TRANSCRIPT: [Putin] Joint news conference with President of Finland Sauli Niinisto (Q&A excerpt)

European Portion of Commonwealth of Independent States

(Kremlin.ru – July 27, 2017)

Vladimir Putin and Sauli Niinisto gave a joint news conference following bilateral talks.

Question from Yle (retranslated): My question concerns the military exercises conducted jointly by China and Russia in the Baltic Sea. I would like to ask President Putin: What message are China and Russia sending to others, what message do they want to send to other countries located in the Baltic Sea region?

My second question is for President Niinisto: What does Finland think about this? What thoughts come to mind?

Vladimir Putin: With regard to Russia-China interaction, it is a full-scale and very broad strategic partnership that includes economy, politics, military-technical cooperation, and purely military affairs. We have been regularly conducting military exercises for many years now, and participating in what is called war games and contests for many years now. To reiterate, we do so both on land and at sea.

The cooperation of Russia and the People’s Republic of China in its entirety, including the military component, is a critical element of international security and stability. It is not directed against any third country. We are not creating military blocs or military alliances. In this case, our militaries are simply honing their skills, interacting, and this again sets a good example for cooperation in any region of the world, including the Baltics. We respect the neutral status of certain states of the Baltic region. However, we are ready for any form of interaction with the neutral states as well.

We decided to revive the Main Naval Parade, which will be held in St Petersburg soon. Make no mistake, it is not about brandishing arms, but reviving traditions that are more than 100 years old. In fact, such a parade was held earlier, perhaps on a slightly smaller scale, on Russian Navy Day. We invite everyone to come to St Petersburg and enjoy the show. We are ready to invite our partners and countries of the region to participate in this event, and are ready to make it happen as a collaborative effort. Thank you.

Sauli Niinisto: As far as I understand, and as President Putin mentioned, indeed, this is not the first time such exercises are conducted jointly by Chinese and Russian naval forces, or joint military exercises in general. The Chinese Navy was also in the Mediterranean, and now they are here in the Baltic Sea. Also, as far as I understand, in order to maintain combat readiness and military skills, it is important to conduct exercises in various conditions. Conducting these exercises here in the Baltic Sea does not imply that they are intended precisely for these conditions, it is just that it is important to conduct such exercises in variety of conditions.

Importantly, Finland also conducts such exercises, and takes part in the exercises that take place here in the Baltic region. We will be taking part in major exercises named Aurora off the coast of Sweden. Of course, the Swedish forces will be the main participant, but other states, including the United States, will also take part. The purpose of the Aurora exercises is also not about brandishing arms or forming any blocs against someone, either. But as long as we live in a world with armies and military forces, we must bear in mind that such exercises will be conducted no matter what.

Pavel Minakov, Interfax: A question for both presidents.

At present we are noticing modest but positive dynamics in the development of bilateral trade, as noted at the news conference. At the same time it is difficult not to see that new and quite serious political risks are being added to the continuing economic risks. This, in turn, is exerting pressure on economic factors. Do you have apprehensions that the modest positive dynamics are threatened by the current situation in the world?

Vladimir Putin: We live in a complicated, contradictory and very fragile world. The task of the people who do the work we were called upon to do is to avoid these risks, curb and minimise them, and to work on areas and ways of cooperation that would lead us to development, to the consolidation of international relations, the economy and improved living standards for our citizens. This is what our meeting today was about. As for the future, we will have to wait and see. We will respond to emerging problems.

Sauli Niinisto: Yes, indeed, it is just as you said. There are risks and threatening factors in this world, for instance climate change. We discussed this issue when we reviewed our agenda in the context of our chairmanship of the Arctic Council. In addition, we have rampant migration and these flows are probably partially determined by the first factor mentioned – climate change – and may grow in the future as a result. And, thirdly, there are wars – armed clashes and conflicts that are heating up in many places in this world.

We need an open spirit of global cooperation on all of these issues. I believe in dialogue, and I believe it is possible to find solutions via dialogue.

Matthew Chance, CNN: First, I have a question for President Putin. President Putin, with these US congressional investigations – and they are thoroughly underway – into allegations of Russian meddling in the US election, and with the possibility of US sanctions being tightened shortly, do you sometimes sit in your office in the Kremlin thinking about how badly US-Russian relations are going and regretting the day that Donald Trump was elected?

Vladimir Putin: First, as for the election of the President of the United States, this is not our business, and it is not up to us to assess Mr Trump’s performance in his very high office. This is up to the American people. And the second point.

Remark by CNN: We also have a question to the Finnish President.

Vladimir Putin: Wait a second, I have something else to say.

Remark by CNN: Sorry.

Vladimir Putin: I was just waiting for the English translation.

As regards the investigations you have mentioned, I do not think it is an investigation, because an investigation would imply considering all the circumstances, examining the causes and hearing from different parties. What we are seeing is merely growing anti-Russian hysteria. Most likely, Russophobic tools are being used for domestic political purposes, in this case the fight between President Trump and his political opponents in the United States.

It is a great pity that Russian-US relations are sacrificed in the course of resolving internal US political issues.

Answering your question on whether I regret the worsening of Russian-US relations, I can answer directly: of course we regret this. It is a shame, because if we worked together, we could resolve the pressing issues that concern both Russia and the United States much more efficiently. I am speaking of solving acute international crises, tackling terrorism, nature conservation, resolving environmental problems, handling illegal migration, fighting organised crime and so on, and contributing to economic development ultimately. But we know we have many friends in the United States, and there are many sober-minded people. I hope that someday the current state of affairs will come to an end and we will move on to a qualitatively different kind of relationship, which we will strengthen and boost in the interests of the people of the United States and the Russian Federation.

Question, CNN: Yes, we also have a question for the Finnish President. It seems that Finland has to balance between Russia and its US allies, but now a certain split is emerging in the United States. Do you think anti-Russian sanctions should be toughened or do you share the opinion of President Trump and his desire to improve relations with Russia?

Sauli Niinisto: (In English.) As for balance, I just want to remind you that at this event, an American TV company asked double the questions as others.

(Retranslated.) Yes, Finland is building relations with neighbouring countries. We have good, balanced relations with Russia. Finland is also building relations with other countries, the EU, and the United States. This is not about Finland balancing between these powers; this is about a process, an approach that should be used in other parts of the world as well. The point is that we are trying to understand each other.

As regards maintaining relations with Russia, I would like to cite the discussions that took place at the NATO summit in Warsaw last summer. Its participants spoke of the necessity and urgency of dialogue, and as far as I can tell, Chancellor Angela Merkel and President Emmanuel Macron are making such efforts as well, and I think this is very good.

Pavel Zarubin, Rossiya TV channel: Good afternoon, my name is Pavel Zarubin, Rossiya TV channel. I have a question for both leaders. I would like to continue with the high-profile issue of the new US bill on toughening anti-Russian sanctions. Naturally, this issue is high-profile also because in the last few days and weeks we have been hearing very tough criticism of this bill from many key European politicians and European agencies.

After all, what is happening is that the United States wants to apply its laws to the territories of other countries, EU countries, and to make its bill transnational. Have you discussed this issue? What is your attitude to it? After all, as far as I understand, the independence and economic security interests of other countries are at stake.

And I have a question for the President of Russia. If this bill is adopted, what will be Russia’s response? What will it be like? Are any Russian-US contacts possible on this matter? For instance, a telephone conversation with the US President. Thank you.

Vladimir Putin: As for the transnational character of US legislation, I have been talking about this for a long time, since 2007 (I think I spoke in Munich about this). It is exactly as I said. This practice is unacceptable – it is destroying international relations and international law. We have never accepted it and will not accept it. As for the reaction of other states of the world, it depends on the extent of their sovereignty and readiness to defend their own national interests.

If the same happens in this case, it will cause particular regret because these actions will have aggravating factors. I would call them particularly cynical because they amount to an obvious attempt to use one’s geopolitical advantages in the competitive struggle in order to protect one’s economic interests at the expense of one’s allies, as in this case.

We have not seen the final version yet and we do not have a final opinion on this matter. But we see that for a long period of time, there have been ongoing attempts to provoke us – many Russian diplomats were expelled with no explanation of the reason and diplomatic property was seized, which is beyond comprehension as it violates fundamental norms of international law regarding diplomatic relations. The sanctions are absolutely illegal from the perspective of international law and they violate the principles of international trade and World Trade Organisation rules. As you know, we are being very restrained and patient, but at some point we will have to respond. We cannot tolerate this loutish behaviour towards our country forever. But how we respond will depend on the final version of the bill that is being debated in the US Senate.

In any case, we believe that whatever happens in the immediate future, in the long term we will certainly reach some strategic level of cooperation and agreement. I hope that ultimately this is what will happen.

Sauli Niinisto (retranslated): I do not quite agree with you with respect to imposing sanctions and observing laws. Probably, the rationale behind this is that there are certain assertions and concerns regarding the process of the US election.

And, as you have rightly pointed out, a very heated debate on this matter has begun in the EU. For instance, the President of the European Commission, Mr Juncker, mentioned this and posed this question. This issue is difficult and sensitive for the EU, and it is necessary to start the discussions between the EU and the United States as the proposed sanctions will have a direct impact not just on Russia but on other countries as well. This is why the EU is intensifying efforts on this matter. I support Mr Putin in saying that we should try to better understand each other in the world, and I believe this would be in everyone’s interests.

Thank you.