Zhang Yu: I was very happy that you have accepted our request for this interview.
Dmitry Medvedev: I am also glad to be interviewed by you.
Zhang Yu: I have learnt that you swim in the pool every morning and evening. Is it so?
Dmitry Medvedev: What you say is absolutely true. Indeed, I swim in the mornings and evenings, in the morning I swim a long distance, and in the evening – a shorter one. On average I swim about 1,000 to 1,500 meters a day to keep fit. I think that it is very important for everybody, including the President, as there is certain stress in my work, flights and trips. Russia is a large country after all. And in general, I think that it is very important for all of us to be in good shape.
In this regard, I would like to say that Chinese culture also gives us fine examples of how to exercise and look after one's health. There is traditional Chinese medicine. We are very interested in all of these issues now, and are keeping close tabs on it with certain fascination.
Zhang Yu: Thank you very much.
We noted that in your first Address to the Federal Assembly you mentioned that the Russian economy is facing great difficulties. Can we say now that those difficulties have already been overcome?
Dmitry Medvedev: Indeed, my budget policy outlines and some other documents are largely focused on the situation in the economy. Unfortunately, we cannot say yet that all the difficulties have been overcome. That is true, I think, with regard to the entire world economy and all national economies. All of us are now undertaking efforts to address the consequences of the global financial crisis; we are doing that in our country, our partners are doing that, and the People's Republic of China is doing that too.
What can I say about the current situation? Unfortunately, in recent years, despite a certain progress achieved in modernising our national economy, we failed to solve a number of problems. I have in mind, first of all, the commodity bias in our exports as well as our failure to create an elaborate and effective banking system which would be less sensitive to speculative financial flows. That is why, when we came to face problems with our exports, including falling prices for major energy commodities, and the outflow of speculative funds omnipresent on any market we found ourselves in a rather difficult situation which could not but affect the industrial production and the entire real sector resulting in the slowing down of the economy growth. Unfortunately, this year we do not expect any GDP growth in absolute figures. Rather, the GDP is likely to drop. For the moment we are anticipating a 6 percent fall but the situation can aggravate.
Regarding other indicators, they also could be better. Inflation, though it has slowed down, remains high and there are problems on the labour market with the total number of officially unemployed exceeding 2.2 million which is quite a lot for Russia. Besides, there are those who are not registered with employment centres. Overall, in our estimate the number of people looking for a job is about 6 million. Therefore, it is a serious social problem which we are also trying to address.
What is being done to that end? A special government anti-crisis program has been developed to support the real sector of the economy, including individual enterprises, especially large ones being sole or major employers for local residents. Another program has been designed to support people who either have lost their jobs, are on an unpaid vacation or have to work part-time. Measures contemplated in the latter program include retraining, raising unemployment benefits, assistance in launching numerous small businesses which would employ people who are currently unemployed. It is quite a serious, arduous effort that we undertake. We do not overdramatise the situation which is, in general, neither worse nor better than in the majority of developed economies, but we understand that a lot still needs to be done.
Just a few days ago, St Petersburg International Economic Forum was held. Within its framework, I met with representatives of other countries and, naturally, we all came to a rather simple conclusion that the global crisis requires a global response which makes it necessary to set a new financial architecture, and that is what we are doing now. We are doing that in coordination with our partners, especially such close ones as the People's Republic of China.
Zhang Yu: As for the Russian raw materials exports, we know that the energy sector played a major role in reviving the Russian economy. In the current global financial and economic crisis energy prices have sunk, and the Russian economy is now facing certain problems. In what way, you think, should they be addressed?
Dmitry Medvedev: The solution is as follows: on the one hand, we should develop our energy sector as the fundamental industry shaping our export capacity and generating the main cash flow. On the other hand, we must on the whole reform and diversify the economic structure in our country. We need more economic diversity. We have quite a number of relevant programmes; we believe, for instance, that innovations, which constitute a very promising factor of economic development, are under-used in our country. We would like to see our economy more adapted to modern conditions. We would like to see a greater share of IT in the economy. We would like our companies to be more fit for contemporary economic environment. In this context, the main lesson we have learned from this crisis is the need to set up a more diverse economy. We look at other players, analyse other countries' experiences, study the energetic and successful development of the Chinese economy in recent years. We see that you managed to significantly diversify your economy. That has stood China in good stead helping it to withstand the impacts of the economic crisis. This is exactly the approach we should follow. This maybe the main lesson of the crisis and the main initiative for the future.
Zhang Yu: Before you took the office of the President, you had repeatedly asserted that your task was to improve the quality of life of the people; now, during your Presidency you are facing the economic crisis. Is the current situation likely to affect your crucial task, i.e. improvement of quality of life of the people?
Dmitry Medvedev: Certainly, the task will stand unchanged. Improvement of the quality of life of Russian citizens is a task of paramount importance for the state and a major priority of our social development. In the current situation, the crisis is, certainly, not something that makes people feel positive; however, so far we had no substantial worsening. Moreover, we practically managed to preserve the revenue base that existed both in the private and public sectors. We adjust the benefits, the wages, and we also keep an eye on private enterprises to ensure timely payment of wages.
There are problems with certain companies that have problems due to, for instance, the operation cycle disruptions or collapse of export prices. Such companies receive specific targeted support.
However, there is nothing dramatic with the living standards of our people. And we are set to ensure that the impact of the crisis on the living standards in Russia be almost none.
I believe this goal is feasible; we should just go for it on a daily basis. This is exactly what our Government and I are doing.
Zhang Yu: When we arrived in Russia, we learned that according to opinion polls your approval rating is 68 percent. It means that you have not disappointed the voters' trust.
We would also like to know how you assess your first year of Presidency?
Dmitry Medvedev: I think that it is not up to me to assess the ratings or even more so – to give an assessment of my own actions. First and foremost, it is the business of those who track the actions of politicians and, naturally, sociological researchers.
Yet, speaking of my perceptions, I believe that despite rather many dramatic events, that took place during the last few years, including the current crisis that gives all of us a rather bad time, our main achievement is that we have managed to maintain the development trend of our country and society, and the pursuit of the goals that we have set. Not a single social program, not a single economic program has been rolled back even despite the crisis. This is probably what is most important. We want to ensure the fulfilment of those tasks, which we have put so much effort into during the last few years. By the way, our foreign policy priorities remain the same, including development of close partnership relations with the People’s Republic of China — our strategic partner — with which we have special trust-based friendly relations. So, I believe that this kind of continuity should ensure stable development of our country for many years ahead. This is what I will continue to do.
Zhang Yu: As far as we know, you have your own Internet blog frequented by a large audience. Do you maintain it personally? Do you read the comments left by its visitors?
Dmitry Medvedev: This is a good, relevant question. You know, I have been using Internet for a rather long time, probably for about 12 years and I have been following the development of this global information network. I think it is a very promising thing and for a very big number of individuals on our planet it is a source of the most various – official, news and informal — information that meets the most different requirements. That is why I found it important that the state leaders have a good command of it. For these reasons the Presidential web portal was modified to include a special section where the video blog of the President of the Russian Federation is maintained. I make notes there periodically, present my views on one or another topical issue. I address domestic issues, including those related to the crisis, sometimes I highlight less pressing subjects that are yet of great interest for our people, and sometimes I talk on the foreign policy problems.
Certainly after that these subjects are discussed, people write their comments expressing interest and sometimes criticism and sometimes their gratitude for something. But nevertheless it is very important that such first-hand information really comes on my desk, in more exact terms, to my PC and I see by myself what the people who visit the web-site and comment on my video blog presentation, write.
Sometimes in case of complicated situations I give certain instructions, because if there are some major and serious shortcomings or problems I have to issue immediate instructions to rectify ones. I do not do it all the time but in some cases it has to be done. So this is a direct and very efficient information channel that links the President, on the one hand, to all other people having a computer and wishing to communicate, on the other hand.
Zhang Yu: On May 20, an entry appeared in your blog which generated great public interest. Its subject was fight against corruption. You also said that you would declare your and your family's income.
The question is whether this is a symbolical act or any measures have been taken to fight corruption which lead to a real tangible result?
Dmitry Medvedev: You know, this decision — I refer to the decision to fight corruption — has little to do with the blog entry of May 20; the decision had been made much earlier. Certainly, there may be some symbolism, but it was mainly a substantive step. Corruption is a social evil, and a great evil for Russia, I regret to say. It can be found in any society, in any state, yet for us it is a burning issue. Therefore it calls for a systemic response.
I am referring to amending legislation. I referred to it as far as a year ago. Now the relevant legislation has been adopted. We have established a special national Anti-Corruption Council which is tasked with countering corruption. Changes have been introduced to legislation. A special law has been adopted which has defined the corruption and for the first time included special requirements applying to civil servants. A number of Presidential executive orders have been enacted. Certainly, these decisions should necessarily be backed with relevant steps at the ministerial, regional and municipal levels. For this reason it is vital that this message from the top is heard all the way to the bottom.
As for my being happy with any results of this work, you know, it is too early to speak about it; the work has just begun. This issue has a long history and is a burning one. Nevertheless, the fact that we have managed to elaborate a legal framework for the first time in the Russian history — that is, for the first time in a thousand years — is an achievement. That means some experience has been gained, including the practices of civil servants' declaring their incomes. Certainly, one can always say that part of the income may be concealed, yet if a civil servant has declared his or her income and at the same time he or she has property which does not correspond to this income, it will always provoke discussions in the media, in the press, and make law enforcement agencies analyze and respond to this situation. That is why a step was made in the right direction when all ministers, senior officials of the Presidential Executive Office, and regional governors followed the President's example and published their income declarations. We will continue our efforts, as the task is really immense; yet, I believe we can curb corruption in this country.
Zhang Yu: You said it was difficult for you to assess your own performance, but could you nevertheless make an assessment of your work in tandem with Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. You once said that time would prove the efficiency of this tandem. It has been a year since you said it. How well do you think this tandem is working at present?
Dmitry Medvedev: I think that everything is all right, everything is fine. I believe that we indeed work together efficiently — me as President, and Mr Putin as Prime Minister. Furthermore, I must say frankly that during our joint work we faced a series of dramatic events, including the crisis that we are discussing, and some other problems of regional dimension. I believe that due to our concerted efforts we manage to resolve many problems and we are doing it quite efficiently. I would like to reiterate that it is not up to the politicians to assess their own performance, nevertheless I believe that this mechanism works and it works effectively.
Zhang Yu: Chinese President Hu Jintao will make a state visit to Russia in just a few days. What kind of results do you expect to get from this visit, and what do you think of future prospects for the relations between China and Russia?
Dmitry Medvedev: Needless to say that we have high expectations. We are looking forward to meeting Chinese President Hu Jintao in our country during his state visit, which will become an important milestone in the Russian-Chinese relations. What is more important, however, is that we communicate on a regular basis, holding at least four or five meetings a year in various formats. A state visit, of course, is the culminating point, but we communicate in other formats as well, meet each other at various international forums as well as at regional organisational meetings of any kind. For example, our country will soon host the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation summit in Yekaterinburg, as well as the first summit of BRIC, the organization of Brazil, Russia, India and China. Such regional and international forums also give us an opportunity to share information.
As for the visit itself, it is clearly a landmark event. It takes place regularly, at least once a year, in the form of either the Chinese President’s visit to our country or the Russian President’s visit to the People’s Republic of China, and is usually accompanied by a series of parallel events. To begin with, our countries have actually established strategic partnership and cooperation, and each of these visits helps to deepen them. We have recently achieved a substantial progress in our trade and economic as well as humanitarian relations. Naturally, such visits provide an opportunity for signing new agreements and finding new ways for the promotion of our multifaceted ties.
A lot has been done recently to advance our energy dialogue. In fact, we have launched this mechanism a while ago; we first agreed on it with the Chinese President during my first visit to the People’s Republic of China last year, which was, in fact, one of my first international visits. This mechanism has proved to be effective. We have concluded solid and serious energy agreements on a practical level, and we have implemented a whole bunch of economic projects, not just energy-related ones. We hope to advance them further as well, including through our joint efforts with the Chinese President.
Our humanitarian dialogue is making good progress. The Year of Russia in China and the Year of the People’s Republic of China in Russia have been among the most significant events in recent years. They were held on an unprecedented scale, with each side organising approximately 300 events, which helped our citizens to get to know each other better. This year was designated as the Year of the Russian Language in the People’s Republic of China; next year will be declared as the Year of the Chinese Language in Russia. A whole series of events will mark these occasions, with approximately 40 to 50 various thematic events being planned by each side. We therefore maintain very intensive contacts at the level of our bilateral relations.
Yet we also have this international dimension. Russia and the People’s Republic of China coordinate their positions on international issues, the issues of maintaining regional security within the SCO and BRIC formats that I have just mentioned, as well as through our contacts in the framework of interaction of our two countries at the United Nations. We also have formats in which our countries participate as key peace process and verification sponsors.
Let me just mention, for instance, the situation around North Korea. In other words, our relations are really at the highest level. Speaking with utmost openness, this is the highest level of ties in the history of Russian-Chinese relations. Now these are genuinely friendly and partner relations. And we would like to further develop them. All the more so as on October 2, 2009, we will be celebrating the 60th anniversary of establishment of diplomatic relations between our two countries, and on October 1, 2009, the People’s Republic of China is going to celebrate a great day – the 60th anniversary of the establishment of the People's Republic of China. I think that these two events are very closely connected.
Zhang Yu: I think that no one could miss the news story this March that showed you at the control wheel of the Su-34 aircraft. And of course many immediately recalled how Mr Putin, the then President, flew a combat aircraft during the Chechen campaign.
We wonder whether it was not just your interest in military equipment. Probably you wanted to deliver some kind of a message by this?
Dmitry Medvedev: I indeed wanted to deliver several messages. First, I wanted to learn first-hand about the potential of Russian equipment, Russian aircraft and, in particular, such modern aircraft as Su-34. And I wish to tell you straightly that I have experienced it all personally and therefore I am convinced that this equipment is really great. We are interested to expand the export geography for these aircraft to include our neighbours as well as other countries. This is message number one.
Message number two is obvious. Any national leader is the Commander-in-Chief and should put himself in the shoes of the people serving in the Armed Forces and go through their experiences: excessive strain and other challenges facing those who have dedicated their lives to military service. Therefore, the flight was in a way my fulfilled desire to feel the experience of our pilots when they go through overloads in order to fulfil complex, sometimes combat, tasks. It is simply necessary in order to do my job better. I am glad I have done this. Among other things it is very exciting to make a fly-by and have a look at our country, at our land from the Su-34 aircraft, which is an excellent fighter-bomber.
Zhangyu: We noted that in your first State of the Nation Address you criticised the United States, in particular, over the issue of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. How do you evaluate the present international order?
Dmitry Medvedev: Well, the situation around South Ossetia and Abkhazia is certainly very complicated. Let me recall that in the judgment of the Russian Federation and in my own opinion as the President of the country, everything that happened was brought about by the irresponsible and delinquent policy pursued by the Georgian leadership at that time. If it were not for these witless actions life could develop differently. Nevertheless, some very grave actions, very dangerous actions were committed that led to human losses. As a result, the Russian Federation had to protect its own citizens, the citizens of South Ossetia and in fact the citizens of Abkhazia too. After that we granted recognition to these new states, having recognised South Ossetia and Abkhazia as subjects of international law.
The United States took a rather tough stand regarding these actions. Finally, this is for this state to decide. We took our decision all by ourselves, without reckoning upon any support in this regard since this was our humanitarian, and, if you wish, simply and solely moral duty in this situation. Nevertheless, we really had rather difficult talks on this subject with the United States and other European partners, but I am not dramatising anything. The present situation is somewhat different. We may diverge on certain issues but our decision is irreversible, the decision we adopted was certainly painful. Today we are engaged in rendering assistance to these new states — both economic, humanitarian and military technical — and will continue to do this in the future, irrespective of whether somebody likes it or not. This is our choice and we will work with these projects.
However needless to say that we are ready to and will discuss with our partners all the issues related to the whole security situation in the Caucasus, the issues of both humanitarian and economic nature, being prepared to do this in any venues. The only thing is that we have some kind of ”red lines“. One of them I already mentioned- this is our decision to grant recognition. And the second one is our attitude to the present Georgian regime. It is our view that this political regime committed a crime and we shall have nothing in common with it. At the same time after elections that sooner or later will be held in Georgia we surely will be ready to resume deliberations on different issues if the Georgian people elect a new leadership capable of maintaining a friendly dialogue with Russia and with close neighbours of the Georgian state — peoples of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.
Zhang Yu: Thank you very much.
Mr President, do you have time to go to shows and performances?
Dmitry Medvedev: Not very often but sometimes I go to the theatre. This does not happen as often as I wish, time was when I went to the theatre more frequently.
Zhang Yu: Let me make you a genuinely Chinese present. This is a pencraft made by a very famous Chinese craftsman.
D.Medvedev: What is written here?
Zhang Yu: Wisdom and virtuousness win new friends. These are your qualities — wisdom and virtuousness.
Dmitry Medvedev: The more so when it comes to such close friend of ours as the People's Republic of China.
Thank you. This is beautiful. I like Chinese art very much, including pencraft. Generally speaking, I would like to say that we take a great interest in Chinese art and Chinese history.