TRANSCRIPT: Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev’s interview with the Brazilian TV network Globo

Dmitry Medvedev file photo

( – February 26, 2013)

Correspondent (via interpreter): Mr Prime Minister, thank you very much for finding time for Globo in your schedule. In your recent article in the influential Financial Times, you wrote that Russia should look to the East, to the Asia-Pacific Region. How, looking East, did you wind up in Brazil?  Did you follow Columbus who set out for India but wound up in Brazil? Or do you have a special view on this country?

Dmitry Medvedev: Even if you take an Asian route, you will get to Brazil sooner or later. As one of your leaders put it succinctly, Brazil is a tropical Russia. Why? Because our countries are very similar. We each have a long and complicated history, a multi-ethnic and multi-religious population, vast territory with very different living conditions and a host of challenges that are also very similar because we are both large developing or “emerging” markets, to use the English term. Quite a bit in the world depends on the state of our economies, even though we became active players in the global economy relatively recently ­ Brazil a bit earlier than Russia. Russia joined the WTO only last year. Therefore, I believe we are natural partners to a large degree, not to mention that our countries and our people have traditionally had warm feelings for each other despite the great distance between us.

Correspondent: It’s interesting what you said about Brazil being a tropical Russia. Russia and Brazil are enormous countries. They feel at times that their rights are impinged on by the global system and they want to assert themselves. We in Brazil don’t quite understand why Russia needs to assert itself because we consider it a leader. What could Russia and Brazil do to help each other in the world arena?

Dmitry Medvedev: It would be wrong to think that we have secured a place in the Sun forever. It goes without saying that Russia has a rich history. At various times Russia has held a very weighty place in the global division of labour, in the international system. But all of us have to prove our ability to compete every single day. This applies to us, to you in Brazil, to China and the United States. If states stop doing this, they lose their position. Therefore, I think that Russia’s goal is not to reflect on our former geopolitical position but to become a modern state. We haven’t been on the path to a modern market economy for long ­ only 20 years, which isn’t much. This is where we face our major challenges.

How can we help each other? I believe that in addition to our being strategic and economic partners, we share a lot of interesting projects and have similar approaches in many areas. We went through a lot to develop such approaches. Both our countries are large in terms of sheer size and population, as well as the economy. We do not believe that the current system for the international division of labour and the economic system itself are fair. President Lula, President Dilma Rousseff and I have been working on the redistribution of the IMF quotas over the last few years. At some point in time, our countries weren’t much reckoned with in this distinguished organisation, so we had to spend a lot of effort to have these quotas redistributed in a more fair and just manner. We need to work together even on issues like that. There are numerous political issues that require us to pool our efforts, and we are helping each other well in this regard as well. I can think of such a reputable organisation as BRICS, where we and our partners from China, India and South Africa discuss various economic issues, develop approaches and often take a consolidated position. BRICS represent a very sizable chunk of the global economy and a huge number of people, so I believe that we do have a lot of shared interests.

Correspondent: Notably, cooperation on defence has drawn the attention of the international press. Recently, Brazilian military officials visited Russia to discuss the possibility of buying air defence systems. What is Russia’s position on this issue?

Dmitry Medvedev: We do have advanced relations in the sphere of military technology as well. I discussed this issue with the President and the Vice President today, and we will think how we can help our partners, especially since Russia really is a key player on the global arms market. Russian weapons are up to modern standards and are competitively priced. We are prepared to expand our cooperation in this area as well.

Correspondent: One more question on this subject, and then I’ll move on. Brazil has always wanted to gain access to technology and training methods. Is Russia ready to provide its technology and training techniques?

Dmitry Medvedev: We focus on developing cooperation in all areas, including military technology. We are prepared to share our technology as well, but it should be a mutually beneficial process. It makes no sense to give away the technology and lose money. However, if the issue is about a joint venture that benefits both Russia and Brazil where we share technology and make some money in the process, well, that’s the way to go.

Correspondent: Mr Prime Minister, you mention the economy fairly often and make very competent remarks on this subject. The international press, particularly the British, is saying that you and the photos you make represent reformism in the Russian economy. You have mentioned previously that you have always wanted to modernise the Russian economy. With a touch of irony, the international media sometimes say that your photos are being published less often recently… What political problems are you facing as you try to implement economic innovations?

Dmitry Medvedev: It’s hard to say about the number of photos. I don’t think that the number of photos is a good indicator of how effective a particular leader or politician is. Although I think there’s no shortage of them.

As for my beliefs, they haven’t changed. I really believe that our economy needs to be modernised and reformed. Moreover, international economic relations need to be modernised as well. Reforming the IMF or the World Bank is also about modernisation. We all need to change because the economic environment is changing.

It’s important that Russia reaches the next level of technical development. Yes, we are a rich country, we have lots of mineral resources, such as oil and gas. We have well-trained workforce and knowledgeable professionals, but unfortunately at some point in time we stopped being leaders in many areas. We remain leaders in some areas, such as space exploration and the nuclear industry, but we are no longer leaders in others, so we have to catch up with the leaders in order to regain our competitiveness. Competitiveness is the key driver of the modern world; therefore, we have to be competitive, and this is why I’m talking about the need to modernise our economy. This is not about the urge to change things all the time, just because we don’t have anything better to do. It’s not about an endless reforming process where achieving a goal is nothing and getting it is everything (as a classical thinker famously put it). It is imperative that we achieve a high level of competitiveness in all areas. This is the whole idea behind modernisation, and I’m working on it as consistently as I did when I was President.

Correspondent: When you look at Russia from the outside, you get the sense that the country is highly dependent on oil and gas exports. Russia is being criticised for excessive bureaucracy and political interference in the business of investors … How do you respond to such criticism?

Dmitry Medvedev: In many ways this is true. We are highly dependent on exports of raw materials, including hydrocarbons. There’s nothing critical about this situation, but it is fairly complicated. Just under 50% of federal budget revenue come from oil and gas exports. That’s too much dependence.

Let’s recap what happened in 2008: oil prices fell, and we instantly ran into the problem of dwindling budget revenue. We had to cut spending. We kept the social safety net intact, but still had to mothball several programmes. We need to get away from this dependence and have at most a quarter of revenue come from oil and gas exports. I believe this will be a good level of diversification of the Russian economy.

With regard to bureaucracy, it’s not only a Russian problem, but we do have our fair share of unresolved issues in this area. Unfortunately, the amount of bureaucracy involved in decision-making is still very high. That is why we are forced to take extraordinary measures: we have put together and are currently implementing targeted road maps showing businesses how they should approach customs or how to make sure the right decisions are made in the area of small and medium-sized businesses. This does not mean that this problem cannot be resolved. The number of required approvals has decreased over the past few years ­ this has been universally acknowledged ­ yet the problem remains fairly serious. So, our critics are largely correct in their criticism. But that is no reason for us to get offended and say: Well, if you don’t like us, then don’t work with us. This is a reason for us to change ourselves. When you are being criticised for something, it’s time to take a look at yourself and see if you are doing everything right.

Correspondent: Mr Prime Minister, what would you say to a Brazilian entrepreneur who would like to invest in the Russian economy, but is looking at the news, particularly from the US and UK, about the Magnitsky Act? Do you think that this is an attack against Russia which complicates doing business with your country, or is this a Russian issue which is off-limits to foreigners?

Dmitry Medvedev: I’d like to say a few words to Brazilian entrepreneurs: Come and work in Russia. We will be happy to have you in Russia, because we have a large market and you have a large market as well. We should move beyond mutual supplies, such as when we export fertilisers and get beef or pork in return from Brazil. We need to find new forms of cooperation. We should invest in each other. Both countries are talking a lot about bilateral trade. Are all conditions in place for, say, exporting traditional agricultural products from Brazil to Russia? Let’s give it a thought. We need to change the modality of our relations. Brazil is a major agricultural producer and Russia is, too. Basically, we can live without each other and we can even supply food to other countries. However, we are interested in your advanced livestock production technology. Why not create in Russia businesses jointly owned by Brazilian and Russian businessmen that would use innovative livestock production and crop-growing technology? It will be mutually beneficial and this is a higher level of cooperation. It’s more than just supplying goods which is a transient kind of business.

That’s what I would say to Brazilian businessmen, and I will say it tomorrow at a meeting with the Brazilian business community.

As for the position of other countries, I could’ve refrained from commenting on it, but since you asked I will answer. This is an absolutely politicised and artificial issue, something, as we like to say, made out of thin air where a pre-existing anti-Soviet document was turned into a clearly anti-Russian one. There’s nothing behind it. Unfortunately, some scam artists have exploited a person’s difficult situation in order to further their political and business goals. This has no bearing on our relations with Brazil, but, unfortunately, it undermines our relations with the United States, which is something that we don’t want to see. However, since these decisions were taken, we had to respond.

Correspondent: Do you think a new Cold War is on?

Dmitry Medvedev: There’s no Cold War whatsoever, but relations between countries may occasionally deteriorate. It depends on the administration and the people in power, as well as on lawmakers. With regard to the document that you mentioned, it’s not just the position of the Obama administration, but that of the Senate as well. That’s a different kind of power; that’s the legislative branch. Things are mixed up in life. We in Russia also had a situation where the position of the legislative and the executive branches was different on some issues. That’s OK. It happens in Brazil, too. However, there are no deep reasons for starting a Cold War. On the contrary, we are now able to join efforts and address a variety of issues. And resolve them, too.

Correspondent: You said earlier in the interview that Brazil has great sympathy for Russia. It is a historical tradition, we look at Russian society and the Russian culture with admiration and interest. I loved your quote from one of our presidents who said that Brazil is tropical Russia. How would you explain to our audience certain things that are happening in Russia? Brazilians were somewhat surprised to see several Russian girls from a punk group go to prison. I don’t think anyone in Brazil would ever go to jail over such a thing. Similarly, the Brazilians looked at the attempts of the Russian Duma to pass a law to ban the promotion of homosexuality. What is this about? Is Russia going through a phase of authoritarianism? What would you say to the Brazilian public?

Dmitry Medvedev: This is what I would say: Dear Brazilian friends, don’t arrive at conclusions about what life really is like in Russia from newspapers, television or the internet. There’s a great distance to travel between our countries, but I encourage you to go to Russia and see what’s happening in our country in reality.  Can people say what they want? Are there any problems with the freedom of speech, or any other freedoms for that matter? Come and see for yourself. I believe that one of the good parts of the modern world is that with good will and a moderate amount of money people can travel to any destination and see things with their own eyes.

Correspondent: Last question. Are you familiar with the character by the name of Ostap Bender?

Dmitry Medvedev: Russians hold this literary character in esteem.

Correspondent: Have you brought white pants with you in order to take a signature walk along the streets of Rio de Janeiro?

Dmitry Medvedev: The things I’m doing are very boring, so I have to wear blue pants all the time. If I had a chance though, I’d love to put on some white pants and take a stroll down the streets of Rio de Janeiro.

Correspondent: Thank you very much.