Medvedev talks gas, security, xenophobia & neighbours with media

President Medvedev has addressed a major international media forum now underway in Moscow. He spoke on freedom of speech, and the issues of Russia’s relations with its neighbors and partners in the post-soviet space.

In a short welcoming speech the president joked that he is somewhat of a journalist – what with his own blog on the Internet. First of all, he reiterated his support for the freedom of speech:

“Modern, up-to-date media, staffed with qualified personnel are, in my opinion, the main characteristic of an independent and strong state. I am absolutely sure of that,” Dmitry Medvedev said.

At the same time he noted the importance of technological development. This regards primarily digital television, which, according to Medvedev, will be fully operational in Russia starting in the year 2015:

“A significant amount of money will be allocated for this purpose – both from the federal government and from commercial organizations. These are billions of dollars,” said the Russian president.

Medvedev noted that it would be beneficial for all if it developed simultaneously in the entire post-soviet space.

The participants of the forum – most of them from former Soviet states – could not help asking questions about the problems arising between Russia and its neighbors.

Hopes for Ukraine’s sense of energy responsibility

New Year is just around the corner, and memories of the notorious annual gas conflicts between Russia and Ukraine and subsequent disruption of energy supplies to Europe are still fresh.

President Medvedev assured that this time current agreements are the guarantee against all possible problems.

“As for the near future, I believe that if our Ukrainian partners demonstrate responsibility, everything will be alright. There will be enough gas and other energy supplies for Europe,” Dmitry Medvedev pointed out.

Relations with Baltic States – “We must step over ideological stereotypes”

Answering a question from a Lithuanian journalist who wondered if Russia was going to take specific steps to improve relations with the Baltic States, Medvedev said he “would very much like our relations to become better by all means, not just on paper.”

“As for Lithuania, there are some preconditions taking shape now for intensifying our dialogue,” Medvedev said.

“The Baltic States have been hit hard by the economic crisis, to a greater extent than other countries,” he said. “This should be taken into account when building our inter-relationships,” he added.

“We must listen to our partners when they are proposing new formats of discussing the most complicated issues. There should be a mutual search for points of contact,” Medvedev went on.

“If these two approaches – the pragmatic and economic on the one side, and the ideological and moral on the other – are merged, everything will be normal and our relations will reach a very good level. At least I really hope so, and not only in respect to Lithuania, but also to Latvia and Estonia,” he said.

We must step over ideological stereotypes emerging before us, Medvedev said. We must always remember what unites us “and not to try to break down history.”

“This is also unacceptable. The reexamining of obvious historical facts is very dangerous,” he said.

No obstacles for opening direct flights between Russia and Georgia

A representative of the Georgian media preferred not to go into politics, but took a more practical stance – when will flights between the two countries resume?

The president, for his part, chose to start with politics:

“Unfortunately, this is true, our political relations [with Georgia] have been destroyed,” Medvedev said, answering a question from a Georgian journalist. “Russia’s position and my personal position is that this happened not through our fault," Medvedev said.

“I have said time and again that I am not going to contact the acting Georgian president and some other [Georgian] leaders exactly because we have parted ways, and our assessment of the events is quite different,” he said. “Saakashvili bears personal judicial responsibility for the crimes committed,” Medvedev added.

However, the Russian leader said that this does not mean that we should suspend all other kinds of relations.

There is “centuries-old friendship” between the peoples of the two states. “I am not going into obvious events that took place when the Russian state came to the aid of the Georgian state in the past,” Medvedev said. “Russia and Georgia must preserve the positives that were accomplished,” he said.

“All the problems you have mentioned, including the possibility of direct flights and the opening of the Verkhny Lars checkpoint, are absolutely normal topics that can be discussed. Seriously speaking, I do not see any particular obstacles there,” Medvedev said.

“OSCE does not cover all security issues”

Speaking about Kazakhstan, which will take over the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe chairmanship in 2010, Medvedev said that he supports the country’s initiative to host the organization’s summit next year.

“It is a pleasure for us that our close partner Kazakhstan will chair the OSCE. I believe that will help the OSCE to a considerable extent find its new place,” he said.

A lot of time has passed since the Act on Security and Cooperation in Europe was signed in Helsinki.

“Europe has changed dramatically, new states appeared there. Europe has become more united; it has created a common free market zone, while the European institutions have not changed as swiftly as was required by time,” he said, adding that there is a plus in that since institutions should be “conservative”.

The OSCE leaders have not met for a very long time, “and it would be very useful to hold meetings on various European platforms from time to time,” the Russian president said.

The OSCE “is good, [and] is one of the existing platforms,” Medvedev said. “Let it continue to develop. We are ready to participate in various formats. But, at the same time, we believe that it is necessary to think about the future,” he said.

“The OSCE does not cover all issues related to security. The EU does not handle all security issues either. Neither does NATO, let alone other formats, including formats in which Russia participates in – such as the CIS, the CSTO [Collective Security Treaty Organization] and several others,” Medvedev said.

“That is why we should think about the future of security in Europe. And one of the ideas that I formulated is the treaty on European Security,” he said. The president reminded the audience that the draft of the new treaty was placed on the presidential website and sent to foreign leaders and international organizations.

Doing away with Russian in Moldova

President Medvedev expressed concern over Moldova’s recent policies towards the Russian language.
“The Russian language space shrank over the period of parliamentary elections. I hope that the authorities will remain tolerant towards the interest of its population and will not make any artificial decisions in order not to weaken the potential for communication between our peoples and ensure that they do not erode communication within their own country,” Medvedev stated.

Medvdev reassured the audience that Russia would continue supporting Russian press abroad, always complying with foreign laws.

Reaching out to the Russian-speaking Israelis

The issue of language and Russian media abroad resurfaced when a representative of Israeli radio and television inquired whether Russian media had any interest or plans to reach out to the Russia-speaking population living in Israel. President Medvedev answered in the affirmative. He further stated that expanding media presence to include Russian-speaking audience living in Israel would not only strengthen ties between people but also between the two states.

I think that this is a very good opportunity to develop inter-state relations as well as the relations between people; we plan to assist this process,” Medvedev said.

Russia supports warming relations between Armenia and Turkey

We are generally glad that relations between Armenia and Turkey have been warming, that [the two nations] are trying to overcome those problems that [concerned them in the 20th century], are showing mutual restrain and are searching for a compromise. That is why, in general, we support this process of improving relations,” said Medvedev during the forum.

Medvedev also noted that it is important that other nations do not think that this process comes at any other nation’s expense.

Xenophobia in Russia has increased

President Medvedev acknowledged that xenophobic moods have intensified in Russia and other countries, including Europe, lately. The situation is far from ideal either, he added, answering the question of a Tajik journalist.

“But we must not be responsible for other countries. Let them sort it out themselves,” he said. “We do have this problem in Russia, and it should be addressed.”

“Those who practice such beliefs, regardless of whether these are government officials or not, should bear direct legal responsibility for them,” he went on. The president noted that lately he has met practically no representatives of power who have violated the law against making xenophobic statements, but ordinary people should bear responsibility for xenophobic rhetoric as well.

“It should not be a kind of island, within which the law is applied selectively,” he said. “Everybody must answer for this, and if we talk about responsibility, it should be different – from a simple cleaning of minds, when it can work, to severe criminal punishment measures,” Medvedev said.