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Medvedev Calls for Rule of Law in Russia

By Peter Fedynsky
25 March 2008

In a long interview with Britain's Financial Times newspaper, Russia's President-elect Dmitri Medvedev shares his views about the country's economy, foreign policy and civil society. VOA Moscow Correspondent Peter Fedynsky says the next Kremlin leader is also calling for people in and out of the Russian government to respect the rule of law.

Dmitry Medvedev told the Financial Times the challenge facing Russia is to translate its recent economic success into social programs, including housing, healthcare, and education.

Mr. Medvedev notes that Russia has more gold and currency reserves than ever to protect itself against fluctuations in global markets, though he acknowledges the country is not isolated from their complexities.

The president-elect says Russia must suppress the inflationary surge which developed in its economy late last year. He says that surge resulted from the integration of Russia into the world economy, and represents a price of Russian membership in the club of global economic powers.

The next Kremlin leader says he considers the prospect of Georgian and Ukrainian membership in NATO to be extremely troublesome for European security, but is not opposed to referenda in those countries to decide the issue.

He says the U.S. proposal to build a missile defense shield in Central Europe could also upset what he calls a "fragile balance of forces and facilities" in Europe, but adds that Moscow will consider recent American proposals to allay Russian concerns.

On domestic issues, Mr. Medvedev acknowledged that Russians have a habit of violating the law, from ordinary people bribing police officers and buying pirated intellectual property to government officials who interfere in the decisions of court judges. He notes that President Putin's decision to step aside is unprecedented for a Russian leader, but consistent with the constitution.

Mr. Medvedev says Mr. Putin's move means that Russia is at last developing a tradition of respecting all constitutional and other legal procedures.

Alexey Arbatov, a former member of parliament and a historian at the Russian Academy of Sciences, told VOA that Mr. Medvedev now has a chance to encourage the separation of powers to develop an independent Russian judiciary.

Regarding press freedom, Arbatov agrees with Mr. Medvedev's claim that the Internet gives Russians free access to information. But the analyst says television, which reaches the greatest number of Russians, is controlled by the state.

Arbatov says all national TV channels remain under rather solid control of the executive branch. Programs, hosts, and managers, are all controlled, he says, as are the decisions of who to invite or not to invite as guests.

Referring to the office he is about to assume, Dmitry Medvedev told the Financial Times that the Russian president carries the greatest responsibility for the country's state of affairs. He adds that the job is not like a light that can be turned off with a switch.

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