Kjell Dragnes: Mr President, what is your general view of the Russian-Norwegian relations? Are there any issues where Russia would prefer Norway to be more accommodating?
President of Russia Dmitry Medvedev: You know, I believe we have excellent, sound, multifaceted and good-neighbourly relations. In order to develop a partnership, business ties are certainly essential. They possibly constitute the major component of our relationship, though not the only one of course, since the history of our relations spans one thousand years – or perhaps even slightly more – since the time of Grand Prince Yaroslav the Wise. In any case, this history is very lengthy and diverse – just like the history of our relations with other nations. At the same time, it may be noted that Russia was the first country to recognise the borders of the independent state of Norway after your separation from Sweden. Therefore I think we have a good mutual history.
Nevertheless, we cannot build our relations on history alone. As far as the current situation is concerned, we do have a number of major business projects which shape our cooperation and involve largest Russian and Norwegian companies, suffice it to mention Shtokman and few more projects that Gazprom, Statoil, and other Russian and Norwegian companies participate in.
As for any special attitudes or accommodations, I think it is not right when interstate relations are based on expectations of surrenders, favours or allowances, as is sometimes the case. At least, these steps are at times expected from Russia because of its wealth in natural resources.
I believe that relations between our states should be pragmatic and mutually beneficial. This is the main thing. Of course, they should be friendly too, as at the moment our values do not conflict. We may have different views on certain problems, but there is no conflict of values, as was the case, for example, between the Soviet Union and Norway.
I may recall some ongoing cut and thrust between the Soviet Union and the Norwegian government in the 1970s and 1980s with Pravda newspaper regularly publishing articles outlining the positions of the USSR and Norway. I guess you have more memories about those controversies than I do. We do not see anything like that today, and I hope will never see again.
Kjell Dragnes: Still, for over 40 years now, Russia and Norway have been negotiating over the delimitation of the continental shelf. I imagine this is the greatest issue in our bilateral relations.
Do you think there is a chance of completing these talks now, and are there any contentious issues that remain unresolved? What are they from the Russian point of view?
Dmitry Medvedev: You know, it is indeed a large-scale issue, but not the most complicated one. I think this matter can absolutely be resolved. Moreover, I openly admit being involved with the practical aspects of the matter. I have been briefed on the subject and perhaps I will hear another report prior to my visit to Norway.
There is nothing extraordinary about it, but we need to find a solution that will allow us to establish borders of the two zones we have not ultimately identified yet, because delimitation concerns not the continental shelf only, but our exclusive economic zones as well. These delimitation processes are quite complex and it usually takes a long time for the two negotiating countries to accomplish them.
It’s of prime importance that we find a solution which is satisfactory for both parties and is not reached through concessions but through a reasonable compromise acceptable to both sides, a compromise which to the greatest possible extent takes into consideration suggestions by both sides and comes up with a median position. In other words, this should be a pragmatic decision that may not subsequently be challenged by either of the states or any of their businesses, which is legitimate and legally sound.
Kjell Dragnes: Do you think such a reasonable compromise may possibly be reached?
Dmitry Medvedev: I am absolutely definite about it. Frankly speaking, Norway and Russia have other, far more complex and much more sophisticated issues concerning problems of territories demarcation.
Kjell Dragnes: You have mentioned business contacts, particularly in the oil and gas sector, and the Shtokman field. I understand the first phase of the field exploitation has been postponed. Do you see any prospects for continuing this vast project?
Dmitry Medvedev: It has been postponed indeed, but only due to me resigning from the post of the Chairman of Gazprom’s Board of Directors. (Laughter.) But in all seriousness, this is an unquestionably important project and we expect it will advance through very close cooperation between the Russian participant and our foreign partners including Statoil.
This is a matter of selecting the right start date for the design phase and for the construction phase. After all, it takes five to seven years to build facilities this large – particularly gas liquefaction facilities. We need to take all components into account including availability of financial resources and project designed availability. Our position is generally intact. We are interested to launch the project jointly with our partners. It matters less whether this will happen in 2010 or 2011, because we understand that 2009 was a very difficult year for all European nations, including Russia, and for all European companies. In 2010 the crisis will be overcome. So perhaps we just need to identify the right moment to start practical steps.
Kjell Dragnes: On various occasions, you emphasised the great significance of private property and spoke on state regulation, corruption, personal freedoms, etc.
In the West and in Norway, some companies have expressed discontent with regard to Russia’s development. What measures can be taken to improve this situation?
Dmitry Medvedev: I would like to make a few comments. First, I do pay increased attention to property rights protection, because the property right is one of the most essential and fundamental rights of an individual. The laws of various countries declare property rights sacred and indefeasible within the limits set by the state, but the extent of those limits is one of the most perplexed legislative questions, and not just for Russia.
Second, I can tell you that we made a fairly big step forward by codifying our civil laws and adopting a new Civil Code, the process I was personally involved in. There, property rights are now governed by absolutely the same principles and subjected to the same approaches as in most nations where the Romano-Germanic law is applied. This Civil Code is an up-to-date legislation based on the best examples of European civil laws including fundamental codes such as the Napoleonic Code, and the German Civil Code. In the 1990s, we also passed a special Property Law, which was indeed one of the first laws in modern Russia. Thus, as far as the laws are concerned, everything is absolutely fine, and this is my second point.
The third point I want to make concerns law application and enforcement and associated difficulties. First of all, such difficulties are due to the fact that law enforcement practices have not yet produced model approaches that would be understood or interpreted by both judiciary and business community identically, which is merely a matter of accumulation of precedent rulings. The second component to that, and no less important, is the understanding by business community and authorities of what a property title is per se, from the legal viewpoint. The right understanding has not a purely legal dimension, but also refers to social mentality and psychology. On numerous occasions I have explained that the Russian society has a specific view of property title which is less privy and less private than in other European nations.
It is due to the fact that communes or village communities were the core of the Russian society up until the early 20th century. Later, as you know, we completely ceased to be part of global development process with private property being nonexistent or at least declared such by the communist doctrine and only public ownership and so called personal proprietorship allowed in the country. Therefore even the social habits in this regard require certain adjustment.
Another comment concerns corruption, which indeed hinders proper law enforcement and certainly disappoints foreign businesspeople and angers our own citizens. Demands for some surplus payments above set rates, extraction of bribes for whatever action by a public servant, including actions concerning property rights or even registering property title, for land lots allotments or assignments, etc. – clearly, this affects the investment climate and the overall legal environment in the country.
And finally, I do not think that all the negative points I just made should be over-dramatised, because every institution needs to be well established and incessantly improved as well. If the property rights in Russia the way they are now were the result of a 150 years long development process that would indeed be a tragedy. But I should note that it is only twenty years since private property, property titles, property laws and judicial proceedings on property disputes exist in our country at all.
If, for example, we look at the situation with protection of property rights in the United States of America or in any European nation as it stood at the end of the 19th century, I doubt we may find it any better than that in Russia now. Why am I bringing this up as an example? These are certainly different periods in history and for Russia this is a period of transition from one economic model to another. No doubt, living in a different century means different technologies, and even somewhat different regulations, but unfortunately, the difficulties with interpretation of laws in present-day Russia are similar to those in Europe and the United States those days.
That is what I could say on the subject.
Kjell Dragnes: Perestroika began in Russia 20 years ago. At that time …
Dmitry Medvedev: I would say it began 25 years ago, if you refer to Gorbachev’s Perestroika.
Kjell Dragnes: Yes, that was Gorbachev’s Perestroika in the Soviet Union. At the time, there was a lot of talk about the Swedish or Nordic social, political and economic development model. Is it true that you were in Stockholm for some practical study?
Dmitry Medvedev: It is true. Well, I found it to be a very interesting experience. Under a respective cooperation agreement between the government of Sweden and the government of the USSR, a large group of people from Moscow and St Petersburg, including myself, was sent to Sweden in 1990.
Kjell Dragnes: So what do you think of the Nordic or Swedish Model – has its useful life come to an end?
Dmitry Medvedev: I do not want to hurt anyone and my comment may seem offensive to some state or some political forces.
I will only say this: I do not really believe in universal development models. At one point, the Soviet Union was imposing its model on others and no good came of it for those on whom it was imposed, or for the Soviet Union itself. I therefore do not really believe in the possibility of reproducing any kind of model, including the so-called Nordic, left, socialist, or quasi-socialist model that some Nordic nations have followed. Although I want to give credit for what was done, particularly in the 1970s and 1980s, especially during the period when many countries were led by Social Democrats. These are serious successes that merit respect, but in my view, this model will not operate in Russia.
Kjell Dragnes: The Olympic Games will be held in Sochi in four years. How are the preparations progressing? Can you assure the Norwegians that the Russian team will put up a strong competition?
Dmitry Medvedev: I can certainly promise that, and I very much hope that we will compete with Norway with all of our might, but at the same time, we understand that you are formidable competitors.
I should admit that like most Russians I am slightly disappointed by our team’s performance in Vancouver as we were expecting more. But maybe it’s good after all and will make our athletes more aggressive by the Sochi Olympics. Besides, as we say in Russia – you probably know this saying – the walls at home are your friends, your comfort and your helping hands. I hope that perhaps in Sochi the trails, chairlifts, and sports facilities will also be our friends. After all, a nation hosting the Olympic Games has a small but relevant competitive advantage.
At the same time, we will be truly happy to welcome our Norwegian friends and athletes. Will Mr Bjorndalen take part in the Sochi Olympics?
Kjell Dragnes: He promised to.
Dmitry Medvedev: It would be really interesting to compete with him.
Kjell Dragnes: Agreed, he promised.
In two years, there will be another Presidential election in Russia. Do you see yourself as a candidate in that election?
Dmitry Medvedev: I am often asked this question and I always answer it in a similar, uniform way: if my nation needs me and if it will help to maintain the direction forged in the recent years, over Vladimir Putin’s presidential terms, as well as my own, then I am not crossing out any options, including the option of running in this election.
But to do so, several conditions must be met. First of all, the results of my presidency, at the very least, must be acceptable to our citizens and we must aim to get such results, rather than just participate in the process. So, we’ll see.
Kjell Dragnes: Can I ask another question about domestic policy?
Please accept our condolences with regard to the terrorist attacks in Moscow. It was a major shock for us as well. How do you think the Russian Government must proceed in its fight against terrorism?
Dmitry Medvedev: It must proceed resolutely, toughly, consistently, and intelligently.
By resolutely I mean there should be no delays or interruptions. It must take immediate response measures – a variety of diverse measures.
By tough I mean the treatment of the terrorists, the criminals attempting to unleash terror by eliciting fear, killing our people in Moscow and in the Caucasus. I appreciate your condolences. The terrorist attacks you are referring to are indeed a manifestation of an absolutely cynical and appallingly awless attitude toward the main value which is a human life.
By consistency I mean that we must progress, not merely eliminating terrorists, but facilitating proper conditions for modernising and improving life in the Caucasus, making it acceptable to the people and enabling them to actualize their material and spiritual needs. Material needs simply mean reasonable income and reasonable properties. Spiritual needs in these mainly Muslim regions mean unimpeded professing of Islam. But this should be the kind of Islam which is traditional in our country, not the one of the terrorist appearance which certain forces attempt to import here from abroad.
Finally, by intelligence I mean that all of these steps must be logical and combine force with economic and social measures. That is precisely why I appointed a new Presidential Plenipotentiary Envoy and deputy prime minister Alexander Khloponin to oversee military operations, fight terrorism through law enforcement measures and at the same time improve life there in general.
The last thing I would like to say on this matter is that after the terrorist attacks in Moscow and in Daghestan in the Caucasus many people have expressed their condolences. This is important to the Russian people and to me as President.
It is very important that the assessments of these events are the same in every country, since this has not always been the case in the past. It is essential that the terrorists are never called by media, including by European media, guerrillas, rebels, or freedom fighters. Freedom fighters or insurgents who detonate bombs to kill peaceful civilians in the metro are not freedom fighters at all, they are filth and scum. They cannot be defined as anything other than criminals. In this regard, I very much hope that our common positions – our consolidated position in the war on terrorism – will continue to remain as such.
Kjell Dragnes: Thank you, Mr President, it was a pleasure. I wish you a safe trip and I welcome you to Norway.
Dmitry Medvedev: Thanks you. I hope my state visit to Norway will be efficient, friendly and beneficial to both countries. I hope that the official part of the visit will be successful and that my talks with the Prime Minister and my meeting with the business community will be useful for our nations.