Medvedev held his first big press conference with members of the Russian and foreign press today. You can read my story about it here, focusing on the disappointment of those who thought we’d reach the final episode of Russia’s favorite reality show, Who Will Be The Next President.
But there were some other interesting points I didn’t get to mention there.
Some of the main commentary in the “intellectual” Russian press has focused on the incredibly poor quality of the questions. Medvedev was given two questions about driving – one about paid parking, the other about auto inspections. Russia Today, the Kremlin-owned English-language TV channel, asked if the president thought the West got to know more about Russia under his presidency (translation: “give us a compliment please!”) Another journalist asked Medvedev for advice on building a successful TV channel (the answer: “It must be interesting television.”)
Not all of the questions were cakewalks – one asked Medvedev whether he would reinstate gubernatorial elections – but they didn’t really hit him where it hurts. It was up to journalists from foreign press – from Reuters (on the poor investment climate, as highlighted by the falling apart of a major deal between BP and Rosneft), and from a Swiss journalist who asked about Sergei Magnitsky, the lawyer who was allowed to die in a Russian prison after being jailed for investigating corruption.
And then, in the last question Medvedev took from a hall of journalists furiously waving signs in a bid to catch his attention, a reporter from Kommersant FM stood up and asked point-blank: “Would the release of [jailed oil tycoon Mikhail] Khodorkovsky be a danger to society?” (Medvedev answered: absolutely not, and quickly moved on). And the intellectual press raised a loud hoorah. On its website, Snob magazine praised the journalist, Yury Matsarsky, for “saving the honor of the Russian press corps from total disgrace.” Easy questions are nothing new in Russia (read any account of Putin’s meetings with the Russian press corps), but, with Medvedev’s more open approach, it was expected that tougher questions would be posed. And, frankly, he inspires less fear than Putin.
Medvedev also commented on:
- Missile defense, warning that if Russia and the US couldn’t work out some sort of deal over the Europe-based system then Russia would be forced to build up its own nuclear capabilities.
- Events in the Arab world, saying he opposed the use of force in Syria and chiding the West for “manipulating” UN resolutions designed to enforce a no-fly zone in Libya.
- Reindeers, but I’ll spare you that.