Medvedev denies Putin will 'return Russia to the past'

AFP , Saturday 15 Oct 2011

President Dmitry Medvedev denies that Vladimir Putin's expected return to the Kremlin would throw Russia back to its past but admits the decision disappointed some of his supporters

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, right, speaks as Prime Minister Vladimir Putin looks on during a Security Council meeting in the Gorki residence outside Moscow, Friday, Oct. 14, 2011(Photo: AP)

Lampooned by liberals as a lame duck who had failed to change Russia in his presidency, President Dmitry Medvedev sought to regain the initiative in a town hall-style meeting with supporters at the trendy Red October complex in central Moscow.

Medvedev is expected to take on the post of prime minister after ceding the Kremlin to Putin in 2012 elections and he insisted the authorities would press ahead with the political and economic change Russia urgently needs.

"This arrangement is not a return to the past but a way to solve the tasks that stand before us," Medvedev said, referring to the scheme unveiled last month for Russia's ruling tandem to swap jobs.

Medvedev admitted for the first time that a portion of his supporters -- who had pinned their hopes on him to modernise Russia -- were disappointed by the decision to allow strongman Putin back into the Kremlin.

"I know that some of my supporters -- those people who had talked about the necessity of change -- felt some kind of disappointment or some slight feeling of tension."

But he gave the bluntest of reasons why Putin -- who was president from 2000-2008 and has dominated Russia for over a decade -- was returning to the Kremlin in March 2012 elections he is almost certain to win.

"My (popularity) rating and the rating of Vladimir Putin are high. But his rating is higher."

Medvedev acknowledged he owed his political career to Putin and said he was not going to "hack down" those who had helped him in his life. "I'm not brought up that way," he said.

Liberal economists and analysts have expressed fear of a return to Soviet-style practices under Putin, who showed little appetite for reform in most of his presidency and drastically curtailed civil liberties.

Despite Medvedev's pledges to create a more diverse society in Russia, the meeting was largely marked by softball questions and expressions of admiration thrown by prominent businessman and other figures known to support him.

But the president said that Russia now needed to think "in what way we can have wholesale change of our system of state management".

He proposed that Russia should have for the first time a "big government" while would bring together ruling party United Russia, experts and regional officials.

"And also with those who do not completely agree with us -- if they are prepared for this of course," said Medvedev, who did not wear a tie and strolled among the participants to create a sense of informality.

Medvedev vowed that completely new faces would come into his cabinet if he became prime minister.

He said that when he had first taken public office he had found the state apparatus was "much more awful" than he had imagined.

Medvedev said he had no illusions about the extent of corruption in Russia, which he described as "huge". He said he understood that "a large proportion of public life in Russia consists of corrupt practices".

He also said that Russian authorities had to learn to communicate with their citizens or risk ending up on the "rubbish dump of history" like the regimes toppled in the Arab Spring.

He said that those regimes had lost power because they had "not been ready to respond to the fundamental challenges facing people".

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