"Russia’s president defends civil society
MOSCOW, April 15 - Dmitry Medvedev, Russia’s president, used an interview with an opposition newspaper published on Wednesday to reject the trade-off between prosperity and freedom which critics say was the hallmark of Vladimir Putin’s rule.
The relationship between Russia’s two leaders is under scrutiny by Kremlin watchers and investors after speculation the allies could be drifting apart.
In an interview with the critical Novaya Gazeta newspaper, Mr Medvedev struck a different tone from that of his predecessor, saying democracy did not need to be adapted in Russia after the chaos of the 1990s.
Mr Medvedev rejected the idea that Russians were happy to give up rights in exchange for prosperity, a dominant view in Moscow’s ruling circles during the boom years under Putin.
”Stability and a prosperous life cannot in any way be set off against a set of political rights and freedoms,” he said in the interview, his first with a Russian newspaper since being sworn in as president in May 2008.
”The institution of democracy cannot be set off against prosperity,” he said.
The Kremlin said Mr Medvedev had given the interview as a gesture of solidarity with the newspaper, which has seen two of its reporters murdered in the past three years.
Investigative reporter Anna Politkovskaya was working at Novaya Gazeta when she was shot dead in 2006. Reporter Anastasia Baburova was murdered in January.
The choice of Novaya Gazeta, which lampoons officials for corruption and human rights abuses, is likely to fuel speculation about the contrasts between Mr Medvedev and Mr Putin, a former KGB-spy, now prime minister.
The president said he had chosen the newspaper because it had never ”licked up” to anyone.
The newspaper, which has a circulation of 267,150, has admonished Mr Putin for crushing freedoms. He never gave it an interview. The newspaper did interview Mr Putin’s predecessor, Boris Yeltsin, who resigned in 1999.
Mr Medvedev said Russia did not need to tinker with democracy, which he said was a universal concept.
Mr Putin repeatedly said democracy needed to be adapted to Russian conditions and the Kremlin’s political mastermind, First Deputy Chief of Staff Vladislav Surkov, has said democracy needed to be ”managed” by the authorities.
”I do not think we need to rehabilitate democracy,” he said.
A former corporate lawyer, Mr Medvedev refused to be drawn on what he thought about the new trial of fallen Russian oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who is facing charges that could keep him in jail for another 22 years.
The Kremlin chief joked about the income declarations he ordered senior officials to make, asking the newspaper’s editor-in-chief Dmitry Muratov, whether he enjoyed reading them.
When asked if there had been opposition to the move, Mr Medvedev said: ”The position of president frees you from listening to the negative reaction from officials. I took the decision and everyone must obey it.”
Mr Medvedev, who did not mention Mr Putin in the interview, said senior officials should listen more to civil society."