In the run-up to his visit to the Republic of Serbia, Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev took questions from Vecernje Novosti correspondent Branko Vlahovic.
Branko Vlahovic: I want to thank you on behalf of the editorial office and me personally that you took the time to meet with me before leaving for Belgrade. I’ll start with a question about the anniversary.
Ten years ago you visited Serbia as the President of Russia. You said then that you were hoping for expanded relations and stronger fraternal ties between our countries. Your current visit is timed to the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Belgrade from the Nazi invaders. What specific steps can we expect in the political sphere of our relations in the near future?
Dmitry Medvedev: First, I want to say that I’m going to Serbia with great pleasure. And I want to thank President of Serbia Aleksandar Vucic for the invitation to come on these days that are memorable for the Serbian people and the people of our country. I’m talking about the 75th anniversary of Belgrade’s liberation from the Nazis.
Our countries suffered much from Nazism. It is very important that we are on the same page regarding what happened 75 years ago. We have the same assessments which are not subject to political erosion or fleeting political interests. In fact, these are the true assessments of what happened. That’s why I am pleased to take part in the celebration of this anniversary.
An anniversary is invariably a good occasion to sit and talk. I will have talks with the President and the Prime Minister. Of course, we will discuss today’s bilateral relations. They are very good, indeed. We enjoy a partner-like relationship. We are partners in the economy and in politics, because our views on many international events are very close or coincide. I believe this is important given the tasks our countries are dealing with. The tasks are clear too. Both large Russia and Serbia, which is smaller than Russia but is nonetheless a significant state in Europe, want their countries to develop. We want the living standards in our countries to be higher, and our people to feel better. We want healthcare, education and the economy to improve. We want high technology to be used, the day-to-day issues of each household to be addressed. We are expanding our cooperation in this sense, from this angle. That is why we will be signing bilateral documents during our talks. I hope that the past 10 years have been beneficial for our relations, and of course, I have good memories of my visit to Belgrade a decade ago.
Branko Vlahovic: A small question. We are living at a time when various interpretations of history are ongoing.
Dmitry Medevedev: Unfortunately, yes.
Branko Vlahovic: I would like you to comment on this new revision of history. We see that the West wants to rewrite it and is interpreting everything very differently.
Dmitry Medevedev: You are right. There are attempts to rewrite history. This is not a new approach. There have been such attempts in the past. But what’s most deplorable today is that attempts are being made to rewrite not some separate events and distort the historical logic, the sequence of events, but in essence to rewrite historical processes and reverse everything that happened. And this is especially unacceptable when it concerns the massive hardships that people had to suffer in the 20th century. I mean WWII. People of my generation, as well as yours, have always thought that there could not be any revision of that terrible tragedy at all.
There can be different opinions, people can even be on different sides of the trench, belonging to opposing parties. But black should be called black: Nazism is Nazism. White should be called white. It should be remembered who paid the highest price for this victory and through whose efforts that victory was achieved.
In this context, the alliance that we had and the joint struggle that we carried out – this obviously should not be questioned. Regretfully, a number of countries are producing many hypotheses that contradict historical facts about who started what, and who assisted what and who eventually won, and what happened later and how these events can be interpreted. All this is being done to obscure the main point: what people struggled for and sacrificed their lives for. It sometimes leads to an absolute paradox and unacceptable versions and interpretations. Some school students in Europe seriously assert that Europe was liberated by the United States. However, we do know that Europe was to a considerable degree liberated by the Soviet Union, of course, with the support of its allies from other countries. But such attempts to distort truth have already become commonplace.
I believe that the task of our countries, the task of our historians, the core task of civil society in our countries, both in Russia and in Serbia, is to oppose these attempts. And the liberation anniversary celebration is the best platform, the best rostrum to do this. I will talk about this during the celebrations and festive events, and when addressing parliamentarians in Skupshtina. So I will try to articulate Russia’s position as clearly as possible.
BrankoVlahovic: Russia and Serbia do not have political disagreements today. However, economic cooperation between our countries could be better. Why do Russian investors not invest much in Serbia? This question is often asked in our country. Does the reason lie in the “unsettled” Balkans? Or is it lack of effort by the Serbian authorities to create business-friendly conditions?
Dmitry Medvedev: Our countries definitely have no political disagreements. We are friends. I can reiterate that we have very similar views on many global issues, including Balkan issues, European issues, Asian issues. But I cannot agree with you that Russia neglects Serbia’s economic development and investment in Serbia. You can always say that things could be better, but actually investment has increased in recent years, and at present, if I’m not mistaken, the cumulative investment in Serbia totals around $4.5–5 billion. This is a certain level. More can and should be done, but I have to say that our biggest companies are present in Serbia’s market. I mean, for example, Gazprom Neft’s capital in such a well-known company as the Petroleum Industry of Serbia. This is not just an ordinary company, it is a backbone company that makes a substantial contribution to tax revenues in Serbia. It is major taxpayer. I think this and lot of other examples demonstrate that investment cooperation is ongoing.
What we lack, I think, is cooperation at the level of small and medium-sized businesses rather than at the level of big companies. There is a lot to be done in this respect, and we certainly need this kind of cooperation and business contacts.
I have no question regarding the policy of the Serbian authorities. I believe this is a policy of most favoured nation treatment with regard to investment from the Russian Federation. Of course, investors have to be convinced, both with good earnings and steady taxation and other regimes. I think we will discuss these issues again during our talks. So everything is all right in this respect.
Branko Vlahovic: For many years Russia supported Serbia’s desire to keep Kosovo and Metohija as part of its territory. At the same time, ignoring international law, many Western countries recognised Kosovo’s separation. Do you think this situation could lead to the creation of Greater Albania in the international arena? What do you think about ways of resolving the Kosovo issue?
Dmitry Medvedev: We have reaffirmed our former position at every venue and at all levels. We proceed from the need to preserve Serbia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. We believe the discussion and resolution of all issues must be based on international law rather than unilateral actions. In this case, this is primarily UN Security Council Resolution 1244. So, our approach has remained the same. At the same time, we are bound to see the current processes underway in Pristina and the pressure from it, all the more so since ultra-nationalists came to power there recently. Obviously, these processes will now develop twice as fast. So, it seems to me it is necessary to watch very closely what is happening there because the Balkans still remain a fairly unstable region and we must never allow the repetition of any manifestations of violence, attempts to change the map of the Balkans or other moves that can trigger a humanitarian disaster. The ideas of new and different associations and states are extremely dangerous because eventually they provoke the most aggressive, nationalist forces to reach their goals by violence, by using weapons, and there are still many weapons around. I think these are very dangerous statements. We must follow the ongoing processes.
Branko Vlahovic: Russia is seeking to maintain good relations with the post-Yugoslav states, even the NATO members. What do you think about Washington’s view that Russia’s aspirations in the post-Yugoslav space are essentially destructive?
My second question is what do you think about the attempts of the United States and its allies to draw the small countries of the Balkan Peninsula into NATO in order to isolate Russia?
Dmitry Medvedev: The United States only likes things that are made up in the White House and the Department of State in Washington. It likes only the ideas that ultimately lead to the economic prosperity of the United States. They are promoting them as best they can – this is not a secret, but the main policy goal of the United States of America, hence the claims that Russia is supporting this or that side or is causing harm. In fact, US aspirations to dominate the world, including the Balkans and Europe, are causing the bulk of the harm. By the way, Europeans are tired of these aspirations and desires. What do they mean for them? They mean “We want all weapons to be American-made; buy from us.” This is what the current US authorities are saying: “You spend little money on weapons, buy our weapons. For some reason, you are buying gas from Russia. True, Russia is close to Europe and the United States is far from it, but you should still buy our gas, primarily, liquefied natural gas, so cancel Nord Stream 2 and stop working on the TurkStream…” And so on.
This is an unbridled and absolutely unlimited desire to dominate the world, including Europe. In this sense, we have always adopted, in my opinion, a balanced position. We want to be friends with all countries, and, of course, we have good relations with the Balkan states regardless of their affiliation with a particular military-political bloc. We are trying to expand these relations. However, we, of course, cannot help but notice that some countries act like our friends, while other countries behave quite differently and, as they say, are in the wake of the aggressive policy of the United States of America. This is sad.
Regarding Serbia, we certainly appreciate and will always appreciate the fact that Serbia has taken a very balanced position when the European Union and the United States imposed sanctions on Russia. Serbia stated directly: “We won’t do this. We have a special relationship with Russia, and we proceed from history and the practice of today’s relations.” We certainly fully understand how difficult it was for Serbia to stay this course alone in Europe. Nevertheless, it was done and we appreciate it.
Branko Vlahovic: While we are at it: two small Balkan nations, Montenegro and Macedonia, used to have good relations with Russia, but under US pressure they practically ruined them.
Dmitry Medvedev: Yes, that’s what I was talking about.
Branko Vlahovic: Today, we see certain signals coming from Podgorica that they would like to improve relations. What do you expect?
Dmitry Medvedev: We take note of all sorts of signals. Russia must monitor signals from different countries. You said that the relationship became sour at some point. But we are ready to improve it. The issue is not about what happened in the past, but about what today’s authorities want and what their priorities are. If the governments of the countries you mentioned or some other countries want to develop relations with Russia based on equal cooperation, bearing in mind our shared history and everything else, we are ready to do so, but true intentions are needed if we want this to work. These intentions must be based on the political will of the state itself, not something imposed from outside. In other words, this should be a manifestation of the sovereignty of these countries. If they want to develop relations, we are ready to do so.
Branko Vlahovic: Taking advantage of this opportunity, I would like to ask two more questions.
I followed the news when the Slovenian delegation was here. It was clear that you had excellent relations with Slovenia – businesslike and, at the same time, human, I should say. But you also criticised Croatia a bit, you spoke about private investment: your banks gave a lot of money to Croatia...
Dmitry Medvedev: It was not Croatia I was criticising. I was speaking about the debt that arose due to a well-known case in Croatia, which has a reflective effect on the entire Balkans and, by the way, on Slovenia. But that was not politics; that was economics. Unfortunately, this happens in different countries – these sorts of problems, incidents, sometimes fraud or other illegal actions. And ultimately, the main thing is to find a solution. To the best of my knowledge, our largest banks that suffered as a result of those operations have managed to reach an agreement with both the Croatian and the Slovenian authorities. So I hope this economic conflict will be settled.
Branko Vlahovic: Russia has excellent relations with the Republika Srpska, which is part of Bosnia and Herzegovina. But the same cannot be said about the other part of that state, the one now being drawn into NATO, and many analysts say a dangerous situation can develop. How do you see this?
Dmitry Medvedev: You see, any attempts to drag countries that have internal contradictions into NATO are extremely dangerous. You are talking about Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Republika Srpska, but this list is longer. What about Georgia? What about Ukraine? These countries are in a difficult position. Moreover, no one can deny that Russia also has its own security interests there. Russia is a large country, and a nuclear power, and the tendency to stick NATO bases across our immediate environment is definitely not making us happy. We have always responded to this and we will respond, both politically and militarily. When NATO is trying to assimilate countries with internal conflict, firstly, I would say this practice is even in conflict with the treaty on the creation of the North Atlantic Alliance, and secondly, it is fraught with very serious consequences. Therefore, NATO member states should think twice before taking such decisions. By the way, this is exactly why the idea of ensuring autonomous European security without NATO is now being promoted in Europe. Let us wait and see how this works.
Branko Vlahovic: And here is my last question. I remember you saying 10 years ago in New York that the time for the unipolar world was up. But you stressed that the transformation of the system of international relations would be neither quick nor painless. We can see today that Europe is willing to do US bidding. What, in your opinion, should be done to make this world a fairer place? Can this be achieved through the restoration of the UN’s decimated prestige?
Dmitry Medvedev: Regrettably, I was right 10 years ago when I addressed the UN: the world has not become a safer place. I believe I was right, too, when I said that the time for the unipolar world was up. But I was not the only one to note this; many other countries’ leaders said so as well. This is obvious. Here is a very simple example to illustrate the point.
A considerable part of global problems was addressed at G8 meetings only recently, and with Russia’s participation. Then they booted us out, saying we did not “suit” them. But now they, many countries, are inviting us back and demonstrating their willingness to do so in many ways. The thing at issue is not what they did to us then, but that it is no longer possible to deal with global problems in the G8 format. This was odd even back then. Therefore, other major economies were invited to the G8 discussions, and this was prudishly described as an outreach format or in some other way, which I remember only too well. But they were aware all the while that these problems could not be tackled by the select eight countries. Today, this is even more obvious. I believe that the UN and its Security Council should play a central role in this regard, because it is the basic and leading international organisation. But regional organisations are important too, as are other major organisations, such as BRICS as well as new structures like the SCO. And lastly, it was back then that the G20, a group of the world’s 20 largest economies, came into its own. It is clear that at least the economic problems should now be addressed with the involvement of many more countries. But the ideal model, let me stress it, is definitely the United Nations. It has not exhausted its potential, as people in some countries occasionally try to claim. The Americans periodically suggest the idea of a community of democratic nations, probably meaning that this community should only include the United States and its closest allies and that all other countries will not be invited. This is an attempt to split the world, which is very bad, because there will be a lack of communications and mutual understanding. I believe that if we try to develop international relations based on the principles of a multipolar world, interdependence and respect for each other’s sovereignty, and if we stop trying to impose on others any state building and society building formulas that are based on specific national practices, we will be able to come to an agreement even with those states, with which we currently don’t quite see eye to eye.
I am sure that both Russia and Serbia will be able to have their say at these talks.