Question: The organizers of the Munich Security Conference welcomed your participation in the conference, stressing that it is even more important to dialogue at a high level during times of crisis. What aims do you set before your delegation for your trip to Munich? What are the main theses of your speech?
Dmitry Medvedev: The Munich Conference is, first and foremost, a platform for discussion. I am going to Munich to outline Russia's position on the main issues of European security. And because today this concept includes many aspects – military, political, economic, humanitarian, ecological – I shall touch upon them all. Generally speaking, most people are aware of the main issues, you just have to turn on the news to hear about them.
Almost every day there are terrorist attacks on the news. Following economic globalization, from which many countries benefited, came the globalization of terrorism. There are no safe havens left, while the word “security” has become more of a wish rather than a reality. In some countries, terrorists have gone so far as practically replace the government. Their ideology is suppression of the people. Their methods are mass shootings and terrorist acts. Because they believe this to be necessary and right.
So our first and main common goal is countering international terrorism. To do these, we need to end the Syrian conflict, help the local people fight criminals, rebuild the economy and establish a peaceful state. We must also make efforts to resolve the Ukrainian crisis. The Minsk package, which Kiev is not in a rush to implement, is the basis for this. The issue of refugees and migrants, which are literally washing over Europe in waves, is among the other challenges we face.
In fact, all the issues I have listed converge into one – ensuring security. And here it is important to not only assess the current situation in the area of Euro-Atlantic security, but first of all to try to analyse its reasons deeply and without prejudice. Not to look to assign guilt and endlessly trade blame, but to understand what the real threats are and how to improve the situation. To offer our, Russian, perspective on all these issues is the main purpose of our participation in the conference.
After all, our participation isn’t limited to my speech. I shall hold a whole range of meetings with colleagues from other countries – Finnish President Sauli Niinisto, Slovenian President Borut Pahor, French Prime Minister Manuel Valls and Federal Foreign Minister of Germany, currently presiding over the OSCE [Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe], Frank-Walter Steinmeier. Also there are meetings planned with Bavarian Prime Minister Horst Seehofer and with representatives of Russian and German business. We see that despite the political conjuncture, business circles are not losing interest in developing mutually beneficial cooperation [with Russia]. Undoubtedly, such spirit has to be supported in every way. Entrepreneurs have always been more pragmatic than politicians.
Question: What reaction are you expecting from your western partners?
Dmitry Medvedev: I hope nobody is left indifferent. The issues we shall be touching upon are extremely sensitive and painful for many. I presume that many may not like our position. That is normal. What’s most important is that we have one. Unfortunately, our western colleagues cannot get used to this, and instead of building relations with Russia like an equal partner with its own, quite justified for a large country geopolitical and economic interests, they are trying to present us as a “second-rate country,” or a “regional” power at best. This is a rather pointless and useful term.
Having said that, we are not trying to play the role of the head of the world in any way. We got over that condition during the Soviet era when the whole world shuddered from the thundering of our tanks on Red Square. But Russia must occupy its rightful place in the world order and have equal relations with other countries. This has been predetermined by our history, and our size, and our participation in large global organizations, primarily being one of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council. And simply because we are a large military and the largest nuclear power. This gives us considerable rights but also lays considerable responsibilities on us. But no country, neither Russia nor the United States of America, can lay the weight of global problems is solely on its shoulders.
If, after the speeches given by the Russian delegates, the actual words we used are discussed and commented on, and not what many would like to hear from an “aggressive” and “unpredictable” Russia, well such a reaction would be wise. As [former UK Prime Minister] Winston Churchill once noted, one does not need to rearm to continue military actions, but we must rearm for negotiations. And if we just all begin to move in that direction, I think our aim in Munich will be fulfilled.
Question: MSC head Wolfgang Ischinger expressed hope that the opportunities offered by the conference will be used to establish a bilateral dialogue between Russia and Western countries, including in order to resume the work of the Russia-NATO Council. Do you consider the reestablishment of the Russia-EU, Russia-NATO formats to be possible at a high level?
Dmitry Medvedev: I am pleased that Mr Ischinger has openly called for Russian-Western relations to become partner-like again, as they were several years ago. And we appreciate this.
However, such decisions are not made at conferences, but within the framework of different formats – the ones you just named – whether it is the Russia-NATO Council, or the Russia-European Union.
If our partners want to speak openly and substantively about bilateral relations, it is not necessary to wait a whole year until everyone comes to Munich. Dialogue is a 24-hour and a year-round concept. At least we are always open to discussing of the most pressing matters.
I am sure that Russia and our partners in NATO and the European Union are not only able to but are quite simply obliged to resume the former formats of cooperation. On the condition that it would be built on mutual respect of each other's interests.
We never rejected such partnerships, which cannot be said about our colleagues from the European Union and NATO. They were the ones who consciously curtailed the contact, put political considerations before our joint goal which lies in ensuring stability and security. As a result, we have a world that is more unpredictable and carries a multitude of threats, than several years ago. Instead of progress, instead of organic development and movement forward we witness a reverse process.
After all, those formats of cooperation between Russia and the European Union and the North-Atlantic Alliance were created to eliminate incipient conflicts in a timely fashion. And now, when such forms of communication are most needed, our partners reject them.
In my opinion, our western colleagues from NATO simply derive political gain from confrontation. It is easier to demonise Russia and attribute the current issues to it, than to acknowledge the serious problems, which exist within the system of European security. And also to acknowledge its own share of the responsibility for today's crises.
Remember NATO's decisions in recent years. The expansion of the alliance eastward. The placement of global missile defence systems in Europe. And each time the organization refused to take into account our concerns over our own security. Let alone the recent statements by the bloc's leadership. It appears that there is no greater threat to the world than Russia. We were once compared to ISIL [Islamic State, IS] militants.
But in 2010 at the Russia-NATO summit in Lisbon we were able to reach a serious compromise. It is enough to remember the joint statement made at the end of the summit. In it we confirmed that we did not view each other as adversaries. But then our partners returned to the reasoning of confrontation.
Now it is necessary to find compromises, not compare ambitions. To re-establish trust and return to joint initiatives that have been frozen. To joint forces in the fight against international terrorism, which is spreading in the world like plague.
Question: According to the latest data, some 1.2 million migrants arrived in the European Union in 2015. It is obvious that the problem is becoming mutual. Russia has repeatedly offered to share its experience of accepting migrants with its western partners, but this offer did not garner much interest. How effective is the EU policy with regard to refugees, in your opinion?
Dmitry Medvedev: I'll put it harshly, but that’s exactly how I see things. The immigration policy of the EU has failed, It is one of the biggest mistakes the European Union has made. Europe no longer has control over the flow of refugees. It may sound harsh, but a humanitarian catastrophe is the only way to describe it.
An average European who got used to everything in his world being secure and constant – coffee, walking their dog, work, while shootings only take place on television – is scared today. And it is understandable. Large numbers of often aggressively-spirited people. Of a different faith. Of a different culture. With a clear unwillingness to accept the way of life in the country to which they arrive. Cases like the ones in Cologne make Europeans feel out of place in their own country. They have been robbed of their sense of security and faith in the state. And, of course, intolerance and xenophobia are growing in Europe.
The European Union opened its doors to a force it cannot handle. It invited, if not called over, everyone willing to come. And there are many people in the Middle East willing to answer this call. More than the European Union can process. And you can understand those people too. They are fleeing war and insecurity. They are arriving for social benefits which they could not even dream about in their own countries.
But that is only the half of it. Why did the European authorities not think, before inviting the refugees, about the fact that militants could arrive along them – in entire disguised units? Later spreading all over Europe, waiting on an order to act? Today he is peacefully sweeping his yard and provoking tender emotions from his neighbours, while tomorrow he will come to kill those same neighbours. And it is impossible to spot this.
Who could imagine this only a year ago?
The most scary part is that we cannot imagine all the consequences of the current situation. What will such migration policies turn out to be for the European community in a year, in 10 or 50 years? What will happen to the jobs market? Will the Schengen zone stay in place? How will this affect neighboring countries?
The EU states don’t have a coordinated position on measures that could stop these snowballing migration problems. But such a position must be worked out as soon as possible. Otherwise we shall see examples of decisive unilateral actions to secure national borders. What will this mean? An end to the common European area.
In my opinion, the EU countries should show firm political will and introduce strict controls over migrant flows. Yes, this is easier said than done. But illegal entry to the European Union should not result in a guarantee of asylum. Only in this case, maybe, people aiming to reach Europe would in time understand that it is pointless to risk their lives to do so. Now, on the other hand, potential immigrants would be sure of their chances of successful migration.
Of course, ideally, it would not be necessary to start wars on foreign soil to install your own standards of statehood or to oust disliked authorities. But if this has already happened, then don't weaken the efforts to find a political resolution, as, for example, in Syria and other countries of the Middle East.
Russia also accepts refugees. It is enough to remember that over a million people fled Ukraine and came to Russia. We have a lot of experience of accepting migrants. And we can share it with the European Union. We have made a corresponding proposition to the European Union. As an adjacent country we are interested in stopping the refugee flows, including through Russia.
In March, there will be another expert meeting of the Russia-EU dialogue on migration. And I hope that approaches to solving this issue will be worked out there.
Question: What influence could a possible ground operation in Syria, that the US-led coalition appears to be preparing, have on regional security?
Dmitry Medvedev: It is clear that in order to completely defeat terrorists, airstrikes alone are not enough. The Syrian government forces are fighting against them on the ground. But before making a decision on the deployment of ground forces on Syrian soil as part of the international coalition led by the United States, it is necessary to ascertain whether the Syrian people need this.
If this is not the case, the operation could complicate the already complex situation in the country, lead to more casualties and destroy the remaining conditions for a political settlement of the Syrian conflict. We believe that the fight against terrorism should be based on international law and a decision by the UN Security Council. At the same time, it is necessary to respect the sovereignty of every state that is within a conflict zone.
Why am I talking about the importance of [international] law? Because if we pretend today that there is no such fundamental institution in the lives of people and nations, tomorrow we will get a world drowning in chaos and anarchy.
The Russian Aerospace Defense Forces are in Syria at the request of the legal authorities of the country. Our goal is to help the Syrian people rid their country of ISIS [Islamic State] militants, not create a new war there. Iran, with which we are coordinating, is also helping Syria at the request of its government. And that’s the kind of coordination we are offering everyone who is ready to stand up against ISIS, including the patriotic opposition, the Free Syrian Army. By the way, Russia has been calling for all differences to be put aside and to unite against ISIS since the very start of the Syrian crisis, but this [effort] has been hampered by the ambitions of the US and its allies, and, most importantly, the idea of dividing terrorists into bad ones and not so bad ones. Now the Syrians are paying for that. And the Europeans, who have accepted over a million of migrants into their countries. More and more countries of the Middle East are being pulled into the conflict and it must be stopped.
Question: Have your European partners made any signs with regard to the possibility of a discussion on the subject of lifting their sanctions and the Russian countermeasures at the Munich conference? Will Europe be able to restore its lost share in the Russian market, taking into account the activities of Asian and Latin American countries?
Dmitry Medvedev: We are not going to start talks on the conditions for lifting the sanctions. We did not initiate them, so those who imposed them should be the first to cancel them. Sanctions are not on the agenda of the Munich conference, which deals with general security issues, as a separate issue. On the other hand, this problem will come up one way or another during talks with our colleagues and especially with business representatives. The businesses that are losing money are the ones that understand very well that the sanctions do nothing but economic damage. They have been imposed against our country about ten times. And nothing. That’s going to be the case this time as well. But the consequences will be grave for those of our partners that are losing their positions in the Russian market. Already today we hear unofficial statements from our European colleagues: lift certain restrictions in this or that sector. They are especially concerned about their farmers, by the way. But in Russia, we hear the position of our farmers as well: please keep this [sanctions] regime, give us a chance to stand on our feet, justify the investments. And as the head of the government I must take these considerations into account.
Of course, not only Russian manufacturers are filling the vacant niches on our market. The share of Asian, Latin American and other suppliers has increased. And if our EU partners want to lecture and ignore our legitimate interests, which was the case with the EU-Ukraine association [agreement] issue, please go ahead, lecture! It will be other partners that will conduct business in our market, in the joint market of the Eurasian Economic Union. Nothing personal here, as they say.
But nonetheless we expect that common sense will prevail, that economic logic, the logic of mutual benefit will return to our relations with the European Union.
Question: Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko is expected to attend the February Munich Security Conference. Are any contacts with the Ukrainian delegation in Munich planned, including to discuss the Ukrainian state debt?
Dmitry Medvedev: No special talks on the subject of Ukraine’s state debt are planned to be held in Munich. There is actually nothing to discuss here, debts have to be paid back.
In December 2013, the government of Russia placed part of the money from the National Welfare Fund in Ukrainian securities, to the amount of $3 billion. That’s a substantial sum and we strongly disagree with the position of the Kiev authorities who are offering to restructure this debt on the same basis as commercial holders of Eurobonds. I have said this multiple times and I am going to repeat that the loan to Ukraine is not private, it is a state debt, one country’s sovereign debt to another. The status of the state debt has been recognized by the International Monetary Fund. And that’s a medical fact, as they say.
As you’re probably aware, the debt repayment deadline fell two years later, that is, in December 2015. But we did not get the money.
The new Ukrainian leadership took the responsibility to govern the country, so it should accept all the financial obligations to foreign creditors, including Russia. This is a position of a mature and responsible state that Ukraine aspires to be. You remember that after the collapse of the Soviet Union Russia accepted the debt obligations of all the republics, as a legal successor, including those of Ukraine. And everyone agreed on that.
But whatever our relations with Ukraine may be, we can never forget that the people who live there are close to us and they are in a difficult situation. And as neighbors and countries united by a common history we compromised and offered that Kiev pay the debt back in installments - $1 billion [annually] over three years (2016-2018). And that would be under the guarantees of the United States or the European Union, or a large international bank, because such substantial concessions on the part of Russia mean additional risks for us.
But what do we see? An official denial came from the American government. The European Union and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) ignored our proposals. Nonetheless, the IMF canceled its policy that prohibited lending to bankrupt countries specifically for Ukraine. Despite the fact that the Fund had actively used this rule with respect to such debtors as Greece and Ireland for example. Is it not clear that such an unprecedented double standard policy could open Pandora’s box and inflict tremendous damage on world finances, damaging the credibility of the international financial institutions.
From a legal perspective, Ukraine is in a state of default, which means that Russia could seek the return of overdue loans through court. All the necessary documents are being prepared, a corresponding claim is being drawn up and our chances of winning in court are very high. But I still hope that the Ukrainian authorities will resolve the state debt problem outside of court.
So far, this is unfortunately not happening. The proposals that we recently received from Ukraine via Germany are absolutely unacceptable. First of all, we cannot hold talks because the official status of the debt has not been recognized; second, the conditions proposed by Kiev are worse than those for commercial creditors. Who would put oneself in a loss-making position?
At the same time, we are grateful to our German partners for their initiative that testifies to the seriousness of our arguments on this issue.