TRANSCRIPT: [Putin] Replies to journalists’ questions

China Map

(Kremlin.ru – May 15, 2017)

Vladimir Putin answered media questions following a working visit to the People’s Republic of China.

President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Good afternoon.

Let me dispense with opening remarks and get straight on with answering any questions you may have. Please, go ahead.

Question: I have a question about the forum. This was a big event. Much has been written and said about it. There have been many comments, many nuances, and, as I understand it, a considerable amount remains unclear.

Considering these nuances, do you think this Chinese initiative is viable, can it be coupled with the Eurasian Economic Union project, and what will it mean for Russia and for all of us in practical terms?

Thank you.

Vladimir Putin: Let me start by saying that the meeting was very timely, for the following reasons. Of course, on the sidelines, as they say, my colleagues and I discussed and assessed what is happening here in Beijing. I would like to stress that nearly everyone said that at a time when we see growing uncertainty in major political and economic power centres (say, in the United States, where an intense internal political power struggle continues, creating a nervous atmosphere in both politics and the economy; in Europe, where everyone is waiting to see what happens with Brexit, the process and its results; and in the European Union itself, where individual countries have many issues to address), we are all obviously looking out for signals that give hope of greater stability.

In this sense, the Chinese initiative is very useful and timely. Furthermore – and this was not China’s initiative, but that of the participants in today’s meeting – we expressed the desire to make this a regular event. President of China Xi Jinping, who chaired the event, said that the next forum would take place in 2019.

As for just how effective this will be, time will tell, but everything we discussed today is, for all intents and purposes, already happening. All we are doing now is giving an institutional framework to what is already underway in real life.

What I mean here is primarily infrastructure development, importantly, through joint efforts. You may know that we have established priority development zones and free ports in the Far East (Vladivostok, Nakhodka and others), and many are keen to take part in these infrastructure development projects.

As I said during my remarks today, we are talking here about developing transport, railway, aviation, port and airport infrastructure, and there are opportunities for cooperation here.

Energy sector development is another aspect. You have heard about the initiative to develop the big Asian energy ring, and this project could be interesting and very useful for us, as we have substantial, even surplus, generating capacity, particularly in the eastern part of the country. Projects are already underway in the energy sector today, funded by large-scale investment, including that from China.

As for the initiative’s name, Silk Route, or Belt and Road, look at the Yamal LNG project, for example. We are carrying out this project together with partners from Europe, French companies, and with our Chinese partners. Our partners have invested tens of billions of dollars in this project. This is only one project. In reality, there are many more, and I am sure this number will grow. The initiative is therefore very useful, timely, and, I hope, will have good development prospects.

Question: Mr President, you said at the forum and at your meeting with Xi Jinping that the main event in Russian-Chinese relations this year would be the Chinese President’s visit to Russia in July. Based on what a Chinese politician said about a journey of a thousand miles that begins with one step, which steps should the two countries’ negotiators focus on in the next few months? Should they focus on the energy dialogue, on Russian agricultural exports, for example poultry, on infrastructure and transport projects, or on energy prices in order to achieve their goal in time for President Xi Jinping’s visit?

Vladimir Putin: We need to restore the volume of trade that has recently declined. However, last year’s results showed a positive trend: an increase of 4 percent last year and over 30 percent, or more precisely near 40 percent, in the first two or three months this year. This is a serious positive improvement.

However, this is not the main goal, because volumes calculated in monetary terms, although important, are not the main thing. It is more important that even in the past few years when we have seen a decline in bilateral trade, the physical volumes have not decreased but have even grown in some sectors. The most important indicator is the structure of our trade.

I would like to say that we are moving in the right direction, because the delivery of Russian machinery, equipment and agricultural products to China has increased substantially. This structure has been gradually improving in the past two or three years, which is a heartening indicator.

In addition, we are cooperating in very promising high-tech areas such as space exploration and aircraft manufacturing. As you may know, we are working on a wide-body jet, and this project depends on the engine. We did not have an engine for this plane (this is an ongoing project), but we have created a new highly competitive product, an average-thrust engine. This is the first such project in 29 years. Our next goal is to create a 35-tonne high-thrust engine. This will enable us to create a wide-body jumbo jet jointly with our Chinese partners. There are reasons to believe that we can do this. As you know, it will be a synergistic product that calls for combining the efforts of many industrial and research sectors.

We cooperate quite successfully in the space sector and we have every opportunity to expand this cooperation. Supplying China with rocket engines is one item on the agenda here.

Then there is military-technical cooperation, the high-tech component of which is increasingly prominent. We therefore have great prospects.

I will not even go into the energy sector, which plays a key part in our cooperation. I will just say that work on the Power of Siberia gas pipeline is on schedule. There are no price disputes here; we have settled practically all issues. We will produce liquefied natural gas together and have confident prospects for entering third country markets.

I do not know if you saw Gazprom Chairman [Alexei] Miller’s report, but we had 2.7 trillion cubic metres of gas reserves on the Yamal Peninsula alone. These reserves have now increased to 4.2 trillion. These figures are on a global level, and this is only one location

In this respect, we are confident and, to be honest, not even the prices daunt us much, because we will offset any problems through volumes.

Question: News came in during the forum that North Korea has carried out another missile launch. What is your view on such reports and how do you assess the threats these launches pose?

Vladimir Putin: Firstly, I would like to reiterate that we categorically oppose any expansion to the club of nuclear powers, including by means of including North Korea. We have made our position clear to our partners, including the North Koreans. We consider this counterproductive, harmful and dangerous.

On the other hand, we understand that the recent global developments, in particular blatant violations of international law, invasion of foreign states, regime change and the like, are spurring this arms race. In this context, we should act comprehensively to strengthen the system of international guarantees with reliance on international law and the UN Charter.

In any case, we believe that nuclear and missile tests are unacceptable. Dialogue with North Korea must be resumed, attempts to intimidate the country must stop and a way to settle these matters peacefully must be found.

Is this possible? I believe so, especially considering the positive experience of such dialogue with North Korea. As you may remember, there was a period when North Korea announced the termination of its nuclear programme. Regrettably, the negotiating parties failed to muster the patience to translate this intention into reality. I believe we should resume these discussions.

As for the latest missile launch, the Russian Defence Minister reported to me about it immediately, and the issue was later covered in the media. I have nothing more to say on this. This launch did not present a direct threat to Russia. However, such launches can provoke a conflict, which is not good at all.

Question: A question on Syria. How do you assess the current situation there? Do you believe the de-escalation zones currently being established can be effective? Also, Kurdish media showed photos of a visit by Russian military specialists.

Vladimir Putin: A visit where?

Question: To their positions. Perhaps they came as consultants.

Does Russia not fear a negative reaction from Turkey over our consulting the Kurds and working with them?

VladimirPutin: Let me start with the final part of your question.

I discussed this matter with the Turkish President. He expressed his concerns in this respect during our meeting in Sochi. I said to him then and I can say publicly now that there is no secret here. Unlike other countries, we have not declared any intention of supplying arms to Kurdish fighters. They do not have any great need for our supplies in any case, as they have other supply channels. We do not see any need to get involved in arms supplies.

But the Kurds are a real factor in the situation in Syria and their fighters are taking part in operations against the so-called Islamic State and are among the most combat-ready groups; therefore, we think it perfectly justified to maintain working contacts with them, if only to avoid possible confrontation and situations that could pose a threat to our service personnel.

I do not see anything here that could give our Turkish partners cause for concern. We are in contact, our position is open, and I hope that our Turkish partners understand it too. I am aware of the Turkish President’s concerns – and we discussed this yesterday – over the United States’ announcement that it will supply arms to the Kurds. We do not do this.

As for the de-escalation zones, I hope very much that they will prove effective, above all and most importantly, for maintaining the ceasefire. The most important thing today is to reinforce and strengthen the ceasefire regime, and on this basis to build the conditions for reconciliation and the subsequent political process.

If the situation develops as planned, we can hope to achieve our goals. However, without the ceasefire, there can be no effective political process, and everyone realises this. This is why we need to take these steps now.

How do we do this? We reached an agreement in Astana, and I thank Kazakhstan and President of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbayev for providing this venue. Now, we will work on this at the military level and, at the meeting in Ankara (between Russia, Iran and Turkey), in constant consultation with the Syrians, of course, we will discuss the specific borders of these de-escalation zones, and discuss the verification issues: how, where, who and what will be monitored. These are entirely practical and specific issues that need to be discussed, and it is too early yet to speak about them publicly.

Question: Mr President, an international cyberattack was reported on May 12. It hit targets in 150 countries, including agencies, banks and companies in Russia. How much has this attack harmed Russia and the world in general? What can be done to prevent other attacks like this one? And what can you say about the continued allegations of a Russian hand, or Kremlin’s hand, despite the fact that Russia was among the countries hit by the latest cyberattack?

Vladimir Putin: The damage to us, that is, to Russian banks, the healthcare system and other sectors, has been insubstantial. However, this is an alarming and negative trend overall, which is a cause for concern.

As for the source of this threat, I believe that Microsoft has named the culprits; it has pinned the blame on US security agencies. Russia has nothing to do with this. I am surprised to hear that there are any other versions. By the way, this is a brilliant illustration of what is happening in this sphere, which shows that they search for the culprits where there is none.

What else can I say? As you may know, last year we invited our American partners to join hands on the issue of cybersecurity and even sign an intergovernmental agreement. Regrettably, our proposal was rejected. The previous US Administration later said it was ready to get back to our proposal, but nothing has been done in practice.

We believe that the genies that are let out of such bottles, especially the genies that are created in secret laboratories, can ultimately turn back on their creators. Therefore, we should discuss this as soon as possible at a high political level to create a system of protection against such attacks.

To be continued.