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News conference following First Russian-Ukrainian Interregional Economic Forum

October 4, 2010, Gelendzhik

President of Russia Dmitry Medvedev: Ladies and gentlemen,

First of all, regarding the main outcome of today’s meeting, here in Gelendzhik we have essentially established a new platform for cooperation, for exchanging views. We agreed in Kharkov to hold these forums. The first interregional cooperation forum has just taken place now. What was especially pleasing to see was that this was not simply a forum at which the two presidents met, with an entourage of governors to sit for a while, exchange a few words and then part ways. Today’s event was not of this kind.

The presidents simply capped this whole construction, but the productive discussions began before we arrived. Our colleagues talked with each other and met with representatives of Russian and Ukrainian state organisations. This has enabled us, as I said at the start, to revive cooperation between our regions. This cooperation had ceased, been squeezed out of existence, but now we are starting to see some fruits of our efforts. These are modest fruits so far. What results do we have?

One of the governors said that trade between his Russian region and its partner region in Ukraine had grown by around 70 percent. Of course it is good to hear this kind of figure, but at the same time, we realise that we were essentially starting from practically zero, given the way cooperation had shrunk. I hope that next year we will see further growth in this cooperation.

We just signed a work plan and programme for interregional cooperation. We are continuing to work on the activity plan, and these documents will all open broad new opportunities for developing our cooperation in all different areas.

In their discussions of various issues today, our colleagues expressed a number of concerns, doubts and wishes. I am sure that everything that came out of today’s meeting will be summarised and that we will find answers to all of these questions, in some cases quickly, and in others perhaps not quite as quickly as we would like.

But the main thing, and I fully agree here with what the President of Ukraine said at the end of the discussion, is that we have common vision now of how to proceed in our work. We can sum this up as being that the regions in their cooperation should act freely, not shifting the responsibility to the presidents and governments, but taking the initiative themselves and working regularly, every day, because this kind of interregional cooperation is made up of tens of thousands of contacts between people, numerous ties between organisations, companies, and settling all kinds of border and formal issues. All of this should be arranged right now, and this is the responsibility of our colleagues, the Russian Federation regional governors, their Ukrainian counterparts, and the relevant state and federal authorities in our countries.

We met recently in Glukhov, perhaps we will come back to this meeting a bit later, and we continued today the dialogue we began there. I think this is a successful format. President Yanukovych will probably also have a couple of words to say in this respect. We agreed that next year the forum would meet again. Our Ukrainian friends have already made this proposal. Of course Russia supports this proposal. I think that will do for now.

President of Ukraine Viktor Yanukovych: Mr President, colleagues, friends,

President Medvedev and I have begun getting the mechanism of our interstate relations running again. We have launched it and given it a good impetus, and this enables us to create real cooperation mechanisms. Today, we launched this interregional cooperation mechanism too. We have already drafted a plan and programme for our efforts. They will of course be added to and expanded, but our regional governors have already set an implementation timetable for the period through to 2016. Later, of course, it will expand further. 

What is very important is that these programmes present very concrete projects and proposals that President Medvedev and I are both ready to support, and to work together on finding investment if need be. There are projects that we will carry out in Ukraine, and projects in Russia, projects that will come together at our border, as it were, and then there are projects that we will carry out together, such as the construction of the bridge between the two ports, Kerch and Caucasus. We were discussing this project just now. It is already becoming reality. The timetable for carrying out the studies has already been set, and we will set deadlines for the design and actual construction too. There is no doubt that this project is necessary and that it will go ahead.

The preparations for the big international events that our countries will host — Euro-2012 in Ukraine and Sochi-2014 in Russia – are also of great interest. The Sochi-2014 project is of great interest to us, especially as we have taken the initiative – and I hope for your support at the international level on this, Mr President – of making a bid to host the 2022 winter Olympics in the Carpathians. We will study your experience in this area, and in developing the Russian Black Sea coast, for example. We have seen how Gelendzhik is developing splendidly. I used to come here often and was very happy indeed to have this chance again today. First of all, I saw the wonderful runway here. The plane made a completely smooth landing, just like in Europe. The new airport, the well kept streets – it’s all wonderful. 

Dmitry Medvedev: The governor is positively glowing.

Viktor Yanukovych: Yes, and the projects that we heard about today fit very well with the projects that we are planning and want to carry out. I think that they will complement each other, and this shows what great potential our cooperation and the relations between our countries have. We often get asked the question – it was put to me at the Yalta forum recently, for example – “Who do you choose between Russia and Europe?” And I say in such cases, “You ask Russia who it chooses – Europe or Ukraine?” This is not the right question. We are independent countries and pursue independent and mutually advantageous policies, and we have joint plans with our neighbours in Russia. These plans are of interest to us and we would not carry them out to the detriment of our national interests. The plans that we have can only be to the benefit of our national interests.

I therefore thank the forum’s organisers for their excellent work, and thank the regional governors and President Medvedev for successfully organising in a short time this big event and even giving us good weather for it.

Dmitry Medvedev: Thank you. There were some problems with the weather yesterday, but our hard work over these last few hours fixed this problem. Actually, jokes aside, the weather yesterday was such that we thought the plane would not be able to land and we would have to land in Anapa instead, but evidently…

Viktor Yanukovych: There always has to be something to scare us off.

Dmitry Medvedev: Yes, there’s always something, but evidently, seeing how useful this event is, those who decide on the weather decided to let us land here.

Question: I have a question for both presidents. You have already discussed cultivating cooperation in the transport sector and simplifying migration processes, specifically at your meetings in Glukhov and Bryansk. After today’s talks, what can you say about specific projects that may help resolve these challenges, and in particular, what do you think about building a bridge across the Kerch Strait, the project that was demonstrated to you today? When might it be built?

Dmitry Medvedev: Indeed our challenge today is to transfer our very good intentions and the wonderful words that we have been saying to each other lately – which, in and of itself, is pleasant – into practical deeds.

Practical deeds mean serious projects in infrastructure. Our countries are so closely tied, and our turnover and traffic flow are so massive, that no cooperation will progress without infrastructure projects. Today, we discussed a number of projects of this kind. One of them – incidentally, not the only one, but a very important, large and beautiful one – is the project of building this bridge, as well as communications between Russia and Ukraine overall.

We agreed as follows. First of all, we agreed that in order for people to feel instantaneous improvement, we will intensify expansion of ferry services and try to bring in a greater number of ferries that have the appropriate features, so that people are not spending 15 or 20 hours in line. This is what’s most important – to move in these kinds of directions.

As for the bridge project, it is a major, technically sophisticated project, whose technological aspects demand very close analysis. We have agreed to set a special group that is to estimate what must be done and draft a technical assignment, to assess the depths at which underwater works will be performed, as this is not a matter of merely water depth, there is also a very thick silt layer to be penetrated for the bridge foundation to be laid properly. The group will certainly draft a respective design, but that, too, requires money, hence we have agreed to select several banks to finance it. The design stage will take no less than a year, because it is a serious project, and then, we will quickly get it implemented. Mr Yanukovych said it best: “It would be great to get it done in time for the football world championship, but clearly, this is unrealistic, so it would at least be good to have it in time for the Olympics in Sochi”. These are the goals we have in mind. This truly is a major, very important and valuable project, and we want to make sure it is accomplished.

Viktor Yanukovych: I would like to add to what Mr President has said. We aim to simplify procedures in bordering regions for the passage of our citizens and goods over border crossings as much as possible, and to offer special conditions for people who live in bordering areas of Ukraine and Russia, because people are urging us to make these decisions. We have instructed our agencies accordingly, so that they design these mechanisms and prepare corresponding suggestions for making decisions at various levels: at the level of the governments and possibly the legislative level, for interstate agreements to be signed. We will certainly do everything to ensure that our people are comfortable crossing our borders. This is generally a common practice throughout Europe. And we have set the goal of ensuring that goods, services, and people are moving about as freely as possible in line with present day standards.

Question: I would like to continue the topic of cross-border cooperation. You discussed it at your previous meeting in Glukhov. Have any deadlines been set with regards to when customs and immigration services will have simplified these crossing procedures? What specifically do you intend to do?

Dmitry Medvedev: I was pleased today by something that was not a surprise, but which I took note of: the communication between our immigration and customs agencies. Both Russian and Ukrainian representatives were absolutely specific, in other words, there were no declarations of the kind ‘we should meet, we must discuss it, we want to be friends, and we care for our people’, but instead, they talked about entirely practical steps. What is most encouraging though, is …

Viktor Yanukovych: Deadlines.

Dmitry Medvedev: … deadlines. Our colleagues have perfect understanding of what they are talking about, they set deadlines for immediate and distant future, schedule meetings and come up with required regulations.

What was the general subject of discussion and the overall agreement? First of all, it is clear that border crossing and customs registration involve diverse formalities. True, we are close nations, we are immediate partners and friends, but nevertheless, certain formalities must exist. Still, they should not be many. We intend to unify various documents required for border crossing. We are to introduce a ‘single counter’ service that must allow completing all of the formalities in literally just a few minutes.

What is the difficulty here? Apart from having too many agencies that have all sorts of requirements to the individuals, such agencies all have different names, differing competences and responsibilities, so that even their colleagues and counterparts may fail to figure out whom to turn to. So here, we must straighten out relations and simplify them as much as possible, find partners, and sign the necessary agreements. All of this should lead to having less rudeness at crossing points and significantly reducing wait times and …

Viktor Yanukovych: Corruption…

Dmitry Medvedev: Corruption, as Mr President very rightly says, must be drastically decreased, because sadly, today it is an unfortunate part of crossing the Russian-Ukrainian border. Even when travelling by train people, as you can imagine, may find themselves in all sorts of situations and run into all kinds of headaches. I do not even refer to law abuse by officials as such practices must be eradicated with the officers extorting bribes imprisoned. Even the formal fulfilment of all these formalities requires a lot of time. Often, the time for formalities comes as people are about to fall asleep, that is when immigration or customs officers come in, wake people up, check everything and start drafting customs declarations. Such procedures are more than just barbaric, they are unacceptable, and the matter is to be sorted out. I am very pleased with the constructive approach by the respective agencies and hope Mr President will agree with me.

Viktor Yanukovych: I have a suggestion. Once these procedures are unified, you and I should be the first to go through these formalities…

Dmitry Medvedev: Indeed, this is a good idea.

Viktor Yanukovych: We can then note the time required and award our judgement on the services.

Dmitry Medvedev: Shall we go by train or by car? We recently crossed the border by car. Now, we should do it by train. We will have to see whether we may smuggle something. (Laughter.)

Viktor Yanukovych: Then we will need to build a high-speed train line before then.

Dmitry Medvedev: That is also a good idea. Another idea, in addition to the bridge – the idea of a high-speed train – was also mentioned.

October 4, 2010, Gelendzhik