I made Russia a freer country: Medvedev

2012-04-26 18:16
Moscow - President Dmitry Medvedev said on Thursday that Russia had become a freer nation during his four-year term, citing the mass protests of recent months as evidence of change.

"Spring has come to us, both literally and figuratively. I congratulate you," Medvedev said in a live television interview, his last before he hands the presidency back to Vladimir Putin.

"Freedom," Medvedev sighed and smiled, "is such a unique feeling that everyone interprets differently.

"Freedom is a sense of self. And in this sense we've done a lot," he told a group of liberal journalists, who are usually sidelined for their sceptical stance towards the government.

Medvedev's political mentor Putin, who became his prime minister after being barred by the constitution from serving more than two successive presidential terms, announced plans in September to return to the Kremlin in a job swap with his close ally.

That announcement coupled with fraud-tainted parliamentary polls in December led to the largest protests since the Soviet era, when tens of thousands rallied in Moscow protesting Putin's comeback.

Protests lose sting

Both Medvedev and Putin have in the past sought to stress that the protests were the hallmark of a democratic society, and introduced cosmetic political reforms that many analysts called a concession to protesters.

"Let's ask people who took to various squares whether they are free or not," Medvedev said.

"It is not important who they support: 'the white', 'the red' or 'the blue'. I am absolutely confident that the overwhelming majority of them will say: 'Yes, I am free because I stand here, I have my own position, I do not like a lot, or on the contrary, I like practically everything, don't you dare touch it. I am free'."

"The current accelerated movement towards democracy will not lead to chaos," Medvedev added. "Society has matured."

The nascent protest movement has lost much of its sting since Putin's crushing 4 March presidential victory, although it still hopes to muster another major demonstration in Moscow the day before Putin's 7 May inauguration.

Medvedev defended his decision to cede the country's top job which has earned him mockery from the liberal opposition and many ordinary Russians calling him a mere seat-warmer incapable of promoting true reform.

Hunger strike

"We've achieved the political results we were hoping for," said Medvedev, who expects to be appointed prime minister when Putin moves back to the Kremlin.

"The decisions that were announced in September have been confirmed by political practice and it, as we know, is a criterion of truth."

"We've thought it all up not to warm ourselves up but to receive a concrete political result. And we've received it, we've received a mandate to rule," he said.

But the outgoing president also spoke disparagingly of the recent 40-day hunger strike by opposition politician Oleg Shein in the southern city of Astrakhan in protest at alleged violations in mayoral elections that he contested.

"I do not blame anyone. But 'Hunger Games' - I will remind you, is a rather mediocre Hollywood blockbuster, I don't know whether you've watched it or not, I have - whoever does it very often pursues a very obvious political goal."

He defended his presidential decisions including the sacking of governors and the reform of the bloated police force, reiterating that Russia's most prominent prisoner Mikhail Khodorkovsky would not be allowed to walk free unless he asked for pardon.

"Without a request there cannot be a review. This is my firm position."

Once Russia's richest man, Khodorkovsky is set to stay in jail until 2016 after being convicted in two fraud trials in what his supporters say is a case of personal vendetta on the part of Putin.

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