Dmitry Medvedev gives interview to The Times newspaper (United Kingdom)
30 july 2012
Question (via interpreter): Perhaps we can start with your impressions of yesterday's Olympics’ opening ceremony: What did you think of it? How did you like it?
Dmitry Medvedev: I liked it for several reasons. Firstly, it was an exceptional spectacle, very well prepared and quite rich. What is particularly important is that it was a very British show, not Chinese, not American, not Russian, so it succeeded in creating a very British atmosphere. In my view, the dominant idea, alongside that of sport and de Coubertin and various historical images, was the idea of British music. British music is listened to and loved in many countries of the world, including Russia. So I think they managed to find the right language, the right code, if you like, to communicate with a large number of people.
I took several photographs which I uploaded onto Instagram. The overwhelming majority of the reviews by Russians who watched the opening ceremony were positive and they said roughly the same things that I did.
But on the other hand, we evaluated everything that we saw with one eye to the future: our ceremony in 2014. It will be completely different of course because we will be hosting a Winter Olympics. It probably won't be as long, it was a very solemn, large-scale ceremony (over three hours long), but whatever happens we will be following certain rules, criteria, and trends for the preparation of such events, I think the Sochi organisers will be studying what London did.
In summary I would like to say that it was very interesting: there were lots of memorable ideas and lots that were really funny, like Rowan Atkinson's appearance, it was quite funny, I didn’t expect to laugh during the opening ceremony. But he is a very fine actor, he did everything he was meant to.
One of the most important aspects is the lighting of the Olympic flame. Every time this event is shrouded in secrecy, everyone wants to be surprised and we were not disappointed this time either, because that kind of collective handing over of the baton from more mature athletes to the younger ones and then such a huge number of petals being ignited and rising upwards, there's never been anything like that before, so it was very memorable.
The athletes that took part in this were excellent, including Mr Steven Redgrave whom we also know, he took part in a rowing regatta in Russia. We opened up a rowing club together with him. So in that sense it was interesting and symbolic. I congratulate you.
Question: Do you intend to learn from the experience of the Games in London, how they are organised and so on? Are you cooperating? Closely?
Dmitry Medvedev: We are cooperating. We came here both to watch and to talk to our colleagues. There is a big team here from the Russian Federation – those who are actually involved in training the athletes, but also the leadership of the National Olympic Committee of Russia. Some key members of the government are here as well, those who are responsible for the preparation for the Sochi Olympics. And this is not just a promotion of ideas, but also an exchange, a form of cooperation with our partners. I think it will be quite useful indeed. Actually, this has been going on for a long time.
Question: Mr Medvedev, you had a chance to speak with Cameron [David Cameron, the British Prime Minister]. Did you discuss the status of Russian-British relations? How would you assess those relations?
Dmitry Medvedev: The opening ceremony of the Olympic Games is not about conducting proper negotiations, but yesterday, thanks to the schedule that was kindly prepared by our British colleagues, I managed to speak with approximately twenty partners, with presidents and prime ministers. And the first person I met was David Cameron. We were able to have detailed discussions for this sort of event, in Buckingham Palace. I will be frank with you: we discussed everything, from deliveries of British beef to Russia, to the situation in Syria - we covered everything. And of course, I wished David and all the Brits a good Olympics, and I expressed confidence that the 2012 Summer Olympics will be remembered by all, even though it is a complicated event both for the city and the state.
Question: How would you describe Russian-British relations? There have been a few difficult years in the past. As president of Russia you received Mr Cameron in 2011. Do you think the period of tension has ended?
Dmitry Medvedev: In general, I think our relations are normal. Yes, we have had periods of tension. But this has happened before, and each time the nations and the leaders have found a way to turn the page and face the future, because time trickles on, and a lot in the world depends on British-Russian relations. We are historical partners. We used to be rivals as well, and we were partners during certain difficult periods, including in times of war. That’s why there are no short-term problems, in my view, that can negate the main thing: we are simply doomed to cooperate in a number of different areas, beginning with economic issues, because we are concerned about the situation in the global financial market, the situation in the Eurozone, which concerns both Russia and Britain. Thank God, neither Russia nor the UK are members of Eurozone. Yet on the other hand, we have a colossal volume of trade, and Britain is a member of the European Union, so we keep in constant contact even out of those considerations.
As for the other questions, international issues have always been, are, and will continue to be on the agenda. We hold consultations. I’d say I generally found it easy to communicate with Mr Cameron’s predecessor, Mr Brown (Gordon Brown, former British Prime Minister) – we had good working relations. And I think David Cameron has quite good working relations, both with me and with Mr Putin. It makes it possible to openly discuss any topic. As for the number of difficult issues – yes, they do exist, but there is no need to single them out. Otherwise we’ll get into a blind alley. Besides, these problems, in my view, are transient and do not represent anything special. So on the whole, in my view, everything is all right.
Question: You mentioned Syria. This is definitely one of the topics that is of concern to the international community, and Russia has several initiatives to resolve the situation. Mr. Cameron has another view that is different from yours, but both the sides agree that Kofi Annan’s plan is the only political solution. Do you think this plan has any chance of success, considering the fact that the situation is unfolding so quickly in Syria?
Dmitry Medvedev: I don’t want to seem like an outright optimist about this matter, because the situation is very difficult and very complicated. But I think that Kofi Annan’s plan has not yet run its course, because it is a political plan and a peace plan. In fact, despite differences in emphasis, the positions of Russia, the US and Britain are not as sharply different as sometimes suggested. We all proceed from the position that the worst outcome would be a full civil war in Syria, and there is such a preview of civil war there, if you like. A huge number of civilians have died. As usual in such conflicts, both sides are guilty because they would not listen to each other and would not sit down at the negotiating table .
Yesterday I reminded Mr Cameron that more than a year ago, I had told President Assad that he needed to act quickly to make reforms and to establish relationships with the opposition, which is the key issue, however difficult that might be for him – even though, for example, he belongs to the Alawite minority, while the opposition is largely represented by other trends in Islam. But Syria is complicated nation, and it is much more complicated in that sense than Egypt or Libya, because all the communities – Sunni, Shia, Alawi, Druzes and Christians – have lived and will continue to live on that territory, and either they will find a way to survive together or there will be endless civil war and endless killings. That’s why both the sides are guilty – they should sit down to a negotiating table and find a solution to this very difficult problem. I don’t know the exact configurations of political forces in Syria in the future, and I don’t know Mr. Assad’s place in that configuration either – this should be decided by the Syrian people.
The difference between Russia and Britain on this issue is that we believe negotiations are still the only way. Our partners are urging us to support more decisive action. But then the question arises: where do resolutions end and military actions begin? We watched all that when resolutions on Libya were being passed. It ultimately ended in an international intervention. But this is a bad way, nobody needs it, both President Obama and Prime Minister Cameron assured me of this. That’s why in this case, I think the potential of the plan has not been exhausted, we must cooperate, we have to continue consultations on this matter.
By the way, yesterday I talked about this issue with Lebanon’s leader and the Turkish Prime Minister. So, the issue of Syria is quite burning, even at the Olympic Games. Well, and I think the general position on this matter will be presented here by Vladimir Putin, who, according to the Constitution, determines the principles of foreign policy as the president of the country.
Question: You were President at the time of the Libya intervention and the diplomatic proceedings that preceded it. Does that experience influence Russia’s current position on Syria? Do you feel somehow betrayed by what happened in Libya and do you not want to see the same situation again?
Dmitry Medvedev: It has definitely influenced our position on Syria. Even when everything was just starting in Syria, I said that we would adjust our stance, taking into account what had happened in Libya. We proceeded from the assumption that the adoption of the well-known UN resolution on Libya would allow the sides to conduct appropriate consultations, sit down at the negotiating table, and, at the same time, would send a stern signal to the former leader of Libya.
Unfortunately, that is not what happened. And despite the assurances we received that there would be no war and no intervention, in the end a real war was launched, which claimed a great number of lives.
But most importantly, I believe that this is a bad way, in general, to determine a country’s future. No matter how committed we are to democratic values, democracy that is imposed by outside forces is generally ineffective. Only when democracy matures from within will it have broad-based public support. That is why what happened in Libya without a doubt influenced my position at the time, and continues to influence Russia’s stance on the conflict in Syria.
Question: The differences with Britain on Syria… The reset with the United States, which helped improve ties between the two countries, happened under your presidency. Are you worried that relations could deteriorate again?
Dmitry Medvedev: I believe that the last few years have been the most productive in the history of US-Russian relations. I am glad that this happened during my presidency and that President Obama and I pushed forward the reset agenda.
I believe that we have accomplished a great deal, despite the fact that we continue to have real differences on a host of issues. But that’s the nature of international relations: each country is guided by its own national interests and the way it sees them. Americans see their interests in one way, Britain has its vision, and similarly, Russia has its own understanding of what the country’s national interests are.
Overall, I believe these years were very positive. I don’t think that there has been any change of course, or that Russia has assumed a tougher stance towards the United States, as is often claimed by the media, or that priorities have changed and the reset has ended without accomplishing anything.
It is absolutely wrong to think that way, as the reset has already accomplished many positive things, including the treaty on the limitation of strategic offensive arms, which did not exist in the past and now does and which will define our relationship in the coming years, despite the fact that our positions differ on missile defence.
We were able to re-launch lots of positive mechanisms and held frequent consultations on international issues. This was the first US administration that helped Russia enter the WTO, and I will always be grateful to Barack Obama for that, for his unequivocal stance. I remember talking to him without an interpreter as we were driving in the car. He told me: “You know, I will help you join the WTO,” and he did it. You never forget things like that. This means that he keeps his word.
Nothing dangerous or terrible has happened in our relationship. All the talk about the changes in our positions is largely ideologically motivated. I hope that President Putin and Barack Obama will continue their working and friendly relationship. And that’s exactly what is happening. They are in contact with each other, exchanging messages and phone calls. It’s absolutely normal. And certainly, I will continue contributing to this dialogue as much as I can and to the extent my constitutional powers allow me. Everything is fine.
Question: You have mentioned missile defence. Are there any signs that you might reach an agreement on this issue with the United States?
Dmitry Medvedev: The point is that nobody has a complete understanding of what the missile defence system entails, and that’s the main problem. For instance, do you fully understand what the missile defence system is? I’m sure you don’t. Neither do the Americans or American taxpayers. As for the position of certain European countries and their leaders, some have privately told me: “We have no need for it whatsoever, but our American friends, as our senior NATO partners, are imposing it on us, and it is very costly!”
But most importantly, it is unclear against whom this missile defence shield is being created. If it is directed against states pursuing illegal nuclear and missile development programmes, we can understand that. But why the need for the missile shield and these anti-ballistic missiles’ capability of striking targets in Russia, which is to say, affecting our rocket capabilities?
And if it is aimed against us, then you should be honest about it. But that would mean the breakdown of the nuclear parity that currently exists between Russia and the United States and that has been a key to maintaining security throughout the entire post-war period. We have yet to get an answer to that question.
The US administration and some of our European partners have been telling us: “You shouldn’t worry, we’re friends and we are working together on the NATO-Russia Council, everything will be fine.” But we also hear some congressmen on Capitol Hill practically openly declaring: “Of course it is directed against you, whom else could it be directed against?” There are all kinds of people there, and I don’t want to discuss them, but this is very symptomatic.
Therefore, I believe that NATO has to decide what it expects from the four-phased adaptive approach to the missile defence system. That is first. Second, what role will Russia have there? My proposal to create a joint missile defence system, which I made in Lisbon, has been rejected. This is very unfortunate, as it provided an opportunity to close the issue for good and create an effective shield against the states that can pose a real threat to NATO and Russia.
But it was refused. In that case, you should explain what is going to happen in the future. There is still time, as I have said earlier. The same has been said by the current Russian president. However, time is gradually running out. If by 2018 we fail to reach any agreement on this issue, then we might face a new arms race, which would be an extremely negative as well as a costly and absolutely ineffective outcome for everyone.
Question: Mr Medvedev, I’d like to remind you that at the St Petersburg economic forum a year ago you made an impressive speech about the future of the Russian economy, and in particular, about challenges to your economy related to corruption. You said you would guarantee that officials charged with corruption would be suspended for the duration of the investigation… Do you think this problem has been resolved, or is there still much to do?
Dmitry Medvedev: I believe that corruption is a systemic threat to our country, as to any other state, but to our country especially because we are a young democracy and our economic institutions are not yet fully settled. For this reason, I have not recently seen any special achievements in the fight against corruption, even though I have said more than once that I am pleased to have initiated the establishment of anti-corruption institutions, which we have not had in our country before. And all these years, when I served as Russia’s President and suggested the pertinent initiatives, resulted in the creation of an anti-corruption legislation, which is very important. We have admitted that we have this problem. Some five to seven years ago, we did not even speak about it. We would say, corruption? Sure, we had it ages ago, back before the revolution and during the Soviet period, and we have it now, so what? But today, firstly, we understand that it is a real systemic problem. We have a corresponding legislation. Thousands of criminal cases have been brought against officials, and a major part of them led to their criminal punishment. Is this enough? No, it is not. We must keep digging, calling culprits to account and improving [anti-corruption] institutions.
By the way, I recently chaired a meeting of the Open Government, whose experts are working towards this end. These experts have proposed a number of new ideas, which I will share with my colleagues, some of which could be implemented by the government. But we must keep working. In general, there is a period in the history of all states when corruption acquires a new form that the state and its law-enforcement agencies are not prepared for. I have read the review of the British press today and saw that several such cases are written about in the media, in particular in London and in other cities – this is a popular subject for the British. This does not mean that corruption has grown in scale, but this issue nevertheless interests people, which is normal. This issue is also of interest for our people. An absolute majority of our people, no less than half, believe that corruption is a systemic challenge and that the state must expend money and effort to combat the crimes of corruption. I am sure that we will keep working toward this end.
Question: Mr Medvedev, you have said that Russia is a young democracy, and in the past months we have seen growing efforts in the sphere of civil society. You have made amendments to legislation to simplify the registration of parties, and other measures have been taken as well. But recently, there have been fears that the adopted laws have a different goal, that they restrict demonstrations and the operation of non-profit organisations. Take the recent case of Pussy Riot, who have been charged and are being prosecuted. Do you think that this restriction of freedom is justified?
Dmitry Medvedev: You know, it seems to me that the public sometimes creates phantoms and then starts to believe in them, or creates stereotypes and then starts acting in accordance with them. Regarding our legislation, I believe that nothing special has happened in this respect in the past few months. But if someone wants proof that Russia is sliding back into totalitarianism, that we are infringing on civil rights, then he is sure to find it anywhere – in any society and in any country. You have mentioned the law on non-profit organisations: in fact, the draft law that the State Duma has accepted corresponds to a number of foreign laws, including the relevant US law, in its essence and as regards the absolute majority of its regulatory provisions. This is the first point.
Secondly, the very phrase, “foreign agents,” does not imply any denunciation, not at all. It is a simple statement of the fact that some or other non-governmental organisation receives funds from abroad. No state can remain indifferent to this, because when funds from foreign sources are used to finance political activity, this raises questions in all countries, including in Britain, the United States and any other country. I therefore believe that this situation can and must be streamlined. As for the application of that law, it has not been applied yet. I am fully confident that this will not radically impact the activities of non-profit organisations, including those that engage in politics and those that deal with economic and humanitarian issues. We have the law but we have not had any practice in applying it, but I don't believe there is any potential for conflict in it. However, in case there are any problems, it can be amended by our lawmakers, in particular by our main party, which has the majority in the State Duma and which in fact voted for that draft law.
As for other high-profile issues, including the case you have mentioned, I believe that they should be considered calmly. Has there been a verdict? No, the investigation is not yet over. Of course, there are differing approaches to such cases. Responsibility for such actions is much harsher in some countries, not to mention the fact that in some political conditions, such actions could lead to dramatic results for those who conduct them at a place of worship – the faith does not matter in this case. But the most important thing, as I've mentioned, is: let’s wait for the end of the investigation and for the verdict, and only then will we be able to say whether a crime was committed. This is a high-profile case because it concerns our understanding of personal rights and freedoms. As I see it, there will always be different approaches to what is permissible and what is not permissible from the moral perspective, and when a moral wrongdoing becomes a crime. The decision will be made by a court. It is the court that must decide whether there is corpus delicti in their acts, as lawyers say, which means the fact of a crime. If the court decides that there is none, then those who committed these actions have become famous without being called to account. On the other hand, I certainly understand that being in custody has been an ordeal for the women and their families.
Question: As president, you introduced quite a few reforms that encourage civil society. Do you feel that civil society currently is healthy in Russia or there is more that could be done to promote more political diversity and pluralism?
Dmitry Medvedev: Our society is becoming increasingly mature. I can say that at the beginning of my presidency in 2008 civil society in our country was far less developed than it is today. Our civil society is more developed, diverse, multifaceted and far more proactive now. This is what happens when democracy and civil society ‘grow up.’ Our people do care about the election results, which was evidenced by their unprecedented enthusiasm during the parliamentary and presidential elections. That doesn't mean that I agree with everything that was said during that period or that certain accusations against the authorities seem justified to me. But at any rate, it is good that people are willing to express their positions (as long as they do so legally); and secondly, the authorities must keep up a dialogue with the people.
Incidentally, the whole package of changes to the political system that I proposed in December is basically a result of the development of our civil society. When I hear that Russia is going backwards for one reason or another, I think that's pretty funny. In recent years, we have not only cemented the foundations of the political system but we have changed it. Now we have completely different rules governing the political activities of parties. There will be many parties and they will be allowed to do much more than before, but within the limits of the law, of course. We have introduced a new way of forming the executive authorities in the regions. Governors will once again be elected. Has all this been cancelled by somebody? On the contrary, we are preparing for these changes, as are leaders of the other political parties.
Recently I had a meeting with the leaders of several political parties (the list is not limited to United Russia, of which I’m a leader). They are completely wrapped up in preparations for the elections. They told me, “We will nominate ourselves in certain places because we have a good chance there.” Isn’t that a sign that the political system is changing? Isn’t that a result of the development of civil society? I personally think we are doing well.
Question: Just a final question. Well, two final questions. You are famous for sending out tweets and you are directly responding to people who follow you. This is direct democracy in action. Do you have time to do that? Do you have time – as prime minister now – to respond to all the young people who want to talk to you?
Medvedev (replies in English): I’m sending it right now, absolutely.
Question: Do you think Russia has embraced the whole Internet revolution? My goodness, here we are, broadcast live. And do you think that the older generation has fully understood the complete need for absolute transparency in this kind of direct response from senior officials?
Dmitry Medvedev: You know what I showed you just now and the completely new information environment, they are I think the best guarantee against totalitarianism and a return to the regrettable past. No government – in any country, including the most complex regions such as the Middle East – can ignore the large network of communications that are emerging and developing and which keep going, regardless of whether the authorities like it or not. All authorities don't like it, by the way, simply because nobody likes criticism. I remember certain events that happened in London involving Twitter and similar incidents. But there is nothing the authorities can do about it. We need to create an adequate legal framework for the development of social networks , but we cannot shut them down.
What does this mean? It means only one thing. No modern leaders can adapt to the existing social circumstances if they ignore the new information environment. Every leader must be aware of what is going on there. After all, it seems to me that a clear political perspective will open up only to those who are in direct contact with the people. Politicians used to have to go out and meet people, which many of them did – from emperors to prime ministers and presidents. How did it happen? Once or twice a month, a leader would go out to meet the crowds. Everyone was shouting and he would only receive snippets of information. That kind of communication is incomplete, fragmented. What we have now is an entirely different thing.
Every day I read at least 50 messages addressed to me directly via Facebook, Twitter and other social networks or my website. I usually give directives on the substantive issues. Sometimes, on my way to work I go online and if I see something that requires my immediate attention, which is of crucial importance to the country, I print out the document and write down my instructions on the printout. It was impossible to imagine leaders interacting with people directly that way before. I think it is really important. I repeat: those politicians who do not make use of these tools have no future in politics.
Question: That leads actually very nicely to my final question. If you again had the opportunity for a second term as president, what would you do? Do you have any regrets about not receiving a second term? And might there be a second term for you in the future?
Dmitry Medvedev: You answered your own question. I’m still a young politician. I’ve not ruled out running again if that's of interest to the people and I’m not planning to leave politics in the near future. If people are tired of me and say goodbye to me then I'll start writing my memoirs. But I’m certain that there is no reason for me or the political force that I represent to resign from politics. Therefore, I don’t rule out anything for myself. I’m at the centre of political life. I work very hard and I intend to do the same in the future.
Thank you very much. I wish Britain and all the subjects of the British Crown success in the Olympic Games. I’m certain it will be remembered as another achievement in promoting Olympic values and as a beautiful sports event; and it will be remembered for outstanding victories and British hospitality.