Medvedev tries to damp down speculation of rift with Putin

 

A CAGEY Dmitry Medvedev has refused to reveal whether he will run for another term as Russia’s president and sought to calm talk of a rift with the prime minister, Vladimir Putin.

But he did admit during a major televised news conference that he wants to modernise Russia more rapidly than Mr Putin, and would see no danger in the release from jail of oligarch and government critic Mikhail Khodorkovsky, whom Mr Putin has compared to gangster Al Capone.

Mr Medvedev also urged the United States not to ignore Russia’s concerns over a planned missile defence shield in central Europe, warned that Moscow would not support any outside interference in Syria, and criticised Mr Putin’s government over the failure of a major oil deal involving BP.

“A press conference is not the right format in which to announce such a decision,” Mr Medvedev said when asked if he would run in next March’s presidential election.

“This kind of decision has to be made when all the conditions are right. This should all be done in a reasonable manner – but that doesn’t mean that it can go on indefinitely. There isn’t much time left to wait. This announcement will be made soon.”

Calling Mr Putin his “political partner”, Mr Medvedev said that their “approaches to key issues of national development are very close”. “That doesn’t mean that we agree on everything, that would be very dull and simply wrong. But strategically we are very close, otherwise we wouldn’t have been able to work together,” he added.

“Regarding modernisation, my position differs from that of the prime minister. He believes modernisation is a calm and gradual process, while I believe we have the opportunity and the means to carry it out faster without risking what we’ve already achieved, and to take a real step forward.”

Mr Medvedev, who uses Twitter and Facebook and carries an iPad into meetings, gathered hundreds of journalists at Skolkovo, a management school and technology park near Moscow that have become symbolic of his push to modernise Russia.

Recent indirect criticism of Mr Putin from the previously meek Medvedev fuelled talk of a rift between them and their supporters ahead of December’s parliamentary elections and the subsequent presidential vote, when many Russians expect Mr Putin to try to return to the Kremlin.

Russia’s second-richest tycoon, Mikhail Prokhorov, said this week he wanted to lead the pro-business Right Cause party which has urged Mr Medvedev to stay in power.

Mr Medvedev criticised Mr Putin’s cabinet for failing to carry out sufficient due diligence on a major deal between BP and Russian state-owned oil firm Rosneft which collapsed on Monday.

But his shortest and most striking answer came when asked if Mr Khodorkovsky – who was jailed for financial crimes and is appealing against an extended sentence that Mr Putin has said is justified – would be a danger to society if released.

“No danger whatsoever,” Mr Medvedev shot back.