T.Mitkova: Mr President!
Thank you for this opportunity to ask you about the past year and its results. What sort of year has it been? In your view, were there more pluses or minuses?
Dmitry Medvedev: It was a diverse year. Each year is different, of course. This year brought joyful events, victories, especially sports victories and creative triumphs. It also brought us some important and positive economic and social results. In this sense, the year went as planned.
But it also had its share of dramatic events. I am thinking first and foremost of the events in the Caucasus of course, Georgia’s aggression against South Ossetia. And of course, I also have to say that we are ending this year at a time when the world is looking for ways to overcome the consequences of the global financial crisis.
So there has been a bit of everything this year. There were many good moments, but also some serious difficulties and trials for our country.
T.Mitkova: Coming back to one of the main events you mentioned – the war in the Caucasus, can you recount how you learned of Georgia’s attack on Tskhinvali? And how did you make your decision? Did it take a long time or was it a rapid decision?
Dmitry Medvedev: I will never forget that moment for the rest of my life. Such events leave such a deep impression that they can never fade.
I think this was one of the most difficult days of my life. I can remember by the minute what happened then.
It was around one in the morning when Defence Minister Serdyukov called me and said he had information that Georgia had declared war on South Ossetia, but at that point there was no action actually underway. I told him to monitor the situation, watch how events developed and report regularly, and this what happened over the next few hours. He called me every thirty minutes and told me what was going on, at what point tanks appeared, at what moment other vehicles carrying Georgian troops appeared. For a while we hoped that this was just some sort of provocation that would not actually be carried out. But when the artillery and tanks opened fire and I was informed of the deaths of our citizens, including our peacekeepers, I did not hesitate for an instant and gave the order to respond and return fire. Of course, when making a decision of this sort, you have to weigh up all the consequences, including the irreversible nature of this kind of order. It is possible to back out up until a certain point, but once the decision has been made there is no going back. I understood this of course, and I hoped that common sense would prevail in the end, but sadly this was not the case. The Georgian leadership unleashed a full-scale and bloody war against a neighbouring people. We took all the necessary measures. I think that overall, the military campaign, which lasted only five days in all, showed that our measures were effective and demonstrated too the strength of our armed forces and the strong spirit of our citizens and our soldiers. They dealt a full and irreparable blow to the Georgian military machine with only minimum losses. Our action restored peace in the Caucasus and, most importantly of all, brought protection to the tens of thousands of people who were on the brink of extermination. So, this was a very difficult day for me, but I think this was the only course of action we could take, and subsequent events proved that this was the right decision.
K.Kleimenov: Dmitry Anatolyevich, you spoke of the difficulty of ordering the army into battle. Were you confident that this operation would be a success?
Dmitry Medvedev: We had the impression that our neighbour was not quite right in the head, but we did not imagine it was to this degree. But they were making preparations and as I already said on some other occasion, there came a point when I sensed that our Georgian colleague was simply breaking off contact with the Russian Federation. Up till then he had asked to meet, said we should get together, discuss things, talk things over in Sochi, and then there was silence. At that moment I began to suspect that he had decided to carry out a military operation.
So we of course also prepared for this eventuality, and I think that our preparations helped to ensure that our losses in the operation were minimal. The Russian army destroyed Georgia’s military infrastructure and at the same time avoided action that would not have been humane.
Our army and our peacekeeping contingent displayed their best qualities over those days, and this was what I was counting on. They showed that their combat preparedness, resolution and courage were all up to the mark. They proved themselves worthy of the Russian army’s traditions and this is something to value.
D.Kiselyov: When you were still just a candidate in the elections, still only on the road to becoming President of the world’s biggest country, did it occur to you that you, Dmitry Medvedev the individual, would at some future point as Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces have to make the decision to lead Russia into war? Is it even possible to imagine these sorts of scenarios?
D. Medvedev: This is the sort of question it is right to ask because anyone who decides to run for the highest office in the country, an office which includes the function of Commander in Chief, cannot rule out these kinds of events. It is for precisely for this reason that the President is the guarantor of the Constitution and is Commander in Chief. But for any person and for me personally too, this kind of decision is not easy at all. The responsibilities set out in the Constitution and the abstract possibility of armed conflict are one thing, but it is quite another thing to actually make decisions at a time of real armed conflict when you know that it is enough to say just one word and there will be no way back. This is a test for anyone, but I think that in these kinds of situations any responsible leader must know how to keep his head clear, weigh up all the arguments and make a carefully considered decision.
T.Mitkova: It seems you made the decision to send troops into South Ossetia quite quickly. How do you make decisions in general? And aside from the decision on Ossetia, what other decisions have you found most difficult?
Dmitry Medvedev: Some decisions do indeed need to be made fast. Moreover, with some decisions, such as that on South Ossetia for example, there is no one to consult with. You just have to go ahead and decide.
Some decisions are very difficult but they are a more drawn-out process in terms of the motivation for making the decision and the various arguments for and against. There have been quite a few such decisions, but to be absolutely frank, none of them can compare to the difficulty of deciding to use the Russian Armed Forces to defend law and order and protect our citizens.
A number of complex decisions concern the economy and the need to overcome the financial crisis that has affected the whole world. In this case we have the possibility of weighing up our decisions and looking at how events are unfolding in other countries. We can analyse past experience and study the current experience of other countries. These kinds of decisions are usually the result of a brainstorming process. They are not just snap decisions. But they are in my opinion simpler decisions to make, despite the fact that their impact can be great indeed.
D.Kiselyov: Let’s go back to March this year. Of course, you remember the election campaign and its results. All of this was given memorable television coverage. (TV footage is played). What are your relations with Putin like now? How do you find it in general working with a Prime Minister like him?
Dmitry Medvedev: Yes, seeing this footage takes me back to those moments. This was one of the most important moments in my life, and it was an important event in the country’s life too. When you swear the oath and place your hand on the Constitution, it’s impossible not to feel moved, and I felt emotion inside that day. But feelings aside, the everyday routine work soon begins for everyone, for the President too. In this respect, I think that over these last months the President and Government have developed good and strong cooperation. I have close and friendly ties with the Prime Minister and we meet regularly. In this sense I think that the decision we made to work together is the right one and has turned out quite effective. Of course, it is above all for the people of Russia to judge, and not for us, but I think that this was the right decision.
As for the work itself, we are working, we are in contact with each other and we discuss economic and political matters. I find it comfortable to work with him, and I think he feels the same. In this respect then everything is in order.
K.Kleimenov: Dmitry Anatolyevich, we just saw footage from the ceremony of your inauguration. Can I rewind a bit so to speak and ask you to recall what was going through your head as you walked the red carpet through the halls of the Kremlin Palace, and what you were thinking about in those final minutes before taking the presidential oath of office?
Dmitry Medvedev: I was thinking of course about how my life was about to change. This was very important for me. In what way was my life about to change? I had been working for quite some time already in different state posts and in various capacities had had occasion to make a large number of important decisions, some of which I think had a very significant impact on this or that situation. But I was very much aware that my life would change after I took the oath and legally became the new President of the Russian Federation. Ultimately, the final responsibility for what happens in the country and for the important decisions taken would rest upon my shoulders alone and I would not be able to share this responsibility with anyone. I would need to be a part of all of these obligations 24 hours a day. All of this was going through my mind.
K.Kleimenov: Looking at the biggest challenges Russia has faced since you became President, aside from the Georgian aggression against South Ossetia, the world economic crisis looms largest. This is what everyone is talking about today. How well prepared do you think we were for this turn of events?
Dmitry Medvedev: I think that we were quite well prepared. If we go back in time a little and recall my speeches during the summer, at the [economic] forum in St Petersburg, for example, and on a number of occasions, with my colleagues in Japan, we said quite clearly, face to face, that the situation on the financial markets could take this serious and dramatic turn. We were assured that everything would be ok, but this was not the case and we are forced to recognise now that our predictions turned out to be true. It would have been better had we been mistaken. As for our preparedness, we were aware that this turn of events was a possibility. Over these last years we have done a lot to strengthen the economy and develop the social sphere. Our gold and foreign currency reserves are the third-biggest in the world. This creates a decent safety cushion and gives reinforcement to our economy, financial and currency system. We have suffered a considerable blow, it is true, because financing was so suddenly cut off and access to a huge number of foreign credits ended. We have a market economy and most of our companies borrow money not only on the domestic market but also abroad, and so the crisis has inevitably affected the overall situation. But overall, I think that our work over these last eight years has not been in vain. We would have been in a much more difficult situation had these preparations not been made. Just think back to 1998. The 1998 crisis had its roots in the Russian economy’s internal problems. The current crisis, unfortunately, has its roots in the state of affairs in America and a number of other big economies, and in an international financial regulation system that has not always proved adequate over these last years. So, I can say that in general we were prepared. There is another conclusion to draw from this crisis, and that is that our economy has become part of the world economy. This is what we sought, but it is something that has both benefits and drawbacks. As we know, world economic development is cyclical in nature. There are growth periods and there are downturns. The world economy is a global economy, and today it is really a super-global economy. There has never been a crisis like this one in human history. There can be no comparison to the Great Depression or the crises of the 1970s-1980s. Those crises were different in nature and more local in scale, affecting one, two or several countries.
In today’s completely globalised economy system failures in one country, especially a country as important as the United States, sent instant ripples through Western Europe, China, Japan, and Russia too. In this sense we are part of the world economy. This has given us some important growth advantages, but it also has its drawbacks. We therefore need to do everything possible to ensure that the future configuration of financial relations, the future financial architecture, will be fairer, more modern and better suited to today’s conditions.
D.Kiselyov: We were better prepared than many, but we can't afford to be complacent when the whole planet is caught up in the battle. Russia has its various national particularities, and they apply to anti-crisis measures too, the ones being taken now. Is it possible to assess the effectiveness of these measures, and what are the specific features of Russia’s anti-crisis measures?
Dmitry Medvedev: Yes, we have our own problems of course. I can say frankly that we did not succeed in bringing down inflation before, though we did maintain decent macroeconomic indicators. Our economy is still insufficiently diversified. It should have been somewhat different if we have managed to do it over these last years.
There are areas in which we still need to develop our infrastructure. Our financial system is still in the process of development. Our stock market was growing exceptionally fast, but it is nonetheless still a developing market. These falls and drops that come in waves are a sign that our development has not gone entirely as we wanted.
I looked at the statistics, during my visits to other countries too, and I saw that the overall fall in the total value of stocks on the market, that is the value of shares in Russian companies, is greater than in the USA or Europe, although they have also seen sharp drops, and is the same as the falls registered on the stock indexes in Brazil and China, because these are countries with economies in a similar development phase to our own. This is where we find the national particularities that we need to take into account in our work. Of course we cannot be complacent, you are right. But I think that the Government and everyone else working on these issues right now cannot be found guilty of this fault. They are working non-stop because practically every day a whole number of anti-crisis measures are being put in place. Some of these are urgent measures, and others are more strategic measures to restore banks’ lending ability, inject liquidity into the economy, protect our companies, protect the real sector, and support small businesses. All of this can be considered part of our national particularities, because our economy has its own problems, despite our big gold and foreign currency reserves and the overall decent preparation work we carried out. But at the same time, as I have already said about this crisis, there cannot be a national solution. If it were possible to overcome the crisis in one country alone it would have been done already, but no one has succeeded. Until our colleagues come up with suitable remedies, the economy will continue to face difficulties. There are various forecasts for next year, including predictions of a worldwide recession, something that has not been seen for 40 or 50 years. In other words, we could see a general downturn in the world economy, which had been in a growth period driven by growth in the rapidly developing countries. Now we might see a global recession. The only possible solution is therefore a common response, and in this respect what we and our colleagues have been doing lately at the G-20 summit in Washington and the planned meeting in London on April 2, at the APEC summit, and through our constant contacts with our close partners in the CIS and EurAsEC [Eurasian Economic Community] is all part of this collective effort to overcome the crisis. But we need to act faster. I want to say frankly, and I hope some of our partners abroad will hear me, that things are not progressing as rapidly as we hoped. A number of the decisions we discussed in Washington have still not been taken, including on the participation of Russia and a number of other countries in special economic forums, but without these steps we will not be able to come up with decisions together. We need to work hand in hand.
T.Mitkova: Clearly, a very difficult period is up ahead, and people usually look to the government for protection at such a time. People are worried after all about what will happen to their living standards, which look likely to fall, and about what will happen if they lose their jobs and can’t find new employment. What can we expect – a default, re-denomination or devaluation of the rouble? What is likely to happen with the rouble?
Dmitry Medvedev: As far as the state authorities are concerned, it is their duty to be always as attentive as possible to their citizens’ needs. At a time of crisis like this, the authorities must be not just attentive but also stay in constant contact with the population and take rapid and effective action. That is the first point.
Second, of course we stand to lose something in this crisis: the growth rate and industrial output development we had planned. There’s no escaping the crisis. But what we must not lose under any circumstances are the social achievements we have made over these last years. Under the Constitution, the Russian Federation is a social state, and this is not just empty words. We have put much effort into developing the social sector. I think that even in these difficult conditions, at a time when financing for production programmes and some other areas is being cut back, we must not lose any of what we have achieved in the way of social support. By this I mean wage levels, people’s real income levels, and pension savings. It is probably the authorities’ most important and sacrosanct obligation at this time to ensure social support for our people. There is nothing more important than this.
As for what awaits us in the future, I think that the situation is far from simple, but there is no cause for alarm or hysteria, and no reason to expect that we would end up having to take some kind of radical action. In this respect, we have no plans to carry out any of the measures you mentioned. Russia is able to pay its debts, and our level of internal debt is such that there can be no default, and we are not planning any re-denomination of the currency – it would make absolutely no sense.
Regarding the rouble’s exchange rate, it must be effective and it also has to correspond to the real state of our economy. In other words, we need to maintain it within certain limits, but at the same time the exchange rate should be perhaps a little more flexible than it has been of late, so as not to give rise to internal economic problems. But whatever steps we take will be taken openly, and we will certainly ensure that this does not cause losses for our people. The authorities cannot take the same of course of action as back in 1998, when decisions were made and people awoke the next morning to discover that they had been robbed and felt that they lost out very significantly indeed.
We will pursue a predictable economic policy and maintain normal and decent macroeconomic indicators in the situation we currently face. This is also very important.
D.Kiselyov: Nevertheless, we have entered a time of world upheavals when some things don’t work at all and other things don’t work the way expected. At such times many people are tempted to start changing their behaviour too. Local authorities get tempted not to fulfil their obligations for example, and employers get tempted to carry out mass redundancies and start seeing their labour force as just ballast. Even law abiding citizens, seeing that others are acting outside the law, can get tempted to follow suit, and criminals get tempted too, thinking their hour has come.
How will the authorities respond to these kinds of situations? Do you have a plan for dealing with this kind of behaviour, or will you just improvise and hope for effective results?
Dmitry Medvedev: This is the kind of situation where the authorities need to make a wise but firm response. You mentioned law-abiding citizens, but what distinguishes law-abiding citizens from others is that even in a time of temptation they keep their thinking straight and do not commit crimes, and this is the case of the overwhelming majority of our people.
Yes, there are possible problems, including an increase in the number of unemployed. The unemployment rate is currently around 6 percent of the active population. This is lower than in the United States and a number of other countries. But in a crisis situation problems can arise, including for employers. Decent and responsible employers need to obey the law, however. That is to say, they need to make every possible effort to keep hold of what possibilities they have and pay wages or benefits. Most important is to keep doing what we have been working on these last years – building up a modern and powerful human potential. We have spoken so much about our labour shortage, about the surplus of say, lawyers and managers and the lack of qualified workers. We have made big investments in the rural areas. The point I am trying to make is that any employer with common sense, be they in the state sector or the private sector, has to work in this situation to maintain their human resource base as the foundation for the future. Looking at how events develop in the international markets, we know that the crisis is an unpleasant thing, but it will pass, like everything else in this world, and we will enter a new period of growth. When this moment comes, employers need to have the resources available to restart production, get assembly lines working again straight away and so on. This is all delicate work and everyone needs to be involved: the state, the business community, and civil society. As for possible violations of the law, as I said such cases should meet with a swift response. In cases where labour laws are broken, where wages that should be paid are not paid, or layoffs are taking place in violation of the laws, the prosecutors should take immediate and direct action, and bring administrative and criminal cases to court where necessary. This is the only way to prevent this kind of situation from spreading. Everyone needs to play their part, not just the federal bosses but also the regional leaders and municipal authorities. There can be no sitting idle in this situation. The only choice is to make the effort and work together, and if you can’t, then you will have to step aside for those who can.
K.Kleimenov: Dmitry Anatolyevich, could you be a bit more specific about the future as far as the crisis goes? There are countless predictions about how events will develop, but they are all so different as to seem like just so many stabs in the dark. How do you think events are likely to develop? When do you think we will hit the bottom, as the economists say, and begin climbing back out of this difficult situation, and in what state will we emerge?
Dmitry Medvedev: I am not an analyst and even less a fortune teller. It would be irresponsible of me to make predictions. What I can say is that the laws governing this crisis are not entirely clear, and there is the hope that since it flared up so rapidly, if the international community can come up with a consolidated position and put in place the outlines of a new financial architecture, we might perhaps be able to get through it sooner than we thought. But this is a matter that requires further study.
You asked in what state will Russia emerge from this crisis, and this is a very important question. It is crucial that Russia emerges from this crisis not weaker but stronger. This crisis has created some real problems – a reduced money supply, lower investment, and the halt of some production – but it also creates some new opportunities. Our economy is not ideal. We need to use this situation to try to make our economy more effective, optimise it and create effective new jobs. It is absolutely vital to increase our labour productivity and address the issue of professions that are in some cases completely absent in our country.
Take the unemployment situation, for example. It is a coin with two faces. We also have many jobs that are vacant. In other words, unemployment is something that affects specific sectors. We need to fill these vacancies that are important for our country’s development, important for developing production, building infrastructure and strengthening the real sector.
These are things we need to work on right now. In the same way, we need to bolster our financial sector. We need to recognise that our banking system is a system that emerged out of the transition period, and what we need now are bigger and stronger banks that are better prepared for dealing with internal problems, and at the same banks that have state backing and can carry out all their day to day tasks. This does not mean we need some kind of global scheme, but we need to keep watch on developments and in some cases help individual banks and producers.
The Government is drawing up a list now of hundreds of companies that will receive targeted support from budget funds. This was not something we planned to do six months ago, but now there is no choice. We have to provide direct subsidies to these enterprises that are of strategic importance for our country, and to enterprises that are the principle employer and foundation of entire towns.
We are not alone in taking this kind of measure. Other countries are doing likewise. This is ongoing work and it is also very important. Our task is to emerge from this crisis with minimal losses, and if possible with a stronger production base and more diversified and innovative economy. We also need to emerge less dependent on raw materials exports – this is also one of our shortcomings. You asked about national particularities, and at a time of crisis it is the export-oriented countries that lose the most. This export-oriented economy has enabled these countries to develop very fast, but it also causes problems now, and this is true for neighbours and for us too. We therefore need to establish a more balanced and diversified economy that will have high-tech industry, new jobs and a developed infrastructure. These are all things we need to work on.
T.Mitkova: Dmitry Anatolyevich, we still have a lot of questions.
Dmitry Medvedev: That’s fine. We’re in no hurry.
T.Mitkova: You have had a lot of contact with various world leaders of late. In your opinion, does Russia feel comfortable now on the world stage? I am thinking in particular of our return to practical defence of Russia’s interest, even through the use of force.
Dmitry Medvedev: I am firmly convinced that Russia must use every available means to protect its interests. Above all, it must use international law and act within the international organisations such as the United Nations and the regional bodies in which we take part. But when necessary, we also need to use our military possibilities. The world is full of contradictions and is far from straightforward. There are many internal conflicts in the world and also a great many threats such as terrorism and international crime. We need to ready to make a firm response, a military response, to these threats if necessary, because this is the only way to guarantee our country’s sovereignty. But this does not mean that we should focus only on this aspect. On the contrary, we need to look for opportunities to reach compromises and agreements with the broadest range of forces in the world so long as they do not launch open aggression against the Russian Federation. In this sense, I feel completely comfortable in contacts with my colleagues from abroad. On occasions I do indeed sense attempts to ‘put Russia in its place’. These attempts sometimes worked a while back when Russia was in a different situation, but in today’s situation, in today’s life, this is simply unacceptable. We do not like at all, for example, the desire our colleagues and partners in NATO have to expand the organisation without limit. We make no secret of this and say openly that we think this does not contribute to international security. On the contrary, we need to take a new course of action. We need to put in place new mechanisms, modern mechanisms. This is the aim of my idea to draft a new European security treaty. There are different views on this proposal. Some of our main partners in Europe say that they are interested and are ready to take part. Others are less willing and say, ‘why do we need it? We have NATO and that is fine’. But not all of Europe is in NATO, and even less so the whole world. And so we need to establish mechanisms that would guarantee the security of other countries too. On issues such as this, as President of the Russian Federation I will always take a principled line, even if this is not to everyone’s liking.
There are other situations too. We spoke about the conflict in the Caucasus, Georgia’s aggression against South Ossetia. If the lives and dignity of Russian citizens are in danger Russia will of course take firm and direct action. I have said before that we will protect the interests of our citizens wherever they may be, and this in no way goes against international laws. This is the duty of any country and any leader.
So, I feel completely comfortable in my relations with my colleagues abroad, but at the same time, we must under no circumstances lose sight of our national interests.
D.Kiselyov: Dmitry Anatolyevich, this seems a fitting moment to ask you a question about the Armed Forces.
Russia’s Armed Forces were in the news quite often this year not only in connection with South Ossetia but also in connection with long-range ocean voyages, long-range flights, and missile launches. But what is the real purpose of the changes underway in the Armed Forces, and also, will there be any change to the duration of compulsory military service?
Dmitry Medvedev: The purpose is obvious – to make our Armed Forces more modern and effective, and to give our servicemen a more comfortable and better protected life. This is the goal of our work.
As for the duration of compulsory military service, I want to say right away to put a stop to any rumours that nothing is going to change. The decisions that were taken will go ahead as planned.
Work on giving our Armed Forces a new appearance has continued over these last years and now has entered an important stage. Our objective is to create more effective, compact, and most important, more logical armed forces. It is no secret that transformations have taken place in the Armed Forces’ internal structure of late. Previously, during the pre-revolutionary period and during the Soviet period, and in other armies, officers usually made up around 15–20 percent of total servicemen, but in our country this balance ended up lost, and not because this was better, but unfortunately because our country did not have the possibility of changing the situation. These are things we need to work on now. But we will keep in place the structure of three main branches of the Armed Forces – the Army, Navy and Air Force, and we will also maintain the Space Forces, Strategic Missile Forces, and Paratroops as separate forces within the structure. We will introduce a three-link command system within the Armed Forces. Overall, these changes aim to make the Armed Forces more combat ready. We talked about the war in the Caucasus, where our Armed Forces demonstrated their best qualities, but this does not mean that there were not also problems that became apparent. We need to continue improving our Armed Forces. What steps does this require? First, we need to move over to a system of service only in permanent combat-ready units. Second, we need to drastically improve deliveries of modern military equipment. We also need to put in place new regulations for the Armed Forces’ activities. No less important a task is that of providing social protection to servicemen and their families. As from January 1 next year, all those serving in the permanent combat-ready units that guarantee our country’s security will see their wages rise to a level comparable to what servicemen earn in developed countries, which have already long since undertaken these kinds of reforms of their armed forces. We are talking about sums ranging from 70,000–250,000 roubles a month for officers, depending on their post and rank. These wage increases will also apply to contract servicemen, who will also have a new system of compensation and wages. The authorities will continue with this work, taking a careful and balanced approach and without any campaigns or hasty decisions. I will keep personal watch on this work as Commander in Chief. In the case of people who leave active military service, they will have the option of taking employment in civilian posts within the Armed Forces and receiving free training and gaining a new qualification in military higher educational establishments. These are all steps that we must definitely take.
K.Kleimenov: The future of the CIS is a subject that gets discussed from one year to another. The future of Russian-Ukrainian relations is a separate issue within this general context. At the moment we see another flare-up in the confrontation over gas, and we are hearing about ‘Ukraine’s gas blackmail’ again.
Dmitry Anatolyevich, what do you think the New Year will bring for Russia’s relations with Ukraine?
Dmitry Medvedev: To be quite honest, all of this leaves me feeling frustrated. Russia and Ukraine should have special relations – brotherly relations based on our more than 1,000 years of shared history, our common values, close economic ties, and the genetic link between our peoples.
Unfortunately, nothing positive has been achieved in this regard of late. I will not go into a detailed analysis of Russian-Ukrainian relations now. You know that some of Ukraine’s leadership decided to supply arms to Georgia and send people to Georgia to teach them to shoot at Russia’s Armed Forces, and this cannot be called anything but a crime against Russian-Ukrainian relations. This will always remain in our memory without relation to the fate of this or that person.
Looking at our business relations, the situation in Ukraine over these recent years has inevitably had an impact. The problem is that there is no effective government in Ukraine. The Ukrainian political establishment is unfortunately locked in endless confrontation between themselves. Ordinary Ukrainian people suffer as a result, and so do Russian-Ukrainian relations.
The situation in the gas sector is further evidence of the Ukrainian authorities’ ineffectiveness. Instead of incurring debts and then not paying them, it would be better to make a concerted effort to pay the debts, to find some effective solution to the problem. But instead they all start thinking up their own solutions and taking their separate stands. At times it is simply shameful to see. They need to pay every last rouble if they want to avoid having their economy hit by sanctions and demands from the Russian Federation. We cannot let this situation continue any longer. It is time for them to pay.
I do hope that Ukraine’s leadership will take the needed decisions and pay the debts, and we will be able to enter the New Year with a clean slate.
As for our relations overall, as I said, unfortunately, in my view, they have reached their lowest point in recent years, and this is really very sad.
K.Kleimenov: If Ukraine does not pay, will we cut off the gas supply?
Dmitry Medvedev: We do not want to cut anything off. We want to get the money we are owed. But if Ukraine does not pay, we will use all the possibilities open to us, and there should be no illusion about this, though at the same time we will continue to fulfil all of our obligations to our consumers in other countries, including Europe.
T.Mitkova: To end this discussion of foreign policy, what are Russia’s foreign policy objectives for the coming year, and what events do you consider most important in international relations?
Dmitry Medvedev: There are many objectives. We need to ensure a worthy place for Russia in international relations, and I have said this many times. But I think that our most important task right now is to work on getting through the global financial crisis. I am therefore hopeful about the events that have been planned. We will be in constant contact with our partners and will work with them through the G-20 and the G8. We will also pay close attention to developing our relations with the countries of the CIS, EurAsEC and the CSTO. This could be one of main focuses, because it is absolutely vital to us to build full-fledged relations with our partners.
We have already launched a whole range of integration mechanisms and have signed a huge number of documents on unifying our systems and creating a common customs system. We have signed dozens of agreements recently. I hope that the Customs Union and the new system of economic relations between Russia, Kazakhstan and Belarus will begin work next year. This is an important and very promising step forward, all the more so as we know that in situations such as the current crisis it is much better to work together. The CSTO – the Collective Security Treaty Organisation – is a very important organization that really does protect our interests and act against international threats such as drug trafficking and terrorism. We address various issues, including the situation in Afghanistan for example. I think this is an important area for our cooperation. Another regional organisation is the SCO [Shanghai Cooperation Organisation], and we think this organisation has very bright prospects. I think it is very important for the leaders of these countries to be in constant contact. Over this last year, even less, counting from the moment of my inauguration at the start of May, I have had numerous meetings with our partners in the CIS, EurAsEC and the CSTO. I have met five or six times with some of them, and I think this is very good. I have also had many meetings with other key partners. The international relations part of my work, although it means I sometimes have to leave the country to take part in international events, is very important, especially when it comes to resolving problems such as those the whole world faces today. Our foreign policy will therefore be friendly, comfortable for our partners, and at the same time based on our national interests. We will be working on this.
T.Mitkova: The United States was always one of our foreign policy priorities. Next year will see Barack Obama take office as President. How do you see relations between Russia and the United States?
Dmitry Medvedev: I hope for a partnership and nothing else.
In terms of our priorities, when I spoke to President-elect Barack Obama by telephone, he said that he sees relations with the Russian Federation as one of American foreign policy’s top priorities. I fully agree with him there. I hope we succeed in building far more effective and reliable relations than was the case before. Much has been achieved over these last years, but at the same time we have lost hold of opportunities to build normal relations with America, and we feel that it is not we who are to blame for this.
D.Kiselyov: Let’s turn from Barack Obama’s priorities to Dmitry Medvedev’s priorities.
From our interview so far it is clear that the last year has not been easy, with the war and the crisis, and then the separate issue of Ukraine. In short, there have been plenty of surprises. Overall, surprises notwithstanding, do you think you have managed to keep on track with your priorities, and what are your priorities today?
Dmitry Medvedev: Priorities are given this name precisely because you cannot change them every month. Our priorities remain unchanged: to develop our country, implement the plans we have drawn up for the period through to 2020, and resolve our social problems. In other words, our greatest priority is to give our people a more comfortable and fuller life. There can be no greater priority than this. These priorities will not change.
In international relations, as I just said, our priority is to build friendly relations with other countries and protect our national interests. These priorities will also not change. The only thing that can change sometimes is the means for reaching our goals, and of course we have to take into account the current situation. But this notwithstanding, as I have already said, the main task now is to ensure that we maintain in full the social achievements and guarantees we have put so much effort into attaining. I think that we have the resources we need to do this, despite the difficulties. We plan this year to increase pensions by 19 percent, for example. Next year, pensions will increase by 37 percent on average, and in 2010 a 50-percent increase in pensions is planned. My point is that even in the current economic difficulties we still need to focus above all on fulfilling our social obligations. The same goes for the minimum wage, which will be revised upwards and will now be more than 4,000 roubles a month. This also applies to our obligations in the area of demographic policy, and our obligations to small businesses. These are all commitments that we must continue to fulfill, taking into account at the same time the adjustments the current economic situation brings. Our biggest priority is social support for our people. There is no more important task for the authorities today.
K.Kleimenov: The last year will be remembered also for Russia’s outstanding sporting achievements. To be honest, these are moments you want to relive over and over again.
Dmitry Anatolyevich, did you manage to watch any of the live broadcasts along with the whole country? The ratings show that literally the entire country was watching the world hockey championship final and the historic match between Russia and The Netherlands in the European championship.
Dmitry Medvedev: I did watch all the big matches with enthusiasm, and I really couldn’t hold back and called afterwards to congratulate our sportspeople on their victories. I watched the hockey, I watched our national football team, and I watched Zenit in the UEFA Cup, as well as various other events over that time. To be honest, it really does make you want to watch these moments over and over, because when there is more and more bad news of all sorts it is nice to come back to something positive. This is normal.
There were moments when I did not get a chance to watch anything. This was unfortunately the case of the Olympic Games in China. I had practically no chance to see a single report during the entire Games, but there was a good reason for that.
K.Kleimenov: Each of these sporting victories gave an amazing feeling of unity and pride in our country. Another important aspect in my view is that each victory helped promote particular sports and a sports-oriented lifestyle, and this is also valuable. What do you think we need to do to create even more such moments in the future and give us the chance to taste these wonderful emotions anew?
Dmitry Medvedev: What do we need to do? We need to work, work in proper and serious fashion as we have been doing over these last few years. We need to build new sports facilities, open new stadiums and swimming pools, even simply build little grounds where people can play football and hockey. This is probably the main thing the authorities can do. Everything else is up to people themselves to decide. But I can tell you that everywhere I have gone, I see that a lot of attention is being paid now to developing sports infrastructure. All the governors with whom I have spoken are working on this now. It has become the fashion, and not just because of the recent successes, but because this is what people want. People are keen to join sports clubs and groups. They sign up and take part and it becomes part of their lifestyle. This means that our people are becoming healthier. People who play sport give themselves new possibilities in life. It’s not just sport but physical culture in general that does this. This is therefore a very important task. Again, I think it is crucial to maintain the work we have achieved so far in this area and continue with our plans. In other words, if construction of a sports facility was planned and work has already begun, it should be completed. As for the emotional side, I agree with you that these are unforgettable moments. There are events that create a negative mood, and there are moments that stick in your memory with their positive force, moments when you feel such immense pride in your country, in its sportspeople, and even in the fans, who lend their support and show all their best qualities. In this sense, I also take great pleasure in reliving these moments.
D.Kiselyov: Dmitry Anatolyevich, there is only one week until the end of 2008. How do you plan to spend these days, and what personal plans do you have? How will you and your family see in the New Year?
Dmitry Medvedev: There is not as much as I would like on the personal side in my plans. I very much like the last week before New Year. I always used to manage to find some time for more pleasant things, time with my family. But my work schedule will continue as usual over this period. Of course there will be congratulations, this is unavoidable, but as for the actual holidays, I am no innovator in this respect. I think that New Year should be spent at home with the family. Maybe at some point I will be a guest somewhere, but right now I like the idea of spending New Year’s Eve at home with my family. It seems to me that this is a tradition deeply rooted in each of us. This is also part of our national particularities. New Year here is a particularly joyful holiday and we in Russia love this holiday like nowhere else. Other countries have their string of holidays, while for us New Year stands out as something special, a fairytale moment. This is something deeply rooted in all of us, and in me too.
This is why I want to spend New Year in this way. Maybe if I get time I will go somewhere to relax for a few days, maybe do some skiing if possible.
K.Kleimenov: Does your family have any particular traditions of its own? Many families have their own New Year traditions.
Dmitry Medvedev: Our tradition is that the New Year tree should be nicely decorated.
K.Kleimenov: Do you have a real tree?
Dmitry Medvedev: Absolutely, and the whole family, my wife and son, we all love decorating the tree. My son even said last night that the tree did not look right, that the lamps were the wrong colour. It’s something we all enjoy doing. At any rate, I find pleasure in this.
And then of course there’s the chance to sit down with family and loved ones, congratulate them, congratulate my family and my mother. I think these are important things for any person. There’s nothing exceptional here.
T.Mitkova: Thank you, Mr President, for the opportunity to put to you these questions on issues of interest and concern to our viewers.
Dmitry Medvedev: I want to congratulate you all on the upcoming New Year holiday and say thank you for the work you do as journalists and representatives of the mass media. Your work is important in difficult times and in not so difficult moments and I thank you for it. Please pass on to your colleagues my words of thanks and gratitude for all of their work. And of course I give you all my best wishes on the New Year!