Once again, Medvedev talks on military, NGO and human rights

Dmitry Medvedev: “That a journalist was killed means that these bandits have gotten to killing ordinary people. The culprits must be punished." Source: ITAR-TASS

Dmitry Medvedev: “That a journalist was killed means that these bandits have gotten to killing ordinary people. The culprits must be punished." Source: ITAR-TASS

On Nov. 7, on a Friday afternoon, Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev summed up the results of the passing year in a live interview with five Russian TV channels.

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev made it clear that he does not rule out his return to the Kremlin, reiterating the point he made in a recent interview with AFP and Le Figaro.

“I leave my options open, I’m not an old politician yet,” he said. “What’s more important is the opinion of the people. Do they want that? I’ll proceed from this, will be guided by this.”

The focus of the interview was on domestic issues: in particular, recent high-profile anti-corruption probes in the Defense Ministry, which resulted in Minister Anatoly Serdyukov’s resignation and a string of arrests in the ministry’s state-run contractors.

Medvedev defended Serdyukov, emphasizing that no charges have been brought against him yet and that he was an effective minister.

“We improved the social status of the military,” Medvedev said. “Wages in the army in 2002 are incomparable to what soldiers and officers are receiving now. These are European figures already.”

When asked to give a reason for Russia’s swelling military budget, Medvedev replied that the Defense Ministry’s budget of 2.1 trillion rubles ($70 billion) for 2013 is smaller than health and education spending taken together.

The U.S. government, for instance, has budgeted $851 billion for security spending for 2013. Medvedev assured the journalists that Russia “is certainly not going to wage war against anyone.”

Mikhail Remizov, president of the National Strategy Institute, believes that it was important for Medvedev to share his thoughts about the Defense Ministry scandal.

“He wanted to highlight that the political line he pursued back as president was continued into the current anti-corruption campaign,” Remizov told Vzglyad daily.

When asked to comment on “a string of strange laws” that his “fellow party members” have been passing lately and that are widely believed to be aimed against government critics, Medvedev brought up the issue of the new legislation on NGOs.

The law obliges foreign-funded non-profits to declare themselves “foreign agents,” which is generally perceived as a euphemism for “spy.”

“We borrowed a model from the U.S. legislation of the 1930s,” Medvedev said. “Whether this model is archaic or not is a difficult question.”

“In actuality, agent means representative,” the prime minister said, noting that, regardless, “those who receive money from abroad, will be controlled.”

In an interview with Interfax, Lyudmila Alexeyeva, the head of Russia’s longest-standing human rights organization, Moscow Helsinki Group, said she disagrees with Medvedev, “who thinks it’s a good law.” “This law is aimed at suffocating society,” Alexeyeva said.

Medvedev pointed out that a law prohibiting public promotion of homosexuality, which has been passed in several Russian regions this year (including St. Petersburg) will not be passed on the federal level.

“Not all moral issues, behavioral habits and issues of relationships between people should be translated into legal norms,” he said.

Medvedev had to take several uncomfortable questions about attacks against journalists. On Dec. 5, Kazbek Gekkiyev, an anchorman with the branch of the federal Rossiya channel, was shot dead in the North Caucasian republic of Kabardino-Balkaria.

“That a journalist was killed means that these bandits have gotten to killing ordinary people,” he said. “The culprits must be punished; they must be found and annihilated if necessary.”

Two years ago, when commenting on the atrocious beating of Kommersant journalist Oleg Kashin in Moscow, then President Medvedev also said that the culprits had to be punished. Those behind that attack have not yet been found.

During his Friday afternoon interview, Medvedev reiterated that Kashin’s attackers must be brought to justice.

“I don’t have all the information ‒ it’s confidential,” he said. “The investigation is in progress.”

“My case isn’t being investigated, as far as I can tell,” Oleg Kashin later told Kommersant daily, soon after the Medvedev interview finished. “At least I hope Dmitry Medvedev felt uneasy saying that.”

The topic of risks for journalists working in Russia was continued by Alexei Pivovarov from the federal NTV channel. Five hours before the interview with Medvedev, his colleague, Pavel Kostomarov, with whom Pivovarov is making a documentary about current political developments, had his house searched by investigators probing into clashes with police at the May 6 opposition rally in Moscow.

“I don’t know why they had to come in the morning,” Medvedev said. “Everyone, including law enforcers, should improve their political culture.”

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