The 2008 election of Dmitry Medvedev as president was the start of a deliberate effort by the Russian authorities to present a more liberal face to the world and overcome “irrational” U.S. and European policies toward Moscow, a top Kremlin foreign policy adviser has told RIA Novosti in a wide-ranging interview.
“Our expectations were that a change of leadership for Russia would help our partners prevail over their own phantoms,” said the veteran adviser, who insisted on anonymity. “We expected that the arrival of Medvedev, who has the reputation of being more of a liberal than [Vladimir] Putin, would provide both grounds and the opportunity for a more objective examination of their actions.”
He also suggested that Putin’s “tough stance” during his 2000-2008 presidency was the root of the West’s discriminatory” and “confrontational” attitudes toward Russia during this period.
“How was it advantageous for the United States to pull Ukraine into NATO? Where was the benefit in the militarization of Georgia?” he asked. “They [the Bush administration] supported not what was good for America, but what was against Russia.”
The adviser, who has worked under all three of the men to hold the Kremlin top spot since the fall of the Soviet Union, also said that the foreign policy expectations of the Medvedev era had been realized “to a certain degree.”
The final obstacles toward Russia’s membership of the World Trade Organization were removed late last year. Russia, the largest economy outside the WTO, had been seeking membership of the global trade body for some two decades.
Medvedev announced last fall that he would not seek a second term in office in order to facilitate Putin’s return to the presidency. Putin was forced to stand down as president in 2008 by a Constitution that forbids more than two consecutive stints in the Kremlin, but is silent on subsequent terms. He installed his handpicked successor, Medvedev, as president and shifted to the post of prime minister. But he remained by far Russia’s most powerful politician and secured a third term as president at March 4 polls marred by allegations of voting irregularities.
Obama Key to Missile Shield Deal
The adviser also described U.S. President Barack Obama as a “very, very sensible politician” and said that talks on NATO’s planned missile shield for Europe would be “complicated” without his presence in the White House.
NATO says the U.S.-led shield project is to protect against “rogue” states such as Iran and North Korea and will pose no danger to Russia’s strategic deterrent. But Russia insists the system is a threat to its national security and is seeking written guarantees from NATO that it will not be used against it.
Obama was overheard earlier this year asking Medvedev on an open mic to convey to Putin his confidence that the thorny issue of missile defense could be resolved, but only after his “last election” this November, in which he faces Republican challenger Mitt Romney.
“Everything will be ok with missile defense,” said the Kremlin adviser. “I am confident we will reach an agreement.”
“Of course, if someone else [other than Obama] comes along, it will be difficult,” he added. “But there is no need, I believe, to think in Cold War terms.”
He also praised Obama’s “new way of thinking on politics” for the much-vaunted “reset” in Russian-U.S. relations.
“This is thanks in large part to Obama,” he said. “There has been a rethink on political confrontation. They have stopped viewing our relations through the prism of NATO.”
Russia not Tricked on Libya, More Respected on Syria
The adviser also refused to concede that Russia had been “tricked” by Western powers into abstaining from a vote on a March 2011 UN Security Council resolution that led to NATO airstrikes against the forces of then-Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi.
“I wouldn’t like to admit this,” he said. “But they did exploit our critical approach toward Gaddafi’s actions.”
The Libya conflict saw an apparent split between Russia’s ruling tandem in March 2011 after Putin’s described NATO’s campaign there as a “crusade.” Medvedev, without naming his powerful mentor, said such comments were “unacceptable.”
Russia has however vetoed similar resolutions on Syria over what it called a pro-rebel bias, a decision the adviser said was taken by Medvedev after “consultations” with members of the country’s Security Council. Putin is one of the eleven permanent members of the council.
The adviser also said that the international community had “begun paying more attention” to Russia on Syria, where the UN says over 9,000 people have been killed since the start of an uprising against President Bashar al-Assad in March 2011.
“This is because those risks that we spoke of in the past have become clearer to everyone,” the adviser said. “We could end up with the total destruction of [Syria’s] inter-confessional equality, the fragmentation of the country along religious and ethnic lines, and certain groups falling under the influence of individual countries.”
“We have always said that Assad bears the main responsibility [for the conflict], but that no less responsibility is born by those who send black-market weapons there and train in camps those people who are doing the shooting,” he said.
“Of those opposition figures shooting there, half are Iraqis or Libyan or whoever – but they are not Syrians,” he went on. “Everyone has known this for a long time.”
The Friends of Syria group, which includes the United States and the United Kingdom, suggested earlier this month arming Syrian rebels, a proposal that Russia said would merely prolong the conflict.
Russia has given its full support to UN envoy Kofi Annan’s six-point peace plan for Libya. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov criticized last month Assad’s handling of the uprising against his rule and said Syria needed to be “more decisive” to meet its commitments to Annan’s peace plan.
The top Kremlin adviser also repeated Russia’s criticism of North Korea’s attempted long-range rocket launch last month. The rocket broke apart shortly after taking off and fell into the sea. North Korea had defied international pressure over what it says was a bid to put a weather satellite into orbit.
“It was, to say the least, unnecessary,” the adviser said. “Thank god it ended like it did.”
He also said that Russia had had “no direct contact” with North Korea’s new, young leader, Kim Jong-un. “We have not spoken. But it’s clear that this [rocket] decision was the decision of swindlers and scammers.”
“Medvedev was right when he said that they would have been better off feeding the country,” he went on. “They are not our friends. They have never done anything good for Russia.”
“People latch on to them as some symbol of anti-Americanism. But why is it needed, this symbol? This is delusional,” he said.
“We, more than the Americans, more than anyone else, are concerned with the North Korean nuclear issue. After all, they are on our border,” he insisted. “It is one of the biggest illusions there is that we support them.”
He also said the Iranian nuclear program was of great concern to Russia.
“This is not just a problem for the United States and Israel – this is our common problem,” he said. Their rockets can reach us. That’s why we have been working with them and will continue to do so.”
Western powers and Israel suspect Iran of attempting to build nuclear weapons. Russia has spoken out against calls for military action against Iran over its disputed nuclear program, but has joined international sanctions against the Islamic Republic. Iran says it has no interest in an “un-Islamic nuclear weapon,” and that its program is devoted to the production of peaceful nuclear energy.
“We went for a domestically unpopular decision to join sanctions and decline to supply Iran with the S-300 missile system,” he said.
Russia Tried to Help Tymoshenko
Medvedev’s foreign policy adviser also said that Russia had tried to influence the Ukrainian courts over the trial of former Ukrainian prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko, who was jailed for seven years in 2011 after being found guilty of abuse of office in connection with a 2009 gas deal she signed with Russia.
Tymoshenko was changed after losing the 2010 presidential elections to Viktor Yanukovych, the man she and the president she served under, Viktor Yushchenko, prevented from taking power in 2004, when they led the country’s Orange Revolution after disputed polls in the former Soviet republic.
“We said that the actions against her were unlawful,” the adviser said. “Yushchenko told Medvedev that she had all the authority to sign the contracts.”
“Otherwise,” he went on, “it turns out that we also signed illegal contracts, and that isn’t true.”