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NEWS  / STATEMENTS ON RUSSIA-GEORGIA CONFLICT - RUSSIA
11.09.2008


Official Statements on Russia-Georgia Conflict
Dmitry Medvedev, Vladimir Putin, and Vitaly Churkin
also Nicholas Sarkozy, Eduard Kokoity, Sergei Bagapsh

See Also: Official Statements by American PoliticiansOfficial statements by Saakashvilli and Gorbachev

Vitaly Churkin, Russian Ambassador to the UN, on the Conflict
August 12, 2008

Vitaly Churkin recently appeared on the Charlie Rose Show on PBS. He delineates the Russian position on the conflict - including why Russia stayed in Georgia even after the cease-fire.

Click here to watch the show.

Churkin also appeared on NewsHour (another PBS series) where Richard Holbrooke, and Dmitri Simes were also featured.

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Official Statement of President Medvedev upon Invading South Ossetia
August 8, 2008

PRESIDENT MEDVEDEV: As you know, Russia has maintained and continues to maintain a presence on Georgian territory on an absolutely lawful basis, carrying out its peacekeeping mission in accordance with the agreements concluded. We have always considered maintaining the peace to be our paramount task. Russia has historically been a guarantor for the security of the peoples of the Caucasus, and this remains true today.

Last night, Georgian troops committed what amounts to an act of aggression against Russian peacekeepers and the civilian population in South Ossetia. What took place is a gross violation of international law and of the mandates that the international community gave Russia as a partner in the peace process.

Georgia’s acts have caused loss of life, including among Russian peacekeepers. The situation reached the point where Georgian peacekeepers opened fire on the Russian peacekeepers with whom they are supposed to work together to carry out their mission of maintaining peace in this region. Civilians, women, children and old people, are dying today in South Ossetia, and the majority of them are citizens of the Russian Federation.

In accordance with the Constitution and the federal laws, as President of the Russian Federation it is my duty to protect the lives and dignity of Russian citizens wherever they may be.

It is these circumstances that dictate the steps we will take now. We will not allow the deaths of our fellow citizens to go unpunished. The perpetrators will receive the punishment they deserve. 

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Press Statement Following Negotiated Truce - Medvedev and Sarkozy
August 12, 2008
(as reported by the Kremlin)

PRESIDENT OF RUSSIA DMITRY MEDVEDEV: Dear Gentlemen!

We recently finished our conversation with French President Nicolas Sarkozy. For obvious reasons it was devoted to one topic, the tragic events in South Ossetia. We have also been intensively exchanging information with the President over the past two days.

Before I talk about the results that we achieved today, I would like to emphasize that our meeting is taking place within a new status quo. As you know, in connection with the success of our peace enforcement operation today I ordered its end. And we are grateful to our partner, my colleague Nicolas Sarkozy, because he immediately joined the search for solutions to this problem.

Now the actual results that we achieved. I will read out certain principles, then my colleague will do so in French.

President of the Russian Federation Dmitry Medvedev and President of the Republic of France Nicolas Sarkozy support the following principles in resolving the conflicts and call on all parties concerned to adhere to these principles. They are six.

One. Do not resort to the use of force.

Two. The absolute cessation of all hostilities.

Three. Free access to humanitarian assistance.

Four. The Armed Forces of Georgia must withdraw to their permanent positions.

Five. The Armed Forces of the Russian Federation must withdraw to the line where they were stationed prior to the beginning of hostilities. Prior to the establishment of international mechanisms the Russian peacekeeping forces will take additional security measures.

Six. An international debate on the future status of South Ossetia and Abkhazia and ways to ensure their lasting security will take place.

I think that these are good principles to resolve this problem and to go beyond the dramatic situation that arose. And these principles may be implemented both by Georgia and South Ossetia.

The French President intends to travel to Tbilisi from Moscow to bring these principles to the Georgian side. If the Georgian side is truly ready to sign them, really does withdraw its troops to their initial positions, and fulfills these principles then the process to normalizing the situation in South Ossetia will have begun.

PRESIDENT OF FRANCE NICHOLAS SARKOZY (as translated from Russian): Mr President,

I am very pleased with the several hours of discussion we had the day before yesterday, yesterday and today. What you announced just now – the cessation of hostilities - is good news for all who are committed to peace. Furthermore, we have had very free and frank discussions on this situation that has caused so much suffering and trauma on all sides.

The document President Medvedev presented sets out the conclusions of these many hours of talks between Russia and France, which was represented by Bernard Kouchner and myself.

The first principle is not to resort to force. Of course, our discussions did not resolve every single point. We tried to draft a brief document that opens the road to an agreement.

The second principle is complete cessation of hostilities. At the moment we are still talking about a temporary ceasefire. This ceasefire could become permanent if Bernard Kouchner and I convince Georgia to sign this document today.

Third – ensuring free access to humanitarian aid. You know that there are many refugees there now and they need help.

Fourth – the withdrawal of Georgian Armed Forces to their permanent bases.

Fifth – Russia’s Armed Forces will withdraw to the line where they were stationed prior to the start of hostilities. Until such time as international mechanisms are established the Russian peacekeeping forces (the Russian Armed Forces present in South Ossetia under OSCE mandate) will take additional security measures.

We will discuss with President of Georgia Mikhail Saakashvili the measures to be taken until confidence between Ossetians, Abkhazians and Georgians can be restored.

Finally, sixth – international discussion will begin on the future status of South Ossetia and Abkhazia and ways to ensure their lasting security.

I remind you that the situation in these regions has been the subject of numerous discussions in the Security Council since 1992. Judging by the crisis we face today, attempts to find a definitive solution to the problem have failed so far.

I want to say in the presence of President of Russia Dmitry Medvedev that we see Russia’s desire to guarantee and respect Georgia’s sovereignty. He can confirm this himself. There is no ambiguity in our position here. This is a very important point.

We will leave for Tbilisi now to continue the discussions. Tomorrow, Bernard Kouchner will meet with the foreign ministers of the EU member states to report on our mission. I want to add that before coming here today to meet with the Russian President, I spoke late yesterday evening with Angela Merkel, and the Chancellor and I are in full agreement in our views. I also spoke with Silvio Berlusconi and I met with members of Gordon Brown and Prime Minister Zapatero’s staffs. I was able to speak with the Presidents of Poland and Ukraine, with whom I will meet in Tbilisi, as they are there at the moment.

This result is the outcome of our lengthy discussion. You could say that we have not achieved peace, but we have achieved a temporary ceasefire. Of course, there is still much work to be done, and I hope that we will obtain positive results.

QUESTION: I have a question for the Russian President.

Why has the ceasefire been announced only today when Saakashvili, if I recall correctly, announced two days ago that Georgia was ready to agree to a ceasefire? What are Russia’s conditions for a cessation of hostilities?

And a question for the French President: All the Georgian President’s statements over these last few days, including his announcement of the start of military operations, were made with the European Union flag in the background, though Georgia is not a member of the European Union. What is your explanation for this?

DMITRY MEDVEDEV: Why only today? I already answered this question today, but I can do so again now. The fact of the matter is that a reinforced Russian peacekeeping contingent carried out an operation to enforce peace on the Georgian leadership. This operation has been successful, and we are therefore ending it.

Today was the right moment to end this operation, and not yesterday or tomorrow. We have therefore declared a temporary ceasefire until a full solution to the problem can be achieved in accordance with the principles that we just named. Most important of all is that we achieved our set objectives.

What were these objectives? First, we protected Russian Federation citizens living in South Ossetia. Second, we restored the status quo and defended law and order in accordance with the international agreements signed in 1992 and subsequent years, upon which conflict resolution efforts in this region have been based. In other words, we have acted in full accordance with our peacekeepers’ mandate, expanding it only as much as these regrettable circumstances required.

As for the Georgian President’s statements that Georgia has been observing a ceasefire for two days now, this is lies. Georgian forces have been shooting at peacekeepers. There were deaths yesterday too, unfortunately. The Georgian forces have been firing artillery and guns and have therefore not been observing any ceasefire.

You know that there are some people who, unlike normal people, once they’ve smelt blood it is very hard to stop them. You have no choice then but to turn to surgical methods. But today, we have ensured the conditions required for carrying out our mission and this opens the road for us to be able to come back to the main issue - that of peace based on the principles that my colleague, the President, and I have just announced.

NICHOLAS SARKOZY: I can confirm that Georgia is not a member of the EU, but I cannot prohibit a head of state from displaying the EU flag.

DMITRY MEDVEDEV: The main thing is that Europe not be discredited.

QUESTION: Mr Sarkozy, why is the principle of Georgia’s territorial integrity not among the principles announced? Does this mean that this principle is no longer important in your eyes?

Mr Medvedev, do you recognise Georgia’s territorial integrity? Is it conceivable to you that Ossetians will remain a part of Georgia? Is this possible?

NICHOLAS SARKOZY: We need to find a way out of the crisis, and to find a way out of the crisis the parties to the conflict need to end their hostilities. We are faced with an emergency situation and it is not our objective right now to resolve all the problems. I note that the Ossetia and Abkhazia issues and the problems in the Caucasus region overall have been the subject of numerous resolutions. Georgia is an independent and sovereign state and I think this formula, the principle of sovereignty, is broader than the formula of territorial integrity.

I add that before the crisis international forces acting under an international mandate were stationed in both of these territories. I did not decide this and nor did I challenge it. If peacekeepers were present on these two territories it meant that there were problems there that had to be settled. There were problems that have become more serious over these last days but that existed before too. If there not been any problems there would have been no need to station international peacekeeping forces in these regions even before.

There are two options: we can try to resolve all the issues now and end up achieving no result at all, or we can try to restore peace and attempt through dialogue to find a long-term solution, which is what we have tried to do. You know that there are two terms, ‘sovereignty’ and ‘independence’, and I have used precisely these two words because it is they that are important. If you want to be a mediator, you need to bring parties with different positions closer together. This is how I see my role as President of my country and President of the European Council.

I realize that many people have their own ideas on how to resolve this problem, but these definitive proposals all run up against the problem of refugees from Georgia and Russian-speaking refugees. We cannot resolve this problem today. Who can possibly hope to solve all these problems today? What we need to do is end the suffering and the deaths of people. And we have agreed on the respect of sovereignty.

Georgia is an independent country. Russia – as President Medvedev has confirmed – has no intention of remaining in Georgia. This is why I used precisely these terms.

You know this subject well, of course. Numerous other issues will come up later. We all realise this. This document with its six points cannot answer all the questions, of course, and it does not provide a final solution to the problem because there are other parties to the conflict. We cannot examine all of these issues right now in the heat of the moment. We propose opening an international discussion and we need to ensure that these discussions really do take place.

I am giving you as frank a reply as possible and this really is what I think. For my part, I am willing to consider every option and my only aim is to encourage people into dialogue and mutual understanding in a region where the situation is very complex and has been so for a long time now, being a region where all these different peoples live together. We are therefore trying to ease the situation and restore peace. That is what I wanted to say.

Believe me, I am willing to consider every option. But I want things to be transparent and clear. This is not a case of my not having sufficient courage. (As an aside I’d just like to say too that we should not make a cult of courage. It is a lot easier to write an editorial than to get people in a state of war to come closer together. I’m not trying to say anything unpleasant to you, this is just something I wanted to add).

DMITRY MEDVEDEV: What is sovereignty? It is the supremacy of central government. Does Russia recognise Georgia’s sovereignty? Without any doubt it does, just as it recognises the Georgian government’s independence from any other governments. But this does not mean that a sovereign state has the right to do whatever it pleases. Even sovereign states have to answer for their actions.

Regarding the issue of territorial integrity, this is a separate concept. Sovereignty is based on the people’s will and on the constitution, but territorial integrity is generally a reflection of the real state of affairs. On paper everything can look fine but the reality is far more complex.

Territorial integrity is a very complicated issue that cannot be decided at demonstrations or even in parliament and at meetings of leaders. It is decided by people’s desire to live in one country.

You were right in asking if the Ossetians and Abkhazians can and want to live within Georgia. This is a question for them to ask of themselves and it is they who will give their own clear answer. It is not for Russia or any other country to answer this question for them. This is something that must take place in strict accordance with international law. Though, over these last years international law has given us numerous very complicated cases of peoples exercising their right to self-determination and the emergence of new states on the map. Just look at the example of Kosovo.

This is therefore a question that the Ossetians and Abkhazians must answer themselves, based on their history and taking into account everything that has happened over these last few days.

QUESTION: I have a question for both presidents.

Do you think there was any possibility for Russia to react differently to Georgia’s aggression in South Ossetia? Did you raise the issue of ethnic cleansing at all during your talks?

DMITRY MEDVEDEV: If there had been any possibility for Russia to make a different response to Georgian aggression against South Ossetia we would have done so. There was no other option. Faced with the killing of several thousand citizens the state had to take the appropriate course of action. When international law is violated the state and the entire international community must take the appropriate action and not make the kind of half-hearted response that is regrettably common in the world today. There was no other option open to us and the developments over these last five days show that our course of action was the most effective and consistent. If we had not made this response the number of deaths would have been very much higher.

As far as ethnic cleansing is concerned, this is a problem of course, and we were very firm in raising this issue and will pursue it with those responsible for these acts. Some of our partners for some reason ask us not to raise this issue, including in confidential conversations. Perhaps they are embarrassed. Under international law these acts are deemed a crime, just as the murder of thousands of citizens is called ‘genocide’. There can be no other name for these acts.

Moreover, as we have already said, it is a very strange situation when one person who murders thousands of people is called a terrorist and scoundrel, while another is the lawfully elected president of a sovereign state. International law should not permit the use of double standards, and this is a principle we should uphold in political practice.

NICHOLAS SARKOZY: You can see that the wounds are still fresh and have not had time to hear, and every question on either side gives vent to suffering.

France thinks that war is never a good solution. France maintains this position with regard to Georgia (they did take certain initiatives, as you know), and France also said to Russia that war is not the right solution. At President Medvedev’s request, in order to see that people really are suffering on both sides, I asked [Foreign] Minister Kouchner to visit Tbilisi and to go to North Ossetia to see the refugees from South Ossetia. The day before yesterday, President Medvedev asked me to get the French foreign minister to visit both sides in order to see the real picture of events.

As far as ethnic cleansing and genocide are concerned, there are international courts, the International Court of Justice. If one party to the conflict wishes to bring charges against perpetrators in these courts, this is its right, and it is for this purpose that these courts exist. But for this to happen investigations need to start and an attempt be made to establish the facts. Each party must answer for its own acts. I cannot reproach a country for wanting to resolve problems using these means. The international laws and the International Court of Justice were established precisely for this purpose.

QUESTION: Mr Sarkozy, will you convoke the European Council to study this affair? What do you think about the fact that Eastern European countries and the Baltic states have taken Saakashvili’s side? What do you think about the idea of having European peacekeepers accompany the Russian peacekeeping contingent deployed in Abkhazia and South Ossetia? Would you agree to have European peacekeepers complement the Russian peacekeeping force?

NICHOLAS SARKOZY: It is too early yet to talk about convoking a summit meeting of the European Council, which I think is what your question is referring to.

I have not yet presented the results of our talks to the Georgian leadership. As President of the European Council I am concerned about maintaining unity in Europe. Each country has its own position and takes a more or less active stand depending on its history, and it is not easy to achieve consensus among all the EU members, but I think that the French initiative will receive all the members’ support.

I cannot reproach the Poles and reproach the Polish President for his initiatives or the foreign minister for going there. You know that other leaders have also gone there. You know the situation. I intend to support and maintain European unity.

Let us see how the meeting of EU foreign ministers goes tomorrow and how the meeting with the Georgian leadership goes. We will look at the outcome of these meetings and will have the time to decide whether or not we need to convoke a meeting of the European Council.

I do not want to hurry with calling such a meeting. I know that we need to go to the region itself, as Mr Kouchner has done. We need to discuss all the issues with the Russian authorities, as I have done today, and with the Georgian authorities.

Could Europe be part of a peacekeeping force? Europe is ready to do this, of course. This conflict is taking place on Europe’s borders. The question of relations between Russia and Europe is a strategic issue in that we seek good relations with Russia. Moreover, we want to strengthen the relations between Europe and Russia. Naturally we are willing to consider the possibility of our forces taking part if this is something the different parties desire.

DMITRY MEDVEDEV: I would just like to add a couple of words on this subject.

The stability of the world order rests on the system of international law. The better we fix this in our minds the easier it will be to live and the fewer problems we will have.

The international agreements that served as the basis for peacekeepers’ work were drafted in 1992 and reinforced by subsequent international agreements and they remain in effect today. Our peacekeepers are carrying out their mission and will continue to do so because they are a key factor in ensuring security in the Caucasus. This was the case and it will remaine so.

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Meeting of Presidents Dmitry Medvedev (Russia), Eduard Kokoity (South Ossetia), and Sergei Bagapsh (Abkhazia)
August 14, 2008

PRESIDENT OF RUSSIA DMITRY MEDVEDEV: Dear colleagues!

A tragedy has claimed the lives of many people from the civilian population of South Ossetia and the Russian peacekeeping forces. I would like, dear colleagues, for you to first and foremost express our sincere condolences to all those who suffered and who have been affected by this barbaric aggression.

You defended your land and justice was on your side. That is why you won, with the assistance of Russian peacekeepers, a reinforced peacekeeping contingent. I think that this is an appropriate outcome. Today, we need to restore peace and not to let your grief result in hostility, and at the same time to construct a solid barrier to prevent possible future aggression.

You know that recently the President of France and I agreed on certain principles governing a settlement.

They have been declared and later publicly endorsed by Georgia, though with certain adjustments to paragraph six concerning the beginning of an international debate on ensuring the lasting security of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. But the principles themselves, important as they are, are not everything. We need to prepare a completely final, binding treaty abjuring the use of force, which must be signed by the parties to the conflict and guaranteed by Russia, the EU, the OSCE, and perhaps some other actors.

Nevertheless, these principles are a foundation that we can work on. I hope that we will discuss this issue. And as President of the Russian Federation I also expect a constructive approach from our other partners, those who have been busy supplying weapons to Georgia. But to give weapons does not mean to restore peace. We must help peace and not war.

And finally, what I wanted to say, last but not least. You know about the sixth principle - I just mentioned this - the issue of status. I would like you to know and to convey to the people of South Ossetia and Abkhazia that the position of the Russian Federation will not change: we will support any decision taken by the peoples of South Ossetia and Abkhazia in accordance with the United Nations Charter, international conventions of 1966, and the Helsinki Act on security and cooperation in Europe. And we will not only support these decisions but will guarantee them in the Caucasus and in the world.

PRESIDENT OF SOUTH OSSETIA EDUARD KOKOITY: Dear Dmitry Anatolyevich!

On behalf of the people of the Republic of South Ossetia I would like to express our deep gratitude to you and to Russia for its timely action to prevent the total destruction of the Ossetian people in South Ossetia. Russia’s actions were timely and very necessary.

We have long warned many of our colleagues about the aggression being prepared against South Ossetia and Abkhazia, but we were not met with understanding in the OSCE nor the European Union. And just what happened to our people - to the people of South Ossetia - shows that Georgia did not act alone. And today many European countries and, primarily, the United States, are also responsible for the genocide of the small Ossetian people. Even the code name for the operation which took place in South Ossetia - Free Ground - speaks for itself.

And despite all that our people endured, we support the efforts of the Russian Federation, we understand our responsibility to all the peoples of the Caucasus, and we are ready to sign this document in order to once again show the world that neither South Ossetia nor Abkhazia, nor the peoples of the Caucasus want war.

PRESIDENT OF ABKHAZIA SERGEI BAGAPSH: Dmitry Anatolyevich!

I would like to join Eduard Dzhabeevich, my friend and brother, and say a huge thank you to you, to the leadership of the Russian Federation, for first and foremost ensuring that Russia has become what it is today.

As for us, we have chosen our path in life and will continue along it forever. And what the Russian Federation has done represents a gesture which our peoples, and not only ours, will appreciate. The nobility of the state and determination of its leaders has, of course, been demonstrated at the very highest level. It saved our peoples in South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

We know the work you did while meeting with the President of France. We know about these principles and the changes that were introduced. And, of course, subject to safeguards from the Russian Federation and all that you said, we will sign the document and support all the initiatives that the Russian Federation makes.

DMITRY MEDVEDEV: Thank you. Then perhaps we should do this right now so that all parties know about it.

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President Dmitry Medvedev - Interview with Russia Today TV
August 26, 2008

EDITOR IN CHIEF OF RUSSIA TODAY MARGARITA SIMONYAN: Dear Dmitry Anatolyevich!

Thank you for allowing us this interview. And let’s go right to the first question so as not to waste time. Following the recognition of Kosovo's independence, Moscow immediately said that this could act as a precedent for Abkhazia and South Ossetia. And today you decided to support the independence of those republics. Why did Russia decide to do so and how does this decision conform to the provisions of international law?

PRESIDENT OF RUSSIA DMITRY MEDVEDEV: I'll start with the second part. This decision fully conforms to international law. When the idea of a ‘Kosovo Case’, came up, my colleagues said that this was a special situation or, as we say in international law, a case.

So it is natural that every case of recognition of independence is a special one. Kosovo was a special case and so are Ossetia and Abkhazia. And if we talk about the situation there, then it is clear that our decisions were designed to prevent genocide, the extermination of peoples, and to help them get back on their feet again.

The fight for the independence of these unrecognized peoples has gone on for seventeen years and during this time, despite attempts by the international community, nothing has been able take hold. Right up until recently we have been trying to help restore the integrity of the Georgian state, but this was not possible. The decision to carry out this aggression was the last straw.

Therefore in these circumstances, the only way to save these people is to recognise them as subjects of international law, recognise them as independent states. Therefore our response to this situation is fully guided by international law, the UN Charter, the well-known Helsinki Accords and other international acts.

MARGARITA SIMONYAN: Tell us, is Russia is ready for the possibility that today's decision could lead to a long and tough confrontation with the leading world powers? And in general, are we are not worried by the prospects of a new Cold War?

DMITRY MEDVEDEV: We are not afraid of anything, including the prospects of a new Cold War. Of course we don't want that. In such a situation everything depends on the stance of our partners in the international community and our partners in the West. If they want to maintain good relations with Russia, they will understand the reason for our decision, and the situation will remain calm. If they choose a confrontational scenario, well, we have lived in different conditions, and we can manage it.

MARGARITA SIMONYAN: You signed the agreement. One of its six points provides for the withdrawal of Russian troops from Georgia. But even today Russia has been accused of failing to comply with its obligations. Is this true? Are there still Russian troops in Georgia?

DMITRY MEDVEDEV: It's not true. Russia has fully complied with its obligations as set out by the principles of the so-called Medvedev-Sarkozy agreement: our troops have withdrawn from Georgia, except from the so-called security zone.

MARGARITA SIMONYAN: During the current presidential campaign in the United States, both candidates have made a number of statements about what Russia and Georgia have done. Don't you think that this situation has already become part of the domestic political struggle and will come to dominate that struggle in the United States?

DMITRY MEDVEDEV: As far as I know, usually during the elections in the United States, voters are fairly indifferent to what is happening abroad. But if either of the candidates is able to use the issue, well then I wish him god-speed.

The main thing is that this not create international tensions. And the fact that both the candidates have instrumentalised this issue doesn't surprise me. That is what happens in election campaigns.

MARGARITA SIMONYAN: Thank you very much. Thank you for giving this interview.

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President Dmitry Medvedev - Interview with CNN
August 26, 2008

QUESTION: President Dmitry Medvedev, thanks very much for joining us on CNN. Now, European leaders as well as US leaders, including President Bush, have issued strongly worded statements urging you not to recognize the Georgian breakaway territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. But you have not heeded them and have taken the decision to recognize them. Should this be interpreted as a direct challenge to the West?

PRESIDENT OF RUSSIA DMITRY MEDVEDEV: No, this is not a challenge, this is a well thought out decision. A whole number of circumstances made taking this step necessary. What are those circumstances?

For more than 17 years Russia has done its best trying to prevent this development and trying to maintain the territorial integrity of Georgia. We did so at all levels and in all international forums. And even when Kosovo was proclaimed a subject of international law we did not make a similar statement with regards to these two republics. But we were obliged to recognize their independence after people were killed. You know the first time bloodshed occurred was under President Gamsakhurdia at the beginning of the 90s and now, unfortunately, it happened again in 2008 under President Saakashvili. And in doing so he dashed all the hopes that these three peoples: Georgians, Ossetians and the Abkhaz people, could live together in one state. And for us to take this step was the only way we could prevent further bloodshed, prevent further escalation of the conflict, and to prevent the deaths of thousands of innocent civilians.

And this is the first reason why we acted in this way. The second reason is that every people has a right to self-determination. This is provided for in the provisions of the UN Charter, the relevant international conventions and the Helsinki Final Act. And if another state believes that a people has expressed its will to have an independent existence and conducts a referendum, which actually was the case in both of these two republics, any other state in the world has the right to recognize this independence, whether others like it or not. Our colleagues said more than once that Kosovo was a casus sui generis, a special case. But in that case, we can also say that South Ossetia and Abkhazia are also sui generis.

In such circumstances we decided to recognize their independence.

QUESTION: Let’s turn to the issue of Kosovo. You objected to the recognition of the independence of Kosovo because it violated international law. Your recognition of the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia violates those same laws. Is not that a double-standard?

DMITRY MEDVEDEV: No, we do not think this is a double-standard. I would like to once again draw your attention to the fact that each state can determine whether it wants to recognize a certain people as a subject of international law or not. In our opinion the situation that took place in Kosovo did not merit this decision and Kosovo did not have enough requirements for it to be recognized as a subject of international law. However,  I have to admit that not all states agreed with us and a number of other countries did recognize the independence of Kosovo. But in this particular case, in our opinion, the situation existed for 17 years, during which ethnic cleansing was conducted and cases of genocide took place, both in the early 90s and now it has happened again. So the situation in this particular case is quite different and therefore we believe that under the UN Charter, the Declaration of 1970 and the Helsinki Act of 1975 we have every legal ground to recognize the independence of these two republics.

QUESTION: Mr President, you ordered Russia forces into South Ossetia and elsewhere in Georgia, in Abkhazia as well, for what you called humanitarian reasons, to prevent killings and further civilian victims, as well as Russian peacekeepers who were under threat. Would you send forces in to Georgia again, if necessary, or would you do so in other countries from the former Soviet Union?

DMITRY MEDVEDEV:  I have already said that the situation has changed. After having recognized their independence in the Decree that I signed, of course our country will help ensure the security of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. And if there is an attack against them we will, of course, provide them with all necessary assistance. As to interfering in other areas, in other conflicts, of course we have no plans for such interference, and we will not do so. But Russia is an independent sovereign state and it has the right to decide what it has to do to promote its interests particularly in the areas along its borders. That is obvious.

QUESTION: Mr President, you have inherited the Russian leadership at a very intense time for relations between Russia and the West. And there are outstanding issues between the US and Russia: missile defense and a number of other issues. What steps would you like to see the next president of the US take in order to rebuild a cooperative partnership with Moscow?

DMITRY MEDVEDEV: I have talked about this more than once. We will be ready to work with any American administration that the American people choose. We believe that the most important thing is that the new leaders of the US be guided by the real interests of the American people rather some farfetched ideological scheme. And if this does indeed happen, then I am sure that we will be in a position to reach an agreement on the very widest range of issues. We want to avoid any controversies and we would like to avoid a new edition of the Cold War. We would like to have full-value constructive relationships with our western partners including with the US. But to do so we need a dose of pragmatism and mutual respect.

QUESTION:  So no new Cold war, but President Medvedev, do you believe that we are at the start of a prolonged and painful period of worsening relations in light of disagreements on a number of issues, including Georgia, missile defense and Iran?

DMITRY MEDVEDEV: We do have disagreements. But they are not fatal and if we don’t blow up this problem into something it’s not, if we don’t try to start a new Cold War then it will not take place.

As to Iran, together with our other partners, including the US, we are going to cooperate intensively on this issue and try to consolidate our position. There are no major contradictions here.

As to the missile defense problem, of course we do not like to see new missile bases and radar stations being built along our borders. We have repeatedly stated our displeasure on this account. But nevertheless, we never interrupted the negotiating process, we are ready to continue exchanges on this difficult problem. The issue is the explanation that was given to us when we asked why such bases are needed, why these radar stations and missile bases are being built. They told us they are designed to confront the threat posed by rogue states, but then you have to prove that. Meanwhile, our perception is that all these weapon systems are being accumulated around our borders to put further pressure on Russia. We don’t like this but nevertheless we are quietly and constructively engaging in dialogue on this topic.

As to Georgia, the conflict between Georgia and South Ossetia, and previous hostilities between Georgia and Abkhazia, all is now up to the West. If they don’t blow this out of proportion into a new conflict but adopt a pragmatic approach then everything will be all right.

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President Dmitry Medvedev - Interview with Al-Jazeera
August 26, 2008

QUESTION: This interview is a historic moment for Al-Jazeera. Mr President, the United States has called your decision to recognise the independence of the two republics regrettable. Britain has categorically rejected it, and NATO and the OSCE have declared that it does not conform to international law. We have heard the arguments and reasons you gave to justify this decision, but what interests us is how far you are willing to go on this issue, which it seems is now turning into a rather large-scale confrontation.

PRESIDENT OF RUSSIA DMITRY MEDVEDEV: We do not want any confrontation. As for how far we are willing to go, what we are talking about here is a fairly standard if rare international procedure, that of recognising a new state, a new subject of international law. We have decided on this step for the reasons I spoke of earlier: to prevent killings and genocide, to give the peoples of Abkhazia and South Ossetia the chance to realise their right to self-determination after 17 difficult years, after failed attempts to calm the situation and essentially restore Georgia’s territorial integrity. Prior to this decision we took no steps aimed at recognising these two entities as independent states. On the contrary, we tried to help glue Georgia back together. But this latest aggression and this genocide unleashed by the Saakashvili regime have put an end to these plans. We had no choice but to take this decision. As for confrontation, our goal is not to stir confrontation but to calm the situation and help these two peoples who have decided to acquire statehood. These are our objectives.

QUESTION: Mr President, you have spoken negatively about President Saakashvili on a number of occasions and called him unfit for the office of President. Is there not at least in part a desire to destabilise the Saakashvili government and achieve his resignation or a change of regime in your actions?

DMITRY MEDVEDEV: Our actions are based solely on sober calculation: we want to help people in misfortune today, and there is no other motive in our actions.

As for Saakashvili and his regime, it is true that we do not like him. It is clear that he did not just make a mistake but committed a crime. But this is a crime he must answer for before the Georgian people and the international community.

QUESTION: Many are saying that the situation has escalated to a point now where it has caused irreparable damage to relations between Russia and the West. Many are now talking about a possible resumption of the Cold War. Are you worried that the situation could worsen yet further and reach the point where things get out of control?

DMITRY MEDVEDEV: Of course we do not like this talk of a Cold War. We do not want any escalation. On the contrary, we want to calm the situation. Our actions aimed against Saakashvili’s aggression were undertaken precisely to calm the aggressor on the one hand and give life and a good and reasonable future to the peoples of these two unrecognised entities on the other hand. As for tension, it is within the power of the West, within the power of the countries who think that tension is growing, to reduce it. All they need to do is recognise the real state of affairs instead of creating hysterics out of virtual situations. They need to take pragmatic action and think about the future. I think it is in the West’s interests to build full and friendly relations with the Russian Federation.

QUESTION: In this context we can look at what steps the West might take. In December, they can decide to accept Georgia and Ukraine into the NATO cooperation plan. We can also see the signature of the agreement between the U.S. and Poland and the Czech Republic on deployment of missile defence system components in this context. Seen in this light, these steps do not look at all like a move towards de-escalation. How will you respond if NATO decides to take in Georgia?

DMITRY MEDVEDEV: Ultimately, this is NATO’s affair. We have tried to build a partnership with NATO. NATO has tried to re-examine this partnership of late. I said yesterday that if this is what they want, let them go ahead. We can say goodbye to each other. It will not be a tragedy. As I said, NATO has greater interest in this cooperation than the Russian Federation. If NATO does decide to open its membership plan to Georgia we will not be happy, of course, and this certainly would increase the tension.

As for Ukraine, it would be good to first of all ask the Ukrainians themselves what they want. Ukraine has not even held a referendum on the issue. On the missile defence issue, the decision to deploy a radar station and missiles on Polish and Czech territory, this is yet another step adding to the tension. We cannot see it as anything other than a step aimed against Russia, no matter what the motives advanced by the NATO member countries.

They say there are countries somewhere out there that represent a threat, but this is all a load of nonsense. These missiles are to be stationed alongside our border and they are a threat to us - that is certain.

This will of course create increased tension. We have to respond somehow to this situation, and naturally enough we have to take a military response. But I think that NATO is aware of this. This is their choice. We are not the ones deploying missiles.

QUESTION: There was a sharp drop on the stock market after your statement today. The market index in Moscow has taken a steep tumble. Are you worried about foreign investment pulling out of Russia? Russia is not seen as a reliable country for investment now. Your economy depends solely on high oil prices. Does this worry you? Don’t you think Russia needs good relations with the West?

DMITRY MEDVEDEV: Russia does need good relations with the West – this is without any doubt. And the West needs good relations with Russia. We live in a global economy.

Events on the markets in New York hit Tokyo the next day and then make themselves felt in Moscow too. We are all interconnected.

I hope therefore that our American partners will concentrate less on sorting out international relations and more on strengthening their own economy, because the American economy plays a key part in many economic problems, and the fact that important institutions such as Fannie May and Freddie Mac are in such a state that it’s time to declare default is a situation that would have serious consequences for America and for other markets. These are the issues that require attention, including through efforts we can make together.

As for capital flight, military campaigns always have a negative effect on the markets, but the events on our stock market are more to do with the processes underway on international financial markets. I have studied the analyses and they show that the changes and the drop in value on our stock market arise primarily from the situation on the global economic market, the state of affairs in global finances and on the global stock indexes.

Of course we will work on strengthening our own economy. We want foreign investment, and there can be no doubt about this. We cannot build a developed country on energy prices alone, but I think that all countries need to follow a responsible economic policy. I think this is a very important conclusion. We all depend on each other.

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"Why I had to recognise Georgia’s breakaway regions"
Letter by Dmitry Medvedev
Published: August 26 2008 in the Financial Times

On Tuesday Russia recognised the independence of the territories of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. It was not a step taken lightly, or without full consideration of the consequences. But all possible outcomes had to be weighed against a sober understanding of the situation – the histories of the Abkhaz and Ossetian peoples, their freely expressed desire for independence, the tragic events of the past weeks and inter­national precedents for such a move.

Not all of the world’s nations have their own statehood. Many exist happily within boundaries shared with other nations. The Russian Federation is an example of largely harmonious coexistence by many dozens of nations and nationalities. But some nations find it impossible to live under the tutelage of another. Relations between nations living “under one roof” need to be handled with the utmost sensitivity.

After the collapse of communism, Russia reconciled itself to the “loss” of 14 former Soviet republics, which became states in their own right, even though some 25m Russians were left stranded in countries no longer their own. Some of those nations were un­able to treat their own minorities with the respect they deserved. Georgia immediately stripped its “autonomous regions” of Abkhazia and South Ossetia of their autonomy.

Can you imagine what it was like for the Abkhaz people to have their university in Sukhumi closed down by the Tbilisi government on the grounds that they allegedly had no proper language or history or culture and so did not need a university? The newly independent Georgia inflicted a vicious war on its minority nations, displacing thousands of people and sowing seeds of discontent that could only grow. These were tinderboxes, right on Russia’s doorstep, which Russian peacekeepers strove to keep from igniting.

But the west, ignoring the delicacy of the situation, unwittingly (or wittingly) fed the hopes of the South Ossetians and Abkhazians for freedom. They clasped to their bosom a Georgian president, Mikheil Saakashvili, whose first move was to crush the autonomy of another region, Adjaria, and made no secret of his intention to squash the Ossetians and Abkhazians.

Meanwhile, ignoring Russia’s warnings, western countries rushed to recognise Kosovo’s illegal declaration of independence from Serbia. We argued consistently that it would be impossible, after that, to tell the Abkhazians and Ossetians (and dozens of other groups around the world) that what was good for the Kosovo Albanians was not good for them. In international relations, you cannot have one rule for some and another rule for others.

Seeing the warning signs, we persistently tried to persuade the Georgians to sign an agreement on the non-use of force with the Ossetians and Abkhazians. Mr Saakashvili refused. On the night of August 7-8 we found out why.

Only a madman could have taken such a gamble. Did he believe Russia would stand idly by as he launched an all-out assault on the sleeping city of Tskhinvali, murdering hundreds of peaceful civilians, most of them Russian citizens? Did he believe Russia would stand by as his “peacekeeping” troops fired on Russian comrades with whom they were supposed to be preventing trouble in South Ossetia?

Russia had no option but to crush the attack to save lives. This was not a war of our choice. We have no designs on Georgian territory. Our troops entered Georgia to destroy bases from which the attack was launched and then left. We restored the peace but could not calm the fears and aspirations of the South Ossetian and Abkhazian peoples – not when Mr Saakashvili continued (with the complicity and encouragement of the US and some other Nato members) to talk of rearming his forces and reclaiming “Georgian territory”. The presidents of the two republics appealed to Russia to recognise their independence.

A heavy decision weighed on my shoulders. Taking into account the freely expressed views of the Ossetian and Abkhazian peoples, and based on the principles of the United Nations charter and other documents of international law, I signed a decree on the Russian Federation’s recognition of the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. I sincerely hope that the Georgian people, to whom we feel historic friendship and sympathy, will one day have leaders they deserve, who care about their country and who develop mutually respectful relations with all the peoples in the Caucasus. Russia is ready to support the achievement of such a goal.

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Vladimir Putin Interviewed by CNN
August 29, 2008

Matthew Chance: Many people around the world, even though you're not the president of Russia anymore, see you as the main decision maker in this country. Wasn't you that ordered Russian forces into Georgia and you who should take responsibility for the consequences?

Vladimir Putin: Of course, that's not the case. In accordance with the Constitution of the Russian Federation, the issues of foreign policy and defense are fully in the hands of the president. The president of the Russian Federation was acting within his powers.

As is known, yours truly was at that time at the opening of the Olympic Games in Beijing. This alone made it impossible for me to take part in preparing that decision, although of course, President Medvedev was aware of my opinion on that issue. I'll be frank with you, and actually there is no secret about it, we had of course considered all the possible scenarios of events, including direct aggression by the Georgian leadership.

We had to think beforehand about how to provide for the security of our peace-keepers and of the citizens of the Russian Federation who are residents of South Ossetia. But, I repeat, such a decision could only be taken by the president of the Russian Federation, the commander in chief of the armed forces, Mr. Medvedev. It's his decision.

Matthew Chance: But it's been no secret either that for years you've been urging the West to take more seriously Russia's concerns about international issues. For instance, about NATO's expansion, about deployment of missile defense systems in eastern Europe. Wasn't this conflict a way of demonstrating that in this region, it's Russia that's the power, not NATO and certainly not the United States?

 Vladimir Putin: Of course not. What is more, we did not seek such conflicts and do not want them in the future.

That this conflict has taken place -- that it broke out nevertheless -- is only due to the fact that no one had heeded our concerns.

More generally, Matthew, I will say this: We must take a broader view of this conflict.

I think both you and your -- our -- viewers today will be interested to learn a little more about the history of relations between the peoples and ethnic groups in this regions of the world. Because people know little or nothing about it.

If you think that this is unimportant, you may cut it from the program. Don't hesitate, I wouldn't mind.

But I would like to recall that all these state entities, each in its own time, voluntarily integrated into the Russian Empire. Back in the mid-18th century, in 1745-1747, Ossetia was the first to become part of the Russian Empire. At that time, it was a united entity; North and South Ossetia were one state.

In 1801, if my memory serves me, Georgia itself, which was under some pressure from the Ottoman Empire, voluntarily became part of the Russian Empire.

It was only 12 years later, in 1812, that Abkhazia became part of the Russian Empire. Until that time, it had remained an independent state, an independent principality.

It was only in the mid-19th century that the decision was taken to incorporate South Ossetia into the Tiflis province. Within a common state, the matter was regarded as not very important. But I can assure you that subsequent years showed that the Ossetians did not much like it. However, de facto they were put by the tsar's central government under the jurisdiction of what is now Georgia.

When, after World War I, the Russian Empire broke up, Georgia declared its own state while Ossetia opted for staying within Russia; this happened right after the events of 1917.

In 1918, as a result of this, Georgia conducted a rather brutal punitive operation there, and in 1921, it repeated it.

When the Soviet Union was formed, these territories, by Stalin's decision, were definitively given to Georgia. As you know, Stalin was ethnically Georgian.

Therefore, those who insist that those territories must continue to belong to Georgia are Stalinists: They defend the decision of Josef Vissarionovich Stalin.

Yet, whatever has been happening recently and whatever the motives of those involved in the conflict, there is no doubt that all that we are witnessing now is a tragedy.

For us, it is a special tragedy, because during the many years that we were living together the Georgian culture -- the Georgian people being a nation of ancient culture -- became, without a doubt, a part of the multinational culture of Russia.

There is even a tinge of civil war in this for us, though of course Georgia is an independent state, no doubt about it. We have never infringed on the sovereignty of Georgia and have no intention of doing so in the future. And yet, considering the fact that almost a million, even more than a million Georgians have moved here, we have special spiritual links with that country and its people. For us, this is a special tragedy.

And, I assure you, while mourning the Russian soldiers who died, and above all the innocent civilians, many here in Russia are also mourning the Georgians who died.

The responsibility for the loss of life rests squarely with the present Georgian leadership, which dared to take these criminal actions.

I apologize for the long monologue; I felt it would be of interest.

Matthew Chance: It is very interesting that you are talking about Russia's imperial history in this region because one of the effects of Russian intervention in Georgia is that other countries in the former Soviet Union are now deeply concerned that they could be next, that they could be part of a resurgent Russian empire ... particularly countries like Ukraine, that have a big ethnic Russian populations, but also Moldova, the central Asian states and even some of the Baltic states. Can you guarantee to us that Russia will never again use its militarily forces against a neighboring state?

Vladimir Putin: I strongly object to the way this question is formulated. It is not for us to guarantee that we will not attack someone. We have not attacked anyone. It is we who are demanding guarantees from others, to make sure that no one attacks us anymore and that no one kills our citizens. We are being portrayed as the aggressor.

I have here the chronology of the events that took place on August 7, 8 and 9. On the 7th, at 2:42 p.m., the Georgian officers who were at the headquarters of the joint peacekeeping forces left the headquarters, walked away from the headquarters -- where there were our servicemen, as well as Georgian and Ossetian servicemen -- saying that had been ordered to do so by their commanders. They left their place of service and left our servicemen there alone and never returned during the period preceding the beginning of hostilities. An hour later, heavy artillery shelling started.

At 10:35 p.m., a massive shelling of the city of Tskhinvali began. At 10:50 p.m., ground force units of the Georgian armed forces started to deploy to the combat zone. At the same time, Georgian military hospitals were deployed in the immediate vicinity. And at 11:30 p.m., Mr. Kruashvili, brigadier general and commander of the Georgian peacekeeping forces in the region, announced that Georgia had decided to declare war on South Ossetia. They announced it directly and publicly, looking right into the TV cameras.

At that time, we tried to contact the Georgian leadership, but they all refused to respond. At 0:45 a.m. on August 8, Kruashvili repeated it once again. At 5:20 a.m., tank columns of the Georgian forces launched an attack on Tskhinvali, preceded by massive fire from GRAD systems, and we began to sustain casualties among our personnel.

At that time, as you know, I was in Beijing, and I was able to talk briefly with the president of the United States. I said to him directly that we had not been able to contact the Georgian leadership but that one of the commanders of the Georgian armed forces had declared that they had started a war with South Ossetia.

George replied to me -- and I have already mentioned it publicly -- that no one wanted a war. We were hoping that the U.S. administration would intervene in the conflict and stop the aggressive actions of the Georgian leadership. Nothing of the kind happened.

What is more, already at 12 noon local time, the units of the Georgian armed forces seized the peacekeepers' camp in the south of Tskhinvali -- it is called Yuzhni, or Southern -- and our soldiers had to withdraw to the city center, being outnumbered by the Georgians one to six. Also, our peacekeepers did not have heavy weapons, and what weapons they had had been destroyed by the first artillery strikes. One of those strikes had killed 10 people at once.

Then the attack was launched on the peacekeeping forces' northern camp. Here, let me read you the report of the General Staff: "As of 12:30 p.m., the battalion of the Russian Federation peacekeeping forces deployed in the north of the city had beaten off five attacks and was continuing combat."

At that same time, Georgian aviation bombed the city of Dzhava, which was outside the zone of hostilities, in the central part of South Ossetia.

So who was the attacker, and who was attacked? We have no intention of attacking anyone, and we have no intention of going to war with anyone.

During my eight years as president, I often heard the same question: What place does Russia reserve for itself in the world; how does it see itself; what is its place? We are a peace-loving state and we want to cooperate with all of our neighbors and with all of our partners. But if anyone thinks that they can come and kill us, that our place is at the cemetery, they should think what consequences such a policy will have for them.

Matthew Chance: You've always enjoyed over your period as president of Russia, and still now, a very close personal relationship with the U.S. President George W. Bush. Do you think that his failure to restrain the Georgian forces on this occasion has damaged that relationship?

Vladimir Putin: This has certainly done damage to our relations, above all government-to-government relations.

But it is not just a matter of the U.S. administration being unable to restrain the Georgian leadership from this criminal action; the U.S. side had in effect armed and trained the Georgian army.

Why spend many years in difficult negotiations to find comprehensive compromise solutions to inter-ethnic conflicts? It is easier to arm one of the parties and push it to kill the other and have it done with. What an easy solution, apparently. In fact, however, that is not always the case.

I have some other thoughts, too. What I am going to say is hypothetical, just some suppositions, and will take time to properly sort out. But I think there is food for thought here.

Even during the years of the Cold War, the intense confrontation between the Soviet Union and the United States, we always avoided any direct clash between our civilians and, most certainly, between our military.

We have serious reasons to believe that there were U.S. citizens right in the combat zone. If that is the case, if that is confirmed, it is very bad. It is very dangerous; it is misguided policy

But, if that is so, these events could also have a U.S. domestic politics dimension.

If my suppositions are confirmed, then there are grounds to suspect that some people in the United States created this conflict deliberately in order to aggravate the situation and create a competitive advantage for one of the candidates for the U.S. presidency. And if that is the case, this is nothing but the use of the called administrative resource in domestic politics, in the worst possible way, one that leads to bloodshed.

Matthew Chance: These are quite astounding claims, but just to be clear, Mr. Prime Minister, are you suggesting that there were U.S. operatives on the ground assisting Georgian forces, perhaps even provoking a conflict in order to give a presidential candidate in the United States some kind of talking point?

Vladimir Putin: Let me explain.

Matthew Chance: And if you are suggesting that, what evidence do you have?

Vladimir Putin: I have said to you that if the presence of U.S. citizens in the zone of hostilities is confirmed, it would mean only one thing: that they could be there only at the direct instruction of their leaders. And if that is so, it means that in the combat zone there are U.S. citizens who are fulfilling their duties there. They can only do that under orders from their superiors, not on their own initiative.

Ordinary specialists, even if they train military personnel, must do it in training centers or on training grounds rather than in a combat zone.

I repeat: This requires further confirmation. I am quoting to you the reports of our military. Of course, I will seek further evidence from them.

Why are you surprised at my hypothesis, after all? There are problems in the Middle East; reconciliation there is elusive. In Afghanistan, things are not getting any better; what is more, the Taliban have launched a fall offensive, and dozens of NATO servicemen are being killed.

In Iraq, after the euphoria of the first victories, there are problems everywhere, and the number of those killed has reached 4,000.

There are problems in the economy, as we know only too well. There are financial problems, the mortgage crisis. Even we are concerned about it, and we want it to end soon, but it is there.

A little victorious war is needed. And if it doesn't work, then one can lay the blame on us, use us to create an enemy image, and against the backdrop of this kind of jingoism once again rally the country around certain political forces.

I am surprised that you are surprised at what I'm saying. It's as clear as day.

Matthew Chance: It sounds a little farfetched, but I am interested because I was in Georgia in the time of the conflict, and the country was swirling with rumors. One of the rumors was that U.S. personnel had been captured in combat areas. Is there any truth to that rumor?

Vladimir Putin: I have no such information. I think it is not correct.

I repeat: I will ask our military to provide additional information to confirm the presence of U.S. citizens in the conflict zone during the hostilities.

Matthew Chance: Let's get back to the diplomatic fallout of this conflict, because one of the consequences is that action is being threatened at least against Russia by many countries in the world. It could be kicked out of the G-8 group of industrialized nations. There are threats it could have its contacts with the NATO militarily alliance suspended. What will Russia's response be if the country is diplomatically isolated as a result of this tension between Russia and the West?

Vladimir Putin: First of all, if my hypothesis about the U.S. domestic political dimension of this conflict is correct, then I don't see why United States allies should support one U.S. political party against the other in the election campaign. This is a position that is not honest vis-à-vis the American people as a whole. But we do not rule out the possibility that, as happened before, the administration will once again be able to subordinate its allies to its will.

So what's to be done? What choice do we have? On one hand, should we agree to being killed in order to remain, say, in the G-8? And who will remain in the G-8 if all of us are killed?

You have mentioned a possible threat from Russia. You and I are sitting here now, having a quiet conversation in the city of Sochi. Within a few hundred kilometers from here, U.S. Navy ships have approached, carrying missiles whose range is precisely several hundred kilometers. It is not our ships that have approached your shores; it's your ships that have approached ours. So what's our choice?

We don't want any complications; we don't want to quarrel with anyone; we don't want to fight anyone. We want normal cooperation and a respectful attitude toward us and our interests. Is that too much?

You have mentioned the G-8. But in its present form, the G-8 already doesn't carry enough weight. Without inviting the Chinese People's Republic or India, without consulting them, without influencing their decisions, normal development of the world economy is impossible.

Or take the fight against drugs, combating infectious disease, fighting terrorism, working on non-proliferation. OK, if someone wants to do it without any involvement of Russia, how effective will that work be?

That's not what we should be thinking about, and it's pointless to try to intimidate anyone. We are not afraid, not at all. What's needed is a realistic analysis of the situation, looking to the future so as to develop a normal relationship, with due regard for each other's interests.

Matthew Chance: The raw as you've mentioned areas of cooperation still between the United States and Russia, particularly for instance over the issue of Iran's very controversial nuclear program.

Are you suggesting that you may withdraw your cooperation with the United Nations in tackling that problem from the United States if the diplomatic pressure were to be ruptured up between Russian and the West?

Vladimir Putin: Russia has been working very consistently and in good faith with its partners on all problems, those that I've mentioned and those that you added. We do so not because someone asks us and we want to look good to them. We are doing it because this is consistent with our national interests, because in these areas, our national interests coincide with those of many European countries and of the United States. If no one wants to talk to us about these problems and cooperation with Russia becomes unnecessary, God bless, do this work yourself.

Matthew Chance: And what about the issue of energy supply, because obviously European countries in particular are increasingly dependent on Russian gas and on Russian oil. Would Russia ever use the supply of energy to western Europe as a leaver to apply pressure should the diplomatic tensions be ratcheted up?

Vladimir Putin: We have never done it. Construction of the first gas pipeline system was started during the 1960s, at the height of the Cold War, and for all those years, from the 1960s until this day, Russia has been fulfilling its contract obligations in a very consistent and reliable way, regardless of the political situation.

We never politicize economic relations, and we are quite astonished at the position of some U.S. administration officials who travel to European capitals trying to persuade the Europeans not to buy our products, natural gas for example, in a truly amazing effort to politicize the economic sphere. In fact, it's quite pernicious.

It's true that the Europeans depend on our supplies but we too depend on whoever buys our gas. That's interdependence; that's precisely the guarantee of stability.

And since we are already talking about economic matters, I would like to inform you about a decision that will be taken in the near future. Let me say right from the start that it is in no way related to any crisis, not to the situation in Abkhazia nor in South Ossetia; those are purely economic matters. Let me tell you what it's about.

For some time, we have had a debate about supplies of various products from different countries, including the United States. And of course the debate is particularly intense, as a rule, as regards agricultural products.

In July and August, our sanitation services conducted inspections of U.S. plants that supply poultry meat to our market. It was a spot-check inspection. It revealed that 19 of those plants ignored the concerns that our specialists had raised back in 2007. These plants will be removed from the list of poultry exporters to the Russian Federation.

Twenty-nine plants were given warnings that they must, in the near future, rectify the situation that our sanitation specialists find unacceptable. We hope the response will be rapid and that they will be able to continue supplying their products to the Russian market.

That information has just been reported to me by the minister of Agriculture.

Let me say once again that I would hate these things to be lumped together: the problems caused by conflict situations, politics, economics, meat. They all have their own dimension and are unrelated.

Matthew Chance: Prime Minister Putin, this appears or may be interpreted in the United States as tantamount to economic sanctions. Specifically, one of these 19 agricultural enterprises been importing to Russia that you've found to be flawed?

Vladimir Putin: Well, I am not an agricultural expert. This morning, the minister of agriculture gave me the following information.

I have already said it and want to repeat it. In July and August of this year, spot checks were made at U.S. plants that supply poultry to the Russian market. It was found that some of the concerns raised by our specialists earlier, in 2007, had been ignored and that the plants had done nothing to correct the deficiencies identified during the previous inspections. For that reason, the Ministry of Agriculture decided to remove them from the list of exporters.

At 29 other plants, certain problems have been found. They have been properly documented, with instructions as to what needs to be changed in order for the previous agreements on deliveries from those plants to Russia to remain in effect. We hope that they will quickly rectify the problems identified during those checks.

It has been found that their products contain excessive amounts of some substances that are subject to certain controls in our country. They contain excessive amounts of antibiotics and perhaps some other substances such as arsenic. I don't know; it's for the agricultural experts to consider. This has noting to do with politics. These are not some kind of sanctions. Such measures were taken here on several occasions in the past. There is nothing catastrophic here. It just means that we should work on this together.

What's more, when the minister called me, he said, "Frankly, we don't know what to do. It'll look like sanctions, but we need to take a decision. Of course, we could take a pause, too."

I think they said it's arsenic. But we have our rules. If you want to export to our market, you must adjust to our rules. They know all about it. They were told about it back in 2007.

Matthew Chance: The U.S. won't like it.

Vladimir Putin: We too do not like some of the things being done. They need to work closer together with our Ministry of Agriculture. Such things have happened before.

We closed it, and then we allowed them in again. It happened not only with regard to U.S. suppliers but Brazilian, too.

Matthew Chance: To conclude --

Vladimir Putin: We could go on. I am in no hurry.

Matthew Chance: Prime Minister Putin, perhaps more than anyone else, you're credited with restoring a degree of international prestige to this country. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, after the chaos of 1990s, are you concerned that you're squandering that international prestige by your actions over Georgia, by actions like these banning of bird meat imports from the United States? Is that something the concerns you?

Vladimir Putin: Well, I have told you that there is no ban on U.S. poultry. It's a ban on some plants that did not respond to our concerns for a whole year.

We have to protect our domestic market and our consumers, as is done by all countries, including the United States.

As for Russia's prestige: We don't like what's been happening, but we did not provoke this situation. Speaking of prestige, some countries' prestige has been severely damaged in recent years. In effect, in recent years our U.S. partners have been cultivating the rule of force instead of the rule of international law. When we tried to stop the decision on Kosovo; no one listened to us. We said, don't do it, wait; you are putting us in a terrible position in the Caucasus. What shall we say to the small nations of the Caucasus as to why independence can be gained in Kosovo but not here? You are putting us in a ridiculous position. At that time, no one was talking about international law; we alone did. Now, they have all remembered it. Now, for some reason, everyone is talking about international law.

But who opened Pandora's box? Did we do it? No, we didn't do it. It was not our decision, and it was not our policy.

There are both things in international law: the principle of territorial integrity and right to self-determination. What's needed is simply to reach agreement on the ground rules. I would think that the time has finally come to do it.

As for the public perception of the events that are taking place, of course this in large part depends not only on the politicians but also on how cleverly they manipulate the media, on how they influence world public opinion. Our U.S. colleagues are of course much better at it than we are. We have much to learn. But is it always done in a proper, democratic way, is the information always fair and objective?

Let's recall, for example, the interview with that 12-year-old girl and her aunt, who, as I understand, live in the United States and who witnessed the events in South Ossetia. The interviewer at one of the leading channels, Fox News, was interrupting her all the time. All the time, he interrupted her. As soon as he didn't like what she was saying, he started to interrupt her, he coughed, wheezed and screeched. All that remained for him to do was to soil his pants, in such a graphic way as to stop them. That's the only thing he didn't do, but, figuratively speaking, he was in that kind of state. Well, is that an honest and objective way to give information? Is that the way to inform the people of your own country? No, that is disinformation.

We want to live in peace and agreement; we want normal trade; we want to work in all areas: to assure international security, to work on problems of disarmament, on fighting terrorism and drugs, on the Iranian nuclear problem, on the North Korean problem which is now showing a somewhat alarming tendency. We are ready for all that, but we want this work to be honest, open and done in partnership, rather than selfishly.

It is wrong to make anyone into an enemy; it is wrong to scare the people of one's own country with that enemy and try to rally some allies on that basis. What we need is to work openly and honestly on solutions to the problem. We want that and we are ready for that.

Matthew Chance: Let's go back to the assertion that the U.S. provoked the war. Diplomats in the United States accuse Russia of provoking the war by supporting the separatists in Abkhazia and South Ossetia by arming them, by increasing forces in the territories and by recognizing their institutions ... basically giving them the green light to go ahead and operate de facto. Wasn't it Russia that really caused this conflict?

Vladimir Putin: I can easily reply to this question. Since the 1990s, as soon as this conflict started, and it started in recent history because of the decision of the Georgian side to deprive Abkhazia and South Ossetia of the rights of autonomy. In 1990 and 1991, the Georgian leadership deprived Abkhazia and South Ossetia of the autonomous rights that they enjoyed as part of the Soviet Union, as part of Soviet Georgia, and as soon as that decision was taken, ethnic strife and armed hostilities began. At that time, Russia signed a number of international agreements, and we complied with all those agreements. We had in the territory of Abkhazia and South Ossetia only those peacekeeping forces that were stipulated in those agreements and never exceeded the quota.

The other side -- I am referring to the Georgian side -- with the support of the United States, violated all the agreements in the most brazen way.

Under the guise of units of the Ministry of the Interior, they secretly moved into the conflict zone their troops, regular army, special units and heavy equipment. In fact, they surrounded Tskhinvali, the capital of South Ossetia, with that heavy equipment and tanks. They surrounded our peacekeepers with tanks and started shooting at them point blank.

It was only after that, after our first casualties and after their number considerably increased, after tens of them had been killed -- I think 15 or 20 peacekeepers were killed, and there was heavy loss of life among the civilian population, with hundreds killed -- it was only after all that that President Medvedev decided to introduce a military contingent to save the lives of our peacekeepers and innocent civilians.

What is more, when our troops began moving in the direction of Tskhinvali, they came across a fortified area that had been secretly prepared by the Georgian military. In effect, tanks and heavy artillery had been dug into ground there, and they started shelling our soldiers as they moved.

All of it was done in violation of previous international agreements.

It is of course conceivable that our U.S. partners were unaware of all that, but it's very unlikely.

A totally neutral person, the former Georgian Minister of Foreign Affairs Ms. Zurabishvili, who is I think a French citizen and is now in Paris, has said publicly, and it was broadcast, that there was an enormous number of U.S. advisers and that of course they knew everything.

And if our supposition that there were U.S. citizens in the combat zone is confirmed -- and I repeat, we need further information from our military -- then these suspicions are quite justified.

Those who pursue such a policy toward Russia, what do they think? Will they like us only when we die?

Matthew Chance: Thank you.

Vladimir Putin: Thank you very much



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