This is the full transcript of Corriere della Sera’s interview with Vladimir Putin
Luciano Fontana: I would like to start with a question concerning Russian-Italian relations. This relationship has always been close and privileged, both in the economic and political spheres. However, it has been somewhat marred by the crisis in Ukraine and the sanctions. Could the recent visit by Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi to Russia and your upcoming visit to Milan somehow change this trend, and if so, what is needed for that?
Vladimir Putin: First, I firmly believe that Russia was not responsible for the deterioration in relations between our country and the EU states. This was not our choice; it was dictated to us by our partners. It was not we who introduced restrictions on trade and economic activities. Rather, we were the target and we had to respond with retaliatory, protective measures.
But the relationship between Russia and Italy has, indeed, always been privileged, both in politics and the economy. For instance, in recent years, that is, in the last couple of years, trade between our countries increased eleven fold, from what I believe was $4.2 billion – we make calculations in US dollars – to over $48 billion, nearly $49 billion.
There are 400 Italian companies operating in Russia. We are cooperating actively in the energy sector, in an array of fields. Italy is the third largest consumer of our energy resources. We also have many joint high technology projects: in the space and aircraft industries, and in many other sectors. Russian regions are working very closely with Italy. Last year, almost a million Russian tourists, about 900,000, visited Italy. And while there, they spent over a billion euro.
We have always enjoyed trust-based relations in the political sphere as well. The establishment of the Russia-NATO Council was Italy’s initiative – Silvio Berlusconi was Prime Minister at the time. This advisory working body no doubt became an important factor of security in Europe. In this regard, Italy has always contributed greatly to the development of the dialogue between Russia and Europe, and NATO as a whole. Not to mention our special cultural and humanitarian cooperation.
All this, of course, lays the foundation for a special relationship between our countries. And the incumbent Prime Minister’s visit to Russia sent a very important message showing that Italy is willing to develop these relations. It is only natural that this does not go unnoticed either by the Government of the Russian Federation or by the public.
We are, of course, ready to reciprocate and go further in expanding our cooperation as long as our Italian partners are willing to do the same. I hope that my upcoming visit to Milan will help in this respect.
Luciano Fontana: You have known several chairmen of the Italian Council of Ministers – Romano Prodi, Silvio Berlusconi, Massimo D’Alema, Giuliano Amato, Enrico Letta and now Matteo Renzi. With whom did you find that you understood each other best? And how much, in your opinion, does the existence of a personal relationship – like the one you had with Silvio Berlusconi – contribute to good relations between countries?
Vladimir Putin: No matter what posts we occupy or what our jobs are, we are still human, and personal trust is certainly a very important factor in our work, in building relations on the interstate level. One of the people you have just mentioned once told me, “You must be the only person (meaning I was the only person) – who has a friendly relationship with both Berlusconi and Prodi.” I can tell you that it was not difficult for me, I still don’t find it difficult, and I can tell you why. My Italian partners have always put the interests of Italy, of the Italian people, first and believed that in order to serve the interests of their country, including economic and political interests, they must maintain friendly relations with Russia. We have always understood and felt that.
This has been the key element underlying our good relations. I have always sensed a truly sincere interest in building interstate relations irrespective of the domestic political situation. I would like to say in this regard that the attitude people in Russia have developed towards Italy does not depend on which political party is in power.
Paolo Valentino: Mr President, you are coming to Milan for the celebration of the Russia Day at the Universal Exhibition EXPO 2015. The core theme of this year’s exhibition is “Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life.” What is Russia’s contribution to this cause? What does this effort mean for relations between states?
Vladimir Putin: This is one of the major challenges that humanity is facing today. So I can and must acknowledge that the Italian organisers chose one of the key themes for the exhibition.
The world’s population is growing. According to experts, it will reach 9 billion people by 2050. But even today, according to the same sources, to the
UN, 850 million people all over the planet are under nourished or starving, and 100 million of them are children. So, there is no doubt that this is one of the key issues of our time. Many other issues, seemingly unrelated, will depend on how we deal with it. I am talking about instability among other things, that is political instability of entire regions, terrorism, and so on. All these problems are interrelated. The surge of illegal migration that has hit
Italy and Europe today is among these resulting problems. I would like to repeat that, in my view, the organisers did the right thing pointing out the need to address this issue.
As for Russia’s contribution, we channel over $200 million into this through UN programmes. Many countries around the world receive necessary support and assistance under these programmes using Russian resources.
We pay significant attention to the development of agriculture in our country. Notwithstanding all the difficulties that the development of Russian economy faces today, our agricultural sector, the sector of agricultural production, has been growing steadily – last year the growth was around 3.4 3.5 percent. In the first quarter of the current year, the growth stayed at the same level, exceeding 3 percent, at 3.4 percent. Russia is now the third largest grain exporter in the world. Last year, we had a record harvest of grain crops, one of the largest in recent years – 105.3 million tonnes. Finally,