"I’d like seeing Russia among democracies, within a unified Europe"

President Dmitry Medvedev speaks on a range of issues including Russia's response to the economic crisis, an upcoming meeting with Barack Obama, Afghanistan, and non-proliferation in an interview with the BBC TV company.

Andrew Marr: Mr. President, thank you very much for joining us on BBC news for this interview. Can I start by asking you about the overall economic situation? We are meeting at a time of global crisis. How is that affecting Russia? And what’s your guess about what’s going to happen next in this country?

Dmitry Medvedev: Hello, Mr. Marr. I am happy to give this interview to the BBC, even more so that I am doing this on the eve of my visit to London to attend the G20 Summit. Of course, the reason for our meeting in London will not please anybody. The financial crisis is indeed a global one, affecting almost all economies in the world. Thus, the challenge all the G20 leaders face is to find adequate ways of dealing with it. The question is what does ‘adequacy’ mean and what can we possibly achieve today.

I have just discussed this matter with Prime Minister Brown, and we have agreed that the set of proposals to be considered at the Summit has been almost finalized. I will not cite them here, as they are rather big and bulky and perhaps will not attract the interest of the TV audience. What people really want is that we make at least some slight progress on our way forward.

Russia, too, was hit by the financial crisis. Some of its manifestations in Russia are exactly the same as in Britain. I am talking about a lack of financial liquidity and banking activities. However, there are also some problems specific to Russia. Naturally, both kinds of problems make it necessary for us to find solutions. The Government has formulated a program, which includes providing support to the so-called real sector that is our businesses and creating new jobs, since the crisis has naturally affected our industries and led to increased unemployment. Over the last five months alone, 200,000 people lost their jobs. Of course, we need to deal with this problem, just as any other government does. We have taken certain measures to support our banks, and at some point we have managed to reverse the most alarming trends in our banking system. As a result, this system now operates normally.

 Andrew Marr: You have an economy which is very heavily based on natural resources and the energy sector. Does this crisis spur you on for more reform in the economy, more diversification? Russia doesn’t have very many small and medium-seized enterprises. You need more.

Dmitry Medvedev: Of course, the crisis has exposed our problems. We realized it before, that the Russian economy is not diversified enough and to a great extent based on the production of raw materials. Naturally, today we continue to believe that supplies of oil, gas and other energy supplies are an important part of our economy. But the point is that these are export commodities, whereas the crisis makes exports shrink, thus reducing revenues.


AFP Photo / RIA Novoosti / Kremlin Pool / Vladimir Rodionov

I can be frank here and say that it is the most heavily export-oriented countries that have mostly suffered from this crisis. In this regard, Russia is one of them. Therefore, our most important future task is to continue following the path of economic diversification, to set up new industries, mainly high-tech ones. This is the priority that we set for ourselves long ago. We should maintain domestic demand. We should develop small and medium-sized enterprises since they seem to be less dependent upon world energy prices.

Andrew Marr: What happens if the G20 leaders are unable to come to a new agreement about the future of the world financial markets?

Dmitry Medvedev: They have to reach an agreement, because it is the future of our countries and our peoples that depends on our accord, on our determination to introduce fundamental changes to the world financial architecture.

Andrew Marr: Would you like to see the dollar replaced as the world's reserve currency?
The Chinese are talking about this, you are talking about this. Do you think this is a practical proposal?

Dmitry Medvedev: You know, I have just discussed this issue with Gordon Brown and other partners. Of course, we are realistic and I hope that my position is realistic, as well as that of our Chinese colleagues. But it is quite obvious that the existing currency system has not coped with the existing challenges. We were lucky to have this set of currencies: dollar, euro, and the pound. But in the future this system should be based upon a multi-currency basket. It should include other regional reserve currencies. If we manage to agree on that, in the future we could talk about creating a kind of a ‘super currency’.

Andrew Marr: Do you see this financial crisis as a moment when the balance of power in the world is shifting a little bit – frankly, from the West to the East?

Dmitry Medvedev: I think that the question is not where this movement originates and where it goes. The question is that we should provide the correct response. Of course, the existing architecture of the world economy is not quite in tune with the present situation. We see how fast the so-called ‘dynamic economies’ grow, how fast the growth of the emerging markets is, like the BRIC markets (Brazil, Russia, India, China), how fast the Far East is developing. All that should be taken into consideration. But the crisis is not a reason to say "that's it, the new configuration and the new political landscape have been fixed; now we are living in a different world". The crisis should be used to find a solution.

Andrew Marr: Russia has six million unemployed; the rouble has fallen by one-third in value. Do you, in the end, blame greedy Western bankers for this? Is it greedy bankers who’ve cause this crisis?

Dmitry Medvedev: Of course not. We do have all the problems that you mentioned, but it is essentially a response of any state. At the moment when the foreign currency inflow started to decrease gradually, we had to make this decision to devaluate the rouble, which was the case in other countries as well. A considerable number of countries did the same with their own currencies. Indeed, many of our companies used to take loans from Western banks. Maybe some of them have done it improperly, without taking into account the possible consequences. But this is a responsibility of specific owners of those companies, and foreign banks have nothing to do with that. One should always think, when borrowing money, how you are going to repay it. This is the question for any moneylender.

Andrew Marr: The G20 is going to be your first opportunity to meet directly with President Obama. You must be watching him very carefully. What do you make of him so far?

Dmitry Medvedev: I know him well; I have seen him many times on TV. (Laughing.)

But seriously speaking, we have had two telephone conversations. These were fruitful and constructive talks. We exchanged letters to present our own vision of the evolution of the world situation. I would like to say that, in my view, the message by President Obama was very positive. And, frankly speaking, when I was reading it I was even surprised by the fact that many views outlined there coincided with my own. 

The question, certainly, is how we shall be able to present our views during our personal meeting. To what extent our teams are ready to move in a certain direction, to what extent we are ready to break stereotypes. To what extent we are ready to carry out the resetting which is spoken about so much today.

Andrew Marr: One of the things that President Obama suggested was that he would again look at the American nuclear defence system, the American missile defense system in Eastern Europe, but he would like you to help him further with Iran and their nuclear program, and their ballistic missile program. If you wanted to, could you put effective pressure, do you think, on Iran – to get rid of their ICBM, ballistic missile program and not to go ahead with developing nuclear weapons?

Dmitry Medvedev: You know, we have issues regarding which we maintain permanent contacts with the United States’ Administration, irrespective of the level of our relations or whether our views on any specific issue of the current agenda coincide or differ. Both ballistic missile defense and a settlement of the situation around Iran are among such issues. We have maintained regular contacts with the previous Administration, too. As regards the ABM, as regards the deployment of the notorious capabilities in Europe, our position has always been clear: we should not create ABM elements – a comprehensive ABM system is required. And Russia is ready to become engaged in this system, because we are also interested in securing our country and our citizens from threats posed by certain problematic states.

But the point is that this should be done through common efforts rather than by deploying any missiles or radars along our borders, when a real doubt arises as to what lies behind all this: in order to make us nervous or in order to really prevent some threats. As for Iran, we maintain full-fledged relations with this state, but our position is based on well-known UN resolutions and approaches set forth by the IAEA, namely that Iran's nuclear program should be peaceful. This is our public position. We have always informed Iranians about this. I don't think that any exchange is possible in this respect. Any information to replace one issue with another one is not true; this is not a serious talk. But I have no doubt that we shall discuss both issues – that of ABM defense and of the situation around Iran's nuclear program. I believe that President Obama thinks the same way.

Andrew Marr: Because presumably it would not be a comfortable thing for the Russian people to have Iranian missiles along side your border with them?

Dmitry Medvedev: We wouldn't like to have any new nuclear missiles along our borders. The world has enough missiles without that and their multiplication does not assure needed security. We are interested in the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons to be the main principle of human development for the years to come. We don't want any new members of the nuclear club; it's quite unnecessary.

Andrew Marr: The modernization of Russia’s military forces have been widely noticed and covered in the West and there have also been speeches by you about that. What do you say to those people who see that as in some sense threatening? Do you really think that Russia’s forces need serious modernization? And are you looking in some ways more to the South and perhaps a little bit less to the West?

Dmitry Medvedev: The modernization is completely normal work. Russia, as a big state, as a responsible participant in the International Club, as a permanent member of the Security Council, has a number of serious obligations. Russia is a major nuclear power and we bear responsibility under the main conventions, including those in the field of strategic nuclear arms limitations. We should have an efficient defense system. But it cannot be on the level of the 1970s or the 1980s. We should have a defense system for the 21st century. And this is my main duty as the Commander-in-Chief. But certainly it shouldn't be regarded as a step against someone. This is our task to maintain the needed level of defense capacities of our country.

The fact that we didn't do that in the 1990s doesn't mean that we didn't want to modernize our defense system. As a matter of fact, we have had no possibilities of doing that. Now the situation is different. Despite the crisis, Russia has sufficient means to develop its own defense strategy and to create modem armed forces. This is what we are doing. These actions are not directed against anyone – these are defense actions, every any state is doing that. You can say this to everybody interested in this matter.

AFP Photo / RIA Novoosti / Kremlin Pool / Vladimir Rodionov
Andrew Marr: Can I ask you about Afghanistan? The Americans are rethinking their policy on Afghanistan. Apart from saying "we’ve told you so”, what would you recommend Americans to be doing in Afghanistan in the future that they haven’t in the past?

Dmitry Medvedev: The Afghan issue is, of course, one of the most challenging, the most complex issues today. Initially, we have supported the efforts of Americans and the Allied States aimed at preventing the terrorist threat coming from that country, including in the course of negotiations with our close neighbors. Moreover, for a few times we have simply rendered open assistance when we were asked whether it was possible to deploy these or those forces or bases. Our response was simple: these are antiterrorist measures and we recommend to our friends, to our partners, including from Central Asia, to help in this respect.

I believe that today a number of threats are still there. And in that sense we are ready to participate in the efforts directed at putting things in order, at preventing terrorist attacks, including within the obligations we had taken.

Another matter is that sooner or later, as I see it, there should nevertheless appear a normal and developed political structure in Afghanistan. It is impossible to rule Afghanistan with the aid of the Alliance; it is impossible to rule Afghanistan from abroad. Afghanistan should find its own path to democracy.

Andrew Marr: If the Americans went for another major surge, as they did for instance in Iraq, what would your reaction be?

Dmitry Medvedev: As for Iraq, the situation is a little bit different. I have just explained our position on Afghanistan that is clear and open. But our approach to the situation in Iraq differs from that in Afghanistan. As for Afghanistan, we proceed from the assumption that there is no reason to carry
out such large-scale operations, all the more when there are no proven threats.

The developments that followed have shown that we were right. The threats that the previous American administration was talking about appeared to be a phantom to a large extent. Nevertheless, that state is in disorder. There is actually no state, and only military units and police forces maintain some order there. Was it really necessary to break up the Iraqi political system, if greatly imperfect, to be frank, only to create a worse one? We therefore remain wary of the measures taken in that country. Certainly, we wish success to Iraq in searching for its own way, and we are willing to see it developing. And we also maintain contacts with the Iraqi government.

Andrew Marr: Can I turn to the relations between Russia and Britain? They were not good over the last few years. There are a whole series of issues: the Litvinenko issue, TNK-BP issue, and not least the British Council who you said, at one point, were a nest of spies. How do you gauge the temperature at the moment? One of our ministers said there was a thaw going on in relations. Is that how you see it?

Dmitry Medvedev: I think that the current climate is pretty warm, like in the spring as you can see the weather outside. The changes are more than evident.

Andrew Marr: More specifically, is there any way in which Mr. Lugovoy could be made to stand trial in a third country? Can any compromise be made? That still remains a big issue for the British people.

Dmitry Medvedev: You know, we may have problems that cannot be settled in a judicial manner, so it's not possible to seek a legal solution to them. With regard to the extradition of a Russian citizen, our constitution and our legislation contain relevant provisions, which have been repeatedly brought to the attention of our British partners. Russia, like many other countries, has never used such a practice, irrespective of how sensitive the issue is.

Andrew Marr: So, what would you say to Mrs. Litvinenko, a widow who feels that she cannot get justice anywhere for what happened to her husband?

Dmitry Medvedev: You know, I believe that any settlement, including such grievous and tragic instances like the Litvinenko case, should be sought within the existing legal framework. This is what I have been taught as a lawyer. Some people, certainly, may – and do – appeal to political authorities.

However, when it comes to a legal dimension, there is a procedure established, there are investigating agencies and the judiciary. Whether people trust the investigation or not, whether they believe the court or not – we do not have other arrangements in place to settle this kind of problems. So I have one thing to recommend, which is to observe the legal framework and respect the laws of the Russian Federation.

Andrew Marr: When it comes to problems that the previous British Ambassador had in Moscow, and also problems with the British Council, what’s you prognosis, what’s your belief about immediate future?

Dmitry Medvedev: Frankly speaking, I don't see any particular problem here. It might have been a sequence of some regrettable incidents. Some of them were rooted in Great Britain, while others might have their origins in Russia. It's not a systematic thing though. However, despite those difficulties that our relationships faced in the past, we were on excellent terms in other fields, such as trade, and this kind of situation is quite natural. The only thing that Russian senior authorities were talking about – and what I am now saying as one of them – is that Russian laws should be respected. We have come up with some proposals to the British Council. And even now the British Council keeps on operating, despite some restrictions. If the issues concerning its legal status are settled, as proposed, the British Council will resume its activities in accordance with our law on foreign legal entities and public associations.

Andrew Marr: When it comes to British businessmen – there were a lot of worries about the British Petroleum issue – and even in these circumstances a lot of British investors are wondering whether they can put money back into Russia safely, and whether they are going to do business in Russia in the future. What would your message be to them?

Dmitry Medvedev: It will be simple, absolutely simple, clear and exact. British businessmen are welcome in Russia. We believe that British businessmen have the same rights on Russian investment market as all others. They can work in the territory of the Russian Federation and are actually doing so.

The only thing is that they should choose the right partners. I have mentioned it more than once during the talks with my counterparts – the British Prime Minister and others. Yet these are the risks which everyone has to take. When having found a partner one should certainly think of the divorce procedure. I have been in juridical business for ten years and questions which I asked right away before developing such joint projects were always the following – whether the "divorce" procedure was documented and how it was defined. Yet, thank God, in case of the TNK-BP it didn't go so far.

Andrew Marr: Some people in Britain look at, for instance, the case of Mr. Khodorkovsky who’s facing more charges and possibly even a longer prison sentence. Is there anything that you can do to put that kind of thing to one side, possibly top offer him amnesty? That would reassure quite a few people about the atmosphere for business in Russia?

Dmitry Medvedev: I always try to think in a specific manner. This is perhaps both my strength and weakness. My cast of mind is one of a lawyer, although I am a president. That is why I would like to comment simply on the Khodorkovsky case. It is true that he had been sentenced on certain charges under Russian criminal law. Currently a new trial is being heard. We should wait for its results. If there is an acquitting judgment – that is one thing, if there is a judgment of conviction- that is another thing. But in any case, this will be decided by the court and in this context neither the President nor anyone else has a right to interfere in this situation. A President has only one privilege, only one power – to grant a pardon on behalf of the State. When people make such appeals, it is my duty to consider them. That's it.

Andrew Marr: Can I ask you about political reform in Russia and the mood in Russian politics? Is it true that you went to one of critical newspapers, Novaya Gazeta, and told them, "Thank God you are here"?

Dmitry Medvedev: Absolutely. Besides, I promised to give them an interview. I will have to do that.

Andrew Marr: There was a lot of coverage of the killing of journalists in the past. Do you think that Russia needs to go through another period of reform, normalization?

Dmitry Medvedev: You know, unfortunately, we are facing major crime issues. This is the reason why I am addressing corruption. Recently I have held a special meeting on crimes against children. Unfortunately, journalists suffer too, together with other people who fall victims to crime. I do not think that all such cases have to do with politics. Yet, I am sure, in some cases it is a matter of political revenge. Each of them should be examined in the most detailed manner, and the criminals should be found and prosecuted. This is the only way to change the situation.

Andrew Marr: You are a lawyer, a businessman by background. Do you think that gives you a slightly different perspective from those who have come from other parts of the Russian state?

Dmitry Medvedev: I don't know about other people, but as for myself, I find my previous practice and previous experience very helpful. I have dealt with legal matters, I have dealt with business, and I have my own views on many processes. I believe that the experience of working for the government which I had by the time I was elected President – almost nine years' experience – has also been helpful. So, I think that such a combination is really useful. Anyway, I will advise future Presidents to work in all these spheres.

Andrew Marr: Are you in charge of Mr. Putin or is it vice versa?

Dmitry Medvedev: I am leading the country, I am the head of state, and the division of power is based on this. Mr. Putin is the Chairman of the Government that implies very complicated and comprehensive work. But it is clear that the President is taking major decisions on behalf of the State.

Andrew Marr: It was said that when President Sarkozy was in Russia that Mr. Putin had said of himself, like in American films, “I’m a bad cop, and the President is a good cop”. Is that how you see it?

Dmitry Medvedev: I do not think so, I believe, we both are good policemen. (Laughing)

Andrew Marr: Could you imagine yourself standing again as President?

Dmitry Medvedev: I would rather finish this term and complete what is going on. Such plans about the next term could be made only by a person who believes his rule to have been a success.

Andrew Marr: What changes and what kind of Russia would you like to see emerging as a result of your presidency?

Dmitry Medvedev: I would like Russia to be an efficient and powerful country where people live well in accordance with appropriate and civilized standards with an ensured adequate quality of life.

I would also like to see Russia among democracies, within a unified Europe, as a country that speaks to its partners on an equal footing with respect and addresses the most challenging tasks. I would like Russia to be well-educated with preserved and deeply rooted traditions of the Russian culture. Here are comprehensive, global goals, but I believe that they can be achieved.

Andrew Marr: You are planning to come to London soon. In the West we know quite a lot – we think – about Mr. Putin. We see him fishing topless and we know about his judo and so on. We don’t know very much about you. What would you like us to know about you that we don’t?

Dmitry Medvedev: First of all, I am ready to do a photo session if that may help. Though it is always a rather complicated matter to talk about me as a politician currently in office. I think that some things that we had started together with Mr. Putin when he was President have succeeded after all. Yet let our citizens, not us, make the judgment. As for myself, I do not even know what would be interesting for our TV audience. I realize that some refined, juicy details, which people prefer to keep silent about, usually arouse interest.

Andrew Marr: Finally, let us sum up. This has been a difficult period in relations between America, Britain – the West generally – and Russia. Do you genuinely see a new start coming – partly because of President Obama, partly because of the crisis? Is this a moment when relations can be radically changed?

Dmitry Medvedev: A new start is certainly possible, it is even necessary. I hope that my partner shares that point of view. Very soon we will meet and discuss everything. I am a moderate optimist. I believe that if humanity exists and progresses, that is because there is some reason behind it.

Andrew Marr: Mr. President, thank you very much for joining us on BBC news. I hope that your visit to the G20 in London goes like a storm.