The Kremlin's New Leader Strikes a Different Pose

President Dmitry Medvedev played down differences with his predecessor, Vladimir Putin, in an interview, but the contrast in style and tone between the two men was striking.

Medvedev presented himself as a continuity figure during the presidential election campaign, and he repeated that mantra in the interview, saying the essence of Putin's policies would not change. "Politicians are also people, and they should also have their own tone and their own style," Medvedev said. "But that does not change the basic tenets of policy."

That said, Medvedev cloaked the message from the Kremlin in very different words to those of his predecessor.

During the 90-minute conversation, there were none of the harsh attacks on the West that became a Putin trademark in his final years as president. Instead, choosing his words carefully, Medvedev stressed freedom and the rule of law.

Medvedev's remarks seemed to support a view shared by a number of Western ambassadors that he is a more liberal leader who will usher in a new phase of Putin's long-term plan for Russia that will stress freedom, private property and foreign investment.

Whereas Putin blasted NATO's plans to expand around Russia's borders, accused Washington of starting a new arms race with a missile shield and cut transportation links to Georgia, Medvedev mentioned none of these issues.

The essence of Russia's foreign policy, he said, will be to defend the national interest, but it would be guided by "freedom, democracy and the right to private property."

Asked about criticism of the foreign policy, Medvedev avoided Putin's oft-laid charges of Western hypocrisy and double standards. Complaints were normal, he said — after all, Moscow also had its problems with other nations.

When speaking about financial matters, Medvedev did not copy Putin's habit of reeling off statistics and specific policy initiatives, preferring to talk in more general terms.

On one point, however, the two men were at one.

When asked about government control over media, Medvedev became more animated and said he "could not agree" with the question.

Television channels, newspapers and web sites are "absolutely free," he insisted, adding, "There are not today, have not been in the past and will never have the problem of information being closed in Russia." That answer could have come straight from Putin.

Read the Transcript of Medvedev Interview http://www.moscowtimes.ru/article/1009/42/368539.htm