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President Dmitry Medvedev sums up 2010 in televised interview

Dmitri MedvedevMOSCOW, December 25 (RIA Novosti)-Overcoming the economic crisis, the summer's wildfires, the New START strategic arms agreement, the 65th anniversary of World War II and a new focus on children's problems were the most important issues in 2010 for Russia, President Dmitry Medvedev said on Friday.

During an end-of-year interview, Medvedev, 45, answered questions posed by Konstantin Ernst, the head of Channel One, Oleg Dobrodeyev of Rossiya, and Vladimir Kulistikov, of the NTV channel.

Key issues for Russia

The president told the three interviewers during a live broadcast on Russia's three main TV channels that he had specifically chosen the progress made on children's issues, stressing that taking issue with the deteriorating demographic situation was essential.

"We need to have the correct attitude to children. Without this we have no future," Medvedev said, noting that the process had started but much remained to be done.

He also included the signing of the new Russian-U.S. arms control treaty and the 65th anniversary of Soviet victory in the Great Patriotic War in his list, and touted Russia's success in emerging from the economic crisis.

"We are coming out at about four percent of GDP. That's not just standard growth for us, but includes elements of our economic modernization and therefore the modernization of life," Medvedev said.

Referring to Russia's deadly wildfires which scorched the central part of the country this summer, killing dozens of people and leaving thousands homeless, Medvedev said it had been a very difficult situation "both physiologically and physically."

"It affected our economy greatly...resulting in food shortages," he said, adding that human losses made the situation truly catastrophic.

Medvedev went on to praise U.S. President Barack Obama for pressing on with strategic arms limitation talks with Russia and said he had a good working relationship with the U.S. leader. Obama scored a major political victory in getting New START ratified this week. Russian lawmakers look set to wait until next year to bring the treaty into force.


Medvedev denied that former Yukos CEO Mikhail Khodorkovsky was a victim of double standards in being jailed while other oligarchs are not prosecuted.

One of three senior newsmen interviewing Medvedev live asked the president why only Khodorkovsky was jailed when many other businessmen have committed similar "crimes."

Medvedev replied that decisions on whether to bring a person to trial have to be taken based on evidence of any crime. He added that neither the president nor any other official "has the right to express their position on a case before the court announces its verdict."

By saying so, the president apparently hinted at Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's assessment of Khodorkovsky who is facing a new prison term on new charges.

During his annual televised Q&A session earlier in December, Putin said thieves should be imprisoned. Referring to a line from the Soviet film "The Meeting Place Cannot Be Changed," Putin said: "I think that a thief should be in prison."

Putin later denied that his assessment put pressure on a Moscow court.

Medvedev said: "If proof exists that other people also committed same crimes - where is this [legal] base? Where are these cases?" he asked.

"If this base exists, I want it found and brought to me. But so far, I don't have this evidence on my desk," the president said. "The rest is meaningless talk. It is clear that not all criminals are punished around the world."

The Yukos case against Khodorkovsky and his business partner Platon Lebedev has long been a focus of public attention in Russia and the West. Many believe that the case is politically motivated, although Russian officials have consistently denied this claim.

Khodorkovsky and Lebedev, who have already spent seven years behind bars for tax evasion, are awaiting a verdict following a trial on charges of embezzling 218 tons of oil from Khodorkovsky's former oil company Yukos and laundering more than 3 billion rubles ($97.5 million) in revenues. If found guilty, the two men face another seven years in jail.

Khodorkovsky has repeatedly maintained his innocence, saying he was punished for supporting the tiny pro-Western opposition, and that the liquidation of Yukos was engineered by corrupt government officials aiming to seize lucrative oil assets.


Medvedev said any Russian governor who loses the trust of the country's leadership will be fired like Yury Luzhkov was in September.

"Should I lose trust in someone else, I'll have to dismiss them too," he said Friday.

Medvedev fired Luzhkov, who had been the mayor of Moscow since 1992, in late September over "loss of confidence."

The sacking was preceded by a smear campaign by state-run TV channels, which slammed Luzhkov for remaining on vacation while Moscow was choked by acrid smog in August, and for failing to tackle the city's most pressing problems.

The Russian leader also blamed Luzhkov for presiding over massive corruption and negligence of his duties which led to the ignominious end of his political career.

"This city [Moscow] has a slew of problems. Corruption - on an unprecedented scale even for a city with over 10 million residents," Medvedev said..

The president criticized the former chief of the Russian capital over his predilection for publicity stunts aimed at boosting his public image instead of real efforts to improve the situation in Moscow.

Sergei Sobyanin was approved Moscow's new mayor soon after Luzhkov's sacking, and immediately pledged to tackle the city's most difficult problems, including the notorious traffic jams.

"I hope that the new mayor will work differently. He is a man of deed, a hard-working man, free of stardom; he does not strive for personal media popularity or political rivalry," Medvedev said.

Medvedev also reiterated his longstanding view that there is no need to return to direct elections of regional governors in Russia, which were abolished in 2004.

"In the current historical perspective, I think it is essential to safeguard the unity of managing the state when everyone is within a single executive vertical: president, government and heads of territories," Medvedev said.

Currently, the heads of Russia's 83 regions are nominated by the president and approved by the regional legislature.

The 2004 decision made by the then-President Vladimir Putin to abolish direct elections for regional leaders in favor of presidential nominations fueled Western criticism that Russia was backsliding from democracy. Putin said the move was needed to ensure stability in the country.

Referring to the issue, Medvedev said he did not consider elections of governors as a sign of democracy.

"The issue is that not all democratic methods work well. That's why I believe the system of appointing governors in the current situation in this country is absolutely justified, because the country is very difficult and is a federation," he said.

When asked if the return to direct popular elections of governors was necessary Medvedev joked that it would be like "returning to natural selection and watching who will eat each other."

"Looking is always more interesting. The issue is whether this is a natural selection or not a completely natural selection," he said.

Media freedom

The Russian president said the country's state-run TV channels should reflect real events without concealing undesirable issues.

During the interview, Medvedev took the role of the interviewer and asked the hosts of the three main TV channels to comment on the widespread allegations towards state media that they "filter information."

They said freedom is more about philosophy than politics and censorship.

"Freedom is inside us," NTV's Kulistikov said, adding that "today there is one of the highest levels of freedom during the entire history of our television."

In late November, one of Russia's most acclaimed journalists, Leonid Parfyonov, publicly blasted federal TV channels for their servile attitude and penchant for propaganda. His speech then set the media abuzz and even prompted talk of a new perestroika.

Russia's celebrated journalists remain pessimistic about Medvedev's battle-cry towards the country's media policy.

"I am afraid that Medvedev's call...is late today, since TV workers have psychologically become estranged from acute issues," the president of the International Academy of Television and Radio, Anatoly Lysenko, said, adding that "today's Internet is a genuine territory of freedom."

A renowned TV journalist, Svetlana Sorokina, hesitated to say if Mevedev's words would have any real effect. "Even though this was said in the presence of the management of the main television channels, I don't know how adequately they understood this, or they just nodded their heads and forgot about it."

Kulistikov also said: "There is an editorial policy and it can be discussed, but this is not a question of freedom, because television's job is to be in dangerous situations, only free people can take risks. Without freedom, there couldn't be TV like ours."

Medvedev said the priority regarding information should be decided by television channels alone.

"Channels themselves should give the priorities - what is most important, what is less important, because sometimes I hear criticisms - 'why don't they show this at once?'. This is a question of editorial policy, which you consider more important," he said.

"In my view, there shouldn't be a gap between the most important events, which take place in life, and those things which they show on the news," Medvedev said.

Channel One's Ernst said: "I think that freedom on television is limited. It's limited in law, presentation in what is liked by those in power, in work with civil structures. It's limited by subjectivity of people - not just us managers of the channels but a huge number of people who work in television."

Democracy and opposition

Medvedev said he believes that Russia is moving "straight towards democracy" and called on the opposition to take a more active part in the political process.

"The main political force - United Russia - should not just rule, it should demonstrate wisdom, tact and power," the president said.

Opposition parties should also demonstrate their presence, he said. "If they are in opposition, it does not mean that they are cut away from social life."

The president also said local authorities should be more sensitive to citizens' needs, and called on them to use Internet more actively to monitor the situation in their regions.

Medvedev also said Russia has politicians with good potential, including some opposition leaders, who could become presidents and prime ministers in the future.

"We do have such politicians in our country, and some of them are well known to you," he said responding to a question of whether there were other forward-looking politicians in Russia apart from himself and Putin.

"I cannot help mentioning such outstanding people as party faction leaders in our State Duma - they are indeed well known politicians, and I am saying this without any irony," Medvedev said.

He also paid tribute to some of Russia's prominent opposition figures.

"Such well known public politicians as Messrs. [Mikhail] Kasyanov, [Boris] Nemtsov, [Eduard] Limonov and [Garry] Kasparov... They have their own electoral base. But they are also public politicians," Medvedev said.

Human talent is Russia's main resource, the president said. "This is where future presidents, prime ministers, and State Duma members will come from," he said.


Medvedev said Russia will keep stretching a helping hand to its foreign intelligence agents in difficult situations.

"People who work in our special services are first of all citizens of the Russian Federation. They are no cannon fodder, and no heroes the state gave as a sacrifice," the Russian leader said when asked why Russia admitted that these were Russian agents.

The Russia-U.S. spy scandal broke out in late June when 10 people were exposed and arrested in the United States. The agents, who worked under cover, were freed in a swap deal between Russia and the United States.

Medvedev said countries that deny having "illegal intelligence" agents, also known as non-official cover (NOC) or deep cover agents who work without diplomatic protection, either "lie or are too small to have serious geopolitical interests."

Using political influence

Medvedev characterized his decision to suspend the construction of a controversial highway through a protected forest on the edge of Moscow as "extravagant."

"Finally, this ended up positively, in my opinion, but this was the result of me applying force. I had to stop the construction, which was a very extravagant decision," he said.

The public outcry against the road peaked in August but was defused by Medvedev's decision.

Opponents of the planned multi-lane motorway linking Moscow to St. Petersburg were inspired when Medvedev suspended the project and ordered additional public and expert consultations, but disappointment followed last week when the project was given the go-ahead after three months of discussions.

Although cosmetic environmental concessions have been made, the road will follow its original route through the mature Khimki Forest, to the northwest of Moscow. The protesters say it could be re-routed without damaging the woodland.

On the controversial Okha Center tower construction program in St. Petersburg, Medvedev, who was born in the northwest Russian city, then called Leningrad, said he did not get involved directly in the process of deciding on the center relocation, but expressed his opinion on the subject so that it would be resolved in a more civilized way.

The Okha Center project, a 400 meter tall skyscraper which differs radically from the traditional skyline of the city, has drawn protest from many residents. In October Medvedev said that a decision on construction of the tower would be made after consultation with civil organizations and take all opinions into account.

"I had to speak up about the situation, so that there would be more notice taken, so that this process (of taking a decision on construction) went ahead in a civilized way, so that the voice of the people was heard," Medvedev said.

At the beginning of December, St. Petersburg Governor Valentina Matvienko said that a final decision had been made for the construction site to be moved. A Kremlin source said that the situation around the Okhta Center was "directly influenced by the President's position."

"The president's voice is quite strong on this matter," Medvedev said.

"I will say this again - I'm not an expert, I didn't take this decision. This is a decision for the city authorities - at first the project was initiated with Gazprom, and then this architectural object was moved to some other site," he said.

The Russian president warned against illegal and forceful methods of drug addiction treatment in Russia. "In the end, the decision should be taken either by the drug addict or his relatives," he said.

The issue came to the fore in the fall when Yegor Bychkov, the director of an anti-narcotics clinic in the Urals, was sentenced to three years in prison for using "forceful methods" when treating his patients, including restraining them to their beds.

The court later rescinded the prison term for Bychkov in favor of a suspended sentence.

Most drug addicts slip back into dependency after undergoing treatment in Russia's clinics, according to statistics. Around 30,000 Russians die from drug abuse every year.

Dispute with Japan

Medvedev expressed regret that his visit to the disputed Kuril Islands in Russia's Far East in November led to the recall of the Japanese ambassador.

"I sincerely regret that I, in essence, contributed to the suspension of his political career. We did not aim at that," he said, also reiterating that Russia will not give up the islands said Moscow is ready to cooperate with Tokyo.

In November, Medvedev became the first Russian or Soviet leader to visit one of the Kuril Islands (called the Northern Territories in Japan). The Kremlin said the Russian president could travel freely around his own country, and does not have to share his travel plans with anybody.

Japan fired its ambassador to Russia on Wednesday for failure to timely inform Tokyo about the visit. The Japanese government concluded that the country's diplomatic mission in Russia, led by Ambassador Masaharu Kono, misled the Japanese Foreign Ministry and Prime Minister Naoto Kan by reporting that the Russian president did not plan to visit southern Kurils.

"This [the territory of the Kurils] is our land, we have to make all necessary decisions and build facilities there, creating comfortable conditions for people to live there," Medvedev said.

"We are ready to implement joint economic projects and take into account these or those historic issues connected with the Kurils. We are ready to work with Japan, but this does not mean we should give up the Kurils as our land," he said.

Both Japan and Russia have laid claims to the islands since they were annexed by the Soviet Union at the end of World War II. The dispute has prevented the two countries from signing a peace treaty to formally end World War II hostilities.


Medvedev urged a "systematic" approach to dealing with riots and street violence in Russia. "The response may not be only made by police, this is evident. The response must be systematic," he said.

The Russian capital saw its biggest public disturbances for almost a decade when a 5,000-strong crowd of nationalists and football hooligans clashed with police at central Manezh Square on December 11.

The fans were protesting police negligence over the death of Yegor Sviridov, 28, who was killed in a brawl with migrants from Russia's North Caucasus region in November. The mass disorder was followed by a rise in race-related attacks in the capital and other Russian cities.

Medvedev criticized the actions taken by the Moscow police at Manezh Square, saying that they should been more "decisive" in dealing with the rioters.

The president called for police to be "precise, quick and effective" and to act firmly and in line with the law when necessary.

He also said "there should be no sympathy" for the troublemakers who should receive the "maximum" punishment.


Documents released by the WikiLeaks website that exposed U.S. diplomats' dim view of Russia have no bearing on U.S.-Russian relations, Medvedev said, adding that there is no reason to fear additional revelations from the whistleblowing website.

In late November, WikiLeaks began releasing a huge number of confidential U.S. diplomatic cables that contain, in particular, forthright comments about many world leaders.

"What should I be afraid of? It is the officials of the U.S. Department of State who should be afraid," Medvedev said. "If I was afraid of what is written about me, I would never use the Internet or watch TV."

On Wednesday, during his visit to India, Medvedev told the students at the Indian Institute of Technology that Russia "doesn't give a damn about things being discussed in diplomatic circles while assessing the social processes in our country."

"It is not a secret that when people communicate, they often use very forthright expressions," Medvedev said then, adding that if the similar leak occurred in Russia's Foreign Ministry or security services, the country's partners, including the United States might get very emotional while reading "warm words about themselves."

Crime in power structures

Russia's federal power structures have already been cleared of criminals, but purges are needed in the regions, where lots of unexposed criminals remain, Medvedev said.

"I believe we've managed to clear up the federal level substantially. Yes, there are crimes, there is corruption, but downright criminals have been disbranched," the president said.

"But on the territorial and municipal levels there are still too many people who abide by a very different code. In fact, purges should be held there."

The president emphasized that he was not talking of a flashback to the monstrous Soviet purges.

Medvedev added that many of those criminals who should be stripped of power are members of the country's ruling United Russia party. "[These people] should be exposed and dismissed, and this will contribute to the authority of the party."


Russia needs "drive" in order to develop with stability, Medvedev said.

"We can't just rest on our achievements. We have succeeded for some time in doing a lot. We have stabilized the situation in the country, taken under control very difficult social processes which were destructive, which could have broken our state into bits," the president said.

"But just reviving stability by itself is not enough. There has to be drive. And drive - it is a wish to do something, it is an intention to outdo yourself," he said.

New Year

Asked about his plans for New Year, Medvedev said he plans to celebrate the holiday with his family.

"New Year is a great holiday. I am going to have a good time celebrating it with my family - the way it is common practice doing in nearly every Russian family," he said.


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