Vladimir Putin: Ladies and gentlemen,
We are very satisfied with the results of the talks with the President of Bulgaria and his colleagues which have just ended. The talks were held in a warm and trusting atmosphere. We had a chance to discuss all the aspects of our cooperation, including above all economic interaction, cooperation in the military-technical sphere and in the cultural and humanitarian fields. I would like to stress that it is our shared belief that all the prerequisites are now in place for developing the relations between our two states much faster than before.
I am pleased to note that Mr President personally pays great attention to the development of Bulgarian-Russian relations. We discussed not only interaction in the broad sense, but the development of specific areas and joint work on specific projects. All this warrants the conclusion that the talks Mr President and his colleagues had and his visit to the Russian Federation were successful. I would like to offer a heartfelt thanks to our Bulgarian friends, first, for accepting the invitation, and for their dedicated and effective joint work.
Thank you very much.
Question: The period of misunderstanding in Russian-Bulgarian relations can be said to be behind us. What is the outlook?
Vladimir Putin: If you watched Russian foreign policy in recent years, I think an impartial analysis shows that there have been no obstacles on the Russian side to building relations with all our partners both in Western and in Eastern Europe on the basis of friendliness, pragmatism and respect of each other’s interests. I have already noted at the start of this meeting that after the election of the new Bulgarian President, Mr Parvanov, we have felt that the Bulgarian side is ready to build its relations with Russia based on the same principles. We believe there have been many aspects of our history that create favourable conditions for acting in a way that would enable both sides to benefit from our interaction under the new circumstances in the world and in Europe, respecting the legitimate interests of each other. During the President’s visit such areas of interaction have been identified.
Question: How will cooperation in the energy sphere develop? Will the Russian side take part in building the 3rd and 4th units at the nuclear power plant in Kozloduy?
Vladimir Putin: We discussed energy cooperation, obviously it was one of the main topics. Energy accounts for nearly 90% of our exports to Bulgaria. Different countries have different opinions about nuclear energy, and that is also true of Europe. Some countries have been suspending their programmes of building new nuclear power facilities, but some other countries, on the contrary, have been pushing ahead with the development of nuclear energy.
And I am not even talking about North America where nuclear energy commands great attention and, according to experts, even greater emphasis will be placed on it. We discussed cooperation not only in nuclear energy, but in the gas sphere, the power industry and other areas. I was pleased to note that our Bulgarian colleagues do not rule out the participation of Russian companies in the privatisation of some facilities that may be interesting for the Russian business. I would say, key facilities in the power sector and in the gas sector. We discussed the building of the gas pipeline to Greece with the participation of Greek, Bulgarian and Russian partners. In general, we discussed all these problems in the broadest sense.
As for the 3rd and 4th units you have mentioned, the decision rests entirely with the Bulgarian side. Bulgaria has certain obligations to the European Community. The Russian side would be interested in taking part in this work if such a decision is taken. I understand that it is not only the power plant you mentioned. Our Bulgarian friends have other plans as well. I repeat, each of these plans, if it goes ahead, is of interest to the Russian side.
Question: Have specific agreements been reached on the participation of Russian firms in projects in Bulgaria?
Vladimir Putin: As regards concrete agreements, Mr President has already mentioned them. They include increased supplies of Russian gas to Bulgaria and increased transit of Russian gas through Bulgarian territory to other countries. These are final decisions. We attach great importance to the Bulgarian consent to the participation of the Russian firms in the processes of privatisation of gas distribution systems and gas pumping stations. We are ready not only to take part in the privatisation processes, but in investing. Number one.
Number two. It has just been mentioned that we brought our positions on the Burgas-Alexandroupolis oil pipeline much closer together. We agreed on Russian participation in the privatisation of the Bulgarian power industry, some power stations on the territory of Bulgaria. Of course, the terms have been laid down and we do not seek any exclusive treatment or preferences. We want the Russian companies to be able to participate on equal terms. We hope that the Bulgarian Government’s choice will be honest and objective. As regards the possible building of a new nuclear power plant, I am almost sure that the Russian companies will show an interest if a final decision is taken and the terms of participation in this work are laid down.
Question: How are cultural links between Russia and Bulgaria developing?
Vladimir Putin: (adding to Georgi Parvanov’s answer): With Bulgaria, of all countries, our cultural links can and must develop most intensively. Considering the kinship of Bulgarian and Russian cultures, this sphere of cooperation is particularly important in our relations with Bulgaria, and I am sure it will provide the basis underpinning the whole range of interstate relations.
Question: What measures are being taken in connection with the glacier slide in North Ossetia?
Vladimir Putin: I must admit that it is indeed a great tragedy, a large-scale disaster. Probably the biggest in memory. A centuries-old glacier has come down from a mountain ridge, one third of the glacier according to tentative estimates. The ice mass is 70–100 meters thick in some places. All the rescue services are in action. The main task is to find and rescue the victims and start restoring the infrastructure in the area which has sustained heavy damage. I am referring to power lines and life-supporting services. Experts and all of us are wondering how the ice mass which contains, according to estimates, several million tons of water, will behave. Answers must be given without delay and the challenge must be addressed. All those who are required are working on the ground.
Question: How will Bulgaria’s role change after it joins NATO? Will the principle of transparency be complied with in the dismantling of SS-23 missiles in Bulgaria?
Vladimir Putin: As regards Bulgaria’s role in connection with its accession into NATO, it is a question for [NATO Secretary General] Mr Robertson or the Bulgarian leadership. Personally I am convinced that accession into NATO will not add to Bulgaria’s security, but I do not rule out that there are some benefits to be derived in the sphere of foreign policy. The main thing is that every country has the right to choose the security systems it considers to be necessary in this sensitive and important sphere for any country.
As regards transparency in the work to dismantle SS-23 missiles, I don’t quite understand what “transparent” or “non-transparent” means. I know that there are agreements between Russia and Bulgaria sealed at the state level and we hope that these agreements will be honoured. I think that in the relations between states, just like in the relations between people, if we have agreed on something and comply with these obligations, our other partners today and tomorrow will feel confident that obligations with respect to other countries will also be honoured. In my opinion, it is very important if we are to preserve a high level of trust and mutual understanding. This is our position. Thank you very much.