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Novaya Gazeta Scores Presidential Interview

Novaya Gazeta Editor Dmitry Muratov
Novaya Gazeta Editor Dmitry Muratov
They discussed democracy, civil society, human rights, and the case against jailed oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky for more than an hour.

They are Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Dmitry Muratov, editor in chief of the opposition weekly "Novaya gazeta." And the content of their little chat will be published Wednesday morning, making it a pretty good bet that "Novaya gazeta" will sell a lot of newspapers this week. Or at least its website will get its fair share of clicks.

By giving an interview to "Novaya gazeta," which has infuriated the Kremlin with a steady stream of reports on corruption and official abuse over the years, Medvedev appears to be trying to endear himself to the liberal intelligentsia at a time when Russia's political system looks increasingly wobbly.

It's a courtship that Medvedev has been tentatively pursuing for months.

Medvedev shocked Moscow's chattering classes in January when he invited Muratov and former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, a part owner of "Novya gazeta," to a meeting in the Kremlin.

The meeting came a little more than a week after human rights lawyer Stanislav Markelov and "Novaya gazeta" journalist Anastasiya Baburova were assassinated in downtown Moscow. Baburova was the fourth journalist from "Novaya gazeta" killed in the past decade. The most infamous case, of course, was the October 2006 assassination of Anna Politkovskaya.

During their Kremlin meeting, Muratov asked Medvedev for a formal interview. Muratov told the daily "Komemrsant" that the Kremlin press service called him last week and said the interview was on.

Muratov told "Kommersant" that the two discussed issues including civil society, human rights, controls on the bureaucracy, the need for an independent judiciary, and the ongoing criminal case against Khodorkovsky. The editor also asked the president "whether of not democracy will be revived in Russia any time soon."

How did Medvedev answer? We'll have to wait until Wednesday morning to know all the details. But in an interview with the BBC Russian Service, Muratov said he gives Medvedev "high marks" for some of his answers, specifically those relating to the Khodorkovsky case.

Medvedev's move comes at a time when the Russian elite is increasingly divided over the lessons and consequences of the economic crisis, which appears to be shaking the political system to its foundations.

Two deputy prime ministers, Igor Shuvalov and Igor Sechin, are locked in a fierce battle over the direction of the economy. Shuvalov -- backed by Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin and Economics Minister Elvira Nabiullina -- is pushing for a more diversified economy. Sechin and the "siloviki" clan of security service veterans -- who are heavily tied to the energy sector -- are fighting to maintain Russia's traditional role as a commodities exporter.

The debate over the economy mirrors a parallel dispute about the political system, with reformers saying that the crisis makes it necessary to liberalize the authoritarian system of "sovereign democracy" instituted by Vladimir Putin.

Did Medvedev weigh in on all this? I guess we'll all have to wake up bright and early and check "Novaya gazeta" to find out. Muratov will also go on the air with RFE/RL's Russian Service on Wednesday morning to discuss his talk with the president.

-- Brian Whitmore

About This Blog

The Power Vertical
The Power Vertical

The Power Vertical is a blog written especially for Russia wonks and obsessive Kremlin watchers by Brian Whitmore. It offers Brian's personal take on emerging and developing trends in Russian politics, shining a spotlight on the high-stakes power struggles, machinations, and clashing interests that shape Kremlin policy today. Check out The Power Vertical Facebook page or


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