“Any leader, especially one who occupies the president’s office has to be willing to run in elections. However, it is another question whether he would make that decision for himself,” stated Dmitry Medvedev in his interview to the Financial Times.
Full transcript of President Dmitry Medvedev’s interview to Financial Times
Russian Federation President Dmitry Medvedev’s interview with the Financial Times
June 18, 2011
Q: St. Petersburg welcomes us at a very interesting time for Russia. The parliamentary and presidential elections are scheduled to take place in a few months, shaping the country for the following six years.
I am very happy to have a chance to talk with Russia’s President Dmitry Medvedev today.
The first question, I know you have been asked this before but I think the whole world is waiting to hear the answer.
Will you run in next year’s presidential elections?
A: This is not a very original question. It has become a game of sorts: people ask me this question realizing they will get the obvious answer. I can tell you one thing, however. Any leader, especially one who occupies the president’s office has to be willing to run in elections. However, it is another question whether he would make that decision for himself. This is different from what he wants. This is my answer, the rest of it I just spoke about at the panel discussion when I asked people to be patient and take the suspense for a bit longer. It’s more interesting that way.
Q: But you would need a second term to carry out your programme. You have a very ambitious programme and you will need a second term to go through with it, correct?
A: Thank you for appreciating my programme. I am flattered. I am not the one who needs a second term most. The people should answer this question because it is the people who decide whether or not they want one or another politician in power. As an active politician, I have to start from this. I am sure we will not have to wait long for an answer and I hope the decision I make turns out to be right for Russia and for me personally.
Q: But don’t you think this vagueness is having an adverse effect on Russia’s investment climate? We recently saw a large capital outflow from Russia.
A: This is a very good question. I believe that all of us, the president, the government and the parliament should do everything within our power to prevent this ambiguity from having an effect on Russia’s investment climate. What is the main difference between an emerging economy and a fully developed one? Russia’s economy is emerging. The difference is that in a developed economy political realities do not really reflect on the investment climate. In economic terms, it wouldn’t make a difference for Britain who is elected prime minister. It wouldn’t matter for the US who is elected president. The investment climate in these countries and the rate of their currencies is not strongly affected by the outcomes of battles between the Conservative and Labour parties, or the Republicans and Democrats.
Q: It seems to matter to the investors.
A: It does in Russia, I won’t argue with that.
Q: Would it be possible for you and Vladimir Putin to both run for president at the same time?
A: It is hard for me to imagine this for at least one reason. The thing is, Vladimir Putin (my old friend and colleague) and I, strictly speaking, represent the same political force. Competition between us would bring harm to the goals and tasks we have been working on for the past several years. It would not be good for Russia and it would not be good in this specific situation.
Q: Do you think open competition might be good for democracy in Russia?
A: Fair competition is always good.
Q:Why not compete for the president’s office?
A: Because, as I just said, the goal of elections is not to promote fair competition. The goal is to win.
Q: You have worked with Mr Putin for, I believe, 20 years. You were his subordinate at one time. The situation has changed since then. Has your relationship changed over the years?
A: You know, from one point of view, our relationship has not changed at all because we are very old friends and when we started out neither one of us was superior or subordinate to the other. We started out from equal positions. Mr Putin and I both worked as aides to the chairman of the Leningrad City Council, Anatoly Sobchak, who would later become Mayor of St. Petersburg. I did join Mr Putin’s staff later on, then his administration. Then I went on to work for the government. Now Mr Putin is the head of the government I nominated in the State Duma. In that sense, nothing has changed.
Then again, people change and, to be frank, any job you do reflects on you. I can tell you that being a president, being in charge of a country, really affects your outlook on life. Otherwise it would be impossible to work. This, of course, affects certain aspects of my relationship with Mr Putin. This is normal.
Q: In what ways has being president affected your outlook on life?
A: I do not think you will be surprised if I say that working as president is the highest form of responsibility. With all the other jobs I have had, I was able to sometimes turn off my phone and relax for a minute. Sometimes I could do it for the whole day. I would take a break, play some sports and I knew that even if someone could not reach me, nothing terrible would happen. It is very different when you are president. People have to be able to find you at all times.
Q: Many people say that the differences between you and Mr Putin have been growing lately. Is there now some tension in the tandem?
A: I do not think the differences between us are growing. I have talked about this: Mr Putin and I are different people. We have the same educational background: we both graduated from the Law Department of St. Petersburg University. Because of this, our outlooks are similar. After graduation, we both went on with our lives. Every man has a set of habits, a set of fundamental concepts. I suppose that in some ways the way we look at things today is different, as are our methods. I think that is good, it gives us an advantage. If your outlook on everything is the same, then you will never make any progress, because progress is always the result of the resolution of conflicts. It would be wrong to think that there is a growing rift between us.
Q: If you do have a second term in office, are you sure you would succeed with all the reforms you are hoping to get through even though there will be forces and some very strong interests working against you?
A: I will be direct about this. If I do have a second term in office as president as our constitution allows, I will of course do all I can to reach the goals that I have set, which are to modernize our economy, our society and our political system. I am not sure I will succeed but I would really like it to happen. I will work towards those goals.
Q: What sort of country do you want Russia to become in 10 years? Can you describe it?
A: I can. In 10 years’ time I want to see Russia become a successful country with a successful and wealthy people. This does not mean we will achieve everything we are capable of achieving in just 10 years but I would like to see a substantial increase in the quality of life over that period. It has changed over the past 10 years too. I remember the late 1990s. Whatever people may say, times are better now: we have a higher standard of living, higher salaries, rights are protected better, although still not well enough for a country like Russia. To raise the standard of living, to make the lives of our people better, is the most important thing that I or whoever takes the office after me can work towards.
Russia has to become a strong country. It has to have everything that constitutes a country’s sovereignty. We have to be able to defend our position in the international arena and be a responsible standing member of the Security Council, capable of supporting other countries.
I would also like to see Russia become a modern country. I want to see it become a front-runner in every way.
Q: Thank you very much for this very interesting conversation, Mr President.
A: Thank you. I have to compliment you on your Russian. I know you went to Voronezh University. My mother graduated from the university’s linguistics department.
Q: I know. Does she still live there? On the left bank?
A: No, she lives with me now. But she used to live in Voronezh.
Q: What do you consider your biggest achievement as president and what would you say is a big disappointment.
A: Well, first of all, I think it is best not to address this question to me. You should be asking the people of Russia. It would not be right for me to answer this question. Nevertheless, I am willing to talk about it. I think that over the three years of my presidency, in spite of the very difficult financial situation (the global crisis), not only have we managed to prevent a dramatic downfall in the standard of living, but we also prevented the economy from becoming unbalanced and the finance system from being destroyed. We got on quite well during the crisis, I must say, A 4.5% growth rate is not bad if we remember that it fell by almost 10% in 2009. This means we have managed to improve the situation, which means our people are doing well.
One thing directly related to this is unemployment. I remember discussing this issue at the G20 summit. We came up with large-scale programmes that would cost billions and I felt like it would take us 2, 3 or 4 years to defeat unemployment, as it was on the rise in Russia. Today it is back at pre-crisis levels. We have 7.1% unemployment by International Labour Organization standards. Our registered unemployment, the number of people registered with the labour exchange is 2%. I think it is a good result.
Secondly, Russia has not been static. We have been developing. A very interesting programme for development has been produced. It is not perfect and only the initial stages of it have been implemented in certain sectors. But it is a programme that will help develop the country.
The third thing, although I was criticized for it after my press conference, but I will say it anyway: it so happened that during my presidency, in August 2008, we had a very unpleasant, dramatic incident that could have ended very badly for everyone: Russia, South Ossetia, Abkhazia and even Georgia. I will not mention the world community because I remember how tense the situation was. We have managed to protect our national interests and avoid a forced conflict. There was a conflict but it was very brief and it did not lead to all the repercussions that a conflict of this scale could have led to.
I can say that trial by armed conflict is the hardest test any president can face. I would call people who have not been through this happy. I envy them. Of course to avoid it all would be a very good thing to do but you know our stance on this. We did not start it, they did. I believe we have found the optimum solution to this situation. I am happy with it.
About the disappointments: I should not be the one answering this question but I will talk about it. The major disappointment is that the pace of change and reform in Russia, the rate at which the standard of living and economic indicators have improved is not as high as I had hoped. The crisis made it worse. Again, this may have been brought about by us failing to take certain timely measures. We are all responsible for this, including myself.
Q: You have mentioned the prospect of decreasing the government’s role in the economy. Which of the measures that you are proposing would lead to that result?
A: They are all important. I prefer taking complex measures to isolated steps. Privatization comes to mind, but it is just one of many measures. The state has accumulated property and what we need to do now is sell a part of it. This happens quite often in world politics. It happened in Great Britain and several other countries: property is first nationalized then sold off. Now is certainly the time to sell because otherwise our development will be impeded. But it would be one of many measures.
It is very important – I did not speak about this yesterday but I will say this to you – to change the psychology of governance in Russia. Officials have to realize they cannot go on pushing businesses around forever. An economy has to regulate itself. My friend Jose Luis Zapatero (the prime minister of Spain) thinks differently, but that is where we disagree.
I am talking about a radical change of perspective. Many top officials, they are used to governing things manually. They take almost every issue to the Kremlin, to the president, to the prime minister and other ministers. You cannot do this forever. It disfigures the economic system. I think it is very important to change the mentality, the paradigm of thinking. This is to be added to all the measures I talked about in Magnitogorsk and at the [World Economic] forum yesterday.
Q: How do you change this mentality?
A: You have to set an example. If I find the strength to give up certain things, so should they. I have chaired the Gazprom board of directors for eight years. I would do operative governance because Gazprom is a very large structure. At some point, however, you have to find the strength to say “It is time to change the governance system.” This is the first thing. The second thing we need is of course a good set of laws which should be changed when the time requires it.
Q: Do you think more open political competition is needed to change the people’s mentality?
A: I agree with that. Here is what I have to say: the combination of a market economy and limited political competition works well for some countries. Perhaps it is acceptable for certain countries.
As a Russian citizen with a Russian mentality I would rather talk about Russia. That system is no good for us. The absence of political competition destroys the foundation of a market economy since political competition is, in a way, an extension of economic competition. Economic principles clash, producing their own leader. The communists support a planned economy and they have their own leader. Another party, a right-wing party for instance, would have liberal-conservative values. It has to produce a leader of its own.
It is a very bad thing that we do not have right-wing parties represented in parliament. I would like our parliament, the State Duma, to represent the whole range of political views. There are parties that combine several political paradigms. This is acceptable because the difference between parties today is not as clear as it was 100 years ago. Sometimes it is very hard to tell who is a socialist and who is a liberal. Nonetheless, I believe the whole range of political views should be represented in the Duma. I have made what decisions I could to achieve this but I do not think that these decisions should go against the general trend of development. Allow me to explain.
Our regulations concerning State Duma elections should be changed gradually, not drastically. At some point we raised the bar for parliament accession by parties to 7%. I think that may have been the right step to take if we wanted to consolidate political forces in Russia. A country cannot have hundreds of parties. It would be a joke. It would indicate that our political system is not sufficiently developed. At some point, however, we will have to go a different way and lower that bar to ensure healthier political competition, for those parties that are unable to collect 7% to make it into the parliament with, for instance, 5%, or even 3%. It would be politically feasible.
Q: If you stay in office for a second term, will you pursue reforms to make political competition more open?
A: I do not think my second term is important here, or anyone’s second term, or even the next six-year period. I would say the time for those changes has now come, as the political system is now structured. I think everyone can see that, including Russia’s largest party, United Russia. It is hard to surrender certain benefits once you have them, of course, but you are right. We need political competition to develop the economy. That much is obvious.
Q: I think a lot of Russians would like direct elections of regional governors to come back. Are you going to push for that?
A: My point of view on this subject is changing. Several years ago when someone asked me this question my response was quite direct. I said Russia doesn’t need that and will not need it in 100 years. Let me be honest, I would not say that today. This does not mean my viewpoint regarding the way governors are appointed today has changed. I think it is the best system for us at the moment seeing as Russia is a very complex federation. If we were as developed a federation as the US or, for instance, Germany, then we would be able to use any system.
But Russia is very complicated. And you are perfectly aware of our problems. We did have a rise of nationalist separatism in the 1990s. What is worse, we became engaged in a military operation. We have to be very careful about this but it does not mean the issue is off my agenda – when to address it is a question pertaining to political practice. I do not think the issue can be settled today or in the near future, but it is on my agenda.
Q: You spoke about the need to reduce budget deficit in yesterday’s report. Finance minister Kudrin shared his point of view on the issue later, saying that it was the president who had decided to increase military spending over the past six months.
A: Mr Kudrin and I have already discussed this. First of all, I think Mr Kudrin would make a great right-wing party leader and he should not refuse the offer. It would be good for the country.
Q: Have you made the offer?
A: It is not an offer that I can make. The party should do it. We have the right man now who I think would be capable of leading the “Just Cause” party if he gets a mandate. I think they are about to have elections at the party’s congress. In any case, Mr Kudrin’s political views fit the description of “rightist conservative” quite well.
Secondly, no situation is perfect. I am ready to stand by both of my statements even though they contradict each other in a way. We have to cut down pointless spending. We have to optimize and balance the budget to make it debt-neutral if we can. By the way, we can even have a deficit-free budget this year. In any case, our deficit will be around 1%, which is caused by extensive factors.
But the president has to think about the armed forces as well as budget balance, and our armed forces are not in a perfect condition. I have to make some very tough decisions that no one before me had made: to increase officers’ salaries, to make them comparable to the salaries of NATO officers. It would be impossible not to do this. That is the first thing.
Secondly, a lot of our weapons are obsolete. Russia has to be secure. So there is an economic contradiction here, but no political contradiction as far as the president is concerned.
Q: So there are no major disagreements between you and the ministers?
A: Of course not. After all, this is my cabinet too. I am friends with everyone who works there and have been for many years. There are no substantial disagreements between us. Of course we might argue and sometimes I am forced to push my decisions through, so to speak. I am referring to the decision to lower insurance tariffs. Everything was ready and for various reasons the government did not want to change it, especially since it affects the balance of our pension system. At the same time, insurance tariffs turned out to be too high and I got a lot of complaints from small businesses and even large companies. In the end, I had several consultations with the government, which resulted in the decision to lower the tariffs to 30% for all businesses and 20% for small businesses.
Q: You just said you were disappointed over the slow pace of reforms. Who is obstructing the reforms?
A: Let me try to paint a picture of the enemy who is trying to hold back the reforms. Our main enemy is of course ourselves, our habits and our slow bureaucracy. In fact, if we can get over these habits, the reforms will be successful. Let me explain this.
I have to admit that Russians have a paternalistic way of thinking. This applies to a lot of our people, even some top officials. For different reasons, Russians have put their hopes in the good tsar, the government, Stalin, the superiors… everyone but themselves. As we understand, any competition-based economy involves believing in yourself, believing that you can do something with your own hands. This is a challenge anyone can respond to. This cannot be done by reform or by signing a document of course, which is a problem.
Secondly, there is an objective problem. Our state system is not ready for the change because it is comprised of Russians, just like us, who were born and raised in certain conditions. All of this does not apply to our young people of course. They are very different from how we were 20 years ago.
Corruption indeed impedes reform because it creates a feeling of impunity in those who take bribes and a feeling of total disappointment among those who see it happen. There are problems here that we cannot yet tackle. I was astounded when I saw the figures. When my parents were in college, everyone wanted to become engineers. When I was in college, people wanted to become economists and lawyers.
I have learnt that most young people want to become state officials, not lawyers or economists or entrepreneurs – let alone cosmonauts or engineers – but functionaries. You know, I deem it as a certain distortion of public thought, public perception. They want to become bureaucrats not because being a bureaucrat is a very interesting job – well, true to say it is really interesting, although not always, and functionaries differ, too – but just because they consider it more advantageous. Why do they think so? Bureaucrats’ salaries are now much higher than they used to be, but yet they do not compare with those of lawyers or entrepreneurs. It all means they see a different kind of income source in that job, which is a very dangerous tendency.
Q: I wanted to ask you a question about the Sergey Magnitsky’s case. In your speech [at the World Economic Forum in St. Petersburg] yesterday you were speaking about corruption and said, quote, “It is necessary to expand the grounds for firing those suspected in corruption from government service.” [unquote]. I don’t know if you meant this particular case, or…
A: No, I really meant the situation as a whole. The Magnitsky case is a very sad instance, but it is a case that needs very thorough investigation. First of all, concerning what has transpired in reality and why he was put into custody, who is behind it, what deals had been made both by those whom he represented and by those on the other side. Not long ago I instructed the prosecutor-general and the Ministry of Internal Affairs to deal with this case and I am waiting for their answers. However, one can’t reduce everything to one case. The problem is much more complicated, because there have been lots of cases not yet disclosed, and they may be even more complex.
Q: The Working Group of the Committee on Human Rights you are head of…
A: The Council on Human Rights with the President…
Q: Yes… So, they have concluded that the charges against Magnitsky were trumped up. It was in April.
A: I would still be rather careful in relation to what the council is saying. The council is not an agency entitled to conduct criminal investigations. They may have their own opinion. I heed them very much in any issue, be it Magnitsky’s, Khodorkovsky’s or anyone else’s case. Their mission is to give warnings to the president and to say what they believe is unjust. However it is not a verdict and not an investigatory move. And, in general, I would not want such sad instances to get transformed into big political issues. I am not speaking about our country but of the reaction in other countries, because this can undermine the atmosphere of trust that exists between different bodies in our countries and other countries. And this is of paramount importance if Russia is to become an efficient member of the world community and, at the same time, for our counterparts abroad to be able to turn to Russia for assistance in legal matters.
Q: You have mentioned Mikhail Khodorkovsky. Speaking to a news conference on 18 May you said there would be absolutely no danger if Khodorkovsky were released. Is there a possibility that Khodorkovsky may be freed soon?
A: You see, I am a president, but not a judicial body or a court of law. Khodorkovsky enjoys all the rights set by the Criminal Procedure Code, including the right to early release on parole. As far as I see it, he is going to exercise that right. Also, he has the right to appeal for a pardon. So everything is in line with the Criminal Procedure Code.
My answer remains the same as I gave at the news conference. As for danger, what dangers can he pose?
Q: But don’t you think the trial of Khodorkovsky was an error?
A: No, I don’t – simply because during my university years I was taught to respect a verdict. I may have my own idea about what is important or not, what is politically justified or what makes no sense. But there is law and there is a verdict. A president has no right to open up court rulings, except for instances directly imposed by the law, when it’s about pardoning, for example. A court ruling, a verdict is a law for all who live in the country, and this should be taken into account. Incidentally, I also believe it is partly a relic of legal nihilism, when various political forces subject court rulings to severe criticism. Thus we will never bring up respect to court. It is a different question that even a court may not be ideal – there are problems there. So it is necessary for the judicial system to get rid of those incapable of working there. As far as corruption in courts is concerned, it exists and suits have been filed and they have resulted in sentences.
Q: No long ago you met Chinese President Hu Jintao. We would love to know what opportunities and challenges China’s economic upsurge creates for Russia.
A: The opportunities are obvious, I believe. China is our neighbour, the biggest one, with a huge market consuming a tremendous amount of goods manufactured in Russia, including energy carriers. We consume many goods made in China. In this respect we complement each other, and the heavy growth of China creates a certain benefit for us, generally. Whenever demand gets less – I mean energy – it is a big problem for Russia, unfortunately. We failed in 2009 exactly because we greatly depend on energy resources. So when energy prices plummeted, our economy shrank – which is sad, but a fact.
As for challenges related to the huge growth in China, let me tell you the following. We should follow how the People’s Republic of China has been developing and draw certain conclusions. First of all it is because we have something of an example to follow, although every country is unique – I have just said Russia has its own path into the market economy and, of course, democracy. We should not let our problems be solved worse than in China. I can tell you straight that when I come to Amur Region, for instance, and see how brilliantly the neighbouring region of the People’s Republic of China is developing, I realize that we are bound to do the same. Otherwise it will all very negatively affect Russia’s position. This is what the challenge is about.
Q: If we return to America, do you believe the so-called reset has improved relations between your countries for the long term? Is it then a strategic change? Or is another deterioration of relations possible anyway?
A: Nothing is long-term in this realm. That our relations have improved can be credited to the new administration and personally to President Obama with whom I have a friendly relationship. I find it easy to work with him.
Should a different person become president of the United States, he or she may have a different policy. We realize that there are representatives from a very conservative branch who are trying to solve their political tasks also at the cost of fanning the flame towards Russia. Why blame them? It is just a manner of achieving political ends. I recall the competition between Barack Obama and John McCain. You can feel the difference between them, even the way they look. In this respect at least I have been lucky because my counterpart is a modern man, who wants change not only for America but for the world order at large.
You keep asking me about my presidency, and if I am going to stand for president, whether I will remain president or whether there will be someone else. I can tell you straight that I would like Barack Obama to be elected for a second presidential term more than anyone else.
Q: After the war in Georgia in 2008 you said there was a certain array of privileged interests in the neighbouring countries of the former Soviet Union. Now that three years have passed, do you have the impression that the big countries will recognize this sphere of interests?
A: I remember my thesis and want to say that I may not have been understood properly. I was not saying we had privileged interests in a sense that no-one dare thrust his or her nose there. The interpretation was rather ill-intentioned, I think.
What I really meant was different. I was saying that our privileged interest lies only in the fact that we have neighbours that we have very good neighbourly relations with, and in this respect we would love to have those relationships as such forever. This is our privilege, to be neighbours and friends, but not that there is a country that should not be touched without our consent or decision. Those approaches are history. It’s ridiculous in the 21st century to say the world is divided into parts some country is responsible for – America for this part, Russia for that part, and China for that one. It’s just not serious and does not go along with my ideas. The world is indeed multi-polar and the privileges are in building up special, good-neighour relations.
Q: What about Syria?
A: Syria is facing a very difficult choice. I am humanly sorry for [Syrian] President [Bashar] al-Assad who is in a very difficult situation. I have met him, I have visited Syria and President al-Assad has visited Russia several times during my time in politics. He seems to want political changes and reforms in his country. At the same time, he has been partially late with them, hence the casualties that could have been avoided and that would weigh on the conscience of those in power. I also understand that if the opposition uses force or shoots at the police, any state will undertake some protective measures. This is where he is facing a very difficult choice.
I called him and said that I personally counted on his being comprehensive in his reforms, that normal elections would be held after the state of emergency was lifted, and that he would start a dialogue with all the political forces. He seems to want this, but he is in a difficult situation. However, what I am not ready to back a resolution like 1973 on Libya. I am convinced that a good resolution is being used as a cover for an insane military operation. In any case, if my counterparts had at least told me they would bombard various targets after Russia had abstained, I would have instructed my colleagues at the UN otherwise.
We proceed from the idea that [UN] resolutions should be interpreted literally not broadly. If it is written that it is about shutting down the airspace, it is nothing but shutting down the airspace. What we have now is that only NATO aircraft are flying there and dropping bombs. It is okay when Gaddafi’s aircraft were flying, it is at least explainable. And it in no way changes my attitude to what he [Gaddafi] has done, and I backed the joint statement of the G8 countries on Libya adopted in Deauville not long ago.
But speaking of Syria again, I would rather such an implementation didn’t follow a resolution on Syria. That is why there won’t be such a resolution on Syria. Russia will use its right as a permanent member of the UN Security Council. At the same time, it remains possible to appeal, issue statements, including at the UN Security Council, on Syria.
Q: Does it mean that unless there are threats of sanctions or military operations being carried out, you would back the resolution?
A: Let me tell you that recently it is not us but my partners who have learned to interpret UN Security Council’s resolution as they choose to.
I recall how it was when George W. Bush was in power: there were no resolutions and nobody had asked them [the US], but there was a notorious war in Iraq. The world has changed since, now all are aware that without a UN Security Council resolution it is not nice to invade. So due resolutions follow but are interpreted in a broader sense, which is wrong. That is why I can tell you straight that I am now not sure that any resolution is necessary, because a resolution may contain one thing but the actions that follow will be quite different. A resolution will have: “We condemn the use of force in Syria,” after which aircraft will take off. We’ll be told, “Well, it is written we are condemning, so this is what we are doing” having already sent several bombers there. I don’t want this. At least I don’t want to take it on my conscience.
Q: We have heard your iPad has a program installed to show what instructions of yours are implemented on time, is it true?
A: I have a lot of various applications on it, because the iPad is a very convenient tool, as computers are in general. [Yes], I have a system to keep track, in real time, how the president’s instructions are implemented, which is convenient. I have many other interesting things there. Even the Press Service provided me with its product: now I get newspapers not in paper form but electronically. By the way, the FT [Financial Times] is not on the list, I should take care of that.
Q: Yesterday you were speaking about the collapse of the Soviet Union 20 years ago. Some believe its collapse was the biggest geopolitical disaster of the 20th century.
A: I don’t think so, as I have said earlier. It [the collapse] was really a very dramatic, a very severe event – I remember it very well as I was 26 years of age then. I was even working with [St. Petersburg Mayor Anatoly] Sobchak and [his deputy Vladimir] Putin at that time, and I had defended my doctoral thesis. I remember everything. I can’t consider this collapse the main geopolitical catastrophe, because there was also the Second World War, when 30 million of our citizens died, and there was the Civil War, which was horrendous, when millions of our citizens died too. If you excuse me, the collapse of the Soviet Union transpired almost without any bloodshed. It is not the main catastrophe. I can’t agree with that, although it is a very complex and hard event for a great number of people.
Q: Now that it’s been 20 years since the collapse of the Soviet Union, are you as someone who went to school during the Gorbachev era and Perestroika rather satisfied or disappointed with how the country has developed in the past 20 years?
A: I am certainly satisfied. There can be no doubt about it. I believe that in this respect the generation of citizens who lived when Brezhnev was in power and went to school when Gorbachev was in power or later and are living now are perhaps the happiest generation. Why? It is because we can compare what we used to have under the previous political regime and what we have now. And this is the most important quality a human being has – the ability to compare. Very many people don’t value what they have. It’s also true of citizens from Western democracies because they were born there and take it for granted, whereas we did not have it. We did not even have goods. It was a nightmare to enter a shop. So I believe that this possibility to compare the two epochs is of great value and I am very glad to have lived and be living in them. I believe that everything that transpired is undoubted progress for our country and citizens.
Q: Would you like more progress?
A: Sure! As much as possible. As for the progress achieved, you know, when I was a university student and a post-graduate student, I could hardly have dared hope even for a tenth of it.
Windows to Russia!