— President of Russia (@KremlinRussia_E) December 2, 2018
Question: You said you are negotiating the creation of an additional mechanism for resolving the peace treaty issue, and the Japanese side made a statement about it. What mechanism is it and why isn’t the current discussion format fit for that?
And I would like to clarify one point on Ukraine. They have imposed a whole lot of restrictions on Russians. Will Russia respond?
Vladimir Putin: No. We are not going to introduce any restrictions against Ukrainian nationals. Moreover, we will liberalise their stay on our territory and liberalise acquiring Russian citizenship for those of them who want it.
As to new mechanisms, we have agreed that there will be a special presidential envoy from our side and the prime minister’s special envoy from the Japanese side. This work will be overseen by the foreign ministers. We will release more details later.
Question: Is the issue about the exchange of 24 Ukrainian sailors for Russian citizens who are facing criminal charges in Ukraine being discussed? Has the Ukrainian side made such a proposal at all? Do we have any contacts left with that Ukrainian side, I don’t know, maybe at the technical level? Mr Poroshenko said recently that he called you after the provocation in the Kerch Strait and you refused to speak to him. It has gone very far – they are withdrawing from the Azov agreement, breaking up diplomatic relations. What comes next?
Vladimir Putin: Contacts at the working level have been preserved, naturally. I hope it will stay that way.
As for top-level contacts, I do not refuse them. Yes, indeed, the telephone conversation did not take place but it doesn’t mean that we are cutting off any and all communication. It is difficult to communicate, though, because it is not clear what we can speak about since nothing is being implemented.
A year has passed – or more – since we agreed to disengage the conflicting sides in Luganskaya village. The OSCE informed the sides 50 times, I think, that the conditions for the disengagement have been set, formulated by the Ukrainian side – that no shooting or shelling should occur for seven days. The OSCE has stated 50 times that it has happened but our Ukrainian partners say, “No, you didn’t hear it but we heard someone was shooting.” And that is it. Everything is stalled. It is not clear what we can discuss or negotiate.
So we will look into future developments there. But whatever happens, we will certainly maintain relations with Ukraine.
Remark: You did not speak about the sailors.
Vladimir Putin: About the sailors. The exchange issues have not been raised as of yet and the Ukrainian side has not come up with such issues. It is too early to even speak about it as the investigation is still on. We need to prove the provocative nature of the Ukrainian authorities’ actions and formalise that in legal documents. I have already spoken about a document that looks like a sort of log journal, they call it something different, which has records – I think they have even been published. We need to get a full account from the sailors, then fill in the proper documents, and then we will see.
Question: I would like to know what are the conditions under which you will now agree to another meeting with Donald Trump because he says he would meet [you] before he leaves and an hour later he changes his mind. It is somewhat irresponsible.
Vladimir Putin: We do not set any preconditions because the matters to be discussed are too important. They are important, for us and the rest of the world, because issues of strategic stability are of paramount significance, and they are immediately followed by the non-proliferation of WMD.
Question: I would still like to clear up the matter of Ukraine. The G7 foreign ministers asked Russia to release the crews and vessels as Ukrainian property. What will Russia do? And let me specify – did you and the UK Prime Minister cross paths now, did you have a chance to talk and discuss the relations?
Vladimir Putin: We certainly saw each other, I think that normalising relations with the UK is a matter of the future, and I hope the not-so-distant future.
Regarding the release of the vessels and their crews. Recall the fishermen who were detained in the Sea of Azov absolutely groundlessly, without any reason. The 2003 Treaty provides for a 5-kilometre zone as territorial waters whereas the rest of the sea is common area, including for carrying out economic activities. The fishermen were outside the 5-kilometres zone yet they were captured. And the captain in still being detained. For no reason. It is pure lawlessness, full stop. And that’s that.
Here they embarked on a pure provocation. We used to let their ships pass, including naval vessels. On September 11, a similar convoy of Ukrainian naval ships arrived. They stated that they intended to pass through the Kerch Strait. They were given a pilot and passed through. And that was it, quiet and easy, they went on to Mariupol and Berdyansk. We didn’t create any problems for them whatsoever.
And this time, rather than doing the same thing as before, they staged a provocation even though after they violated our territorial waters, entered our territorial waters, our coast guard still told them, “If you are heading for the Kerch Strait, get to the anchorage and take a pilot aboard.” “No, we are not heading that way.” And promptly went there.
After that the ship-ramming began. Our coast guard was pushing them out only because they went towards the Kerch Strait. And there have been many public statements made that they were going to blow up the bridge. What was our coast guard supposed to do? They had to act correspondingly.
And there was a demand to stop – they failed to comply, began to escape towards neutral waters. And there you have it. The coast guard service acted in accordance with orders and regulations. The coast guard of any country would have acted the same way if their state border had been violated so flagrantly.
Let us speak on a different matter so as not to finish on this topic.
Question: Can I ask about Melania?
Vladimir Putin: Please, leave Melania alone.
Question: There are photos flying around the Internet.
Vladimir Putin: What photos?
Question: You managed to have a brief talk with Trump but the whole Internet is awash with photos of you sitting next to Melania during dinner and chattering amicably. What were you talking about?
Vladimir Putin: No, I was not sitting with Melania.
Question: So this has been Photoshopped?
Vladimir Putin: Either it was a Photoshopped image or those were photos form a different event. I had President of South Korea on one side and China’s First Lady on the other.
Press Secretary for the President of Russia Dmitry Peskov: The photos with Melania were taken in Hamburg at the previous G20 meeting.
Vladimir Putin: From Hamburg, very likely. But now, during this dinner, we talked, and the US First Lady was nearby.
Question: Can I ask about the economy?
Vladimir Putin: Economy? Go ahead.
Question: It seems to be forgotten that the G20 is an economic club, whose mission is to resolve the problems of lifting trade barriers, protectionism, whether the global economy is sliding toward recession and reforming the WTO. We have been following the G20 decisions for a number of years and have the odd impression that there are no breakthroughs, basically nothing. Now that another G20 meeting has come to an end the impression is still the same – that the economy will not be growing more quickly, that a slide into a recession is possible Can you briefly comment on that?
Vladimir Putin: You see, one should not expect the outcomes you mentioned from such events. As a rule, there are very many questions and contradictions. It is good when a historical moment arrives when all the main actors in the global communication and the economic activities are united by a common drive to make joint steps towards increasing the world economy’s growth rate. But this does not happen often because there are many contradictions and disagreements, all the more so nowadays.
I already said at the VTB Forum, Russia Calling!, that according to WTO estimates, losses of about 500 billion in world trade – 450 billion worth of losses, probably – are caused by the restrictions that are being imposed. Tariff restrictions, sanctions and so on and so forth. And these challenges have not been removed. Nevertheless, such meetings are useful because the countries that are arguing amongst themselves come to understand global trends and the opinions of their colleagues from other countries. This is my first point.
Secondly, suppose we spoke about WTO problems, that it does not fully meet the tasks for which it was set up. The Doha round of talks has been going on for almost 20 years to no avail and the talks are nowhere near their end. But we have agreed that proposals will be drafted during Japan’s chairmanship on improving WTO mechanisms. You know, this in itself is an achievement. And if a respective working group is formed now – and I hope we will also take part in that, I mean Russia and its partners, I presume we could agree on establishing a mechanism that will be applied for the benefit of the majority of international actors and for rendering an extra boost to the development of the global economy.
Question: I watched a thrilling US film Hunter Killer recently.
Vladimir Putin: Well done. Now tell us about it.
Question: In short, the Russian president is taken hostage at an Arctic base, and this was done by the defence minister who leads the coup. And the Russian president is being rescued by the commander of a US submarine that penetrated the base.
Vladimir Putin: Our base?
Question: Our base, of course. Our Arctic base.
Vladimir Putin: This alone makes the scenario improbable, fictitious. Two small naval boats, gifts from the USA to the Ukrainians, could not pass through the Kerch Strait. And you want a US sub to enter our base. Sounds like a bad film. (Laughter in the audience.)