21 june 2011

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin meets with core members of Russian-French Dialogue public association in Paris

Vladimir Putin

At the meeting with core members of Russian-French Dialogue public association in Paris

“France has always been Russia’s key strategic partner in the full meaning of the word.”

Vladimir Putin's address:

Ladies and gentlemen, friends, I am very glad to see you and have an opportunity to meet with many of my friends.

You'll be pleased to know that relations between our countries, as you can see, are developing excellently. Yesterday I had an opportunity to exchange impressions about our cooperation with the French Prime Minister. We are glad that France is one of the few countries with which our trade has reached the pre-crisis level, even exceeding it slightly last year. This speaks to the fact that relations between our countries are developing very successfully. Russia has several larger trade partners but the quality of its relations with France has allowed us to reach the pre-crisis trade level, and we have fairly diversified economic relations. Here I mean the traditional areas of cooperation: power generation, which has been developing at a fast rate, hydrocarbons and renewable energy sources, as well as the nuclear industry, in which France is a recognised leader.

This is a bad time for nuclear power after the terrible Fukushima tragedy, but you and I know very well – and I'm sure many others will at least agree with me – that, unfortunately, it is unrealistic for France, where nuclear power provides almost 80% of energy requirements, to stop using it now, no matter how much we might like this. Despite the tragedy in Japan, we continue gradually to implement our plan to increase the share of nuclear power in Russia from the current 15%-16% to 25% and more.

Why am I concentrating on this? Because in the past it has been rather difficult to work with French partners in this area. France is a European leader in this respect and, naturally, it would like to strengthen its leadership. Yet we have managed to come to an agreement here too, and to move in the general direction of bilateral work, and in the markets of other countries. We are actively involving French companies in projects in countries where they are the indisputable leaders. This is not the limit of our cooperation, which also includes aviation and space projects. Unfortunately, we have delayed the launch of spacecraft from the spaceport in French Guiana, but I hope this will take place in autumn. There are necessary prerequisites for this. We are also developing traditional forms of bilateral trade and cooperation in the high-tech sphere, energy, and trade in general.

Of course, full-scale bilateral relations are impossible without the cultural component. It was with the active support and assistance of many people present here in this auditorium that the France-Russia Cross Year was held in 2010. We held a large number of joint events which certainly enriched our cultural relations.

It is clear that Russian architecture would have been impossible without French architecture. And some aspects of French literature would not have developed without key elements in Russian literature. I would like to inform you that yesterday I signed a government resolution on the federal targeted programme of developing the Russian language, designed for the next several years. One part of it provides for facilitating and rendering support for the development of the Russian language in foreign countries. It has been proposed to hold a cross year of the French and Russian languages. I hope I can depend on the active participation of many of the specialists present here in the implementation of this programme. Of course, such events will necessarily bring France and Russia closer together, which have so much in common in their history and culture.

In about an hour Mr Fillon and I will unveil a monument to the Russian Expeditionary Force that fought here, in France, during World War I. You know, it was an utter, though pleasant surprise, when our French colleagues proposed this project. It shows that people in both Russia and France care for their common history. We were allies in two wars and now, with this accumulated experience in partnership and the resolution of vital and complicated problems, we are moving forward, actively cooperating in the UN and in the G8 and G20. We are working together to improve our common European home. France has always been Russia's key strategic partner in the full meaning of the word. I would like to thank you for working together with us and to wish you success in this noble undertaking.

Thank you for your time. We now have an opportunity to freely exchange opinions about our joint operation and the issues we should focus on in the immediate future. Thank you.

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Prime Minister Vladimir Putin answers questions and comments the speeches of meeting participants:

Comments on the speech by France’s Secretary of State for Foreign Trade Pierre Lellouche

Vladimir Putin: You’ve mentioned several fields of our cooperation. Our economic ties are not limited to Électricité de France, although the project you’ve mentioned is a new step, because this company will take part in the development of a transmission grid, and this is something we have not done with our Western partners before.

We are making steady headway on liberalising Russia’s electricity sector. True, there are certain difficulties due to the growth of rates and prices. In this respect, we must take measures to curb this growth, although we understand our investors and will steadily move down the path that will allow them not only to recoup their investment but also to earn a profit on the Russian market.

We understand our responsibility and will act responsibly towards both consumers and investors. We are permanently in touch, and I think Électricité de France has made the right decision to work in Siberia. It is not the only foreign European company to work on the Siberian market – it is huge, immense, and there are many consumers there. I’m primarily referring to industrial consumers, our iron and steel companies that are world class and global in scale. In general, this is a step in the right direction.

Total is also active in Russia. I see its Russian partner is also here. It is carrying a very promising hydrocarbon project on the Kharyaga deposit and will now also work on two projects in Yamal. Total is a shareholder of one of our biggest private companies engaged in natural gas production – Novatek. It is buying a 12% stake in Novatek and will buy 20% of shares in the future LNG company.

Considering the problems that we’ve just discussed (nuclear power engineering and especially hydrocarbons), this fact is becoming particularly important.

Gaz de France (GDF) is also operating in Russia. It is our long-standing, proven and very reliable partner. We are cooperating with it on the South Stream and Nord Stream projects. You’ve already mentioned our work in nuclear power engineering and I’ve also spoken about it. This work is acquiring a new dimension. We are working on the latest projects both on new fast neutron reactors and slow reactors. These projects are on our agenda today.

We have spoken about space – an area where we have been cooperating very effectively for a long time now. It is also acquiring a new dimension now with the plans to launch spacecraft from the French Guiana. But there is more to it. We also have a very good project named Ural. It is to be carried out after 2010. Under this project, we may even build a manned spaceship together. This is very interesting and promising work.

We are cooperating not only in space but also in aviation. We are now putting the Superjet-100 on the market. It is a very good medium-haul aircraft. I have already spoken about this work, carried out in Komsomolsk-on-Amur in the Far East, at a big aircraft plant which was previously only used to manufacture military aircraft, such as Sukhoi fighters. Now it has already produced the Superjet-100, a very good medium-haul aircraft. We are now putting it on the market. It has a powerful French engine – French specialists worked on it there. I went there once and heard French all around me – and Paris is very far from Komsomolsk-on-Amur. Your colleagues played an active part in this work and continue working there to this day.

We have one more joint project – on MS-21, also a medium-haul aircraft. It will also be a very good plane in the near future. We have helicopter projects as well. At the first stage, we are going to equip our helicopters with French engines and then set up joint ventures to produce them in Russia.

As for Mistral, this is a special issue. It highlights the totally unique character of our bilateral interstate relations. To sum up, our economic cooperation is doing well, but we have even greater potential.

Putin answers a question from Senator Jacques Chaumont

Vladimir Putin: A multi-party system is only just taking shape in Russia; the parties are growing stronger, formulating consistent political platforms and looking for their voters. But just as everywhere, a political force that has been in power for several years is a dominant force and bears responsibility for whatever is happening in the country. This is the first point. Secondly, there is the problem of a political force getting used to being in power and becoming unresponsive to the real problems of the people it represents. Many begin to think that this status quo existed and will exist forever, and so little is done to address today’s challenges. Therefore, any political party, and particularly the ruling one, needs an influx of fresh ideas and people who bring in these fresh ideas. In other words, it needs a certain renewal. This is the essence of the Popular Front. It is called upon to attract people with fresh ideas and interesting views, people that are capable of implementing them through United Russia’s established channels. The front is intended to bring people to different levels of authority – municipal and regional government bodies, and our parliament – the State Duma.

I’m confident that this will facilitate the development of our multi-party system, give it fresh impetus and dynamism and make it possible to respond better to our people’s everyday problems. In fact, the last few weeks have lived up to these expectations. Indeed, United Russia has suggested its platform and its mechanisms for bringing people into said governance bodies. On the whole, people have believed this – they are coming up with interesting ideas and joining the front. Debates are not only large-scale but also heated, and this inspires me with the hope that the elections to Russian parliament (scheduled for early December of this year) will take place at the proper level and will promote to the Duma many new and interesting people that want and can resolve the tasks facing the country.

Vladimir Putin comments on the speech by Yury Rubinsky, head of the Centre for French Studies at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Europe

Vladimir Putin: My answer will not be original. So, what do I think on this score?

I think that tenders and bidding processes will be won by those of our partners that offer to solve the proposed challenges better and for less money. It’s about getting the best value for the money. We won’t make any exceptions in this respect despite long-standing friendship and will only be guided by economic considerations. At the same time, I’d like to note that our French partners often wind up on top. This applies to railways and motor roads, transport equipment manufacturing and the entire power engineering sector. The French win these tenders very often and quite rightly so, and we’d like to hope that we will fulfil all our commitments on both sides.

We see that Russia has to resolve environmental issues (and it is not an exception in this respect). We are grateful to our French partners for their understanding that we must resolve these problems with care and in line with our legislation, with due respect for the realistic demands and proposals of environmental organisations. We are carrying out our plans, acting with caution and proceeding from our national interests. We are going to continue involving our European partners, including those from France, in the development of our infrastructure. We will work in this direction. French companies have very good experience and technology.

Comments on the speech by Bernard Loze, President of the Loze Group and President of the International Council for Game and Wildlife Conservation  (CIC)

Vladimir Putin: As for our joint work in the area of mechanical engineering: as you know, Peugeot and Citroen already work in Russia. Renault-Nissan, a French-Japanese company, has AvtoVAZ, Russia’s largest automaker, as a strategic partner. They have designed and started implementing a project to manufacture six new models in Russia. Overall, progress is good.

I have already mentioned this, but I will say it again: at the height of the economic turmoil, when we needed to support AvtoVAZ, we went ahead and supported our partners from Renault. We provided budgetary funds to bail out the plant, but did so in a way as not to dilute the equity of our French investor. This was a conscious move. What I mean is that they bought a 25% stake in AvtoVAZ when the market prices were high, and were immediately hit by the crisis. By providing this rescue money, it was as if we paid them for their loyalty. The French company responded in a similarly appreciative manner. They have developed a programme for the expansion of AvtoVAZ together with their Russian partners, and are now implementing it.

Already today, our cooperation in the field of railway transport and transport machine building has already been spoken about. I have already spoken on our potential cooperation in the area of power engineering, aviation and rocket equipment, and so on. But I would like to draw your attention to the fact that, just like any other country, Russia has national interests, which include economic and technical development, and the expansion of the taxable base. Of course, we operate on the belief that cooperation should be mutually beneficial; otherwise we cannot expect such cooperation to be advantageous to both sides, including our own. This means that our policy in these areas has been and will continue to be based on increasing localisation – in other words, increasing the amount of products manufactured in Russia in combination with the transfer of technology. I believe this is quite clear, since our partners receive a huge edge by gaining access to the Russian market.

Take motor vehicles, for example. I’m afraid my numbers may be a bit off, but let me tell you that last year, or the year before it, more cars were sold in Russia than in India. Imagine, there are 1.2 billion people in India and 144-145 million in Russia, but they sold more cars here than in India. What does this indicate? It tells us that the capacity of the Russian market is quite substantial.

Moreover, we have established the Customs Union, as you know, and our next step involves the creation of a common economic space beginning January 1, 2012. This will be very similar to the existing Western European arrangements, except that we will include three countries: Kazakhstan, Russia and Belarus. This unification will expand the market, open up new opportunities and boost the appeal of this space. I am confident that our partners will appreciate such developments. Let me reiterate, we will strive to conduct our policy in the area of machine building so as to increase localisation and secure the transfer of technology.

In the automaking business, for example, the programme initially had our partners manufacturing 25,000 cars in Russia with a 15%-25% localisation share. The next step involves manufacturing at least 300,000 cars in Russia with localisation as high as 60%-65%, including transmission and engines. Almost all our partners, major European carmakers, agreed with the terms and are working accordingly. Not only European companies, but North American companies are also onboard. I recently attended the signing of a corresponding agreement between the Russian company Sollers and Ford. The Europeans also find these terms agreeable. The only people that we have so far failed to reach an agreement with are the officials from the European Commission. But life goes on, and actual contracts are being signed. Work is underway. I am confident that if we build such large-scale work on a mutually advantageous foundation, we will be successful.

Comment on a question by Yves-Thibault De Silguy, vice president, executive director of the board at the Vinci Group

Vladimir Putin: These delays arose from the need to conduct a more thorough analysis of the environmental effects of this project… I appreciate your understanding of the situation, but this problem has been effectively dealt with, including compliance with environmental requirements. As you know, it was decided to perform additional landscaping in connection with the construction of this road. We all know that this is a very important road for Russia; I would even say a vitally important one. We are talking about two major cities, St Petersburg and Moscow, cities of 5 and almost 13 million people, respectively. The capacity in certain areas was designed for traffic that is several dozen times lighter that what we have now. Several dozen times! This leads to more than just economic losses, although they are huge given that these roads are heavily used by trucks bringing cargo between Northern Europe, Scandinavia and Central Russia. The lack of proper roads hampers the economy. Unfortunately, this also leads to accidents involving the loss of human live. There are too many accidents on this poorly designed road, which dates back to the 19th century in terms of quality. It is just not up to standard. We will also focus on environmental issues, but we will necessarily develop the national infrastructure. I am confident that we have many joint projects ahead of us. Thank you.

Comment on a question by Vyacheslav Nikonov, president of the Politika Foundation, editor-in-chief of Strategiya Rossii magazine.

Vladimir Putin: Any positive experience – from France, Italy or the United States – should always be put to use in Russia. Any positive experience. We are analysing such experience and some of our services, such as the Federal Migration Service, keep in touch with our foreign partners and analyse developments in other countries. Migration flows are our common problem today. There are about 10 million illegal immigrants in Russia, about the same as in the United States or united Europe. We face the same problems and I’m sure there must be common solutions. However, there are differences, and they are significant.

Most of Russia’s immigrants come from former Soviet republics. People from these republics don’t need visas to come to Russia, since we have special relations with them. There are language problems, but they are not anywhere as serious as those ones faced by France, Italy, Southern Europe or Great Britain in their relations with North African immigrants. We also do not have major barriers from the point of view of cultural mentality, or problems between immigrants and local population. They do exist, but they are not as sharp. One of my former Spanish colleagues told me that there are people who have lived in Spain for 10-15 years and don’t speak Spanish. We also have language problems, but not as severe, and even people from the Central Asian republics manage to make themselves clear in Russian and try to speak Russian at home. For other countries, the situation is different. However, I reiterate that there are problems and I think it’s a separate subject, a very complicated and sensitive one.

I believe that the number of migrants should be such that they can easily assimilate into the host country, and the host country can, in turn, teach them its language, culture and mindset. We need to control the numbers, because there is a certain point beyond which the state becomes unable to deal with issues of assimilation properly.

This does not mean that immigrants should be forcibly severed from their own cultures. But still, anyone who comes to a new country for permanent residence must respect the laws and culture of their new country, and in order to be able to do so one needs at least to be aware of them. This cannot be accomplished without understanding the language and other basic knowledge.

Without this, local residents will feel unprotected against the uncontrollable flow of immigrants. That means that immigrants will feel unprotected in their new environment. And if the locals feel unprotected by their own government, they will resort to nationalistic tendencies, and national extremism will arise from within a society that accepts an unreasonable number of immigrants from other countries. These are all very delicate and sensitive processes that call for on-going attention and control from government authorities.

Comment on the speech by Pavel Lungin, People’s Artist of Russia, filmmaker and screenwriter, about the implementation of joint projects by the French-Russian Cinema Academy

Vladimir Putin: Mr Zhukov, will you please discuss this issue in more detail with your colleague, and we will get back to it later in Moscow?  Here is Mr Zhukov, we will try to find a partner for you. We work together in certain areas. The All-Russian State Television and Radio Broadcasting Company is now making a film starring Gerard Depardieu together with their French partners. This is just one project, but we can certainly discuss other specific opportunities that might become available within the Academy.

Comment on a question about the House of Russia for Russian students in Paris, France.

Vladimir Putin: From what I saw, this looks like a nice project with a lot of promise. It’s about supporting young people who want to study in Paris. I would like to ask the ambassador (speaking to Alexander Orlov, Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary Ambassador of Russia to France) to look into the situation and then report back via the Foreign Ministry. We will see what we can do. We will have to look into the legal side of this project, by which I mean land titles, construction and the future of this property. We are ready to do it. The project calls for an investment of about 35 million euros, which does not seem to be such an insurmountable sum. We can come up with that amount of money. The issue is about the future use of this property.

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Final words by Vladimir Putin:

For my part, I would also like to thank you and say that this platform has been very successful. It brings together people who occupy very different realms, such as economy, finance, industry, art, and transport. These are very different areas, but the people share the same interest for cooperation between Russia and France. And importantly, everyone who works here does so with a great deal of success. This platform is an assembly of successful people who are interested in furthering cooperation and promoting relations between our two countries in all areas. I would like to thank you for your work and ensure you that the Russian government will always support you.

Thank you very much! Je vous remercie!