The Prime Minister answered questions from journalists following the APEC Leaders’ Meeting.
Question: Anastasia Savinykh, ITAR-TASS. Mr Medvedev, Russia has long been advocating integration cooperation. Yesterday, you met with Pacific Alliance leaders. Did you reach any agreements? What did you discuss, in general?
Dmitry Medvedev: The APEC Leaders’ Meeting, which has been held in the Philippines, mostly focused on regional cooperation. There is the APEC group, which has not expanded in the past few years, but the issue has been put back on its agenda, and there are also other regional groups, for example the Pacific Alliance, which was established in 2012. It is true that such a meeting was held yesterday on the proposal of forum organisers, including Peru, which is a member of both APEC and the Pacific Alliance.
The idea is to develop comprehensive cooperation between these two groups. The Pacific Alliance, which is a group of Latin American countries, is expanding, and we can expect it to continue to expand. At the same time, it has common interests with some of the APEC economies. Each of these two groups has their achievements and also different opinions on the development of international trade.
I believe this is a positive example of ways to promote cooperation. Yesterday, we supported the idea of cooperation between these groups, APEC and the Pacific Alliance, so as to make use of both groups’ economic development models. I hope it will be fruitful.
Question: Ksenia Golovanova, Interfax. Mr Medvedev, you made a rather hard-line statement on your arrival in Manila, when you spoke about the need to pool the efforts of all countries in the fight against terrorism. Did you raise the issue of establishing a broad international coalition at the meeting or during bilateral contacts with APEC partners? If so, was this Russian initiative supported by our US partners?
Dmitry Medvedev: The APEC meeting deals with economic issues; this organisation does not discuss security issues. However, considering the recent developments, this issue was raised by virtually each APEC participant, each delegation head, including the presidents and prime ministers and everyone else, during conversations. This is true. No matter who I spoke with, virtually everyone started the conversation by offering their condolences to Russia and the French Republic. And, of course, this eventually led to a discussion on counter-terrorism measures.
The agenda did not include any anti-terrorist issues, but I discussed them with my colleagues during our private conversations. Naturally, everyone wanted to receive more detailed information about what happened, about our response, our plans and our current actions. In this sense, these conversations proved useful, and they’ll also continue during the upcoming ASEAN summit.
Naturally, the concerned parties are voicing their stances openly and behind the scenes. You know our position, and other countries have their own positions, including the United States, and European countries, which is changing now. Indeed, I have voiced my position. After arriving here, I expressed my surprise over the fact that it was possible to sacrifice such complicated issues, basically, the interests of all people. You see, we’re talking about a war on terror, a war that has been declared against the civilised world. Given this, we need to reach agreement instead of trying to find out who stands to gain, whether it should be done with Russia or not because Russia is allegedly behaving incorrectly, etc. I consider these assertions to be immature and undignified. But I hope our partners will modify their position after the latest events, and that this will eventually help establish an anti-terrorist coalition that can unite countries interested in eradicating terrorism in the Middle East and destroying the ‘Islamic State’ as it is. I believe that it is absolutely obvious to everyone now that the ‘Islamic State’ is, essentially, a kind of international terrorist group that threatens the entire civilised world. Naturally, we’ll continue to maintain this effort. The President has conducted talks on this. Contact with the French president, among others, will continue soon, and consultations on this issue will continue at other levels.
Question: Tatyana Golovanova, the Sputnik news agency. Now is the high tourist season in the Asia Pacific countries, including Vietnam and Thailand. Has the possibility of increasing the number of tourists from Russia over the situation in Egypt been discussed and, most importantly, are our partners prepared to reinforce security?
Dmitry Medvedev: I have to admit that these issues have been discussed, because our partners, naturally, are closely watching what’s going on. They are aware of our decision to suspend flights to Egypt and about the threats that exist in a number of regions and, of course, based on economic considerations they would like to get the resultant increase in tourism. I’ve discussed this with the president of Vietnam, the prime minister of Thailand and other colleagues informally, so to speak. In principle, they are ready and they assure us that they will implement proactive measures to ensure security, especially given that there are quite a few problems here in the Asia Pacific region, and it is also necessary to put things in order regarding the safety of tourists who come here to vacation. Additional opportunities are opening up.
Question: Pavel Zarubin, the Rossia TV network. It was recently announced that Russia is prepared to reschedule Ukraine’s debt. Have we already submitted our proposals or not yet? When can we expect a response? And how do you think Kiev will respond?
Another question. 1 January is drawing near, when Russia can introduce a food embargo on Ukrainian products. The economic development minister mentioned this, among other things, yesterday. What is the likelihood, do you think, that Russia will have to introduce this embargo and what will be the implications for the Ukrainian economy?
Dmitry Medvedev: I’ll start with the first part of the question, debt restructuring. We have made such proposals, in an absolutely partner-like tone, and I understand there has been contact between the Russian and Ukrainian finance ministers. Our position was also made known to the IMF. We’re proposing preferential terms to restructure the credit: $1 billion each year starting next year. This is even better than what IMF representatives have asked us to do.
But if we agree to restructure this debt, our partners should agree to several conditions, which have been mentioned previously. Here they are again. First, they should stop acting up with regard to the sovereign character of this debt. It’s clear to all upright people that the issue concerns the obligation of Ukraine as a state and not its companies. This is perfectly obvious, and everything else is mere speculation.
Second, it should be borne in mind that if we agree to restructure this debt, we will request guarantees that the other side won’t change its mind later. Unfortunately, Kiev is likely to do just this in its current economic situation. What kind of guarantee can this be? It can be a guarantee from solvent states – the United States, the EU as a group, or individual EU members – or collateral provided by a top-tier European or any other comparable bank.
Third, a decision on this issue should be taken within three weeks, for during the next three weeks the issue of Ukraine and its debts will be discussed and the the IMF, a key participant in these discussions , will need to change its own (lending) rules. In short, a decision should be taken quickly.
And lastly, this debt will default in early December. If no decision on restructuring guarantees is taken, we will consider Ukraine as a state to be in arrears, which means in default. This is our current stance.
Now the second part of the question, about the food embargo. There is nothing new here. Economic Development Minister Ulyukayev spoke about this yesterday. Indeed, as soon as Ukraine introduced so-called sanctions against Russia we told them: if that’s what you want then we’ll introduce sanctions against Ukraine, as we have against all states, including the European states that have introduced similar sanctions against Russia. However, we put the introduction of sanctions on hold only because our governments are in talks, with the participation of the EU, on the adaptation of terms for Ukraine’s accession to the EU zone of free trade. We agreed with the EU that we would work on this for a year. Now the year is almost done. The results are zero, nothing yet. I regard the probability that some agreements will be achieved as very low. However, miracles do happen, including on issues such as these, so we are patiently waiting. If no agreements are reached, this pause will come to an end. The documents have been signed and one document says in no uncertain terms that it starts working on Ukraine (it has been put on hold) on 1 January 2016. This also applies to a number of other positions that we’re not talking about now. Such are the decisions on the issue.
Ukraine’s economic losses, I believe, will be significant. Some of our Ukrainian colleagues are plucking figures out of thin air. I believe it is rather difficult to estimate them. Even despite the decline in trade between Russia and Ukraine, it still amounts to hundreds of millions of dollars, because we still maintain a considerable volume of trade with Ukraine. How are they going to compensate for this? It’s up to them. It has to be said that, the way I see it, these foodstuffs are not welcome at least in one place, in the EU, because the EU is overstocked with foodstuffs as it is. In addition, after Ukraine started collaborating with the EU and signed a free trade zone agreement, the EU made a “favourable” decision for Ukraine and imposed quotas on goods originating from Ukraine. What does this mean? It means that after this wonderful alliance emerged, the volume of supplies, supplies of products from Ukraine to the EU has declined, not increased. The Ukrainians themselves told me about this. If this is the kind of partnership they have, you can only shrug and say: Well, this is what you wanted and this is what you get. This is what the situation is. It’s hopeless in terms of cooperation, but it was not our choice.
Question: Masha Glebova, RIA Novosti. I also have a question as a follow-up to the Ukrainian debt issue. Will Russia – as part of the debt negotiations – bring up the issue of lifting or easing Western sanctions against Russia? And if a debt rescheduling agreement is achieved, do you believe this could be a reason for the West to lift sanctions against Russia, at least partially?
Dmitry Medvedev: There is nothing I can say here. It wasn’t we who imposed sanctions, but a number of Western countries. I have no idea what they are going to do. We haven’t asked for anything from them and, of course, we won’t start now. There is no point in it whatsoever. We are engaged in talks with Ukraine for one simple reason: Ukraine is a country very close to us, and, no matter what kind of political relations we have now, the people who live in Ukraine are very dear to us – as individuals and as a culture. Indeed, we have always had very close ties with Ukraine. Therefore, we are trying to negotiate with them on this loan as well, the loan that Ukraine wanted so much to obtain some time ago. For us, the sanctions are something that have absolutely nothing to do with this loan. It’s up to them to decide what they should do. We are not setting any conditions in that regard. That is all.
Question: Channel One. Natalya Yuryeva. Back to holiday leaves and air transport. This year, Transaero, one of Russia’s largest air carriers, filed for bankruptcy. Other airlines are also facing tougher times. The threat of terrorist attacks has inevitably led to security measures being tightened, which involves more expenses. Meanwhile, demand for air tickets is falling. Do you think it necessary to support Russian air carriers? Is the Government ready to provide such support? And will Russian air carriers, and not just Aeroflot alone, be able to survive in these conditions?
Dmitry Medvedev: I perfectly recall the times when Aeroflot was the only air carrier. I am not sure, however, that this was an ideal model, because if there is no one to compete with, this is not very good. But let me note that air transportation is a rather specific business.
Many large developed countries have only one air carrier. However, such
carriers don’t always provide quality services. But you’re right, air transport
in Russia is going through a hard time for two reasons: Transaero's bankruptcy
and problems related to terrorism.
At a meeting that I held, we reviewed ways to provide support to air carriers. In all likelihood, we will have to adopt certain decisions, because air transport is a fairly complicated area in general. Here’s what I think. I would like to see several air carriers operating in Russia, which could provide services to our people. In other words, they should be able to provide transport services in various directions. Indeed, following Transaero’s bankruptcy, a considerable part of its business was taken over by Aeroflot, but this doesn’t mean that other companies can’t have their share of the market. As far as I know, talks are underway. If there’s a need to support the market, I think we will be willing to look into it.
Question: Tatyana Grigoryants, Vesti FM Radio. As a follow-up, will there be any further restrictions on air travel to countries other than Egypt? Will there be any recommendations advising Russian tourists to refrain from trips abroad in the near future?
Dmitry Medvedev: Here’s what I can tell you. As long as there are no obvious problems, no routes should be shut down. On the one hand, we must comply with the safety regulations (air carriers and the relevant services must do so in all countries, including ours), but, on the other hand, there must be clear information about what's going on. These issues are already being discussed. I would therefore like to say the following. So far, flights to only one country – the Arab Republic of Egypt – have been suspended, and this applies both to Russian and Egyptian carriers. This was done for security reasons. I cannot rule out a situation where we will have to consider similar restrictions in relation to other routes and other countries. But so far it hasn’t been done, and I hope it never will.
Regarding recommendations, I can tell you this. Situations where a particular state recommends that its citizens not go to certain other countries is a fairly frequent occurrence worldwide. Even major states, such as the United States and European countries, do this for security reasons. In each case, there must be good reasons for doing so, and this decision is normally taken at the appropriate level. Once the decision comes into force, citizens of that particular country who go to a country which is included on the travel warning list do so at their own risk, because we can’t prohibit people from going where they want to go. Clearly, anyone can get anywhere even if there’s no air traffic to that particular country. Therefore, such recommendations are occasionally issued. At the moment, there are no such decisions, except, in fact, a decision that concerns the Arab Republic of Egypt by air transport.
Question (via interpreter): Asahi Agency. I have a question about the Trans-Pacific Partnership. In a statement on the completion of the relevant talks, the original term "welcome" was replaced by the word "note." Was this change made at Russia’s request, because Russia doesn’t support the TPP, or not?
Dmitry Medvedev: I'll start by saying that we never comment on the inner workings related to drafting a particular declaration or statement as to who wants what to be included in the final statement, who insists on this or that wording.
I can only tell you from my own experience, and I’ve attended many various summit meetings, that some or other country always insists on something. Sometimes, disputes concern such minor details that may seem trifling to an outsider, such as a comma in the wrong place, or an unacceptable modality or verb, and so on. So, I won’t comment on this part of your question, because it’s wrong to ask who insisted on what during the drafting of the declaration.
But I will answer the second part of your question, which concerns Russia’s attitude to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). We have a calm attitude towards this form of trade cooperation, which is being advocated by the United States. We see how hard the US government, the US administration has been working to unite these countries. We also see that the Trans-Pacific Partnership has major potential, based on the high degree of economic integration, the absence of many obstacles and administrative problems, etc. We are glad that they have come to an agreement on this issue. It was hinted that Russia and several other countries would be welcome to join it, but I haven’t seen any documents to this effect or official invitations. What is important, as I said during my address this morning, is that there are other forms of partnership and trade systems in the making. We have recently created the Eurasian Economic Union, which has signed a free trade area agreement with Vietnam. We may sign such agreements with other countries. We are willing to discuss this with Japan as well, if they are interested. But this process should be based on clear rules. In other words, the agreements that are being drafted, discussed or signed must not undermine the common trading rules. All these countries are members of the World Trade Organisation, and in view of this, all our ideas should comply with WTO rules. Besides, these discussions should be transparent and understandable to other countries that may be considering joining an alliance. Discussions must not be held behind closed doors. Unfortunately, the Trans-Pacific Partnership discussions were held behind closed doors. Now, if all of us stand for open trade based on modern rules, for removing obstacles to trade, and for liberalising international trade, as everyone claims to be, then these agreements should be prepared openly.
Those are our concerns. What will come of this agreement? We’ll see.
Question (via interpreter): Manila Standard. Mr. Prime Minister, although Russia is not a party to territorial disputes in the South China Sea, would it be possible, if the international tribunal ruled in favour of the Philippines, that Russia would endorse that ruling?
Dmitry Medvedev: Indeed, we are not a party to the dispute. However, the dispute is there and it involves states that have an interest at stake. We have repeatedly stated our position through the Foreign Ministry and naturally, also in contact with our partners. I’ve talked about this, among other things. I can make it public. That won’t be difficult. First of all, we believe that such disputes should be discussed and resolved amicably through negotiations. This is always better than anything else. Second, in addressing the relevant issues regarding the South China Sea, it is important to proceed according to the basic guidelines and principles of international law and the Convention on the International Law of the Sea of 1982. Third, obviously, any decision can be challenged and so we have decided for ourselves that we will have no preferences on the issue regarding the position of one party or the other. We hope that all of these problems will be resolved accordingly – if these are amicable talks, then by way of talks. But if the parties have decided to take a certain issue to an international court… this is their right and if a ruling is delivered it will be the ruling of an international court.