News conference following BRICS summit

Friday, 27 July 2018 13:13

Vladimir Putin made a statement for the press and answered questions from Russian media following a two-day BRICS summit in Johannesburg, South Africa.

President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Good afternoon.

I would like to brief you on what we did during these two days and on the results of our work. First of all, I would like to remind you that BRICS developed in a natural way, which we pointed out today.

The first meeting of our group, which was smaller at the time, was held in St Petersburg in 2005, if memory serves me correctly, and brought together the leaders of China, Russia and India. The group was called RIC then, which stood for Russia, India and China. Brazil and subsequently South Africa joined our group later, which is why it is called BRICS.

Initially, our goals and tasks were very modest. We wanted to join forces, primarily in the economy, and discussed the coordination of our efforts towards attaining more ambitious goals in this vital area of activity.

As more members joined the group, it developed into a full-scale organisation with new spheres of activity and broader common interests.

One of our priorities, as we said at our previous meetings as well as at this meeting, is to fight terrorism and coordinate our activities in politics, trade and the economy in the broadest possible meaning of this word.

I would like just briefly to go through what we did this time. To begin with, this is our 10th summit meeting. The main subjects we discussed included resistance to unilateral approaches in global affairs, the protection of multilateralism, and the use of the advantages of the fourth digital industrial revolution.

We endorsed the Johannesburg Declaration that is aimed against economic sanctions and the use of force in violation of the UN Charter. It is also designed to prevent an arms race in outer space, support the Astana process on a settlement in Syria and preserve the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

The declaration includes the Russian initiatives on drafting an agreement on IT and communication technology, forming a platform for energy research and establishing a women’s business alliance.

This new Russian initiative came about spontaneously, to be honest, but was enthusiastically backed by the participants. It deals with BRICS cooperation in culture, sport and cinematography. The participants even endorsed a sketch of the prize to be awarded at the BRICS film festival that we planned to organise and hold in the future.

The summit sent a powerful signal in favour of preserving the WTO, against protectionism and changing the rules of world trade. Inter-governmental memorandums were signed on cooperation in regional aviation and environmental protection, and an agreement on establishing a new Development Bank office in Sao Paulo, Brazil.

The united session of the outreach BRICS Plus has just ended or is about to end. The themes are also known – consolidation of BRICS standing in the world and development of cooperation in Africa. BRICS has been supported by multilateral international associations.

As you may know, the summit coincided with Nelson Mandela’s centenary. He defended the principles of equality, dignity and justice. These are the principles that underlie BRICS activities.

I also had bilateral meetings with the presidents of South Africa, Argentina, Angola, Turkey, Zambia, the People’s Republic of China, and the Prime Minister of India, and also contacts with the leaders of Zimbabwe, Togo and other participants in the recent BRICS outreach meeting. This is a very general outline of the results and subjects that were discussed. If you have any questions, I will try to answer them.

Go ahead, please.

Question: Mr President, you mentioned that the BRICS format was initially conceived primarily as an economic cooperation platform, and has expanded to include other areas over time. What do you think the future of this format is? What other areas of cooperation might it come to include?

You also said that initially it was called BRIC, and South Africa joined later. We know that the possible expansion of BRICS was discussed today. Although there was no decision on this matter, what is your opinion about the possibility of opening BRICS to other countries, and what other countries could be included?

If you allow me, just one more question. According to earlier reports, you planned to discuss the Syrian settlement at the BRICS Summit, in particular the delivery of humanitarian aid, with your BRICS colleagues, and to propose that BRICS step up their role on this front. What was the response to this proposal?

Vladimir Putin: You know, the advantage of BRICS as a format is that it is free of all the red tape you find in many other associations like this. As President of Brazil, Michel Temer said today, BRICS is an organic association of countries that have many things in common: they have many shared interests and common approaches to addressing challenges that are relevant to all of humanity, including Russia.

In fact, there is no formal leader within BRICS. All decisions are taken by consensus with full respect for the interests of all the participants in this organisation. This is one of its key advantages. Today, we also mentioned the fact that many countries are showing an interest in what BRICS is doing.

BRICS Plus and an outreach format have already been created to this effect. For now, we agreed to rely on these formats for expanding our reach and drawing into our orbit countries that share the underlying principles and values of BRICS.

So far, we have no plans to expand BRICS membership, since the existing formats have proven effective. As for our discussions and the issues we intend to address, these are issues relevant for a vast majority of countries and economies around the world. The sky is the limit for us. The same applies to politics and security.

These are the subjects we discussed and on which we have adopted decisions or coordinated positions. You may see, regarding the non-deployment of weapons in space, it boils down to security and the arms race, or rather the prevention of an arms race in this particular case.

We also talked about fighting terrorism, but is this not a vital task facing many countries? In this context, we spoke about Syria, of course, and my colleagues welcomed our idea of encouraging a more active contribution to humanitarian aid to the Syrian people, which is an absolutely natural desire.

The fourth issue we discussed concerned the industrial revolution. This is happening in Russia and the other leading and emerging economies. Why did our colleagues support our proposal on strengthening our cooperation in the humanitarian area, as well as in culture, cinema and sport? Because this is what brings us closer together and creates a natural basis for interaction between people.

The Prime Minister of India said it was a very good idea because we can organise sporting events like a mini-Olympics for the BRICS countries, a sports mini-festival that could include national sports, which are not generally known in other countries but could be interesting for our countries.

This is a natural way to bring millions of people, or even hundreds of millions or billions of people closer together, considering that the BRICS countries account for nearly half of the world’s population.

As for the second question, about Syria, I have answered this.

Next, please.

Question: You have said many times that Russia must reduce its dependence on the US dollar. Russia has recently been selling US treasury bonds, bringing the share in the reserves down to nearly zero. Is this all you plan to do?

Is this a new state policy, or just protection against the potential extension of the sanctions? If Russia abandons the dollar, what alternative currency would you use? Could it be a BRICS country currency, for example the yuan? We know that the Bank of Russia is increasing its share of yuan denominated assets.

If I may, there is one more question I simply have to ask.

Vladimir Putin: Let me answer this question first, and then you can ask your second question.

Russia is not giving up on the dollar, which is a universal reserve currency. The Euro can also claim this status more or less, but not fully. Therefore, we are well aware of what the dollar represents today.

As for reserve currencies as such, regional ones are already appearing. To a certain extent, the Russian ruble plays this role in the CIS or EAEU countries. In general, the strength and value of any national currency depends on the strength and value of the economy standing behind it. We must proceed from these fundamental assumptions.

A few words about the dollar again. We must minimise the risks. We are seeing what is happening with the sanctions that are essentially illegal restrictions. We are aware of the risks and are trying to minimise them.

As for the dollar as a reserve currency, we are not alone in talking about this problem, and it is becoming a problem. You are wrong if you think that this is Russia’s initiative. A great number of countries are talking about exactly this – the need to expand the capabilities of global finance and the global economy, and create new reserve currencies. This will make the global economy and global finance more stable. This is abundantly clear.

As for our American partners and the restrictions that they are introducing, including in those dollar settlements, I believe this is a big strategic mistake on their behalf because they are thus undermining confidence in the dollar as a reserve currency. This is the bottom line.

Quite recently, just several years ago, it did not occur to anyone that such instruments might be used in political struggle, in political competition. Everyone proceeded from the premise that politics is politics or as we joke here: “War is war but lunch is still on schedule.” The same should be true here: disputes are disputes, but when it comes to economics, some things are absolutely stable and immutable.

It turned out this was not the case: payment systems are being used as a political argument in political disputes and in settling differences; currency is being used, too. I believe it is absolutely clear that this is damaging the dollar as the world reserve currency and undermining trust in it – this is what it is all about. If this were not the case, there would not be a desire on the part of not one but dozens of countries to consider other options.

It is hard to say now what these options are, but the yuan is certainly acquiring such qualities. I believe that if it becomes freely convertible from an economic standpoint, this process will accelerate. But it has already been added to the IMF basket, so this is nothing special, a natural process. Let me repeat that the importance of a national currency depends on the significance of the economy behind it.

Again, we are not going to make any abrupt movements. We are not going to give up on the dollar in any way. We will use it to the extent to which the US financial authorities will not prevent the use of the dollar in settlements.

Question: The second part of the question is also related to the US.

After your Helsinki visit, the US invited you to attend the next summit, suggesting that you meet Donald Trump in Washington later this year. As far as I understand, the US has opted to roll back this meeting until next year. My question is, when do you expect this meeting to take place, and will you accept the invitation? Generally speaking, do you believe that Trump can deliver on his promise to improve Russian-American relations considering that there are so many moves in opposite directions?

Vladimir Putin: The fact that President Trump always seeks to deliver on his promises, primarily those he gives to his voters, the American people, is one of his greater assets. By the way, I believe this to be a positive trait of the current president, since more often than not leaders are quick to forget what they promised when heading into the election. This is not the case with Trump. He can be criticised for what he does, as so many do, but it is also clear that he tries to deliver on his campaign promises.

As for our meetings, I find them useful. Let me reiterate what I have said on a number of occasions: in Helsinki, we discussed matters of vital concern for our countries. For example, the New START Treaty expires in 2021. So will we renew it or not?

Containing the arms race is something both the United States and Russia are interested in, and the same applies to the rest of the world. In 2021, the New START Treaty will cease to exist unless we initiate negotiations, since we have been unable to resolve some issues that have arisen in the course of the treaty application and implementation.

There are other problems related, for example, to conflict settlement, including Syria. Yes, we do have working contacts, but this is never enough, since top-level political contact is also essential. We need to accommodate the interests of all states within the region, including Syria, as well as Iran, Israel and Turkey, and many other countries in the region like Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt, etc.

But will we discuss all this at the top political level or not? Or is this a secondary issue for us? I think that this is not the case. No, this is not a secondary issue, and the same applies to the JCPOA (the Iranian nuclear programme). Is this a matter of concern for Iran only, or only for the United States?

No, it is relevant for a great number of countries and Europe as a whole, and many others. What I mean is that I believe the JCPOA is an effective tool for containing the arms race and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. This can be a matter of controversy or a subject of talks, but how can this be carried out when there are no meetings? You cannot settle everything over the phone.

As for further meetings, I understand what President Trump said. He wants to hold further meetings, and I am ready for this too, but we have to have the right conditions, including in our two countries.

We are interested in such meetings. We are ready to invite President Trump to Moscow. Incidentally, he has an invitation; I told him about it. I am also ready to visit Washington, D.C. But again, the right conditions must be in place.

We will generally remain in contact in the near term, including at the venues of various international events, for example, the G20. There are also plans for possible meetings at other international forums. So, despite the difficulties, in this case the domestic political situation in the US, life goes on and our contacts continue.

Question: Another question on the US: as far as we know, at the meeting with Mr Trump, you brought up the idea of a referendum on the territory of the Donbass republics. I am wondering how he reacted to this proposal. We already know that Kiev did not like it. Do you think it possible to hold this referendum under the auspices of Russia and some other countries?

Vladimir Putin: I will abstain from commenting on this for now. It is a very delicate, sensitive subject that requires additional analysis.

Question: Can you please clarify the position of the BRICS leaders: have you decided to postpone a BRICS expansion for now? I do not quite understand, is this the decision of the leaders or have the candidate countries that have been talking about joining for several years decided to slow down a little and take a step back? Who suggested postponing expansion?

Vladimir Putin: No candidates took a step back. On the contrary, they expressed readiness and willingness to be part of the BRICS framework as full members. But at today’s narrow attendance meeting my colleagues approached this issue cautiously. They are willing to cooperate with other countries and do not rule out BRICS expansion in the future but they believe that it requires additional analysis.

This does not mean that the organization is closed, that its doors are closed. No, it is just that this issue should be properly analysed. Otherwise, the organization is open to anyone.

That is all. Thank you very much.

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