Interview With Medvedev: Russian President Reflects On Fall of the Wall

Medvedev: A few days ago, Ukraine informed us that it had no funds to pay for our natural gas, despite the fact that, after the conflict in January, we had agreed on the rules of the game and that, if they were in financial difficulties, they would seek loans early enough -- or we would only deliver if Ukraine paid in advance. But there is an election campaign in Kiev, where everyone is trying to politically outsmart everyone else. I wish Ukraine stability and the capacity to act. Then cooperation will be easier for Russia and the EU.

SPIEGEL: The 18 years since the collapse of the Soviet Union actually constitute a relatively short period of time. In a recent article, you described the state of Russian society as being characterized by economic backwardness, deep-seated corruption, the people's unquestioning belief in authority, and a tendency to blame all problems on foreign countries. Perhaps Russia should not always point an accusing finger at others?

Medvedev: We are still in the process of building a modern civil society. Eighteen years ago, we were naïve and many expectations proved to be an illusion. From the political leadership all the way down to local administrations, we are hampered by corruption and a cumbersome bureaucracy. But today we are more mature, we now know better how our country should look and what place it is entitled to.

SPIEGEL: But is Russia really more mature? Your interior minister, Rashid Nurgaliyev, declared in good old Soviet style that he intended to eliminate corruption within a month.

Medvedev: I would hope that the interior minister has a clear idea of how to combat corruption. This certainly cannot be achieved in one month. I also think that he only meant the most grievous offenses in his ministry. Rooting out corruption will keep us busy for years. It also exists elsewhere, but in our country it has taken on particularly repugnant forms. Corruption already existed under the czars and during the Soviet era -- it was just more hidden. Stalin reduced it to a minimum. We have already talked about the means that he used. In 1991, when the political and economic changes began, corruption flourished. Greater freedoms always entail advantages and disadvantages. Civil servants got an opportunity to gain control of cash flows -- they take bribes and personally buy into businesses.

SPIEGEL: How do you intend to effectively combat this scourge?

Medvedev: We have now passed laws that have never existed in the thousand-year history of Russia. We have established a presidential council to combat corruption, and I have called on our civil servants to disclose their income and the income of their family members. They are complying with this now, although they are not particularly pleased.

SPIEGEL: Democracy and the rule of law are also measures of a society's maturity. How far along has your country come in this respect, considering that there were once again quite obvious cases of fraud during the municipal elections in October? And considering all the unsolved murder cases, such as the assassination of journalist Anna Politkovskaya?

Medvedev: You are asking the wrong question. The case of Politkovskaya was thoroughly investigated. I spoke about this with the director of the investigative agency a few days ago.

SPIEGEL: The defendants were acquitted in court.

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