Question: Good afternoon, Mr President. Thank you for this warm welcome on the Black Sea coast just a few dozen kilometres from the border with Abkhazia. The map shows Abkhazia as a region of Georgia, but to your misfortune it has become an independent state. For decades the Kremlin said that to redraw borders would be to open a Pandora’s Box and that if anyone started doing this the whole world would end up paying the price. Why have you now decided to recognise the independence of these two Georgian regions – Abkhazia and South Ossetia?
President of Russia Dmitry Medvedev: It is a matter of choosing the lesser evil. We still hold that territorial integrity is one of the fundamental principles of law. We have tried repeatedly over these last 17 years to preserve Georgia’s territorial integrity with the help of our peacekeeping contingent, with the help of international efforts, and by simply trying to prevent bloodshed and killing in South Ossetia and Abkhazia. This has not achieved results. In August, the Saakashvili regime launched an unprecedented new, insolent and bloody aggression. By doing so he ended hopes for a unified state in which Georgians, Ossetians and Abkhazians could live together. In this situation, to protect these people’s interests and give them the chance to realise their right to self-determination, we made this decision in accordance with international law and the UN Charter.
Question: Six months ago, America, France and a number of European countries decided to recognise Kosovo’s independence. At that time, Vladimir Putin, your prime minister, said that this was a boomerang that ‘could come back to hit you on the head’. Do you think that Abkhazia is this boomerang he spoke of?
Dmitry Medvedev: Even if it were a boomerang it would be better that it didn’t come back, but now that what has happened has happened, we are going to have to live with it.
Question: On the international stage today you have the war with Georgia, tension with NATO and unstable relations with some European countries. How do you see the future? Will it bring an end to strategic partnership with European countries, with the whole world, and perhaps a new Cold War?
Dmitry Medvedev: I do not want any Cold War. It gave humanity nothing but problems. We will do everything we can to avoid this, but the ball is in Europe’s court now, and if they want to worsen relations, they will of course achieve this. If they want to preserve our strategic relations – and I think this is absolutely in the interests of both Russia and Europe – then everything will be normal.
Question: What Europeans see is that people in South Ossetia speak Russian, pay in Russian roubles, and many of them have Russian passports. This is not recognition of South Ossetia as an independent state but is secession from and conflict with Georgia, and a possible future merger with Russia. Does this signal a return of Russia’s imperial ambitions, a restoration of the empire?
Dmitry Medvedev: Empires, as a rule, cannot be rebuilt and to pine for the imperial past is a big mistake indeed. At the same time, we have to think about the people who have Russian passports and live in neighbouring regions. The decisions we have taken all have one sole objective, and that is to give these people a decent life and the chance to realise the rights accorded them by the UN Charter. Living together with Georgia has not worked. They all at one time separately became part of the Russian state – the Ossetians, the Abkhazians, and the Georgians too. The attempt to live together has not worked and the blame for this lies fully with Georgia.
Question: Mr President, two weeks ago, you agreed in talks with Mr Sarkozy that you would withdraw Russian forces from Georgia. But some of the Russian forces are still wandering the roads from the west to the east of the country, and the biggest port, the country’s economic lungs, is still under your control. This does not respect the agreements signed. Why are you not respecting the agreement?
Dmitry Medvedev: We are respecting the agreement in full and Russian forces are not wandering about anywhere but have withdrawn, as I said during my last conversation with President Sarkozy. Russian forces are present only in the security zone, in accordance with the six principles. As for the Georgian port of Poti, it is not under our control and we are not blockading it – this is all nonsense.
Question: But the port does not figure in the agreement?
Dmitry Medvedev: The port of Poti is not under our control. Cargoes are being unloaded there. American warships are coming with arms for the Georgians – everything is OK — they are doing what they want. As far as I am aware, the destroyer McFaul entered the port of Poti a few hours ago. The port is alive and flourishing.
Question: Do you think that after this war Georgia is entitled only to limited sovereignty?
Dmitry Medvedev: I think that Georgia should be a normal and full-fledged state. As for its sovereignty, this is a complicated question of course and it will be ultimately determined by its relations with its neighbours. But what has happened has changed the situation and Georgia has entered a new era. I think that Georgia will have to draw conclusions from the events that have taken place. This is a serious lesson about how to build relations with neighbours and with the peoples who at one time were part of Georgia.
Question: What exactly do you mean by this?
Dmitry Medvedev: Exactly what I just said.
Question: Mr President, you won the war against Georgia without much difficulty, but every coin has two faces. Russia’s action has frightened its neighbours, Poland for example, which has now signed an agreement on missile defence with the Americans, Ukraine, which plans to join NATO, and Germany, which gave its support to the military operations in Georgia. Don’t you think this is a high price to pay? That’s not to mention that the Moscow stock exchange has tumbled.
Dmitry Medvedev: I’ll start with your last point. The economy is a very important element of course, but the problems on the stock exchange are not due just to the military operations carried out but also to the crisis underway on the global market, and above all in the American economy. They would do well to work on improving the economic climate. As for our friends who are nervous, some of them have been nervous for a long time now and I think they are reacting not to this conflict but simply to historical phantoms.
Regarding the situation overall, I think things will calm down, our European partners will know how to tell the wheat from the tares, and we will build normal and productive relations for the future. There will be no faces at all to this coin.