Russian-Chinese relations at all-time high – Medvedev
Q.: I heard you swim in a swimming-pool every evening. Is it true?
Dmitry Medvedev: What you’re saying is absolutely true. Indeed, I do swim both mornings and evenings, more in the morning than in the evening – from one kilometer to one kilometer and a half a day on average. I swim so as to be in good physical shape.
I think it is very important for anyone, president included, because there is a certain stress, with flights, travel – Russia is not a small country. In general, I believe one should take care of oneself, it’s important for every one of us.
I would like to say that in this respect, the Chinese culture gives a wonderful example of how one should exercise and look after one’s health. There is traditional Chinese medicine. So we are interested in that and enthusiastically try to follow all that.
Q.: In April, in your state-of-the-nation address, you said the Russian economy was facing serious problems. Can we say that the problems have been overcome?
D.M.: Indeed, in my budget message and some other documents much attention was paid to the economic situation. Unfortunately, we can’t yet say that all the problems have been overcome. I think it also applies to the whole world economy and all national economies.
All of us are now making an effort to overcome the consequences of the global financial crisis. We are of course doing this with respect to our country; and our partners, including the People’s Republic of China, are doing the same.
What can I say about the current situation? Unfortunately, despite some success in the modernization of our economy, we failed to solve a number of problems – first of all I mean the domination of raw materials in our exports, and we failed to create a fully-fledged banking system that’s less vulnerable to financial speculation.
Therefore, when the problem with exports emerged, prices for the main energy carriers fell, and when the speculative financial resources that are always there flowed out, we started to have certain problems that further affected industrial production and the real sector as a whole, as the growth rate fell.
We expect no growth this year, and GDP will most likely decrease, perhaps by six per cent, although the situation may turn out differently.
As for other indices, they are not bright, either – we have high inflation, although with its growth rate slightly less, but still high. We have problems with unemployment, as the total number of unemployed registered is more than 2.2 million people, which is quite a number for Russia.
At the same time, besides those registered as jobless, there are people who have not yet officially registered as unemployed, and we assume the total number of job seekers is about six million. This is a social problem we are trying to fight.
What do we do? We have a special crisis management program to support the real economy sector, individual enterprises – especially the municipally important. Also, we have a program to support those who have lost their jobs, who have been laid off or who work reduced hours. We offer retraining; we provide higher unemployment benefits; we are creating a network of small enterprises to provide jobs for the unemployed. It’s large-scale and serious work we’re engaged in.
We are not over-dramatizing the situation. It is not better or worse than in most of the developed economies, but there is much yet to be done.
Several days ago, we had the St. Petersburg Financial Forum, where we came together with representatives from other countries, and we drew a simple conclusion that a global crisis requires a global response – a new financial structure should be formed. So we are doing all this – along with our partners, including such close ones as the People’s Republic of China.
Q.: As far as Russian raw materials exports are concerned, we know that energy has played an important role in the revival of the Russian economy, but because of the global financial and economic crisis, energy prices have fallen, causing problems for the Russian economy. How do you think they should be solved?
D.M.: They should be solved as follows. On the one hand, we should develop our energy sector as a core industry which is the foundation of our exports and which provides the bulk of cash inflow; at the same time though, we must reform and diversify the economic structure of our country, making it more diverse.
We have quite a number of programs, but we think that such a promising element of the economy as innovation is underdeveloped. We would like to see our economy better adapted to modern life, its IT component considerably stronger, and our enterprises better prepared for modern life. In this respect, the main lesson of this crisis is that we should create a more diverse economy.
We are looking around, considering other countries’ experience and can see how the Chinese economy has been successfully developing in the past years. You have managed to diversify the structure of your economy considerably, which is very good and helps your country endure the consequences of the economic crisis. So this is something we must do, too. This is the main lesson of the crisis and what our main proposals for the future are about.
Q.: Long before you assumed the presidency, you said more than once that your task was to improve the quality of life. Now that you are president and have faced the problems of an economic crisis, will the situation affect the main task of improving the life of citizens?
D.M.: The task of improving Russian people’s lives will remain unchanged, of course. It’s the top priority of our state and our society.
As regards the current situation, it’s obvious that the crisis is not positive for anyone, but so far we have not seen any substantial worsening. What’s more, we have practically succeeded in preserving the level of income we had before – both in the private and public sectors we are indexing allowances and wages, and see to it that salaries in private enterprises are paid without delay, too.
There are problems with certain enterprises that due to the disruption of the production chain, or export price reduction, are now in a difficult situation. Such enterprises get targeted aid.
Concerning the living standards of our citizens, we have nothing dramatic transpiring, and our task is to prevent the crisis from affecting the living standards in our country. I believe this goal is attainable but it must be addressed on a daily basis, which I and our country’s government are doing.
Q.: After our arrival in Russia we saw that according to public surveys your popularity is 68%, which means you have not disappointed your voters. How do you assess your presidency during the past year?
D.M.: I don’t think it’s my job to comment on my approval rating and especially to assess my work. It’s something political analysts and pollsters should do. As for my impressions though, I can say that despite the many serious events that took place during this year, including the crisis that has put all of us into a difficult situation, the main thing we have in fact succeeded in, is that we have managed to preserve the direction our country and society are going in. Not a single social program has been suspended, despite the crisis.
This is perhaps the most important achievement. We are doing our best to implement all the programs we need so desperately. Incidentally, our foreign policy priorities remain the same, including the development of very close ties with the People’s Republic of China, our strategic, special and trusted partner.
This element of continuity should guarantee our country’s stable development for years ahead. And this is what I am going to build on.
Q.: As far as we know, you have an internet blog, and it has many visitors. Do you maintain it yourself? And do you follow the comments people leave there?
D.M.: It’s a good, timely question. I have been using the Internet for a rather long time, maybe 12 years. I have been following the development of the global information network. I think it is a very promising thing. For many people it is a source of all kinds of information – both official information, news and other things people are interested in. So, I believe heads of states should be able to use it.
So I decided to make some changes to the presidential website and create a section which contains the president’s video blog. I do regular recordings on various topical issues, both domestic (related to the crisis, or less significant yet still important to our citizens) and foreign policy issues – sometimes. After that, people comment on these entries, expressing their real concerns, sometimes criticizing, sometimes expressing gratitude.
What is important is that this information comes directly to my desk, or my computer rather, and I can see what our people who visit the site write in response to my video blog entry.
On some items that are complicated I may give direct instructions, if it is about major flaws or problems – not always but when necessary.
So, this is a direct and very efficient information channel linking the president with all the people who have a computer.
Q.: Your blog entry dated May 20 caused much public interest. It was about fighting corruption, your promise to declare your income and the income of your family. Is it just symbolic, or have some measures already taken in the fight against corruption yielded a tangible result?
D.M.: The decision to fight corruption is not about the May 20 blog entry. It was made much earlier. There may be something symbolic about it, but what really matters is the content. Corruption is a social evil, and it’s very serious in Russia, unfortunately. Of course, it is present in any society and any state, but for us it is a huge problem.
The only way to fight it is to take systemic measures. What do I mean? We need to modify our laws. I mentioned this a year ago, and we have passed such laws, and a special national anti-corruption council has been set up. The legislature has been changed, a special law has been passed, in which the definition of corruption was provided for the first time, and special rules for government officials have been adopted. In addition to that, there have been some presidential decrees.
It is important that ministerial, regional and municipal authorities support this decision with their actions. It is essential that this signal goes from the top to the very bottom. Am I satisfied with the results? Hardly as yet. It’s just a beginning. The problem is very old and very hard. Nevertheless, we have created a legal framework – for the first time ever in the history of Russia as a state, in fact – first time in its thousand years of history. This is already something.
We also have some practical results, such as government officials declaring their income. Some incomes may be concealed. But still, if an official has declared his or her income and has property of incompatible value, this can always give food for discussion in the media, and for the law-enforcement agencies to analyze and act upon.
So, the fact that all ministers, top officials from the presidential staff and heads of regions followed the president in publishing their income declarations is a step forward. And we will continue this work, although the task is very complex. It is possible to considerably reduce corruption in our country.
Q.: You said it was difficult for you to assess your own work, but could we ask you to assess your tandem with Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. You said once that time would tell whether this tandem would be effective. Now that one year has passed, what’s your take on how the tandem is working at this point?
D.M.: I think it works fine. As I see it, we have been working rather efficiently – me as president and Mr. Putin as prime minister. Frankly speaking, our joint tenure saw some dramatic events, including the crisis and some other events at the regional level. It appears to me that as a result of our well-coordinated work, many problems have been effectively solved.
Let me emphasize again, it’s not up to politicians to evaluate themselves, but this tandem seems to be an efficient, working mechanism.
Q.: In several days, Chairman Hu Jintao will arrive in Russia on a state visit. What do you expect from his visit and what do you think about further development of relations between Russia and China?
D.M.: My expectations are of course very high. We are waiting for Chairman Hu Jintao’s visit, and it will be a big event for Russian-Chinese relations. But what is even more important is that we meet regularly, with four to five meetings a year – in various formats. Of course, state visits are the top level, but we meet in other formats, too – at various international events, at regional events devoted to organizational issues – for instance, the upcoming summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization in Yekaterinburg. Also, there will be the first summit of BRIC – an organization uniting Brazil, Russia, India and China. So, such regional and international events make it possible for us to have an exchange of views.
As for the visit itself, it is, without doubt, a significant event. It happens regularly, at least once a year – be it a visit of the Chinese chairman to Russia or of the Russian president to the People’s Republic of China, and it is normally accompanied by a number of other related events.
Relations between our two countries are those of strategic partnership and cooperation, and every such visit develops our relations. We have made good progress in commerce and the economy, and in the humanitarian sector. Naturally, during such visits new agreements are signed and new ways are opened for the development of our multifaceted ties.
Much has been done in energy dialogue recently. This mechanism was launched not long ago – as a matter of fact we agreed upon it during my first visit to the People’s Republic of China last year – let me remind you it was one of my first visits abroad [as president]. And this mechanism has proved to be working, as it has generated substantial and serious practical agreements in the energy sector.
We have implemented quite a number of economic projects – not only in energy. We hope they will advance, too, also as a result of joint work with Chairman Hu Jintao.
We are successfully developing a humanitarian dialogue, with such significant events in recent years as the Year of Russia in China and the Year of the People’s Republic of China in Russia. Those were unprecedented projects, each involving about 300 events. As a result, our people had a chance to learn more about each other.
This year we have the Year of the Russian Language in the People’s Republic of China and next year it will be the Year of the Chinese Language in our country. These projects also include 40 to 50 events each. So, we can say that our relations are very intense. This is all with regards to our bilateral relations.
In addition, there is also an international dimension, as Russia and China always coordinate their positions on international issues and matters of regional security – within the Shanghai Cooperation Organization and BRIC formats I have mentioned, and in the UN.
We have formats where our countries take part as the main sponsors of a peace process or of a monitoring process – such as the situation with North Korea. In other words, our relations are at an all-time high. Frankly, our ties are at the highest level in the history of relations between our two countries. It is a genuine friendship, a genuine partnership.
And we would love to develop them further, especially since on October 2, we’ll celebrate the 60th anniversary of establishing diplomatic ties between our countries, while on October 1, the People’s Republic of China will celebrate its 60th anniversary. I think these two events are closely related.
Q.: I think everyone has seen it on TV in March this year – it was a story with you sitting in the cockpit of a Su-34 fighter plane. Many people must have also recalled how, during the Chechen campaign, the then-president Vladimir Putin flew a fighter plane, too. We’d like to ask if it was more than just your interest for military vehicles, maybe it was a signal you wanted to send?
D.M.: I wanted to send several signals. First, I wanted to get first-hand experience of the potential that Russian military vehicles have, including modern planes like the Su-34. I can honestly tell you that I tried it out myself and I am now sure these vehicles are really very good. Russia is interested in expanding the geography of its aircraft sales – both to our nearest neighbors and to other countries. This is the first signal, and the second signal is quite obvious. Each head of state is also the commander-in-chief of the armed forces, and has to go through it to know what it feels like for the people who serve in the military, including the stress and other challenges that are familiar to every person who has devoted their life to the Armed Forces. So, flying that fighter plane was my desire to experience what Russian pilots have to go through during their missions. I’m glad I did it; apart from everything else, it’s fun. It’s interesting to see your country from the altitude of such a top-class fighter plane as the Su-34.
Q.: We’ve noted that in your first presidential address, you criticized the U.S., particularly over the South Ossetia and Abkhazia problem. How do you evaluate the world order today?
D.M.: The situation with South Ossetia and Abkhazia is very complicated. I’d like to remind you that what happened, in the way Russia sees it, and in my personal opinion as president, was the result of the irresponsible and criminal policy of the Georgian leadership. If it weren’t for these brainless actions, life could be different. Nevertheless, the Georgian side chose to act dangerously, which resulted in the loss of human lives. The Russian Federation had to protect its citizens, including the people of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. After that, we recognized these two countries as full-fledged subjects of international law.
The US took a firm position on these actions. Anyway, it is their business. We made our decisions on our own, without expecting anyone to support us, because we had to do what was, as we see it, our humanitarian and moral duty. Still, we did engage in rather difficult negotiations with the US and some of our European partners. I don’t want to dramatize the situation. Today, the situation is different. We may have differences on various issues but we’re not going to reverse our decision. It is final. We are now providing economic, humanitarian and even military aid to the two newly-formed states, and will continue to do this in the future, whether someone likes it or not. This is our choice; and we will continue with these projects.
Nevertheless, we are ready to hold talks with our partners on the humanitarian and economic aspects of security in the Caucasus. We are ready to hold such talks at different forums. But we do have some so-called ‘red lines’. I’ve mentioned one of them – it’s our decision to recognize South Ossetia and Abkhazia. The other is our attitude towards the existing political regime in Georgia. We believe this regime has committed a crime, and we won’t have any contacts with it. But, naturally, after the next election, which will take place sooner or later, we will be ready to re-open discussions on various issues – of course, only if the Georgian people elect a new government able to engage in constructive dialogue with Russia and its neighbors – namely, the nations of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.