Gianni Riotta: Mr Medvedev, after the conflict in Georgia some European countries and also the United States have called for measures against Russia. The European Council has decided to wait and not take any decision for now. Nonetheless, Russia’s relations with Europe and the United States are at their lowest point in recent years. Who do you think is to blame for this?
Dmitry Medvedev: Not us in any case. As far as Russia’s relations with NATO go, they are not going through the easiest time now, but I would not dramatise the situation. I think that all the calls to limit cooperation between Russia and NATO can cut both ways. Speaking frankly, this would be a greater blow for the NATO countries. I have already expressed my views on this subject. We do not see anything dramatic or anything so difficult about ending these relations if this is what our partners want, but I think our partners would stand to lose more.
Regarding relations between Russia and the European Union, the European Council’s decision yesterday shows two things. First, the EU’s members do not understand all of Russia’s actions, and this is obviously a cause of concern for us. But I think that we can explain our position and make clear that the actions we undertook were for worthy aims. At the same time, the decisions taken show that many EU members want constructive cooperation and see no need to increase tension in our relations. The common sense and logic that were shown yesterday have prevailed on this occasion.
Gianni Riotta: In an interview with CNN, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said that American representatives were present in Georgia during the conflict in an attempt to somehow influence the American election. On August 26, you said that Russia could make a military response to the construction of a missile defence system in Europe. Should we fear confrontation of a kind we did not see even during the Cold War years?
Dmitry Medvedev: First of all, that American advisers or specialists were present in Georgia is an established fact. The United States actively helped Georgia build up its military machine, pumped in money and arms. Unfortunately, at some point they gave Mr Saakashvili carte-blanche for any action, including military action. This took form in the aggression that began on the night of August 7. This is very sad and I think that in this situation it is time our American partners reassessed their relations with the regime in power there, if only because these people have put Georgia in a very difficult position, created serious destabilisation and unleashed aggression that has led to the deaths of many people.
Concerning the situation in Europe, I call our partners’ attention to the fact that it is not we who are expanding the extent of our military presence in Europe, but NATO. We are not establishing new bases, NATO is. We are not deploying new missile defence systems, NATO is. Russia has taken practically no steps in response to these actions over recent years. On the contrary, we have been engaged in constant dialogue. We asked, “why do you need this?” But if the decision to deploy missiles is made and the radar is turned on, we will have to respond, because we have received no reasonable explanation of these actions’ purpose. But you are absolutely right in noting that all of this does nothing to make Europe more secure.
Gianni Riotta: Following the conflict in Georgia, some countries that border Russia, in particular the Baltic states, Moldova and Ukraine, have expressed concern. Taken into account recent events and the American missile defence plans in the Czech Republic and Poland, how will you respond to the concerns of your closest neighbours?
Dmitry Medvedev: We are not going to respond to anyone’s concerns. We would like answers to our own concerns about NATO expansion and the emergence of a new encirclement of arms around Russia. As for our partners, as far as the Baltic states go, I think they are suffering from ‘phantom pains’. No one is threatening them. This is just their way of keeping the political elites in a bit of an excited state.
Ukraine is a separate issue. I think our closest neighbour has a perfect opportunity today to answer one simple question: what is the best way of ensuring its own security? If they think the best means of guaranteeing their security would be to join NATO, then let them give the Ukrainian public the chance to vote in a referendum for their country to join NATO. At the moment, work is going on behind the scenes, documents are being signed, but the Ukrainian public has not made its voice heard yet. Where is the democracy in this?
Finally, on Moldova, I think there is a completely different situation there. President Vladimir Voronin came here just recently and we discussed together the prospects for settlement in Trans-Dniester. I think there are good prospects for reaching a settlement. I will meet with representatives of Trans-Dniester tomorrow. This is a separate issue and an area where Russia is willing to act as a mediator.
Gianni Riotta: Some in the West are calling for Russia to be excluded from the G8. The Russian commodities exchange has reacted to this situation. Some big investors in the West are also said to be unhappy. Will Russia have to pay an economic and financial cost for this conflict?
Dmitry Medvedev: The G8 is not really viable without Russia because its decisions can be effective only if they reflect the views of the world’s leading political players. We do not fear any exclusion from the G8. Moreover, we think that there are many issues even a functioning G8 cannot effectively address without involving other countries too, and this is why all sorts of enlarged formats have been used in the G8’s work. There should be no illusions on this point. We need each other. I think election campaign technologies explain the current calls, attempts to boost one’s rating with the help of a conflict somewhere: if Iran is not enough, let’s take up the Caucasus issue. Recent events confirm this, though I am not a supporter of conspiracy theories.
As for the economy, of course the economy always suffers in a conflict. But as far the market indexes go, I think they have been hit not so much by the conflict in the Caucasus but by the situation in the world’s biggest economy – the American economy. I already said to our American partners that it would be better if they concentrated more on this area, worked on reviving their mortgage system, injecting liquidity into the financial market and simply keeping watch on stock market indicators, because war, as a rule, does not improve the situation. What is happening on our stock market is 80 percent due to the negative processes underway in America and other places that form supporting pillars of the global economy. Only 20 percent, perhaps, can be put down to the consequences of the problems that have arisen.
Gianni Riotta: Mr President, you are also Commander in Chief. Could you explain to our listeners the division of roles between you and Prime Minister Putin?
Dmitry Medvedev: This division of roles is based on the Constitution, which states the duties of the President and the Prime Minister. The situation is different to that of Italy. Italy is a parliamentary republic, while Russia is a presidential republic. The President has great powers here, including the power to decide to use the Armed Forces. This is my responsibility and in some situations I am obliged to make such decisions.
Gianni Riotta: In order to resolve the crisis in Georgia, Italy proposed holding a mediation conference in Rome. In an interview with our television programme President of Georgia Mikhail Saakashvili gave his agreement to take part. Will you come to Rome to discuss peace issues?
Dmitry Medvedev: I want to say first of all that Italy has maintained its traditionally balanced and reasonable position throughout this conflict, including during the recent European Union summit, and we are grateful to our Italian partners for this.
Second, we are ready of course to discuss all different issues at conferences and at the different international forums, but we want at the same time for the international community to remember who began the aggression [against South Ossetia], who is responsible for people’s deaths and what price has been paid for this. As for the Georgian authorities, the current regime is bankrupt in our eyes. President Mikhail Saakashvili no longer exists for us. He is a ‘political corpse’. But we are ready to discuss all different issues, including post-conflict settlement in this region.
Gianni Riotta: Thank you, Mr President.
Dmitry Medvedev: Thank you.