March 11, 22:00
MOSCOW, December 7 (Itar-Tass) — The struggle against corruption, measures to tighten Russian legislation, and attitude to the Opposition were central to Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev’s interview to three state-run and two independent television channels on Friday. No foreign policy themes were raised.
One of the first most acute questions was about the high-profile scandals and the potential involvement in them of some very high-ranking officials, including the former defense minister, Anatoly Serdyukov and former agriculture minister, Yelena Skrynnik. A woman journalist asked Medvedev why Anatoly Serdyukov has not yet been sent to jail in the context of the massive media campaign against him underway on all federal TV channels.
“The presumption of innocence is still there,” Medvedev replied. He said that the former defense minister’s involvement was to be scrupulously analyzed and presented in court. Until then Serdyukov and Skrynnik shall be unconditionally regarded as innocent.
About Serdyukov’s performance in the Defense Ministry Medvedev said that it was “rather effective.”
During his term of office the long-expected and very complicated reforms in the army began,” which have managed “to change the social status of the military serviceman.”
The housing problem is “glaring,” “it has come to a head,” but it stayed unresolved, even in the Soviet period, Medvedev said. Now there is a program, it has been implemented and must be taken to a logical outcome.
“The process is underway. Serdyukov set the reform in motion with a firm hand,” Medvedev said. “But that does not mean that there were no mistakes.”
The prime minister added that the current cases opened over corruption were a direct continuation of what had been done in the past few years.
The struggle against corrupt civil servants may damage the reputation of the authorities, Medvedev agreed, but it has to be waged even though some of the current officials may not like it.
Medvedev warned against reducing the struggle against corruption to persecuting civil servants “as a class.” “Otherwise the people will have the feeling that everybody who works for the government are cheaters – or just thieves, people who cannot be trusted,” Medvedev said, adding that “this would be an absolute falsehood.”
In his opinion, “an absolute majority of people employed at civil service jobs are normal, decent people.” “It would be very wrong to paint them all same color,” he said.
Also, Medvedev was asked as the leader of the United Russia party, which over the past year has adopted many harsh laws, many of which, as the journalists said, run counter to the liberal values that Medvedev himself proclaimed during his presidency.
For instance, he had called for decriminalizing the article on slander. And now he said that he shared the State Duma’s decision to reinstate it to the Criminal Code, provided the maximum punishment would be financial. “The legislators, the State Duma members, including those from United Russia, proposed a bill by which the responsibility for slander – and nobody questions the need for punishment for slander – should not take the form of repression or jail terms. There is to be material responsibility, there are to be fines the slanderer will have to pay,” he explained.
Medvedev’s position “absolutely coincides with what has been done.”
“The issue on the agenda is a proprietary sanction. May they pay, if the instance of slander has been proven. That’s normal,” he said.
There was a question about Russian non-governmental organizations, which, according to the recently adopted law, shall declare themselves as “foreign agents” in case they are funded from outside the country.
The NGOs acting as foreign agents should be prepared for special rules and special control, Medvedev said. “It’s not about a ban or about qualifying some NGOs as criminal. The gist is those involved in political activity and getting money from other countries will be subject to the operation of special rules, the way it is done around the world,” he said.
He believes that the meaning of the term “agent,” if used in relation to organizations funded from abroad, does not have a negative shade. “I would like to advise you to study the etymology of the word – in our legislation there are agent deals, there are relations between the principal and the agent,” Medvedev said. “An agent is a representative, a proxy, nothing more than that.”
Medvedev does not believe these laws are reactionary. “When I was president, I OKed some laws tightening punishment for this or that action, but you don’t consider them reactionary, do you?” he asked. “If they are wrong, if they hit the people’s interests, then they will have to be corrected. But there has been nothing of the sort. Then let us take a look at how the laws will be applied.”
Medvedev offered his comments on the activities of oppositional politicians.
“The most important thing is the political leaders – irrespective of what forces they represent – must be responsible politicians,” he said. In Medvedev’s opinion, the leader of the Left Front, Sergei Udaltsov, “should dedicate himself not to urging his supporters to abuse the law on rallies, but to do business and to defend his stance in a legal way,” Medvedev said.
“If any person is ready to punch a police, he must be aware that there will be responsibility for that, and it does not matter what political party he represents at the rally – the ruling party or an oppositional one, having a representation in parliament or not represented there,” he said. “This is a crime in any country, and in ours, too. Such things will never be left unpunished,” he said.
Medvedev explained that was precisely the reason why the legislation on rallies and demonstrations had to be revised and made more precise.
The prime minster recalled his meeting with representatives of the Opposition. “I am not scared to take a seat at one table with any one, provided that person is not going to take a bite at me in the literal sense,” Medvedev said, adding that communication with all political forces was useful for the authorities. However, the main question is “whether we are prepared to be responsible ourselves.” “After that meeting it became clear that some are prepared – some of them have had their parties registered and been trying to campaign for them, and others aren’t.”
“The march of events indicates that the colleagues who wish to have a political future must be responsible,” Medvedev said.
The prime minister presented more arguments in favor of his initiative concerning the interests of millions of Russians – the introduction of colossal fines, as big as half a million rubles, for those who commit grave road accidents. He does not insist the fine for drunk driving must be that big, but at the same time he is certain that punishment must be proportionate. “There must be a fine large enough to ensure nobody should ever have a thought of taking a seat at the wheel of a car drunk,” Medvedev said.
In conclusion, when asked the most traditional question of late, Medvedev said he did not rule out the possibility he might contest Russia’s presidency again.