Question: Dmitry Anatolyevich, you have described the position of the SCO leaders on our peacekeeping efforts in Abkhazia and South Ossetia as unified. Can you tell me just what this unity consists of?
President of Russia Dmitry Medvedev: As you know, this is certainly the most dramatic series of events in recent times. Of course I had to tell our partners in the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation what had actually happened, because unfortunately the picture painted by some of the Western media differed significantly from the real state of affairs: who was the aggressor, who started all this, and who should bear the political, moral and ultimately legal responsibility for what happened. So I told them what happened, and I told them what motivated and guided us in deciding on the operation to oblige Georgia to restore peace and in making our subsequent decisions.
Our colleagues in the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation gratefully received this information, and during a series of conversations we concluded that such events certainly do not strengthen the world order, and that the party that unleashed the aggression should be responsible for its consequences. And of course attention was drawn to the fact that now in this new phase of conflict resolution we must fully abide by those principles included in the agreement that was prepared by France and Russia and signed by the parties to the conflict. That was what we talked about. I am very pleased to have been able to discuss this with our colleagues and to have received from them this kind of support for our efforts.
Question: Dmitry Anatolyevich, can you tell us whether the authority of the SCO has increased, how many members it has, what the Organisation’s new roles are, and the extent to which it can become a real counterbalance to NATO?
Dmitry Medvedev: You know, the SCO has never taken upon itself to act as a counterbalance to NATO. After all, NATO is a military bloc, whereas the SCO is an organisation that aims to ensure security. It also performs a different role and operates in a different area. That said, I believe that the SCO has become much stronger in recent times: it is a widely respected organisation that is listened to, an organisation capable of producing not only recommendations but also real solutions. And the discussions it carries out in both open and of course closed formats show what a substantive contribution it has to make.
Even the documents that were signed today are more than just a declaration of what we would like to do. They represent real work on issues related to terrorism, on issues related to combating international crime, fighting drug trafficking, providing regional mediation services and exploring an array of economic projects that do not conflict with other means of integration available to our countries but rather complement them.
In this way the SCO has developed into a full-fledged, important, regional organisation that is attracting a lot of attention. As a result, a number of states have asked about becoming members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation. As you know there are rules concerning this. We have currently imposed a moratorium on the admission of new members. Today we agreed to create a special working group that will consider all the consequences of enlargement of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, and if there is clear agreement – and that is crucial since here one can only proceed by consensus – then we will make the necessary decisions.
But it is equally important to have formats in which observers can participate, in which they can take part in extensive discussions. Today we agreed that we can simply invite individual nations to discuss individual problems. And still there are other sorts of partnerships that will allow those who are not yet full members to take an active part in the discussion of a variety of issues. All of this clearly will benefit the Organisation, because in this way we will have the opportunity to discuss a wide variety of issues and consequently to influence a wide variety of events. I am therefore very pleased with the way the discussions went and with the results that we have reached today.
Now the presidency is in Russia’s hands: the next summit of the Shanghai Organisation will be held in Yekaterinburg in June of next year (we agreed to move the event to June, to the first half of June), where Russia will preside. We are now working on the issues to be discussed there. Of course life will provide us with new issues.
Question: Dmitry Anatolyevich, can I ask about Ukraine? Once again [President of Ukraine Viktor] Yushchenko has declared that the fleet cannot leave from Sevastopol, that rents will have to be raised, and that there should be a census of all the Ukrainians in Crimea…
Dmitry Medvedev: It’s difficult for me to comment on my colleague’s statement. Any president has the right to make statements within the area of his own authority.
Regarding the problem of the fleet, these problems must be resolved, and I have already spoken about this in light of two legal facts. The first of them involves the special agreement concerning the fleet. Our fleet acts on the basis of such an agreement and is performing its duties accordingly. All sorts of procedures can be governed by such an agreement. Let me draw your attention to the fact that any international agreement takes precedence over decrees or orders of local authorities, in so far as international law is concerned.
And the second legal fact is that the Black Sea Fleet is an integral part of the Russian Armed Forces. The Russian Armed Forces answer to the Commander-in-Chief. According to the Constitution, the Commander-in-Chief is the President. This constitutes the basis on which we will proceed. Everything else is mere emotion and I don’t want to comment on it.