Question: Serbian leadership is already describing your visit to Belgrade as historic. You are the first Russian President to visit Serbia since it became a separate state. What is the significance of your talks in Belgrade, and what are the prospects for future relations between two friendly countries?
Dmitry Medvedev: The upcoming visit to Belgrade really is very important for me. I am counting on it to promote cooperation between our nations and to strengthen fraternal relations between our peoples.
The visit is timed to coincide with the 65th anniversary of the Serbian capital’s liberation from Nazi invaders. This is an event of huge historical significance. After all, it is a crucial part of the memories we share and the pride we both feel about the courage of our fathers and grandfathers who defeated Nazism.
This is the first visit by a Russian President to Serbia, after its return to the international arena as an independent, sovereign state. However, this process of building relations does not begin from scratch. We already have an extraordinarily rich history of cooperation, based on the centuries-old traditions of our peoples and our mutual sympathy. We share similar goals and the same pragmatic mutual interests. During the upcoming exchanges we expect to discuss in detail plans for the implementation of major joint projects. These include the energy sector, transport, culture and education, along with scientific and technical cooperation. In other words, our challenge is to work together, not only to strengthen the basis of our cooperation, but also to promote ways of realising in full its rich potential in the future.
Question: In recent years, Russian leaders and Russian people have offered active and wholehearted support to the Serbs in their struggle to maintain the integrity of their territory, the regions of Kosovo and Metohija. Both Belgrade and Moscow have insisted that the struggle for the preservation of Kosovo must be settled according to international law. What prospects do you see for resolving the Kosovo issue in the present circumstances, given that powerful Western nations are ignoring international law?
Dmitry Medvedev: Unfortunately, over the last decade, a period that has been critical in the history of the settlement of the Kosovo problem, a lot of tragic mistakes have been made. We have to face up to the fact that some of these are part of a plan to put unilateral decisions into international practice.
Despite the efforts by advocates of Kosovo’s independence to represent this whole process as irreversible, their attempts to declare this issue closed will not succeed. We believe that we must prove step by step that alternatives to arbitrary illegality still exist. And until Serbia has the last word on the subject no one can claim that the Kosovo issue has been resolved.
Russia’s participation in finding a settlement turns around a formula long agreed with our Serbian counterparts: it is up to Belgrade to launch an initiative and Russia to offer its support. Making allowances for the extremely complicated nature of the present situation, this approach has proved its effectiveness.
Question: Not long ago in New York you said that the era of a unipolar world is over. It is obvious that President Barack Obama understands that the world cannot have a single master. However, this process will be neither quick nor easy. What do you think should be done in the world to ensure that there is more recourse to law and less to force? Can a reformed UN regain the respect that it has lost in the world?
Dmitry Medvedev: Today, nobody calls into question the fact that the world is undergoing a profound transformation. The brand new geopolitical situation is defined by emerging multipolarity, the development of new centres of economic growth and political influence.
It has become obvious that engaging in any kind of unilateral action is a way of destabilising the international situation. It provokes tensions and an arms race, aggravates intergovernmental differences and leads to increased tension in relations between civilisations. International security and cooperation will certainly benefit from the fact that our American partners have come to understand that one country’s attempt to dominate is unacceptable, which is what President Barack Obama said in his speech at the UN General Assembly.
Of course adapting to these new realities will not be easy. But it is important that the American administration favours multilateral diplomacy and recognises the need to rely on the good offices of the UN.
In international relations, a coherent agenda on a wide range of issues is starting to emerge. This has occurred because so many of us face the same global challenges. We are making concerted efforts to find ways out of the global financial crisis, to counter the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and the means of their delivery, and to extend the fight against international terrorism. This trend increases the importance of so-called network diplomacy and multilateral mechanisms designed to ensure the involvement of all countries in these global processes.
The need for expanding the authority of an informal collective leadership has never been greater, for example in formats such as the G20. There is a growing demand for the United Nations to serve as a time-tested mechanism for harmonising the interests of different countries, in accordance with universally recognised norms of international law. The weight of the UN in dealing with crises and resolving acute problems and conflicts has not diminished. In fact the Organisation’s Charter was from the outset designed to recognise the realities of multi-polar world. In recent years, there has been considerable evidence to suggest that actions taken without involving the UN Charter and the Security Council do not solve problems. On the contrary, they lead to the expansion of the conflicts in question.
Of course changes in the world require this universal organisation and its agencies to adapt to new realities. However, it should be borne in mind that UN reform (including the expansion of its Security Council) is not an end in itself. Any changes should be aimed at improving the effectiveness of the UN and the affirmation of its central role in global affairs. Any decisions concerning reform should be guided by a desire to maintain the international nature of this unique organisation. Achieving such a goal is only possible while ensuring the widest practicable agreement among member states on all aspects of change.
Question: Russia’s success is a source of great pleasure for the majority of Serbs. Compared with the Yeltsin era your recent progress has been striking. However, you and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin believe that industry should be modernised and that Russia should stop using only profits from the export of raw materials to generate national income. At the federal level, how do you plan to promote the modernisation of industrial production? How realistic are your plans to significantly increase output and to reduce imports by 2020?
Dmitry Medvedev: During the upheavals that accompanied the political and socio-economic transformation of our country in the 1990s, the foundations of a market economy were put into place. Since then our country has consistently taken measures to strengthen the institution of private property, to expand entrepreneurial activity, and to improve the business and investment climate.
The changes that have taken place in all spheres of Russia's society are enormous. Today, we are solving the problem of the transition from a commodities-based economy to an innovative economy based on modernisation and technological development. All this should ensure for Russia the place it deserves in the modern world, the world of the twenty-first century.
We recently identified five key priorities that are being developed under direct presidential supervision. These include issues related to energy efficiency and resource saving (including the development of new types of fuels), nuclear technology, pharmaceuticals and the medical industry, modern information technology and software, as well as the space industry and telecommunications. I chair the relevant commission, comprised of both government officials and representatives of Russia's large and medium-sized businesses, prominent scientists, experts and representatives of civil society.
I should add that we are paying very careful attention to any signs suggesting the need for changes in the institutional environment, tax, depreciation and fiscal policy. And I think we will be able to make real progress in solving the problems of modernisation over the next 5–10 years.
Question: In the majority of your interviews you and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin honestly admit that you have not achieved great results in combating the greatest Russian evil, corruption. What do you think is the main obstacle in the fight against bribery?
Dmitry Medvedev: It is well known that every country, including the most developed, has to deal with corruption to some degree. In Russia, it is indeed an acute problem. And, according to opinion polls, more than half of Russian citizens consider corruption the main obstacle to economic recovery.
It might seem at first glance like a bit of a contradiction, but one of the main barriers in the fight against corruption is technological backwardness. One way of changing the current state of affairs is to develop the information society, improving the quality and transparency of public services, many of which must be provided in electronic form. Making available information on the activities of governmental agencies, in addition to minimising direct contact between officials and citizens, prevents the development of links in a chain of collusion. It is no coincidence that our modernisation priorities include digitalising the economy and social life, introducing the principles of e-government at all levels of governance.
Of course this is not the only way to combat corruption. The key measures are set out in our national anti-corruption plan, and the emphasis is on preventive measures. And here we have already created the necessary legal framework, relying, inter alia, on the best international experience.
I am convinced that all these measures are sure to produce results. They include recent decisions concerning information about the income and assets of public servants.
The political will of the country's leadership has been crystal clear on this point. The fight against corruption should not become mere routine or be transformed into a campaign. The results will not be instantaneous, but the main thing is to follow through on everything that we have promised, not retreat an inch, and create a zero-tolerance attitude towards corruption.
Question: When you worked in the Government Cabinet, you were involved with one of the most important issues for the future of Russia, namely demography. Even before the onset of the economic crisis there was a great deal of talk about encouraging childbirth and the battle against alcoholism. What do you propose to do in the next few years to address this problem, to prevent a situation in which, within a few decades, many of Russia’s regions will be unpopulated?
Dmitry Medvedev: It’s true that our country’s demographic problem is one of the most complex challenges we have to face. Population growth halted in the early 1990s and at that point the mortality rate became higher than the fertility rate.
Two years ago, we adopted the Demographic Policy Concept for Russia through to 2025, which laid out our principles and priorities and main directions of work to be done in this area. This involves not just the pro-birth measures and the fight against alcoholism that you just mentioned, but also measures to reduce mortality, including for citizens of working age. In addition, the concept provides for measures to regulate migration processes.
This document is long-term, well-researched and carefully thought out. Our task is to use it as a guide and to implement decisions taken, in the first place, the social obligations that the government has committed itself to. And we have to do all this despite the economic crisis and the reduction in budget revenues.
I should note that a year after the launch of the demographic programme the first results were in. Demographic results for 2007 showed that 1.6 million children were born in Russia, 8% more than in 2006. This is the highest figure since 1991.
The birthrate continued to rise in 2008 and 2009. For the period January-August of this year, the death rate decreased by 4%, and the birth rate increased by 3.6%. It’s true that at this point these indicators are not as high as we would like, but they show a positive trend. Currently we are trying to consolidate and develop the support system, first and foremost for young families.
Each year more than a million new mothers are using birth certificates that enable them to choose the medical facilities that can provide them with the most qualified help. Non-working mothers – there are 1.2 million of them in Russia — have begun to receive benefits for children under the age of one and a half. A major stimulus for the increase in fertility has become a system of so-called maternity or family capital. Following the birth of a second child in a family, money is allocated in the form of a certificate that can be used for children’s education or improving housing conditions, or it can be transferred to the funded part of the mother’s pension. In 2007 about one and a half million of these certificates were issued.
One important practical decision was the implementation of a subprogramme providing housing for young families set up within Housing, the federal target programme for 2002–2010. Through this programme thousands of young couples received new, more modern and comfortable flats.
Our experience shows that positive results are achieved when we adopt specific measures that are easily understood by all. Most important in this regard are coherence, consistency and concerted action at all levels of government.
That we are on the right track is suggested by the following important fact: in August of this year we registered an increase in the natural population growth rate measured per 1,000 people.
Question: Recently, you spoke optimistically in an interview about the chances of reaching agreement with the Americans on missile defence and of reducing the number of nuclear weapons. Many of Russia's generals say though that at the moment a significant decrease in nuclear potential is more profitable for the United States than for Russia because the U.S. is already experimenting with a new type of weapon. How many nuclear warheads do your experts think are sufficient to guarantee Russia’s citizens a peaceful night's sleep?
Dmitry Medvedev: Let's start with the fact that unfortunately we are not talking about any sort of missile defence treaty with the Americans. However, I praised President Barack Obama’s decision to abandon plans to deploy elements of the U.S. strategic missile defence system in Poland and the Czech Republic.
Concerning new American plans to establish a global missile defence system (including a European segment), our experts still have to look at this in detail, and evaluate it from the standpoint of Russia’s national security interests.
When we talk about nuclear disarmament, we proceed from the assumption that nuclear weapons cannot be employed in practice. And we have not forgotten that for many decades these weapons served to ensure strategic stability and security in the world. Today we consider it necessary to maintain a balance of forces with the United States. For our part, we are focused on maintaining the necessary minimum level of nuclear weapons to guarantee the national security of Russia and our allies. We have repeatedly stated that we are willing to reduce the number of carriers of strategic offensive weapons by more than two thirds. Currently in Geneva we are negotiating to come up with a new, legally binding
Russian-American agreement on the reduction and limitation of strategic offensive arms that will determine this level. We are doing everything in our power to ensure the signing of such a document by December.
I am convinced that resolving problems in the field of nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament is in our common interests. That would also be a powerful factor in creating a favourable international environment in general.