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Speech at the St Petersburg Dialogue Social Forum

October 10, 2006


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PRESIDENT VLADIMIR PUTIN: Dear Madame Federal Chancellor! Dear Mr de Maziere! Dear Mikhail Sergeevich! Ladies and gentlemen!

First of all I would like to point out that our meeting is taking place in Dresden, in the year that marks the city’s 800 th anniversary. And today, when unveiling the monument to Dostoevskii, I was once again convinced of how much the authorities of Saxony and Dresden care about developing Russian-German ties. I want to congratulate all of Dresden’s inhabitants on this anniversary, a date that is significant for all of Germany and all of Europe, and to wish the inhabitants of Dresden all the best. Dresden really does concentrate a great deal of European culture – this has always been the case and I am convinced that it will continue to be so for a number of years to come.

The St Petersburg Dialogue holds a special place among the numerous institutions that help compose Russian-German relations. Things are proceeding freely and openly – Mikhail Sergeevich Gorbachev talked about this and what he said was very pleasant to hear – an open dialogue on almost all the issues that concern our society, the societies of both our countries, is proceeding. And the more vigorous the discussion is, the more value our Forum will have, and the better it will help clear up what remains unclear and promote trust and mutual interest between our countries.

Today we have already talked about Russian investments. I was very pleased to hear how Mr Manngeld said that Russian investments in Europe, and in Germany in particular, will be welcomed. We do not see such an attitude everywhere. I am convinced that it is only a matter of time. We only need to expand our dialogue, contacts and get used to the idea that if we are all confident that the free movement of people, capital and goods is a priority of economic development, then we must not be afraid of this capital moving to where it can be put to work in the best and most favourable conditions. And we should only be happy that capital is moving to a given sector. In fact this helps develop the economy of the country receiving that capital. But the level of partnership that we have reached with our German colleagues bears witness to the fact that this misunderstanding has long been a thing of the past. And of course those five billion that Mr Manngeld talked about is only the beginning. It is just – I am not sure whether I should put it this way – but it’s a ridiculous sum for Russian-German relations.

I recently met with Ms Federal Chancellor in Paris during a tripartite meeting. Incidentally, this is a very good format because where else could we discuss issues such as relations between the European Aeronautic Defense and Space Company and Russian producers of aviation technology? In Paris we discussed this with our French partners. We are referring to investments amounting to ten billion dollars. We at once signed documents about possible investments in Russia amounting to ten billion dollars. And with Germany we are talking about five billion dollars – isn’t it funny? This absolutely does not correspond to our possibilities. Especially since Germany is our major trade and economic partner. This year we are going to once again attain the record sum of 40 billion dollars of trade. In the first quarter we had almost 20 billion and the total sum will amount to no less than 40 billion dollars.

Almost 50 percent or a little more of Russia’s trade goes to Europe and 10 percent goes to Germany. As a point of comparison I can say that 4,4 percent of our trade takes place with the USA. And of course we incur great obligations from this amount of cooperation. Undoubtedly the St Petersburg Dialogue well help us resolve all of these problems.

I believe that the crucial issue in your discussion today, ‘The European Responsibility of Russia and Germany’, is really a topical and extremely important theme. After all, our countries are  the largest ones on the European continent. And without any undue exaggeration, Europe’s present and future depend on Russian-German relations.

In full awareness of our responsibility, we aspire to use all opportunities to ensure strong and effective cooperation. In the last few years a large number of positive changes took place in our bilateral contacts. And I am not only referring to our intensive and quite fruitful high-level contacts – Ms Federal Chancellor and I have met five times this year. I am referring to the fast developing joint economic, scientific and cultural projects in which the regions and institutions of civil society are participating actively and, of course, to our prospects which are increasing along with our cooperation.

The development of our bilateral relations has a huge potential to allow both countries to realise their national interests and also to constructively influence global peace processes. I shall emphasise that our countries’ positions with respect to the majority of foreign policy issues either coincide or are very close. This is the case in terms of the UN’s international role and with regards to the most difficult problems on today’s international agenda – Iran, Iraq and the Middle East. And of course we are very worried by what just happened in the Democratic Republic of North Korea. We share general approaches that consist in creating a stable system of European security, including energy security.

I think that in this respect the mechanism established by the St Petersburg Mining Institute and the Freiburg Mining Academy, a permanent Russian-German forum on the use of natural resources, is very much in demand.

It is obvious that both our strategic goals in the field of energy security and tangible, practical work have a positive influence on harmonizing relations between Russia and the European Union as a whole. And we consider that during the time that Germany will head the European Union we will make significant steps towards developing relations between Russia and a united Europe.

I am confident that Russia and Germany can act as leaders in developing an effective policy to combat international terrorism. And for that reason it is impossible to concede that the struggle against this evil has aggravated religious and ethnic conflicts. It is necessary to look for ways to cooperate between all religions and to strengthen mutual respect between peoples.

The World Summit of Religious Leaders that was carried out successfully in July 2006 in Moscow is an example of the fact that such a dialogue is not only possible, it is also very much in demand.

And I believe that the institutions of civil society have a key peace-making role. It is well-known that your forum has already done a great deal in this field and has proven its ability to objectively and profoundly analyse difficult problems related to the struggle against terrorism. And of course the freedom of the press and the media in general plays a major role here. A reprehensible attitude towards members of the media, towards people that are called on to disseminate information to the world and to various countries, cannot but trigger a deeply negative reaction. We know that, unfortunately, the attacks and murders of journalists are unfortunately not isolated events. Just recently while we prepared for the G8 summit in Moscow we met with representatives from the international community of journalists. We mentioned facts about how, in many countries of the world and, of course, first and foremost, in hot spots such as Iraq, the Middle East, and now in Afghanistan, journalists are sometimes killed. Regrettably, it also happens in our country, very regrettably. A short while ago an American journalist of Russian origin, Paul Khlebnikov, a journalist who also worked on Chechnya was killed. After he published his book ‘Conversation with a Barbarian’ where he presented the protagonists in an unfavourable light – or so it seemed to them – and he talked about the activities of people that we refer to in Russia as terrorists and extremists, he was killed. With regards to the murder of the journalist Anna Politkovskaia, then I have already said and I can say once again that this is a disgusting crime. To kill not only a journalist but also a woman and a mother. And the experts know well – Ms Chaplin is sitting here and I think that she will confirm this as well – that perhaps because Ms Politkovskaia held very radical views she did not have a serious influence on the political mood in our country. But she was very well-known in journalistic circles and in human rights circles. And in my opinion murdering such a person certainly does much greater damage from the authorities’ point of view, authorities that she strongly criticized, than her publications ever did. Moreover, we have reliable, consistent information that many people who are hiding from Russian justice have been harbouring the idea that they will use somebody as a victim to create a wave of anti-Russian sentiment in the world. I do not know who has carried out this crime. But whoever they were and whatever their motives, they are criminals. They must be found, brought to justice and punished. The Russian authorities will do everything they can to ensure that this takes place.

Ms Merkel and I both perfectly understand that the most important political decisions must benefit from the support of civil society. For that reason we highly value the activities of the St Petersburg Dialogue, activities that not only put forward new ideas but also make a powerful contribution to developing the strategic partnership between our countries. 

As you know, some time ago in both Russia and European countries, we very actively discussed the fate of non-governmental organisations in Russia and whether the law that was recently adopted in Russia that regulates NGO activities would damage their activities in the Russian Federation. And now I can inform you that we have received 400 applications for registration from NGOs and only two registrations have been refused for what were, sorry to have mention it, purely technical reasons. I am confident that if these technical problems are resolved than these organisations will also be registered. In any case, I shared many people’s opinion that it is the implementation of the law which is very important. And the fate of NGOs in Russia is going to depend on how it will take place. And today it is possible to ascertain that, in practice, our legal practices perfectly correspond to international democratic standards.

I would like to say a few words about the value of science and education and emphasise that bilateral cooperation in this sphere is developing both dynamically and successfully. People in Russia and in Germany understand perfectly that in today’s world the knowledge economy occupies the foremost, priority position. And for our part we are certainly going to support the Forum’s efforts in this direction. And I must say that it is thanks to the Forum’s work that today we are implementing the idea of creating a Russian-German Koch and Mechnikov institute. This is a centre for exchanging research in topical fields such as bacteriology. And we consider that this institute is making a solid contribution to the struggle against infectious diseases.

And one more theme that I want to touch on is that of youth cooperation. My colleague already spoke about this and this theme always has been and remains at the centre of attention of the Russian-German dialogue. Youth are speaking each others’ language more and more easily. It is frequently young people who do this rather than those farther on in life and weathered by politics. Ms Merkel and I were once again convinced by our meeting with the participants of the Junior G8 in St Petersburg by just how mobile and how flexible young people are when they examine certain problems, even very difficult ones. Today we gave orders to the appropriate departments in our countries, to our national coordination bureaus, to create the conditions that would help youth exchanges develop as quickly and as favourably as possible.

In conclusion I would like to say that I consider that awarding the Forum a prestigious European prize for its political achievements is a well-deserved reward that shows just how effectively the Forum’s activities are developing. And awarding the prize of the Russian Orthodox Church and the Evangelical Church of Germany is also significant.

I thank you for your fruitful initiatives, for your tangible and practical work towards developing relations between the peoples of Russia and Germany in the 21 st century.

Mr Gorbachev was the president of the USSR and, as is well-known, there were special relations between the GDR and the USSR. For that reason one could probably say that he is somewhat linked to the fact that a whole range of quality politicians of east German origin have appeared in today’s Germany. Unfortunately or fortunately, today’s Russia has no part in this. And I am very glad that we are constructing our relations and our dialogue on an absolutely equal basis.

Thank you for attention.

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