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

Medvedev: Because people quickly get addicted to drugs. Trading gas and oil is our drug. People can't get enough of it, even when prices are going through the roof. Five years ago, who could have imagined an oil price of $150 a barrel? Trading in natural resources is easy, it leads to the illusion of economic stability. Money flows in -- considerable sums of money. Acute problems can be effectively resolved with it. You don't need any economic reforms; you don't need to deal with diversifying production. We could rid ourselves of this lethargy if we would only learn the right lessons from the crisis.

SPIEGEL: This doesn't appear to be happening, which is precisely why many Russians are scoffing at their president's criticism of the state of the nation. They see too wide a gap between expectations and reality.

Medvedev: I do in fact have the feeling that many are sitting back again and waiting for more mega-profits. This might go well for a while. But making no money available for investments in industry and agriculture is leading our country nowhere. And this despite the fact that the energy sector experiences revolutions at regular intervals and no one knows whether we will need the same quantities of oil and gas in 2050 as we do today.

SPIEGEL: Since your country has not made progress in modernizing the economy, it has been particularly hard hit by the crisis. This is normally blamed on the government. In such situations, former Russian Presidents Vladimir Putin and Boris Yeltsin always dismissed the prime minister.

Medvedev: Our economy's dependency on natural resources did not arise during Putin's term as president, but rather 40 years ago. It will take a long time to change that. Take a look at a map of Russia, acquaint yourselves with our balance of trade and our export surpluses, take into consideration what social obligations we have -- and then look at how much tax revenue we generate through oil and gas. Then you will understand everything. And, finally, over the past 10 years, the government has not once been dismissed for failing to fulfill its duties.

SPIEGEL: Let's talk about your relationship to Putin. It remains a mystery how Russia's president and its prime minister relate to each other. Are you pursuing a dual strategy to support the current system? Putin appeals to the traditionally minded sectors of society, and you appeal to the liberal minority and the West?

Medvedev: There is certainly no doubt that our tandem works smoothly. And this despite the fact that there had been many predictions that we would soon have a falling-out. Of course we each have our own ideas and styles. Under no circumstances would I want us to eventually resemble the aging Politburo leaders of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, who always wore exactly the same coats and the same hats when they climbed up the steps of Lenin's Mausoleum, so that it was impossible to tell Leonard Brezhnev from (prominent Politburo member) Mikhail Suslov.

SPIEGEL: Putin's recent comment about the next presidential election greatly astonished many in the West. When asked which of you will stand for election, he said that the two of you would "sit down and reach an agreement" regarding what happens in 2012. Former President Gorbachev was shocked. He said that if an agreement was to be reached with anyone, it would have to be with the electorate. But the people apparently don't play a role any more.

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