Political power in Russia should not lie in the hands of one man alone, outgoing President Dmitry Medvedev said on Thursday during a televised interview in which he hailed his four-year-long ruling “tandem” with his powerful mentor, Vladimir Putin.
“It’s good when the destiny of the country and its political processes depend on more than the will of one person, who does whatever pops into his head,” Medvedev said in a two-hour long interview broadcast simultaneously on a number of state-run television channels.
Medvedev announced last September that he would not seek a second term in office in favor of current Prime Minister Putin, who was forced to stand down as president in 2008 by a Constitution that forbids more than two consecutive stints in the Kremlin, but was silent on subsequent terms.
Ideally, Medvedev said, in what was effectively his farewell interview, there should be “several people who influence the political process.”
And Russia’s youngest leader for a century insisted that his political partnership with Putin was long-term. Medvedev is expected to shift to the post of prime minister after Putin’s inauguration as president on May 7 and take up the leadership of the ruling United Russia party.
“It’s time for everyone to relax, because this is for the long run,” he told representatives of a number of television channels, including the popular, online and opposition-minded Dozhd TV, in an encounter notable for its relatively informal nature.
Putin won a landslide victory at March 4 presidential polls to secure a third term as president. But both Putin’s victory and the December 2011 parliamentary elections were followed by mass protests over suspected vote fraud, with tens of thousands of protesters crowding downtown Moscow on five separate occasions.
But Medvedev said he admired the commitment and passion of the demonstrators who took part in the anti-Putin and “For Fair Elections” protests.
“I didn’t always agree with what was being said from the stage, but I respect the people who went on the streets to express their political positions,” he said.
He also expressed disagreement with Putin’s assertion that the United States had been behind this winter’s unprecedented protests.
“It’s pointless to speak about the United States ruling some large-scale political processes in our country,” he said. “We are a big sovereign country, and no one can interfere with us.”
“It is possible to influence two, three, five, 25 or 500 people, but it’s impossible to induce more, whether we are talking about those protesting against the government, or those going to polls to support the authorities,” he said.
Medvedev also took credit for what he said were recent “advances in civil freedom.”
“Freedom is an inner feeling,” he said. “And in this respect, we’ve done a lot.”
Medvedev admitted once again during Thursday’s interview that his much-vaunted campaign against corruption had yielded only “modest” results.
“It would be a massive exaggeration to say that nothing is being done,” Medvedev said. “But if we are talking of results, then they are, of course, modest.”
“Let’s be frank. Officials are a corporation. They don’t want anyone to interfere in their business,” he went on, adding that stricter controls needed to be imposed at government institutions.
Medvedev made the fight against the graft that sees Russia consistently hover around 150th place in Berlin-based NGO Transparency International’s corruption index a cornerstone of his presidency.
But he admitted in early 2011 that his campaign had seen “almost no success,” confessing that the skeptics who had predicted he would fail were “absolutely right.”
Government officials have been forced to submit annual income declarations under Medvedev, but anti-corruption watchdogs and opposition media have frequently questioned the validity of the figures supplied.
Medvedev also said that he had dismissed half of the governors of Russia’s regions over suspicions of corruption since he came to power in 2008.
“I was forced to fire 50 percent of governors,” he said, noting that when there had been a lack of conclusive proof of their guilt, he had told them “Resign, or it will be worse.”
Russia-U.S. Ties ‘Best Ever’
Medvedev’s presidency saw a high-profile “reset” in Russia-U.S. bilateral ties and the signing of a crucial nuclear arms control treaty with the White House.
And the outgoing president hailed on Thursday what he said were the “best ever” relations between the two former Cold War foes.
He acknowledged, however, that “there were still issues to discuss,” citing the ongoing row with Washington over plans for a U.S.-led missile shield project in Europe.
The United States says the shield is to protect against attacks from “rogue” states such as North Korea and Iran, but Russia fears it will threaten its national security and is insisting on written guarantees that it will not be used against it.
On the upcoming U.S. elections, Medvedev said his sympathies lay “with one of the candidates,” in an apparent reference to President Barack Obama.
“Medvedev will be remembered as a softer face of Russian foreign policy,” said Steven Pifer, senior fellow at the Washington-based Brookings Institution think tank, in comments to RIA Novosti.
“[But] Washington has always assumed that Putin as prime minister was closely involved in major foreign policy decisions,” he added.
And other analysts and opposition figures have long been skeptical that Medvedev – memorably dubbed “Robin to Putin’s Batman” in a leaked U.S. embassy cable in 2010 – enjoyed any real political power during his Kremlin occupancy.
“He will be remembered as a second-rate president who was controlled by Putin,” analyst Sergei Mikheyev of the Moscow-based Center for Political Assessment told RIA earlier this week.
“A lot was announced during his presidency, but very little was done,” said Yelena Pozdnyakova, analyst at the Moscow-based Center for Political Technologies. “People had invested their hopes in Medvedev, but were ultimately disappointed by him.”
Opposition voices were harsher.
“There is no point commenting on anything Medvedev says, because he is a puppet,” said Yevgenia Chirikova, one of the leaders of this winter’s protests, after Medvedev’s final address to the State Council on Tuesday.
But if Medvedev had experienced any sense of frustration over what was widely assumed – both at home and abroad – to be the limited powers of his presidency, he hid his emotions well on Thursday. When asked by Dozhd editor-in-chief Mikhail Zygar if he had felt any sense of “desperation” during his period as head of state, he shrugged and replied in the negative.
“Sure, I’ve been in bad moods,” he said. “Very bad moods. But there has been no desperation. When I’m in a really bad mood, I go and play sport.”