MIL OSI Translation. Region: Russian Federation –
Question: Dmitry Anatolyevich, today we are talking about Angela Merkel, about the sixteen years of her chancellorship as the leader of Germany, chancellor of the FRG. You have met her in person on several occasions. How would you describe your impressions of meeting her?
Dmitry Medvedev: I met Angela Merkel in 2006, that is, 15 years ago. I was then the first deputy prime minister of the Government and came to Hannover for the fair. And she was there already as chancellor, and, in fact, for her, it was also the beginning of a career. As I remember now, in some corridors they let me down, they said that this is Mr. Medvedev, and this is the new Federal Chancellor. We sat down on the sofa, as is usually the case at such events, and began to talk.
The conversation was completely simple. What immediately caught my eye was that she directly asked questions, without any excessive importance or, on the contrary, emotionality. Frankly, simply, based on the current state of Russian-German relations at that time. We talked with her for some time, from which I made one main conclusion, which I have not questioned until now: Angela Merkel is a pragmatic person, very practical, reasonable, with very good training. This, by the way, is extremely important for a leader of this magnitude, since she is still a doctor of natural science, she is a scientist, and it seems to me that this has never spoiled her life, but, on the contrary, helped to make very difficult decisions in different situations.
Question: So this is her main character trait – pragmatism?
Dmitry Medvedev: I think so. If I tried to describe it in one word – yes, pragmatism, rationality. It seems to me that this is generally a good trait for a politician.
Question: Generally speaking, has it been a good partner for Russia or is it still difficult, and sometimes, perhaps, even tough over these 16 years?
Dmitry Medvedev: I proceed from the assumption that any head of state defends national interests, so there are no good partners and bad partners. And Angela Merkel has always done just that. In some situations, our positions converged, in others they sharply diverged. When these positions were complementary to each other, it was naturally easier to communicate. When these positions diverged greatly, naturally, it was more difficult to communicate. In this sense, the dialogue was difficult, everything happened. But she is a German leader, and that says it all.
Question: Tough negotiator?
Dmitry Medvedev: You know, she has a good, in my opinion, trait for a negotiator and a politician in general. First, she knows how to listen. Secondly, she knows how to restrain herself. I remember that at one of our meetings, after difficult events related to Ukraine and the introduction of various sanctions against Russia, we met with her and discussed the overall situation. I, naturally, as the head of the Government of our country, already then, explained our position to her. She looked at me like that and said: “Listen, several times I wanted to say something, to interrupt you, but I didn’t.” It seems to me that this characterizes her in the best way, because when a person begins to get excited, begins to prove his point of view with iron, impenetrable directness, stubbornness, this certainly does not contribute to reaching some kind of compromise, reaching mutual understanding. And even more so, a leader of this rank, in principle, should not do this. So in this sense, it was always comfortable to communicate with her, even if we occupied different positions.
Question: Many have the impression that Angela Merkel had a special attitude towards Russia, towards Vladimir Putin. She speaks Russian, he speaks German. Did you feel a special attitude towards you?
Dmitry Medvedev: I would separate here, as they say, personal “chemistry” and interstate relations. In terms of interstate relations, as I said, Angela Merkel was, is and remains the Chancellor of Germany, and that says it all. There is no special relationship here, and rightly so. She cannot say: “Actually, I love you all very much, and therefore I will take such and such a position.” Or: “I am sympathetic to such and such a country, and therefore I will take this position. And this country is unsympathetic to me, so I will pursue a different line. ” No. She has always held a pro-German position, taking into account allied obligations – naturally, both a pro-NATO position and a position reflecting the consolidated opinion of the European Union.
As for the personal aspect, what is commonly called chemistry – “chemistry”, or mutual understanding in Russian, in some ways, indeed, many things were easier to discuss with her, because she is better oriented in realities. She knew the Soviet Union well, she, as you know, traveled around the Soviet Union, she grew up in the GDR, she perfectly knows the orders of that time, she characterizes them in her own way, she has a lot of memories. She understands Russian, Russian, and therefore we always spoke with her in such a mixture of languages, especially when we were left without translators. She tried to speak Russian, I naturally encouraged this in every possible way. Like any person, after a few hours she talked and remembered some constructions. From time to time we switched to English. And at some point, when I sat for a long time at the Russian-German negotiations, she looked at me so suspiciously and said: “I have a feeling that you have begun to understand German speech.” I say: “So understandably so! It’s still a Romano-Germanic group, and after a while you start to immerse yourself in the context. “
So, in this sense, it was in some way really, perhaps, simpler, but we are talking about some everyday moments that, no doubt, are reflected in the negotiations. It is impossible to exclude this from the context. This does not mean that this somehow predetermines their results – no, of course, but it makes communication easier.
Question: You said several times that you spoke to you, I now understood from your answers. How would you characterize your personal relationship with her during your presidency, from 2008 to 2012? And the relationship between Russia and Germany?
Dmitry Medvedev: In general, politicians of the same level, at least European ones – I mean Russia, of course, too – who did not go over to you, these are, in my opinion, politicians who lack mutual understanding. This has happened to me, but still, in most cases, it is customary to switch to you with the main partners. This is what I did, and President Putin always does, and other colleagues. Therefore, in this sense, there was no exception either; we quickly switched to such a communication system.
We had a lot of discussions, I met with her a large number of times both in Russia and in Germany. There were different periods, different episodes. There were conversations, very specific negotiations, with the conclusion of agreements, meetings with the business world, holding various formats that are traditional. But there were even such, if you want to know, general philosophical conversations. For example, once it was very interesting for me to listen to her version of the development of the European Union with a reference to the words of Helmut Kohl, to what was happening. It was at Meseberg. We talked for a long time, probably about two hours, on these topics. It was very important for me, it was interesting, because, naturally, I began to understand her better, and to some extent began to understand the patterns of development of the European Union better. Naturally, I also tried to explain to her some of our challenges, our problems facing Russia. It seems to me that it was also useful to her.
Question: At this time – from 2008 to 2012, during the period when you were the President of Russia – an armed conflict over Georgia took place. Russia in this conflict supported the movement for the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Can this be called the beginning of a chill in relations between the West and Russia?
Dmitry Medvedev: No, it is impossible simply because the conditionally collective West, Germany and, in my opinion, at that time the Federal Chancellor of Germany Angela Merkel showed a sufficient reserve of wisdom in order not to destroy relations with Russia. I remember very well how Angela Merkel came to me in Bocharov Ruchei in Sochi on August 15, 2008, literally immediately after the end of these events, following Nicolas Sarkozy. We had a discussion with her, some words, in my opinion, were very general, then we had a discussion of the general situation, and then we went out with her for a walk by the sea. As I remember now, against the background of flowering shrubs – in my opinion, they were roses or something else – she says to me: “You know, I was generally told that it’s better not to say anything next to you, and maybe not even to shake your hand during the meeting. ” I say: “Well, then you violated what you were told, these very recommendations.”
In this, by the way, her character is also manifested: she was advised something, but she still acted in her own way, and, in my opinion, absolutely right. Because ultimately, despite this very difficult episode in the development of our relations, and even more so our country, we did not break off contacts then. On the contrary, we explained ourselves, each stayed with his own, but at the same time we kept the general level of mutual understanding, which had developed by that time. Our assessments, of course, diverged, although, as I remember, both she and the President of France understood perfectly well that we were not the initiators of all these events, that it was really about an attack by the Georgian leadership, or rather, about the decision taken by the former by the Georgian president, an adventure that he embarked on in consultation with the Americans, most likely in July and early August 2008, for which he was punished.
But events developed further in such a way that I had to make a decision not only on the use of force, on conducting a special military operation, but later on recognizing these two breakaway parts of Georgia, recognizing them as subjects of international law. But even this, in the end, despite the differences in position, did not prevent us from productively discussing a variety of issues over the next years.
Therefore, going back to the beginning, I do not believe that this was the trigger that launched the mechanism of divergence between Russia and the European Union. It is due to the fact that both Germany and other countries of the European Union, with the exception of, perhaps, very small, suffering from phantom pains, the Baltic countries and the eternally Russophobic Poland … So, most of these countries were still able to maintain a course of maintaining relations with Russia within reasonable limits.
Question: Nevertheless, when you left the post of President of the Russian Federation, relations began to deteriorate, to cool down, let’s say. Who do you think is more to blame for the deterioration of relations between Russia and the West?
Dmitry Medvedev: Who is to blame and what to do is an eternal Russian question. I can put it in a simple way, although it will look, perhaps, somewhat straightforward: the Americans are largely to blame. Since if in 2008 we were able to find a compromise between our positions, including the position of the United States of America, then already in the period when the events in Ukraine happened (not in 2012, but in 2014), it is precisely such a tough position of the Americans , which boiled down to pressure at a certain period on European countries, led to the fact that our relations began to deteriorate and ended with the introduction of mutual sanctions. Moreover, the sanctions were first American, then the European Union, which were followed by countermeasures of the Russian Federation. And we entered a spiral of contradictions. Mutual understanding has disappeared from our vocabulary, a partnership to a large extent, which was even in the period of 2008 and which actually helped us to cope with the economic crisis of 2008-2009 together. But ultimately, I believe that our relationship has become hostage to the allies within NATO and the consolidated position of the European Union. In other words, we were not the supporters of their worsening.
Question: Ukraine and the events in Ukraine have become a stumbling block in relations between Russia and the West. Do you think the reason is that the EU wanted closer relations with Ukraine, Ukraine wanted closer relations with the EU, and Russia and, perhaps, Vladimir Putin personally were against this?
Dmitry Medvedev: This is a simplified point of view. The point is this: we have never objected to normal relations with the European Union, we ourselves supported these relations in every possible way and had good relations with the European Union. Until 2014, our trade with the European Union was the most significant. In certain periods, it reached the figure of 430-450 billion dollars a year – I mean the total turnover of exports and imports. These are very significant numbers, you yourself perfectly understand this. And the Ukrainians could fully develop their relations with the European Union, we have never objected to this. It seems to me that Ukraine has simply become a victim of a primitively understood line of carrying out rapid democratic reforms using the technologies of the color revolution.
Let’s go back to 2014. President Yanukovych, who was then not the most popular leader in Ukraine, most likely would have lost the elections that were to be held. If some more Western-oriented leader came, he would have signed all the necessary documents anyway. And Yanukovych, let me remind you, was going to sign at first, then figured that it was unprofitable for Ukraine (which was true in fact), “got it out”. This was used by various forces that objected to such a line, primarily nationalistically oriented forces in Ukraine, and with massive support from various American NGOs and other structures, they, in fact, overthrew President Yanukovych, carrying out what is commonly called a coup d’etat. … There is no other way to name it. He was simply thrown out, and that’s it, without any legal grounds. But this does not mean that we objected to Ukraine having an advanced relationship with the European Union.
I repeat once again: this could most likely have been done, but without any upheavals. Then our relations with the European Union, probably partly and with the United States, would not have deteriorated dramatically in this way. But since they decided to take such actions, this served as the basis for the subsequent development of events.
Question: Russia hoped for closer relations with the European Union, which is more independent from the United States. Do you think this hope has collapsed, disappeared? If so, why?
Dmitry Medvedev: Russia did not hope for this; it had good, advanced relations with the European Union. We all admitted it. And now we believe that this is useful both for us and for the European Union, because we still have very serious trade and economic relations. True, they were blown off twice, naturally, with the loss of income, jobs, and so on. So it’s hard to say who has benefited from this. But I think that, without falling into excessive conspiracy, most likely, our American friends have benefited from this, because, by the way, their trade has suffered to a much lesser extent both with our country and with the European Union.
Therefore, we believe that this would be absolutely normal. But, unfortunately, those ill-considered decisions to support the so-called color revolution led to irreversible changes in Ukraine and, as a result, to the unrest that arose there, to the fact that the position of the inhabitants of Crimea was definitively structured in a certain way, and they spoke in favor of joining to the Russian Federation. This, of course, was a turning point for our relationship.
Question: You yourself have repeatedly mentioned the United States, and for Germany the United States is a very important ally both economically and militarily. But there is also Russia with huge energy resources, and it is much closer than the United States. How do you think Angela Merkel managed to balance between these two poles – the USA and Russia?
Dmitry Medvedev: This is where the wisdom of a politician usually manifests itself – when a politician finds balance and reasonable compromises in relations with the largest, most important partners. We understand the obligations within NATO, we understand the obligations within the European Union. No one has ever attempted this, for us everything is completely clear here. But at the same time, indeed, Russia is a very important partner for both the European Union and Germany. And we have our own very deep historical ties, this cannot be denied in any case.
I will say even more. The Soviet Union once very much helped the Eastern European countries, as they said at the time, “the countries of socialist orientation”, the participants in the Warsaw Pact, CMEA. So what, does anyone remember this kindness now? Remember some investments that were made then, debts that were once created and for which our country paid a lot of costs of Eastern European and other countries? Nobody will ever remember this, they will never say thanks for this.
I am simply saying that, nevertheless, we are still neighbors and it is very important for us to maintain normal trade and economic ties. I admit that if at some point the United States is unable to provide financial and economic assistance or military assistance to one or another European states or some other states, their influence will also weaken to the extent that Russia’s influence weakened at some point. … And no one will thank the same United States of America for what they did before.
In politics, pragmatic interests are always important, current alignments are always important. In this sense, Angela Merkel has always managed, it seems to me, to maintain this balance. But here I will make only one comment. Returning to 2008: if then we managed to find a compromise and the restrained position of the largest European countries – France, Germany, Italy and some others – served as the basis for the fact that our relations did not deteriorate, then in 2014, being in the wake of common European politics and politics The North Atlantic Alliance, large European states still failed to defend their point of view, in my opinion. And in some cases, it may have been their personal position. This led to the fact that we diverged quite significantly.
Question: We draw a conclusion: do I understand correctly that, from your point of view, US interests are the main obstacle to improving relations between Russia and Germany?
Dmitry Medvedev: I think so. The fact is that the United States of America has its own national interests. The United States of America is not a European state. This is the largest economy. Now we do not say who is the largest – they or the Chinese, but nevertheless. It is the largest world player, it has its own interests, including on the European continent. And often the relations of other countries with the European Union become hostages of this position of the United States of America. I have no doubt about that. This is exactly how it is.
Question: Crimea and Donbass have become a decisive moment in relations between Russia and the West. Did you understand that this put Angela Merkel in a difficult position?
Dmitry Medvedev: Yes. Without a doubt, it is clear that these were not the easiest episodes for Angela Merkel and our other European partners, especially since the European Union is not homogeneous. It includes states, as I said, with phantom pains from the presence in the former socialist camp or within the Soviet Union, as the Baltic states, and more independent, larger players. In this regard, it is very difficult to find a consensus.
Whenever I met with our partners in the European Union – and there have been no such meetings since 2014, and this, I think, is bad – all the time my colleagues, and let’s face it, Angela Merkel, too, said: “Understand, we very difficult. We had 27, and then there were 28 participating states, and we need to seek consensus. ” And often this consensus is found even at the expense of sacrificing one’s own national interests, when it is necessary to calm down the raging members of the European Union, who are demanding more and more victims, more and more sanctions. We are calm about this, but we understand that it is difficult.
Question: Together with François Hollande, then President of France, Merkel tried, let’s say, to moderate, to be an intermediary between Russia and Ukraine. Do you think she did it well, did she succeed?
Dmitry Medvedev: She actively tried to do this. Both her and President Hollande can only be thanked for this, because, despite the consolidated line of the European Union and the NATO line, nevertheless, these two largest European states tried to make efforts to calm the situation. The “Normandy format” emerged, the Minsk agreements emerged, which still remain the only basic document on the basis of which the Ukrainian problem can be resolved. Then a lot of efforts were expended, and repeated conversations between Angela Merkel, President Vladimir Putin, often in a trilateral format with the participation of President Hollande, and sometimes with the participation of the President of Ukraine, nevertheless brought certain results, which, unfortunately, ultimately did not into which the more concrete has not degenerated. Still, the result in the form of the Minsk agreements was significant, and here the contribution of Angela Merkel cannot be overestimated.
Question: Even before these events, the “Arab Spring” and its consequences caused more and more conflicts because of the various actions of some Western countries and because of the actions of Russia and Turkey, in particular in Libya and Syria. How did this affect relations between Russia and Germany? Has the Arab Spring worsened or cooled relations?
Dmitry Medvedev: I think that in this case the “Arab Spring” did not worsen or improve our relations, because we looked at many of the processes that took place in both Libya and Syria in the same way. Again, our American partners viewed it somewhat differently. I even remember how in the period when they began to actively press, or to put pressure, in Russian, on the Syrian Arab Republic, I talked to Barack Obama and asked him a simple question: “Well, look, you are now trying to overthrow Assad. Let’s say you overthrew him. You, in the broad sense of the word – the United States or NATO – have achieved that some kind of color revolution has also taken place there, or a military operation has taken place. What’s next? What will happen there? ” His answer then surprised me very much. He says: “You know, we do not really understand what will happen next, we do not think so far.”
This was a very powerful response for me, or a red signal about how deeply certain operations are being worked out by the United States of America, since the results are obvious. In Syria, Assad is still the leader, elections were recently held, he won them very convincingly, the Islamic State * was defeated, including with the support of the Russian Federation. This is one line.
If we talk about Libya, the situation there is completely different. Thanks to certain decisions, the regime there changed, and in a completely bloody way, and Libya fell apart into several parts, and there are still Islamists in a number of these parts, a single full-fledged state is not visible, despite the agreements of this year. Therefore, on such issues, we often had very close positions.
Question: Dmitry Anatolyevich, let’s change the topic a little, let’s talk about gas and energy resources. Germany receives a lot of Russian gas and has developed the Nord Stream project, Nord Stream. Critics say that because of this, the Federal Republic of Germany is very dependent on Russia. How do you think? What do you say to this?
Dmitry Medvedev: In my opinion, it is generally impossible to be completely dependent in trade relations, because trade is always a mutually beneficial business: you are offered something, you have money – you buy if they offer something better or cheaper, you buy elsewhere. Gas is a product that really requires a pipeline system, certain transport and logistics capabilities. Even, let’s say, when supplying LNG (liquefied natural gas. – Ed.), Appropriate tankers are still required to carry it. Therefore, it seems to me that this is always a mutually beneficial story – this was also the case in the Soviet period, when we began to supply gas to Europe, it remains so now, and there is no dependence here. More precisely, the dependence here is mutual: if Germany depends on the supply of Russian gas, then Russia depends on the prices that are formed in the market and on the fact that these volumes are bought, therefore this is a mutually beneficial process.
Another thing is that at some point our interests came into conflict with the interests of the United States of America, which considered that it was much more profitable to supply Europe with its own LNG – that is, liquefied natural gas – and make money on it. Moreover, it is true that the price of this LNG was several times higher than the price of pipeline gas. But nevertheless, the Americans began to reap, naturally, in this situation Ukraine also joined, which was afraid to lose transit payments, and a story arose around Nord Stream 2. In my opinion, it is largely dictated by the commercial interests of the United States of America and their unfair competition in the European market. This was the case under President Trump. Now, it seems to me, the new Biden administration has shown a somewhat better understanding of the situation and has found a compromise at the moment, including with the German government. In this case, even though we do not like some of the wording there and various reservations are made about sanctions, about something else, but this is certainly better than trying to destroy a project that has already taken place and is very important for Europe.
Moreover, I remember how in 2012, together with Angela Merkel, we opened Nord Stream 1, and then no one spoke so loudly that this somehow creates a bondage for the European Union or creates some kind of exclusive opportunities for Russia. It was a completely normal commercial deal and an interesting project, in my opinion, for both parties.
Question: And are you not afraid of the sanctions, which you now call reservations, if Russia obstructs transit through Ukraine?
Dmitry Medvedev: Of course not. What are the concerns here? We have been living in this situation with sanctions since 2014. You, too, are well aware of everything that is happening in our country – has something changed in the grand scheme of things? The spirit of relations has changed, and this is very sad, since we do not meet, do not communicate as before, some deals have been lost, but in general Russia continued its development, in some sectors it even increased its capabilities. Therefore, if someone imposes some kind of sanctions, we will survive these sanctions.
But I think that something else is happening now: it is a ritual dance performed by European politicians, on the one hand, and, on the other hand, by American politicians, in order to acknowledge the fact that Nord Stream 2 has taken place.
Question: To summarize, returning again to sixteen years of Merkel’s chancellorship. She has always advocated a dialogue with Russia, this is absolutely understandable. Do you think she succeeded? Has she done enough to improve relations between Russia and Germany?
Dmitry Medvedev: Angela Merkel did a lot to improve our relations, it is impossible not to admit it. She tried to maintain this dialogue even in the most difficult situations, and it seems to me that this gave results. Even in those cases when our positions were opposite or we discussed some issues, she still actively promoted the thesis that we should communicate. She did it and does it until recently.
Question: Will it be missed in the international arena, in your opinion?
Dmitry Medvedev: Every politician has his own age. I hope, firstly, that Angela Merkel will not completely disappear from the forefront of European and world politics. I do not know her personal plans, but in any case, politicians of this magnitude do not go anywhere – she will still be in demand one way or another. We had a good, constructive relationship, and I can say that Angela Merkel was a good chancellor for the Germans. She was a good chancellor of Germany and was a full-fledged and understandable, predictable partner for the Russian Federation.
Question: Dmitry Anatolyevich, thanks for the interview!
Dmitry Medvedev: Thank you!
EDITOR’S NOTE: This article is a translation. Apologies should the grammar and / or sentence structure not be perfect.