President of Russia Dmitry Medvedev: Ladies and gentlemen,
President of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan Mr Hamid Karzai and I have held our talks.
This is not our first meeting. We have met many times before, both in Russia and abroad. But this is the first official visit by Mr Karzai to our nation. This is a very important event for us, and that’s what I said to Mr President at the very beginning of our talks.
I expect these talks, which are not yet finished, to take our relations to a new level.
Today, we have already had a chance to exchange views on the development of our bilateral relations. We have talked about the situation in Afghanistan and other neighbouring nations. We also discussed how to jointly resolve regional problems. The priorities in our relations are reflected in our joint statement.
Another important practical step was the agreement we have just signed on trade and economic cooperation between our two states. In particular, it provides for the creation of a very important instrument to develop trade relations between our countries: namely, an intergovernmental commission that is to play a key role in strengthening economic interaction between our countries.
A few words about trade and economic relations. In recent years, turnover between our nations has increased quite significantly; it has grown more than four-fold and already stands at 500 million dollars. Naturally, this turnover began growing from a very low position, and it is also affected by the overall economic situation in Afghanistan. Nevertheless, this is already a good sign, and we would like to see further development of trade and economic relations with our Afghan partners. Examples of such joint projects include the results of our cooperation in energy sector; Russian companies are already participating in the modernisation of the Naglu HPP, and in creating small-scale power generation facilities in hard-to-reach, mountainous regions of Afghanistan. We are also looking into opportunities for Russia to participate in building new hydro power plants in other Afghan provinces. That is just one example of where I think we already have a good economic capacity.
In addition, we are holding talks on joint reconstruction of a wide range of facilities that are of importance for Afghanistan. We have repeatedly discussed this matter with Mr President. We are talking about the Salang Tunnel, a nitrogen fertilizer plant, a thermal power plant in Mazar-i Sharif, and other facilities, such as integrated home-building factory. All of these projects are currently being analysed.
Overall, we would like to increase Russia’s presence in Afghanistan one way or another, especially since historically, economic cooperation ties between the Russian Federation (formerly the Soviet Union) and Afghanistan have always been very powerful: Afghan specialists were trained in Russia and projects were implemented in Afghanistan with the help of Russian specialists. I think this is the kind of positive trend we must maintain in the future.
In strengthening our relations, we should also think about the humanitarian element and about developing joint education projects. Right now, there is a significant number of Afghan students studying at our universities, and we feel that such projects would be very useful. We think that the overall number of scholarships for training specialists must increase – not only for civilian occupations, but for military as well. This means that quotas for training specialists – military personnel for the Afghan army and law enforcement agencies, the police – will also increase.
Naturally, we discussed the problems that Afghanistan faces. Mr President gave me a detailed briefing on the political processes underway in Afghanistan.
I told Mr President that we welcome the parliamentary elections that were held in Afghanistan and very much count on the new parliament to become an integral political body that on the one hand will contribute to national reconciliation, consolidating all vital, responsible patriotic forces in Afghanistan, and on the other hand, will help Mr President along his course towards rebuilding full-fledged Afghan statehood.
I once again told Mr President that Russia would like to see our close neighbour Afghanistan as an independent, prosperous nation with effective state institutions that are able to independently ensure the development of Afghanistan for decades to come.
At the same time, we understand that Afghanistan is going through a difficult period of time and that right now, the international efforts play an important role in completing the processes to bring about order and fight extremism and crime, including drug-related crimes. Russia has its own role in this; we are assisting in the transit of corresponding cargo and we intend to continue fulfilling all our obligations to support Afghanistan in this very difficult task.
We hope that Afghanistan will integrate itself into regional associations more actively with every year. I told Mr President that we are happy to welcome Afghanistan as a guest participating in the work of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation. We invite Afghanistan to also participate in other regional associations to the extent that this might be of interest to Afghanistan. In any event, the more intensive our contacts in these areas, the better I think it will be for Afghanistan, for Russia, and therefore, for everyone living in our region.
I would like to once again emphasise that this first official visit by the President of Afghanistan to our nation should open a new page in our relations. And I sincerely welcome my colleague, Mr Hamid Karzai, to Moscow and to the Kremlin.
Question: Your nation has a great deal of experience interacting with Afghanistan. What do you think about the Americans’ actions? Are they making the same mistakes that you have made in the past? And how do you assess America’s future presence in Afghanistan?
Dmitry Medvedev: We are certainly observing what is happening in Afghanistan very carefully; we are watching what the international forces are doing and what the Americans are doing. Today, I told Mr President that we wish them success in their mission. Ultimately, I hope that this will be beneficial for the Afghan people and for regional security. At the same time, we must not only observe what is happening very carefully, but also contribute to these processes. Therefore, the Russian Federation has made a whole set of responsible decisions concerning assistance to Afghanistan and the international contingent, so that those international forces and foreign troops can receive help in the form of transit through Russian territory.
As for mistakes, you certainly know that the only people who make no mistakes are those who do nothing. Clearly, different things can happen in the work of international forces and individual foreign contingents. It seems to me that an investigation and inquiry must be carried out following every such incident.
As for strategic errors or significant shortcomings in their work, I do not feel that the time for this kind of analysis has arrived yet. We will see what happens after 2014, when Afghanistan will take charge of its own security. I told Mr President we ultimately count on Afghanistan to ensure its own security and state independence through its own efforts, and that the Russian Federation is ready to offer all forms of support in this endeavour.
As for the future, I would like for all the international forces currently present in Afghanistan, all the foreign troops to fulfil their duties in supporting peace and security in Afghanistan, and to then leave Afghanistan with honour and respect. If that happens, it will mean that they have fulfilled their obligations, and this would be good both for Afghanistan and the entire region, and therefore for the Russian Federation, too.