Vladimir Putin and Francois Fillon addressed reporters on the results of the 13th head-of-government meeting of the Russian-French Commission for Cooperation
20 september 2008
Vladimir Putin: Good afternoon.
We have just concluded the 13th meeting of the Russian-French cooperation commission.
The discussion, held as part of the current forum, was down-to-earth and practical. It demonstrated the partners' readiness to take each other's interests and arguments into account. Such an approach is a positive way to pursue Russian-French dialogue and to develop our strategic partnership.
Availing myself of this opportunity, I would like to stress that Russia prizes the intermediary efforts undertaken by our French partners and personally by President Nicolas Sarkozy of France in overcoming the crisis in the Caucasus. France, which holds the rotating presidency in the European Union, has proven in practice that it can play an independent and noticeable role in crisis settlement.
During my meeting with Mr Fillon in May of this year in Paris, we arranged to focus attention on key aspects of our cooperation, on questions calling for solutions at the head-of-government level.
We believe that the important approach now is to support the positive trends in the most advanced high-technology fields of cooperation. This will enable us to diversify our business ties and improve the competitive edge of the two countries in global markets.
One of such breakthrough areas is aerospace. At Kourou, French Guiana, the Soyuz-ST project is well underway. The launch is scheduled for September 2009. Firm ties are being established between Russia's United Aircraft Building Corporation and EADS. We expect to speak of full production cooperation in the future. A large number of specialists from France are already working in aerospace in Russia, and hundreds of Russian specialists currently work on French soil.
One of the power houses of our economic cooperation is energy. Our French colleagues have confirmed Total's interest in all phases of development of the Shtokman deposit. We see in this evidence of major French companies associating its long-term and strategic plans with Russia.
Our countries share similar strategies and approaches to nuclear power. I would like to single out just one large project proposed by Russia's Atomenergomash and France's Alstom: the development of steam turbines for nuclear power plants.
Another positive relationship concerns the expanding cooperation between major Russian and French power-generating companies - INTER RAO EES and Electricite de France.
Good prospects, in our view, exist for Russian-French projects in transport infrastructure. The companies Vinci and Bouygues are taking an active part in the construction of highways in Russia. RZD is promoting cooperative relations with Alstom and Geismar. Products are supplied on a large scale, and major agreements are in the offing.
We also discussed Russian-French cooperation in car manufacture. The French delegation confirmed that Renault and Peugeot-Citroen have big plans in Russia. We welcome French capital to this promising branch of the Russian economy.
One of the central themes discussed at the meeting was cooperation in agriculture. Everybody knows the high potential of the French agro-industrial sector. We, for our part, are running a large-scale programme for the development of the Russian countryside. This creates a good basis for joint projects. The ministers of agriculture presented the volume of this cooperation, which is fairly large.
We agreed to give an additional boost to cooperation in scientific research, and to initiatives in education.
Today's meeting has shown once again that Russia and France have many long- range, cooperative plans, including plans in culture, the arts, and humanitarian cooperation.
Mr Fillon and I discussed at length preparations for and the presentation of the Year of Russia in France and the Year of France in Russia. We expressed confidence that this meaningful project will enrich our dialogue and strengthen direct personal contacts between the citizens of the two countries.
Lastly, I would like to tell you that at the end of the meeting we signed a series of documents strengthening the legal basis of our relations. Among them is an agreement on youth exchanges and joint implementation of the Kyoto Protocol, plus a statement on a partnership in education, research, and innovation. We also concluded an agreement on legal aid between the Prosecutor-General's Office of Russia and the Ministry of Justice of France.
I would like once again to thank our partners for their constructive and productive efforts. I think we have every reason to believe that the tasks set before today's meeting have been fulfilled and another important step has been taken towards strengthening the multi-faceted partnership between Russia and France.
Thank you. I likewise want to thank Mr Prime Minister for his very constructive work today.
Thank you all.
Fracois Fillon (as translated): Thank you, Mr Prime Minister.
I would like to thank you for the reception in Sochi. We took up where we left off in November of last year in Paris and during your visit to Paris on May 29 of this year. The meeting was organised perfectly, as was a session of the Russian-French council on economic, financial, industrial and commercial matters, led by Christine Laguarde and Sergei Sobyanin. It took place in July in St Petersburg.
Our ties are close and go back a long way. It is this closeness that allows us to face international challenges with mutual trust and respect. Our meeting was also able to consider a special interest, that of the Georgian crisis, which we discussed frankly.
I must say that this fact is characteristic of our relations, which are relations of friendship. We can discuss questions on which we do not share a common opinion. The Russian prime minister knows the French position - France disagrees with the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. But France has taken into account the withdrawal of Russian troops from five checkpoints on the Poti-Senaki line in accordance with the agreement adopted in September. These are positive signs.
The European Union has decided to send more than 200 monitors to the conflict zone before October 1. France will contribute a group of more than 40. We are prepared to move fast towards a political decision at international negotiations to be held in October in Geneva. I am sure Russia will make these preparations easier. France will also seek to make them possible.
France and Russia are great nations and members of the Security Council. Usually such powers have more duties than rights. Our countries are mutually dependent, the challenges we face are the same: international financial crises, terrorism, nuclear proliferation, and global warming. There is no alternative to a cooperation based on dialogue and respect for law.
Such a dialogue can be beneficial in many areas: aviation, aerospace, transport, farming, climate warming. We cannot succeed by acting separately and, conversely, can make healthy progress by moving together.
Many say Europe depends on Russia for energy, but Russia, too, depends on Europe, because we live in an era of globalisation. France has close economic and cultural ties with Russia. The more we develop them, the better will be the welfare of our countries and the prospects for stability and peace.
Now back to the final documents. There are two key agreements: one is on the joint implementation of the Kyoto Protocol at a time when France is urging the European Union to adopt an important agreement on climate warming and energy efficiency before the Copenhagen conference meets. No state can cope with global warming single-handedly. All must join forces to promote common values: peace and security.
The second document concerns French-Russian space cooperation, which is proceeding nicely. Russian teams have been at work in Kourou since the summer. The first launch is scheduled for 2009.
I must say I attended the birth of the aerospace cooperation with Russia. And I cannot help mentioning the importance of resisting conservative trends. When we took up the issue in 1994, the whole of France was up in arms: why, they said, should we give our rivals a helping hand with launch vehicles? Russians, too, made waves: why, they asked, should we help France with our up-to-date technology?
But we combined our technological and commercial possibilities. The Russian experience has proved to be an excellent cooperation. It may prompt France to lead in commercial launches and energy. This is a sector where our business is increasingly active. This fact was duly appreciated at the meeting.
Last but not least, about our efforts to understand each other better and support exchanges between our countries. Mr Putin and I discussed the subject yesterday. It is not helpful when our populations have little in common and our countries do not know much about each other. A way to improve this is to increase person-to-person exchanges, especially youth exchanges. Cooperation in education and science is also important. These are priorities in our cooperation, particularly in the reciprocal events - the Year of France and the Year of Russia - in 2010. They will go a long way towards bringing our countries closer together.
The moderator: Russian and French journalists are allowed two questions each. Please introduce yourselves.
Question: Manial Dani from France Inter. A question to Mr Fillon. Do you think the financial crisis is over and that its effects will be insignificant for the French economy and budget?
Francois Fillon: Well, to begin with, I would not say the crisis is over. It began a year ago and had a tremendous impact throughout the world, the European Union and France included. Our main concern - Mr Putin and I discussed it yesterday - is to draw all lessons from this crisis. It is necessary to create mechanisms to avoid such situations in the future. For it is not normal for such upheavals to take place in the international financial system, while there are control mechanisms. These mechanisms must be reinforced and made more transparent to promote cooperation between financial authorities in different countries. This is what we are going to pursue in the next few weeks.
The financial institutions of France and Europe as a whole have come through the crisis fairly well, compared with some others. French banks are mainly universal banks, which, according to the old tradition, have many irons in the fire. Some thought it was an outdated model, but it enabled many to survive the disaster that hit the financial system in the United States and elsewhere. In the next few days, we are going to move forward with international initiatives to deal with the financial crisis.
Question: I have a question for the prime ministers of France and Russia. The commission that has met just now considered concrete plans for Russian-French cooperation. Did the August events in the South Caucasus affect their realisation and the constructive aspect of Russian-French relations in general?
Vladimir Putin: The events in the Caucasus have had no effect on cooperation between France and Russia.
What could have affected this cooperation is the international financial crisis your French colleague asked about. But thank God, I do not feel it is having any negative effects on it.
As I said in my opening remarks, projects are many. And all of them are proceeding. None has been put on hold or fallen off schedule. On the contrary, everything goes as planned. What's more, today we agreed to expand our cooperation practically all along these lines.
Regarding the global financial crisis, we should pause and think up ways to change the architecture of international finance and to diversify risks. The world economy cannot be supplied "from one currency-printing press." This is a serious matter, and must be considered in the normal course of work with our European and American counterparts and with due attention, calmly and without haste; considered with a friendly eye, not to generate confrontation, but to mount a search for more acceptable ways of developing the world economy and world finance.
Question: Thank you, Mr Putin and Mr Fillon. You mentioned the fulfilment of the August 27 and September 12 agreement. Isn't the sending of Russian troops to Abkhazia and South Ossetia a violation of the agreement? And what do you think of an invitation to Abkhazia? I think progress should be step-by-step.
Francois Fillon: The initial stage is, first, to vacate checkpoints and, second, to deploy the European mission I spoke about. The last date when it could be deployed is October 1. As soon as observers are in place, as provided for by the agreement, Russian troops will pull back from the engagement zones in Abkhazia and South Ossetia. This is what is said in the negotiated agreement to which Russia gave its consent.
Now about Abkhazia and South Ossetia. I would say this is a divisive issue. We are not holding anything back. France has condemned the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. We respect borders. And we think such issues should be considered at international conferences able to make a political decision.
Vladimir Putin: We, I believe, are fulfilling all understandings reached by the presidents of France and Russia, Mr Sarkozy and Mr Medvedev. Our original plan was to withdraw our armed forces and leave only peacekeepers in the security zone. And in the first phase, we did as we promised. Regarding the security zone itself, it is Georgian territory. As you know, the size of Russia's territory makes it the largest country in the world. Even following the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia is still the largest country in the world in terms of area. We do not need others' land. We have our own to develop. It is only a matter of security in the region.
In a dialogue with Mr Sarkozy of France, which holds the rotating presidency in the EU, we agreed that Russian peacekeepers will pull out of that zone as well, meaning that the Europeans, the UN, and the OSCE would be responsible for security in the regions adjoining South Ossetia and Abkhazia. And we will do that as soon as European units show up on that territory.
The possible withdrawal of Russian armed forces from Abkhazia and South Ossetia is a separate subject. As you know, we have recognised the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia in the same way that many European countries have recognised Kosovo's independence. We found it absolutely impossible to violate existing international legal precedent. It is not us who have opened Pandora's Box.
The issue of Russian armed forces on that territory will be decided under international law and on the basis of treaties between Russia and these states.
The moderator: Please, your concluding question, Reuters.
Question: Good afternoon. In view of France's current EU chairmanship, a question to the two prime ministers: what do you think of Russia's and the EU's development prospects now that talks on a major dialogue have been postponed? And in the same context a question to Mr Fillon: when do you think talks on a grand agreement can resume? Thank you.
Francois Fillon: The European Union's position is clear: talks will resume as soon as the agreements are fulfilled. We hope the discussion will reopen in October, because we sincerely wish for that strategic partnership. We believe it is the best chance for peace and prosperity in Russia and Europe. Out of respect for the understandings reached, Mr Putin just mentioned that these agreements will be honoured. There are, therefore, no grounds for not resuming negotiations early next month.
Vladimir Putin: We believe our European partners, as well as Russia, are interested in the conclusion of this agreement. Both sides are showing interest, and we are ready to continue the effort, which was not stopped by us. Our response has been calm and understanding. Yes, the understandings reached during the French president's visit to Russia must be fulfilled. I wish to repeat it once again: we are prepared to carry out these understandings.
At the same time, I wish to remind you that Russia has accepted a proposal by the French president that the zone be monitored by OSCE and UN observers and, perhaps, by police units from the European Union. We agreed that these structures will ensure security in the zone adjoining the borders of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. As soon as they arrive, we will fulfill our obligations. The fulfillment of the obligations rests with both sides.