We’ve progressed in civil freedoms – Medvedev
In recent months, following December’s parliamentary poll, thousands of people have taken part in protest rallies.
“I’m confident that the absolute majority of them would say ‘I’m free’, Medvedev said.
The head of state was answering journalists’ questions during a televised news conference with five Russian state-owned and private TV channels.
Representatives of Channel One, NTV, Russia, REN-TV and Rain took part in the live interview in Moscow’s Ostankino TV center on Thursday.
Earlier this week, Medvedev presented his final address to the State Council.
Medvedev ready to become United Russia member
President Medvedev has expressed readiness to become the leader of United Russia instead of Vladimir Putin, and to join the party if he is elected its chairman.
Earlier this week, President-elect Putin promised to quit as the leader of the majority party after his inauguration on May 7, and proposed Medvedev’s candidacy as his replacement. The decision on the matter is expected to be made at the upcoming party congress on May 26.
Answering journalists’ questions during the live interview, Medvedev stressed that “any party leader should be with the party.”
“If for some reason [the leader] does not join it, at some point he will start to separate from the party. This is possible in some posts, such as the presidential one. However, in principle, it is not right. Therefore I believe that a party chairman should be its member,” Medvedev said.
On tandem ‘reshuffle’
Medvedev denounced the popular opinion regarding the “swapping” of posts between him and Putin.
“We don’t swap posts,” he stressed. The president said he understands that in political science and journalism it is normal to use terms such as “reshuffle”. “But to exchange something, one should first get it,” Medvedev underlined.
He stressed that Putin won the presidential post through an election and “got quite significant support from the people.” If this had not been the case, "a ‘reshuffle’, as you put it, would be out of the question,” Medvedev stated.
He added that the same refers to his possible appointment as Russia’s Prime Minister. It is up to the State Duma to vote for his candidacy first.
Earlier, Putin had said that in case of his victory in the presidential poll, he would suggest Medvedev for the post of chairman of the government, while Medvedev said he would accept the proposal.
On tandem's future – 'relax, it’s here for a while’
When one of the reporters asked the president if the second ‘casting’ – swapping jobs with Vladimir Putin – will mean changes in Russia’s political life, Dmitry Medvedev again reminded reporters that he has been friends with Putin for 20 years, and their partnership is a matter of mutual trust.
Medvedev says it is good for the country if important decisions are made not by one person alone, but by several people, all of whom impact on the political process and make important decisions through discussion. Medvedev called such a state of things “movement towards democracy”.
“As for the prospects for our work, we have already pointed out certain prospects. I think everyone should relax now, this is going to be around for a while,” Medvedev told the journalists.
Anti-corruption drive: Modest results in short time
President Medvedev said has he had to dismiss fifty percent of regional governors over various problems in state affairs, often over corruption. However, when journalists asked why these alleged crimes ended in forced retirement and not criminal cases, Medvedev said that Russian justice was observing presumption of innocence. The corruption-related crimes were extremely difficult to prove, thus making dismissal the only p
ossible way to deal with the high-placed officials involved.
The President also added that soon all government ministers would hand in their resignation. This is a purely technical move, nevertheless, their re-appointment will depend on past performance. At the same time, he said that “if we start to dismiss government ministers over every blunder, the whole system will collapse”. Medvedev drew journalists’ attention to the fact that Russia’s Investigative Committee is currently probing 17 thousand criminal cases against civil servants. The results of the anti-corruption campaign are still modest, however, the president admitted.
Medvedev stressed that the necessary changes need more time and more initiative from below. Speaking of the ongoing police reform, the president said he is aware of the recently uncovered facts of police brutality and corruption, but with Russia being a very big country, changes in the national police force need more time and effort to be implemented, than in smaller countries.
The president called on the journalists and the public to pay more attention to corruption at the lowest levels of society – bribes to traffic policemen, school teachers and doctors.
Judges must report on pressure
Answering a question on court reform in Russia, Medvedev said that, among other things, judges must be obliged, and not afraid to report on all cases when officials or lawyers try to put pressure on them. The same must apply to incidents when “entrepreneurs” attempt to bribe a judge.
Medvedev noted that the four years of his presidency have not been enough for a thorough reform of Russia’s judicial system. However, there have been improvements and the development will continue.
Court reform cannot be conducted with a primitive approach, he stressed.
“Should we fire all judges? Administration of justice must be persistent,” Medvedev stressed. Court reform involves the creation of conditions in which judges’ behavior is defined only by the law, he underlined.
The head of state also noted that in Russia there is a tendency to consider a non-guilty verdict, a sign of a low-quality job. Medvedev believes that this approach should change, and expressed hope that the number of “innocent” court rulings will grow.
‘No pardon unless requested’
When reporters asked the president if he had considered pardoning Mikhail Khodorkovsky and his business partner Platon Lebedev, Medvedev pointed out that presidential pardon can be issued only at a convict’s request. As a lawyer, he said, he fully supports this norm. Pardoning people regardless of their will is wrong, he stressed, since it makes it impossible for people who consider themselves wrongly sentenced to press for full cancellation of their sentences.
Reporters reminded Medvedev of the recently pardoned protester Sergey Mokhnatkin, who consistently pleaded not guilty and even said he would go to court again after being pardoned and released. The president said the man had officially asked for pardon, and had received it. Khodorkovsky and Lebedev, on the other hand, pleaded not guilty but did not make official appeals to the president to be pardoned. Besides, Medvedev said that he saw “indirect admission of guilt” in Mokhnatkin’s case.
‘Maximum caution needed in religious affairs’
When reporters asked Medvedev about his opinion on relations between the state and the Church, the president said that Russia is a unique country – a Federation formed on ethnic grounds and thus, the issue of religion is especially sensitive there. “You must understand that sometimes people get killed over religious issues in our country,” Medvedev said. He added that he could not comment on certain recent scandals as their participants are still on trial, and any statements could be perceived as pressure on the judges. At the same time, the president noted that those who have raised uproar over Russian religious life have received what they wanted – publicity.
‘We should fulfill all promises, or try to’
Fighting poverty, improving the investment climate and protecting property rights are the key tasks for the Russian leadership in the near future, Medvedev said. He also noted that the government will see a lot of new faces.
Maximally reducing poverty in the country remains the most crucial objective, he stressed.
According to the president, the level of unemployment in Russia “is acceptable” compared to that in Europe. However, it could be brought down to less than 5 per cent.
As for economy, the president believes the government should “fulfill what has been promised but not yet completed: to significantly improve the investment climate and create a system of property rights protection.”
“Our movement is slow. I’m not happy about that,” he admitted.
Finally, Medvedev underlined that it is necessary to accomplish the political reform that he launched. “If we fulfill that, there would be a leap in political development and we would get a new quality of Russian democracy,” he said.
“I’m ready to work at that if fate allows,” Medvedev stated, adding that he would not be able to achieve this alone, and that the entire country should take part.