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Why Russia's Medvedev can't seem to deliver

While Russian President Dmitry Medvedev came into office advocating political and cultural reforms, so far he hasn't delivered significant change.

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"There is no doubt that Medvedev is sincere, but it seems like he is not free to act," says Andrei Kolesnikov, the paper's opinion editor, "Absolutely nothing changed for Novaya Gazeta after that interview. He showed good intentions, but that was all that happened."

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Novaya Gazeta's chief owners are former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, who has been increasingly outspoken about Russia's authoritarian drift and liberal tycoon Alexander Lebedev, who also owns two British newspapers.

Mr. Lebedev this week complained in an open letter that businesses he owns have been raided by "corrupt law enforcement officers" who have made it impossible for him to leave the country for fear of being forced into permanent exile. He added that he has written to Medvedev asking the president to launch an investigation into his plight.

"Lebedev is a very active person, politically, and he now has very big problems," says Mr. Kolesnikov. "He is the main sponsor of Novaya Gazeta, and there is little doubt that this is the cause of his problems. We would like to see Medvedev do something, but so far we see nothing."

Medvedev has also suggested he would support an independent review of one of Russia's most controversial cases, the ongoing imprisonment of former oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky on charges that critics insist were politically motivated.

At a meeting of the Kremlin's human rights commission on Feb. 1, Medvedev appeared to accept a proposal to form a committee of independent legal experts to examine the two court verdicts that have sent Mr. Khodorkovsky to a Siberian penal colony for what will be a total of 14 years, says Alexei Simonov, a member of the Kremlin commission and head of the Glasnost Foundation, an independent media watchdog.

"The proposal was made and Medvedev did not object to it," says Mr. Simonov, who attended the meeting. "It was subsequently supported by the head of the Constitutional Court, Valery Zorkin, so it's not an unrealistic idea at all. But without the active support of the president, it will have no official status in Russia and will go nowhere. We want to see real support."

This week a court assistant to the judge who convicted Khodorkovsky last December claimed that the trial was orchestrated from above and the judge did not prepare the verdict that he read out.

"There are major developments in the Khodorkovsky case, and it's important to have a president who will support a civil initiative to review it. Putin would never do that," says Simonov.

"But so far the support from Medvedev is mainly words. Practical support does not exist," he adds.

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