Medvedev says law on expanding FSB powers is his initiative

Russia’s President Dmitry Medvedev has said that changes to the legislation, including the expansion of the special service’s (FSB) powers, are being performed under his direct order.

“Every country has the right to improve its legislation, including laws concerning the special services. And we are going to do that,” he stressed speaking at a joint media conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Journalists raised the issue of a proposed law on expanding FSB powers that sparked heated debate in Russia and was labeled by human rights watchdogs “a revival of the totalitarian state.”

Discussions on the bill
at the State Duma, Medvedev said, were initiated under his direct instruction.

Medvedev and Merkel are taking part in the Russian-German interstate consultations that kicked off on Wednesday. The tenth forum, known as the “St. Petersburg Dialogue,” is being held this year in the city of Yekaterinburg in the Urals.

While the main focus of the gathering is the economy and business relations, the leaders also discussed topics that are now traditional for all top-level meetings: the Iranian nuclear problem and security.

Following the bilateral talks and signing of agreements, the leaders gave a media conference to share their overall impressions of the meeting and answer journalists’ questions.

Estemirova’s murderer identified, investigation in full swing

The actual killer of human rights activist Natalia Estemirova has been identified and is currently on the international wanted list, President Medvedev told journalists.

Russia has often come under fire from the West over the situation with human rights in the country. The issue was raised again at the forum in Yekaterinburg in relation to the May 2009 murder of Estemirova – a well-known campaigner who worked for the Russian Independent Human Rights organization “Memorial” in Chechnya. A year on, no one has been put on trial over the crime that prompted strong reactions both in Russia and abroad.

Medvedev said that he regularly receives reports on the investigation from the Investigation Committee of the Prosecutor General's Office.

"First of all, it is incorrect to claim there is no investigation, the investigation is in full swing," he said. “Secondly, you can never expect quick results in cases like this, unless a criminal is caught red-handed."

And finally, he went on, “the murderer has been identified.” Currently the investigators are trying to identify the customer who ordered this grave crime, Medvedev said.

Merkel, for her part, noted that the topic of Estemirova’s murder did come up at the meeting.

"It is crucially important for the feeling of legal safety that investigations of such high profile cases are crowned with success. We also know that it is not easy,” the German Chancellor said.

Visa-free issue is similar to Russia’s WTO membership story

Visa-free travel – a stumbling block to developing deeper relations Russia-EU – has also popped up at the meeting. Moscow’s stance on the issue voiced by President Medvedev is terse and clear: Russia is ready for that.

“We would like to establish visa-free relations,” he said. “We believe we are ready for that. That is what our businesses and our people want. That is, if you like, a demand of time.” He noted that “today it was not Russian businessmen who asked us about it, but Germans.”

The Russian head of state said that he had passed a project of an agreement on the issue to the Europeans and expressed hope that progress will be achieved on the matter.

President Medvedev drew attention to the list of countries with which the EU has already established visa-free relations.

“I do not want to comment on that. Just look [at the list] and everything will be clear. The same story is happening with Russian membership in the World Trade Organization. Very different countries are already its members,” he noted.

Chancellor Merkel agreed to push for the situation to change, but did not say anything certain as to when that may finally happen. The movement to a complete visa-free regime “will be neither easy nor short,” she noted.

Russia seeks German help in modernization

President Medvedev has urged German cooperation in the modernization and innovation of Russia’s economy and noted that Russia would like to have more investments in Germany.

“Russia would like to establish modernization alliances with Germany, France, Italy, the US and other countries,” he said, remembering that he voiced the idea earlier this week at a meeting with Russian ambassadors and permanent representatives. “I would like to underline that Germany is number one on that list,” the Russian leader said.

He expressed hope that German structures will take part in the modernization of companies they believe are interesting “especially now that I have made the decision to cut the list of strategic enterprises."

German participation would be particularly welcomed in Russia’s new ambitious project – a modern scientific center in Skolkovo, which would become an analog of the Silicon Valley.

“We hope that German participation in the large project which will be realized in Skolkovo will be very active,” he told the media conference.

Meanwhile, the first steps to cooperation in that field have already been made as Germany’s Siemens signed a memorandum of mutual understanding with Skolkovo.

“This is very encouraging," Medvedev said, commenting on the move.

Medvedev said that Moscow sees Germany as its key strategic partner in modernization, adding that the countries are linked by thousands of business contacts and a huge turnover, “which recovered after the global crisis and has reached almost the same level as in 2008.”

His counterpart Merkel said that it is an honor for Germany and vowed support.

Answering journalists’ question considering Russian money working in Germany, Medvedev said that while the European partner’s investments account for about $20 billion, Russia’s a bit more modest. He added that he hoped that “the investment process would be mutual. He said, “speaking about Germany I cannot say that our investments are not welcomed there”.

Chancellor Merkel, for her part, assured that her country’s door was open. She said that it would be good if “lighthouse” projects appeared as soon as possible.”

She admitted that there are some problematic areas in relations between Msocw and Berlin, “but we do understand each other well.”

Russia, Germany agree to jointly write history textbook

Both Medvedev and Merkel have approved the idea put forward at the forum to jointly develop a history textbook.

“It is a very important step since our history was not easy: it was very diverse and dramatic sometimes,” Medvedev said. “Both Russian and German societies’ values are based on Christian roots. And that will indeed keep uniting us, helping to solve different issues we face in modern life,” the Russian leader stated.

Chancellor Merkel referred to the idea of a textbook as “a very interesting and important project.”

“If we have an opportunity to jointly work on writing history [textbooks], it indicates that there is no more prejudice and obstacles in the way of getting to know each other,” she said.

The history issue has lately been especially sensitive for Russia since some former Soviet republics are making attempts to rewrite the events of the past to their liking, turning friends into foes, so that it better fits with the current policy of those countries’ leaderships. The latest example is Tbilisi’s decision to add a new textbook to school curriculums at the start of the next school year, outlining the so-called 200-year-long Russian occupation of Georgia.

So it is indeed an important step when Moscow and Berlin – who collided in the bloodiest conflict ever that killed millions of people, WW2 – agree to jointly seek the historical truth.