29 may 2008

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin held talks with his French counterpart Francois Fillon

Vladimir Putin

At a news conference after the talks with the French Prime Minister Francois Fillon

"I think our European partners need more time to get used to cooperating with Russian companies, to be able to appreciate their contribution to the joint development".

The talks were followed by a news conference.

Vladimir Putin's speech at a news conference in Paris:

Good evening.

First of all, I would like to thank my French colleagues for a very warm, hospitable reception.

Indeed, this is my first foreign visit as Prime Minister. We agreed to it with President Nicolas Sarkozy. I am grateful to Mr Prime Minister for confirming my invitation.

This decision follows the logic of the development of Russian-French relations in the last few years and indicates their significance for Europe and the world as a whole.

France has been a priority partner for Russia by tradition. There are no understatements or acute contradictions in our multi-faceted dialogue. Based on mutual trust, it is stable and predictable.

Today's talks have reconfirmed this, as well as our steady course towards further expansion of cooperation.

Mr Fillon and I discussed in detail several questions and prospects for cooperation. We concentrated on the development of economic cooperation.

Trade has tripled during the past five years. Investment in the Russian economy has also been growing at a good pace during the last two years. In 2006, it was $3.5 billion, and last year, as high as $6.5 billion.

Large-scale projects are progressing in energy, space exploration, and aircraft manufacturing. This includes the joint development of one of the world's largest oil and gas condensate deposits at Stockman, the programme to build the Superjet-100 regional airliner, and preparations for the launch of the Russian Soyuz from the French launch centre at Kourou. Three hundred of our specialists are already working at Kourou.

We are hoping that the success of auto giants Renault and Peugeot-Citroen in Russia will pave the way for many other French companies in the Russian market.

I would like to emphasise once again that we are ready for close cooperation, including large infrastructure projects. We have had detailed discussions with the Prime Minister on this subject.

However, it seems that high-tech cooperation is the most promising area. Our French partners are invariably interested in Russia's developments in bio- and nano-technologies. We would like to cooperate in this field, and intend to create an atmosphere promoting mutually advantageous scientific and industrial partnership.

Cultural cooperation has always been impressive and fruitful. The mutual interest of our nations has always been strong. I am sure that an important project like the Year of Russia in France and the Year of France in Russia will evoke a wide response not only in our two countries but also beyond, enriching both business and public relations.

The exchange of these "national years" will take place in 2010. But we consider it necessary to develop a comprehensive dialogue now in culture, science, education, and youth exchanges, and in promoting direct contacts between our peoples.

Streamlined visa procedures can play a big role in this respect. Much depends on constructive dialogue between Russia and the European Union (EU).

In a month, France will assume the presidency of this prestigious union. We have agreed to work together for an early start on talks for a new fundamental agreement between Russia and the EU. Today, Mr Fillon and I devoted much attention to this issue.

I would like to thank Mr Prime Minister once again for today's meaningful meeting. We are going to continue conducting close and constructive working dialogue.

I would like to add that, as Mr Prime Minister said, we shall soon meet again, next time in Moscow, at a meeting of the Russian-French commission on bilateral cooperation at the prime minister level.

To conclude, I would like to say a few words informally about one event. On May 20, the Russian President signed a decree on awarding former French President Jacque Chirac with Russia's state prize for outstanding contribution to cultural achievements and development of bilateral relations. I sincerely congratulate Mr Chirac on this occasion and hope to see him both here in Paris and during his trip to Moscow.

Thank you for your attention.

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Vladimir Putin's answers to questions by journalists:

Question: Mr Putin, you often speak about high technologies and innovative production. Are they part of trade and economic relations with France?

Putin: First of all, I would like to say that the Russian economy is rather liberal and absolutely open to investment from Europe and the rest of the West. As for energy, I told my French counterpart today, and, as many Russian journalists know, that during the reforming of the RAO UES of Russia we will allow European businessmen to buy a controlling interest in what are major generating companies by the European standards. They can become majority shareholders in Russia's largest electricity-generating companies. We are doing this freely, without concerns, relying on a high level of cooperation with European countries.

Practically all major European energy companies are taking part in the production of hydrocarbons in Russia and they are involved in sizable projects. Total, for one, is taking part in the development of the Stockman and Kharyaginskoye deposits. Gas de France has long cooperated with Gazprom both in sales and other areas. They have very good prospects for liquefied gas.

As for high technologies, I must say that we generally do not have enough high technologies or high-tech products in our trade mix. Our economic relations need further development. Today, we primarily deal in mineral resources, metallurgy, and chemistry.

However, the future rests with high technologies, and we have achieved much in this sphere. Mr Prime Minister has already mentioned this. These are space, aviation, and auto manufacturing. This includes infrastructure in a broad sense, which may and should be regarded as a high-tech project in some respects. All this requires our special attention, and we did have a detailed discussion on these questions.

Question: Here we have the French television programme France-24. In the past, you were criticised for your policy on human rights. I mean both by the former and even by the current French presidents, but there has been a change. You are being welcomed in a very friendly manner, and have received the red carpet treatment. Now you will have dinner with the French President. What stands behind such an abrupt change in policy?

Putin: First of all, domestic political issues are the prerogative of the |President. With us, the Government is in charge of primarily economic issues. French-Russian economic cooperation is important for both of our countries. That is one thing. The other is, I believe that fears about the absence of human rights in Russia are strongly exaggerated. I believe such opinions serve to exert pressure on Russia in achieving the goals that have no relation to human rights.

As you know, every country has problems with human rights. What happens in French prisons for example? Is everything as it should be? Let us consider these issues. I am sure there are many problems. We have problems, you have problems. We are working on these issues. We are attentively listening to constructive criticism and try to react to it. We are developing our country, our democracy, and our civil society; we are supporting the press. We devote much attention to party development. In the last few years, we have worked out a package of measures for delegating many federal rights to the municipal level; we have adopted relevant laws, and earmarked funds for this purpose. These examples indicate that Russia is actively developing not only a strong economy but also a democratic society.

Question: Vesti-24: I would like to hear more about the imbalance of Russian-French trade and economic relations, though you have touched on this subject.

Putin: What imbalance do you refer to? Could you be more specific, please?

Vesti-24: I mean the imbalance in trade and economic relations. French companies are well represented in Russia. French companies are developing and growing in Russia whereas there are minimal Russian companies in the French market. To be honest, we are not allowed there.

Putin: I think our European partners need more time to get used to cooperating with Russian companies, to be able to appreciate their contribution to the joint development. Today's examples of Russian investment in France and vice versa are practically all positive. There will be more positive examples of this kind. Mr Prime Minister and I will be jointly working to gradually make course corrections and use the natural advantages of our economies for mutual development. Many thanks.

Replying to a question by French journalists about NATO's expansion and oil prices, Putin said:

As for NATO's expansion, Mr Prime Minister and I did not discuss this subject.

As for energy prices, oil prices, how can I respond? It is not Russia that determines these prices. They are determined by the market, and the market is influenced by a host of international political and economic factors. The dollar's status affects oil prices, as do conflicts in oil-producing regions, natural disasters or environmental issues. All these factors are at work. If Russia alone set the prices, we would come to terms with you, but this is not the case.