Dmitry Medvedev’s interview with G8 media – part 2

President Dmitry Medvedev has mapped out his vision of Russia’s role in the world in a question-and-answer session with foreign journalists ahead of next week’s G8 summit. This is Part 2 of the full version of the interview.

D. STILL: Russia’s relationship with Britain is the coldest; the most tense of all European countries. You even called the British Council a nest of spies. How can we solve this crisis? What steps are you looking to see from PM Gordon Brown, or are you ready to take an initiative to start a new page in the relationship?

D. MEDVEDEV: I spoke with Prime Minister Gordon Brown not so long ago, we had a nice, calm conversation. We agreed to see each other at the G8. Not that long ago, my aid visited Great Britain to discuss the details of that meeting. The preparations are being made. I think that this contact, this meeting should be helpful, especially considering that we currently have great economic ties, like never before. We have large investments, enormous commercial contacts. And our goal is not to politicise this area, but to calmly develop it.

And on the issues where we have a difference of opinion, or some sort of problems, we just need to discuss them eye to eye. There is nothing uncanny about any of this.

The relationship between Russian and Britain has been in existence for centuries. Frankly, we’ve seen situations tougher than this.

D. STILL: You are ready to do something from your end, to begin new…

D. MEDVEDEV: Any international relationship is always a situation where both sides are moving towards each other. It is an opportunity to reach compromises, to hear your partner, otherwise, it won’t work. Of course, Russia is ready to take steps towards Britain, but we are looking for the same steps from our British partners.

D. STILL: How many times have you been to England, to Great Britain?

D. MEDVEDEV: Good question.

D. STILL: What memories do you have?

D. MEDVEDEV: I’ve been to London, probably no less than five times. London is a great city, beautiful, very stiff upper lip, truly British. It is one of the leading financial centres of the world. Currently, from the economic point of view, it is easier to work there, than in New York, for example, if we talk about the stock exchange. I’ve been to London for many reasons, to meet with my colleagues in Downing Street, and briefly have been there on holiday. I like London, it’s a good city.

D. ARMSTRONG: Mr. President, you have a reputation of a liberal. Do you really consider yourself a liberal? And what does this word mean in Russia?

D. MEDVEDEV: You know, I’ve never tried to classify myself, people are definitely much more complex than any labels pinned on them. On the other hand, the entirety of a person’s actions makes it possible to characterize them, to claim that they hold conservative views, or liberal views, or socialist, or radical.

Taking into account that I’m quite a young president, I would refrain from classifying myself. It’s not up to me anyway. What I can confirm however is that I do possess all the basic values, which I was given at university, and which I think of as fundamental. It’s a matter of taste how to characterize them, but what I’m sure of is this: law passed by parliament should always take priority over by-laws and acts. We should fight neglect of the law and legal nihilism; the economy should be based on market values, and property rights should always be protected. This is my position which I developed way back, during my university studies. There are also values to do with human rights, which I absorbed then. These are laid out in our Constitution. Human rights and human freedoms are subject to unconditional protection and are the priorities of any state activity and policy. And now it’s up to you, how to characterize such a set of values.

D. ARMSTRONG: And an additional question: should the press be independent and free, should the mass media be free from state control?

D. MEDVEDEV: If we are talking about the state, then I shall say that the state is a very valuable invention of mankind. Today you can’t be called a reasonable person if you deny the value of state mechanisms. But extremes are impermissible. A state which degenerates into dictatorship is an extreme, it prevents development, suppresses freedoms and frequently kills people. On the other hand, a state which self-destructs, which in fact is more of an amorphous mass, unable to solve and state tasks, is as dangerous as a dictatorship. But, as you know, the extremes meet. The history of our country has seen both. And both, at different times, ended in catastrophe. In the 1920s, our state practically turned into dust, and a dictatorial regime grew out of it. Then the dictatorship ended too – it lost its power gradually, turning into other forms of statehood, and finally dying.

Therefore, I’m certainly not a follower of statism, or the prevalence of state over law, on the contrary, I’m for a state which develops within a civilized, modern, democratic, legal model.

F. NODE-LANGLOIS: Dmitry Anatolievich, one French parliamentarian, a member of the party of the President, recently visited Russia, met and supported the mother of Mikhail Khodorkovsky. Though he said he’s unfamiliar with the details of his criminal case, it’s evident that from his point of view, and here I quote: “there was a political aspect to this criminal case”.

And here I have a question: do you consider such a trip of a foreign politician to Russia as interference in the internal affairs of your country?

D. MEDVEDEV: Criminal law and criminal processes in a state are subject to that state’s national legislation. And all the decisions made by national judges can’t be directly cancelled by any international court. There’s a special procedure for appealing these decisions, but this procedure is based on good will and conventional agreements. International courts are not a higher instance than national courts. I’ve commented on this topic more than once. I think that all procedures in our country shall be lawful and based on our procedural, material and criminal law. Any attempts to somehow influence the court position – I’m not even mentioning the position of the state, because the state shouldn’t have any stand on this… Only law enforcement bodies should have a position regarding the criminal prosecution of any person, including Khodorkovsky. If they think it’s necessary – they open a case against a person and then the lawyers should take their own stance. It’s clear that the main purpose of lawyers is to look for different flaws in a case. And then finally a court should have its own position.

The state however should not have any standpoint. And while I lead the country and am the President of the Russian Federation this will remain my key position. We shall isolate the judicial authorities from any influence from private individuals, business corporations and state bodies. And this is my answer.

V. GUREVICH: Over the last few years, Russia has accumulated, and now has at its disposal the largest financial resources in a decade. We now have a stable reserve fund, and so on. There’s an idea that foreign investments aren’t that necessary when there’s such a large influx of oil money, and lots of opportunities for easy borrowing. This is not the general view, but nevertheless it’s quite popular. For several years we’ve been trying to do something with our legislation, too, trying to understand who we want to let in to what areas, and who we don’t. It was a long process. Can we finally say that we’ve reached a clear final position, clear both to us and to our foreign partners, as to whom, and to what extent, we’re ready to let in? This debate was very long, so could we say we’ve managed to come up with any kind of answer?

I’m asking because yesterday I read that you’ve reduced the list of strategic enterprises two-fold.

D. MEDVEDEV: But strategic enterprises don’t mean foreign investments. These are separate things. And what is your question?

V. GUREVICH: Do you think that the position on foreign investments to Russia that you’re now ready to present to the international community is clear first of all to ourselves and is final?

D. MEDVEDEV: The Russian Federation does need foreign investment. And this is an unconditional conclusion. The question is – what and where. The economic situation in Russia is really not bad, regardless of those macroeconomic problems which I mentioned earlier and the global economic crisis. Nevertheless we haven’t stopped, we are moving forward and developing, there’s investment into the most important sectors of our economy, into its infrastructure, we finally started investing into the social sphere and education and we’ll continue with all this. But foreign investments remain quite necessary.

Firstly, a number of problems can be solved only with the help of foreign investors who have either enough experience or are able to consolidate considerable financial resources,

Secondly, the influx of foreign investment generally shows the state of the economy – is it healthy or stagnant, or ready to collapse. In this sense foreign investments could be called an indicator of market development and, if you will, of economic freedom. A state which isolates itself from foreign investment couldn’t be called a free state, that’s evident. But the question remains – who will invest and where. We have major debates on these issues. Not inside Russia – here we’ve solved these questions and have answered them openly. Five years ago foreign investors were begging me: “Please pass a law where you set certain spheres where you don’t want us present at all or only in co-operation with Russian structures.” We’ve passed such a law, but it’s a global problem. And even while preparing the documents for the G8 summit, we discussed issues of foreign investment and strategic industries. Our partners agree that the only grounds for not letting foreign investments into a country are security issues. Each state interprets these in its own way.

Our own interpretation is not the toughest one. I won’t name other countries but their laws (I specially read them) are much more tough, and much more remains at the discretion of their administrative bodies. We have it all set out – which investments, who makes the decisions and so on, whereas in a number of other states it’s stipulated that this or that committee or ministry reserves the right to make the final decision. So we went along the moderate way, and I think our situation is quite simple. There are areas in which foreign investments are welcome, and there are some where foreign investments shall be agreed upon with state structures but on the whole are also welcome.

H. ICHIKAVA: Global security remains one of the most important issues, discussed by the G8 countries. The nuclear programmes of North Korea still raise concerns. What programmes will Russia, Japan and other countries pursue to provide higher security? What measures will Russia take to neutralize the nuclear programme of North Korea? The Japanese people lay great hopes on Russia in this issue. We would like to know what possible co-operation we could expect from you – the new President?

D. MEDVEDEV: Were you asking about Iran as well or only about North Korea? I didn’t hear – they were putting the tea on here!

N. TIMAKOVA.: About North Korea…

D. MEDVEDEV: Only North Korea?

H. ICHIKAVA: We could broaden the question and ask about Iran.

D. MEDVEDEV: All right, good.

The situation with the nuclear programmes of both Iran and North Korea – I’ll speak about both together first, then on the separate nuances – of course, this situation is a cause for concern in the United Nations and in our country as well. And we’ve stressed this more than once. All work on these nuclear programmes that we’re taking part in is based on these concerns. Just like other countries, we can’t sit and calmly watch non-transparent nuclear programmes developing. But we try to work on the positive aspects. I always thought and still think (here our position remains unchanged) that for the so-called “problematic programmes” and corresponding states, a system of “positive incentives” is needed. We shouldn’t simply adopt a resolution, which shall be carried out, no matter what, and if you fail, then we will implement strict international sanctions and a military operation to boot. This is a dangerous approach. A system based on real incentives is much more understandable and what is more important, it’s easier to explain, easier to offer to our not-so-simple mediators.

Concerning the situation around Iran, in some respects it’s advancing, but in others it remains the same. Unfortunately the efforts made by states involved and the IAEA have not yet produced a breakthrough, but the process should continue. We must encourage the Iranian leadership to demonstrate the transparency of their nuclear programme – only then there’ll be a chance to continue talks about its future. We must take a number of steps and decisions which have already been agreed with the IAEA, and in this case the tension around this programme will ease. We must continue to produce positive incentives. And we must understand how these processes work. We should not make any decisions that contradict the overall course.

If we’re holding talks with Iran in different formats, we shouldn’t not take any steps which would provoke the Iranian leadership and which would involve new sanctions. I really don’t see why the EU recently made such a decision, and I touched upon this during my meeting in Khanty-Mansiisk, when I talked to Mr Barroso and Mr Solana. Either we’re talking to them, or we’re trying to pinch our partners for any little reason.

Concerning North Korea. The situation there is not simple either, but to my mind, there is some movement forward. The decisions that were recently made, and the steps taken by the North Korean leadership, including the dismantling of nuclear facilities, to my mind, are the right steps.

We support all these initiatives, and we are working in co-operation with other states. Not long ago there was a report from China. We also take part in aid programmes to North Korea in order to help normalize the situation on the Korean peninsula in the long run.

We fully carry out the obligations placed on the Russian Federation, to supply energy carriers. I’ve been told today that we’ve already supplied over 100 million U.S. dollars worth of black oil – this is a considerable amount. So as far as the situation with the North Korean nuclear programme is concerned, there are advances there. The international community should not amend its position. We should offer our North Korean partners positive motivation, we should help them. Then, there’ll be a chance to deal effectively with this programme, and then the situation as a whole.

L. MAYZANO: Mr. President, you’ve been saying recently that you don’t want so many state officials taking part in administering state corporations. Several days ago, Gazprom and Rosneft appointed new CEOs. And they are all political figures. Does this not contradict what you said?

D. MEDVEDEV: I would point out two things here. Firstly, I voiced the idea of reducing the number of state representatives in boards of directors four months ago, during the election race. Not because it’s a populist idea, but because I believe it’s right. That’s why it came about at that time. My colleagues – you’ve named some of them – also supported this idea. But to put it into action, we need sufficient independent board members.

Secondly, we must follow corporate procedures, because, for instance, the representatives we’re talking about were appointed to Gazprom and Rosneft in accordance with the law before January 31, 2008. The idea appeared – or, to be precise, became concrete – some time later.

And thirdly – of course, it depends on what company we’re talking about. I know a lot about the situation in Gazprom. I think that in general, the number of state representatives, state officials, can be reduced both in Gazprom and in other companies. Even now, Gazprom has independent directors. The state’s controlling stake in the company allows it to elect both state officials and independent figures to the board of directors. But to do this, we have to compile a list of these people and decide that they are fit to carry out such decisions. At the same time, they will have to represent the interests of the state, and not their own interests – although corporate rules say that a director has to make decisions for himself.

But there are areas where the state issues instructions and it will continue to issue them if a problem is thought to be important. The state is a shareholder, and like any other shareholder it gives instructions to the board of directors. But I think it’s a positive thing that there are more professionals coming to work in the board of directors’ managing bodies. No one has taken this issue off the agenda, especially in relation to major companies. It just has to be done in accordance with our shareholder legislation, within the time limits when it’s actually possible to do it, and bearing in mind the responsibility which rests with this or that major company.

If we’re talking about a major company, such as Gazprom or Rosneft, I think that even if there are independent members on the board of directors, a state representative can– and maybe should – head the board, because it’s a very important company. I’ve always said that. We’re not saying it’s necessary for the board to be headed by an independent director, we’re just saying that the decisions made by the board should be more thoroughly thought out, and based on the experience of independent directors. But this mainly applies to major companies.

As for smaller companies, I can absolutely admit that independent directors can be elected to head the board, or people who are not state officials. So there are no contradictions here.

M. LUDWIG: Mr. President, we’ve recently read about a survey claiming that the young middle class elite which you’d like to develop, which makes up for 60 per cent of the population, the majority of this elite is thinking about leaving Russia. They are your future, they’re professionals, they’re the people who have made it. And, in spite of all this, most of them are thinking about emigrating. What can you do so as not to lose such a valuable generation?

D. MEDVEDEV: To be honest, I don’t know what survey you’re talking about.

M. LUDWIG: Levada-center.

D. MEDVEDEV: Levada-center?

M. LUDWIG: Yes.

D. MEDVEDEV: What’s the percentage they have?

M. LUDWIG: Around 57. And one of the main reasons they’re naming – these people don’t believe they can protect themselves from abuse of power by the administration. They don’t believe in a stable situation in Russia.

D. MEDVEDEV: I’ll have a look at this survey. Levada-center is a respectable public opinion research agency. I think, the number of people who want to leave the country for good, to emigrate and settle in other countries, has fallen significantly in the last few years. And I’m not judging by any surveys. I’m judging by the way people I know personally think and feel about it. They aren’t state officials, and you won’t see them in any important institutions. They are ordinary people: small businessmen or simply Russian citizens working on social issues. So we’ll have to look into the figures you’ve mentioned and try to understand what they actually mean. Of course, if people are dissatisfied, they can have all kinds of feelings. Although I think – let me stress it once again – that over the past decade, our people have seen that the grass isn’t greener on the other side, and that you have to work hard anywhere – in Russia and in other countries – to be successful.

As far as the business environment is concerned, creating good conditions for living and working is up to the government. We have to create favourable conditions for our citizens. When there’s a lack of such conditions, people want to go somewhere else. In fact, that’s what happened in the early 1990s.

Today, economic conditions for working in Russia are quite good, especially for young people and for those who want to start their own business or work on a technological project. Nevertheless, these conditions are not perfect. That’s why we’re working on small business enterprises; that’s why we’re fighting corruption. But on the whole, the situation these days is very different from what it was in the previous decades, or even 10 or 15 years ago. So I think the number of people who associate their future with living abroad is gradually decreasing.

It’s also a question of how you pose the question. You know, it’s a delicate business this social technology. It’s a complex thing. But the state has to monitor these processes, and not allow a mass exodus of youth to other countries.

I actually think that one of Russia’s unquestionable achievements during the new democratic period is that any person now has the opportunity to go abroad, see what life is like there, work in a foreign country, compare life in Russia and abroad, earn money to get an education, start up a business, and come back here – or, vice versa, work here first and then leave to work somewhere else in the world. The mobility of the population is among the main achievements of democracy. So all this is certainly no cause for a headache, although the government has other causes, for instance, ensuring this mobility through organizational means – I mean visas, and accommodation for people coming and going. So the state must support the younger generation. But on the whole, I think there’s nothing tragic going on. On the contrary, I think we are seeing encouraging tendencies.

N.A. TIMAKOVA: Dear colleagues, we’ve been through two pools, as was agreed. I think we still have time for personal questions or clarifications…

K. LEVI: A personal question. What are your impressions of your office so far – is it better or worse than you thought it would be, three or five months ago?

D. MEDVEDEV: I’ll try to explain. Do you want to ask about the same thing?

D. STEELE: How much time do you spend speaking to Mr. Putin each day?

D. MEDVEDEV: I’ll start with your question, it’s easier. It depends. Sometimes we call or see each other several times, sometimes we don’t talk at all. Luckily, the state system and decision-making process allow us to solve problems and make decisions without having to call each other all the time. It always depends on the situation.

Now, about my feelings. I can honestly say that it certainly didn’t get any easier. I had no illusions that, after being elected and getting into the President’s chair, I’d be able to relax and say: “That’s it, I’ve reached my goal, I’ve been elected to the top state position. Now others can do the work, and I’ll just be the boss”. You can’t think in this way, it’s stupid. Our country has a whole lot of problems, and a poor population. Russia is a country in a fast-changing global environment which is facing a large number of threats. The President of a country like Russia, a powerful state, a large state, a nuclear state, has to work 24 hours a day. In any case, he can’t afford to relax in any situation. I knew that well, when I agreed to take part in the presidential election campaign.

But I think each person has his or her own story. I sympathize with my American colleagues, because in America, it often happens that a person is elected President after having experience of working in the Congress or the House of Representatives. But he doesn’t know how the executive branch functions, and it’s a different thing altogether. Of course, you can learn. I am saying this because working in the executive branch for several years gave me tremendous experience, personal experience you can’t get from books, or from talking to your friends, colleagues, or even ex-Presidents. You need to experience it for yourself. In this sense, I think I’ve had enough training in tackling state problems. I’ve faced a considerable part of these problems before, only on a different level, when I was helping the President solve them, or making my own decisions when I was in the government.

Still, life goes on. It’s essentially the same work. But it’s a different level of responsibility. This responsibility is yours alone and there’s no person in the whole world who can take it from you. There’s no one who can decide for you. There are people you can ask for advice, and Vladimir Putin is one of them. He has a lot of experience, and he’s a very popular politician. But, in the end, it’s up to you to make the decision. And, if this decision is wrong, you will be responsible. And this changes the whole thing, changes the very idea of how to work.

M. LUDWIG: After you were elected, you said some people will try to undermine your relations with Vladimir Putin. Mr. Surkov recently said, I quote: “certain destructive powers in the country are trying to ‘drive a wedge’ between you and Mr. Putin”. Is this true? And what are these ‘destructive powers’?

D. MEDVEDEV: Each person has the right to comment on events and processes. My colleagues are also doing it, it’s perfectly normal. I’m sure that the current configuration of power does not suit some Russian politicians. It probably doesn’t suit a certain part of the population. But that’s what democracy is all about. When the election is over, and the head of state has been elected by the majority of the vote, the head of state chooses a government, and that’s the way it works. So I accept that someone may not like the current situation. I’ll say once again: this is perfectly normal.

But naming these destructive forces would be a farce. I’m not fond of conspiracy theories. In life, things are much more simple. It’s obvious that any advanced country has a system of political competition. So it’s normal that Russia does, too. But this political competition shouldn’t turn into a violent anti-constitutional struggle. Our country had enough of this in the 20th century. It’s the President’s job to keep track of the situation in the country, to make sure that laws are observed, and that the rights and freedoms of citizens are not infringed upon. The opposition should be able to freely express its position and opinions in state bodies, in the legislative branch, in parliament and in the street – but this should always be done according to the law. All the rest is a matter of individual evaluation.

M. LUDWIG: A very special question. As far as I know, you’ve been taking part in helping develop a new relationship between Russia’s centre and the regions. This was done to abolish the system of agreements, which existed in Russia in Boris Yeltsin’s time. But there’s still one example of a special ‘agreement’ left – between the centre and Tatarstan. Why is this, and how long is it going to continue?

D. MEDVEDEV: If we’re speaking about federations, each federation is unique. Our federation is also unique, in its own way. Although Russia has formally been a federation for the last 100 years, the real federation only appeared in the legal sense in recent times. Before that, it wasn’t a federation at all, for all the obvious reasons.

Our federation is not a simple one. We have a number of national territorial units, which explains the necessity of signing agreements with these regions. Most federations in the world don’t have agreements between their territorial units, their relations are based on the constitution even if there have been prior negotiations and agreements. This is the nature of the Federal Republic of Germany, this is the nature of the United States of America.

But a federation is a living body. That’s why, at a certain point, we started moving forwards to a more modern, more efficient federal system. Of course, this can’t be done in a day, or even a year. There are units which believe this component is important. And we respect their position, because it’s an issue of state unity, it’s an issue of our friendly relations. Some units in the Russian Federation believe that today such agreements are obsolete. That’s why we’ll be developing our federation smoothly, keeping all these aspects in mind. The final result of a federation’s development should be an efficient federation – a federation which is able to protect the rights and freedoms of its citizens, a federation which is a united, powerful state. There are plenty of examples of this on our planet.

Part 1