“Russia has rescued humanity at times” – Medvedev
F.Zakaria: President Medvedev, thank you again for joining us. First I should say Happy Birthday. It is your 44th birthday. You are the first Head of State I am interviewing who is younger than me. What does it feel like to be in this position? This is your first elected office. What is the biggest surprise for you about being the President of Russia?
D.Medvedev: I don’t think it will be news to you if I tell you that a president’s job is a very interesting but a rather complicated one. You’re required to mobilise yourself, whether you’re 44 or 88. You and I are of a similar age, so you can imagine what emotions one feels in such a situation. On the other hand, however, one would have to spend at least some time in this chair to really understand and feel what it’s like, it’s true.
As far as my work is concerned, I guess the challenges that I find significant today, are rather obvious. It’s the economic crisis that unfortunately happened last year. I had only been president for a few months when the spirit of the crisis appeared in the air; and we could all sense it was a rather serious and long-term issue.
The challenge of the Georgian incident was another large, serious problem we faced, when we had to defend South Ossetia’s population. I didn’t want for events to develop into such a scenario, but I was forced to make that decision. I believe these were the two most significant challenges that I faced at the very beginning of my work.
F.Zakaria: Let me ask you about other issues you’ve been dealing with. Russia has said that it does not want Iran to develop nuclear weapons. Prime Minister Putin has said that; you have said that. Yet the International Atomic Energy Agency says Iran is not cooperating to give the world confidence that it has a purely civilian program. Iran says it will no longer negotiate on this issue, and yet Russia says it will not support any further sanctions against Iran. So is the policy of not wanting Iran to develop nuclear weapons on Russia’s part – are these empty words, or do you have concrete steps you are willing to take to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons?
D.Medvedev: We have quite developed relations with Iran; so I can judge Iran’s intentions not by rumours or intelligence, but by the real picture. I certainly believe that Iran needs motivation for the right kind of behaviour regarding nuclear issues. We have no doubt about it. Second, Iran has to co-operate with the IAEA; it has to co-operate with the International Agency, as it’s obliged to do so. Third, we have to form a system of positive motivation for Iran to want this co-operation. On 9th September, Iran expressed its suggestions on these most complicated issues, which are being analysed now.
It’s already been said that these suggestions are too general and insufficient. You know, I believe it’s the duty of all states working on this problem to at least research these suggestions. At first Iran took a long time to research the stimulus package that had been forwarded to it via [EU foreign policy chief, Javier] Solana at the time. Now we have to research this package.
Regarding sanctions, I’ve just spoken about it with the political analysts at the Conference. I told them a simple thing: as a rule, generally speaking, sanctions don’t produce any result, even though they are necessary sometimes. Before discussing any additional sanctions, we should use up all the free running, all the air that is there. This would be responsible behaviour from the international community. Yes, we should stimulate Iran, but we should also be absolutely sure that there are no other options and that our Iranian colleagues are just not hearing us for some reasons. I believe this would be the easiest and the most pragmatic standpoint. By the way, I had voiced it at the consultation on this issue at the G8 summit in Italy, when all 8 leaders were discussing this matter.
F.Zakaria: But do I take you to be saying that Iran does have an obligation to cooperate with the IAEA. And if it does not, is Russia willing to step up to its responsibility as a world power and press in the United Nations and in other ways to ensure that Iran does cooperate?
D.Medvedev: Iran obviously has to co-operate with the IAEA if it wants to develop its nuclear energy aspect and its nuclear program. This is its obligation, not a choice. Otherwise the question will arise, what is it really doing? This is obvious.
F.Zakaria: And Russia is willing to exercise its responsibilities?
D.Medvedev: It certainly is.
F. Zakaria: Let me ask about another issue relating to this. Russia has agreed to sell Iran the S-300 anti-aircraft anti-missile system. When will you deliver it to Iran?
D.Medvedev: We really do have a military aspect in our relationship with Iran. We believe this work should fully meet the international requirements on the part of Russia, as well as on the part of Iran. We had never supplied – and never will supply to Iran – anything that goes beyond current international law. If we had supplied anything – or would supply – it would be the defence systems; and this is our clear standpoint. This is something I will keep following in making the final decisions on all existing contracts with Iran.
F.Zakaria: You know that there are many people in Israel who say that, if you deliver that system, the Israelis will have to strike Iran before the system is deployed – because once that system is deployed an Israeli attack on Iran becomes much more difficult. So by delivering the system you open up a window or a period of considerable tension.
D.Medvedev: In an hour’s time I will be talking to the Israeli President, Mr. Peres. When he visited me in Sochi recently, he said a very important thing for all of us: that Israel was not going to attack Iran in any way. He said they were a peaceful country without any intention of doing that. The supply of any arms, especially defence ones, cannot heighten pressure; it should rather release it, actually. If certain people are still developing such plans, I believe they should be thinking about it. So our task is not to strengthen Iran and to weaken Israel or vice versa. It is our task to enable a sane and peaceful situation in the Middle East. I believe this should be our task.
F.Zakaria: When Prime Minister Netanyahu was in Moscow, did you say this to him?
D.Medvedev: Prime Minister Netanyahu did visit Moscow. They had chosen to visit us in private. I don’t quite understand what it was to do with, but since our partners had decided as such, we treated it perfectly well. I did talk to him.
F.Zakaria: But did you feel like it was a positive meeting?
D.Medvedev: It was a normal, good meeting. We discussed various issues. Prior to this, I had a meeting with President Peres; after which I had a meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu. This is a normal thing, our normal dialogue. [Iranian President] Ahmadinejad visited us earlier, but not as a bilateral meeting. He had participated in the SCO session as an observer. We always talk to everyone. I believe this is our advantage.
F.Zakaria: If Israel were to attack Iran, would Russia support Iran in such a conflict?
D.Medvedev: Russia cannot support or act in this situation. We are a peaceful country and we have our own understanding of our defence strategy. This is first.
Second, we have our allies which we have certain agreements with. But, regarding the situation over Iran, we don’t have such obligations. It doesn’t mean that we would want for it to happen or that we would indifferently watch such an incident. This is the worst thing I could imagine. I’ve already had conversations on this subject. Let’s try to think about it with you as well. What would happen after it? A humanitarian catastrophe, a large number of refugees, Iran’s willingness for revenge – frankly speaking – not only towards Israel, but to other countries as well; and an absolutely unpredictable development in the region. I believe the scale of this disaster could not be compared to anything. So, before making decisions to attack, one should really consider this scenario. It would be the most unreasonable outcome. But my Israeli colleagues tell me they are not going to act this way, and I trust them.
F.Zakaria: So you expect no Israeli strike on Iran?
D.Medvedev: I hope they don’t make such a decision. We have to try pushing Iran towards co-operation. And certainly, Iran shouldn’t make the statements as it has made regarding Israel. For example, when it said it didn’t recognise the existence of that state. This is unacceptable in the modern world and in the modern system of the foreign affairs. This is something Iran should think about.
F.Zakaria: Let me ask you about US-Russian relations. President Obama and Mrs. Clinton have talked about the reset of relations. Your Ambassador to NATO said that after the Obama-Medvedev meetings if a good result takes place it could usher in a new era in Russian-American relations. What concretely are you looking for from the American administration? And I am thinking specifically about issues relating to NATO and the missile shield. What would you regard as a good result from the Americans?
D.Medvedev: We will have good results. It’s true that, so far, we’ve had good relations with the new administration; between Obama and me personally, and between other leaders and ministers and their colleagues. This is really important, as it’s crucial for us to speak similar languages. Unfortunately, it hadn’t really worked out with the previous administration in recent years, even though prior to that we had been agreeing on all the issues in our joint agenda. I want to be clear; we had actually been trying to help our American colleagues, especially after 9/11.
I hope this very ‘reset’, in spite of this really relative term, will produce a result. It should relate not only to the issues of limiting strategic offensive arms, but to other issues as well. It should relate to our relationships regarding the European problems and Middle East issues which we have just discussed. It should relate to a number of large conventions that we’ve been preparing together. It should relate to climate issues. It should relate to bilateral relationships in the economy, because they had been developing not as intensively as we wanted them to in recent years. America’s share in our turnover is not as significant as we would want it to be, and in America’s turnover it’s quite small. Even though we are talking about a billion dollars, our countries have more potential than that.
Finally, the financial crisis is our common challenge, the hardest one at the moment. Here we find ourselves co-operating, calling each other, exchanging messages; our presidential aides have been in constant communication discussing these issues. So I believe our prospects are not bad in general at the moment, but results are more important. Here I agree with President Obama who told me immediately, ‘let’s reach some final agreements’. I support this intention; I support his intention to agree on strategic offensive arms, for instance. This is not the only issue; we shouldn’t narrow our relationship down to this one aspect only. But it is an important aspect; we’re all waiting for it and are interested in it. If we agree on it by the end of this year – and the chances for this are rather high – then it would be something really helpful for us and the international community. However one certainly shouldn’t say that we are doing it under the pressure of some internal affairs and so on. It would always look somewhat unfriendly, but that’s not what the real situation is like. Everything we are doing, I mean the Russian Federation, has been dictated by our understanding of our national interests, just as everything the US government is doing is dictated to by US national interests.
F.Zakaria: I understand there is a broad range of issues with the United States, but the crucial ones, surely the immediate ones, are the issue of NATO and its expansion potentially in Ukraine and Georgia and of the missile shield being deployed in Eastern Europe. Do you want assurances on both those issues?
D.Medvedev: I would like to see changes in the US standing on these issues. As I’ve already mentioned, there are certain positive shifts. President Obama told me they were taking time off to analyse the consequences of deploying the new ABM defence system in the Czech Republic and Poland. And they have been analysing it. I hope it will result in rightful conclusions. As I’ve said on a number of occasions, these simple conclusions state that two or three countries should not be dealing with ABM defence in isolation. These are the global issues. We’ve just mentioned the Middle East problems; there are also the problems of North Korea and a number of others. So this defence should undergo serious changes and not add up to a small number of missiles that would, first of all, reach our territory and not cover other distances. I hope our American partners have heard this.
Regarding Ukraine and Georgia, things are rather simple here. I have believed, and still believe, such decisions should be based on the sovereign decisions of the related states. There has never been any referendum in Ukraine. There are certain results forecasting the population’s attitude towards this issue. Two thirds of the population doesn’t support accession into NATO, while other Ukrainian leaders have been persistently pushing the country into NATO. If they want to do it they should introduce a referendum, even though it would not be the best decision for us for obvious reasons. We have smooth and peaceful relationships with the North Atlantic Alliance. Now that it has stabilised after a rather difficult period last year, we want to keep developing them further.
But one shouldn’t forget that NATO is actually a military bloc, and it has its missiles pointing towards Russia. The fact that the number of NATO member states has been increasing all the time doesn’t make us feel positive; we dislike it and we openly state it. We should be dealing with European security. Let’s promote joint institutions. I believe this is what we should be thinking about. And I believe this position finds understanding with a number of European states which suggest not rushing NATO’s expansion into countries which are not ready for it yet. I would also like for NATO itself to think whether the organisation would be able to manage such a number of states that have so many internal problems. If they do it to spite Russia, then other countries should also be acceded into NATO; but I believe this hasn’t been the motivation of the North Atlantic Alliance leaders.
F.Zakaria: When you talk about Ukraine and say that they should have a referendum, it is worth pointing out that Ukraine is a sovereign country and it can come to, can join any alliance it wants. There is no constitutional requirement that Ukraine has a referendum. It does make many people think that Russia is uncomfortable with independent Ukraine, sees Ukraine still as fundamentally part of Russia and has not reconciled itself to the loss of Ukraine. Because Ukraine does have the right to join whatever alliance it wants and does not need to follow your prescription as to what it needs to do domestically.
D.Medvedev: You’re right. The question is that I am not making any recommendations to Ukraine; I just believe that Ukrainian politicians should think about it. I am not an expert on Ukrainian legislation. But we are talking about entering nothing else but a military bloc; and we had all been within one military bloc called the Warsaw Pact, which used to be NATO’s direct opponent. So if I was to make such a decision, I believe I would have to consult with the population on such issues. This is certainly their sovereign right; but as far as I know, a significant number of politicians hold the same position as me: that a referendum is required before acceding into NATO. The fact that the current Ukrainian president doesn’t think so is his own business. This is what I believe we should remember.
Regarding our attitude towards Ukraine, it’s a hearty and friendly one. We all have relatives and friends in Ukraine, and we have a need to communicate. Ukraine has been going its own way; it’s an independent state now, so let it develop itself. Ukraine has been experiencing economic difficulties and their own national problems; so let our colleagues deal with them.
What is it that I dislike? It’s something I had talked about in my recent address and in my letter to President Yushchenko. There is only one thing I dislike: that the anti-Russian position has become the main policy of the current leadership, meaning the country’s president, my colleague. Whatever they say, I am absolutely convinced this is their key policy. It’s a shame, and it’s wrong. Our nations have been so closely tied together that anyone who tries forcing a wedge between our two nations would be making a mistake, if not a crime, for the sake of future generations. So my address had only one meaning: to make Ukrainian politicians – and their president first of all – start to think about their policy. I really don’t like it that Ukraine has been heroising Nazi criminals, so to speak. We had all actually fought against Nazism at some point. Other countries understand it, but the Ukrainian leaders are not willing to realise it for some reason. I have the right to make such assessments, as this is a common challenge, a common threat. Nazi criminals used to be judged by the Nuremberg tribunal.
So there are things that are truly crucial for the future of our relationships. We are not forcing anything on anyone; we are not addressing anyone. I’ve particularly emphasised that I wasn’t even appealing to the Ukrainian nation, because this nation has its own leadership. But as this country’s leader, I have to express my standing to my colleague. Considering everything that had been – and still has been happening there – I had to make an unpleasant decision and to delay sending a new ambassador to Ukraine, so that our Ukrainian colleagues would actually think about the consequences of such a policy.
F.Zakaria: Back to what we were talking about earlier. What do you think of President Obama? You’ve spent a fair amount of time with him?
D.Medvedev: I like communicating with President Obama. During his visit to Russia we held a really important event with him. I noted that we had spent 8 hours together. This is quite a lot for such a contact, as often negotiations between presidents – including a lunch and the official part – takes two or two-and-a-half hours. By the way, we had often done it the same way with our American partners in the past. This time we talked for 8 hours. I’m grateful to my colleague that he is really willing to figure out many problems. This is important. There is another good thing about him: he really listens to arguments, and he formulates his standing. It may not match Russia’s standing, for example, but at least it’s the result of a well-thought-out policy that considers what’s good and what’s not helpful for the US. It makes it comfortable talking to him in this sense. But we are expected to produce results rather than just have a good time together, even though that’s important as well.
F.Zakaria: But does it help that you are of the same generation, that you are about the same age?
D.Medvedev: I believe it does, and it’s not just the same generation but the same educational base as well. During our very first negotiations, I was telling President Obama that I was reading Yale Law Review when he used to be in charge of it…
D.Medvedev: Maybe Harvard. I thought it was Yale.
F.Zakaria: He went to Harvard Law School.
D.Medvedev: It wasn’t worse anyway. I was reading both Harvard and Yale Law Reviews during my post-graduation studies. This is also significant. But we’ll see. The most important thing is for us to try to hear each other.F.Zakaria: I was going to ask you, Mr. President, about the comments that Vice President Biden made about Russia, but then I found an even more critical analysis of Russia’s situation. It was an article that said Russia was a primitive economy based on raw materials and endemic corruption, a semi-soviet private sphere, a fragile democracy, and this goes on and on. It was of course the article that you wrote a few days ago.
What I was wondering is who is responsible for this condition, because many of the points that you’ve pointed to have gotten worse in the last ten years. The World Economic Forum has a competitiveness index. This year Russia dropped 12 places on that index. It’s now 63rd, behind Mexico and Indonesia. Transparency International has a corruption index. Russia now ties with Bangladesh and Syria on that index. The Economist magazine says the government has utterly failed to create a legal and political structure to support business and enterprise. Your article is a strong condemnation of your own administration, isn’t it?
D.Medvedev: I don’t know; do you actually trust these indexes? I don’t trust them too much. But there is definitely a certain meaning in what you’re saying. I wrote explicitly in my article that I also dislike many structural elements of our economy. I don’t like its focus on raw materials. I also believe we haven’t succeeded in all the aspects of constructing a modern democratic state or development of the legal system. But it doesn’t mean that, first of all, we don’t have any success or that we are moving in the wrong direction. Everything you mentioned and everything I covered in my article didn’t come up during this decade. It all appeared during the Soviet period and in the nineties. This is absolutely certain. And for this reason we should respond to these challenges by means of proper, modern, high-quality work in forming a proper market and so on. It would be rather peculiar to believe that Russia faced regression in economic freedoms and development for one simple reason: living standards have improved and the number of people who have become wealthier has significantly increased during the last decade. This fact is unquestionable. I’ve said it many times and I’ll say it again.
F.Zakaria: That was because of the price of oil, right?
D.Medvedev: In the 1990s, oil prices were also different in various periods. In the 1990s, I was a university professor, just like President Obama, and I was earning ten or 15 dollars a month. Not a very big salary I should say (laughing). Oil prices were not the only reason for my low salary. I spoke about that today, in my article and at yesterday’s forum: it’s absolutely clear that we should change the structure of our economy.
As for the article by Mr. Biden which you mentioned, I don’t think it’s a good example of how good-hearted relations should be established with a partner for at least for one simple reason: because we know our shortcomings ourselves. But I think it’s wrong to draw ambiguous conclusions. Literally, what Mr. Biden said was as follows: ‘Russia is trying to strike a nuclear weapons deal with us because its economy is weak and it cannot afford these weapons’. That’s wrong. First, nuclear weapons are a smatter of great attention for any country. I am sure that even the weakest states are the last to cut their defence expenses. So we don’t have problems with that.
Second, it’s simply the wrong move because while just beginning to build relations – hopefully new, modern and effective – with the Russian Federation, it would obviously be wrong to try to strain them in such a way.
Therefore, as far as I understand, if this is just the opinion of one person then, after all, a question should be asked of the U.S. leadership. But if that reflects a policy line, then we have a reason to think about what’s happening and what will happen. After all, I used to assume that U.S. foreign policy is determined by one person – the President of the United States of America.
F.Zakaria: Let me ask you about this issue of the military power. It has often seemed to outsiders that Russia is obsessed with some the symbols of power – military, weaponry, planting a flag at the North Pole – rather than the hard work of modernizing the economy, which is much more complicated and takes a lot more effort. Why is Russia so obsessed with issues like respect and status?
D.Medvedev: I don’t know that it’s all that simple. The only thing I can say is that Russia certainly has its own national perception and the perception of its role in the world and of its achievements. Incidentally, in my article I wrote about cases when Russia came to rescue humanity in the literal sense of this word. And yet it’s only very dishonest people who say that World War II was won by someone else. Russia made a decisive contribution to the victory over Nazism. It’s obvious to any honest observer. Therefore, to a certain extent, it’s really part of our national psychology. But one cannot delight in it; we cannot draw conclusions about our own greatness only on the basis of previous achievements – such as a flight into space or victory in the war, though these facts should be remembered without fail, and cannot be underestimated. But in real life we should come up with new achievements. This is really the most important thing. It’s absolutely true that, here, psychology should be changed.
Why should we get rid of corruption? Because it’s not only a crime, it simply hinders our development and breaks our system of values. If money can be stolen, what’s the point in earning it? If bribes can be taken, then what’s the point in working? If a bureaucrat can be bribed, then what’s the point in winning an honest bid? These things should really be reconsidered.
F.Zakaria: But Mr. Medvedev, I have to say when I talk to Russians about corruption they would say that part of the problem – and very central part – is that the Russian government has created a system of such a strong state with so much influence that the state has, that the corruption actually maintains the power and position of the Russian regime. So it’s easy to talk about corruption in the abstract, but corruption is at the heart of the Kremlin’s ability to control this country.
D.Medvedev: I am not sure that this is a very good stance. It’s easy to say that corruption has turned into part of the national system and that’s why everybody needs it because it helps run the country. It’s not at all like that. If it were so, we wouldn’t face any problems. Corruption is not an effective way of running the economy, although it exists in all countries. In some countries it is unfortunately as widespread as it is in Russia. But in other countries corruption levels are much lower. Today I had to elaborate on this. I said that very many countries had gone through such levels of corruption and organised crime. Suffice it to remember the situation in the United States of America in the 1920s and 1930s was also difficult. But you managed to cope with it. There was shooting at almost every corner and yet nothing happened. Today, as far as I know, the corruption situation in the U.S. is not so bad. We can also cope with this problem. Naturally, if we keep saying that corruption is part of our state life, then it would simply be the best way to justify corruption. Apparently, those who say that take bribes.
F.Zakaria: Let me give you a theory of why Russia should want to have much better relations with the West than it does now and tell me if you agree. Russia’s great challenge, as you’ve outlined, is modernizing its economy. To do that it needs to have constant interaction and good relations with the centers of modern ideas in Western Europe and the United States and Japan. Russia’s strategic challenge is a radical violent Islamic movement in itself, complicated by the potentially chaotic situation in the Far East, where there would be 30 million Russians and one billion Chinese facing each other. In this circumstance to have these constant frictions with the West and with the United States does not serve Russia’s national interests.
D.Medvedev: I agree with you on almost everything. But I would like to make one correction. We really need good and developed relations with the West in every sense of this word and it’s exactly because of what you are talking about. There are many challenges to which we should find joint answers. What other questions did I raise in my article? We need modern technologies. In some cases we even have to resort to credit even though we have enough of our own resources. There’s an issue on which we will be unable to make any progress if we don’t co-operate with each other. It’s climate. If we don’t reach an agreement, all our attempts to prevent the greenhouse effect and global warming will be doomed to failure. Therefore, we really need very good relations with the West. I would just like to add two things. I hope that the West also needs good relations with Russia, and that this position is not unilateral. Second, we should have good relations with other countries, including those which you’ve just mentioned, because today the world has become multi-polar, and everybody recognises it. We hope for good and friendly relations not only with the Western world but also with the other part of this planet.
F.Zakaria: What would be your advice based on Russia’s long years of experience in Afghanistan to the United States?
D.Medvedev: We really have our own and, I would say, rather sad experience in Afghanistan. It’s obvious that the decisions to send Soviet troops to Afghanistan that were made at that time had not been calculated properly to the end. But today the situation is different.
F.Zakaria: Do you mean the Soviet decisions?
D.Medvedev: Yes. Now the situation is different. What I want to say is that, on the whole, it’s in the interests of everyone that the United States and the NATO countries succeed in their mission in Afghanistan. To a far greater degree we are interested in enabling Afghanistan to create its own fully-fledged modern government that will rule in the interests of its people, unite the Afghan provinces so that they are not divided by terrorists and stop an excessive flow of heroin from Afghanistan. This is our common problem. Most heavy drugs available in Europe are mainly of Afghan origin. So we are interested in the success of the Afghan operation.
As for my advice, I can give only one. They should respect the Afghan population, feel their traditions; they shouldn’t rush and try to impose on them recipes of an internal set-up for which they are not yet ready. We elaborated on the subjects of democracy when we met at the Conference and in other places. Despite the fact that democracy is a universal value, it should at the same time be laid down on national soil, it should be proportionate to the political mentality of the people; only then it will have a chance to succeed.
F.Zakaria: A lot of people look at democracy in Russia and feel that it has gone backward in terms of freedom of the press, the safety of journalists, the ability of opposition leaders and movements to contest elections, the amount of harassment that they face. What can you say about that?
D.Medvedev: I have another point of view on this matter. I don’t think that democracy is regressing in Russia. I’ve spoken about that many times and I’ll try to say it to you once again. The thing is that the democracy of the 1990s – the very idea of democracy in the 1990s – reflected, among other things in several laws, was naïve. To a certain extent, those ideas copied the democratic positions and perceptions of developed countries. But not everything can be copied easily. Therefore, I think that modern ideas about a political system, a modern party system and a modern system of vesting governors with powers are much more democratic now than what we used to have in the 1990s. Why? Because it’s more stable and it better protects the interests of the population.
As for press freedom, this of course is a subject that will always have various measurements. I had to talk to my American colleagues many times about what’s happening to the mass media in Russia. Some of them believe that the number of media outlets has decreased. But this is not true. There are very many of them – both printed and electronic, let alone the Internet. Someone thinks that they are suppressed. I don’t think that it’s an honest position because journalists can practically raise any question in the media, if they want to, without any problems.
There are situations when attempts are made to exert pressure on the press. I am not going to deny that. Incidentally, it very often happens in regions, where local bosses may not like critical articles about themselves, so to speak. Such things happen, and we should react to it. The press should be able to defend itself.
And finally the last thing about the press. Irrespective of bosses’ likes and dislikes, there are no closed subjects in the modern, global information space. Something may be withheld on TV, you may not say anything in a televised programme, but given the fact that Russia has about 40 million Internet users, it takes five minutes for the whole country to learn about any event. So, exerting pressure on the press is futile.
But, on the other hand, we should understand what’s happening to the press. You know this business only too well. Our press was organised differently in the 1990s. It was owned by five tycoons who settled scores with each other with the help of the mass media. They periodically exerted pressure on the country’s leadership. That’s also wrong. The press should feel its dignity, its place in the world and role in the democratic division of labour, if you wish. The press shouldn’t be suppressed either by the state or financial capital. It should have some margin of safety. As I understand, in this sense we are moving in the right direction. I don’t think that the situation is ideal and I am always open to dialogue in this respect. Therefore, to sum it up, our political system has become more mature in recent years. In my article, I wrote that it’s far from ideal. It’s true, it’s really far from ideal. So far many of our democratic institutions exist only on paper. People lack initiative and don’t use their political rights. Courts are less efficient than they could be. If people need to defend their interests, they usually go to various bosses rather than to courts. In fact, as a lawyer, I think that’s absolutely wrong. We need a different legal culture. We need respected courts and effective law enforcement. That is what to do here and we will do it. In conclusion to this, I would like to draw your attention to the fact that our democracy is fairly young. Russia never had a democratic society until a new country emerged. There was no democracy in tsarist or Soviet times. In this country, democracy is 18 years old. It’s not that much if it’s to be compared to the experience of the United States, for example.
F.Zakaria: Let me ask you a question relating to this democracy that many people wonder about. I have read the Russian constitution and I understand the division of roles between the president and the prime minister. And my understanding reading it on paper is the president is the superior office. So my question to you is: are you Vladimir Putin’s boss?
D.Medvedev: I would have been sad if you hadn’t asked me this question. I think that our interview could have been considered a flop if you hadn’t done that. Under the Constitution, the country has only one Commander-in-Chief, there is only one guarantor of the Constitution and of its enforcement, there’s only one head of state – the President. I’ve talked to you about that. It’s absolutely obvious, and I don’t feel I need to explain anything again.
As for the government, the government in this country, unlike in the United States, is a fully-fledged body. Compare it to the French Constitution. France has the president, but the prime minister is a much more serious figure. It doesn’t surprise anybody. Therefore, it speaks for itself.
F.Zakaria: But the French president is a very powerful president, but the prime minister is not so powerful.
D.Medvedev: And what difference do you see between a special, somehow natural, or legal status of the Russian president and the French president?
F.Zakaria: You know why I’m asking you this, Mr. President. Lots of people say Dmitry Medvedev is a very fine lawyer, he sounds like a reformist, he says all these things about what need to happen in Russia – except he has no power. All the power is held by Prime Minister Putin, so he is the ceremonial façade; it doesn’t really matter what he thinks. What do you say to them?
D.Medvedev: It’s the kind of conversation in which one person would never hear the other one. In all probability those who think this way should say: the incumbent president would prove his might only if he sacks the government. I am not planning to do that because I find it comfortable to work with the government and with Putin. And that’s all. If I need to shake up the government, what some of my colleagues used to do in the 1990s when governments changed every six months, in order to prove my powers as a sign of democracy and full authority, then it’s not my choice. For all the rest, you know, it makes no sense in talking about that. Bureaucracy is so deeply rooted in this country – that no one will move a finger unless I sign a piece of paper, even if the assessment of this or that person varies. It’s an absolutely obvious thing for anybody who wants to sort it out. But let those who think in clichés go on thinking. I understand that sometimes people wish to think in terms of a vision they created.
F.Zakaria: But you’re saying that nothing happens without your signature. So in fact you are making all the decisions with regard to foreign policy and internal policy?
D.Medvedev: It’s even strange for me to hear that from you. There’s only one person in this country who deals with foreign policy issues. He is the president of the country. I think that it’s very well noticed because I spend most of my time on foreign trips. Naturally, all executive orders and decisions are made by the president. All decisions which need to be discussed are passed by the Russian Security Council and sealed by the president.
F.Zakaria: But I look at your negotiations with Ukraine and with Madame Timoshenko. The negotiations took place between Prime Minister Putin and her.
D.Medvedev: But that’s normal. These are economic relations with which the two governments have to deal with. For you it’s not the reason to ask who makes and approves decisions there. Under our Constitution and our laws, international economic ties are the prerogative and responsibility of the government. But to speak about all final decisions, it’s up to the President.
F.Zakaria: Do you think you are more liberal than Vladimir Putin?
D.Medvedev: It’s a good question. When Vladimir Putin met his colleagues – he recently met political scientists – he said that we were ‘one flesh and blood’. If by ‘flesh and blood’ he meant our education, then it’s really true. I would like you to know, although I’m sure you know, but I would also like our readers to know that Putin has a legal education. He was not born in the intelligence service or in the KGB. In fact, it’s one of the best universities in this country. In this sense, our convictions are very similar. But if we speak about nuances and preferences, then we may have differences for sure. I have my own ideas and convictions while he sticks to his own. He was realising his ideas for eight years, and was quite successful I believe. There are no similar people just as there are no similar leaders.
F.Zakaria: But when you make all this criticisms of what Russia is today, it feels like criticism of the last eight years. Many of these trends have worsened in the last eight years.
D.Medvedev: This is not true. The problems we are talking about, and of which I wrote in my article, haven’t emerged over the past ten years. If we take the economy’s dependence on raw materials, this is not our invention – it’s neither mine nor Putin’s. This is the result of our policy during the 1960s-1970s when we began pumping oil and gas in huge amounts. It’s not bad, but unfortunately we developed in only one direction. But, true, the Soviet Union had a quite powerful technological potential. It was based, to a larger extent, on military technologies. But I would like to emphasise that it was quite effective for that time.
There was a collapse in the 1990s, and we haven’t filled that gap over the past ten years. In this sense, problems piled up and we now have to ‘clear up the mess’ as we usually say. It means that we face these problems on a daily basis. Therefore, it’s not the problem of the economic degradation of the past ten years, I’ve talked about that and I would like to mention it once again. The chief indicator for the country is living standards. Revenues from raw materials can be spent so irrationally that even living standards are not going to improve. There are many such examples. Therefore, everybody made mistakes for certain, no one is insured against them and mistakes were certainly made over the last ten years. I am sure that we could have been better prepared for the crisis, had we managed to strengthen our financial system better and modernise several enterprises. But we were carried away by other things.
Today I have to talk a lot about the unwillingness of our businesses to invest in new technologies. This is a psychological problem, but it’s very important because one cannot be only after money all the time. You know that, during one of our last meetings, George W. Bush told me that it’s Wall Street that’s to blame for everything. He may be right but, on the other hand, Wall Street doesn’t exist in an empty space. It’s part of the economy, part of the state system. Therefore, here, we should simply make reasonable decisions and move forward.
F.Zakaria: Do you think you are doing a good job as the President?
D.Medvedev: I don’t think that I can judge in full measure to what extent I succeed or don’t succeed in doing something, although there are objective criteria of my work. They also exist. I think that the power should have an authority in Russia. It should have it in any other country as well. Of course, people in some countries don’t know the name of their prime minister. This is just a political culture, and everybody there is doing fine. It’s vitally important for some countries to make it clear who runs the state and who makes up the country’s political leadership. Perhaps, it’s part of our history or there are other reasons. But this is a very important thing for this country. Therefore, it’s definitely not me who should give such assessments.
F.Zakaria: But if you are doing a good job, it would make perfect sense for you to run again in 2012, correct?
D.Medvedev: Why not, if all the conditions are there for it?
F.Zakaria: So do I take that to be an announcement that you’ll be a candidate for the president in 2012?
D.Medvedev: I think that the most important thing is to live up to all the promises I made for this presidential term. He who doesn’t finish the job planned for the current term, but keeps saying that he will stay for another term and will take part in more election campaigns, I would call this person irresponsible. Has President Obama said that he would run for the second term? I haven’t heard that yet.
F.Zakaria: But people assume, judging from what Vladimir Putin said recently, that he and you will reach an agreement like Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. Many people have an impression that Mr. Putin is planning to run for president again in 2012? How do you discuss these questions with him?
D.Medvedev: I will answer this question and we will finish that subject.
F.Zakaria: You are doing it very well, Mr. President. You give good answers to all questions.
D.Medvedev: Did you think that I would tell you, ‘Next question, please. No comment’?
F.Zakaria: Some people like doing that, and it sounds good in English, you know. You know people think about the future. They want to know if you and Prime Minister Putin have agreed that he will run for president at the next election. Will you be prime minister then? What is the real state of your talks with him on this subject?
D.Medvedev: I think that you are absolutely right in thinking this way. Responsible politicians who represent one political system – and the prime minister and I definitely represent one political force – should look at the real situation before making such decisions, be it 2012 or 2016. The talk is not about offering yourself to the people. It’s different. Each political force should be responsible. When, say, a party decides to nominate someone to the post of president, it proceeds from a person’s characteristics – how well will he go or if he is capable of winning. That was what Vladimir Putin meant while answering this question. In doing so, the most common indicators, such as ratings, should be taken into account. But so far both he and I have normal ratings. That’s why we will definitely reach an agreement.
F.Zakaria: But then I understand that you are planning to run for a second term. Will you be ready to be elected?
D.Medvedev: We should finish the job which we are doing now. If we succeed, such decisions will certainly be made.
F.Zakaria: Mr. President, thank you very much.
D.Medvedev: Thank you.