Moscow's cooperation with Latin American states is a priority for Russia’s foreign policy, President Vladimir Putin told Cuba's Prensa Latina and Russia's Itar-Tass news agencies in an interview.
Question: Russian leaders do not visit Latin America as often as they visit other parts of the world. What do you think South America and Russia can offer to each other today, not only in terms of economic benefits, but speaking more broadly?
Vladimir Putin: Relationships between countries and, more importantly, between nations can hardly be evaluated by the quantity of top-level visits. Most important of all is the reciprocal benefit that our cooperation brings. This is the most solid foundation for Russia’s varied ties with the Latin American countries.
South or, if we speak more broadly, Latin America is a unique civilisation that is close to us in spirit and culture. Paintings by Mexican muralists and Argentine tango, the Peruvian song El Cóndor Pasa and poems by Pablo Neruda became the part of world heritage long ago. We are all inspired by the work of the great Colombian writer and philosopher Gabriel García Márquez, and we admire the work of the outstanding Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer.
Latin America is a rich source of natural resources – oil and bauxites, fresh water and food. The countries of this region share the interesting experience of creating a fairly stable model of democratic development and economic growth with a considerable social component.
The history of Latin America's fight for independence, for the right to decide its own fate deserves great respect. In our country, people know well of the legendary Bolívar and Martí, Che Guevara and Salvador Allende. The Blazing Continent is not only a description of a certain period in Latin America's past. It is a symbol of striving for a better life, prosperity, progress and social justice.
Today, cooperation with Latin American states is one of the key and very promising lines of Russia’s foreign policy. We are united by our devotion to the principles of versatility in world affairs, respect for international law, strengthening the central role of the UN, and ensuring sustainable development. All this makes us natural partners on the international arena and allows us to enhance interaction on a wide range of issues. We are grateful to South Americans for the support of our international initiatives, including outer space demilitarisation, strengthening international information security, and combating the glorification of Nazism.
For us it is essential that irrespective of which political power is currently in power in a particular country in the region, there remains a continuity reflecting vital national interests in the development of relations with Russia.
If we speak about economic side of our cooperation, we try to expand trade and economic interaction, above all its investment constituent. We are interested in building fully functional projects, industrial, technological alliances with the participation of the region’s countries, in using the potential of the complementary economies to the full extent, in cooperation on such relevant fields as oil and gas, hydro- and nuclear power engineering, airplane and helicopter construction, infrastructure, and recently – biopharmaceuticals and information technologies.
We will continue to provide Latin Americans with practical assistance in tackling new challenges, including training law enforcement professionals at the regional anti-drug training courses in Managua and Lima. We will expand cooperation during relief efforts following natural disasters.
We believe it is important to expand humanitarian ties, exchanges of students, young people and tourists, and contacts between people. The mutual easing of the visa regime within the zone of our countries will undoubtedly contribute to addressing this task. The visa-free zone covers practically all South American states and a number of Central American and Caribbean countries, and the number of the zone’s member countries will increase.
Question: What do you think of new integration platforms in Latin America, such as the CELAC, UNASUR and ALBA? What relations could Russia develop with these associations?
Vladimir Putin: We are interested in strong, economically stable and politically independent, united Latin America that is becoming an important part of the emerging polycentric world order. In this region, the traditions of love of freedom and respect for other nations and cultures are strong, and there are practically no serious intergovernmental conflicts or the wish to pursue the divide and rule policy. On the contrary, nations in the region are ready for joint action to protect their shared Latin American home.
Integration processes in Latin America reflect to a large extent the worldwide regional integration tendencies and indicate the pursuit of political consolidation in the region and reinforcement of its influence on global affairs.
I would like to highlight the role of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC). It is meant as a union of all the countries on the continent, and its aim is to become a major forum for dealing with regional issues without the participation and obtrusive interference of external forces. We welcome the CELAC’s readiness to establish connections outside the region, including with Russia. Last year, Moscow saw the meeting of the Foreign Ministers of Russia and the CELAC's extended troika. Now it is important to define concrete areas of cooperation. We are ready for this work.
We think that establishing contacts between CELAC and the countries taking part in the Customs Union and Common Economic Space would open up many new opportunities. Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan are deepening the integration process. In May, we signed the Agreement on Establishing the Eurasian Economic Union, which will come into force on January 1, 2015. This will create one of the world’s biggest common markets with a population of almost 170 million and free movement of capital, goods, services, and labour. This market operates on the basis of universal principles and WTO norms and rules. This will make it a lot easier to do business in the Eurasian region and broaden opportunities for developing mutually advantageous business contacts with foreign partners.
We are open to substantive interaction with all integration formations in the Latin American region. That includes the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR), the Common Market of the South (Mercosur), the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA), the Pacific Alliance, the Central American Integration System (SICA) and the Caribbean Community (CARICOM).
It is vital that all these associations, as they develop their external relations, should work towards the unity of Latin American countries, and not for their separation, both politically and ideologically. We hope that consolidation of multilateral cooperation will be an additional factor in the successful development of our bilateral relations with Latin American partners.
Question: Russia and Cuba have a long tradition of bilateral relations and our countries seek to develop it in the spirit of strategic partnership. What is at the core of Russian-Cuban relations today? How do you see their future?
Vladimir Putin: At the heart of Russian-Cuban relations lies a long tradition of strong friendship, as well as rich – and in many ways unique – experience of fruitful cooperation. The Russian people have sincere affinity and respect for Cubans. I am convinced that these feelings are mutual.
Our bilateral trade slowed down somewhat in the 1990s and foreign partners from various countries gained a lead on us in a number of sectors. The Canadians, for example, offered Cuba promising joint projects in the mining sector, and the Europeans have been actively developing tourism. We are ready to make up this lost ground.
Today, Cuba is one of Russia's leading partners in the region. Our cooperation is strategic and long-term oriented. We closely coordinate our foreign policy, including within multilateral organisations. Our positions coincide on many global and regional issues.
The main objective of our bilateral agenda is to expand our economic relations on the basis of the intergovernmental Trade, Economic, Scientific and Technical Cooperation Programme for 2012–2020. We are working on some major projects in industry and high technologies, energy, civil aviation, the peaceful use of outer space, medicine and biopharmaceuticals.
Increasing humanitarian exchanges is one of the most important areas of our cooperation. Hosting Russian music and theatre performances and large-scale exhibitions has become a good tradition in Cuba. We will continue to develop youth and scientific contacts, as well as cooperation in education and tourism.
In short, we are optimistic about the future of Russian-Cuban relations. There are excellent prospects in virtually all key areas of bilateral cooperation.
Question: The level of trade and investment between Moscow and Havana is not as high as that of political and diplomatic relations. What steps could Russia suggest to increase Russian investments in Cuba and to substantially boost trade between the two countries? Are there any major projects in Cuba that are going to involve Russian companies?
Vladimir Putin: Russian-Cuban trade and investment relations have a great potential. In order to realise it effectively and on a regular basis we have established an Intergovernmental Commission. Its twelfth meeting is scheduled to be held in autumn 2014 in Havana. We have established close cooperation between our business organisations – the Russian-Cuban and Cuban-Russian Business Councils. Our businesses traditionally take an active part in the annual Havana International Trade Fair: in 2013, 50 Russian companies presented their products.
We believe there are real opportunities to bring our cooperation to a totally new level, including by implementing major joint projects.
In particular, in August 2013, Zarubezhneft started drilling the first development well in the Boca de Jaruco oilfield.
Our short-term prospects include the development of new oilfields in the Cuban offshore area. To these ends, Zarubezhneft and Rosneft engage in active cooperation with Cupet, Cuba’s state oil company.
INTER RAO is planning to join the construction of power units for the Maximo Gomez and East Havana TPP. The supply of Russian electric power equipment to Cuba is well underway.
A substantial number of Russian companies – specialising, in particular, in the production of reinforced plastic goods, auto spare parts, tractor assembly and installation of heavy equipment for the railway industry –have shown interest in closer cooperation due to the development of the Mariel special economic zone in Cuba.
The construction of a major transport hub is another large-scale project currently under development with Russia’s and Cuba’s involvement, as well as the possibility of attracting investment from third countries. It involves upgrading the port of Mariel and building a modern international airport with a cargo terminal in San Antonio de los Banos.
We attach great importance to high technology cooperation. In particular, active work is underway to create GLONASS ground infrastructure on the island, to provide Cuba with products, services and technologies in remote sensing and satellite telecommunications.
Russia wrote off 90 percent of the Cuban debt on loans granted in the Soviet times. This unprecedented step also testifies to the strategic nature of our bilateral relations. The total debt is huge, amounting to more than $35 billion. A relevant Intergovernmental Agreement was signed in October 2013 and now it is in its final stage of ratification. In addition, the remaining 10 percent, or $3.5 billion, will be spent by Cuba itself on significant investment projects, which Russia is going to select and negotiate together with the Cuban side. These projects are aimed at social and economic development of the Republic. We expect that these investments will prove fruitful.
Question: What are the prospects for the traditional ties between our countries in the humanitarian sphere, culture and tourism?
Vladimir Putin: We consider it our priority to develop ties in these areas. Tens of thousands of Cubans have studied in Russia. Annually, we give Cuban students the opportunity to study at Russian universities with the expenses covered by the state budget. One hundred scholarships were allocated to Cuba for the 2014 2015 academic year.
Joint theatre and music projects have always been very successful. A striking example is the triumph of the Anna Karenina production by the Vakhtangov Theatre last October in Havana. It was recognised by Cubans as the best foreign performance of 2013.
Russia takes an active part in the annual Havana International Book Fair, including the 23rd fair, which was held in February. We value this opportunity to present Russian classical and modern literature to Cuban readers.
We are very pleased that after a long break Cuba has re-joined the International Association of Teachers of Russian Language and Literature. A group of Russian language experts was established at the Cuban Linguistic Association, and specialised courses were launched at the Havana University.
The Orthodox Church in Havana represents an authentic monument to Russian-Cuban friendship. Its construction was initiated in 2008 by Fidel Castro, the leader of the Cuban Revolution.
A delegation of Cuban youth visited our country less than a month ago in the framework of the New Generation Programme of study tours to Russia for young representatives of political, civil, academic and business circles from around the world. Such trips have already been organised for two years. We hope that they will continue on a regular basis.
We consider tourism cooperation to be mutually beneficial and promising. Some 70,000 Russians visited Cuba last year. Currently, we are taking steps to increase the number of carriers offering direct flights between the two countries. Thus, we are going to ensure sustainable growth of tourist flow from Russia to Cuba.
Question: What are the priority areas for developing relations between Russia and Argentina? What are your key expectations from the visit to this country? What goals do you need to achieve in order to call it a success?
Vladimir Putin: Russia and Argentina are bound together by more than a century-long history of close ties and strong mutual attraction. They say that there is some Russian blood in every sixth Argentinian. Many people from our country found their second home in Argentina. In 2015, we will celebrate the 130th anniversary of diplomatic relations between our nations.
Today, Argentina is one of Russia's key strategic partners in Latin America, the UN and the G20. Our approaches to the key issues in global politics are either similar or identical. We share the belief that there is a need to create a new and more equitable polycentric world order based on international law with the central and coordinating role of the UN. In May 2014, the Russian Federation and the Argentine Republic signed a Joint Statement on Not Being the First to Place Arms in Outer Space, which is a good example of cooperation between our countries.
I appreciate our constructive and confidential dialogue with President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner. I view my visit to Buenos Aires as an opportunity to discuss the full range of pressing issues of the bilateral and international agenda, as well as to continue a fruitful exchange of views on ways to strengthen relations in various fields and to outline joint and mutually beneficial cooperation projects.
Question: The current level of trade between Russia and Argentina is relatively low. What steps do you consider necessary to make a breakthrough in economic relations between our two countries?
Vladimir Putin: In 2009, our countries signed an Action Plan for Strategic Partnership, which has been a basis for our fruitful cooperation over the last years. We have made significant progress on the goals outlined in it.
When dealing with numbers, it is important to compare the right things. Over the last decade, trade between Russia and Argentina has grown six-fold and reached a stable level of $1.8 billion, making Argentina one of Russia’s leading trade partners in Latin America.
Our cooperation is mutually advantageous. For example, we buy the necessary volumes of agricultural produce, which is in high demand in our country, while Russia-produced turbines account for a quarter of the total power generation in Argentina.
However, projects implemented by Russian and Argentinian businesses over the recent years in such areas as renewable energy, power generation, oil and gas, transport machinery and a number of others, have not yielded a substantial increase in bilateral trade. We have work to do in that area.
We are planning to pay particular attention to enhancing technology and investment cooperation, particularly in such areas as energy, peaceful nuclear energy and mechanical engineering. We also see good prospects for further collaboration in the Antarctic. I plan to discuss all these issues during the talks with President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner.
Question: In March, there was information that Argentina may become the sixth BRICS member. This idea was supported by three of the five member countries – India, Brazil and South Africa. What is Russia's attitude to it? Is the expansion of BRICS advisable? What are the criteria for other countries’ possible accession to BRICS?
Vladimir Putin: Russia welcomes the Argentinean authorities' intention to work more closely with BRICS. It is quite possible for BRICS to enter into strategic partnership with Argentina, as with other big developing countries, in both politics and the economy.
However, the expansion of BRICS is not being considered in practice at the moment. First, we should work out the numerous cooperation formats already created within of our union.
There are no strict criteria for other states’ accession to BRICS. Each case is considered individually.
On the whole, today, more and more countries see the potential of this association. That is why, in the future, the issue of gradually expanding BRICS is likely to be raised.
Question:How do you assess the status and prospects of the strategic partnership between Russia and Brazil? What key issues and specific proposals are you planning to discuss in Brasilia?
Vladimir Putin: Our bilateral cooperation is of strategic importance, as Brazil is a responsible member of the international community whose political influence is steadily increasing; it is also the largest country in Latin America and one of the leading economies in the world.It is enough to mention its active participation in BRICS, the G20 and a number of Latin American regional organisations (CELAC, MERCOSUR, UNASUR).
We support Brazil as a deserving and strong candidate for a permanent seat on the UN Security Council. I am sure that this powerful and fast-developing country is destined to play an important role in the emerging polycentric world order.
I want to emphasise that Brazil is one of Russia's key partners in Latin America. We have long-standing relations of friendship, mutual respect and trust. We are actively developing political dialogue, defence, scientific, technological and humanitarian cooperation, as well as economic and investment ties.
Over the last ten years, bilateral trade has grown almost three-fold and reached $5.5 billion in 2013. Our companies maintain close contacts through the Brazil-Russia Business Council. The citizens of our countries no longer need visas to travel. Dozens of Russia's best universities that joined Brazilian educational programme Science without Borders are ready to welcome students from Brazil. Cultural exchanges have become a regular practice.
During the visit, we want to discuss areas for further developing cooperation and to outline new joint projects in energy, investment, innovation, agriculture, science and technology. We plan to sign a large package of documents relating to a variety of industries, including between specialised agencies, public and private companies, and research and educational institutions.
Question: The current level of economic and trade relations between Russia and Brazil is far below the potential that has been proclaimed by the countries' leaders. What steps do you consider necessary to accelerate the realisation of this potential? What are the obstacles that slow us down and prevent us from taking bilateral trade to a completely new level?
Vladimir Putin: Indeed, despite the good results achieved, there is still an untapped potential in trade and economic cooperation with Brazil. Moreover, there was a decrease in bilateral trade (3.3% in 2013), caused by global economic instability. In order to address the situation we need to diversify our trade ties by increasing the share of high-tech products and engineering goods, as well as by developing cooperation in aviation, energy and agriculture.
Russian companies are interested in the Brazilian market. Our countries' businesses have launched a number of successful investment projects in energy, engineering and pharmaceutical industries. For example, Russia’s Rosneft and the Brazilian HRT oil and gas company are jointly exploring and producing hydrocarbons in the Solimões river basin. In the state of Santa Catarina, the Power Machines corporation is setting up production of hydro turbines of up to 100 MW for their subsequent delivery to the markets of Brazil and other MERCOSUR countries. BIOCAD is developing a research, education and training centre in Brazil, designed to produce modern innovative medicines for the treatment of cancer.
I am sure that such projects will help bring our bilateral trade and economic cooperation to a more mature level, which meets the current and future capabilities of our developing countries.
Question: Brazil will pass the baton of hosting a world football championship to Russia. Are you following the FIFA World Cup? Which part of Brazil's experience in preparing and hosting the event has attracted your attention and can be taken on board while organising the 2018 World Cup?
Vladimir Putin: I try to follow the World Cup as far as my work schedule allows. The Latin American countries’ teams have put on a display of football that has real flare and talent. Unfortunately, our team did not leave the group, but, in my opinion, they tried their best.
At the invitation of Brazil and FIFA Presidents, I am going to visit the final match of the Championship to attend the ceremony of passing the baton from Brazil to Russia. In 2018, Russia will host this most popular global sporting event for the first time in its history.
In February-March, we successfully hosted the Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games in Sochi and know exactly what a challenge it is to organise such a huge event. We are analysing Brazil’s experience very carefully. Your country is yet to host the Olympic Games in 2016. Representatives of several ministries and organisations, including the Ministry of Sports and the Russia-2018 Organising Committee, are in constant contact with Brazilian colleagues. They have already visited Brazil and I am sure they will go there again more than once.
It is worth noting that Russia plans to take the FIFA World Cup a step further in some areas. For example, we passed a federal law establishing a special visa regime for foreigners who help organise the 2018 Championship, and enabling not only the official participants, such as the athletes, referees, coaches and others, but also the fans to visit Russia without visas right before and during the competition. The history of football championships has never seen anything like this before.
I am sure that the World Cup in Brazil will be a bright page in the history of football. I wish the Brazilian organisers every success in completing it. As for us, in 2018, we will do everything possible to give the world an unforgettable football celebration and show genuine Russian hospitality.
Question: How much attention will be paid during the talks in Latin America to the issues of the modern world order, which enables some players on the international arena to unilaterally claim significantly more extensive rights, including to spy even on those leaders that they call partners and to hack their phones?
Vladimir Putin: The 21st century world is globalised and interdependent. Therefore, no state or group of countries can unilaterally tackle major international problems and any attempts to build a separate “oasis of stability and security” are doomed to failure.
In order to meet numerous challenges and threats we have to stop trying to impose development models on other countries. This approach has repeatedly proven its ineffectiveness. It does not just fail to facilitate conflict resolution, but leads to instability and chaos in international affairs.
Today, it is especially important to consolidate the international community’s efforts to ensure equal and indivisible security, as well as to resolve disputes trough the application of international law and with the central coordinating role of the UN.
As for the facts of cyber espionage that you mentioned, it not only amounts to overt hypocrisy in relationships between allies and partners, but also a direct violation of the state's sovereignty, an infringement on human rights and an invasion of privacy. We are looking forward to jointly developing an international information security system.