Russian Ambassador: ‘You will not live to see Putin and Medvedev in conflict’

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Putin did not shift any power to the executive, the Russian Ambassador to the EU Vladimir Chizhov told EURACTIV in an interview, on the occasion of the inauguration of President Dmitry Medvedev.

Vladimir Chizhov is a career diplomat. Before being appointed Ambassador to the EU in 2005 he was deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs.

To read a shortened version of this interview, please click here
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Mr. Ambassador, congratulations on the inauguration today of your new President, Mr. Dmitry Medvedev. How would you expect this change of leadership to affect your country?

Today is a day that later will be called historic. It’s the transition of power from one democratically elected president to another democratically elected president of Russia. What makes it different from previous inaugurations is that eight years ago, when Vladimir Putin first took office as president, his predecessor Boris Yeltsin had already resigned. This time it’s one serving president, transferring the vestiges of power to his successor. It also means that Putin, as he has been openly saying, does not intend to leave politics and will remain active, possibly in the role of Prime Minister, but we will know more about that by the end of tomorrow. 

There have been reports about President Putin last week signing decrees shifting the supervision of the local governors to the government, rather than the President. 

Nothing has been changed in the Constitution and the Constitution is quite explicit on the divisions of power between the federal centre and the regions. The responsibilities of the Government have always been quite wide according to the current Constitution which was approved by a referendum back in 1993. And Putin of course has been vocal in stating his intentions not to shift any power from one post to another. The fact that Putin and Medvedev have known each other for 17 years and have worked together I believe gives enough ground to expect a working relationship of two politicians who share many of the same views and goals. 

Some commentators predict a conflict between two strong personalities… 

Let me answer in Russian to such predictions. There is in Russian a very short answer: ?? ????????? (‘You will not live to see it’). Don’t expect this to happen! 

When you spoke about the specificity of this change of power, you did not mention there was no real intrigue as to who would prevail. Some regretted this and said it is not a sign of a good democracy. 

Oh! You mean a sign of good democracy is when the result is hanging in the air and is decided not by the number of votes, but by decision of the Supreme Court, as happened in 2000 in one country? Or is true democracy when the post of prime minister is transferred from one person to another, without any vote, as happened a few months ago in another country? 

You did not mention either the fact that this time Russia is much stronger economically, thanks to the oil revenues. How important is this factor? 

I will not deny that the high price of oil, which is not determined by Russia of course, continues to provide a certain cushion for economic reforms in Russia. But I want to give you a more multi-faceted picture of what is happening in the Russian economy. Actually two thirds of the GDP is created outside the energy sector. Also three quarters of Russian GDP is generated by the private sector. And indeed the focus of the economic policies of the Government is to decrease the reliance on oil and gas exports and to use the money accumulated thanks to the high world prices to stimulate the development of other sectors, primarily the innovation sectors, nanotechnologies, high-tech, also improving the infrastructure, including transport infrastructure. The vast territory of the Russian Federation means that any king of infrastructure is very investment heavy. 

The inauguration of President Medvedev also coincides with a substantial price increase of energy for consumers – 40% according to the press… 

Fourteen, not 40! The long term objective of the Russian Government, which was announced a few years ago, was to gradually bring the domestic prices of energy to the world level. Understandably that could not happen overnight. And that’s something our Western partners in the EU and elsewhere, in the WTO accession, are constantly bringing our attention to. It’s not a popular measure, but it’s inevitable. 

The EU-Russia summit will take place next month in Khanty-Mansiisk, in Siberia. Do you expect the obstacles to agreement on the new legal basis of these relations, raised by Lithuania, to be removed by then? 

I will not speculate on that. We are patient in that sense. 

Who needs more this agreement? 

We don’t need this agreement more than the EU does. It was a mutual wish by both sides to have these negotiations and have a new treaty. Before coming to that conclusion we jointly organised a series of brainstorming sessions, exploring all options. We looked into the experience of other countries – the US, China, Japan, Switzerland, Norway – each of them has its own set of modalities for dealing with the EU. China is currently negotiating an “enhanced PCA”. In the US such an idea has never crossed their minds. Switzerland has a totally different approach, a set of sectoral agreements without an overarching one. 

We concluded that the best will be not the face-lifting of the current PCA, nor replacing it only with sectoral agreements, but replacing it with a new Treaty of Strategic Partnership, that’s the provisional name. In 2006 I was appointed chief negotiator by the Russian government and I am still waiting for my interlocutors. 

There is an obvious obstacle – the position of one country, Lithuania.  

Yes, precisely. It’s not an issue between Russia and the EU, it’s an issue within the EU. I would say it’s an issue of 26 members with the 27th. 

Lithuania was part of the Soviet Union, as was Georgia. Yesterday Georgian Deputy Prime Minister Temur Iakobashvili said here in Brussels that his country is very close to war with your country. Not a very good climate for the inauguration of your President… 

Well, I don’t share the opinion of the Georgian Vice Prime Minister, but he is partially right. There is a threat of war in South Caucasus, but it’s not a threat of war between Russia and Georgia. It’s a threat of Georgia trying to solve the existing conflicts that they have with Abkhazia and South Ossetia by force. That is the REAL threat. That’s the reason why Russia is drawing the EU’s attention to this situation, Foreign Minister Lavrov having done that personally when he met his counterparts of the EU Troika on 29 April. That is why I’m working here with my interlocutors and at other fora. 

This is the only reason behind the decision to increase the number of Russian peacekeepers in Abkhazia, in full compliance with the provisions of the 1994 Moscow agreement on that peacekeeping operation. Actually the arithmetics are quite simple – the agreement provided for a quota of 3,000 peacekeepers. In practice they were 200 and were enhanced by 500. So we still are 500 lower than the ceiling and that measure was considered necessary by the commander of the peacekeeping operation in view of the continued and increasing illegitimate military presence of Georgia in the Upper Kodori gorge, the only part of Abkhazia under Georgian control, combined with threats of military actions against Abkhazia. 

Your counterpart, Georgian Ambassador to the EU Salome Samadashvili, says that the Russian peacekeepers are party to the conflict and cannot be considered impartial. 

That maybe her personal view or if it is the view of the Georgian Government, it is not shared by the international community and certainly not by the other side of the conflict – Abkhazia. It is not that Russia had nothing else to do with its soldiers than to serve as peacekeepers in Abkhazia. And actually we lost several dozens of these soldiers over those years, trying to prevent the resurgence of conflict after a very bloody war in Abkhazia, which Georgia started and lost. 

Would you subscribe to the point of view of those analysts who said Georgia is getting nervous because the population of Abkhazia is increasingly attracted to its more prosperous and bigger neighbour, Russia, rather than remaining part of Georgia? 

Well, I wouldn’t exclude that. Of course it’s hard for Georgia to appear attractive to Abkhazians when they continuously hear threats coming from Tbilisi which treats them as enemies rather than compatriots, like people they want to settle the problems with. 

Your country has been accused of destabilising Abkhazia in retaliation to the declaration of independence by Kosovo. 

I think that’s a wrong assumption. What I would agree is that the people in Abkhazia itself perceive Kosovo as a precedent for themselves. That’s an obvious fact and the Russian Government and President Putin have been warning against this possible impact on Kosovo on Abkhazia and other regions, but not exclusively limited to those. The latest spin-offs from Kosovo can be seen in places as far away as Bolivia. 

Basically you are saying that whoever is destabilising Abkhazia, it is not Russia. 

We do not interfere and whatever we do is fully in line with international law and existing agreements. And all the measures we have taken recently in terms of promoting economic, cultural and people-to people contacts are only aimed at alleviating the sufferings of the population of those unrecognised entities. It is not recognition and it is not a sign of intent to recognise them. 

The ties between Moscow and Belgrade have greatly improved. There will be early elections in Serbia on Sunday. And there is a pro-Western or pro-EU camp, does it mean that the Radicals are the pro-Russian camp? 

Let me start by a more general comment. I think it’s a big mistake of people here in the West to put labels on politicians in other countries, to try to paint black-and-white pictures of the political scene. The same mistake was repeated in Ukraine, and now again in Serbia – one is pro-European, the other is anti-European. This is not the case, the situation has more shades of different colors. Of course, as Serbia has elections approaching, the political tension is growing, Kosovo being an open wound for all Serbs. So whatever their inclinations towards the EU, I don’t believe there is any political force that would be run on a ticket of giving up Kosovo. 

Some commentators said Russia has become stronger, but it doesn’t have many friends. Who are the friends of Russia? 

Oh! Everybody!  

Not like this, please mention them

Actually Russia’s intention is to have friendly relations with all countries, big and small, East and West. 

But why do you have the greatest spats with the countries closest to you? I already mentioned Georgia and Lithuania. Earlier there were problems with Poland. 

There are no problems with Poland today, after the change of government in Poland. So it does not depend on Russia, in many cases. As far as Lithuania is concerned, I believe it’s pure domestic policies. Because from what I’ve been hearing from the essence of Lithuania’s demands, they look quite artificial to me.

The problem that I see here in Brussels is that some of the difficulties we face in Russia-EU relations are a result of the EU enlargement, 2004 primarily. It seems that some of the newcomers brought their ghosts of the past into the European Union. And they have succeeded in testing European solidarity. I have nothing against European solidarity. What I don’t like is when my country is being used as a testing ground for that principle. 

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