Madeleine Albright: Good afternoon everybody. I would like to welcome you on behalf of the Council on Foreign Relations to what is clearly a very timely conversation with President Dmitry Medvedev of Russia. President Medvedev is visiting the United States in connection with the G-20 economic summit, convened in response to the global financial crisis. And we're very grateful that he is able to take time from those meetings to be here with us. As most of you know, President Medvedev was elected president earlier this year and took office in May. He had served previously as first deputy prime minister and before that, as presidential chief of staff and chair of the board of directors of Gazprom. During his six months in office, President Medvedev has presided over a controversial intervention in Georgia and been required to cope, as have other leaders, with an array of economic anxieties. The president's recent speech to the Russian Parliament attracted a lot of attention, and he said many very interesting things and very strong expressions of support for democratic standards regarding freedom of expression and human rights.
In months to come, observers in Europe and across the globe will be looking to see how well President Obama and President Medvedev are able to agree on policies that preserve the interests of each country without imposing on the rights of others and without stirring further speculation about how this relationship, this essential and important relationship will evolve. I think we all consider the relationship between Russia and the United States as a truly key relationship where friendship and understanding is absolutely essential, and where we are able to have the best communication. And having president Medvedev here today contributes to that greatly.
So there's no better way to begin than for me to turn the microphone over to our very, very distinguished guest, and please help me in welcoming President Medvedev to the microphone.
Dmitry Medvedev: Ladies and gentlemen, it is a great pleasure to address the Council on Foreign Relations today. I am grateful for the invitation to visit the Council and for the initiative to hold this meeting. Naturally, I would like to start by congratulating everyone present, regardless of political preferences, on the election of the new President of the United States of America.
Russia sees the American people’s choice as a choice for change. We welcome the election of Barack Obama and hope that he will take consistent steps towards overcoming the problems that have accumulated in Russian-American relations over recent years.
Of course, no problems are easy to resolve, all the more so when the world is in the grip of a financial crisis, the consequences of which are still not fully clear. Any transformation in such a period is particularly complicated and painful, but the times make change necessary. This is something we realise in our country, and I am sure that it was realisation of the need for change that made the recent result possible.
Of course, the presidential election in America is the USA’s domestic affair, but the United States is a super-influential state, and so we have always analysed what takes place there and we are aware of the importance of internal political events and their impact on the climate in the world as a whole. The world is in a very difficult situation and it is clear now that it was unprepared for the complex challenges of today. The financial regulation system, at any rate, turned out to be absolutely anachronistic and unable to make a swift and suitable response to the difficulties that arose.
The G-20 summit meeting in Washington today brought together the world’s 20 most influential economies. To be frank, a few months ago I would not have believed this meeting possible. But if there is a positive side to the crisis – and sometimes there are positive moments – it is that we have had this opportunity to meet at the highest level, carry out a revision of the current financial system and start laying the foundations for a new financial architecture. I must say that I am happy with the results achieved in Washington today.
First, we succeeded in agreeing on a declaration that sets out – in my view in any case, and I hope in the view of my colleagues from other countries too – the main principles and rules the world can use to build its financial relations and the global financial system over the coming years. I cannot promise you that we have seen the start of a new Bretton Woods here today in Washington, but it is clear that we have taken a step towards building a new system. This is very important in order to resolve the problems affecting the economies of the United States, the European Union, and the Russian Federation.
Russia is part of the global economic system and we have not escaped the problems that exist in other countries. Unfortunately, we are paying just as high a price. We therefore had a big interest in holding this summit. I want to say once again that I think the summit has produced very positive results. The most important thing is that we have taken the first step towards establishing the outlines of a new system.
We agreed that we will meet again relatively soon, at the end of March, probably in Japan or in United Kingdom, to review progress over the last few months and perhaps examine the documents that will be ready. The biggest economies, the global players, have never met on such a regular basis before. But the legitimacy of any international system depends on how well adapted it is to responding to the challenges and threats that emerge. The system that we discussed today, the system that we are building now, should therefore include an early warning mechanism. I hope that this is something we will succeed in establishing.
This is probably the must burning issue today and the most important news, for those who took part in the G-20 summit in any event. But there is another issue that is just as important, and that is the long-term question of Russian-American relations.
A couple of words about our bilateral relations at the outset. They are extremely extensive, rich, and rather complex. We have to admit that a crisis of confidence has emerged of late. There is a crisis of confidence in the financial world today, and it is reflected in other areas too. I think that Russian-American relations today are lacking the trust they need. This is why we have such hopes for the arrival of the new Administration. Certainly, the current Administration has done much to build the foundation of Russian-American relations. I can mention the Sochi Declaration, just to give one example, which reflects everything that has been achieved in Russian-American relations over the last eight years. But unfortunately, this is not enough. We have failed to find a common language in many areas. This is sad, but it is a fact.
I think it is within our power to create a truly new foundation that will transform our relations into a genuine partnership. We do have many interests in common, after all. They include stabilising the global economy, nuclear disarmament and maintaining the arms control process. This is why unilateral projects in the military area are so painfully perceived, in Russia at any rate.
It has always been our view that all of the most complex decisions and the solutions to the most difficult problems need to be worked out on a genuinely collective basis. There are plenty of examples of this approach. We see it in Afghanistan, the situation with the Iranian nuclear programme, the North Korean nuclear programme, and the fight against terrorism. We had a unique chance to give our relations a genuinely new foundation after September 11. This does not mean that we will not have further opportunities, but we did let slip some real chances for progress.
It is clear that cooperation between our countries is far more important than trying to gain some kind of unilateral benefits. This is the way I see it, in any case. It is precisely for this reason that it is within our power to change the strategic context of our relations.
There are issues we need to decide quickly. In the summer of last year, we made proposals on joint evaluation of the potential missile threats against Europe and collective measures to respond to these threats. We remain open to discuss this question. Moreover, I can tell you that in our response to the European missile defence system issue we will not be the first to act. We will do no more than respond, and then only if the programme continues in a form that we find unacceptable. We have put forward our proposals, and we are open to discussing other options too. In any event, as I see it, it would be better to have a global missile defence system in which the Russian Federation takes part too, than to have some kind of fragments that do not make anyone happy and only cause problems.
One of the ideas I set out immediately after my election as President is aimed at ensuring stability in Europe. This is the idea of concluding a treaty on European security, what we have dubbed the pan-European treaty. I want to say from the outset that we do not see it as an alternative to the existing European security system. Rather, it is a means to unite our efforts. The global organisations such as the European Union, NATO and the OSCE would remain. Europe also has the Commonwealth of Independent States and Collective Security Treaty Organisation – the CSTO. These are all organisations working in Europe. But I think the time has come to unite our collective efforts, especially given the serious economic, political and military threats that we face. I hope that all European countries and the United States and Canada will take part in the work on this project. In any event, I think this is a very interesting subject.
I would like to leave things here for now. I hope I will be able to answer your questions. Thank you.
Madeleine Albright: Mr. President, thank you so very much for giving us such a good outline of the various issues. I think that many, most everybody here in this audience and obviously all those who are listening are completely fascinated by how U.S.-Russia relations will proceed. I have spent my entire life studying U.S.-Russian relations, and there have been a number of different eras, and we always look to beginning something new, and with a new president in Russia and a new president here, it seems to me that there are many opportunities. But I also think that it's going to be very important to begin by understanding what each other's interests are. And you have given a number of different speeches recently, and I would be very interested in some definitions, if you don't mind. One of the areas that I think has been particularly interesting is when you talked about ”privileged interests.“ What does that really mean, what are the ramifications of it, and what does it mean in terms of our bilateral relationship.
Dmitry Medvedev: I talked about Russia’s privileged interests in the summer, when I set out the five principles underlying Russia’s current foreign policy. One of these principles is the principle of developing relations with the countries that traditionally have close ties to the Russian Federation. You could say that these are countries where the Russian Federation has privileged interests. This does not mean that this is some kind of exclusive zone of our interests. This is not the case. These are countries that are very important to us, countries with which we have been living side by side for decades, centuries, now, and with which we share the same roots. Of course, I am referring to the nations that were part of the USSR, part of other state formations previously, countries where Russian is spoken, and that have a similar economic system and share much in terms of culture.
But this includes not only nations that share a border with the Russian Federation. There are also other states that have long been our traditional partners. This is what I mean when I talk about our “privileged interests,” or our ‘advantaged interests,’ with regard to those nations.
Madeleine Albright: May I follow up? What are they, when you say not just those on our borders, but partners. Who, what countries does that include?
Dmitry Medvedev: Nations that have been in ongoing contact with us for decades now, that are very important to us politically and economically. This includes a large number of European countries, and this could be the United States of America.
Madeleine Albright: That's where I was going. And how about, I think this fits in with your concept and I've been just reading about what happened in Nice, in terms of this European security architecture. I was very interesting in your saying that it was not to supplant NATO, but how do you see it developing?
Dmitry Medvedev: I think we need a rational and functional architecture. What do I mean by this? Russia is not a member of any political-military alliances today. True, we have an alliance within the CSTO, but we do not see this as a military alliance. This is a political bloc. But we are interested in making our voice heard in Europe. We do not participate in all of the European institutions. We do not take part in NATO, and we are not a member of the European Union, so we would like to have a forum where we could discuss all the different problems. I think the OSCE does not fully fit this purpose, and it is has not worked so effectively of late. We have questions in the Russian Federation anyway, regarding the way it works. But this is not the main thing. What we want is an organisation that brings together not only the nations of Europe but also the main organisations in Europe that also take part in discussing these issues, that is to say, NATO, the European Union, the CIS and the CSTO. We think that if we managed to create such a forum it would be very positive indeed.
But it is not in any way intended to replace the existing institutions. I am a realist and I am fully aware that the existing institutions will remain in place. What it would do is give Russia and the other countries that are not members of these organisations a chance to openly express their views, and to meet and discuss a broad range of issues, including issues related to current threats. I cannot say for certain, but perhaps if we had an organisation of this kind, it might have been possible to avoid the problems in August when Georgia invaded South Ossetia.
Madeleine Albright: Can I ask you, and I don't mean to be defensive about this, but when we were in office was when there was NATO expansion. And I had a conversation with your predecessor, President (Boris) Yeltsin, and he said, ‘Why are you expanding NATO? We are a new Russia.' And I said, ‘Yes indeed, you are a new Russia. But it's also a new NATO. It's not against you.' The question is, what relationship do you see yourself having with NATO, and what could be done in order to fulfill some of the ideas that we had in terms of a closer and better relationship between Russia and NATO with the possibilities we thought they'd, that could come out of it?
Dmitry Medvedev: Of course we are not happy to see NATO expanding right up to Russia’s borders precisely because we are not a member of this military-political alliance. This does not give Russia, its leadership and citizens any added confidence in NATO. But this does not mean that it is not possible to build a full-fledged and open partnership between Russia and NATO. I think that the Russia-NATO Council that was established had in principle the potential for developing such a partnership.
It was not our initiative to impose limitations on the work of the NATO-Russia council. We are ready for any evolution and we are ready for the downsizing of relations between Russia and NATO, but I do not think that this has made things any easier for anyone. Moreover, we have lost some of the opportunities we had. Russia is therefore ready to build normal and friendly relations with NATO, with the Russian Federation’s interests being given due consideration of course.
Madeleine Albright: I might ask you some other questions, in terms of some of your speeches. What did you mean by some of the reform measures that you proposed and how do the economic reform measures coincide with whatever happened at the G-20 and in terms of how the current crisis has affected the Russian people. So how do all those domestic issues fit together?
Dmitry Medvedev: No one likes crises, and they generally arise despite the wishes of the leaders and people of this or that country. I think the current crisis is very serious. This is the first time we have been confronted by such a challenge. I think it makes no sense to analyse now what happened, though it is clear that the world’s biggest economies have not managed to cope with it, above all the American economy, which as the biggest and most influential economy has pulled the other economies along in its wake.
But as I said, I think there is even a certain positive side to this situation, for it has given us the chance to readjust the system of economic relations. This is a challenge we have no choice but to answer.
Regarding the future financial architecture, I think that there is no argument today about how it should look in principle. It should be more open, less risky, and agreed by all the participants in the financial system. It should be more focused on equal opportunities for all of the participants, and better able to prevent the risks that arise from time to time. I mean the cyclical nature inherent to the market economy. It should set modern corporate standards, be based on normal information from ratings agencies, and not allow the emergence of speculative bubbles.
These are the principles that have been set out in the declaration that we all agreed to today. I think it is very important that even though in some cases even their political systems differ widely, all of our countries have accepted these common principles. This means, first of all, that we do have hope of overcoming this crisis. No one has confronted a crisis of this kind before. This is a crisis of the new global economy and the new global economic system. Second, this crisis also diverts our attention to some extent from other problems.
In the current situation, many countries are focused on trying to overcome this crisis. Perhaps this is even a good thing. It gives us the chance to lay aside some of our differences, because we face a clear common enemy in the form of the crisis, and other motives and issues can fade into the background. I think that this also creates a good opportunity to regain some of the ground that has been lost in Russian-American relations.
Madeleine Albright: I found it very interesting that when you came into office, your very realistic assessment of the Russian economy and various issues. I wondered what you set for yourself in priority goals in internal restructuring, and what do you think is the most elusive of these goals?
Dmitry Medvedev: The Russian economy is far from perfect of course. We think that we have had some success over these last years. The economy has become more stable. We have built up sizeable gold and currency reserves. We had good macroeconomic results until just recently, they will remain pretty good this year, but our economy is very far from perfection. We need structural change, and we want to build an innovative economy and not just an economy that functions only on oil and gas exports. Russian nation has immense intellectual potential, and this an advantage we are not making full use of.
Furthermore, I think that we have still not yet created the system that would protect our economy. What do I mean by this? As a lawyer by training, I cannot but agree with those who say that we have not yet established effective protection of property rights and an effective court system. We have taken only the first steps towards establishing protection through the courts, but I cannot say yet that our courts are working the way they should, unfortunately. This is the consequence of a low level of legal culture and a disregard for the law that has taken shape in Russia not over decades but over centuries. This is a big problem, and its consequences can be seen in the problems related to protecting property rights.
I think it is also very important that we concentrate our attention on this, given that this whole legal aspect is extremely important for the economy’s development. And I have the feeling that we will be able to resolve this problem.
There is another problem I have spoken about a lot lately. I have not just spoken about it but am trying to take steps to address it, though it is a difficult problem. This is the problem of corruption. Unfortunately, this is something that also creates big problems for the economy. Businesspeople pay bribes and payoffs, civil servants take bribes, and all of this has a very negative impact on the business climate.
Unfortunately, these are all very big problems for Russia at the moment. But we have to be open about them. We need not just to talk about them but also to take action. We have succeeded in taking some steps of late. Just a few weeks ago, I introduced a package of anti-corruption laws to the Duma. It took around five years to draft these laws, and only now I managed to finally advance it. I realise full well that simply passing a law is not enough to solve the problem. But the laws need to be up to date with the times and able to respond to the challenges we encounter in our society. They need to be coordinated with international approaches in this area, and I think that this is therefore very important, and I do not want to deviate from this path.
Madeleine Albright: This is my last question, then I'll turn it over to the audience. I have worked for a number of presidents and I know that each one always wishes that his term was longer. So I wanted to ask you why you introduced that for the Russian presidency.
Dmitry Medvedev: Yes, it is normal for the authorities to try to strengthen their powers. But my motivations were a little different. The fact is that, overall I think we have a very successful Constitution. It is modern and it contains a set of rights and freedoms that are most relevant and modern today. This is a Constitution for a presidential republic. I think that Russia can exist only as a strong presidential republic. Russia is a big and complex country made up of a large number of different regions. It is a country of different religions. I think that only a presidential republic can work in such a country, just as the United States of America too can be only a presidential republic.
But this does not mean that our Constitution is ideal, and the purpose of these amendments is to create greater stability for a certain transition period. I think that over the coming years, I don’t know, maybe for the next 30, 40, 50 years, Russia will need a stable political system based on a strong and stable parliament and strong presidential power. And it would be good to have elections for one and the other take place not at the same time, and this is why I have proposed giving the State Duma a term of five years and the President a six-year term in office.
The world is changing. It is enough to recall the Constitution that France had at the time of De Gaulle. It gave the President a seven-year term in office. I think it played a good part in helping France to develop as a strong nation. But the moment came when France’s legislators decided this term in office had lost its relevance and reduced it by two years. Who knows, maybe in 30–40 years’ time the state will have reached the objectives it has set today and then we can go back to some other term in office. But that will be not my problem in any case.
Madeleine Albright: Thank you so much. Let me turn to the audience. There are people with microphones, and if you would identify yourself please.
Question: Madam Secretary, Mr. President, I'm Barbara Slavin, I'm assistant managing editor of the Washington Times. [In Russian:] Welcome in America. [English.] I wanted to just try to clarify a couple of things, if I may. Are you saying and did you tell President Sarkozy yesterday that Russia will not put missiles, rockets into Kaliningrad, that Russia wants to have discussions with the United States on this issue? And are you hopeful that president Obama might delay the deployment of missile defenses to Europe?
Dmitry Medvedev: I will come over here [to the podium] to answer this question. President Sarkozy likes to speak from the podium. We discussed that. I won't be too emotional as he is, but I'll try to give you the answer to your question.
We really do not want to deploy anything. We were not contemplating any counter measures. It was not our idea to deploy this system in Poland and the Czech Republic. Moreover, these decisions did not involve discussions in the European Union, and as far as I know, NATO too only got involved at the last moment.
But the issue is not even one of how these decisions were taken. The issue is that right from the start the Russian Federation’s position was that of reaching an agreement with our American partners, and I can vouch for this because I was working in the Presidential Executive Office at that time, and then in the Government. We put forward all sorts of options. We suggested building a global system that would make use of Russia’s radar capabilities too, and we proposed asking our partners in Azerbaijan to include the Gabala radar facility too. Yes, we were told, this is all interesting, but let’s do this first and everything else can come later.
So we started to wonder then what all of this is really for? These measures look somewhat strange. Deploying the system in Poland and the Czech Republic, they are close, yes, close only to the Russian Federation. And as for these rogue states, it is really not clear whether this system would be effective against them or not. So what is the purpose? This is why we held difficult discussions with our American friends and tried to convince them to look for a different solution. Things reached the point where we were told: you know, we cannot even guarantee that you will be a part of it. Whatever the Czechs and Poles decide, that is what we will do. All of this cannot but make us wary.
I therefore found myself forced to set out some kind of response. But we will take no action unless America takes the first step. If this step is as unfortunate as what is being proposed today, we will have no choice but to respond. But I think that we have a very good chance of finding a solution. I think we could agree on a global defence system that would protect us against for instance the rogue states, against those states that give cause for suspicion. At the least, we could find solutions regarding the existing programmes that would be acceptable to the Russian Federation. This question is not closed. I am ready to keep discussing it, and I hope that the new President and the new Administration will also want to continue talks. In any case, the first signals we have received show that our partners are thinking about this problem and not just want to rubber-stamp it.
Madeleine Albright: I hope very much that you have, the way you stated it now is the way it is, cause I must say that some of us were a little surprised at your November 5 speech, because it had some elements of some anti-Americanism and I think it's going to be very important to, in fact, nurture a strong U.S.-Russia relationship and I hope that is where we are now.
Next question please.
Question: Arnaud de Borchgrave, CSIS. Mr. President, could I take you to Iran from your previous answer, and could you explain to us what you think would be the most effective way of discouraging Iran from taking out the nuclear option??
Dmitry Medvedev: Thank you, I just want to say a couple of words first about anti-Americanism. In my Address [to the Federal Assembly] I said that there is no anti-Americanism in Russia, but there are some difficulties in understanding each other. This is what I hope to be able to overcome with the new Administration.
Now, concerning an effective response to the Iranian programme, I think that only a peaceful response can be effective, because anything else would create huge problems in the Middle East and in the world in general. Iran is a far from straightforward partner. It is only natural that there are a number of concerns that have not been dealt with yet, but we are working in all different formats with our colleagues to look for ways to influence this situation.
I think there are still opportunities for resolving these issues today. As far I understand, going by the information coming out on the new Administration’s position, it is also not planning to take any hard-line action, at least, this is not in its immediate plans. I think this is the right approach because, as I said, hard-line action today would be very dangerous. We can create a principally new situation, and we will have to sort things out for decades after that.
We are constantly discussing this issue with our colleagues. Incidentally, these are discussions that have continued even during the most difficult and strained moments in our relations with the current U.S. Administration. Of course, we are ready to continue doing everything we can as one of the participants in this process to remove the concerns which exist at the moment.
Question: Mr. President, welcome to Washington. I'm Rich Herold with BP. And thank you for your leadership of the energy industry in Russia. Given the financial crisis and the reduced capital available to the energy industry, and of course the results of lower oil prices, can you please give us an idea of your priorities for Russia's energy industry and your plans for attracting the investment to make those priorities possible.
Dmitry Medvedev: Thank you. The energy sector is very important for our country of course. We want to take every opportunity to develop other sectors of our economy, but the energy sector will remain a central pillar in our economic development for a long time yet to come. Our priorities in this sector are quite clear. We have even drawn up an energy security concept that was presented to our partners during the G8 summit in St Petersburg.
What does this involve? It is the possibility of establishing a new and equal system of energy security that represents and suitably regulates the interests of all the participants in the energy chain: the countries and companies producing the oil, gas, and other energy raw materials, the transit countries, and the consumer countries. This is perhaps the most difficult issue to tackle, but it is also the most important. I say this because we think the current regulations are insufficient, and in a number of cases they are not entirely to the Russian Federation’s advantage. But this does not mean that we will not respect any of the rules we have committed ourselves to. This simply means that we also need to think about the future.
Furthermore, we are ready to carry out joint projects. We have said this on many occasions. Of course, such projects would be on a reciprocal basis and in the areas of interest to the Russian Federation. Russia has a well developed energy base, and I think that there is potential for interesting projects and interesting development ideas with a wide range of countries, including the United States.
We will need to develop new deposits in order to meet the demands facing the Russian economy today. We will also need to start production at new deposits in order to fulfil our export commitments, in order to deliver oil and gas to our customers in the West and in the East too. This requires considerable investment. We will make this investment, independently, and also together with other participants, other investors.
The situation is far from ideal on the energy market today. Prices are in a difficult situation. Russia at any rate has seen a clear drop in revenue. Of course, these prices reflect the current state of affairs in the world economy, including the situation in the U.S. economy. I am sure that we can find answers to the problems we face today, and the prices will change. But I want to assure you all that we support neither extremely high nor extremely low prices. What we want are predictable prices that will create opportunities for our country’s development. This is also an important part of our energy policy. We think that the energy sector is our common good and we are ready to carry out joint projects in this sector.
Question: Mr. President, you express flexibility about the future evolution of relations between Russia and NATO. One idea raised here is the future European security architecture might well be based on including Russia as a formal member of the alliance. How open would you be to a discussion that looks toward the possible membership of Russia in NATO?
Dmitry Medvedev: This is a good question. The fact of the matter is that there was a time when NATO had the chance to invite Russia to join, but it did not do so, and now the situation has changed somewhat. But we of course want to develop full-fledged normal and friendly relations with NATO. We want to develop a partnership with NATO. There is no problem here.
Furthermore, if our partners and colleagues in the agreement see additional opportunities for building our relations, we are ready to consider them too. Russia always has its doors open for discussing any forms of cooperation with NATO if this is in the interests of peace in our world. I don’t know how easy it would be right now to analyse the possibility of Russia joining NATO. I think the situation is not entirely favourable to such a development, but we all know the phrase “Never say never”.
Question: Jim Hoagland, Washington Post, Mr President welcome back to Washington. I want to ask you to clarify something you said earlier in your remarks, and that is that if the European security organization that you have in mind had been in existence in August we could have perhaps avoided the conflict in Georgia. Could you tell us how that would have worked, because you had bilateral contacts with Georgia up until the early summer, and that did not seem to be able to resolve it. How could another outside organization have worked that, and can you help us understand how we go forward now on the question of Georgia. Do you see possibilities other than the West having to accept the independence of (South) Ossetia and Abkhazia as fait accompli, and what would you recommend to the United States, what red lines might you have in terms of U.S. help to the Georgia to reestablish their defense forces?
Dmitry Medvedev: I think that if we had had an additional negotiating mechanism, a European mechanism, we would have at the very least had another platform for discussing the situation in Georgia and South Ossetia.
I met with Mr Saakashvili several times following my election as President. The first thing I said to him was that the Russian Federation recognises Georgia’s sovereignty over its territory. But at the same time, we realise the problems arising from what amounts essentially to the state’s disintegration, and we are ready to do all we can to help maintain civil peace and order and carry on the very complicated dialogue between the different entities that had emerged on Georgia’s territory. This was the case right up until the moment when Georgia launched its attack on South Ossetia.
We did not close off this channel. On the contrary, we even agreed to meet in Sochi or in some other place in the summer. But the point came when I sensed that the Georgian leadership had lost interest in this option, and I had the feeling then that they had already decided to go ahead with the military option. Sadly, I was right. This adventurism showed itself in full measure and an absolutely irresponsible and criminal decision was taken, which led to armed conflict. The result of this was that our country had no choice but to recognise these two republics as subjects of international law, and this was done in order to protect the people living there and prevent a new humanitarian disaster or quite simply the possibility that they would be wiped off the map altogether.
If there had been a pan-European organisation at that time, as I said before, we could have discussed these issues there, but there was no such organisation. Our bilateral contacts were not productive because the regime in Tbilisi at some point took the decision to use force. There is no ‘if’ and ‘should be’ in history of course, but I think that perhaps if we had had this kind of forum we might have had an extra chance.
As far as what actually happened is concerned, we are a responsible country. Our decision was a responsible decision, for me personally as the person not long before elected to the office of President – and this concerns the decision to use armed force, and the decision to recognise South Ossetia and Abkhazia – but these kinds of decisions are nonetheless unilateral in nature. These decisions cannot be changed or reversed. We take a responsible attitude towards our obligations within the international community. If we take the step of recognising and thus creating a new subject of international law, this is not the kind of decision we could reconsider.
But this does not mean that we do not want to discuss the situation in the Caucasus. We are ready to do so, and the plan that President Sarkozy and I drew up gives us this chance, including as part the Geneva talks and other processes. We are also willing to build up our relations with Georgia, but not with the current regime. Our position is that they have committed a crime. This is the ‘red line’ beyond which we cannot step.
Madeleine Albright: Could I just follow up? Would you agree with a possible international investigation of this issue?
Dmitry Medvedev: We said right from the outset that this is necessary so that the world knows the truth. In our view, the coverage of events in South Ossetia, especially the coverage in the United States and some other countries, was one-sided.
Only now are people coming to the realisation that it was Saakashvili who started this war and not the Russians. We were therefore in favour of an international investigation right from the start, and this is still my view now.
Question: Thank you, welcome Mr. President. We are now in mid-November, and I would like to move the calendar to the end of January, and you are meeting with President Obama. What specific or what urgent proposals would you set forth to the new president that would reduce this lack of trust you talked about between the two countries, and reassure the world that we are moving toward a new U.S.-Russian relationship? And what, in turn, would you expect from president Obama to achieve that same objective?
Dmitry Medvedev: I think that we have excellent opportunities now to restore relations in full and put them on a new footing. We can start with any area. The missile defence system in Europe is a good issue, but this does not mean that we should necessarily become fixated on just this one problem. We can start with anything.
I think the most important thing is that this meeting takes place, and that it takes place soon. The President-Elect, Mr Obama, and I share the same view that this meeting should take place without delay and without any kind of pre-conditions. I think that the new President of the United States is ready for this, and I am ready too.
We have many good issues for discussion. I already listed them and will not repeat them now. The main thing is to start somewhere.
But there are certain expectations. There is the issue of global security. No matter how you look at it, the Russian Federation and the United States share a particular responsibility for maintaining international security. Another subject where there are undoubted expectations is global economic security. The United States is the world’s biggest economy and it is in a very difficult situation at the moment. The Russian economy is smaller, but it has also become global and it is also feeling the effects of the crisis now.
This is a subject we must discuss, and an area in which we must make the necessary decisions, and we need to do so on a collegial basis. President Obama will be present at the next G-20 summit, and this is an issue he will most probably be working on from the moment he arrives in the White House. I wish him great success in this area.
Question: Mr. President, Maurice Tempelsman. Can I take you to another important neighbor of yours, a neighbor that's growing in importance both economically and militarily, namely China? Can you share with us your views, seen through the Russian national interest point of view, your relationship with China and your concerns about China?
Dmitry Medvedev: I have no concerns. After this excellent meeting I will head off to meet with President Hu Jintao. We have good relations, the kind of relations that we can characterise as a strategic partnership. We find a common language on a most diverse range of issues, on economic development issues and on political issues.
This does not mean that our political systems are the same or that we share the same political views on everything. But we have nonetheless very good, full and friendly ties. We have extensive cooperation in all different areas. This year, our bilateral trade with China will come to around $50 billion. This is a big figure. I would like to have the same kind of relations with the United States.
Question: Charles Gati, Johns Hopkins University. I'd like to follow up on Secretary Albright's question with respect to the timing of your November 5 speech. That was a day when much of the world celebrated Mr. Obama's election, and that very day you delivered your speech. Was that coincidental?
Dmitry Medvedev: Do you think this was blackmail? It was not simply coincidence. I will let you in on the secrets. I changed the date of the Address twice because I was not happy with what had been prepared. The moment came finally when I had to take the pen myself and sit down to make changes. And I set the new date of November 5. And for all my deep respect for the United States of America, I absolutely forgot about the political event that was to take place there on this day.
So there is nothing personal here at all. On the contrary, in this Address I said directly that I hoped that in our contacts with the new Administration we would succeed in overcoming the difficulties that have arisen of late in our relations with the current U.S. Administration. I emphasised that there is no anti-Americanism in Russia. I said that there are some problems that have built up, but that we have every chance of resolving them. In any event, I am reasonably optimistic, and our meeting today only strengthens my feeling of optimism.
Madeleine Albright: Mr. President, I would like to thank you for this very important meeting and let me say this: we are about to inaugurate the 44 th president of the United States, and have turned power over peacefully that many more times, and we can consider ourselves very proud of being able to do that — the oldest democracy in the world. I would also like to say that there is a huge opportunity. I don't think Russia and the United States have ever had such two young and impressive presidents, who will be able to communicate in a new generational way, and I as the old lady here would like to wish you all the best of luck.
Dmitry Medvedev: Thank you.