President of Russia Dmitry Medvedev: I would like to invite you to join me in a discussion. If you have anything that you would like to ask, I would be happy to answer your questions. But before we engage in discussing current affairs, it’s very important to note that recently we really have been devoting a great deal of attention to developing our Armed Forces, even in spite of the crisis that has created some rather significant problems for our nation and our economy.
Nonetheless, as you certainly know, in the budget lines we have not reduced financial allotments for the needs of our Army and our Navy; we have not scaled down military programmes of increasing our defence potential, nor curtailed any of the Armed Forces’ social programmes, including ones intended to improve housing conditions for the servicemen, which is a most basic thing.
Not long ago, we had a special council session and discussed the new housing construction issue. This year, the Ministry of Defence will build nearly twice as much housing as was planned last year, despite the crisis and our financial difficulties. This is the sign that such task is our top priority, and we will not leave it unattended.
As for the overall situation today, I think that you are aware of all the current events. The Minister of Defence and I have just made a visit to South Ossetia, that’s why a slight hold-up in our schedule of activities, for which we hope you will excuse us. After all, this was our first time visiting a new state – a state that emerged nearly a year ago. It appeared following the boorish aggression brought on by Georgia’s current political regime. The entire responsibility for what transpired lies with that regime, but it is not our task to address that. One day, the people of Georgia will pronounce their harsh sentence on the Saakashvili regime and its accomplices in the murderous war. Our task is to help the young state to its feet, to overcome its difficulties, and to simply survive in the hard circumstances existing now in the Caucasus.
I can tell you plainly that the people who live there are very poor, and their life is tough. But they all are truly grateful to Russia for the uneasy decisions we were forced to make in August of last year, because, had we not made those decisions, then perhaps some of those people would no longer be alive. With tears in their eyes they thanked our country for supporting them. This is very valuable, and boosts the Russian Federation’s authority in the Caucasus and around the world. Now, of course, we should render them financial and military support.
At the moment, we have a military base there which is quite a serious force. Today, we inspected the base, its hardware inventory, and the conditions for the military personnel. The conditions at the base, I should say, are quite good.
As for our military presence there, it is a clear warning to those who still fail to give up their idiotic illusions and aggressive plans.
The Navy has its own challenges, but I felt that I should tell you about this, as this is an element of our national military doctrine. You are aware that battle training and military efficiency of the armed forces are tested at the most difficult and complicated moments. By the way, during the armed conflict of last year, the Navy had assignments of its own, and it properly accomplished those assignments and demonstrated the best performances possible.
In general, we need to develop every aspect of our military skills, every aspect of our defence and procure most up-to-date weaponry.
As you may have seen in the news, not so long ago, I visited Sevmash [Northern Machine-Building Enterprise] facilities in Severodvinsk. Sevmash is a major company of Russia’s defence industry, which builds ships. Clearly, we need to build many ships and submarines to ensure adequacy of our Navy. To be frank, we have some problems with this. We all know the state of many of our warships, and therefore how much effort and resources will be involved to achieve our goals. Nevertheless, even now the performance of the Russian Navy is quite good.
I would like to hereby inform you and everybody else who may be interested, that today we successfully test-launched a sea-based ballistic missile from a nuclear-powered submarine. The target was hit and the pieces of the missile landed in the designated area of Kura Test Range. This launch is both important and symbolic in coinciding with our meeting. It will be followed by further missile exercises.
If you have questions, I will be glad to answer them.
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I had actually started to talk about the G8. I spoke with several international leaders there. They said, and this was new to me, that some of the pirates are actually former seamen who once were on government service and who then became pirates, after the Somalian state collapsed and a civil war, twenty years long by now, broke out. Is that so?
Answer: It is true since, in my opinion, in general it is their only way to survive, to live.
Dmitry Medvedev: But it is a bad way, an illegal way.
Answer: Yes, it is.
Dmitry Medvedev: As history teaches, these types of so-called business were eventually brought to rough justice. We are not, however, practicing it now, although perhaps some of them should be punished as is their due.
Answer: Our inspection team talked with the crew of oil tanker which was able to resist the pirates and they told the pirates often use not even assault rifles, let alone handguns, but grenade launchers. After such a confrontation the entire crew began stuttering, half of them – although they are Filipino – could hardly make themselves understood in English and it took them quite some time to recover.
Of course this is very scary. Especially since the pirates are very cruel, lack any principles, and do not rule anything out.
Dmitry Medvedev: But you know, in this context there are two options of handling them: first, a very simple and quite appealing and much practiced back in the Middle Ages, is as follows: throw them overboard and that is it. Such approach is not entirely correct though, to be applied by us, by civilised people. The other option is to bring pirates to justice. But here we face a fundamental question of what happens next. I recently examined the subject and even gave an instruction to our Prosecutor General to explore the possibilities in detail.
You are perfectly aware what the problem is. Of course we can extradite and deliver them to the local authorities, but we will then end up with a zero result, as the very next day the pirates will again be out hunting in their speedboats, tearing across the waters of the Gulf of Aden with those same grenade launchers.
Alternatively, we may extradite them to countries that have suffered from the piracy. But this is usually easier said than done. The pirates may have hijacked many vessels of various flags, to start with. Some countries may not want these people to be extradited to their own territory, regardless the circumstances, or they may be unwilling to bring them to justice.
Finally, a separate court on piracy may be set. In my opinion that would be the best approach. Russia was one of those countries who came up with such a proposal. Here of course the main question is what kind of court it should be. It could be an international court or an ad hoc court which is different from, say, the tribunal in The Hague [International Criminal Court]. Such an approach to handling the problem seems right to me as it can eventually discourage pirates from being involved in this kind of endeavour.
Moreover, I am convinced that such a large number of pirates cannot be explained by anything other than the direct assistance of the authorities there, because pirates simply cannot be so numerous unless they enjoy a broad support. Two or three pirate teams may possibly operate on their own. But if piracy turn into a business that has been in effect for months and that brings in a lot of money, it is clearly part of a corrupt scheme managed by one or even more than one country. This is why I think the international court is the perfect forum in which to adjudicate these matters.