MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti political commentator Nikolai Troitsky) - President Dmitry Medvedev on Thursday reviewed the outgoing year in a live interview broadcast by three national television channels.
His meeting with Konstantin Ernst, head of Channel One, Oleg Dobrodeyev of the Russia Channel and NTV's Vladimir Kulistikov was lively and merry. The president joked but sometimes sounded very much like Vladimir Putin.
"We should deal with crooks without pity," he said, adding that tough action was needed to stop some people from going too far.
During a 90-minute broadcast, Medvedev spoke on many issues from the economic crisis and swine flu to football, his daily routine, and his son's music preferences.
As befits a head of state, the president sounded optimistic. He said the outgoing year was mostly positive and that Russia paid a relatively small price for the economic crisis. But he also spoke about the objectives Russia failed to attain.
It was during that part of the interview that he spoke about modernization and innovation technology, and referred to these issues several times later in the interview.
Medvedev said Russia should start modernization in this difficult situation of the economic downturn, although it was clear he was speaking about intentions and not practical plans. On the other hand, serious change should not be initiated without preparations.
Medvedev said modernization should have been started "yesterday," referring to the outgoing year, but added that "transition to modernization" had already begun. This process will not be forced on the country the way Peter the Great and Joseph Stalin did, he said, repeating the ideas he put forth in his article "Forward, Russia" and in his State of the Nation Address.
Some tasks are so challenging that they cannot be fulfilled within a year. One of them is the goal of overcoming Russia's technological backwardness, and another is the need to change the commodities-dependent structure of the economy. Medvedev said openly that the country had not made any advance towards these goals in 2009.
There are some other, smaller problems that can be resolved without unnecessary exertion. The president announced several pieces of good news during the interview.
He said he would sign a decree to improve the operation of the Interior Ministry immediately after the broadcast. He did not elaborate saying only that the ministry needs "drastic change, and it will get it." He also said: "The core staff of the Interior Ministry capable of working responsibly should be preserved."
The reform clearly entails personnel reshuffles, like a recent overhaul in the Federal Penitentiary Service, during which 20 top-ranking officials were dismissed. Medvedev reminded the TV executives about that and in general spoke about "crime and punishment."
The president said he was shocked by some petitions for pardon. One of them reads, "I stole a 500-ruble hat and was sent to prison for two years." "Why did this person get such harsh punishment?" Medvedev asked, adding that he would continue working to streamline the Criminal Code, because the issue concerned "social and political stability."
Such pinpoint reforms of ministries and departments could be described as small-scale modernization, but big reforms always consist of small changes.
The president said that many things in Russia need change but not the political system. Over the past few years, Russia's political system has become better, he said, although it still needs modernization.
Medvedev said he is satisfied with the quality and number of political parties and is ready to meet with their leaders, including the leaders of the parties that are not represented in parliament. But they still represent the interests of a part of the electorate.
At the same time, the president said, order must be restored in the election system. The October 11 regional and municipal elections were not "sterile" and "violations were reported at some of them," while the election results in Derbent, a city in Dagestan in the North Caucasus, were declared void.
The interview was one of very few official events that touched on the issue of "non-system opposition." Medvedev was asked his opinion of opposition leaders, former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov and former chess champion Garry Kasparov.
He said they were described as non-system opposition because they see no place for themselves in the current political system. This is their choice, and we should respect it as long as they comply with legislation, Medvedev said.
It was a wise response, as the president cannot allow himself to disregard members of the non-system opposition who are Russian citizens like any other.
The interview also touched on the issue of the upcoming 10-day New Year holidays. The president recommended a cautious attitude to drinking and said he planned to ban drinking altogether when driving. Not the tiniest shot, he said, for he knows how Russians drink - they start with a drop and then cannot stop until they have drunk more than their share.
The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.