Following the nuclear security summit in Washington on Tuesday, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev was invited to speak at the Brookings Institute, Washington’s oldest think tank.
Medvedev was introduced to the audience by Strobe Talbott, the president of the Brookings Institute, who lent his expertise to the US government as a “Sovietologist” during the collapse of the Soviet Union.
The Russian president opened his remarks by lauding the nuclear security summit, which brought together the leaders of 47 countries, as “absolutely timely” and a “total success.”
Indeed, just hours before, US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov signed a much-delayed agreement on the disposal of tons of plutonium left over from Cold War-era weapons.
The agreement binds each country to dispose of at least 34 tons of plutonium by using it as fuel in civilian power reactors to produce electricity by the year 2018; a monitoring regime will ensure against cheating.
Clinton said during a briefing ahead of the signing that a framework would be put in place to ensure “that this material will never again be used for weapons or any other military purpose.”
Lavrov said the signing was “of very significant importance.”
“It's certainly a step in the direction of our shared goal of nuclear disarmament,” he added.
Incidentally, it is estimated that the combined 68 tons of US and Russian plutonium represents enough stocks for about 17,000 nuclear weapons.
Medvedev summed up his opinion of the summit by saying: “I cannot recall a more trouble-free summit when the participants were so unanimous in the assessment of the current situation. It is not like discussing the economy, or talking about getting over the global crisis, it is nonetheless something that serves a real challenge and a real threat for any state taking part in the summit.”
The Russian president went on to stress the importance of nations working together in sync to solve the problem of global nuclear proliferation. This level of high cooperation was illustrated last week in Prague, where Barack Obama and Dmitry Medvedev renewed the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START).
“The issues of disarmament and nonproliferation concern a big number of countries and today's discussion confirmed it,” Medvedev said. “The world will be harmonious only when its constituent parts complement one another instead of clashing with each other.”
Although Medvedev was very enthusiastic about the progress that his country and the United States have made recently in the realm of nuclear proliferation, he expressed his hope that bilateral relations between the two nuclear powers were not confined to just nuclear issues.
“It is important, in my opinion, that our relationship not be reduced to just nuclear cooperation, or to the limitation of strategic arms, though it is something that people expect of us, and we have assumed a big responsibility toward the international community. I would like us to have a much broader cooperation in all the other areas.”
But President Medvedev’s comments on international cooperation were not just directed at nuclear security, but were instead meant to provide a set of international guidelines for addressing other issues, for example, building “democracy, human rights and a market economy.”
At this point, after acknowledging the positive changes that have occurred in US-Russian relations over the last year, Medvedev took an opportunity to stress that it is important to recognize the uniqueness of each country’s traditions, and how they may effect or determine the course that is taken in both the domestic and international spheres.
“We have very different histories, and therefore sometimes we see things in different ways,” he began. “The US has been developing its market economy for two centuries already, while our country in the twentieth century has gone through a sequence of economic and political experiments and ordeals and that is why… Russia needs several decades to gradually build an efficiently working political and economic system.”
President Medvedev then hinted that the United States does not need to teach Russia – a mature country steeped in its own centuries-old traditions – how to live.
“There is no need for us to try to teach each other how to live well,” he said. “We should communicate on a regular basis in an honest manner, being absolutely frank.”
Medvedev may have been referring to the United States' plans to build a missile defense system in Eastern Europe, a move that may have disastrous consequences on the US-Russian reset. In order for such a system to be acceptable by Russia, there will ned to be, short of Russia's hands-on participation in the project, a high level of trust between Moscow and Washington.
He then alluded to Russia’s rich traditions that sometime hinder modernization, but sometimes also protect society.
“We began to change our system 20 years ago. We have our old-time traditions. Sometimes they exist as obstacles, but sometimes they provide protection to society. They prevent it from falling apart.”
The Russian president then took an opportunity to say a few words on behalf of democracy to his hosts.
“Declaring the principles of democracy is not what is needed,” Medvedev said. “This is not enough. What is important is that we exercise the principles of democracy. Practice is the criterion of truth.”
In the Q&A part of Medvedev’s presentation, Rick Burt, the US chairman of Global Zero, an international organization that works for the elimination of nuclear weapons, asked the Russian president if there would be a new round of meetings to further cut nuclear stockpiles between the US and Russia.
“If one day we are able to achieve ‘global zero’ that will be due not to just to the efforts of the United States and Russia, but to the international community. I will not point fingers, but we have partners who are less willing than the US and Russia to cut their [arsenals]. We must them to go in the right direction,” Medvedev said.
“Today, we have achieved a threshold, a ceiling for the next 10 years, and this is enough for now. But if there appears a need [to further slash nuclear stockpiles] then we will consider it. But these 10 years will be peaceful for us… as long as we ratify this treaty.”
Medvedev then told the audience that he would submit the START treaty for ratification in the Duma on the very same day that US President Barack Obama submits it to US Congress.