Meeting with Students and Staff of the University of Pittsburgh:
PRESIDENT OF RUSSIA DMITRY MEDVEDEV: My name is Dmitry Medvedev. I want to start by apologising for the delay. I hope the wait was not too tedious. The delay was not due to my being too busy, but was caused by the summit underway today and tomorrow in Pittsburgh. It was a circumstance beyond my control.
Before answering your questions, I would like to thank all of the University of Pittsburgh’s staff and students for the opportunity to speak here today and for inviting me to visit your university. I have found it a very pleasant and interesting experience to come here and see your university, known for its traditions, the outstanding figures it has produced, and of course, your teachers. And I am sure that it will have further achievements to its name. It is therefore a great pleasure to be here and address these words to you today.
I think there is no need to tell you about myself, seeing as I was kindly introduced just now and you heard the details of my academic and political career. But I want to say that it is a great pleasure to have this opportunity to share with you my vision of events past and present in Russia, Russian-American relations, the global challenges and problems that we all face, and, of course, the ideas that Russia and other countries are proposing.
It is particularly interesting to know that exactly 50 years ago, one of the Soviet leaders visited this very place. I cannot say that we are close politically, or that I share his views, but it is interesting whatever the case to note this coincidence. Nothing is ever completely coincidence, after all. There was a reason why this had to happen, and I am very pleased that it is so.
I hope too that you will not ask me the same questions as were put to Nikita Khrushchev 50 years ago, because life has gone on and we have all changed since then. Actually, I can’t say that I have changed since then because I was not even born 50 years ago, but there is no question that our countries have undergone great change since then. We are no longer divided by the barriers of ideology and values that existed then. We share practically the same views on global development issues and respond in the same way to problems at home. There are no doubt issues that arouse in us different emotions, things on which we do not see eye-to-eye, but this is good too, for this is one of the driving forces that has been helping humanity to develop over thousands of years.
We are all different, and this is good. At the same time, we share common values, and this is also good.
I think I have said enough for now. It is with pleasure that I am ready to answer any questions you may have.
Please, go ahead.
QUESTION: What future do you see for relations between Russia and Georgia?
DMITRY MEDVEDEV: I am sure that our two countries will have good relations based on our centuries-old friendship and common history and traditions, including religious traditions. That is, I am sure our relations will be as they were until not so long ago. The problem today is not that serious issues have arisen between Russia and Georgia, but that we differ in our assessment of events, in our assessment of the aggression launched in August last year, to be more precise. As far as Russia is concerned, we do not at all hold the Georgian people and the Georgian state responsible for this. Our assessment applies only to the actions of one individual, namely, the Georgian president. I have answered this question before, and I can say to you that Russia will build the best possible relations with Georgia, with the Georgian government and Georgia’s leadership, but I personally do not want to have any dealings with President Saakashvili, because I believe he has committed a crime against his own people and against the peoples of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.
Time will be the judge and will set everything in its place, but I am sure that the Russian and Georgian peoples will maintain good and brotherly relations. This is something that politicians cannot undo.
QUESTION: Being president of the world’s biggest country makes you someone with international influence. What is the most important piece of advice you could give to the students here at Pittsburgh?
DMITRY MEDVEDEV: Thank you for asking your question in Russian. I am not president of the world’s biggest country. You would be right if it were Hu Jintao standing here. But Russia is indeed a very big country in terms of territory. In this you are right. Giving advice is not an easy job at all. I am no longer a teacher, you see, but a politician, a country’s leader. It is better to seek advice from those who tell you about life, about what the future holds, those who give you learning. But as a former teacher, I will give you one small piece of advice: Treasure this time in your life. This is the happiest time of your life, and I can say this for sure. I have had all sorts of experience in my life. I was a graduate student, a teacher, a lawyer, a barrister, I worked in business, became a civil servant, worked in the Government. Now I am president of a large country. But I can tell you that those years when I was a law student were the happiest years of my life. It was an unforgettable time. It is also an important foundation for your future lives and should motivate you to seek learning every single day. So, my advice to you is to treasure this time. I envy you.
QUESTION: Mr Medvedev, I am sorry, but I did not prepare my question in Russian.
Now that the Obama administration has decided to renounce the missile defence plans, people are saying that Russia will support UN sanctions against Iran. Do you think that such sanctions could actually be effective in reducing the tension over Iran?
DMITRY MEDVEDEV: I feel like I’m still with Barack Obama. He spoke at quite some length about this issue yesterday. We discussed the matter for about half an hour no doubt, and now you are continuing the same subject. I tried to answer this question yesterday, and I will do so again now, of course, in this splendid venue. First of all, I think that we share common responsibility for the state of affairs in the world. We all share equal and collective responsibility. Countries should not try to shirk this responsibility, and in this respect, Russia, is a responsible member of the international community, like the United States and other countries.
Second, we are all working on developing nuclear energy. Iran also has a right to its own peaceful nuclear programme, but what we are talking about here is solely peaceful nuclear energy and not development of a nuclear weapon. Our position is very clear on this and is no different to the position taken by other responsible countries, including the United States of America. I said this yesterday to Barack Obama.
Third, I do not think that sanctions are the best means of obtaining results. Sanctions have been imposed on Iran on past occasions. But at the same time, we are talking about the fact that we do have various doubts about what Iran is doing. If all possibilities for influencing the situation have been exhausted, we could consider international sanctions. This is a fairly conventional approach. I will not go into sanctions’ effectiveness, but sometimes there is no other option. I therefore think that, together with the USA and other countries, we need to continue offering Iran positive incentives to work on peaceful nuclear energy development, while at the same time pushing it towards making all of its programmes open, so that they are no longer a cause of concern for the Middle East and the entire world. This is the main direction our action should take, but if we fail in these objectives, we will have to consider other steps.
QUESTION: Mr President, developing the education sector is one of your policy priorities. What plans do you have for developing cooperation between Russia and the USA in the education sector and in support for young graduates? It is no secret, after all, that people are having an ever harder time finding a job after graduating. Thank you.
DMITRY MEDVEDEV: I have already begun developing education-sector cooperation between Russia and the United States. I am continuing this work right here and now, and I will keep doing so in the future.
Concerning the current situation, it is true that graduates do not face the easiest prospects, whether in Russia, the USA or other countries. But I would not over-dramatise the situation. The crisis will not last forever. We are seeing the signs that times are changing for the better, and the Russian and American economies are starting to grow again. I do not think, therefore, that the situation is really so dramatic. Regarding the situation in Russia, on my initiative, several decisions regarding graduates were taken a few months ago. They include job creation measures and legal amendments making it possible to establish small businesses at universities, where graduates would work. I had to make a special effort to push this law through our parliament, the State Duma, because it had not been passed in time.
I hope that the first of these small businesses offering employment to graduates will be established this very month. This will not resolve all the problems, but we absolutely must create these kinds of new jobs. As for developing educational programmes and education-sector contacts between Russia and America, I think that your university is an excellent example of what can be achieved. You have quite a large number of teachers who have Russian origins or are Russian citizens, not to mention examples from further back in history, Zvorykin and others. Quite a few students from Russia study here. This is good to see and, to be honest, it was one of the reasons why I wanted to come and meet with you in particular.
QUESTION: Mr President, what kind of relations would you like to see between Russia and the USA in five years time?
DMITRY MEDVEDEV: I would like them to be better than they are today, although today they are already better than they were yesterday. This is no joke. I can tell you quite frankly that around a year ago, I had the impression our relations were at a dead end and had practically sunk to the Cold War-era level. I don’t want to point the finger at anyone or put all the blame on the previous U.S. administration, but my position is that we in Russia certainly did not seek this situation. What happened then is not important now, but we should always remember it all the same. It is important now to reduce the number of differences between our countries and our politicians.
I have said before, and I say again now that I feel very comfortable in my contacts with the current U.S. president. There are several reasons for this. For a start, we are of the same generation and we studied in the same field. I recalled how, when I was a graduate student, I even read legal reviews that Barack Obama edited at that time. This is an interesting coincidence. I didn’t know, of course, that he edited them. If I’d known, I would have paid them greater attention perhaps. But it’s a curious coincidence all the same.
I think that these questions of world outlook are important. But what is even more important is that, when I talk with the President of the USA today, I have the feeling that he listens attentively to what is being said, and that he does not hand out ready-made recipes or take a mentoring tone. Taking a mentoring tone does no one any service no matter who you may be, president of a small country or president of the USA. He does not have this fault. I think it is for this reason that he has won the hearts of so many people, not just here in the USA, but in other countries too. And this is why he has achieved success in some areas where past attempts had failed.
On the personal side of things, it seems to me that if relations between our countries’ leaders stay as good as they are now it will be easier for us to build good relations for the future. Sincerity and a desire to listen to your partner are what are needed.
I have not spoken about this yet, but will say nonetheless that the U.S. president’s recent decision to renounce plans for deploying missile defences in Europe is a decision dictated, of course, by his vision of how best to protect the United States’ interests. This is not a pro-Russian, pro-Chinese or pro-European decision. It is an American decision. But what is very important here is that, in making this decision, Barack Obama did listen to and, it seems, analysed what I had to say, and this was also something taken into account in making this decision. This means that we are learning to listen to each other. I think this is extremely important, even on such complex and sensitive issues as domestic security.
Sometimes we need to take decisions that require courage. I think that decisions such as this one are courageous. It is not an easy decision to change the previous administration’s line regarding not domestic but foreign policy. I tried putting myself in his place, and I can say that this would not at all be an easy decision to make. I think this alone deserves respect.
I do not know where things will go from here. No one knows, probably. Perhaps they at the top know. In any case, if we continue listening so attentively to each other our relations will have a good future.
QUESTION: Mr President, my name is Alina and I am president of the students’ Russian club, Pitt. We have students here who are interested in Russia, speak Russian, have Russian roots. We have a whole three Russian shops here in Pittsburgh.
DMITRY MEDVEDEV: It would be good to visit at least one of them. All the other shops in Pittsburgh are closed today.
QUESTION: We all love Russian food, only we’d like to have not just Russian ‘bread’ but some more Russian ‘circus’ too, more cultural events. Could you help us to get Russian theatres, performers and concert tours to include Pittsburgh on their list of venues? You have come to visit us. Perhaps others will follow?
DMITRY MEDVEDEV: Thank you for your words. It makes me happy to hear your wish. I can promise you that others will definitely follow. I do not know who yet, but if this is what you want, they will certainly come. Write me a list of who you would like to see. I am not a magician, of course, but we can try to send someone out here. Is that agreed?
QUESTION: In his introduction, the university’s president said that when you studied law your teachers said you were an excellent student who could find solutions to problems that others could not solve. My question then is, what particular effective solutions do you have for finding a way out of the financial crisis?
DMITRY MEDVEDEV: I studied law more than economics, of course, but they are related areas, all the more so as I studied civil law, as the president said, commercial law, and this is the economy in its legal form.
I do have some ideas, but I cannot share them with you right now. I want to wait until dinner and share them with my G20 partners. If I tell you about them now, someone might hear about our discussion, take my ideas and present them as their own, and I’d rather assert my priority to the copyright.
But speaking seriously, there is no universal recipe, of course, and I don’t think anyone will propose one. We are gathering for the third time now. I can tell you very clearly that I am positive about the summit and about how we are working. The idea to meet like this first came up in Washington slightly less than a year ago, and I had the feeling then that it would just be a meeting to talk a bit, share our woes, tell each other about our own problems, but no, what was proposed in Washington and subsequently in London is working. Of course these are not magic solutions that will solve everything and pull this or that economy out of the crisis, but as I see them, they do represent a systemic package of measures.
As far as the decisions taken in London go, they are a fairly concrete set of measures that address issues including the way the international financial institutions will function in the future. It seems very likely, by the way, that here in Pittsburgh we will finalise this issue: agreement on most points has been reached concerning the future shape the international financial system will take, including the difficult and long-running issue of the quotas’ distribution among the different countries.
This includes too issues such as supervision of national economic parameters, macro-regulation issues, audit, and other matters that will determine the outlines of the new financial system.
We are always saying that we need a new financial system, but so far we have not actually succeeded in building it yet. I have no doubt now, though, that we have begun laying its foundations. If the G20 ultimately succeeds in building the base for this new financial system, if not this year then next, I think we will have fulfilled our task.
Maybe we will not achieve any amazing feats, but we will at least lay the base for our economies to function over the next decades. This work is absolutely unique in nature, because when the Bretton Woods agreements were drawn up there were a lot fewer countries involved. The economy today is global and we are all in the same boat. The financial system that we are building today will be one that we can rightly call our common decision. This is what makes me positive. I hope that this work will enable us to foresee and, if possible, avoid the kind of serious crisis that has hit the global economy and affected our national economies today.
Let’s wait and see.
QUESTION: Good evening, Mr Medvedev. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Republic of Belarus remained Russia’s ally, Russia’s younger sister, as it were. But it is no secret that relations have undergone some strain of late, and the ‘milk war’ in the summer of 2009 seems to me evidence of this.
What measures will the Russian Government take if Belarus declares that it is establishing borders, customs borders? And what strategy do you have for restoring economic and diplomatic relations between Belarus and Russia?
Thank you very much.
DMITRY MEDVEDEV: We do not see Belarus as our younger sister but simply as our sister. No good ever comes out of trying to say who is senior and who is junior. It can lead to family ties being severed and marriages falling apart. Nothing good ever comes of it all.
I do not think that our relations with Belarus have worsened. There are indeed a number of issues on which we differ, and which we are discussing openly and quite emotionally. But what else can we do? Sometimes we have no choice but to argue our case with emotion, especially during a crisis period. I understand the Belarusian leadership, the president.
What is most important here is that this polemic, these emotions, do not hide something more complex.
I have no reasons for thinking that our relations have worsened or are in need of revival. We have very close relations. I will be meeting with the President of Belarus upon my return from the United States, and we will discuss all the different issues together, including issues that really are matters between allies.
This does not mean that everything will be smooth sailing, but we are continuing on from our previous contacts and will try to find solutions to the problems that exist, because this is in our peoples’ interests.
We are sovereign countries, very close countries, and I think these are the principles that should continue to underpin our partnership.
QUESTION: Hello, Mr President. My name is Olga Dmitriyeva and I am from Ukraine. My question is very similar to the last one. How do you view the current state of relations between Russia and Ukraine, and what policy do you have for their future development?
DMITRY MEDVEDEV: I see them pretty much the same as I see Russian-Belarusian relations, because we are very close countries, very close peoples, and it is the politicians’ job to build political cooperation based on our common history, our relations as neighbours, and interest in our mutual economic development. I feel the same way about the Ukrainian state and all who live there. But as far as our intergovernmental relations go, the situation is a little different to that with Belarus. I wrote a letter to the President of Ukraine recently, you perhaps saw it or read it. I recorded a video address on my blog too. Its main idea was that, unfortunately, our intergovernmental relations have deteriorated over recent years, and our task now is to try to rebuild them. In my opinion, the Ukrainian leadership, above all the president, I think, have not done enough to try to develop these relations. On the contrary, as we see it, these relations have often taken second place to other plans and have taken a direction that is not in our peoples’ interests. This is my view, of course, the view of the Russian president, and I know that President Yushchenko does not agree and thinks that all is fine. But I think that not everything is as fine as it might look from Kiev, and our countries’ leaders, the future leaders of Russia and Ukraine, therefore have the task of doing everything they can to resolve the problems in our relations and set them on a course of mutually advantageous development based on the particularly close feelings that our peoples have always had for each other and always will. That is the only real difference that I see between us today. I do not think it is fatal. The main thing is simply to make a common effort to put our relations back on a normal and constructive track, and Russia is ready to do this.
To be continue…