Russian President sums up Year’s events in TV interview

RIA Novosti / Dmitry Astakhov
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has spoken of the results of the year 2010 and given major guidelines for future development in his interview with three major Russian television channels.

For analysis read  Gleb Pavlovsky's column , Vyacheslav Nikonov's column  or  Vladimir Mamontov's column .


In the very beginning of the interview, which resembled an informal conversation at a round table, the President mentioned the most important topics of the past year. He said these were the economic growth of the country, the problems of children, forest fires in the summer, security issues, and the celebrations of the 65th anniversary of Russia’s victory in World War II (the Great Patriotic War).

“I will name five events. This year we did not fall down. We grew and developed, albeit with hardships, problems and setbacks, but this was quite steady growth. In this growth, we have elements of the economy’s modernization and thus life itself. The next theme is our view on the problems of childhood and Russia’s demographic development, and I deliberately picked it as the main theme for my address to the Federal Assembly. The third was the weather difficulties, the fires, the abnormal events that shook our country. This was a difficult situation both psychologically and physically.


Watch the full video of Medvedev’s year-end interview here!

START ratification

“Another very important theme, in my view, is the security problem. This year was marked with a serious event – we, together with the Americans, have approached the signing of the most important START treaty. This treaty is a cornerstone for providing security in the world in the nearest ten years. I also cannot omit the 65th anniversary of the Victory. Another important task is the work to improve our law enforcement activities, to fight crime,” Medvedev said at the beginning of the interview.

The Russian President praised his US counterpart Barak Obama for the help in sucuring the ratification of the START treaty in the US Senate. Medvedev called Obama a man who can listen and hear, said that the US President was not a prisoner of some stereotypes and always kept his promises.


Feedback from citizens

The Russian president said that he was closely monitoring the needs of the Russian people and that, among other media, he used the Internet for this task. He said that a lot of addresses connected with the new draft law on allowances for pregnant women helped him to make the decision to return the bill for discussion. “I especially say this now, because the authorities must hear what the citizens say. If something happens that causes problems, this must be corrected. This is normal,” he said.


­Khimki Forest: how state and public should interact

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Medvedev also talked about the controversial project of building a highway through the Khimki Forest, which attracted a lot of public attention due to environmental concerns. A consensus was finally reached, but the case has revealed some grass-roots problems. Above all are relations between the general public and governmental officials.

On one hand, bureaucracy should become more flexible and officials “should learn to negotiate and to reach a consensus.”

On the other hand, civil activists should be exactly that – civil activists, and not dirty PR specialists.

“There are different members of the public. Some of them take money for obstructing certain projects,” Medvedev noted.

Leaving big cities

The president said that Russian citizens should think about moving from big cities to rural areas, but noted that this requires changes in ways of thinking.

“I think about it all the time. We have the largest territory, a great number of our people thrive in small apartments in the city. We should think about a way for our people to get land plots in a simplified way. We must change our mentality. We should not crowd up all the time,” the president said.

He added that new laws in this field will soon be adopted.

Medvedev also said it is essential to spread the country’s population throughout its territory. Still, that is only one element of a proper land policy – even more important is stimulating demographics.

All this is needed not only to improving the living standards in Russia, but also from the geo-political point of view, the president concluded.


Russia’s totalitarian traditions still too deep

Commenting on recent ethnic clashes in Moscow and St. Petersburg, Medvedev said the use of force cannot be the only solution when dealing with situations of this nature. There should also be a systematic political response and responsibility for the events must be assumed, among others, by political parties – the ruling as well as the opposition.

“Parties must feel responsible for the powers they have been given,” he said. Politics can be realized in different forms including streets protests and meetings, but should also be within the rule of law.

"Our main political force – the United Russia party – must not just reign but also show wisdom, tact and strength. It should put appropriate people to the forefront. Those who are corrupt and do not want to work should be moved back and punished,” he asserted.

According to the president, citizens should also actively participate in making decisions on the most important internal problems. He added, though, that the country has not yet overcome some bad habits from the past.

“Our totalitarian traditions are so deep that it will take a long while for us to get rid of them” and it is far early to talk about the public getting too much freedom.

At the same time, Medvedev noted that holding referenda is not always the best way to find a solution to one or another problem. They should be used in cases listed in the country’s law.

There are unpopular topics – for instance, increasing the pension age – but they should be addressed as well. And when it comes to those kinds of questions, it is up to the government to make a balanced decision and to explain to the population why it was done.

Heading towards direct democracy

Medvedev believes that Russia is moving towards direct democracy. “On a number of occasions, procedures that have already been forgotten will be reintroduced”.

As an example of such “direct democracy” he reminded of a public discussion of the new law on police. The draft was published on the web for people to have their say and suggest what changes they would like to see. Of course, not all the proposals from the citizens found their reflection in the law, but some rather important ones were added. Among them is the right of every person who was arrested to make one phone call. While this is an obvious rule for many Western countries, it has become a novelty for Russia’s law.

A new law on education it is the next crucial draft that the public will be able to discuss, the president said.

Known for his passion for new gadgets and being an active Internet user, Medvedev said that it is possible that in the future, referenda and elections could be held online.

“Those who use the global network and read online media outlets know that quite often public opinion is often being formed on the Internet. It could be a completely mistaken opinion, but it is nevertheless formed.”

The president said that he is confident that every politician – no matter whether it is a president or a village authority – must monitor public opinion by talking directly to people or using “all sorts of electronic opportunities.”

­Medvedev not afraid of WikiLeaks

­When asked about the much-talked-about WikiLeaks affair, Medvedev said this is certainly not reason for him to worry.

“What should I be afraid of? It’s the State Department staff that should be worried. If I feared what they are writing about me, I would never use the Internet or watch television. As for the consequences, this won’t have any impact on our relations with America,” he assured.

­Medvedev: lawyer's view on Khodorkovsky case

­The head of NTV, Vladimir Kulistikov, brought up the issue of former Yukos head Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who is know awaiting sentence in the second case against him on charges of the misappropriation of billions of rubles.

“The Khodorkovsky case reminds me of the Picture of Dorian Gray of Russian business. Every businessman does what Khodorkovsky and his associate Platon Lebedev are accused of. Don’t you think the court system might be too harsh?” Kulistikov asked a provocative question.

And Dmitry Medvedev’s response was that of a president and a lawyer.

“Neither the president, nor any other official in the public service has the right to voice their stance on this, or any case, before the sentence is delivered,” he started, making it clear that there should not be any political interpretation of his words.

“As for my position as a lawyer – not on this case but in general on the situation – lawyers operate with what is possible. If you can prove there are other people who did similar things – then where’s this evidence?” the president said. “If there are similar crimes, people should be held responsible for them.”

There has been at least one episode when the prosecution has got evidence to launch a case – the one of Khodorskovsky and his partner.

“So let us not speculate,” said Medvedev firmly, “in order to bring alleged criminal to justice, there should be enough evidence. Bring me the evidence and we’ll work with it.”

­Also read Nikolay Svanidze's and Vladimir Mamontov's columns on the issue

Criticism of television as mass media

The Russian president also criticized television news programs for a poor choice of topics in their broadcasts, and gave Internet sites as an example of proper reporting.

“What, in my view, must not exist is the abyss between the list of important events that take place in real life and the list of events the news broadcasts show us. The channels must give the priorities, what is more-or-less important. But there must not be a dramatic gap between the agenda, the list of news events on the Internet, and other mass media. But, in my view, this is how it looks today,” Medvedev said. He reminded the three television channel heads of the reports that their outlets were not reporting the truth, were filtering the information and giving “crippled” news.

The Internet's role in life and politics

The president went on to say that the civil servants must pay more attention to public opinion, in particular to that expressed on the Internet. However, Medvedev noted that public opinion as formed on the Internet can be “absolutely of a destructive nature”, but still said that politicians of all levels must monitor public opinion through personal communication and through electronic media alike.

Medvedev voiced hope that at some point in the future Internet can be used for voting in elections and referenda.

The president warned of possible abuse in such schemes and said that he knew about people who were using Internet to hinder certain economic projects, demanding “briefcases of cash” to give up their active public position. Medvedev said that the police should detain such public figures, because such activities were simply crimes.

Replacement of Moscow Mayor


Speaking of the recent replacement of the Moscow Mayor, President Medvedev sharply criticized Yuri Luzhkov, who previously held the post, and praised the businesslike approach of the new Mayor Sergey Sobyanin.

The journalists asked Dmitry Medvedev what the major factor was that precipitated Yuri Luzhkov’s dismissal. The President said that the reason was the lack of attention to the city’s problems. “You should do real deeds, and not personal PR and political affairs,” Medvedev said. The president also said that the problems in Moscow had reached an immense scale under Luzhkov’s stewardship, especially noting the “unseen” corruption even for a city of ten million.

“I hope the new mayor will work differently. He is a man of business, a productive person, he is not star-struck and he does not pursue personal PR and political competition. He must do his business. Let him toil,” Medvedev added.

­Neglecting law is Russia’s malaise

At the very beginning of his presidential term, Medvedev named fighting corruption among his top priorities. How far Russia has moved in tackling the problem and whether it is possible at all finally to succeed in countering this evil was also among the questions raised during the interview.

The president said that this year alone, almost 3,000 people were sentenced for bribe-taking as well as for bribing. A large proportion of the corrupt officials who were caught red-handed are law enforcement agency employees, as well as people working in prosecution and even courts.

However, it is still too early to talk about nearing a victory over corruption in Russia. The country’s sore point, its “illness” is the neglect of the law, which has its roots deep into history. “People have never believed in the law or court. But there has been a faith in good tsar and force,” Medvedev said.

Therefore, it is necessary to do everything possible to raise the authority of the law. “People should observe laws not out of fear, but because it is a shame not to do so. That is exactly what the system of public relations is based on in civilized societies.”

As a remedy for the “disease”, Medvedev suggested therapy rather then “surgery”. Authorities should explain to people why it is easier to follow the law than to violate it. What is even more important is that people in power should set good examples.

Medvedev noted that Russians are “selfless” and often do not really care that they can be sent to prison for bribery. They keep in mind that even though there is a danger of spending a couple of years behind bars, at least their children will be provided with money. And the president has a “remedy” for that as well. He recalled that earlier this year he suggested fining bribe-takers. Medvedev is confident that such punishment will be much more effective.

­ Drugs “a huge problem” 

­Drugs are actually “a huge problem” in Russia, Medvedev admitted. But what is even a greater problem is that it is often “hushed up”.

Addiction in children is something society is reluctant to hear or talk about. The risk group is, of course, children and teenagers from difficult families, and those left without parental care.

Still, there have been some positive shifts:

“The official number of orphans has decreased over recent years. Our orphanages have reduced the number of children by a third – partly because of adoption.”

­Maternity allowance bill may be reconsidered

­Earlier in December the State Duma passed a bill on a pregnancy and childbirth allowance, which, in fact could decrease the sum of maternity benefits for some women. From January 1, the allowance will be counted based on the woman’s salary over the previous two years, as opposed to the current assessment basis of one year. The new legislation is opposed by many women.

Now there is a chance that the law may be reconsidered again, though this time women’s opinions will be heard.   

“I have made a decision to return to the discussion of this topic and draft amendments to the law that would allow a woman to decide herself which period should be considered when calculating the allowance. Let it be exactly as she wants. Then all questions that have arisen will be settled,” Dmitry Medvedev said.

­Army reform: breaking from the Soviet model

­Army reform is another sensitive issue for Russians. Naturally, a question was raised about this during the interview.

“Our army, as well as police, is still built on the Soviet model – unfortunately. Not that the Soviet army was bad, but it was a different epoch, the country’s size was different, the army had different tasks. So we need to reform it – to cut the number of officers and raise their wages,” he said.

Although not everything has gone smoothly, there have been positive changes. The housing program for officers is one of them.

“Let’s face the truth – never before did we handle accommodation for officers. It’s the first time we’ve dealt with the issue. In the past two years we’ve provided around 100,000 apartments to demobilized servicemen.”

These are practical – and technical –issues of the reform, the overall goal of which is to create “an efficient army”, he said.

On Russia-US spy exchange

The Russian state has always protected and always will protect its intelligence agents who are in trouble, Dmitry Medvedev said when asked about his opinion on the major spy exchange that took place between Russia and the US this year.

“All people who work in our special services are first of all citizens of the Russian Federation and not cannon fodder or heroes sacrificed by the state. If the Soviet Union, and possibly partially Russia, has not said this before it was a mistake,” Medvedev said.

Medvedev said that the primary objective in this situation was to get the agents out and it was done. The President took some credit for the outcome: “Partly, and maybe primarily, this was done because I said at once, ‘They are citizens of the Russian Federation.’” The President added that the Russian authorities would do the same again. He also advocated the work of intelligence officers and said that every nation that has geopolitical interests has its own undercover agents in foreign nations.

­Polish plane crash investigation should not be politicized

One of the most tragic events of 2010 was the April 10 plane crash near the city of Smolensk that killed scores of the Polish political elite: 96 people, including President Lech Kaczynski and his wife.

Recalling the morning of the catastrophe, Medvedev said he was shocked to hear the news. It is now necessary to accomplish the investigation of the accident.

“Relations [between Russia and Poland] were really complicated. Now, I believe, they have become better. I paid an official visit to Poland, we talked. Of course it is necessary to complete the investigation avoiding politicization and reproaches. We should hear all points of view and accept conclusions that should be made by international instances as well as [the results of] the internal investigation,” the president said.

Kuril Islands – Russian territory

This year was also marked by the first-ever visit by a Russian head of state to the disputed Kuril Islands. The trip infuriated Japan, which claims they are part of its territory. Commenting on the matter on Friday, Medvedev made it absolutely clear that the position on the Kurils is not going to change: the islands are the part of the territory of the Russian Federation.

“It is our land and we should make necessary decisions there, develop the Kuril Islands and do everything to make people’s lives comfortable,” Medvedev said.

At the same time, Moscow wants to co-operate with Tokyo. It is time for Japan “to slightly reconsider its perception” of Russia and the Kurils. Creating joint economic projects is one of the best ways to bring countries together. “We could think about setting up a single economic zone or a free trade zone. People could earn money there. Japanese people would come to work there and to visit historic places,” Medvedev suggested.

On November 1, the president visited Kunashir – one of the four disputed islands in the Kuril archipelago. Japan claims Kunashir, Shikotan, the Khabomai Rocks and Iturup – known to the Japanese as the Northern Territories – part of its sovereign land.

The territorial dispute goes back to the 19th Century, but has been in its current state for over 65 years, since the end of World War II when the Soviet Union captured the Kurils. As a result, the two states have still not signed a World War II peace treaty.

Talented Russians – main political recourse

The president said that there are many talented people in Russia who could hold top political posts. When the journalists asked Dmitry Medvedev if it was possible that new names would appear in the list of contenders for the top state posts, the president said that there were such politicians in the country.

Medvedev noted that there already were a number of prominent politicians in Russia – both in the parliament and those who had failed to get elected, but who still enjoy the support of some of Russia’s citizens. “But the main resource is the one we are not talking about, this is the resource of the talented people in our country. There, in my view, is the source in which the future presidents, prime ministers and State Duma deputies dwell,” Medvedev said.