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Johnson's Russia List

2008-#42

27 February 2008

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www.medvedev2008.ru

Itogi Magazine

February 18, 2008

Interview with Itogi Magazine

 

DMITRY MEDVEDEV: Dear colleagues and forum participants,

 

— As a popular saying goes, in Russia there are

no ways of protecting yourself against ill

fortune; now it seems there are also no ways of

protecting yourself from the presidency. People

in the know have long confirmed that you, Dmitry

Anatolyevich, will sit in the exalted halls of

the Kremlin, and you always denied this, saying

that all you found interesting were the national projects...

 

— First of all, I am not the President of Russia,

merely a presidential candidate. Secondly,

overseeing the national projects is something I

have been devoted to for more than two years.

Finally, thirdly, the Russian proverb you quoted

is true. It is the quintessence of folk wisdom:

live your life well but remember that one is

never safe from misfortune and trouble. Even

though I wasn't feigning anything when I said

that I wasn’t planning to take on the position of

head of state. Of course, as each person chooses

a path in life they must have an ultimate goal in

mind. A career is just such an instance. The

lieutenant thinks about one day receiving a

marshal's baton, and if one chooses an

administrative and political career then it is

natural to want to climb the ladder as high as

possible. But this linear process is more

difficult in reality. When I moved to Moscow in

1999 I could not have imagined that in eight

years I would be running for president.

 

— When did you first hear this word in relation to you?

 

— Everything became clearer last December after

consultations with the leaders of major political

parties and an in-depth and detailed discussion

with Vladimir Putin. What I had done in the

Kremlin administration until November 2005 fell

into the category of behind closed doors

activities. My duties changed in the White House.

We are all a little bit presumptuous, and I

considered myself a person ready for any type of

work, since I had the chance to work in academy,

business, law and the civil service. However, the

new work experience was difficult to compare with

previous ones. The President rightly warned me:

«You cannot even imagine how much your point of

view will change.» And this was how it turned out.

 

— And then there were two participants in the race — you and Sergey Ivanov.

 

— No one held castings or primaries. It was

different: at some point Vladimir Vladimirovich

decided to put forward certain actors who had not

previously been in the public view and make them

active participants in the political field. I am

not talking about myself, but I noticed this with

regards to my colleagues: the new appointments

and transfers proved very successful.

 

— Did you worry about whether you could carry the load?

 

— Of course. I thought about that ever since I

arrived in Moscow. In Petersburg I had

interesting work, a successful business, and an

established life. I was engaged in the field of

law and felt that I was financially secure,

realizing myself as a professional. I came to the

capital in complete ignorance. True, it took me

just a bit of time to understand that this was a

completely different situation, on a totally

different scale! In the civil service there are a

lot of defects and limitations, but there is one

undeniable quality. The knowledge that the

decisions you take can affect the lives of

millions of people makes you evaluate every step

you take or word you say differently. I repeat

that this is another degree of responsibility

and, therefore, another degree of

self-realisation. Such a feeling doesn't exist

even when working for a very large business.

Especially since after the 2000 elections I

started to work for Gazprom in addition to the

work in the Kremlin. As a corporate lawyer, this

experience was extremely interesting for me. In

short, I became quickly convinced that I had made

the correct choice but I was still concerned

about my family, ensuring that my son would have

a normal childhood, and convincing my wife that her life would not get worse.

 

— What arguments did you try?

 

— I said that we had received an interesting

proposal from Moscow. Sveta simply asked me to think everything over.

 

— What was Svetlana Vladimirovna doing in Petersburg at the time?

 

— The same thing as now: bringing up our son,

establishing and maintaing a home. This is

difficult and responsible work. I say this

without a hint of irony. Sveta graduated from the

Voznesensky Institute of Finance and Economics in

St Petersburg, worked as an economist in

different places, then went on maternity leave

and gave birth to Ilya. I then said that she

shouldn't go back to work but should bring up our child.

 

— Patriarchy!

 

— What to do about it? This is normal logic for a

man, who wishes to have a solid and reliable rear

guard behind. Of course, from time to time Sveta

did say that it would be good to find some

additional activity, but I explained that in my

opinion it is better for the family if the wife stays at home.

 

— How long have you been together?

 

— We have known each other since seventh grade.

You figure it out. You know how old I am and I am

not going to tell you my wife's age: you can

guess yourself. We studied for ten years in the

305th school in Leningrad. I retain very good,

bright, warm memories of those years. Even though

the school was a normal one, and not very

prestigious, many of its graduates went to

university. From my graduating year 80 per cent

entered university at the first try.

 

— And you lived in Kupchino at the time? Not a

very prestigious area of Petersburg…

 

— True, but it was a newly-built modern

residential neighbourhood. At that time many

Petersburgers would have been happy to trade a

room in a crowded communal apartment on the Moika

[River] or Nevsky [Prospect] for their own,

albeit small, apartment on the city outskirts. My

father, who taught at the Lensovet Technological

Institute was given a slightly improved version

of a Khrushchev-era apartment with a small

kitchen and a separate bathroom, something which

was considered desirable at the time. The total

area was something like forty square metres. Not

much, to be honest. But I lived there for almost

thirty years and even managed to write a Ph.D.

thesis there and not feel depressed or

embarassed. Then I bought my first apartment. It

was a three-room apartment in the Moscovsky

district of St.Petersburg which was considered to

be an elite area. I remember the happiness I

experienced at the time was incredible, absolutely unique…

 

— Tell us a little more about your family Dmitry Anatolyevich.

 

— I already told you that I am a third-generation

city dweller, but my grandfathers and

grandmothers lived in rural areas. Before the

Revolution Afanasy Fedorovich Medvedev was a

peasant and then had a mid-level career in the

party; he worked in the regional committee and

the Krasnodar Krai Committee of the Communist

Party of the Soviet Union. Nadezhda Vasilyevna,

my father's mother was, curiously enough, born in

working-class Petersburg family. Her family died

in the revolution and fate sent the orphan to a

children's home in the Kursk region where she met

her future husband. They were married at age 17

and remained happily married until old age. They

had four children, two of whom survived - my

father and his sister. My father passed away at

age 77 and my aunt is still alive and lives in Krasnodar.

 

My mother’s relatives were from the Belgorod

province and did, as they say, live up to their

name. My grandfather's name was Venjamin

Sergeyevich Shaposhnikov [literally ­ hat-maker]

and his father - my great-grandfather - was a

furrier, and made hats. My second

great-grandfather, Vasily Aleksandrovich Kovalev,

worked as a blacksmith. Many believed that he

looked like the last Russian Tsar and now with

Photoshop's help my picture is sometimes being

made to look more like Nikolai the Second…My

grandmother Melaniya Vasilevna was, in fact, a

housewife who was devoted to her family and to

bringing up daughters, though she did receive a higher education in economics.

 

Mama was born in the city Alekseyevka in the

Belgorod region and after school, together with

her sister Lena, entered the Philology Department

of Voronezh University. Both received degrees

with honours, but their careers somehow didn't

take off. Mama went to graduate school in

Leningrad, where she met my father who had

already defended his Ph.D. degree and was

teaching at the Technological Institute. My

father had a room in a communal apartment on

Ligovka [Street] and my parents lived there at

the beginning. Then I was born and my mother left

graduate school and took care of my upbringing.

Later on she started working and taught Russian

as a foreign language in the Herzen Institute,

worked as a school teacher and even a tour guide

in Pavlovsk Palace. I remember when I was younger

listening to her stories about Russian history

and being proud that I had such a clever mother.

I love Pavlovsk. For several years we rented a

seasonal house there because, unfortunately, we

never had our own dacha. I normally spent a

couple of months outside the city then went with

my parents to see our relatives in Voronezh and

then even further, to the sea. We stayed in

Gelendzhik. I have memories of the fruit, growing

right in the streets, from these first trips to

the south. I had never seen plums, apples and

pears hanging from the trees in Petersburg. It is

an amazing sight for people from the north! But I

must confess that I didn't like beach vacations.

It's boring to spend the whole day lying on your

back in the sun! Besides, at the beginning you

had to search for a free place in the sun. In

short it was deadly boring rather than a

vacation! In general, I grew up playing outside

and spent a lot of time in the streets.

 

— In what sense?

 

— Nothing criminal, normal boyhood fun. I know

that some of my peers in St Petersburg tried to

earn their first wages by selling black market

badges and matrioshka to foreigners, but I wasn't

involved in this. Foreign tourists didn't come

round to the outskirts of town where we lived. I

had quite enough to do in my place of residence.

 

— Did you smoke or drink?

 

— Not to excess. I tried it, like everyone else,

and no more. No one smoked at home, and therefore

I got never addicted. Also my parents were always

very measured when drinking alcohol, and it is

well-known that a lot is passed on to successive

generations, both the bad and the good. As they

grow up children begin to copy their parents. My

wife blames me sometimes for bringing my son up

too liberally. I reply that I also grew up

without receiving any severe punishment. The most

was that up to age seven I had to sometimes stand

in the corner…I don't consider that using a belt

or physical force are the best ways of persuasion.

 

— Are you your mother's son or your father's?

 

— As a child, of course, I was attached to my

mama. Then there was a time when I saw that I was

trying to copy my father. He taught me dedicated

service to the cause that you've chosen and a

love of reading. Today it is true that I rarely

get beyond page ten in any novel. No time to read

for myself, just more and more work-related

reading! And my father had a huge library of

scientific and technical literature including

fiction and a ten-volume edition of the Small

Soviet Encyclopedia. I remember that I started to

study it in grade three. I looked at the maps,

the drawings of animals, read some biographies.

 

— Did you find any other Medvedevs?

 

— Just a few ­ a partisan hero, a scientist… My

father continued to teach until he was almost 70,

he was immersed in science. Once he retired he

lived with mama in the same apartment in Kupchino

that they received in 1968. I convinced my

parents to move with me to Moscow and it was here

that my father had yet another heart attack. He

passed away in 2004. I consider that my father

had a happy life: he was able to realize himself

in his profession and was proud of my successes.

What could be more important for parents? After

his passing I did not let mama go back to Petersburg and now she lives near me.

 

[Photo from the Medvedyev family archive: Kovalev

family house (on Dmitry Anatoleyvich's mother's

side) in the city of Alekseevka, Belgorod region]

 

— Do you see each other often?

 

— At the very least we speak on the phone every day.

 

Svetlana's parents are in St Petersburg. Her

maiden name is Linnik. Thanks to brotherly

Ukraine, where my father-in-law grew up in the

Poltava region. So neither myself nor my wife can claim to have blue blood.

 

— I heard that you were baptized as an adult?

 

— At age twenty-three. I took the decision

myself. The sacrament took place at one of St

Petersburg's main cathedrals. I was there with a

friend. I think that it marked the beginning of a

new life for me… I would suggest stopping there:

it's too personal to go into the details.

 

— You give the impression of being a very closed person.

 

— Really? But I know why that is. I have a legal

way of thinking, which has pluses and minuses.

Dignity consists in the ability to correctly

formulate your goals. This helps in making

decisions. The disadvantage lies in the fact that

often I say and explain more precisely than is

sometimes needed. Because of this, you might feel

as if I am Mr Dry-as-Dust, all buttoned up.

 

— That means that spin-doctors and stylists are not doing their work.

 

— There are no such people in my surroundings.

And there never were. Maybe this is bad but that's the way it was.

 

— Now we'll try to fill in the gaps. Did you have a nickname as a child?

 

— I was never a large person so I was never

nicknamed Medved' [Bear] or Medved [translator's

note: animated bear on the Russian internet]. I

was called Dima. As of age seven after school I

disappeared into the street, did little homework,

but this didn't often affect my marks. Then there were sports.

 

— Which ones?

 

— Paddling a one-man kayak. Even though I would

not say that I made enormous strides. I got

physically stronger. At the beginning I couldn't

do a couple of chin-ups and then I became school

champion in this exercise. After rowing there was

track and field and in university I switched to

strength-training. Not for the sake of records

but to keep fit and to get credits for PE.

 

— And did sports prevent you from doing well in school?

 

— In seventh grade Sveta came into my life and I

stopped caring about school. It was much more fun

to walk with my future wife then to sit with my textbooks.

 

— Did you live near one another?

 

— Our houses were about half a kilometre away

from one another. And school was about the same

distance away. I came to my senses in grade ten

when I realised that I had to do something about

the situation. I brought my grades up and

finished with quite a decent diploma that allowed

me to apply to Leningrad University.

 

— When did you earn your first dollar, Dmitry Anatolyevich?

 

— Here is the story. In general, our family

wealth was very average. In the sense that we

didn't starve though we had little money. I

clearly remember how this affected my birthday

which was at the beginning of September and, by

strange coincidence, still is. At the end of

August we came back from the south and each time

my parents would warn me that we had spent our

money over the holidays and there was almost

nothing left for birthday money. Dima, do not

expect anything special, they would say. This

happened from year to year and I got used to it

and didn't expect anything. However, there were

two things that I wanted very badly. Jeans and

LPs. And my parents could not buy me either. Real

Wrangler or Levi's jeans were available on the

black market for a couple of hundred rubles, and

an average teacher's salary was a hundred and

twenty rubles. And real vinyls were very

expensive. I remember dreaming about a double

album that had just come out, Pink Floyd's The

Wall, but two hundred rubles were an astronomical amount for me at the time…

 

And I earned my first money after grade eight. I

did an internship in a mechanical repair factory

and worked as an apprentice to a mechanic. There

I honestly earned a ten ruble bill. I had never

held such wealth in my hands before! If my

parents gave me pocket money then they gave me

fifty kopecks or a ruble. And here were ten at

once! I called my friends, we caught a taxi and

went to Nevsky [Prospect]. We drove up to the

cinema in style, went to the counter and bought

the most expensive tickets for the evening show ­

for 70 kopecks! We then went on to consume

industrial quantities of ice cream. After the

film we took a taxi home again. The ten ruble

bill got used up quickly, but the memories remain…

 

— And how did a future chemist turn into a lawyer rather than a poet?

 

— Yes, I had a friend with whom I loved to play

the chemist. That was before Misha left for a

sports school and fate divided us.

 

— Do not worry, it will bring you together again.

I can assure you that now many of your friends from school will reappear.

 

— As long as they don't make things up. I don't want to read lies about myself…

 

But about chemistry. My aunt from Voronezh sent

me some beakers and test tubes and after school

Misha and I went home and conducted experiments.

Many different ones, and they were sometimes

dangerous for our health. As a minimum, the

inorganic materials that resulted from the

experiments smelled badly, but they could also be poisonous.

 

— I imagine you were constructing a bomb?

 

— Nothing military! We were testing our knowledge

through experiments. I always liked chemistry and

my father suggested that I study with him at the

Technological Institute or another technical

university. I even spent half a year at the

Military Mechanical Institute where I studied

mathematics and physics. Frankly, I was not

particularly impressed by the prospects but there

seemed to be no other choice. And then I began to

think: what if I followed in my mother's

footsteps? I vacillated between the philological

and legal faculties. In the end, I opted for the latter.

 

— A buddy-system department!

 

— Yes, the law faculty of Leningrad State

University was always popular among applicants

but it became prestigious relatively recently.

 

— Thanks to some of its graduates.

 

— Including them. Remember what people wanted to

be in the early 1980s? Physicians, technicians in

the defense industry, officers. They valued an

education that would guarantee a large, stable

salary (according to Soviet standards, of

course). Back in St Petersburg there philologists

were quite popular, because they were often sent

for training to the other side of the iron

curtain. There were faculties that were very much

career-oriented, such as philosophy, history or

oriental studies. But they accepted almost no

high school graduates because they preferred guys

who had served in the army or worked in industry.

The law faculty represented the golden mean.

 

— Were you accepted the first time you applied?

 

— In the full-time course I didn't quite get the

marks I needed and I was put into the evening

course. I worked for a year in the laboratory for

my father at the Technological Institute. I

remember the first computer we had there. The

machine was called M-6000 and it resembled a

typical Soviet wall cabinet. My task was to fill

the computer with punch cards and to insert

magnetic disks. I spent the rest of the time

reading theories of the state and law which

allowed me to do well in the first two sessions

and to become a full-time student as of second year.

 

— What about the army?

 

— I finished school at age sixteen and became a

student before I reached the conscription age.

There was a military faculty in the university

where I was assigned the rank of lieutenant with

the responsibilities of an artillery fire platoon

commander. No, service did not frighten me, but I

wanted to learn. And I must say that I never

regretted the fact that I focused on

jurisprudence. I liked everything and was ready

to become a judge and a prosecutor, a lawyer and

an investigator all at the same time. In third

year I realised that I was leaning towards civil

law. I had a scholarship for excellent academic

achievements; I studied well, and my marks were

uniformly good. But I still didn't have enough

money. In the summer I slaved away in

construction where I could earn three hundred

rubles a month. When the semester began I worked

somewhere as a doorman. One time I had the

territory around the Priboy cinema. It was a

great job! You get up early, go from Kupchino to

Vasilevsky, take a broom or a shovel in the

winter, and you've done your excercise before

nine in the morning. And you go to class in the

morning bright as a bunny. And they pay you 100

sterling rubles for your thorough work. In 1982

you could live pretty well on 150 rubles!

 

I had some time left for public work and became a

member of the Komsomol committee at the faculty

and then at the university level. I didn't think

of this as extra work. I enjoyed it. After

graduating from the law faculty me and two other

guys were offered a place in graduate school,

something that guaranteed that we would have work

at the university after defending our dissertations.

 

— Did Sobchak help you?

 

— Anatoly Alexandrovich worked then as an

ordinary professor. Nikolai Dmitryevich Yegorov,

the Chair of Civil Law, helped me and my friends.

We tried to not let our mentor down and all three of us defended successfully.

 

— Who are we talking about?

 

— One of my fellow students you probably know,

Anton Ivanov, who recently became chairman of the Supreme Arbitration Court.

 

— By a strange coincidence…

 

— That's the way life is. My other colleague

chose to work in the commercial sector rather

than in public administration and he seems to be

perfectly satisfied. As I said, the legal

profession is now quite popular, but before the

attitudes to its representatives were quite

different. In the sixties, at the moment when the

process of building communism was starting at its

fullest, some of the country's most important

leaders adopted the ingenious idea of sending out

the law faculty's graduating class to work for

the post office. The state and the law were

dying, and the USSR was striding on seven-league

boots towards a classless society.  At least

that’s what the leaders thought. As a result

specialists with diplomas were sitting and putting postmarks on envelopes...

 

— But now we will soon have a new holiday, the

Day of the Lawyer. If only it could help create the rule of law.

 

— I agree. To overcome the legal nihilism

preventing the country from developing

harmoniously is a long and difficult job. As it

turned out, to establish a workable model of a

market economy is much easier than laying the

foundations of a state in which people respect

the letter of the law. This is another

demonstration of the thesis that democracy cannot

occur in any given place after two or three

years. It requires painstaking, persistent work

to improve the legal and political system. Of

course, one can not forget the distinctive

characteristics of the Russian situation. You

know, justice has always relied on a mechanism

for enforcing its implementation, some kind of

public stick. But if it is not based on a set of

moral imperatives, on internal convictions and

moral principles, if it simply aspires to the

crude power of a punitive machine, then the

structure it creates will be flawed and

ineffective. In the nineteenth century, the

Russian government was far from perfect but it

was a developed system based on a set of moral

and religious values. In the twentieth century,

the second part of this disappeared: people were

deprived of their faith in God and the state came

to demonstrate either naked coercion, which at

times was extremely cruel indeed, or weakness and

complete failure. These are both equally bad. We

all remember what the well known doctrines of the

thirties and forties led to, when the talk was of

class dictatorship and the presumption of guilt

in criminal trials. This helped resolve some

tactical problems, but in the long-term planted a

time-bomb that ended the very existence of the

Soviet state. You have to feel what justice is,

accept it voluntarily, not obey it in some

insanely prostrate way. The explosion was

inevitable, it would have happened sooner or

later. People rushed to the other extreme and

took to systematically breaking laws. This is what happened in the nineties.

 

— Do you think that the current system of justice is better?

 

— Though based on quite good, solid regulatory

framework, our judicial system continues to

function, getting its bearings from old

traditions. Disregard for the law in various

sectors of society remains widespread. Until we

change people's attitudes, until we convince them

there is only one law and no one is above it,

there will be no change for the better. The

strength of the rule of law consists in the fact

that no one can influence it. Neither pressure

from various authorities, including the most

powerful, nor pressure from business nor social

forces. Justice should be in harmony with all the

participants in this process, and refuse to cave in to anyone.

 

— These are fine words, Dmitry Anatolyevich, but

how can they be put into practice?

 

— You can start small. For example, recommend

that judges at all levels keep to a minimum all

contact with businessmen and even representatives

of public services. To retain maximum independence and objectivity.

 

— You can't put people in a cage.

 

— You don't have to. It's enough if you can

completely eliminate the personal factor. The

more faceless the legal machinery becomes, the

stronger it is. I am absolutely convinced of this.

 

— Where would we be without human passions? Take

the recent dismantling of the British Council…

 

— Let me say this: our relations with Great

Britain are now at a low ebb. But such episodes

have occurred regularly for the last three

hundred years. I do not know if it has something

to do with England's habit of regarding itself as

Queen of the Seas, and we also have something to answer for…

 

[A group of Kovalevs: great-great-grandfather

Alexandr, great-grandfather Vasily, grandmother Melaniya] …

 

— In other words, closing down the British

Council is a good way of providing yet another answer to Chamberlain.

 

— I do not have any examples of the British

Government's allowing Russian public

organisations to operate freely on its territory.

Just try registering our non-commercial

organization in London: you'll get a headache for

sure. You’ll get tired of answering questions, of

giving all manner of explanations. We need to

compromise. Once someone invites you into their

home, you have to behave properly. After all,

everyone knows that a structure such as the

state-funded British Council, in addition to the

social and educational functions it performs,

does many other things that aren't so widely

advertised. This includes gathering information

and conducting intelligence activities.

 

— One can understand that about spies: we don't

want any James Bonds in Russia. But it's

important to get along with one's closest

neighbours, and Moscow's relations with Kiev and

Tbilisi are worse than those among neighbours in a communal kitchen.

 

— I don't see them as fatally compromised. With

Ukraine we are moving toward the creation of a

single economic zone, along with Belarus and

Kazakhstan. It's not our problem that our

Ukrainian colleagues have so many difficulties

today with governance. When the various political

forces are at war with each other inside a

country, it is difficult to negotiate anything at the intergovernmental level.

 

With Georgia the story is more complicated. But

we have no insoluble problems. And we have many

points of common interest. Russia is open and

ready to talk. We can't choose our neighbours,

but we will continue to engage in a dialogue with

them. I have no doubt that we will find a common

language with the leadership of this Caucasian

republic. If not today, then tomorrow.

 

— As a last resort, you can always turn off the

gas. Not only in Kiev and Tbilisi, but also for any other guilty parties.

 

— Gazprom always fulfills the commitments it

makes. Therefore recriminations concerning energy

blackmail, which we hear periodically from the

west, are totally untenable. It is clear that, as

Russia becomes more powerful, many people get

irritated, and some of them rush to stick a label

on us. But in the final analysis this is all a

question of terminology and semantics. If you

want, you can accuse the United States of

financial aggression and economic terrorism, and

of imposing its own values and entrepreneurial

standards on the world. Everything depends on

one's point of reference and perspective on the situation.

 

When I hear calls for Russia to show more

flexibility, I think that ten years ago I

probably would have agreed with this advice. But

I can't now. And not because I've become a big

boss. My angle of vision has changed. Had we not

taken a tough stance on some matters, we would

still be treated as a third-world country. As a

country just in the initial stages of social

development, a sort of Upper Volta with nuclear

missiles. And this is not the case. We have our

own special situation in the world.

 

— Thanks to our bombs and oil and gas?

 

— Without a doubt. As well as our intellectual

potential, thousands of years of history and a

place on the map of Eurasia. In short, I do not

see anything special in the fact that now we have

begun to show our teeth in moderate fashion.

Presumably, you mean that the force we show must

be appropriate to the occasion, that overkill is

foolish, that we don't want to train cannons on

sparrows. You imply that to be for a Serbian

Kosovo or against the deployment of the American

missile defense system in eastern Europe we

should fight to the death, the way we did at

Stalingrad when the land ended on the Volga bank.

And it is not worth stirring things up because of

the British Council. I do not agree with you:

these small things come together to create the

image of a state. When you resignedly submit to a

small amount of pressure, no one takes you into

consideration any more. In international politics

and diplomacy there are no minor issues or

unimportant things. You need to think like a

jurist. Vladimir Putin has repeatedly made this

case. Russia is a federation with great prospects

but also with considerable problems. Such a state

can only be controlled with the help of a strong

presidential power, regardless of who at any

given moment occupies that post in the Kremlin.

If Russia becomes a parliamentary republic, it

will disappear. That is my deep personal

conviction. Even our closest neighbors who have

tried to make very slight alterations to the

configuration of power have encountered enormous

difficulties, even though they have no federal

system. Russia has always been built around a

strong vertically-organised executive. These

lands came together over centuries and it is

impossible to administer them in any other way.

 

— Why?

 

— Our country has been and will remain a

presidential republic. There is no other option.

 

— And where will the centre of power be? In the

Kremlin, a president, in the White House, a

national leader, there could be a split between them, and then…

 

— It would seem that you haven't been paying

attention. There is no such thing as two, three,

or five centres. The president controls Russia,

and according to the Constitution there can be

only one. Remember that I am speaking now about

the highest office in the nation, not a specific person.

 

— But in the previous eight years everything has

been put together under a specific person whose name we know.

 

— And that wasn't the case in the eight years before that?

 

— But that president slipped into the shadows 31

December 1999 and came out of them only for

tennis tournaments. Today Vladimir Putin is not preparing to leave politics.

 

— That's exactly why I am telling you not to

worry. Decisions will be taken according to the

Constitution, and the bonds between the president

and the prime minister will prove effective.

Vladimir Vladimirovich and I fully understand

that this union will be able to work only in an

atmosphere of mutual trust and partnership.

 

— Why did you refuse to take part in the election

debate, Dmitry Anatolyevich? Zhirinovsky and

Zhuganov immediately claimed that you were afraid of them.

 

— I respect my opponents but I don't overestimate

them. What is so frightening about them? We all

know very well who they are. Yes, debates in and

of themselves are not a bad thing. The reasons I

decided to refuse to participate are as follows.

First, enough is as good as a feast. You have to

look at the situation from the position of the

authorities that have demonstrated their

effectiveness and enjoy the confidence of the

people. I think that everything we've done in

Russia in the last eight years has benefited the

country. Of course there are problems, but the

positive achievements are obvious, and it would

be stupid to argue against them. So I don't need

to win a bunch of verbal battles with those who

have never been at the helm of state machines,

whose programmes are outdated and obviously have

no chance of being implemented. The advantages of

power, its superiority and its problems, are

bound up with the fact that it deals with

specific cases in ways that may or may not please

the electorate but are nonetheless actually

visible. In the final analysis the voter has to

think of everything: the situation in the

country, relations with the current leader, a lot

of other factors, among which listening to public

rhetoric is not the most important. In other

words, the debates in this context are secondary.

And there's another reason: the rules of the

game. Engaging in a direct debate with opponents

from the ranks of the long-term survivors, the

government candidate unwittingly helps them out,

providing his rivals with an additional plug.

 

— So you do not want to share your popularity?

 

— Absolutely not. That does not make sense, since

the objective of any effective government is

maintaining stability and the continuation of the

course that has been chosen. We don't want disturbances of any kind.

 

— The political vector is more or less clear. And

the same with the economy, it will continue to

get better thanks to all the those ubiquitous state corporations we've created?

 

— Sometimes it is necessary to address global

challenges such as the reform of housing and

communal services or the development of

nanotechnology. Otherwise, such a huge

concentration of resources is meaningless. It

leads to a dead end. It's better to establish a

joint stock company with a controlling stake in

the hands of the state, as we did in the case

with Gazprom. Capitalisation is growing, stocks

are circulating freely in the market, auditors

are doing their work, and the mechanism for

creating profits is clear and well understood.

This last point is very important, because the

companies must not become a feeding trough for

the unclean hands of bureaucrats, dreaming of

fishing in muddy waters. Alas, there is no

shortage of craftsmen skilled at embezzling

budgets. We need an eye out for this type of

things. And a clear time frame, allowed for

solving the problems. This is why we told the

corporation in charge of housing and communal

services that everything has to be done within

five years. If they don't meet the deadlines, goodbye!

 

— Sure, please turn over your position to someone

who's equally skilled at budgetary funds?

 

— I know that you are talking about corruption.

The fight against it remains one of our top

priorities. Let me be clear about one thing: I am

not a proponent of making examples of wrongdoers.

The problem is serious and it must be addressed

comprehensively. An attack ΰ la Chapayev with

sabres drawn won't solve anything. We need to

create a system in which stealing from the state

is dangerous and unprofitable. We need to think

of the state as more than simply a source of

income; we can't just put our snout in the trough

and believe that we have made a success of our

life. What an immoral position! Someone slaves

away, studies, struggles all his life, creates a

business and finally succeeds, and the other

plunks himself down in a cosy armchair and wants

everything given to him. It can't be like that.

Leave the public sector and go to work in the

private sector. If you don't understand that or

are not prepared to live by the rules, you will

be punished with all the severity of the law.

 

— They say that the kickbacks in Russia compare

to the whole budget of the  country …

 

— It's obvious that the value of these bribes is

astronomical. I repeat, we are going to do fight this.

 

— How?

 

— Conservative methods are the most effective.

Surgery is necessary to bring some of our more

presumptuous comrades to their senses. I can

explain the necessary therapy: serve the state in

order to deal with large-scale processes and

acquire the experience of a top manager. Learn,

make yourself a career, and then go and realise

your ambitions in business. This is called

capialization. In the west, often ministers and

even prime ministers become consultants for

private corporations and receive good money, and

this is not considered corruption. Rather, it is very much valued.

 

— But Schroeder was criticized for quite that.

 

— First, he had the courage to say that Russia

needs to be taken into consideration, as long as

Europe really depends on it and Russia maintains

a reasonable and balanced policy in the energy

market. Secondly, in the west they think it

entirely acceptable for their outgoing leaders to

take up places on European companies' boards of

directors, but for some reason they get all upset

when a former German chancellor agrees to work in

a consortium with the participation of Russian

capital. A classic double standard!

 

— Let's give politics a rest and talk about

something pleasant. When was the last time you

took a real vacation, Dmitry Anatolyevich?

 

— Apart from the traditional visits to Sochi,

probably a year and a half ago in the Far East.

In August 2006 I went to the Pacific coast for

the first time, and despite what I already said

about not wanting to lie on a beach, I really

enjoyed myself there. It was 27 degrees outside,

25 in the water. I looked at a Russian island and

realised what immense tourist potential our

country has and how little we take advantage of

it… I was able to relax over the holidays this

New Year. I even went to the movies to see the

new version of «The Irony of Fate». I wasn't

disappointed. It was quite a film. He wouldn’t

outdo Ryazanov, but Bekmambetov is more capable

than many contemporary directors.

 

— Do you have time to watch television?

 

— I usually watch the news, more and more via the

Internet. I go to www.1tv.ru, or www.vesti.ru or

www.ntv.ru and look for subjects that I might

have missed during the day. This is much more

convenient than watching them on the box.

 

— I see you like photography.

 

— It started in grade four when I went to the

Young Pioneers Club on the Nevsky. I took a lot

of pictures from the beginning, but  the Smena-8

millimeter camera I had was pretty limited, and I

lost my passion for photography. I got hooked

again for real after moving to Moscow. I really like it.

 

— Are you planning an exhibition?

 

— It's just a hobby…

 

— Are you a sociable person, Dmitry Anatolyevich?

 

— You can not have many friends. I developed a

close circle of friends at school and university

and it hasn't expanded much in the last ten

years. Maybe a dozen people altogether, not more.

 

— Will we know all their names soon?

 

— I'm not planning on getting my friends involved

in politics. Everybody has his life and his choices.

 

— Is it hard to get used to being constantly followed by bodyguards?

 

— It's like getting used to being a public figure

more generally. I never sought it, never dreamed

that the world would know anything about me. It's

obvious that when I was working in the

Presidential Executive Office it was a lot

easier. The implications of the decisions I had

to make were very serious, the responsibility was

great, but nobody bothered me. Now I'm used to

having everyone breathing down my neck, but at the start it irritated me.

 

— What about your family? I guess Ilya is no longer a child.

 

— I wouldn't want to say that…

 

— No, I mean he doesn't kick the ball around with

the guys now the way you used to.

 

— I would rather say that he never has done that.

We left Petersburg before Ilya was old enough to

play outside. And here we lived in the quarters

that my work provided, first in one place, then

in another. Sometimes his grandfather takes him

out, sometimes I do. In short, my son isn't

really used to being outside, and I'll tell you

honestly that that concerns me. Playing outside

is a great way of being exposed to what awaits

you. At least it was when I was a child.

 

— By the way, on the subject of sport. The first

President of Russia was a tennis player at heart,

the second a lover of downhill skiing and

judo.  What about the third? What should we expect, in a word?

 

— Russia has problems insofar as swimming is

concerned. As someone who is  twice a day in a

swimming lane, I want to point out that there is

a disastrous shortage of swimming pools in this country.

 

— So, we should start trying to master the crawl and the breaststroke?

 

— And play football. We'll have to do something

with that! The people are so fond of this game,

and we haven't had any great successes in the

international arena for a hundred years. We are

fed up with waiting! In any case, it's been a

long time since I've had such an emotional rush

as I did at Luzhniki after our win over the English.

 

— Especially over the English, so to speak, given the political implications!

 

— It would also be good to beat the Germans and

the Italians. I'm not making any political allusions.

 

— It seems that Zenith is promised to be the

winner of the Russian championship in the next four years.

 

— They are this year champions, this is it.  And

then we'll all see. It's a bad idea to insult

other towns, including the capital.

 

— By the way, after eight years in Moscow do you have any favourite places?

 

— I am not going to be very original: the

Kremlin.  It's the heart of Russia. At one time, my office windows gave on

 

Ivanovsky Square. I would look out and

spontaneously feel the significance of the place where I was working.

— It seems that you will be able to feel it many

more times in the future, Dmitry Anatolyevich.

 

— You know, it is essential for me in any

situation to remain a normal twenty-first-century

human being. In the end, positions come and go…

 

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