Dmitri Medvedev talks about democracy and other values

The Financial Times has published an extensive interview with President-elect Dmitri Medvedev. He reaffirmed his opinion about the need to make courts objective and independent, and to overcome widespred nihilism regarding the law in Russian society.

The Financial Times has published an extensive interview with President-elect Dmitri Medvedev. One of the first questions asked by the British journalists gave Medvedev an opportunity to assure them that Russia made “normal preparations” for emerging problems in global financial markets. He noted that since Russia has an open economy, it is not cut off from the problems being experienced by global markets, so it needs to think about balancing the budget and avoiding ill-considered spending.

In response to the inevitable question about how he will work with Vladimir Putin, Medvedev said that the answer is in the Constitution: “the government has its own sphere of authority, which is very extensive,” and “Russia is a presidential republic with a strong executive branch.” Nevertheless, he acknowledged that this is a “unique situation,” since “Russian history knows of hardly any cases where a successful leader, at the peak of his popularity, moves on to a different post.” But the fact that Putin maintains strong adherence to the law “means that at last Russia is seeing the formation of a fully fledged tradition of respecting all procedures that follow from the Constitution and other laws.” However, Medvedev does not agree that “some sort of dual power arrangement would arise” if Putin becomes prime minister: “Each power should perform its own tasks.”

President-elect Medvedev reaffirmed his opinion about the need to make courts objective and independent, and to overcome widespred nihilism regarding the law in Russian society. After saying for the third time that “freedom is better than non-freedom,” he went on to say: “I truly believe that this is the most important principle in the life of any society.” Noting that he is “a supporter of the values of democracy in the form that humanity has developed them over the last few centuries,” Medvedev said that his definition of democracy “is in no way different from classical definitions that exist in all countries,” and that “democracy as a value, as a form of government, is of a universal nature and does not require any form of additional qualification.” However, he added that “each democracy is history-specific and nation-specific,” and criticized as “a dangerous extreme” the claim that “Russia is unsuited to democracy” or that democracy is not the right path of development for our country: “Russia is a European country and Russia is absolutely capable of developing together with other states that have chosen this democratic path of development.”

After a brief question about power-struggles between Russia’s special services and the Khodorkovsky case (all procedures related to this case, like other cases, “can and should be carried out solely based on the law, not on the basis of opinions”), Medvedev focused on the problem of corruption. Noting that corruption “cannot be stamped oout by changing laws,” he said that a more important role should be played by changing awareness of the law and creating anti-corruption incentives: “So that taking a bribe becomes not just risky, but unacceptable for other considerations: because it’s dishonorable and could destroy your life, your future career, your pension, and so on. This is what prevents police officers and other public servants from acting that way in other countries.”

In speaking of the role and place of state companies and state enterprises, Medvedev said: “Their numbers should be sufficient to safeguard the interests of our country as a whole, but no more than that. Naturally, we shall continue the policy course that Russia has adopted already: establishing a full-fledged private economy.” With regard to recently-established state corporations, he noted that “they are all designed to operate for a certain period, and should then be either privatized or simply shut down.” State corporations should have more independent directors on their boards.

When asked about relations with Britain, Medvedev described economic relations as “simply brilliant,” and said he is ready to “restore full cooperation” in other areas: “Bilateral political contacts have been curtailed significantly. There are a number of restrictions in place on contacts between special services, exchanges and so on – introduced by the British government, not by us. This isn’t really a good thing, of course. But it’s no great tragedy. We are entirely capable of restoring full-fledged bilateral cooperation – with no preconditions, of course.”

As for relations with the United States – and missile defense in particular – Medvedev said that although there are “quite a few differences,” he is prepared to consider American proposals. He added that “a certain amount of progress is visible” toward a new strategic arms treaty.

Medvedev was quite firm about the NATO membership aspirations of Georgia and Ukraine: “We are not happy about the situation around Georgia and Ukraine. We consider it extremely troublesome for the existing structure of European security. No state can be pleased about having representatives of a military bloc to which it does not belong coming close to its borders.”

Medvedev said that irrespective of descriptors like “liberal,” “democrat,” or “conservative” that might be attached to himself or other state leaders, a modern head of state should pursue economic policies “based on the priority of market relations and private property rights.” Medvedev said: “In my view, in the modern world any leader who wishes to be effective must accept the primacy of these values.” But foreign relations “should be based on the unconditional priority of your own country’s interests.”