Medvedev picks Politkovskaya's paper for first interview
Is the Russian president making a peace offering to liberals by choosing Novaya Gazeta, four of whose journalists have lost their lives after probing corruption and human rights abuses?
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Its tough investigative journalism has been the most consistent and reliable source for those Russians who want to know about official corruption, political manipulations, and human rights abuses going on around them. And the price for publishing those stories has arguably been paid in blood: Four of the paper's reporters have been murdered or died in mysterious circumstances in recent years, including the indefatigable investigative journalist Anna Politkovskaya (read more about her work here).
But on Wednesday, Novaya Gazeta scored a very unexpected coup by landing an interview with President Dmitry Medvedev – his first with any Russian newspaper.
The text of Mr. Medvedev's hour-long chat with editor Dmitri Muratov contains no bombshells or, indeed, anything that departs significantly from the standard Kremlin line. But many in Russia's beleaguered liberal community say they are trying to read the signal Medvedev may be sending through his choice to sit down with the country's leading opposition voice.
Complimenting democracy or praising Lenin?
Depending on whom you talk to, Medvedev was either trying to distance himself from his hard-line predecessor Vladimir Putin by reaching out to the liberal audience that Mr. Putin consistently scorned, or he is engaging in a cynical public relations ploy aimed at disarming his leading critics in the midst of a steadily-worsening economic crisis.
There are no clues to Mevedev's intent in the body of the interview itself. He rebuffs Mr. Muratov's suggestion that mayoral elections currently underway in Sochi – the venue for the 2014 Winter Olympics – are an "imitation" of democracy, despite the fact that one leading opposition candidate, Alexander Lebedev, was inexplicably struck from the ballot by a local court and another, Boris Nemtsov, has been denied media access and saw his campaign literature seized last week in a police raid.
Medvedev also declines to discuss the controversial second trial of disgraced oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who faces another huge jail sentence on top of the nine years he is already serving, in what many consider a case of politically-motivated prosecution. And he angrily insisted that there is no need to "rehabilitate democracy" in Russia.
"Democracy existed, exists, and will exist," Medvedev said, a Soviet-style formulation that's recognizable to every Russian as a version of the old Communist Party slogan: Lenin lived, lives, and will live.