President of Russia Dmitry Medvedev: I am very glad to be on our missile cruiser, Varyag.
We are not meeting at home but far from home, quite far indeed. Singapore is a distant place but it is also very good that our Navy is visiting here today.
The presence of our flag is always proof that Russia was, is and will remain a maritime nation, capable of performing various tasks at sea and accomplishing those related to our security, defending our borders and simply maintaining law and order, what incidentally is not superfluous.
Unfortunately, the number of threats we face, including those at sea, has not diminished. What else can we say when recent incidents of piracy off the coast of Somalia and the fact that our warships had to carry out corresponding missions demonstrate that our Navy will still prove useful in such instances for quite a long time, even though perhaps 20 or 30 years ago this might have seemed strange. Now we are face-to-face with these threats and are forced to react to them.
I do not know if any of those present heard that I put forward a particular idea whereby the pirates, those kept in check, should be handed over to international justice, because this also has certain problems. Despite the fact that piracy is classified as an international crime, as of yet there is no international court to judge pirates, so often they are simply brought back to shore or left somewhere else, and then they simply disappear before returning to crime later on.
Why do I mention this? Because this is a somewhat nontraditional mission for the Navy, but even today it is in demand.
Well, we are now in Singapore and in general this is a good sign, because this gives us the opportunity to develop your expertise and, on the other hand, shows that Russia has the possibility of solving a variety of tasks — both combat and operational — in many different corners of our globe.
I would like to welcome you and, naturally, to thank you for your service.
Please, comrades, colleagues, ask any questions you might have.
Question: You just participated in the APEC summit in Singapore. Please tell us what issues were examined there and how useful they are for Russia.
Dmitry Medvedev: Good question. I will tell you about the issues – in fact you must know about them, because you are here to defend our interests and generally ensure the security of the Supreme Commander. So I will answer your question.
Issues concerning current international life, especially economic ones, were examined at the summit. You know that a global economic crisis broke out last year and affected almost all countries. Unfortunately, our country was affected too. And today we are all interested in finding ways to overcome this crisis as soon as possible.
Now the situation is improving thanks to various measures taken in different countries; in our country in particular the situation has stabilised, the decline in production has halted and many financial issues have been dealt with.
Nevertheless, what financiers call recession, that is the contraction of the global economy, has unfortunately not yet stopped. The purpose of such international meetings involving leaders of various countries, is to agree on future rules of the game. That is one of our goals.
The other goal is as follows: we are in Singapore, one of countries of the Asia-Pacific region, and we must not forget that Russia is also part of the Asia-Pacific region. Because we often say that we are partly European and partly Asian, but we really are an Asia-Pacific country, along with other major countries such as China, the United States, Canada, Singapore and many others. Therefore, we considered here regional problems and how to develop our cooperation. There is a very large market here and many rapidly developing countries – Singapore is one of them. In essence, this is a world-class financial centre. Frankly, we have much to learn here.
Before I came to visit you, I met with the leaders of Singapore and talked about how we can develop our partnership with this small but very important country. That's another issue.
Well, there are a number of other matters that are somewhat indirectly relevant to your service, such as climate change. We had a separate meeting devoted to climate change and what we must do in this regard because, according to experts, climate change has become very serious indeed. We have to make decisions about allocating money for the reduction of so-called greenhouse gases emissions, that is of the CO2 gas, in the atmosphere. If we do not do this together, ultimately the consequences for our planet will be extremely unpleasant, even simply deplorable, to the extent that Arctic and Antarctic ice might melt thereby changing the sea level, which might have disastrous consequences for our atmosphere and land.
So that's a brief list of themes that we discussed over the course of a few days here in Singapore. I think the summit was productive and successful.
Question: Recently, our warships are increasingly called on to solve problems in different parts of the world. Can you tell us whether we are planning to expand our naval presence with a view to flying the Russian flag more visibly?
Dmitry Medvedev: I thought you might ask this question – I have already answered it in part, but I can answer with a few more details and more precisely, though first I will briefly say: yes, that is the plan. And now I will try to develop my answer. We realise that Russia can be considered a full-fledged naval power only if it has a real navy, not a virtual one that simply exists in our imagination, or a practice one, but rather a full-value navy that performs a range of different tasks including training and combat missions.
You yourself know very well that the number of such missions has increased significantly in recent years. This is of course due to the fact that Russia now has the financial opportunities for this. And we also have the will and desire to use our Navy to deal with a variety of tasks. This is not only in our interest but in others' too, in the interest of the entire global community. I just cited one example mentioning the fight against piracy. We must also be able to respond to such problems.
But in order to have a global presence, to be present in various parts of the planet, we need to have a combat-ready navy.
I must admit that of course a general economic decline in the 90s resulted in a decline of our Armed Forces: money was not invested, old warships were taken out of service. Therefore, our present task, in addition to making sure our Navy and flag appear in different places, is to invest as much as possible in the development of our Navy.
Such decisions have been taken. You know we have a state armament programme. Battleships will be purchased within this programme and next year some further steps in this direction will be made. Just recently in my Address [to the Federal Assembly] I talked about this and even referred specifically to how many missiles we are going to buy, what other equipment and naval facilities we are going to purchase, and how many we are going to purchase next year. But this does not mean that this is a one-time event – we are definitely going to continue in this vein and this programme will go on increasing – we need to acquire and put both submarines and surface vessels into operation. We will do this next year, and in the coming years this programme will be further developed.
Question: You mentioned the economic crisis. How will the economic crisis affect – if at all – the purchase of new weapons and these programmes to modernise our Armed Forces?
Dmitry Medvedev: If I said that it will have no effect at all I would be lying, and I have no right to do so. Of course, the crisis affects everything. Our financial leeway, as well as that of other countries has decreased, but thanks to the decisions that both I and the Government Cabinet took, I think that the impact of the financial crisis on our military and the acquisition of weapons will be absolutely minimal. Virtually all key provisions of the state arms procurement programme have been maintained – both as relates to the strategic component and other components.
If you look at my Address to the Federal Assembly, I listed what we should buy. I did so absolutely deliberately to inform all citizens – not just those serving in the Armed Forces but the entire population of our country – what we are going to buy next year. In general, I think it's not a bad idea to say in the next Address what, for example, will be purchased in 2011 and to make clear how things are progressing, what direction we're headed in, and what kinds of weapons we are going to buy.
In this regard, the situation is still not perfect, but compared to the 1990s it is very good – we are talking about acquiring submarine cruisers and a corvette-class battleship which is already something, let's put it that way. But major purchases should take place from 2011 to 2020. At that time we must oversee the comprehensive technical modernisation of entire Armed Forces. In certain basic areas we must re-equip by 30 to 50 percent and in some fields, I will not say which ones, by 85 to 90 percent. This problem must absolutely be resolved, otherwise we cannot say that we have effective Armed Forces.
Question: Recently, we, the residents of the Primorye Territory and the Far East, have noticed that our region is being given more attention by the government. We are seeing construction of various sites for the 2012 APEC summit including ports and many social institutions.
Could you please name other priority development areas in our region that are under consideration by the government?
Dmitry Medvedev: Thank you. You have asked an important question. Incidentally, I was just discussing this issue with our Singaporean colleagues who have a valuable experience in this field. Overall, the development of the Far East and Eastern Siberia must be one of government’s top priorities, because our country does not end at the Ural mountains. The Far East and Siberia face problems that are known to us all. In the European part of the country, we have sufficient labour force and a developed infrastructure. Despite the hardships of the 1990s, we have many actively functioning facilities in European Russia. But the Far East and Siberia, Eastern Siberia in the first instance, do face some key challenges.
First of all, I refer to the lack of workforce. In the 1990s, we saw a major outflow of labour and residents in general from the Far East. Currently, we are trying to reverse this trend. In some cases we are succeeding, but in others, quite honestly, we are having a harder time, because it is very difficult today to get people interested in staying – sometimes, even money is not a sufficient motivator. Strange as it may sound, I have been thinking about this a great deal. At the beginning of the 20th century, when there was a mass migration of people from the central part of the country to the Far East and to Siberia, these problems were resolved easily through a different kind of incentive: it was sufficient to simply give out plots of land, and people would readily come. Now, all of this has become much more complicated. But we must nevertheless work to resolve this problem. This is our first challenge.
Our second challenge is to develop truly solid infrastructure. These challenges are related, of course. We need good motor roads and railroads. Without them, Russia does not have any future, because our country is enormous and, as you know, our railroad density, especially in Siberia and the Far East, is one of the lowest in the world. But if we do not have this infrastructure, than we cannot expect people to live there, and this will prevent any future development. That is our second challenge.
Our third challenge is the development of industries, both in existing cities and in new areas. For example, if you look at Vladivostok, at the Primorye Territory, you might think that overall, this is quite a developed region, but at the same time, one with many different problems.
So when we were deciding where to hold the APEC summit, we specifically selected Vladivostok. Why? After all, our entire nation is considered to be part of the Asia-Pacific region. We could have held the summit anywhere, including Moscow – but that would not have been right, since Moscow, as our capital, is already the most highly-developed area of our nation.
With the APEC summit in mind, we have approved a programme worth over 200 billion rubles in government investments alone, to be used for the development of infrastructure in the Far East. The infrastructure there is quite weak, and little has been done recently and even long ago to improve it. Indeed, this problem is not even recent; there is no point in hiding the fact that, referring to the USSR times, even a proper sewage collector was not built there and all sewage was simply released into the sea. But now, after all, we live in the 21st century.
That is why it is very essential for us, using this APEC summit, to not only demonstrate that we are a responsible state, able to work with other nations to resolve international problems, but, even more importantly, to simply develop our own regions. By the way, we were not the first ones to think of doing this; other countries do this as well. Japan did it to develop their territories; we will do the same. It is a way to concentrate money, concentrate labour resources, and direct them toward resolving some very important problems.
That is why I believe that with the help of summits such as the 2012 APEC summit, we must develop our territories. But we must do even more than that. This work must be ongoing. We will not be able to resolve all our problems through the investments going toward the 2012 APEC summit. That is why we have large-scale programmes targeted toward the Far East and Eastern Siberia. We must finance our programmes, implement them, and cooperate with our neighbours. This is absolutely normal, and we cannot move forward without it. They are ready to invest their money, and we are ready to accept that money to develop our industries there. But certainly, these investments must be under the Russian government supervision, because this is our territory and our land, and it is for us to determine the areas we would like to see grow, the areas to which we want to invite our foreign partners, and the areas that we can handle on our own.
And all of this must happen in concurrence with strengthening our Armed Forces that are stationed in the Far East and Eastern Siberia – naturally, I am referring to both our Army and our Navy, as well as all other units of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation. We must strengthen our military bases, and ensure that they provide modern conditions, not only for military service, but living conditions as well. In other words, we must build housing, social infrastructure, kindergartens, and sports facilities. We have already been able to accomplish some of these goals in the last ten years in the Far East. It is still insufficient, but it is something. And we will continue to build on these programmes in the future, because in order for people to want to work and serve in the Far East and in Siberia, the living conditions there must not be worse than in the central areas of Russia. This is our key challenge.
Question: All of us here are descendants of the great victory of the Soviet people over Nazi Germany. Recently, it has been very upsetting and hurtful to see how young nations are rewriting the history of the Second World War, clearly understating our contribution to this victory.
How do you, personally, feel about this? Is our nation taking any steps at the government level to restore historical justice? After all, we made a great deal of sacrifices for this victory.
Dmitry Medvedev: You are absolutely right; we sacrificed a great deal for this victory. According to latest data, at least the ones that are used today by experts, 27 million of our people died during the Great Patriotic War. This figure is absolutely staggering. No other nation paid such a great price for victory.
Thus, clearly, we must ensure that the memory of this victory does not erode, so that we do not see any so-called revisions of the outcomes of the Great Patriotic War, or Second World War. In my view, we cannot permit this for several reasons. First of all, these are, after all, fairly recent events, and there are still veterans living among us who served during that period, who spilled blood for their Motherland. In essence, we are all witnesses of those events. Some of our citizens participated in those events, and we grew up learning about them through films, books, etc. And this is not distant history; we know what happened, so when someone begins trying to flog into us something we do not need, they can go and tell it to someone else. Our nation has already had plenty of this. That is my first point.
My second point is that in addition to maintaining historical truth, it is unacceptable to revise the outcomes of the Second World War, and subsequently, the input made by the Soviet Union and the Red Army — for geopolitical reasons, because if we allow that to happen, then we may really end up with some serious problems on a state level.
As you know, there are several contentious issues related to the history of the Great Patriotic War or Second World War; a range of issues remain open, and we are holding very difficult talks on those issues – for example, with Japan. But these are individual cases, and if we allow someone to rewrite history, give real power to these people who are now trying to rewrite and falsify this history, then this will open some dangerous doors: they may begin to make demands, ask for compensation, etc. This is flat-out dangerous for our nation. That is my second point.
Finally, my third point is that in addition to historic memory and defending the interests of our nation, we have our responsibilities to future generations. The country that we hand over to them must be strong; it must be a nation where people remember what happened in the past and where traditions are upheld, because without those traditions, we cannot stand as a unified people; we will be completely unsuccessful as a state. This will ultimately lead to very harsh consequences for our people and for our nation.
That is why we are taking these issues seriously. We even created a special commission within the Presidential Executive Office – an essentially Presidential Commission, supervised by the Presidential Executive Office, whose goal is not to allow history to be revised or manipulated.
Because, and I will repeat this again, this is not a question of taste. Nor are varying opinions an issue – after all, opinions may differ, and historians may interpret different events in various ways – it is pointless to fight it. The question at hand is the consequences of such interpretations. If we are talking about the fact that these interpretations are simply presented by scientists during debates – fine, no one has anything against this. Although, I want to repeat again, the events of the Great Patriotic War occurred very recently. There is really nothing to debate on many of these issues; state and international rulings were made on many of these matters.
You see, if we allow for different interpretations of those events, then soon, these nay-sayers will question the judgments of the Nuremburg Trials. They will say: they really shouldn’t have been judged, they didn’t commit any crimes. But that would be absurd! It simply looks ridiculous.
That is why we must monitor these matters. We should not fight contradicting points of view – that would not be right; but we must insist on our interests and not allow history to be falsified in ways that can damage the interests of the Russian nation – that is our challenge. We will work on it, and I hope that everyone present here will work on it too, because this is an objective for everyone. This is not just a matter of public speeches or going to international events – sometimes, it is our own familial problem. All of us either have families or will have them in the future, and our goal is to simply talk about what happened and make sure that the textbooks are written well – this is a fairly complicated issue, and we do not want all textbooks to be the identical. At the same time, we must teach our youth lessons that will give them a correct, fairly accurate understanding of the events of the past. That is why this challenge concerns everyone present here, and I hope that you will do your part.
Question: When you relax or take a break, what do you do? How does the President spend his leisure time?
Dmitry Medvedev: If you are really interested, then I can certainly tell you. Indeed, the head of state carries a fairly significant burden – just the flights alone take up an enormous amount of time. What can you do? By the way, our country is such that in order to resolve certain problems, it is necessary not only to drive somewhere by car, but also to make lengthy flights – some almost as long as the flight to Singapore. Thus, when I have a free minute, or several hours of down time, I first try to work on staying physically fit – when I can, I try to do this every day.
I begin almost every morning by doing exercise. Mainly, I swim, and before that, I do something to warm up – this is first and most important; in fact, I usually end in the same way. But in addition to engaging in physical exercise, I also try to do some other things. I do not get to spend that much time with my family, so on weekends, I try to spend time with my son and simply spend time within my family – in fact, this generally helps me lift my mood. And, when there’s time, I read. I suppose this is my triad of relaxation: physical fitness, family, books. Nothing exceptional, but sometimes, it’s good to stay simple.
Dmitry Medvedev: I wish you success and I hope that your journey back will not be long. How long did it take you to get here?
Answer: Two weeks. And it will take two weeks to get back.
Dmitry Medvedev: Two weeks here and two weeks back. That’s a good mission – it’s a moderate amount of time, but it gives you possibilities to work on all your skills.
It was a pleasure to visit you, because even legally, we are still on Russian Federation territory. And when the head of state, the Commander in Chief, visits his own territory, this also constitutes leisure time, because we have worked for several days, but I came here to see you because wanted to say hello and converse with you. I want to thank you again from the bottom of my heart for your service, for the fact that you are participating in the fulfilment of tasks that are so important to our nation.