The meeting took place at the Brookings Institute, one of the most influential US think tanks, specialised in social science, municipal management, foreign policy and the global economy.
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President of the Brookings Institution Strobe Talbott: Good afternoon, everybody. I’m Strobe Talbott, and it is my great personal honour on behalf of all of us at The Brookings Institution to host this extraordinary event, Dmitry Medvedev, the President of the Russian Federation.
As all of you know, he is here in Washington to participate in a summit that is intended to promote nuclear safety. That is a cause that he and President Obama advanced just last week when they signed the new START Treaty in Prague. These two leaders have also, in their personal interaction over the past year, given a new start to US-Russian relations.
Before turning the program over to him, I would be remiss if I did not convey on behalf of all of us our deepest condolences to President Medvedev and his fellow citizens on the tragedy that they suffered as a result of a terrorist outrage two weeks ago on March 29th. I happened to be riding as a passenger on the Moscow Metro just a few days ago. It was a powerful and moving experience, a reminder of the courage and the fortitude of a great people. I might add that we all observed from a distance with admiration and with compassion another recent event in Moscow. While Russians were still grieving for their own compatriots, President Medvedev led a throng of Muscovites in laying flowers at the gate of the Polish Embassy in Moscow this weekend.
The Russian people are fortunate to have in our guest of honour today a leader who is working so hard to modernise their economy and also working with Mr Obama to build for all of us a safer world. Mr President, the podium is yours.
President of Russia Dmitry Medvedev: Ladies and gentlemen,
Before I make a few opening remarks, I first of all want to thank you for this invitation to speak at one of America’s leading think tanks. It is deservedly seen as a stronghold of liberal thinking, and I know that it is also reputed as a place that has produced many members of the US political elite. Now, this is high time that I quote Robert Brookings, who once said that the activity of the institution he had established was based upon the belief that there is a necessity to do precise and impartial identification of matters in the study and presenting ideas without any kind of ideology. This institute has worked on these principles right from the start, and this has undoubtedly helped it to find solutions to some of the most complex issues in domestic and global affairs.
The world is living through a time of deep-reaching transformation today, faces big challenges, and is searching for new development models. To be honest, the same could be said of any period in humanity’s development. We consider it very important, of course, to build a world of common and complementary interests and interdependent approaches. The world will be a more harmonious place if, instead of confronting each other, its different parts learn how to complement each other and build a foundation for common development.
Democracy, human rights and the market economy form the basis not only of national development today but also represent a common set of international values. The dialogue between Russia and the United States is an important part of these values. I am truly happy to see that our cooperation is now producing concrete results. I would go further and say that I am happy that over this last year and a bit we have succeeded in changing the climate in Russian-American relations. This does not mean that there are no longer any problems in our relations and that these relations are absolutely perfect, but the climate has improved and we are seeing the results now. It makes me very happy indeed to be a part of this change.
Our meeting follows straight on from the [Nuclear Security] Summit that has just ended. I want to say that this summit was a success in every way. I cannot recall another conflicts-free summit, a summit at which the participants showed such a unanimous assessment of the current situation. What we were dealing with was not the economy or ways to exit the global crisis, but something that is a real threat and real challenge to each of the countries taking part.
Last week, President Obama and I signed the new START Treaty, and it seems fitting to mention this again now, all the more so here in Washington. This is a real step forward, no matter what the analysts say with regard to the results obtained, whose side the balance is on, or whether this is a real achievement or just good publicity for two politicians. In my view, this treaty is a positive thing.
Russian-American relations have a complex history. As is often the case, we have many extremes in our relations, with everything from the tightest of embraces to outright hostility, but instead of focusing on the differences between us we should build long-term pragmatic relations – and I stress this word, pragmatic – for the future. We need to give these relations a common base, of course – the values of democracy and economic freedom, and our common goals in the fight against global threats.
Our countries have different histories and our peoples often differ in their interpretation of events. The USA has been developing a market economy for almost two centuries now, while our country, in the twentieth century at least, went through a series of severe trials, economic upheavals and experiments. I therefore believe very strongly that Russia now requires several decades of calm and stable effort to build an effective political and economic system. Only then will the differences that exist, even at the level of our mentalities, become a thing of the past. Only for this to happen, we must not lecture each other on how to live, but need simply to keep talking to each other, maintain regular, direct contact, and not try to paint the situation in this or that tone of our own.
No one is more aware of our country’s problems than we ourselves. They include corruption, technological backwardness, and an unhealthy way of life. But we only began changing our social system 20 years ago, and I want to stress to you that this system is deeply rooted in traditions that cannot be changed overnight. This system was shaped by traditions reaching back centuries. These traditions have become firmly entrenched in habit, and they are often a hindrance to our progress, but at the same time, they are also a kind of self-defence mechanism that society uses to hold itself together. We understand how we can go about addressing these problems, including by drawing on our friends’ experience. We need to build up a partnership on the whole range of different issues. And we in turn are willing, of course, to give the United States a shoulder to lean on where necessary — and this support is indeed necessary on a whole number of issues.
All countries make declarations about democratic principles, what matters however, is not the declarations, and not even changes to the law, though improving legislation is one of the tasks on our agenda today, but what really matters above all is real implementation of democracy, real democratic practice. Practice, as we know, is a criterion for truth in general, and political and legal practice show up all the merits and shortcomings. It is important to keep this in mind, to focus on practice, and then we will see progress in fighting corruption, will be able to remove from office individuals who prove themselves unfit for their jobs, and most importantly, may possibly ensure the proper feedback between the authorities and the general public. I think that all state officials, regardless of their position, from the President right down to municipal heads, should make this feedback a priority, and make use of modern technology in this work. I personally try to do this, and I think that others should make this a part of their work too. We have a huge variety of tools today at our disposal in this work. Sometimes it seems to me that, in the past, heads of state and government were often hostage to their aides, who sorted the documents and decided which files would end up on the desk. They were the ones who decided what the leadership did or did not see. We all know that aides are human too, and of course they wanted to put the best light on things, show up their own work in a favourable light. But everything has changed today. No matter what people write to me, or to President Obama, we can always switch on the computer, go on the internet and see what is actually going on. This is not to say that the internet always tells the truth while aides always lie, but at least the internet provides another source of information, circumventing the aides and taking us straight to the heart of the information environment. I think this is something very important, and we have yet to realise its full impact.
Colleagues, we will work with the United States on all of the big global problems such as preventing terrorism and drugs trafficking, trans-border crime and piracy. We work together on settling regional conflicts and we are trying – without much success so far, it is true – to fight climate change. We place particular emphasis on enhancing multilateral mechanisms for regulating international relations, and above all the United Nations, the organisation that serves as the foundation for these relations and that is the only truly universal forum that we have. We also have the Group of Eight and the Group of Twenty, of course, and we will continue working through them too. Naturally, we will continue working on overcoming the global economic crisis, because it is not yet clear how the future will shape up. I think the situation is not entirely clear here yet, and the same is true of elsewhere around the world. There are various scenarios, and so we will soon continue examining this subject together at the G8 summit in Canada, and in the G20.
We are working on regional issues, regional security. I draw the attention of everyone present to one of the initiatives I put forward shortly after being elected president, namely, the European Security Treaty. I make separate mention of this point because I want to stress that this treaty is not directed against any organisation and has no hidden agenda, is not some kind of cunning Russian trick to weaken NATO or the OSCE. We are simply seeking to add to Europe’s security system a more effective legal instrument.
The Iranian nuclear programme is another of the subjects we discuss often, and I imagine you will probably ask about it too. There is talk now of imposing sanctions on Iran, and the reasons for this are eminently clear. Iran has not responded to the compromise offers that have been made. We discuss these issues and these sanctions together in the six party talks. I last discussed this problem with President Obama in Prague, when we met to sign the START Treaty (Joint Understanding of Measures for the Further Reduction and Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms). This is not to say that sanctions are a particularly useful thing. What’s more, they do not always achieve the desired results and end up punishing the ordinary people which should not be accepted. Sanctions would need to guarantee the nuclear non-proliferation regime, and only then could they be considered effective.
We are jointly helping the people of Afghanistan to transform their country into a stable and sustainably developing state and ensure peaceful life there. We are working together on the political front, on political settlement, strengthening the government of Afghanistan, helping the police force, cooperating on transit traffic. I think that all of this is contributing towards our common objectives. True, too little has been done so far to fight the drugs trafficking coming from Afghanistan. Perhaps this is because America itself is much less directly affected by this drugs trafficking, unlike Europe and the Russian Federation. This flow of drugs is coming straight into our country, and so whatever the case, we need to make progress in this area.
We share similar positions on Middle East peace settlement. We need to establish real conditions for the formation of an independent Palestinian state. This has proved a very difficult process so far. But until this happens it will be impossible to achieve lasting peace in the Middle East. America is now making efforts to put the process back on a constructive track, including through carrying out indirect negotiations. We give these efforts our full support too. This year, I have met with practically all of the Middle East leaders and have consistently expressed my support for these indirect negotiations. A quartet meeting took place in Moscow not so long ago, and I hope that ultimately, all of these efforts will transform into direct negotiations.
Any halt in development always results in ground being lost, and this is why Russia has launched the drive today to close this gap by modernising our economy, upgrading our technology and introducing new technology. To be frank, we still have a very long way to go in this work, and I say quite up front that we really count on working in partnership with the world’s leading economies, including the American economy, of course. I was especially happy that my last conversation with President Obama began not with the Iranian situation or the Middle East, and not even with the START Treaty, but with the question of economic cooperation between our two countries. I really feel that this is the area of our relations in which we have the most work to do. We have put dynamism back into our relations, have revived normal contacts and put things on a constructive track once again. President Obama and I have established friendly ties, but we have yet to see the economic results. I want to say once more that I think it would be good to see some results in this area. Of course, I realise that business is business, and that it functions according to its own needs and laws. I realise that there is no forcing it into anything, but we can certainly establish the conditions for its development.
I quoted Robert Brookings, the founder of this institution. It would not be right for me not to quote too within these walls today the current President of the United States of America. Speaking in Russia last year, he said that America needs a strong, peaceful and prosperous Russia. These are fine words, but Russia in turn needs a responsible, peaceful, influential and dynamically developing America, an America that has the respect of the entire international community and that builds relations with other countries on an equal basis, and on this same basis builds its position on development and the new system of international relations. This would indeed be an excellent thing.
I will conclude with these words. We can move on now to the more interesting part of this time together – our direct discussion. But first of all, I think that Mr Talbott wants to say a few words and ask me some questions, and so I will remain here for now, if you have no objection.
Strobe Talbott: Mr President, thank you so much. We will in a few minutes open the conversation to include our friends here in the audience, but perhaps I could get the conversation going a little bit between the two of us by asking you to follow-up a bit on two issues, and they both boil down to one question, which is what next? What next for the negotiations between the Russian Federation and the United States on nuclear and other armaments now that you have the new START Treaty done, awaiting ratification of course on both sides? And what next by way of follow-up on what you have described as a very successful Nuclear Safety Summit here in Washington?
Dmitry Medvedev: Frankly speaking, I really hope that more work will be done after that, more work will follow. Speaking about the outcomes of the summit, I hope that we will not just go home feeling happy. As to the START Treaty, I would like to see at least one legal fact after that, the ratification of the treaty. If it does take place, it will mean that President Obama and I did not work in vain, and should there be no ratification, it will mean that we have gone back to some sort of Soviet times when these kind of treaties were not ratified. But on the other hand, it would be very important in my mind that our relationship should not be reduced to nuclear cooperation or to the limitation of strategic arms, though certainly it is something that people expect of us, and in this regard, we have assumed a great responsibility towards the international community. I would like us to have a much broader cooperation on all the other areas.
As to the future of the treaty and our further steps, I would like us to undertake all the necessary procedures provided for in the treaty. I would like the treaty to be transparent. I would like it to be acceptable to both our societies in Russia and the United States. I hope it will not cause any tensions. And I hope it will help us to build on our future cooperation, though, frankly speaking, besides strategic offensive arms, there are other types of arms that are quite dangerous as well that also require an agreement between us, that require a discussion between us because there are conventional forces that can cause a dramatic damage and on such systems we haven’t yet coordinated our position as to what to do next. There are issues on which we should formulate a common position like nuclear terrorism, like nonproliferation, like control over states that are threshold countries and that are trying to use all the ways to sneak into the nuclear club. This is our joint responsibility and I would like us to work on that together.
Strobe Talbott: Thank you very much. I suspect maybe some of our colleagues will return to these issues, but if I could ask you one question about Russia and the global economy, and that is what do you see as to the prospects for Russia being part of the World Trade Organisation?
Dmitry Medvedev: Being honest, I think that we should have been in the WTO a long time ago because we have been on this threshold longer than any other country, even such a big country as China. Being honest, I think the issue of Russia’s accession to WTO is highly politicized. It has been a carrot before us. They keep saying, OK, behave well and we will accept you to the WTO, but this is not correct because if we accede to the organisation, everyone will benefit, not only Russia. It is a very important part of the international economy. Whatever people say, we have a lot of things to offer and the harmonization of the rules we use is very important.
Talking about my personal position, we would like to accede to the WTO and we should make this procedure not humiliating for us. And I will be frank; I know that Barack Obama will not be offended. He said that Russia should join WTO quickly. We started the process in 2006 when our relationship was just evolving, but there is no result as yet and we count very much on a favorable position of the new administration to force the joining of Russia to the WTO. This does not run counter to other commitments like our Customs Union with Belarus and Kazakhstan. All the processes can be harmonized and help each other benefit from it.
Strobe Talbott: Thank you very much, Mr President. I’m going to invite the audience to put some questions succinctly as possible to President Medvedev, and I’d also ask, please, to be sure that they are questions and that you identify yourself when you stand up to ask. We have microphones around the room. I’ll start with Ambassador Rick Burt.
Ambassador Burt: Richard Burt, the Global Zero Initiative. Mr President, I listened very carefully to the answer you gave Strobe Talbott about what’s next and you’ve outlined a number of areas that the United States and the Russian Federation could work on: European security, conventional forces, proliferation. Does your answer suggest that a new round of further reductions in nuclear forces is not a Russian priority, a new round of negotiations following the START Treaty and hopefully its ratification is not a Russian priority, or would you support a follow-up negotiation to achieve deeper cuts?
Dmitry Medvedev: Mr Burt, I would like to say that this is an important priority for Russia as well as for the United States. Ratification is a process that should be addressed by all of us together, by each country and we have agreed with Mr Obama that ratification will be simultaneous, not to put anyone in an awkward situation talking about further reduction of strategic potentials; this is our aim in general. There is no doubt about this, and today at the summit I said that the idea of a global zero is not an illusion. But we should be honest with each other talking about responsibility, about the situation on the planet. This is not only a Russia-America responsibility though we have the biggest part of armaments. If one day people will arrive at global zero, that will be made not only by Russia and America, it will be a collective effort. I will not point finger at anyone, but we have partners who are less willing to cut their potentials than Russia or America and we have to convince them to go that way.
But talking about the further process, talks, we are ready for that and we are going to engage in this. This is natural, but today we have made a threshold ceiling for the next 10 years and this is enough now, and if there is a need then we will discuss the new levels. But these 10 years will be peaceful for us as long as we ratify this treaty and if the thing written in the preamble will not happen, it says about the link between ABM and strategic offensive arms, this is a hard issue. We have been discussing it for a long time and we have created this formula that the parties acknowledge this link and we have worked out a principle or a statement that the treaty will be in effect as long as the development of ABM or other arms will not contradict the principles of this treaty — this is a sensitive point. Like President Obama, I am optimistic about this and we hope that we will not stop the treaty or withdraw from it having some problems about ABM or other issues. But everything depends on us and other politicians who will treat this issue.
Strobe Talbott: You have Mr Margelov as part of your delegation and perhaps he can coordinate with his American counterpart Senator Kerry on the two ratification processes.
Dmitry Medvedev: Would you like to make a question? Now you have this opportunity.
Strobe Talbott: Mr Margelov, you’ve been invited by your president.
chairman of the Federation Council Foreign Affairs Committee Mikhail Margelov: Thank you. I will ask a question in Russian. Mr President, next week we will be discussing with the Senate the synchronized, simultaneous ratification and the main issue that is being asked by all counterparts. When will the Russian President submit this document to the Russian Parliament?
Dmitry Medvedev: When will the American President do it?
Strobe Talbott: The first week of May.
Dmitry Medvedev: Then we will do the same thing right then. We can do that as a package deal, like two packages. In the morning I’ll make a call to Mr Obama and ask him are you doing it? And then I do the same thing, I’ll send the package right there.
Strobe Talbott: Congressman Delahunt is here. You can perhaps give Mr Margelov some advice on how to synchronize our own legislative branch.
Rep. Delahunt: We have a problem, Strobe, as you know. It’s called the United States Senate. But if I could…
Strobe Talbott: I said Congressman Delahunt.
Rep. Delahunt: Hi. I’m Congressman Bill Delahunt. Welcome and congratulations on the signing of the treaty. And I know many of us in the House of Representatives hope that the Senate does proceed to ratification.
But I do have a question. You referenced the economic relationship between the United States and Russia. And recently we had a visit from the State Duma delegation headed by Deputy [Konstantin] Kosachev and that issue did arise. And I think we all agree that the level of commerce between the United States and Russia is unacceptable. It’s abysmally low.
We have some ideas on the House side as to how we would like the Russians to make some adjustments. But if you had a wish list of what you would like to see coming from the Administration and from Congress in terms of initiatives economically, what would they be?
Dmitry Medvedev: Well, the question is, how many wishes can be fulfilled? For example, there are wishes that are never to come true that we are not even mentioning anymore because they are probably impossible ones. They are wishes impossible to fulfill such as the withdrawal of the Jackson-Vanik amendment. It’s such a complicated thing that even in front of this high audience, I’m not speaking about it.
Well, seriously speaking we need to review our current economic relationship. Before the crisis our bilateral trade was around $25–30 billion. This is not that much taking into account the size of the American and the Russian economies. Frankly speaking, the volume of trade between Russia and the EU is $250 billion. The trade between the Russian Federation and the People’s Republic of China is smaller now, but still it is two and a half times bigger than that with the United States.
But it’s not only about the volume of trade, it’s about the investment as well. As far as the investment is concerned, the situation is not that good, but at least it’s a parity situation. We oftentimes use this word. The volume of the US investment in the Russian economy is around $7 billion. This is nothing, it’s a zero. The volume of the Russian investments in the US economy is $6 billion. This is a little bigger than with other countries, but after all, it’s not that much.
Anyway, the volume of the Dutch investment in the US economy is $150 billion. This is the difference in the balances. It doesn’t mean that we will be able to breach this gap very soon, but anyway, mutual investments bring countries much closer together and they facilitate development. Most importantly, there should be understanding between investors and the state should see these investments positively as well. It is about creating favorable regimes for such investments and in general about a favorable treatment to such foreign investment.
In our country the investment climate is not the best possible and we should do everything to make it more attractive. It doesn’t mean that things are so perfect in the United States, but there are things we need to do in order to improve the climate and its elements, some economic regimes that could be used, including the situation with the legal system. We can improve the functioning of our accords, we could combat corruption. Those are the barriers to trade and investment, and not only from the United States. We see these problems and, most importantly, our partners should see their own problems as well, including those problems that impede Russian investments or the implementation of joint projects in third countries.
Strobe Talbott: Bill, I’ll come back to you and ask if it’s true that what I’ll call the retirement of Jackson-Vanik is an impossible dream, an impossible wish?
Rep. Delahunt: I do not believe it is impossible, Mr President, and I think there is sentiment in Congress today to address the issue. You’re probably unaware, but recently there has been the formation in the House of a Russian Caucus, and it’s an issue that’s being discussed and discussed seriously.
Strobe Talbott: Toby Gati?
Toby Gati: Thank you, Mr President. Toby Gati, Akin Gump.
There was a great outpouring in the United States of unity with Russia after the terrible terrorist act and in part this is due to the many contacts that had been made between Americans and Russians in the past 20 years, which is a very positive development.
In your first comments about this attack you said that Russia had to deal with terrorism very harshly, but also respect human rights and the rule of law. But we’ve heard a lot about the first and very little about the latter, and indeed after Beslan there was a tightening up in the political system.
You’ve talked for many months about the reform of the security structures and the judicial system, and maybe it’s even more necessary now. So, my question is this: how do you convince society, how do you convince other people in your government that part of the fight against terrorism is respect for human rights and for all of Russia’s citizens? And how do you hope to avoid the overreactions that have taken place in other societies after terrorist acts?
Dmitry Medvedev: Well, you have touched upon a hard issue. It’s not always that the society requires that human rights be respected in the wake of a terrorist attack. As a rule, the society requires that the criminals be punished and in a most serious way, especially for terrorists, and only some secondary voices speak to the human rights. And this is something typical not only for Russia, this is not only a trait for the civil society in Russia, this happens in all the countries.
In the wake of terrorist attacks the people demand retaliation. But we’re living in the 21st century and we understand that in the case of such attacks a full-fledged investigation should take place and it should involve all the parties concerned that are in charge of such issues in the country. And the final decision, the final ruling in such cases, should be made by the court. But there is a gap between the public sentiment and the position of the law enforcement and judicial system. And this is an actual problem that we cannot turn a blind eye to. Besides, it is necessary to establish a climate of understanding, not only inside our society, but also understanding between the Russian society and the American society, between the Russian political establishment and the US political establishment.
I’m referring to the following. We need to use the same scale to each other after the perpetration of the latest savage terrorist attacks in the Russian Metro. The reaction of the entire world was very consolidated and correct. It was as consolidated as ever. Nevertheless, in some cases we still see that old stereotypes are used that are quite offensive and insulting to Russia, including the cases seen in the United States. I reviewed the press after the attacks, and terrorists were still called rebels there. We cannot accept that, it is unacceptable to us. I believe it insults the memory of those who died in the subway stations.
This is a small detail that is quite indicative. On such issues we should be much closer together, we should hear each other better, and then we will be more successful in overcoming the consequences of such terrorist attacks. Speaking about the great solidarity of the Russian people towards the US people, in 2001, this solidarity was quite high and we should learn to use the same scale while evaluating each other’s situations. And we should be able to show solidarity to each other in many events, including such tragic ones as the death of President Kaczynski and his spouse and a great part of the Polish political elite.
Martin Indyk: Thank you. Martin Indyk, director of foreign policy at Brookings. Welcome to Brookings, Mr President, and thank you for your wise, constructive leadership of Russia. My question is about Iran. I wonder if you could describe for us how you view Iran’s nuclear program. Is it a threat to Russian national security interests? Are you concerned about it triggering a nuclear arms race in the Middle East? And now that you and President Obama are on the same page when it comes to sanctions, are you also on the same page with him when he says that force should be an option that’s kept on the table?
Dmitry Medvedev: The talks about Iran with Mr Obama and my other colleagues are a part of our agenda. We do that regularly and on a full basis. This means that Iran is a problem to some extent and what is important that we find evidence of what their nuclear program is. As any society, they do have the right to develop the civilian nuclear program, but the problem is how they convince the international community that it is civilian. And lately we did not bring any improvement to the situation, it has aggravated, and Iran ignores the questions addressed to it. They keep saying small phrases and make small suggestions, so we deal with this together, talking about the future.
I would not favor sanctions because sanctions is a repression, an imposing of some actions. But if nothing happens, we will have to deal with sanctions. The question is, what kind of sanctions are these? Many times I have answered these questions, what kind of sanctions we need. I do not favour paralyzing, crippling sanctions which make people suffer in a humanitarian sense. This is immoral and it creates negative results, negative feedback, and I have grounds to believe that some people need this. They are waiting for a real clash of positions, but sanctions must be smart. And the question is, how we understand this word, what is acceptable and what is unacceptable? Sanctions must be universal. They must be discussed with the main participants of the international process on this subject, and the sanctions must be aimed at one result. That’s why the position upon sanctions depends not only on the United States, Europe, Russia, but also on China, Latin America.
In this case only, these decisions, if it is needed, are able to give results in talking about the Middle East, and what can happen over there if the nuclear program is implemented and a nuclear conflict arises. That would be a gigantic catastrophe.
We all can imagine what can happen in the Middle East if just one terrorist act happens there, if nuclear arms are used. The Middle East is called the Middle East because it is small enough for bombings to happen in one place, for it to start spreading all over the world, and that would trigger a humanitarian catastrophe and huge exodus of people from different countries. And the worst thing is that it will trigger the nuclear arms race.
Many colleagues from the Arab world say that if Iran gets nuclear arms, they will have no scruples about having them as well, and this will enlarge the nuclear club, and then no summit will help. If all of those countries have nuclear arms, that will open a new page in the history of humankind which will be very sad.
And I hope that we will be able to agree and will manage to solve this issue by political means.
Strobe Talbott: Thank you, Mr President.
Secretary William Coleman.
William Coleman: Mr President, I really want to thank you for being here. I come from that generation of American people that were involved in the Second World War, and we certainly had great pride when we went into Great Britain and swept through France. But I don’t think we really thanked the Russians enough for the fact of being on the East [Front] and having 25 divisions, and I think that made a lot of difference. So what I want to do is thank you and the Russian people for that.
The question I’m going to ask you is the same question I wanted to ask General Petraeus today when he spoke at lunchtime, and that was as the military decided that we had to go into Afghanistan, what would have happened that if the military had said the Russians, will you join us? Because after all you had a big battle there, and I think you still have problems there.
Dmitry Medvedev: If I understood you rightly, you are talking about military presence of Russia in such operations? Do I get you right?
Strobe Talbott: Joining the United States and its allies in the military operations in Afghanistan.
Dmitry Medvedev: Well, I have been talking about Afghanistan as our common concern, and every country has its own history, and sometimes it is very sad. Our country has also its history of work in Afghanistan back in Soviet times, and that was a very hard page of our history.
I’m not sure that our society is ready to once again open that page, but that doesn’t mean that we would like to stay on the sidelines. And we have agreed upon all aspects of cooperation on Afghanistan starting with military transit and humanitarian, social and economic projects, restoring of its economy.
We should cooperate in this realm, but what is more important today is giving an opportunity to the Afghanistan political system to develop because we understand that America cannot be there all the time. It cannot be lasting forever. It’s a very hard burden.
But if America leaves Afghanistan and the alliance leaves this place, then how will the political system live in Afghanistan? The political system must become independent. It must gain some momentum, and that’s what has to be our common aim.
When I meet President Karzai, the first thing I ask is how the political process is going because this is absolutely important, and this is the thing which the Soviet Union failed to do. No matter what values we brought there, but our country tried to create a political system. We failed to do that, and Afghanistan rejected this political system and this political experiment.
So today’s aim is that the modern political system of Afghanistan would be created, and an effective government would appear there, and then we may say that our aim has been done.
Strobe Talbott: Mr President, I might insert here a question about Kyrgyzstan, which has a pertinence of course to the effectiveness of allied and coalition operations in Afghanistan. You referred to your own country as help in opening transport routes. What is your assessment of the current situation in Kyrgyzstan?
Dmitry Medvedev: The situation in Kyrgyzstan is difficult. Once again, Kyrgyzstan is living through a stage of an illegitimate development, and unfortunately I believe that the responsibility for that is born by the Kyrgyzstan’s authorities themselves who hadn’t taken effort earlier to consolidate the civil society, to agree with the opposition, to settle the numerous conflicts underway, and to organise normal economic development.
Once the former Kyrgyzstani president was outcast and forced to leave the country, one of the reproaches he received was economic crimes, corruption.
A couple of years later, we see the same slogans and the same people there, only they switched places, which is quite sad because Kyrgyzstan is a close neighbor of ours, and least of all we would like to see Kyrgyzstan turning into a failed state. The risk of Kyrgyzstan falling into two parts, the northern part and the southern part, is still there, and it is important to prevent bloodshed. Around 100 people have been killed already.
Now the question is not about who started the whole thing, though certainly an investigation should be held to see who triggered all those problems. The most important thing is to prevent a civil war now, and I believe that Kyrgyzstan is on the verge of a civil war now. All the forces in Kyrgyzstan should realize their responsibility towards the Kyrgyz nation and Kyrgyz people, and towards the future of the Kyrgyz state.
We all understand perfectly what a civil war means today. If, God forbid, it started, it will immediately attract terrorists and extremists of all kinds because in the course of such conflicts the best possible conditions are created for radical movements. In this case, instead of Kyrgyzstan, an Afghanistan of some years ago can emerge, a different Afghanistan before the military operations there. So our task now is to help our Kyrgyz partners to find the calmest possible way to overcome the situation.
How can we do that? We need to soothe down the people. We should form a government that would be viable. And some political leaders will need to assume important decisions as to their future, a decision that should be motivated by the interests of the Kyrgyzstani people and not by their personal political ambitions.
Darrell West: Mr President, I’m Darrell West, vice president of governance studies here at Brookings.
I was very interested in your talk in the section about technology and how that broadens your source of information. I’m just curious how technology has changed your leadership style. And when you go online, what are you looking for? Also, do you and President Obama ever e-mail one another?
Strobe Talbott: Or Twitter?
Dmitry Medvedev: We don’t e-mail each other with President Obama, but it is a good idea indeed. That would be the fastest possible way to talk to each other because until we coordinate our communications with our assistants, then we communicate in writing, it takes a lot of time. In this case, we could just have a couple of iPhones, and we could just exchange text messages or e-mails. I am quite familiar with that, as well as President Obama, as far as I understand.
But speaking about the changes that occurred in my life due to this new information environment, I should say that a lot of things have changed, and it’s not a figure of speech. This is about our habits, and habits are the things we’re made of.
If some time ago I started my morning with reading a newspaper or a digest or just watching the TV, I don’t do that anymore. I just go online, and I find all the things there. There are newspapers, TV channels, Russian media, foreign media, media that are favorable to the Russian President, media that hate the Russian President, and they certainly speak whatever they think, which is very important because I don’t have a perfect picture of what is going on. The picture that many predecessors of mine and in other countries used to have, this gives an opposite effect.
Very often, I review some requests or comments of desperate people who write about corruption, law violations, about other problems. I certainly cannot answer all those comments. But the most outrageous things, due to internet, can trigger support from people, and then whole open letters are written by many people at the same time. This is certainly a reason for a feedback from me, and then I instruct my agencies and ministries and the government to attend to that. Originally, it caused some kind of a surprise, but now people are used to that.
Moreover, I have started a blog that is run at my presidential website, and now governors have started doing this as well. For some, it is a totally formal thing. Others really communicate with people. If earlier officials were threatened by some addresses to their bosses, to the Kremlin, now they are threatened by such comments that people can write on the President’s website.
This is becoming a part of our life. It cannot help us in all the things, in all the problems, but it is certainly helpful. In our society, in Russia, it is probably even more important than anywhere else. In our society, these bureaucratic traditions have ages-long history, and always authorities have been too far from the people, and probably it originated some political traditions as well. This type of communications helps us redress this kind of bad traditions, and I like this thing.
Strobe Talbott: I don’t know if it’s going to be possible to have simultaneous ratification of the new START Treaty in our Senate and your Parliament, but I’m sure that your opening proposal about [how] you and President Obama are going to communicate is going to cause a simultaneous spontaneous nervous breakdown in the White House and in the Kremlin. But I’m sure you’re up to handling that.
Dmitry Medvedev: No problem.
Strobe Talbott: Antoine van Agtmael.
Antoine Van Agtmael: Antoine van Agtmael, Emerging Markets Management. If I may, I would like to switch to the economy as all the other questions except the technology question were about the political side. Two questions, looking back and looking forward.
Looking back, after the global crisis Russia was hit by quite a steep and fast economic recession. Did that surprise you and also how fast Russia bounced out of it?
The second question is, Russia’s well-known to have the largest reserves of gas in the world. Is that changing now that so much gas, huge quantities of gas, are being found in the United States, Hungary, all over the world? How will that change relations with Europe and even China?
Dmitry Medvedev: Speaking about the global recession, if I were surprised, I will be frank, well, I was surprised. All of us have their own stereotypes, their own understanding of what are the weak points of economy and what are not. So the thing that happened after the crisis, the beginning of the crisis in our country, was a surprise because the extent to which it fell was more than I could have expected. I’m not talking about other economies. I talked to my European counterparts and American counterparts, all of them were surprised, but that was outrageous for me how our economy depends on raw materials. I never understood that we are so much dependent on raw materials and this made me talk about modernisation, about technology.
Without the crisis, we would probably live by our own inertia and with high prices of oil and gas. I’m happy that this crisis happened. Well, this is bad that the economy has fallen down, and it is bad that this crisis made people suffer. Many people lost their jobs, it hit people very hard. But this crisis should change our mindset, our economic approach and so far it hasn’t changed them much.
Many businesspeople and ordinary people are waiting for high oil prices: it’s $85 per barrel now, that’s okay, but maybe it will be $140 someday and then we can rest easy doing nothing. But the problem is that this is top-down development and one day the price will fall and the prices harmonize somehow. And being unable to restructure and re-equip itself, our economy will fail, so we have to use this chance.
The main challenge today is how fast we can do that. We would like to do it as soon as possible, but this is too difficult. So we have outlined five priorities of technological reforms, not because they are universal, but because they are quite important. And if we are successful in these ones — like space, atomic energy, pharmaceutical drugs, energy efficiency, new technologies in energy – if we will have some advancements in these realms, then it will be very good. Although high prices for energy is good and we’re not going to lower them as it gives us some advantage.
The main thing is not to rely on gas and oil only. And the fact that America has found new gas opportunities, this is not bad. That will help us be more attentive towards our possibilities, our opportunities. And whatever we say, once every 50 years an energy revolution happens. First it was coal, then oil, then gas, then nuclear power. And I believe that in 30 to 50 years from now, the situation in energies here will be different in both our countries. I don’t know if we will use hydrogen power, but being complacent with gas and oil is not good today.
Strobe Talbott: I’d like to tag a question onto Antoine’s. You mentioned the BRIC countries in your opening remarks. And you meet from time to time and are going to be meeting shortly with your fellow leaders of that grouping. When you get together with them do you talk about these issues and compare perspectives and plans? And what do you see as the future of that grouping?
Dmitry Medvedev: I not only speak to them. After this meeting I’m going to Latin America where the BRIC summit will be held in Brazil. And this group, this community of countries today is formed already. This doesn’t mean that this is a full-fledged organisation, but these are four countries developing at a fast pace. And if we are able to find consolidated approaches, we can do that on many questions, not on all of them, but the things we discuss, like economy and politics, they’re important. And today, BRIC has become a factor of international development.
Does that mean that this is a community having an eternal shape and it is rigid? I don’t think so, but in order to change it we have to reach a common approach. We have to agree. Last year, when we met each other and discussed these issues in Russia, with all of the statesmen of BRIC, we discussed national measures and economic development. This is very good for us. And the outlook of our society is positive and we’re going to develop this structure.
Strobe Talbott: Ambassador Sestanovich, the last question will be yours.
Ambassador Sestanovich: Stephen Sestanovich, Council on Foreign Relations. This is probably the first Brookings event at which two questions about Kyrgyzstan have been asked. This is number two. Since the…
Dmitry Medvedev: The Kyrgyzstani nation will be happy.
Ambassador Sestanovich: After the ousting of President Bakiyev, some analysts, including in Russia, have noted how critical Russia was of him, and said that Russia was angry that Kyrgyzstan had not kicked the Americans out of the base. Can you clarify this? Can you say that Russia has no objection to American access to the base in Kyrgyzstan to support our operations in Afghanistan?
Dmitry Medvedev: Mr Sestanovich, how can Russia ever object to sovereign decisions made by other states? This is their decision. We can either like it or not, but it’s a decision made by the Kyrgyzstani leadership, and President Bakiyev is a coherent person. He first said that he was going to make a decision to eliminate the American base in Kyrgyzstan, and then he made the very same coherent decision to maintain the Centre for Transit Movement. I believe that coherency and consistency is always the best characteristic of a politician. The more coherent a person is, the better his results are. And we can see the results of the incumbent Kyrgyzstani president now. It does not mean, though, that we in some way are trying to impede that. On the contrary, when I met President Bakiyev, I always told him it is necessary to assist our US partners in addressing the tasks in Afghanistan.
The other question is how effective this assistance is. Therefore, all the possibilities were there.
Strobe Talbott: Mr President, before I say a few words of thanks to you, I just want to ask our friends in the audience please remain seated after we have concluded the programme so that I can escort President Medvedev out of the building.
To you, sir, I would just like to express particular appreciation not just for the substance of what you have said, which was remarkable in its breadth and its depth and in its candor, but also the spirit that you brought to this discussion. You opened your remarks, first of all, by quoting our founder, Robert S. Brookings. He would be very proud indeed to have his name associated with this event today.
You also said some kind words about the summit that President Obama hosted. I’m sure you’ve had a chance to express those to him. But obviously that meeting set a very high standard, a very unusual standard, but you’ve done the same thing here with this discussion. And I can sense, I know enough people around the room, and I know the body English and the body Russian, to have a pretty high degree of confidence that we all are in your debt for spending this much time with us and covering as much ground as you did.
So I’d ask all of you to please join me in thanking President Medvedev and hope that you have safe travels.