Robert Thomson: Mr President, thank you very much for taking your time for our interview. As regards your plans to visit the United States, what do you want to achieve during this visit? Secondly, what, in your opinion, has changed in particular in the relations with the new President?
President of Russia Dmitry Medvedev: What do I want to achieve during the visit to the United States of America? I would like to continue our communication with President Obama. I would like to consolidate those positive trends which have emerged in the Russia-US dialogue. It is no secret that even several years ago the dialogue degraded practically to a very low level, and we barely escaped the Cold War. That was a very sad situation, which, in my view, had a negative impact on both the Americans and Russians. Recently we have managed to restore full-fledged relations and achieved a number of quite concrete results, suffice it to mention our concurrent efforts to resolve international problems: the signing of the START-III Treaty, our projects, which we are now trying to implement, and a number of other points on which we have reached a better understanding.
Therefore, I would like to continue the dialogue with my counterpart, with whom I have good relations. I have always said that good relations between the presidents are a necessary prerequisite for good relations between the countries, yet this prerequisite is not the only one. It is better when personal relations are good, but there also needs to be the will of the government and support of other authorities, support of civil society and business community. Then everything will be fine.
But I think this visit is going to be interesting. It will be my first trip to the Silicon Valley. I am very excited about it personally, besides I want to take a look at the companies in the Silicon Valley and their achievements, which represent an accumulation of scientific and technical ideas of the United States of America and, on the other hand, absorb all best talents coming to the USA from abroad, including from Russia.
As you know, there are a lot of people of Russian origin or even our citizens in the Silicon Valley. So my task is easy and difficult at the same time. I want to see how the Silicon Valley is organised. We too would like to launch something similar in the Russian Federation, but certainly corresponding to our own ideas. We have Skolkovo project, on which the decision has been made and which has been formalised. We want to establish a separate innovation city nearby Moscow and to draw private investments, both Russian and foreign, there. That is why learning from experience of the Silicon Valley looks attractive to me. There are other interesting meetings scheduled, including my address at a university and other events, which, I believe, will be interesting to me.
I have never visited San Francisco nor California before. Only doing this must be a memorable experience. Besides that, there is, of course, a more formal part — negotiations with my counterpart in Washington. In Washington, I know everything much better. Washington is a kind of a typical capital, but this does not change the substance of our discussions and talks. I hope that we will be able to discuss the entire Russian-US agenda. But I personally would like to focus on several things, I have told Barak Obama about that: on economic cooperation between Russia and the United States of America, because recently we strengthened our security cooperation but we did not get a considerable improvement in our economic contacts. It does not mean that they are non-existent: there are investments, and trade amounts to tens of billions of US dollars, but this is not a decent volume for Russia and the US. This is what I hope to talk about.
There is a number of other old diseases, like, for instance, our joining the WTO. American partners promised their support to us here. I do not know how the events will unfold, but I would like to discuss it with my counterpart and to do my best to make Russian Federation's accession to the World Trade Organisation a reality at last. As the saying goes, the ball is in the US court on this.
That’s it just in brief.
Robert Thomson: Mr President, what could be actually done by the American administration during this visit to speed up Russia’s entry into the WTO?
Dmitry Medvedev: So, what could and should be done? We should come to an agreement on a few relatively small issues that remain under discussion and our colleagues – the Government of the Russian Federation, the commercial representative and other US officials — are negotiating them. In my view, they are minor differences, and partly they have to do with a matter of taste, as far as I can see; otherwise they are about how the US perceives its economic interests. I believe we should go beyond this line because the Russian presence in the WTO would be beneficial not only for Russia – for Russia it is a sort of a test — but for the whole system of the World Trade Organisation and other countries, since we are willing to follow the same rules in our activities.
Sometimes they blame us saying “You made something wrong there, or you sort of give support to the industry or industries you’d better not to under the current circumstances” and what kind of preferences should not be granted at the moment. All in all, the whole discussion usually revolves around this question. But as soon as Russia joins the WTO there will be no topic for discussion any more. We have been led around by the nose for a long time, much longer than other major economies, say nothing of the countries whose economies couldn’t be even called market-based, but they are in the WTO, while Russia is not there. So once again, I hope that the promises that the current US administration once gave me will be kept.
Robert Thomson: Mr President, today most West European countries face the financial crisis. You keep a careful eye on it. Do you think we are at the beginning, at the middle or at the end of the crisis?
Dmitry Medvedev: The even better question you could have asked is whether it is a V-, W- or L-crisis.
Certainly, it would be better not to have an L-crisis or a W- and Triple U-crisis. But a thorough assessment of the developments makes me think that we are on our way out of the crisis. And it is time to work out a so-called ”exit strategy“.
But another thing is to what extent our economies are prepared for this. For some, today may be OK, and for others, it is not. I am aware that many countries, including the US, still insist on keeping stimulation of their economies. But in my view, it is time to be engaged in the broad discussion of the exit strategy, because otherwise we will just revive an appetite and fail to get the end result. That is why I think that we are at this stage. A number of economic indicators prove it as well. There is a growth nearly everywhere, in all countries and major economies. While in some countries the growth is slow, about half a percent or one percent, in fastest-growing economies and in fastest-growing markets such as China and India it is strong. Our country shows a moderate but quite good growth, about 4 percent now. And in my view, this indicator is not bad at all if we manage to preserve it; in this light we should figure out an exit strategy without abandoning some stimulation measures.
It would be wrong to leave everything all at once. I would like to recall that last year we spent about $200 billion to support our national economy. That is quite a sum and this money helped us to resolve a number of problems, avoiding shutdown of major industries, supporting demand for their products and entering this year without shocks. But such policies should not be pursued forever as now the situation is somehow different, and everything changes. That makes me think that we are at this particular stage.
Robert Thomson: Mr President, do you think that some European countries learned a hard lesson on the budget balancing? What standpoint do you support – the German or the French one?
Dmitry Medvedev: Some time ago I visited Germany and for several hours I discussed this issue with my counterpart, the Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel. The whole discussion revolved around the question of ”what are you for — stability or solidarity?“ This is a sort of a watershed in the viewpoints of a number of countries of the European continent, the European Union. Any comparison is quite primitive. It is understandable that solidarity is to a great extent backed by those who stick to political left, and the stability is favoured by the right wing. I believe that the pragmatic course should be pursued. Today such a course consists in the following.
It is, of course, difficult for me to give advice to the European Union ‑ it has no need for my advice, they can cope with everything by themselves – but a fair balance is nevertheless to be established. The economies should not remain slack, the assistance should not be limitless in the situation when there is nothing left to rescue, one should rather proceed from rational considerations. But at the same time sound measures aimed to support a number of weaker economies are necessary to save the common idea, which encompasses a common European market and a common supranational currency – euro, and in such a case collective measures are necessary. It should be stressed that such measures have been taken, since the decision to allocate nearly a trillion euros is, in fact, a decision to promote general stability in the European continent. This is why these things cannot be contrasted here, but of course endless solidarity and assistance that gives no result is a very dangerous path as anything can eventually go loose, even the European Union, and certain new problems may emerge with solvency of the countries not currently hit. This is the reason why there should be aurea mediocritas.
I hope that I will be able to discuss this issue with Nicolas Sarkozy, my other counterpart, who will attend the St Petersburg International Economic Forum. Having talked to Ms Merkel, now I am going to talk to Mr Sarkozy.
Robert Thomson: Mr President, if the crisis expands ‑ now it is still unclear whether, for instance, Spain or Portugal will face problems, – will Russia propose its institutional financial assistance to ensure stability in Europe?
Dmitry Medvedev: You know, we have a great interest in stability in Europe.
First of all, because Russia is a European country. We do not belong to the European Union, but we are a European nation.
Secondly, our gold and foreign exchange reserves are split among several baskets: they are in dollars, in euros, partially in pounds, some other currencies such as Swiss frank, are also used, and naturally in gold and securities. That is why Russia’s prosperity, finally, depends on how well things are going on the European continent. That is why we are following the situation very closely. When I last discussed this problem for quite a long time, note it, with Ms Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany, I said that we hope the measures undertaken to support euro and the European economy will bring results. We have sound bilateral relations with all the EU countries, including those that are in a difficult situation now ‑ with Greece, Spain and Portugal. We certainly take that into account in our relations, but I still think that the key support measures should be undertaken by the European Union, and they have undertaken them.
Now the most important thing is that they carry them through and do not stop in the middle of the road. Otherwise, as I have already stressed, the centrifugal process can unwind and the advocates of giving up the common currency and the common market may start dominating the European Union, which I think would be a step back.
Robert Thomson: Are you really afraid that the common currency could fail?
Dmitry Medvedev: Not yet, but that danger cannot be excluded, at least because a unique situation has developed. We recently held a summit with the EU, a regular EU-Russia summit taking place twice a year. You may be aware there is a similar event, the US-EU summit. At that EU-Russia summit we discussed the current situation, and it appears to be quite unique indeed.
In today's Europe we see countries with a weak economies but a strong currency, which has never happened before in the history of humanity and the history of the world economy because the nature of this European currency is supranational. But in the end the strength of this currency depends on the economic potential of each of the countries of the Union while some of them are the weak links at the moment. Thus, the question arises how to marry all this, how it will all work in the relatively longer term, or even in the medium term. That is why this issue is widely discussed now. This explains why we are witnessing the rise of the so-called ”national currency parties“: the party for the German mark, the party for the French frank. This is a rather serious threat to the European Union both as a common market and as the union between the European States.
Therefore, I do not exaggerate the threat, but it should not be underestimated.
What do you think?
Robert Thomson: I will agree with you now, there is a threat that it may indeed happen. The governments should implement the measures that have been voiced. If we see that they are not committed to these promises, then the crisis will worsen once again and we will have to overcome it with much fewer resources. That is why I asked if Russia could provide assistance if a sovereign default indeed becomes a contagious phenomenon?
Dmitry Medvedev: I should address the Russian assistance separately. We have our domestic tasks that we have to tackle. We have enough national problems: our economy has not recovered from crisis yet. Though there is a number of projects on which we effectively cooperate with nations with struggling economies. If we consider such assistance in light of our relations in this sphere, in undertaking joint projects, then we are all for it. But as for some direct financial injections, it is preferable if the EU partners do it.
There is yet another problem which is very complicated: how to encourage struggling economies to implement austerity economic policy? That is in fact the said conflict between stability and solidarity. Implementing the recommendations of other countries or the European Commission, even the smartest ones, is very difficult, especially if thousands of people are out in the streets demanding the dissolution of parliament and the ouster of the government, because it failed to overcome the threats that had emerged. Therefore, the success of the common policy aimed at resolving the crisis that has recently emerged in the EU economy depends on how consistent the governments of states with struggling economies are in implementing these austerity measures. In fact all these things are alarming, as it can be perceived as a second wave of the crisis that started in the end of 2008, it is obvious. I think that we will talk about it tomorrow during our discussion at the St Petersburg Forum.
Robert Thomson: Mr President, when you come to the US, you will see that very much attention in the country is now focused on the crisis in the Gulf of Mexico. First of all, taking into account your country’s experience of operating at great sea depths, have BP or the US government approached the Russian government?
In a broader context, do you think this crisis will fundamentally change the nature of the global oil industry? What change will occur in the equation of risk and profit because of this oil spill?
Dmitry Medvedev: It is a big problem. We see how much attention is given to it in your country, how much attention is given to it by the US President. Generally, such a problem can undermine anything, including the credibility of the authorities, it is more than obvious.
The response to this problem is very difficult, because all of us are confronted with such a catastrophe for the first time, given the enormous scope of the disaster. Oil spills have happened before. We have a whole set of international conventions on this issue. I have specially reviewed the international regulatory framework in order to understand what should be done. The conclusion at which I arrived and which I would like to share at the G20 is that despite the fact that we have a legal framework to resolve small problems, we still lack a global international legal framework to resolve mega catastrophes such as that occurred in the Gulf of Mexico.
Firstly, as for now, one cannot overcome it, there is no technical solution which would make it possible, secondly, a completely obvious question arises: who will compensate for the losses, will the company formally recognised as responsible for the problem have enough assets and money for reimbursements? If the money is not enough, who will be held responsible?
Here an issue of insurance comes. But such risks have hardly ever been insured before, I do not know who will be ready to provide insurance for such operations, who will reinsure them, what company can be a reinsurer as the amount of the potential indemnity may reach tens, hundreds of billions of dollars. It means that we need new international approaches to this problem.
I believe that Russia has a role to play here as we also have large-scale extraction operations, we also have facilities similar to the one which is located in the Gulf of Mexico. Of course, we monitor their condition and I hope everything will be fine there but it is a wake-up call. As you rightly put it, it is necessary to find a new point of risk distribution because these risks are so high that not only a company might not be able to deal with them, a whole country might not be able to do that, especially if this country is not as powerful as the United States of America or the Russian Federation, if this country has less territory, if it is smaller. Who will be held responsible there? What company will be held responsible? That is why we should consolidate our efforts.
Of course, I do hope that the US Administration together with special agencies which have been established for this purpose and companies responsible for that will finally resolve this problem. But it is absolutely necessary for us to think about the future.
As for our engagement, we have not been approached so far. But we are ready to discuss this problem exhaustively.
Robert Thomson: After the disaster, did you commission a review of the Russian deposits at great depths to ensure the prevention of such a scenario?
Dmitry Medvedev: Of course, I did. Naturally, once it all happened, all the necessary instructions have been given to our ministries which are responsible for security in this area, and, even informally, we have spoken to the representatives of major companies which conduct such an extraction offshore. The situation is monitored by everybody, including even the Prosecutor General’s Office. But there are two dimensions here.
One of these two dimensions is the issue of technology, and it is very problematic at the moment. I think there will be many studies, dozens of them, published on the issue of how to cope with such incidents at great water depth, especially when the pressure is very high. For it is obvious that the risks should be assessed in a different way after this catastrophe. And it is fair.
And the other dimension to it, which is also very important, is the financial one that I have already mentioned. We need to know who will act as an insurance company should accidents like this re-occur in future, and how the international community can assign roles to its members. I think that the conventions adopted in this field in the 20th century, including the International Convention of the Law of the Sea, I also refer to the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution of the Sea by Oil, are not sufficient. We have to think about it.
Rebecca Blumenstein: Mr President, I would also like to ask you how the oil spill has affected your opinion of BP as one of Russia’s partners. And do you, Mr President, have any worries concerning BP’s financial status?
Dmitry Medvedev: Well, BP is obviously our partner, I mean it is a partner of a Russian company, and I met with its officials several times when I was in the government, though I can’t remember whether I met them as a President. But we had met several times anyway, before that tragic catastrophe, and discussed various issues. Therefore, we are certainly not indifferent to BP’s future, and even more so because one of Russian companies has created a joint venture with BP.
I don’t know what will happen next, but I know for sure BP will lose big money this year. How they will manage to cope with those expenditures, won’t they lead to the annihilation of the company or to its breakup is a matter of expediency. And I can be straightforward here: certainly we want the interests of the Russian investors that launched joint businesses with BP to be protected in some ways. It is obvious.
But, on the other hand, I realise that, so to say, business is business, and anything can actually happen. Anyway, I am confident that BP partners in the Russian Federation and other countries monitor the situation. I have even noticed that the United States of America and the United Kingdom have rather differing opinions of the situation. The British believe that the position of the US towards BP is too tough.
Robert Thomson: Indeed, it relates to the issue of pensioners in Britain.
As for Kyrgyzstan, what can Russia do in order to mitigate the crisis? The US became too close to Mr Bakiyev in the past. Has it affected the crisis? As you understand it from your information sources, who is really responsible for the outburst of interethnic clashes in Kyrgyzstan?
Dmitry Medvedev: The situation there is exceptionally complicated, I would even say tragic. Unfortunately, there are several reasons to that.
First, let me remind you that Mr Bakiyev who has now resigned as the President and left the country, initially came to power through a coup d’etat, which is not a constitutional way. Certainly, subsequently his legitimacy was confirmed at the elections, and he was a partner we worked with. But nevertheless it was not today that this problem emerged. It is rooted in the overall instability of the civil society in Kyrgyzstan and immature political institutions there.
I realise that processes of this kind take long time. We are developing our own political institutions as well and we closely follow what is happening now in Kyrgyzstan, our close partner, a strategic one, as it is customary to say. Let me mention that Kyrgyzstan is a participating state to the EurAsEC, to the Collective Security Treaty Organisation, which means that we are allies, but its domestic political instability and desire to solve all the problems by changing rapidly all the political deck has already let Kyrgyzstan down once.
What happened before the current civil unrest? We were building our relations with the former authorities of Kyrgyzstan but I have to admit that previous regime went too far. It is not about some sort of close ties with other countries, the United States of America for example, as that aspect is exactly what is called the issue of foreign policy priorities. But they should have been honest with their citizens, should have earned money honestly without lying to their partners. They should have taken decisions supported by their people, instead of spending national wealth for personal purposes and private goals. None of this has been done. That is why the level of popular support and respect was practically negligible and hence the collapse of the former administration was in fact instantaneous. Nobody actually expected this. I believe that even the countries of Central Asia did not think that the situation was so much out of balance.
I would like to recall that at the elections about a year ago Mr Bakiyev received much electoral vote. From the angle of public approval, people’s support it seemed that his position was stable. But it turned out quite the contrary. It turned out that everything is much more complicated.
There is an Interim Government there now which is not legally legitimate enough but which tries to cope with the problems. We cooperate with this government, we help it, provide humanitarian assistance and advice.
We are certainly ready to develop bilateral economic relations and we follow closely the recent developments. And what has happened? Unfortunately, it is the same thing that has already happened in Kyrgyzstan once. The inter-ethnic tensions that escalated in the late 1980s and virtually coincided with the disintegration of the Soviet Union, unfortunately re-emerged with the same acuteness and resulted in violent clashes on ethnic grounds which are especially dangerous as we understand that the recovery from such conflicts takes decades if not centuries and in some cases lead to disintegration of countries and establishment of brand new geographical entities. Thus, the roots of this conflict are unfortunately rather deep.
But I hope that the authorities of Kyrgyzstan will do everything possible to consolidate popular support and restore law and order. Even now the situation in the south of Kyrgyzstan is close to humanitarian catastrophe: the number of refugees that have crossed the border and that are now on the territory of Uzbekistan is close to 100 thousand. Uzbekistan, of course, cannot easily manage this situation, it has to provide them with food, water, and housing.
On the other hand, in the areas of conflicts young people with some specific bands on, usually in the state of agitation from alcohol or drugs, keep riding along the streets, shooting sporadically and killing people. I was deeply struck by the situation when wounded people were murdered and emergency vehicles that came to rescue people were burnt, and it was impossible to provide medical care. This shows the level of tension and strain that prevails in society.
This does not mean that there is no way out but, evidently, Kyrgyzstan’s government has to be wise, tactful and attentive, try to communicate with the leaders of corresponding diasporas, communities, ensure constant dialog between them and in some cases use force, nevertheless, as no state can function without law enforcement.
As for the requests to deploy Russian peacekeeping units there, at the moment, in my view, it is not necessary and our partners in Kyrgyzstan have revoked their request for now as they are to deal with this situation themselves. This is their internal problem and I hope they will be able to resolve it. But we shall see.
That’s the situation.
Rebecca Blumenstein: Mr President, are you still opposing operation of the American military base there?
Dmitry Medvedev: You know, I have never been against the American base there because this base is located within the territory of Kyrgyzstan. I am not the President of Kyrgyzstan; I am the President of Russia. We do not have an American military base and we do not need one, just like there is no Russian military base in America.
If at some moment the leaders of Kyrgyzstan decided that they needed this base, this was their decision, but I should remind you in what kind of circumstances this decision was made.
This decision was made in the beginning of this decade and it was supported at the highest level when the campaign in Afghanistan began and our American partners needed help. And I will be straight with you, back then Russia supported the idea saying that if it was needed for fighting terrorism, for establishing law and order, then it is ok.
However, I believe – and I openly say it – that this base should fulfill specific tasks and finish its operation, it should not be there forever. Well, this issue is likely to cause the most discussions: whether something should or should not be done about it now. In any case, we cooperate with the United States of America on Afghanistan. You know pretty well that we have allowed both military and non-military transit. From our point of view, we provide the maximum support to the mission of establishing order in Afghanistan that is performed by the United States and some other countries.
The issue of bases is beyond the competence of the Russian authorities. But if you want to know my opinion, then I will reiterate that such facilities should not be permanent; they should stop functioning after they have completed their tasks. The leaders of Kyrgyzstan should determine the future of this base. Let them decide.
Robert Thomson: Mr President, have you called the Government of Uzbekistan and urged them to take a balanced stance in order to prevent this domestic problem from becoming an international problem?
Dmitry Medvedev: I talked to the President of Uzbekistan immediately when it all started. We both actually were at the summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation in Tashkent when the situation aggravated, and we also got in touch over the phone later.
But I think that today the leadership of Uzbekistan has adopted a very careful and balanced position in this regard – it accomodates refugees and at the same time it does not heat up tensions. I believe that such a balanced stance can help resolve the problem. I have discussed it with other partners; I have discussed it with the President of Kazakhstan several times. In general we share the understanding of the roots of this problem and possible developments, possible scenario in Kyrgyzstan.
I can say that the most dangerous scenario would be the following. The law and order is not established but the election needs to be held, hence the political environment in Kyrgyzstan would be fragmented and consists of several actors. First, these segments will cause severe domestic tension, discussions in the parliament, different political groups will emerge. At the same time, the Constitution that is proposed to be adopted will transform Kyrgyzstan from a presidential into a parliamentary republic. It is rather dangerous given the instability of power in Kyrgyzstan.
However, the gravest scenario of all would include the coming to power of radicals in an absolutely legitimate way. When people do not believe any more that the civil authorities are able to establish law and order and say that there is only one force that can do it, then we will get a Kyrgyzstan developing by the Afghan scenario of the Taliban times. In my view, such a development of the situation would be rather regrettable and extremely dangerous for our country and other countries of Central Asia.
Robert Thomson: Mr President, now comes the issue of Iran. UN sanctions have been agreed upon, and additional sanctions have been imposed – sanctions of the US.
What is your opinion concerning the progress with the sanctions? Whatever the case, Iran will inevitably gain its nuclear potential, its nuclear weapons potential. And while the world is somewhat divided on this point, on this problem, it is necessary to understand how to deal with Iran if it gets this potential?
Dmitry Medvedev: You know, I think that we have managed to develop a kind of a common, constructive position on Iran; say, a few years ago, that would have been impossible. Why is it so now?
First of all, it is so because Iran, unfortunately, did not and still does not want to hear the voice of reason. It does not want to reach agreement upon its nuclear programme. We cannot just stay aside. The United States of America, Europe, the Russian Federation and the People’s Republic of China – we are all interested in the nonproliferation of nuclear weapons. So if the programme is not transparent, if there are questions to be asked, we must either cooperate or otherwise put up with these problems.
On the other hand, we still managed, through great efforts, to coordinate the draft resolution acceptable to all. I’ll remind you that opinions concerning Iran are very different. Let’s face the truth: the United States of America has no cooperation with Iran whatsoever. Thus, you have nothing to lose as Iran is not your partner.
As for other countries, they are rather closely tied with Iran; we have quite diversified ties with Iran, and China even more so. This should be always taken into account, not to mention that this kind of sanctions must not damage Iranian people. Sanctions are usually imposed to compel to do something, but not to take revenge, not to do harm to Iranian people. So it is my opinion that the resolution which was adopted reflects the balance of such varying approaches. The sanctions are imposed, they are rather severe, and at the same time they do not harm Iranian people; these sanctions let the country live but compel – at least I hope so – compel the Iranian administration to take at some point or another the decision to cooperate with the world community, to cooperate more closely with the IAEA, to engage in frank and constructive discussions.
I do not know what else needs to be done. To tell you the truth, I would not like all our efforts to go down the drain, so to say, and to be a failure. And what am I referring to?
If we agreed now, if Russia agreed with the United States that these sanctions are collective, then unilateral sanctions imposed whether by the United States of America, the EU or any other countries will only aggravate the situation, because they are not agreed upon with anybody. At the same time they will also damage our arrangements, because, ultimately, these sanctions may apply to other states. But we did not agree on it when we were drafting and adopting a joint resolution in the UN Security Council.
In my view, the situation should be as follows: yes, we should pursue dialogue with Iran, put pressure on it if necessary, urge to take a constructive stance, avoid creating problems for civilians, and we should act collectively. If we do act responsibly, I am sure that we will make progress after all.
Robert Thomson: Mr President, do you think Iran will have a nuclear bomb in five years? Is it 80 percent, 60 percent or 100 percent possible? When you talk to intelligence officers in the UK and other countries, do they already assume that it will happen just in this way?
Dmitry Medvedev: It is hard for me to determine percentage points; I do have some information, I receive on a regular basis updates and reports about the evidence pro et contra, and information provided by one intelligence service or another. Of course, aids of President Obama or any other president do the same thing. But it is difficult to measure it in terms of percentage points. I would like very much the Iranians to pursue only a peaceful nuclear programme as they certainly have the right to do so. But I could easily presume that this programme has different dimensions, especially given Iran’s determination in achieving some of their goals. And if the risk of developing nuclear arms does arise, it will be a major problem for the Middle East.
When I visited some countries in Africa and the Middle East, I was told directly that Iran’s having nuclear weapons would trigger nuclear arms race in a few states of the region. Then everybody will be concerned about these weapons and start developing them. But if they appear in such numbers, it will pose a rather grave threat, because when there are so many nuclear weapons in such an explosive region as the Middle East, the possibility of using them will increase hundredfold and grow dramatically.
The point is that Iran’s neighbors already possess such weapons and, by the way, questions arise about how they will use these weapons. The negative thing is that our nuclear club has official and, I hope, responsible members, such as the Russian Federation, the United States of America, France, The UK, the People’s Republic of China; but there are also unofficial members that belong to this club but have no powers there. Still, everybody knows perfectly well that these are nuclear countries and that their Presidents and Prime Ministers have nuclear button briefcases carried with them. This already poses a serious threat to the world. The more such countries we have, the more dangerous this threat will be.
Robert Thomson: In recent years how your relations with Prime Minister Putin has changed?
Dmitry Medvedev: Formally, they have certainly changed because I am the President while he became the Prime Minister. And this makes it clear.
I have outlined it many times that President is President and under the Constitution he is the leader of the state and Commander-in-Chief. Prime Minister is responsible for economy. In this sense we have a different power distribution system than the United States of America. Ours is closer to the French system probably, although it is unique to a large extent, because it is Russian system.
If we mean the personal factor, they have not probably changed. We have good and friendly relations. We communicate with each other, meet regularly and discuss diverse issues which are more than abundant.
So formally, our relations have much changed; personally, I hope that they have not changed a bit.
Robert Thomson: Your way of life is as public as before, you visit the same football games and support the Zenit team?
Dmitry Medvedev: (Laughing.) You know, I do not visit games to support Zenit because I live in Moscow, though I historically did support. But now I do not often visit football matches, I have a lot to do. Still, if I have time I nevertheless visit games. Sometimes they give me much pleasure and sometimes serious disappointment.
Recently I have visited the game with Slovenia where the Russian team was barred from the world championship. I can say that I had negative emotions and even the subsequent conversation with President of Slovenia did not lift my mood. But what is to be done? I decided myself to come there, to watch the game.
Speaking about other things, I certainly try to take some recreation, it is normal. I am not sure that one would call it socializing because I have abundant public contacts in most diverse places and therefore on weekends I try to spend time at home with my family, to certainly engage in sports because otherwise it is impossible to keep normal spirits. But generally it is sometimes not easy.
Robert Thomson: A question on North Korea. Recently a South Korean ship was sunk, the majority of the world community agreed that it was caused by a torpedo launched by the North Koreans. What in your view is really taking place in North Korea? Are we witnessing a transitional stage in that country and thus that was the cause for the incident? What can you tell the world, what do you know about North Korea?
Dmitry Medvedev: All people know little about North Korea, but unlike, most probably, you I visited North Korea. Have you ever been to North Korea?
Robert Thomson: Once I had a visa, but I cancelled that trip. Nevertheless, when I lived in China I frequently met with North Korean delegations.
Dmitry Medvedev: I was a member of the delegation to North Korea. I think the visit was in 2000. No doubt, this is a very peculiar country. We have good neighborly relations with it too, dating back to the USSR times, of course. But North Korea is a very closed nation, and the way they take decisions always raises at least a certain set of questions.
We would like that country to develop. We would like its citizens to be provided with basic goods and food. But I do not know the scenario for North Korea, because, once again, the political system of this country is rather original and unique.
Concerning this incident I can say the following. Of course, it is very sad as people died. Certainly, one of the possible conclusions is that the Cheonan corvette was hit by a torpedo launched from the neighboring country. But it is not the only version.
In my conversation with the President of South Korea I told him, that we, firstly, share their grief. Secondly, we need an investigation, as careful as possible, including the expert work. He asked our experts to come. Our experts went there, returned and now they are preparing their own report.
In my opinion, this is rather important, because despite the fact, that only one version is widely known, we do not have to accept it at once. We need a most thorough investigation, and as soon as we receive evident conclusions, as soon as they become public domain, only in this case we can speak about punishing the perpetrators and bringing them to responsibility depending on the fact who will be among these perpetrators, I mean a country or any other actors.
Rebecca Blumenstein: Mr President, in your opinion, what role should China play towards North Korea: should they be more or less active to resolve the situation?
Dmitry Medvedev: You know, I think, that our Chinese partners have a balanced and careful position on this issue, and we also do the same for several reasons. Firstly and once again, we are neighbors. And, secondly, despite the difficulties in dealing with Korea, nevertheless they should not be pushed into the deadlock and the situation should not be aggravated to trigger some inadequate responses.
In fact, today Pyongyang is making highly aggressive declarations, but if we take such an unbalanced position, this would be very and very dangerous. The People’s Republic of China is the closest partner of North Korea and hence one of the most important channels to communicate with them. That is why I clearly understand the careful position they take.
Robert Thomson: Mr. President, thank you very much for your time, it was generous of you.