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Russian President Says No Trade-Off Between Prosperity, Democracy

President Dmitry Medvedev (left) speaking to Dmitry Muratov of "Novaya gazeta"
(RFE/RL) -- Russian President Dmitry Medvedev says there can be no trade-off between prosperity and democracy.

In an interview with the "Novaya gazeta" newspaper, Medvedev rejected the idea that Russians were happy to give up rights and freedoms in exchange for economic well-being and stability.

But the fact that Medvedev chose "Novaya gazeta" for his first interview to a Russian newspaper since taking office a year ago is perhaps more significant than what he actual said.

"What is symbolic in this case is the choice of the publication and the apparent benevolent tone of the interview," Russian political analyst Aleksandr Kynev tells RFE/RL's Russian Service. "I think the rest is absolutely secondary because, of course, there are no symbolic [significant] statements in the text of the interview itself."

"Novaya gazeta," which specializes in hard-hitting investigations, has seen four of its journalists killed in the past decade, including the prominent reporter and human rights activist Anna Politkovskaya.

Medvedev's predecessor, current Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, never granted the newspaper an interview. But Medvedev's spokeswoman, Natalya Timakova, said the new Kremlin leader "wanted to lend moral support" to the publication.

'We Have Democracy'

In terms of content, Medvedev was asked about civil society, human rights, local politics, controls on the bureaucracy, the judicial system, and the ongoing criminal case against jailed former oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky.

Many of his answers were long, though rarely specific.

Medvedev was asked for his views on stability versus democracy. Under Putin's leadership, the interviewer said there had been an implicit trade-off: in exchange for a rising standard of living, Russian citizens were expected to show their loyalty to the Kremlin and tone down criticism.

Medvedev rejected the concept, saying that under no circumstances could you trade a "stable and successful life against an array of political rights and freedoms."

Medvedev also rejected the idea that democracy needed to be "rehabilitated" in Russia, declaring, "We've had democracy, we have it, and will have it."

The Russian president, who has launched an advisory group of leading rights activists to consult on social issues, said he was looking forward to having regular meetings. He said they would probably be "tough" but "valuable."

Medvedev was asked to comment on the latest Khodorkovsky trial -- specifically, how he thought the proceedings would turn out.

Not surprisingly, the Russian leader said he had no right to opine on the case or predict its outcome, given the independence of Russia's judicial system.

Medvedev also confirmed that he is a big fan of the Internet, which he said he uses "every day."

Asked about attempts to muzzle the medium, Medvedev said an appropriate balance had to be found that would "on the one hand allow the Internet to develop and on the other hand block crimes that can be committed using Internet technology."

Dmitry Muratov, the editor in chief of "Novaya gazeta," who conducted the interview, tells RFE/RL he was glad for the chance to speak to the Kremlin chief. But he didn't come away overawed. And that, he says, was not a bad thing.

"I would not want to [present this interview] as some kind of unforgettable meeting with [Soviet leader Vladimir] Lenin," Muratov says. "This was a very businesslike, long, detailed, serious interview. That was good, and that was it. Now we have to cover other things, we're already working on our next issue."

RFE/RL's Russian Service contributed to this report

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