TRIESTE, November 26, 22:25 /ITAR-TASS/. Russian President Vladimir Putin has called not to politicize relations between Moscow, Kiev and the European Union over Kiev’s signing of the Association Agreement with the European Union. At the same time, he has asked “European friends” to refrain from harsh rhetoric in respect of Moscow over the situation around Ukraine.
At a news conference after his Tuesday talks with Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta, Putin said he supported the idea of trilateral negotiations between Ukraine, Russia and the European Union. “I believe this issue should be depoliticized and would agree with President Yanukovich’s offer and conduct substantial trilateral negotiations on the issue,” the Russian leader said in reply to a query whether Russia was putting pressure on Ukraine in its choice between cooperation with the EU and the Customs Union of Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan.
He said that direct contacts could be organized at the level of business communities of Ukraine, Russia and the European Union, “so that those who really keep the economy going could meet, talk, speak about their concerns and formulate their approaches and offers”. “While we, for our part, would make a proper administrative decision,” he said, stressing that “in any case the choice rests with sovereign Ukraine”. Moscow will accept that choice, he added.
Putin asked the European Union to refrain from critical remarks in respect of Moscow over the situation around Ukraine and the latter’s European integration plans. “I would like to ask our friends in Brussels, my personal good friends, to refrain from strong criticism,” he said.
“Should we kill the entire sector of our economy in order to be loved by them?,” the Russian president asked rhetorically. According to Putin, unemployment in Russia is at its historic minimum, while in some of the European countries unemployment reaches 25 percent. “We do not want any upsurge in unemployment we do not want any halt of entire sectors of the Russian economy,” he stressed.
The Russian leader reminded of the 17-year-long negotiations on Russia’s accession of the World Trade Organizations (WTO). “And now we have been in talks with the European Union on the so-called new basic agreement for five or six years,” he said, adding that a lot of provisions of this agreement had not yet been agreed. “We are not ready to open the doors for European goods overnight,” Putin noted.
At the same time, he stressed that Russia wanted to develop relations with the European Union, because it would entail structural changes in the economy and modernization. “But any specialist will tell you that time and money are needed for such modernization,” he added.
The Russian president once again explained Russia’s position. He reminded that Russian and Ukraine had a free trade agreement. “It means that tax rates are reduced to zero on a number of key customs items, and the agreement has it that if one of its signatories signs similar agreement with a third party, any of the free trade zone agreement signatory party has the right to withdraw from it or cancel its privileges to the other party,” Putin said.
“If Ukraine signs a free trade zone agreement with the European Union, it undertakes to reduce to zero 85 percent of customs taxes within two months after its ratification, and to zero up to 95-98 percent of customs duties in a span of three years,” he noted. “It means that in case Russia has a free trade zone with Ukraine, we have all the grounds to think that goods of the European origin will reach our market via Ukraine. It is a big threat to our economy.”
The Russian leader refuted allegations that Russia had offered Ukraine to revise the current gas contract over the situation around the latter’s associated membership in the European Union. “Russia’s Gazprom has a contract with Ukraine till 2019,” Putin reminded. “We have not even discussed a mere possibility of revising this contract.” Apart from that, according to Putin, Gazprom had signed a number of supplements to this contract, including the one of the basing of the Russian fleet in Crimea and payment of a reduced price for gas. As a result, he said, Russia has received by ten billion U.S. dollars less than it was due.
However, the Russian leader reassured that Russia would continue cooperation with Ukraine regardless of its decision on the signing of the Association Agreement with the European Union. “We have been working together and will continue to work, regardless of what Ukraine decides about the signing of a free trade zone agreement with the European Union,” he said.
According to the Russian leader, cooperation with Ukraine will be continues, because “we have very deep cooperation with Ukrainian companies, and if Ukrainian enterprises come to a standstill, it might negatively impact our enterprises.” So, Russia, in a sense, “is a hostage of this situation,” he added.
Putin reminded that Russia’s Gazprombank, Sberbank, VEB and Bank VTB were extending loans to Ukrainian partners. “It is done on a regular basis, and as of now, the debt of Ukrainian borrowers amounts to about 20 billion U.S. dollars, or 280 billion roubles,” he said.
Apart from that, Putin reminded of the sums already paid to Ukraine as advance payment for transit of Russian gas to European consumers. “These are loans or quasi-loans with an aggregate amount exceeding 30 billion U.S. dollars,” Putin added.