President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen,
Please allow me to say a few words about our work and its results. The UK presidency did a thorough job and organised our joint work within the framework of the G8 quite well. The meetings here in Lough Erne confirmed the G8’s relevance as an important mechanism for coordinating the positions of leading industrial nations on matters of global policy and socioeconomic development.
Sincere, informal discussions between leaders allow us to touch on the most critical and difficult problems, promote new ideas and agree on joint action.
On this occasion, my G8 colleagues and I discussed how to promote global economic growth and employment, how to eliminate imbalances that lead to global financial and debt woes. We agreed to take joint measures to intensify international trade, reduce protectionist barriers and not create hurdles to mutual investment flows. We confirmed that, as before, the World Trade Organisation should play a central role in developing universal international economic rules. At the same time, we agreed to also promote regional integration processes, encouraging the emergence of new large markets, broadening industrial cooperation and creating new jobs.
In addition, we discussed cooperation between G8 nations in the fight against tax evasion and tax crime. Cooperation in the fiscal sector and greater offshore transparency will help fill national budgets and lower the tax burden in developed economies, and accelerate global financial recovery overall.
We agreed to continue discussing all these topics in a broader format – at the G20 meeting, which will be held in September of this year in St Petersburg, Russia.
Participants in the summit supported the UK presidency’s initiative to increase transparency within nations and businesses. We agreed to improve transparency in the mining industries, which is particularly important for developing nations. Government transparency is an essential requirement for fostering citizens’ trust in the authorities. The summit approved a Charter on open data, which spells out clear principles for divulging decisions by state agencies.
In Russia, we are giving this matter particular attention. We are in 27th place in a UN ranking of electronic government development out of a list of 191 nations, and in the top ten out of 77 nations in the international ranking of open budgets.
We had a useful exchange of views on the main priorities for promoting international development. Following tradition, we held a meeting in an outreach format with the heads of state and government from invited nations and the heads of key international organisations.
Naturally, Syria received a great deal of our attention in a discussion on pressing international topics. We called on our G8 partners to engage in purposeful work to convene a conference in Geneva, the so-called Geneva 2, on ending the bloodshed in Syria. And we all agreed that this can only be achieved via political and diplomatic means.
We, in Russia, believe that any decision to deliver arms to the opposition, based on unsubstantiated accusations against Damascus concerning the use of chemical weapons, will only destabilise the situation further.
The G8 will continue to give the utmost attention to cooperating in the war against terrorism and against terrorist threats, including in the Middle East, West and North Africa.
In light of the upcoming withdrawal of international coalition forces from Afghanistan, we decided to intensify our efforts to counter unlawful drug trafficking.
We agreed to continue seeking out political and diplomatic solutions to the situation on the Korean Peninsula. We also want to ensure the stable development of the negotiation process on the Iranian nuclear problem.
The G8’s agreed-upon approaches to most of the issues discussed are reflected in the summit Communique.
On January 1, 2014, Russia will take over the G8 presidency. In preparation for our presidency’s substantive agenda, we will certainly take into account the best practices of our UK colleagues, as well as the outcomes of our G20 meeting at the highest level in St Petersburg.
I have invited my colleagues to next year’s G8 summit, which will be held on June 4–5 in Sochi.
Thank you very much.
Question: Mr President, during this G8 summit, the press focused a great deal of attention on your talks with US President Barack Obama. We awaited yesterday’s event for quite a long time.
After exchanging messages, did the question of ballistic missile defence come up and were you able to achieve any headway in this area?
Vladimir Putin: Yes, we discussed this topic at length yesterday, and had an overall discussion on the difficulties of disarmament, the missile defence system and our potential cooperation along these lines. I must say that we still have some disagreements, but overall, I agree with President Obama that the most important thing we must do and which we certainly can do in this direction is to increase our openness, the transparency of all our actions. My understanding is that the President of the United States is prepared to broaden the framework of transparency. We will continue this discussion during his visit to Russia ahead of the G20 summit. We agreed that the meeting would be held in Moscow and then we will travel together to St Petersburg to meet with our colleagues within the G20 framework. But again, we discussed this topic at length and there were certain positive elements in yesterday’s discussion.
Question: Mr President, what did you and Mr Obama agree on concerning Syria, taking into account that the US is accusing Assad of using chemical weapons? And the final statement says that a peace conference is necessary as soon as possible. But could this wording result in it not being held at all?
Vladimir Putin: As far as Syria is concerned, this was another topic that we discussed at length yesterday. But ultimately, the main platform for discussing it was not my bilateral meeting with the President of the United States, however important it may have been, but rather, the discussion in the broader format with all our colleagues within the G8. Naturally, Russia and the United States have a special responsibility in the sense that our colleagues agreed the Russian Foreign Minister and the US Secretary of State in particular will take on a special role and a special burden of responsibility for preparing the fundamentals for resolving this crisis.
But the most important matter we all agreed upon is that we believe the bloodshed must end as quickly as possible. We agreed that peace and harmony must be achieved via political actions on both sides. We agreed that rights should absolutely be granted to all of Syria’s ethnic and religious groups within the framework of these efforts.
As for the possible use of chemical weapons by either of the sides, we all agree on one thing: we condemn the use of weapons of mass destruction, including chemical weapons, regardless of where and whom that threat might originate from. But we believe – indeed, we are confident – that we can only draw our final conclusions on the basis of a thorough investigation of all the facts regarding the use of this weaponry. We do not have any facts about the use of these weapons by the Syrian government. I assure you that not all the G8 members believe it was used by the Syrian army. Some agree with our view that there is no such evidence.
Moreover, earlier, the government of Syria itself appealed to the United Nations with a request to investigate what they believed was the use of chemical weapons by the opposition. We know that an opposition member was arrested in Turkey with homemade chemical weapons. We know about information originating from Iraq that a laboratory was discovered there, producing chemical weapons for the opposition.
All these facts and all this information should be investigated very seriously. We agreed that the results of this investigation will be presented to the United Nations Security Council. As you know, Russia is a permanent member of the Security Council, and naturally, we will also participate actively in the final evaluation of the results of this work. We are entirely satisfied with this.
Question: Mr President, during the summit we heard statements from several politicians and read the local media. And it truly seemed that you are one against seven, or that you are the G7+1, rather than a group of eight – at least regarding the Syrian issue. Is this true, did you feel alone?
Vladimir Putin: No, of course not. This is absolutely not true. It seems that somebody really wanted it to be the case. I want to say the following, taking full responsibility, and I am sure my colleagues will confirm this: we had a collective discussion. Some people agreed with others, some disagreed on certain matters. But there was never a case when Russia was alone in defending its approaches to resolving the problem in Syria. There are always doubters, there are always colleagues who want to understand a particular issue more deeply. Overall, I can assure you that this was a general discussion, a very engaged discussion between people who want to find unified, common and effective approaches to resolving the Syrian problem.
Question: Mr President, the situation in Cyprus revealed the problem of offshoring. And the G8 agenda purportedly includes issues of fighting against offshoring. You have brought up this problem many times, including in your Presidential Address [to the Federal Assembly]. Do you feel that there has been progress in resolving this matter?
Vladimir Putin: What made me very happy was to learn that the fight against offshoring is not just our problem but a problem for the entire global economy. Indeed, we thought this to be the case, but I am very pleased that the British presidency will take this matter into its hands and blaze the trail, leading the way for all the other discussion participants. Especially since we know that most of today’s offshore locations fall under Great Britain’s jurisdiction. Mr Prime Minister Cameron himself takes the position that we must fight offshoring and bring to light all the information available there.
I believe the offshoring of the Russian economy is very detrimental to us, because we usually do not know the identity of the ultimate beneficiary. As a result, our potential investors are often wary of getting involved in our economy with serious investments, since they do not understand who they are dealing with, etc. This is a serious overall problem.
I must note that Russia has not yet taken all the measures adopted by many other nations in fighting offshoring. We are only now enacting a law on disclosing the final beneficiary. This law was passed by the State Duma and is currently in the Federation Council. As soon as this draft law is passed by the Federation Council, I will certainly sign it. And then, just like the other G8 member states, we will propose a national plan for fighting against offshoring.
Of course, all this will take place within reasonable limits and not violate any laws and principles in force.
The second new step which we have already taken is changing the tax laws so that we can provide the necessary information to our colleagues in other countries’ tax services, on a reciprocal basis of course.
Question: Continuing the economic theme, Mr President, the USA and the European Union announced today that they would start negotiations on a free trade zone. I’d like to know your view on the prospects and possible implications, positive or negative, this could have for Russia.
Vladimir Putin: Modern economies are all interconnected, and so decreases in one place are inevitably felt in others.
Trade has declined in general. The Russian economy immediately felt the impact and our growth rate has slowed down. Our trade with our main partners is also growing slower overall. Trade with some countries continues to grow, with Japan, for example, where our trade is growing in spite of everything. But our trade with Europe is down for the second year in a row and this is having an impact on our economy. We have every interest in removing barriers to developing global trade. If the USA and Europe reach agreements that will remove these barriers and create new opportunities for global trade, I hope this will bring us new opportunities too. We therefore support this process, just as we want to continue with integration in the post-Soviet area, including through the Customs Union and the Common Economic Space.
I was especially happy to see that the summit’s final communiqué states that our G8 colleagues welcome the integration process underway in the post-Soviet area, the Customs Union’s establishment. This is very important for us.
Question: Mr President, you announced that the next summit would take place in Sochi on July 3–4…
Vladimir Putin: June, not July. Otherwise you’ll only turn up in July, when everything’s already over.
Question: It’s the peak season.
Will a new venue be used, or will you use the facilities that have already been prepared for the Olympics?
Also, you said that you will continue with part of the British presidency’s agenda at Sochi. What will Russia add to the agenda? Which issues on the agenda will be British and which will be Russian?
Vladimir Putin: I cannot really answer the second part of your question now, because we will start deciding the G8’s agenda only after the British presidency has ended. We don’t take over from our British colleagues until January 1, 2014. We currently hold the G20 presidency and will take over the G8 presidency on January 1. Only then can we start formally setting the agenda.
Naturally, as I told my colleagues today, there will be continuity in the agenda on issues such as guaranteeing security for individuals, business, citizens and countries. There will be other issues too, but I think it is too early to talk about this yet, since the agenda has to be decided and finalised through coordination with our partners and colleagues.
We have no intention of putting on the agenda issues that would be unacceptable for anyone or on which we would never be able to reach agreement, though to be honest, there are fewer and fewer such issues in any case. We will work through consultation and coordination. This is the only way to work in the G8.
As for the first part of your question, we have no plans to spend money specially preparing for the G8 summit. It is precisely for this reason that we will hold the summit in Sochi, where the infrastructure is already all in place, three months after the Olympics end.
Question: Mr President, Russia regularly criticises the West for its plans to arm the Syrian opposition, which, as you noted in London, has distinguished itself with its particular cruelty. But at the same time, Russia supplies arms to Assad’s government, which is one of the warring parties in a civil war that, according to UN estimates, has already killed thousands of civilians. My question is, will Russia continue these arms supplies? Is Russia delivering arms to Syria at the moment, what specific kinds of arms, and are new arms contracts possible?
Vladimir Putin: Let me start by making the most important point clear. The most important point here is that not all arms supplies are the same. Russia supplies arms under legal contracts to a legally recognised government, the government of President Assad. If we sign more such contracts we will deliver the supplies accordingly.
As for the opposition, quite recently, following a British initiative, a convention was opened for signing at the UN in New York, and its preamble declares a formal ban on arms supplies to non-state actors.
As for our European partners, they adopted a document in the 1990s that commits the European Union to not supplying arms to non-state actors, especially in conflict zones.
We think that our position is beyond reproach whether from a legal or moral standpoint.
On the subject of possible arms supplies, there have not been any yet, but with regard to this question of our European partners potentially arming the opposition, we are here in Britain, which only recently went through a terrible tragedy, which we all felt, when a British serviceman was brutally murdered in the street in London, right near the barracks where he lived. I simply want to say that the opposition ranks include many people, not all of course, but many criminals such as those who committed this atrocious murder in London.
Do the Europeans really want to arm such people? And what will happen to these arms later? Who will keep watch over into whose hands they fall and where they end up, maybe back here in Europe itself? We therefore call on our partners to think very carefully before taking this very dangerous step.
Question: Mr President, Iran held an election just before the summit. You probably discussed the Iranian nuclear issue at the summit. What change might there be in Iran’s position on the international stage following the election of a new president?
Vladimir Putin: I cannot comment on this matter because this is up to the Iranian government and the President-elect. He is someone with a lot of experience, one of the negotiators at the talks on the Iranian nuclear programme. He is seen as supporting Iran’s modernisation, but everything will depend on the concrete steps and action the Iranian government takes.
I remind you that relations between Russia and Iran go back centuries. Iran is one of the Caspian Sea countries and there are many areas where we work together. I hope that we will soon be able to continue our discussions with the Iranian leadership. I think the outgoing Iranian president will be in Moscow very soon at the international gas summit, and we will of course discuss this matter too with him. As for what the future holds, this will depend on the newly elected president.
Thank you very much.