President of Russia Dmitry Medvedev: I am happy to see you.
I have already met many of you in the past during my various trips to the regions, so we are old friends. I hope this will add to the atmosphere. Aside from the fact that I am genuinely pleased to have see you, I want to say that I think it would be useful and interesting to have these kinds of meetings with the regional media on a regular basis. I always enjoyed these kinds of meetings during the time I was working in the Government, because they offer a different kind of contact and give the chance to explain things and set out one’s arguments directly to the journalists working in the regions. I have great respect for the federal media outlets, but I do think these meetings with the regional media are effective. So, if you all agree, we will continue these meetings.
Now I am ready to take your questions.
Question: Dmitry Anatolyevich, I have flown to Izhevsk from Siberia. I am from Krasnoyarsk Television and Radio Company.
You mentioned that your last meeting of this kind with regional journalists was last spring, when you were campaigning for the presidential election, and it took place in Krasnoyarsk. Thank you for deciding to continue these meetings, thank you for meeting with us. I think this also sends a signal to the regional authorities. Maybe they will follow your example.
Dmitry Medvedev: I’m ready to wag my finger at them right now.
Question: Since the spring, many worrying and tragic events have taken place in the world. There was Georgia’s attack [on South Ossetia] and the situation in the Caucasus really flared up. I imagine we will discuss this subject. My colleagues will ask about it.
The question I have is, in the midst of these kinds of difficult events and in this worrying situation, are you able to carry out the programme for the future that you put forward as candidate for President?
Dmitry Medvedev: Life is full of moments and events both joyous and difficult. Each of us has our own perception of them, and this is the case for me too. But there are events that are of concern to the entire country. You named them. They do indeed include the Georgian aggression and the global financial and economic crisis. These are the kinds of events that affect all of us in one way or another. But at the same time, we are fortunate in that nothing has happened of late that is so terrible we cannot find a solution. Russia succeeded in taking effective action during the Caucasus campaign. We protected the lives and dignity of our citizens. Sadly, this came at the cost of human lives. Some of our men lost their lives, but we did nonetheless succeed in defending our people and protecting Russia’s interests.
As for the global crisis, it has only just begun. To speak frankly, it is only now beginning to gather momentum, and this is something we need to keep clearly in mind. I am not saying this to frighten anyone. This is simply the truth, and it is something that people in all countries realise now. Our task is to come up with a suitable and effective response. Both of these recent events are sad, but they must not divert the authorities from carrying out our strategic tasks, otherwise, we would have to ask what is the point of even having these authorities in the Kremlin and elsewhere.
I want to say clearly that we have continued to work on implementing our development priorities, and this work will not stop. This is the main point. No crisis can stop our work. Yes, in this or that area we might find ourselves obliged to pause for a short time, and we might find ourselves short of resources here or there for all that we have planned, but overall progress will continue. All of the priorities that I set out in my discussions with you and the other colleagues present today, in my various direct addresses to the nation, and in my recent Address to the Federal Assembly, will be carried out. I can assure you that despite the various difficulties that arise, we have the means and the strength to see this work through.
Question: Dmitry Anatolyevich, I represent [federal TV channel] Channel One, but I work in Channel One’s Kazan bureau.
Dmitry Medvedev: You don’t need to apologise for working for Channel One, it’s no crime.
Question: Another important subject that had the whole country’s attention was your Address [to the Federal Assembly], in which you put forward a number of proposals for improving the political system, including increasing the terms of the President and the State Duma. My question is, what are the aims of these changes, what is your goal, and what kind of political system do you want to see come out of this?
Dmitry Medvedev: Any political system, like any constitution, is a creation of our own hands. It is not a set of laws handed down from above, but is the product of the work done by politicians and legislators. It is also an attempt to define the legal or political model most suited to the particular situation in the country at a given time.
Why do constitutions change and why are new constitutions adopted? This is not just the ambitions of various politicians, though there have been such cases. But as a rule, when we’re talking about responsible politicians, this is done out of a desire to create a more stable legal and political system. Some countries do this more often. You know that in Europe there are plenty of examples of all the different constitutions adopted in some countries in just 15, 20 or 30 years. Some countries do it less often, like the United States, for example, though they too have passed a fair few amendments over the years. So, this is a situation we also need to follow.
The proposal I made was not spontaneous but had been carefully thought out. To be honest, I began thinking about this issue probably about five years, not suspecting then of course that I would one day be able to make it reality. But as any lawyer, and as any person holding high office, I was thinking about the legal foundations and processes in our country, thinking about the Constitution. And I began to think at that time that we needed to make some amendments. To be more precise, we needed to change two things. First, despite the fact that our country is a presidential republic and gives the President very extensive powers, we have a Government Cabinet that is the executive authority, and this Government Cabinet should no be accountable to itself alone, but should have to report too to the Federal Assembly, to the State Duma, report in any case on its fulfilment of the instructions it has received, and present a report on its work over the year. This does not turn the system into a parliamentary republic. To be honest, I do not think that Russia should be a parliamentary republic. I think this would be fatal for the country. But at the same time, I think it would be good to strengthen the State Duma’s powers, and this would give us additional control levers over the work undertaken in the country and the decisions the Government makes.
The second decision concerns the President’s term in office and the term of the State Duma’s mandate. There are different views of course, but in my opinion, and I am supported in my view by the legislators and by my colleagues, four years is insufficient for the Federal Assembly and the State Duma. The cycle is such, including in our country, that we are used to thinking in a longer timeframe.
Also, when the elections all come at once this creates problems. People get tired of the constant campaigning. Separating the presidential and parliamentary elections is therefore something we have been thinking about for a long time now.
Finally, concerning the President’s term in office, there are different views on this issue too, and some would say that very good results can be achieved in four years and that so much can be done in six months that there’d be nowhere left to turn. But nevertheless, looking at the situation in terms of stability, I think it would be fitting for our country in its present stage of development for the President to have a longer term in office. This could five years, six years, seven years. Some countries have had or do have such terms in office, including some of our partners in the CIS. In Europe too, there are democracies where the President has a term of five or six years in office. You know that France had a term of seven years until just recently. France is a presidential republic and not a parliamentary republic. They had this seven-year term for almost 40 years, but then decided to change it.
Why am I saying all of this? I say this because I think this proposal would be useful for strengthening our country and giving its government greater authority, but this does not mean that such a decision would be taken for once and for all. If we see in 20, 30 or 40 years time that different decisions are needed and this issue should be reconsidered, this should be done, and without hesitation. There are things in the Constitution that should remain untouched, things like the foundations of our legal system, the guarantees of our rights and freedoms, the fundamental pillars of the system, property rights, and the courts. These are things we should not touch. But the political organisation of our country, while also very important, is nonetheless secondary in nature. These were the considerations that motivated me to set out these proposals, and I am pleased that the State Duma has given me its support.
Question: Dmitry Anatolyevich, allow me to continue the subject raised by my colleague, namely your Address to the Federal Assembly. In it you spoke a lot about social policy, about education, healthcare and pensions. Does this mean that measures taken as part of the national projects are not enough? And how will the federal and regional authorities divide participation in implementing the Our New School strategy?
Dmitry Medvedev: You know, we just had a meeting of the State Council at which we spoke very frankly about our achievements over these last years and about the difficulties we have encountered, including in introducing the principles of competitive development and the social sphere. I think that we have accomplished a considerable amount of work of late. I will not list all of our achievements, this would not be right for this moment, but I do think that we have made a lot of progress in our social sector, in education, healthcare, and pensions, compared to ten years ago. Of course, people’s memories are such that the bad usually gets sifted away while the good remains, but I think that we do have some achievements to our name. This does not mean, however, that we should stop here, especially at a time when our country, along with other countries, has entered a very difficult stage in its financial and economic development. We therefore need to set ourselves ambitious goals not only in the economy (we have set out these goals and we have programmes. They are being carried out, some faster, and some not as fast as we would like), but also in the social sector. We need to do this because the social sector is crucial for ordinary people’s quality of life. In this sense, I think and I hope that in my Address I put the emphasis on issues that are concern to absolutely all of us, from schoolchildren right up to the country’s President. These are the issues of our education sector, in particular our country’s schools, healthcare, and pensions.
Regarding the situation in our schools, we really do have achievements in our school and university education that we can be proud of. But we cannot keep going on our pride in past achievements alone. We need to recognise that we have lost some of our achievements in the education sector and not stubbornly insist that we have the best education system in the world. Our education system is neither the best nor the worst in the world, but we can make it better, and we can bring up to the highest world standards, and this goes for our schools too.
Which areas should this programme, Our New School, focus on? We need to introduce new education standards, modern standards suited to the demands of the twenty-first century. That is our first task. We need new teachers and new pupils (in the figurative sense). That is to say, we need teachers who, regardless of their age, love their work and want to work in schools, despite all the difficulties of this profession. And we need pupils who are physically and morally prepared for receiving a very complex education.
Finally, schools need to be modern. They should not be old and run down in the literal sense of these words. You cannot teach children in wooden barracks, and to do so is quite simply dangerous at times. It is not a comfortable environment, and people learning and working in this kind of environment develop the feeling that education has no value. On the contrary, schools should provide everything needed for learning, and education should have clearly visible value. But of course, we cannot change everything overnight.
I travel a lot around the regions. I did before and I still do so now. No matter where I go, every place has its achievements. I just looked over the stands and photographs before with this region’s head, and I said to Alexander Alexandrovich [Volkov, President of the Republic of Udmurtia] that although there are plenty of problems, the fact that 170 new educational establishments have been built over these last years is something to be proud of. If anything else it provides something by way of comparison, people can see the difference between the old and the new schools, and can see that this is something worth investing in. The same goes for healthcare, which is another sector that requires large-scale investment. Our new schools, the schools we will have in 10–15 years, should be schools with new educational standards, properly prepared teachers and pupils, built to the latest designs and equipped with all the latest technology. In other words, they will be modern schools. This is our goal, and this is what we will implement.
Question: Dmitry Anatolyevich, you just returned from the Russia-EU summit and from the USA. I know that you went to the summit in the USA with a concept already laid out for a new financial world order that would perhaps see the developed Western countries renounce the selfish national policies you spoke about. Could you tell us about the talks on planning joint action to overcome the crisis, and did Russia make its voice heard? Perhaps you could say something too about what mechanisms you think are most important in this process.
Dmitry Medvedev: First of all, I can say that the talks were not simple, of course. But you realise that when the world’s 20 biggest economies come together for a summit, there are preliminary meetings first at expert level, and then the deputy ministers meet, then the ministers, and only finally do the heads of state come together for a summit. So, we did not get together and, as the papers sometimes describe it, spend three hours talking, adopt some senseless declaration, and go our separate ways. This is absolutely not the case.
I think the talks were quite constructive overall, and the declaration the G-20 adopted is substantive. Furthermore, I did not even expect it would actually be so substantive. People can play clever all they like and say that it is not specific enough or misses something out (though it does set out an action plan that states the specific steps to be taken and in what order). But what is most important is that the leaders agreed on the problems, share a more or less common view of the situation, and have put forward similar proposals on how to resolve these problems.
Why is this so important? Perhaps 30 years ago it would have been possible to ignore the whole thing and say, “we’ll pull ourselves out of this swamp on our own. We have enough resources of our own, and we have our own pride”. But this is no longer possible today. Russia is a country with an open economy, and so long as there is not order in the economies of the developed countries, the big economies of the European Union and the U.S. economy, which is in the biggest difficulties and is pulling the others down, we cannot fully control the situation in our own economy. I spoke about this before with the regional governors. There are downsides to this situation but also pluses, because the global economy, an open economy, offers the best opportunities for development. I therefore think that overall, the summit produced a good result, but this is only the first step.
Of course we need to work actively to create the legal framework for carrying out all of this work, and most importantly, we need to draft new international agreements on the international institutions that will work, and on who will provide loans to who and how, in what volumes, who will be involved, on what principles were loans be made, the control system, monitoring of companies, corporate transparency, and ratings agencies’ evaluations (because these indicators are, to put it mildly, not always honest and accurate). There are also many other external issues, technical issues, but that are nonetheless very important mechanisms. We need to reach agreements on all of these mechanisms. It is not easy to take all the countries’ different views and agree on a common approach and a common set of principles that are in the interests of all. No matter how much I might offend my colleagues in other countries, I must be honest and say that the current financial system is built in the interests of a limited number of countries. I am not blaming them for this, but this was simply the way the system was put together back in the 1940s. Unfortunately, although we also took part in all of these external Bretton Woods talks, this was not all so important to us then. Our economy lived according to its own laws then.
I therefore hope that the second round of talks will be more concrete (the talks that will take place at the end of March or beginning of April). We will take a fresh look at the situation then and it would be good to arrive at some international agreements, because with this we will not be able to build a new financial architecture or fully regulate the crisis.
I think therefore that the Washington summit fulfilled its goals, and the task now is practical implementation of the decisions taken. This is something we all need to take part in, Russia included. Our government will work on this.
Question: Dmitry Anatolyevich, could I get a clarification? The first summit did not cast doubt on the Bretton Woods system…
Dmitry Medvedev: No, it didn’t, but to be frank, those who are happiest with this system were not vocal. There are many countries that are not happy with this system, and they included big countries, developed countries, and not just Russia. It was said at the summit that we should conclude new agreements, and this was said not only by me or by the leaders of countries that were not actively involved in developing the Bretton Woods system. This is an issue in everyone’s minds, and in any case, if we do reach agreement on the main positions, and we have already agreed on the principles, what we would arrive at would not be the Bretton Woods system but something new, and this is absolutely clear.
Question: As everyone knows, the crisis was mainly in the financial and the banking sectors, and thus the majority of ordinary citizens haven't taken much notice of it. But there is the danger that it may soon affect the real economy, and this will inevitably be a painful blow for most of Russia’s citizens. Has the government cabinet planned to take some preventive measures to avoid serious difficulties in the real sector?
Dmitry Medvedev: As a matter of fact, that is why I came to Izhevsk. And not only me, but some 80 of the Russian Federation's regional leaders as well. Because we have just been discussing how to improve the competitiveness of our economy and to maintain our real sector. Now it is clear that the crisis is moving from the financial sector to the real sector – it's simply a fact. As it happens, to this point it has only slightly affected the real sector of our industry: in some areas it is more evident, in others we haven't yet seen the effects. In all likelihood of course the crisis is going to spread, here we have to face reality. Therefore, we must devote all our attention to supporting the real sector on all fronts.
A month ago I held a meeting with the cabinet, at which we simply went through all the industries: what steps could be taken, for example, in the defence industry, or the building materials industry? What measures could be taken in order to preserve the most important trade networks, or the rural economy? We looked at all the possibilities. We didn’t find the same situation in every case, but in every case the problems were in principle the same: the shortage of money, which would lead in turn to the slowing or stopping of production and, in some cases, the ability to buy materials or components, or to pay for imported goods or those coming from Russian suppliers. The result wasn’t a set of orders but a full-fledged programme for what to do. Of course now we are in the most important phase when this programme must be made a reality. And this is in fact what the cabinet is now doing. Naturally I will also be monitoring these processes and, where necessary, be making some adjustments.
Now the main thing is to deal with these financial problems that have developed. Then we can maintain a balanced situation in the real sector, but that does not mean that there will be no problems. There will be, but we need to minimise them.
Question: Which industries do you think are particularly vulnerable to the financial crisis and which are more or less stable and therefore not likely to be negatively affected?
Dmitry Medvedev: You have to understand that every industry is vulnerable in its own way. We can’t say that some are in clover and so won’t be needing any money while others are in a catastrophic situation. On the one hand, we have always said that defence is in a difficult situation. This is true. But given the fact that the defence industry does a lot of its business with the state, this strangely enough can turn out to be an advantage these days. Because even if it doesn’t work exactly as we would like it, not the same quantities, still there the money is guaranteed. It is money from the federal budget that has already been set aside, that is sure to be available.
On the other hand, there are industries that are completely privatised, free market industries that simply cannot do without market money, whether it comes from the domestic credit market, or Europe or other countries. This situation is complicated because the credit markets of other states have closed. Unfortunately this is a fact. They are telling us with the utmost seriousness that there’s no point in looking for money from other countries. So we need to rely on our own opportunities here, until other countries reactivate their credit markets and release the financial outflows again.
This being the case, in some instances we need to help those industries that have been living on credit, like trade, for example. There is a widespread impression that those involved in trade are mere hucksters who buy and sell without ever investing their own money, that they’re swindlers. But trade is actually a complicated, very technical process. And we must reinforce the funding available for, say, large and not so large businesses, because otherwise they will not be able to buy goods; they will be unable to face the challenges that lie before them. In this sense, releasing those financial outflows is particularly important.
Agriculture is also a separate issue. We have so very many difficulties associated with the development of rural areas. And in some cases even a large harvest does not help. But recently farmers have learned how to get loans, and we have made quite a lot of loans to them. Now it is very important not to lose what has been achieved.
These examples could be multiplied.
In principle and unfortunately, because the crisis is global it affects virtually every area. Incidentally, in view of this we should not forget about budgetary and social issues, where there is also a need to ensure constant and continuous funding.
Question: Dmitry Anatolyevich, how would you characterise Russian-American relations, especially against the backdrop of the year’s events? And a second question in passing: how you are going to build a relationship with the President-elect Barack Obama?
Dmitry Medvedev: I have already made quite a number of statements concerning our relations. I think that now of course we have problems with the current administration an it is primarily a crisis of confidence. We believe that in some cases opportunities were missed, and I must tell you frankly that this was not our fault. But now there is no point in dwelling on this. We could, but that is a job for historians and political commentators. The question is what to do in the future.
I think that the current situation presents us with some good opportunities. What are they? On the one hand, we are not starting from scratch. We have a strong traditional basis of good relations with the United States of America, we are very important partners, we very often differ in our views, but nevertheless we are obliged to cooperate.
There is the Sochi Declaration, which in effect underscores the development of our relations over eight years, our achievements and our failures. And it is possible to build such relations in the future. I hope that in many instances the new administration of the United States of America, the new President of the United States, will be able to look at things from a new angle, with eyes wide open, more pragmatically, without any ideological blinkers. That would be sufficient to help us put our relations on a firmer footing.
I repeat that a great deal in the world depends on our relations. Before it was global security, including military and political parity. Now it includes the issues of economic development, because the world is global.
For these reasons, I generally feel that a good, positive change in our relations is possible. For these reasons, we are waiting for the arrival of the new administration. But that does not mean that we have simply quit and put our hands in our pockets, resolved to do nothing. Soon I will be off to the APEC [Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation] summit in Latin America, where I will be meeting with my colleague, the incumbent president. We will also be discussing the things that we are considering today, despite our differences on some issues.
The main thing in Russian-American relations is not to interrupt, not to close down them, not to cut off our cooperation. In my opinion, this is the mistake that was made in the month of August. They began to threaten us: “we are going to cut off relations, we’re not going to have anything to do with you.” And who suffered more because of it? This sort of thing is unacceptable. We need to listen to each other and try to find compromises, even in the most difficult situations.
Question: I have another question concerning foreign policy. You have repeatedly criticised the model of a unipolar world, and you have done so again today. But what role in the creation of a new multipolar world do you envision for the Asia-Pacific countries, and particularly the Russian Far East, which is very close to them?
Dmitry Medvedev: You are absolutely right to raise this issue in the run-up to the APEC summit.
As you know, as recently as 30 or 40 years ago the role of the Asia-Pacific countries was fundamentally different, and we can count on the fingers of one hand those who were singled out as being the locomotives of development. Now there are a huge number of them that are developing faster and better than the Old World, and even than the traditional New World.
Therefore, I think it is imperative for us to build full-fledged relations with most of the states in the Asia-Pacific region. Moreover, they themselves want to build these relations. They are very actively trying to enter our markets, where some of their proposals strike us as very interesting. There are some that we do not quite agree with, when it comes to, say, letting them enter an industry that constitutes a sensitive area for us, of course we will behave accordingly. But in general we expect to develop very strong relations with these nations. Incidentally, this has to happen for the full development of the Far East to take place.
In previous meetings we discussed precisely this sort of question: the many things that you need as residents of the Far East and that are pointless to import from Europe, for example. We know that they will always come from the Asia-Pacific region. And in that sense we must simply take a pragmatic look at this cooperation.
Question: And which country do you think is the most promising: China, Japan, Thailand?
Dmitry Medvedev: Well, you are trying to get me to say politically incorrect things. If I name one country, those who have been following carefully will say: ”Well, the President of Russia named them and said nothing about us, which must mean that we are no longer a priority for Russia.“ Without a doubt all the countries you named are important countries. We have countries with which we have a special relationship, a relationship that is called strategic partnership. For example, the People's Republic of China and India. But that does not mean that other countries are less important for us, just that we have moved forward with some. We want to be friends with everybody.
Question: Ermak, Ural District Television, from the city of Yekaterinburg.
I wanted to ask how Russia will develop relations with South Ossetia and Abkhazia? How important for us is worldwide recognition of our position in relation to these republics? How much have the statements of world leaders changed in comparison with what they said in August?
Dmitry Medvedev: As you know, of course now by virtue of recognising these two entities under international law, we consider them to be full-fledged countries. They are friendly countries and, it must be confessed, very dependent on us; the people who live there speak our language, are close to us in many aspects. Some of them are simply citizens of the Russian Federation. This is the situation from which we now proceed. We want to build full relations in every sense, ranging from diplomatic recognition to diplomatic relations in all matters relating to their safety, including the creation of military bases. Because, unfortunately, I think that without this their existence would be problematic, that the lives of the people who live there would always be under threat. Incidentally this was the motive, the clinching reason for recognising them as independent states.
There are many problems. There are problems with the economy and in the social sphere. We will try to help, we will try to promote business development there. But that is a separate issue.
With regard to recognition by other states, you know, for us that has no particular value in and of itself. If they end up being recognised by other states, maybe for them it would be better, but I can assure you that we will not be asking anyone about it: this is our choice, this is the responsibility of the Russian Federation. Those nations that commit this diplomatic act would of course help these states by granting them diplomatic recognition, but that would not affect their legal status. They are countries according to international law.
As you know, the attitudes of other states can change. A number of states have explicitly told me that they understand why we did it and they agree with us, but for some reason they cannot recognise them now because this could, for example, create a problem for them. Others said that they do not agree with the act of recognition, even knowing that all this happened against the backdrop of aggression. The majority of states said this.
No one disputed the fact that this recognition is linked to an act of aggression by Georgia. Even if they didn’t say it publicly in the media, behind the scenes they admit this in the course of conversations with me and on the phone, and during private meetings. But even this position is becoming more flexible, because in the end, eventually, everything gets straightened out. And what now seems to be an object of concern for some will be looked at differently in the future.
Moreover, we understand that this model can be difficult, but it didn’t appear first in South Ossetia and Abkhazia. It has been tried out in Kosovo and there are other examples on the world map. These really are regions with the problems, but they exist and, in general, their existence is not merely accepted but in fact granted full recognition. Therefore it is a matter of time.
Question: Will it be possible to restore the traditional relations of trust between the Georgian and Russian peoples?
Dmitry Medvedev: I hope so. Look, I will tell you honestly. I hope that the relations between our peoples have not been profoundly affected, despite the armed conflict that Russia was compelled to engage in, because after all there is such a thing as genetic memory. And I hope that the vast majority of those close to us who live in Georgia remember the role played by Russia in establishing their state and recall all the documents that were signed, whatever stories spun by irresponsible politicians.
I can say frankly that, if it weren’t for the position of the Russian side, of what was once the Russian empire, Georgia would not exist as a nation. But that does not mean that we need to keep bringing this up. It’s not that. I am simply saying that there have always been very close relations between us.
As regards the current administration, the current regime, I have this to say: we will have no contact with them because we regard their actions as criminal, and we believe that this incurs liability and that the leader of this state bears personal responsibility for what happened. But in the end the Georgian people must decide these things: they must decide on whom to entrust with authority and whom to deprive of power.
Question: Veliky Novgorod, Slavic People State Television. Dmitry Anatolyevich, will we be going back to the old way of electing leaders of regions or not?
Dmitry Medvedev: I will articulate my position on this one more time. I think that the system of choosing governors that we are now using is the best. At this moment – and today I was talking about the Constitution – though there are no once and forever given systems, I think at the moment and in the near future the current system is the best and the only possible one. Revising it is not only unrealistic but should not be allowed. If the leaders of the Federation’s regions want to talk about this, of course they have the right to talk, but they are not private individuals. If they do not like the current way of selecting governors, they can hand in their resignations.
Question: Weekly newspaper Russia’s Expanses, Orel Region. I'd like to hear your opinion on what is going to happen in the grain market in the near future. This year Russia has collected a record crop – what do you think, what trends do you see in the world and Russian markets, and can this market be a one-off alternative for us in a time of crisis?
Dmitry Medvedev: You know, first of all I’d like to congratulate all the farmers who actually brought in this record crop, the best in history. And of course it is not just the weather. Of course everything is linked to natural conditions, but first and foremost this is the result of the labour of people who work the earth, whose hands have gathered this unique crop — more than 100 million [tonnes].
Now — what is to be done? The situation in the food market is the following. Even in the summer, when I was at the summit in Japan, we talked about how in effect everyone was going to be affected by the food crisis. Prices rose, contracts for higher prices were signed, prices went even higher. And – to speak frankly – it seemed to me at least that this trend would continue.
Suddenly, what happened? First, everywhere in the world the harvest was very good. Then the financial crisis began to develop. This had an impact on purchasing power, that is on what can be bought for future use, and people stopped buying. Prices collapsed, in some cases by 30 to 40 percent. Of course this is a big problem, because it is very unfortunate that there has been such a drop in prices for such an excellent harvest.
But that doesn’t mean that nothing can be done. We have already intervened, money has been made available to buy grain and put it in storage, and we will be raising the levels of some exports. That said, the problem exists.
Not long ago I met with the minister and we talked about this and met with farmers. Because we have to deal with this using the structures in place. The challenge is simple: to save as much of the harvest as possible.
It would simply be a crime to lose it, in view of all the work done by the people and our current capabilities. Moreover, in recent years we have become a country that is no longer a net importer of grain, but rather an exporter. In other words, this means that we are self-sufficient, and we have the possibility of developing our own production internally and for export. As to grain and available agricultural land in general, we are the best country in the world, and this presents us with a tremendous opportunity. Only a few states can compete with us. And in the long run, of course I am confident that this is our great competitive advantage, despite the current economic crisis and the problems in the food market.
Question: Can I ask another question? I’d like to ask about antimonopoly legislation. You said that you personally, using a sort of a hands-on approach, would be addressing any issues related to fuel prices. Do you think that the legal framework in Russia at this time is sufficient for enforcing such a policy? And do you have enough power at present to deal with this?
Dmitry Medvedev: Of course the question is how to make effective use of the rules that exist. I have begun to look a little less often at the laws concerning competition, at laws limiting monopolistic activity, but some time ago I worked fairly hard on creating them. I can assure you that the current legislation is up to date and effective. The tools available to the Federal Antimonopoly Service are good. The sanctions that are available to them are very strict, in some cases they can even be ruinous for violators. The question is how to use them, because we understand that, firstly, there is a danger of destroying some kind of production – that is simply a fact.
And second, there is corruption. It’s everywhere, including of course among the competition authorities themselves, that’s obvious. And when the question of whether to apply some kind of sanction comes up of course various schemes come into play and that is what public servants and law enforcement agencies are responsible to be strict about.
But when it comes to the content side, I think in general our antitrust laws today are good and well balanced, as opposed to, say, what they were ten years ago, when they were very timid and weak. It may not be as draconian as the anti-trust legislation in the United States, but it is decent legislation.
Question: Can I ask a personal question? When you have some free time what do you prefer to watch on TV?
Dmitry Medvedev: Your programmes.
Question: We represent different media here. Which one do you trust more — newspapers, radio, television or the Internet?
Dmitry Medvedev: What do I prefer to do in my spare time? I hope nobody will be offended if I say that I don’t have that much of it. It’s true. In my spare time, I do try to stay in shape and basically spend it in the gym and the pool. That is the first thing.
And of course second is the family, because you have to spend time with those who are related to you. It’s impossible to lead a full life without that. There is never enough time for it but I try to make time all the same.
As for the media, for a long time I have had a rule, one that I came up with before joining the public service, actually during the Soviet era, when all the media were the same and they all wrote about the same things, but even then (the older people here will know what I’m talking about) there were nuances. And if you were comparing Pravda and Izvestia, that involved evaluating the nuances, where something actually happened and what was the real position, right down to the order of the members of the Politburo at the mausoleum. Now the situation is significantly different: everything is transparent. So, still abiding by my rule, I try to get information from different sources: different television channels, both Russian and foreign, thank God there’s lots of opportunity for this; newspapers – even though they say they have all died, I don’t think so, I look at the newspaper in the morning quickly, just dip my hands in, as they say, at breakfast, but this also has its pleasures and its possibilities); and, finally, my favourite is the Internet, which makes it possible to bring everything together: the TV screen, because there is lots of television news there and most newspapers are represented on the Internet and available in one form or another on the web. So I jump from site to site. To be honest, I have probably a dozen sites that I look at almost every day. That doesn’t mean that I read everything that’s there, but I do look at the headlines. There are very different sites: the largest of our sites and our media channels (including Novosti if I haven’t had time to read it); there are sites that are fiercely opposed to the authorities, where they write such things that after reading it I simply want to get back to work and work and work.
Question: Dmitry Anatolyevich, whereabouts are we on that list?
Dmitry Medvedev: Good question. You are already on the list because we’re sitting here together. That’s because you are part of the well-known media. So we do analyse you.
Question: Dmitry Anatolyevich, are you able to devote time to your son? If it’s not a secret, how and where does he go to school and what does he want to be?
Dmitry Medvedev: Of course I do. I cannot say that it is as much time as I would like, or as much as it was in the previous life, but I do devote time to him, all the more so because like anyone he needs to be with his father, to be with his family.
He’s a pretty good student. I can’t say that he gets the highest marks, but then I have always been a bit suspicious of those who get the highest marks. I wasn’t one of the best students at school. I don’t want to offend anybody, but I believe people should get various grades or marks, although ultimately we have to strive for As and the A+s. I am therefore in principle satisfied with how he’s doing. I have to admit that his programme is much more difficult than mine was, because they teach two or three languages from the First Grade on, and many other things at more advanced levels – you have to admire our students for that at least. And they have longer classes.
What does he want to be? I don’t think that he has decided yet. He has had the glimmer of an idea or two. But I don’t want to embarrass him, because once I say something about this everyone one will know, and that will make it difficult for him. Let’s let him decide.
Question: How long will the crisis last?
Dmitry Medvedev: Do you think it’s under my control or what?
Question: Just your opinion?
Dmitry Medvedev: As I recall, I have already said something about this in front of the cameras today. I don’t remember, maybe I didn’t, but I’ll say it now in front of the cameras. There’s a certain perplexity among most of the leaders of the largest states because there has never been such a crisis before: it really is a global one. Previously even large states could isolate themselves, saying: “We have imposed such and such restrictions, everything is frozen and that’s that”. Now we can’t do that, and therefore we don’t understand what shape the crisis is going to take. This is obviously a bad thing, because we do not know where the bottom is, or when we have entered the last phase of the fall, so to speak, after which growth will begin again. It will happen no matter what, because the market economy is cyclical. Things will go back up, but the exact time frame is still unclear. At some subconscious level, I personally see this as a definite small advantage, the fact that this began as a global crisis. Perhaps if there is a global pattern it will end quickly enough in almost all countries – this is at least what we must try to bring about. In other words, the opportunities to influence the crisis are also global, and this makes us all stronger. This constitutes an advantage. But how much of one? I wouldn’t want to sign a promissory note to that effect. But I can advise you with total confidence, as they say, no need to go to a wisewoman or palm-reader: next year will be very difficult.