President Dmitry Medvedev on December 24 spoke live with the heads of three federal TV channels: Konstantin Ernst of Channel One, Oleg Dobrodeev of Rossiya, and Vladimir Kulistikov of NTV.
GENERAL DIRECTOR OF CHANNEL ONE KONSTANTIN ERNST: Good afternoon, viewers.
Today, like a year ago, we have this opportunity to look back over the year together with the President of the Russian Federation Dmitry Medvedev in this conversation broadcast live on three federal channels. Good afternoon, Mr. President.
K.ERNST: Mr. President, every person who remembers 2010 is bound to recall some highlights, flashpoints even, that will stay with them forever. What are your highlights of 2010? Click More (below) to read rest of transcript…
D.MEDVEDEV: I think you used the right term for these events. I will name five things I noted, although will not claim my version is the only right one. The first, although it was a long-term process, was very important for us. We have found our way out of the economic crisis. Our economy did not decline in 2010. It grew. We had our difficulties of course, but the growth was quite sustainable. We are approaching a 4% growth in GDP. This isn’t standard growth, there is a quality of economic modernization in it, therefore we are modernizing our life. Secondly, and this is very important as well, is our new outlook on our children and what we call Russia’s demographic development. I chose this to be the main subject of my address to the parliamentary assembly. I suggested a range of measures. Are these measures sufficient? I think not. We will try to improve the corresponding institutions and the measures. But in any case, that is the centerpiece of our social development policy. Without the right policy on children we will have no future. The third thing I recall is the heatwave and forest fires that shook our country this summer. It was a very difficult situation, both psychologically and physically. Regretfully, it has reflected on our economy, slowing down its growth and bringing about a deficit of certain food items. Undoubtedly, it was a very difficult event. Even more so since it had victims. Another subject that I consider important is the issue of security. I don’t just mean domestic security, but the global situation as well. This year saw a major event: Russia and the U.S. have approached the signing of the crucial New START Treaty. This document is the cornerstone for global and European security for decades to come perhaps. I am very glad we are making progress with the ratification of that document. Of course, I can’t fail to mention the 65th anniversary of the victory in the Great Patriotic War. It is certainly a very special day for us. It’s what makes us citizens of Russia. It’s what makes us people of the present while reminding us about our past. These are the five events that I would call the most important and the most difficult. There are others of course and we will talk about them. I think, for example, that our work to improve our law enforcement is very important. The work we did to improve the regulations on police works.
GENERAL DIRECTOR OF NTV TELEVISION COMPANY VLADIMIR KULISTIKOV: Mr. President, a question on the New START. I like one phrase in an O. Henry short story that goes, ‘Among other accidentsof thatyear was a Democratic president’. Though being a democrat, Obama is different, he’s done a good job. He has pushed this important document – the New START – through the Senate. Why did you a have a conversation with him so late yesterday – was he celebrating the ratification?
D.MEDVEDEV: No. He is away on holiday. It was quite late when we talked, after 11 p.m. our time. Like any other person, he is entitled to rest. He is on his Christmas holiday, but I think he can rest with the realisation that this rest is well-deserved. He did a really good job, I agree with you. Under rather difficult conditions, he managed to get this important treaty approved in the Senate. Like I said, our security for the next few years will be based on this treaty. And in general I can say that it’s easy for me to work with President Obama, because he can really listen to you and hear you. He is not impeded by stereotypes. And what is probably the most important thing for a politician, he keeps his promises. He has kept his promises as regards the New START, as regards the WTO, as regards the ratification of a very important treaty on nuclear cooperation and as regards various international issues. So I hope he gets a good rest. He did a good job, and I told him so yesterday. I said, “Barack, have some rest now!”
V.KULISTIKOV: The next year will likely not be so easy for him due to the Democrats’ defeat at November elections. Does this pose a threat to your agreements with Mr. Obama and could it reverse the progress in our relations with the US?
D.MEDVEDEV: I hope that threat is minimized. Some people in the US welcomed the re-set in Russia-U.S. relations. Then there are people who believe Russia is an evil empire and are thus upset by our progress. These people are represented and we can’t do anything about it. It’s a sign of developed democracy. People of various beliefs come to power and try to manifest their beliefs via lawmaking structures. But I hope the U.S. establishment will have enough strength and tact to continue our course and although it may be more difficult, I hope President Obama will be capable of dealing with those problems.
K.ERNST: Mr. Medvedev. A year ago when we were in this same studio discussing the results of 2009, counting the losses the crisis impaired upon us, you said then that the economic crisis is an opportunity for Russia to defeat its backwardness in technology. The word “modernization” was probably the most popular term in Russian politics in 2010. What’s your take on the results of modernization achieved this year in the eyes of the average Russian?
D.MEDVEDEV: The results are there and I think they are good results. They are small-scale, however. But we are pragmatic people. Back when we set the course for modernization we understood – I mentioned this in my article – that we can’t make outstanding progress within a year. But what’s important is that modernization is on the political agenda. People don’t just talk about it, they work on it. The lawmakers are making the appropriate laws, I thank the State Duma for supporting this course. The government is issuing the decrees on modernization. Even the business community has been paying much more attention to innovation. There was no turnaround but the business community realized that if they don’t invest into modernizing its capacities, don’t introduce innovations and neglect the 5 points of the modernization program, we will end up as a technologically backwards economy relying on natural resources. This is what our economy was in the past several years, according to many experts. So modernization is progressing. It may be progressing at a faster pace than at the start of this year. But still we have done very little. As for things everyone can see, well… we have the new energy-conserving light bulbs. This indicates that modernization works in our day-to-day life.
GENERAL DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL RUSSIAN TELEVISION AND RADIO BROADCASTING COMPANY OLEG DOBRODEEV: You have mentioned the key point in your address to the Federal Assembly. Children. There is a problem here that a lot of people are concerned about. I am referring to the problem of abandoned children. It’s no secret that a lot of parents in Russia drink. Their children become abandoned. They are left to themselves and neglected. Some parents use their children as a source of income. In schools and on the streets the children have to face up what is probably the most serious threat of the modern times: drugs. This threat is affecting more and more Russians. How do we tackle it?
D.MEDVEDEV: It is indeed a great problem. Although I have mentioned it in my annual address, there are certain aspects of it that are either not paid attention to or hushed up. Let’s talk about abandoned children. We have a lot of them in Russia. The statistics are improving. The number of orphans in our orphanages was actually reduced by a third over the past years, largely thanks to adoptions. That’s a good thing when performed in accordance with the laws and monitored afterwards. But there are also children who have a family but who suffer in their families. We don’t have a statistic for that. That’s the reason I introduced the position of children’s rights envoy. He began working quite actively. He is monitoring various regions. I am sure that the same positions should be introduced in regional administrations. Diagnostics is what’s important here. We have to identify problematic children before it’s too late and take measures. The measures can be different too. Over this past year, more than 60 thousand parents were stripped off their parenting rights. We have to be careful about this. On the one hand, a child only has one family. When the authorities decide to take away their parenting rights they are taking the child away from the people closest to him. But in some cases we have to do it to save the child. This is something that the authorities and public organizations should work on. Non-government organizations, I believe, should be especially active in this sphere. The fact that we started working on the problems of children, parenting and demographics, I believe, helped attract the attention of the society to the subject. A lot of people contact me on it. They use various means, including the internet. You know, you can always catch a trend here. Maybe even in time to affect the trend. We recently passed a bill on maternity benefits. The government, when it was preparing the bill, thought it would affect a small number of women. Some might gain something and some might lose certain things. But I got a lot of feedback from the people. People were saying: you are working on child support and demographics, but the bill might result in people receiving smaller benefits. Is that in line with the policy?
That’s why I decided to get back to the subject and prepare amendments that would allow the woman herself to determine the time period according to which the size of her benefit payment will be calculated. They will have the decision-making authority and that will help remove some of the issues. Why am I saying this? Because the authorities have to hear the citizens. If we do something that creates problems for the citizens, we can fix it. It’s standard practice.
V.KULISTIKOV: Mr. Medvedev, another question on drugs. Yegor Bychkov, the youth from the Urals, started to fight drugs in his home city of Nizhny Tagil. Our law enforcement system nearly put him in jail for several years. The public intervened. You intervened, and it didn’t happen. Yegor practiced coercive methods to convince drug addicts to stop using drugs. Do you think it might be sensible to use these methods more widely? This is practiced in many developed countries, the U.S. for instance.
D.MEDVEDEV: I am not an expert but I will talk about it. Firstly, the subject of drug addiction in schools and universities is not something we like to talk about. Even the official statistics says that 160 thousand of our schoolchildren have a drug problem. That is a colossal amount.
ANSWER: That’s a lot.
D.MEDVEDEV: A hundred and sixty thousand. That is a lot, and I am just citing the official statistics. We can’t hush it up. Because in some cases… I remember talking to journalists who told me that I probably shouldn’t mention it. It’s a difficult subject, life isn’t too sweet and then we start talking about the drug addicts… It might be a relic of the soviet era. They pretend the problem isn’t there by not talking about it. We pretend we are fine! But in fact, we have to shout out about the problem. But that’s the exterior of the problem. As for treatment, I am not an expert in this sphere. We use an array of methods to treat drug addicts but the methods we choose have to be legal. Violence is bad, of course. It upsets people. At the same time, it’s a matter of choice. I believe that ultimately the decision to quit has to be made by the drug users themselves. Perhaps in some cases by their family. In a number of cases there is no other way to save the addict. The choice is simple: death or forced treatment. And those who criticize this approach should remember that.
O.DOBRODEEV: Perhaps labor therapy would have an effect? We all remember how in the Soviet times people were dreaming about small patches of lands. Your idea to give land to families with three or more children that you stated in your annual address was welcomed. As we know, Russia has millions of acres of abandoned land. Perhaps it would be good to think of a way to bring people back to the land?Find a mechanism to provide land patches for those who want them?
D.MEDVEDEV: I think about it all the time. Our country is unique but it so happens that it also has the largest territory. It’s mostly northern-type land but not just that. Generally speaking, Russia, historically, has always been a major agricultural producer. We have 10% of the world’s arable land, and 20% of the fresh water reserves. This is not only huge capital to use in the agrarian business and export, it is also something that we can use to start living a good life. We know how things happened. A huge number of Russians today live in apartments. This was good at its time because it was an improvement on communal apartments. But what we have to do now is disperse evenly around the country. We have to implement the right policy on land.
Children and stimulating childbirth is just one angle. I hope our experience here will be used, we are working on the appropriate regulations at the moment. But in general we have to start thinking about how we can allow the people to acquire patches of land by simple procedures. Not just farming land, but land that they could make their home.
I think that we have to change our mindset. We can’t stay bunched together. We have to try and provide normal living conditions for people. A lot will depend on how our policy is implemented in Russia’s provinces.
This is what happens when you come to a big city. It has several satellite towns around it and that’s all. No one lives outside those towns. At the same time, the living conditions in the city itself are often terrible.
O.DOBRODEEV: Of course, it’s crowded.
D.MEDVEDEV:Crowded and very dirty. The living conditions are terrible and the ecology is not in a very good state, to put it mildly. This is important both in the geopolitical sense and it is important for our future.
V.KULISTIKOV: You once mentioned that systems are showing signs of stagnation. So such things in an official political system is one thing, but at the same time street politics is being promoted, having most disastrous consequences, as we have recently seen. You said that we must not allow such a mess happening on the streets; and, on the whole, it worked. Could you tell me if a police response is enough in a situation like this?
D.MEDVEDEV: The answer is obvious — of course, no. Police should act quickly, effectively, sometimes toughly — and within the law. I would say that our police have demonstrated these qualities in some instances recently, even though we are aware of a large number of problems in the Internal Affairs Ministry.
But it’s obvious that police measures alone can’t solve the problem. We need a systemic solution. Politics shouldn’t be taken to the streets. Politics should use proper channels. We may have street politics but it should stay within the boundaries prescribed by law. It is alright to have rallies, demonstrations and picket lines but they should be sanctioned.
There is such a thing as direct democracy, and that’s alright too. I have said more than once that we are progressing towards direct democracy. In some cases, we will re-introduce procedures that may even have been forgotten.
But there should also be another aspect to politics. Parties should feel responsible for the authority they have received. Our main political force, United Russia, should not just rule; it should be smart, tactful and strong. It should promote the right people. As for corrupt officials and those who do not want to work, they should be demoted or even punished.
Other parties should be invited to discuss all the issues. The fact that they are in the opposition doesn’t mean that they should be isolated from public affairs. They should speak openly about existing problems.
O.DOBRODEEV: This is unimaginable at the moment.
D.MEDVEDEV: They asked for it and they got it. What’s important now is that they don’t only come to federal channels but to regional channels too because in the provinces there are a lot more opportunities to conceal some things and so on.
I think the law worked. We can’t cherish our achievements too much. We managed to achieve something at a certain point. We’ve stabilized the situation in Russia, we reined in some very difficult social processes that were destructive and threatened to tear our country apart. That was very important. But we can’t develop on stability alone. Something has to drive us. A driving factor is the desire to do something. It’s the desire to improveyourself. If anyone thinks they are doing great in all aspects, they can stay in Courchevel.
K.ERNST: Mr. Medvedev, people have said that the police were not tough enough when they dispersed the Manege Square riot. Are you getting reports on the investigation into the murder that triggered the riot?
D.MEDVEDEV: The police acted in many different ways. Perhaps they should have been more decisive in their reaction to the very first attempts to violate order. That was obvious and that is what the police started doing later on.
This means that the police cannot forget about the skills that all law enforcement officers should have, regardless of what it is called. The police have to treat suspects with tact. They have to be polite with people. They have to help people. But those who start violence – hitting people or damaging buildings – can’t be spared. They have to be punished to the full extent of their crimes. They have to understand that demonstrations of this sort will be stopped, the participants detained and, if they are found guilty, tried and put in jail. That is what we should do, there is no other way.
I receive all the reports of course, including reports on the progress of criminal cases that have been opened. They were opened on various charges, not just hooliganism. All of these investigations we will see through to the end. They concern the murder of the football fan and other murders.
There is one thing I have to say here. The approach of authority – any authority be it federal, regional or at the municipal level – has to have a fair and balanced approach to the situation. You cannot take sides. It’s wrong. We have to ensure everyone stays within the framework of law and order. If we fail to do that, we might overstrain the country, one part of it or the other part. This is what we have to remember.
K.ERNST: But many people claim that it wasn’t so much the murder that triggered the riot, horrible as it may have been, but the fact that the suspects were immediately released. That is a violation of the principle of justice.
D.MEDVEDEV: I can’t object. I have issued a direct order to the investigation committee so I can’t object. I have ordered the investigation committee to open a criminal case on why the suspects were released while there was substantial evidence indicating they were the ones who committed the murder. If we discover violations, the investigators responsible will be punished. This is obvious. You can’t let a suspect go free if you have evidence that the suspect has engaged in violence, committed a murder or inflicted bodily harm. What does this tell us? Why did it happen?I spoke about this at a recent meeting. What made it happen? Was it simple corruption? Did the police get scared of mobsters in fancy cars? Why was this done? We will have to look into it.
O.DOBRODEEV: Returning to the subject of police. I believe people will remember 2010 as the year you started reforming that institution. Probably one of the most serious and conservative institutions of the Soviet Union and Russia. This makes me wonder. Will your reforms be restricted to changing the name of the law enforcement agency from “militia” to “police” as some fear they might be? Many people don’t like the word “police” anyway. What’s your stance on that?
D.MEDVEDEV: I have explained this many times and will gladly do so again. Obviously, it’s not about the name. The point of the reform is to give us an efficient law enforcement structure. There are a lot of questions that people would like to ask the police and the Interior Ministry. That’s not because the people who work there are all bad. There are all sorts of people working there. Most of them risk life and limb protecting us and they do it on a daily basis. Of course there are rascals there, as in any other structure. But the point is that our police, the way they look, the way they work and the regulations on their work – all of this came from the Soviet era. We had a different society back then. There were not as many problems in the street, and not as many opportunities, the police force should correspond to the level of development of our economy and society. The legislation on the police has to be up to date. The police, I think, still have to lose some birthmarks that make it look bad. That’s why I supported the idea to make amendments not only to laws on the police (which is the most important thing). The way the police is financed will change too. Starting from 2012, all police lieutenants will receive a substantially higher salary than they do now, not to mention the higher ranks. As we are changing the backbone to provide police officers with modern equipment and normal working conditions, we have to change the image as well. As I see it, the name is part of that image. A “militia” as we understand it since the early post-revolutionary times, is a voluntary citizen’s defense force. The professional structure is called the police, in every country of the world. This should not be ideological, it is just a statement of fact. But this is not the main thing. Lawmakers are free to do what they consider the right thing. We are evaluating the law right now and it should come in effect early next year, the second quarter.
V.KULISTIKOV: Mr. Medvedev, when you said we might return to forgotten forms of direct democracy, were you referring to the public discussion of the law on police?
D.MEDVEDEV: Not just that. It was, however, a good example. Whatever people might say, the public discussion yielded a huge number of amendments. A part of them was rejected of course, just because they affected the essence of the law. But a significant number of very important amendments were integrated into the bill.
V.KULISTIKOV: So that actually helped the work of lawmakers?
D.MEDVEDEV: It really helped. We ended up introducing institutions that we had no plans to introduce, including some interesting techniques used by foreign police services like giving suspects the right to make a phone call if they are arrested and so forth. Some people wrote to me: “Let’s do this.” I included it in my draft. To be honest, people had different positions on that. Not everyone wanted it to be that way but I think our society is mature enough for us to give detainees the right to make phone calls. This should not obstruct investigations of course but it is another way to ensure the rights and freedoms of the detainee are observed.
V.KULISTIKOV: What if he calls his friends in the mob?
D.MEDVEDEV: That’s what people said to me. They told me: the criminals will call their friends in the mafia. But listen. There is a legal term for that and if there is any reason to believe that we are dealing with organized crime and the suspect may use his phone call to contact his associates, then of course we have to stop him. If the suspect is calling home, then that’s a different matter. I am a lawyer by education. I have been places. I was an intern in the prosecutor’s office and I have visited police offices on various occasions and I have to tell you – our colleagues in the police have to learn to work in a different way. They can’t create sterile conditions for themselves: it’s the easiest way out to shut a person in jail and then force a testimony out of them. But we all know how that ends. The case falls apart in court. As a result, we feel like criminals have been set free. You have to have the right approach to collecting evidence.
But let’s get back to democracy. Democracy isn’t just discussing draft laws. Right now, by the way, we are considering a law on education. You see, modern democracy is not just representation, when people elect a deputy to represent them in the parliament or a regional lawmaking structure. Modern democracy is people openly expressing their opinions. People who use digital media and the Internet know that the web often gives birth to public opinion. Now this opinion can be wrong but nevertheless it is formulated there. In some cases people are able to directly state their position. I believe that today all politicians from the president to the village head are obliged to follow public opinion and gather information via direct contact with people or digital media. That’s why I believe that when we reach a high level of record of intention, as lawyers say, then what can stop us from organizing online referendums? I won’t even mention regular elections.
V.KULISTIKOV: You know those referendums, public politics and open discussions. Are they always good? Say we were talking about a construction project. We start discussing the project with the public. Russia, I think, has more “sacred places” than any other country in the world. A polluted forest may turn out to be a favourite picnicking spot. Therefore we can’t touch it.Or say there is a meadow that Pushkin once visited. The footprints are still there. We can’t touch that either. So where do we build? If we discuss every construction project openly isn’t there a risk that Medvedev’s modernization will only exist in the sphere of discussions like Gorbachev’s Perestroika?
D.MEDVEDEV: You don’t like the public, do you?
V.KULISTIKOV: Oh I love them. They’re cannon fodder for our talk shows. How can I not love them?
D.MEDVEDEV: All right. I’ll leave that part of your question without comment. Now for the essence of your question. You know of course that public processes cannot be destructive. They have to remain within the framework of law, that much is true. But on the other hand, you know our officials. They don’t care what the public says! They can’t hear it and they don’t want to. Your example with the construction site. You must be referring to the Khimki forest.
V.KULISTIKOV: I am.
D.MEDVEDEV: Or something similar. That’s exactly an example of when everyone – from the government to local authorities – could have paid a bit more attention to social trends and realized what would happen right from the start. There is nothing fatal there. And in my opinion the decision which was finally made is quite balanced.
We considered the opinion of society, and at the same time we did not ruin the project; and the Khimki forest, which can be viewed as an integral whole – though experts say that it does not exist – will grow bigger in the end. We decided to plant five new trees to replace every one cut down. So in the end, everything was fine, I think. But we had to use our authority for that. I had to put a freeze on construction. And it was an extravagant decision.
It will be rather good if our officials learn how to make arrangements. But it does not mean that society in a broad sense of the word should behave irresponsibly. The thing is that we realize that there are different people among the activists. Some are being paid, let’s call it, interference with certain economic projects.
I will not withhold from you that law enforcement agencies informed me that certain activists had asked for a suitcase of money to give up their stance. And I said to agree and then to catch them red-handed. We should put an end to such activity, because it’s a crime. But upon the whole I think that the government and the society and the government and NGOs have to learn to work together. That’s how it happens in the world. Nobody likes when somebody puts a stick in their wheels, but everyone wants to work without considering public opinion. But due to established traditions and legislation, they have learnt how to work together. And we are to learn too.
K.ERNST: Mr. President, there is a classical Latin phrase that the voice of the people is the voice of God. But at the same time the government has to make necessary economic decisions including, for example, to increase the retirement age. No matter in France or in Russia, it’s clear that a referendum on this issue would fail. People cannot realize how necessary and indispensable certain decisions are. So such a decision is inconvenient to everyone and is a concern of every citizen.
D.MEDVEDEV: Only issues to be decided by a referendum can be discussed at a referendum. You don’t organize one for every issue. Moreover, you are right to say that there are unpopular decisions which are to be made too, and public opinion is against them. In such a case, we are to explain to people why we have to make such a decision, why we need to, for example, save the money. But anyway I think that huge involvement of civil society into discussion of acute issues will do good to our country. We have deeply rooted totalitarian traditions, and it will take time while we are making the utmost to get rid of them. So far, it’s too early to be worried that the society is far too active, in my opinion.
Back to what you said, about bending people’s ears about modernization, like it happened with Perestroika. I’ve read comments on that. You know, you can distort any idea regardless of the name. The main thing is that people have to want it. Why do you think there was dissonance in the 80s? We do remember it. It happened because the authorities were telling one thing, but in reality quite a different thing was happening. If there is such a gap between the authorities’ position, the president’s position, the position of the government, the decision making party and real processes, modernization will fail. And it will be really bad. The next modernization which will be made by the people will cost us much more. It will start from a lower level; degradation will have become very serious by then.
K.ERNST: Mr. President, the fiercest debate of last year was about the situation with the Okhta-Center construction. Of course the biggest dispute took place in Saint-Petersburg, and we took an active part in it.
V.KULISTIKOV: You do not like Gazprom.
O.DOBRODEEV: Whose side did you take?
K.ERNST: The side of those against it. The situation was resolved in a favourable way, I think.
D.MEDVEDEV: It’s a TV democracy.
K.ERNST: I would like to ask you, what was your role in making this decision?
D.MEDVEDEV: I guess, it’s the kind of question that requires a direct answer. But, you know, I do not consider myself an expert in architecture. Some of my predecessors used artists and poets. I would not like to follow their example and use epithets so well-known to you. But when we are talking about a city like St.-Petersburg, and apart from being my native city, it’s the second capital of our country and a very beautiful and special place, all decisions should be very precise. In a situation when the majority of people especially when they are recognized professionals, say that the building won’t fit, unwillingly you start thinking whether it will or will not. I repeat, I am not an expert, and I did not make any decisions. It was the decision by the city’s authorities: first to initiate the construction together with Gazprom, and then to move this piece of architecture to another place. It’s all in their power. But I had to speak up about that problem to attract more attention to it, so that the process will be performed in a more civilized way; to make the people’s voice heard. The President has a strong enough voice for that.
K.ERNST: We’ve noticed it. Mr. President, during the past year the most acute discussion was about the topic you’ve announced – fight against corruption and bribery. As a lawyer you may know the term “legislamy” [sic]. I would like to explain to my colleagues what it means.
D.MEDVEDEV: Please, do. Many at the screens shuddered just at the sound of it.
K.ERNST: Legislamy is a statement that adoption of new laws cannot change the reality, the current existential situation.
Does it look like legislamy?What should we do to fight corruption existing in the minds of Russians for centuries?
D.MEDVEDEV: It’s a topical issue. You may remember that some time ago I started talking about it, saying that Russia is ill with its disregard of legislation. It has been forming for quite a time, not at present, and not during the Soviet times, but many centuries ago. Our society was formed in such a way that it had no belief in legislation or courts. On the contrary, they believed only in the kind tsar and in physical strength. It’s not right. We are to do the utmost to increase the legislation’s authority, to make people observe laws because it’s indecent to violate them and not out of fear. The system of public relations is built on this idea in all civilized societies. In this case the illness will step away. Do I have a strong medicine against it? I will tell you the truth – I do not. The therapy is to be prolonged, because you can’t fix this problem with surgical methods.
We are to work hard and explain to people why it’s right to observe the law, why it’s easier than to violate it, and what’s most important, that it’s necessary that civil servants set a good example to people. Of course people see that corruption has gone through society and the state like a needle, so whatever is said, it’s regarded as idle talk, while bribes are still taken.
That means that it’s not only an injection to become law-abiding, but an example of the use of force. But what force? The force of the state. Last year we had many cases of corruption. This year, about a thousand people – according to September data – if I am not mistaken were imprisoned for taking bribes, 1,700 – for offering bribes. It’s often harder to catch the bribe taker. About 2,000 of them are employees of law-enforcement agencies: the police, the prosecutor’s office. There are 18 people from the judicial system, though it’s very closed, and judges enjoy very strong immunity. Nonetheless these processes are against judges as well.
It’s very important because there are about 3,000 criminal cases with a high possibility of imprisonment – it’s a sign. Our people often act in a self sacrificing way thinking that others are caught and not them; when they are caught, they decide that it’s okay to stay in prison for a couple of years to provide a good living for their family. Anyway, good examples will work sooner or later. And the punishment should be very strict.
We have changed a number of legislative acts, and I supported the idea to introduce a multiple size penalty for bribes. In some cases it may be a hundredfold. A bribe can be relatively small for Russia, say 30,000 Roubles which equals around 1,000 dollars, but the penalty of 300,000 Roubles or three million is a lot of money. But the bribe’s size in this country varies.
K.ERNST: In your opinion greed is stronger than fear in this country, isn’t it?
D.MEDVEDEV: Anyway we are to consider this factor. People care about their financial standing, it’s absolutely clear. It’s one thing when you are caught, spend a few months in prison and then they let you go. But it’s a different situation, when there is a sanction of this kind, when your property can be seized, or they will make you pay a penalty for the rest of your life.
O.DOBRODEEV: Talking about corruption. Among the most tragic events this year was the massacre of civilians in the village of Kushchevskaya; the investigation into which highlighted the deep corruption between the police, the authorities and criminals. There were similar occurrences elsewhere. How can this be tackled, Mr. Medvedev?
It’s an important subject and I’m glad you brought it up. We all remember the 1990s. I wasn’t working in the government or the administration at that time. I lived in St. Petersburg and many of us got the impression that very different people work in authority structures. Some of them were criminals. They infiltrated the State Duma and other institutions… I think that in the past few years we’ve managed to largely cleanse the federal authority. There is crime, yes, and there is corruption. But I believe we’ve cut off the people who were obviously criminals. The situation is different at the level of regional and municipal authorities. There are people there who still live by their own code. That’s why we need purges. Not the same purges as took place in the 1930s, but we need to cut those people off from power. Some of them are members of the ruling party. That does not mean the ruling party, or any other party, should turn a blind eye to it. On the contrary, we need to bring them out into the light – expel them from the party to strengthen the party’s authority. So, back to this issue, it’s the problem of authorities’ responsibility – both regional and local.
When I started dealing with the situation in Kushchevskaya, I was struck by the fact that it was sort of dumb. Nobody knows anything, or on the contrary, we speak about it, and the law enforcement bodies do not react. Criminal cases were initiated and then dismissed. Probably depending on who comes to which room. Newspapers wrote about it, but nothing happened. In the end, governors asked me to make a decree so that neither governors, nor law-enforcement agencies could play back and say, ‘We do not hear. We do not know.’ Or it may be so that they informed the police and prosecutors, but they did not do anything.
So no they gather every month and listen to each other with a record. If you know about a situation like in Kushchevskaya, or have suspicions that there is a gang working there, write it down and let us solve the issue. And if some one did not react, we will be able to sack this person. And those who had a mercenary interest to turn a blind eye to it are to be put in prison.
But the investigation is not over yet there. I am sure that apart from settling issues with criminals, we are to deal with the law enforcement agencies who worked there. It’s clear that it was not just their blindness, but corruption. And it is systematic. We will deal with it.
V.KULISTIKOV: Mr. Medvedev, as far as I remember you have dwelt in detail about housing and utilities infrastructure. That’s why I am not going to ask you about it. I have another question. It’s about the Khodorkovsky’s case.
D.MEDVEDEV: You’ve put it in an unusual way.
V.KULISTIKOV:About Khodorkovsky. I see him as the ‘Portrait of Dorian Gray’ for our business community. Every businessman does what Khodorkovsky is accused of but Khodorkovsky alone takes the blame. He and his associate Lebedev. Do you think our judicial system may have been too hard on these people? What do you think about that as a lawyer, and as a person?
D.MEDVEDEV: Let me tell you what I think as the president. No government official, and this includes the president, has the right to state their position on this – or any other case – until the verdict – be it an acquittal or a guilty verdict – has been voiced. This is perfectly obvious. As for my position as a lawyer—not on this case, I emphasize, but in general—you know, lawyers and law enforcement officers operate with what is possible. If there is evidence showing that other people have committed similar crimes, where is this evidence? Where are the investigations? If there are similar crimes, the people who committed them should be held responsible because the person who committed a similar crime was punished. I’m talking about the current trial. So if this evidence exists, you should bring it to me, or to the prosecutor general, which perhaps would be more appropriate—for obvious reasons. And you should say, “This evidence proves that some major businessmen have committed some crimes. Let’s investigate it.” And if there is no response to that, then you are right, what we have here is discriminatory justice. But at this point I don’t have this evidence on my table, even though I’m not a prosecutor, I’m a guarantor of constitutional rights. But I can order the prosecutor to look at the case. If I see the evidence, I will tell the prosecutor to look into it. It’s a matter of having concrete evidence. Everything else is just speculation. It’s obvious that in any country, in any society, not all the criminals are in prison and not all of them are brought to justice. It’s all a matter of evidence. Bring me the evidence, and we’ll work with that.
K.ERNST: Mr. Medvedev, in Moscow and in general in all Russia’s big cities many people have died this year after being shot by air-guns classed as non-lethal weapons . When you see reports on TV or on the Internet, have you ever thought of abolishing them altogether?
D.MEDVEDEV: Of course I have been thinking about it. Moreover the processes in the State Duma regarding this were initiated by me. Almost a year ago I took care of this issue and ordered the Minister of the Interior to prepare a draft law. At the moment the document is being viewed by the State Duma. It’s aimed atlimiting the use of non-lethal weapons. They will be to a bigger extent equated to fire-arms, because it’s clear that you can still kill someone with a non-lethal weapon at close contact. That’s why selling them should not differ much from that of other lethal weapons.
There is the possibility to prohibit them. But we are to think carefully about it, because if we consider the current criminal situation, despite the well-known facts, there are more crimes involving the use of fire-arms, knives, and other field equipment. But those crimes are in the spotlight. People with such a weapon armed with non-lethal ammunition think they are cowboys. Thus self-defense arms turn into a weapon of assault and threat. It’s a matter of education and the rule of law. Those decisions will soon be made, but if they are not enough, we’ll prohibit their use.
K.ERNST: In my opinion, the danger is that on the one hand, a person feels like a cowboy, on the other – feels that he cannot kill anyone, and that’s why it’s not a lethal weapon to him.
D. MEDVEDEV: The threshold of danger is narrow, that’s right. That’s why the proposed law says a lot about undergoing a training course before obtaining a permit for such a weapon. It’s a weapon and not a pretty thing in your pocket to show off to your friends. There are foreign versions too. Really, I can’t say if we need it in this country or not. So we’ll deal with it.
O. DOBRODEEV: Right, as you personally control all the serious crimes which get a lot of public response and media coverage …
D. MEDVEDEV: It is my duty to do so.
O. DOBRODEEV: Don’t you often get a feeling of there being a power struggle among the law enforcement agencies? For instance, there are conflicts between the Investigation Committee and the Prosecutor General’s Office, and then between the Prosecutor General’s Office and police – and it often gives an observer a bad impression.
D. MEDVEDEV: I’ll put it this way – there are conflicts and conflicts.Why do you think everywhere in the world, especially in large countries, it is usual to have more than just one law enforcement agency? Why should there be a number of law enforcement agencies employed to carry out relevant law enforcement functions? The answer is: in order to have them do their job properly, i.e. keep an eye on each other. This is competition, and it’s part of human nature. But it should happen within a legal framework. That’s why the Prosecutor General’s Office should be watching over the investigation agencies, and I mean all of them: the former Prosecutor-General’s investigation subdivision which is now by my order being transformed into a separate agency, and police investigation, as well as Federal Security Service investigation, and investigative bodies of other agencies.
On the other hand, of course, if it all comes down to some crude score-settling, blackmailing and unjustified PR acts, like when officials try to get on camera with public accusations of the kind “we caught them, and these bastards let them go”– this is totally wrong, and the wrongdoers must be punished.
Everyone must act and behave properly. But since there is a wide discussion now not only around the relations within the law enforcement branch of power, but also around the mass media, I’d like you to talk to each other as well.
I’d like to ask you a question. It has also received quite a large public and media response, as I follow it up on the Internet and keep track of how the media discuss the situation. Recently, there have been some charges laid at the door of some digital media, in particular, some TV channels, of censoring information, of keeping the truth away from the audience, of having some certain rules on what to show and what not to show. That results in the fact that although we have great television shows and they are very engaging, the newscast is just miserable, as TV doesn’t show what it should, and that means there’s no freedom of speech. Do you have anything to say on the subject?
V. KULISTIKOV: I certainly do.
D. MEDVEDEV: You’re welcome to share.
V. KULISTIKOV: I think that on the whole the question of freedom is a very intimate question. If you ask a person whether he or she is free it’s the same as asking them whether they are happy, you know, whether they are happy in love. I believe that freedom is one’s state of mind.
D. MEDVEDEV: That’s right.
V. KULISTIKOV: And so this question can be answered by any journalist individually. I, as a journalist, can tell you that I’ve always had my freedom when I worked for the media, both on television and on Radio Liberty although, you know, the Americans are quite strict and you can’t just do whatever you like.
D. MEDVEDEV: Can you do whatever you like at Gazprom?
V. KULISTIKOV: You certainly can, it’s a totally different environment at Gazprom.
As for your question, you know, there is such a thing as editorial policy, and editorial policy can be discussed. But it’s not a question of freedom, as being creative, making TV, taking risks, going to dangerous places are things that only truly free people can do.So my opinion is that although there can be different viewpoints on the degree of freedom, freedom is definitely there as without freedom such television as we have would have been impossible.
D. MEDVEDEV: I see. And what do you think?
K. ERNST: Mr. Medvedev, I think that freedom on television is limited. It is limited by the law. It is limited by moral values, by cooperation with the authorities, and by cooperation with the social structures. It is limited by people’s individual frames of thinking and views – and by people I mean not only people who like us are heads of channels, I mean all the huge numbers of people who work on channels and make television happen. I can understand the nature of such charges, but nevertheless a television free of any limits imposed by a dictatorship is free of any censorship, and in this sense I think that current Russian TV is free to the same extent as television in major democratic countries.
D. MEDVEDEV: I see. And what is your view?
O. DOBRODEEV: I think that the level of freedom always corresponds to the historical time a nation is living in. I think that these days we’re having about the highest level of freedom our television has ever had. And I know enough facts to be able to draw such conclusions. I worked on Soviet television, and in the nineties I worked for NTV channel, whose head today is Mr. Kulistikov. I am currently the head of the key state-owned media holding company [VGTRK]. You know, just to give you an example, I remember very well the nineties, it was the time when, for instance, Mr. Zyuganov – and he can confirm my words – could not get on TV for years.
Another example.I am not talking now about political figures who are not widely known, but even such an outstanding public figure as Mr. Solzhenitsyn – and Mrs. Solzhenitsyn can confirm – he was strictly banned from television even in the most liberal times back then. And this is Solzhenitsyn. By the way, I do not wish to denounce the nineties which is the tendency now. And I don’t want to do this because the government at that time was very much in a way sitting on a volcano with a risk of being blown up in the air at any moment. Yet, we must admit the truth. And if we are to talk about freedom, I think there are two major things here. First of all, it is about the freedom for reporters who retrieve and provide the information from hot spots, from Tskhinval to Baghdad, not only for the Russian audience but for the whole world. And that constitutes the freedom of the viewers. There is yet another important thing. Ten years ago, when Euronews came to Russia, and Russia-24 channel was launched, those were direct broadcast channels. Following your decisions, in two to three years Russia will have 20 TV channels. That’s a completely new level of freedom. That’s why I’m saying that freedom corresponds to the time we’re living in.
If talking about our time, I think that, honestly (we all read media reports and know the feedback and criticism TV is often given), many critical responses, if not all of them, are quite presumptuous, because we must remember that it’s the very hard work of many people, and I feel hurt for those who go to the hot spots, into the field, and get the crucial information for all of us.
D. MEDVEDEV: Since I sparked off such a discussion, I think it’s quite useful. Let me say a few words, too.
You are totally right, every one of you, and yet it remains your personal viewpoint. Each person has his or her own perception of freedom, and that’s totally right. Recently I gave a speech in St. Petersburg and I said that we can consider ourselves a developed democracy only if every single person can say to themselves that they are free. If we have people who think they are not free, we can’t boast of our political achievements. Freedom is really what we feel.At the same time, there are laws in each sphere of life, and there are state laws. And in this sense you all are totally right. Those laws exist everywhere, not only in Russia. Still, what should not happen, in my view, is a gap between the things that happen in real life and the newscast.
Of course, assessments may differ. Some say WikiLeaks is the number one event, while to others icicles in town are the major problem. Yet others say the New START Treaty is the most important thing. Channels should decide for themselves what is more or less important. Sometimes I hear people complain that channels don’t report the news right away. But this is a matter of editorial policy, of what you think is right. Still, the list of the news on TV, say, for one day, should not be strikingly different from what we read on the internet or in other media. And that’s what I think the case is today.
If you don’t mind I suggest we return to the established order and you keep asking me questions, rather than the other way round, although I have more things to ask.
O. DOBRODEEV: Then, in order to have no gaps, as you suggested, I’d like to ask a question about Defense Minister Mr. Serdyukov.
D. MEDVEDEV: Brace yourself, Mr. Serdyukov.
O. DOBRODEEV: Here is the question. On the one hand, a lot has been done to upgrade the army’s technical and material condition. One and a half times more than before has been spent on this. Still, there are many things which are not quite clear, which make us wonder whether military academies have stopped taking students. This story received a huge response. Can you comment on this?
D. MEDVEDEV: You know, I can comment on this, and I’ll be absolutely serious about it. I think that the ministry works hard, and as any large ministry it may make some mistakes, but on the whole it implements the policy set by the Supreme Commander-in-Chief, that is, by me.
And the policy’s objective is to create an efficient army. Our army, as well as the police service, is largely based on the Soviet Union’s principles. And I’m not saying Soviet means bad. It was a different time. It was a different country, with a different territory, and it had different tasks. We need to reform the army.
Army reform entails a change in the number of personnel so as to have fewer officers on a dramatically higher payroll. We are, in essence, getting close to the level of military payroll which is totally competitive with that of developed countries. Starting from 2012, a lieutenant’s monthly salary will be set at 50,000 rubles. And that’s just the beginning. A unit commanding officer’s salary will range from 150,000 to 180,000 rubles. This is remuneration comparable to that in the most developed armies. The same applies to housing. It’s a huge program.
Let’s face the truth. Previously, the issue of housing for military personnel was ignored. Army officers have had a good salary. I recall that when I was graduating from my university some people advised me to join the army, as the salary was high, 250 rubles a month right away. And then, they said, you can make a career, and when you’re a colonel, you’ll make 500 a month. Yes, the pay was nice. But what about the housing? If you’re ordered to serve in a hot spot, you can spend the rest of your life there without a home, without anything. And we finally started to tackle this problem.
Almost 100,000 residential apartments have been granted to retiring military personnel, and that’s merely for the past two years. This program will be completed within the next two years, because a certain number of officers are still undergoing the retirement procedure upon this decision. We shall provide housing for everyone as we have agreed.
Of course, some processes are quite painful. We are performing staff cuts, and therefore some of our capacities get reduced, too. We’ll have a smaller number of subdivisions in order to ensure higher efficiency of the army. That is why the military academies are taking a break in their operation.
A huge number of officers have graduated from our military schools and academies, and there were not enough jobs for all of them. They ended up either unemployed or simply sitting around doing nothing and waiting for their term of service to end. Just recently I met with officers and asked them how things were. Theysaid – youknow, a lot of people have left, but the ones who stayed are the best people. They are the most capable, and they really love the Army and want to serve. Those who ended up in serving by accident, leave.
But they are not just left hanging. They get housing, benefits, opportunities to train for another vocation. That’s why we decided to make a two-year pause in this army officer training. When this period is over, we will start admitting people into military academies again. The admission numbers will be lower though, we need to base them on the size of our army. And the size of the army will depend on our objectives, our territory, and our population.
K. ERNST: Mr. Medvedev, you mentioned Wikileaks. The global media have made Wikileaks the main brand of the year. There is no doubt about that. How do you feel about it?
D.MEDVEDEV: Some of what’s been revealed is interesting, some things were surprising.
K.ERNST: Are you afraid of Wikileaks?
D.MEDVEDEV: Why would I be afraid? The Department of State might be afraid but not me.
Well if I was scared of what people might write about me I would never go on the Internet or watch television. A person who assumes this kind of responsibility has to understand that people don’t praise the authorities too often, and there is probably a good reason for this. The authorities have to work efficiently. No, I’m not afraid of what people might write about me. As for the consequences… the publication might have an effect on other countries’ relations, but not on our relations with the U.S. We all understand the general attitudes of the media and the public. We get that information from television and newspapers. Open sources. So we saw nothing new. This reminds me of a story that happened to a Soviet diplomat. He served as ambassador in a European country and had been granted an audience with the queen. After the audience he sent a cable back home saying: “The queen asked me about dissidents. I had to bring her down a peg.” That’s what happens with diplomats. They show each other how tough they are, putting labels on everybody. Every profession has its own laws. Our diplomats write to each other too. Everyone is entitled to their minute of fame, including ambassadors and diplomats.
K.ERNST: Mr. Medvedev, we have already mentioned the summer wildfires, it really was an absolute cataclysm. Last time we had anything similar to this was forty years ago. What lessons did the authorities in Russia learn from this situation?
D.MEDVEDEV: We learned several lessons. Firstly, no matter what happens, we need to help the people. They are just innocent victims. People suffered from this, many lost their loved ones. I think the authorities did a lot in this situation. We did what authorities in other countries don’t necessarily do.
We provided housing practically for everybody, for thousands of people. And let’s be honest, this new housing is much better than what they used to have. Secondly, we paid out compensation, got the whole community involved in helping [the burned down villages]. Schools and sports facilities are being rebuilt. It is important to react quickly in these circumstances. The second lesson is how to react. And here we ran into problems.
We don’t have a mechanism in place that would allow us to make speedy decisions about payments, apart from direct compensation from the budget. This practice is very different everywhere else in the world. Real estate should be insured. Insurance payments can be very sizable, even huge. And in this case the money comes not from the state budget, but from insurance and reinsurance funds. This is the civilized way of doing things. We need to start thinking about that. I gave all the orders, and am now waiting for the Government to tell me how we will go about it.
We al understand that heat is not something we can prevent. Heat can start fires. Nonetheless, Federal, regional (first and foremost, municipal) authorities have to be responsible about their obligations. And this is the third lesson. If a fire starts even far way, they need to start digging trenches, so to speak. We need to create fire containment areas, primed with minerals; provide people with necessary equipment. In some cases none of this was done. People just sat around staring at the sky and waiting for the fires to get to them. This showed the poor capacity of our municipal government bodies, and to be completely honest – in some cases of regional governments as well. That’s one more lesson.
And finally, the last lesson that we learned is that we need to invest in special equipment for emergency situations. Our emergencies forces are very capable and well equipped, but the country is very big. Look at what happens in other places, just recently in Israel, for example, where 50 people died basically in one day. And the emergencies services could not do anything until we sent our jets there. All because they simply don’t have the right emergencies equipment, even though their police forces are exceptional. We need to invest in the emergencies infrastructure, because Russia is a huge and very complicated country.
K.ERNST: Will changes be made to the Forestry Code?
D.MEDVEDEV: Of course. I have given all necessary orders; a new draft is being prepared.
V.KULISTIKOV: Mr. Medvedev, our agriculture really suffered from the recent draught. Farmers had just recovered, on some genetic level I guess, from collectivization, requisitions, they finally started coming back to normal life, and now this huge disaster. Do you think our farming will survive?
D.MEDVEDEV: I felt very sorry for them myself. While working in the Government, and I was mostly involved in coordinating national projects, I began to understand the needs of our farmers. I myself am a city boy, but while working in the Government I had to deal with agriculture a lot. Thisreally helps, I would recommend it to everybody, to go through this at some point in life. To work in some area of agriculture, in one capacity or another.
So we invested a lot of money, created great conditions for farmers, gave them loans. But because of this weather anomaly a third of our crops was destroyed. We gathered only 60 thousandtons. Now we need to implement the intervention plan. We just made the decision to supply over a million tons under this intervention plan.
We provided financial aid for 25 thousand farming businesses, allocating a total of 35 billion rubles to them. So of course we gave support to our agriculture. But it is still very disappointing, because things had just started going so well. Sometimes when I am in a helicopter and we are flying over some Russian region, the Belgorod region, for example, I feel so proud! All those animal farms sitting next to each other, everything so clean and new, it looks great. We cannot lose this. A third of our people live in the countryside.
V.KULISTIKOV: We are not going to lose this, are we?
D.MEDVEDEV: We won’t. But we shouldn’t forget about it. And it is not just about weather anomalies. We can’t sit back, relax, and think that agriculture will survive on its own. Everywhere in the world the government, the state always monitors the development of its agriculture.
О.DOBRODEEV: Let’s return to what will definitely be remembered – this year a record number of governors left office. The Presidents of Tatarstan, Bashkortostan, Kalmykia, and the governor of the Rostov region resigned. All these leaders had headed their regions for decades.
We won’t be wrong in saying that the dismissal of Moscow mayor Yuri Luzhkov got the biggest public reaction. Looking back at those events – what contributed the most to his dismissal: the vacation that he took during the summer wildfires, which greatly affected Moscow; or maybe his wife’s extensive business activities? Some time has passed since then. Can you tell us how you assess the situation now, and what played the biggest role in this important decision?
D.MEDVEDEV: His lack of attention to Moscow. Instead of promoting himself and playing political games, the mayor should’ve worked. Any leader in our big country, the head of any region, should pay attention to his region. We all, the people who live here as well as the visitors, know and love Moscow.
This city has a huge number of problems. Corruption is going through the roof, its level is very high even for such a big city with a population of over ten million. The corruptionishuge. Then there’s the traffic. From time to time the city practically stops moving. And not only when the President or the Prime Minister go somewhere by car. The city infrastructure doesn’t allow for normal traffic flow. They just stuck buildings wherever, without careful planning.
Also, business competition. This is unheard of – it’s impossible to get anywhere through fair competition. Who gets all the work contracts and tenders? Who has always won until recently?
O.DOBRODEEV: Affiliated structures.
D.MEDVEDEV: As the mayor of Moscow used to say, those who exhibited outstanding business skills and proved their right to work on these projects, the most talented entrepreneurs. But we know what kinds of decisions were made. It needed to be stopped. And I hope that the new mayor will act differently. He is a man of action, very capable, he doesn’t fancy himself as a star, doesn’t try to promote himself or win any political competition. He has work to do, so let him work hard. These were the reasons [for this decision].
V.KULISTIKOV: Mr. Medvedev, is it difficult for you to search for new governors, new regional heads? Wouldn’t it be easier to switch back to natural selection? Hold a vote and see who beats whom at these regional elections?
D.MEDVEDEV: I agree – that’s always more exciting to watch. But the question is – will it be a natural or an unnatural selection? And not just unnatural, but even monstrous…
O.DOBRODEEV: Something that goes against nature…
D.MEDVEDEV: Against nature, right. We’ve just talked a lot about democracy. But not all democratic methods work well. You told me that public institutions could work against national interests. Unfortunately, so could democratic institutions.
I think that the system of installing governors that we have now is the most appropriate in the current situation in the country. Why? Becauseourcountryisverycomplicated. It is a federation, a national federation. And let’s be honest with each other – at one point we were very close to falling apart.
One of the reasons for that was the selfishness of our regional authorities. I will not name any names right now, you all know what I am talking about. So we can’t let that happen. I have already said that maybe in a hundred years’ time we will go back to direct gubernatorial elections, but I guess a hundred years was an overstatement. At this point and in the foreseeable future we need to maintain unity in governing the state, when everybody is part of the same executive chain of command: the President, the Government, and the governors. Municipal self-government bodies are a separate thing but they, too, should work in close co-operation. This should be the basis.
During my presidency I replaced one third of governors, and I think it is a normal, objective practice. New people need to come. We have a lot of good, talented people. And all governors should understand that they have two, three terms at the most to prove themselves, show what they can do, how they can help people and change their lives.
Secondly, people need to understand that they can’t be in office forever. At some point they need to step down and rest, letting others take their place. They also need to think about how people view them. The fact that we are using this system of installing governors doesn’t mean they should forget about people. They need to talk to the people. As for making decisions about the prolongation of terms, or dismissing governors, if I lose confidence in someone, they will have to be fired. Absolutely, no doubt here. This is not a one-off occasion. It is an institution that has to function.
So if a governor doesn’t talk to people, it affects his rating. And this should be taken into consideration as well. If a governor is not popular with people, if he has a so-called anti-rating, he should not be appointed for another term.
The system works. Not perfectly, but it works. And we have a lot of talented people, the party helps in this situation, because they search for people and suggest candidates.
K.ERNST: I wanted to ask you how you felt about Japan’s reaction to your visit to the Kuril Islands.
D.MEDVEDEV: Well what about me? Nothing changed for me. The Japanese seem tense.
O.DOBRODEEV: They recalled their ambassador.
D.MEDVEDEV: Well I’m sincerely sorry that I was the reason for a break in his political career. That was not what we aimed for. I am not sure what he will do now.
ANSWER: Commit suicide?..
D.MEDVEDEV: I’d like to remind you that all Kuril Islands are Russian territory. The president can go there and the only reason none of my predecessors went there is because they are so far away.
But they are our territory, and we need to care about them and provide decent living conditions for people living there. I personally promised it to them.
After my visit, I sent [Deputy Prime Minister] Igor Shuvalov there. He went there, and he is continuing this work. Other government officials wil be visiting there too.
But this doesn’t mean that we’re not willing to work with our Japanese counterparts. We are ready to implement joint economic projects. We are ready to take into consideration some historic facts concerning the Kuril Islands. We’re ready to work with them but this doesn’t mean that we should no longer regard the Kuril Islands as our land. And our partners should clearly realize that.
V.KULISTIKOV: But why this serious reaction? Maybe the Japanese were deceived by the fact that we now love sushi, sake, and are interested to learn more about geishas… Maybe they thought since we are so interested in Japanese culture, they can…
D.MEDVEDEV: We do like Japanese culture, starting with the cuisine and finishing with poetry. But I think this should make our Japanese friends happy. It makes them more popular and brings certain advantages. In my opinion, they just need to look at the Kuril issue from a different angle.
Nothing brings countries closer together than joint economic projects. We could work on creating a single economic zone, a free trade zone. People will make money there. It will be a special micro-environment. People will go there to work, the Japanese will have the chance to come, visit historic sites and work there. I think this would be the correct approach. And I told my colleague Mr. Naoto Kan, the Prime Minister of Japan, about this, when I invited him to visit Russia.
K.ERNST: Mr. Medvedev, human memory chooses what it wants to remember. People rarely remember what a past event looked, smelled or sounded like. But the year 2010 saw an event even I will long remember. I’m sure it was even more vivid for you. How did you find out about the crash of the Polish Air Force jet near Smolensk, and how did you react?
D.MEDVEDEV: It was a difficult day. I was in St. Petersburg at the time. It was a Saturday and I was planning to have a break. Then my aide told me about what happened. I was shocked. It always comes as a shock, taking in news of this sort. You feel shocked and sorry for the people who were killed. And this time, it was the entire Polish political elite, as well. It happened at that spot too. It seemed eerie and hard to believe. It turned out to be true, nonetheless. Our relations with Poland have come a long way since then. Things were very complicated. I think that our relationship is less complex now. I paid an official visit to Poland. We talked. The investigation still has to be concluded of course. It can’t be politicized or serve as a reason to start blaming each other. We have to listen to all parties involved and accept the conclusions made by international agencies. Then there is the internal investigation of course.
K.ERNST: How do you feel about Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk calling the interstate aviation committee report ‘unacceptable’?
D.MEDVEDEV: I would rather think that his evaluation was emotional and the result of occurrences in Poland’s internal politics. Poland is shattered. Their communal mentality is shattered, which is understandable because it was a real tragedy. But it can’t affect our relations. And it can’t lead to the results of the intergovernmental committee, and the investigation into the incident, being politicised.
I hope that Polish politicians have the common sense and will to accept the conclusions made by the committee without any excessive political comments.
K.ERNST: Why did the government break with a tradition that has been going since Soviet times, and admit that intelligence agents caught were working for Russia?
O.DOBRODEEV: What agents?
K. ERNTST: What agents? You know what agents I am talking about [talking to Dobrodeev]. Were any conclusions drawn from this? [Talking to Medvedev]? The incident made it clear to me that Russia has illegal agents.
D.MEDVEDEV: Anyone working for our special services is, first and foremost, a Russian citizen. They are not cannon fodder or ‘heroes’ that the state is willing to sacrifice. If the Soviet Union or, perhaps, even Russia has not talked about them before, then it was a mistake on the government’s part. Our main goal in that situation was to get our people out. We did that because, as I said, they were Russian citizens. I recently met with intelligence officers and I told them that we will continue doing the same thing in the future if anyone from the intelligence service – with or without official cover – is in trouble. These people defend our interests.
V.KULISTIKOV: And now a question for foreign intelligence services.
D.MEDVEDEV: Careful with the words…
V.KULISTIKOV: I will be very careful. Russia’s political life is dominated by you and Mr. Putin. Do you think we have any other promising politicians? If so, then probably you would like to see one as your ally, or maybe you see a serious rival in somebody else?
D.MEDVEDEV: I have an official announcement to make. There are such politicians in our country. You even know some of those names. I cannot but mention such distinguished people as heads of the factions of our State Duma. Indeed, they are well-known politicians, and there’s no irony in my words. These are people who have worked in Russian politics for more than a decade. There are also renowned politicians outside the State Duma. Some may say they are prominent, others may not. Well, they are famous too; such famous politicians as Mr. Kasyanov, Mr. Nemtsov, Mr. Limonov, Mr. Kasparov. They are well-known politicians. People have different attitudes towards them. They have, so to say, their own electorate. But they are also public figures. But the greatest resource is the resource we don’t talk about. These are talented people from our country. That’s where future presidents, prime ministers and deputies are now. Our country has a lot of talent.
Are they telling us to wrap up?
O.DOBRODEEV: No, no. How about the phone that Steve Jobs gave you? Does it still work?
D.MEDVEDEV: It does, I gave it to my son.
V.KULISTIKOV: Tell us about more about your son. Has he chosen a profession? Where is he celebrating New Year?
D.MEDVEDEV: Well since we are talking about him and he is in the focus of attention of the heads of federal channels… He is 15 years old and so he celebrates the New Year together with us. And I’m very happy because I don’t have that much time that I can devote to him. Those are very happy moments for me. As for his hobbies they are the usual things that children like: sports, books, and I hope studies. I don’t know what he will do with his life, we have some ideas but I don’t want to talk about them. This would be inappropriate because he will hear me saying this on television and do the exact opposite. So let’s let him make the decision himself. Of course New Year is a wonderful holiday, and I plan to spend this day at home like every other Russian family does. Family members think about the close ones who have to work, and toast their health.
K.ERNST: Thank you for this in-depth conversation. We wish you a happy New Year on behalf of our audience. It would be naïve to say we hope the next year will be better. We just wish you a happy new year.
D.MEDVEDEV: Thank you very much. I would like to say that I wish you a happy New Year too, but I promise this: I will do it again. You know when that will happen.
Windows to Russia!
- Important News From Russia (12/24/2010) (windowstorussia.com)
- Medvedev Speaks at the Taj Mahal… (windowstorussia.com)
- Seems to be a Possible Snag in the START Treaty Resolution from America (windowstorussia.com)
- President Medvedev Talks With Channel One in Russia! (windowstorussia.com)
- Putin and Medvedev and Coffee and by the way – Sobyanin… (windowstorussia.com)
- Russia and the Upcoming Wikileaks Leaks… (windowstorussia.com)
- China Ponders Why Medvedev Visited the Kuril Islands… (windowstorussia.com)
- Yup Says Russia – Medvedev is Back… (windowstorussia.com)
- Russian News on 11/12/2010… (windowstorussia.com)
- Medvedev Sparked off Scathing Criticism in Japan… (windowstorussia.com)