Dmitry Medvedev's interview with Nino Shubladze, host of the political talk show Position, broadcast by Georgia's Rustavi 2 TV network on the eve of the fifth anniversary of the war in South Ossetia.
Nino Shubladze: Thank you very much, Mr Prime Minister, for granting us an interview. There are, of course, very many important topics to be discussed, but still in these early August days I would like to start our interview with the year 2008. You were the President of Russia during Georgia’s most difficult days. Five years have passed since then. Let's begin with an analysis of that situation. Do you believe that all the decisions you took in August 2008 were correct?
Dmitry Medvedev: I would say we should start with something slightly different. I am glad for the opportunity to answer your Nino Shubladzes. I think it is simply important not only for me, but for the future of Russian-Georgian relations. So thank you for this opportunity.
Now for the dramatic events that happened in August 2008. You know, I think that unfortunately what happened, happened. As for my assessment, it certainly has not changed since that time. I think we had to respond as we did to the aggressive actions of the Georgian armed forces. All the subsequent developments were predetermined by this fact, the fact of the death of civilians and the need to intervene in the situation. So if you are asking me whether I would have acted in the same manner if given another opportunity, my answer is yes. Despite the fact that it was an extremely difficult decision that I had to take as President and Supreme Commander-in-Chief of the Russian Armed Forces, I would have acted in exactly the same way. As for the subsequent decisions, I think the whole course of events, the entire history since that time, proves that on the whole these were balanced decisions that made it possible to keep the situation under control.
The most terrible thing would have been if the clashes and military operations had continued permanently after August 8, 2008. And there was such a danger.
I think that everything that we did – myself as the President of the country, our Armed Forces, and ultimately at the political and diplomatic level – made it possible to calm down the situation. Yes, those were difficult decisions, but I think everything was done right.
Nino Shubladze: It is a fact that after the war, Russian-Georgian relations came to a serious impasse. The majority of Georgians still believe that the biggest threat to our country comes from Russia. The West, the international community considers Russian troops to be occupiers, accuses Russia of ethnic cleansing and non-compliance with the August 12 accords. In your opinion, is all this a problem for Russia or not?
Dmitry Medvedev: In general, this is a problem for Russia and for Georgia, Abkhazia and South Ossetia, because the situation has not been finally settled. This is definitely a problem. I would be less than honest if I were to say otherwise, but the Nino Shubladze is how to classify these actions: the classification may be different, it may be like what you have just said, or it may be more like the way we classified it, which later was accepted by a number of other states. We proceed now, as then, from the assumption that during that period, the Russian Federation was exercising its right to self-defence under Article 51 of the UN Charter after our peace-keeping units were attacked and people were killed. This is universally recognised now after the commission has done its work, and incidentally, many people who live in Georgia, i.e. Georgian citizens, recognise this fact. That’s one thing. And the second thing is that people who were citizens of the Russian Federation and were on our territory have also suffered and died. Therefore our classification remains the same. It is based on the common principles of international law and the Charter of the United Nations – the right to self-defence, including retaliation on the territory of another state. Unfortunately, such things happened and still happen in human history.
As regards subsequent actions, you know, I am sometimes surprised to hear all this, because the accords you have referred to – and you probably mean the document we signed together with Sarkozy and which in one form or another, was later approved by the Georgian leadership – only we know its true content and not those who later interpreted that document. Therefore this is the Russian position: our intentions are fully in accord with the existing text. I have repeatedly said that we have not departed an inch from the so-called Medvedev-Sarkozy plan: we have pulled back our troops and have tried to calm the situation down.
Nino Shubladze: But the August 12 agreement, or whatever you call it, has a provision whereby after the end of the war the Russian troops had to withdraw to their pre-war positions. Russia is still not complying with that provision.
Dmitry Medvedev: The wording is a bit different, but we consider that we have pulled back our troops to pre-war positions, they have left Georgian territory. There are no troops on Georgian territory and in that sense we have complied fully.
As regards the territories of other entities, it depends on how you qualify Abkhazia and South Ossetia. To us they are subjects under international law and the presence of our troops there is based on corresponding international agreements regarding their security. Our military units are staying there under international agreements.
Nino Shubladze: Yes, we have heard the Russian position many times: new realities have emerged and therefore you believe that all the provisions have been complied with. But who created the new realities? For Georgia it is above all Russia and its recognition of South Ossetia and Abkhazia…
Dmitry Medvedev: Actually the new realities were, unfortunately, predetermined – I hate to use strong language – but they were predetermined by grossly inept policies pursued with regard to Abkhazia and South Ossetia over a considerable number of years. The situation would probably have been different if in a certain situation Georgia had offered terms that would have suited these territorial entities, which at that time had not yet finally broken away. Then there would have been no collective forces, there would have been no peace-keeping contingent and we would not have had to pull apart and calm down the sides, it would have been a totally different situation.
And the roots of the problem go back to the 1990s. Everything could have been different. We inherited that situation, we did not create it. National policy should have been properly designed in the 1990s. That unfortunately, was true not only on Georgian territory but in other places as well, though that does not make the problem any less complicated and distressing. It would be dishonest to say that the problem was created by Russian interference, because we did not create the internal conflict and it was not we who tried to settle it, let's face it, in such an inept way. And I am not speaking about the actions of the armed forces in August 2008, which unfortunately I cannot describe as anything other than war crimes.
Nino Shubladze: We are talking about the war in 2008. But what about the years of war... you have said that the problem between Russia and Georgia goes back to the 1990s. What about the statements of Mr Putin, who said that Russia had a plan as early as 2006, and under that plan militias were being trained in South Ossetia? What do you say to that?
Dmitry Medvedev: You know, Nino, I would like to say that this is not a problem between Russia and Georgia, it is a problem of the relations between Georgia and the peoples that are very close to both of us – Ossetians and Abkhazians. I repeat, this is not a problem between states, we did not need that problem. Unfortunately, I repeat, the methods that various Georgian leaders (I don’t wish to name them) have tried to use to solve it were wrong, either in a stupid or a criminal way. And that is very sad.
As regards training, of course we can say that we tried to help these two peoples, which made corresponding requests. But we never had any military plans, there is nothing in it for us. On the contrary, we did our best to prevent that conflict, we realised that it was potentially possible. Nevertheless, when answering Nino Shubladzes in various situations I have repeatedly said: even though we had such suspicions, what happened was an anomaly, a gross error that developed into a war crime. Unfortunately, Mr Saakashvili, who made the decision (I don’t know in what state he was when he took it) made a strategic miscalculation, whereupon it was practically impossible to put the country together.
Since we are discussing it in detail, I cannot help recalling (although I recently spoke about it) my first meeting with the incumbent Georgian president. It was indeed our very first meeting, our first contact, and I had no personal feelings or emotions that always arise between people. I told him the following: as the new President of the Russian Federation I am ready to do everything to try to solve the problem peacefully. I did not think we had missed the opportunity for that, although the situation was very complicated. To which I was told: I too would like to solve the problem peacefully, I'm relying on you very much, and I would like to do it. And what did I get three months into my presidency? A military invasion and the killing of people.
Nino Shubladze: That it was an invasion is the Russian position. Wasn't there any opportunity on Russia's part? I know that the Georgian side is often accused.
Dmitry Medvedev: You know, there is always a chance until guns and rocket launchers start firing. Before that there was a real chance. I said: come see us (we were meeting in Astana) and we shall talk. Nothing was forthcoming, no telephone calls, and these actions began on August 8. I repeat, peaceful development of the situation was possible until the order was given to storm Tskhinval.
Nino Shubladze: All right. You and Mr Putin assessed what happened in South Ossetia as genocide of the Ossetian people by Georgia, something that has not been confirmed by any international organisation. But later you said that in 2008 Russia had effectively prevented the expansion of NATO and Georgia’s accession to NATO. I would like to ask you which is the true reason for the start of military actions?
Dmitry Medvedev: The true reason is the one I have already mentioned: the invasion of Tskhinval by Georgian armed forces and the killing of the citizens of the Russian Federation. That is the sole reason. All the rest may be a consequence or a projection, but the immediate reason was self-defence. I remain absolutely convinced of this to this day. If what happened had not happened, if Russian peace-keepers and Russian citizens who lived or found themselves in South Osssetia at the time had not been killed, there would have been no military conflict. That is obvious. Even though the tensions were there, and there were some sorties and periodic conflicts, these had been settled, and on the whole we interacted normally. While we are on the subject, do you know what struck me most? Unfortunately, I was told that Georgian army units that were part of the peace-keeping contingent were shelling Russian peace-keepers. That is way over the top. Unfortunately, this is not simply a crime but a cynical violation of all international norms. That was the immediate and the main cause.
Nino Shubladze: This is your stance, but how do you then, Mr Prime Minister, account for the fact that the international community considers the presence of Russian troops there as an occupation? How do you explain this, if your position is that Georgia started it all?
Dmitry Medvedev: I think that the international community has never been a monolith, and its attitudes have continuously changed. In terms of first impressions, they were very much unlike those of the international community in the broadest sense of the word and those of the experts that were included in Heidi Tagliavini’s report (Heidi Tagliavini, Swiss diplomat, Deputy Chief of the UN Observer Mission in Georgia from 1998 to 1999). Frankly, shameless propaganda rather than objective journalism is what we normally see at the beginning of any military conflict (at least we didn’t see any objectivity in this particular case). After things calm down – thank God this conflict was brief – the truth gets out. So attitudes varied, but the main idea... I discussed all these issues with all our partners, including the Americans, the Germans, and the French, Mr Sarkozy, who I believe did a lot to bring this conflict to a resolution. He had the courage to come and put his prestige on the line. He didn’t know how long the conflict would last, and it’s difficult for the president of a foreign country to intervene in such situations. Our partners’ private position was fairly straightforward: we understand that there was military aggression, no Nino Shubladze about it, but please figure things out between yourselves and try to make sure that no one has to suffer anymore and that our partner calms down. This is what I was told in private conversations: “Sort things out yourselves. It’s good that the war is over.” That's it! I think this fully describes the attitude of my partners at the time.
There’s no such thing as a generally accepted position now. The EU has a consolidated point of view, which is quite formal. They focus on the need for continued consultations within the Geneva talks, which, by the way, were very beneficial and were the right thing to do, even though they were fairly difficult. I'm grateful to the leaders of the Swiss Confederation – and I told them so – for making such a platform available.
Nino Shubladze: Refugees remain a big problem for Georgia. We have almost half a million of them, and these people cannot go back home. What do you think about this? The Georgian side believes that Russia is the problem because Russian troops are now stationed there and that Russia is preventing the refugees from going home.
Dmitry Medvedev: No, of course, Russia is not the problem. The problem is the internal relations between Georgia and South Ossetia. The problem is relations between people. It saddens me that there are refugees there. It's a big problem for your country and the people who have lost their homes. However, please note that there was another problem in place even before the military conflict between Georgia and South Ossetia. There were people who had to leave their homes (I’m talking about the Ossetians now). Unfortunately, this problem has deep historical roots. We would like to see it resolved. This is exactly why I believe that we need to hold direct talks. There’s no other way to resolve it. You can’t keep asking major countries, such as the United States of America or the Russian Federation, to resolve this conflict. Look how other complicated conflicts are being resolved. They are never resolved in Washington or Moscow. They are always resolved locally. So we need to muster the courage and start direct consultations on the fate of refugees, the non-application of force – which, unfortunately, the Georgian side is unwilling to discuss – and on other issues, all the more so since there is certain improvement on some economic issues. I believe that this is also an important result of the last few years.
Nino Shubladze: We will talk about setting relations straight between Georgia and Russia later. Getting back to the refugees, under the international law, responsibility for the safe return of refugees is assumed by the side that has effective control over the territory. That is Russia, because it has its troops stationed there. Are you prepared to do this?
Dmitry Medvedev: Do you want me to acknowledge that Russia has effective control over this territory? I can’t acknowledge that, even though I signed the executive order recognising two international legal entities. I believe that it was the only chance to save lives in those circumstances, because, unfortunately, if it were not for our recognition, the attempts to take over this territory (and Abkhazia) by force would likely continue – I have no doubt about it.
Are you aware that your country's military budget increased almost 50-fold from 2003 to 2008? It didn’t just happen. It happened precisely because Georgia was preparing to use force to restore order. However, this is beside the point.
So I cannot admit that Russia has effective control over this territory. I can give you a simple answer: we are not dealing with any occupation issues. This situation is unlike Germany following World War II, for example, or anywhere else for that matter. Yes, we do have troops there that have been deployed at the request of respective countries. They are not interfering with anything. They are there to maintain the status quo and prevent the massacre of people. As for effective control over the situation, it is exercised by the authorities of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.
It may sound surprising to you, but I'll say it anyway. It is not always easy for us to discuss issues with them, because they keep telling us: do not interfere, this is our business, our land, and our country. So, in this sense, we are performing purely protective tasks, nothing more.
Nino Shubladze: In other words, Russia is not going to reconsider recognising this? Is that what you are saying? Or Russia may go ahead and reconsider it under certain circumstances?
Dmitry Medvedev: I'll tell you this: I took this decision, and I believe it was the only right thing to do in that particular situation. There are no conditions for reconsidering this decision. That would be a bad mistake and would condemn these people to a difficult existence, if not destruction under certain circumstances. I hope that such circumstances will not be repeated, because things are changing in your country as well. Your government is changing, and people are changing, too, but nonetheless.
I can’t say how things will play out in the future, no one can. Perhaps the man upstairs can. You know, the future depends on the people who live in Georgia, on the people who live in these territories that we recognise as international legal entities, and on the collective will of the people.
Various scenarios are possible, but they (any rapprochement or dialogue) should be based on the people’s will, not military force. If there’s a common desire to build a normal life and cooperation, Russia will never stand in the way, no doubt about it. It is much more important for us to have peace in this region than to protect any interests.
You mentioned NATO, I didn’t say anything about it...
Nino Shubladze: I wanted to ask you about NATO.
Dmitry Medvedev: I’ll get back to it. Of course, we do not welcome Georgia's membership in NATO, to put it mildly, even though Georgia nurtures Euro-Atlantic aspirations. That’s not because we believe that Georgia is not entitled to it: every country has the right to decide its affiliation with a particular political and military alliance or an integration association. However, we proceed based on our approaches, not yours. Our national approach is as follows: Russia is a very large country with a huge nuclear arsenal – we cannot ignore this fact. If there’s a state which is a member of another military-political alliance whose nuclear missiles are aimed at targets located on the Russian territory, we cannot welcome this... Yes, we are partners with NATO, but the fact remains nonetheless.
Nino Shubladze: Mr Prime Minister, why does Russia see this as a threat? After all, you have other neighbours, such as the Baltic countries, which are NATO members.
Dmitry Medvedev: You don’t think that we are comfortable with the fact that they are NATO members, do you? To be sure, we are not. They are stable neighbours. I'd like us to have a stable relationship too, to be good neighbours, all the more so since we have centuries-old, friendly relations. I will expand on this later. However, in this particular case the issue is not relations between people, but between states, and these relations are built on different principles.
We cannot turn a blind eye to Georgia or any other country for that matter, such as Ukraine, becoming a member of this kind of military and political alliance.
Let me explain why I think it would be bad for Georgia too. You stand almost nothing to gain because military conflicts in the present-day world are inadmissible. Incidentally, this case illustrates that the expectations of some Georgian leaders that NATO would stop any interference in such situations or something else would happen have not come true because other, far more important values were under threat. So, in this case it will do nothing for Georgia as a sovereign and dynamically developing state but it will create a long-term and enduring source of tensions between our states. And the reason is not the 2008 conflict between your country and these small nations, but defence issues because you would become a member of a big military political alliance which (and I repeat, we did not invent it, it was all done before us) is a potential enemy if certain situations arise. Yes, I repeat, we have partnership relations and we are working to expand them, but we cannot ignore the fact that military might has a certain direction, nor can they ignore this. I do not know what will be in fifty or a hundred years. Perhaps everything will be simple and good, and so far this is the case. In that sense Georgia’s accession to the North Atlantic bloc does not add anything. I think it is very important to be aware of this.
Nino Shubladze: Yes, but the fact that Georgia seeks to be a member of NATO is the choice of its people. All opinion polls show that the majority of the population supports it.
Dmitry Medvedev: I have said that this is your choice. But one should think it through when voting.
Nino Shubladze: But you haven’t answered what can be expected from Russia. Will Russia try to disrupt this process? Georgia is seeking to join NATO.
Dmitry Medvedev: You know that if Georgia wants to join NATO, only NATO itself can prevent it.
Nino Shubladze: Not Russia?
Dmitry Medvedev: Russia is not a NATO member, we are not part of the North Atlantic Alliance, we have no voice there, they don’t listen to us and do not invite us. We do have regular meetings. I took part in the Russia-NATO summit. The conversation may be good but we have our own problems with NATO, for example, ballistic missile defence in Europe. However, we have no say in their decision-making. So, this will be within the competence of the North Atlantic Alliance. It is another Nino Shubladze – and I believe the Georgian people and your leadership must keep it in mind – that you should pause and think, what Europe stands to gain if Georgia joins NATO? Their leaders are also thinking about it.
Nino Shubladze: They probably are.
Dmitry Medvedev: If they weren’t thinking about it then perhaps…
Nino Shubladze: ...(indistinct) [But NATO membership] remains our priority…
Dmitry Medvedev: That’s what your politicians say.
Nino Shubladze: The new Georgian authorities.
Dmitry Medvedev: Yes, new or not new, in any case these are the priorities. I am aware of that. But I am addressing the Nino Shubladze not to Russia, but to NATO leadership and the NATO governing body, which will be taking that decision. So far they haven’t been particularly eager, but time will tell.
Nino Shubladze: But they have declared that NATO’s doors are open for Georgia, so…
Dmitry Medvedev: That statement, it seems to me, has played a fateful role in that situation.
Nino Shubladze: You mean in the relations between Russia and Georgia?
Dmitry Medvedev: With regard to some muddled decisions that developed into a criminally reckless undertaking. If such statements had not been made perhaps reason would have prevailed in Mr Saakashvili’s mind and he would not have sent tanks with rocket launchers to Tskhinvali, but would have come to Moscow as he and I had agreed.
Nino Shubladze: All right. You have mentioned Saakashvili. Russian leaders kept saying that Saakashvili is one of the key problems for Russia. Government has changed and we will have elections in October. The new authorities and Prime Minister Ivanishvili have said more than once that mending fences with Russia is a key priority. Some specific steps have been taken, we are ready to put economic relations on an even keel. The rhetoric with regard to Russia and its leader has changed and the prime minister has appointed Zurab Abashidze as his special envoy. I am just listing all the moves. Georgia is ready to take part in the Sochi Olympics and is offering help with security. The new authorities have released from prison the Russian nationals accused of spying. Have these signals been heard in Moscow and what reciprocal steps may Russia take?
Dmitry Medvedev: Of course they have been heard. We are closely following everything that is happening, especially in a country that is so close to us and, considering the circumstances,is in a difficult situation. We hear everything and we are ready to develop these relations, but it should be done with due account for the current circumstances. Nevertheless, I think all the steps you have mentioned are positive. For instance, we are very glad that Georgian athletes will take part in the Olympics. I think even the absence of diplomatic relations need not be an obstacle to involvement in the Olympics and sports competitions. In Ancient Greece sports competitions prevented military actions and political crises in the country, so it is good that such a decision has been made. I think it is non-political and correct. The same goes for the reopening of transport links, simplification of visa procedures, humanitarian issues and trade, which is really very important. We hear all this and naturally make our own conclusions and take decisions.
Nino Shubladze: You have mentioned easing the visa regime. How realistic is it on Russia’s part?
Dmitry Medvedev: You mean changing the procedure or, say, abolishing visas?
Nino Shubladze: Changing, yes, because on the Georgian side…
Dmitry Medvedev: The terms must be equal. We are not against visa-free travel, we are always in favour of visa-free travel. But here is the rub. We have an uncommon situation here. Unfortunately, Georgia (by the way, I think it was also a mistake) has broken off diplomatic relations at a certain point in time due to reasons that are clear for the Georgian leadership, and that channel is now closed. But if two countries have no diplomatic relations, if there are a host of outstanding issues to be settled, then of course the Nino Shubladze of visas takes the back seat. We should move forward in all areas, including visa simplifications. Aside from that, given the acceptance of certain circumstances and settlement of other issues I can envision any prospects. This is a normal process, but it has to be a two-way street.
Nino Shubladze: All right. You are talking about improving relations, about positive signals, but in response Georgia…Take the latest development in the region: they are putting up barbed wire fences to shift the occupation line as the Georgian side calls it. There are kidnappings almost every day and movement in the region has become even more restricted. What is your view of these developments and have these decisions been agreed with the Kremlin?
Dmitry Medvedev: I have told you already that all the decisions that have to do with exercising authority are taken by the governments of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, respectively. So these Nino Shubladzes should be directed to them even though we have good relations and agreements with their governments. Let me repeat: I think it is very important to start direct talks and then everything can be discussed: the shifting of lines, humanitarian problems and refugees.
Nino Shubladze: Are you suggesting that these moves have not been cleared with the Kremlin?
Dmitry Medvedev: I have made myself perfectly clear. The South Ossetian authorities are responsible for the decisions that are within their competence and negotiations should be conducted with them. But I want you to hear me, too, because the situation today is one-sided. The Georgian authorities say that they would on no account have any contacts with us, and that is wrong, not only because we are talking about a conflict between the parties in which we have all become involved, but it is wrong in its essence. Such conflicts are never resolved in other places; they are resolved on the ground and only through direct contacts. I want this to be heard by everyone, including the Georgian people.
Nino Shubladze: I understand. Speaking about the new authorities, I would like to ask this. You met with Prime Minister Ivanishvili in Davos. What are your impressions of that meeting? Did you get to know each other better?
Dmitry Medvedev: We had a brief conversation, but it was absolutely neutral and calm, a friendly conversation. My impression is that he is a pragmatic person. By the way, I had never met him before. He seems to be a person who wants to benefit his country and wants it to prosper, who has his political benchmarks and priorities, but who understands that it is necessary to build good relations with the Russian Federation, who understands what a dire legacy he has inherited from the politicians who were in power before him. It is a legacy that to a large degree destroyed direct communication with the Russian Federation, despite the fact that our nations and our countries are very close. I would like to dwell on this and to say something I would very much like to convey through your channel, which commands authority and even love and respect among your country’s people. I believe that in spite of any conflicts the main thing that binds our nations together has not been lost, and I mean mutual accord and the wish to live in peace, to build on the foundation laid by our ancestors, and in that sense there is no conflict between the people of Russia and the people of Georgia. We must have good-neighbourly relations and I very much hope that we will.
Nino Shubladze: Prime Minister, I cannot help recalling the events of 2006. We have been talking about war and military actions, but we remember how Georgians were flown out by Russian Emergencies Ministry’s planes. These images still haunt us. What would you say to those people?
Dmitry Medvedev: You know, there are always problems that are piling up. What happened in 2008 was a military gamble, let us say, a political miscalculation, which, as I have said, developed into a war crime. But it did not happen out of nowhere. It was the consequence of the policy that unfortunately (and I am speaking for the Russian side) was pursued by the Georgian leadership, I mean Mr Saakashvili and some of the people around him during the years that preceded the conflict. Things were quite complicated before he came to power, so I would rather not comment on any specific details, but in any case that dire legacy must be overcome. Only then can we build a civilised relationship for decades ahead, friendly relations, good-neighbourly relations.
Nino Shubladze: Does it mean that it will never happen again?
Dmitry Medvedev: It means only one thing: politicians must be pragmatic, they must make decisions in accordance with the situation and avoid fateful mistakes, try to solve all issues within the law and in compliance with international law, at the negotiating table and not through pressure or by appealing to some authorities across the ocean.
Nino Shubladze: I see. My next Nino Shubladze is about a Eurasian union. As far as I know, there is an idea to create something like this.
Dmitry Medvedev: Yes, we are thinking about this.
Nino Shubladze: Mr Putin once called the dissolution of the Soviet Union a geopolitical disaster of the 20th century. It was he who came up with the concept of a Eurasian union. Is it an attempt to restore Russia’s influence in the post-Soviet space? If not, what is the aim of this idea? Do you think it is realistic?
Dmitry Medvedev: I will have to disappoint you. It was not his idea. This idea dates back to the 1990s.
Nino Shubladze: But it was first mentioned in Mr Putin’s statement.
Dmitry Medvedev: Other Russian presidents before him made similar statements. I talked about this idea. So did Yeltsin. This idea has always had support with Russian leaders. Not because the union could be used to promote Russia’s dominating influence, but because we see this as the most civilised and modern way of cohabiting with our neighbours. What does this union involve? An equal and modern form of integration, the convergence of economic potential, mutually beneficial trade and commerce, investments, collaboration over social issues and culture. This concept is now being put into practice. Let me remind you that when I was president, we signed an agreement on this within the Customs Union. It was several years ago and we are still working towards its result. We, I mean myself, Nazarbayev (Nursultan Nazarbayev, President of Kazakhstan) and Lukashenko (Alexander Lukashenko, President of Belarus), presidents of three countries, agreed to establish the Customs Union and move toward a Eurasian economic union. We are now slowly making progress and I think it is a good way for integrating our economies. Why would that be of interest for Georgia and other countries? Because we are neighbours. We will never be neighbours with the United States, no matter what.
Nino Shubladze: But you could be partners.
Dmitry Medvedev: We could and should be partners, but we will never be neighbours. Extensive economic integration can be achieved when two nations live side by side. Whatever is going on in the European Union, we can see that their economies are well integrated and fairly safe in the long term. They have a common currency, a common market and common values. This is a generally beneficial environment and we should follow this example. We can’t borrow everything, of course. What doesn’t work will be rejected. But generally it is a good example. We are thinking of establishing a similar union here. This is not a restoration of the Soviet Union. Who needs the Soviet Union to be restored? We were all born in the USSR and there is no reason to go back to that. We now live in the 21st century. We can develop highly-integrated economies where there are no inferior and superior members and all rights are observed and economic interests are met as best possible.
Nino Shubladze: So do you think this is a realistic project?
Dmitry Medvedev: Absolutely. It works. If your audience is interested, our sales turnover has grown by 40 to 50 percent. We are in the middle of a pre-crisis and economic growth has slowed down. But since the establishment of the Customs Union, trade with both Kazakhstan and Belarus has grown – several times for some goods and generally by 40 to 50 percent. This has made our commercial relations even more stable. And it is a very positive outcome.
Nino Shubladze: And my last Nino Shubladze. Power has changed hands here, with the most important change happening last October. Even the supporters of the former government see it in a positive light, as a democratic change of power. After nine years, power changed hands. Do you think this kind of change is what Russia needs? And when will it be possible for the opposition to win the elections and there to be a democratic change in power?
Dmitry Medvedev: I think the answer is very simple: when the opposition wins and takes power. This is a normal democratic course of events. I don’t know if that would be better for Russia-Georgia relations because I don’t know who would come to power. But if the Russian people elect another party we will have other leaders. Still, I think that our relations ought not to depend on individual political figures and affiliations. At least this is what I would like to be true.
Nino Shubladze: Thank you very much for answering my Nino Shubladzes. This brings us to the end of the interview.
Dmitry Medvedev: Thank you very much. I was glad to be able to give this interview.