Alexander Shashkov: Mr President, the Global Policy Forum is taking place for the third time here in Yaroslavl under your patronage. This year the main theme is multiculturalism. Why do you think this topic is so relevant today?
President of Russia Dmitry Medvedev: Because it really is relevant. Relations between different ethnic groups, between those who come to work in Europe and the local residents have deteriorated in almost every European country. These problems also exist in the Russian Federation. That is why I thought it was appropriate to raise this issue in the expert community and among professional politicians.
A great deal has been said and written on this subject over the past few months. Most European politicians have started talking about the crisis of multiculturalism, saying that the values of multiculturalism have not withstood the test of time and should be revised. Our attitude to this issue is complex. Of course, a great deal depends on how one understands the term multiculturalism, but ethnically Russia is an extremely complex country, a melting pot of numerous ethnic groups and religions. For us coexistence of different peoples is a matter that is not related to foreign immigrants, who one way or another appear in every country, including Russia. It is a question of internal harmony, which was created over the centuries and which, as we thought in a certain period, we were able to take to a completely new level.
Let me remind you that there was a phrase in the Soviet times: a single community, the Soviet people. In many ways, these principles were purely theoretical but that does not mean we should abandon this issue and this idea. We really need to create a society built on internal harmony, where people are tolerant of each other and at the same time respectful of the traditions that make up the core of an ethnic group. Regardless of which part of the country we are talking about, be it Central Russia, the Caucasus or the Far East, there are Russian citizens living in all of those areas, who have the same rights and responsibilities, and who must follow certain social rules. That is why this topic is vitally important for us.
Europe also has a lot of problems, as I said, and I believe that an exchange of theoretical approaches and practical measures can be very valuable today.
Alexander Shashkov: The winter is coming soon and again we can see the start of a conflict between Russia and Ukraine over gas supplies.
Dmitry Medvedev: There is no conflict yet. Rather…
Alexander Shashkov: It is brewing.
Dmitry Medvedev: There are different approaches that can turn into a difficult situation.
Alexander Shashkov: Can this lead to problems with gas supplies to Europe, for example?
Dmitry Medvedev: You know, I hope the experience of recent years has taught our closest partners and friends not to tear up existing agreements, even if they aren’t completely happy with them. When our colleagues and partners, the President of Ukraine and Prime Minister of Ukraine tell us: “This agreement is unfair, it is the work of the devil and we will not execute it” – that is just outrageous! All contracts must be executed until they are terminated legally through the court or revoked by the parties. And I hope that our partners, our Ukrainian friends will abide by the framework agreement concluded in 2009 equally strictly and meticulously.
As for the future, as I have said many times before, we are ready to discuss various cooperation formats with our Ukrainian colleagues, including more advanced ones, based on integration and Ukraine joining the Customs Union or creating a new one. They are saying for some reason that WTO prevents them from joining the Customs Union, which is a little strange. The WTO doesn’t prevent us from joining the Customs Unions but it prevents them. But this is an internal matter. Alternatively, we can use other mechanisms, including investment in the Ukrainian economy and the gas transportation network. If we reach agreement on this, we will probably be ready to reconsider the parameters of our cooperation. However, some things are immutable: gas cooperation is always based on a formula and that formula is universal. That applies in equal measure to Ukraine and to other countries, and any talk of “we pay more than the others” is groundless. It is propaganda, pure and simple. Ukraine pays according to the same formula and its price is commensurate with the price paid by other European consumers.
The prices are high, that is true, but sometimes they can be extremely low, in which case it is the problem of the energy supplier. So I hope that Ukrainian partners will execute the contract, and then we will reach agreement regarding our future business and the parameters of future cooperation.
Alexander Shashkov: During his visit to Moscow, French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe asked Russia to support the EU proposal to introduce sanctions against Syria. What is Russia’s policy on this issue?
Dmitry Medvedev: It is true, I discussed this matter with Mr Juppe and the other minister who accompanied him, the French Defence Minister, as well as with my colleagues. The problem is that we are not completely satisfied with the way [UN Security Council’s] Resolution 1973 was enforced. Now it is a thing of the past because it seems that the situation in Libya has changed. Nevertheless, we believe that the mandate granted by Resolution 1973 on Libya was exceeded. And we do not want the same thing happening with Syria. Yes, we are aware of the problems in Syria, we can see the disproportionate use of force and a large number of victims. We are not happy about it either. I have repeatedly spoken about this in personal discussions with President Bashar al-Assad, and I recently sent our Deputy Foreign Minister to meet with him and to make our position clear once again. But I think the resolutions we adopt in order to send a strong message to Syria’s leadership should be addressed to both sides, because the situation there is not clearcut. Those rallying with anti-government slogans are not proponents of the refined European democracy; there are very different people among them. Some of them are extremists, and some can even be called terrorists. So we must not idealise the situation and must proceed from the balance of forces and interests.
We are ready to support a variety of approaches but they should not be based on a unilateral condemnation of the government and President al-Assad. They must send a convincing message to all the parties to the conflict: they must sit down and negotiate to end the bloodshed. Russia is interested in this as a great friend of Syria, a country with which we have numerous economic and political ties. So the search for a possible way to resolve this situation will continue.