Question: If the tripartite talks you mentioned fail to arrive at a solution Russia finds suitable, is your country ready to counteract in some way or other?
Vladimir Putin: Russia’s European policy aims not to create obstacles and make problems but to solve problems. If you want me to say that we shall counteract, that would mean we shall act out of conformity with our own policy. I am fully convinced, however, that there will be no atmosphere beneficial for making Europe our common home unless the negotiators come at a solution of this question that Russia would find acceptable.
We respect the European community and understand its concerns. We are willing to take all remarks into consideration. However, there are no legal or practical obstacles to settling the issue in a way that would satisfy both parties. This is my profound conviction. However odd it might look, visa-free travel in sealed trains with locked cars will not trespass the Schengen visa arrangements because passengers will not step on the Schengen zone soil. As relevant Schengen documents have it, transit passengers do not violate those arrangements unless they have communication outside. Only one issue stays open. That is the Lithuanian sovereignty. We are ready to settle this issue with full respect for our Lithuanian partners’ rights and on terms they find acceptable. Please notice that Russian-Lithuanian relations in freight transport are making good progress. The trade turnover is increasing. Russia helps to load the Klaipeda port, just as Lithuania helps Russia to load the Kaliningrad port. We share many interests. Only one thing is necessary to settle the problem of passenger travel to Kaliningrad. That thing is political goodwill. The premise on the European home must be transferred from declarations onto the practical political plane.
Question: The situation round Lithuania will change, some way or other, after it joins the Schengen zone. What is the Russian leadership doing to prepare the Kaliningrad Region to the change?
Vladimir Putin: If you mean socio-economic development, people who live among prosperous neighbours will certainly need a particular amount of well-being. There are plans to develop the region. However, if the European Union means to turn that region into a kind of West Berlin during the Cold War, nothing good will come of it—for its development, too. I hope things will not take such a turn.
Question: Do you think the European Union fully realises how sensitive the so-called Kaliningrad question is to Russia? Does the European Union possess sufficient political goodwill for a just and urgent settlement of the problem?
Vladimir Putin: We have the following problem, I must say. The heads of European states bear the entire brunt of political responsibility for the development of the situation in Europe. They realise it full well and act in conformity with the demands of the day. We shall settle the Kaliningrad problem, first of all, with the European Commission. We Russians know what a commission is like. Want to make a mess of something? Entrust a commission with the matter, set up an ad hoc team—and the thing will die there. Nevertheless, as I can judge by my personal contacts with Mr Prodi and some other leaders of the European Commission, the Commission leadership fully realises how acute the issue is. Mr Prodi and I are keeping in permanent contact. We are good friends. I am eager to see those personal contacts transformed into political decisions. What matters most is my assurance that we shall settle the problem, sooner or later, at the negotiation table and by coordinating our positions. I would not like to see us losing something as we grope for the way to settle it. I don’t want us to lose the mutual confidence and political contacts Russia and Europe have attained lately. I don’t want us to let down people connected with Kaliningrad—suffice it to mention the million people who travel on that railway every year. I don’t want Europe to forget what we live for, forget the fundamental aspects of new European architecture, forget the entire range of questions linked with human rights while settling a pragmatic issue—transits across one of its member states. That is why we need such meetings as this. We need them to better understand each other and to exchange information. So I thank Ms Halonen once again for being here today.