SPIEGEL: Let's talk about your relationship to Putin. It remains a mystery how Russia's president and its prime minister relate to each other. Are you pursuing a dual strategy to support the current system? Putin appeals to the traditionally minded sectors of society, and you appeal to the liberal minority and the West?
Medvedev: There is certainly no doubt that our tandem works smoothly. And this despite the fact that there had been many predictions that we would soon have a falling-out. Of course we each have our own ideas and styles. Under no circumstances would I want us to eventually resemble the aging Politburo leaders of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, who always wore exactly the same coats and the same hats when they climbed up the steps of Lenin's Mausoleum, so that it was impossible to tell Leonard Brezhnev from (prominent Politburo member) Mikhail Suslov.
SPIEGEL: Putin's recent comment about the next presidential election greatly astonished many in the West. When asked which of you will stand for election, he said that the two of you would "sit down and reach an agreement" regarding what happens in 2012. Former President Gorbachev was shocked. He said that if an agreement was to be reached with anyone, it would have to be with the electorate. But the people apparently don't play a role any more.
Medvedev: I would recommend that Mr. Gorbachev take a closer look at Putin's words. He merely said that if Vladimir Putin and Dmitry Medvedev are still attractive to the people as political figures at the time of the next presidential election, then we will sit down and decide which of us will stand for election -- so that we don't impede each other. He did not maintain that we would decide among ourselves who would be the next president. That would of course be ridiculous.
SPIEGEL: In the meantime, there are enough political challenges. On Dec. 5 the START treaty on arms control will expire. US President Barack Obama is already dreaming of a world without nuclear weapons. Did he speak with you about how he wants to achieve this objective?
Medvedev: Who else should do it, if not us? The greatest nuclear potential is currently in the hands of Russia and the US. If we don't address this, there will be no disarmament. We have recently moved at quite a brisk pace, also because the new administration in Washington has made this issue a top priority -- in contrast to its predecessor, which appeared to be totally uninterested in strategic disarmament. Now we have every opportunity to agree on lower thresholds and define monitoring measures. At the end of the year, we could sign a legally binding document.
SPIEGEL: The ground-breaking role of Moscow and Washington won't be enough.
Medvedev: Correct, other nuclear powers show no signs of such an attitude. Even our close European partners don't share this attitude -- you can imagine who I mean.
SPIEGEL: This could only be France and the UK.
Medvedev: Emerging nuclear powers show even less understanding, particularly those that illegally attempt to acquire nuclear technologies. And then there are countries that won't admit that they have nuclear weapons, but won't deny it, either. We have to think of ways that we can convince everyone to renounce nuclear weapons.
SPIEGEL: You are familiar with the West's fears of a nuclear-armed Iran. How will Russia act in this case? To what extent do you intend to accommodate Tehran with arms deliveries and the pursuit of its nuclear energy program?
Medvedev: Iran has the right to the peaceful use of nuclear energy, under the oversight of the International Atomic Energy Agency -- there is no objection to that. The country must only respect the applicable regulations; it cannot attempt to conceal any facilities. The discovery of the new plant at Qom is alarming. It is also surprising that this information has only now been made public. Should the negotiations on enriching Iran's uranium for peaceful purposes prove successful, we would be happy to take part in this program.
SPIEGEL: And if not?
Medvedev: Theoretically, all options would still be on the table. I have spoken with Obama in New York about this. I don't want it all to end with sanctions. But if things don't move forward, such a scenario cannot be ruled out.
SPIEGEL: What about the Russian arms deliveries?
Medvedev: We will only deliver arms that serve defensive purposes, no offensive weapons.
SPIEGEL: Do you see a danger that the West in Afghanistan could suffer the same fate as the Soviet Union, which, after nine years of war and 15,000 military casualties, withdrew its troops from the Hindu Kush in 1989?
Medvedev: Yes, I do. If the Western alliance cannot help Afghanistan to establish a functioning state, there will never be stability, no matter how many foreign troops are dispatched there. The fact that Hamid Karzai has now been recognized as the elected president creates additional stability. I am not talking about the course of events during the election, partly because, following the discussion of our electoral system, I don't want to criticize any other country. But I cannot let this pass without one comment. Our American colleagues have hailed elections in Afghanistan and Iraq as a triumph of democracy. If that is the case, then I ask that they acknowledge the elections in Russia accordingly.
SPIEGEL: Mr. President, at the beginning of this interview you said that, since the fall of the Wall, many of your hopes and those of your fellow countrymen have been fulfilled, others have not. Which ones were you referring to?
Medvedev: I have already mentioned the positive things. But it has not been possible to redefine Russia's place in Europe. After the disappearance of the Warsaw Pact, we were hoping for a higher degree of integration. But what have we received? None of the things that we were assured, namely that NATO would not expand endlessly eastwards and our interests would be continuously taken into consideration. NATO remains a military bloc whose missiles are pointed towards Russian territory. By contrast, we would like to see a new European security order.
SPIEGEL: Although no one really knows exactly what you mean by this.
Medvedev: It is about creating a new platform where NATO and non-NATO members can debate their most pressing problems. I don't want this to be a counterweight to NATO. But we need a universal mechanism to resolve differences of opinion within Europe. The conflict with Georgia showed how fragile our security is. This was a European conflict.
SPIEGEL: Today Europe is first and foremost a community of values, with democracy and human rights at the top of the list. Russia's future role in Europe also depends on how important these values are in your country.
Medvedev: Our values are the same as yours. I don't see any major differences in terms of freedom and human rights, especially in comparison to the new EU member states. When it comes to political culture and economic development, they are not one iota better -- but they are small, and they talk about how many threats they have to live with …
SPIEGEL: ... you are referring now to Poland and the Baltic republics.
Medvedev: The difference between them and Russia is that we are big, very big, and that we possess nuclear weapons. It is totally wrong to say: "Here is the united Europe, where democracy has already been achieved, and there is the ominous, uneducated Russia, which we cannot yet allow into Europe."
SPIEGEL: That sounds very bitter.
Medvedev: Is Russia the only country asking for investments? You are the ones who wanted -- or want -- to work with us on Opel, the Wadan shipyards and other projects. This means that our business agendas are actually the same, and our economies are highly intertwined. So what separates us? Practically nothing, I hope.
SPIEGEL: Mr. President, thank you for this interview.
Interview conducted by Georg Mascolo, Christian Neef and Matthias Schepp.
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