“Nothing left to divide Russia and US”
It was almost overshadowed by new concerns over Iran’s nuclear program, but some observers believe that the third G20 summit was the most productive yet.
RT: Some suggest that Dmitry Medvedev’s rhetoric concerning American-Russian relations has become somewhat softer. Is this really the case?
Natalya Timakova: What precisely do you mean when you say “softer”? On the contrary, the Russian President’s statements on some issues have become much tougher – as our Western partners have noted. A certain atmosphere was of course set by Dmitry Medvedev and Barack Obama’s meeting in New York. The meeting lasted over an hour; it was very full. The presidents discussed the Iranian nuclear program – a major issue – as well as preparations for a new strategic arms treaty and compliance with agreements reached during Obama’s visit to Moscow in July. These negotiations in essence laid the basis for the ensuing meetings at the UN General Assembly in New York and at the G20 summit in Pittsburg.
Russian-American relations are clearly very important at the moment, not just for the two countries, but for the entire world. Many world leaders stressed this at the UN General Assembly and at the G20 summit. That’s why everyone is watching closely to see how relations develop. A lot of credit has been given to the efforts by the Russian and American presidents to promote nuclear non-proliferation. That’s why I think it’s not a question of who has got softer or tougher, it’s rather a question of mutual understanding and the desire Russia and the US are showing to achieve common goals.
RT: The US administration announced its decision to revamp its plans concerning anti-missile systems in Eastern Europe just days before the summit. How important was this announcement in setting the tone for bilateral discussions?
NT: Of course it was important. The issue of new anti-missile defense systems was one of the sore subjects in Russian-American relations during the George Bush era. So, it’s not surprising that we’ve been eagerly awaiting the decisions by the new American president.
In his address at Pittsburg University, the Russian President called these decisions very responsible and brave. This is a very apt description indeed. The Russian President also stressed that these decisions are in line with American interests. It’s not a matter of bargaining. It’s not a matter of mutual agreements. First and foremost, it simply complies with American interests. As has been proven many times, the existing system and plans have failed to meet security targets. That’s why we welcomed this decision. And I’d like to point out once again – and this is what the American side says too – this decision is not a matter of bargaining. We respect it and welcome it, as our previous negative attitude to the issue was well known to everyone. Russia put a lot of effort into trying to bring its arguments home to the U.S.
RT: The news that Iran has been building a second enrichment facility came as a bombshell for many. Did it surprise Kremlin officials?
NT: Well, I think that this statement came as a surprise to all countries. Even if some did possess certain intelligence data, the communication by Iran turned things into hard fact.
RT: For months Russian officials insisted that there was absolutely no chance of Moscow supporting international sanctions against Iran. But at the University of Pittsburg, Dmitry Medvedev said that he would not rule that possibility out, provided that all the diplomatic instruments were exhausted. Does this mean that the Russian position has changed?
NT: I think that the new circumstances – Iran admitting there is a second plant – have made Russia rethink its position.
RT: Let me ask you again about that speech at Pittsburg University. It’s a very interesting choice of venue, as another leader from Moscow, Nikita Khrushchev, addressed this very school 50 years ago. Would it be fair to draw any historical parallels?
NT: That’s a good question. I can see historical parallels only in the fact that Khrushchev represented the Soviet Union, and Medvedev represented Russia. As for the rest – the time, the atmosphere and the questions and answers have changed dramatically. Fifty years have passed – the Cold War is over and there is no Iron Curtain. There is nothing left dividing us. As the President said, we still remain different nations, but we do have common values. I think you could feel that in the audience there.
RT: On the eve of the Pittsburg summit, President Medvedev said that it was time for him and his G20 counterparts to finally go from words to actions and start implementing some of the reforms they’ve been discussing. How productive in your view this summit has been so far?
NT: At the first gathering in Washington, there was a lot of skepticism. It was unclear how countries that are so different and have such different economies and political systems can work out a common approach. But the summits in Washington and London showed that countries are very eager to overcome global problems. Despite their different political systems and the different state of their economies, their willingness to take joint responsible decisions prevails. So, we can hope that the Pittsburg summit will bring concrete results, because a lot of people – starting with the French president – have questioned the possibility of efficient decisions.
RT: A G20 summit is of course a major international event that provides leaders with the opportunity to discuss issues of global significance. But if you look at the local papers you can see that photos and stories about the dress Michelle Obama wore for the welcome reception take up almost as much space as the analysis of the G20 agenda. It’s clear that in the United States the First Lady plays far more prominent a role than, say, in Russia. Why is that?
NT: I think this is to do with different political and social traditions. First of all, America has an extensive public political history and wives have always played a very important role in all the election campaigns and other events. They often helped their husbands implement important decisions.
Apart from appearing in evening dresses in public, Michelle Obama recently held several events to support her husband, who is trying to carry out a very complex medical insurance reform. She meets people and clarifies his stance. She is his very serious advocate, who provides support not only at home but also expresses it publicly.
Perhaps, Russia – the Russian people – are not quite ready for this just yet. We perceive the woman’s role in a more traditional way – as in charge of the home, as a mother, a wife, someone who provides a safe base and a back up. This is no bad thing – it’s simply our tradition. Although I think some things will probably change.
If we take Svetlana Medvedeva, for example, she is involved in many charity programs and provides active help for orphanages and takes part in Russian Orthodox Church programs as well. So, I think some changes are already happening. The thing here is how ready people are to see the First Lady as not just a wife, but an independent personality as well. Russians are not as prepared for this as people in other countries. Again, this is neither good nor bad. It’s simply a part of our political culture and tradition.
RT: In their final Communiqué, the G20 leaders said that from now on G20 summits will become the primary venue for discussing economic and financial issues of global significance, essentially replacing the G8 as the main international platform. Does this mean that Russia’s voice will become less heard, just because the ‘choir’ has become larger?
NT: Russia is not the only country that has such concerns. If the G8 moves towards the G20, the voices of Italy, France, Germany, the US and Canada will also become more subdued, because naturally such an increase in the number of participants will affect the weight of each vote. But, at the same time, Russia is a key global player and its position in the G20 is very important. What our President says not only gets close attention, but at times can be defining for many other participating countries. It’s more a question of determining the most efficient format for resolving existing issues. It’s not about the ambitions of certain states and their status in various organizations. It’s about the format that will allow to them work, discuss and solve existing problems in the most efficient way.
RT: Thank you for your time.