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Joint news conference with President of Serbia Aleksandar Vucic

January 17, 2019, Belgrade

Following Russian-Serbian talks, Vladimir Putin and Aleksandar Vucic gave a joint news conference.

President of the Republic of Serbia Aleksandar Vucic: <…> We have also signed many agreements in different areas of public life.

Our trade is increasing every year and our economic relations are improving.

Today, we talked a lot about our tasks for the future in our one-on-one discussion, at the restricted and expanded meetings.

In energy, that is gas supplies, Serbia practically fully depends on the Russian Federation. We have reached agreements on building a gas pipeline in the future, expanding our gas storage that will hold 750 million cubic metres of gas in Banatski Dvor, building a power station and providing gas for the whole of Serbia.

I would like to explain to our ordinary citizens what this means. It means that we will never hear the question that was asked in Vladicin Han: why do companies opening a plant not have gas. We will do everything, and it will mean greater industrialisation and economic development for this country.

We also spoke today about infrastructure cooperation, especially on railways. I think rail will become a key mode of transport in the future. We have big plans ahead. We have signed large agreements and memorandums on the current maintenance of railways.

If we accomplish all this, I am sure that rail will become one of the most profitable modes of transport. Our citizens will appreciate it and be proud of it.

These contracts are already worth $230 million and if we organise everything as we started, they will be worth 660 million euros.

What is important for us is that our defence cooperation with Russia has been not just adequate, we are very grateful for all the support and assistance, and for the favourable preferential prices of military equipment. I am sure that Mr Putin has always taken into account the interests of the Serbian people and always met us halfway.

What I am particularly proud of – it is true, and Mr President mentioned this today in his remarks – is that Serbia is a disciplined country, and its Government is the same, a reliable Government, and we fulfil our obligations and pay everything on time. We have no delays, no debts, no arrears, no such problems. Serbia is a reliable partner of Russia.

When we first met, I was only thinking about how to meet our obligations in the next two or three years, to repay all our debts. I think I became a real nightmare for Mr Miller [Gazprom CEO]: every time he saw me, I asked him to give us an extension on our payments. This is no longer the case; Serbia has repaid everything, met all its obligations, and the Serbian economy is growing.

It is also important to say that we have discussed almost all spheres of public life; we spoke about everything today.

Many thanks to Russia – for all the funds provided for the decoration and construction of the Church of Saint Sava. Russia is to allocate another five million euros for our holy site. Russia will return to us the 166th page of the Miroslav Gospel. I just want to demonstrate how well we prepared for these meetings, how fruitfully we worked in all areas and how much we have achieved.

I would like to say with satisfaction that we have reached a high degree of agreement on all issues, and I told Mr Putin about my gratitude for supporting Serbia. I told both Mr Putin and Mr Lavrov that we appreciate their support for Serbia at all international forums, as well as their support for the territorial integrity and independence of Serbia.

I updated the President on the developments in Kosovo and Metohija. I told him about the illegal duties that the Albanian authorities have introduced contrary to the will of Republika Srpska, as well as about the creation of the so-called Kosovo Army contrary to UN Resolution 1244. Mr Putin expressed support for our position on this matter.

I told President Putin that Serbia is always willing to hold talks and make compromises, but it will never accept humiliation. I believe that some people are not ready for compromise, but we will continue to act in this spirit. As I pointed out to President Putin, we will look for compromises, but we will not tolerate humiliation.

Mr President, once again, I would like to say, make yourself comfortable in Serbia.

I have been told that a vast number of people are waiting for you in Belgrade’s central streets and at the Church of Saint Sava. This is evidence of what you have done for us. These people can see me every day, yet they have not come for me. They have come for you, which is evidence of the great respect everyone in Serbia has for you.

Once again, thank you for the fruitful talks we have had and for signing agreements. It makes me especially proud that Ana [Brnabic] and Nenad [Popovic] have done a great deal for the development of digital technology and our cooperation in the field of artificial intelligence. Russia has been investing a great deal in these fields, and together we can attain great results.

Thank you. I am confident that cooperation between Russia and Serbia will continue to improve, including at the top level.

President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Mr President, ladies and gentlemen,

First of all, I would like to thank President Vucic for inviting me on an official visit to Serbia.

President Vucic and I maintain regular working contacts. Only recently, in October of last year, we held useful and constructive talks in Moscow. Before that in May, Mr Vucic came to Moscow for the celebrations of the 73rd anniversary of Victory in the Great Patriotic War. He also joined the Immortal Regiment march in Red Square, holding up a photograph of his grandfather.

I remember our visit to Belgrade in 2014 for the celebrations of the 70th anniversary of the city’s liberation from the Nazis. I remember the warmth and hospitality of our Serbian friends.

Today we discussed in detail the entire range of bilateral relations and exchanged opinions on current international and regional affairs in the same partnership-based and constructive way. Both sides confirmed their intention to continue the development of multifaceted Russian-Serbian strategic partnership in a spirit of mutual respect and cooperation, which is traditional for our countries and peoples.

Of course, special attention was paid to trade and investment cooperation and interaction.

Mutual trade continues to increase: it grew by 2 percent in the 11 months of 2018 (it was 23 percent in 2017 and now it gained two more percent) and reached almost $2 billion.

The Russia-Serbia Intergovernmental Committee for Trade, Economic, Scientific and Technical Cooperation is conducting a large-scale job to improve our bilateral economic partnership. The committee’s co-chairs delivered reports today at the expanded meeting.

Contacts between the countries’ industrial and agricultural enterprises, as well as business circles and scientific communities are being maintained.

We also agreed that at its next meeting in the first quarter of this year the Committee will discuss matters concerning the practical implementation of the agreements reached today.

In our common opinion, additional opportunities for the expansion and diversification of commodity flows will become available after the conclusion of an agreement on a free trade zone between Serbia and the Eurasian Economic Union. Belgrade has recently hosted another series of consultations. We expect the document to be signed before the end of the year.

Energy is a key area of Russian-Serbian cooperation. Russian natural gas exports to Serbia grew by 20 percent and reached 2.3 billion cubic metres in 2018. By 2022, Gazprom plans to increase deliveries to 3.5 billion cubic metres. To that end, in 2019 a project will be launched to increase the capacity of the Banatski Dvor underground gas storage facility in Serbia from 450 million cubic metres to 750 million. Work will also continue to expand the Serbian gas transportation network. These measures will significantly improve the energy security of Serbia and the entire Balkan region.

As the leading Russian investor in the Serbian energy sector, who invested about $3 billion in its subsidiary NIS Naftna Industrija Srbije (NIS), Gazprom Neft is planning to invest another $1.4 billion by 2025. NIS is currently Serbia’s largest taxpayer and one of the leading oil and gas corporations in Eastern Europe.

Another Russian company, Power Machines, helped Serbia modernise the Iron Gate I hydroelectric power station, and continues to partake in the reconstruction of other power stations in Serbia.

The realisation of joint plans in the sphere of peaceful use of nuclear energy reflected in the signed intergovernmental agreement would, without a doubt, give an additional impetus to the growth of Serbia’s economy. This agreement focuses on Serbia’s use of advanced Russian radiation technology in healthcare, industry, and agriculture.

The company Russian Railways is making a significant contribution to the modernisation of Serbia’s railways. With the help of this Russian company, Serbia is now creating an up-to-date single dispatch centre, which will significantly increase the crossing capacity of the country's transportation network.

We also discussed the issues of defence and military technology cooperation with our Serbian partners. We will continue meeting the Serbian leadership halfway, contributing to improving Serbia’s defence capacity, further developing scientific and production cooperation with the country’s defence enterprises, and carrying on the practice of holding joint military exercises.

We also paid attention to our dynamic cultural and humanitarian links. Serbia regularly hosts tours by Russian performers as well as cultural festivals. In February, this country will host large-scale events within the framework of Days of Russian Spiritual Culture.

The project to decorate the interior of the Church of Saint Sava in Belgrade is currently being successfully implemented, as Mr President mentioned earlier. I am glad to have had the opportunity today to visit this church, which has special importance for Serbia, and meet with high representatives of the Serbian Orthodox Church.

The understanding we have reached for Russia to return Page 166 of the Miroslav Gospel (an ancient Serbian Cyrillic manuscript), which is currently being held in the National Library of Russia, to Serbia and for Serbia to return Nicholas Roerich’s paintings to Russia is a landmark event for the Russian-Serbian friendship. Mr President and I agreed for our culture ministers to work on the implementation of this exchange.

And, of course, Russia cooperates and will continue to cooperate with Serbia in personnel training. This year 120 scholarships were allocated for Serbian students.

The agenda of our talks also included topical international and regional issues.

Russia, like Serbia, is interested in a stable and secure situation in the Balkans. In particular, Russia’s position on Kosovo is well known. We are in favour of reaching a viable and mutually acceptable agreement between Belgrade and Pristina on a Kosovo settlement based on UN Security Council Resolution 1244.

Unfortunately, recently the Kosovo authorities have taken several prevocational steps, which have raised tensions significantly. I mean above all the announcement made by Kosovo on December 14 on the establishment of the Kosovo army. Of course, this is a direct violation of the resolution I mentioned, which does not allow for creating any military units except for the international UN forces.

Russia completely shares the concerns of the Serbian leadership and people and understands that such irresponsible actions by the Kosovo authorities can result in destabilisation in the Balkans.

In conclusion, I would like to say that our meeting was a success. I would like to once again express my gratitude to Mr President and all our Serbian colleagues for substantive and fruitful talks and thank all the people of Belgrade for welcoming the Russian delegation so warmly.

I am sure that the agreements we reached today will further strengthen Russian-Serbian friendship.

Thank you for your attention.

Question: I have a question for both leaders.

Did you discuss the possibility of extending TurkStream to Europe via Serbia? If you did, when can we expect to receive the necessary permits? What can prevent the implementation of this project in light of the ongoing EU pressure on Serbia, sanctions and also problems created for Russia’s Nord Stream project?

I also have a question about Kosovo, if I may. Did you discuss in any form the possibility of Russian mediation for normalising relations between Belgrade and Pristina? Thank you.

Aleksandar Vucic: Regarding the first question, Serbia has great expectations of the TurkStream pipeline, and we have done everything we could by this time, which is a great deal. We have signed documents and completed many procedures.

I do not know about any pressure on other countries where the pipeline will be built, but Russia has not had any problems with Serbia. We respond in kind, and we are resistant to pressure.

Our enterprises need gas. Until now, we received it via Ukraine and Moldova, but now we want to receive it via TurkStream and Bulgaria, which is why we are building the gas pipeline you have mentioned. It is of vital importance for Serbia.

I know that the Germans have done everything in their power for Nord Stream, and that the 500 km underwater part is finished. Like all other nations, we have a right to receive gas.

I heard very many deliberations yesterday about the sources of gas from across the world, but I have never seen any gas other than Russian. They mentioned liquefied gas, which costs twice as much. Why should we pay double? We cannot and will not do this. We are economically better off now, and we keep our public funds in check. But we want the best gas and the best price, and that is Russian gas.

As for your second question, we did discuss Kosovo and the dues introduced there, as well as holding talks with EU mediation. But the problem is, as we see it, that the Albanians do not want a compromise. Maybe they will want it one day? We would like to see this happen.

Speaking about Russia, no decision can be taken without Russia and its weight at the UN Security Council. And I will certainly discuss any decisions with President Putin.

You know, we keep talking about decisions. Everyone loves to talk about decisions and to receive good news. I am a realist. I cannot be an all-out optimist speaking about a decision now, because I do not see any. I hope for a decision on this matter, but I am not sure it will be made soon.

Vladimir Putin: With regard to the subject of energy, we are ready to implement projects to extend the TurkStream to European countries, to European consumers. Many are interested in this. We only need to arrange everything appropriately. We are ready and we have enough resources, as you know, more than enough. There are no problems at all. We are working with Serbia on this. This also applies to the development of infrastructure, including for transit across Serbia. We are ready to invest the necessary funds; they are estimated at $1.4 billion.

We are preparing for this work, even actually starting it. But in the end everything will depend on other countries, including the EU countries, and how far they are willing to go to protect their sovereign national interests in the dialogue with European agencies.

We once tried – we planned and launched work on the South Stream project. As you know, that project was discontinued through no fault of ours. Now Bulgaria, for example, is interested in extending TurkStream across Bulgaria and further on to Serbia, Hungary and so on. We are ready for this, and are even doing preparatory work, I repeat; we are ready to invest in it. Therefore, little depends on us here.

We will do this; next week I will meet with visiting President Erdogan, and I know his position. Turkey is also positive about it, and is working towards this, eager to build relations with its partners in Europe and intends to do so. Therefore, we will start working and see what happens.

As for whether our other large energy infrastructure project, Nord Stream 2, will get in the way of this project, I can assure you – absolutely not.

Next week, the leadership of Gazprom will be in Brussels to discuss a number of cooperation matters, including, by the way, transit through Ukraine, taking into account the growing volume of supplies of our natural gas to Europe. Last year it hit a record high – over 200 billion cubic metres – and continues to grow. We will load not only Nord Stream legs, not only the TurkStream pipeline, but with this volume of supplies to European consumers, the possibility of continuing transit through Ukraine also remains.

Regarding the mediation in the Kosovo peace process, Russia has always been actively involved in resolving these crises. As for direct mediation, we know, and Mr President also said that the EU was an intermediary in resolving a number of issues, but, unfortunately, few agreements are actually being fulfilled.

For example, Serbian municipalities should have been created in Kosovo – they were not. Resolution 1244, which has already been mentioned, provides for the presence of Serbian police and even border guards in Kosovo. Where are they? They are not there.

Therefore, it is necessary, it seems to me, to show more respect for international law, and only in this case can we achieve any fair solutions.

Question (retranslated): A question for President Vucic.

What comments would you make concerning the unusually great interest of the British and other media to Mr Putin’s visit? Do you expect that after this visit, the country will be put under pressure in order to spoil our relations with Russia?

You already mentioned this, but do you think that Serbia can expect international support from Russia in the Kosovo issue?

(Speaks Russian) And a question for the President of Russia.

Mr President, I am sure you know that Serbia considers Russia one of its key and most important partners in the world, especially in solving such important international problems as Kosovo. You know, almost 80,000 people have gathered now near the Cathedral of Saint Sava, which you will visit soon. And as President Vucic said, they are waiting for you; they want to see you, greet you and hope to hear words of friendship and support, especially relating to Kosovo. What will you say to them?

Vladimir Putin: You know, there are no rallies planned for my visit, but I am very pleased to hear your words, however unexpected they might be. Therefore, I doubt I can say something there, especially without an interpreter. But here I can say that we greatly appreciate such examples of friendship, and value them very highly.

As for our relations, I only can add that the relations between Russia and Serbia did not appear yesterday; they have deep and strong roots and date back centuries. The Russian and Serbian peoples have always been spiritually connected. I would like to mention a Serbian saying, which goes like this: “If we are together, we will win.” This is what I would like to say to those people on the square, and to everyone who wanted to hear Russia’s opinion.

You just heard our opinion of what is going on in the region, including Kosovo. We consider the violation of the common rules of international law, in particular, Resolution No 1244, unfair and very dangerous. Of course, we will work together with all our partners to ensure that international law is observed and that decisions are just.

We are monitoring the situation in the region. Sometimes it seems that the decisions made earlier were only made to disengage the Serbian people. And these decisions will unlikely be viable if they are not just, this is what I would like to emphasise.

Together – the Serbian party, Serbian leadership and President Vucic contribute to this a lot – we will have to convince all of our partners, if we want to reach stability in the regions, to be able to find compromises, and when they are found, we must stick to them.

Aleksandar Vucic: As for your question, I asked the Protocol department to address questions only to President Putin, because we are already late with our programme, and people want to hear President Putin; they are here because of him.

I have no problem with who will be speaking and what they will be saying. I am proud of everything that is happening and I want to tell other countries in our region and everywhere else: Serbia is proud that it is an independent and free state, not only regarding its territorial integrity and military neutrality, but also in our decisions; Serbia makes decisions based on its citizens’ will, not some other governments’ will.

We respect Great Britain, it is a great nation. However, neither the British nor any other nation will decide for us what political course we will follow. It is for the Serbian people to decide.

Speaking about newspapers around the globe, here or elsewhere – do not be angry, Mr President, – I will say that it does not matter to me. Serbia will continue with its policy; it will not change. It will be difficult for anyone else to influence it.

Of course, at some time any individual can hope to win the election and take Serbia’s policy in another direction. While I remain the President of Serbia, Serbia will continue to implement its policy, and Serbia will continue to be an independent and free state that takes into consideration the interests of the people living here.

January 17, 2019, Belgrade