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TRANSCRIPT: Tony Blair And Vladimir Putin To Press

Press conference by the Prime Minister and the President-elect of Russia [17 April 2000]

Press Release
Prime Minister Tony Blair
10 Downing Street
UK

TRANSCRIPT OF PRESS CONFERENCE GIVEN BY THE PRIME MINISTER, MR TONY BLAIR, AND THE RUSSIAN PRESIDENT, MR VLADIMIR PUTIN IN LONDON ON MONDAY, 17 APRIL 2000

PRIME MINISTER: Good Afternoon everyone and welcome to this press conference, at the end of what has been a very good series of talks with President Putin, who I am delighted to welcome here to London. I had both a very successful, and enjoyable, and constructive visit to St Petersburg sometime ago and I am very pleased to welcome President Putin back here to London today.

I believe that Vladimir Putin is a leader who is ready to embrace a new relationship with the European Union and with the United States, who wants a strong and modern Russia and a strong relationship with the west and I believe that his election is important not just for this country, for Britain, but for the European Union and indeed for the whole of the western world.

We have had discussions over a whole range of issues - the economy, the upcoming G8 Summit at Okinawa, we have discussed policy obviously in relation to Chechnya, in respect of the Balkans, Kosovo, Iran, Iraq and other countries where we share interests. I want to see Russia engaged economically and I want Russia and the west to work together to promote stability and peace. If we compete against each other then problems can be contained, but not resolved. If we work with Russia as full partners then we open up the prospect of solving some of the world's problems.

As I say, we began by discussing the Russian global economy and the plans for the Okinawa Summit and the President set out his reform plans, both for promoting enterprise and social solidarity in Russia. There is no doubt at all that he talks our language on reform and I believe from the comments of British business leaders who were with Vladimir Putin this morning that they recognise his commitment to economic reform in Russia.

We of course discussed in detail the many foreign policy issues. I raised our concerns about the situation in Chechnya and urged, as we always do, a proportionate response, political dialogue and full access for observers and investigators, and I welcome very much the President's commitment in his statement last week that all reports of violations of human rights would be investigated. Some say that because of our concerns about Chechnya we should keep some distance from Moscow. I have to say to you that while I share those concerns, I believe that the best way to register those concerns and to get results is by engaging with Russia, not isolating Russia.

We also had a good discussion on questions of international security and I congratulated Vladimir on the Russian Duma's ratification of the START 2 Treaty and his key role in securing that. We had a very useful discussion about closer cooperation in the fight against organised crime and drugs. I briefed him about our own issues here in respect of drugs and organised crime and the drugs coordinator from this country, Keith Hellawell, will visit Moscow in July to take this forward.

We also discussed the issues of mutual interest in different parts of the world, and again I emphasise that a closer relationship with Russia is in Britain's fundamental national interest. I think it is essential that we build a bridge of understanding between Russia and the western countries, including Britain and our allies in Europe and the United States of America, and Russia as a full and equal partner in the world helping resolve the problems of the world is in the interests of us all. And if we as Britain can play any part in that as a member of the European Union, as a close ally of the United States, we would wish to do so.

Finally, and I think as a mark of the strength of the relationship between Britain and Russia today, we have agreed to intensify our bilateral links and in particular to make sure that we hold at least one meeting annually together on a bilateral basis, in London or Moscow.

So once again can I welcome Vladimir Putin here, can I say how immensely helpful, informative and constructive I have found our talks today and I look forward very much to co-operating with him and to cooperation between Britain and Russia on the international stage in the future.

PRESIDENT PUTIN

Thank you very much Prime Minister. First of all, in the name of the political leadership of Russia I should like to thank Prime Minister Tony Blair for the invitation to come to Great Britain and for the possibility of holding these consultations with all the representatives of British business. That is what we began with this morning.

I share the views of the Prime Minister of Great Britain. I would even add to that, that today we turned yet another page in the relations between Great Britain and Russia and we have established our policies in our bilateral relations. We will now be able to forecast more accurately and make these policies more effective. Of course yes one could follow the logic of isolationism, but I am absolutely convinced that such a logic is absolutely inapplicable to the relations not only between Great Britain and Russia but with Europe. The best example of this is what we have seen lately in Russia. I don't want to exaggerate anything, but I do want to assure you that the very fact of the arrival of the leader of Russia here in Great Britain in a situation that is far from easy, both in what happens in northern Caucasus, and despite what has happened in north Caucasus one would like Russian opinion to have greater trust in west European opinion, and this was certainly proved when the Duma voted for the ratification of START 2. The arrival in Russia not so long ago and the expression of opinion on what is happening in north Caucasus where yes we certainly had very different positions, and we continue to have them, Russian public opinion and the Russian Federation holds a different view of this. But we have had some very useful talks on this and the Prime Minister of Great Britain certainly has contributed to a resolution of certain problems and today as far as I understand in Russia we now have a non-governmental commission on human rights in the Chechen Republic. This commission has now been formed. That is what Tony Blair called for when he came to Russia. I have to say that this commission, as far as I know at this present moment, consists of well known and much respected politicians of the Russian Federation and this Commission will have every support from the Russian Federation and there will be every contact with both the judiciary system and with the Army authorities and with the government.

Now as regards today's talks, we touched on a whole number of problems in the area of economic cooperation. On my side we have informed the Prime Minister of those economic processes which are happening in Russia at the moment and those problems which we see as being necessary, which must be solved, certainly the dismantling of an excessive bureaucracy in Russian government. We discussed international security and in connection with this I consider that it was very important for us to inform one of the western leaders of the position of Russia, connected on the one hand with the ratification of START 2, and on the other hand how we consider the US national missile defence system and of those armed elements which have been deployed in various parts of western Europe. This formed a very important part of our discussions and a very useful part.

In addition to that we discussed bilateral relations in a whole number of areas, very varied ones, a struggle against organised crime, the spread of drugs, drugs traffic, and we consider consultations to be absolutely necessary in a whole number of areas and there certainly I welcome the possibility of yearly meetings, whether in Russia or Great Britain.

All of this and the very character of the openness of that cooperation and the way in which we discussed all those questions enables us to believe and to be certain that the relations between Great Britain and Russia will help Russia on the one hand and our partners in the west, and the very global concept of that word will enable us not only to have exchanges in which there is mutual confidence and trust and which will enable us to avoid those threats which could threaten humanity in the future.

QUESTION: My question is to both leaders. How do you see the investment climate in Russia and particularly in the context of today's discussions with the captains of British industry and with Ministers and also in the light of the parliamentary Presidential elections in Russia?

PRIME MINISTER: I think you have already seen the comments that have been made by representatives of British industry this morning after their conversation and dialogue with President Putin, and those comments were immensely positive. There is no doubt at all that there exists huge potential for greater investment and trade between Britain and Russia based on the very clear direction of economic reform that has been set out by the President. And I think that there is a great willingness on the part of the British industry, but also the western world, to engage with Russia as partners in how we facilitate that trade and investment relationship and make it grow. And I personally, on the basis of the discussions I have had with Vladimir Putin today, I would be optimistic about the future there, not just in terms of the direction of the Russian economy but also in terms of the possibilities of trade and investment between our two countries and between Russia more generally in the western world.

PRESIDENT PUTIN

One of the main problems with which we have met with the investment climate, one of the main problems that has prevented a good investment climate is the instability of the political situation. But after the Presidential and the Duma elections, that very very important concern of our partners now ought to become secondary, less important. We have a great deal to do still in order to create acceptable and favourable conditions for the development of a good business activity in Russia. That of course is first of all connected with the dismantling of an excessive bureaucracy and also the development of an absolutely clear policy in the defence of property owners. Also it means a struggle against corruption, the removal of corruption, and the creation of a more effective legal system, that is connected with our efforts which are directed against the reform of the banking and financial sector and with the removal of those negative results which we have so far seen in the tax system and of tax and customs systems. All of these problems have been discussed, as has already been said, with the representatives of British business. We listened to them, we listened to their objections, to their questions. There were a number of key members of the Russian Cabinet who were present at those discussions and the signals which we saw were coming from the leading captains of British industry, we not only listened and heard but we will take them into account in our work and in the creation of a favourable climate in the future. There is a great deal to be done of course, but it is certainly our aim to create this favourable and much wider cooperation and a more positive cooperation with our western partners and of course with the representatives of business in Great Britain.

ROBERT MOORE, ITN

You will know that there are many observers in Britain and in the western world who know about your long career in the discredited KGB and who worry about your conduct of the war in Chechnya. How are you going to show that those fears are misplaced and assure people that the hard won freedoms in Russia are now secure in the long term?

PRESIDENT PUTIN

I am very grateful for that question. I want people in the west to know that what the Russian armed forces are doing in Chechnya has nothing to do with the restoration of a civilised society and should not arouse anxiety in the west and should not arouse any anxiety over the democratic gains which have been made in Russia. The actions of Russia in the Chechen Republic is the return of civilisation to that place. We do not at the moment have any problems with the independence of Chechnya. In the northern Caucuses we have a completely different set of problems, completely different problems. Unfortunately our voice somehow doesn't reach western public opinion and I want to use this opportunity to express our position.

The problem consists that those people who last summer, in an unprovoked way, attacked Turkestan, and I want to underline, this is a Muslim Republic who invaded the territory of Turkestan, and they came not proclaiming the independence of Chechnya but they came with terrorist slogans, they wanted simply extra territory. We have every reason to suppose that these actions, these aggressive actions against Russia, are nothing other than the use of the territory of Chechnya with the purpose of an aggressive aim and the use of Chechen territory as simply a territory from which attacks can be launched. And they still certainly occupy parts of Chechnya and they have not given up those aims. And for Russia it is completely untenable that there should be a situation in which one of its republics is used as a launching pad for undermining Russian statehood and Russian sovereignty. This does not mean that we are prepared to solve this problem by any means, we certainly will observe all the rights of man in that territory, we will investigate all the crimes which may have been committed, whoever they are committed by, and today in the territory of the Chechen Republic there are over 100 army investigators and various other legal authorities. And as you heard today there is now an independent commission. We are interested in cooperation with international bodies in this area because we do not consider our aim to be the enslavement of the Chechens but the liberation of Chechnya from international Islamic terrorists and which could spread to other countries on the continent. I have every reason to insist that this Islamic extremism which tries to hide behind Islamic slogans is a threat to the Caucuses, to the Middle East, and we have already seen manifestations of it in various European countries. And when we hear that certain European leaders cannot support the Russian Federation because they are afraid of the reaction amongst the Muslim inhabitants of Europe, that is the wrong conclusion that they draw, that should not be their reaction. Russia and in fact western Europe could pay very heavily for this. The actions of Russia are a struggle against extremism and I want to underline yet again that the actions of Russia are not against Muslims, against Chechens, they are directed entirely against international extremism and terrorism and which have a global character. And Russia here is alone in its fight against those phenomena, that is wrong because that is a common enemy.

REUTERS

Can you conceive of any circumstances in which you would consent to the modification of the 1972 ABM Treaty? And did you discuss with Prime Minister Blair Britain's role in America's plans to establish a nuclear defence shield against rogue nations?

PRESIDENT PUTIN

In our law on the ratification of START 2 it is said absolutely clearly that the ratification of START 2 is connected with the non-acceptability of deployment of those elements. Should this deployment take place on European territory, Russia will consider itself not bound by the provisions of START 2. I have already talked about this because the deployment of a national missile defence system, and with its certain elements which would be deployed in Europe, that of course would naturally attract a reaction from Russia and today a readiness to discuss this matter I have seen from the British Prime Minister and this certainly we take very much into consideration. As regards the principle of our attitude to this whole problem, I have already said that we see a very direct connection between the two from a legal point of view, but there were two concepts which we shared with him, the strategic anti-missile defence and non-strategic.

QUESTION: I have a question for both the Prime Minister and the President. I would like to return to the question of the independent commission which was created today. This is a new organisation, what will be the part it will play in helping to resolve the situation which has been created? And what does Prime Minister Blair consider to be the role of this newly formed commission?

PRESIDENT PUTIN

As regards the creation of this commission, it is very difficult for me so far to say anything because I learnt about the creation of this commission while I was here in London, I only learnt about it through the press. Certainly very respectable politicians, a former Minister of Justice who is today a Duma Deputy, Mr Karshininikov, who was a candidate for the Presidency of Russia, and the Chief Editor of Izvestia, one of the best known Russian newspapers. What are the problems that they see which need to be discussed, and what control they will exercise over the observation of human rights in the Chechen Republic, I have already said we are ready to offer all the possibilities for the work of that commission and to place all facilities, but I will only be able to answer in more detail when I have had the chance to learn more in detail with the documents underlying the creation of this commission and also know what exactly are the specific aims that it sets itself. I have also mentioned this of course, naturally the coming of Prime Minister Blair to Russia certainly played a part in advancing the creation of this commission because that was a part of what we discussed in St Petersburg.

PRIME MINISTER: I think you will have all heard the passion with which President Putin has defended the position of Russia vis a vis Chechnya and I think it is important we recognise how deeply held that belief is. Our role in relation to this must be to get across three things: first, as we have constantly emphasised, that any response to the situation in Chechnya and to Russian concerns has to be proportionate, and we have many times expressed our concern on that score; but secondly that a political dialogue and political initiative is put in place as soon as possible and we had a good discussion on that earlier today; and the third thing is that we have called for a proper non-governmental commission to investigate these allegations of human rights abuses and I think it is important therefore to recognise and to welcome the step that has been taken in Moscow this morning. That commission, as the President has just indicated, is a non-governmental commission, it has independent people on it, and I think it is important that we see its work done in a serious and determined way. And I hope very much, although the differences between the west and Russia are very clear, I do believe that it is right that we have an understanding and a dialogue of the respective positions, that is the very best way to try and resolve this difficult issue and I am convinced that that is the case.

ADAM BOULTON, SKY NEWS

Mr Blair, I wonder what you think about the market correction now under way, particularly in the high tech sector in which you have invested so much hope? And Mr Putin, as an elected Head of State of a post-communist nation, how do you feel about taking tea with The Queen?

PRIME MINISTER: I can't give you any advice on how to answer the last part of that question, Vladimir, but in respect of the first part, well the market correction is taking place and I have no comment to make on that, except to say in relation to the so-called new economy and new technology stocks, what is important for people to understand constantly about the so-called new economy is that the impact of information technology, electronic commerce, the new technology that is sweeping right throughout the world at the moment, is that it affects not just the so-called new economy, it affects all parts of the economy. It isn't a new type of economic company, it is a different type of system that has implications of a fundamental nature for every company that does business. So I think there is often some very false distinctions between as it were the new economy in the sense of new technology stocks and the old economy in the sense let's say of manufacturing. We need a vital manufacturing part of British industry and so does every country, but whether you are in manufacturing or you are in the service sector, or you are in the so-called new technology industries themselves, this new technology matters. So I don't have any other comment to make on the stock market but in relation to the so-called new economy I think that is a very important point to make.

PRESIDENT PUTIN

Today of course we did discuss this with the Prime Minister, we did touch on this problem and discussed it and I asked him what he thought about this. Is this the beginning of the end or a rather sad interim happening? No, he said, this is a rather sad blip, one of those sadnesses that do happen in the market, but certainly not a global negative. We hope that there will not be any global negative effects. The effect on Russia is not very great, but I have to say that for us it is an extra signal, an additional signal that we really must diversify our possibilities and we really must dismantle our excessive bureaucracy so that we should achieve a much more balanced, that we should be able to function in all sectors effectively despite the negative changes which may happen in this or that market. We do not consider that this is a catastrophe, we consider that this is a problem which has to be resolved and will be regulated by the market itself in the near future. Certainly no external manifestations, no serious manifestations, no apocalyptic aspects, no we don't see anything apocalyptic about it, we don't think there is anything happening in the world economy that would cause excessive anxiety and sort of signal a possible future collapse. We think it is an episode, an incident which in our view well we will go on observing and we will certainly hope for a normalisation in that sector as well.

QUESTION: I would like to know what you think about Russia's concern about the American national defence, and what is your view of the possible deployment of elements of that system in Europe?

PRIME MINISTER: I think, as I said to President Putin during the course of our talks, our role in this is very much to try and build understanding of the respective points of view both of Russia and the west and Russia and the United States of America. The United States of America sees very clearly that there is a threat from potential rogue nuclear states. On the other hand, we are all deeply committed to maintaining the process of lowering the nuclear threshold and enhancing peace and stability in the world. Now we also understand the concerns that Russia has expressed. What is the best way to deal with this? Well not by me trying to negotiate it here at the rostrum at a press conference, but I think by trying patiently, and certainly so far as we are concerned patiently and in dialogue with friends and partners both in the west and Russia to try and make sure that we resolve this issue, because it has serious potential to cause difficulties in our relations. And I believe, as I say, that our role is to try and bring people together so that we can resolve this in a way that is sensible and compatible with the points of view that people hold. Now I think that is best done in a quiet and patient and diplomatic way.

TREVOR KAVANAGH, THE SUN

President Putin, the world has learned the hard way that money poured into Russia to help has found its way outside Russia into foreign secret bank vaults and I understand in fact that you are asking Britain to help in tracking down some of that fugitive money. Can you tell us what you are doing to make sure that the regime that you now head will ensure that the rule of law is observed by the gangster elements who run much of Russia's commerce?

PRESIDENT PUTIN

I wouldn't say that the gangsters are really at the head of a large part of the Russian economy, that is an exaggeration, a real exaggeration. It is a hyperbole, those who know literature will call it hyperbole, but to struggle against criminality in the economic field, of course we are going to do it, this will be one of the basic concerns and actions of the future Russian government. We have discussed with the Prime Minister the problem of the flight of capital. It doesn't necessarily have a criminal character, this may seem strange to you. Unfortunately the laws were formulated in such a way that there is no need to take money out in bags, the problem is both simpler and more complex, we must control these flights but we have got to do it in such a way that it will not hurt the Russian economy. We know there are rather terrible examples from the Latin American economies when certain groups have exploited certain parliamentary means and have stopped the export of any capital from such a country. In that sense yes one can take very, very harsh measures but in fact achieve the opposite. Nonetheless, we are determined to undertake certain steps that would enable us to control this particular sphere of our economic life. We hope to cooperate much more closely with the Central Bank of the Russian Federation. We will have a well directed policy of the reconstruction of the banking sector of Russia, and at the same time of course to strengthen control over any kind of criminal activity. But I also want to draw your attention to the fact that the main efforts will be directed not so much at the criminal sphere but at the economic sphere. It seems to me that that is much more effective. As regards the return of capital, the repatriation of capital, we are conducting talks with the relevant structures here in Great Britain, of our hosts in Great Britain, as well as with certain of our partners in other west European countries. And the main accent will be not on the criminal sphere but on creating those conditions which will enable it to repatriate all that capital, we will use the system of amnesties, perhaps you may not notice it yet, but it has already started. Unfortunately it has to be done so far through offshore companies but it is already not a bad sign that Russian capital is beginning to be repatriated into the Russian economy, in a somewhat perhaps unobvious way, but it is happening. And the financial conditions have become more predictable, more stable, better based and the investment climate in Russia is improving.

(END OF TRANSCRIPT)

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