President of Russia Dmitry Medvedev: Good afternoon, colleagues,
The President’s job involves an endless series of images, a flicker of states, meetings. Just yesterday I was in France with my colleagues, Ms Merkel, the Federal Chancellor of Germany, and French President Nicolas Sarkozy. You may be surprised, but I discussed European security with them.
Since we are meeting with the participants in the Munich Security Conference Core Group Meeting today, I would like to share some of my thoughts with you, but before I do that I would like to thank you for coming to Moscow. This is a momentous event because the Munich Security Conference is an enduring global brand and a very respected forum, which began in 1962 as a purely NATO venue but at present gathers very different people. There have traditionally been a lot of meetings and a lot of interesting speeches. Today you are here, and once again thank you for that. I hope that you have already participated in interesting exchanges of views.
A couple of words about how I see the situation in the world today. Despite the fact that we have faced many different challenges in recent years, I believe that there is a definite change in the paradigm of global development. Sometimes I hear global leaders say things that some time ago could not even be imagined. This means that the world is changing and we are changing with it. Presidents of the United States and of the Russian Federation say things that seemed impossible just a short time ago.
”Relations in Europe, the Euro-Atlantic parameter of those relations is one of the most important aspects of Russian foreign policy.“
Our position in Europe is changing. Some time ago, in Berlin, almost immediately after I became President of the Russian Federation, I put forward an idea of the European Security Treaty. There was a very mixed reaction to this proposal. Actually, that was what I had hoped for. I was sure that such an idea must evoke very different responses, from a completely supportive and laudatory reviews saying that it is time to do it, to very harsh criticism that the Russians want to deceive everyone again, that they want to use a good idea to divide Europe and to neutralise NATO’s capabilities. The response was what it was and I have stated my opinion about it on numerous occasions.
Of course, the idea of European security and new agreements in this field does not pursue narrow goals. I understand how complex it is and how difficult it is for many states to accept, but it seems to me that it has at least one positive aspect which no one has as yet refuted: security in today's world is a consolidated concept and if we do not address these issues seriously, it will be impossible to ensure the security of one state at the expense of another. It is impossible to ensure the security of one bloc, for example, at the expense of a conflict with another bloc or other countries. The world is so close, so globalised, that it does not forgive such misconceptions. Therefore, I don’t believe that this idea has run its course. I do not know how you feel about it, but in any case, I would like us to discuss this issue.
In general, relations in Europe, the Euro-Atlantic parameter of those relations is one of the most important aspects of Russian foreign policy. That is not surprising; it was the case in the Soviet period and, naturally, it remains the case now. Russia is often likened to the Soviet Union but in my opinion this is a major misconception, primarily because the people who live in Russia have changed a great deal. I remember myself 25 years ago: I was a different person, although my mindset was fully established by then and I had nearly completed my PhD. My views were completely different, more idealistic in some ways, and naturally I had less experience. And a huge number of people in our country have made the same progress. Therefore, as I see it, the difficulties in the perception of many processes that go on in our country and even in personal attitudes, must be overcome just by virtue of the fact that we are changing, and that is what is most important. Incidentally, that is what allows us today to find common ground and reach agreement with our colleagues. The role of the personality has always been very important in history, and obviously this remains true today.
Yesterday we talked about ways to ensure the required level of security in Europe. I am pleased that my colleagues from France and Germany can acknowledge Russia’s arguments. I am happy that my colleagues from other countries also acknowledge our arguments. At the same time I would not want such meetings as we held yesterday to be perceived as an attempt to divide Europe, the European Union, or to plant some doubt in the true intentions of the states that participate in such events. I think that all of us should follow a common European agenda.
The Group of Twenty appeared just a few years ago, and incidentally, the idea of G20 was first proposed by the Europeans and at the time it took a lot of effort to convince President Bush that the idea of such a forum was a viable one. To his credit, he agreed to it, although it was not a comfortable experience for him because there was a lot of criticism directed at the United States. Today it has been transformed from an economic venue to one where we can discuss a wide variety of issues. And obviously, every time we sit down at a negotiating table – a slightly larger table than this – and we look at everyone present there, we catch ourselves thinking that 10 or 15 years ago it would have been impossible to imagine that the leaders of major economies sit down together and address issues and resolve them at a level where agreement was unachievable in the past. That is astounding and very beneficial. Whatever anyone says, I believe that the expanded formats that have appeared recently are very useful for giving us an idea of how we see ourselves in the future.
I do not know what you have been able to discuss, but you probably discussed a few things. If you wish to share them, I will be very glad to hear about them. I think it will better if we have a free discussion. I just tried to outline my perception of the current state of security in Europe, on the European continent and the world in general. Perhaps you could say a few words as well.
Perhaps, Mr Ischinger, you would like to say a few words as the organiser of the Munich Conference?
Wolfgang Ischinger: Mr President, thank you very much for having us here today. We regard this as a special honour and a privilege, to be offered so much of your time. As I’m sure you know, this is only the second time that the Munich Security Conference has gone abroad. We went to Washington with a similar group last year, and we had a very interesting meeting here in Moscow yesterday and today. And I would like to repeat my warm thanks to the Russian Foreign Ministry and to all those who helped us organise this.
Mr President, we discussed, among many other issues, the question you just raised – the question of the future of European security. And many of us agree with you that the European security order requires improvement, and that it has not functioned as well as it should. Some of us believe that it was a good idea to push the reset button, but some of us believe that we should actually try to go further and write new software, have better programmes, and more cooperation. We should define ourselves as a European security community, encompassing the Euro-Atlantic area as a whole.
And finally, Mr President, I think one of the recurring themes of our discussion was that if we wish to have better relations, better structures, more cooperation, we need to build trust on the basis of concrete projects. Some concrete projects have already been undertaken by you and by President Obama, for example, through the new START agreement. Some of us believe that the idea of joint ballistic missile defence could be a game-changing project. You discussed last summer, a few months ago, with Chancellor Merkel, ways to enhance significantly the political consultations process between the European Union and the Russian Federation, and one of the items that was raised by you with the Chancellor was the question whether the unresolved issue of Trans-Dniester could be moved forward. So I think there are many good concrete ideas which you’ve already addressed and which we dealt with, and one of those that we spent a lot of time on is how cooperation within NATO – in the NATO-Russia Council – could be improved.
Finally, Mr President, I don’t want to take too much time, I know my colleagues would like to speak, but let me simply conclude – this is something which really comes from my heart – I would like to reiterate and repeat the invitation which we have transmitted to you to speak in Munich, at your convenience, next February or the year after, it is up to you. You have, so to speak, a standing invitation, Mr President.
Mr President, I know that among those of my colleagues who would like to add a few words of their own are former foreign minister Rotfeld of Poland and Dr Brzezinski, who is sitting to my right. If it’s okay with you, I would encourage Adam Rotfeld to say a word.
Adam Daniel Rotfeld: Thank you very much. With your permission, Mr President, I would like to join Wolfgang Ischinger in what he said, that I’m honoured and privileged to have an opportunity to discuss here in this room with you. I would like to say that, in fact, you raise some questions which are, in my view, very pertinent to the present situation: the problem of the indivisibility of security in the world which is very much interdependent. In other words, what you said at the beginning is a key element – namely, that we are in the process of fundamental change. With your permission, as a kind of respect to Russian people, I will add some words in Russian.
(In Russian) I would like to say the following. The truth is, we very frequently look to the past, thinking that it serves as a model for the future. But in fact, all of the issues we are facing in today’s world are entirely new and require an innovative approach. To my knowledge, you frequently refer to the issue of modernisation, so my first question is, to what degree is modernisation within Russia connected to foreign policy? And if it is connected, I would be grateful if you could tell us what those elements of connection are.
The second aspect that Mr Wolfgang Ischinger already spoke about is the issue of entirely concrete approach, rather than repeating general declarations, since we all believe that if there is a deficit in Europe today, it is mainly deficit of trust. Given the current mistrust, trust may only be built through joint efforts.
Wolfgang Ischinger mentioned the issue of Trans-Dniester settlement. It so happened that I dealt with this conflict in 1992 and 1993 and indeed, the formula which was offered then is still in effect. But my question is very specific. Does Russia have an idea of how to get this issue moving from the deadend, as since 1993 there haven’t really been any new decisions?
And finally, a remark about NATO. I have an impression which may be wrong, but it seems to me that Russia has a deeply-rooted perception of NATO as an aggressive bloc. I should say though, that when I was a member of the group of 12 experts who were drafting a new NATO Strategic Concept, the idea was to come up with new suggestions for Russia in order to cooperate and ensure cooperative security. Therefore, I believe that your attendance of the [NATO’s] Lisbon Summit may become a starting point for designing and building exactly that kind of a new pan-European cooperative security model. I specifically want to stress that we [the experts] discussed building a security community. I think that this kind of security community is not only possible, but indeed, I believe that we are at the threshold of exactly these kinds of decisions.
Thank you for your attention.
Dmitry Medvedev: I can comment now, or later, as you wish.
Mr Brzezinski, you have the floor.
Zbigniew Brzezinski: Thank you, Mr President. I’m delighted to have the opportunity to speak to you, which was extended to me by Ambassador Ischinger. And I want to say, first of all, that I’m sure you know that you’re widely admired in America. And you’re particularly admired in America because you have been so explicit in saying publicly and with real conviction that the modernisation of Russia, which is your major commitment, is profoundly connected with the democratisation of Russia, that these two processes go hand-in-hand. And that has really struck a cord in the United States.
And I have to say that having dealt with American-Russian relations for many years – although at one stage, they were not American-Russian but American-Soviet – it is quite an experience for me to be seeing here a young President of Russia who makes such comments and who, in a way, has the opportunity, historically, to be a transformational president. I also endorse very much your comments about the indivisibility, geopolitically, of the security process in Europe. The interconnection between Russia and America and Europe – or Europe and Russia and America, whichever way – is a fundamental fact of life, and we can only succeed in strengthening the process of accommodation if that interconnection is sustained, and it is important for everyone to realise that.
But there is still one more connection which I think is important to note here, and which I suspect you are in agreement with, which is that the process of accommodation has to be rooted in a profound process of reciprocal reconciliation between the peoples involved. Because an accommodation in this day and age is only enduring if it is founded in popular support, and that requires a continued effort to undo the bitter legacies of the past, particularly on the European continent, but also to some extent across the Atlantic. And that’s a process which I think rightly engages all of us.
And it is particularly necessary, because if we don’t achieve that dual accommodation –geopolitical and popular in depth – we will face a very vulnerable international situation. There is no real depth to existing political stability. It is vulnerable. The masses of the world are becoming politically awakened. They are restless. And unless we manage to make our accommodation enduring and broad, there could be very serious difficulties for mankind in the years ahead. So I think we have a common and very fundamental interest here that we share.
Dmitry Medvedev: Thank you.
Allow me to say a few words in response. First of all, Mr Ischinger said that we need not just a reset, but also a new programme. This is fair enough, but to continue this analogy, let me say that we then also need a new interface and new gadget to go with this programme, because a programme cannot work without infrastructure, unfortunately, and international relations require infrastructure too. What kind of infrastructure do we have in international relations? We have all of the various treaties and agreements on the one hand, and personal contacts on the other. We need both of these things to bring about change in the world.
Let me respond now to a few of the thoughts expressed on new approaches in Europe. First, relations between the Russian Federation and NATO were never easy. Perhaps this is a combination of the past’s legacy plus people’s emotions and perceptions. In short, we all have our historical background and our own perceptions of how things came about. Without question all of this complicates our relations, including our relations with NATO. Mr Rotfeld, you rightly noted that Russia tends to perceive NATO as being aggressively disposed towards it in some way and it is true that this is probably a mistaken perception in many respects.
But it is also obvious that Russia is often perceived in some quarters of the Western world and by ordinary people as a country that will never be democratic, a country whose leaders will always follow an authoritarian course, and which does not want to develop together with the rest of the world.
These stereotypes are deeply rooted in people’s minds in Russia, Europe, and the USA. Perhaps they are just the everyday residue of past policies, but they exist, and we feel their effect. We therefore need to be frank about their existence, in our country, in other countries. We need to overcome them. How can we do this? I agree with what Mr Brzezinski said about perceptions of our common history in society and the idea of bringing about reconciliation in people’s minds. After all, the history of relations between countries has never been straightforward. Russia has lived through some dramatic pages in its history with other European countries. This has left deep impressions, and the same is true for many European countries, which have also lived through some very painful times.
Look at what is happening in Russian-Polish relations now. A very tragic episode has enabled both countries to take the steps forward that for some reason, sometimes irrational reasons, we had not been able to take before. I think that taking these steps is quite simply our common duty now, the duty of Russia’s and Poland’s leaders. We are now able to close a whole series of sad pages in our history, and can do this consciously, do it elegantly, if you will. But even so, there are nonetheless some in society who do not accept these arguments.
On my way here I looked at the news in the internet and saw that our Communist Party is attempting to refute the conclusions reached by the commission on the Katyn case. What can I say? I have already commented on this matter. But this party does have some support among our public, and there are people who back it. I cite this example because it is indicative of what happens in other countries too, when particular groups take an uncompromising line. But this does not mean that we should not communicate openly and freely with each other.
I am indeed working hard on modernisation. I said from the start that economic modernisation will be effective only if we develop and optimise our political system at the same time. In some areas this system also needs modernisation, but this must be smart modernisation of a kind that will ultimately give us a more effective economic system based on a diversified economy and a modern democracy that naturally takes Russia’s historic traditions into account. This is not an easy undertaking, but I think it is an absolutely realistic goal.
We are working actively on regional issues now. You mentioned Trans-Dniester. I discussed this issue yesterday with my colleagues, the French President and German Chancellor. I think that this issue can be resolved for sure. Achieving this requires all of the parties to take an open position. Chisinau and Tiraspol were ready to work out an agreement. This is possible because I got the former Moldovan president and Trans-Dniester’s leader together. They can sit down at the same table and talk to each other, through gritted teeth at times, perhaps, but they can talk. They can draw up joint decisions, and sign them too.
Moldova will hold elections soon. I think that the parliamentary and presidential crisis in Moldova has left the country without an effective government for now, but as soon as one is formed we will be fully ready to continue these efforts. We are ready to work with the European Union and our partners in Europe on this. The main thing is for the countries sponsoring this process to take an unbiased position.
It is important at the same time for European countries not to try use the Trans-Dniester settlement process to resolve their own domestic political problems. I have already said that I think, for example, that Romania should take a much more balanced and calmer position on this matter. If we continue to hear from them such words as we hear today, the leadership and ordinary people in Trans-Dniester will never agree to unification. This is just one example, but it shows that solutions can be found to the frozen conflicts.
Mr Rotfeld, you spoke about modernising foreign policy. It’s probably not for me to judge. I cannot speak about economic modernisation successes in the country, and they are no doubt few as yet, but I can say that some institutions are working now and the process has begun. I don’t think there is doubt in anyone’s minds about this now.
I can say the same of foreign policy. Each president pursues his own foreign policy. Our foreign policy today differs somewhat from earlier policy, but this does not mean that we have changed our priorities. Russia’s priorities remain the same, but some elements in our foreign policy change, and this is also modernisation, you could say.
I think the main thing is for us to be able simply to listen to each other and build up good relations. It is obvious that the reset in our relations with the United States has been successful in large part because President Obama and I have built up good personal relations. This is not the only thing in foreign policy, but it is important too and it does help us to find solutions. It is very important when your dialogue partner, even if he heads as big an economy and powerful a country as the United States, listens to your arguments and reflects on them. I think this is extremely important. No matter who you are talking to, the leader of a big country or the leader of a tiny country, you have to make an effort to listen to what your dialogue partner is saying. If we do this we will forge a new foreign policy that will bring us success.