Russia's Medvedev defends erosion of his legacy
Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev on Friday defended the enactment of new laws that rolled back his own liberal agenda as Russia's previous president, a tacit acknowledgement of how little influence he has now that Vladimir Putin is back in the Kremlin.
In an interview with journalists from five Russian television stations, Medvedev said he was "basically happy with how my life has gone" over the last year, despite seeing the Kremlin abandon his conciliatory, modernization-focused platform in favor of cracking down on dissent.
As soon as Putin returned for a third presidential term in May, parliament began passing a series of draconian laws introducing Internet censorship, hiking fines for unauthorized protests by 150 times, and recriminalizing slander, which had been made an administrative offense on Medvedev's initiative only months before.
Other laws branded non-governmental organizations that got foreign funding "foreign agents" and expanded the definition of treason to encompass potentially any exchange of information with foreign organizations.
The language used in the laws recalls Soviet-era spy mania, when the vast majority of foreigners were treated with suspicion. Putin has repeatedly blamed foreign governments, particularly the U.S. State Department, of meddling in Russian domestic affairs and organizing protests.
On Friday, Medvedev insisted the terms used were innocuous. "What's so bad about the word `agent'?" Medvedev said. "An agent is a representative, that's it."
Medvedev went on to deny that the laws were repressive and said the issue was simply one of expectations. "These expectations very often have nothing whatsoever to do with what's really happening in the country," he added.
Russian Internet users mocked Medvedev's interview by sending a Twitter hashtag of the word "pathetic" into the Top 10 global trends on Friday.
Few believed Medvedev was really in charge as president from 2008 to 2012, when Putin had to step aside because of a constitutional limit of two consecutive terms.
Nonetheless, Medvedev raised hopes the Kremlin would take a new course when he pledged to fight corruption, increase transparency and move toward political and economic liberalization. In reality, Medvedev delivered on few of the promises and left Putin's system largely intact. He then stepped aside to allow Putin to run for president again.
Since leaving the Kremlin, Medvedev has looked increasingly powerless as officials make decisions that run against his stated preferences.
Parliament is considering introducing jail time for offending religious believers and fines for "homosexual propaganda," both of which Medvedev said were unnecessary.
The only major Medvedev initiative still in place is his decision to leave Russia on summer time year round - a decision widely despised because it plunges much of the country into darkness until late morning throughout the winter.