President of Russia Dmitry Medvedev: This is my first time speaking in this hall. Usually different events take place here, but I hope it is proving a hospitable venue.
Dear friends, I will start by saying a few words, and if you are interested I am ready to answer some of your questions, since asking questions is your profession.
First of all, I am very pleased to have the chance to address this Forum of European and Asian Media here in Moscow. It has been two decades now that we have been living in different countries, and this has created a fair few problems, but at the same time there are also things that unite us.
On the one hand, we know each other well, know each other’s faces in many cases. On the other hand, we do indeed need to get to know each other afresh, receive new information about each other’s lives, the principles we follow, the organisations working in our countries, our vision of the future, and our vision of our lives together. This is all the more important in this complex and at the same time information-saturated age when new communication technology and new means of obtaining information are emerging and developing. We all welcome these advances, even though for some of you here they create direct competition with the traditional forms of media in which you work.
But I think that these developments are positive because they are a powerful force for expanding the information field. Even those at the top are following the fashion now. I started my own blog a little more than a year ago. I think these kinds of personal internet diaries are a good tool for direct communication and a means of obtaining diverse and, most importantly, rapid information on what is happening in the country and the world. At the same time, they give us the opportunity to step into the journalist’s skin a little when answering questions or writing entries. I do not always find it easy, but nevertheless try to keep up with all of this work personally, and I hope that I thus give my personal touch to the information work I carry out.
We are working on developing many other technologies too (I am one of those people very interested in this subject), including digital television. Russia already has several digital zones operating, areas where digital broadcasting is up and running, above all in Moscow and St Petersburg. We hope that by 2015 we will be able to start full-fledged national digital broadcasting. A lot of money – billions of dollars in federal money and money from business organisations – is being put into this project.
I am telling you this because your countries are engaged in the same work, or will be so in the future, and I think that it would be useful for all of us to synchronise these efforts. We could carry out joint business projects in this area. But this is not all. The fact of the matter is that building a common digital space would help us to preserve the common information space that is one of our indisputable assets.
Of course, there needs to be constant dialogue within the media community. This dialogue should take place on an equal, pragmatic and non-politicised basis. We are all different, but we also share many common roots. Again I say that in these new conditions we need to learn how to listen to and understand each other better.
We must not let ourselves get intoxicated by the idea that we share a common history and therefore have no problems hearing and understanding each other. We create history and we are part of history. History changes and many of the models widespread 20, 30, 40 or even 100 years ago are absolutely unacceptable today. I think it is therefore an excellent goal to learn how to listen to and understand each other better, become better at interpreting the information coming from our different countries, without blinkers and ideological prejudices, in calm and pragmatic fashion.
I think that modern media outlets with modern technology at their disposal and staffed by professionals are one of the attributes of a strong and independent country (of this I am convinced), whether large or not so large. The existence of its own developed media (not the actively broadcasting foreign media that shape the information space but local media) is a sign of a country’s sovereignty. I think this is certainly the case as far as Russia is concerned, and I imagine you take the same view with regard to your own countries.
I wish you good and productive discussions. Your discussions have already begun, and are intense in nature. This is normal. This is what you came for, these fierce but at the same time friendly discussions.
I will end here — end my opening remarks, in any case. If you have questions, anything you wanted to ask but were afraid to do so earlier, you can do so now.
Editor-In-Chief For RIA Novosti Svetlana Mironyuk: I would like to make a brief remark, Mr President. Today, the roles in the world of media are all mixed up: writers become readers, while readers become writers and bloggers. With your own blog, you have essentially entered our professional community. Thus, I would like to suggest that today we view your words not just as a speech from the President of the Russian Federation, but as a member of our professional community as well.
Dmitry Medvedev: That means that I have even greater responsibility. All right, I will focus.
Svetlana Mironyuk: Colleagues, I would like to stress that we have a limited amount of time to ask the President only a few questions.
Anna Shelepova: I represent the New Generation newspaper from Kazakhstan. I would like to get a clearer understanding of your opinion regarding the fact that Kazakhstan will be presiding over the OSCE. What are your thoughts about it?
Dmitry Medvedev: I only have good thoughts.
First of all, we are just generally pleased that Kazakhstan, our close partner and a nation with which we have friendly relations, will be presiding over the OSCE. I believe that to a certain extent, this will help the OSCE renew its position.
I recall I was just a teenager when respected leaders signed the Helsinki Final Act on Security and Cooperation in Europe. A lot of time has passed since then. Europe has changed a great deal, and new states emerged in it. Europe has become much more united – it has come together and it has formed a unified economic zone. Its political institutions have changed too, maybe not as rapidly as it was required, but there is a positive side to this, because the institutions, including OSCE, need to be reasonably conservative. The fact that our partner will preside over the OSCE is a very good thing which I supported from the very beginning. I am confident that the idea of holding an OSCE summit would be very useful because OSCE leaders have not met all together for a long time. European leaders need to regularly meet at various European forums, which does not contradict to the ideas of the overall European security I recently outlined. Even though we are ready to participate in the OSCE in diverse formats and even though the OSCE is a good thing as one of the operating platforms and should be further developed, nevertheless, we believe that it is now time to think about the future. The OSCE does not cover all security issues, nor does the European Union, nor even, I dare say, NATO, same as other organisations, including ones that Russia participates in, such as the CIS, the CSTO, etc.
That is why we need to think about the future of Europe’s security. Last year, I put forward an idea on this topic: the European Security Treaty. I recently posted the draft of this document on the presidential website and sent letters about it to leaders in Europe, the United States, and Canada.
Vladimir Skachko (Kiev Telegraph): Mr President, I may be misunderstood if I fail to ask about gas matters. It’s wintertime and presidential elections in Ukraine are not far away. We can cause interruption in gas supplies to Europe, and Russia will lose money. Thus, I have the following question: in [media] coverage of these problems, there is an accusatory tone on both sides. Why do you think there is such an approach? It is a result of foolishness, patriotism, or government policy? How can this be avoided? Do you think we will supply gas to Europe, or won’t we?
Dmitry Medvedev: Clearly, discussions regarding gas cannot be avoided at this meeting. I cannot argue with this, especially since I have dealt extensively with the issue of gas in the past. Even before coming to the Kremlin as President, I worked on gas-related matters, although I did it in a different organisation, so this topic is close to my heart. What mainly causes the gas problems we all have: foolishness, political manoeuvring, real economic hardships, or a desire to score political points during the election campaign currently underway in Ukraine? All of the above does. I do not want to mention anyone in particular, and I do not want to accuse anybody of anything. You are familiar with Russia’s position; it has not changed in regard to this matter.
As far as the immediate future is concerned, I think that overall, if our Ukrainian partners act responsibly, everything will be okay – there is enough gas for Europe, as well as other energy sources. We signed an agreement this year that will span ten years – or, more precisely, we signed two agreements. One of them concerns gas supplies to Ukraine, and the other concerns transit through the country. Both are ten-year agreements, and both are currently in effect. I am convinced that suggestions to reconsider these agreements are absolutely irresponsible. We are not against discussing certain points. We are open to discussions and to improving the agreements. But a unilateral refusal to honour the agreement is a breach of contract that will lead to sanctions. Thus, we consider this approach unacceptable.
As for the conditions of the agreement, let me remind you that this year, conditions for Ukraine were as follows: we discounted the contract price by 20 percent, but at the same time, it was agreed to preserve the transit tariff that had been in place before. Starting next year, we will be introducing purely free market conditions for gas trade where gas will be priced according to international market situation. The leadership of Ukraine has been insisting on increasing the transit tariffs, so they will be determined by the market mechanisms for these services as well and there will be no discounts. I think that everything here is entirely fair. Along with my colleagues in the Cabinet, I personally spent a lot of time on convincing our Ukrainian partners and our European partners to help resolve certain economic and financial problems that Ukraine faced in paying for its gas. Even now, we are continuing these efforts, and every month our Ukrainian friends pay for their gas (which makes me very happy), in spite of occasional clamour about shortage of money, about decisions by the Ukrainian president to stop financing, or about failure by the Ukrainian prime minister to act as required. At the same time, our partners in the European Union tell me, quietly, “You see, we are working, the Ukrainians have money, and we are helping them out.”
And so, we hope that this final transition to market-based prices and payments for Ukraine will be painless, or as problem-free as possible.
Valery Niyazmatov: I am the editor-in-chief of the Russian-language newspaper Novy Vek [New Age] in Uzbekistan.
In recent years, the topic of free speech has appeared, on and off, as a hot, debated topic in the media. Sometimes, the idea is framed as a kind of permissiveness, including demands to allow using obscenities. I would like to know your opinion on the freedom of speech in Russia – or, to be exact, in the Russian media.
Dmitry Medvedev: First of all, I hope that freedom of speech is alive and well in Uzbekistan. If you are asking me this question, I assume that you are not worried about this issue as it applies in Uzbekistan. As for freedom of speech in our nation, let me respond to you in the same manner: it is alive and well in our country too, as demonstrated by our conversation today, as well as the opportunity to use a variety of means to deliver information to the public.
I have commented on this topic many times during general discussions and during my conversations with the media, and I have always recalled what my partners from the United States said to me during a visit to Washington: “Everything is going badly in your country; your television, your radio, and your newspapers aren’t what they used to be.” So I asked them, “Okay, but have you read or watched any of them?” “No,” they said, “we did not read any of them, but we are making these judgements based on what we read in our press.” After that, we would get into a discussion of what the media should be publishing in general. And this is a very complex theoretical topic: what are the boundaries of what is possible, and what should be permitted? What are the taboos or things that should not be happening in a civilised society, based on how we see our society? This will always be a delicate issue.
You mentioned obscenities. Like you, I feel that, overall, obscenities should not be used in the media. However, I’m not sure that everyone present would agree with us. They will say that obscenities are a part of our culture, something we use occasionally and quietly. This is one example of an issue where the reaches of freedom of speech will always be debated.
In my view, freedom assumes responsibility and competence. I recently spoke about this and will repeat it again before this distinguished audience: a journalist’s key responsibility is to speak the truth; the way that you do this is your business and your choice.
Malkhaz Gulashvili: Mr President, along with the Public Chamber of Russia, we have created a commission to resolve problems related to settling the crisis following the events in August 2008. We put forward a question last year, and I would like to ask you this question today: in your view, what is preventing the resumption of direct flights between Moscow and Tbilisi and opening the Lars customs checkpoint to Georgia as well as Armenia? This is my first question.
Second, when do you think Georgian goods can be returned to the Russian market and what can we do to encourage this?
Dmitry Medvedev: Please, ask a third question. I rarely get the chance to answer questions from the Georgian media.
Malkhaz Gulashvili: Finally, how can we simplify the visa formalities between our nations? After all, we do not represent authorities or opposition – we represent the public, and we feel that lifting restrictions would do more good rather than have a negative impact. Thank you, Mr President.
Dmitry Medvedev: Thank you, Malkhaz. I will try to answer your questions in order, especially since they are very practical and do not require an analysis of what happened. We all know well what happened. We may assess these events differently, but the fact remains: unfortunately, our political relations were destroyed. This applies specifically to our political, interstate relations. Russia’s position, and President Medvedev’s position, is that the breakdown of relations was not our fault. I do not want to delve into the details of the unfortunate events that occurred over a year ago.
But now, let’s talk about what is to be done next. Let us put aside the issue of political contacts – I have said many times that I will not communicate with the current Georgian President and certain other politicians, precisely because we have diverging views and our assessments of the events in August are too different. I am confident that President Saakashvili has direct legal responsibility for the crime committed. However, this does not mean that we must postpone all of our other relations. It is unquestionable that the friendship between our peoples has spanned centuries, and has a particular history. I will not bring up obvious facts about situations when Russia helped Georgia in the past. That is why we must first of all maintain all of the positive aspects of what has been done before.
Second, we must not avoid the normal, everyday issues for the reasons of not communicating with certain individuals, and must not allow our friendship to be torn apart and all of the problems ignored. I think that the problems you mentioned – including direct flights by airline companies and opening the Upper Lars Checkpoint – all of these are absolutely normal issues to discuss and resolve. And, overall, I do not see any real obstacles. First and foremost, these issues concern the interests of average people, who continue their friendships as before and who continue communicating with one another, in spite of the high level of wariness we now see within the political establishment and the openly rigid opposition between our governments on the international arena regarding certain issues.
As for Georgian goods on the Russian market, I believe there shouldn’t be any problems at all. Georgian products that are imported legally into the Russian Federation should be accepted and sold in the same way as all other products. How can you encourage this? Through legal means, if possible.
Now, about visas. This, by the way, is not just a problem between Russia and Georgia. We currently require visas for citizens of several states represented here today. Overall, I can say this: it is unfortunate, because the amount of communication between our peoples – both in the past and, I hope, in the future – is such that objectively, visas really are an obstruction. Of course, visas reflect the general tone of relations between states. Here, I cannot promise you that we will eliminate the visa requirement tomorrow, especially given the current lack of diplomatic relations between Russia and Georgia. But you are absolutely right in that we must work to improve visa regulations for citizens of Georgia and other nations represented here today. Our peoples have visited one another for centuries without any visas or other formalities.
We are now moving toward a visa-free zone with the European Union. I hope that this will come to fruition in the near future. I also hope that one day, we will see visa-free travel between Georgia and Russia as well.
Marius Laurinavicius: I’m from the newspaper Lietuvos Rytas (Lithuania). Mr President, I want to ask you a question that may be important for Lithuania, for example, and other countries as well.
You have talked a lot recently about what Russia has to change, including with respect to international relations. On the other hand, the current President of Lithuania and our Foreign Minister have said a lot about the particular importance of improving relations with Russia. So it would seem that on both sides there might be some sort of breakthrough. I want to ask: will Russia be doing anything specific, perhaps some sort of symbolic good will gesture, or something else aiming at improving relations with the Baltic countries in general and with Lithuania in particular?
Dmitry Medvedev: You know, I would really like to see an improvement in our relations with the Baltic countries, including those with Lithuania, not just on paper or in the form of some verbal declarations, which are easy to prepare and sign, but in the genuinely pragmatic sense of the word. So that we can have a normal, reciprocal exchange of goods, so that tourism can flourish, so that there can be an open debate about the most difficult aspects of our mutual history, and so that there is a regular exchange of delegations at every level, including the highest level. Unfortunately in recent years not much has happened in this sense. I don’t want to single out anyone for blame in this regard. I should say though that currently in Lithuania the prerequisites are in place for reactivating this dialogue.
I talked with Ms President not so long ago, when we were in Berlin, and I think that we have a good chance to step up the pace of this exchange. Of course we must do some symbolic things that will be perceived in the appropriate way. For example, it is true that we are all currently in a very difficult economic situation, and by the way the Baltic countries have suffered a lot in this regard, perhaps even more so than other countries. This should be taken into account in our mutual relations, and we have to pay careful attention when they turn to us, for example, with demands for certain goods. This is important.
On the other hand, we need to listen to our partners, when for example untried formats are suggested as means of resolving the most difficult issues, and when instead of repeatedly resorting to the same stock phrases to characterise a complex situation: our relationship 50 years ago was this, 100 years ago it was that, in this century, something else, — the mutual search for some sort of common ground goes on. This is what I was referring to earlier. That is, we are trying to get to know each other in new ways.
If there is to be a link between these two approaches (the pragmatic or economic, on the one hand, and the ideological or moral – if you like – on the other), then everything will be fine, and our relations will move to a much higher level. In any event, I really do hope that this happens, not only with Lithuania but with the other Baltic countries as well, with Latvia and Estonia.
Of course, different people are in charge of the government, different people are in charge of the state apparatus, but sometimes we need to get beyond the ideological stereotypes that have emerged and weighed down our discussions. Of course it’s important to remember what unites us and the hardships we have suffered. The idea of trying to pry open our history is also unacceptable. A revisionist approach to the obvious facts of history is a very dangerous thing.
So I think convergence through dialogue is the best way to proceed.
Question: I represent Israeli television and radio.
As you know, Mr President, Russian is the mother tongue of approximately 20 percent of Israelis – not mine as it happens. When you talk about a Russian-language media space, is it these people that you have in mind? Thank you.
Dmitry Medvedev: Of course this constitutes a very important audience for us. We feel very close to the citizens of Israel who speak Russian. It goes without saying that we would like to develop our contacts with both Israel and with that part of the Israeli population that considers the Russian language, along with Hebrew and some other languages, as its mother tongue. We would like the Israeli media to cater to this Russian-speaking audience. We believe that this is an excellent opportunity for the development of interstate and interpersonal relations. So we are keen to assist in this process. I think it would be a good thing.
Svetlana Mironyuk: Our global reach is expanding.
Dmitry Medvedev: Yes, you’re right. Is this part of Europe or Asia?
Svetlana Mironuk: Post-Soviet territory.
Dmitry Medvedev: Well, since in some sense Israel is a post-Soviet territory, I can’t argue with that.
Alexander Isaev: Mr President, I would like to welcome you on behalf of our delegation from the Republic of Moldova.We have here representatives, our colleagues from Trans-Dniester and our colleagues from Gagauzia [an autonomous part of Moldova]. Our delegation consists of Ukrainians, Russians, Jews, Gagauz, and as a small international team we would like to thank you very much for agreeing to speak at this forum.
My question is as follows: there is a huge Russian-language press corps. For example, the Russian Embassy always agrees to help in finding partners for them and in creating new opportunities, but after all diplomatic missions are not the best way to provide this kind of support. Do you think it is possible to increase support for the Russian-language press from Russian public funds, and are there any new opportunities of this sort on the horizon?
Dmitry Medvedev: Of course I think that we should help the Russian-language press. I do not see this as interference in the internal affairs of other countries for the simple reason that all over the world there are nations interested in preserving their linguistic space. And it’s not only the Russian language – it’s French, English, and others too: take any language you like, every country is interested in preserving this space. And we’re no different. Naturally we would like to increase support for Russian-language press, using the legislation of the countries that you represent. Of course this press is Russian in the linguistic sense, but its origins are national.
We have programmes related to this subject. They’re government programmes, but that’s no big deal: they’re programmes designed to assist our compatriots between now and 2011 as well as other sorts of government programmes, and we will be using them all. But I agree that it would be better to employ social instruments, to engage other funds in this kind of support. We have such funds. We’ve recently created several and we will be strengthening them. We will strengthen them financially and in the organisational sense, so that this kind of support, this kind of aid is available not only from the federal budget, but also from private investment, which sometimes seems more generally acceptable for various reasons, including questions of national legislation. Once again I would say that the national legislation that applies to this subject must always be respected. That is as it should be.
I hope that the Russian-language press that is currently functioning in Moldova will also feel at home, because Russian is a language that a large number of people use to communicate in Moldova. Naturally these are Moldovans, Gagauz, Ukrainians, Russians, Gypsies, and Jews. What is their common language? Russian. This is obvious, and I hope that it will perform these functions for a long time. At a certain point during the parliamentary elections, this Russian-speaking segment contracted. In my view this was done for the sake of political interests. I hope that my colleagues, the leaders responsible for these matters, will show more tolerance and attentiveness to the interests of their people and refuse to accept artificial solutions. It seems to me extremely important to ensure that our countries maintain the ability to communicate but, most importantly, the people of Moldova itself are at ease communicating with each other. This is in fact the principal aim of other countries as well. Ultimately it is in your best interests, and you need to defend your position, and in effect that is what you are doing by attending this forum.
Grigory Anisonyan: I’m Editor-in-Chief of Noah's Ark, the newspaper of the Armenian diaspora in the CIS countries. Here is my question. Recently there has been a notable thaw in relations between Armenia and Turkey. What is Russia's position on this matter, and in your view what are the prospects for the development of relations in this regard?
Dmitry Medvedev: As of course you know, we see these developments in a positive light: the fact that relations between Turkey and Armenia are much improved, that you are trying to resolve the tremendous problems that occurred in the twentieth century, and that you are exercising mutual restraint and engaged in a search for compromise. So in general we welcome this process, the normalising of relations between Armenia and Turkey and the establishment of diplomatic relations that would be considered perfectly reasonable and fair in everyday life.
It seems to me very important that all other nations understand that the normalisation of relations between Armenia and Turkey is not a normalisation against anyone, but it is instead for Armenia, Turkey and all their neighbouring states. Now if that message can be properly composed and sent, that will reduce tensions in other countries that are closely monitoring these processes.
As for Russia's position, it is this: we believe that this is a positive, affirmative process, and our representatives have participated in the signing of certain agreements that were recently ratified in Europe, and we will continue to contribute to this process.
Question (without microphone): … I want to ask a question. I have one question, or rather a request for you, Mr President: a question, a request, and a piece of advice.
Dmitry Medvedev: All at once?
Question: Yes, all at once. The request involves adjusting Russia's policy toward Georgia, not in regard to specific individuals or politicians, but toward Georgia: to use more carrots and less sticks in this policy. By carrots I mean not only transport, cultural, or visa-related issues, things like that, but carrots related to more serious matters, including issues of conflict resolution. Georgia, the Georgian people, the public will take it the right way. I think it would be in the interests of both Russia and Georgia. Thank you.
Dmitry Medvedev: Thank you. I was listening carefully. You asked the question, answered it, and gave me some advice. Duly noted. (Applause.)
Saimuddin Dustov (Tajikistan): My question is for you, not as Russia's President, but as a Russian intellectual. Would you tell me, please …
Dmitry Medvedev: I’m already feeling uncomfortable.
S.Dustov: Do you think that Russia’s xenophobic attitudes have intensified?
And there’s a second, related question: Do you think that officials should be punished for their xenophobic attitudes? Thank you.
Dmitry Medvedev: I’ll be brief. Unfortunately I do think that xenophobic attitudes have intensified in recent years. I could give you a whole lecture on this subject, trace its epistemological roots, note that similar things happen in other countries, point out that Tajikistan is not perfect, and all of it would be true. The problem is that these sentiments are gaining momentum not only in Russia but in many other countries as well. But we aren’t obliged to answer for other nations – let them speak for themselves. Let Europe speak for itself, because it too is profoundly affected by xenophobia. We need to answer for Russia. This is a problem in our country and it needs to be addressed.
As for officials as well as private citizens, there are laws governing this sort of speech, laws to which those who profess such views are subject … By the way, as far as officials are concerned, there have been hardly any statements of this kind. In recent times I have practically never encountered anything on this subject from someone vested with authority, any language that could be seen as an infraction of the law. But for the other group, for ordinary citizens, there should be no sort of island, where the law is applied selectively, where it would apply to officials, but not to ordinary citizens, or vice versa – everyone should be subject to the law.
If we’re talking about legal measures, there should be a range of them: starting from the usual reeducation process in cases where it may be efficient, and ending with harsh measures for criminal responsibility.
Dear friends and colleagues, since you have at least partially accepted me as a member of your guild, I will try to familiarise myself with the materials that you will be putting together at this forum. I do not know whether you will come to any conclusions, whether you will adopt any resolutions, but in any event I do hope that you will enjoy your time here, that you will be able to say everything that is on your mind, that you will touch base with each other, that you will get a good look at snowy Moscow, and that you will be able to profit from the time you spend together. That in itself should make everything worthwhile. That is why these forums are so extraordinarily valuable.
I hope that when you get home you will write it all up in the way that I mentioned in my opening remarks and in response to a question from one of our colleagues from Uzbekistan: with respect for the letter and spirit of freedom of speech.