Recorded on September 15, 2009
Fareed Zakaria: Mr President, thank you once again for giving us this interview.
What does it feel like to be in this position? This is your first elected office. What is the biggest surprise to you about being President of Russia?
President of Russia Dmitry Medvedev: I do not think that it would be a discovery for you, if I say that a President has a very interesting but very difficult job. It does not matter how old you are, 44 or 88, it requires certain dedication. We are of similar age with you, so you can imagine what emotions one can have in such situation. On the other hand, of course, to understand and to feel all that, one should spend some time in this chair. This is true.
As for my job, I can say that the tests that were important for me are quite obvious now. It is the crisis, economic crisis, which, unfortunately, broke out last year. I had been President for several months only, when it smelled like crisis, and we all felt that it was quite serious and that it would last for quite a time.
Another big and serious problem was, of course, the test that we had to go through during the military incident with Georgia, when we had to protect the people of South Ossetia. I was not happy to see the events follow that scenario but I had to make that decision. Those, I think, were the two most serious tests that I had to go through when I started my job.
Fareed Zakaria: Let me ask you about some of the other issues that you face. Russia has said that it does not want Iran to develop nuclear weapons. Prime Minister Putin has said that, you have said that. Yet the IAEA says that Iran is not cooperating to give the world confidence that it has a purely civilian programme. Iran says it will no longer negotiate on this issue, and yet Russia says it will not support any further sanctions against Iran. So, is the policy of not wanting Iran to develop nuclear weapons on Russia’s part – are these empty words or do you have concrete steps you are willing to take to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons?
Dmitry Medvedev: We have our fairly developed relations with Iran, that is why I can speak of Iran's intentions not by hearsay, not on the basis of the information received from special services of other countries, but proceeding from the reality. Of course, I believe that Iran needs a set of motives to behave appropriately as far as its nuclear programme is concerned. There is no doubt about that.
Secondly, Iran must cooperate with the IAEA. It must be done, because it is its obligation.
Thirdly, we should create for Iran a system of positive motives, so that it wants such cooperation. On September 9, 2009 Iran submitted its proposals concerning these very complicated issues, and they are being analyzed now.
There have been voices that it is not enough, that those proposals are too general. You know, I believe, that it is obligation of all nations involved in this problem to study these proposals, at least. It took quite a long time for Iran to study the package of incentives that had been given to it through Solana's mediation at that time. Now, we need to study its package.
As for the sanctions, I have just had a chance to talk about it during my meeting with political analysts, who attended a conference here. I told them one very simple thing: as a rule, sanctions result in nothing, though sometimes sanctions are necessary. But before speaking of applying additional sanctions, we should make full use of the existing possibilities. That would be a responsible behavior by the world community. Yes, of course, we should encourage Iran, but before taking any action we should be absolutely confident that we have no other options and that our Iranian colleagues do not hear us for some reason. This is, I believe, the simplest and most pragmatic position. By the way, I voiced this position during the consultations on this issue, which took place during the G8 summit in Italy, when we discussed this question. It was discussed by all G8 leaders.
Fareed Zakaria: But do I take you to be saying that Iran does have an obligation to cooperate with IAEA? And if it does not, is Russia willing to step up to its responsibilities as a world power and press in the UN and in other ways to ensure Iran does cooperate?
Dmitry Medvedev: Iran must cooperate with the IAEA, this is an absolutely indubitable thing, if it whishes to develop its nuclear dimension, nuclear energy programme. This is its duty and not a matter of its choice, because otherwise a question will be raised all the time: what is it really doing? And this is as plain as a day.
Fareed Zakaria: And Russia is willing to exercise its responsibilities?
Dmitry Medvedev: Certainly.
Fareed Zakaria: Let me ask you about another issue relating to this. Russia has agreed to sell Iran the S-300 antiaircraft and antimissile system. When will you deliver it to Iran?
Dmitry Medvedev: Our relations with Iran really have a military component and we believe that this work should completely correspond to the international obligations both from the part of Iran and from the part of Russia. We have never supplied and will not supply to Iran anything that is beyond the valid system of the international law. What we have supplied and what we are going to supply, it has been and always will be the defense complexes and this is our firm position, and I will hold to it when making final decisions as to the all existing contracts with Iran.
Fareed Zakaria: You know that there are many people in Israel who say that if you deliver that system, the Israelis will feel they will have to strike Iran before that system is deployed because once that system is deployed, an Israeli attack on Iran becomes much more difficult. So by delivering that system you open up a window or a period of considerable tension.
Dmitry Medvedev: In an hour I will have a conversation with President of Israel Mr. Peres, who, when he recently was visiting me in Sochi, said something that is very important for all of us, namely, that Israel is not going to deliver any blows on Iran, that Israel is a peaceful country and will not do it. Therefore any supplies of any weapons, all the more defensive weapons, can not increase tension; on the contrary they should ease it. But if there are people who have such plans, it seems to me that they have to think about it. For this reason, our task is not to strengthen Iran and weaken Israel or vise versa but our task is to ensure a normal, calm situation in the Middle East. I believe that is our task.
Fareed Zakaria: When Prime Minister Netanyahu was in Moscow, did you say that to him?
Dmitry Medvedev: Prime Minister Netanyahu has visited Moscow. They did it in a close regime, it was their decision. I do not even understand very well the reasons for it, but our partners made such a decision and our reaction was absolutely normal and calm. I have had a conversation with him.
Fareed Zakaria: But did you feel like it was a positive meeting?
Dmitry Medvedev: It was a good, normal meeting. We have discussed the most different problems. Before that I met with President Peres, after that I met with Prime Minister Netanyahu. This is normal, this is our dialogue. And Ahmadinejad visited us, but, to be true, earlier than that and it was not a bilateral meeting, he came to attend as an observer the session of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. We communicate with everybody. I believe that this is our advantage.
Fareed Zakaria: If Israel were to attack Iran, would Russia support Iran in such a conflict?
Dmitry Medvedev: Russia can not support anybody or act in such situation. We are a peaceful state and we have our own understanding of our defense strategy. This is the first point.
The second point. We have our allies with which we have concluded one or other agreements. In case of Iran we do not have obligations of this kind. But it does not mean that we would like to be or will be impassible before such developments. This is the worst thing that can be imagined. I have already commented on this issue. Let us try together to reason upon it. What will happen after that? Humanitarian disaster, a vast number of refugees, Iran’s wish to take revenge and not only upon Israel, to be honest, but upon other countries as well. And absolutely unpredictable development of the situation in the region. I believe that the magnitude of this disaster can be weighted against almost nothing. For this reason before making decision to deliver blows it is necessary to assess the situation. It would be the most unreasonable developments. But my Israeli colleagues told me that they were not planning to act in this way and I trust them.
Fareed Zakaria: So you expect no Israeli strike on Iran?
Dmitry Medvedev: I hope that this decision will not be made. Iran should be pushed to cooperate. And indeed, Iran should not pronounce such things that it has stated, for example in relation to Israel, when it said that it did not recognize the existence of this state. It is unacceptable in the modern world, in the modern system of international relations. And this is the point Iran should start thinking about.
Fareed Zakaria: Let me ask you about US-Russian relations. President Obama and Ms Clinton have talked about a ”reset“ of relations. Your ambassador to NATO said that after the Obama-Medvedev meetings if a good result takes place it could usher in a new era in Russian-American relations. What concretely are you looking for from the American Administration, and I am thinking specifically about issues relating to NATO and the missile shield? What would you regard as a good result from the Americans?
Dmitry Medvedev: We will get good results. Indeed, we are enjoying truly positive relations with the new Administration: personally mine with President Obama and other officials' and ministers' with their American counterparts. It is very important since it is crucial that we still speak a similar language. Unfortunately, this was not the case with the previous Administration during its last years, though before we had been able to come to an agreement on all the issues on our common agenda and, it is no secret, we still tried to help our American colleagues out in some situations, particularly after 9/11.
I hope that this ”reset“, though it's quite a relative term, will bring its results. This should cover other issues beyond strategic offensive weapons reductions. This should concern our relations on European and Middle East problems which we have just touched upon by the way; this should concern a number of major conventions which we are jointly drafting; this should concern climate change; this should concern bilateral relations in the economic sphere, since they still have been developing lately, but not as intensively as we would like to. Our bilateral trade represents a rather modest share of the overall foreign trade of Russia, and a really small share of the US foreign trade. Though it means billions of dollars, our countries' potential goes far beyond that.
Finally, we have another common challenge which is the most difficult topic for the moment, I mean the economic crisis. We are cooperating here, exchanging phone calls and letters, our sherpas (meaning assistants to the Presidents) are in contact with each other discussing these issues.
That's why, in my opinion, the prospects are not bad, but it is the results that matter. I agree here with President Obama who told me right away: ”It's high time for us to come to final agreements“. I support this intention, as well as the intention to come to an agreement on strategic offensive weapons, for example. It is not the only topic, we should not limit our relations to this aspect. Nevertheless, it is an important aspect, everybody expects it, it is interesting to everyone. If we come to an agreement by the end of the year, and chances remain quite high, I believe, this would be extremely helpful for us, as well as for the world community. One should not certainly suppose that we are doing this under the influence of some domestic reasons and so on, since in any case it would look quite unfriendly and would not reflect the reality. Everything we do (I mean the Russian Federation) is dictated by our understanding of our national interest, exactly as everything what the Government of the United States does, is dictated by the national interest of the USA.
Fareed Zakaria: I understand there is a broad range of issues with the United States. But the crucial ones and surely the immediate ones are the issues of NATO and its expansion potentially into Ukraine and Georgia, and of the missile shields being deployed in Eastern Europe. Do you want assurances on both those issues?
Dmitry Medvedev: I would like changes in the US position on these issues. There are certain positive shifts, I have already mentioned it. President Obama told me: we need some time to analyze the consequences of deploying the new BMD site in the Czech Republic and Poland. The analysis is underway now. I hope that this analysis would result in reasonable conclusions. I have many times reiterated that such simple conclusions are as follows: the BMD issues may not be dealt with by two or three countries separately. We just have mentioned problems in the Middle East, there are problems with North Korea and others. Hence, the defense should have global dimensions rather than consist of a limited number of missiles which can first of all reach our territory and cannot cover greater distances. I hope our American partners have got this message through.
As to Ukraine and Georgia, it is all very simple. My opinion was, and is, that such decisions must be based on sovereign decisions of the respective states.
There was no referendum in Ukraine. There are certain results of the forecast concerning the people's attitude towards this issue. Two-thirds of the country's population do not back up the idea of Ukraine's joining NATO, but several Ukrainian leaders with fabulous obstinacy proceed with pushing their state into NATO. If they intend to do it, it needs to be done by means of referendum, by means of appropriate procedures. Though, of course, we would not be happy with this decision, for obvious reasons. Our relations with the North-Atlantic Alliance are steady and normal. Now they have stabilized after a difficult period they underwent last year. We want to develop them further.
But we should not forget that NATO is nevertheless a military bloc, and its missiles are targeted against Russia. We do not feel excited about the fact that more and more nations are joining NATO, that it is expanding further and getting closer to our borders; we do not like it and we do not conceal our sentiments. We should better focus on European security. Let us develop joint institutions. I think we should consider it. As far as I can see, this position is shared by a number of European countries which advise not to accelerate the entry into NATO of the countries that are not ready for it. I would also like NATO itself to consider whether the Organisation would be able in this case to manage such a number of countries that have numerous internal problems. If it is done to vex Russia, then more countries could be admitted to NATO; but I still hope that it is not the driving motivation of the North-Atlantic Alliance leadership.
Fareed Zakaria: When you talk about Ukraine and say that they should have a referendum, it is worth pointing out that Ukraine is a sovereign country and it can join any alliance it wants. There is no constitutional requirement that Ukraine has a referendum. It does make many people think that Russia is uncomfortable with an independent Ukraine, sees Ukraine as a fundamentally part of Russia and has not reconciled itself to the loss of Ukraine. Because Ukraine does have the right to join whatever alliance it wants and does not need to follow your prescription as to what it needs to do domestically.
Dmitry Medvedev: You are right. The thing is, I do not provide Ukraine with prescriptions, I just believe that Ukrainian politicians should think about it. I am no expert in Ukrainian legislation, but if I had to make such decisions–we speak of entering a military bloc–I would understand that it is not that simple. Once we were all members of one bloc, it was called the Warsaw Treaty Organisation, and it was NATO's direct opponent. I would believe that such issues need consultations with the population. Of course, it is their sovereign right, but, as far as I know, a considerable number of politicians–I mean Ukrainian politicians–share exactly the same opinion as myself, that the issue of accession into NATO needs to be decided by means of referendum. If the incumbent President does not think so–it is up to him. Therefore I think they should remember about it.
As to our attitude towards Ukraine, it is warm and friendly. We all have relatives in Ukraine, our close ones and our friends. We all need to communicate with each other. Ukraine goes its own way, it is an independent state, let it develop the way it likes. Ukraine has many difficulties in economy, certain specific national problems. Let our colleagues deal with them.
What do I dislike? It is just one thing–the one I pointed out in my recent video message and my open letter addressed to President Yushchenko. I do not like just one thing–that the anti-Russian position has become the base-line of the acting leadership, I mean my counterpart, the President of the country. Whatever we are told, it is my firm belief that it is his main line of behavior. It is very vexing and unfair, because we are the peoples that are so closely linked that anyone who tries to force a wedge between the two peoples, is making a mistake, if not to say, committing a crime in the face of the generations to come. That is why my address had only one purpose–to make Ukrainian politicians, and first of all the President of Ukraine, think this policy over. I am not happy with the fact that the ”heroization“, as they call it, of Nazi criminals is taking place in Ukraine. Once we actually used to fight, shoulder to shoulder, against Nazism. This is generally understood in other countries, but not by Ukrainian leaders, for some reason. I have a right to give such assessments, because it is a common challenge, a common threat. Nazi criminals once were tried and sentenced by the Nuremberg Tribunal.
Thus, there are things that are really important for the future of our relations. We are not imposing our will or appealing to anyone. I particularly stressed, that I do not appeal to the people of Ukraine, since they have their own leadership. But as a national leader I must make my position clear to my counterpart. In light of what was, and is going on there, I had to make an unpleasant decision not to assign, for a while, Russia's new ambassador to Ukraine, so that our Ukrainian colleagues could consider the consequences of their strategy.
Fareed Zakaria: Back to what we were talking about earlier. What do you think of President Obama? You have spent a fair amount of time with him.
Dmitry Medvedev: I like communicating with President Obama. We held quite a serious event during his visit to Russia. I counted that we spent eight hours with each other. That’s a lot for such kind of meetings, because very often negotiations between presidents last two or two and a half hours, including an official part and dinner. By the way it held often true for meetings with our American partners before. This time we were negotiating for eight hours. I’m thankful to my colleague that after all he is willing to look into many problems. It is important. Another virtue of his lies in the fact that he listens to arguments, formulates his country’s position. This position may differ from, let’s say, the Russian one. But at least it’s a result of a fairly elaborate policy, circumspect considerations concerning what is effective or ineffective for, let’s say, the USA. In this respect I feel comfortable communicating with him. However we are expected to achieve results and not just to spend a good time with each other, although it is also important.
Fareed Zakaria: But does it help that you are of the same generation, that you are about the same age?
Dmitry Medvedev: I think it does. Not only do we belong to the same generation; we also have common educational background. I told President Obama during our very first negotiations, that at the moment when he headed, as far as I remember, the Harvard Law Review, I used to read both the Harvard and the Yale Law Reviews, when I was a postgraduate student. It also means something. Well, we’ll see. The most important is to make an effort to understand each other.
Fareed Zakaria: I was going to ask you, Mr. President, about the comments that Vice President Biden made about Russia. But then I found an even more critical analysis of Russia’s situation. It was an article that said that Russia is a primitive economy based on raw materials, with an endemic corruption, a semi-Soviet private sphere, a fragile democracy, and so on. That was an article, of course, that you wrote a few days ago. What I was wondering is who is responsible for this condition, because many of the things you point to have gotten worse in the last ten years.
The World Economic Forum has a competitiveness index. This year Russia dropped twelve places on that index and it is now 63rd, it’s behind Mexico and Indonesia.
Transparency International has a corruption index and Russia now ties with Bangladesh and Syria on that index.
The Economist Magazine says the government has utterly failed to create a legal and political structure to support business and enterprise.
Dmitry Medvedev: I don’t know whether you trust these indices. I don’t really trust them. However there is certainly some logic behind your words.
In my recent article I clearly wrote that I don’t like many structural elements of our economy. I don’t like its reliance on raw materials. I think that our level of corruption is absolutely unacceptable. I agree that we haven’t completely succeeded in building a democratic state, developing a legal framework. However it doesn’t mean that we haven’t made any progress and that we are heading down the wrong path in the first place. Everything what you mentioned and what I wrote in my article had emerged not over this decade. It evolved back in the Soviet era and in the 90’s. It’s absolutely true. Thus we should address these challenges by working in a normal, modern, effective manner on establishing a normal market and so on. That would be quite ridiculous to think that Russia is undergoing a setback in the field of economic freedom, economic development, if for no other reason than for the fact that the living standard rose and the number of people, who have become richer in the proper sense of the word, has dramatically increased over the recent decade. That is an uncontestable fact. I have mentioned it more than once and I’m going to reiterate…
Fareed Zakaria: But that’s because of the price of oil.
Dmitry Medvedev: In the 90s there were different periods as concerns oil prices, but in the 90s, when I worked at the University – just like President Obama – my salary was some 10 to 15 dollars a month, and this is not a large salary at all. And this is not only because of the oil prices, although I have spoken about this today, and mentioned it in my article, as well as at the conference yesterday, that, certainly, we should change the economic structure. This is absolutely apparent.
As to the article by Mr Biden, which you have mentioned, I do not believe that this is a good example of how to establish good neighborly relations with a partner for one reason: because we know about our shortcomings, while drawing rather questionable conclusions is wrong. What Mr Biden said is literally the following. Russia is seeking an agreement with America on nuclear weapons because it is economically weak and is incapable to retain its arsenals. This is untrue. First, nuclear weapons are such a sphere that any state would give due attention to. I am convinced that even the weakest states would reduce their defense expenditures in the last turn only. Therefore we have no problem with this.
Second, this is simply an incorrect move, because while having only started to develop relations — and I hope new, modern, effective relations – with the Russian Federation, at the same time to strain them in such a way is to make a mistake indeed.
And therefore, as I understand it, if this reflects the opinion of one person, then, after all, this is the question for the US leadership to deal with, but if this reflects a consolidated political position, then there is reason to think about what is going on and what will happen. You know, I used to believe that the foreign policy of the United States of America was the responsibility of one person – the US President.
Fareed Zakaria: Let me ask you about this issue of military prestige. It has often seemed to the outsiders that Russia is obsessed with some of the symbols of power — military weaponry, planting a flag at the North Pole – rather than with really hard work of modernizing an economy which is much more complicated and takes a lot more effort. Why is Russia so obsessed with issues like respect?
Dmitry Medvedev: I don’t believe that it is all that simple. All I can say is that Russia obviously has its own perception of its role in the world, and of its achievements. By the way, I have mentioned this in my article, indeed on certain occasions Russia has literally come to the rescue of humankind, and yet only dishonest people can claim that World War II was won by somebody else. Russia made a decisive contribution in the victory over Nazism. This must be apparent to any honest observer. Therefore, this has indeed become in a certain way an integral part of national psychology. One should not revel in this, and make the conclusion about one’s own greatness only on the basis of former achievements – the first manned space flight, or the war victory, although we must always remember this, and we should never underestimate this. But in real terms, we should produce new achievements, and this indeed is the most important thing. Here indeed is where we need to change the psychology.
Why should we get rid of corruption? Because corruption is not only a crime, it simply hampers our development; it destroys our system of values. If one can steel money, why work to earn it? If one can take bribes, why should one labor? If one can bribe an official, why take chances in a fair tender? These are the questions that need to be rethought.
Fareed Zakaria: But Mr Medvedev, I have to say to you that when I talk to Russians about corruption they will say part of the problem, a very central part, is that the Russian Government has created a system of such a strong state with so much influence the state has, that the corruption actually maintains the power and position of the Russian regime. So it’s easy to talk about corruption from the outside, but corruption is at the heart of the Kremlin’s ability to control this country.
Dmitry Medvedev: I am not sure that this is a good premise, because it is so easy to say that corruption has become part of the national system, that everyone needs it, and that it essentially helps to run the country. This is not so at all. If it were so, we would not have any problems. Corruption is not an effective method of managing the economy although it exists in any country. Unfortunately in some countries, like in Russia, corruption runs high, while in others it is substantially lower.
I had the opportunity to dwell on this issue today. I said that very many countries have gone through such great corruption and organised crime. Let us recall the situation in the 1920s and 1930s in the United States that was very hard. Yet you managed to cope with it. There were shootouts at almost every street corner, yet it’s all over. Today, I believe, the situation with corruption in the United States has improved.
And we too are capable to cope with it. But if one says that it is part of the state system, this is the best justification of corruption. It appears that those who say this are bribers themselves.
Fareed Zakaria: Let me give you a theory of why Russia should want to have much better relations with the West than it does now. And you tell me if you agree.
Russia’s great challenge you outlined is modernizing its economy. To do that it needs to have constant interaction and good relations with the centres of modernity in the Western Europe, in the United States and Japan.
Russia’s strategic challenge is a radical, violent Islam, an Islamic movement in its south; complicated and potentially chaotic situation in the Far East where there would be thirty million Russians and one billion Chinese facing each other.
In this circumstance to have these constant frictions with the West, with the United States does not serve Russia’s national interests.
Dmitry Medvedev: I almost entirely share your view with one correction. We indeed need good and developed relations with the West in the entirety of these words namely because of what you have said. Because there are many challenges that we must jointly respond to.
What else have I written about in the article? We need modern technologies. In certain cases we may need to attract loans although we have sufficient funds of our own. There are questions on which we cannot advance at all without each other, such as climate change. If we fail to agree, all our attempts to stop the greenhouse effects and global warming would be doomed.
Therefore we really need very good relations with the West. I would only like to add a couple of points. I hope that the West, too, needs good relations with Russia and that this is not a one-sided position.
And secondly, we also need good relations with other countries, including those you have mentioned. Because today the world is multi-polar after all, everyone admits this, and we count on good relations not only with the western world, but with the other part of the planet as well.
Fareed Zakaria: What would be your advice, based on long years of experience, to the United States in Afghanistan?
Dmitry Medvedev: We do have our own Afghan experience, and it was rather painful. It is absolutely obvious that the decisions that were made then about bringing the Soviet troops to Afghanistan were not well-calculated. But today the situation is different.
Fareed Zakaria: Do you mean the Soviet decisions?
Dmitry Medvedev: Yes, indeed. Today situation is different. I mean that on the whole we all are interested in success of the USA and countries of the Alliance. And we are even more interested in Afghanistan's being able to have its own full-fledged modern government that would rule the country for the benefit of the people; in the Afghan provinces being reunited and not torn apart by terrorists; in putting an end to the massive heroin traffic from Afghanistan. That is our common burning problem. Practically all hard drugs in Europe are of Afghan origin. So, we are interested in an overall success there.
As for advice, I would give just one. One should respect the Afghan people, their traditions; should not run ahead of time, nor try to impose on them any pre-made recipe of state organisation that they are not yet ready to accept. We were discussing democracy with you yesterday at the conference and on other occasions. Although democracy is a universal value, it should at the same time allow for a national specificity; it should be proportioned to the level of political stands of the people. In that case it has chances to be successful.
Fareed Zakaria: A lot of people look at democracy in Russia and feel that it has gone backward in terms of the freedoms of press, the safety of journalists, the ability of opposition leaders and movements to contest elections, the amount of harassment that they face – in all these ways democracy has gone backward.
Dmitry Medvedev: I have a different point of view on this issue. I don't think there is a backslide on democracy in Russia. I stated that on many occasions and will now try to do it again. The point is that the democracy of the 1990s, or rather the then views on democracy which were embodied in a number of legal acts, were naive. Up to a certain extent, they were copied from the views on democracy of the developed countries. But you can't copy everything that easily. Thus, I believe that our current stands on political system, current party system, current system of delegating authority to the governors are far more democratic, compared with what we had in the 1990s. Why? Because it is more sustainable and better protects people's interests.
As for freedom of the press, it is, of course, an issue that will always remain multidimensional. I happened to discuss the situation around the media in Russia with my American counterparts on many occasions. Some think that there is a lack of them. It is, however, not the case; there are very many of them, both electronic and printed, not to mention the Internet. Others think that our media are suppressed. I don't think it is an honest position, since journalists have no serious difficulties raising practically any question one might want to raise in the media.
There are, however, attempts to exert pressure on the media, and I'm not going to deny that. Such attempts very often take place in the regions, where the officials are unhappy about, say, the media criticism against them. It happens, and we need to react to it; the media themselves need to be able to fight back, too.
Finally, the last thing about the media. Whether some officials like it or not, there are no ”taboo subjects“ in the contemporary global information space. You can hush up something on TV, be silent in a TV program, but given that about 40 million Russians are Internet users, any news spreads throughout the country in five minutes. So, it's absolutely no point putting pressure on the media.
On the other hand, however, we should, of course, realize what is happening to the media. And you know this industry very well. In the 1990s, our media were organised differently; they were owned by about five oligarchs, who used them as a means to get even with each other, and sometimes to exert pressure on the country's leaders. That was not right, too. The media should have dignity, be aware of their role in the world, in the democratic ”division of labor“, if you wish. So, the media should not be controlled either by the state or the capital. It should have a ”margin of safety“. And in this sense, I think we are going in the right direction. But I don't think that the current situation is perfect, and I am always open for a dialogue on this issue. To sum it up, our political system has become more mature lately. In my article, I wrote that it is still far from being perfect, and that's true.
Many of our democratic institutions yet appear only on paper. People are inert, not using their political rights. Courts do not perform as successfully, as they could. To protect their interests, people would usually appeal to officials, rather than to courts. As a lawyer, I consider it absolutely wrong. We need a completely different legal culture, a respected court and efficient law enforcement agencies. There is still a lot to be done here, and we are determined to do it. In conclusion, however, I would like to draw your attention to the fact that our democracy is still rather young. Russia had never been a democratic society until it became a new country; neither under Tsars nor under the communists did we ever have democracy. In our country, democracy has been existing only for the last 18 years. That is not very long if we compare it, for example, with the USA experience.
Fareed Zakaria: Let me ask you about the question relating to this democracy that many people wonder about. I have read the Constitution, the Russian Constitution, and I understand the division of roles between the President and the Prime Minister. And my understanding, reading it on paper, is the President is the superior officer.
So my question to you is, are you Vladimir Putin’s boss?
Dmitry Medvedev: It would be sad if you skipped this question, I think that we could consider our interview as a failure in that case. By Constitution there is only one Commander-in-Chief, only one guarantor of the Constitution, only one head of state in the country — the President of the country. It is an absolutely evident matter and I don't even want to go into further details.
As far as the Government is concerned, the Government of our country unlike the Government of the United States of America is a fully-fledged executive authority. Let's look at the Constitution of France where there is President and where the Chairman of the Government is a serious figure as well. It doesn't surprise anybody. All is made clear by that.
Fareed Zakaria: But the French President is a very powerful President and the Prime Minister is not so powerful.
Dmitry Medvedev: Well, as far as the status is concerned, from either historical or legal point of view, do you see much difference, say, between the French President and the Russian President?
Fareed Zakaria: You know why I am asking you this, Mr President.
Because lots of people say: Dmitry Medvedev is very fine lawyer, he sounds like a reformist and says all these things that need to happen in Russia, except he has no power. All the power is held by Prime Minister Putin, so he is a ceremonial facade and it does not really matter what he thinks…
What would you say to them?
Dmitry Medvedev: It would be such a dialogue where there will be no person who could hear another person. Probably those who think so should say the following: “The current President of the country will only convince us if he removes from power the Government”. I don't have this intention, because I feel comfortable working with this Government and with Mr Putin, as simple as that. Therefore, if the proof of presidential powers resides in his desire to shuffle the Government as was regularly done by some of my colleagues in 1990s when the Cabinets changed every six months, and if it should be considered as a sign of authority and democracy, then it is not my choice. And there is no point to explore the subject any further. Besides, in our country everything is so bureaucratised that nobody will even stir his finger before I sign a paper whatever he thinks about the powers of one person or another. It is an absolute truth for everyone who wants to sift this question to the bottom. As far as those who wear mental blinkers are concerned, let them do it. I am not surprised that sometimes people want to remain stuck in their own stereotypes.
Fareed Zakaria: What you are saying is that nothing happens without your signature, so in fact you are making all the decisions, certainly with regard to foreign policy?
Dmitry Medvedev: It is even strange to hear this from you. We have only one single person who is responsible for foreign policy, it is the President of the country I think it can easily be seen, as I spend all my time in visits. Naturally, all directives, all decisions are taken by the President. All decisions which should be discussed are taken by the Security Council of the Russian Federation, but they should be signed by the President.
Fareed Zakaria: But I look at the negotiations with Ukraine, with MsTimoshenko, and the negotiations took place between Prime Minister Putin and her.
Dmitry Medvedev: It's normal, we are talking about economic relations, the two governments have to do it. You don't ask me in that respect the question, who and how takes such decisions there. By our Constitution, by our law the questions of international economic relations should be handled by the Government, it is the area of its responsibility. But if we talk about all final decisions, they should be taken in any case by the President.
Fareed Zakaria: Do you think you are more liberal than Vladimir Putin?
Dmitry Medvedev: This is a good question. When Vladimir Putin met with his colleagues and quite recently with political scientists he said he and I ”are of the same blood“. If our educational backgrounds are meant by the word ”blood“ then it is absolutely correct. That is why I would like you and our readers to know, though I am sure you are informed about the fact, that Vladimir Putin is a lawyer by education. After all, he was not born to the intelligence service or to the KGB. He graduated, by the way, from one of the best universities of the country. In this sense we have similar beliefs. But if we start to speak about details or preferences they, of course, can differ. I have my vision he has his. And, in my opinion, for eight years he had efficiently interpreted his vision into reality. But there are no identical people or identical leaders.
Fareed Zakaria: But when you make all these criticisms of where Russia is today, it feels like criticism of the last eight years because many of those trends have grown bad in last eight years.
Dmitry Medvedev: This is not quite so because all the problems we are talking about and which I identified in my article, are not the problems of the last decade. If we are speaking about the prevailing raw-material component of our economy, then it is not our invention, neither mine, nor Putin’s. That goes back to the 1960s and 1970s when the country launched a large scale ”pumping“ of oil and gas. This is not bad in itself, but, regretfully, we have developed only one sector. However, the USSR had a considerable technological potential. That’s true. Though in many respects it was based on military technologies, in that period, I emphasize, it was rather effective.
And then the 90s witnessed a landslide which we failed to repair in the last decade. In this sense problems stacked one on top of another and now we have to clean up the mess, as our saying goes. That is to say that we face them every day. That is why these are not the problems of economic degradation of the last decade – I have told you about that and I would like to say once again that the main country’s indicator is living standards. One can even squander one’s raw material revenues in a manner that will hinder a rise in the living standards, and such examples are many.
That is why, perhaps, everybody made mistakes and nobody is guaranteed against them. Some, of course, have been made in these ten years. Nevertheless, I am sure that we could be better prepared for the crisis, that we could better buttress our financial system, or modernize a number of enterprises. Instead, we have indulged in other things.
Today I have already talked about the fact that our business is reluctant to invest in new technologies. This is a problem of mentality, though very important one because merely looking for profits is not enough. You know, at one of our last meeting with George Bush he told me that the Wall Street was responsible for everything. It might be so but on the other hand the Wall Street is not situated in outer space. It is an integral part of the economy and an element of the state system. For this reason we must take sober decisions and move further.
Fareed Zakaria: Do you think you are doing good job as President?
Dmitry Medvedev: I don’t think it’s up to me to judge in the end how well I’m doing, though there are objective indicators, they do exist too. I believe that the government in this country should be authoritative. Certainly, it should be authoritative in every country, but in some of them people don’t know the name of their Prime Minister – there is such a political culture there – and still everything is all right. But in other countries it’s very important to understand who is running the country and who are its main political leaders. Maybe it’s due to our history; maybe it’s due to something else. But it is quite important for our country. That’s why it’s not up to me to assess, that’s for sure.
Fareed Zakaria: But if you’re doing a good job, it would make perfect sense for you to run in 2012, correct?
Dmitry Medvedev: If everything is all right, why not?
Fareed Zakaria: So, do I take that to be an announcement that you will be a candidate for the President in 2012?
Dmitry Medvedev: I think that the most important thing is to do everything that I promised to during this term. He who didn’t complete his work that he was supposed to do during the first term but talks about working during the next term and about his participation in new election campaigns, behaves irresponsibly. Did President Obama say that he would run for re-election? I haven’t heard about that.
Fareed Zakaria: But some believe that Vladimir Putin has said recently that you will agree with each other, just as Tony Blair and Gordon Brown did; moreover, many people are under the impression that Mr Putin is going to run for president in 2012 again. How do you tackle these issues with him?
You know, the people ask about the future because they wonder whether you and Prime Minister Putin have made a deal where he will run for the presidency and you will become Prime Minister? What is the actual state of conversation about that?
Dmitry Medvedev: I think that what you are saying is absolutely right. If we are to talk about responsible politicians representing one political force – Prime Minister Putin and me are, certainly, one political force– we should look at the real situation while making such decisions whether in 2012 or 2016. The point is not to simply offer oneself to the people, it is about something else. Every political force should be responsible. Suppose, when a political party decides to nominate somebody for President, it does so on the basis of his abilities, electability and his being able to win. That’s what Vladimir Putin referred to while answering this question. At the same time such common indicators as approval ratings should also be taken into account. So far we have had good ratings. That’s why we will agree with each other, that’s for sure.
Fareed Zakaria: But that sounds like you should run for President. You are doing well. Public feels you are doing well.
Dmitry Medvedev: We should complete the work we are doing now. If we succeed, certainly, such decisions will be taken.
Fareed Zakaria: Mr President, thank you very much for agreeing to give this interview.
Dmitry Medvedev: Thank you.