President of Russia Dmitry Medvedev: Good afternoon, colleagues,
I am pleased to have this opportunity to meet with you to discuss the issues of most relevance today. You all represent the main civil society organisations in our country. There are people here from the Public Council, religious leaders, heads of public organisations, people of arts, cultural figures, members of the academic and education communities.
You make a representative group of our society and I would like to take this chance to discuss with you issues concerning our country’s development today. That this meeting brings together such a broad range of organisations is not a chance decision but is connected to the situation in our society since August 8 and the dramatic events that took place in the Caucasus.
We will talk about this publicly first and more confidentially later. But the first thing I want to say to you, and I hope that everyone will hear, is that our society’s development priorities really do remain unchanged despite the tragic events of August. Indeed, what has happened has only made our priorities more important than ever. No new external circumstances and even less any pressure on Russia from outside can turn us from our strategic course of building a free, progressive and democratic state and society.
We will tolerate no delay in pursuing our goals of developing the economy, encouraging business activity and increasing creative and personal freedom on the pretext that the country is in danger and ‘surrounded by enemies’. There will be no such thing. This choice of ours, a choice long since made, it was not decided in order to please this or that country but is the hard-won choice of our people.
Second, innovative economic development is our crucial task today. In today’s international situation modernising our country is our primary goal. There is simply no other way to build a strong and influential Russia. I discussed this and several other issues just recently with business community leaders. But new ideas and developments come not so much from the business community. The business community can provide support, but the ideas should come from the sectors you represent, science, education and culture.
Over these coming years, the entire state system is going to focus on searching for innovators, coming up with and developing the most interesting new ideas. We need to create new incentives to encourage the emergence of advanced social and economic models
Freedom provides the key to innovative development. This is related to the idea of competition. The winners today are those who give more freedom for intellectual development and who protect intellect from anything that could restrict and confine it. This is our common task and we will work on it.
Third, we will continue to implement the national development concept for the period through to 2020. This development concept is based on an innovative approach and personal self-realisation. But no concept or document of any sort should be taken as dogma. Change is always possible and we are ready to study any proposals you may have and support them if a consensus is reached.
Fourth, we will work consistently to strengthen our national security, modernise our army and raise our country’s defence capability to an adequate level, a level that we will set in relation to the current situation. This is not something we can measure once and for all.
Fifth, even amidst the dramatic changes that have taken place in our world we are always ready to continue dialogue with all of our partners without exception. I have spoken about this on numerous occasions when speaking to the press, and I have set it out in our five main foreign policy principles. We will work towards ensuring that the new world order respects international law not in word but in deed. I have spoken about this too already. Humanity did not spend the twentieth century in vain, for the lessons of the great tragedies the century brought opened the way to developing a system of international law. I think that not only should we not forget the foundations of international law, but we need to work on implementing it in practice, in our relations with all other civilised countries, taking into account the current reality and the lessons of the Caucasus crisis too.
One of the goals of today’s meeting is to hold an open discussion on the situation in the world and the situation in our country following Georgia’s aggression in South Ossetia. As I have already said before, it is clear for us that it is not the Georgian people who are guilty of aggression and genocide, but the criminal and irresponsible regime that started this war. This is a distinction we need to make clear in international relations and also at the human level.
Our peoples have had fraternal relations for centuries now. More than a million Georgians live in Russia and consider it their homeland, and we, by the way, value the fact that they have shown understanding for the actions the Russian Federation was forced to take.
Of course, propaganda, including the propaganda that accompanied the Georgian regime’s military campaign, has had a negative effect, but we are confident that the Georgian people can see reason and we will do all we can to restore normal human contacts and relations.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who condemned this act of aggression, everyone who responded to the calls for humanitarian aid and support.
I also want to say that at this difficult time for the country our civil society has shown itself to be responsible and mature and has once again proven that civil peace is one of modern Russia’s greatest achievements. The events that took place had no effect on our country’s stability and did not spark xenophobia or interethnic strife, and this is also very important. This shows that our democracy is developing and is capable of defending itself as a political regime and form of state organisation.
We will work consistently and with thoroughness on the objectives we have set, have set ourselves, and will promote the creation of a progressive and democratic society. I especially want to stress this. This is true civic spirit and genuine patriotism.
Patriotism, after all, is about helping the country succeed, and thus helping each family and each citizen succeed, helping to modernise the state, helping the country establish itself as a technological leader and promoting its intellectual development. Only in this way can we truly improve our people’s lives.
These are just a few opening remarks. I would like to give the floor to you now. Some things I will comment on later, and perhaps add some more extensive remarks on issues that interest you.
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Before letting the members of press go, I would like to make a few remarks before we begin our informal discussion. As far as an assessment of the situation goes, there have been many assessments already. I will perhaps add some further comments later, but one thing is absolutely clear today, even for those who do not say it aloud, and that is that the current security system has broken down and, unfortunately, has proven completely ineffective. If this is the case, humanity has two options: either act without rules based on the idea that a small number of countries with big military power will dictate the rules, though this is a bad option, or try to build a modern new base for international cooperation.
I have already said this and I say again now that the idea of drafting a pan-European security treaty has become even more relevant after the events in the Caucasus. This is something clear even to those who have said in private talks with me that nothing of the sort is needed, for NATO will take care of everything and make all the decisions. But what has NATO decided, what has NATO taken care of? All it has done is provoke a conflict.
The second point I want to make is also something I have spoken about already. Issues are constantly broached now that finally Russia will show its true face, the authorities have thrown aside their masks and Russia will revert to its typical authoritarian regime leaning towards dictatorship, the hawks have won, and no further proof is needed.
We realise what motivates this talk. In effect, we are being pushed towards a development road based not on full, normal, and civilised cooperation with other countries but on autonomous development behind high walls, behind an iron curtain. I want to make it clear that this is not our road. We have no interest in returning to the past. We have made our choice, no matter what the words of those who interpret these events as suits them best.
Third, the world today is open and global, politically and economically. The economy is global. We know that when a crisis happens, a big crisis, the depression that affects the United States today, all market economies face problems. This is what the main economic players should be working on now.
We discussed this issue in part during the G8 summit in Japan, but our partners did not wish to make these issues a key priority on the agenda. Perhaps if we had been able to agree on some common rules in the crisis situation the consequences of the depression on the American stock and financial markets would have been a lot less severe. Of course, there is no way of fully avoiding this cyclical downturn, but the impact could have been lessened. This is an issue for the international agenda, something we need to work on. We need to make headway on these kinds of big projects and not try to play clever. Everybody needs to act as honest partners. It’s easy to tell others what to do. I go into the Internet this morning and see that our American friends are saying that they will continue to provide assistance to teachers, doctors, scientists, trade union leaders and judges in the Russian Federation. The judges especially struck me as something quite exceptional. What do they mean exactly? Are they planning to buy off our judges or something, support corruption? If it is joint programmes they are referring to, such programmes are usually carried out with countries that share a similar vision of the main processes underway in the world. If things continue in this direction we will soon see them choosing our presidents for us.
But regardless of all this, we are committed to full dialogue. We are not trying to teach anyone any lessons. We would like others to listen to our arguments and we want our international partners to understand the difficult choice we have made of late. We will continue to work on this regardless of the various foolish words we hear from different quarters.
I want to say a few words to start off the discussion. I make no claims to the truth of course; this is simply the Russian President’s point of view I am putting forward.
We realize that any decision to use military force is always extremely complicated, especially when you are looking at using military force abroad. Obviously, the same question always comes up in this situation: is there not some way of avoiding a war, pretend that nothing has happened, keep quiet a while and then wrathfully condemn all that took place later, in the international arena?
We understand that all views have a right to exist, but we also have to understand that at the moment the Rubicon had already been crossed. The conflict was already real. Our country played the role of peacekeeper for 17 years. We did all we could to help the Georgian leadership despite the reproaches we heard and the shoves from behind our peacekeepers received. We kept up our work, kept helping regardless.
I can say quite frankly that during my first meeting with Saakashvili in St Petersburg after my inauguration as President, the first thing I said to him was, “Keep in mind that we support your country’s territorial integrity so long as no new decisions changing the situation are made at international level, and we will help you, but you too need to behave decently. You need to engage in dialogue and not threaten these two unrecognised autonomous regions with guns, tanks and Grad [artillery systems]”. For a time it seemed to me that our Georgian colleagues had taken these arguments on board. There seemed to be a wish to meet, and at the last meeting I was told that the Georgian leader wanted to come to Sochi to talk. We even agreed on the documents we could sign, but later, regrettably, as a result of the activities of a power outside the region (the United States of America), the situation changed. The [U.S.] Secretary of State arrived in Tbilisi, sang some tune, and this person [Saakashvili] decided on war, stopped talking with our Foreign Ministry, stopped writing letters and let the issue of a meeting drop. Through completely secondary channels I received the information that there was no point meeting now and that we should meet in December instead. I already had my suspicions by then of course about where all of this was heading. But no one could have imagined it would all be so primitive and immoral. In this situation, the actions we undertook, the decisive action of our army and the heroism of our soldiers and officers prevented what would have been much greater problems for our country. We saved people’s lives and stopped the situation in the Caucasus from becoming a global crisis. When I meet with leaders of other countries, above all leaders from the Caucasus countries – they all have different domestic political situations, problems of their own, some of them have problems concerning territorial integrity and there are some things they cannot say publicly – but they all say without exception that if we had not intervened the situation in the Caucasus could have taken the most tragic turn.
But aside from considerations of justice and symmetry there are also legal considerations that for me, as someone with a legal education, someone with a legal mind, have always been important. I think that we acted absolutely within the bounds of international law. We have now recognised the sovereignty of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, and concluded intergovernmental treaties with them, but our prior action was also strictly in keeping with the provisions of international law. You know that Article 51 of the United Nations Charter provides for the right to individual and collective self defence.
A special resolution passed by the UN General Assembly in 1974 gives a definition of what constitutes an act of aggression, and this definition corresponds fully to the situation that we faced.
In serious conversation – not in public statements but in serious conversation – no one even tries to deny the fact that Georgia launched an attack without warning, that is, launched a treacherous attack, against the civilian population and our peacekeeping contingent.
No less important to me — and something I also want to say here — is that the head of state is responsible for protecting human rights and civil liberties. This is stipulated in Article 2 of our Constitution. As the guarantor of the Constitution I had to do everything within my power.
We should not forget that our citizens live in South Ossetia. There are differing attitudes regarding this issue. Some ask why we handed out passports to these people. But what does this mean, ‘handed out passports?’ These people did not see any protection from the Georgian state. They wanted to become Russian citizens. That’s not to mention the fact that, essentially, they already were Russian citizens in that they were citizens of one big country and never saw themselves as separate from it. This whole issue of giving them passports is not some geopolitical game of course but simply our reaction to these people’s request. If others in other places request the same, we will behave in exactly the same way, in situations that concern our former compatriots above all, of course.
Another subject that has come in for much discussion is whether the self-defence measures taken were sufficient or out of proportion. When we spoke on the telephone on August 9, that is, when the military campaign was in full swing, President Bush said that our action was out of proportion. I am curious what kind of proportionality he meant But he couldn’t give me any answer when I asked him what he would have done in this situation. Moreover, when I said to him that he would long since have already been in Tbilisi by then he did not even comment.
I think it is absolutely evident that the military measures we took were in keeping with the situation. We could not stop at the border between South Ossetia and Georgia even if we wanted to do so simply in order not to let the scale of the conflict grow. To do so would have been to abandon the Ossetians and betray the memory of our soldiers and peacekeepers who had already lost their lives by that moment, because the Georgian forces would have regrouped over two or three days, and given that they’d already done what they had once, they would certainly have done it again or would have provoked us constantly. The Georgian military machine is no longer able to undertake such action at present, but others are busy building it up again.
I spoke with the Defence Minister today and he said that some 80 planes with humanitarian cargo have landed near Tbilisi. It is extremely irresponsible behaviour to bring the world to the brink of conflict and then continue supplies to a regime that has bankrupted itself. The Americans know, after all, the state of the Georgian leadership. They know what Saakashvili is doing. I spoke about this when I met with political analysts.
How can you send arms to someone in a mentally unbalanced state? What are they hoping to achieve? Do they want a global conflict?
Unfortunately, the conflict has overturned the international agreements that were signed earlier, and this is very sad. I cannot give assessment of the actions of the Georgian leadership, who used planes and Grad artillery systems against people supposedly a part of their own population. This is genocide. It is laughable when people suggest that we should first count the dead, implying that such and such a number and it would be genocide, but 100 people less and it is not genocide. Of course, only people who used their aircraft to bomb Yugoslav territory for 90 days could think this way. What happened there was not genocide of course.
In any event, we have complied in full with our international obligations. I think that neither our peacekeeping contingent nor our state need feel any shame. On the contrary, we did all we could to keep the conflicting sides apart until Georgian troops began firing on our peacekeepers from behind. This goes beyond the bounds of good and evil. History has never known a case like this of peacekeepers being shot at. Yes, they were not liked, yes, they were from Russia, and maybe you do not like the country they represent, but how can you fire on peacekeepers? When I said this to Bush, he took note because, from various information that I received subsequently, he always brought this up with the Georgian leadership, despite all the filial feelings present: the Georgian leadership and Saakashvili in particular are of course a personal project of the Bush administration and a number of his senior advisers.
Another issue I want to address: I would like to explain why we recognised the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. The international grounds for this decision have already been presented and I spoke about them in my comments on my own Decree and in other remarks. This decision was based on the United Nations Charter of course. I stress too the fact that we have the right to recognise anyone’s independence without any international forums, discussions and decisions. There are no procedures for recognition. If a state has emerged, in our view, if we think a people has decided on its future and is in a difficult situation, it is our right to recognise independence.
Furthermore, right up until the military conflict we really did try to help the Georgian leadership hold their crumbling state together. But the military conflict was the event that changed the substance of our international obligations. International law contains a principle stating that agreements remain in force so long as the circumstances that gave rise to them continue to exist. In this sense, we are also within the provisions of international law.
It is enough to remember what happened in Kosovo. After all, no one has revoked Resolution 1244, which speaks of territorial integrity and other issues related to the development of events in Yugoslavia. But Kosovo’s independence was recognised on the basis that the situation had changed.
I therefore think that, unfortunately, we had no other option. We prevented the bloodshed for a very long time, but after what happened there was no other mechanism for resolving this problem. Yes, this creates a number of problems for us. It is clear that recognition of South Ossetia and Abkhazia will not be a rapid process. Some countries will recognise them and others will not. Ultimately, this will not affect these countries’ future. International law already knows a number of similar examples.
In any case, we hope that with time the situation will improve in this respect. We are not going to ask anyone to recognise South Ossetia and Abkhazia. We have no need to do this. We have made our choice, a choice within the framework of international law. Those who wish to will recognise these countries. There will be no campaign, no appeals, no economic hints. The road is open and each country will decide for itself. That is what I wanted to say regarding this conflict.
I would like to add a few words about the situation in the world in general. Of course we do not want any cold war. We have no interest in it and we know what consequences it would have. I mentioned at some point that we do not want it but we do not fear it. I am convinced that no one has any interest in it now. If you have been following events you would have noticed that the point came when our partners’ hardline rhetoric began to change, because they have practically no levers of influence and it is clear at the same time that taking this road would only make life more complicated. In whose interest is it to maintain close contacts between Russia and NATO? It is in NATO’s interest of course. We get nothing from it. They have always done as they pleased. They have crept closer to our borders, set up their bases, taken in more and more new members. What do we gain from this? They do not propose their membership plan nor undertake any deep-reaching cooperation. The nuclear weapons targeted against the Russian Federation since the Soviet era remain so to this day, and as for the missile defence system being set up close to our borders, only a fool could believe it is directed against Iran.
But at the same time, the help we give NATO takes concrete form in cooperation on Afghanistan, Iraq and some other problem areas. So, there is no point in trying to scare us in this respect, but we are not going to fire off either, say that we do not need anything from you. If you do not treat us decently we will respond. But if you behave decently, we will most certainly cooperate in all different areas. There is not a single area in which we would not like to cooperate with the West, with the United States and the countries of Europe.
That is what I wanted to say for the sake of discussion. I imagine I have not answered all of your questions, but I hope that I have at least made some things clear.
NIKOLAI SVANIDZE, CHAIRMAN OF THE PUBLIC COUNCIL COMMISSION ON INTERETHNIC RELATIONS AND FREEDOM OF CONSCIENCE: The President spoke today about issues of principled importance. I would like to come back to one of these issues now.
This serious polemic that has developed, above all with the United States and the West in general, has clear causes: specific regional causes and more general geopolitical causes. But whatever the case, these causes look nothing like those that in their time led to the cold war, the classic version, in which two hostile regimes and two diametrically opposed social and ideological systems, which found the world too small for both of them to share, were locked in irreconcilable struggle. Today’s situation is completely different. What interests and worries me above all today is the domestic, internal Russian, component of this situation. We know from historical experience that every time a chill settles on relations with the West it starts to freeze things up inside our country too. This chill manifests itself in a militarized economy, militarized rhetoric, a reinforcement of and sole resort to the use of administrative and security levers, pressure on the mass media to keep in line and so on. I think this is a constant threat, ongoing and latent in nature, but in this case there are two factors acting as catalysts. One is the acute global economic and financial crisis, which affects our country too, and the other is the moral and psychological consequences of this brief war we have won.
These kinds of brief victorious wars always create a natural surge in patriotic spirit and boost public confidence in a country’s leadership, which is a good thing of course, but as a result we end up with the following picture.
On the one hand we have a difficult economic situation with some crisis manifestations, and we have poor relations with the West. Separately, and all the more so together, both of these things provoke us into a reflective search for simpler, more basic and comprehensible steps such as tightening the screws. On the other hand, we have a clear popular mandate to tighten the screws. That is to say, these kinds of simple and comprehensible steps would be popular and in the short term would not create any problems and inconveniences. An entirely different matter is that in the long term the assessment would change completely, and in the medium term we would have to say goodbye to the principled reforms you have announced, Dmitry Anatolyevich, in particular the plans to make the courts more independent, strengthen the court system and fight corruption, because ‘the time is not right’, the ‘country is in danger’ and so on.
These are the worries I wanted to share with you, and I would be happy if you could dispel them for me.
Dmitry Medvedev: I think your fears are natural and I understand you completely. But I do not see anything specifically Russian here. Any situation such as the events that took place in the Caucasus, regardless of whether it is a small victorious war or a long and bloody conflict always leads to militarisation of the economy and tougher rhetoric. Look at the Americans during the cold war, the Korean war, the Vietnam war, they also had a big defence budget and a very hard-line militaristic rhetoric. And other countries behave the same way. The issue is not the response, the state’s natural defence, but rather the real intentions the society, leaders of public opinion and state leaders are pursuing.
I understand the logic in your words about how in such a situation it is always easier for the state to choose the clear-cut scenario, justify itself and set the country’s development on a different path. All I can say here is that this depends above all on the people standing at the helm of the state.
I cannot but agree with you when you say that the cold war people are talking about now is impossible for ideological reasons. Our people want to live in a modern country, a country that has resolved its main economic problems, an open country that can assure its people a decent level of consumption, the chance to travel abroad, save money, buy property and take care of their most important and day-to-day needs.
We have undergone great transformation since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Our society will not accept another development paradigm now, even if I or someone else wanted such a thing. The public consolidation generated by the military campaign in Georgia would fall to pieces if people began to sense that the values that have become familiar over these last 15 years were disappearing. You can tighten the screw in a totalitarian state, but I hope you all realise that our country is not such a state, or in a state at the low point of its decline, that is, a country in a state of permanent war, as was the case at one time in Russia. But neither of these situations applies to Russia today.
As for the leadership’s real intentions, I spoke about them before, and I would like to say now that they are not at all about satisfying our own military ambitions or obtaining short-term results. Our intention is to build a modern and strong country, a developed civil society and flourishing economy. This is what we will do.
ZALINA MEDOYEVA, MEMBER OF THE PUBLIC COUNCIL, MEMBER OF THE PUBLIC COMMISSION OF INQUIRY INTO THE WAR CRIMES IN SOUTH OSSETIA: As part of its work to help the civilians in South Ossetia, our commission organised for members of the Public Council to go to Tskhinvali. The delegation included representatives of public organisations and journalists from Russia and abroad.
Our work revealed that along with the extermination of the civilian population there was deliberate destruction of facilities related to the people’s culture, healthcare and education. In Tskhinvali, cultural monuments, museums, churches, libraries, the university, schools, kindergartens and social institutions were destroyed, and the cemetery of heroes of Ossetia was desecrated. The aggressors’ main aim was clearly not just to exterminate the people but destroy even their memory. We think these facts constitute what could be qualified as an attempt to carry out cultural genocide against the people of South Ossetia. This calls for serious investigation by the international organisations, above all UNESCO and probably the tribunal in The Hague. The paradox is that the tribunal in The Hague is currently examining a suit filed against Russia by the Saakashvili regime, accusing us of genocide of the Georgians.
Dmitry Anatolyevich, the question is, why has the appeal by the people of South Ossetia to the international organisations gone unanswered? And why is Russia, which prevented the extermination of an entire people, again forced to justify its actions and defend itself?
Dmitry Medvedev: Thank you. I will say a few more words later. Perhaps I will make some response straight away, perhaps a bit later on in our meeting.
Feofan, Archbishop of Stavropol and Vladikazkaz: I want to speak as someone who saw with my own eyes the tragic events of those days in South Ossetia. I was on the border with South Ossetia on August 8. The thing that most struck me was the endless stream of refugees, mostly children, women and old people. There is a convent on the road into South Ossetia and practically all of the 30,000 refugees passed through it. The picture was strange. In this respect the hypocrisy of the Western media, who accuse Russia of taking inappropriate action, is cynical.
On August 11, I was in Tskhinvali. The fighting was still going on. The bombs and artillery shells were not being directed against military targets (military barracks were being built there, but they were left untouched. It seems the attackers hoped to move in later) but against houses, schools and hospitals. In speaking of genocide we see plainly that an effort was made to destroy anywhere where the largest number of people would be gathered.
I was amazed by the huge number of Grad artillery shell fragments around residential housing blocks. I collected a few of these fragments. Several days later, I was in Berlin with a group of members of the Public Council, and we met with politicians and journalists. When they started discussing what happened in Tskhinvali they gave me the floor, and I gave them this fragment and said, “and now just picture that it was these fragments that came raining down the civilians of Tskhinvali”. They were all silent.
The Russian Orthodox Church was with its people and the people of South Ossetia right from the start. The monasteries and churches took in refugees. Following the call from His Holiness the Patriarch, we collected humanitarian aid and sent it to South Ossetia.
On the eve of these events, at the start of the summer, there was anxiety not only among the people of South Ossetia but also among broad sections of the elite in the Caucasus. Everyone was waiting to see what turn events would take. On the one hand, there were fears that Ossetia would be abandoned to its fate, and then there would probably have been big problems throughout the North Caucasus. This revealed a particular problem. To some extent, the North Caucasus requires a completely special approach. There is a need for clear and understandable national concept, especially in the North Caucasus.
Second, the North Caucasus has been in a conflict situation for many years now. I don’t know what you think, statesmen and the head of state, but there is a particular need for a clear system of government and management in the North Caucasus.
Another point: people are always trying from outside to promote the idea of confrontation between the different religions in Russia, especially between Orthodox and Muslims. On the twelfth, my colleagues and I gathered in Vladikavkaz at the initiative of the Russian Orthodox Church (the chairman of the coordinating council of Muslims of the North Caucasus is also here now) and we gave our assessment of the situation. Here is just one small quote from the joint declaration we adopted: “All of this is evidence of a deliberate effort to exterminate the people of South Ossetia. The laws, both human and divine, the principles of international law and the customs of the Caucasus have been desecrated and violated. In this situation, Russia’s role is particularly important as it has historically been the guarantor of peace, calm and stability in the Caucasus”.
This shows that religious leaders are not in confrontation, but rather they keep pace with the rest of their country jointly assessing what is happening.
VLADIMIR POTANIN, CHAIRMAN OF THE PUBLIC CHAMBER COMMISSON TO DEVELOP CHARITY AND IMPROVE LEGISLATION ON NON-PROFIT ORGANISATONS: At the meeting with businessmen last Monday that you just recalled, Dmitry Anatolyevich, we talked about providing charitable, humanitarian and other assistance to the people affected by the August tragedy. This assistance is now being provided through all possible channels: by entrepreneurs, business associations, public and religious organisations, volunteer organisations and ordinary citizens — as we’ve already discussed today.
Now we are implementing the idea you supported about creating a specialised fund that would unite the efforts of benefactors who have had trouble finding the necessary channels to transmit their assistance to affected public. The large degree of public interest which is now riveted on these issues will allow us to give a new impetus to work on the system to improve and perfect the conditions in which charities, volunteer and faith-based organisations operate.
I would suggest that these issues be discussed at a major representative public forum under your patronage and preferably with your personal participation, following which you would issue instructions that would accelerate the work wherever necessary.
Dmitry Medvedev: Let's meet and discuss this. I simply do not consider it appropriate to debate the subject now. I am ready to do so.
Vyacheslav Nikonov, Head of the Working Group On the Public Chamber’S International Activites: I completely agree with the assessment made here of events on 8 August and the recognition of two new independent states actually changed the distribution of power in the world. It radically changed the entire geopolitical system. The most important thing that happened: Russia has once again acted as a subject of international relations rather than an object who is informed about decisions taken by someone else sitting at the table of what is called the great game. We were at this table for at least three centuries, but were absent as of late 1991. As centuries of experience show, participation has definite and clear advantages, but also brings with it additional difficulties and dangers. It is also clear that there is no turning back.
Now, especially with regards to our relative weakness, it is important to adequately assess the challenges, available strategies and foreign policy tools we have. And the geo-strategic leadership of our country in the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries was based on one simply idea — to counter the rise of large states and groups of states on our state’s borders that could come to represent a direct threat to security. Hence our constant foreign policy principles: to answer the main challenges and provide strategic depth to the other directions.
Today the main sources of strategic depth are the CIS in the south and east, where there are many supporters of a multipolar world order. Key formats in this respect include the CSTO, the SCO in an expanded format, and the BRIC. A stability pact for the Caucasus with the participation of Russia, Turkey, Armenia, Azerbaijan and Iran is a very interesting idea. It is also possible to develop the idea of a Caspian stability pact by including Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan.
ASLAMBEK PASKACHEV, CHAIRMAN OF THE PRESIDIUM OF THE ALL-RUSSIA PUBLIC MOVEMENT ‘RUSSIAN CONGRESS OF THE PEOPLES OF THE CAUCASUS’: Since ancient times the people of the Caucasus have considered losing face to be the most terrible fate of any individual. This applies to individuals, to statesmen, and to the state as a whole. And developments in August in the Caucasus showed that Russia has not lost face as opposed to Saakashvili who has.
The Caucasus community has rightly accepted and believes Russia had no other options. And at the same time people note that all the armed conflicts of recent years in the Caucasus could have been prevented if the authorities in the early 90s had acted with the same determination and consistency.
Simultaneously, Caucasians welcome the fact that citizens of Russia did not indulge in xenophobic sentiments and harass Georgian nationals. At the same time, they consider it necessary to clearly and openly address the unresolved problems that have worsened in recent times: first and foremost large-scale unemployment, the lack of systematic work with young people, the preponderance of corruption, clanism, and the prevalent use of force in the fight against extremism, of worsening ethnic conflicts and many other problems.
Our proposals for the federal level include the establishment of a Presidential coordinating council for the Caucasus with the participation of the authorities and the public.
The task of such a council would consist in developing a new doctrine for the Caucasus which would take into account its very specific characteristics.
In addition, it would be charged with the development and implementation of specific programmes with young people, especially concerning employment and education. We have designed and partially implemented such an educational programme in the Chechen Republic.
We talk about these sensitive issues knowing full well that the authorities need more than ever to engage in frank conversation with those representatives of state interests in the Caucasus. Today it is clear that the Caucasus has become a meaningful part of Russia’s new geopolitical image. For our part, we are ready to do everything we can to help the authorities for the benefit of the peoples of the Caucasus and Russia.
Vladimir Khomeriki, President of the Russian-Georgian Peoples’ Unity Fund: The Georgian diaspora in Russia is very big — about a million people. Behind this diaspora there are also, perhaps, another three million people in Georgia.
What happened in those August days represents a huge blow to the entire Georgian people, the Georgian nation and the peoples living in Georgia. Over the past two or three years at least we have warned repeatedly that the harmful course pursued by Saakashvili’s regime would lead to the dismemberment of Georgia, perhaps the loss of its statehood and the suffering of the Georgian people. And we very much regret that our warning was not heeded. We consider what Georgia did on 8 August to amount to an act of civil war, a fratricidal war against our Ossetian brothers, a war directed against the Georgian people in general and against Georgian statehood.
Unfortunately, results are visible. Most unfortunately, the support that this regime receives bears witness to the fact that neither the Americans nor some of Saakashvili’s European or eastern partners have any interest at all in the fate of Georgia or the fate of the Georgian people. They were motivated by certain mercantile interests, and the Georgian people and the Georgian state were crushed by the enormous weight of geopolitical interests.
I want to say that from the very beginning we have been actively working with our Ossetian brothers, and we were perfectly aware of the situation. Today, to our great joy, the situation in Russia is stable. There is basically not a single fact of persecution of Georgians, no harassment or demonstrations of xenophobic sentiments, and this is very pleasant.
I also want to thank the Russian troops who, according to feedback from our relatives and friends and a huge number of messages that we received, acted correctly in Georgian territory and, of course, did not allow themselves to engage in looting and other activities that they are now being blamed for. On the contrary and to our delight, Russian troops provided and offered a wide range of humanitarian assistance and support to people who suffered at the hands of the leadership of Georgia and were forced to flee in fear, in fear because of the hysteria that the President of Georgia has unleashed within his territory today.
It is both shameful and pitiful to see and hear him celebrating with some kind of euphoria, claiming some kind of victory. What kind of victory can there be when he put the entire nation at risk? Today two Georgian territories have already separated and the country is threatened with further dismemberment. If today the Georgian people do not take the situation into their own hands, if proper government does not come to Georgia — a government which takes Georgia’s own interests into account (not Russia's interests, not American interests, but rather the interests of Georgia itself) — we will not succeed.
To a large extent Georgia’s interests lie with Russia. We are perfectly aware that no one really needs Georgia nor the Georgian people except the country that has supported it for centuries, Russia, the country that rescued Georgia from complete destruction in the eighteenth century by the so-called Treaty of Georgievsk (1783). We fully understand that today Georgia’s economic interests and those in all other spheres such as politics and geopolitics lie in Russia. I want to tell you that the Georgian people understand this. Today there is simply an unfortunate situation in which people are intimidated and, unfortunately, cannot exercise their constitutional rights and opportunities.
Alexander Chubaryan, Director of the World History Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences: What happened in the Caucasus is certainly one of the tragic events of our time, but I think it is important to consider the broader context. In history, any given international political system has always been replaced with a new one. This was the case with the Vienna system, with Versailles and also with the Yalta system after the Second World War. But as of 1990, in general nothing has been established — no new world order or system has arisen. And what was there during this long period of time, during almost 20 years? There was an attempt to form a new system based on the preponderance of one country and one bloc. This made the situation deteriorate and engendered great internal and external opposition and protests not only from Russia. What has happened now is something I would characterise as the tragic but very obvious failure of the system and those attempts.
I very much support the idea that we must now participate in the formation of a new international political system. It is very good that Russia has taken initiative in this regard. I would very much support the idea that the intelligentisa — on whom much depends – from the analytic, expert and academic communities be actively involved in the intensive development of a programme of action concerning the different possible elements of a new international political system, and put it forward for discussion at the international level.
Second. We must frankly acknowledge that since the early 1990s we now have been faced with an unprecedented attack by western public opinion as represented in the media. Combating this is very difficult, but I think that in this regard the role of intellectuals is also very important. Of course the main instrument, the main force we should use is a firm statement by our leadership, confirmed today by our president, that Russia will continue to develop along democratic lines and there is no possibility of reneging on this course. But I think that today the intelligentisa can also develop a whole system of action together with our partners, our large number of partners in different countries – both in the CIS and in the west – to mitigate these anti-Russian stereotypes and to restore cooperation on a constructive basis.
Denis Matsuev, Pianist: I would like to say a few words about what is happening in the musical and theatrical world in Russia and Georgia after the August events. On August 8 we were playing a concert with Valery Gergiev in Hamburg and I personally witnessed how he experienced this great tragedy: he is Ossetian and naturally his concert was amazing. You know that there was a mixed reaction in international and in European newspapers in particular. I also gave an interview to the Herald Tribune — mostly about my work and plans but I did also say a few words about what happened — and I know for sure that they were not reprinted in the newspaper.
And of course, what is happening now in the theatrical and musical spheres in Moscow in particular: I know that many masters of Georgian theatre and composers have begun to cancel their performances in Russia and this is a very sad thing. I should play a solo concert on 24 October in Tbilisi Conservatory and I was advised to cancel because there are no guarantees that a provocation will not occur and so on. Of course, this is a pity because I perfectly remember my previous performance in Tbilisi — it was a fantastic audience that came to the hall, with a great musical culture. And I do not know whether I should ask for your advice on whether I should go to Georgia. I don’t know but I think that we must not break our cultural ties with Georgia because there is a tremendous number of talented and brilliant people there.
Dmitry Medvedev: Dennis Leonidovich, you know that this decision is, of course, yours to make; it is a personal decision. You are famous throughout the world. Ultimately this issue represents a choice between certain crazy locals – that exist in any state (and in the current conditions in Georgia this harmful trend has affected many people who let these feelings smoulder) and those who love, cherish and expect you. So of course the decision is yours to make. We will not be able to support you in Georgia if only because Georgia has broken off diplomatic relations with Russia. But I would like to believe that the centuries-old cultural ties which link Russia and Georgia both during the period when we lived apart and the time that we lived together will continue, because these people are very close to us and are very sensitive to life in Russia.
No matter what one politician might have said like ‘after what happened, every American should feel like a Georgian’ (I am referring to McCain) the fact is that for America Georgia is a state. But for us Georgia is a very close country with people who are very close to us, who live here and that we have always treated with special sympathy; I am not even referring to historical events such as the Treaty of Georgievsk and others. I am not even going to mention them now. Therefore you have a difficult choice. You must make it for yourself.
Mikhail Khubutiya, President of the All-Russia Public Organisation ‘Union of Georgians In Russia’: Our organisation, the Union of Georgians in Russia, is a Russia-wide only public organisation that brings together thousands of Georgian nationals and works on the intensive interpenetration of Russian and Georgian culture in both Russia and Georgia.
Dear Mr President! The large Georgian Diaspora wishes to transmit its great appreciation for your attitude towards ethnic Georgians regardless of the current exceptional situation. We ask that you find or designate a time at which you could visit the extraordinary congress of the Union of Georgians in Russia in the near future.
Also, of course let no one think that Georgians here in Moscow are hiding; each of them is going to contribute to this unusual situation. Today Zurab Konstantinovich Tsereteli [President of the Russian Academy of Arts] passed on his proposal to you, Mr President, about holding an exhibition entitled World of the Caucasus which UNESCO has endorsed. This exhibition will be held in Moscow and in France and, with your approval, we will certainly carry this out at the highest level.
Dmitry Medvedev: Mikhail Mikhailovich, of course the exhibition should be carried out at the highest level; with regards to your invitation to the congress, I would be happy to come. Either I could come and visit you or I could receive all the major participants in the congress in the Kremlin. I do not know, maybe the participants would like this second option better. Thank you for your invitation — I accept it.
VALERY KABOLOV, CO-CHAIRMAN OF THE PRESIDIUM OF THE ALL-RUSSIA PUBLIC MOVEMENT ‘RUSSIAN CONGRESS OF THE PEOPLES OF THE CAUCASUS’: I am the head of Moscow’s Ossetian community. I would like to take this opportunity to thank you first of all for taking a difficult decision in August. And even though today you say that any sane politician would do the same, it is absolutely obvious that such a decision requires great personal courage. Thank you very much for this! You saved my people from extermination.
I also wish to raise another issue we have been faced with during the delivery of humanitarian assistance to the residents of South Ossetia. Indeed, a large number of organisations, people and poor people gave everything they had in response to the appeal for humanitarian assistance. Thank you to everyone for your help. But we are faced with a serious problem. Distribution of this humanitarian relief also represents a great deal of work and most likely requires certain professionals. In our country we have neither such professionals nor such organisations. Typically this humanitarian assistance is provided on an urgent basis, and it is very difficult for non-governmental organizations to disseminate it. I would perhaps suggest that such an organisation be created.
With regards to the recognition of the independence of the Republic of South Ossetia and the Republic of Abkhazia: through its recognition of the independence of these two countries Russia provided that these two states will not be extinguished, they will continue to exist and further develop – there is no doubt about this.
Said-Emin Dzhabrailov, chairman of the Public Chamber of the Chechen Republic: Recently in July a North Caucasus Peace Forum took place in Vladikavkaz. And at this time, before the war, we raised the issue of the revival of the council of elders, since all the traditions and customs in the regions of the North Caucasus — irrespective of whatever nationality or religion the citizens were – have always considered this institution to have positive and auspicious aspects. Under the auspices of the Public Chamber of Russian Federation it was at this forum that we decided to recreate this institution in the Southern Federal District. We think that this is a very good thing.
The political leadership of Georgia certainly carried out genocide against the Ossetian people. It was the strong hand of the President of the Russian Federation that prevented this tragedy. Unfortunately, we also have certain insane locals in Chechnya, but there the situation has changed and today the republic is reborn.
People today say: ”Why is there no Ministry for Relations between Nationalities at the federal level? “ And I think that the creation of such a body, whether it is called a federal agency or ministry, would represent a positive step in for the unity of all nations and peoples, and would be a positive moment for the North Caucasus.
Dmitry Medvedev: With your permission I will make some short conclusions. First of all, many thanks to those who took part in this discussion. I hope that it was useful and interesting for you and for others as well. I can tell you frankly that for me personally our discussion has certainly been very useful because, despite the fact that recently I have talked to a great many people about what happened and the reaction to the decision that I was forced to take, without any doubt what you just said bears witness to the correctness of the difficult – very difficult – decisions that were taken in August.
I will maybe just say four things. Many colleagues have said that we are not listened to and asked why this is the case when it seems that we are absolutely in the right (both you and I are aware of this). This is not propaganda, we are not making it up, we know what happened. The answer, unfortunately, is simple: they do not listen to us because they do not want to. The situation is as follows: if I as President or any of those present here converse, as we say, without the press or without an audience, we all will be listened to very attentively. Moreover, they close their eyes and nod. I am not going to name specific politicians right now. There is not one of them, including leading western politicians who would say anything else to me in a personal interview. You should not doubt that the characterisation of the Georgian leadership corresponds to this attitude. In fact, one such description even leaked out, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs then had to apologise for a long time. These were still not our words. They do not hear us because they do not want to. And why not? Because they have a lot invested in this.
I can tell you one thing I will remember forever. I was quite surprised by it at the time. In January 2004 I travelled to Washington and met with Condoleezza Rice — I was the head of the Presidential Executive Office and she was National Security Advisor. As is common practice in the American tradition, President of the United States George W. Bush came into the cabinet. We greeted him. The first question he asked me, the first words I heard from him in my entire life in a private conversation were: ”Listen, Saakashvili is a really great guy“. I did not attribute any meaning to this prior to what happened. This means only one thing: the American administration has invested so much energy, people, not to mention money in this project that they simply cannot extract now. This is in addition, of course, to geopolitical realities: it is a personal project and geopolitical one.
And as is quite understandable there was very harmonious coordination with the western media, especially American media outlets. In Europe they didn’t bother that much, and so the European media did occasionally try to give a more or less balanced picture, because they had no such pressures. Whereas all American media gave only one point of view. I do not think that this represents a tragedy for us. We know the truth. And sooner or later it will reach everyone else.
Another position that we have heard expressed here concerns how we should continue to work in the territory of the CIS. I believe that the present situation is supremely advantageous for us. Again, I will not mention anyone specifically, but during our contacts on this theme almost all the leaders of the CIS countries said to me: we must learn our lessons from this crisis and try to avoid situations which could result in new provocations.
Russian-Georgian relations represent a separate, very painful theme. We certainly would like them to revive. But you understand that, unfortunately, it is meaningless to negotiate with the current gang. I am sure that sooner or later the Georgian people will make their choice. It is clear that the current militaristic frenzy, the unity in light of defeat will not continue. And I hope that when the authorities in Georgia become reasonable — we do not need pro-Russian leaders, just reasonable ones that behave correctly without waving their weapons around — we can significantly rebuild those relations.
I hope that what happened will not affect the situation inside Russia. Present trends are very favourable. I believe that the growth of patriotic sentiment is a good thing. But of course we should not allow this growth to take on extreme characteristics, and in no way should patriotism be allowed to aggravate interethnic relations. This would be very dangerous given that Russia is a multiethnic and multiconfessional state. And I think that the only response possible for the state is to adopt a calm position. If something happens we must apply the law, including criminal law that governs manifestations of xenophobia and incitement of racial hatred, and we must simply act consistently. We are already learning how to apply such legislation because it is not easy — it is always a very fine line, even in the everyday life. But civilised nations did not think up anything else.
Finally, with regards to a special system of governance in the North Caucasus and in other places. You know, it looks like this is just the case for taking some special emergency decisions concerning the governance of the country. But this would represent a step in the direction that those present here have warned me against. Once we set up emergency authorities, the country will begin to live in an emergency regime. And we have another situation today. We are fully capable of working in a normal system. Yes, we have a lot of problems, including the administration of the North Caucasus, but we need to resolve them by using quiet, normal, civilised methods. I think that we will do so.
And finally, the very last thing. I will not be telling you anything new when I say something that today is absolutely obvious to everyone, just as it was obvious to our ancestors and our predecessors. Russia may exist either as a strong state, as a global player, or it will not exist at all. Another Russian state is unthinkable. And if on 8 August we had taken everything that was dished out for us, then in fact we would have overseen the beginning of the process of dividing Russia and the collapse of our state. The current situation has made Russia stronger. We just have to take advantage of all available opportunities to strengthen Russia. And I very much look forward to your support and assistance in this work.
Thank you very much.