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Meeting with Students of National University of Kiev

May 18, 2010, Kiev

The meeting with students at Taras Shevchenko National University of Kiev took place within the framework of the official visit of the President of Russia to Ukraine.

President Medvedev responded to students’ questions on prospects for Russian-Ukrainian economic relations, ways for overcoming the financial crisis and improving the investment climate in both countries, the fight against terrorism, the future of Black Sea Fleet base in Sevastopol, the development of bilateral humanitarian contacts, and Russia and Ukraine’s mutual recognition of one another’s university diplomas.

* * *

President of Russia Dmitry Medvedev: Good afternoon,

Dear friends, the first time I was here was 20 years ago. I was a young doctor of law from the city that was still called Leningrad at that time, and I remember this trip very well because it was my first trip as a young teacher, a doctor, invited to take part in a conference on law.

Since it was the first such occasion I was naturally very nervous and prepared my presentation. It was early September, I think, and it made a lasting impression on me. The Soviet Union was in the throes of great change at that moment, with all possible past authorities being overturned. Here, within the walls of Kiev State University, I remember how after the conference, we — how shall I put it – celebrated the occasion in the party committee, which would have been something quite simply unthinkable before then. This showed how free things had become by then. I never forgot those moments. I am very happy to be here once again now, in a somewhat different capacity, it is true. That first visit probably left no particular mark on this university’s walls. 

I hope that we will have the chance to have a good discussion today. I am not going to make any long opening remarks or prepared speeches. I think the whole point of this kind of meeting is in the questions you ask and the answers I give.

The only thing I do want to say at the outset is that I am of course very happy to be here in Kiev, very happy to be here at Ukraine’s official invitation. This is my first official visit to Ukraine. I won’t hide that it was something we waited long and hard for, something I had long wanted to undertake, but it was only recently that changes in circumstances finally made it possible. You understand what circumstances I am talking about. 

We worked very hard yesterday and produced a whole package of documents, some of which I think will be extremely useful for developing relations between our countries. But this work is only just beginning. We need to rebuild all that was lost over these last years and restore our cooperation to a normal level, get business up and running again. So far, I have no concerns as to our ability to do this, and President Yanukovych and I have been working fast, working in synchronization, I hope. This concerns our foreign policy and our relations in general.

I am all yours now, so go ahead with your questions.

Question: Mr President, welcome to Kiev National University. I study at the International Relations Institute in the department of international law, so I am your colleague.

Thank you once again for finding the time to visit our university and speak with us. This makes us very happy and honoured and is really an unforgettable experience. My question regards international relations. You just said that Ukraine and Russia now need to rebuild what was lost in their relations. What exactly would you say they lost, and what are their main priorities today? Thank you. 

Dmitry Medvedev: Thank you.

This is a good question to start with. What was lost? We lost practically everything that had been built up through such hard work over all the years. Above all, we lost the impetus in our relations. We all know how important the time factor is in today’s world. But sadly, our relations were at a standstill over the last five years. Sometimes we spoke on the phone or held some event or other, but even this interstate commission that met yesterday was meeting for only the third time, though if we look at when it was set up it should have been on to its tenth meeting by now. In other words, the momentum in relations between our countries’ leaders had dropped to a low point, and this was having an impact on everything else, including our bilateral trade.

What are the priorities now? Speaking frankly, the priority is to restore our economic ties, above all, by establishing a system in which our social and economic development (we are very close countries after all, and face the same economic problems) move synchronously. President Yanukovych and I agreed on a plan for the next 10 years yesterday. So, the priority is the economy, the economy, and again the economy.

But at the same time, we must also not forget about foreign policy coordination, and regional issues. We signed three declarations on these matters yesterday. We must not ignore humanitarian issues and cultural contacts either, for they are also very important. All of these things are priorities, but the top priority is the economy. 

Question: Good afternoon, Mr President. Thank you very much for finding the time for our university. I think that our student community appreciates this very much.

Could you please tell us how you assess the possibilities for cooperation between Ukraine and Russia as two friendly countries in the area of mutual recognition of education diplomas and carrying out the student mobility programmes – the Bologna process?

Dmitry Medvedev: As a former teacher it is my pleasure to answer this question. First of all, regarding recognition of diplomas, I think that ideally this problem would not come up between our countries at all. The issue of mutual recognition of diplomas should be settled for once and for good. I realise that this could involve some technical difficulties, but we have our Russian and Ukrainian colleagues present, and I think that this is certainly something on which we could reach a full agreement. 

As for student and teacher mobility, this is an important matter. I looked at reference information on Kiev National University and saw that you have working here a large number of teachers from different countries, which is very good, but not a single one from Russia, which is not good. Perhaps this is just the lingering effect of the political circumstances of recent years, perhaps you have simply not managed to attract any teachers from Russia, which is also an important aspect. As far as I am concerned, this is an important issue for Russia because teachers need to have this mobility. You might already know that I am a big fan of the internet, but no internet and no digital technology can ever replace real face-to-face contact with people, situations when you have someone right here before you, like me now, speaking with you, discussing, saying what they consider to be of interest, teaching a class. It is therefore extremely important to have Russian teachers go to Ukraine and Ukrainian teachers come to Russia, and it is perhaps even more important for students to have these same opportunities.

I gave you the example of how I came here in 1990. This was my first time here in general and it was a very interesting experience, but it came late. I was not so old of course, 25, or even 24 still, but it would have been good to come while I was still a student. Practically all of you have probably been abroad at least once, holidaying at various European resorts. We need to visit each other, including through educational programmes. I think this is something essential and I will instruct our education ministry to look into this, and I hope that our colleagues here today will also get involved, all the more so as this was also one of the decisions that President Yanukovych and I reached yesterday. 

Reply: Thank you very much.

Question: Mr President, I also study at the International Relations Institute. My question concerns Ukrainian-Russian relations in particular, namely, the Black Sea Fleet. We know that the agreement on the lease of the Sevastopol naval base has been extended until 2042. My question is, do you see strategic importance in Russia’s maintaining the base in Sevastopol? Thank you.

Dmitry Medvedev: Thank you.

I will try to answer in terms of Russia’s point of view, and on the issue as a whole. For Russia it is of course very important to maintain this base as a part of our security system. We have been using this base for a long time now. It seems to me that it is not causing anyone any problems but is rather helping to maintain the status quo in the Black Sea region. We know, after all, the dangers that can arise when the status quo breaks down. When the Warsaw Pact dissolved at the end of the 1980s, leaving only NATO, this upset the status quo. I am not passing judgement now on whether this was a good or a bad thing, but am only saying that this status quo was thrown out of balance, and this led to huge shifts in the political map of Europe that impacted the lives of many people. Speaking frankly, many of the armed conflicts on European soil began precisely because the security system changed and countries failed to manage this process properly.

I am therefore always very wary of changes in the security system. You know Russia’s position on this matter. We do not like the idea of NATO’s continued expansion. This is not because we oppose NATO, or because I am against NATO. No, we have a partnership with NATO, but it is nonetheless a military alliance, an alliance in which Russia is not a member, and the closer it comes to our borders the more discomfort we feel. Russia therefore has clear reasons to want to keep the base.

But I think that Ukraine and Europe also have a clear interest in this. As I said, in this way we are able to maintain the existing system of risk distribution. We (Russia, Ukraine, and a number of other countries) are all Black Sea countries. We are all parties to the special convention, which you, as a student of international relations, no doubt know – the Montreux Convention [regarding the regime of the Straits] regulating the right for peaceful passage through these waters of vessels belonging to countries from outside the region. I think this is good. I know that it is a source of tension for us and for our Turkish neighbours too, when foreign vessels with no relation to our Black Sea region enter these waters to make some kind of demonstration. You know that the region has seen various events, serious events. In 2008, we went through the crisis in the Caucasus. The more stable the situation in the Black Sea basin the better for everyone, including NATO.

I therefore think it makes sense for us to keep the base and extend the lease for a long period from this point of view, not to mention that it brings Ukraine some other benefits too.

Question: Hello, I am a law student.

Dmitry Medvedev: It seems only my colleagues are putting questions today.

Question: Seating as we are here, at the university, my question concerns education. Ukraine is still engaged in discussion on the Bologna process. What is Russia’s view on this matter? 

Dmitry Medvedev: When I answered the question earlier I forgot to mention this issue. We are taking part in the Bologna process, and decided to do so with a certain amount of anxiety in our hearts because many universities opposed the idea of changing their system and moving away from the system of specialization to the system of bachelor and masters degrees. But we decided to make these changes and I think that the results are normal on the whole. There are no big contradictions between these two education tracks, and I think that the situation will continue to level out with time.

Students should have a choice about what kind of education they get. I think this is the most important matter as far as Russia is concerned. Each student should have the right to choose which system suits them better – the specialisation system, or the bachelor and master’s degree system. Doubts have been expressed about how prepared our education system is – and we have close, practically identical education systems – for these changes. This is why this special course lasts for a greater number of years. Many times I have heard people asking what kind of specialist is it that can be trained in just 3–4 years, especially in the exact sciences, in engineering, say. But I think that, on the whole, we have managed these changes quite well and the situation is relatively calm now. We will therefore continue to make progress in the Bologna process, and we are willing to coordinate our work in the area with that of our colleagues here in Ukraine.

Question: Good afternoon, Mr President. Judicial reform is a big issue at the moment for both Ukraine and Russia. As a professional lawyer, what are the main directions for Russia’s legal system reform as you see it?

Dmitry Medvedev: Thank you. This is a good question and it is relevant for Russia and for Ukraine.

Looking at our legal system in general, we have accomplished much over these last 20 years. We should not close our eyes to this fact and say that we – both of our countries – have the most backward, enfeebled and imperfect judicial system in the world. Of course there are still improvements that can be made, legislative improvements, but the system’s backbone has already been formed now. We have clear and unchanging procedures for appointing judges, and also disciplinary procedures for judges. Of course we have criminal-procedural and civil-procedural legislation. We have a developing body of administrative law. These are all good things.

What is not so good? There are problems with respect for the courts and with the courts’ place within the political system as a whole. There are problems with how court rulings are passed and how they are enforced. Finally, there is a problem that we both face, namely, when businesspeople pressure the courts and even bribe judges. These are all flaws that still remain in the system and that discredit it. 

I held a meeting on the investment climate recently. The issue of court proceedings, respect for the courts and enforcement of court decisions was practically the top problem. Foreign investors and our own businesspeople too, say that Russia has a normal environment, normal laws, and everything is working more or less. The financial market is developing, despite the crisis. The big problem as they see is that court decisions are not enforced, or are not enforced as they should be. Another problem arises when earlier court decisions are overturned for unclear reasons by a court of higher instance. They see this as a sign of arbitrary action, intervention by the state authorities or by business – corruption, in other words.

This is what we need to fight above all. But this is a sensitive area and we need to tread a fine line between maximum respect and support for the justice system and judges’ authority on the one hand, while at the same time sending the right signals so that judges will make the law and only the law the basis of their decisions.

We have a number of instruments that can help here. One of them is money, of course. This was something I worked on when I was Chief of Staff of the Presidential Executive Office. We decided back then on a substantial increase for judges’ salaries. Now, judges receive quite decent salaries compared to the situation in the country as a whole. Judges with a good number of years work behind them earn on average from $3000 a month. This does not resolve all the problems though, and so, along with our efforts to improve judges’ pay we have also tightened disciplinary penalties for judges. I think these are two sides of the same coin. If judges are caught committing acts not in keeping with their status they should be immediately fired, and if they commit crimes they should go to prison for it.

Question: Mr President, I have many questions.

Dmitry Medvedev: Let’s take the first one.

Question: I will start with the most important one then – the global financial and economic crisis. What steps can Russia and Ukraine take together in this area? What can we, as citizens of Ukraine, do to help you and our president to resolve these economic problems?

Dmitry Medvedev: This is a good question. I will pass on that you are willing to help the President of Ukraine. Leave your phone number at the dean’s office.

Jokes aside, this is, of course, a big problem for our countries. The crisis has hit our countries very hard, harder than other countries. This is partly because of the way our economies are structured, and partly because of the problems that already existed in the financial sector. What steps should we take now? We need to avoid hysteria and simply make efforts to get ourselves out of the crisis by resolving the financial problems that have accumulated, by helping each other and also by turning to the international financial organizations for help. There is no other way out. This was something I discussed with President Yanukovych yesterday. I told the President and our colleagues at the Interstate Commission’s meeting that we are ready to help our Ukrainian partners in their contacts with the international financial organizations. I think this is very important, all the more so as Russia has considerable weight in these organizations, as a participant in the Group of Eight and the Group of Twenty, which is a good base to start from.

In a number of cases we are ready quite frankly to lobby Ukraine’s interests, to ensure that decisions taken are in the interests of our close friends and neighbours. I say this because we recently took the decision, for example, to buy a whole number of IMF bonds issued for a huge total – hundreds of billions of dollars. We bought $10 billion worth of these bonds.

But to be honest, we are not indifferent to where this $10 billion will go. If it goes towards helping Ukraine and other countries close to us this is a good thing. If it is put into unclear purposes and spent on patching up holes in the international financial regulation system I would feel it is money wasted. 

We therefore need to cooperate very closely together. It is extremely important to develop joint projects, business projects, and only in this way can we vanquish the financial crisis.

Our economies are growing now. Our trade is on the rise too. As President Yanukovych and I discussed yesterday, it has practically doubled. Our goal is to reach a figure of a little more than $30 billion this year and perhaps even as much as $40 billion. I said yesterday that we need to set ambitious goals. In any event, I think that for big economies such as Russia and Ukraine a trade figure of $100 billion is entirely realistic. This would turn us into genuinely close and full-fledged partners. 

Reply: Thank you. We will work towards this success.

Question: Mr President, thank you for this interesting meeting.

I study philology and so will ask a question from this angle. I realise you are busy with all kinds of state affairs, but do you get a chance to keep up with modern Russian and foreign literature? What authors and books do you prefer in general? Thank you.

Dmitry Medvedev: This is a good question. To be honest, I mostly read the various kinds of boring documents that presidents usually spend their time reading, things such as draft agreements, orders, instructions, laws submitted for signing, all kinds of reports from the various agencies, ministries and the intelligence services. This is all interesting, but there are limits. Sometimes I want to read something normal, something with a bit of human warmth. I do try to follow what is happening in literature, though I do not always succeed.

A few years ago, I got someone to buy me around 50 books by modern Russian authors that had come out in the last 5–7 years, and I read some of these works. I cannot say that they were all to my taste, but some of them are interesting. I suppose you could say, though, that my preferences are quite traditional and I like to read the classics, Russian and foreign. Sometimes I even read them in electronic format. To share a secret with you, I was recently given an iPad. Maybe you have one too, I don’t know. I downloaded a selection of books from the internet. The last thing that I was reading before flying here to Kiev was [Nikolai] Gogol. It was a real delight to read because I had not read any literature for quite a while. Strangely, I am used to this electronic format now. It used to seem a rather cold and impersonal way to read, not even having to turn the pages, but now I find it a pleasure.

So, I read the classics, but I am not averse to sometimes reading modern authors too, of whom there are quite a few.

Question: Mr President, we know that international terrorism today is distinguished by its use of various new particularly dangerous and cynical methods. What modern methods can Russia propose for fighting international terrorism today?

Dmitry Medvedev: Thank you.

This is a very serious issue. The only way to really confront terrorism is to get all countries to take a consolidated stand based on rejection of all forms of terrorist activity and resolute condemnation of all terrorist acts, no matter where they happen. Sadly, when Russia was hit by terrorist attacks not so long ago, we saw a situation when these events were described in quite different terms, while the monsters who committed these attacks were described as ‘partisans’ and so on. But these are people who killed peaceful civilians in pursuit of their own aims.

The international community’s unwavering and firm stand is thus essential, as are efforts from each individual country. We in Russia have many problems to address in this respect, unfortunately, especially in the Caucasus. 

The situation is quite straightforward: we need to eliminate those who raise a hand against ordinary people, against their own people, and at the same time, we also need to engage in dialogue and draw out of the forests those who are ready to return to peaceful life. I have spoken on this issue many times and have given the relevant instructions. Regarding our situation, it is extremely important to create new jobs in the Caucasus, get people into modern employment, pay wages. Unemployment is a huge problem in the North Caucasus. In some areas, in Daghestan and Chechnya, for example, unemployment is running at 30–40 percent. This does not mean that everyone there is on the brink of starvation, some people are even living rather well, but even so, when people do not have stable employment they can develop all kinds of psychological problems.

Morals and religion have a very important mission too. There are no bad religions, only bad preachers, only people who attempt to make religion serve their own petty interests. If we take all of these steps we will succeed in defeating terrorism. This is not an evil that will plague us forever. I am sure of this. But it is not an easy combat.

Question: Mr President, thank you for your interesting thoughts on knowledge-based, innovative development of your economy. We know from the media that Russia is working on powerful supercomputers, in particular at Moscow State University. How do you think information technology is influencing modern society? I know that you have a blog on the internet. What prompted you to start it? Thank you.

Dmitry Medvedev: As far as information technology in everyday life goes, I said just before that I read books in electronic format now and have even started to enjoy it. I think that people who try to shut themselves off from these kinds of technology are making an unforgiveable mistake. First, it puts them outside mainstream global development, and second, they are quite simply depriving themselves of pleasure. For my part, I really enjoy using these various gadgets, using all kinds of smart devices. I enjoy it and I make no secret of this. I think that this is the way of the future, and I try to promote this technology in every way I can. I hope that you make this technology part of your lives too, in the form of mobile phones at least, and other communications devices, and in the form of computers, of course.

I have said before to our civil servants that civil servants who do not know how to use a computer should be fired because in our days this is tantamount to not knowing how to write. They would not hire an illiterate person, so why hire someone who cannot use a computer? I don’t know if all ministers here are computer literate. Maybe you should check. I check our ministers from time to time. 

You are all computer literate? That’s good. It is not my business, anyway, but is a matter for your own bosses.

As for the supercomputers, yes, this is an important project. We are indeed working on developing our network of supercomputers so as to later integrate them into a grid network and create new super machines. We are investing considerable amounts of money in this project. It is one of the technological development directions that you mentioned, and one of our national development priorities over the coming years. Of course, this is an area in which we face constant competition. This is a good thing too because competition is a driving force for human progress. We are always in competition with the Americans. It must be admitted that they are half a step ahead, but they are always looking over their shoulders to see who is breathing down their necks – Russia, China, France. This competition will continue. Petaflop and exaflop computers are just around the corner.

Question: Mr President, my name is Yevgeny and I am a law student. I want to ask you about education, which I think is a subject of interest to us all.

The university entry period last year in Ukraine was a difficult time because of the introduction of a new system of external examinations. I know that in Russia too there have been various debates over the new national final school exam. What kind of improvements do you think should be made to the university entry procedures? 

Dmitry Medvedev: I think this is an area where we need to show rational conservatism while at the same time continuing to move forward. It is hard for me to pass judgement on Ukraine’s university entry system. It would not be proper for me to do this and I am not so familiar with all the details of your system. But I can certainly tell you about the situation in Russia. I was a university lecturer too and worked for ten years at the law faculty, sat on entrance commissions, and I can say that the system of entry exams that we used to have was not entirely fair. I imagine that most of you probably sat these kinds of entry exams. You would agree with me, I think, that it was something of a lottery in many ways. To be honest, it wasn’t just about having the luck go your way but also was often about connections and corruption.

With that kind of entrance exam system it was always possible to make a deal with someone, make use of this or that connection in order to get the needed results. This was the case when I was a student. I entered Leningrad State University in 1982, and these cases were happening back then. As the new economy developed and people got more money and more and more people began seeking higher education these problems became even more acute.

And so I think that the national final school exam is not such a bad system. It is not perfect because it is based on an average overall approach that cannot test in full student’s actual abilities, but the system of tests it offers does work nonetheless. Also very important is that under this system students can apply to enter any university of their choice. 

I sometimes find myself thinking that if a famous Russian scholar such as Mikhail Lomonosov were to apply for entry to university in today’s world he would get nowhere. Arriving from a village, as he did, even with the best of knowledge he would not be able to adapt to the entry exam system and make it through. But the national final school exam makes it possible for anyone, no matter where they got their education, in a village or in a city, to apply to any university.

The only change we decided on with the education minister was to limit the number of universities a student can apply to. [Addressing Education Minister Andrei Fursenko] How many can a student apply to now? Five. Students can send their applications to five universities. This is a normal step because otherwise we had the risk of an unmanageable situation with people applying to all universities at once, no doubt hoping to make their parents happy, or get accepted somewhere and head off to start their own lives as soon as possible. 

Overall, therefore, I think the system is not bad, even though it does still require some improvement. Of course there are some subjects that it is hard to test through the national exam. It is one thing to test maths or chemistry, for example. I think the national exam can test students’ knowledge quite accurately here. But it is another thing to test knowledge of literature, be it Russian or Ukrainian. There is artistic element to take into account here, and students have to demonstrate their abilities in a different way. In short, there are still issues to discuss and work on. But overall, this is a globally used system and we are also going to keep moving in this direction. I imagine that the same will be the case here.

Question: I study at the Institute of International Relations. Mr President, I have two questions on the Black Sea Fleet. First — and this is a concern for quite a few people in Ukraine — we know that Russia has free lease of the base in Sevastopol. Does Russia plan to pay for the Black Sea Fleet’s presence in Sevastopol?

And second, you said that the Black Sea Fleet is an element in Europe’s security, but could it also be an element for expansion into various countries? What is the guarantee that no action will follow on the part of the Russian Federation?

Dmitry Medvedev: Whose expansion are you talking about, Russia’s, or someone else’s?

Question: What is the guarantee against Russia using the base to pursue its own interests?

Dmitry Medvedev: Let' put things in frank terms and ask: what are the guarantees that Russia will not use its Black Sea Fleet to attack neighbouring countries?

Russia will not do any such thing. Russia is a peaceful country.

Question: But what guarantee do we have?

Dmitry Medvedev: On the subject of guarantees, in the words of Ostap Bender [a character in Ilf and Petrov’s satirical novels Twelve Chairs and The Golden Calf], the only real guarantees you’ll ever find are in an insurance policy. From the point of view of international relations the real guarantees are the system of international relations that we have, our commitments within the UN framework as a party to international conventions, a party to the Helsinki Final Act of 1975 on cooperation and security in Europe. There are also many other international conventions and agreements. The question of whether Russia could violate its international obligations and act in disregard of international law is really just a scholastic debate. Of course Russia will not do this because this would not be in our country’s interests. Russia is a big country with many different interests, but if we start to marginalise ourselves within the international community we would inevitably feel the consequences. We are all grown ups and do not want to return to the Soviet past. This is the case for the majority of people in our country, at least, as in yours. 

As for the Black Sea Fleet, it seems to me that you are maybe missing some of the details about this situation or have received information from just one source. We were already paying for the lease of the base (but this payment was made in a particular form for the preceding period as part of the debt settlement process), and we will continue to pay. The agreement that we just signed recently with the Ukrainian President, the result of all the work accomplished of late, obligates us to pay Ukraine the equivalent of almost $40 billion. This is a huge sum.

This sum of money has been the subject of much debate in our country. Some people think it is a good thing as it will enable Russia to keep the base and therefore maintain this element of stability that I spoke about, but others think the cost is too high. On average such bases usually cost a lot less. The Americans pay less, NATO pays less. But our position is that this is not just some kind of simple exchange on the lines of swapping one good for another. This is a part of overall European stability and part of our strategic relations with Ukraine, and this is why we agreed to it. 

Question: I study law and am specialising in civil law.

Dmitry Medvedev: Another colleague.

Question: I have two questions.

First, looking at law, what do you think we could do to improve lawyers’ training today?

And second, as a specialist in civil law, do you continue to study this area today, and are there specialists in civil law that have influenced your development as a lawyer?

Dmitry Medvedev: Thank you. This is a question I like at the personal level. As far as my own scholarly pursuits and current interests go, unfortunately, to be honest, I do not get much time these days to read on civil law, though I do read on the subject now and then. I was really proud to be able to take part in codifying Russia’s civil legislation, in particular, taking part in the work on the third and fourth parts of the Civil Code. The Civil Code consists of four parts, and the fourth part deals with intellectual property. When I was First Deputy Prime Minister I had the task of presenting this entire law to our parliament, the State Duma. This was a historic moment, and as a civil law specialist it was really a very memorable experience.

As for the specialists who have influenced me, of the pre-revolutionary specialists I would name Gabriel Shershenevich, who you all know, and a number of others such as Meyer and Pobedonostsev. I read many different authors, but in terms of views on the civil law system, and the depth and insight of the content and language, I think that Shershenevich has no equals. His course on commercial law and his textbook on civil law and commercial law are simply marvels.

Soviet civil law specialists also had an influence on me. I studied civil law at Leningrad State University, where quite a well-known school had developed that had its prominent figures, such as Academician Venediktov, who wrote many works on property, and a number of other specialists, including my own teacher, Professor Smirnov. The university is still home to a number of well known scholars such as Academician Tolstoy, who has also written many interesting works. We had exchanges with our partners from other universities, of course. Kiev University was one of the closest, and this is still the case today. The rector said that the universities have maintained full-fledged ongoing contacts. 

Question: Good afternoon. I am a chemistry student. We have unravelled the mysteries of gas chemistry in our studies, but not the mysteries of the latest gas agreement between Russia and Ukraine. Could you please explain the benefits for each country?

Dmitry Medvedev: It is good that someone has brought up the gas issue. First of all, though, on the subject of chemistry, although I ended up becoming a lawyer I originally wanted to study chemistry when I was still in school. My father worked in this field and chemistry was my best subject in school, but in the end I chose a different direction.

Coming to gas, gas is not just about chemistry and physics, but also about economics and even politics. Gas is at once very straightforward and very complicated. We are engaged in intense consultations with our Ukrainian partners on the gas issue. The situation is normal on the whole. I think that we have reached decent agreements, including the agreements reached in Kharkov. This lets the Ukrainian economy breathe more freely. But this does not mean that there is no room for improvement and that we should not keep moving forward on the gas issue. The world is changing, after all, new energy sources are emerging, and we need to build new gas transport networks, develop new types of fuel based on gas, obtain new substances derived from gas. I think that we could develop close cooperation in all of these areas. The difficult part is organising exactly how to go about this work.

Russia has no desire to impose any particular schemes on Ukraine. We have our company, Gazprom, the world’s biggest gas producer, and this company is in ongoing contact with Naftogaz of Ukraine. We are still in the process of settling the specific conditions and projects. But I think this is definitely something we need to do because, as I said, the world is changing, energy sources are diversifying, and energy prices are changing too. We all have an interest in developing new transport routes and providing guarantees, gas transit guarantees that are important to Russia, and gas supply guarantees that are important to our partners and consumers in Ukraine.

In principle, we already have all of this, but I think that we need to think about the future too, on a pragmatic basis, and without trying to impose anything on each other. That is the most important thing. If we work together in this spirit everyone will benefit.

Question: Mr President, I am a law student and am also specialising in civil law. Humanitarian cooperation is one area in which you want to develop ties with Ukraine, and you recently signed an agreement with our President on this. What are this agreement’s main provisions, and what are the prospects for developing bilateral ties in this area?

Thank you.

Dmitry Medvedev: Answering the first question today, I said that our priority is the economy, the economy, and again the economy. But this is because we lost so much economic ground over these last years. I do not want you to get the impression that humanitarian cooperation has been relegated to some completely secondary position. Simply, I think that the closeness of our cultures and our mutual understanding of each other’s development makes it easier to develop our humanitarian ties, and at the same time, this is what people want overall. No matter what some might say, we are open countries and we fought hard for this openness. We want to be open and transparent countries at the humanitarian level too. We want our people to be free to travel to each other, free in their contacts with each other, free to speak Russian and Ukrainian, free to watch different television programmes.

I do not know if you are aware or not about my initiative that has now resulted in a decision to use a Russian satellite to broadcast a whole number of different television channels from the CIS countries, including Ukrainian channels. We are in the process of finalizing the details right now. This will mean that viewers throughout practically all of Russia will be able to watch one of your country’s main channels. I think this is very important because it will give everyone in Russia the chance to get information in Ukrainian. It will give everyone this opportunity. 

The same thing should take place here. I think this new environment is one of our biggest achievements over the last century.

But humanitarian cooperation is not limited to just these kinds of exchanges or technology developments. We need to have full and normal relations in all areas of cultural life. This year, we are celebrating Chekhov’s anniversary. Chekhov worked in Russia and in Ukraine too. I think this is a good reason to hold some joint events and settle some of the problems that still remain. The anniversaries of other writers and poets also offer such unifying opportunities.

If we want to give full substance to our relations this agreement on humanitarian cooperation needs to cover every area: student and teacher exchanges, reciprocal travel, tourism and recreation issues, and sports too. All of this helps to create an environment for contact. I therefore hope that this is the direction in which President Yanukovych and I will work to build up our humanitarian cooperation.

Question: Mr President, I study at the Institute of International Relations and am specialising in international law.

I welcome you to our university on behalf of all of us, students and teachers. Since I’m the lucky one who gets to ask one of the last questions I wanted to ask something a bit controversial.

Dmitry Medvedev: Go ahead.

Question: I want to ask about the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO). As the head of the country that is the leader in this organisation, can you tell us, does the CSTO plan any enlargement, and would you like to see Ukraine as a military ally? Thank you.

Dmitry Medvedev: I am not sure that there is anything ‘controversial’ really about your question. I think it is a perfectly normal question, a good question. The answer is quite simple. It is for Ukraine itself to make such decisions. If Ukraine wants to join the CSTO it is welcome. If Ukraine has reservations on this matter this is something we respect.

The question is one of how Ukraine, the Ukrainian authorities, people, and establishment see their place in Europe. If Ukraine sees its place as a fully neutral and independent country this is something that Russia would accept without any problem. What President Yanukovych said about Ukraine not belonging to any blocs was perfectly acceptable to me, as President of Russia, because this is completely in keeping with our own interests, and I think that it is also completely in keeping with a large part of the Ukrainian people’s interests too.

But life does change, and if in the future Ukraine thinks it would be in its interests to join the CSTO we would be happy to open the door to you and welcome you into our ranks. But this has to be Ukraine’s own sovereign decision, a serious decision that is the result of careful reflection. There should not be a situation when countries join the CSTO but do not actually do anything there. There has to be some kind of internal discipline. The same is the case in NATO. Imagine a NATO member not carrying out the organisation’s decisions – they would have trouble. I think the same applies to the CSTO and to other integration organizations. It is very important to have a sense of self-discipline. We do not always succeed in this, but that is a separate issue.

Question: Can I ask another little question?

Dmitry Medvedev: Yes.

Question: Listening to your words today, could we say that the CSTO was established as a means of supporting the status quo in the world and as a counterbalance to NATO? 

Dmitry Medvedev: No, the CSTO was established for other purposes. The CSTO is not the Warsaw Pact and cannot replace it, fortunately. We do not need confrontation between NATO and any other military bloc. You do not remember that time yourselves but know it only from books, but I was in school and university during those years and I remember the endless talk about how we were deploying or withdrawing missiles, trying to keep up parity, us threatening the Americans, the Americans threatening us – we’ve had enough of all of that and do not want to return to those days. The CSTO is therefore a regional bloc aimed at ensuring the member countries’ security and helping to develop the economic ties and humanitarian cooperation between them. It has a wider purpose, although the kind of discipline I just mentioned is a part of it too. In accordance with the CSTO’s internal rules, an attack on any of the member countries is considered as an attack on the CSTO in general. But it is not an easy organization to manage. Its members include countries with which relations are not always straightforward. I’m sure you understand what I mean. In this sense, a restraining factor of this kind certainly does not go amiss.

I therefore hope that you, as a future politician and international relations specialist, will take decisions on these sorts of issues acting above all in your country’s national interests. This is the only way. 

Once again, I thank you all for spending this hour together with me in this warm hall, which is warm indeed both in temperature and in spirit.

It was a pleasure to talk with you. To be honest, I would happily spend more time with you here, but I have a meeting with businesspeople. As I said, it’s the economy, the economy, and again the economy.

I wish you good luck and success in all your endeavours.

May 18, 2010, Kiev