“There are no ideal democracies”
RT: Many have called Obama’s visit to Moscow historic, but critics are saying that no real breakthroughs were made. How does Russia see the summit?
Natalya Timakova: Both sides, Russia and America, had great expectations of the summit. As for Russia’s evaluation of the meeting, it is indeed very high. I’ll explain why. Obviously, after the “frost” in our relationship over several years during the time of the Bush administration – a lot has been said about the reasons why it was like that, so I don’t want to repeat them – the most important thing was not to just initiate dialogue, which, by the way, was successfully started by the presidents in London at the G20 summit. It was important to secure a new relationship and a new openness for dialogue. In my mind, this goal was reached. It was achieved not just on moral and psychological levels.
Not only did the presidents show that they and their teams are ready to partner with each other, several documents of crucial importance were signed during the summit as well, including ones which were not on the agenda. I mean the joint statement on ABM, anti-ballistic missiles. This document had not been prepared, it was the result of the meeting between presidents Obama and Medvedev. As they discussed the issue of non-proliferation and Iran and North Korea, they decided to come up with a joint statement, which wouldn’t have been possible until recently, because the ABM issue was such an obstacle for the Bush administration and Russia. That’s why I consider the decisions, including the one on creating a presidential commission which will cover practically every area of our partnership – as first steps. Yes, there aren’t really any results yet, but we are just at the beginning of the road and I think it is important that President Medvedev and President Obama, didn’t just confirm their willingness to move forward but also, in my opinion, motivated their teams to do the same.
RT: Is it fair to say that the infamous “restart” actually happened?
NT: I think so. At least the attitude of both presidents and their teams during their joint work, showed their willingness to move away from the stereotypes that, quite possibly, ruled our relationship over recent years.
RT: One of the main topics at the meeting was the START treaty. Now, there wasn’t an actual agreement reached – so does this mean that it was a failure, or was it just the first step?
NT: During very thorough preparations for the summit no one, at any point, said that the new treaty should be the outcome of the Moscow meeting. The declaration signed by both the Russian and U.S presidents in London mentions the beginning of talks, taking into account that it is a very lengthy process. Nevertheless, we’ve walked a long way in record time, I think – from March to July this year, when the presidents met. If we look at the document signed during the summit in Moscow, it has some specific figures already written in it. As I understand the teams of the Russian and the American presidents are ready to.
It already contains certain figures. As far as I understand, the teams of both Russian and American presidents are looking to sign the START treaty, a new agreement on arms reduction by the end of this year. And I hope that both the Russian and American teams will continue working on this.
RT: U.S President Barack Obama often said that missile defense should not involved in the new START treaty. Did the Russian side manage to convince the American leader otherwise?
NT: You know, I personally would not use the term “convince”. The way we describe Russian-American relations and which side conceded and who won and who lost … it points to the specifics of our recent relations. But the point is that now we are talking about cooperation, cooperation always meaning compromises have to be made. But what is most important is that it implies a common goal.
During his visit the American president demonstrated many times that he understands Russian concerns regarding anti-ballistic missile defense and that he realizes that the previous administration may not have fully explained the new ABM facilities they were going to build in Europe. That is why I think that this is a two-way road; the parties are trying to make themselves clear. And I think this is the most important thing now.
RT: You were talking about compromises and the American side has often turned to Russia for cooperation over Iran. This issue is often linked to that of anti-ballistic missile defense. Was the Iranian nuclear program discussed at the meeting?
NT: Well, you know, the Iranian nuclear program was talked about in detail, and the discussion is now going on in L’Aquila at the G8 summit, and the joint declaration adopted by the G8 countries, which contains some comments on Iran, points to the mutual understanding between Russia and America regarding this issue. The Russian president has said many times that the Iranian issue should be addressed bilaterally. It is not just a question of what Iran possesses, but also of whether it has enough anti-ballistic missile defense facilities, because the situation in the region is not that easy, and there are enough hotheads on the other side as well. And I think that the American president got the message. Barack Obama himself has been talking about direct dialogue with the Iranian authorities. The Russian side keeps up such dialogue. And I think that it is extremely important, because such problems can only be resolved through dialogue. The case of North Korea is a perfect example of that. It is very important to have a partner to talk to, as Russia has, and I think it will use all its power to ease the tension in this region.
RT: During Barack Obama’s visit to Moscow many issues were discussed, from Russian accession to the World Trade Organization to cooperation in Afghanistan. But one of the topics American politicians seem to favor is human rights and the need to separate law from politics. Did the two leaders talk about that?
NT: You know, I think that the words which Barack Obama repeated several times – at the meeting with Dmitry Medvedev and during his address at the Higher School of Economics, – are very important. And he also said it at the meeting with the representatives of civil society. I think these words were unlikely to have been used by the previous U.S administration. He said that there were no ideal democracies, and that America was not an ideal democracy either. I think this is a very important statement by our American partners, who admitted that every country had a right to its own path.
There are some fundamental principles, of course, which are shared by Russia, such as freedom of speech, freedom of conscience, the value of human life, and free market values. But we cannot neglect the historic facts specific for each country. I think Barack Obama has shown that he is ready to embrace it. Dialogue with him on human rights and freedom, is different to how it was with the previous administration. There’s no mentoring, nobody tried to impose their position, and there was mutual understanding. I think that this is very important and that the president tried to take advantage of this situation to express his attitude to the processes, which are now going on in Russia, in detail. He dwelled on the steps he was going to take to fight corruption and to modernize the judicial system. And I think that, as both the presidents are lawyers, it will be easy for them to find common ground regarding this issue.
RT: The presidents had a very busy agenda in Moscow, after which, of course, they came here to L’Aquile to participate in the G8 summit. Did the Moscow summit help them to cooperate here and explain their positions to other leaders?
NT: I think it did. The other participants in the G8 summit have noticed this. Mutual understanding between Russia and America has always played an important role for other countries, and for the G8 leaders as well – as burning issues are discussed here, such as the world financial crisis and other international challenges. These are very important issues, the Russian and the American positions on them are also very important. The understanding between Russia and America helps to resolve international problems. Some key decisions have already been taken. I think it is inappropriate to name them for the benefit of negotiations. Russia and America supported each other when various decisions were being taken here at the G8 summit. This was not only noticed by the Russian and American teams, but also by other leaders, and this helps them achieve common goals.
RT: Some people are saying that the G8 group is no longer effective and that the G20 is perhaps a better format. They claim that the summit was not very well organised in Italy. What about the Russians? Do they believe that the G8 is still of value?
NT: First of all, I would like to say many thanks to the summit organizers. I think that we have decent working conditions here. And it is not a question of luxury, or of whether we are near the sea or architectural monuments, which are very numerous in Italy, of course. What is more important is that the atmosphere is very good and that the working conditions are fine. As far as I understand, neither the leaders, nor the journalists, nor the delegation members have faced any problems hampering their professional tasks during these two days. That’s what matters most. Talking about formats, of course the leaders have been discussing this. The economic crisis presents new challenges. A G20 summit took place in London, another G20 summit is scheduled for September in Pitsburg, USA. So, such meetings become more frequent, although the questions being discussed remain more or less the same. Of course, we need to figure out which formats are more convenient in terms of achieving common goals. But the evening G8 talks, which were part of a working dinner – it was a political discussion of current international issues – show that the G8 format is still effective.
Undoubtedly, there are challenges like climate change, which is one of the key issues, that are impossible to discuss without China, India , Brazil, and other countries with fast-growing economies. My opinion is that there’ll certainly be some format changes to the group. It’s also one of the topics here, at the G8 summit. I think that very soon we’ll see the results the G8 leaders will come up with.
RT: L’Aquila was of course badly devastated by the earthquake in April. And because the summit was moved here very quickly, the Italians couldn’t offer that much in terms of accommodation. So the leaders have had to share houses – how did president Medvedev get on sharing with Nicolas Sarkozy?
NT: It definitely doesn’t affect the mood of the leaders in any way. It’s great that they share a house – they are neighbors here, just like they are in Europe. It is a good example. So, I hope that neither president Medvedev nor the French president have any issues on sharing. Their attitude of being prepared to work, which the leaders have shown over the past 2 days here proves that having air-conditioning is not bad for creating a certain atmosphere but it really isn’t the key factor.