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'I have bad moods, very bad moods,' Russia's president reveals in rare live TV interview

During a frank television interview, Russian President Dmitri Medvedev admitted disappointment over some of the goals of his four-year presidency and spoke of his "very bad moods."
Image: Dmitry Medvedev gives live interview to five TV channels
Russian outgoing President Dmitry Medvedev speaks during his live television interview in Moscow, Russia, on Thursday.Vladimir Rodionov / RIA Novosti - Kremlin Pool via E
/ Source: The New York Times

During a two-hour interview on Russian television on Thursday, President Dmitri A. Medvedev admitted disappointment over some of the goals of his four-year presidency, saying that his anticorruption drive was stymied “because officials are a corporation, and they do not want anyone to meddle in their affairs.”

Mr. Medvedev also defended his record as president, offering the antigovernment protests last winter as evidence that Russia had become freer. He said his political partnership with Vladimir V. Putin, who will take the presidency on May 7, would remain in place “for a long time.”

Mr. Putin’s return has cast the so-called tandem between the two men into doubt. Mr. Medvedev, by far the weaker figure, has been promised the post of prime minister, though in Mr. Putin’s first two terms as president, from 2000 to 2008, his prime ministers were neither influential nor long-serving.

“We have already announced certain plans, so it seems to me that everyone should relax,” Mr. Medvedev said. “This will be in place for a long time.”

Unvarnished exchange
The interview largely stood out for its unusually unscripted live format. Mr. Putin and Mr. Medvedev are typically interviewed by the heads of the three federal television channels, who do not challenge their answers or ask follow-up questions. But on Thursday, Mr. Medvedev agreed to face a younger and more skeptical group.

The result was an occasionally unvarnished exchange. Though Mr. Medvedev declared that censorship was illegal in Russia, the television host Aleksei Pivovarov said that as an employee of one of Russia’s three major channels, he routinely confronted “limitations that do not allow me to carry out my professional duties fully.” Another reporter asked Mr. Medvedev if he understood that political dissenters in Russia “are ready to go to the most extreme lengths,” and asked if he had “experienced the feeling of despair” amid the recent political turmoil.

“I am president and do not have the right to give in to emotions,” Mr. Medvedev said. “I have bad moods, very bad moods, but I never feel despair. When I have a bad mood, I go work out, and my mood stabilizes. And then I make a decision — the most unpleasant decision, in some cases.”

Though Mr. Medvedev remained on message, unusual topics were broached. When Mr. Medvedev was discussing successes in police reform in the region, an interviewer interjected and asked if he was referring to Georgia, a question he evaded, though it seemed he was. Russian leaders rarely mention the Georgian government except as a geopolitical opponent.

'It's a political war'
One reporter suggested that he appoint Aleksei Navalny, an opposition figure rarely mentioned on television, as head of an anticorruption committee. Mr. Medvedev said the fight against corruption should be a government affair and avoided saying Mr. Navalny’s name.

“I would not in any case recommend making anyone into an icon, because for some of these activists it’s a real war with corruption that is motivated by altruistic feelings, and for others it is a political program, or sometimes even a political adventure,” he said. “It’s not philanthropy; it’s a political war.”

Mr. Medvedev staunchly defended Mr. Putin’s decision to return for a third presidential term, which he said was confirmed by the results of the presidential election last month. He dismissed the notion that vote fraud marred the parliamentary and presidential election cycles, saying that “on a nationwide scale no serious falsification is possible.”

He offered a cool assessment of an extended hunger strike in the city of Astrakhan that drew national attention this month, after an opposition mayoral candidate said fraud had cost him the election.

“These ‘hunger games’ remind me of a mediocre Hollywood blockbuster,” Mr. Medvedev said.

This story, "," originally appeared in The New York Times.