The interview was recorded on June 18, 2011 in St Petersburg
Financial Times: Hello and welcome to St Petersburg at a fascinating time for Russia. We’re just a few months away from parliamentary and presidential elections, which are going to help shape the future of the country for at least the next six years. We’re delighted to be joined by the President of the Russian Federation, Dmitry Medvedev. Mr President, welcome. The first question is not probably the most original one, but I think that the whole world is waiting for an answer. Do you want to run for presidency next year?
President of Russia Dmitry Medvedev: Well this is not a very original question, I should say. This is like a game, of sorts, already. People ask this question and they understand what kind of answer they are going to get; it’s quite an evident answer. I would like to say one thing to you, I think that any leader who occupies such a post as president, simply must want to run. But another question is whether he is going to decide if he’s going to run for the presidency or not. So his decision is somewhat different from his willingness to run. So this is my answer. But everything else I’ve just said at the panel session, where I asked people to be patient for a little while, to keep up the intrigue and the suspense. That will be more interesting.
FT: But you need your second term in order to complete your programme. You have announced a very ambitious programme and for that you need the second term.
”What is the difference between a modern developed economy and an emerging economy? That vicissitude of power as to who is going to be elected, who is going to be appointed, does not have a very significant impact on the investment climate.“
Dmitry Medvedev: Thank you very much for the high evaluation of my programme, it’s very flattering to hear. As regards the second term, of course, it’s not what I need, and here the Russian people are the ones who should answer this question as they define whether they want to see this person or not. As an acting politician, I will be guided by that in taking my decision. I think that we will have not very long to wait and I think that the decision will be correct, both for the Russian Federation and me personally.
FT: But don’t you think that this kind of uncertainty influences the investment climate in the country? Recently we have seen a very significant outflow of capital from the country.
Dmitry Medvedev: This is a very good question. I think that we all, both the President and the Government and the Parliament, must do our utmost to make sure that such uncertainties don’t influence our investment climate. What is the difference between a modern developed economy and an emerging economy? And our economy is emerging, so far. That vicissitude of power as to who is going to be elected, who is going to be appointed, does not have a very significant impact on the investment climate. After all, what difference does it make for the United Kingdom who is going to become the prime minister, or for the United States, who’s going to be the next president. Their investment climate, the strength of their currency, depends to a lesser extent on whether the Conservatives are going to win or Labour are going to win, or Republicans or Democrats.
FT: But this issue … this question seems to be important for investors.
Dmitry Medvedev: For the moment it is important for us, yes. I am not going to argue with this one.
FT: Do you think that you and Vladimir Putin [Prime Minister of Russia] could run for presidency at the same time?
Dmitry Medvedev: Well, I think that it is hard to imagine, for one reason at least. The thing is that Vladimir Putin and myself – and Vladimir Putin is my colleague and an old friend – we represent, to a large extent, one and the same political force. And therefore, competition between us may be detrimental to those tasks and goals that we’ve been pursuing in recent years. Therefore, I think this would not be the best scenario for our country and for this specific situation.
FT: Don’t you think that such open competition will be good for the development of democracy in Russia?
Dmitry Medvedev: Open competition is always good.
FT: But why not for the post of the president?
Dmitry Medvedev: Well, I’ve just told you, the goal of participating in the elections is not to facilitate the development of free competition – the goal is to win.
FT: You’ve been working with Vladimir Putin for a long time, 20 years. Before, you were his subordinate, now the situation is different. How have your relations evolved over this period?
Dmitry Medvedev: On the one hand our relations have not changed at all, because we’ve known each other for a long time, that’s for sure. And we did not start from a situation where one was a subordinate and the other was the boss. When we started, we were equal. We both worked as advisors to the chairman of the Leningrad City Council, the would-be mayor of St Petersburg [Anatoly] Sobchak. Then I worked for him [Vladimir Putin] in his office, in the [Presidential] Executive Office and then in his Government. And now Vladimir Putin works as the Chairman of the Government, as Prime Minister, whose candidacy I introduced to the State Duma. So nothing has changed on that front.
But on the other hand, we are also changing. I won’t conceal it from you, any post directly influences a personality. And the post of a president, the country’s leader, changes a lot in your perception of life. Otherwise it would be impossible to work. And of course, this also has a bearing on some nuances of our relationship, but that’s normal.
FT: How does your perception of life change?
”Vladimir Putin and myself represent one and the same political force. And therefore, competition between us may be detrimental to those tasks and goals that we’ve been pursuing in recent years.“
Dmitry Medvedev: I’m not going to say something supernatural here if I say that, if you work as a president it means that you will bear the highest responsibility and you have to constantly work under stress. In any other position in which I worked, I had some moments or even days when I could switch off my phone and relax, and go and do sports. And I knew that, even if they don’t find me, nothing will happen. And it is entirely different for the president — you should always be able to find the president.
FT: Many people think that, of late, the differences between you and Vladimir Putin have become more profound. Is there any tension now, within the tandem?
Dmitry Medvedev: Well I don’t think that the differences between us are becoming deeper. But I also spoke on this topic before: Mr Putin and myself are different people. We have the same educational background. We graduated from the Faculty of Law of the Leningrad State University, and in this sense, our outlook is quite similar. After that we had rather different paths in this life. Every person has a certain set of habits and ideas. Probably we might have different views on how this or that goal is attained. But I think this is good, this is an advantage. If we see eye to eye in all questions, there will be no movement ahead. Any movement ahead is a consequence of overcoming this or that contradiction. But to say that there is a growing gap between us, it seems to me would be absolutely inappropriate.
FT: Now, if you get the second term, are you sure you will be able to successfully carry out all those reforms you have spelt out, even if there are strong interests and forces which would resist it?
Dmitry Medvedev: I will be blunt with you, if I work as president for a second term, as allowed by our Constitution, of course I will do whatever it takes to implement the declared objectives, to modernise our economy, to modernise our society, including its political system. I’m not sure I will complete this whole task, but I would like to see it happen. I will work for this.
FT: In ten years what would you like to see Russia like? Can you describe it?
Dmitry Medvedev: Yes I can. I would like to see to it that Russia, in ten years, would be a successful country where successful and prosperous people would live. Which doesn’t imply that in ten years we’ll attain all the possible advantages or achievements. But nevertheless, I’d like to see to it that over ten years we would substantially raise living standards. They have changed over the past ten years too. I can recall what happened in the late 90s. Whatever they say, now it’s better; the living standards are higher, wages and salaries are higher, the rights are better guaranteed. But still, they are not sufficient and don’t correspond to the level of a state like Russia. Therefore, raising living standards, the improvement of the lives of the people, that’s the most important thing I need, or anyone else in the office of president, needs to do.
Second, Russia must be a strong state, having all the signs of a country that is capable of protecting its interests internationally and is a permanent member state of the [UN] Security Council, a country that other countries could rely on perhaps.
And third, I would like to see to it that Russia is a modern country, a leader of growth in the broadest sense of this word.
FT: I would like to ask you what you consider to be the key achievement of your presidency and what is the disappointment?
”I would like to see to it that Russia, in ten years, would be a successful country where successful and prosperous people would live.“
Dmitry Medvedev: Firstly, you should better put the question to ordinary Russians, rather than me. I am not certain if it is right for me to answer it. Still, I will. I believe that despite financial hardships and the global crisis, we have not only avoided a dramatic drop in the living standards, economy going to the point of breakage and a collapse of the financial system over the three years of my presidency, but we also have overcome the crisis in a rather successful manner. Actually, a 4.5 percent growth is not bad compared with a nearly 10 percent decline in 2009. We have managed to recover, and, hence, the situation our people are in is more or less good.
Another factor related to the aforesaid is the unemployment rate. I remember the G20 discussing the issue and the sentiment being very pessimistic. We were working out multibillion-dollar programmes [to deal with unemployment], and I thought then that we would be able to quash unemployment not earlier than in two to four years, because the unemployment rate had grown considerably in this country too. Now, it has dropped to the pre-crisis level. We have a 7.1 percent unemployment rate calculated using the International Labour Organisation methods and a 2 percent registered unemployment rate, i.e. those registered at the labour exchange. I think this is good. It is a good result.
Secondly, we have not been sitting on our hands, but developing, and an interesting development programme has been devised. It is not ideal, and its implementation has just begun. Nonetheless, it is a programme to develop the country.
Thirdly, though they reproached me for that after my news conference, I will speak of it anyway. It so happened during my presidency that we had in August 2008 a very unpleasant, dramatic event that could have led to trouble for Russia, South Ossetia, Abkhazia and even Georgia, let alone the international community. I remember everyone’s tension at the time. Anyway, we managed to stand for our national interests, on the one hand, and prevent the escalation of the conflict, on the other. There was a conflict, but it was brief and it had not the grave consequences a conflict like that could have had.
”In the absence of political competition the fundamentals of a market economy start to fall apart because political competition is a manifestation of economic competition to a certain extent.“
I should say that trial by an armed conflict is the hardest one for a head of state. Happy is he who has never taken a test like that, and I envy such people. It would have been very good if we could have avoided all that, but you know our point of view: we did not start the conflict, but it is they who unleashed it. Anyway, I consider that the optimal solution was found in that situation, and I am content with it.
About disappointments: certainly, the question can be put not only to me, but I will answer it too. My disappointment concerns only one thing: the pace of the change in my country, the pace of improvement in the living standards and economic indicators in the face of the crisis has been slower than I expected it to be. However, this is, probably, a consequence of something, among other things, that we have not done. All of us are responsible for that, me too. Now, let us get back to the state.
FT: You spoke about the diminishing role the state should play in the economy. Of the measures you proposed, which is the most important one to produce a result?
Dmitry Medvedev: Actually, all of them are important. I am a proponent of systemic measures, rather than a single one. Privatisation, which is on the tip of everybody’s tongue, is still only one of measures. Indeed, we have increased the amount of assets possessed by the state. Some of this property has to be sold now. This is a common thing in the world, in fact. This used to happen in the UK and other countries too. First, something is nationalised and then sold. Now it is time to sell. That’s for sure, because otherwise we cannot develop. However, this is not the only measure to be taken.
I did not speak of that yesterday, but I will tell you now that it is very important to change the state’s mentality in general. The state as a whole and its officials should realise that business cannot be bossed about forever. The economy must be self-regulated. Although my friend [Prime Minister of Spain] Mr Zapatero thinks otherwise, and this is what we are in disagreement about.
This calls for a radical change… Very many well-intentioned leaders have grown used to micromanagement, turning to the Kremlin, turning to the President, turning to Mr Putin [Prime Minister], turning to ministers with virtually any problem. This is impossible to endure, this disrupts the economy. It seems to me that altering the mentality, the paradigm of thinking is very important, too, plus the measures I spoke of in Magnitogorsk and at the forum yesterday.
FT: How can the mentality be altered?
Dmitry Medvedev: By leading by example. If I can gather myself up to refuse something, let others do the same. I spent eight years as Gazprom’s chairman of the board and was involved immediately in exercising economic control, because Gazprom is a major Russian [economic] entity. However, the time comes when you have to collect your strength to say: “Enough! It is time to change the management system.” Secondly, the mentality can be altered by applying good laws that should evolve to keep pace with the times.
FT: Do you think more free political competition is needed to alter the mentality?
”It is very bad that there are no right-wing parties in the parliament. I would like the whole of political spectrum to be represented in our parliament, the State Duma.“
Dmitry Medvedev: I agree, and this is what I think about it. In some countries there is a rather successful co-existence of market-oriented economies and limited political competition. Maybe, this is quite acceptable in certain states.
However, I can speak for Russia for sure, because I am Russian, I live here and I have the Russian mentality. This is not for us. In the absence of political competition the fundamentals of a market economy start to fall apart because political competition is a manifestation of economic competition to a certain extent. Economic approaches compete and generate their leaders. Communists adhere to plan-based economy. They have a leader. Some other party may be a right-wing one, sticking to liberal, conservative values, and it needs a different leader. It is very bad that there are no right-wing parties in the parliament. I would like the whole of political spectrum to be represented in our parliament, the State Duma. There are parties combining several political paradigms. This is possible too, because there is no longer such a stringent political division as there was 100 years ago. Sometimes, it is difficult to understand who is actually a socialist and who is a liberal.
Nevertheless, I believe the whole of political spectrum should be represented [in the State Duma]. I have taken decisions to this end to the best of my ability, but still I would like these decisions not to run counter to the general trend of development. What do I mean? The rules governing the election of State Duma deputies should be modified carefully, rather than overnight. For instance, once we raised the State Duma admittance threshold for political parties up to 7 percent I think this might be the right thing to do to achieve the organisation of the political forces. There cannot be hundreds of political parties in the country indeed, because this is weird, this is an indication of an underdeveloped political system. However, one day we will have to revise the decision and lower the barrier so that political competition improves and those unable to clear the 7 per cent barrier can scrape together at least 5 per cent or even 3 per cent to get to the State Duma. This is an issue of political expediency in the final analysis.
FT: Is this possible during your second term, if there is one? Will you undertake reforms like that to make political competition more open?
”Raising living standards, the improvement of the lives of the people, that’s the most important thing I need, or anyone else in the office of president, needs to do.“
Dmitry Medvedev: You know, I believe the matter is not my second term or a second term for anyone in office in the next six-year period. Actually, I believe the change has been ripe, because the political system has been organised. I think everybody realises this, including our largest party, United Russia. Certainly, if one enjoys an advantage, it is hard for him to give it up. Political competition, you are right, is necessary for the economic development.
FT: Many Russians seem to want provincial governors to be elected. Are you going to have them elected?
Dmitry Medvedev: My point of view on this matter has been evolving over time. When asked the question several years ago (I cannot remember by whom), I answered in a rather categorical manner that the country would not need it even in a hundred years. I would, probably, not say that now, truth be told. This does not mean that my stance on the procedure of empowering the current governors has changed. I believe the existing system remains optimal, because Russia is a very complex federation. If it were a federation as developed as the United States or Germany, then anything would be possible. Still, Russia is a very complex federation. You know our problems full well. It is a fact that separatism was on the rampage throughout the country in the late ‘90s and, which is more, hostilities broke out at the time. Therefore, the issue has to be dealt with very carefully. However, this does not mean that I have made up my mind on the issue. When governors should start being elected instead of being appointed is a matter of political practice. I don’t think this is a question on the agenda for today or tomorrow. But this question is not closed.
FT: You mentioned reducing the budget deficit in your speech yesterday. Later, your Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin said the President had decided over the past six months to increase military spending by 1.5 percent of GDP.
Dmitry Medvedev: Mr Kudrin and I have discussed that. Firstly, I believe Mr Kudrin would make an excellent right-wing party leader, and he should not refuse to become one. I think it would benefit the country.
FT: Have you already proposed he should become such a leader?
Dmitry Medvedev: I cannot make such proposals. The party should do that. There is a new person, who seems to me to be able to lead the Right Cause, if he gets the mandate. I guess the party will have an election during its congress soon. I do not think the election has taken place yet. Anyway, Mr Kudrin has quite a conservative outlook in this respect.
Secondly, there are no simple situations, as you know. I am ready to subscribe to this point of view and to that one despite a certain contradiction in there. Meaningless expenditure should be reduced. Efforts should be made to optimise the budget and make it well balanced and deficit-free, if possible. By the way, this year we could even achieve a deficit-free budget or one whose deficit will be about 1 per cent [of GDP] anyway. This could be done … only owing to oil, but done nonetheless.
However, the President ought to think not only of the balanced budget, but of the armed forces as well. The shape our military is in is not ideal. I had to take a very difficult decision that had not been taken by anyone before me, i.e. I have authorised a pay rise for military officers so that their pay is comparable to the one received by their counterparts in the NATO member states. We have got no option otherwise.
Secondly, our armament has grown considerably obsolete. Russia should be a protected nation. Hence, there is a certain economic contradiction, but no political contradiction for the President.
FT: So, there are no considerable disagreements between you and the Government Cabinet?
Dmitry Medvedev: No, of course, not. It is my Government, after all; moreover, it includes my colleagues I have known for years. Of course, there are no disagreements worth mentioning. We argue, and I have to push my decisions through sometimes. I have had to push a decision like that recently. I mean the decision on reducing insurance rates. Since everything had been completed, the Government did not want to change anything. All the more so that the existence and balance of the pension system depend on it. At the same time, the insurance contribution rates proved to be too high, and small businesses and even big ones have asked me to do something about it. As a result, consultations with the Government led to a reduction down to 30 percent for all types of business and to 20 percent for small business.
FT: You spoke of your disappointment with the slow pace of reform. Who is hampering reform?
Dmitry Medvedev: Let me try and outline the enemy hampering reform. Certainly, our main enemy is inside us: in our perceptions, our habits and cumbersome bureaucratic apparatus. Indeed, if we manage to overcome these habits, reform will be more successful. I mean, one has to admit that we have a strong paternalist thinking. It goes for many people and even statesmen.
For a variety of reasons people in this country invested all their hopes in the kind Tsar, in the state, in Stalin, in their leaders, and not in themselves. We know that any competitive economy means reliance on oneself in the first place, on one’s own ability to do something. This is the challenge every person has to deal with. Certainly, this is not done by a decree or with a stroke of the pen, but this is the problem anyway.
Secondly, there are objective problems as well. Indeed, there is the lack of preparedness of the state machinery for that, because they are our people too, they grew up under certain conditions. This applies to youth to a lesser degree, of course. They are different from what we were 20 years ago. Of course, reform is hindered by corruption, because it spawns both a sense of impunity in bribe takers and the total disappointment of the public. Unfortunately, there are problems in this field, which we cannot overcome so far. You know, I was amazed at these numbers once. At the time when my parents were students, everybody wanted to be engineers. When I went to university and a bit later, everybody wanted to be economists and lawyers. However, I have learnt that many young people want to be state officials; not business people, lawyers and economists, let alone cosmonauts or engineers, but civil servants. I see here a distortion of public conscience, public perception because they want to be bureaucrats not because it is a very interesting job – actually, it is interesting, but not all of its aspects are, and officials are different too – but because they deem it profitable. Why do they? A civil servant’s salary is far higher now than it used to be, but still it is no match for the income of a lawyer or a businessman. Hence, young people see some other sources of income in this line of work, and that is a very dangerous trend.
FT: As far as the case of Sergei Magnitsky is concerned, did you mean the case specifically when you spoke yesterday of firing those suspected of corruption?
Dmitry Medvedev: No, of course, not. I meant the situation as a whole. The Magnitsky case is a very sad incident. However, it is an incident that needs a very thorough investigation, first of all, what really happened and why he was taken into custody, who was behind that, what deals were clinched by both those he represented and by the other side. I have asked the Prosecutor General and the Interior Ministry to work on that. So, I expected their reports. However, everything cannot boil down to a single case. The problem is far more complicated, because there are many cases that remain uncovered while they may be even more complicated than the Magnitsky case.
FT: A working group of the [Presidential] Council for [Civil Society and] Human Rights concluded in April that the charges against Magnitsky were trumped up.
Dmitry Medvedev: I would be very careful in relation to the Council’s opinion. The Council is not an investigative body. They are entitled to an opinion of their own. I pay very close attention to their opinion pertaining to any issue, to the cases of Magnitsky, Khodorkovsky, whomever. Their task is to alert the President to any perceived injustice. However, their opinion is not a verdict, not a report of an investigative team. I would not like such grievous incidents to turn into high-profile political issues due to the reaction in other states, because such incidents can undermine the atmosphere of trust between various bodies in this and other countries. This is very important for Russia to be a true member of the international community and for our foreign colleagues to be able to turn to Russia for assistance in legal matters.
FT: You mentioned Khodorkovsky. During your news conference on May 18, you said releasing Khodorkovsky from prison poses no danger whatsoever. Is there a possibility that Khodorkovsky can be freed in the near future?
”Reform is hindered by corruption, because it spawns both a sense of impunity in bribe takers and the total disappointment of the public.“
Dmitry Medvedev: I am a president, rather than a judicial agency or a court of law. Khodorkovsky enjoys all of the rights set by the Criminal Procedure Code, including the right to early release on parole. As far as I can see, he is going to exercise that right. He also has the right to appeal for a pardon. Therefore, everything is in line with the criminal procedure code. But the reply I gave during the news conference remains the same. As for danger, what danger can he pose?
FT: Don’t you think the trial of Khodorkovsky was an error?
Dmitry Medvedev: No, I do not think so because I was taught at university to respect a verdict. I may have personal ideas of what is important and what is not, what is politically justified, and what is politically senseless. But there is the law and there are rulings. The President has got no right to override a verdict, except in cases of pardon. An irreversible judicial act, a verdict is the law for all who live in this country and it has to be reckoned with. By the way, when certain political forces have very tough views on legal decisions, I consider this to be a vestige of legal nihilism to a certain extent. Their attitude will never allow us to promote respect for the courts. The courts are not ideal, on the other hand, and encounter problems too. Courts have to get rid of those incapable of working there. As far as corruption in courts is concerned, it exists and suits have been filed and resulted in sentences.
FT: You have met Chinese president Hu Jintao. We are very interested in the opportunities and challenges being created for Russia by China’s economic upsurge.
Dmitry Medvedev: The opportunities are easy to see. China is a neighbour of ours, the largest neighbour; a huge market consuming an enormous amount of goods made in Russia, including energy. We consume a lot of China-made goods. The two countries complement each other in this respect. Actually, China’s explosive economic growth offers us a certain advantage. As soon as demand starts dwindling, it poses a problem to Russia. We had a slump in 2009 specifically due to our overdependence on energy resources. Their price diminished, and our economy shrank. As to the challenges stemming from China’s economic growth, this is what I would say. We should observe how the PRC is developing and draw conclusions. Because we can learn a lot from the Chinese, though every country is unique. I just said that Russia is following its own way towards a market economy and democracy. But we cannot afford for certain problems to be resolved here in a less effective manner than they are resolved in China. Frankly, when I go to, say, the Amur Region and see the splendid development of the adjacent region of the PRC, I realise that we ought to do the same; otherwise the situation will have an impact on Russia’s position. This is essentially the challenge.
FT: If we get back to America. Do you believe that the so-called ‘reset’ has improved the relations between the two countries for a long time? Does this means strategic relations? Or is a new deterioration of the relation’s possible?
Dmitry Medvedev: Nothing lasts forever in this world. Our relations have improved, and I think this is owing to the efforts of the new [US] administration and personally President Obama, with whom I am friends. It is easy for me to work with him. If a different person becomes US president, he might have a different agenda. We realise that there are representatives of a rather conservative wing, who try to attain their political objectives by stoking tensions towards Russia among other things. What is the use of condemning them for that? This is just a way to attain political ends. I remember the race between Barack Obama and John McCain. They were absolutely different, even in their appearance. I believe I have been lucky in this respect at least, because my counterpart has been a modern man wanting change not only for America, but for the whole world order as well. You have kept on asking me about my presidency and whether I will stand for president again, or whether somebody else will come to office. Let me tell you that no one wishes the re-election of Barack Obama as US president as I do…
FT: You said in 2008 that there were privileged interest spheres in the neighbouring former Soviet countries. Three years later, do you think the developed nations recognise these spheres of influence?
Dmitry Medvedev: Yes, I remember my thesis and it seems to me that I was misunderstood. I did not mean that we have privileged interests and nobody can poke his nose in there. It was interpreted like that quite maliciously, to my mind. I meant a different thing. I meant our privileged interests boiled down to one thing only – that we have got neighbours, with whom we maintained very good relations historically. In this respect, we would like these relations to remain so for a long time, forever. This is our privilege – the privilege to be neighbours and friends. And not in the sense that there is a country that cannot be touched without our approval. Such approaches are now in the past. It is ridiculous to say that in the 21st century that the world is divided into parts, with a state responsible for each of them, e.g. America is responsible for this country, Russia for that, China for that. This is just not serious. This does not fit my conceptions either. The world is multipolar indeed, and privileges imply establishing especially good relations with neighbours.
FT: What about Syria?
”Russia must be a strong state, having all the signs of a country that is capable of protecting its interests internationally, a country that other countries could rely on perhaps.“
Dmitry Medvedev: Syria is facing a very difficult choice. I feel sorry for president al-Assad who is in a very difficult situation now. We met when I visited Syria. President al-Assad has visited Russia several times during my political tenure. It seems to me that he wants political change in his country, he wants reforms. At the same time, he has been somewhat late to launch them, and this has caused casualties that could have been avoided and this is, to a large extent, on the head of those in power. At the same time, I realise that if the opposition resorts to force and opens fire on the police, any state has to take defensive measures. In this respect, he has a very hard choice to make. I have called him and told him personally that I counted very much that he would be consistent in his reforms, that the end of the state of emergency would be followed by normal elections and that there will be a dialogue with all political forces. It seems to me that he strives for this, but he is in a difficult situation at the same time. However, what I am not ready to support is a dead-ringer for Resolution 1973 on Libya, because I am firmly convinced that a good resolution was turned into a scrap of paper to cover up a pointless military operation. In any case, if my counterparts had asked me then to abstain at the least so that they could bomb various targets in Libya, I would have certainly issued different instructions to our diplomats in the United Nations.
However, we proceed from the premise that resolutions should be interpreted literally, rather than broadly. If the resolution mentions no-fly zones, there must be no-fly zones and nothing more. However, nobody flies there now save for NATO warplanes. Only they fly there and only they drop bombs there. OK, Gaddafi’s planes used to fly there, so at least there was an excuse there. This by no means changes my attitude to what he did and to the fact that I, together with the other G8 leaders, supported the joint declaration on Libya issued in Deauville recently. However, getting back to Syria, I would very much not like a Syrian resolution to be pulled off in a similar manner. For this reason, the Syrian resolution will not be like that. Russia shall use its right to veto it as a permanent UN Security Council member. However, other calls and statements on Syria, including those via UNSC, are possible.
FT: Thus, if the resolution does not threaten sanctions or military action, you would support it, would you?
Dmitry Medvedev: You know, unfortunately, my partners have learnt to interpret Security Council resolutions very broadly of late. I remember how things were under George W. Bush. There were no resolutions, nobody would ask for them, but there was the notorious military action in Iraq. However, the world has changed. Everybody knows that it is not the done thing to do that without a Security Council resolution. So, relevant resolutions appear and are interpreted in a broad manner, which is wrong. Therefore, I can tell you frankly that the resolution may state one thing but the resulting actions may be quite different. For instance, the resolution may state that we denounce violence, say, in Syria, and then it will be followed by air attacks. We will be told the resolution reads ‘denounce violence,’ so some of the signatories have denounced the violence by dispatching a number of bombers. In any event, I do not want this to lie on my conscience.
FT: We have heard that your iPad has a special application showing which of the tasks you set have been implemented.
Dmitry Medvedev: Yes, there are a lot of useful apps there. The iPad is a very convenient tool both as a computer and in general. There is a system allowing real-time monitoring of the status of the tasks set by the President. There are many other interesting things in it as well. My assistants have installed a new application, so now I receive newspapers in digital format, rather than as hard copies. I receive a lot of them, except FT. I will have to take care of it.
FT: Yesterday, you spoke about the collapse of the USSR 20 years ago. Some believe its collapse was the greatest geopolitical catastrophe.
Dmitry Medvedev: I do not think so. I have said I do not think so. It was a very dramatic, very grave event indeed. I remember it well, because I was grown up at the time. I was 26. I already worked with [Anatoly] Sobchak and [Vladimir] Putin and even defended my thesis. I remember it well. You know, I cannot see it as the main geopolitical catastrophe of the century, because there was World War Two, in which 30 million of my compatriots died. There was the terrible Civil War that killed millions of our compatriots. However, the collapse of the Soviet Union was virtually bloodless. It is not the main catastrophe. I would not call it so, though it was a very complicated and difficult event for a huge number of people.
FT: 20 years have passed since then. As a person who was a student during perestroika under Gorbachev, are you satisfied or disappointed with the development of the country?
Dmitry Medvedev: Satisfied, no doubt. No doubt whatsoever. Actually, I have a point of view that I wanted to mention in conclusion. I think that the generation that remembers Brezhnev and studied during Gorbachev’s tenure, is the happiest generation of our nation. Why? Because we can compare the past, the previous political system, and the present. Comparison is the most important human quality. Many people do not appreciate what they have. By the way, people living in western democracies because they were born there take this for granted, while we did not have it. We even lacked goods. You remember very well, when you studied, that it was even frightening to go to the shops. Therefore, I consider that the opportunity to compare the two eras is of extremely great value. I am very glad that I have lived in these two epochs. I believe that everything that has taken place is indisputable progress for the country and for the people.
FT: Would you like more progress?
Dmitry Medvedev: Certainly, more of it. But even the progress that we’ve achieved…You know when I was a student at the university I couldn’t hope for one tenth of such progress to be attained.