Olivier Royant: Mr President, it happens that you will celebrate the second anniversary of your election to the highest office in Russia in Paris. What do you expect from your visit to France?
President of Russia Dmitry Medvedev: First of all, it is a pleasure to see you today.
The relations between our countries have been developing for many centuries. In the eleventh century, Princess Anna of Kiev got married to Henry I, King of France. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, in Russia the French language was almost on a par with Russian, the official language. Neither German nor English have ever been favoured by the Russian elite so much.
Following the Russian revolution, millions of Russian people fled to France. Many of them led a rather difficult life, sometimes even tragic, but their decision to settle in France was no coincidence. They probably believed that in France they would feel themselves closer to home than in any other place.
After World War II, decades of rather fruitful relationship followed, even during the Soviet Union era. We maintained very good high-level relations, and General Charles de Gaulle had deep respect toward Russia.
We are no longer divided by ideological differences. I have excellent personal relations with Nicolas Sarkozy. When we reach an agreement, Nicolas always keeps his promises.
Olivier Royant: During your visit to Paris, do you plan to negotiate the purchase of a Mistral-class warship?
Dmitry Medvedev: Russia has always been a major player in the military equipment market, and arms we can offer range from Kalashnikovs to S300 antimissile defence systems. Nevertheless, there are areas where we are interested in buying new technologies. Our defence industry should be open to a fair competition. This applies to warships.
Olivier Royant: Do you have any personal recollections about your first visit to France in 1991?
Dmitry Medvedev: I do, and they are very vivid, indeed. I first visited France to discuss cooperation between St Petersburg and French businessmen. I had read a lot about Paris, yet reality was beyond my expectations: the Champs-Elysees, the illumination, the charming small restaurants, and the special atmosphere. My impression was really extraordinary. At that time I pursued my legal career in the administration of St Petersburg, and I was impressed by the easy atmosphere in which in France important business issues could be discussed anywhere, out in the streets, or during walks, or in bistros.
Olivier Royant: The crisis was a hard challenge for Russia which has been largely dependent on exports of hydrocarbons. Unlike Asia, Russia does not show any signs of economic recovery. Are you concerned with a prospect that Russia may find itself behind other BRIC [Brazil, Russia, India and China] nations?
Dmitry Medvedev: The lessons to be learned are clear. First, the weakness of our economy and its dependence on raw materials. We had been aware of that, yet we were to a great extent taken by surprise.
Second, the fact that it is impossible to overcome such crisis on one’s own, as we all are too much interdependent. We must finally learn to speak the same language. That is the way President Nicolas Sarkozy and I cooperate at G8 and G20 summits designing a new global architecture.
Even though hydrocarbons continue generating significant profits, we should diversify our economy and seriously invest in advanced technologies. For this purpose, a special Presidential Commission was set. I am personally involved with the subject as well
Olivier Royant: Just as Nicolas Sarkozy, you belong to the generation of the statesmen who speak in a straightforward manner. Recently, you seriously criticised the economic backwardness of Russia, centuries-old and deep-rooted corruption, people’s implicit confidence in authorities and widely spread habit of putting the blame for whatever hardships on foreign nations. You proceed with reforms, but are you at times disappointed with the results?
Dmitry Medvedev: Of course, I am disappointed, like every other Russian citizen, by the living standards, corruption, and investment climate.
What needs to be done? There is only one solution to that. We need to work, to work every day, to break stereotypes and to shake up bureaucracy. By the way, that is why I like the initiative to establish the so-called “Partnership for Modernisation” of Russia that was put forward during the last EU-Russia summit.
Olivier Royant: Russia’s new military doctrine envisages, among other things, military operations outside the country to counter a possible aggression, and views NATO as a major threat to its security. Do you think that we are sliding back to the Cold War era?
Dmitry Medvedev: No, I certainly don’t think so. It is not about our military doctrine, but about the never-ending enlargement of NATO through absorbing the countries that used to be part of the Soviet Union or happen to be our closest neighbours, such as Romania and Bulgaria. This is the threat.
NATO is a military alliance which has expanded itself right to our borders. Our Armed Forces should therefore be ready to accomplish their missions in light of the changes we have seen. It does not mean that we are sliding back to the Cold War, but we must take this new situation into consideration.
In this regard, I would like to note that major European nations and France in particular, have taken a well-balanced position. Russia and NATO will also need to jointly meet multiple challenges such as nuclear proliferation, terrorism and drug trafficking.
Olivier Royant: START Treaty expired last December, but Barack Obama dreams about a nuclear-free world. Is this your goal too?
Dmitry Medvedev: I applaud him. It is necessary though, that other countries, including France, agree with this initiative.
Olivier Royant: Many Russians feel nostalgia for the USSR times when their needs were fully the responsibility of the government and when they had no fear of the future. Do you share their feelings?
Dmitry Medvedev: These feelings are normal. I was born and grew up in the Soviet Union and the memories of my childhood are linked to that country. But here we should learn to separate the emotional and the rational sides. The society we had back then, its principles and ways of living are alien to me. There certainly were some positive elements in our lives, but I would not like to fundamentally return to that past situation.
Olivier Royant: How would you describe your relations, your tandem with Vladimir Putin, who once said that you are “people of the same blood”? Currently, none of you rules out running for presidency in 2012.
Dmitry Medvedev: True, I did find out recently that Mr Putin and myself have the same blood type.
No one can really tell the future. We are both responsible individuals capable of making a joint decision of what is best for our country. So far we have an effectively functioning alliance. It is evidently always very good when President and Prime Minister have good relations.
Olivier Royant: Are you concerned about the nuclear programme of Iran? What is the part Russia intends to play in solving the problem?
Dmitry Medvedev: Iran’s own responsible behavior is the key to solving this problem. There must be transparency in whatever nuclear programmes, and Iran should agree to IAEA supervision.
As yet, unfortunately, there are a lot of problems here, therefore, we continue our consultations with the interested governments including France.
Of course, we are concerned about the situation. Apart from other things, Iran geographically is our neighbour and an adverse development there would mean a humanitarian disaster for the entire region.
Olivier Royant: Your interests include rock music and photography. Your wife is well known for her interest in fashion and involvement in the activities of the Russian Orthodox Church. What is the Medvedev “philosophy”?
Dmitry Medvedev: All of what you have mentioned.
I read much and I fancy French cinematography, because its creativity is much closer to our Russian perception than Hollywood movies.
Olivier Royant: And now two years after taking office, do you feel like a happy man?
Dmitry Medvedev: Just like everyone, I am happy to serve my country. Lack of time, however, is the other side of the story.
Olivier Royant: Do you feel disappointed when Russia is often portrayed negatively because of the conflict in Georgia, unrest in Caucasus and human rights issues?
Dmitry Medvedev: Sometimes I do, and it makes me feel bad. But these problems are our reality, something to be carefully addressed.
Olivier Royant: Do you think that the G20 leaders are successful in meeting present-day and prospect challenges?
Dmitry Medvedev: I would not say a word of criticism about my colleagues [Laughing], but being serious, could you imagine twenty years ago the leaders of the Soviet Union, the United States, China and France sitting around the same table? Yet, this is what we have today, and there are many more partners involved as well. We no longer limit our activities to merely making declarations and we take essential decisions instead.
This way, we create a common language for our joint future.