Media Review

2 march, 2012 14:51

Izvestia: "Putin meets with foreign journalists"

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin met with the editors-in-chief of leading foreign media outlets and spoke about topics that people are often hesitant or are afraid to ask him about.

On Thursday evening the prime minister met with editors-in-chief of leading foreign media outlets, including Le Monde from France, La Repubblica from Italy, The Times from England, Handelsblatt from Germany, Asahi Shimbun from Japan and The Globe and Mail from Canada. The editors immediately bombarded Putin with questions on opposition activity, election fraud, the Putin-Medvedev reshuffle, corruption at the highest level of government and the situation in Syria.

The editors-in-chief planned the meeting while waiting for the prime minister. At first they decided to discuss domestic policy and economics, then move on to foreign policy and to ask personal questions at the end. Executive editor of Le Monde Sylvie Kauffmann was the first to ask a question – she wanted to know whether Putin was surprised by the protest rallies following the December 4 parliamentary elections. Putin disappointed her, it seemed, saying he was glad it happened, as it compelled the authorities to react to the demands of society and improve their work.

"I think that this is a very good experience for Russia," Putin said.

James Harding, the editor of The Times, was especially concerned with the exchange of positions in the ruling tandem. Several times, with different wording, he asked what Medvedev had done wrong during his presidency that Putin did not allow him to run for a second term. Putin explained that it had been arranged long ago between him and Medvedev, that whichever of them had the highest approval rating would run for president in 2012. During these four years his rating has been somewhat higher than Medvedev's. But Harding was not satisfied with this answer and when he asked for the third time what Medvedev had done wrong, Putin snapped:

"I will repeat for the third time (the translation is clearly not coming across very well): we arranged that the presidency would be contested by whoever enjoyed the better standing and had the greater chance of winning."

Another topic of the heated discussion was corruption. Harding said that many people associate corruption with Putin and asked why government officials are not being investigated. Putin assured him that no government is interested in creating a corruption network in its country. As for the investigations, he recalled that Sergei Storchak spent one year in a pre-trial detention centre, but the case against him fell apart in court.

Putin even supported the popular blogger Alexei Navalny in his anti-corruption crusade. However the prime minister warned the opposition leaders not to use the fight against bribery as a political instrument.

"If someone tries to stick the 'corruption' label on virtually everything just to boost their own political weight, this isn't good of course, because you lose aim that way. A fight with corruption turns into a fight for power," said Putin.

Editor-in-chief of the German daily Handelsblatt, Gabor Steingart, came up with the most original remark. He said he has been following the elections in the U.S., in which the candidates have to "'take off their pants in order to reveal their private wealth."

"A person does not necessarily have to take off his pants. I don't know what they reveal in Germany. It is very hard to say whether this attracts the attention of voters, whether this provides any positive impulse during the voting process, and whether this is a plus or a minus. Don't worry. Everything is in order here in this respect," said Putin.

In the end, it was time for personal questions. The most difficult question, about Lyudmila Putin's participation in public life, came from the only woman present at the meeting, Sylvie Kauffmann. She asked whether Putin's wife is ready for the role of first lady.

"She is not a public person and she does not want publicity," said Putin. "Modern media are ruthless and not every person wants to be exposed to it. You see that the members of my family are not engaged in politics or business, they are not pushy. I would like everyone to leave them alone. It has to do with their personal well-being and their safety."

The meeting lasted into the night and when it was nearly 11 p.m., Putin said it was time to call it a day, as he had a hockey match with his friends later. He invited the guests to join him at the ice rink. Most of the editors-in-chief accepted the invitation.

Alexei Golenishchev Izvestia
Anastasia Novikova