“A Conversation With Dmitry Medvedev.” Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev interviewed by five TV channels

Prime Minister answered questions of journalists of five TV channels about the social and political themes.

Transcript:

In Conversation with Dmitry Medvedev. Interview with five media outlets

Sergei Brilyov (Rossia 1 Channel): Good afternoon everyone. Good afternoon, Mr Medvedev.

Dmitry Medvedev: Good afternoon. 

Sergei Brilyov: This is “A Conversation With Dmitry Medvedev.” I am confident that my colleagues and I are ready to ask some rather serious political and economic questions. But, first, I would like to ask you about your impressions of the year 2012. You started this year as President, and you are finishing it as Prime Minister. Would you like to relive this year? How will you remember it?

Dmitry Medvedev: Indeed, this year for me was quite saturated. I started the year as President, and now at the end of the year, I'm serving as Prime Minister. This was a year filled with numerous events - and for me as well. But if you are asking me whether I would like to relive this year, then the answer is no, because every year is unique in itself. And I would like the next year to be as unique as well.

Irada Zeinalova (Channel One): Mr Medvedev, you recently summed up the results of your Government’s work over the past six months. You mentioned an important event, the signing of the budget for 2013 and for the two-year planning period. We recall heated debates around this budget. Did the Government eventually manage to find allocations for paying teachers and for raising wages? Is there enough funding for modernising the healthcare system? Or are they still searching for these allocations? What should those waiting for state support expect? 

Dmitry Medvedev: "Healthcare programmes and education programmes are to receive almost 50 billion roubles and 40 billion roubles, respectively. This makes it possible to re-equip our medical facilities and to raise the wages of educators and doctors, just as we have planned."

Dmitry Medvedev: You know, Irada, everything is in order with the budgetary allocation situation. We have especially introduced this current tax regulation to avoid racking our brains about the sources of funding for any specific social programme. When we lacked this tax regulation, we faced much more substantial risks in the context of hydrocarbon price fluctuations. This regulation has now been introduced, and the budget is quite austere. But, nevertheless, this allows us to say that we have allocations for social programmes. This is the most important thing. We have allocations for development. Although these allocations my not be as substantial as we would like them to be, they are available. We have allocations for other purposes, including defence and security and other areas of state importance.

The budget stipulates impressive social spending volumes. For instance, healthcare programmes and education programmes are to receive almost 50 billion roubles and 40 billion roubles, respectively. This makes it possible to re-equip our medical facilities and to raise the wages of educators and doctors, just as we have planned. This goal has been set, and it will be achieved not within one year but as you know, we are raising the wages of educators this year, so that they will equal to the average regional or territorial wages. The wages of other specialists will be raised until 2018 in accordance with a timeframe that has been coordinated with all Government members and subsequently approved by the State Duma. So, our allocations are quite sufficient.

Irada Zeinalova: Speaking of allocations, I would like to mention pension reform, another important aspect. The President has postponed its finalisation for another year. The Government plans to gradually convert to the unfunded pension scheme, which, incidentally, has already been renounced by most European states, which are aging nations.  Deputy Prime Minister Ms Golodets advocates the unfunded pension scheme, and Minister of Finance Mr Siluanov supports the defined contribution (unfunded) pension scheme. When my generation reaches retirement age, there will be one economically active person per every two retirees as a result of demographic disproportion. We are ready to work for a long time. If necessary, we are ready to work until old age.

Dmitry Medvedev: I hope you do.

Irada Zeinalova: Will they be able to feed us?

Dmitry Medvedev: I believe that this talk of disagreements is largely far-fetched. Indeed, Government members may voice different approaches before any specific decision is approved.

But the decisions have been made, and now all Government members must take part in their implementation. I have said more than once that if anyone is not sure these are fair decisions, they are free to criticise the system, but only if they leave the Government. But there are none of these people in this Government.

As to what you have said, I cannot agree that Europe has rejected the so-called unfunded system. This is a misconception. The most prosperous European country, Germany, has a fully unfunded pension system, while corporate, private and defined contribution pension are voluntary systems . What is the difference? Our defined contribution system is, in fact, not a voluntary system but an obligatory one, meaning the one we have now. Germany has a purely unfunded system, but you can contribute additional funds [to you pension account] if you have the money and wish to do so. It is an example of a country that does not plan to change anything in its stable pension system.

Dmitry Medvedev: "The birth rate has started growing for the first time since the establishment of the new Russia, and we have registered an absolute increase in the population. This may seem an ordinary and even a trivial event, but we had been fighting a negative trend for the past 20 years."

Let’s talk about our demographic problems and about so-called demographic entrapment, about which you have asked. These are only forecasts. We still don’t know for sure what will happen in the 2020s and 2030s, because firstly, this is a still distant future, and second, there have been some very positive changes. I planned to speak about this, and you have given me an opportunity to do it. The birth rate has started growing for the first time since the establishment of the new Russia, and we have registered an absolute increase in the population. This may seem an ordinary and even a trivial event, but we had been fighting a negative trend for the past 20 years. And lastly, we have received the desired result this year thanks to the measures we had been taking for the past six or seven years. It is a very good result. In fact, it is the cumulative result of the authorities’ efforts over the past years. In other words, the demographic issue is not as simple as the experts tend to present it when they say that the nation is going extinct, that soon there will not be enough economically active people and too many pensioners, and so it is not clear who would create the national wealth.

And lastly, about the proposed pension system: It is not its implementation that has been postponed but the adoption of decisions on the share of defined contribution. A number of decisions on the future pension system have been adopted and will become go into effect on 1 January. They concern the issue of early pensions, certain groups of pensioners and some technological aspects, but the pension formula, which is the most complicated element, will be prepared during the first few months of 2013. As for the defined contribution component, this is a decision that all individual citizens will have to make for themselves by the end of 2013. You, in particular, can make a decision too.

Now about the good and the bad. I have told you about the foreign systems; now I will talk about how things work in Russia. We adopted decisions that the defined contribution of pensions shall be accumulated jointly with the unfunded part and will ultimately constitute the retirement pension. This was a decision that was adopted with the best of intentions. But when we were formulating it, we relied on different macroeconomic data, and so accumulation proceeded slower than we planned. In particular, the defined contribution element was not adjusted to the inflation rate. Well, these things happen; it occurred due to macroeconomic conditions and some other factors. Therefore, we have not accumulated as much as we wanted. When calculated at the current rate, the final figure per pensioner is about 6,500 roubles, which is not a lot. In fact, it is less than the monthly pension. So, now we must make a decision on the defined contribution system, although we aren't rejecting it outright. We think that it should be preserved for those who are making free contributions to their pensions and those who may choose this system. By the way, you can choose it, too, if you want to.

Irada Zeinalova: What would you recommend?

Dmitry Medvedev: I would recommend that you sit down and put everything down on paper – few people do this now – to see what would be more profitable in your case. I’ll tell you how. Sorry, Alexei, do you want to say something?

Alexei Pivovarov (NTV): Yes, and it concerns the issue at hand, that some calculations are wrong. You said this week that the Government must admit that it made a mistake in 2002.

In Conversation with Dmitry Medvedev. Interview with five media outlets

Dmitry Medvedev: Yes.

Alexei Pivovarov: And this provoked a discussion, because the former Finance Minister responded to you. Do you think that calls for recognising mistakes and subsequent debates discredit the authorities, because this shows that the authorities do not always take coordinated decisions, and that maybe they don’t even understand what they should do?

Dmitry Medvedev: "Responsible authorities must admit both when they do something well and that they sometimes fail."

Dmitry Medvedev: No, I don’t think so at all. Responsible authorities must admit both when they do something well and that they sometimes fail. Honest leaders who work for the benefit of their citizens must say openly where things went wrong. I have told you about the demographic issue: I can tell you absolutely honestly and directly that I think our demographic programme is being implemented quite well, although the trend is very complicated. As for the system of defined contributions, it did not work out quite as well as we had hoped. Not that the idea was all wrong. It is a good idea, but the projections on which it was based have failed to materialise. I have spoken here about the inflation rate and the accumulation of pensioners' defined contribution share.

So coming back to what you, Ms Zeinalova, have said. I believe that you should take a pencil and calculate everything, because one should start thinking about one’s pension at a young age. This is a civilised and a perfectly normal thing to do. In this country, we are used to think that this issue did not concern you until you reached a certain age. But the rest of the world lives by a different set of rules: people in all other countries calculate how much they will be able to spend when they reach retirement age. This is long-term forecasting.

So what did we see when we calculated what happened to the retirement pensions for those who were born in 1966 and 1967 (I am not one of them, unlike those who were born in 1967 and subsequent years)? Given the current system of defined contribution, the unfunded pensions of those who were born in 1966 are 15% larger than the pensions of those who were born in 1967 and subsequently. So a pension with a defined contribution component is smaller than a purely unfunded pension. Why should people make these contributions then? The system must be adjusted without delay! The Government and individual experts or members of the cabinet may be criticised for preserving the unfunded system, but it does not matter that much what kind of a pension system we have. People, including you, just want to be sure that they will be issued the money that is due to them. If the pension that consists of unfunded a  part and a defined contribution part is smaller than a purely unfunded pension, we must adjust the system. And this is exactly what we plan to do. We intend to change the rules for imputing the defined contribution element. I am sure that when we do this, we will be able to create a normal pension trend so that all those who reach retirement age will receive decent amounts of retirement benefits.

At the same time, a voluntary pension system need to continue being developed, as it is elsewhere in the world, where retired people there have voluntary pension plans in addition to their savings or investment and their state pension (pay-as-you-go or a partially funded plan).

Alexei Pivovarov: Mr Medvedev, criticism has been leveled at the federal budget for growing military spending, which other countries are cutting. Are we planning to go to war with someone?

Dmitry Medvedev: I hope not, I really hope not. No we aren’t going to war – Russia is a peace-loving country. As for spending though, let me cite a few concrete examples. The Defence Ministry and the armed forces’ budget for 2013 is 2.1 trillion roubles. Let me remind you that military spending is financed entirely by the federal Government, because it benefits our national interests.

At the same time, the situation is very different in health care and education. The budgets for these sectors are formed by several sources – federal money, regional money and municipal money. Now if we add up all the contributions, the consolidated budget of health care, as well as of education, will exceed the Defence Ministry’s spending. Critics do not always keep this in mind, for some reason.

Alexei Pivovarov: You mean health care and education spending together?

Dmitry Medvedev: No. I mean each of them separately. Let me put it this way…

Alexei Pivovarov: Separately?

Marianna Maksimovskaya (REN TV): Do you mean to say that our spending on education is higher than the Defence Ministry’s budget?

Dmitry Medvedev: If I remember correctly, consolidated spending on education is 2.5 trillion roubles for next year, and for health care it is 2.2 trillion. Each of these figures is higher than what the Defence Ministry receives. Added together, these expenditures exceed military spending by 150%. Therefore, in this sense, the Government’s priorities are quite clear, even though we do spend a lot on our armed forces. This is also an objective requirement. Why? Because we need to increase the pay of military personnel, because their incomes were uncompetitive as compared with other careers. We also need to provide housing for them. This is the social part of the military budget.

Dmitry Medvedev: "The Defence Ministry and the armed forces’ budget for 2013 is 2.1 trillion roubles. Let me remind you that military spending is financed entirely by the federal Government, because it benefits our national interests. At the same time, the situation is very different in health care and education. The budgets for these sectors are formed by several sources – federal money, regional money and municipal money. Now if we add up all the contributions, the consolidated budget of health care, as well as of education, will exceed the Defence Ministry’s spending."

There is the other part too, and this is needed to finance armaments. The situation with armaments was in fact critical some time ago, because wear and tear of equipment reached 70%-80% in some of the armed services. Therefore, a large Government programme was adopted to change this situation. Russian armed forces will be using almost entirely new weapons and equipment by 2020. This is very important for any country, and especially for a nuclear power like Russia.

Marianna Maksimovskaya: This is the first time that we are seeing a Prime Minister drawing financial or budget charts during a live interview. Maybe we should ask the cameraman to show them.

Dmitry Medvedev: You can have them after the interview.

Marianna Maksimovskaya: Let's have them be a military secret.

Dmitry Medvedev: There’s no secret. There are the figures.

Marianna Maksimovskaya: Let’s not give out any secrets. And let’s discuss something else, Mr Medvedev. I have a question about the most recent scandal in the Defence Ministry and other high-profile corruption cases. I would like to ask about the former Defence Minister Anatoly Serdyukov. I can’t see any logic in him being slammed and disgraced all over television, but not put in jail. You seem to continue praising him even after the entire country learned about the truth of the situation in the ministry. So why start the crackdown on corruption with Serdyukov at all, if this is the case?

In Conversation with Dmitry Medvedev. Interview with five media outlets

Dmitry Medvedev: Marianna, may I ask you a question? As a prominent journalist, do you really think that everyone who is slammed on television should be immediately put in jail?

Marianna Maksimovskaya: Now this brings us back to the question of why people get slammed on TV at all, on this scale…

Alexei Pivovarov: This logic can be traced in our history.

Dmitry Medvedev: If you mean Russian history, it’s a different story.

Mikhail Zygar (Dozhd): It also depends on the channel.

Dmitry Medvedev: It does.

Dmitry Medvedev: "The situation with armaments was in fact critical some time ago, because wear and tear of equipment reached 70%-80% in some of the armed services. Therefore, a large Government programme was adopted to change this situation. Russian armed forces will be using almost entirely new weapons and equipment by 2020."

Marianna Maksimovskaya: It also depends on what exactly they are saying.

Alexei Pivovarov: This is the right channel…

Dmitry Medvedev: Actually, I would like to bring everybody back to the legal discussion. The presumption of innocence has not been cancelled as far as I know.

As for Serdyukov and other recent scandals, whatever journalists are saying about him, no court has brought any official charges against him yet.

Marianna Maksimovskaya: That’s my point exactly.

Dmitry Medvedev: He is not involved in any legal proceedings in any way. The case is being investigated. The job of investigators is to uncover the truth, but the final decision as to who is guilty is to be taken by the court of course. Investigators are only one side of a legal case. There is also the defence. Each side will have to argue their case.

I have already spelled out my own position on the issue, but I can repeat it now. I think that Serdyukov was reasonably effective as a Defence Minister. What I mean if that the complex and important military reforms that were initiated by the Commander-In-Chief began with Serdyukov as Minister. He has served with two consecutive Commanders-In-Chief. I have just said what we have done – we have changed the social status of men and officers. Nobody can deny this. What they were paid in 2006 cannot even compare with what they get in 2012. These sums are already close to European standards. This is the first point.

Dmitry Medvedev: "The housing issue – this is a burning issue and a very painful one, which had never been resolved, not even in Soviet times. As officers moved from one garrison to another, some of them received flats whereas others and their families had to live their entire lives in dormitories. Now the housing programme is in place. Its implementation is not ideal, but it is in place and must be fully implemented."

Second, we talked about the housing issue – this is a burning issue and a very painful one, which had never been resolved, not even in Soviet times. As officers moved from one garrison to another, some of them received flats whereas others and their families had to live their entire lives in dormitories. Now the housing programme is in place. Its implementation is not ideal, but it is in place and must be fully implemented.

I have also spoken about modern weapons and the new image of the Armed Forces. The reform has been launched in a rigorous way. This is the only way because such reform requires strong will. If there is no will, it will slip through our fingers.

I’m not saying that the former Defence Minister did not make mistakes – everyone makes them. As for his involvement in the Oboronservis corruption scandal and so on, the investigators will have to establish this, carefully analyse and present to a court of law what they have found out about all those who are involved in the current criminal proceedings and also other people. Until this is done, Serdyukov and other persons involved in this case are considered innocent. Don’t forget this please. However, the rules of the genre compel journalists to write about such cases, all the more so since there are outrageous facts calling for criminal proceedings.

Marianna Maximovskaya: Exactly right, Mr Medvedev! And what is going on in general?

Dmitry Medvedev: And what is going on?

Marianna Maximovskaya: I’m talking about all these revelations you hear on TV about Serdyukov, Skrynnik, GLONASS, Rostelekom and the Housing and Utilities Complex. This list goes on and on; it’s fairly long. What is this all about? Is it a signal from the government about the start of an all-out war on corruption? After all, many people in this country are convinced that the entire system of relations between officials and business here relies on kick-backs and bribes. Or is it not deliberate but just a coincidence?

Dmitry Medvedev: Just a coincidence? I see. I have always said if we do not fight corruption, nobody is going to do it for us. I think the current anti-corruption cases are a direct continuation of what we have been doing in the last few years. For the first time in Russian history – not in Soviet but in Russian history – we adopted anti-corruption legislation and acceded to foreign (international) anti-corruption conventions. Many thought this was just symbolic, that legislation was adopted but nothing would be done, and that it was just a formality. Nothing of the sort! Quantity turns into quality sooner or later. I think what happened was the confluence of two trends – public demand for anti-corruption struggle and the regulatory acts it requires. First, people want the government to cleanse itself and show the results of the battle against corruption and, second, have the necessary legislation. Needless to say these two factors will work only if there is political will for that. So when it exists, a real battle against corruption can be launched. I’m confident that this has happened. This is not a coincidence but the start of a huge undertaking to eradicate corruption in this country. Naturally, this struggle will not be limited to high-profile cases. They evoke the greatest interest, but we all understand that corrupt officials are not the only problem. There is also corruption at the everyday level. Its scale is enormous and it is no less troublesome than the corruption of government officials because there are many people who are ready to pay bribes for basic services.

Dmitry Medvedev: "For the first time in Russian history – not in Soviet but in Russian history – we adopted anti-corruption legislation and acceded to foreign (international) anti-corruption conventions."

Marianna Maximovskaya: They are paying officials as well.

Dmitry Medvedev: Officials but not only them.

Alexei Pivovarov: Traffic police.

Marianna Maximovskaya: Traffic police.

Dmitry Medvedev: Sorry but when doctors and teachers are bribed…

Marianna Maximovskaya: Civil servants.

Dmitry Medvedev: They are not civil servants. When money is brought to educational or medical institutions… They are not from the Civil Service. They work in public-sector institutions. They are ordinary people but the entire system of relations is based on bribery.

Marianna Maximovskaya: Will they also be punished from this moment on?

Dmitry Medvedev: First of all, this was punished before. The problem is…

Mikhail Zygar: …that this happens much more often than at higher levels.

Dmitry Medvedev: This is also true. The problem is that corruption crimes are very difficult to prove because bribes are given without witnesses and kick-backs are paid without making a recording or signing a contract. True, sometimes there are contracts but they should be properly classified because lawyers will be out to prove that these are not kick-backs but routine commercial transactions. Therefore, to complete my answer to your question, let me say that this work has started on a sound legal foundation and will be continued by all means.

Sergei Brilyov: Mr Medvedev, you are one of the best-informed people in this country. Were you surprised to hear about all these stories about your subordinates (I’m referring to Serdyukov and Skrynnik), even though they are not yet criminal cases, or subordinates of your subordinates?

Dmitry Medvedev: The President, the Prime Minister and some other officials periodically get reports about violations but these violations must be proved to become criminal cases. Naturally, I also received reports on different problems in the performance of government agencies. I gave direct instructions on many of them and they became criminal cases. This is normal practice.

Sergei Brilyov: One more related question. There is feedback on two levels – from your staff and the public. When you send signals to your subordinates, it’s up to them how to interpret these signals. As for the public… It is no accident Marianna [Maksimovskaya] has asked you a question… There are no obvious victims. This contradicts your logic as a lawyer…

Marianna Maximovskaya: There are victims but no prison sentences or very few, strictly speaking. At any rate this is what many think.

In Conversation with Dmitry Medvedev. Interview with five media outlets

Sergei Brilyov: But sometimes the public wants this. Let me put it this way – aren’t you worried that by dealing a blow at corrupt officials, you are also hitting the government and yourself?

Dmitry Medvedev: This is a serious question because whenever the government presents results of such work, the public, people wonder: “And what about others? Do they obey the law?” So, when the work to root out corruption starts, such problems may arise. In this case, the government will have to decide what to do next – back off or press on? I think we have no other choice but to move forward even if some people don’t like it.

Marianna Maximovskaya: Sergei Ivanov (Chief of Staff of the Presidential Executive Office) told Irada that he knew about GLONASS for two years but did not give any sign of this.

Alexei Pivovarov: He was afraid to scare them off.

Irada Zeinalova: And did you also have to tolerate this? Has your attitude to people changed? Or still the presumption of innocence…

Dmitry Medvedev: I don’t want to comment on what my colleagues say because I don’t remember the context. I can only say one thing – for the report you mentioned to be turned into a criminal case, it should be based on real facts rather than just some reports. We all understand that there is always gossip about stealing in a department or ministry or about some official being dishonest. But until this gossip turns into a set of facts established in the course of legal proceedings, this particular official cannot be punished. Speaking strictly, people must not be allowed even to discuss this – otherwise we’ll smear the entire Civil Service. By the way, I’d also like to emphasise this point because the fight against corruption should not be reduced to the harassment of officials as a class. Otherwise people may start thinking that all government officials are in fact dishonest, that they are thieves and cannot be trusted. That would be absolutely untrue because the overwhelming majority of civil servants are normal and decent people. They shouldn’t be tarred with the same brush.

Dmitry Medvedev: "The fight against corruption should not be reduced to the harassment of officials as a class. Otherwise people may start thinking that all government officials are in fact dishonest, that they are thieves and cannot be trusted. That would be absolutely untrue because the overwhelming majority of civil servants are normal and decent people."

Sergei Brilyov: Otherwise it will be China and the hongweibings and firing on the headquarters…

Dmitry Medvedev: Exactly!

Irada Zeinalova: But how can we cope with reputational loss? There will be some loss anyway.

Dmitry Medvedev: Some reputational loss will have to be sustained. There is nothing terrible about it. We can’t brag all the time about how cute and fuzzy we are. If there are some nasty facts, these facts should be made public. Alexei asked me whether or not the decisions adopted in 2002 could damage the prestige of the authorities, and so on. But this is not the main point, as I see it. One should be honest and should correct one’s mistakes. If there are problems, we must speak frankly about them.

Mikhail Zygar: Let’s stay for a while on the theme of reputational loss. Soon after you became Prime Minister and head of the United Russia Party, members of your party in the State Duma began actively approving very odd laws which quite obviously narrowed civil liberties, while also cancelling some of your former initiatives. I mean the revival of the libel clause in the Criminal Code, the law on protests, the law on the protection of children, and so on. I won’t name them all because they are quite numerous. They are familiar to everybody.

Dmitry Medvedev: Are they? I think you should name them all.  

Mikhail Zygar: I think all our spectators have heard about this in one way or another. What is this about? Is it an official reaction to the December events? Is it a crackdown instead of a dialogue with civil society? Does it conform with your view of how things should develop in this country, or is it the position of Vladimir Putin, your successor as president?

Dmitry Medvedev: Even though you thought better of opening Pandora’s Box, I, with the permission of everyone present here, will name the four criticisms that are usually made of the authorities, the ruling party, United Russia, and the heads of state. They are as follows: libel, the law on NGOs and foreign agents, the law on protests, the criminal law, including the high treason article, and the Internet law. If there is something else, do name it and I will comment on this too.

Marianna Maximovskaya: These are the main points, that’s true.

Dmitry Medvedev: Yes, the main points.

Marianna Maximovskaya: The main sore spots!

Dmitry Medvedev: The main sore spots. We are having a frank discussion and I’ll try not to dodge this question and others too.

Dmitry Medvedev: "Libel, a criminally punishable offense, should be decriminalised. Why? Because, in my view, libel, even though it is a socially dangerous act, should not be punished by imprisonment. Libel can damage a person’s honour and dignity, whether you like him or not. This is a fact. So, I did this, libel was decriminalised in the sense that it was no longer an article in the Criminal Code."

Let’s talk about libel. I had a position of my own on this score, which is that libel, a criminally punishable offense, should be decriminalised. Why? Because, in my view, libel, even though it is a socially dangerous act, should not be punished by imprisonment. Libel can damage a person’s honour and dignity, whether you like him or not. This is a fact. So, I did this, libel was decriminalised in the sense that it was no longer an article in the Criminal Code. But later the legislators, including United Russia members, suggested that libel should be punished – and no one contends that it shouldn’t be punished – should be material, or a fine to be paid by the libeller, rather than reprisals or imprisonment. In this sense, my position dovetails with what has been done. It’s absolutely normal! If the fact of libel has been proved, let them pay the fine. Let me remind you that libel as a Criminal Code article, as a crime, exists in the absolute majority of European criminal codes – in France, Germany, and other countries. This is my attitude to changes in the libel law. Where the legislation on NGO’s and foreign agents is concerned, we are just searching for methods of regulating this type of activities. It is wrong to immediately suspect the authorities of wishing to prevent certain actions or to slip a noose around the necks of certain NGOs, because nothing of the kind has happened so far. We have actually borrowed the model of the United States; I mean the law on foreign agents approved in the 1930s.

Mikhail Zygar: So it’s an archaic model?

In Conversation with Dmitry Medvedev. Interview with five media outlets

Dmitry Medvedev: It’s hard to say, but the Americans have kept it in place. More than that, they have been adding to it. In the 1960s, they added a clause against  political parties and the electoral system being financed from foreign sources. So, whether it’s archaic is a difficult question. Napoleon’s Code is in effect in the majority of states with the Roman-German system. In our legal family, Civil Code rules mostly correspond to what was adopted 200 years ago. How this system will work is yet to be seen, but in itself this technique is possible. Besides, we are not outlawing these agents, nor, God forbid, branding applicable NGOs as criminal. We just want to apply to those engaging in political activities and receiving money from foreign states certain special rules that are applied all over the world. Just imagine a US NGO receiving money from the Russian federal budget. It would be a national scandal in the US, I think. So, the issue is just additional oversight over these kinds of activities, because domestic policy is the sovereign affair of each individual state.

Mikhail Zygar: Excuse the interruption, but oversight is one thing and slapping an insulting label on people who only recently were regarded as decent and respectable members of civil society is quite another. The heads of the Memorial, the Helsinki Group, and Transparency International were members of the Council for Human Rights under you as President.

Dmitry Medvedev: Yes, I understand. I respect them; we differed on many things and often had arguments, but what they do is on the whole useful for this country. I think they are like orderlies who point out defects and problems to the authorities, even though we do differ on many things. What I’d like you to do is to look into the etymology of the word “agent”. Why is it bad?

Alexei Pivovarov: A spy…

Sergei Brilyov: It’s different in English.

Alexei Pivovarov: A foreign agent…

Marianna Maximovskaya: It’s negative…

Dmitry Medvedev: Please don’t confuse general civil legislation with criminal legislation. What’s known as an “agent provocateur” is not the same as…

Mikhail Zygar: There are features of the Russian language that don’t completely correlate with legal norms.

Dmitry Medvedev: No, no, wait right there – they correlate completely. Russian legislation stipulates agency transactions. We have relations between the principal and the agent. They also use similar terminology. In reality, agent just means representative, and accredited entity.

Alexei Pivovarov: So, it’s just a coincidence?

Dmitry Medvedev: It’s a calque.

Mikhail Zygar: Isn’t it offensive?

Dmitry Medvedev: It’s absolutely normal because Russian legislation…

Mikhail Zygar: When activists of  youth organisations say: “Here stands a foreign agent…”

Dmitry Medvedev: Look, Mikhail, Russian legislation employs the terms “agent” and “agency” rather widely, and this does not mean spy.   

Marianna Maximovskaya: Mr Medvedev, there is another issue here. Excuse me. There is another issue here…

Dmitry Medvedev: No, wait. If you please, I would like to discuss all these aspects, because I get the impression that you care about this subject. I hope that our audiences also care about this subject, although not as seriously as the Russian political class. So, let’s continue.

Legal-technical amendments have been introduced in the “High Treason” article of the Criminal Code. So far, no one has been tried and sentenced under the new regulations. But I read this surprising thing about how people will start being arrested for contacting foreigners. Who has been arrested? Who has been punished? No one has been punished or arrested.

And now the last issue, which deals with the Internet. All of us use the Internet, and we take this issue close to heart. Many questions have been asked about how this system would work. How dangerous are these changes for the Internet, which does not tolerate crude interference in its work? I would like to remind you that the regulations only deal with three actions punishable by the law – promoting drug use, paedophilia and consequently…

Mikhail Zygar: Promoting suicide.

Dmitry Medvedev: …Promoting suicide. State agencies received very few complaints on these issues. To the best of my knowledge, 20,000 complaints were received, including about 2,000 complaints on this issue. No websites have been banned so far. But, of course, a decision was taken to simply erase some webpages that featured content on these obviously immoral things, which are sometimes interpreted as crimes. No one was arrested, no websites were closed, everything is functioning normally, including the websites that contained these pages. Consequently, I believe that everything I mentioned, and which, in your opinion, suggests a trend, in reality does not amount to a trend.

Alexei Pivovarov: I would like to ask you about another tough penalty. You recently made a memorable appearance in your black BMW, and you suggested raising fines for crimes committed by drivers who are under the influence. I believe no one will object to drunk drivers who, God forbid, kill someone being subjected to tough and perhaps even harsh punishment. But don’t you think that, by suggesting a fine of 500,000 roubles, which obviously exceeds the average annual income of many, if not most, Russians, you are merely creating additional opportunities for corruption. People will have to bribe authorities in order to avoid paying this absolutely unrealistic fine or losing their driving licenses?

Dmitry Medvedev: You know, speaking of corruption linked with specific penalties, this corruption has nothing to do with the amount of specific fines. At any rate, corruption is not completely linked with their amounts.

As for the fine you mentioned, which I mentioned in my video blog – the fine is, indeed, for one specific violation. And I would like to draw your attention to the fact that I did not say that we have taken a decision. I merely suggested that we discuss this issue because the number of people being killed by inebriated drivers is beyond what you can imagine. These statistics are absolutely horrendous. Let’s recall the recent accidents in Moscow and in other cities. Unfortunately, we behave very badly on the road.

As for specific fines, I said that we should discuss their size. I’m not insisting on 500,000-rouble fines, but the fine should be quite substantial. In my opinion, these fines for driving under the influence must be large enough to dissuade motorists from drunk driving. This discussion has picked up momentum, and I am happy that I have attracted attention to this problem. I have received many different responses, but this is what civil society is all about. Someone wrote that this was absolutely correct, and that they were ready to support this proposal. Others wrote that it was impossible to imagine such fines, and that they would be unable to raise this much money in 12 months. You know, this is a rather unusual argument. Perhaps it would be better not to drive under the influence than say that it’s impossible to raise this much money in a year. 

Alexei Pivovarov: I believe that there is some understanding of a real sum that an individual…

Dmitry Medvedev: And I can tell you that Italian legislation stipulates fines of 6,000 euros for driving under the influence.

I have said 250,000 or 500,000 roubles, but again, this is debatable. Discussions are continuing and State Duma deputies, including individuals from United Russia, have put together fairly good proposals whereby the law would discern between an unlicensed driver driving while intoxicated, and a properly licensed driver driving while intoxicated, because the former is doubly violating the law. Our colleagues suggest using a substantial fine with regard to these drivers similar to a criminal penalty – 200,000 roubles. I think that this is a reasonable proposal because – like I say – such people violate the law on two counts. Several recent accidents were caused by unlicensed drivers who drank heavily before hitting the road. Even driving without a licence should be punished under criminal law.

Other cases can be handled differently. Perhaps fines shouldn’t be so crippling, but they should still be significant, even if driving while intoxicated is the only violation. In addition to fines, such drivers should have their licences revoked for several years. I think that this is a doable approach. The State Duma proposes another approach based on breath/blood alcohol content, and punishing heavy intoxication much more strictly than mild intoxication. This is a controversial issue. I’m not saying that this is impossible to do, but I agree with you that it can open the door to corruption and extortion. Because each time they will be asking the same question: “What do you want me to write in the report – that you had a few shots or the whole bottle?” This is a fairly complex issue that needs to be further discussed.

Alexei Pivovarov: You know what they say in such situations: “I just had some kefir, and my blood alcohol content is 0.1...”

Dmitry Medvedev: Let’s face it. Such reasoning is often used by people acting in the interests of alcohol producers. Breathalysers have been used on many occasions to test breath for alcohol after kefir or similar products were consumed. A zero reading... It’s a joke. Eating food and driving is safe, but drinking and driving is not. This is a proven fact. Unless, of course, you tamper with the breathalyser, but that's a whole different story.

Sergei Brilyov: Not a single licence was revoked due to having alcohol-containing food?

Dmitry Medvedev: None.

Irada Zeinalova: I believe that this is a very Russian approach. Wouldn’t it be better for everybody just to resolve to never drink and drive?

Dmitry Medvedev: We must consider these things. We are working in Russia.

Irada Zeinalova: Perhaps we need to start telling our kids that drinking and driving is a “no-no” while they are still young?

Dmitry Medvedev: You are absolutely right. That's why I insist on a tough position. Perhaps some will disagree with me. I have stated this repeatedly – start using the blood alcohol content system again as they do in Europe and most other countries. I specifically looked into this and found that the United States has the most liberal blood alcohol content numbers – you can have a few glasses of wine and still drive legally. However, we're talking about a specific situation, in a specific country where people drink a lot, and if you allow drinking and driving... Well, you and I know that if we allow drinking and driving a very large number of drivers will take this decision as a signal that you can drink more and drive. People tend to push the envelope and do not stop when it’s time to stop.

Irada Zeinalova: Mr Medvedev, this is also your initiative…

Dmitry Medvedev: Thus, I’m not in favour of returning to the blood alcohol content system and I think that it is not good for our country – similar to gun ownership. Americans say that guns are part of the American mindset and their legal and political culture, but look at the loss of life caused by the improper and criminal use of weapons? I don't believe that we should go down that path.

Irada Zeinalova: I'm sorry to interrupt you, but I would like to mention another bad habit that does not concern you. Unfortunately, this concerns me and half of the people in Russia – the law on tobacco. Sadly, I am a tobacco addict.

Dmitry Medvedev: When are you going to quit?

Irada Zeinalova: When you pass the law. I support this initiative because I’m sure that smoking in public places should be banned strictly – as was done in Europe. The Government insists on and promotes these measures... And suddenly your colleagues in the Duma, who are so engulfed in discussions about whether to drink or not to drink, hit the brakes. Deputy Mitrofanov came up with a twin law and the Duma will now consider two bills... Compare them, and the tobacco law's enactment will be postponed indefinitely. Tobacco lobbyists are triumphant.

What are we supposed to do in this situation? This is clearly not the first and not the last trick used by tobacco lobbyists. Half of Russian people smoke. I have a son, and I don’t want him to smoke.

Dmitry Medvedev: I can tell you one thing – quit. Children tend to mimic their parents.

Irada Zeinalova: He says that cigarettes are too expensive for him to buy. This stops him.

Dmitry Medvedev: That’s not going to last long. There will always be a way to bum a cigarette, or to find other ways to have a smoke on someone else.

Now, with regard to the current situation. Ms Zeinalova, you are one of those smokers – almost two-thirds of our population smoke – who say that smoking should be banned. How do we fight it then? In a civilised manner, of course. Thus, the government has submitted a bill to the State Duma.

The bill is now under consideration by commissions and committees. Lobbying is not going anywhere, and it would be a lie to say that we don’t have lobbying in our Duma. We do. Speaking of civilised lobbying, sometimes it's a quite common procedure. There are, indeed, two tobacco bills, but the bill that the Government submitted to the Duma will be reviewed on 15-16 December.

Irada Zeinalova: I believe that it’s January, not December.

Dmitry Medvedev: No, it’s December. The bill will be passed in the first reading. After that, I hope that we will cut right through all of the other readings and have it signed into law. Some language can be further discussed because there are no ideal bills, but that should not sway our determination to say no to smoking in our country, just like they did in Europe.

You know, we all tried smoking at some point in time. Students smoke... It’s a regular thing with students. But the problem is that nearly half of the population in Russia smokes, which is unheard of in most other countries. The problem is that 400,000 people die each year just from diseases directly caused by smoking, including heart disease and cancer. How many people is 400,000 exactly? That’s like a large city like Tver. Just think about it... Every year, we lose almost 0.5 million people to this stupid, good-for-nothing habit. Who would like that?

Irada Zeinalova: That’s half of Novosibirsk I think…

Dmitry Medvedev: It depends on what city you compare it with. It might be one-tenth or one-twelfth of Petersburg. The point is that a huge number of people might be alive if they didn’t smoke or dropped the harmful habit in time. So, strong but not brutal measures should be taken. It must be made clear that we are combating not the smokers but this bad habit. And smokers themselves should cooperate and say, “You know, we’re ready to give up under certain conditions.”

And one more thing. Any campaign, be it against drunkenness or smoking, should be civilised and should not humiliate people. I would absolutely and categorically support any changes in legislation because we are doing this for the sake of people and not in order to reaffirm some principles or ideals. I am sure the bill will be passed, they have no other option. The tobacco lobby is, of course, tough guys, but they are not all-powerful. The Government is stronger.

Marianna Maximovskaya: Mr Medvedev, my question is, whom are we fighting? If you could sum up the topic of the recently passed laws that tighten everything… For several minutes now we’ve been discussing trivial things (that’s how many people see the restrictions on smokers or the incredible fines on motorists), and before that we talked about politics. But you can see a kind of pattern. Look, people stage rallies and a law is passed restricting the opportunities to hold such rallies, people start to criticise something and a law on slander is passed, and so on. Let me repeat the question: does this happen by accident or by design? And do you consider, like many people in this country, that all the recent laws that tighten the screws are reactionary? Do you think the climate in the country has grown colder?

Dmitry Medvedev: I understand, Marianna. My answer is of course not, I do not believe that this is a trend, and I do not believe that these laws are reactionary. When I was President, I too passed laws (that is, I signed them into law and initiated them), laws that imposed tougher responsibility for certain actions, but surely you are not suggesting that the laws passed during that period were repressive or reactionary. It is another question that there is a set of expectations and that these expectations often are at odds with the real events that are happening in the country. There is a range of legislative moves and all this adds up to the impression that this is some kind of repressive trend. I think one can judge the political regime, what is happening to the political system in the country and to human rights based on the actions that result from the laws that have been passed. If there emerges a body of facts that show that these laws are wrong, that they infringe upon the rights of citizens or some political groups, then they need to be corrected and I am with you there.

Marianna Maximovskaya: And so far they are not…?

Dmitry Medvedev: No. So far I have no such information and you don’t have information like that because there is nothing to support this premise. Let’s see how they will be enforced.

And I would like to say one last thing. We all know our attitude to the law which has existed since the old days, so to speak. Very often laws here are declared to be repressive and anti-liberal or something in order not to comply with them and to have an inner justification for saying: “You know, this law was passed to obstruct certain political trends and so on, and I am not going to obey it.” That is not right. We must be law-abiding citizens.

And to finish with this topic. Any politician, even if he doesn’t like the current decision-making system and some political personalities, must abide by the law. You are telling me that the law on rallies was passed because people have been staging rallies…

Marianna Maximovskaya: Chronologically speaking, yes.

Dmitry Medvedev: That is so, there is no denying it. But why were these laws passed? Precisely because a host of problems were revealed when these rallies were being organised. There was no such activity previously, people became more active in stating their position and began turning up for rallies in bigger numbers. It turned out that these laws did not work and that unfortunately it was impossible to secure the rights of citizens on the basis of the rules that were in force at the time. So, the legislation was adjusted, which is absolutely normal. If nobody had turned up for these rallies it wouldn’t have occurred to anyone to pass these laws, but since they are turning up, we should see how the legislation works to make sure that no one suffers. Sadly, there have been some incidents.

Irada Zeinalova: Mr Medvedev, let’s look at it from a slightly different angle.

A year ago you delivered a presidential address which contained a package of overdue initiatives on the democratisation of the political system. A year has passed. As the leader of a parliamentary party and as someone who proposed this legislation are you pleased with the way these initiatives are being implemented? Are they being implemented?

Dmitry Medvedev: On the whole, yes, I am pleased, Irada. I think this was done on time and that, by the way, was also a reaction to changes in society. These are not just changes to the legislation on rallies, this is a reaction to what is taking place in the country, to people’s wishes. I have explained my position more than once, and I would like to say that my position on the election of governors has been changing over time, and that is normal. I am only human, and I have my own reaction to these events. At some point I realised that it was time to change electoral legislation and the legislation was changed. A year ago I unveiled a package of political transformations and practically all of these transformations have taken place and we can avail ourselves of the results. He who does not see it is not reacting quite honestly, in my opinion.

Dmitry Medvedev: "We have a system under which 200 citizens’ committees have declared their intention to create new parties, and 44 of these parties have been registered; they are real working parties."

What has actually happened? We recently had gubernatorial elections. No elections are ideal, but nevertheless we had elections in which not just one party put up  its  candidate before the President, but nine parties and they were not only parliamentary parties. We have a system under which 200 citizens’ committees have declared their intention to create new parties, and 44 of these parties have been registered; they are real working parties. Some of them are very small and weak, and some have a good chance of becoming strong parties. We now have a system  under which people, for the first time in eight years, can decide who will run their region over a given period, four or five years. People have voted, and by the way, the  turnout  was pretty good, contrary to what some of our political opponents claim. And something that is important for me as chairman of the United Russia party: people have backed the party’s candidates, and there were serious political battles in some regions, serious clashes of opinion, real political struggle. The United Russia candidate won, that’s good, at least for United Russia. That means the party has a future and that it has not become ossified, “bronzed over,” to use a current phrase. It is only through struggle that one can get genuine support.

Sergey Brilev: Mr Medvedev, could I ask a sub-question? On the one hand, there are more parties, but the political landscape has not changed. Indeed, going back to what you just said, when what we might call the small parties assessed the quality of the autumn election campaign, they accused United Russia of deliberately organising a low turnout so that your candidates would win. On the other hand, it must be said for fairness sake that they did not try hard enough to increase the turnout of their voters, one has to be objective there. But there is no getting away from the fact that these parties have a fairly large number of thinking and active people. There’s an American political joke that goes like this: people come to a senatorial candidate and tell him: “Senator, all the thinking people in your state are for you.” The Senator replies: “Yeah, but I need a majority.” Anyway, how could the “little guys” be helped?

Dmitry Medvedev: I think we see only the beginning of the development of our new-look party system. The “little guys” can help themselves by putting forward political propositions that would go down well with people. But speaking about practical help, we should not allow the small parties to be gobbled up by the big ones. And that is a possibility.

You said that they made no impact. That is not quite so. The very fact that they exist and that some people voted for them has made a difference in the outcome of the election.

Their growth shows that people want to see new political forces. I’m sure they will gain in popularity and I’m sure they will be forming alliances from which stronger parties will emerge. This is how a political system develops.

Dmitry Medvedev: "In other countries. The turnout in municipal elections is never above 40-50%. So, our figures are absolutely normal: 42-46% on average (depending on the region and depending on whether it was a municipal or gubernatorial election)."

Finally, regarding the reproaches that I hear to the effect that the turnout was low. We should look at the turnout at such elections in other countries. The turnout in municipal elections is never above 40-50%. So, our figures are absolutely normal: 42-46% on average (depending on the region and depending on whether it was a municipal or gubernatorial election). Absolutely normal and realistic figures. I am sure that as a result of the party system reform we will end up, if not with 200 parties, certainly with dozens of parties. These parties will influence the real political landscape.

I often hear suggestions that Russia needs a party system like in the United States. I absolutely disagree, because we have a different society and a different set of political habits. I think we have more in common with the European political tradition where there are five or seven parties which have a direct impact on what is happening in the country. In other words, people vote for them.

Sergey Brilev: But so far we have a one-and-a-half party system.

Dmitry Medvedev: So far the system consists of 44 parties those that are registered, of which four parties are represented in parliament.

Mikhail Zygar: Still on the subject of the opposition. I think you remember that last February you met with the members of the “non-system” opposition and you were sitting at the same table with Sergey Udaltsov. Sergey Udaltsov is currently under investigation over the so-called “Bolotnaya case.” It’s a good example of how a TV film translates itself into a real criminal case. Many in our society see the “Bolotnaya case” as a repressive trend the existence of which you were just denying. Twenty people have been charged and some have been convicted of offenses as trivial as peeling off enamel. When you were sitting down to talk with the out-of-parliament opposition and when this process was starting, did you imagine that things would turn out as they did?

Dmitry Medvedev: You know, in general I am not afraid of sitting down at the same table with anyone. Unless that person tries to bite me in the literal sense of the word, I’m willing to talk with any political force. I think it’s right for a political leader, a party leader, a head of state or government to talk with any political force. The question is whether this or that political force or its leaders are prepared to be a responsible political force. The events that took place after my meeting show that some people are prepared. There were various people at the table, as you remember, and some of them have registered their parties and are trying to promote them. Some have been more successful than others, but some have managed to accomplish something. Some though take a different view. In my opinion, the main thing is that our political leaders, the leaders of the political parties -- no matter what parties, those that are sitting in the State Duma, the old parties and the new political parties - should be responsible politicians. I have always said I did not like the term “non-system opposition”: I think it is not a correct term. We should speak about legal and illegal political forces. All those who have registered their political parties, as long as these parties exist and have not been banned by the state for some violations, they are legal. So, the whole course of events since that time shows that our colleagues who aspire to some political future, should be responsible individuals. You mentioned Udaltsov. I think if he really represents the ideas of the left, rather than instigating his supporters to break the law during rallies he should try to achieve his goals constitutionally. Not break the law on rallies, but uphold his position within the existing procedures. So, what is the problem?  The problem, for example, with the Bolotnaya case?

I don’t know how it will end because the process is still under way (I cannot comment on it, as you understand), but if any person who attends a rally thinks he can hit a policeman, he should understand that he will have to take consequences for it and it does not matter whether he represents the ruling party or an opposition party and whether he is a progressive or a died-in-the-wool reactionary. Hitting a policeman is a crime in any country, including ours, and this will never go unpunished. This is the basis of law and order in any society. That is why we had to revise the legislation on rallies to make it more precise so that people know how to behave and know the lines that cannot be crossed. That is why any person who decides to take part in civil actions should observe the law. To cut a long story short, any responsible leader, no matter which party he represents, must do all he can to make sure that his supporters do not end up behind bars. He must have proper preliminary conversations with them and explain to them what can and what cannot be done, what will harm his idea and the cause to which they want to dedicate their lives. That would be responsible policy and such a political leader would have a future.

Dmitry Medvedev: "I have always said I did not like the term “non-system opposition”: I think it is not a correct term. We should speak about legal and illegal political forces. All those who have registered their political parties, as long as these parties exist and have not been banned by the state for some violations, they are legal."

Alexei Pivovarov: Mr Medvedev, I must ask a follow-up question. It’s not about those who go to rallies to protest, but about those who go there to work, to cover these events. This morning my colleague Pavel Kostomarov with whom we are doing a documentary under what we now understand is an appropriate title, “The Sentence,” about the social and political situation in which opposition leaders will appear (we were filming the rally on Bolotnaya Square last May)… Well, at 7 am people from the Investigative Committee came to Pavel’s place and searched it, seizing some video materials. They told him he was a witness in the case and left, leaving him with a summons ordering him to appear before the committee on Monday. As far as the protesters are concerned everything is clear: they come out to state their position. But how are we journalists supposed to work (Pavel, though, is not a journalist, he is a documentary filmmaker of some renown, he has heaps of prizes from all sorts of international festivals), how are we supposed to work if they come to search our homes at 7 am?  Of course, they can bring in anyone of us as a witness, no problem there. They can subpoena video materials. But coming with a search at 7 am, that sends a signal. How can we work?

Dmitry Medvedev: Alexei, I must say that I paid attention to what happened. I think the investigation has enough means at its disposal to request various materials according to the proper procedure, though of course we all have a duty to help the investigation.

Alexei Pivovarov: No problem there, of course.

Dmitry Medvedev: That is a normal constitutional and legal duty of any citizen. Why they had to come at 8 am, I don’t know. But then if your colleagues were filming some political events, apparently the investigation needed these recordings. I think they could have been subpoenaed according to the ordinary procedure, but apparently they had their reasons. If your colleague feels that his rights have been violated he can file a complaint about the investigators’ actions. That is absolutely normal, he can go to the Prosecutor’s Office, for example, and say: “Why did they come at 8 am? If they had asked me I would have brought them everything myself.” I actually got on the internet (I always look at the news in the morning). I am ashamed to say that I have never seen a single programme or film made by your colleague. I understand that you are also involved. I went to the site and looked it up: there is a report of what is happening, with known political personalities, including those who have been mentioned here. Nothing supernatural, but it may have some procedural importance. I understand that a large part of this material is freely accessible.

Alexei Pivovarov: Yes, a large part. You know, during the Wild West times in America they had notices in bars: “Don’t shoot the pianist, he is doing the best he can.” We journalists, especially documentary filmmakers... We record testimony to history and if that is reason enough to visit at 7 am...

Dmitry Medvedev: Alexei, I don’t think overreacting is a good idea. After all, no charges have been brought against him...

Alexei Pivovarov: Not yet.

Dmitry Medvedev: They probably never will. So I think they are just collecting evidence. It is another question how they go about it. We all, including law enforcement officials, have to comply with basic rules and improve their legal culture. You remember what it was like in the 1990s? It was even tougher in the 1990s. They would enter wearing ski-masks to recover some videos, they would have everyone lie down on the floor face down. So unfortunately we are short on legal culture, political culture.

Sergey Brilev: Mr Medvedev, I do not want to challenge what Alexei said, but I have to note that sometimes our Moscow problems look, if not trifling, but somehow totally different from what is going on in the Caucasus. You know that our GTRK colleague in Kabardino-Balkaria, Kazbek Gekkiyev, was murdered yesterday. When, under what circumstances did you learn the news?

Dmitry Medvedev: Yes, of course, this is very sad and I would like to take this opportunity to express my condolences to VGTRK and to Kazbek Gekkiyev’s close ones. I learned the news from the media yesterday. I think that, unfortunately, what happened is a real threat, a threat of destabilisation, which means that a lot still needs to be done to have peace and order in the Caucasus. The fact that the man who died was an ordinary journalist – I just asked Oleg Dobrodeyev before coming into the studio because I know he was at the funeral, and I asked him what his colleague did – he was simply a programme presenter, which means that the bandits are resorting to actions, reprisals against ordinary people, against journalists. Not against law enforcement officials or government figures, officials, but against ordinary journalists, that is, they are trying to intimidate them. This is very sad, and it is absolutely necessary that the investigation of the case be carried through to the end. I understand the President said the same yesterday. I expect that the culprits will be tracked down and punished, or failing that, simply destroyed.

Sergey Brilev: Mr Medvedev, I would like to share some more journalists’ headaches. It may seem odd, but I would like to go back to the question of the girls who danced in church…  

It is no longer about whether the trial was fair, whether the sentence was too mild or too harsh, but about the repercussions of the whole affair. Look, if a year ago somebody had said that reports about inquiries with the Prosecutor’s Office about a ban on the “Jesus Christ Superstar” rock opera were taken seriously everybody would have laughed. Now it is the subject of rambling political debates. A court recently ruled to ban access to the girls’ video, but under that logic all the sites of the companies present here should be shut down because when reporting this we naturally showed that video. This is legal nonsense. Don’t you think that in the name of protecting the feelings of believers we are actually playing into the hands of fundamentalists who are denying us access to information and are letting down those who are genuine believers and who are therefore not given to tantrums?

Dmitry Medvedev: Sergey, I am a bit older than you. You asked me if I could imagine this happening. I belong to the generation that could well imagine being persecuted for spreading the “Jesus Christ Superstar” opera.

Marianna Maksimovskaya: We also remember those times.

Sergey Brilev: I passed an exam on the history of the Communist Party when I was in my final year at university, so…

Dmitry Medvedev: I have to admit, though, that this music was played at my school, but that was only because it was me who was in charge of playing that music.

Dmitry Medvedev: "Under our Constitution the state is separate from religion, from church, which cannot influence the life of the state. I can speak about this from a professional standpoint, having been in government for quite a long time. It is another question that some churches, some religions account for a significant majority of parishioners and command a high degree of moral trust. They include the Russian Orthodox Church and other traditional faiths."

Now about what is happening today. I don’t see any fundamentalists challenging the foundations of the secular state. This is not the case. Under our Constitution the state is separate from religion, from church, which cannot influence the life of the state. I can speak about this from a professional standpoint, having been in government for quite a long time. It is another question that some churches, some religions account for a significant majority of parishioners and command a high degree of moral trust. They include the Russian Orthodox Church and other traditional faiths, so I do not think anything out of the ordinary is happening in that field. It is true, though, that we have seen some radicalisation of views. Any action leads to counter-action. If somebody tries to encroach upon the foundations of a faith in any way it is always met with a very strong reaction on the part of believers. This is not because they are fundamentalists or radicals, this is simply part of human nature. True, it sometimes has very sad consequences. The recent events in the Caucasus show that such sentiments can lead to crimes, to the killing of people. But on the whole, I think that we have stayed within reasonable boundaries.

Going back to the rock opera, you know, when it was written – that was in 1970, it was written by Andrew Lloyd Webber – it met with a mixed reaction and the clergy in the Western world criticised and condemned it. On the other hand, the absolute majority of people thought there was nothing reprehensible about it, nothing that could shake people’s faith. So, it is always a question of there being varying opinions, but I think that in the situation with this opera you have mentioned they found a perfectly civilised solution because some people said, we consider the performance of this rock opera to be offensive. They went to government agencies and they had consultations with the church and received an answer that in the opinion of the Russian Orthodox Church the opera did not violate the rights and legitimate interests of Russian Orthodox believers. After the answer was received the opera was allowed, like many other events took place.

Marianna Maksimovskaya: Mr Medvedev, it’s precisely the fact that government was brought into it, and in general it’s the official reaction to the whole story that are striking. One has a sense…

Dmitry Medvedev: Why? Who should one appeal to?

Marianna Maksimovskaya: To law in general. There is a sense that state power…

Dmitry Medvedev: State power abides by the law.

Marianna Maksimovskaya: You see, there is a sense that state power in this situation… Of course, radicalisation of public opinion and the divisions between believers and non-believers…

Irada Zeinalova:  There is a division between the feeling of believers and feelings of non-believers.

Marianna Maksimovskaya: In nutshell, there is a sense that the authorities have come down squarely on the side of the conservative majority. Take the law to protect feelings of believers which has been set aside but has not been repealed and which many experts think violates the Constitution.

Dmitry Medvedev: Just a couple of brief comments, Marianna. First, the law that you have mentioned was never passed. Listen, a lot of laws are being shelved, there are some laws that have been pending before the State Duma for 10-12 years. And secondly, one can pass judgement on a law after it has been adopted and signed by the President, that is, first signed by the president, then published and implemented.

As regards the example Sergey has cited, the situation is absolutely constructive. Who should believers appeal to for the protection of their legitimate rights and interests? To the authorities, of course and ultimately to the courts. So, if they were unhappy with the official decisions they should have gone to court. The authorities looked into the matter and took a decision, nothing was banned and the church agreed. I think this is a normal way to resolve disputes, a civilised way.

Mikhail Zygar: Yes, Mr Medvedev, if my colleagues do not object I would like to bring in more participants into our conversation…

Dmitry Medvedev: Let’s try.

Mikhail Zygar: … you see, throughout this week we at the Dozhd TV channel and on our tvrain.su site have been gathering questions from viewers, including via Twitter and Facebook. I would like to put to you the three most frequently asked questions.

Many viewers asked about the case of journalist Oleg Kashin. He was attacked two years ago and you had promised to take personal charge of the investigation into that crime. There have been no results. And viewers are also asking why the people who are thought to have ordered the crime, for example, Yakimenko, the former head of Rosmolodyozh, the Federal Agency for Youth Affairs, have not been interrogated.

Dmitry Medvedev: Indeed, that is another sad incident, an instance of criminal actions against your colleague. By the way, I have talked with him personally. The investigation continues, the case has not been closed, but we all know that by no means all the cases are solved within a few months. If one could grab the criminal by the hand within two or three days this case would have been investigated and solved hot on the heels of the events.

Concerning interrogations. I have no right to disclose the information I got from the investigative agencies on this matter because this is confidential information. All the necessary investigative actions and interrogations of people who could have been involved have been carried out. Apparently not all the evidence has yet been gathered. But the case has not been closed and it must be finalised regardless of the journalist’s political views. Kashin, for example, was a vehement critic of the authorities – the President and the Government – but even so the case must be followed through and the culprits must be punished.

Mikhail Zygar: Another frequently asked question is about the correctional … sorry, penal system.

Dmitry Medvedev:  And correctional too, by the way. It used to be called that.

Mikhail Zygar: Correction of those punished. You have said that making the penal system more humane was one of the main goals of your presidency, and in many ways perhaps one of your achievements. Nevertheless, recent events in Kopeisk and the video out of Rostov show that little has changed. The viewers... Let me quote: “Who is responsible for the constant humiliation, torture and rape of people in pre-trial detention and in prisons? Why is nothing changing?”

Dmitry Medvedev: Because of the nature of my job I have to be a reasonable optimist, I cannot succumb to despair. I think that the reform of the Penal System has begun. Many changes that have to do with conditions in prisons and milder forms of custodial and non-custodial punishment have been introduced. These changes are all in force, for example, with regard to a number of people who have committed economic crimes. But it is a huge and very complicated system and you know very well the times in which it was created and what traditions it has drawn on. Obviously, it is simply impossible to fix it in two or three years. The thing is for the Penal System and the Justice Ministry to continue these reforms. I have looked it up and there were some comments to the effect that the reforms have been started in the wrong direction and that everything should be handled differently. I would like to say that responsibility for what is happening in the Federal Penal System rests entirely with the top officials of the system, the people who started implementing this reform at a certain point in time. Let them carry it through, it is their responsibility.  

Mikhail Zygar: And yet, after the recent riot in Kopeisk, which was fairly peaceful, six criminal cases were opened against prisoners and only one against a penal official. This is strange.

Dmitry Medvedev: As for the number of cases, I am not prepared to argue or agree with you because one has to see the outcome of these cases. One should not think of those who started the riot as innocents, they are people who apparently were breaking the rules. The question is whether there had been violations on the part of the workers at that correctional labour facility. If there were, this should lead to all the necessary procedures.

Mikhail Zygar: And the last most asked question. I’ll read it, it sounds amusing: “I am openly gay and I work at the United Russia press service. I’ll bet my last rouble that not a single provocative question is going to be asked, all the questions have been picked in advance and are lying on the table. But I’ll ask my question anyway. What is the point of having a law banning gay propaganda? One is born gay, one does not become one. The country has so many other problems, why waste time fighting mythical gay propaganda?”    

Dmitry Medvedev: …this seems to be a question of some concern for your channel.

Mikhail Zygar: Mr Medvedev.

Dmitry Medvedev: So I will answer it.

Mikhail Zygar: We have a very wide audience and I would not like to lose any of the audience … paint with the same brush … .

Alexei Pivovarov: It depends.

Dmitry Medvedev: I understand. In any case, you have shown that any question can be asked, that we are live on air and not all the questions are discussed in advance between the journalist and the interviewee.

But I repeat, I don’t think this topic affects a large number of people in this country.

Dmitry Medvedev: "You simply cannot regulate all of people's moral behaviour and neither can you regulate all the interaction between people through legislation."

Mikhail Zygar: Judging from the fact that it is discussed in the State Duma, it is on the minds of deputies.

Dmitry Medvedev: It is not yet being discussed at all levels. Deputies may be discussing some draft laws and ideas. I can say one thing: you simply cannot regulate all of people's moral behaviour and neither can you regulate all the interaction between people through legislation. This is my position and this is the United Russia position.

Marianna Maksimovskaya: I’ll ask a question that worries many people, unlike the previous question. You said the other day that you do not rule out standing for President in 2018. So why didn’t you stand for a second term immediately? You said yourself that Putin has higher ratings. You yourself extended the presidential term to six years, so perhaps Putin, with his ratings, will stand in 2018 again? Or perhaps some other serious candidate will come along?

Sergei Brilyov: We have four more minutes to go. Let’s not make this the last question.

Dmitry Medvedev: I would like to say the following. I said that I would not rule out any options for myself practically right after I endorsed Vladimir Putin for President because I thought then and think now that it was the right decision: in the given political situation he had a better chance of being elected President of our country, and he has been elected. I think that is good.

On the other hand, I am not yet a very old politician, I have some time ahead of me, so why should I close off any opportunities for myself? Of course, as I have often said, it would depend, first, on my personal wishes at the moment (I did not mention any specific year, note) and, much more important of course, on how voters feel: do they want me? This will guide me in the future.

Alexei Pivovarov: Another short question, if it’s OK with you.

Dmitry Medvedev: Yes, please.

Alexei Pivovarov: This is, in fact, the last question. We are talking on the eve of a much-touted but then apparently cancelled end of the world. I am not going to ask you if you believe the end of the world is coming, but it may be a good occasion to recall the old maxim: “Live every day as if it’s your last.” Sergei (Brilyov) was asking you about the results earlier on, I would like to ask a broader question: are you pleased with what you’ve achieved as of today, not in the last four years, but in general?

Dmitry Medvedev: I think I’ll first say a couple of words about the end of the world: I do not believe the end of the world is coming, at any rate not this year.

Alexei Pivovarov: Thank God.

Dmitry Medvedev: "On the whole I am pleased with the way my life has shaped up, I am pleased with the job I am doing because it is very interesting and very important work. And I think it is important for any person to be surrounded by people who are close to him, who help him to cope with difficulties that occur in everyone’s life."

Dmitry Medvedev: But I believe that the end of this year is coming, and we should all prepare ourselves for the end of this year. I mean, I would like all the people in our country, our citizens, the journalists here to have a great New Year and to feel great about things, in general. Speaking about the way I feel… You know, like any person, my mood varies, but on the whole I am pleased with the way my life has shaped up, I am pleased with the job I am doing because it is very interesting and very important work.  And I think it is important for any person to be surrounded by people who are close to him, who help him to cope with difficulties that occur in everyone’s life. So, there will be no end of the world, there will only be the New Year.

Alexei Pivovarov: Thank you.

Marianna Maksimovskaya: That was very reassuring.

Sergei Brilyov: Your sense of timing is almost as good as ours, welcome to our profession, Mr Medvedev.

Dmitry Medvedev: Yes, we finished on the dot.

Sergei Brilyov: It is half past one. Not to run over but let me finish by saying that you have been watching the programme called “Conversation with Dmitry Medvedev” on the Rossiya channel. Thanks to my colleagues, to our viewers at home and thank you, Mr Medvedev. Until we meet again.

Dmitry Medvedev: Thank you very much. Thank you all for taking part in this programme.