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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Medvedev's motives in doubt
"If he had said something that corresponds to the spirit of this newspaper, it might have been justified," says Lev Ponomaryov, head of the Movement for Human Rights, an independent grassroots group. Mr. Ponomaryov was recently beaten up by thugs on a Moscow street in one of many distressing attacks against civil society activists that remain unsolved by police.
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"But to use the independent media just to repeat what he says to everyone else, it means a loss to all of us who have to read this, again, in a newspaper that we trust. If he'd said something new, then it would have been Novaya Gazeta's success; but this looks more like Medvedev's success."
During Putin's eight years in power, the main liberal parties, Yabloko and the Union of Right Forces, were driven out of the State Duma and liberal commentators were banished from most mainstream news outlets (read about media censorship here and stifling of dissent here).
When Ms. Politkovskaya was murdered in 2006, Putin deplored the crime but added, in a scornful aside, that "her ability to influence political life in Russia was extremely insignificant."
Still in the shadow of Putin
Some Russian liberals suggest that Medvedev may be moving toward a break with Putin-era politics, and that his sit-down with Novaya Gazeta should be read as a very hopeful sign.
"I don't think Medvedev is play-acting, but showing genuine interest toward a leading opposition newspaper, which is impossible to ignore," says Andrei Kolesnikov, an independent journalist and biographer of Putin. "He is signaling that he wants a democratic dialog with civil society, and doing so by having tea and talking with the editor of the leading opposition newspaper. I'd say that's good for both the president and the paper."
So far, only a few small street protests by the anti-Kremlin Solidarnost coalition, led by liberal chess champion Garry Kasparov and leftist Eduard Limonov, have ruffled the outward calm of Russian society. But some experts warn that trouble could be on the horizon, particularly in hundreds of Soviet-era single-industry towns where mass unemployment looms amid the worsening economic news. (click here for more Monitor coverage of the issue).
Some critics say they want to see more than gestures from the Kremlin leader, and especially would like to see him do something about the huge backlog of unsolved murders and assaults on civil society activists.
"As I see it, the authorities just want to disarm critics and distract international public opinion," with steps like Medvedev's interview to Novaya Gazeta, says Irada Guseynova, an analyst with the Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations, an independent monitoring group. "I'm sure there are people in the Kremlin who would advise the president that it's a good idea [to talk to Novaya Gazeta] because, after all, there's nothing to lose and the chance to gain a few points on the president's approval rating. But I wonder what's really going on here?"