Good afternoon and welcome. It’s good to welcome President Putin to Downing Street a year after his memorable visit to the Olympics, when we watched the judo together.
As I said in Sochi last month, Britain and Russia share many interests: trading together to strengthen our economies, keeping our people safe at home and abroad, and working to tackle big international problems at the UN and, of course, at the G8. We don’t see eye-to-eye on everything. We have different histories, different perspectives. But as our event today with the veterans of the arduous World War Two Arctic convoys reminds us, when we overcome our differences we can be a powerful partnership. That is why serious and honest conversations with President Putin are important to me, and we have covered three important issues especially.
First, ahead of the G8 at Lough Erne, we’ve talked about the need to sort out the rules of the game for the world economy to deliver success for the G8 and for the developing world: better information about tax and company ownership, so that everyone pays their fair share; more openness for mining, oil and gas companies, so they support growth and never undermine it. And, I have to say, I’m encouraged by President Putin’s strong support for this agenda at the G8 and as the next president of both the G8 and the G20. And we’ll be going into more detail on this in the days ahead.
Second, we’ve talked about our ideas to get Britain and Russia working better together on science and space, on energy cooperation and on new business deals, especially to support Russia’s Winter Olympics and the World Cup. We’ve discussed how governments need to create the confidence for trade and investment to grow. We’ve agreed to work on new agreements, on cooperation between our energy companies, and to launch negotiations for Britain to host a ground station for the GLONASS satellite GPS equivalent position – satellite positioning system. And with exports to Russia growing faster than to any other of Britain’s top 20 markets, we’re backing a new series of trade missions between our small and medium-sized businesses.
Third, we have talked about the war in Syria and how to end it. I believe that Assad is responsible for tearing his country apart, and that to end Syria’s nightmare he has to go. The new evidence this week of how the regime is gassing its people makes that clearer than ever. I also believe that if we leave Syria to be fought over between a murderous dictator and violent extremists, we will all pay the price. So I believe we must support the centre-ground of decent, moderate Syrians, who can be the basis of a new, united and peaceful Syria.
Now, it is no secret that President Putin and I have had our disagreements on some of these issues. But what I take from our conversation today is that we can overcome these differences if we recognise that we share some fundamental aims: to end the conflict, to stop Syria breaking apart, to let the Syrian people choose who governs them, and to take the fight to the extremists and defeat them. So President Putin and I have discussed how we can use the G8 to bring new momentum and leadership, to start negotiations, to deliver a transitional government, to keep Syria intact and to stop the killing.
We agreed that the G8 must back the work of Secretary Lavrov and Secretary Kerry to bring Syrians into a new peace process. And we will use the opportunity of having G8 leaders together to try to build on this common ground. Almost 100,000 people have lost their lives in this war. The daily crimes there plumb new depths in the history of the region. Every month that passes leaves more dead and Syria more dangerous to the region and to all of us. We must work together to do everything we can to bring this dreadful conflict to an end. That is what we’ll do at Lough Erne and in the days and weeks ahead.
Thank you very much. I’ll now ask President Putin to speak.
President of Russia [via interpreter]
Thank you, ladies and gentlemen. We have held with Mr Prime Minister constructive and substantive talks. As a matter of fact, we have continued our recent meetings, a series of our recent meetings, and we met in the Russian city of Sochi, and it’s my pleasure that the Prime Minister and I have constant and regular business-like constructive contacts and relations that give us a chance to discuss the current issues in the economy, in the political sphere and in the international affairs.
It’s no secret that the international economy, the global economy, is in a very complicated state now. The Russian-British economic ties, on the contrary, are on the rise. Last year the growth was around 10% in trade. For the first 4 months of this year, the trade increased by more than 15%. Our mutual trading means something, rest assured, because it creates more jobs and economic activities, raises salaries, and more tax revenues will be there. It’s a very positive thing about our relations.
We have good prospects, specifically in key industries and sectors: high-tech, space, exploration. And Mr Prime Minister has mentioned the GLONASS system of Russia; we hope to cooperate constructively in this domain. We can cooperate in the nuclear energy sphere, not only on the territories of Russia and Britain, but in third countries as well. Our companies, Rolls Royce and Rosatom, have very good relations established. They’re partners in the hydrocarbon sphere. You know, the relations are also developing successfully. It’s not about BP but there are other companies working in Russia. Mining and smelting industries are on the rise, the extractive industry, and the original aspects are expanding.
So, we have more cooperation on the ground, which is a very positive signal for our economies, very positive messages we give to all the investors. And we want to learn from the experience of the British capital, being one of the greatest financial centres – small and medium enterprises cooperation. We have heard the initiative of the Prime Minister and we really attentively look into them. We hope that we will be able to work together in the future, in close cooperation with each other.
We talked acute and sharpened national issues. Syria is one of them. We have a common goal and a common desire to provide conditions for the settlement of that conflict. I can agree with the Prime Minister that it can – it should be done as soon as possible, and we really expect that the initiative of the Prime Minister in the framework of the G8 summit especially will be a positive influence on the settlement of the conflict. We are yet to discuss some other issues and problems that are no less complicated, but this is one of the most acute issues, international pending issues.
We expect that the relationship with the United Kingdom will keep developing in this positive vein. We have all the grounds for that and the main reason for that is our mutual interest. I have mentioned joint projects that are, that bear promise. I hope we’ll develop them efficiently, but by way of conclusion I’d like to say that we started today’s meeting with a very moving event: the decoration – Mr Prime Minister has mentioned that we have decorated the veterans of the Arctic convoys, former British servicemen. These are now elderly people – very wise, they have grey hair – but still they did a lot and we value their contribution the further, the more we value that. And the more time passes, the greater and deeper our understanding is of their acts of heroism. They helped combat this ‘brown plague’ in Russia and the United Kingdom as well. A lot brings us together in our history, and I hope that we will have a brilliant future lying ahead. Thank you for your attention.
Thank you very much, Mr President. We have time, I’m afraid, just for two questions. First from the BBC.
First of all, to President Putin: the Prime Minister has said in the past that those supporting President Assad have the blood of Syrian children on their hands. Given that Russia is arming one side in this conflict, is it not hypocritical to criticise those who want to arm the other side?
And to the Prime Minister: how would you describe the feeling amongst Tory backbenchers and your Liberal Democrat coalition partners about the idea of arming the rebels? One Tory MP said today that it would be suicidal.
Well, first of all, let’s be clear about who is responsible for what has happened in Syria. I am in no doubt the responsibility lies with President Assad. It is the onslaught that he has inflicted on his own people which is the primary cause of the suffering, the humanitarian catastrophe, and the death that we have seen.
In terms of the domestic debate here, we, I believe rightly, changed the terms of the EU arms embargo, because it was almost as if it was saying there was some sort of equivalence between Assad on the one hand and the official Syrian opposition on the other, and I don’t believe there is. The Syrian opposition have committed to a democratic, pluralistic Syria that will respect minorities, including Christians. So that is the argument for that, but we’ve made no decision to arm the rebels, to arm the opposition, but I think it’s very important that we continue to work with them, help them, train and assist them, in order to make sure that we have an influence on the opposition, who I believe want a democratic Syria. That’s how it should be. So that’ll be my answer, and I’ll hand over to President Putin for the first half of your question.
President of Russia
With regards to the supplies of weapons to the Assad government, and as regards to who has the blood of the children and peaceful citizens of Syria, I believe you will not deny that the blood is on the hands of the both parties, of both of the parties, and there is always a question: who is to be blamed for that, who is to blame? I believe you will not deny the fact that one hardly should back those who kills their enemies and, you know, eats their organs and all that is filmed and shot. Do we want to support these people; do we want to supply arms to these people? So, in this case, it has hardly any relation to the communitarian and cultural values that Europe has been professing for centuries. In Russia, we cannot fancy such things happening.
But if we speak calmly in cold blood, in a business-like fashion, let me draw your attention to the fact that Russia supplies arms to the legitimate government of Syria in full compliance with the norms of international law. We are not breaching anything. Let me emphasise that; we are not breaching any rules and norms, and we call on all our partners to act in same fashion.
[Inaudible] Newswire. I got question to both leaders regarding Syria. What are your forecasts as regards the organisation of the international conference to reach a settlement in that country given the fact that lately proposals are made to introduce a no fly zone over Syria, and to expand the support to oppositional forces, and the position of Syria, sometimes denied to participate in the conference? Don’t you think that it’ll ruin the prospects of the conference?
President of Russia
I don’t think that the idea of the conference is ruined and thwarted; I fully share Mr Prime Minister’s view that possibly this is one of the most appropriate means of resolving the Syrian issue. The issue can be resolved only by political and diplomatic means. Mr Prime Minister is one of the active proponents to hold this Geneva-2 conference. We have talked that in details when we met in Sochi, and we also dealt with our American partners afterwards. We informed the United Kingdom and all our other partners how things are advancing, but I am sure – I’m confident that the final resolution and putting all those warring parties to the negotiating table can done only – can be done only in concerned – in concert, with joint efforts, and if good will is demonstrated by both of the warring parties.
Let me back up there what President Putin has said. I mean, you can see there are very big differences between the analysis we have of what happened in Syria and who is to blame, but where there is common ground is we both see a humanitarian catastrophe; we both see the dangers of instability and extremism; we both want to see a peace conference and a transition.
So, the challenge for the G8, and for this process is to try and put aside some of the differences and to focus on the common ground where we both want to see a peace process, a transition, take place. That is going to be the challenge for us in the days and the weeks ahead, and I think the talks we’ve had today have been another positive step in recognising that, while there are these differences, if we focus on this common ground we can indeed make some progress, and I hope we will be doing that at Louch Erne.
Can I thank you again for coming. Can I thank the President again for coming to what was a very moving ceremony with the veterans of the Arctic convoys. They did extraordinary brave things during the war; they’ve waited for over 70 years for the recognition that they got from the British government, the Arctic Star today, and it was a pleasure and an honour to be them – to be with them – to see them receive the Ushakov medal at the same time. So, very, very much thank you President – Mr President for coming and making that happen today. Thank you very much.