‘Ours is a young civil society and a young, developing democracy’ – Medvedev to O Globo
Correspondent (via interpreter): I know we have little time and will try to be succinct. I’ll start with Syria right away. Do you think Bashar al-Assad will remain in power for a long time to come? We know that Syria has been in this situation for a long time already, and it is still unclear what the outcome will be. What is Russia’s position on that?
Dmitry Medvedev: We have the same attitude as most countries. We don’t like what is happening in Syria. We don’t like that people are dying there. We don’t like that a civil war is going on there. That said, we think that the only way to calm passions and pacify the situation is to bring all parties to the negotiating table. As for the future of the Syrian government and President al-Assad personally, this is an important issue but secondary.
During today’s talks with the President and Vice President of Brazil, I said that al-Assad is unlikely to be willing to follow in the wake of Hosni Mubarak or Muammar Gaddafi, and so his personal fate matters. But I’d like to emphasize that this is still a secondary concern, and that, first and foremost, all political forces must come to terms. The thing is that these are not entirely political forces; they also represent different religious sects. If they don’t reach an agreement, the civil war will most likely continue, even with al-Assad out of power. Therefore, our approach is to facilitate dialogue and national reconciliation, and to create a venue for future talks instead of supplying arms to one of the sides or declaring one side legitimate or illegitimate like some European and Arab countries, thereby limiting the legal capacity of that side of the conflict. This is our position. We have held this position from the start. I believe it is reasonable.
Correspondent: What is Russia’s position, as a member of the UN Security Council, on North Korea and its nuclear tests?
Dmitry Medvedev: Russia is indeed a permanent member of the UN Security Council and we understand the responsibility that comes with this status. Honestly, our position on North Korea’s nuclear tests does not differ much from other countries. We consider such tests a violation of universally recognized norms and principles of international law and so we condemn them. That’s it. We have conveyed this position to our North Korean partners. We deal with North Korea. We are one of the few countries that have trade and political relations with North Korea, but we think that such actions do not advance the cause of normalization on the Korean Peninsula.
Correspondent: The international press writes a great deal about human rights and Human Rights Watch compiles periodic reports. Everyone saw this punk band Pussy Riot who were arrested. Could you comment on the state of human rights in Russia right now?
Dmitry Medvedev: What I say will likely differ from the sources you just mentioned. I don’t think we have an absolutely ideal, model society or an absolutely perfect country. We have our problems and we recognize them. Ours is a young civil society and a young, developing democracy with some shortcomings. There are no grounds to say that Russia is an autocracy where human rights are violated and incomprehensible things happen with respect to human rights, though this view does exist. Life consists of concrete episodes, but these episodes can be seen very differently, including the cases you mentioned. In our society you can find diverse, polarized views on, for example, the performance by those girls in the church, and I think it’s wrong to think that there is only one right way to view things. But one thing is indisputable – court decisions must be respected in every country. Therefore, when I’m asked about this case, I always give the same answer: perhaps the toughest punishment was not warranted and a milder sentence would have sufficed, but there is a court ruling that has already entered in force.
Correspondent: Brazil and Russia grow closer with each passing day. Many agreements have been signed today, for instance, on air defense. I’d like to hear what else our cooperation may produce.
Dmitry Medvedev: Let me say right away that no such agreement exists yet. We are simply discussing different forms of military-technical cooperation. This is normal for strategic partners like our countries. We have already achieved a decent level of cooperation in this field.
Now, regarding what the future holds, I hope that Russia and Brazil will have a bright future and a friendly, mutually beneficial relationship, but this will take effort.
Our trade with Brazil is about $6 billion and we’d like to reach $10 billion. Our trade with China is about $100 billion. I’m sure Brazil’s trade with China is also fairly impressive. I think we have a goal to work toward and this is why our trade and economic relations are a major component of our future cooperation. We have devoted almost the whole day to this issue. We are carrying out a host of good projects, but we are already looking for new ones – in energy, infrastructure, industry and high technology. All of them sound interesting.
Question: Are you going to Cuba now?
Dmitry Medvedev: Yes.
Question: I’d like to know your opinion on the liberalization processes that are taking place there now. Please say a few words about political liberalization in Cuba…
Dmitry Medvedev: You know, I think this is a matter for our Cuban partners. All I can say is that, in the time that I’ve been following Cuba’s development, the country has been changing. I think this is also normal. A society immune to change grows ossified. It doesn’t develop and eventually becomes uncompetitive and weak. This is why Cuban society is changing. I think this is normal.
Correspondent: My last question. I’m curious about the meteorite. Could you comment on this incident please? It made such a strong impression on the whole world.
Dmitry Medvedev: Well, it also made quite an impression on us. It showed that human civilisation is overconfident. We think we are making great cars and wonderful buildings and producing arms – in short, that the human race is marching forward. But really we are extremely vulnerable and the fantastical stories of Hollywood blockbusters are frighteningly realistic. We are part of space and we will have to live with the surprises it holds for us. In a sense this was a lesson. We are very happy that nobody was killed but the explosion of this bolide was enormously powerful. It exploded at a high altitude but its fragments reached us and things could have been much worse. So, this is a lesson to the human race and one more reminder that we can deal with some threats only by working together. There is probably no effective protection, but we should think about how to counter the forces of nature. Money and cooperation are a must.
Correspondent: In such a vast country as Russia… You have so much territory…
Dmitry Medvedev: Brazil is not a small country either. Our countries are comparable in size. Thank you! Muito Obrigado.
(interview transcript as published on the Russian government’s web-site).