Dialogue with EU productive - Putin says

Russian President Vladimir Putin believes that Russia's dialogue with the EU is not always easy but has recently been productive.

"As for the EU's enlargement, we have always been positive about it. We are thinking about our future relations with expanding Europe. We have concerns and we have formulated them. Now a dialogue is being conducted," the Russian president said at a press conference in Lipetsk.

(The Russian leader and Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi currently on a working visit to Russia visited this town about 400 km south of Moscow on Wednesday. They attended the inauguration ceremony of an Italy-based plant producing household equipment.) "Practice has shown that there is always an adequate solution," the Russian president said. Mr. Putin noted that the expansion had put the EU nations in a complicated situation too.

"We intend to develop relations with the EU in four directions - economy, humanitarian, law-enforcement activities, and the fight against terrorism," said Mr. Putin.

The Russian leader also noted, "We often had to listen attentively to the criticism (from the EU) of our policy in Chechnya. We analyse this criticism and react adequately, though, we do not agree with all of it. We have been urged to negotiate with people who are terrorists not only for us but also for our partners in many other countries, including the Moslem world." He said that a representative EU delegation would soon arrive in Moscow to discuss all the issues, including the anti-terrorist fight.

When talking to reporters, Mr. Putin noted that Europe would hardly agree to enter negotiations with Osama bin Laden.

"This is an example to emphasise that if they do not want to have talks with Osama bin Laden, then they have no right to make us conduct negotiations with his followers, with those who are trained in his camps," said the Russian head of state.

As for the Russian-Italian ties, Mr. Putin said that Russia and Italy were on the right track of co-operation. "Within 11 months, we have built a new company with good capacities. This is inspiring and testifies that we have chosen the right path," said the president.

Mr. Putin continued that the opening of the Italian plant in Lipetsk was "a graphic example of how agreements reached with the Italian prime minister two years ago are implemented." Here, the Russian leader described Mr. Berrlusconi as "the main expert in creating a favourable climate between Russia and Italy." Mr. Putin also highly praised Mr. Berlusconi's position on the Russia-EU ties. "We know his position in regard to Russia and the criticism he was subjected to for it," said the Russian leader. "The number of his political opponents in Europe has not changed, but the number of his friends in Russia has drastically increased." As for the economic situation in Russia, Mr. Putin said he instructed the Russian government and the Central Bank with the task of maintaining Russia's investment attractiveness.

"We will continue to create conditions - economic, administrative and cultural - for investors to feel comfortable," said the president.

At the same time, he stressed, "Our goal is not only to attract investment. Our goal is to create effective, competitive and modern economy," said Mr. Putin.

"Today we can see the following processes: the Russian economy is under a certain pressure from the oil sector, the inflow of credit resources caused by Russia's increased investment rating and the swelling investment," said the president.

"In these circumstances, the Russian government and the Central Bank are facing the difficult task of maintaining macroeconomic indices," said the head of state.

"We do not simply need money, we need new technologies, ideas, specialists with a high level of the production culture," stressed Mr. Putin.

He also said that last year investment in Russia amounted to $29.7 billion. "Every year investment grows nearly 1.5-fold." The Italian prime minister in turn said he had asked Mr. Putin to share his experience of winning voters' support.

"He should explain to me what I should do to win the support of 71% of voters," said Mr. Berlusconi.

The Italian premier asked reporters to leave him and the Russian president time for this.

Mr. Besrlusconi also said he would be happy if a Russian businessman agreed to sponsor an Italian sport team.

"Mr. Putin and I did not discuss it but we would be happy if Russia had such a specialist," said the Italian premier.

Mr. Putin in turn said that the negotiations had not touched upon this.

"I have nothing to do with this, but we know that the prime minister is actively supporting sport. I personally saw him support his football team - Milan - a true Italian tiffozi," Mr. Putin said jokingly. "We will follow his example," he added.

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