TNI Interview: Dmitry Peskov
But on the other hand, we never kept it secret that we were dissatisfied with the level of our dependence on oil and gas money. We suggested that this was something that we’d like to get rid of, and we have been diversifying our economy for more than a decade, but maybe we were not as effective as we would desire, and maybe the time is not sufficient for such a complicated process in terms of the economy in such a huge country as Russia. But nonetheless now we have the chance, if we are wise enough, to get rid of this dependence--to make our economy, despite sanctions, despite world oil prices, really effective. If we make it self-confident, if we manage to minimize the costs to our economy and to increase the productivity of labor, then we can be successful, and all that actually potentially is possible within a short period of time, within a couple of years. And the coming years will show if we are really successful. Currently we have all the reasons to believe that there is a chance to be successful, and we hope for the best.
Heilbrunn: You mentioned sanctions, which brings me to President Obama. Do you see a significant possibility for an improvement in relations with the United States in the next two years, or do you think, now that we have a Republican Senate, that the obstacles will be too great to have a real improvement in relations between the two countries?
Peskov: Well, we’re really sorry that, unfortunately, what we see in Washington is an unwillingness to understand Russia’s position. We see a totally nonflexible and nonconstructive approach towards everything that is somehow connected to Russia. We definitely cannot agree with that. We would like to hope for the best, for more objectivity in our relationship from Washington, but currently, unfortunately, we don’t witness that. But at the same time we are still waiting for a revival in our relationship, for reviving the mechanisms of the dialogue, let it be economy, let it be investment, let it be political dialogue, we are open to that. It takes two to tango. So we keep waiting for a resolution, but we cannot do it on our own.
Heilbrunn: There’s another country that’s very significant for Russia as well, which is Germany. I recently read that Chancellor Merkel speaks with President Putin once a week. Do you believe that she is playing a valuable role?
Peskov: Well, we do value a very pragmatic and very open dialogue between Moscow and Berlin and between our two leaders. It is very helpful and very important in terms of exchanging information and exchanging views on our approaches. Yes, they are in quite regular contact and yes, they can listen to each other. In our current situation it’s very important to listen to each other and to be willing to listen to each other. They do disagree on lots of things when it comes to Ukraine, and they never hide these disagreements, but at the same time they most frequently share the same opinions on the final goals of our current interaction. On some issues, they differ in their approach, yes, and for us the European Union and the leading countries of the European Union like Germany and France of course are of extreme importance in our relationship, because they are our leading economic partners, we have tremendous trade channel and investments channel.
Heilbrunn: Can I ask you a personal question? You were born in 1967 and I was wondering what did you think, and what were you doing, when the Soviet Union collapsed, and do you feel that in the intervening time, Russia is now back on the international stage, since the collapse of the Soviet Union?
Peskov: For my generation the collapse of the Soviet Union was quite logical because it was one of the initial failures of integration processes in Europe. The EU was gaining power, it was institutionalizing and so on and so forth, and, to the contrary, the Soviet Union witnessed total disintegration.
So actually it was a disaster, because there was the first, let’s not say experiment, but the first precedent in the history when a huge country started to disintegrate and the whole structure of the economy, of industry, of the social system of the country was tailored to be a single country system and then all of the sudden it’s disintegrated, causing huge problems and humanitarian catastrophes towards the region, from one hand, but from the other hand you cannot compare that situation with the modern tendencies and integration process, if you see the integration processes that are occurring within CIS [Commonwealth of Independent States].
CIS is a very good base and it is still around, but at the same time we see the customs union that that occurred between three countries and that will be enlarged by another one or two--I mean the customs union between Russia, Belarus, and Kazakhstan. So those processes have a brand-new nature; it’s not a system where one country is trying to keep the other dependent on it. It’s a totally equal environment: equal in possibilities and equal in revenues of that union too, that is quite promising and it can be the only chance for those countries to become prosperous in a very hard international economic environment. So we hope that these tendencies will continue and those tendencies are being integrated into one that has nothing to do with the history of the Soviet Union.
Heilbrunn: I was curious about the extent to which history plays a role in your thinking. I know President Putin frequently invokes the past, whether it’s the Hitler-Stalin pact, or what he saw as—