Question: Mr President, you have had many meetings during your three-day visit to Singapore. We noticed that the Prime Minister [of India] greeted you very emotionally at the dinner.
President of Russia Vladimir Putin: We are friends. This kind of greeting is normal for those who maintain such relations.
Question: Out of the meetings that you had which were the most important, considering that many of them were probably not even planned? Can the new Western sanctions hinder Russia’s cooperation with Southeast Asian countries?
Vladimir Putin: Amy politically motivated restrictions, when they are applied in an economic sphere, impede economic development. They are an obstacle both for us and for our partners, including those who introduce these sanctions.
Yet this cannot stop our technological or economic development altogether. This is completely impossible. Therefore, cooperation will continue.
I have said today that Asian countries account for some 25 percent of our trade, and growth in this sphere has been considerable. It amounted to 27 percent, or some $200 billion, last year. Our trade is growing.
Our relations are developing in all fields, including when it comes to high technology. You know about Singapore’s achievements in the sphere of smart cities. And what is the basis of smart cities? It is modern high technology, including digital technology. We will be working on this.
We have signed a free trade agreement between the Eurasian Economic Union and Vietnam. We are discussing the matter with China, India and Singapore. We maintain traditionally good relations with many countries in the region. Nothing can harm or impede these ties. We will work confidently and, I am sure, with good results.
Question: What other meetings did you have?
Vladimir Putin: I had many meetings, with almost all my partners: with the Prime Minister of Japan, the Premier of the State Council of China today, the Prime Minister of Singapore, and the President of Korea. I just talked with the US Vice President on the go. So I met with almost all the participants.
Question: Mr President, you have travelled such a long way to Singapore and, as you say, met with almost all representatives of countries with very different geopolitical interests. How would you assess the results of your work at ASEAN and the EAS?
Vladimir Putin: You know, I described in my remarks today what is typical for this region. Russia first attended such an event in 2005 at Malaysia’s invitation, as a guest, and a certain format of interaction between the region’s countries began shaping back then, not directly associated with globalisation, which many authors now deny altogether, or with any military blocs.
These forums promote the concept of interconnectedness, that is, cooperation outside military-political blocs devoid of these signs of globalism, which used to benefit certain parties, but later became unprofitable and were eventually discarded. That’s not important.
Here, I would say, this interaction evolves on a broader basis, regardless of political regimes or the chosen path of development. And this has actually turned out to be viable for now; therefore, meetings in this format are very useful, productive and beneficial.
Question: Good afternoon. Yesterday, you met with the Prime Minister of Japan. Before that, Japanese media wrote that Shinzo Abe was coming here with a proposal to revert to the Soviet-Japanese Declaration of 1956. And, judging by the latest reports, Russia and Japan have agreed to step up dialogue precisely under this declaration. Could you tell us about the details, and what does this mean?
Vladimir Putin: We launched or resumed, to be more exact, our dialogue with Japanese partners precisely on the basis of the 1956 declaration, and this is what our Japanese partners asked us to do.
Let’s recall how this entire situation developed. I have discussed this many times, and I will say this once again. Certain agreements were reached after World War II, including territorial demarcation and state border agreements.
Those agreements are formalised in international legal documents; therefore we don’t see any problems or difficulties here. We believe that the current status quo hinges on international legal documents, formalised after World War II. Nevertheless, as you know, Japan has a different perspective on this issue. We are ready to work with them.
In 1956, the Soviet Union and Japan signed a document called the Declaration of 1956. What does it say? It notes that the Soviet Union is ready to cede two of the southern islands to Japan after the signing of the peace treaty.
It says nothing about specific legal grounds for ceding these islands, their subsequent jurisdiction or the procedure for handing them over to Japan. But it formalises the Soviet Union’s readiness to cede these two islands.
After that, the Supreme Soviet of the USSR and the Japanese Parliament both ratified the declaration. Japan later refused to honour these agreements.
Because this went on for a long time, back during Gorbachev’s presidency the Soviet Union refused to further honour the document. The Japanese side later asked us to return to discussing these problems once again on the basis of this declaration. But the centre of gravity shifted somewhat during the discussion; in effect, it deviated from the declaration of 1956.
Indeed, the Prime Minister said at our yesterday’s meeting that Japan would be ready to resume the discussion of this issue under the 1956 declaration. But, of course, all this calls for separate, additional and serious assessments, and we should keep in mind that, as you have heard, and as I have just said, far from all of the declaration’s aspects are clear.
In principle, the document merely states that the Soviet Union is ready to cede two of the southern islands, but it says nothing about specific legal grounds for doing this and about the islands’ subsequent jurisdiction. All this calls for detailed analysis, all the more so as Japan itself refused to honour these agreements at some point.
Question: I have another forum-related question, but this time, it is about the World Economic Forum in Davos. What do you think about the idea of Russia’s refusing to take part in the Davos Forum if the organisers fail to lift restrictions on certain Russian businessmen attending? And if Russia refuses to participate, will this affect the country’s reputation in the global economy?
Vladimir Putin: This will definitely have no effect on Russia’s reputation in the global economy. Any country’s reputation in the sphere of the global economy primarily depends on its economic power, the structure of its economy, the results that it yields from the standpoint of its technological effectiveness, the GDP growth rate, various macroeconomic indicators, namely, low inflation, low levels of external debt, absence of budget deficit or minimal budget deficit – or, preferably, budget surplus, which our country currently has, by the way.
In this regard I can say that in general, we are achieving the goals that we set, and we feel confident. However, platforms like the World Economic Forum in Davos prove to be useful.
Back when I was Deputy Governor of St Petersburg, I used to go to Davos very frequently, almost every year and then, having moved to Moscow, I would go there less and less often. In recent years, I have hardly ever been there. But this platform really is good.
The goal of these platforms, these meetings, open, impartial discussions, is to bring people closer together, beyond the limits of any political constraints. And when people introduce limitations at such platforms, they work against themselves, destroying the foundation of their activities – this is what we must keep in mind.
As for our participation, every individual, whether a businessperson or some company’s representative – and this forum brings together business representatives, first and foremost – has the right to decide. Our people are free and they will decide for themselves whether to participate or not.
Question: The elections have taken place in the self-proclaimed republics of Donbass and have been criticised by Kiev and the West, which suggest that this violates the Minsk Agreements. What is your view on the elections? It has been a long time since the last Normandy Format meeting and you have not been in contact with the President of Ukraine. Did you perhaps meet in Paris? Why do you think this is happening? Do you have the feeling that Russia is waiting for the regime to change in Ukraine, because the election is about to take place there?
Vladimir Putin: First, regarding denunciation of the elections, we have not heard anyone criticising the murders in these republics, that is the point.
First, they should have condemned the politically-motivated murders that have been taking place there. It is this which provoked the reaction from the local residents. What did those who organised these crimes think? Of course, elections were inevitable. This is first thing.
Second, there is almost no point in meeting in the Normandy Format just now, during the election campaign in Ukraine, because, in fact, today’s regime in Ukraine has shown no desire yet to fulfil the Minsk Agreements. They are doing nothing to implement these agreements; nothing is happening.
Even the law on the special status of Donbass adopted by the Ukrainian parliament has not yet come into force. This is the key element of the settlement process. But no, everyone acts like it should be like this. Everyone is waiting for Russia to fulfil the Minsk Agreements, but they prefer to close their eyes to the fact that the Kiev regime is doing nothing.
And finally, the main thing is whether the current authorities are capable of doing something to assist the settlement process. I do not think so. While such people hold power in Kiev, we can hardly hope for a peaceful solution in these regions.
Nevertheless, we do not believe there is any other way, and we will still have to look for an agreement. I hope that the people who lead the country in the future, no matter who they are (by the way, we will respect the choice of the Ukrainian people in any case; we will work with everyone), will come to the conclusion that there can only be a peaceful way to settlement and the Minsk Agreements must be honoured.
Question: Can I also ask a question about Ukraine?
One-man protests over Ukraine, over the exchange of prisoners are taking place at the Presidential Executive Office in Moscow. Will the prisoners be exchanged? Why has this not happened yet? And why exchange all for all? Have you discussed this matter with [Human Rights Commissioner Tatyana] Moskalkova? Can we expect a decision on this subject?
Vladimir Putin: The “all for all” prisoner exchange is how it must be done. Regrettably, we see something entirely different. The trouble is that the Ukrainian authorities claim that some of those who are being kept in Ukrainian prisons and other facilities, sometimes without a court decision, are criminals who have been persecuted under Ukrainian laws. They refuse to put them on exchange lists. This is the essence of the problem.
Naturally enough, Donbass representatives refuse to accept this. They could do the same with Ukrainian prisoners, using courts to remove them from the exchange lists. This is the problem.
The current Kiev authorities have no desire to exchange the illegally kept persons. Evidence of this is the detainment of the ship’s crew that was seized in the Sea of Azov. Kiev has illegally detained our seamen.
Under effective bilateral agreements, both sides can catch fish anywhere in the sea with the exception of the other side’s territorial waters. These agreements are still effective; they have not been cancelled.
The crew members have been detained and kept in Ukraine for a year now. The ship’s captain has not been released to this day, as far as I know. These are absolutely illegal actions.
At the same time, when our coast guards detained a Ukrainian ship, Kiev did not even want to discuss the fate of the crew. As if these people do not exist. This is how the current Kiev authorities treat their own citizens.
Question: Good afternoon. Singapore is often portrayed as a vanguard of the digital world, digitalisation and advanced technology. We did our research and found out that in many respects Moscow had outpaced Singapore. Were you particularly struck by anything here?
Vladimir Putin: I would not want us to get too self-congratulatory about this and claim that we are the best. Singapore is a good example of development, including in the digital sphere. Many issues are being effectively addressed here, such as social services and housing. We should take everything that works well in the world and use it for our own benefit.
In terms of development in general, and digital development, in particular, as well as urban management, it is true that Moscow occupies a leading position internationally.
Question: Mr President, you said that you had a brief discussion with [US] Vice President Pence. Perhaps, you can share with us some details about this exchange. Did you talk about preparing a meeting with President Trump?
I have one more question on this subject. In light of the threat of the Americans imposing a second wave of sanctions in connection with the Skripal case, could they in any way affect the preparations for your meeting with President Trump in Buenos Aires and mutual visits next year?
Vladimir Putin: All unfriendly moves affect in some way the work schedule and the schedule of our meetings. We were ready to meet in Paris, but we already mentioned that we did not want to be in the way of the big event organised by the government and the President of France.
This was indeed a major event attended by 90 heads of state and government, so it was fairly difficult to schedule a full-fledged meeting. We agreed to meet in Buenos Aires. On our part, we are willing to do so. The Vice President said that the United States is also getting ready for this meeting. Let's see what comes out of it.
Indeed, we have things to discuss. During a working lunch in Paris, iIt was a general and quite intense discussion. President Trump and I were able to participate in this general discussion quite substantively.
We spoke about security issues, economic growth and regional issues. The Vice President of the United States and I touched upon the same issues here.
Of course, strategic stability is one of the key issues, as we need to understand what will become of the New START Treaty and how the events will unfold with the INF Treaty.
There are other issues, including those related to bilateral economic relations, which are fairly limited but include promising areas that are of interest for the United States and Russia.
Finally, we talked about the hotbeds of tension, such as Syria, the North Korean nuclear programme, and our relations with Iran under the JCPOA – all these and other issues in which the United States and Russia are involved.
Of course, we need a dialogue at the highest level and at the expert level. We are ready to restore full-scale work to the extent that our US partners are ready to match.
Question: You have had talks with President Macron in Paris. One of the main subjects you discussed with your European partners was the restoration of Syria. What is the Europeans’ attitude to this idea? Is Russia ready to spend money on Syria’s restoration?
Vladimir Putin: It is not about spending money. The point here is that we are ready for full-scale work, including in those sectors of the Syrian economy where this could be beneficial both for us and for Syria.
This joint work will certainly create jobs, result in the restoration of Syria’s infrastructure, and so on. There is a great deal of work in Syria. So, it is not about direct budgetary investment.
As for the humanitarian element, you know that we regularly send humanitarian aid there via different channels. Back during our meeting in Istanbul, when I said that we should help by sending medication and medical equipment to Syria, it seemed to me that our European partners understand these problems and appear ready to work together on these humanitarian matters. Both Chancellor Merkel and President Macron reacted positively, and they mentioned this at the news conference. I hope this work will continue.
We have completed several joint operations with France. Our cargo aircraft were used to deliver humanitarian aid to Syria. I hope to continue this work not only with France but also with other European countries, all of which are highly interested, as I see it, in restoring Syria. Because only if Syria is restored will we see people returning back to their homes on a large scale.
Yes, it has been said that their return must be only voluntary. Can people be forced to return if they do not want to? Can anyone be forced to leave the refugee camps, for example? Who would be forced to leave such camps in Turkey, Lebanon or Jordan? The use of force will not solve the problem, right?
People will only return back home if they know that they will have sewage, water supply and electricity there. This is what has to be done first of all. If the international community, primarily Europe, do not want to see a new wave of immigrants, they should think about this. They must abandon their phobias and help the Syrian people regardless of any political considerations, by promoting the political process, of course.
Question: Mr President, you have said that meeting in the Normandy format would be useless for now. Does this mean that the Normandy Four will not get together and the situation will not improve as long as Mr Poroshenko remains in power? Can Russia influence Ukraine in any way?
Vladimir Putin: Regrettably, the incumbent President of Ukraine has not shown any desire to implement the Minsk Agreements. As I have said, Rada has adopted a law on special status for Donbass, but the President is not enforcing it. He does not want this. I do not know why – you should ask him.
I do not know if anything will change after the [presidential] election. A new president, if elected, could take the current developments into account. Will the incumbent president do anything? Will he change his attitude to this matter? I do not know. Ask him.
Question: Did you discuss an opportunity for a more detailed meeting during your short contact with Benjamin Netanyahu in Paris? Is it possible to hold such a meeting in the next few months?
Vladimir Putin: We have not planned it so far but we did speak about the tragedy that took place in Syria. I am referring to the loss of our aircraft and the death of our people, our servicemen.
Israel’s position is known and understandable. They believe they are not responsible for this tragedy. Naturally, we talked about this and some other issues linked with bilateral relations, the situation in the region as a whole and in Syria in particular. Specific dates for a potential bilateral meeting were not discussed.
Question: Mr President, do you think it is necessary to continue cooperating with the Saudis and limit oil production in 2019 considering oil market volatility?
Vladimir Putin: As for the need to limit production or not, I will not say anything about this for the time being. We must be very careful in this respect because every word is important and affects the federal budget revenues. However, it is obvious that we should cooperate and we will cooperate. The OPEC plus format has a good reputation and the market situation bears this out.
But you know the opinion of experts, including Russian ones. It may shift down a little and bounce a little. I think the current price is not very stable and may go up as well. As you know, this is linked with many factors. Incidentally, President Trump and I discussed this in Paris. At any rate, we mentioned this.
Recently, in the past eighteen months, the United States substantially increased its output. Naturally, this is affecting its domestic consumption in the US and, hence, it is buying less abroad. This has an influence on the entire oil market.
But this is connected with a certain form of production, which is highly dependent on the price. As soon as the price drops like it dropped a bit now, the profitability of shell oil also begins to fall. This is why all this is so interdependent.
It is necessary to establish the optimal price both for the producer and the consumer – like the one that existed quite recently. About $70 per barrel suits us perfectly well considering that the expenditure side of our budget is based on $40 per barrel. This allows us to feel confident and work securely and steadily and achieve very good results that are reflected in the macro-economy.
This year we will almost certainly have a surplus budget. I believe our positive trade balance is $120 billion with the minimal external debt of about 15 percent.
This creates a very good foundation for continuing confident work aimed at achieving even higher GDP growth rates and carrying our structural reforms.
Thank you very much. All the best, goodbye.