President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Mr President, ladies and gentlemen,
Talks with President of the Italian Republic Sergio Mattarella, which were held in a constructive atmosphere, have just ended. A substantive and meaningful conversation took place focusing on the entire range of topical issues of Russian-Italian cooperation and its prospects.
Italy is Russia’s important partner in Europe. Our relations have a centuries-old history and are based on the principles of respect and consideration for each other’s interests, and willingness to expand mutually beneficial multifaceted ties.
Traditionally, we have maintained close cooperation in the economic sphere. Italy ranks sixth in terms of foreign trade with Russia. Even in a difficult global environment following a major recession, an almost 33-percent growth in bilateral trade was registered in the first months of 2017.
The President and I spoke in favour of consolidating the emerging positive trend in trade and increasing mutual investment. Currently, Russian investments in the Italian economy amount to $2.4 billion and are so far twice the volume of Italy’s investments in the Russian economy.
Based on this, we count on vigorous efforts of the bilateral Council on Economic, Industrial, Monetary and Financial cooperation. It is important to expand industrial cooperation, primarily in the hi-tech sphere. We are willing to provide every possible assistance to Italian companies as they localise their innovation-driven manufacturing in Russia, create joint production of components and assembly of advanced models of technology in various branches of economy.
Notably, entrepreneurs from Italy have traditionally taken a very active part in the St Petersburg International Economic Forum. Last year, contracts worth of $1.3 billion were signed in St Petersburg. We hope that this year, too, the participation of our Italian friends will be significant.
Of course, our talks with President Mattarella included our strategic cooperation in energy. Reliable natural gas deliveries from Russia cover 43 percent of Italian economy’s requirements. The leading Russian and Italian companies have not just maintained, but are energetically strengthening their relations in this sphere.
We spoke with satisfaction about our successful research cooperation. Russian and Italian researchers are working on a number of unique projects. One such project is the creation of the Ignitor thermonuclear reactor in Troitsk. In addition, an Italian astronaut is training in Star City for a mission to the International Space Station.
Our countries devote much attention to the development of cultural and humanitarian ties. The first Russian exhibition of works by Giorgio de Chirico, one of the best Italian artists of the 20th century, will open at the Tretyakov Gallery soon. A unique exposition of historical artefacts from Museo Egizio, a museum in Turin that specialises in Egyptian archaeology, will open at the Hermitage in June. In the autumn, Moscow Days will be held in Milan, Genoa and Venice. Russian Seasons will be held in Italy next year. And today we have agreed to organise Italian Seasons in Russia.
I have to say that today Mr Mattarella and I recalled the earthquake that shattered L’Aquila in early April eight years ago. Russia sent relief immediately, and continues to help the city restore the damaged architectural monuments. The restoration of some of them will be completed soon.
Our talks certainly touched upon acute international and regional issues. We pointed out that terrorism is the biggest threat to global security and can only be defeated through the concerted efforts of the international community.
In this context, we also discussed ways to restore peace in the Middle East, including Syria. We also spoke about other issues, including the Ukrainian issue.
Of course, we talked about relations between Russia and the European Union. We believe that the restoration of business ties between them on the principles of equality and mutual respect would be in everyone’s interest.
I am convinced that the talks we have held today will help boost the dynamic development of Russian-Italian cooperation and strengthen friendship between our peoples.
I would like to again express gratitude to President of Italy Sergio Mattarella and all our Italian colleagues for accepting our invitation to come to Moscow.
Thank you for your attention.
President of Italy Sergio Mattarella (retranslated): I am very grateful to President Putin for his heartfelt words about Italy and the warm welcome shown to me and our delegation.
This visit will help us continue our dialogue on the key bilateral issues in various spheres and also on the most important current issues on the international agenda.
On behalf of Italy, I would like to convey my country’s deepest condolences to President Putin and the Russian people over the horrible terrorist attack in the St Petersburg metro. This tragedy shows that all countries, including Italy and Russia, should work more closely together to cut short growing radicalisation and fight terrorist barbarity.
We have agreed that our dialogue has been positive and fruitful in all areas. Our relations are based on mutual respect, as evidenced by our frequent political contacts and deep ties in the economy and energy, which President Putin has mentioned, as well as our active cultural ties and innovative forms of partnership. We have made particular note of the agreement on research signed between Italy’s National Institute for Nuclear Physics and Russia’s Joint Institute for Nuclear Research in Dubna.
As Mr Putin said, culture is yet another traditional link between Russians and Italians. Our young people and their talent for self-expression are particularly worthy of financial support. Investments in this area will bear fruit thanks to our common attitude toward culture and cultural heritage. An example of this is Russia’s assistance in the restoration of [historical monuments in] L’Aquila.
Of course, we touched upon major international crises in our discussion. The growing flashpoints, conflicts and a disturbing tendency toward polarised opposition in talks are urging us to make a precise choice in order to create more opportunities for dialogue.
As concerns Libya, Italy believes a military operation would be the wrong decision. The Libyan Political Agreement and the subsequent unanimous UN resolution provide a legitimate framework for a political solution. We hope for a constructive approach on the part of Moscow, and its understanding that stabilising the situation in Libya and the Mediterranean is quite important for Italy.
Regarding Syria, the tragic events of the previous week demonstrate that we must work together to find a solution to the crisis as soon as possible, based on dialogue at different levels, between the Syrian parties, regional participants and representatives of the international community. We must work on a joint political solution under the auspices of the UN and in line with the Geneva talks. We owe this to the hundreds of thousands of people suffering from thoughtless violence. We owe this to the millions of refugees.
The use of chemical weapons, which was banned by the Geneva Convention, was, of course, unacceptable. We hope that Moscow, along with everyone else, can use its influence to prevent similar attacks in the future. The guilty parties must be identified and prosecuted. We hope that what happened will motivate all parties to this crisis to do everything they can to overcome the current situation. Italy is ready to play its part within the efforts of the European Union and the UN Security Council.
Of course, we also discussed Ukraine. Italy is deeply concerned about the absence of significant progress at the political level. In our view, no one – neither Russia, nor Europe nor Ukraine – can benefit in any way from continuing instability in the heart of Europe. Therefore, we highly appreciate the role of the OSCE and put our trust and our hope in the Normandy format talks as well as the Minsk Agreements. We hope that Russia will use its influence to strengthen the ceasefire.
I am very grateful to President Putin for his warm welcome, and I wish him the best of luck.
Question: Mr Putin, if I may, I have a question about Syria. What is your take on what is happening in Syria? Is there a danger of another US military strike against Syrian targets?
Vladimir Putin: We discussed this with the President. I said that this reminds me very much of the events of 2003, when US representatives in the Security Council showed alleged chemical weapons discovered in Iraq. A military campaign in Iraq ensued, which ended with the destruction of the country, an increased terrorist threat and the emergence of ISIS on the international scene – no more, no less.
The exact same thing is happening now, and their partners are nodding approvingly. In this connection, our remarkable writers, Ilf and Petrov, come to mind, with their famous line, “It’s boring, ladies.“ We have seen this all before.
Why is this happening? Everyone wants to restore relations in the Western community after – thanks to the former US administration – many European countries adopted an anti-Trump position during the election campaign. Syria and Russia, as a common enemy, provide a wonderful platform for consolidation. We are ready to put up with that for a while in the hope that it will eventually lead us to some positive trend based on interaction.
For consumption within America, there are reasons for this. Simply put, political opponents of the incumbent president are still out there, and if anything happens, it will be blamed on him. I have no doubt about that.
Now about whether new attacks are possible or not. We have information from a variety of sources that such provocations (I cannot find another word for this) are being prepared in other parts of Syria, including in southern suburbs of Damascus, where they are planning to plant certain substances and accuse Syrian authorities of using them.
However, we believe that things like this should be thoroughly investigated. We plan to officially address the appropriate UN institution in The Hague and call on the international community to thoroughly investigate these matters. A weighted decision can then be taken depending on the findings of the investigation.