TWO GOOD COPS

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An overview of President Medvedev’s BBC interview

A transcript of President Dmitri Medvedev’s BBC interview was posted on the Kremlin website yesterday. In the lead-up to the G-20 summit, Medvedev answered questions about the crisis, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, and his own intentions with regard to a second term.


A transcript of President Dmitri Medvedev’s BBC interview was posted on the Kremlin website yesterday. In the lead-up to the G-20 summit, Medvedev answered questions about the crisis, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, and his own intentions with regard to a second term.

In his conversation with foreign journalists, Medvedev answered some questions that are of interest to many Russian media outlets. Clearly, Medvedev finds this kind of format more convenient; however, he also confirmed his intention to grant an interview to the Novaya Gazeta newspaper. Still, this step seems like an exception: the promise was made in response to the recent murder of a journalist and a lawyer. It would be more appropriate for a president’s contacts with the media – especially his own country’s journalists – to be a regular event, rather than a reward or a special incentive.

President Medvedev was asked whether Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s case might be reviewed, and whether he might be granted some form of amnesty. The BBC journalist explained that this would be a kind of message about the business climate in Russia.

Medvedev started his reply by emphasizing that he has “a lawyer’s mindset” and wanted to “say one simple thing” about the Khodorkovsky case: “Indeed, he has been convicted under certain articles of the Russian Criminal Code. Another trial is under way. We need to wait for the results of that trial. If he is acquitted, that’s one situation; if it ends in conviction, that is a different situation. Either way, it is up to the court, and in that sense, neither the president nor anyone else has the right to interfere in that situation. The president has only one privilege, only one power: to grant pardons in the name of the state. When I receive such applications, I have a duty to consider them.”

The correspondent didn’t get to the interview’s main question immediately. He started out by talking about the crisis and Medvedev’s experience in state administration, asking who is in charge: Medvedev or Putin? Medvedev replied confidently: “I lead the state, I am the head of state, and the distribution of authority is based on that. Mr. Putin is the prime minister – a very large and complicated role. But the main decisions made in the name of the state are made by the president – that much is obvious.”

The BBC correspondent asked Medvedev to be more specific, noting that when French President Nicolas Sarkozy visited Russia, it was reported that Putin said “I’m the bad cop and the president is the good cop.” Medvedev replied: “No, I think we’re both good cops.”

Then came a question about the possibility of a second term in office. Medvedev’s response was cautious: “I’d like to complete this term first, then see what happens. Only someone who regards his time in power as successful can have the right to make re-election plans.” In other words, Medvedev is leaving the door open. If Russia overcomes the crisis under his leadership (note that the “main decisions” are made by the head of state) – and some forecasts indicate this could happen just in time for the next election – Medvedev might indeed seek another term, even if Vladimir Putin runs against him.

The correspondent then asked Medvedev to list the changes he would like to see during his presidency. Medvedev replied: “I would like to see Russia as a strong, effective state, where the people live well, in conditions meeting normal, civilized standards.”

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