Tuesday, March 31, 2009

BBC interview of Russian President Medvedev


The above interview (by BBC’s Andrew Marr of President Medvedev) was sent to me as a matter of possible interest, and indeed I found it so. Of course no competent diplomat or politician is going to divulge more than is safe for him to do unless he is tricked into doing so, and Marr is no trickster. He seems to admire Medvedev; which is okay since he asks him the important questions.

On the issue of Iran, Medvedev is maintaining the Russian position that Iran is developing nuclear power for peaceful purposes only. Medvedev says he would not like it if any new nations strove to be added to the nuclear club.

Medvedev’s answer regarding the division of powers between Putin and himself was not terribly helpful. He says “I am leading the country, I am the head of state, and the division of power is based on this. Mr. Putin is the prime minister of the Cabinet that implies very complicated and comprehensive work. But it is clear hat the President is taking major decisions on behalf of the State.” Does that mean that Putin is something like a Secretary of State in an American President’s cabinet? The title “Prime Minister” is usually applied to the leader of a country. The British Prime Minister is equal to the American President; so what really are Putin’s duties as Prime Minister of the Cabinet?

And is this the Medvedev version of Sovereign Democracy: “I would like Russia to be an efficient and powerful country where people live well in accordance with appropriate and civilized standards with ensured adequate quality of live [sic]. I would also like to see Russia among democracies within unified Europe, as a country that speaks to its partners on equal footing and with respect, and addresses the most challenging tasks. I would like Russia to be well-educated with preserved deeply rooted traditions of the Russian culture. Here are comprehensive, global goals, but I believe that they can be achieved.”


Both Marr and Medvedev assume that Medvedev will be able to get along better with Obama than Putin did with Bush, and I hope that turns out to be the case. During a time of threat such as the times leading up to the Second World War, Britain made serious mistakes in appeasing Germany. But these present times are not like that, at least not like that with Russia. Russia doesn’t have an aggressive leader bent upon lebensraum. In fact I would say that Russia has a full agenda just trying to bring Russia up to the standards of its EU neighbor – or perhaps it would be better to say up to the standards of the leading nations in the EU. Which means that Obama can make concessions to Russia, if concessions are called for, without fear – except for possible offense to Poland and the Czech Republic.

As to Iran, putting the best light on leaving Iran alone, perhaps if it did go ahead and develop nuclear weapons, the effect could be daunting. Yes, it would have a nuclear weapon, but it is the declared enemy of two nations, the US and Israel, which have a lot more, and better, nuclear weapons. Will it then get the respect it seeks, or will it fear the massive retaliation, or even worse a preemptive massive retaliation (so to speak)? Having a weapon that gives it a sort of power, but also makes it a bigger target, may have such a sobering effect on Iran that it begins to seek better relations with the Great Satan and his little brother. I am not predicting that will happen. I am just searching for a plausible positive outcome if Iran does develop nuclear weapons.

And given my hypothetical scenario, would Russia, who has “full-fledged relations with this state,” feel betrayed if Iran developed nuclear weapons? And if Iran did develop them, would Russia do anything about it? I suspect that they wouldn’t. They would feel less threatened by Iran than by some other Islamic nations on both sides of their border. They have enough to worry about with those and wouldn’t have a strong reason to physically chastise Iran for lying to them.

I can’t imagine the Obama or Medvedev administrations using military force against Iran (assuming Iran does develop nuclear weapons), but Israel might. Russia has a big country. What would Iran’s target be if they decided to bomb Russia? As for the US, it is too far away. But one nuclear bomb would pretty much obliterate Israel. Russia and the US can afford not to worry about direct attack, but Israel is much more in harm’s way and may not be willing to tolerate the threat. Which means that if Obama and Medvedev really want to play it safe, they will find means to make sure that Iran does not develop nuclear weapons.

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