MOSCOW, December 7 (RIA Novosti) – Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev dismissed suggestions on Friday that a host of controversial new laws were part of a “repressive trend” aimed at stifling political opposition, in a wide-ranging interview aired live on nationwide television and online.
“A political system can be dubbed repressive if a collection of facts points to laws hitting the interests of citizens or political groups,” Medvedev said. “I do not have any reports of this – and neither do you.”
“If they [the laws] were to be used for this, they would need to be amended,” he added.
Opposition activists and human rights groups have alleged that recently adopted laws on NGOs, slander, treason, protests and internet censorship, as well as the jailing of a number of opposition figures, are part of a sustained clampdown on dissent implemented by the government since President Vladimir Putin’s return to the Kremlin in May.
But Medvedev – who both succeeded and preceded Putin as president during his 2008-2012 stint in the Kremlin – said the accusations did not “correspond to real events.”
“All of this is being built up as some repressive trend,” Medvedev said. “But there is no trend.”
Perhaps the most contentious of the new laws obliges NGOs engaged in politics and funded from abroad to label themselves “foreign agents,” triggering a storm of international and domestic criticism, but Medvedev said he saw nothing “wrong” in the term and denied it was a synonym for “spy.”
“Agent means ‘representative,’ and that’s all,” said Medvedev during the interview with journalists from five broadcasters spanning the political gamut, from pro-Kremlin state television to the feisty, independent Dozhd online channel.
Russian human rights groups have reacted furiously to the new law, which they say will discredit them in the eyes of the public.
“The law only concerns those NGOs that engage in politics and receive money from foreign governments,” Medvedev said. “Imagine if an NGO in the US received money from the Russian federal budget – there would be a major outcry across America.”
Medvedev also denied that a new law broadening the definition of treason would be used to target activists and human rights workers who have contact with foreigners.
“Who has been jailed?” he asked. “Who has been seized? No one.”
Medvedev admitted that a law drastically increasing fines for protest-related offenses was a response to the outbreak of mass anti-Kremlin protests, but said it was necessary because the previous law was not sufficient to “guarantee security.”
He declined to comment on mass disorder allegations against three leftist activists, citing the ongoing investigation. The Left Front members, including the movement’s fiery leader, Sergei Udaltsov, were charged after the pro-Kremlin NTV channel aired grainy footage of what it claimed was a meeting between them and an influential Georgian politician plotting to overthrow Putin.
“He should seek to advance his arguments in the framework of the existing laws,” Medvedev said of Udaltsov, who later tweeted: “Thanks for the valuable advice!” Unlike the other two activists, Udaltsov has been freed from custody on a pledge not to leave Moscow. All three face 10 years if found guilty of the charges, which they deny.
Medvedev also came under fire from NTV journalist Alexei Pivovarov, whose colleague in the production of a film documenting anti-Putin protests had his apartment searched early Friday morning by investigators looking for footage of the rallies.
“How can we work … when someone comes to search us at 7 a.m.?” asked Pivovarov.
Medvedev agreed that investigators could have gained access to the footage – much of which has already been posted online – “in another manner” and said the filmmaker involved, Pavel Kostomarov, should lodge a complaint if he feels his rights were violated.
On the fatal shooting of television presenter Kazbek Gekkiyev earlier this week in Russia’s volatile North Caucasus, Medvedev said the attack was evidence that militant groups had begun targeting civilians, as well as police and federal officials.
“I hope that those guilty will be found and either brought to justice or…simply destroyed,” he said.
‘Satisfied’ With Reforms
Medvedev also said he was “satisfied” with a package of political reforms – including relaxed regulations for registering political parties – that he introduced last year while still in the Kremlin in response to protesters’ demands for change.
In particular, he hailed the reintroduction this year of direct gubernatorial elections, which were scrapped by Putin in 2004.
“We received a system in which people, for the first time in eight years, can choose who will administer their region,” he said.
Critics have alleged that the impact of the election reforms has been diluted by the introduction of a so-called “Kremlin filter,” which obliges potential candidates to have their bid approved by five to 10 percent of municipal legislators.
Medvedev said, however, that anyone who had failed to see the value of his reforms was not being "completely honest.”
Defending the Ex-Defense Minister
Medvedev, who also reiterated that he had not ruled out a repeat run for president in the future, lent his support to ex-Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov, dismissed last month over a multi-million dollar property scam.
“No one has even brought any charges against him,” he said, praising the former minister’s ability to initiate “long-awaited and very difficult reforms.”
Serdyukov’s dismissal was part of a much-trumpeted anti-corruption campaign that has also involved allegations of graft in the space industry and a major construction project.
But Medvedev denied the campaign was intended to create the illusion of a battle with high-level graft, while doing little in reality to tackle entrenched corruption.
“Nothing of the sort!” he said. “Quantity will, sooner or later, transform into quality.”
He also warned, however, that the fight against corruption should not be used to discredit government officials as a whole.
“The majority of them are normal, respectable people,” he said.
Smoking, Pensions, Babies and the End of the World
Much of Medvedev’s 90-minute interview was taken up by domestic issues, with the focus on pension reforms, a proposed anti-smoking bill and a tightening of drunk-driving laws.
Medvedev also hailed recent statistics pointing to a reversal of catastrophic demographic trends in Russia, which has witnessed a steady decrease in population in the years following the collapse of the Soviet Union.
“For the first time in the entire history of the Russian state we are seeing population growth, Medvedev said. “This is a result of the work of the authorities.”
The first uptick in Russia’s population since 1995 was registered in 2010, according to health officials.
Toward the end of the interview, Medvedev said he did not believe in widespread predictions based on ancient Mayan cosmology that the world would end this December 21.
“I do not believe in the end of the world,” Medvedev said. “At least, not this year.”
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- Mikhail1228Russian NGO law23:12, 07/12/2012The most contentious of the new Russian laws obliges NGOs engaged in politics and funded from abroad to label themselves “foreign agents,” triggering a storm of international and domestic criticism, but Medvedev said he saw nothing “wrong” in the term and denied it was a synonym for “spy.”
The Russian NGO law that the media and rights groups are wailing about was written virtually verbatim from the US law. How sinister and draconian that the term “foreign agents” is used. Please read on.
Some background supplied by the FEC: The goal of the 1966 US Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) was to "eliminate foreign intervention" in U.S. elections by establishing a series of limitations on foreign governments and nationals. In 1974, the prohibition was incorporated into the Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA), giving the FEC jurisdiction over its enforcement and interpretation.According to the FEC, FECA "prohibits any foreign national or government from contributing, donating or spending funds in connection with any federal, state, or local election in the United States, either directly or indirectly. It is also unlawful to help foreign nationals or governments violate the ban or to solicit, receive or accept contributions or donations from them. Persons who knowingly and willfully engage in these activities may be subject to fines and/or imprisonment."So I guess if the Russian law is sinister and draconian so is the US law it was based upon!
- arsanlupinGood point, BUT:00:28, 09/12/2012Mikhail brings up a valid point – the USA has a Foreign Agents Registration Act, and it was most recently amended in 1966. However, he misses a few little details – including the purpose of the law, the types of “foreign activity” it was aimed at, and the types of contributions involved. Canobs’ words, of course, are nothing but arrant nonsense.
First, we are discussing two completely different statutes. The Foreign Agents Registration Act of 1938, as amended, 22 U.S.C. § 611 et seq. (FARA or the Act) is a disclosure statute aimed at "agents of foreign principals" (agents) as defined, who are engaged in covered activities, on behalf of their foreign principal(s). In 1966, FARA was significantly amended to focus on the integrity of the US Government decision-making process, and to emphasize agents seeking economic or political advantage for their clients in laws pending in American legislatures. In other words, lobbyists.
On the other side is the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1972, 2 U.S.C. § 431 et seq.; a disclosure statute aimed at contributions for federal election campaigns. It was amended in 1974 to place legal limits on the campaign contributions, and again in 1979 to allow parties to spend unlimited amounts of hard money on activities like increasing voter turnout and registration. The foreign national prohibition (§ 441e) does read
“It shall be unlawful for a foreign national, directly or indirectly, to make—
(A) a contribution or donation of money or other thing of value, in connection with a Federal, State, or local election;
(B) a contribution or donation to a committee of a political party; or
(C) an expenditure, independent expenditure, or disbursement for an electioneering communication (within the meaning of section 304(f)(3)) (2 U.S.C. § 434(f)(3))
However, both sections B and C of § 441e make it plain that the object of the entire statute is to prohibit foreign intervention at the candidate level – NOT at the election level itself. In other words, foreign nationals can (and many have, just this year, in the US) participated in increasing voter turnout and registration, and with voter education. They simply cannot get involved in favor of any candidate, political party, or ballot initiative.
So: if the new “foreign agent” law is meant to curb foreign involvement in a particular candidacy or political party, then yes it’s modeling the American law. However, if it also prohibits foreign involvement in improving voter registration, turnout, or education, then no it’s nothing at all like the American law, and the NGO’s are correct in describing the law as aimed at painting pro-democracy and human rights advocates as enemies of the state. Because it’s a certainty: Russia needs all the foreign help it can get, in learning how democracy really works. Introduced to it for the first time in history only 20 years ago, Russia is constantly proving that it has very poor understanding of the realities of democracy.
- Mikhail1228Draconian Laws00:34, 08/12/2012What about the NDAA? On December 31, 2011, President Obama signed the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), codifying indefinite military detention without charge or trial into law for the first time in American history. The NDAA’s dangerous detention provisions would authorize the president — and all future presidents — to order the military to pick up and indefinitely imprison people captured anywhere in the world, far from any battlefield. Isn’t this a bit extreme and draconian?
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The growing outright rivalry between the United States and China gives Russia more foreign policy weight, enabling it to assume the role of a balancer. So far it has been doing so rather skillfully. Today it may participate in a joint naval exercise with China that Beijing positions as outwardly anti-American. But tomorrow it can team up with the naval forces of the Old World.