Question: President Dmitry Medvedev, thanks very much for joining us on CNN. Now, European leaders as well as US leaders, including President Bush, have issued strongly worded statements urging you not to recognize the Georgian breakaway territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. But you have not heeded them and have taken the decision to recognize them. Should this be interpreted as a direct challenge to the West?
President of Russia Dmitry Medvedev: No, this is not a challenge, this is a well thought out decision. A whole number of circumstances made taking this step necessary. What are those circumstances?
For more than 17 years Russia has done its best trying to prevent this development and trying to maintain the territorial integrity of Georgia. We did so at all levels and in all international forums. And even when Kosovo was proclaimed a subject of international law we did not make a similar statement with regards to these two republics. But we were obliged to recognize their independence after people were killed. You know the first time bloodshed occurred was under President Gamsakhurdia at the beginning of the 90s and now, unfortunately, it happened again in 2008 under President Saakashvili. And in doing so he dashed all the hopes that these three peoples: Georgians, Ossetians and the Abkhaz people, could live together in one state. And for us to take this step was the only way we could prevent further bloodshed, prevent further escalation of the conflict, and to prevent the deaths of thousands of innocent civilians.
And this is the first reason why we acted in this way. The second reason is that every people has a right to self-determination. This is provided for in the provisions of the UN Charter, the relevant international conventions and the Helsinki Final Act. And if another state believes that a people has expressed its will to have an independent existence and conducts a referendum, which actually was the case in both of these two republics, any other state in the world has the right to recognize this independence, whether others like it or not. Our colleagues said more than once that Kosovo was a casus sui generis, a special case. But in that case, we can also say that South Ossetia and Abkhazia are also sui generis.
In such circumstances we decided to recognize their independence.
Question: Let’s turn to the issue of Kosovo. You objected to the recognition of the independence of Kosovo because it violated international law. Your recognition of the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia violates those same laws. Is not that a double-standard?
Dmitry Medvedev: No, we do not think this is a double-standard. I would like to once again draw your attention to the fact that each state can determine whether it wants to recognize a certain people as a subject of international law or not. In our opinion the situation that took place in Kosovo did not merit this decision and Kosovo did not have enough requirements for it to be recognized as a subject of international law. However, I have to admit that not all states agreed with us and a number of other countries did recognize the independence of Kosovo. But in this particular case, in our opinion, the situation existed for 17 years, during which ethnic cleansing was conducted and cases of genocide took place, both in the early 90s and now it has happened again. So the situation in this particular case is quite different and therefore we believe that under the UN Charter, the Declaration of 1970 and the Helsinki Act of 1975 we have every legal ground to recognize the independence of these two republics.
Question: Mr President, you ordered Russia forces into South Ossetia and elsewhere in Georgia, in Abkhazia as well, for what you called humanitarian reasons, to prevent killings and further civilian victims, as well as Russian peacekeepers who were under threat. Would you send forces in to Georgia again, if necessary, or would you do so in other countries from the former Soviet Union?
Dmitry Medvedev: I have already said that the situation has changed. After having recognized their independence in the Decree that I signed, of course our country will help ensure the security of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. And if there is an attack against them we will, of course, provide them with all necessary assistance. As to interfering in other areas, in other conflicts, of course we have no plans for such interference, and we will not do so. But Russia is an independent sovereign state and it has the right to decide what it has to do to promote its interests particularly in the areas along its borders. That is obvious.
Question: Mr President, you have inherited the Russian leadership at a very intense time for relations between Russia and the West. And there are outstanding issues between the US and Russia: missile defense and a number of other issues. What steps would you like to see the next president of the US take in order to rebuild a cooperative partnership with Moscow?
Dmitry Medvedev: I have talked about this more than once. We will be ready to work with any American administration that the American people choose. We believe that the most important thing is that the new leaders of the US be guided by the real interests of the American people rather some farfetched ideological scheme. And if this does indeed happen, then I am sure that we will be in a position to reach an agreement on the very widest range of issues. We want to avoid any controversies and we would like to avoid a new edition of the Cold War. We would like to have full-value constructive relationships with our western partners including with the US. But to do so we need a dose of pragmatism and mutual respect.
Question: So no new Cold war, but President Medvedev, do you believe that we are at the start of a prolonged and painful period of worsening relations in light of disagreements on a number of issues, including Georgia, missile defense and Iran?
Dmitry Medvedev: We do have disagreements. But they are not fatal and if we don’t blow up this problem into something it’s not, if we don’t try to start a new Cold War then it will not take place.
As to Iran, together with our other partners, including the US, we are going to cooperate intensively on this issue and try to consolidate our position. There are no major contradictions here.
As to the missile defense problem, of course we do not like to see new missile bases and radar stations being built along our borders. We have repeatedly stated our displeasure on this account. But nevertheless, we never interrupted the negotiating process, we are ready to continue exchanges on this difficult problem. The issue is the explanation that was given to us when we asked why such bases are needed, why these radar stations and missile bases are being built. They told us they are designed to confront the threat posed by rogue states, but then you have to prove that. Meanwhile, our perception is that all these weapon systems are being accumulated around our borders to put further pressure on Russia. We don’t like this but nevertheless we are quietly and constructively engaging in dialogue on this topic.
As to Georgia, the conflict between Georgia and South Ossetia, and previous hostilities between Georgia and Abkhazia, all is now up to the West. If they don’t blow this out of proportion into a new conflict but adopt a pragmatic approach then everything will be all right.