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18 Apr, 2009 21:45

Medvedev faces off with opposition press

Speaking to the Russian printed press for the first time, Dmitry Medvedev discussed democracy and the Khodorkovsky case in an interview with Novaya Gazeta, which is known for its critical stance towards the Kremlin.

Novaya Gazeta is known in Russia as one of the key opposition newspapers that has never been afraid to speak out, employing a number of crusading journalists such as the late Anna Politkovskaya.

“Why did the President choose our paper for his interview? He told me it was important to talk to a paper that was never afraid to strongly criticize and had never sucked up. I believe the time has come for the authorities to forge a dialogue with all parts of society,” said the paper’s editor-in-chief Dmitry Muratov. “State owned media think they serve the state, not society, and behave as state officials rendering services to the bureaucracy. And during the economic crisis, authorities have to answer tough questions.”

Speaking to Dmitry Muratov, President Medvedev touched on many issues from politics to society that were of interest to both the domestic and the international community.


Russian critics have often stated that the nature of Russia’s democracy is not the one that leaders and peoples are accustomed to in the West.

Dmitry Medvedev dispelled such ideas, saying that democracy in Russia does exist and will continue to develop despite being very young.

“For many of our citizens the hard political, and most importantly, economic processes of the 1990s at some point coincided with the introduction of the main democratic institutions. Those were hard times, and this has affected the perception of the term ‘democracy’ itself,” Medvedev said. “There was democracy, there is democracy and there will be democracy.”

Khodorkovsky case

Many controversial issues were raised during the interview and one of them was the Khodorkovsky case.

Former Yukos owner Mikhail Khodorkovsky is currently serving a term in prison for tax evasion and fraud, and is now facing new charges for embezzlement and money laundering.

As a lawyer Medvedev has a very strong position on legal cases and on this case in particular. In answering whether the outcome of the new case against Khodorkovsky could be guessed in advance, Medvedev said:

“Being able to predict a court’s ruling is unlawful for a president. It indicates a violation of the law. There should be no predictability in any trial, including the one you mentioned [Khodorkovsky case],” Medvedev said.

Sochi mayoral election

Commenting on the mayoral election in the city which is set to host the 2014 Winter Olympics, Dmitry Medvedev said he is certain that a full-fledged political battle is underway there and “having such bright electoral campaigns is very good.”


The Russian President is recently actively making use of the Internet. For instance, he has a video blog in which he communicates with the people.

The Internet, according to Dmitry Medvedev, is the best place for discussions – not only in Russia but also in general, as there is nothing that is more publicly important and more actively entering every home, which is why the Internet should be improved and standards introduced.

“We should create normal conditions for the development of internet in Russia,” Medvedev said.


Dmitry Medvedev believes that the current tradition of a ‘non-partisan president’ in Russia is right.

“Our political system should develop, should become more mature. It doesn’t mean that it is impossible for Russia to have a president belonging to some party or being a party leader. But at the moment we are not ready for that,” Medvedev said.

To be continued…

According to the President’s press service this will not be the last interview with Russia’s printed press. This format is set to become a regular feature of Dmitry Medvedev’s time in office.

The interview was published on the same day Dmitry Medvedev said that he is ready to discuss introducing amendments to the legislation on the activity of non-profit (NPO) and non-governmental (NGO) organizations.

The Russian President made the statement at the meeting of the Council for assistance to the development of civil society institutes and human rights.

Medvedev called on them to work with the government more closely to develop civil society institutions in Russia, especially amidst the global economic crisis.

“Against the backdrop of the global economic crisis it is necessary to think of strengthening mutual understanding and trust between the state and civil society. Without that trust we won’t be able to overcome the crisis,” Medvedev said. “It is important that the NGOs themselves also took part in charges of the sphere of upbringing, education and health care,” he added.

Such issues as corruption, the court system and reforms that need to be done specifically within the legal system have also been touched upon.

Criticizing critics

Following criticism of the transparency of democracy in Russia, the president says he welcomes more voices which challenge the government.

In a separate interview, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev told Russian TV that it's the people who are the judges.

"I think it’s very good that there are different points of view on this subject and different evaluations of the authorities.”

“In fact,” said the Russian president, “that’s what we have been striving for over the last few years: to give people a chance to judge the authorities’ actions by their actual results.”

“I think that during this full-scale financial crisis we should rather get down to the most important task, namely to overcoming the consequences of this crisis and solving the most pressing economic problems,” Dmitry Medvedev said.

He also added that “At the same time, we should keep in mind that even during this tough period, our success depends on the unity, solidarity, and cooperation of the state on the one hand and civil society on the other.”