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Press Conference by Vladimir Putin and François Hollande

| Moscow (Russia)
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President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Ladies and gentlemen, good evening.

The President of France and I have just completed substantive talks, which were held in a trust-based, constructive tone. Naturally, we gave the greatest attention to the issue of jointly combating international terrorism.

The barbaric attack on Russia’s airplane over the Sinai Peninsula, the horrible events in Paris and the terrorist attacks in Lebanon, Nigeria and Mali have left many people dead, including hundreds of Russian and French citizens. This is our common tragedy and we stand united in our commitment to find the perpetrators and bring them to justice.

We have already intensified the Russian Armed Forces operation against Syrian terrorists and our military actions are effective; militants from the so-called Islamic State and other radical groups are suffering heavy losses. We have disrupted the extremists’ operating mechanisms, damaged their military infrastructure and significantly undermined their financial base – I am referring first and foremost to illicit trade in oil, which generates immense profits for the terrorists and their sponsors.

Those who apply double standards when dealing with terrorists, using them to achieve their own political aims and engaging in unlawful business with them, are playing with fire. History shows that sooner or later such actions will backfire against those who abet criminals.

Russia and France know what it means to act in the spirit of alliance; we have come together more than once throughout our history. Today, we agreed to step up our joint efforts on the anti-terrorist track, to improve the exchange of operational information in the fight against terrorism and establish constructive work between our military experts in order to avoid overlapping incidents and to focus our efforts on ensuring that our work in fighting terror is more effective, avoiding any strikes against territories and armed forces that are themselves fighting terrorists.

Mr Hollande and I are looking at this kind of cooperation as concrete and practical input towards forming a broad anti-terrorist coalition, a broad anti-terrorist front under the auspices of the United Nations. I will note that the number of nations sharing this initiative is growing.

We are confident that eradicating terrorism in Syria will create the necessary conditions for achieving a final and long-term settlement of the Syrian crisis. We agreed to continue working together very actively within the framework of the International Syria Support Group and promote the fulfilment of all agreements reached within this group, first and foremost with regard to the deadlines and parameters for holding intra-Syrian talks.

In today’s talks, we could not ignore the situation in Ukraine; in this context, we discussed prospects of cooperating in the Normandy format. We will continue to insist on the implementation of all provisions of the Minsk Agreements of February 12.

In closing, I would like to thank Mr President and all of our French colleagues for this frank and substantive discussion. We intend to continue our conversation in Paris at the UN Climate Change Conference.

Thank you.

President of France Francois Hollande (retranslated): Ladies and gentlemen, I wanted to meet with Mr Putin as part of the diplomatic initiative, the political initiative that I made the day after the terrible terrorist attacks in Paris. I’d like to thank Mr Putin and the Russian people for their expression of condolence, sympathy and friendship towards the victims and their families, as well as towards the entire French people.

I personally told Mr Putin again that he can count on my support following the attack on the Russian airliner over Sinai that took over 220 lives.

We all suffer from terrorism. Terrorism can strike in any part of the world, so it is critical to act. And this is the whole point of our meeting in Moscow. We need to respond together.

Last week, the UN Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution that all countries in the world should take the necessary measures to coordinate their efforts to eliminate the “Islamic State”, and we should pursue this process.

This is the most important reality in today’s world, that is, a broad coalition, to which France will also be a party, a global coalition in the fight against terror. This consensus is essential, but not enough. We also need to assume responsibility. This is precisely what France is doing when it attacks ISIS operations centres, when it attacks the oil wells that the terrorists use to smuggle oil and obtain financial resources. We intensified our strikes. We deployed the aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle to the Mediterranean and we’ve done everything we can to ensure that our military will be actively involved in eliminating ISIS.

We agree with Mr Putin that it is essential to cut this evil off. Since 2011, the chaos in Syria has created a huge wave of refugees, and over 300,000 people have been killed, and so now we need to find a political solution to this crisis, but there are requirements for this that should be followed.

We believe that the following conditions should be met if we are to ensure a political transition process. A coalition government, an independent government, should be formed during a transition period.

This transitional period should lead to the adoption of a new constitution, elections should be held with the participation of all political factions, groups and members of the expatriate community. And it goes without saying that Assad does not have any role to play in the future of his country.

However, in order to achieve this, it is imperative that Russia should play the main, one of the main roles in this process. I’ve told Mr Putin that France is ready and willing to work with Russia hand in hand towards our common objective, which is to fight terrorist groups, above all ISIS. It is for this reason that I believe our meeting today to be of outmost importance. Mr Putin and I have agreed on three main points.

First, we intend to step up the exchange of intelligence and any other information between our respective forces.

Second, we will intensify strikes against ISIS and coordinate them so as to enhance their efficiency.

Third, as Mr Putin has also pointed out, we need to make sure that our air strikes concentrate on the “Islamic State” and terrorist groups.

Let me tell you that Europe is about to mobilise its forces to combat terrorism. I would like to ask defence ministers from across Europe to take the necessary decisions for coordinating their actions.

The United Kingdom will also participate. I spoke with Mr Cameron about this. I also discussed a number of issues with Ms Merkel yesterday. Mr Putin and I have also agreed that we will exchange information and specific actions as regards another important issue – the developments in eastern Ukraine. We will continue to work on that within the Normandy format.

Last time we met in Paris, all four of us, we touched upon the Syrian issue and spoke about the need for coordinated actions. Today, we took this issue even further. Our fight against terrorism in Syria does not affect France’s commitment to find a political solution to the Ukrainian crisis.

We must fully implement all the measures that are stipulated in the Minsk Agreements. This is why I wanted to come to Moscow today to meet with Mr Putin. Mr Putin will come to Paris on Monday to participate in the climate change conference. I think the current situation and the fight against terrorism required my visit to Moscow today.

Question: Good evening, I have a question to Mr Putin. Mr President, do you agree that Assad remaining in office hampers the achievement of your common goals? Have you agreed which groups of militants you should deliver your air strikes on, and which you shouldn’t?

Vladimir Putin: I believe that the fate of the Syrian president should be entirely in the hands of the Syrian people. This is the first point.

Second, we all believe that successfully fighting terrorists in Syria is impossible without ground operations, and today the only force that can conduct ground operations against ISIS, Jabhat al-Nusra, and other terrorist organisations, is the Syrian government army.

In this regard, I believe that President Assad’s army and he himself are our natural allies in fighting terrorism. There may be other forces that claim they are willing to fight terrorists. We are now trying to establish contacts with them. We have already established such contacts with some of them, and, as I mentioned on many occasions, we are willing to support their efforts in fighting ISIS and other terrorist groups, just as we support the Assad army.

We agreed – and I believe it’s a critical part of what President Hollande and I agreed upon today – that just as we do with some other countries in the region, we will exchange information with France about the areas that are being held by healthy opposition, not terrorists, and will refrain from delivering air strikes at them. We will also exchange information, when we – France and Russia – know for sure that certain areas are captured by terrorist organisations, and we will coordinate our efforts with regard to those areas.

Question: I have a question for President Putin. Mr Putin, we are talking about a broad-based coalition, and in this regard I have a question about Turkey’s special place, so to say. Today, the Russian military reported that they have stepped up their strikes on a quadrant in Syria where the Russian plane was downed.

The Turkish media are virtually accusing Russia of bombing a humanitarian aid convoy. Was Turkey discussed today during your talks with President Hollande? What can you say about Turkey’s special place in this situation and our relations with it?

Vladimir Putin: As you know, Turkey is a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. France is also a member of NATO, so we understand France’s situation. However, President Hollande communicated his condolences to us in connection with our military casualties, and we are grateful to him for that.

With regard to the area where our servicemen were killed, indeed, soon after we received credible information that one serviceman was killed, and another one needed our help and we could save him, the Syrian armed forces, using multiple rocket launchers, which we supplied recently to the Syrian army, and in coordination with our air force, intensified strikes at this area. That’s the way it’s supposed to be.

In this regard, I would like to comment on what we are hearing today about some tribes that are close to Turkey, the Turkomen… Well, first of all, it begs the question: What are members of Turkish terrorist organisations doing there? They take pictures of themselves and post them online.

Second, what are nationals of the Russian Federation, who are wanted for their crimes and are definitely international terrorists, doing there? Our military worked in this quadrant to prevent these people from ever returning to Russia to commit more crimes. They were performing their duty to the Motherland, to Russia directly. Directly! So the question is: What are these people doing there? We believe that stepping up our air strikes and supporting the efforts of the Syrian military is an absolutely reasonable thing to do.

Regarding bombing a humanitarian aid convoy, as far as I know, the humanitarian organisation the Turkish authorities were referring to has already made a statement that it had no convoy or its representatives in that area at that time. I admit that there may have been some kind of a convoy there, but certainly not a peaceful one. If there was some kind of a convoy there, then, in accordance with international law, it was necessary to agree on where it was headed and what it was doing there.

And if none of that was done then we have reason to suspect that there was a convoy, but not with humanitarian cargo. This is further evidence of aiding and abetting international terrorist activity.

Question (retranslated): Good evening, I’m addressing both presidents. Mr Putin, why have you deployed S-400 multiple launch rocket systems? Mr Hollande, is the deployment of the S-400s in keeping with the spirit of the international coalition’s efforts?

Vladimir Putin: The S-400 is not an offensive multiple launch rocket system. It’s an air defence system. We haven’t had these kinds of systems in Syria because we have acted on the assumption that our planes were flying at altitudes beyond the reach of the terrorists’ criminal hands. They don’t have military equipment that can shoot down aircraft at an altitude of over 3,000 to 4,000 metres. It did not occur to us that we could be hit by a country that we considered our ally. After all, our bombers, flying at altitudes of 5,000–6,000 metres, were absolutely unprotected, unprotected from possible attacks by fighter jets. If we’d known that this was possible, first of all, we would have deployed these systems there a long time ago to protect our aircraft. Second, there are other technical and military means, for example, fighter escorts or at least technical means of defence against missile attacks, including thermal defence. The experts know how to do this.

But we didn’t do this, to reiterate, because we considered Turkey to be a friendly state and simply didn’t expect an attack from that side. This is why we regard this attack as treacherous.

Now we see what’s possible, and our people were killed. We’re duty bound to ensure the safety of our air force. This is why we’ve deployed the modern S-400 system there. It’s a long range air-defence system and is one of the most effective such systems in the world. However, we won’t limit ourselves to this. If necessary, we’ll support our air operations with fighter jets, and any other means, including electronic warfare systems. We have plenty of alternatives, and now we’ll use them.

This is not in conflict with what we’re doing with the US-led coalition. We exchange information with them, but now we’re very worried about the nature of this exchange and the results of this cooperation.

Look, we informed our American partners in advance when our pilots were going into action and where, in what air corridors. The American side, which leads the coalition, to which Turkey is also a party, knew about the location and time of our operation. And this is precisely where we were hit. The question is, why did we pass this information to the Americans? Either they are not in control of what their allies are doing or they hand out this information every which way without understanding the implications. Of course, we’ll have to hold some serious consultations with our partners on the issue. However, the air defence systems are not in any way directed against our partners with whom we’re fighting the terrorists in Syria.

Francois Hollande (retranslated): If I may, I’d like to comment on the incident that took place on Tuesday as a result of which a Russian bomber was shot down by Turkish assets. This is a very serious incident, and I regret that it happened. I’ve said this to President Erdogan and to the Russian president. It is perfectly clear that it is necessary to avoid any risk and any possible repetition of this sort of thing at this time and place. It is critical that we refrain from escalating the situation. The only goal that we should all set for ourselves is the fight against ISIS and the elimination of the terrorists. We have no other goals. Therefore, we should come to the following conclusions.

We must enhance coordination between our countries so that the armed forces present in the region and the aircraft capable of conducting air strikes do not interfere with each other so as to prevent any encounters leading to deplorable consequences and collisions. We need to do our outmost to prevent this from happening again. It is for this reason that I have taken initiatives aimed at stepping up joint efforts and cooperation. I have been doing it for the very purpose I’ve just mentioned.

Finally, what have President Putin and I agreed upon? This is a very important point: we have agreed on the need to carry out strikes against terrorists only, only against ISIS and jihadist groups. It is crucial in this respect that groups that are also combating terrorists are not targeted by air strikes. It is in this area that we intend to share information with each other, as was discussed during the meeting. We have to understand who can fight and who can’t, who should or should not be targeted. Consequently, our current objective is to try to avoid any incidents of this kind between the countries that are engaged in counter-terrorist efforts in Syria. Second, we must identify goals that would be clear to everyone.

Question: You have mentioned the need to create a broad coalition. Mr Putin, does this proposal refer to a coalition that you mentioned at the UN, or coalitions will continue to rival each other? If so, how efficient are coalitions of this kind, taking into account the incident with the Russian plane? Or will there be a different, common coalition, and if so, will this coalition be able to act in third countries where ISIS poses a threat, outside Syria?

If you don’t mind, I would also like to go back to the Russian jet. Just a few hours ago the Turkish President said in an interview that had the Turkish Air Force known it was a Russian aircraft, it would have acted differently. He also said that all ISIS oil shipments that are intercepted are destroyed by Turkish forces. If Russia has any information to the contrary and this is proven, the President is ready to resign. Could you comment on these statements? Thank you.

Vladimir Putin: With respect to the coalitions, Mr President and I raised this issue during today’s talks. We respect the US-led coalition and are ready to work with it. However, we believe that it would be better to create a unified, single coalition, which would make it easier for us to coordinate joint efforts in the existing environment. I think that it would be easier and more efficient this way. But if our partners are not ready for that… By the way, I said the same thing at the UN. If our partners are not ready to work this way, fine. As for us, we are ready to operate in a different format that would be acceptable for our partners. We are ready to work together with the US-led coalition. It goes without saying that incidents like the downing of a Russian jet and the death of Russian servicemen, a pilot and a marine trying to rescue his brothers in arms, are absolutely unacceptable. We assume that this won’t happen again. Otherwise, we don’t need such teamwork with anyone, with any coalition or any countries.

That said, the President of France and I had a lengthy discussion on this issue. We have agreed on how we will interact in the near future, including bilaterally, and with the US-led coalition in general. This has to do with identifying territories where strikes should be delivered and where it would be better to refrain from strikes, as well as sharing information on these matters and coordinating action, as the saying goes, on the battlefield.

You have also asked about oil and it being allegedly destroyed in Turkey? At the G20 meeting that took place, by the way, in Turkey’s Antalya I showed a photograph, as I have already mentioned publicly, taken by Russian pilots from a height of five thousand metres above the ground. The photo shows a line of oil trucks that disappears over the horizon. It looks like a live oil pipeline. Oil is being supplied from territories controlled by terrorists in Syria at an industrial scale. It comes from these territories, not from somewhere else.

We can see from above where these trucks are heading. They are driving towards Turkey, day and night. I can presume that Turkey’s top leaders are unaware of this. This would be hard to believe, but it is possible theoretically.

However, this doesn’t mean that the Turkish authorities shouldn’t cut off these illegal transactions. There is a special UN Security Council resolution to this effect, which prohibits buying oil directly from terrorists, because these barrels contain more than oil – there is the blood of our people. The terrorists use the money from oil to buy weapons and ammunition, and then organise these bloody acts, with our plane over Sinai, in Paris, and other cities and countries around the world.

If Turkey is destroying it, we don’t see any smoke or flames from burning oil. Again, we’re talking about amounts on an industrial scale. A plant would have to be built to destroy that much oil. None of that is really happening. If top level leaders in Turkey know nothing about this, then tell them now. I admit that there may be some elements of corruption or collusion. Let them figure it out. However, we have no doubt about this oil going straight to Turkey. We can see it from the air: fully laden trucks go there and come back empty. Then again, they leave terrorist-held Syria for Turkey fully loaded, and return empty. We see it every day.

Regarding whether the Turkish president should resign or not, that is absolutely not our business. That’s up to the Turkish people. We have never interfered in such matters, and never will. It is very unfortunate that the unprecedented level of intergovernmental relations that we’ve reached with Turkey in recent years, an exceptionally high level, indeed, that we’ve achieved over the past ten years… We considered Turkey not just a neighbour, but a friendly nation, almost an ally. It is very sad to see this being destroyed in such a thoughtless and reckless manner.

Francois Hollande (retranslated): If you’ll allow me, Mr Putin, I’d like to respond to the question that was addressed to you, but from the French perspective.

There is a coalition. It has been around for several months. France is a member of it. The coalition’s main field of activity was Iraq. Together with the Iraqi government, we’ve sought to provide essential support to all those fighting ISIS and terrorism, which, unfortunately, is bleeding the country dry – that is, Iraq.

Then the geographical scope of the coalition’s operations expanded to include Syrian territory. France is also operating in Syria in keeping with coalition policy and the decision that I made in September. At first, we conducted reconnaissance flights and now we’ve gone ahead with air strikes. This is being done under the right to self-defence. And we have this right because we know for sure that the terrorists who acted in Paris and in the Paris suburb of Saint Denis were trained in Syria and, unfortunately, were trained very well to carry out these terrible terrorist attacks.

Now we want coordination. This is critical. We absolutely need it. First, to avoid these kinds of incidents, and second, to fight ISIS, terrorism more effectively. This coordination should be a form of collaboration – the sharing of intelligence and the exchange of information regarding terrorist concentration areas. All of this will enable us to act effectively.

The UN Security Council resolution calls for this kind of action, and I welcome the European countries that have assumed responsibility for this as part of their commitment.

Regarding further action on our part, it is necessary to attack ISIS, its training centres, the centres where this terrorist army is being trained, but most importantly, attack its sources of financing, the sources of its livelihood – primarily oil.

If there is some other way of improving cooperation it is difficult to think of one without effectively engaging the trucks carrying oil that goes to those who’ve appropriated the right to buy it, thus providing ISIS with uncountable amounts of money. We don’t want to stop and will continue to attack these convoys and the oil processing plants or refineries – oil that, without a doubt, serves as the main source of financial income for ISIS.

Finally, I cannot help but reiterate that we should support the groups that can reverse the situation on the ground and recover this territory. It is very important for France, as well as for the other coalition members, to support such groups in fighting ISIS. They have the same goal – to fight ISIS and destroy this terrorist group.

Vladimir Putin: Regarding Turkey’s Air Force allegedly failing to recognise Russian aircraft, this is simply not possible! The aircraft have insignia that are clearly visible, indicating that they are Russian aircraft, not anything else. This is the first thing I wanted to say.

Second, I’ve already said, and will say again: under our agreement with the United States, we have shared information on where our pilots will fly, at what flight levels, where and when. As we understand it, this is an operating coalition. Turkey is a part of this coalition. Thus, they should have been informed that the Russian Air Force was operating in the area. Who else could it be? How would they act if they knew it was an American jet? Would they hit it? This is all nonsense. These are just excuses. It’s highly regrettable that instead of seriously analysing this issue and making sure that such incidents never happen again, we are hearing inconclusive explanations and statements that they don’t have anything to apologise for. Anyway, this is Turkey’s choice, not ours.

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