19 October 2018
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Dmitry Medvedev's interview to Russia Today TV channel

Dmitry Medvedev is interviewed by Russia Today correspondent Oksana Boyko on the events in August 2008 and consequences of the Georgian-South Ossetian conflict. The interview was recorded on July 24, 2013.

Interview to Russia Today TV channel

Oksana Boyko: Mr Medvedev, thank you for your time… Now that it’s been five years, the international community has all but forgotten this war, because there have been many other conflicts, some of them even more horrible. But I am sure you haven’t forgotten those days. What is the first thing that comes to your mind when you think about it?

Dmitry Medvedev: Certainly haven’t forgotten those days, and I doubt that other people have forgotten them. You’re right –thank God, this conflict did not last long. But it was burned into my memory, and I think it is the same for many other people, especially those living in the region.

The first thing I remember is how this all started, what was going on. The situation was very tense. I have to admit, I remember how difficult it was for me to make a decision. This was the most difficult decision I’ve ever had to make. It was difficult for me as a person and as a new president who had spent less than three months in office. But that’s the wheel of history, and sometimes there's nothing we can do. 

Oksana Boyko: A few weeks or perhaps months before the August war, Russia-Georgia relations had already been pretty strained. I’m sure you discussed this as you took over from the previous president. What was the sentiment back then? There was a lot of talk about some kind of a reset in those days. Was there hope the relations might improve?  

Dmitry Medvedev: In the presidential office, what you call taking over is different, it takes quite a while. By the time I assumed office, for some five or six years I’d been a permanent member of the Russian Security Council. And I took part in all discussions about foreign policy and key aspects of Russian security. So I kept my hand on the pulse all the while. And yet I had the feeling that we can try and bring back to normal our relations with Georgia, which had already been going downhill.

I think it was early in June, only a couple of weeks after his inauguration, that Saakashvili called me and we talked about some issues of the day. I believe he was talking about restoring railway links  between Russia and Abkhazia, between Abkhazia and neighboring regions in Georgia. The tone of our conversation was pretty neutral. I said I would like to discuss our relations in general. So we did – in a few days I guess, as we met at the CIS summit in Saint Petersburg.

I still remember that moment: I stood up to greet him in my cabinet, as he entered with a big smile on his face. I told him I’d like to patch up, to improve Russia-Georgian relations. Russians and Georgians have always been very friendly to one another. Mr. Saakashvili said he feels the same, told me it’s our most important common goal, and a realistic one. That’s what we agreed on. After that we had a few more consultations, I called him one more time, and whatnot...

The last time I saw him before the conflict was during City Day celebrations in Astana, Kazakhstan. The atmosphere was relaxed. We sat on a sofa talking.  He asked me questions and I told him tension was growing. It felt like we‘d fallen off the right track. So we agreed to meet again. He said he’d come on an official or working visit. And then, like I told you, all of a sudden he cut all contact – that was a short while before the conflict. I even asked an aide, whether anyone from the Georgian administration had talked to him about the meeting we had planned. He said – no, no one talked to me, they keep silent. Now you know the rest of the story. That’s the background to it.

Oksana Boyko: Officially, the war broke out on August 8 but tensions obviously had been escalating for a few days, or even weeks, before that. When did you get reports that Georgian troops were massing on the border and were you aware of the actual plans of the Georgian authorities?

Dmitry Medvedev: Of course, I had been getting reports for a few days prior to that that there were troops concentrating on the border and that there were some provocations and incidents. But since this conflict had been simmering for years and we had our peacekeeping forces there, we tried not to jump to conclusions – but still, we were alarmed by those reports.

And then, in the still of the night, they opened fire, and it became obvious that the situation was escalating. But still, until the very last moment, I was hoping they would stop. Then, around 1 AM, when I talked to the people who were directly involved in the situation, it became clear that those were not just minor provocations but a full-blown attack, intended to turn the situation in South Ossetia around by force and overthrow its government. So, after it was reported to me, I had to make a decision, a very difficult decision. I had to give the order to open fire on Georgian troops.

Oksana Boyko: Do you mean that this was, if you will, an opening gambit, a complex strategy?...

Dmitry Medvedev: Yes, you're right. I think several factors came to play. Firstly, Mr. Saakashvili was probably under the illusion that after the change of leadership in Russia, he might quietly pursue his agenda, which was previously beyond his reach and the reach of his predecessors.

Secondly, and I've said  before, I think the support that Saakashvili received from the United States and some other countries played a certain role. And it wasn't just plain encouragement, but there was financial support as well. Let me remind you that by 2008, Georgia’s defence budget had grown to almost a billion dollars, 50 times what it was in 2002. Clearly, Georgia was boosting its military might, and something like this always affects policy.

It seems that there was an understanding that since Georgia applied for NATO membership and the bid was not rejected outright, it was, so to speak, on some kind of waiting list, and that it was invulnerable.  They almost felt like the NATO collective defence principle applied to them as well.

So, I think that all of these factors eventually led Saakashvili and some of his advisors to believe that they can achieve their goals by force.

Oksana Boyko: Hypothetically, do you think Saakashvili would have risked such an operation if Russia had not had a transfer of presidency?

Dmitry Medvedev: It’s difficult to speculate. As the saying goes, if there is a gun hanging on the wall in scene one in a theatrical play, it is bound to shoot in the final act. So, whether Georgia’s militarization, coupled with its NATO aspirations, would have inevitably led it into an armed conflict with Russia sooner or later is pure speculation. But it is a solid fact that Georgia had been militarized, both as a state and as a society, and ingrained with a belligerent mindset, whereby a notion was being hammered home that there was no other way of restoring the nation’s territorial integrity except for the military option.

Oksana Boyko: Many experts say that Saakashvili may have considered two possible scenarios. The first one was based on Russia not getting involved in the conflict, for whatever reason. The second was that Russia would act rashly and go overboard – making it easy for Georgia to portray it as the aggressor and gain international support, in order to fix the obvious imbalance of power between the two countries. How feasible do you think this second plan was?

Dmitry Medvedev: You know, I don’t hold Saakashvili's diplomatic and military talents in high regard. I don’t think he was counting on the second scenario. It would have been too complex. I think he was hoping that Russia wouldn’t get involved in the conflict, so Georgian troops would quickly enter Tskhinval, gain control over all of the main buildings, and restore what they thought was constitutional order, riding on the wave of support from the United States and some other countries. The second scenario was very risky, because “going overboard”, like you said, would have had some serious consequences for him personally as well.

Oksana Boyko: I have a few questions about that too. But before we go there, I would like to talk about the movement of Russian troops in the area, on Georgian territory. I know first-hand that there were air-strikes on some Georgian towns – Gori, Poti, Kutaisi… Did those strikes have a strategic value for the Russian army, or did they happen just because they happened?

Dmitry Medvedev: This was not strategic and it didn’t happen “just because it happened.” But war is war. And in war you have to destroy the enemy’s military targets. Targets that had a potential to hurt the Russian army and civilians in South Ossetia, Abkhazia - Russian citizens. So that's what we hit, not civilian targets, no matter what his propaganda machine claimed. Our goal was to disable military targets, including airports, so that the enemy wouldn't be able to fly jets out, transport military equipment and hardware, etc. 

But this certainly wasn’t some sort of a strategic plan, and most definitely this was not something we decided on the spur of the moment. It is a standard military procedure, if you will.

Oksana Boyko: Every year on Victory Day, we talk about how the Soviet army went all the way to Berlin. It is part of our military legacy. I remember how at the time the Russian and Western media talked about the possibility of Russian troops advancing all the way to Tbilisi. Why didn’t we?

Dmitry Medvedev: Let me remind you how we saw the situation. It was not a war between Georgia and Russia. It was a conflict between Georgia and Ossetia, and we had to get involved, in order to force Georgia to stop killing people whom Tbilisi considered Georgian citizens, but many of whom were in fact Russian citizens. Let me remind you that 75-80 percent of the people in South Ossetia were Russian citizens at the time. It was not a war between states, much less a war between the Russian and Georgian people. It was a peacekeeping operation. It had localized objectives. We had to disarm the enemy, in order to stop the killings. That was our main goal. It was achieved in five days, and I think this is the biggest success of this campaign. I can tell you frankly that, when this whole thing started, I feared that it may take longer and unfold in a different way. But our armed forces, our army and our navy, fought valiantly and demonstrated excellent coordination. So, in a very short time we were able to achieve our objectives, which was not that easy given the level of militarization I mentioned earlier. As the Commander-in-Chief I never set the objective to take over Tbilisi, overthrow the regime and execute Saakashvili.

Oksana Boyko: Why not?

Dmitry Medvedev: Because, like I said, we didn’t go into war with Georgia. We had to protect the interests of the Russian Federation. His future never concerned me. I trust that the Georgian people will decide on his future. And I have to say – in my opinion, this decision has been practically made.

Oksana Boyko: I had the opportunity to cover many conflicts – in Libya, in Syria, and in a number of other countries. One of the buzzwords of today’s geopolitical vocabulary is ‘mission creep’. It means an operation that starts as peace enforcement and ends with the toppling of a country’s leader. And Russia is often portrayed in the West as a pretty aggressive country which prefers to use its military might instead of arguments. In this regard, I’d like to ask you, was there a chance of mission creep in that conflict? Do you think that we, Russia, might have failed to stop at the right moment?

Dmitry Medvedev: This is exactly where you, as they say, ‘feel the difference’. I believe that in situations like this, a country reveals its true intentions. Initially, we never had the objective of changing the ruling regime, even though, for obvious reasons, my colleagues and I will never shake hands with Mr. Saakashvili again. I consider him a war criminal. Nonetheless, we believed, as we still do, that it is the people's responsibility to deal with their leaders.

Georgia has state sovereignty within its borders, and I have always stressed that, even in my first meeting with Saakashvili. As regards territorial integrity, there were problems with that, and they first started back in the 1990s. Georgians, the leaders of Georgia, had plenty of time to put their country together again. You have to do it slowly and carefully, through compromise. Up to a certain point, there was a chance for them to stay together as a federation, or at least a confederation. But they blew it. Like I said elsewhere, essentially it was Saakashvili himself who tore his country apart.

You mentioned what people abroad say about Russia. I think this conflict, this military operation, is the best proof that our goals have always been purely peaceful. We restored the proper order and left. We did not change the regime. We did not install the leaders we like. We believe it’s wrong to change a county’s political structure, and to put people of your own choice in power, in violation of the UN Charter. We believe that in the 21st century people should act differently, and that governments should act according to different principles, the principles of international law.

Oksana Boyko: In your reply, you said ‘we’ a number of times. I know it's not the first time you've been asked this, but this question is hard to avoid. As I understand, during that time you stayed in contact with your predecessor and closest colleague, Mr. Putin. Did you have any disagreements with him? Obviously, the two of you share many common values and interests, but still you are two different people, perhaps from two different generations, and perhaps your perception of war and other issues is also different.

Dmitry Medvedev: Well no, our understanding has always been very similar. But I can tell you plainly that the burden of responsibility for such tough military decisions always lies on the one who is given the authority to make them under the Constitution. There’s no way of avoiding this. There's only one person who can make this decision, and there's nothing more to it. We talked on the phone… some time before these events, as there had been a certain escalation [in the region]. During the night [of the attack] Mr. Putin and I didn’t talk at all. I was just getting reports from our army's top commanders. Basically, it was after receiving those reports that I made the decision, which I consider the most difficult of my entire life.

I think we didn’t talk practically until the end of that day. We talked on the phone at some point in the evening. Mr. Putin was in China at the time. He talked to some world leaders who were there at the Olympics. But, of course, we didn’t have any differences because we had discussed this subject a number of times even before I became president.

Oksana Boyko: Even before you became president? You discussed what to do in case the conflict escalates?

Dmitry Medvedev: Our position has always been very simple: we will protect our people; we will protect the interests of the Russian Federation. But the problem with taking such a decision is you have to protect Russian interests, protect the lives and well-being of our citizens, in a foreign country. This is a special situation; it is different from responding to a direct attack on your country. You have to consider legal aspects, and of course you have to think carefully about the consequences. But it is not like our positions were different at that time or later; any talk of such differences is sheer speculation.

Oksana Boyko: Let me get this straight. Even at the planning stage, you thought a full-scale war was a possibility?

Dmitry Medvedev: The point is, basically, war had been quietly happening there, on and off, since 1992. Our peacekeepers helped to keep things under control. They played a very important role. Unfortunately, some of them were killed. This was a very serious attack on our interests and, emotionally, this was a heavy blow. But, of course, as we observed the Georgian leadership and their policies, especially in the period preceding the attack, we did not rule out this scenario. But, you know, it is one thing not to rule it out, and it is totally different when you have to admit that Saakashvili has gone totally nuts. A hypothetic scenario and actual circumstances are two different things.

Oksana Boyko: You say it was a rather unusual situation in Russian history when we had to protect the interests of our citizens in a foreign country. But we have Ossetians living in North Ossetia in Russia, and we know that at the time of the Chechen war the rebels used to receive arms through Georgian territory. How much did the factor of North Ossetia influence your decision? Did you anticipate reaction from the Ossetians living in Russia when their relatives, their families, were being openly attacked? Could that become a serious problem on Russian territory? What would the Russian republics in the Caucasus have done, had Russia not interfered?

Dmitry Medvedev: I think the Caucasus and in fact the whole country would have responded very negatively to that. That was just impossible. By refusing to defend our people, we would have admitted our defeat. It would have been extremely humiliating for our country. The Caucasus and the whole country would never agree to that. But, of course, this would have been particularly painful for the people living in the Caucasus – in North Ossetia and our other republics in the Caucasus.

Oksana Boyko: Let’s go back to Saakashvili’s plans to portray Russia as the aggressor in the eyes of the international community. I cannot help but admit that at the early stage of the conflict he was quite successful at that. How significant was the role of the international community in your forecasts and in your efforts to formulate an adequate response? I don’t just mean consultations. For example, did you think you could count on Europe and even the United States to judge Russia’s and Georgia's actions fairly?

Dmitry Medvedev: In fairness, I was expecting a more unbiased approach; however I had no illusions. I even recall the first thing I heard from my colleague-to-be, George W. Bush, when I was visiting the White House as the head of the presidential Administration. He said, well, Misha Saakashvili is a good guy…That was the first thing I heard from him…

So, you can’t really expect them to be unbiased. We all understand that it’s a strategic matter. But this is just something I mention in passing. On a more serious note, the reaction of our international partners was very important for us, for our country and for me personally as president.

But this was not the main point. The main thing was protecting Russia's interests as well as the lives and wellbeing of our citizens. To be honest, the international reaction was not on top of my list of concerns. I won’t say that I hadn't thought about it, but it was a minor thing. 

Oksana Boyko: The position of the US in this conflict was quite interesting and twofold: it supported Georgia through diplomatic channels and in the media, but it didn't follow through. Why do you think that is?

Dmitry Medvedev: This is because this is Russia. The US had better not be at odds with Russia, and every US president understands that.

There were hot-tempered people involved and we all know that, but I believe that the deliberations were quite coolheaded, because it might have resulted in a very serious conflict. Nobody wanted this to happen. That’s why, as you've said, the USA adopted a two-pronged approach which was a great disappointment for most of Georgia’s pundits.

Oksana Boyko: You say Saakashvili ceased all contact with you about a month before the war as you were trying to normalize the relationship. It seems to me he was trying to mislead the Russian leadership, or at least keep it in the dark. To what extent do you think the US authorities were informed of the plans? Do you regard it as a joint Georgian-American plot or as a risky undertaking of the Georgian president alone?

Dmitry Medvedev: I'm not sure…But I believe that the USA is a large, mature and powerful state that pursues its own interests all over the world. I don’t think that such a simple plot with Mr. Saakashvili, which as we know ended in such humiliating failure, would be in line with the interests of the US. Not laying all cards on the table is one thing, but putting on such an act is an entirely different matter. In my opinion, he overreached. But more likely, this was a bad bet that turned out to be criminal for the Georgian leader.

Oksana Boyko: Let’s go back to the subject of protecting our citizens’ interests. I was on the ground at the time, and it seemed that Russia’s response was quite reserved, given our country’s history and culture. Many people in South Ossetia were asking why it took Russia so long to come to their rescue, why they had to spend days being shelled by Georgian artillery. They said they were Russian citizens and they were entitled to protection, and they were quite bitter about it. I guess there are two sides to every story but you have probably heard such complaints. What would you say to these people?

Dmitry Medvedev: Frankly, I’ve never heard anything like that from people in South Ossetia or in Abkhazia. I only heard the words of gratitude to the Russian army, to the soldiers who restored the order there, and the words of gratitude for the political decisions we made. But, of course, people may have different opinions, so I will answer your question. First, this conflict had been going on since 1992. Had it all started just a month before that, it might have been a different situation. But this was a prolonged conflict. It was on and off, and that’s why we had our peacekeepers there. Second, you have to keep in mind that this was another country, no matter how you view it. It may be an independent state we have recognized, or it may be a breakaway part of Georgia, but in any case it is a foreign country. When making a decision to use the army in a foreign country, a leader always has to think very carefully, because this is a very complex situation in terms of international law.

Oksana Boyko: So, did you consider this situation from the legal point of view? How much of a factor was your personal relationship with Saakashvili? You just said it was a personal issue for you.

Dmitry Medvedev: Of course, I considered legal aspects as well but only up to a certain point. At some point, I realized that we need to forget about legal and diplomatic arguments and let the guns do the talking. I repeat, it was extremely difficult for me to make this decision. I feel sorry for any leader in any country of the leaders who has to make this choice, and I certainly hope that the leaders of our country will never have to make this choice again.

Oksana Boyko: We have already discussed your work, but I’d like to ask a few questions about ours. Journalists often view themselves as independent voices in any conflict…

Dmitry Medvedev: And they are right to think so…

Oksana Boyko: I am quite skeptical about this, as I personally saw journalists taking sides. In your opinion, what was the role of the mass media in that war? Was it driven by duty, or was it used as a weapon in this geopolitical game?

Dmitry Medvedev: Unfortunately, I can’t help but agree with you. Around 90 per cent of reports in respected international media was pure propaganda, and only 10 per cent was the truth. It was a personal disappointment for me, and I am under no illusions. One way or another, every media organization is influenced by ideological considerations, and that’s fine. What’s more, there may be some exceptions but as a rule national media seek to support and promote their state. But the way certain media behaved in that period was a blatant example of cynicism. They passed black for white, Russia was declared the aggressor, and some time had to pass before they started acknowledging that Russia had been tough, but it was a justified response to the attack. And now, when we have the results of analyses by numerous independent commissions, including Tagliavini’s, everybody recognizes what really happened. I may refer you to what Prime Minister Ivanishvili said some time ago. He told Saakashvili and his supporters that it was them who provoked this war and started this conflict. I assume it was not easy for Ivanishvili to admit that but he had the courage to face the truth.

Oksana Boyko: I remember that at the time, many members of your own press service were working in Tskhinval, I mean the Kremlin staff who organize summits and high-level official meetings. On the one hand, it shows the importance of working with the media, which the Kremlin recognized at the time, but on the other hand, it shows that the country was unprepared for it. Do you think Russia as a whole, and the Russian leadership in particular, have learned a lesson from this war when it comes to working with the media?

Dmitry Medvedev: Oksana, we were not preparing for this war. I believe that a country that builds its ideology around war is on the wrong path. And I think there’s nothing wrong with the fact that I sent some of the people who usually work with me to be on the ground and observe the situation there, because thankfully things like that haven’t been happening very often in our country in recent decades. In fact, this was the first time something like that happened in the history of the Russian Federation as an independent state.

The lessons need to be learned, no doubt about it. You’ve pointed out one of them yourself, and I completely agree with you. I mean the bias of a number of foreign media and their distinctly anti-Russian propaganda.

On the other hand, of course, we need to be prepared to act in such cases. If something like this, heavens forbid, had happened later, I suppose our response would have been better coordinated. Although, to be entirely honest, I don’t think we made any major mistakes. It is a common perception that Russia wasn't as successful with propaganda, but let’s not forget that we stood by our own beliefs, while most Western mass media followed the narrative of their foreign ministries,  working together as one military-political alliance.

Oksana Boyko: Do you believe a war can be won through mass media? When you were answering the question just now, I was reminded of what happened in Libya and all the accusations against Gaddafi. Now, a few years later, most of them don’t appear to have been substantiated by any kind of evidence. This - or, at least, something similar – is now happening in Syria...

Dmitry Medvedev: And before that, as we all know, it happened in Iraq.

Of course, the media can’t win a war. This is not what the media are for. The media should provide accurate and preferably unbiased reports on current events. And this is what most of your colleagues usually do. But I agree that some of them failed on that occasion. As regards to the situation today, I agree that the events in Syria, and prior to that in Libya and Iraq, are a lesson to us all. That is why I said - “feel the difference”. I think that what happened then and what is happening now is being justified by the fight for national interests, rights and freedoms. But in reality, it was a forceful dismantling of a country’s political system, an intrusion into its internal affairs and the installation a loyal political regime. Nothing good came out of it, by the way. We know what happened and we can see what is happening. The situation in Iraq is very volatile –  dozens of people are killed every day... Of course, we are doing our best to support Iraq. We meet with Iraqi leaders; we sympathize with them, because we have a long history of contacts with them. Libya was torn apart by this war, and there are still regions where the central authorities have not managed to regain full control, just like we expected. This is not to mention what happened to Qaddafi. This was horrible. This is another stain on the reputation of the people who initiated this military operation. Syria is also on the brink of a similar war. Basically, there’s a civil war raging in the country; it's a disaster. We have always believed that the power to solve Syria's problems should lie with its people. But the active interference that we now see might potentially lead to the same problems and create yet another unstable country, in a permanent state of civil war.

Oksana Boyko: You were quite reserved in your comments, and if I may I would like to ask the same question a little more bluntly.

Dmitry Medvedev: All right.

Oksana Boyko: We’ve been talking about containing the conflict so it doesn’t escalate. Many political scientists and historians who study war say that there’s always a point in time when a war acquires certain momentum...

Dmitry Medvedev: The point of no return.

Oksana Boyko: Yes, and after that it’s very difficult to convince the warring sides to attempt negotiations. It seems to me that five years ago the Russian leadership tried not to go that far. I don’t know if you would agree with me, but as a war correspondent I feel that our Western partners often purposefully push whole nations beyond this point. Would you agree?

Dmitry Medvedev: All right, here’s my blunt answer to your blunt question. Our Western partners sometimes behave like a bull in a china shop – they squeeze in, crush everything and then don’t know what to do next. I often find myself astonished at their analysts and how inconsistent their projects are that they push through by their superiors and at the outcomes they get. If we’re being completely honest, what good did the Arab Spring bring to the Arab world? Did it bring freedom? A little, at best. In most countries it led to endless bloodshed, regime change, and continuous unrest. I have no illusions about that either. As for the pushing you mentioned, yes, unfortunately, that’s true. As for us, we, on the opposite, were extremely careful. I would like to revisit the outcome of this conflict. Take a look at what happened. Despite the fact that an act of aggression was committed against our citizens, our peacekeepers, we put an end to this conflict in merely five days. It was tough but fair, I think. And we didn’t get into a fight with the entire world over it, which would have been extremely counterproductive for Russia. I had different feelings, but I recall that back at the end of 2008, either in November or December,  I was in session with colleagues from the EU and other international agencies, and we had to handle the crisis…

And it was an altogether different agenda. Although it could have played out differently. Russia could have acted differently and, say, applied force disproportionately. Or, the other way round, we could have applied no force at all …

And there is another very complicated aspect to this story I want to mention, although you didn’t ask about it. It’s about recognition of sovereignty of the new states, about accepting new members in the international community. It was a difficult decision as well. And I had to make it. I recall how I talked to Vladimir Putin about it as we walked down a street. I said that I made my decision and consider it justified. He said that he also believed it to be the right decision despite the fact that a while back it would have been extremely complicated, but under the current circumstances he believed this decision was the only proper choice. This is the talk I had with him. After that I called a Security Council meeting, and of course all the members were present. I said I thought we should make this decision, and the members of the Security Council support me. After that I addressed the nation saying that I had signed two decrees. And this started a new era in the history of these two nations.

Oksana Boyko: I meant to ask about this, too. I’ve got it in my notes…

Dmitry Medvedev: Well, it means then that I anticipated you…

Oksana Boyko: You stressed several times that you consider that offensive as Saakashvili's personal crime and that Russia doesn't blame the Georgian people as a whole. And yet your decision to recognize the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia affects all Georgians and will probably continue doing so for many generations. Did you really have to take it?

Dmitry Medvedev: We couldn't secure the interests of our citizens and those of our country otherwise. Let's imagine that after everything that happened we would have just parted sides. Mr. Saakashvili and his comrades would have rebuilt their military capabilities. By the way, they almost immediately started receiving assistance. Planes and ships with weapons were coming in... But the situation with these territories would have remained unsettled. So what did we have to do - keep maintaining our peacekeeping mission there? After what happened it was impossible. Many of the people who live there are our citizens. They made up their mind about Georgia back in the 1990s, those decisions were approved by parliaments... But for some time, we thought recognizing independence would be premature. There was still a hope that the Georgian leadership would be able to hold its disintegrating country together. But, unfortunately, that was Saakashvili's crime before his people, before many generations of Georgia people... He himself put the last nail into the coffin of the former Georgian state. He killed those hopes with his own actions. 

Oksana Boyko: Over the last five years,  relations have improved a bit. Russians can now travel to Georgia without visas, while Georgian wines are being sold in Russia...

Dmitry Medvedev: And mineral water, too.

Oksana Boyko: Do you think there is a limit that the bilateral relationship will never be able to pass? 

Dmitry Medvedev: In this regard, I'm a total optimist. I'm convinced that everything will be fine. Our peoples aren't enemies. Of course, the conflict didn't help but it wasn't based on deep-running disagreements. Again, that was a criminal mistake of certain leaders. But these days the situation is indeed a bit different. The country's new leadership that was brought in by the political and constitutional reforms is taking a more pragmatic stance... We welcome that. I just want to remind that Russia has never cut diplomatic ties with Georgia. We are ready to reaffirm them on certain conditions. And those conditions are simple - just recognizing what happened. 

This process may be very delicate and complex. But I’m sure there’s no going back, and when Saakashvili and some other people who participated in taking this criminal decision are gone, we will turn the page and close this sad chapter in our relations.

Oksana Boyko: Let me ask you a question that may seem somewhat politically sensitive. If, after Saakashvili steps down, Georgia's new political leaders find a way to develop relations with South Ossetia and Abkhazia, would it be possible, at least in theory, for these nations to unite? And would Russia recognize the territorial integrity of Georgia in this case?

Dmitry Medvedev: Everything in this world depends on decisions made by people and on their political will.

For example, just a short time ago we could not imagine we would be able to establish the Customs Union and work on the Eurasian Economic Union. And these are important integration projects with both economic and political consequences.

The choice lies with the people who live there, the people of Georgia and the leaders they elect.  The people of Abkhazia and the people of South Ossetia have the power to give their leaders any kind of mandate, and this will be constitutional and in line with universally-recognized  international practices. We want them to live in peace. But it’s up to them to decide what relations they will have with each other. We will not interfere with these processes. But of course, we will defend Russia’s national interests.

Oksana Boyko: We’ve been talking for quite a long time… Two more questions, if I may. I’ll try to keep it short. After the war, many politicians in Russia were saying Saakashvili should go on trial, perhaps even face an international tribunal. As you’ve mentioned, he committed crimes not just against his own people, but also against Russian peacekeepers. But I guess these efforts were abandoned soon afterwards. Why? Is it because the moment was missed? Or is it too costly?

Dmitry Medvedev: No, of course, it has nothing to do with expenses. It has to do with the imperfections of international institutions and with the selective application of international rules. Back in the days of the Nuremberg Trials, people of the world were able to muster strength and condemn Nazi criminals. There’re some other examples of tribunals in our days. Everything depends on the coordinated position of the countries involved. This time it didn’t happen. Well, history will pronounce the final sentence, and as for the political sentence, I believe the people of Georgia have already pronounced their sentence on Saakashvili’s decisions, because despite what happened he had already lost his political power.

Oksana Boyko: I have one last question. You’ve mentioned that this was very hard for you to make this decision. This was the first time in decades that Russia went to war. People in Russia understand how horrible war is, perhaps better than in other countries. I guess this is part of our genetic memory. But, according to my personal observations, people in different countries take war differently. I think that war has become a popular and even trendy geopolitical tool. As someone who has had many meetings with world leaders, why do you think war is so appealing to them? Why is it still such a popular instrument in international affairs? It seems that the more people study war the more they use it.

Dmitry Medvedev: Only a very foolish person wants war. I’m absolutely sure about that, no matter who this person is. War is a terrible disaster. You are right, we in Russia know this perfectly well. We know from our genetic memory what war is like. Each family in Russia has deceased or living relatives who either remember war or participated in it. In the 20th century we’ve truly offered a dreadful sacrifice upon the altar of war, in fact more than once. Some countries take war more lightly, especially those who never engaged in wars or never had war on their territory. But any normal human is against war, no matter if it’s a president or just an ordinary person not involved in politics.

There’s a popular saying that war is merely an extension of politics by other means. Unfortunately, this behavior is quite common. In my political career– which might not be the longest -  but nevertheless I’ve been through some difficult situations and I’ve had to make some tough decisions – so, I can tell you that nothing good ever comes out of war. You’ve mentioned a number conflicts … Can you give me an example, can you name at least one country that has benefited from civil war, or from a military intervention by other countries to change its political system? What you see in these countries is nothing but problems. So it is a big mistake to think that you can achieve something positive through war. War is a terrible disaster. And I pray to God we never have to face this kind of situation again.

We’ve been talking for quite a considerable time, and I would like to say again that it’s quite natural for anyone to remember certain small details related to some dramatic events. So this room and some other places in this residence remind me of August 2008. Even as we sit here and talk I’m reminded of certain details of the telephone conversations I had at the Kremlin and in this room, sitting in this chair, or in the Security Council meeting room. Of course, I’ll always remember that period as a very difficult time for our country and for me personally. But on the other hand I believe we, I mean Russia, our people and our soldiers, did well in this time of trial.

Oksana Boyko: Thank you for your time.

Dmitry Medvedev: Thank you.


27.09.2018 - Remarks by Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov at the UN Security Council meeting, September 26, 2018

Mr President, Colleagues, In the modern world, an efficient fight against the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction is becoming increasingly important for global and regional stability and the reliable security of all states without exception. Constructive cooperation in this area is an important component of the efforts to shape a positive international agenda. I think everybody agrees that the UN Security Council resolutions that outline specific measures against violations of non-proliferation must be strictly observed. Resolution 1540 remains the basis for this and contains obligations for the member states to take specific measures to prevent non-government agents from accessing weapons of mass destruction and their components. The UNSC decisions taken in pursuance of this resolution are particularly important as they include sanctions for handing over any types of weapons to terrorists. There have been incidents of such handovers and they must be thoroughly investigated.

07.09.2018 - Remarks by Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia, Permanent Representative of the Russian Federation to the United Nations, following the UNSC meeting on the incident in Salisbury

Q: Do you expect British sanctions on Russia soon? A: We are not expecting or afraid of anything. Taking to the account how things have been developing during the recent years we do not exclude anything. This discussion and yesterday’s speech by the British Prime-Minister in the British Parliament are not coincidental. I think that’s looks like a prelude to a new political season. Q: So, Ambassador it’s really coming from the highest level in the UK. A: It always comes from the highest level. Last time when the incident took place it also came from the highest level. Q: But it seems that you are not taking it seriously. A: We are taking it very seriously. We were saying it all the time. Why we’ve been asking for cooperation with the UK from day one. Only few minutes ago Ambassador Pierce was referring to an ultimatum that Boris Johnson made in his letter to the Russian Ambassador in London when the incident took place presented as a request by the British site to cooperate while in fact it was a demand to to accept the gilt. At the same time our requests which we sent to British authorities constantly through OPCW and bilaterally were ignored.

06.09.2018 - Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s remarks at Bolshaya Igra (Great Game) talk show on Channel One, Moscow, September 4, 2018

Question: Today we have a special guest in our studio, one of the main participants in the “great game”, someone the future of the world really depends on in many ways: Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. We are happy to welcome you in the Great Game studio. Sergey Lavrov: Thanks for inviting me.

22.08.2018 - Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov's comment on UK Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt's anti-Russian claims

At a joint news conference following talks with Foreign Minister of Serbia Ivica Dacic Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov commented on UK Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt's urges to European partners to slap their own sanctions on Russia in connection with the Salisbury incident.

16.08.2018 - Ambassador Alexander Yakovenko's interview for "Salisbury Journal"

The Russian Ambassador said he stands together with the people of Salisbury in a meeting with the Journal last week, as the United States announced new sanctions against the country. Speaking at his official residence in Kensington Palace Gardens on Thursday, Alexander Yakovenko said: “We are together with the people of Salisbury.”

24.06.2018 - Greeting by Ambassador Alexander Yakovenko for the Znaniye school Family Day (Ealing, 24 June 2018)

Dear friends and guests, I am delighted to welcome you at a Family Day celebrating Russia and the World Cup. Today, Russia is the place to be for the whole world. It is a great pleasure to hear fans from all continents appreciating Russia’s hospitality, friendliness and openness to everyone. Right now, people from virtually every country see the 11 host cities, from the Baltic Sea to the Urals on the border of Europe and Asia, and realize how diverse and beautiful our country is. We’d like to bring a bit of Russia and the excitement of the World Cup to Ealing, for those who couldn’t make it to the tournament. By the way, so far both our teams are doing very well, and let us hope they keep up this good work. We cheer for both Russia and England but I’m afraid this can change if both teams meet at the semi-finals.

20.06.2018 - Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s remarks and answers to questions at the Primakov Readings international forum, Moscow, May 30, 2018

Mr Dynkin, Colleagues and friends, Ladies and gentlemen, I am grateful for a new opportunity to speak at the international forum named after Academician Evgeny Primakov, an outstanding Russian statesman, academic and public figure. It is indeed a great honour for me. I consider Mr Primakov, with whom I worked at the Foreign Ministry in the latter half of the 1990s, my senior comrade and teacher, as probably do the majority of those who crossed paths with him at one point. Holding this representative conference under the aegis of one of Russia’s leading academic institutes – National Research Institute of World Economy and International Relations (IMEMO) that also bears Primakov’s name – has become a good tradition. The Primakov Readings have earned a reputation as a venue for serious dialogue of authoritative specialists on the most pressing issues of international politics and the global economy. Today, there is no lack of buzzwords used by politicians, experts and scientists to capture the current moment in international relations. They talk about the crisis of the “liberal world order” and the advent of the post-Western era, “hot peace” and the “new cold war”. The abundance of terms itself shows that there is probably no common understanding of what is happening. It also points to the fairly dynamic and contradictory state of the system of international relations that is hard to characterise, at least at the present stage, with one resounding phrase. The authors of the overarching theme of the current Primakov Readings probably handled the challenge better than others. In its title “Risks of an unstable world order’ they provocatively, and unacademically, combine the words “unstable” and “order”.

21.04.2018 - Ambassador Alexander Yakovenko's talking points at the Press Conference, 20 April 2018

Since we met last time a lot of events took place: - Military strikes of the United States, UK and France against Syria in violation of the international law - Mission by OPCW inspectors to Douma - Speech of Prime Minister May in Parliament in support of the British aggression against Syria - Special meeting of the OPCW Executive Council (18 April 2018) - New developments in the classified case of Salisbury poisoning of Skripal family - No meaningful developments on the Glushkov case - and Cyber security threats I plan to comment all these issues. And I will be happy to answer all our questions, if you have any.

17.03.2018 - Ambassador Alexander Yakovenko's interview for "Mail on Sunday" (full text)

Q: Bearing in mind that the US, France and Germany have said they agree with Britain that all the evidence suggests the attacks in Salisbury were the responsibility of the Russian state, what credibility can be placed on the denials issued by the Russian Government? A:We don't know if UK presented any evidence to US, France and Germany - highly likely none - but if they did, why not present it through the channels outlined in the Chemical Weapons Convention? Universal legal principle is presumption of innocence, and the burden of proof lies with the British Government. Its record includes the Iraq WMD dossier - you will remember that at some point doubting US and UK claims was considered a wild conspiracy theory. It is not any more.

26.01.2018 - Main foreign policy outcomes of 2017

In 2017, Russian diplomacy addressed multidimensional tasks to ensure national security and create a favourable external environment for our country's progressive development. Russia maintained an independent foreign policy, promoted a unifying agenda, and proposed constructive solutions to international problems and conflicts. It developed mutually beneficial relations with all interested states, and played an active role in the work of the UN, multilateral organisations and forums, including the G20, BRICS, the SCO, the OSCE, and the CSTO. Among other things, Russian policy has sought to prevent the destabilisation of international relations, and this responsible policy has met with broad understanding in the international community.

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