From Fort Russ
January 11, 2017 – Fort Russ Exclusive –
Translated by Jafe Arnold (J. Arnoldski)
From Fort Russ
January 11, 2017 – Fort Russ Exclusive –
Translated by Jafe Arnold (J. Arnoldski)
Closed-door comments by US Secretary of State John Kerry reveal much about US involvement in Syrian crisis, Dr. Jamal Wakeem, professor of history and international relations at Lebanese University in Beirut, told RT.
The New York Times acquired the taped conversation between the US Secretary of State and two dozen Syrian civilians from education, rescue, and medical groups working in rebel-held areas, during a meeting on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly.
The leaked recording reveals how angry John Kerry really is about being unable to topple President Bashar Assad by military means.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry reacts in the United Nations Security Counci © Lucas Jackson / Reuters
“I’ve argued for use of force. I stood up. I’m the guy who stood up and announced we’re going to attack Assad because of the weapons, and then you know things evolved into a different process,” the Secretary of State said in the tape.
He told the civilians that “you have nobody more frustrated than we are (the US)” that the Syrian issue is now being solved diplomatically.
Kerry also warned the Syrians, who sounded clearly unhappy with Washington’s contribution, that attempts to intervene militarily or provide more support to the rebels by the US may have a reverse effect.
“The problem is that, you know, you get, quote, ‘enforcers’ in there and then everybody ups the ante, right? Russia puts in more, Iran puts in more; Hezbollah is there more and Nusra is more; and Saudi Arabia and Turkey put all their surrogate money in, and you all are destroyed,” the diplomat explained.
RT: What do you think this conversation shows?
Jamal Wakeem: I believe that this proves that the US was involved in the Syrian crisis since its onset and that it was collaborating with the so-called insurgents in order to topple the Syrian regime. In addition, it proves also that the Syrian crisis had its regional and international dimension since the beginning and it wasn’t a revolution against an illegitimate regime, as the West claimed at one point.
In addition, I believe that it also proves that the Obama administration didn’t give priority to peaceful and political solution for the Syrian crisis. But it used this as an alternative to its inability to use force when it was confronted by a steadfast position by Russia who refused to be dragged into another trick by the US similar to what happened in Libya and topple the Syrian regime. I believe that the Russians are aware of the fact that the war in Syria is a war by proxy directed against them and against their ally China. It is part of a bigger plan by the US to block Eurasia from having access to the maritime trade roots. In addition, I believe there was a mentioning of the presence of the representatives of the NGOs operating in insurgent territories. And this proves also that the US was using these NGOs as a tool of soft power in order to topple the Syrian regime.
RT: The conversation happened a few days after the US-Russia-brokered ceasefire in Syria ended. How possible is it to pursue diplomacy when one side doesn’t seem to believe in it?
JW: I believe that the faction that was trying to strike a political deal with Russians over Syria was a minority in the Obama administration. It was hindered by the hawks in the US, mainly the Pentagon and the military. I didn’t believe that there would be a political breakthrough during the Obama administration, because this administration is already expired. We need to wait for the next president of the US to take over power. And the hawks in the US and also in Saudi Arabia and Turkey believe that the next president will be more hawkish than Obama and will take more confrontational steps with Russians and that is why they hindered any attempt by John Kerry to strike a deal or impose a truce in Aleppo. Maybe they wanted for the truce to be like a breathing space for the opposition or for the insurgents, but they didn’t want it to be a first step towards a political solution. And I believe that in order to talk about the political solution we need to wait for at least another year.
RT: Separately, British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson told The Sun newspaper that, following Moscow’s policy in Syria “people now believe that Russia is in danger of becoming a pariah nation”. Who are those people he’s referring to, do you think?
JW: He is talking about himself, about the American administration, about the military industrial complex in the US. And about the oligarchy that is trying to impose a world order that would work for its own benefits. We need to admit that the essence of the war in Syria, in Ukraine, in Yemen, in the South China Sea is a part of a global American strategy to block Eurasia from having access to the maritime trade roots. And this was mentioned not only during the Obama administration but also it was mentioned by former scholars. It is part of the consistent strategy since the late 19th century to block any land power from having access to maritime trade roots, and this explains the policy of containment during the Cold War and later on the strategy of Zbigniew Brzezinski, the former national security advisor for Jimmy Carter, and other geopolitical thinkers of the US. So, when Boris Johnson says this he is admitting that the essence of confrontation is not between the West and Syria, or between insurgents or Assad regime, but it is between the West and Eurasia.
From Town Hall
by Katie Pavlich
Aug 26, 2016
New revelations this week showing the Clinton Foundation used the State Department to find and recruit employees during Hillary Clinton’s tenure as Secretary are prompting questions from House Oversight Committee Jason Chaffetz.
In a letter sent to Secretary of State John Kerry Thursday, Chaffetz wants details about taxpayers resources used to recruit State Department experts for Clinton Foundation donors and wants to know whether federal ethics codes were violated in the process.
“State Department employees interviewed applicants for Clinton Foundation positions and sought a Libya expert on behalf of Clinton Foundation donors. According to one report, Clinton Foundation employees also contacted the State Department in an effort to find jobs for Clinton Foundation donors. Moreover, earlier this week, the Associated Press reported ‘[m]ore than half the people outside of government who met with [Secretary] Clinton while she was secretary of state gave money – either personally or through companies or groups – to the Clinton Foundation.’ These reports give rise to a perception that access to our State Department’s official resources, were for sale,” Chaffetz states in the letter. “The allegations contained in the Associated Press report and others also raise questions as to whether State Department employees acted to benefit the Clinton Foundation in violation of executive branch ethics guidelines.”
“In addition, work on behalf of the Clinton Foundation on personal time may also violate section 2635.705 of the executive branch ethics code, which generally prohibits a superior from coercing a subordinate from performing activities other than official duties,” the letter continues.
Earlier this week the Associated Press published a report showing 50 percent of individuals who were granted interviews with Secretary Clinton were big time donors to the Clinton Foundation. We also learned long time Clinton aide Huma Abedin regularly denied requested meetings with Secretary Clinton, rerouted individuals through the Clinton Foundation, donations would be made and then meetings would be granted. Chaffetz makes the argument in his letter to Kerry that these revelations further show official State Department resources were “up for sale.”
Chaffetz has requested Kerry produce a number of documents, communications and a list of all individuals on Clinton’s official calendar during her time as Secretary by September 7.
Posted under Fair Use Rules
The U.S. is unwilling to stop the war on Syria and to settle the case at the negotiation table. It wants a 100% of its demands fulfilled, the dissolution of the Syrian government and state and the inauguration of a U.S. proxy administration in Syria.
After the ceasefire in Syria started in late February Obama broke his pledge to separate the U.S. supported “moderate rebels” from al-Qaeda. In April U.S. supported rebels, the Taliban like Ahrar al Sham and al-Qaeda joined to attack the Syrian government in south Aleppo. The U.S.proxies broke the ceasefire.
Two UN resolutions demand that al-Qaeda in Syria be fought no matter what. But the U.S. has at least twice asked Russia not to bomb al-Qaeda. It insists, falsely, that it can not separate its “moderates” from al-Qaeda and that al-Qaeda can not be attacked because that would also hit its “moderate” friends.
The Russian foreign minster Lavrov has talked wit Kerry many times about the issue. But the only response he received were requests to further withhold bombing. Meanwhile al-Qaeda and the “moderates” continued to break the ceasefire and to attack the Syrian government forces.
After nearly four month Kerry still insists that the U.S. needs even more time for the requested separation of its proxy forces from al-Qaeda. Foreign Minister Lavrov recently expressed the Russian consternation:
The Americans are now saying that they are unable to remove the ‘good’ opposition members from the positions held by al-Nusra Front, and that they will need another two-three months. I am under the impression that there is a game here and they may want to keep al-Nusra Front in some form and later use it to overthrow the [Assad] regime,” Lavrov said at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum.
The bucket was full and Kerry’s latest request for another three month pause of attacking al-Qaeda was the drop that let it overflow. Russia now responded by hitting the U.S. where it did not expect to be hit:
Russian warplanes hit Pentagon-backed Syrian fighters with a barrage of airstrikes earlier this week, disregarding several warnings from U.S. commanders in what American military officials called the most provocative act since Moscow’s air campaign in Syria began last year.The strikes hit a base near the Jordanian border, far from areas where the Russians were previously active, and targeted U.S.-backed forces battling the Islamic State militants.
These latest strikes occurred on the other side of the country from the usual Russian operations, around Tanf, a town near where the borders of Jordan, Iraq, and Syria meet.
The Russian strike hit a small rebel base for staging forces and equipment in a desolate, unpopulated area near the border. About 180 rebels were there as part of the Pentagon’s program to train and equip fighters against Islamic State.
When the first strikes hit, the rebels called a U.S. command center in Qatar, where the Pentagon orchestrates the daily air war against Islamic State.
U.S. jets came and the Russian jets went away. The U.S. jets left to refuel, the Russian jets came back and hit again. Allegedly two U.S. proxy fighters were killed and 18 were wounded.
Earlier today another such attack hit the same target.
This was no accident but a well planned operation and the Russian spokesperson’s response makes the intend clear:
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov appeared to confirm the attack Friday, telling reporters it was difficult to distinguish different rebel groups from the air.
Translation: “If you can not separate your forces from al-Qaeda and differentiate and designate exclusively “moderate” zones we can not do so either.”
The forces near Tanf are supported by U.S. artillery from Jordan and air power via Iraq. British and Jordan special operations forces are part of the ground component (and probably the majority of the “Syrian” fighters.) There is no al-Qaeda there. The Russians know that well. But they wanted to make the point that it is either separation everywhere or separation nowhere. From now on until the U.S. clearly separates them from AQ all U.S. supported forces will be hit indiscriminately anywhere and anytime. (The Syrian Kurds fighting the Islamic State with U.S. support are for now a different story.)
The Pentagon does not want any further engagement against the Syrian government or against Russia. It wants to fight the Islamic State and its hates the CIA for its cooperation with al-Qaeda and other Jihadi elements. But John Brennan, the Saudi operative and head of the CIA, still seems to have Obama’s ear. But what can Obama do now? Shoot down a Russian jet and thereby endanger any U.S. pilot flying in Syria or near the Russian border? Risk a war with Russia? Really?
The Russian hit near Tanf was clearly a surprise. The Russians again caught Washington on the wrong foot. The message to the Obama administration is clear. “No more delays and obfuscations. You will separate your moderates NOW or all your assets in Syria will be juicy targets for the Russian air force.”
The Russian hits at Tanf and the U.S. proxies there has an additional benefit. The U.S. had planned to let those forces move north towards Deir Ezzor and to defeat the Islamic State in that city. Eventually a “Sunni entity” would be established in south east Syria and west Iraq under U.S. control. Syria would be split apart.
The Syrian government and its allies will not allow that. There is a large operation planned to free Deir Ezzor from the Islamic State occupation. Several hundred Syrian government forces have held an isolated airport in Deir Ezzor against many unsuccessful Islamic State attacks. These troops get currently reinforced by additional Syrian army contingents and Hizbullah commandos. A big battle is coming. Deir Ezzor may be freed within the next few month. Any U.S. plans for some eastern Syrian entity are completely unrealistic if the Syrian government can take and hold its largest eastern city.
The Obama administration’s delaying tactic will now have to end. Russia will no longer stand back and watch while the U.S. sabotages the ceasefire and supports al-Qaeda.
What then is the next move the U.S. will make?
That’s hardly the language of a supposed bona fide diplomat who presents an image to the world as a politician concerned to bring about an end to the five-year Syrian conflict.
The US Secretary of State repeatedly sounds anxious to alleviate the appalling suffering of the Syrian nation, where over the past five years some 400,000 people have been killed and millions displaced as refugees.
Anyone who has not been brainwashed by Western media propaganda knows full well that the suffering of Syria has been caused by Washington and its allies sponsoring a covert war for regime change in that country.
Kerry was speaking during another round of failed negotiations — this time in Vienna — along with other leaders from the 17-nation International Syria Support Group that includes Russia, as well as the United Nations.
The “support group” is a disgustingly erroneous name, given that certain members of this entity — primarily the US, Saudi Arabia and Turkey — have done everything in their power to sponsor a proxy terrorist war on Syria. If the truth were not so abject, it would be laughable.
In a Voice of America report headlined “US still has leverage in Syria,” Kerry is quoted thus: “He said the greatest leverage [on Syria] was the fact that [President] Assad and his backers would never be able to end the war in Syria if they declined to negotiate a political settlement.”
Consider the pernicious import of that for a moment. In other words, America’s top “diplomat” is laying down a criminal ultimatum to the sovereign state of Syria and its elected government of President Bashar al-Assad. Kerry is saying in no uncertain terms that unless the Syrian authorities do not accept Washington’s demand for regime change, then the country is facing never-ending war.
Of course, being a weasel-worded diplomat, Kerry does not use the illegal term “regime change”. He instead talks about “political transition”. And he has set a date in August for this “transition” to take place. But what Kerry’s euphemistic jargon boils down to is this: the Syrian president and his administration must vacate government — or else face more violence and destruction.
This is the political objective that Washington and its allies in NATO, Saudi Arabia and Turkey have wanted all along. They want what is an independent, anti-imperialist Syrian government to give way to some composite regime that would be a puppet for Washington’s geopolitical interests in the oil-rich, strategically vital Middle East region.
Any replacement regime would spurn its erstwhile allies of Russia, Iran and Lebanon’s Hezbollah resistance movement to become an American vassal.
In reality, the supposed pro-democracy change that Washington allegedly wants to install in Syria would be dominated by a repressive, fundamentalist regime that would betray the interests of the Syrian people. We can count on this outcome because the proxies who are waging Washington’s covert war are dominated by extremists fully aligned with their despotic sponsors in Saudi Arabia and Turkey.
Kerry’s apparent confidence in predicting that Syria faces a war of attrition if it does capitulate is a tacit admission by Washington that it controls the illegally armed factions in Syria.
The United States may officially proscribe terror groups like al Qaeda-linked Jabhat al Nusra and the so-called Islamic State (also known as Daesh). The US pays lip service to “defeating terrorism”.
But anyone with an informed understanding of what is really happening in Syria and other countries subjected to US-led regime change knows that Washington has orchestrated these same terror groups for its criminal political objectives.
This is corroborated by the fact that Washington refuses to coordinate its (ineffectual) bombing campaign with Russia to eliminate the terror groups. It is corroborated by the fact that Washington and its allies point-blank refuse Russia’s proposals at the UN Security Council to designate other known terror outfits — Jaysh al-Islam and Ahrar al-Shams — as terrorist.
Jaysh al-Islam and Ahrar al-Shams are every bit as vile and barbaric as the other al Qaeda-affiliated franchises. They all espouse the same twisted death-cult ideology; fight alongside each others (when they are not feuding, that is, over war spoils); and ultimately they all share the same sponsors and American-supplied weaponry.
It is openly admitted that America’s allies Saudi Arabia and Turkey, as well as Qatar, bankroll Jaysh al-Islam and Ahrar al-Shams and that this nexus serves as a conduit for American weapons from the Central Intelligence Agency.
Why else would John Kerry begin his week of “diplomacy” in Vienna by first making an urgent visit to Saudi King Salman last weekend. Kerry was reportedly appealing to the 9/11-sponsoring Saudi regime to support his diplomatic push in Vienna. The Western media “reported” Kerry’s Saudi visit as if it were a benign mission, as they usually do. Whenever it should be obvious that what he was really doing was trying to get the Saudis to ease off on the terror war in Syria.
Washington is currently trying to wrangle regime change in Syria through a political track. That is a world of difference from gullible Western media projections of Kerry’s pretensions of “negotiating peace”.
Yet all the while the US and the Saudis are reserving the right to use “Plan B” if the political track should not materialize in regime change.
That is what Kerry really means when he said in Vienna that “Assad and his backers would never be able to end the war in Syria if they declined to negotiate a political settlement.”
Washington’s “leverage” in Syria is due to the simple, diabolical fact that it and its despotic allies ultimately can turn on and off the violence when it is expedient for their interests. And that violence relies on the deployment of known terrorist organizations, including the ones that Washington’s double-think refuses to recognize as “terrorist”.
So let’s put this into stark perspective. Despite his Orwellian title of diplomat and peace-maker, US Secretary of State John Kerry is the public face of a terrorist enterprise.
What other world power gives itself the right to threaten nations with “regime change or war”? And yet this same nation considers itself a paragon of democracy, human rights and law-abiding probity.
The United States of America is a rogue regime on a criminal scale that exceeds the very worst in history.
As a parting footnote, John Kerry is a decorated American “war hero”. He served four months as a navy officer during the US genocidal war on Vietnam during the late 1960s. Kerry received a bunch of medals for his “actions”, which according to reliable accounts from veterans on his river-boat patrols, involved shooting fleeing Vietnamese peasants in the back.
This is the same Kerry who is now purporting to bring peace to Syria.
Like everything that Washington says, it is full of lies and deception. The abiding lesson: don’t turn your back on Washington and its terrorist-sponsoring, war-mongering “diplomats”.
The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official position of Sputnik.
Featured image: Russia’s PM Dimitri Medvedev
Transcript of the PM interview with Euro News. Emphasis by GR
Isabelle Kumar: Many thanks for being with us on The Global Conversation. The issue of Syria is dominating the international agenda. But we feel we could be reaching the turning point yet it’s unclear which way it is going to go. What do you think?
Dmitri Medvedev: You know, as I was heading to this conference, I had a feeling that the situation in this area is very complex and challenging because we have yet to come to an agreement with our colleagues and partners on key issues, including the creation of a possible coalition and military cooperation.
All interactions in this respect have been episodic so far. That said, I note that here, in Munich, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov met with Secretary of State John Kerry, and other colleagues acting in various capacities later joined them. They agreed on what should be done in the short run. For this reason, I’m cautiously optimistic about the prospects for cooperation on this issue. Let me emphasise that this cooperation is critical, because unless we come together on this issue, there will be no end to the war in Syria, people will keep dying, the massive influx of refugees to Europe will continue, and Europe will have to deal with major challenges. Most importantly, we will be unable to overcome terrorism, which is a threat to the entire modern civilisation.
Isabelle Kumar: What precise military actions and other, in that case, is Russia prepared to take to help in this de-escalation of the conflict in Syria?
Dmitri Medvedev: Let me remind you the reasons behind Russia’s involvement in Syria. The first reason that compelled Russia to take part in this campaign is the protection of national interests. There are many fighters in Syria who can go to Russia at any time and commit terrorist attacks there. There are thousands of them in Syria.
Second, there is a legal foundation in the form of the request by President al-Assad. We will therefore take these two factors into account in our military decisions and, obviously, the developments in the situation. What matters most at this point is to agree on launching the talks between all the parties to the Syrian conflict. Another important thing is to coordinate a list of terrorist groups, since this issue has been a matter of endless debates on who’s good and who’s bad. This is the first point I wanted to make.
My second point is the following. I learned that Secretary of State John Kerry said that if Russia and Iran do not help, the US will be ready to join other countries in carrying out a ground operation. These are futile words, he should not have said that for a simple reason: if all he wants is a protracted war, he can carry out ground operations and anything else. But don’t try to frighten anyone. Agreements should be reached along the same lines as Mr Kerry’s conversations with Mr Lavrov, instead of saying that if something goes wrong, other Arab countries and the US will carry out a ground operation.
I’ve answered this question only recently. But let me reiterate that no one is interested in a new war, and a ground operation is a full-fledged, long war. We must bear this in mind.
“We want sound, advanced relations both with the United States and the European Union”
Isabelle Kumar: Clearly, one of the key issues is the future of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Will Russia continue to support him at this crucial moment in time?
Dmitri Medvedev: Russia does not support President al-Assad personally, but maintains friendly relations with Syria as a country. These ties were built not under Bashar al-Assad, but back when his father, Hafez al-Assad, became president. This is my first point in this respect.
Second, we have never said that this is the main issue for us in this process. We simply believe that there is currently no other legitimate authority in Syria apart from Bashar al-Assad. He is the incumbent president, whether anyone likes it or not. Taking him out of this equation would lead to chaos. We have seen that on numerous occasions in the Middle East, when countries simply fell apart, as it happened with Libya, for example.
It is for that reason that he should take part in all the procedures and processes, but it should be up to the Syrian people to decide his destiny.
Isabelle Kumar: Are you therefore already working on ideas of political transition now in Syria?
Dmitri Medvedev: I don’t think that we should go into too much detail on these issues. I’m talking about Russia, the European Union and the United States. We should focus on facilitating the launch of this process. We must make sure that everyone sits down at the negotiating table, in fact, make them talk to each other. Let’s be honest and recognise that it will be anything but simple given the parties involved. On one side, you have President al-Assad, supported by a part of society and the military, and, on the other side, the other part of society, often representing different confessions, people who don’t like al-Assad but have to sit with him at the same negotiating table. Nevertheless, they need to come to an agreement for the sake of keeping Syria united.
Isabelle Kumar: I’d like now to switch focus and look at the conflict in Ukraine. We talk of the frozen conflict there with, it appears, renewed fighting in the east. What can Russia do to bring about the thaw in that conflict, to bring an end to this conflict?
Dmitri Medvedev: Well, understandably, the answer here is somewhat easier than in Syria’s case. It is not just because this conflict is not as brutal, but because there is a clear understanding of how to move forward – by implementing the Minsk Agreements.
They should be implemented fully and in their entirety by all the parties. In fact, Russia calls on all the parties to do so, both those in power in the southeast, and the Kiev authorities. It is not a matter of Russia having some disagreements with Kiev or mutual dislike.
It would be fair to say that most of the provisions that were the responsibility of southeast Ukraine have been fulfilled. Most importantly, hostilities have ceased almost completely. Unfortunately, some action takes place from time to time, but not often. Finding political and legal solutions in keeping with the Minsk Agreements has now become vital. Whose responsibility is it? Of course, it is Ukraine’s responsibility. If Ukraine regards the southeast as part of its territory, it is within the jurisdiction, competence and authority of the President, Parliament and Government of Ukraine.
Isabelle Kumar: If you meet President Poroshenko here, at the Munich security conference, what will you say to him?
Dmitri Medvedev: I haven’t seen him and, to be honest, I haven’t missed him. President Poroshenko is in contact with President Putin. There is no doubt that the main thing my colleagues should undertake is to do everything it takes to implement the Minsk Agreements. It would benefit them, as well as the Ukrainian state, which, no matter what anyone says, is a close, neighbouring country for Russia.
Isabelle Kumar: Obviously, one of the major sticking points in this, for Ukraine, but also for the international community, is Crimea. Is the future of Crimea up for negotiation?
Dmitri Medvedev: No, there is no such issue for Russia. This issue was settled once and for all. Crimea is part of Russia. A referendum was held there, we amended the constitution. The Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol are part of the Russian Federation.
Russia’s relations with the world
Isabelle Kumar: So the conflict in Syria, the situation in Ukraine has contributed to a real degradation of relations with Russia, with the EU and the US. Do you think a reset is possible?
Dmitri Medvedev: The question is how and for whose sake. If something is to be reset, it should be done on a fundamentally different basis. What kind of basis? Equitable, fair, solid basis for relations, considering that Russia is not the only nation that needs this – the European Union and the United States need it as well. We want sound, advanced relations both with the United States and the European Union.
The European Union is our most important trade partner, a group of countries located on the same continent as us, so we are bound by our shared European identity, history and values. These continuing tensions aren’t doing us any good. But if we are told that they no longer want us around, of course, the first steps towards reconciliation should be taken by those who initiated the alienation. As for us, we are ready to discuss any issues.
Isabelle Kumar: Well, one of the repercussions of the souring of relations has been the sanctions that have been imposed on Russia, which are hitting hard. How much of a priority is it for your government to get those sanctions lifted?
Dmitri Medvedev: They told us we were the bad guys and had to be punished. And then they made some calculations and began to weep: it turns out that for some reason it was hitting their own business.
We had a trade turnover with the European Union at 450 billion euros. It was 450 billion! Now it is down to 217 billion euros. Why don’t they ask the people in the EU who are employed by the various companies that used to make products for Russia – how do they like all of this?
Again, we are not the ones who started this, so it is not up to us to undo it. They have always been trying to intimidate us with some sanctions, which were introduced even in the Soviet period, many times. It never brought them anything but lost profits. What is happening now is no different. They will have to have the courage to say, guys, we’ll just scrap all this from day X, and could you please reciprocate by lifting your response measures as well. That would be the right approach.
Isabelle Kumar: So how are ordinary Russians feeling this economic crisis? Because the sanctions are contributing towards this, the falling oil prices are also contributing to this. What’s it like for ordinary Russians?
Dmitri Medvedev: Indeed, we aren’t in the best economic situation right now, with the dramatic fall in oil prices probably contributing the most to the overall state of the economy, to the decline in revenues. This is something we haven’t seen for 17 years. The current prices are comparable to those in 1998. Unfortunately, our budget remains very dependent on oil prices. Although the structure of revenues has been improving, in terms of the share of oil and other sources, but yes, it remains commodity-dependent to a great extent. This could not but affect the incomes and the general standing of our people with their jobs and their real incomes.
The sanctions have had some effect as well. This is obvious, since some of our companies, for example, lost the financing they used to have from European banks, which means they cannot grow, some of them anyway. Therefore, in this sense, the economic situation is not the easiest. But there is also a positive effect. The economy is healing, it is becoming less dependent on oil, and we have an opportunity to develop our own industry and agriculture.
Perhaps one of the advantages of these sanctions and our response measures is that we started concentrating harder on domestic agriculture, so, to a large extent, we are now satisfying our demand for food, while wheat, for example, is now exported in large quantities. In this sense, the sanctions have helped. But they probably didn’t help farmers in the European Union.
Isabelle Kumar: I was asking about the ordinary Russians and how this was affecting them. And we hear of possible social unrest as their lives become more and more difficult in Russia. Is that something you are concerned about?
Dmitri Medvedev: Of course, the government must first of all think about the social impact of economic changes and the economic situation. Frankly, we have been compelled to cut budget spending in many areas, but we never touched social spending, or the public sector wages and benefits.
Moreover, we even indexed pensions last year, and this year, too, maybe not completely, but we did. We will try to continue doing this in the future. That is, the government’s social spending is large, but it is inviolable. In this sense, we will try to do everything towards Russian citizens’ social wellbeing, to keep them as comfortable as possible under these conditions. It is truly a priority for the government.
Russia’s human rights record
Isabelle Kumar: If we take an international perspective once again, a black mark on Russia’s reputation is the issue of human rights and freedom of speech, which Russia seems to continually backslide on. Why is that?
Dmitri Medvedev: To be frank, we’ve always differed in our views on the situation with the freedom of expression and the media in Russia. We’ve often been criticised and we are still coming under criticism. We have our own position on the issue. Perhaps in Russia, the media are somewhat different, for example, from the European media.
There are historical differences and there are growth issues. I rarely watch TV or read newspapers in print and I receive virtually all of my information from the Internet. And over half of Russia’s population does the same. As you know, on the Internet, there is no regulation in this sense. All points of view are represented there, including, to put it bluntly, even extremist ones. So I believe it’s not serious to think that some people have no access to different kinds of information in today’s global world.
Isabelle Kumar: Yes, but also it seems that dissidents are silenced. In Britain, as you know, there has been – the results of the inquiry into the murder of Alexander Litvinenko, which the inquiry said – it pointed the finger at President Vladimir Putin, saying that it was likely that he ordered that murder. Will you be pursuing the British Government on this? There was talk of you suing the British Government over this inquiry.
Dmitri Medvedev: You’ve mentioned some report by some retired judge, in which practically every paragraph and each section opens with the word “probably”. What is there to comment on? What is regrettable about this whole story is that the British Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary comment on a report that abounds in words like “probably”.
This is reminiscent of a witch-hunt. When all is said and done, let it be on the conscience of the commentators. As for any legal action, this is simply ridiculous. We don’t need this and the Russian Federation will never sue any country over some foolish fabrications or funny films.
Isabelle Kumar: Finally, Mr Prime Minister, you’ve held the post of prime minister and also held the presidency, so you’ve got an overview, a full perspective of the issues we’ve been talking about, but if I were to ask you about one of the highlights of the your time in power, could you say what that’s been?
Dmitri Medvedev: Well, there’ve been plenty. Both these posts are very serious and challenging. These eight years of my life – and it has been almost eight years – you know, it’s this constant drive. As for events, there have been plenty, both in Russia – very good ones for me personally, notable, major, and sometime tragic events, like the ones we’ve been talking about now, and international events.
After all, we have not only argued and quarrelled. We’ve also accomplished a thing or two. For example, at some point we agreed on a New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty. That was not bad at all. The document was signed. It is in force. It is being implemented and therefore we can work together and agree on different things. There have been contacts with my colleagues, including here in Germany, as well as in other European countries. We have dealt with a lot of issues. All of this is remarkable and exciting. Maybe one day I’ll talk about this in detail. For the time being I continue working and this work is interesting.
Prime Minister, many thanks for joining us.