyn documents.

Vladimir Putin: I have already said that this is possible, that this is always being done on the basis of reciprocity. If our specialists have access to the Polish archives, their Polish colleagues will have access to the Russian archives.

Why have I recalled the partition of Czechoslovakia today? It is possible that the then Polish leaders did not have a written agreement with Germany at that time, but as a Classic thinker said, practice is the criterion of truth.

Both Polish and Hungarian troops invaded Czechoslovakia and annexed its territory. Clearly, there was something there, and we must understand what it was. Therefore, we should make a concerted and depoliticised effort in this discussion. Otherwise, we would be like a doctor who first infects his patient, and then makes money by treating him. Why infect the minds of people with falsehoods and exploit them in domestic policy? This is the worst approach.

As for access to the archives, we will do all we can on a bilateral basis.

Question: I have a question for Mr Tusk. Mr Prime Minister, my question also concerns your assessment of historical events, difficult as that may be for you now.

We are familiar with the prevailing opinion in Poland, notably that the Soviet-German non-aggression pact was a catalyst of WWII. But, as Mr Putin mentioned, this event cannot be torn out of its historical context. There were other agreements, such as the 1938 Munich Agreement, Europe's subsequent partition, and many other events. To sum up, different points of view exist.

What is your view of this? Do you think that Russian-Polish relations will always be haunted by the past, or will we be able to overcome it? Thank you.

Donald Tusk (as translated): I have an unequivocal opinion on this issue. The attitude to the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact should not come as a surprise for the Russians. Whatever the case, Poland was attacked as a result.

On September 1, Hitler's Germany attacked Poland, and two weeks later the troops of Stalin's Russia invaded it from the east.

I am not supposed to take part in a historical or political dispute as to when World War II started for a specific nation. I represent the Polish position. What historical facts does Poland take into account? The August 23 treaty, and that Polish defenders were shot in Westerplatte and the Katyn events are all facts. Everyone may assess them independently, but nobody can deny them.

I would like to emphasize one more thing - truth may be painful, but it should not humiliate anyone.

I am very serious about Mr Putin's readiness to present the Katyn archives, because he also mentioned it in our face-to-face conversation, and I accept his proposal on the principle of reciprocity.

If today Mr Putin's declaration means that the study of the entire truth about these events does not mean humiliation for Russia, but represents a thought-out and wise position for elaborating future strategy, we are only too happy to welcome it.

I am convinced, - I would like to emphasize this and have already told my counterpart about this - that Poland would like to build our relationship on truth, although different assessments may appear in the process. Personally, I am confident that in our relations we should not exploit the past and distort history, or keep some facts secret from each other.

Great and proud nations, such as the Polish and Russian people, should not be afraid of truth.

Only great nations proud of their history can be ready for cooperation. World War II led to tremendous human losses. One of the most nightmarish facts was that two horrifying totalitarian systems unleashed this war on the basis of agreements and were then deciding throughout the entire conflict on how to end this war.

And I would like to mention again that nobody in Poland has forgotten or will forget how many Soviet soldiers lost their lives liberating Poland from Hitler's occupation.

However, this does not mean that our bitter experience ended after 1945... As one Hungarian writer put it, "In 1945, Soviet soldiers liberated our lands, but they could not give us freedom because they did not enjoy it themselves."

This is probably why it is not easy for us to be open in speaking about these horrible years. But nobody will relieve us, Prime Minister Putin and me, from our responsibility to give an opportunity to our historians, journalists, and all our people to look for truth in the archives.

I am fully prepared to cooperate, if this will help confirm or verify the current views on the causes, beginning, and course of World War II.

Thank you for taking part in the news conference.

* * *

After the end of the press conference, Prime Minister Putin answered additional questions from journalists:

Question: Mr Putin, the occupation is the most painful subject for the Georgian people. Your troops remain on our territory. Is there any clear post-occupation strategy as far as Georgia is concerned, after the recognition of South Ossetia and Abkhazia? Is there any defined policy?

Vladimir Putin: Our strategy is entirely clear and comprehensible. Either the international community upholds one of the fundamental principles of international law, adhering to the principle of territorial integrity of recognised states, or it prioritises the right of nations to self-determination.

What you call occupation is considered by the people of South Ossetia and Abkhazia to be liberation, independence.

I don't want to offend or demean Georgia, but I do want once again to underline the fact that it was the irresponsible actions of the current Georgian administration that led to this tragedy.

I am confident that without that initial assault on their autonomy, if there hadn't been any pressure from the Georgian authorities, then nothing of the kind would have happened.

You know that Russia supported Georgia's territorial integrity, despite the fact that the republics I mentioned declared independence long ago. But after the actions taken by Mr Saakashvili, the situation changed fundamentally. We had no option, other than to act as we did.

Question: Mr Putin, I would like to ask, why does Russia continue to support Alexander Lukashenko? After all, everyone considers him to be the last dictator. Why don't you support democratic forces?

Vladimir Putin: I think your question is flawed because Mr Lukashenko was elected in a direct election, by a secret ballot, by the people of Belarus.

We always deal with the current authorities, and never get involved in supporting actions that could lead to any unconstitutional process on the territory of any country, especially within countries of the former USSR, because democracy in these countries is weak, their political systems are not stable, and the justice systems are quite vague. Given these conditions, stability is more important than anything.