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News conference following Russian-Serbian talks

December 4, 2019, Sochi

After completing the international consultations, Vladimir Putin and President of the Republic of Serbia Aleksandar Vucic made press statements and answered journalists’ questions.

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

The President of Serbia, Mr Vucic, and I have just completed our talks, which, as is always the case, took place in a friendly and constructive atmosphere.

We discussed in detail the entire scope of topics on the Russian-Serbian cooperation agenda, exchanged views on the situation in the Balkans, primarily around Kosovo, and on other pressing regional problems.

Relations between Russia and Serbia have a rich history, are based on a centuries-old friendship, spiritual affinity and longstanding traditions of support and mutual assistance.

The peoples of Russia and Serbia fought shoulder to shoulder during the Second World War; they fought together against Nazism. We are deeply grateful to our Serbian friends for preserving the memory of the Soviet soldiers who gave their lives to liberate Yugoslavia, and for the careful attitude towards the monuments and burial sites of Russian and Soviet soldiers.

Next year we will mark an important date, the 75th anniversary of Victory in the Great Patriotic War. Mr Vucic accepted the invitation to attend the celebrations that will be held on May 9 in Moscow. We will also see the Serbian military as participants in the military parade on Red Square.

I would like to note that cooperation between Russia and Serbia is a truly strategic partnership in all areas; we continuously maintain an intensive political dialogue. The President of Serbia and I always keep in touch.

Russian-Serbian economic cooperation has also reached a good level. In 2018, bilateral trade reached $2.1 billion. In January-September 2019, it rose by another 9.5 percent. Russian investment in the Serbian economy exceeds $4 billion.

The list of the largest investors includes our energy company, Gazprom Neft, which has invested about $3 billion in its subsidiary, Naftna Industrija Srbije, and intends to invest another $1.4 billion until 2025.

Russia is the largest gas supplier to Serbia. The volume of gas exports to Serbian consumers exceeded 2.5 billion cubic metres last year.

Serbia is now taking part in the construction of a gas transit system that extends the TurkStream as a surface level pipeline in southern Europe. The pipe laying in Serbia will be completed in the next few weeks.

We have agreed to increase the capacity of underground gas storage in Serbia from 750 million cubic metres to 2 billion cubic metres.

We are sure that the implementation of these large-scale energy projects will help to significantly strengthen energy security not only in Serbia but also for the entire Balkan region and Europe as a whole.

Russian companies are contributing to the development of transport infrastructure in Serbia. In particular, Russian Railways is helping upgrade Serbian railways and is creating an up-to-date operating centre, which will allow a significant increase in speed and efficiency of rail transport.

Russia offers assistance with upgrading aircraft fleet of Air Serbia, Serbia’s national airline. We are ready to supply Russian-made planes and set up a regional maintenance centre for Russian aircraft at the Belgrade airport.

Sberbank and the SOGAZ insurance company have successful operations in Serbia. They provide a wide range of financial services to individuals and legal entities as well as support for Russian and Serbian energy and transport enterprises.

In turn, Serbian companies are broadly represented in the Russian economy, in such areas as the construction and production of building materials, medicines, food manufacturing, and tourism.

Russia and Serbia are developing cooperation in the military and military-technical areas, supporting Serbia’s commitment to military-political neutrality. Russia is helping Serbia build up its defence capability. Russian defence industry companies are supplying their Serbian partners with modern weapons and have established close production cooperation with them.

Every year, representatives of Serbia’s Armed Forces take part in Russia’s International Army Games, joint exercises and security conferences. The Serbian city of Nis has modern humanitarian centres that render assistance in times of disaster and in emergencies.

By tradition, cultural cooperation plays an important role in our relations. Exchanges of exhibitions, guest performances by artists and groups, and folklore festivals are held on a regular basis.

Russia is helping Serbia with the interior design of the Cathedral of St Sava in Belgrade. The altar and central section will be completed before the end of the year. Russia will soon return Miroslav's Gospel, a Serbian relic, currently kept in Russia.

In the context of our discussion of the developments in the Balkans, I would like to emphasise that, like Serbia, Russia attaches much importance to ensuring stability and security in this region. We hold meaningful dialogues with all Balkan countries, trying to promote an atmosphere of good-neighbourly relations and understanding and helping to reduce the conflict potential in this part of Europe.

As for the developments around Kosovo, our position remains unchanged: any settlement should be based on UN Security Council Resolution 1244 that sets forth the fundamental principles for the peaceful resolution of the Kosovo crisis. These include respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity, as well as adequate support for the lawful interests of all ethnic groups living in the region.

That said, Russia is ready to support potential compromise solutions to the Kosovo problem if they are reached by Belgrade and Pristina. Naturally, we will back Serbia’s position.

In conclusion, I would like to note once again that our talks with Mr Vucic were practical and meaningful. There is no doubt that the results will further promote Russian-Serbian friendship and strategic partnership.

Thank you for your attention.

President of the Republic of Serbia Aleksandar Vucic: (retranslated): Mr President, ministers, ladies and gentlemen,

I must convey my sincere gratitude to President Vladimir Putin for his hospitality and the time that he found in his busy schedule for a small country like Serbia; but this speaks of his greatness, his respect and attitude towards our people.

I would like to report to all Serbian citizens that we had very good, very meaningful talks. As the President of our country I am very pleased with the results. I am grateful to President Putin for his personal contribution to making our relations very good.

I am grateful to him for the many things he has done for Serbia in the past. In Serbia we appreciate [President] Putin more than any of his predecessors. We do not want the Russians to be angry at us for this, but we believe if Vladimir Putin had been the decision-maker in Russia in 1999, nobody would have bombed us.

Neither will we forget the year 2015 when Mr Putin saved us from the stigma of shame that we would have had if the UN Security Council had accused us of genocide.

The rational side of our political, economic and cultural cooperation looks very good, I would even say great. Our political cooperation is such that we count on Russia's support in all international organisations, institutions and formats, and Russia can always count on our support.

There are no documents against Serbia’s interests that Russia would vote for. By the same token, there is not a single document, which, God forbid, has anything against Russia’s interests, which Serbia would vote for.

We are grateful [to Russia] for supporting international law and Serbia on the issue of Kosovo and Metohija, and on maintaining Serbia’s territorial integrity. I told President Putin about my hopes for talks with Albania, primarily focusing on their statement and their announcements, and also their attempts to use pressure to make us recognise their independence. This is unrealistic for Serbia, impossible, and it will not happen. I am grateful to the Russian Federation and President Putin for never stopping to provide us with firm support in this area.

We enjoy exceptionally good cooperation on other political matters as well. We focused on economic cooperation, which is crucial for Serbia. Our trade numbers are growing year in and year out, and I believe they will be higher in 2020 than in 2019.

I would like to congratulate you on completing the construction of the Power of Siberia gas pipeline. We always take joy in your successes, and this is a big event for the entire world. And in this regard, we, in Serbia, have a small problem regarding gas supplies to us. We are not sure how things will turn out next.

I must reassure the people of Serbia today by saying that I received assurances from President Putin and Mr Miller to the effect that we will always be able to buy more gas from other countries and that we can rely on that assumption in the first and second quarter of 2020 regardless of the outcome of talks between Russia and Ukraine.

Frankly, I feel more reassured now. I can’t even hide my smile. Thank you President Putin and our Russian friends for this.

We also talked about many infrastructure projects. We said that Silovye Machiny (Power Machines) is doing an excellent job at Derdap, while Russian Railways is doing amazing, unique things in Serbia. We received a new loan for 182 million euros, and we are allocating 57 million euros from the budget for three projects: we are investing 90 million in new railway sections; 120 million in a dispatch centre and new railway sections up to the border with Montenegro. We are building a totally modern railway in this area and we are doing so with our Russian partners, which is very important to us.

I would also like to add that in terms of culture, apart from the Patriarch’s letter I gave to the President of the Russian Federation, I would like to thank Russia for its help in the construction of our magnificent Cathedral of St Sava in Belgrade. The central section is about to be completed. We will invest more money in this cathedral and hope everything will be finished by the end of the next year. I invited President Putin to visit us.

I received, as a great honour, the invitation to attend Victory Day in Moscow. This is a big honour for us, especially for the nations that took part in the anti-Hitler coalition and that do not want to allow anyone to rewrite history today.

I would like to express special gratitude to President Putin for his respect for the independence of the Republic of Serbia, our sovereignty and our right to make our own decisions. Serbia is on the European track but Serbia has also signed a trade agreement with the Eurasian Economic Union.

And though we are on the European track, we will not limit our cooperation or become less friendly with Russia. Moreover, we will not allow anyone to interfere in our relations with the Russian Federation.

We will cherish and promote our friendship; we will protect our close relations and will further develop our fraternal ties. No one can take them away from us with any attempt. I have told many representatives of various countries (and I mentioned this to President Putin today) when they come to see me and ask: What do you want from this Russia? I have always replied that I am proud and it is a great honour for me that such a man and leader as Putin finds the time for me, for us. And this shows that we enjoy more respect than you do, and we will see each other even more often.

So we will continue our cooperation with the Russian Federation no matter what anyone says. And we are confident that it will benefit both Russians and Serbs.

Thank you once again.

Question (retranslated): I have a question for the President of Serbia. Mr President, you mentioned yesterday that you would carry out a reform of the army and suspend the arms procurement. How is military cooperation with Russia going? You just mentioned the gas agreement. Will Serbian consumers get enough gas?

Aleksandar Vucic: I answered your second question. Serbian citizens will have enough gas as a result of today's meeting and what President Putin had to tell us about this. I am happy to be making regular payments for gas.

I want to tell Russian citizens that I was in Sochi six years ago. President Putin received our delegation. Sochi looks nothing like it was six years ago. I congratulate you on these amazing results. It is now a completely different city, which is 10 times more beautiful than six years ago.

We resolved the gas issue.

We enjoy excellent military cooperation. We conduct numerous joint events, and our military-technical cooperation is excellent. I am thankful to Minister Shoigu for supporting our army. We discussed this. We have already purchased many important and necessary items. During the Victory Day parade, President Putin suggested what we should buy. I heeded his advice. This equipment will arrive in Serbia soon. Give it some time; do not be impatient. We will do what we can, financing permitting. Everything is going well. I am grateful to everyone. We do not have any problems regarding this cooperation.

I am only asking the people in Serbia, and I will not be referring to what our Russian friends have to say, just look at our army today versus six years ago. I am very proud and pleased with our cooperation.

Question: I would like to return to cooperation in the energy sector. Serbia will become a transit country for the TurkStream. Can you please clarify if Russia and Serbia are ready for the fact that starting January 1, gas transit through Ukraine may be suspended? What are the alternative supply routes?

To what extent will this project result in reduced gas supplies to Serbia and Europe in general? Perhaps, there will be no cuts for Serbia, but how much lower will the gas supplies to Europe be? Is a scenario being considered where Serbia may refuse to participate in this project under pressure from third countries? Was there any pressure from the United States?

Mr Vucic, is there an understanding of how much Russian gas Serbia will buy through TurkStream and how much it can transit?

Vladimir Putin: I need you to clarify something.

I did not quite catch the part where you mentioned reduced supplies. Why is that? What reduction are you talking about? We keep increasing our supplies, and this year will mark an all-time high for our supplies to Europe. What kind of reduction are you talking about? I do not understand.

Question: Can gas supplies to Europe be reduced in connection with the suspension of transit across Ukraine?

Vladimir Putin: First of all, you could not have missed hearing this as I never stop to say that we are willing to keep Ukrainian transit in place. Our current talks in Vienna are focused on this. This is no secret.

True, the terms offered to us by potential Ukrainian transiters have so far not been economically viable for us. But I hope this is just a request for a counteroffer, and we will be able to coordinate our positions. This is my first point.

The second point ‒ Serbia will have enough gas in any event via various other routes. (Applause.)

We discussed today an increase in supplies to Serbia. Due to economic growth, Serbia has higher demand for this primary energy source. I would like to congratulate Serbia’s leadership and the President of Serbia in this context because we are really seeing that economic growth leads to higher consumption, primarily in industry. General industry is on the rise.

Will we be able to ensure higher supplies in the near future without Ukrainian transit? This is the question we are discussing.

As for Serbia’s potential participation in the transit of Russian gas via the TurkStream pipeline, this is possible. In fact, all our partners in the Balkans and Eastern Europe are raising this question. We are ready.

The Serbian section of the gas pipe from the Bulgarian border to the Hungarian border is almost ready: 90 percent of the pipes have been laid and 85 percent of them are ready; they are already in the trenches. Currently, the question is pumping stations. This will take several weeks. But what we are seeing is that despite numerous assurances and numerous requests for Russia to supply gas to Bulgaria via Turkey, Bulgaria is deliberately delaying the implementation of the project on its territory. This is strange and disappointing. I would like to say that straight out, publicly.

Bulgaria’s leaders have asked for TurkStream many times, at any cost, after they ruined South Stream; but even in this case they were in no hurry, apparently due to outside pressure.

Well, let’s wait and see how this project is carried out in the future on Bulgarian territory. If the Bulgarians do not want it, I mean the Bulgarian leaders rather than the Bulgarian people, we will find other ways of delivering on our potential in the south of Europe.

We have many other energy projects with Serbia, not only gas supplies. As I said, our oil and gas company is working actively. It is the biggest investor, as I mentioned, and it will increase its investment. We also have plans on other primary sources and are ready to discuss alternative energy sources as well.

In general I think this area of cooperation has very good prospects for us.

Aleksandar Vucic: We discussed at length this issue at today’s meeting and, of course, I am very happy to hear President Putin’s statement. For us the most important news is that Serbia will receive gas, regardless. This is great news for our people. And for us it was a difficult and serious situation.

Of course, I would like to express our gratitude to President Putin once again for his permanent and unequivocal support for Serbia and its people.

I hope he will come to Serbia next year and will open the St Sava Cathedral with us. This is one of the most important and biggest Orthodox cathedrals in the world.

Thank you very much once again for today’s meeting, for finding the time in your busy schedule to meet with us.

See you soon, Mr President!

Vladimir Putin: Thank you.

Aleksandar Vucic: Thank you.

December 4, 2019, Sochi