President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Mr President, ladies and gentlemen,
I would also like to thank President Macron for inviting me to come to this wonderful corner of France, to Versailles, which I have never visited before. It is definitely an impressive place that speaks of France’s grandeur and its long history, which plays a substantial part in the ties our two countries share. This is reflected in the exhibition we are about to visit, an exhibition marking the 300th anniversary of the visit to France by tsar and reformer Peter I. The ties between Russia and France did not begin with this visit however, but go back much deeper in time.
The educated French public is familiar with Anna of Rus, Queen of France. She was the youngest daughter of Yaroslav the Wise, married Henri I and made a substantial contribution to France’s development as one of the founders of at least two European dynasties, the Bourbons and the Valois. One of these dynasties is on the throne to this day in Spain.
However, today, we spent more time discussing our bilateral relations and relations between Russia and the European Union. We spoke about the problem spots in the world and looked together for common approaches to resolving these complicated matters.
I believe that our countries’ fundamental interests are far more important than political considerations of the moment. The French business community understands this best and continues working actively in Russia. Let me remind you that over these past years, not a single one of the close to 500 French companies working on our market has left Russia, despite the difficulties and economic constraints. Furthermore, we see the interest our French friends show in expanding this economic cooperation. Last year, direct French investment in the Russian economy increased by $2.5 billion. Our bilateral trade is growing too. It was up 14 percent last year, and grew by 23.7 percent in the first quarter of this year.
We discussed humanitarian cooperation in considerable depth. We spoke about the undisputed need to develop our youth exchanges. More Russian students should study in France and more French students should come to Russia to study the history, culture and languages of our countries. I noticed that President Macron has a number of people with knowledge of Russian in his entourage. I hope they are not Sovietologists, but specialists in Russia in the broad sense, encompassing our language, culture and history. This is a positive development. I hope that we will have more supporters here, more people who understand us better, are attuned to us, and with whom we can hold substantive discussions on matters of mutual interest.
The exhibition we will visit now presents priceless items from the State Hermitage Museum related to Peter the Great’s visit to France in 1717. As President Macron and I noted, this visit has become a major milestone in the history of our bilateral relations, setting them on a friendly track for many years to come.
Indeed, we spoke about key bilateral issues, the economy and cultural ties. We also spoke about the Ukrainian crisis and opportunities for solving the Syrian issue. Needless to say, we did not ignore the complicated and highly dangerous situation surrounding the North Korean nuclear issue and missile programme. We are fully committed to searching for joint solutions to all these problems. Of course, these solutions must improve the situation, not make it worse.
We agreed that fighting terrorism remains a critical common challenge today. The President suggested establishing a working group and exchanging delegations between Moscow and Paris in order to develop in practical terms – and I’d like to emphasise this – cooperation in countering the terrorist threat that is extremely dangerous both for us and for the European countries, including France.
As for the Syrian issue, our position is well known and I described it for the President again. We believe it is impossible to counter the terrorist threat by destroying the statehood of countries that are already suffering from internal problems and disputes. I am convinced that positive results can only be achieved by working together in the fight against terrorism. However, I would like to repeat that we can achieve these results only if we join efforts in practice, countering together this plague of the 20th and 21st centuries.
I would like to thank the President once again for his invitation. He mentioned that Peter the Great spent several weeks in France, but as we know, everything in the diplomatic world is built on the basis of reciprocity. I would also like to invite the President to visit Russia. I hope he will be able to spend several weeks in Moscow.
Thank you very much for your attention.
Emmanuel Macron: Thank you, Mr President.
Question: We are marking 300 years of Russian-French diplomatic relations, but over these past years, we have been getting the impression that there is not much to celebrate. We have heard some positive signals, including those mentioned by Mr Macron and Mr Putin. You spoke of establishing a humanitarian forum and setting up a counterterrorism commission. Is it possible some of the other numerous bilateral cooperation mechanisms that had worked very effectively would resume operation?
I would like to ask another question too. Russia is frequently accused of meddling in elections. Such accusations were levelled at Russia during the recent election campaign in France. Did you discuss this matter at all? Were any clarifications given or questions asked?
Vladimir Putin: You said that we are celebrating 300years since Peter the Great’s visit to France. This visit was a major event in our bilateral relations, so how can there be nothing to celebrate? We are celebrating this 300th anniversary. So long as we have the desire to celebrate, we will always find something to celebrate. This is especially true because, as I have just said, our bilateral trade is recovering, we are now looking for common ground on key issues on the international agenda, and, it seems to me, we are capable of making a common effort to move forward, or at least to start moving forward together towards resolving the key current issues.
As for Russia’s alleged meddling in whichever elections, no, we did not discuss this matter and President Macron showed no interest in it. And why would I bring it up? I think this issue does not exist.
Emmanuel Macron: Let me say on this subject that we want to activate our strategic economic dialogue.
We discussed the matter of a joint working group on Syria. We also agreed that I would inform the German Chancellor in the coming hours that we wish to activate the Normandy format and hold talks with the OSCE’s participation. The progress made through this dialogue is very important.
Great events do not happen overnight. President Putin called me after my election to congratulate me on my victory. I am a pragmatic person and we already touched on a number of issues. I said what I wanted to say and he spoke about his concerns. We are making progress. I consider it important to discuss concrete matters.
I already ran through the subjects we discussed, and if I have said something once, it is not my habit to come back to it again.
Question (retranslated): Mr Putin, you received the National Front candidate [Marine Le Pen] in the Kremlin in March and supported her in the presidential race, at least tacitly. In addition, there was the case of the hackers. There is talk that maybe they were from Russia and tried to interfere in the election campaign in France. I would like to ask both of you. You are now standing on this podium next to each other, and it does not feel like Franco-Russian relations are very warm. Have they become at least a little warmer as a result of this meeting? We are now talking about the climate of the meeting, but there is also the issue of human rights. Did you talk about that?
Emmanuel Macron: With regard to the first question, I would like to say that it is not for me to comment on Madame Le Pen's visits in March. In elections the decision is made by the sovereign people of France, and they did not vote for the National Front candidate.
With regard to the other questions, I have never believed that in politics one should comment on issues of thermodynamics or chemistry. You mentioned the climate. It really is fairly warm here, the climate is warming. However, this was our first exchange of views, and I believe it was open and candid, and we said many things to each other. I said what I think about a number of situations. I will not disclose some of the things that I said, because this is accepted practice in diplomacy and politics. However, I think we told each other everything.
Of course, there are things that we disagree on, but we spoke out on them as well. Most importantly, we discussed how we should go about our joint actions. We must act together, because if we do not create the right conditions for this, we will not be able to make any progress on the issues that were mentioned. Unless we have a candid and sincere – yes, sometimes there may be issues in such a dialogue – and a constructive dialogue, we will not be able to make any progress either on Ukraine or on Syria.
As for human rights and other matters, we discussed them as well. Yes, we covered specific instances, but we will not talk about them publicly. I do not think that this will help progress in this area. At the very least, I really want us to be able to find a solution that is in line with the values we are committed to. And I will not give these values up.
Vladimir Putin: The first part of your question concerned hackers. I would like to draw your attention to how this question was worded. At any rate, this is how it was translated. You said, “They say that maybe Russian hackers interfered.” How can one comment on such statements? “They say.” Who said and based on what – that is unclear.
My second point. “Maybe Russian hackers.” And maybe not. Are these the grounds on which conclusions are drawn? The press can permit itself any conclusion. That is what the press is for, to let people know different views. However, in politics this is a road leading nowhere – to justify one’s actions or form one’s impressions on the basis of assumptions that have not been confirmed by anything. This is the first part.
Secondly, apropos Ms Le Pen’s reception in the Kremlin. This was not her first visit to Moscow. She used to come to Moscow regularly. I do not believe that her views on preserving the identity of European nations and consolidating the sovereignty of European countries are entirely baseless or senseless. I do not think so. My position may not coincide with that of my other colleagues but I have always expressed it openly. This is the first point. Secondly, we are always ready to receive any person. If Ms Le Pen inquired about a meeting, why should we turn her down? Especially – and this is the main point for us – since she has always stood for developing relations with our country. It would be bizarre for us to push away those European politicians who want to develop diverse cooperation with Russia. That is how I would answer.
This does not at all mean that we tried to somehow influence the elections, which was simply impossible because we were fully aware of the political realities in France. Do you think we did not know the public opinion polls, did not understand what was taking place and whom the majority of people in France preferred? We saw and understood everything clearly.
And my last point. On such matters… We are not children, are we? We are dealing with serious business. Apart from the current political environment, there are the fundamental interests of the people of Russia and France. The President and I are guided by these interests in our work and we will continue to be.
Question: A question on Syria.
Developments in Syria show that it is difficult for one country to achieve impressive results in settling the crisis. Do you think Russia and France could cooperate to resolve this conflict? And if so, on what scale could they cooperate?
To continue on my colleague’s theme of the election campaign in France, it was not easy for Russian journalists to get access to your election headquarters. Can you comment on how you will build relations with foreign journalists?
Emmanuel Macron: I will start with your second question. I can have exemplary relations with foreign journalists if they are journalists. Politicians have a responsibility to speak the truth. If some people are spreading lies, they are not journalists anymore. Russia Today and Sputnik were spreading false information and I believe they had no place in my election headquarters. However, all foreign journalists, including those from Russia, had access to my headquarters. The rules are very simple and will always be the same. The situation was so serious because during the democratic campaign some so-called media outlets interfered, acting under the influence of certain political interests. In other words, Russia Today and Sputnik did not behave as the press or as journalists should. They behaved like bodies of influence, bodies of propaganda, that is, bodies of false propaganda, no more and no less.
As for the first question, of course we will cooperate. We are already cooperating on the Syrian issue and this is absolutely necessary. This is precisely the decision I made. I told President Putin that I would like to cooperate very closely on this matter. We have a priority, and it is a common priority, this is struggle against terrorism. This is an absolutely fundamental priority. It overrides any other priorities.
The second point. I would like us to share information in order to work better at the local level. Moreover, we cannot afford to allow the disintegration of the Syrian state and the deterioration of the situation in that region. There are two red lines here. We must be unwavering on the use of chemical weapons and on humanitarian access to civilians.
I want to win the war against terrorists in Syria and I would like us to jointly build durable peace in Syria, political peace in Syria, and we will work together to make this happen.
Vladimir Putin: France of course is making its contribution to the fight against terrorism in Syria as part of the US-led international coalition. We do not know how much independence France has when it comes to operational matters because these are agreements between allies and we are not privy to that.
However, there is, I believe, something more important than that. It is important that during the talks today we felt that we take a similar view of many things and we assess many things from the same angle, though there are also some divergences. However, what we have in common gives us reason to believe that we can not only intensify but also qualitatively improve our interaction. This is my hope.
Emmanuel Macron: Thank you very much! Now we will continue our programme and head to the exhibition. Thank you for your attention!
Question (retranslated): One last question.I would like to go back to the issue of Syria. I would like to get a very concrete answer from you concerning the political process. You are calling for a political process. Russia, Turkey and Iran are working on this issue. You said at the G7 meeting that this does not suit you and that you would like to see a resumption of the political dialogue with the Syrian state. You have said that you would like to preserve the state and avoid chaos. Are you prepared to reopen our embassy in Damascus?
Also a question about Ukraine. You spoke about the Minsk process and the Normandy format, but at the same time during the G7 meeting, there was talk of the possibility of fresh sanctions against Russia over the situation in Ukraine. How do these two things square?
Emmanuel Macron: On the first question. Of course, we should determine the framework of the diplomatic process I have mentioned. I reaffirm that what has been done in Astana has been done in favour of de-escalation. However, I also reaffirm that it would only satisfy us if the situation is settled in the long term with due account of what we know about the Syrian situation. I mean the various groups, terrorist groups from Syria, which commit terrorist acts also on our territory, and there is the migration from there. I talked about it with President Putin.
I would like to see political and diplomatic frameworks for discussions so that we could build peace. In this context, it is necessary to negotiate together with all the participants in this process. But to do so we have to start exchanging information and views. Together with the other partners, it is necessary to negotiate with all the parties to the Syrian conflict, including Assad’s representatives. Opening our embassy in Damascus is not a priority for us. I will not insist on that. I need a clear road map for building peace on that territory and stabilising the situation. That is what I require.
But as I said, I have two major requirements. The use of chemical weapons will not be tolerated. And the other thing is searching for solutions for humanitarian access to all the theatres of operations where it is necessary. That is as far as Syria is concerned. We shall work on this in the coming weeks and months.
With regard to Ukraine, I confirm what I said earlier, that the sanctions would be toughened if needed. If there is de-escalation, this will not happen. And I hope there will be de-escalation. In this context, in the coming days, literally in the coming weeks, we will hold a discussion in the Normandy format, which will allow us to develop a full assessment of the situation. Therefore, we also want the OSCE to make a preliminary report, which would clarify for all four parties what is happening in the conflict zone, and what is happening with the weapons. You are aware that the OSCE can gain access to these areas and report to us on the situation. Everything is completely transparent, I am telling you this, and we are seeking de-escalation in this region as part of the Minsk process.
Vladimir Putin: For my part, I would like to thank you, especially for the second part of your question.
You wanted to know how sanctions on Russia could help overcome the crisis in southeastern Ukraine. They cannot. Therefore, I am addressing you and the French media: fight for the lifting of all restrictions in the global economy. Only the lifting of all restrictions – a free market and free competition, honest, not burdened by political considerations or fleeting interests – can help to grow the global economy and help to resolve issues such as unemployment and raising the living standards of our citizens.
Thank you very much for your attention to these issues.