Wednesday, March 19, 2008

A Christian Presidente for Russian Federation

— "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."


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.

— 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.


— 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 à 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.


— 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, or or 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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