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Answers to media questions

December 1, 2018, Buenos Aires

Following the G20 Summit events, the President of Russia answered journalists' questions.

President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Good afternoon, colleagues, ladies and gentlemen. I'm at your service.

Question: Good afternoon, Mr President.

With all due respect to Argentina’s G20 Presidency, I still have a question about Russia-US relations. Once again, your meeting with President Trump fell through; he cancelled it at the last moment. Maybe he is wary of you, maybe he had some other reasons. Why do you think he did this, and how can one develop or maintain a dialogue with the United States in such conditions?

Vladimir Putin: I don’t think President Trump is wary of anything. He is a man of character and a very experienced person, an adult, so this is certainly not true.

As for the breakdowns of preliminary agreements, first of all, I would like to say that, the initiative originally came from the American side. Then we cancelled the meeting in Paris, not wanting to ruin the planned schedule of World War I centenary events or give more headaches to the hosts – there were so many guests, 90 people, heads of state and government.

So we moved it to Buenos Aires. Then as you know, unfortunately, there was the provocation in the Black Sea. Apparently, this is the reason the American side considered it appropriate to cancel this meeting as well.

Nevertheless, we still talked on the go, as everyone else did there, so I met with President Trump. In a nutshell, I answered his questions on the Black Sea incident.

He has his own stance on these issues and problems, and I have my own. We remained unconvinced, but in any case, I informed him about our vision of the incident.

It is a pity that we have failed to hold a full-fledged meeting, because, I think it is long overdue. I am referring to issues of strategic stability, especially after the President announced the intention of the United States to withdraw from the INF treaty. And then in 2021, START-3 expires – an agreement on strategic stability, on the most serious strategic weapons.

Among other things, we talked earlier about the need to restore our trade and economic ties and cooperation in other areas, including such conflict areas as Syria, Afghanistan, North Korea; this is also a big problem for everyone. We need to maintain dialogue in all these areas. We are certainly interested in this, but not only Russia, other countries as well, including the United States.

I hope this meeting will eventually take place when the American side is ready.

Question: I will return, nevertheless, to the G20. I would like to know, as there were a lot of heated debates during the preparation of the final communiqué, including at the level of Sherpas and experts, and they said the declaration might not be agreed at all. Hence the question: how do you assess the interaction between the leaders of the G20 countries?

Vladimir Putin: You know, debates are common when preparing various communiques. As is well known, APEC failed to adopt the final document at all. It has not come to this here; on the contrary, the final document, the communiqué, has been agreed.

Indeed, controversy arose over a number of issues – the migration crisis, trade and other issues, but in the end, nevertheless, our colleagues made an effort, and the document emerged. Yes, it is more of a general nature with, perhaps, some “rounded edges”. However, I think this is good. I believe that Argentina’s presidency did everything to ensure that the document was compiled, signed, and approved by all parties.

Why is it important? Because it shows the most important problems that the G20 deals with, and, in any case, shows the direction we’re moving in, where we need to go in order to meet our goals. I think this is a positive result anyway.

Question: Mr President, Britain’s new army chief says that your country poses a greater threat to British national security than Islamist extremist groups. Do you agree? And how concerned are you that Russia has acquired such a reputation?

Vladimir Putin: I think when such statements are made, they are based on some comparisons where Russia is put on a par with some terrorist groups, and things like that – so let it remain on the conscience of those who say and do it.

As for terrorism, Russia is probably the number one country in making the most significant contribution to the fight against terrorism.

As for such statements, they usually stem from politicians’ desire to show their voters, their people the firmness of their position. These things are done with the expectation, first of all, of scoring extra points within their own country.

The United Kingdom is an important partner for us. We hope that someday – I presume this should happen as soon as possible – we will be able to overcome the difficulties that exist in our relations and adopt a trend of positive cooperation in the interests of both the UK and Russia.

Question: Mr President, you met with Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron yesterday and the Kerch Strait incident probably surfaced during some of the discussions. Did you manage to convince your counterparts that this was a provocation? In general, what was their reaction?

Vladimir Putin: The reaction was calm. I don’t know if they were convinced or not; you will have to ask them, but we have laid out our position, and not only our position, but also the chronology of the situation. It is difficult to argue with this. How can one deny it when the ship’s log journal says these ships had the explicit task of secretly penetrating our territorial waters and secretly passing the Kerch Strait? What was it? It was a planned provocation, that’s what it was. This is evidenced by the documents found and the testimony of the sailors themselves. That's all. Well what can you say? There is nothing to argue about.

I don’t know if I convinced them or not – there is something else I’m concerned about. Do you know what? I already said and I want to repeat: even amid the events of a greater scale involving Ukraine, martial law was never introduced, but now, in the run-up to the elections, they found it indispensable to do so. Why? Naturally, to limit civil rights and freedoms, limit political activity in the country.

But, what’s even worse, they introduced martial law in ten areas, precisely those where the incumbent president does not enjoy special support and his policy does not find unanimous approval. What does this mean? Just think: this means that the current leadership of Ukraine has with its own hands divided the country in two parts – one trustworthy and the other not so much. I can’t even imagine a worse mistake.

But even this, perhaps, is not the most important thing. The most important thing after all is the analysis … indeed, they are now talking about the sailors who were detained for the illegal crossing of our state border. But who remembers the victims of the events in the Trade Unions House in Odessa? Does anyone even remember this? They cite some investigation by the Ukrainian official authorities, but there is no investigation. And there’s silence.

What especially troubles me is that analysis of recent events, this incident or the provocation in the Black Sea, or what we see in Donbass, suggests that the current leadership of Ukraine is actually not interested in resolving this crisis, let alone by peaceful means. They are a party of war, and while they remain in power, all these tragedies and the war will continue. Why? Because during any kind of hostilities, with provocations similar to the one in the Black Sea, it is always easier for oligarchic authorities to pursue a policy aimed at plundering their own people and their state. This is the case when the situation both in our country and in Ukraine can be described by this proverb: “War makes some people rich”. This is the first reason why the current government is not interested in a peaceful settlement.

And here is the second. War helps cover up their failures in economic and social policy. They are not the ones to blame – it is the external aggressor who is. The external aggressor is to blame for the impoverishment of people, and for the state budget that can’t seem to make ends meet, so that Ukraine is compelled to go, hat in hand, to the IMF and other sponsors, shifting the responsibility and burden to future generations. It is much easier to blame everything on external aggression.

These conclusions cause particular concern. Let's see how events will develop further in Ukraine. It makes a difference to us, because it is a country close to us.

Question: You have held talks with the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia. There are several questions in this regard. First and foremost, of course, everyone is interested in whether you have been able to agree on a single position on the OPEC Plus deal, and whether there will be a further cut in oil production, given the current condition of oil prices. Have you discussed the story of the Saudi journalist killed in Istanbul? But most importantly of course, I would like to know about the oil market situation.

Vladimir Putin: Regarding the death of the Saudi journalist in Turkey, the Crown Prince spoke about it at the first meeting, at the first session of the G20. He himself explained his position.

Now, about the price of oil and our agreements. Yes, we have an agreement to extend our deal. There is no final decision on volumes, not yet. But we, together with Saudi Arabia, will do this, and whatever final figure we will decide upon, we agreed that we will monitor the market situation and promptly respond to it.

Question: Mr President, you have held talks with [Shinzo] Abe and [Recep Tayyip] Erdogan on the sidelines of the G20, even though you saw each of them less than two weeks ago. What is the reason for the non-typical, not quite typical intensity of contacts at the highest level? Why is it important for you, and for your partners, to meet so often now?

And a short second question, please. Your car, Aurus, the Russian-manufactured Aurus, has driven so far away from home for the first time and reached this continent; there is a big commotion around it, with local residents taking pictures with it near the hotel. You have been using this vehicle for several months. How do you like the car? I assume you were not always a passenger, but actually drove it? How do you like it? What do you like about it? What don't you like? Thank you.

Vladimir Putin: I never drove the limo version, only the smaller car. Very good car, I like it. And I am not the only one – some of our Arab friends like it too. They are already expressing a desire to buy it. Therefore, I think we can do this, I don’t see any problems. This is a capsule, a fairly well assembled car and very comfortable.

Now, about the intensity of contacts. It is due to the volume of our joint work. Russia and Japan agreed to return to the 1956 Declaration, as we informed the public after the meeting in Singapore. We have now talked about the need to create additional mechanisms of interaction, the need to increase the level of trust on both sides, expanding humanitarian contacts and economic ties. This is what we talked about. Such meetings are very much needed today. Moreover, we agreed with the Prime Minister that he would visit Russia early next year. Maybe I will also go to Japan.

As for Turkey, you can see the current scope of our joint work now – mutual trade is growing, and at a rather rapid pace. We have completed the offshore section of the Turkish Stream pipeline. Now we have to start working on land and launch the facility at the end of next year. We have a huge project, Akkuyu, a nuclear power plant. There are other plans.

We use every opportunity to meet and talk, including discussing Syria updates. I mean the establishment of the constitutional committee – this work is very delicate, requiring a lot of patience. We are also implementing – we are succeeding, moving very carefully – our agreements from the Istanbul meeting. But we must take into account the position of our Iranian partners, of course, we cannot move any further without knowing the position of Damascus. Therefore, this is complex, multi-vector work, but it is progressing, and this naturally requires constant consultation.

The Idlib situation also concerns us. We can see that our Turkish partners are not accomplishing everything. But they are working, it's true. We can see that they are working on the creation of a demilitarised zone. We hope that our special services and our defence ministries will solve this task as soon as possible.

Remark: Thank you, Mr President.

It was for the first time that the G20 meeting took place in South America, in Argentina. Mexico, Brazil and Argentina are members of this group. How do you assess the overall contribution of South American countries to solving global issues?

Vladimir Putin: We know that there are problems here too, financial problems, economic problems with the ensuing social issues, which are acute. Nevertheless, we believe that developing markets such as Brazil and Argentina have a great future. Their potential is obviously huge. We have built and will continue to build our relations with these countries based on the opportunities the Russian Federation has, and focusing on the future.

Now, after meeting with you, we will move over to another part of our visit here. We will have a working visit in Argentina; I will meet with the President of Argentina, with our colleagues from the Government of Argentina, to discuss the promising projects that we see. I will repeat this at a meeting with the press – these include railway projects and many other areas. These are promising partners for us so we, despite the large distance between us, will work together, especially since modern methods, such as those related to mutual investments, open up broad prospects for this.

Question: You said you are negotiating the creation of an additional mechanism for resolving the peace treaty issue, and the Japanese side made a statement about it. What mechanism is it and why isn’t the current discussion format fit for that?

And I would like to clarify one point on Ukraine. They have imposed a whole lot of restrictions on Russians. Will Russia respond?

Vladimir Putin: No. We are not going to introduce any restrictions against Ukrainian nationals. Moreover, we will liberalise their stay on our territory and liberalise acquiring Russian citizenship for those of them who want it.

As to new mechanisms, we have agreed that there will be a special presidential envoy from our side and the prime minister’s special envoy from the Japanese side. This work will be overseen by the foreign ministers. We will release more details later.

Question: Is the issue about the exchange of 24 Ukrainian sailors for Russian citizens who are facing criminal charges in Ukraine being discussed? Has the Ukrainian side made such a proposal at all? Do we have any contacts left with that Ukrainian side, I don’t know, maybe at the technical level? Mr Poroshenko said recently that he called you after the provocation in the Kerch Strait and you refused to speak to him. It has gone very far – they are withdrawing from the Azov agreement, breaking up diplomatic relations. What comes next?

Vladimir Putin: Contacts at the working level have been preserved, naturally. I hope it will stay that way.

As for top-level contacts, I do not refuse them. Yes, indeed, the telephone conversation did not take place but it doesn’t mean that we are cutting off any and all communication. It is difficult to communicate, though, because it is not clear what we can speak about since nothing is being implemented.

A year has passed – or more – since we agreed to disengage the conflicting sides in Luganskaya village. The OSCE informed the sides 50 times, I think, that the conditions for the disengagement have been set, formulated by the Ukrainian side – that no shooting or shelling should occur for seven days. The OSCE has stated 50 times that it has happened but our Ukrainian partners say, “No, you didn’t hear it but we heard someone was shooting.” And that is it. Everything is stalled. It is not clear what we can discuss or negotiate.

So we will look into future developments there. But whatever happens, we will certainly maintain relations with Ukraine.

Remark: You did not speak about the sailors.

Vladimir Putin: About the sailors. The exchange issues have not been raised as of yet and the Ukrainian side has not come up with such issues. It is too early to even speak about it as the investigation is still on. We need to prove the provocative nature of the Ukrainian authorities’ actions and formalise that in legal documents. I have already spoken about a document that looks like a sort of log journal, they call it something different, which has records – I think they have even been published. We need to get a full account from the sailors, then fill in the proper documents, and then we will see.

Question: I would like to know what are the conditions under which you will now agree to another meeting with Donald Trump because he says he would meet [you] before he leaves and an hour later he changes his mind. It is somewhat irresponsible.

Vladimir Putin: We do not set any preconditions because the matters to be discussed are too important. They are important, for us and the rest of the world, because issues of strategic stability are of paramount significance, and they are immediately followed by the non-proliferation of WMD.

Question: I would still like to clear up the matter of Ukraine. The G7 foreign ministers asked Russia to release the crews and vessels as Ukrainian property. What will Russia do? And let me specify – did you and the UK Prime Minister cross paths now, did you have a chance to talk and discuss the relations?

Vladimir Putin: We certainly saw each other, I think that normalising relations with the UK is a matter of the future, and I hope the not-so-distant future.

Regarding the release of the vessels and their crews. Recall the fishermen who were detained in the Sea of Azov absolutely groundlessly, without any reason. The 2003 Treaty provides for a 5-kilometre zone as territorial waters whereas the rest of the sea is common area, including for carrying out economic activities. The fishermen were outside the 5-kilometres zone yet they were captured. And the captain in still being detained. For no reason. It is pure lawlessness, full stop. And that’s that.

Here they embarked on a pure provocation. We used to let their ships pass, including naval vessels. On September 11, a similar convoy of Ukrainian naval ships arrived. They stated that they intended to pass through the Kerch Strait. They were given a pilot and passed through. And that was it, quiet and easy, they went on to Mariupol and Berdyansk. We didn’t create any problems for them whatsoever.

And this time, rather than doing the same thing as before, they staged a provocation even though after they violated our territorial waters, entered our territorial waters, our coast guard still told them, “If you are heading for the Kerch Strait, get to the anchorage and take a pilot aboard.” “No, we are not heading that way.” And promptly went there.

After that the ship-ramming began. Our coast guard was pushing them out only because they went towards the Kerch Strait. And there have been many public statements made that they were going to blow up the bridge. What was our coast guard supposed to do? They had to act correspondingly.

And there was a demand to stop – they failed to comply, began to escape towards neutral waters. And there you have it. The coast guard service acted in accordance with orders and regulations. The coast guard of any country would have acted the same way if their state border had been violated so flagrantly.

Let us speak on a different matter so as not to finish on this topic.

Question: Can I ask about Melania?

Vladimir Putin: Please, leave Melania alone.

Question: There are photos flying around the Internet.

Vladimir Putin: What photos?

Question: You managed to have a brief talk with Trump but the whole Internet is awash with photos of you sitting next to Melania during dinner and chattering amicably. What were you talking about?

Vladimir Putin: No, I was not sitting with Melania.

Question: So this has been Photoshopped?

Vladimir Putin: Either it was a Photoshopped image or those were photos form a different event. I had President of South Korea on one side and China’s First Lady on the other.

Press Secretary for the President of Russia Dmitry Peskov: The photos with Melania were taken in Hamburg at the previous G20 meeting.

Vladimir Putin: From Hamburg, very likely. But now, during this dinner, we talked, and the US First Lady was nearby.

Question: Can I ask about the economy?

Vladimir Putin: Economy? Go ahead.

Question: It seems to be forgotten that the G20 is an economic club, whose mission is to resolve the problems of lifting trade barriers, protectionism, whether the global economy is sliding toward recession and reforming the WTO. We have been following the G20 decisions for a number of years and have the odd impression that there are no breakthroughs, basically nothing. Now that another G20 meeting has come to an end the impression is still the same – that the economy will not be growing more quickly, that a slide into a recession is possible Can you briefly comment on that?

Vladimir Putin: You see, one should not expect the outcomes you mentioned from such events. As a rule, there are very many questions and contradictions. It is good when a historical moment arrives when all the main actors in the global communication and the economic activities are united by a common drive to make joint steps towards increasing the world economy’s growth rate. But this does not happen often because there are many contradictions and disagreements, all the more so nowadays.

I already said at the VTB Forum, Russia Calling!, that according to WTO estimates, losses of about 500 billion in world trade – 450 billion worth of losses, probably – are caused by the restrictions that are being imposed. Tariff restrictions, sanctions and so on and so forth. And these challenges have not been removed. Nevertheless, such meetings are useful because the countries that are arguing amongst themselves come to understand global trends and the opinions of their colleagues from other countries. This is my first point.

Secondly, suppose we spoke about WTO problems, that it does not fully meet the tasks for which it was set up. The Doha round of talks has been going on for almost 20 years to no avail and the talks are nowhere near their end. But we have agreed that proposals will be drafted during Japan’s chairmanship on improving WTO mechanisms. You know, this in itself is an achievement. And if a respective working group is formed now – and I hope we will also take part in that, I mean Russia and its partners, I presume we could agree on establishing a mechanism that will be applied for the benefit of the majority of international actors and for rendering an extra boost to the development of the global economy.

Thank you.

Question: I watched a thrilling US film Hunter Killer recently.

Vladimir Putin: Well done. Now tell us about it.

Question: In short, the Russian president is taken hostage at an Arctic base, and this was done by the defence minister who leads the coup. And the Russian president is being rescued by the commander of a US submarine that penetrated the base.

Vladimir Putin: Our base?

Question: Our base, of course. Our Arctic base.

Vladimir Putin: This alone makes the scenario improbable, fictitious. Two small naval boats, gifts from the USA to the Ukrainians, could not pass through the Kerch Strait. And you want a US sub to enter our base. Sounds like a bad film. (Laughter in the audience.)

December 1, 2018, Buenos Aires