Post-Cold War world order is over, former Russian president says (FULL INTERVIEW)
Though relations between Russia and the West are at their worst since the Cold War, the unipolar world dominated by the US and its allies is now over, former Russian president and current head of the National Security Council Dmitry Medvedev told RT and RIA Novosti in an interview on Thursday. He added that Russians are uniting in the face of Western sanctions and threats, and will forever remember the current campaign of hate against everything Russian.
Russia is European but also transcends Europe
Q: Twelve years ago you gave an interview to The Wall Street Journal, a very reputable newspaper, and you said that you considered Russia a European country. Do you still feel that way?
A: Well, geographically we're the same country. Without a doubt, Russia has been and will continue to be a European country – just as it is an Asian country.
In terms of its geography and history, Russia is a European country. Also, we're European in terms of our cultural identity, because a good part of our population represents the European civilization, which is closely linked to the Christian civilization. But we also have a lot of people that belong to the Muslim faith, as well as to Russia's other major religions: Buddhism and Judaism.
Q: Obviously, we're not talking about geography here. Today, many Russians, including the country's top officials – if you listen to what they are saying – feel that we setting ourselves up against Europe, as its opposite.
A: No, it's them who are setting themselves up against us, trying to distinguish themselves from us. They don't have a monopoly on 'Europeanness'. The European civilization developed steadily all across the continent. Sure, we are not, in that sense, successors to the Roman Empire, unlike a number of other European countries that belong to the Germanic language group. We have our own history, but our history is just as European as theirs. So, when they say to us that we are no longer considered European, that sounds ridiculous, frankly. That's all I have to say about our identity. That's no reason to make any judgments – you asked me a question, and I told you that we are even more ‘European’ than they are. That's all.
Showing good manners in the face of Russophobia
Q: The scale of anti-Russian sentiment in this situation is staggering. It’s like all of Europe, even the countries we believed were our friends and partners, are united in their deep hatred for our country, and it’s manifesting at every level.
And now Europeans, who always claimed they were so tolerant and committed to the principles of democracy, say such terrible things about Russia and Russians, about our leaders. Not to mention Biden – I don’t think we’ve ever heard any rhetoric like that from a top official of his caliber. On the other hand, if we take Poland, maybe Biden is not so bad after all.
And if I may ask a question about Poland, if we could move on for a moment from discussing the main issue – what’s your assessment of Warsaw’s position in this situation? Because it feels like Poland is not only aspiring to play a key role here, but also to have Lvov and the western parts of Ukraine as some kind of protectorate. I understand that this is two questions in one, so may ask you both?
A: The rhetoric is definitely very sharp. It’s no doubt defined by current events, and all the political forces in Europe are trying to use this situation to their advantage and achieve their own goals in terms of domestic policy. Every country has something to deal with, be it elections or a crisis, or the need to create a coalition. And so they need a target or an enemy.
In this case, Russia is the designated enemy, so I’m not surprised by the rhetoric. You’re right, though, when you say that sometimes it defies comprehension, or, as they say, goes beyond good and evil.
At an everyday level we also see this Russophobic rhetoric manifesting, although I would say it differs case by case. It also has to do with new communication methods, such as social media platforms, because the patterns that were less common before can now take root instantly.
Russophobic rhetoric is nothing new, though. Recently I quoted Russian poet Fyodor Tyutchev, who talked about how the West ganged up on Russia 150 years ago and did everything in their power to turn us into outcasts and pariahs. Tyutchev noted that this witch hunt lasted for 30 years.
I can’t help but see certain similarities between those times and modern Russia. Russia in its current form is just over 30 years old, and for these 30 years we’ve been blamed for everything, especially in the last 20 years or so. They said we’ve picked up everything from the USSR, including its ideology, even though that’s not true, and they criticize us for this and that. So the Russophobic rhetoric we’re seeing from the West now is nothing new.
From time to time, we hear absolutely astonishing remarks, but we’re polite and we never get personal. No one points out that there are some people who exhibit clear signs of dementia or old-age senility. No one talks about grandpas who lose their balance while climbing the stairs to board a plane or forget which way their office is and go straight into the bushes. No one points this out, because we’re polite and we refrain from mentioning these things. But all that boils down to ethics and good manners.
As for Poland, I did have to speak on the subject recently because of the role Poland is trying to take on now.
Poland is more than just a loyal liege subject of the United States of America that seeks to prove its loyalty every step of the way, to show that it’s the United States’ rock and main ally in Europe. In essence - in this way or another - Poland has been trying to win back hundreds of years rather than decades of its failed attempts to restore the former glory of Rzeсzpоspolita. And if it can’t do that, then to at least remind the world of the fact that Poland used to be a very serious power both in Europe and globally, almost an empire in the making. Today, the country’s elite is represented by the Law and Justice party with Mr. Kaczyński at its helm, and they have been on a pro-American and aggressively anti-Russian path for the past ten years.
I can recall a different time - when Poland and Russia actively tried to restore their relationship, especially in the wake of the tragic death of the Polish president, and it looked quite doable because there were no impassable obstacles between us. But once the opposition party I just mentioned rose to power, the country’s vector changed dramatically, it became wildly rusophobic. I cannot call it anything but political imbecility since there’s nothing more to it.
They are trying to consolidate the voters that are very anti-Russian, and it’s no secret that Poland has quite a number of such people, as there are historical reasons for that, so they’re trying to take advantage of that and put their finger in Ukraine’s affairs. Especially since Poland is now hosting a fairly large number of refugees from Ukraine, and Poland is trying to use that for its own benefit.
They are adopting some measures that do not only aim to support the refugees (because naturally one can only want to help them) but also to find yet another way to punish Russia. They are proposing some new schemes, even amending the Constitution in order to be able to confiscate Russia’s property. Yesterday, they expelled a large number of Russian diplomats.
I don’t really understand what they’re trying to achieve with all that, because if Russia were to expel a matching number of diplomats, Poland would have to close down its entire embassy. Is that good? At the end of the day, it’s up to each sovereign state to decide whether to maintain diplomatic relations or not. But this kind of policy is utterly destructive.
I’d like to recap that Polish authorities are simply trying to prove their utmost loyalty to the United States and get more points for it by way of financial and economic support, as well as to get more political support domestically.
This is all sad, and it’s not going to end well. Quite naturally, they can expect a symmetrical reaction to their actions or counter-measures dictated by international law. We will simply end up in a situation where we stop talking to each other completely. Is it good for Poland? I don’t know, it’s Poland’s decision at the end of the day.
When will the Ukraine conflict end?
Q: Of course, we are not at the General Staff, and I am not a representative of the Ministry of Defense, but I will tell you honestly, my friends and acquaintances constantly ask how long the offensive will last. But as I said, we are not on Frunzenskaya Embankment, but the Security Council of the Russian Federation is here. Can I ask you what you personally think about the course of the operation and how much it actually meets the goals that were announced.
A: The operation took place primarily because the goals that the Russian state set for itself were not achieved through diplomacy. The President said this at the start.
The course of the operation, the plans for its implementation are determined by the Supreme Commander-in-Chief. According to the Constitution, it is the President. The President gave his assessments. The operation is progressing according to plan. This plan was prepared and approved by the Supreme Commander. Therefore, I will not give any additional assessments now, it seems to me that this is a completely exhaustive assessment that was given by the President.
But it is obvious that the operation will continue until the goals set by the President of the country are achieved. These goals concern the future of Ukraine; the status of Ukraine as a neutral state, a state that does not pursue an anti-Russian policy, a state that is not militarized, and a state that should be our normal neighbour.
Therefore, until the results of the demilitarization and denazification of Ukraine are achieved, the operation must continue - as it was conceived by the President of the country, as it was decided.
The US thinks it’s above the law
Q: The US has taken similar actions on a multiple of occasions in the past and in the regions that are in no way part of their immediate interests. These countries are not their neighbours or a threat to the US. Take Yugoslavia, Iraq, Afghanistan. But the US’s military action has never resulted in such a massive and consolidated response from the West.
No one responded to a bombed wedding party in Afghanistan by shutting down European clothes shops in the US. There were no other repercussions, either. Why? Why are we witnessing such a powerful response to Russia’s moves that you say are fully justified in terms of our security?
A: Now this is not going to sound as an insight, but clearly the US believes it is a nation outside international law, above everyone else.
Following the collapse of the USSR and an end to the bipolar world order based on the standoff between NATO and the Warsaw Pact, the US saw itself as the winner and the sole beneficiary of the Soviet Union's demise.
While in reality the Soviet Union broke up not because of NATO's activities, but for internal reasons. And that's why they behave accordingly: they believe they cannot be brought to justice, but they have the right to judge everyone, they are the ultimate decision-makers, they have the right to do whatever they want.
There are a number of drivers behind this behaviour. First of all, economically the US is a very strong country. Secondly, it issues the main reserve currency with vengeance, continuing to pile up its domestic debt. In fact, it is the whole world that is the US’s creditor. The entire world could be struggling, plunging into crises, while the Americans are printing dollars.
That is why they now feel completely unpunished in this respect as well. Exactly for that reason the US’s actions in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Vietnam a few decades ago, have never come under any legal scrutiny by the international community.
However, at the time of the Vietnam War, the Soviet Union was still alive, pushing for quite heavy debates at multilateral platforms. The Soviet Union, as you know, was helping Vietnam back then. The US pursued its policy for a long time.
We all remember the way it ended. Mind you, Vietnam is thousands of kilometers away from the US. Now, it’s a fact few people remember, even in this country, because it was a long time ago, but my Vietnamese friends said the US intervention in Vietnam throughout much of the 1960s killed over one million Vietnamese.
Just think about it. Over a million! Take a look at the map and see for yourself where the US is and where Vietnam is. Still, the US went in, and over a million people died as a result.
Even then it was never widely condemned although we had the Warsaw Pact and the Soviet Union in place.
And after the Soviet Union disappeared from the world map, along with the Warsaw Pact, the US got absolutely out of control.
They think they can do whatever they want. Yugoslavia is a case in point. We saw utter disregard for international law, the use of the armed forces and weapons by a number of countries including depleted uranium ammunition.
Was there any uproar? No. They realized they could go ahead, concocted a justification, and got away with it. Today, some European leaders admit “Well, yes, maybe they overreacted a little”. But it does not go beyond that.
Again, the US behaves this way around the world because they think there is no longer any competition. But they are wrong. Life does not stand still, prompting new developments in international relations and new countries emerging as strong powerhouses.
It means new centers of gravity in international relations are being shaped. Take the People's Republic of China, India, and the Russian Federation.
The unipolar world is over. The US is no longer the master of planet Earth.
Russians who left are welcome to return, but not traitors
Q: You must be aware that some Russians packed their belongings and left the country immediately after the special operation started in the Donbass. Do you think they will return, or is it a one-way ticket?
A:How should I know?
Q: What can you say to those people who decided to leave Russia?
A: Every man is the architect of his own fortune. It’s their right to make such decisions. Some people have left for the time being, as I understand. Others have left for good, fearing that the current situation may affect their lives in the future. It’s their decision. I won’t comment or criticize these people.
It’s obvious, for me personally, that a significant part of these people will return to Russia eventually. This military operation affects everyone’s psychological state, you see. People keep thinking about it. I believe this may have been one of the reasons, for some people. But that’s it.
I believe what is more important for the country is, for example, the way programmers treat current events. These businesses are international, and now they have ended up being cut off from everything – payment systems, banking operations, major foreign customers. For them the consequences are really harsh. And I can understand their motives, why they are trying to find a better place under the sun. The government has prepared a number of proposals to this end, and the President has already signed a decree. Let’s hope that we will succeed in mitigating the negative consequences for IT specialists and keep them in the country. Let’s hope that most of them will stay in Russia. This is a real problem. And I am really sorry for these people, on a personal level, because they are in a dire situation. And although it wasn’t us who introduced these limitations, but we still have to think how to make things better for these people.
Western sanctions are uniting, not dividing Russians
Q: And if we talk about entrepreneurs, about big businessmen, do they have support amid the military offensive? Taking into account the fact that now, a huge number of measures are being taken against them. Their houses, vehicles, yachts and everything else have been taken from them. How do you feel about this, taking into account the fact that the West used to say that private property should be honored. And, in general, is it normal to block accounts and populate houses with refugees – this would be unpleasant to anyone.
A: If we talk about business, this is also a part of our society, including big business - they are, as they say, guilty without any guilt.
Let's ask ourselves a question: in general, at least someone from this big business is - to some extent - capable of influencing a small fraction, one iota, on the position of the country's leadership. I can tell you right away: no, no way. Because we have different tasks.
Anyone who manages the state, first of all, focuses on the interests of the whole country, on the interests of the people of Russia. One who manages his own business (this is a very important task), only does this.
Therefore, the calculations that, by limiting Russian business, they will somehow influence the authorities, are absolutely meaningless, they are simply stupid. They are also trying to influence the sectors of the economy that are behind this big business. And these are hundreds of thousands, millions of our people.
In fact, with these sanctions, the Western world is trying to influence the citizens of our country, to hurt them. And, of course, try to incite them to turn against the course of the state's leadership, against the course of the President, in the hope that in the end it will result in some kind of trouble, some problems for the authorities.
But it seems to me that the people who generate these decisions absolutely do not understand our mentality, they do not understand the attitude of the Russian people in the broadest sense of the word. They do not understand the incentives that when such pressure is applied (and this pressure is not on large entrepreneurs, not on big business, this is pressure on anyone and everyone), society is consolidated.
Even those who were hard done by in some way or believed that they received little support, or some wrong decisions were made, in this situation says: “Well, yes, yes, they probably made a mistake in something. But in general, in this situation, I will stand for the state". This, it seems to me, they are absolutely unable to understand, just as they were not able to understand 70 years ago, and 100 years ago, and during various kinds of armed campaigns that were carried out, including against our country. These kind of restrictions and deprivations - they only unite people, consolidate people, but do not divide them. And this is their main miscalculation, this is the weak spot of these stupid sanctions.
Death penalty doesn’t have to come back
Q: Let’s recall that the Council of Europe tried to impose restrictions on Russia for many years. You said recently that there is not much holding us back now, particularly on the issue of the death penalty. Russia has renounced capital punishment by acceding to a number of the Council of Europe’s conventions. Since this is an important issue for our nation, here is my question: how probable is a return to the death penalty? Does Russia need it?
A: This is a very complex issue. It depends on the worldview in general. It’s a philosophical and moral dilemma. There are divergent views on the death penalty. And it is natural, it has always been the case.
There is one thing I know for sure. The Russian Constitutional Court was definitely swayed in some of its rulings by this country’s participation in the Council of Europe’s conventions. These conventions are no longer binding for us.
Nevertheless, there are legal guidelines provided by the Constitutional Court on this issue. And this is a completely sovereign decision, not a direct outcome of our membership in the Council of Europe. There is an obvious implicit connection, though.
Today, there are no restrictions in this regard. However, it is still a very thorny issue. There is not only a legal side to it but also a moral one. Even the basic, canonical sources of religions provide opposing answers to this question.
The religious view on this issue is one of the basic arguments surrounding debate on the death penalty in any country. Europe abandoned capital punishment at some point. So did we.
Unlike the US, China, and a number of other countries. They still keep it as punishment for those who have committed particularly grave crimes, first of all murder.
Again, today international provisions are no longer binding, but there are domestic legal provisions set out by the Constitutional Court. They reflect the current crime rate.
If it does not get out of control, I believe this legal posture could remain the same.
But legal postures are not eternal either. A shift in our society could force a revision of the legal posture. The decisions of the Constitutional Court are not sacred writ, they may change.
We’ve seen it throughout Russia’s history. The Soviet Union abolished the death penalty after the war. But it did not last long, and the death penalty was restored pretty fast. This was due to a spike in violent crimes, including murders.
I don't know how it will pan out going forward.
Russians will remember the West’s hatred forever
Q: Mr. Medvedev, do you think a lot about the pressure that Russian nationals now have to deal with abroad? Often, they face real danger.
I saw a video online showing what happened to the Russian Embassy in Ireland – I lived there for a bit as a kid, my father was posted there – and it was covered in spray paint and a driver crashed his car into the gates. It’s just unimaginable. Something like this could happen to any Russian national abroad. Meanwhile, the UN says that a ceasefire in Ukraine would bring the levels of Russophobia down. What’s your take on that position and does this connection make sense?
A: I wouldn’t call it the UN position. The UN is an international organization comprised of more than 200 nation states. If we’re talking about what the UN officials said, well, that may be so.
Let me openly say that recently the UN governing bodies, and Secretary General Guterres as well, have made several statements that I would call questionable from the point of view of international law. The UN should be above conflicts instead of taking sides. Of course, the levels of Russophobia these days are through the roof, as we’ve already discussed. These are manifested in the form of attacks on Russian people and pressure exerted on our diplomatic missions.
What is there to say on the subject? If we take diplomatic missions, the responsibility lies with the country where the diplomatic mission is located. This is the host country’s task. As soon as the host country becomes indifferent to the fate of an embassy, diplomatic ties are usually either suspended or severed. So the incident in Dublin that you mentioned is fully Ireland’s responsibility. They just have to take proper steps in response.
It happens to ordinary people, too – I see it and read about it, it’s clear from the online and social media content where they criticize Russia a lot. I guess it’s to do with current events. Some genuinely feel that way, some are doing it for the hype or because everyone else does it. It’s their own personal choice. Sooner or later the tide will subside, that’s how it works. But the memories will remain. We will remember it, too, including the Russian people who got stuck abroad while on vacation or on a business trip. It will be etched in everyone’s memory. They say they don’t want Russians there, and it’s only natural that our people who happened to be abroad at the time will remember that. I doubt that they will think higher of Europeans now than they used to.
What about the hospitality, tolerance and neutrality that you spoke of? All of it evaporated instantly, which means it never existed in the first place. It means there was no culture and no values. It was just a façade, and now all the filth has come to the surface, which we see in the behavior of every person spewing Russophobic ideas.
We will remember it too. We won’t forget anyone who did it – in their official capacity or just in personal interactions. These days, everything is recorded. We all have a digital footprint. That’s something everyone should remember when they write nasty things about Russia, our policies or our people. It will be engraved in our people’s collective memory forever. And I’m not exaggerating here.
International sports behaving in ‘worst possible way’
Q: Let’s talk about something else. You mentioned IT specialists who have been gravely affected and who will get assistance, but I want to ask you about our athletes. What’s happening to them is unprecedented: they are not allowed to compete or they are forced to do so under a neutral flag, they are pressured into signing petitions and making statements.
We all know that in some sports, an athlete’s career is fleeting. Won’t Russia end up on the sidelines of international sports? Competition is very important – it’s crucial for athletes to go up against talented opponents. Now it seems that the doping scandal was just a trial run.
A: Correct. Elena, Ilya, you’re right too. First, let me say that of course it’s tough on our athletes – same as on our IT specialists. But for the latter, the challenges started fairly recently, when our ‘friends’ started trying to restrict us in every way and erect an iron curtain when it comes to finances and law. For athletes, the situation has been dire since 2014.
You’re right, our athletes train hard, but they are not allowed to compete. If they are, they have to basically compete anonymously – no Russian flag, no Russian anthem. They are forced to distance themselves from their country, saying that they only represent themselves. This is cynical and amoral, and don’t even get me started on the IOC decision regarding our Paralympic team. It’s simply incomprehensible. It’s monstrous and disgraceful.
So our main goal is to support parathletes, to make sure they feel involved in social life on par with everyone else. But they get told, “No, your government is awful and so we don’t care about you.” That goes against any moral code. I think that the IOC behaved in the worst way possible here.
Yes, it all started eight years ago with the doping scandal. We admitted that we had a doping problem in our country, we are at fault here. But saying that Russia, I mean Russian coaches and athletes were the only ones to use doping is outrageous and cynical. Other countries did it too, but it’s Russia that everyone turned on. The objective that our ‘friends’, from the Anglo-Saxon world predominantly, set was to push Russia out of international competitive sports.
What for? Again, that was to stir resentment within Russia and incite people to do something about it. So our athletes have been suffering since 2014. We will continue to support them in every way and to organize as many competitions domestically as we can. We will seek to defend their rights in all organizations, even though that’s a huge challenge these days.
These decisions were made by specific people in the IOC, the EU, the US and the UK, which is not part of the EU anymore. It’s clear that certain people are behind these decisions, and those deprived of competitive sports will channel their bitterness in their direction.
Moscow’s rules on using nuclear weapons
Q: President Putin has often insisted that Russia only acts to defend itself against the hostile actions of the West. And in a recent interview, you said that our country has enough 'might' to put our enemies in their place. Which implies that Russia has considered some kind of retaliation in the event of aggression. What exactly did you mean by that, Mr. Medvedev?
A: We both know exactly what I meant. Russia is not your average country – it's a permanent member of the UN Security Council. And, as a side-note, let me say that all the ill-conceived plans to try and remove us from the Security Council are completely groundless. This would go against the UN Charter and the entirety of international law, for that matter. We are talking about the whims of individual states. This is my first point.
And my second point is, Russia is a nuclear power with the largest stockpile of strategic nuclear weapons on the planet. Naturally, no one is threatening anyone, but you mentioned the remarks made by President Putin... A few weeks ago, our country's nuclear deterrence forces were put on high alert. It was a simple message so that any country that tries to interfere with Russia's foreign policy would know what to expect. They heard us and said they wouldn't try anything. I certainly hope this has helped cool down some of the hotter heads in Poland and other US satellites. Still, they do occasionally come up with ridiculous ideas like closing the airspace over Ukraine. Luckily, there are cool-headed and reasonable analysts at the Pentagon and elsewhere who say this is absolutely out of the question as it would lead to a direct military confrontation with Russia.
I think this will be enough, for now. Although we do have a special document on nuclear deterrence which states explicitly the circumstances under which the Russian Federation has the right to use nuclear weapons. There are several such conditions, let me remind you what they are.
First is the launch of ballistic nuclear missiles to attack Russian territory. Second is the use of nuclear weapons or other weapons of mass destruction by an adversary against Russian territory or its allies. Third has to do with an attack on critical infrastructure resulting in the crippling of our nuclear deterrence forces. And, finally, the fourth is when an act of aggression is committed against the Russian Federation or its allies – whether with nuclear or conventional weapons – which threatens the very existence of the state.
All these conditions are listed in the document which was approved by the President's executive order. This testifies to our determination to uphold the independence and sovereignty of Russia. Let no one have even a slightest reason to doubt that we are capable of giving a proper response to any attack or encroachment on our country, its independence, or its policies. But keep in mind that I am saying all this because you asked the question. Obviously, our position is that, however complicated, any situation must be approached using diplomatic tools. And in the case of Ukraine, negotiations remain the most constructive and reasonable course of action. We realize that diplomacy does not always result in success, but this is still the right way to go.
US had ‘more brains’ during Cuban Missile Crisis
Q: You just mentioned something that terrifies everyone on the planet – the prospect of a nuclear war. Another scary prospect is military confrontation between Russia and NATO. In many ways, these two scenarios are similar – in fact, they may be one and the same. Do you believe there is a risk of such a war breaking out? Would you compare the current situation to the Cuban Missile Crisis, when the world also seemed like it was teetering on edge? Back then, we referred to this standoff as the 'Cold War'. What would you call the current state of relations between Russia and the collective West?
A: Nobody wants war. A nuclear war is a threat to the very existence of human civilization. In this sense, those analysts who say, perhaps somewhat cynically, that the invention of nuclear weapons has prevented a huge number of conflicts in the 20th and 21st century, are right. This is true.
So obviously there is always a threat. As a former commander-in-chief, I am well aware of its scale. Our people know that NATO's nuclear weapons target facilities in this country, and our warheads are aimed at targets in Europe and the US. But that is life. We must always keep this in mind and act in a responsible manner. As simple as that.
As for the Cuban Missile Crisis, for obvious reasons, I don't have any personal memories, I only know about it from history books. But I had a chance to talk to one of the witnesses, Fidel Castro.
Today, we live in another reality, in a different world. There is no Soviet Union, no Warsaw Pact, many illusions are gone.
A lot of things are not in place anymore, but the lessons of the Cuban Missile Crisis sank in pretty well back then. It had a sobering effect on everyone, including the leadership of the US, NATO, the Soviet Union, and the Warsaw Pact.
The world was living through a Cold War then but right now the situation is somehow worse, in my view. Back then our opponents did not try to bring the situation in the Soviet Union to a boiling point so aggressively.
True, their actions may have been disguised, but no sanctions were imposed on entire industries or agriculture, let alone personal sanctions.
It never occurred to anybody to impose sanctions on Brezhnev, Podgorny, and Kosygin. They understood, of course, that it made no sense, just as they do now, but at least they had the brains not to do it then.
Now everyone is in an awkward position. They have imposed sanctions, but it is still necessary to communicate, if only to prevent all sorts of undesirable consequences, including such terrible ones as, say, a conflict between Russia and NATO. It's like everyone is under sanctions, everyone is on some kind of list.
I signed the well-known START III, or Start Treaty, with President Obama. That treaty was extended by President Putin and President Biden. Why make it so embarrassing? The treaties were signed, but it was done by individuals who are on the sanctions list. If the Russian leadership were irresponsible in this regard, you could probably say: “If that's the way you treat us, then that's it, goodbye.”
There is a legal doctrine known as clausula rebus sic stantibus, which means that international treaties are valid as long as the circumstances that gave rise to them exist. Those circumstances have disappeared. You are not treating us as counterparts anymore. The persons who signed the treaty are on your sanctions list. Maybe it’s time to pull out of it? I am just trying to point out that these sanctions do not make any sense, they are absurd.
This was not the case during the Cold War. And it’s a reality now. The relationship between the Russian Federation and the West, the US-led Anglo-Saxon civilization in the broad sense of the word, is probably in a worse state than in the 1960s and 1970s. There is no doubt about that.
Fixing up Yalta for new world order talks
Q: Now, about the talks with Ukraine… how would you assess the progress? It appears that some arrangements are still possible. How will these agreements be guaranteed? Will the West need to bear some kind of responsibility in this regard? Once the special operation is over, given all the factors, would we need a new Yalta Conference to formalize the new world order, which, as you say, has ceased to be unipolar.
A: It’s an unrewarding task to comment on negotiations, and it’s wrong. Talks need silence. And it’s not without reason that the sides are negotiating via videoconference, almost daily, and not in the face-to-face format that requires more time. That is why I won’t comment on the talks. I don’t want to create problems for the negotiators or give ground to excessive hopes or emotional responses that such comments on my part could generate.
The goal of these talks is clear – to solidify the results which the Russian special operation pursues, in particular the neutral status of Ukraine, its demilitarization, and the repeal of the laws driven by Nazi ideology which were introduced by the Ukrainian government. Whatever they say about these laws, they effectively divide the people by their national identity. Some are called people of the right nationality, others are practically excluded. And there are also a number of other goals Russia is seeking to achieve.
Ukraine is pursuing its own goals, of course, and hopes to achieve them in the course of the talks. They include, primarily, retaining its sovereignty and securing further development of the country.
As for the guarantees that the negotiated terms will be implemented, there are two types. Firstly, there are guarantees provided by the signatories of the agreements. In the long run, those who will sign the documents, have the authority and responsibility to see to their implementation. And secondly, there are guarantees related to various international mechanisms. I will not overstate their importance here, of course, because there are a lot of agreements which were signed but not implemented. But, in any case, this is better than legal uncertainty or repeated attempts by Ukraine to weave its way into NATO in order to create a direct threat at Russia’s borders. In that respect, an agreement and the legal guarantees it provides are way better than no agreement. And this is the way to resolve the conflict.
You mentioned Yalta. I can only say that we will be happy to welcome foreign delegations in the Russian city of Yalta for talks. The palace that was used in the past for this purpose is not in ideal state, but it can still be used to accommodate guests.
An attack on their own economic values
Q: Mr. Medvedev, one does not need to be Fidel Castro to…
A: Fidel Castro can’t be replaced, he was unique.
Q: …to talk about the events of 1998. Let me share my observations with you. Even people who were born after 1998 keep asking me as a journalist – they seem to think that I am competent to answer this question…
A: But you are competent. Journalists know everything. They know more than politicians.
Q: Thank you. So they keep asking me if we are going back to 1998. And they mention the default. We have avoided the default scenario for now, as we were allowed to make payments on our sovereign debt. But still?
A: Do you remember 1998, personally?
Q: I remember that the ruble depreciated four times against the US dollar.
A: I see. Yes, it’s a memory that is not easily forgotten.
You cannot step into the same river twice. I was not related to state governance back in 1998 and saw everything through the lens of a common citizen, a businessman, if you like. But the Russian state and society were much less protected back then.
But I remember 2008 and 2009 very well, when I personally had to tackle the financial crisis. I also have an excellent recollection of 2014 and all the years that followed, when I had to address the issues as the chairman of the Russian government.
Every crisis is unique, in its way. In 2008, we created G20. They want to remove Russia from G20 now. But I remember how it was born right in front of me. The decision to create G20 was collective. First President Bush participated, then Barack Obama. Everyone was delighted that representatives from so many different countries were sitting at the same table – Russia, the US, China, India. G20 was a format that was born from consensus, based on unanimity. And now they suggest removing us from G20. No, guys, you can’t do that!
You asked us to join G7, to be the eighth member state. That’s right. But it’s different. G7 is your private club and if don’t want us to be part of it, we will go. And we did, we were “ushered out”. But this club is not important any longer. G20 is a different story. It was G20 that helped us out of the 2008 financial crisis.
Why am I talking about this right now? Because the situation we are in is different. Back then, all of us were trying to overcome the global financial crisis, caused by the financial bubble in the United States of America. Our common goal was to stand against it. And we achieved that goal, by the way. With varying degrees of success, but we pulled the Russian and global economy out of that crisis in a relatively short period of time. What’s happening now, however, is an economic war that the West declared against Russia – to quote a French minister. They declared an economic war against Russia. And they are trying to wage this war without rules.
Why? You asked, but I didn’t get a chance to answer. What’s written on the banners of any capitalist society, any market economy? Utter respect for private property rights! This is sacred! The world may perish, but justice will prevail. Everything may perish, but private property will remain.
And what are they doing? They are blocking the assets of our financial institutions, even the Central Bank. They are even talking about confiscating these assets, i.e. nationalizing them. Listen, this is a real war without rules. What will be the consequences of this war? Destruction of the whole global economic order. This is an attack on the economic values of our planet – ironically, these values were first formed in Europe and the United States of America, in our country, and later, at the end of the 18th century and the beginning of the 19th century, in Asian countries as well. Now we see how the founding principles of the market economy are being rejected. What can we say then? If they don’t value these principles, let them do whatever they plan to do, but, naturally, this will force Russia to respond with symmetric measures.
But, on the other hand, this new challenge and our reaction that must follow could be very effective. I’ve said it many times before, and this is true – had sanctions not been imposed on Russia in 2014, we would’ve had a worse situation in our agriculture right now. Everybody understands it well. We stopped their imports, and now our food security is at a very high level.
I hope that even in this situation, our colleagues in the government will be able to find adequate solutions that would foster the development of our industry, including aircraft engineering, automotive industry, and the key sectors like microelectronics and IT. We will have to deal with these issues anyway. Yes, it will be harder now, but, on the other hand, there is no one else we can count on. This time we will have to do everything ourselves.
Rubles for oil was ‘pretty obvious’ move
Q: Let’s move to a very important issue. Ironically, the West says they will cut us off everything, but they can't cut themselves off from our gas and oil, simply because it would backfire, they would freeze. They will now try to use less energy and come up with new proposals. Nevertheless, they have so far refrained from sanctions against our oil and gas.
But going forward they say they would like to stop using gas and oil from Russia. How realistic is it? Should we just sit and wait for that to happen, or rather take some action? The Russian president announced a move to the Russian rouble as the settlement currency. How will it work out? What will it look like in practice?
A: Well, let them buy it as long as they want. No one wants to lose money, right? This is all bravado and chest-beating.
Well, it could work for the US since they have an array of suppliers, they are isolated from Europe, they are not so dependent on our deliveries.
The US has banned our oil, though it hasn’t gone that well. The Americans will keep reminding President Biden about the price of a gallon. Ukraine is very far away and gasoline prices somewhere in the Midwest are at a record high right now. Inflation is 10 percent. It’s a mind-blowing number for the US.
So this decision will haunt the US administration. Its consumers will say a big ‘thank you’ for what their government is doing to their domestic economy as a side effect of attempts to sway the Russians.
Overall, I'm philosophical about it. It's our natural wealth, it’s our gas and oil. We have to trade it with Europeans, with Asia. Generally, there has been a global energy shift every 50-70 years. I do not know what will be the main energy source in 2050 – hydrogen or any other technology. I simply do not know. So we have to prepare for that as well.
But right now, this is a significant part of our income, and we have to get the full compensation for it. Certainly, we are looking at Asian markets in the current environment, and are figuring out ways to diversify our supplies.
Our European friends appear to be in a big hurry to give up oil and gas supplies from Russia. But in reality it is a very challenging task. 40 percent of their gas supplies come from Russia. Russian oil accounts for about one third of their imports.
But in any case, it is up to them. If they want to get rid of it, they will. The only question is, when. That’s something that we also need to respond to.
As for President Putin’s decision to switch to rouble settlements, I think it is a pretty obvious move. They shut down the correspondent accounts for our commercial banks, made settlements in dollars and euros impossible, and disconnected the banks on the sanctions list from SWIFT, at least some of them. What did they think we were going to do?
The only legal tender in the Russian Federation is the rouble. So it’s a simple offer: since there is no other way, you have to pay in roubles. So let them find a way to pay.
Anyway, consultations are underway. We'll see how it works out. But it was a very intuitive decision.
Q: What about Nord Stream? The Americans are rushing to bury it…
A: They are rushing.
Q: They call it “a hunk of metal”, using some peculiar words to describe it. Do you think this project still has some potential? And if we talk about the infrastructure, how long will it stay in shape without being used or serviced, without pumping gas?
A: I am not an expert on the subject, I can’t assess the durability of the Nord Stream infrastructure. I am sure it’s durable, but I don’t know the degree – we are not talking about months, obviously. As far as large-scale economic projects go, I tend to be optimistic – despite our current circumstances and the emotionally charged context that we are dealing with when passions run high.
The thing is, there are certain laws that can’t be ignored, even if our friends are trying to violate them right now. There have been significant financial investments, this is a very important and beneficial project, profitable for all partners. Conflicts come and go, but the economy and money stays.
I think the Nord Stream 2 project has a good future. It will happen if our partners decide to start using their heads at some point and remember that they have taxpayers and voters to answer to, that there are certain social obligations that they have to fulfill. Their responsibility is not simply to hurt Russia, but to solve key problems in their economy. They need to think about helping their own people, making sure that their taxpayers’ utility bills are not through the roof.
And I have to say this. What happened right after they made their decision concerning Nord Stream 2? What we said would happen. Utility bills went up to unprecedented levels. As high as two thousand euros in some instances.
Let me remind you that just recently, a few years ago, we talked about pipeline gas, not the spot market. However, anything over 400-500 dollars or euros seemed like an outrageous price. And now we see these numbers. Is it a good situation? Of course not. That’s why I tend to be cautiously optimistic when we talk about this.
Capitalism means they’ll come back
Q: Do you think we’ll see Western companies returning to Russia at some point, I mean those companies that are withdrawing or suspending their operation in Russia now?
A: Of course we will. It’s only a question of when they will return and what it’ll cost them in terms of losses. You see, Russia is a fairly large market, some say a premium market. So if they are willing to lose a share of their income, it’s up to them. We can do without them, but the thing is they don’t want to lose it, they keep telling us that they’re waiting and hoping for a peaceful resolution of the conflict in Ukraine. And they keep asking us not to take over, or appoint external management to or nationalize their operations because they want to return.
I think one of the press secretaries, either of the United States or another country, said that the administration had nothing to do with this decision made by major businesses – that it was solely their own decision, their civic position, that they put their heads in that noose of their own will. They wanted to give up this market – I say they need to read Karl Marx. Marx explains very well that capital will never forego a chance to increase profit. This means that unless they were under tremendous pressure from their own governments, I mean the governments of the West, none of these companies would ever even think of giving up Russia as a market. This was a political decision. And political decisions have an expiry date. Economy is, on the other hand, perpetual.
US is the real ‘rogue state’
Q: So, the sanctions have been applied to put pressure on every sector of our economy. It feels as if now, in contrast to the situation when the Soviet Union put up the Iron Curtain to shut itself off from the West of its own will, Russia is being forced to put that curtain up and become some sort of a new North Korea. It’s like people don’t want it, no one wants it, but the big powerful machine is already working, and someone is pushing the buttons. I’m saying it’s like North Korea because North Korea was buried under the sanctions; or it’s like Cuba where people still drive cars made in the 1960s. So maybe someone wants Russians to start going through scrap metal and repairing old ZAZ "Zaporozhets" cars to drive them…
A: What a shame that I sold mine. I used to own a Zhiguli car from the 80s. I guess I could use it now.
Q: That was probably the idea. So what do you think - as a worst-case scenario - could this kind of thing happen in Russia?
A: I think everyone understands that it can’t. Even though in the course of this interview I did question the intellectual abilities of the people who come up with all these sanctions against Russia, I must say there are different people there, and some realize very well what’s going on.
You see, all of them understand that, with all due and utmost respect to our friends in Cuba and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Russia is no Cuba and no North Korea. Russia is Russia, the world’s largest country, a permanent member of the UN Security Council, a huge economy and a nuclear power, which is why all these ideas that Russia can be curbed like Cuba or North Korea once were and that it could just be kept that way don’t have a leg to stand on. It’s impossible. It’s just utterly impossible. Even if some in the political circles and elites of the West would want it that way.
Yes, there are obviously challenges and we’ll have to overcome them. Unfortunately, they exist both at the governmental and everyday level. Still, it’s nothing new for us, and it’s not catastrophic. It pales in comparison to the hardships that our country had to go through in the 20th century. I tell you what – it’s not even in the same league with the problems we faced during the coronavirus pandemic.
Back then, we really felt uneasy from time to time, because we had no idea how this virus would behave, regardless of where it came from. Could it kill off most of the humanity, like in some sci-fi books? So back then things were much more tense, I’d say. The tragedy of course is that the virus caused so many deaths.
But this is a different story, and there can be no illusions here. They are trying to put us into the ‘rogue nation’ or ‘rogue country’ category. As for its etymology, I think it was Reagan who came up with the term. The Russian translation for it is ‘outcast’, but ‘rogue’ is actually closer in meaning to ‘outlaw’.
In fact, it’s the US that’s the rogue nation here. It’s not because we don’t like Americans. It’s because the US is constantly launching wars of conquest across the world. They are the outcast and the outlaw.