Medvedev Starts Own 'Fireside Chats'

APPresident Dmitry Medvedev speaking during his new TV program, which aired Sunday on state channel Rossia.��
President Dmitry Medvedev debuted Sunday in what he said would be a series of regular television addresses aimed at discussing the government's work to fight the economic crisis.

In an interview aired on state channel Rossia, Medvedev said he felt it was "important to speak the truth" and explain the economic woes "that the entire world is living through, and that our country is living through." In particular, he defended the government's policy of stashing away oil revenue for a rainy day, which he said had left Russia in a relatively good position to cope with the crisis.

"Honestly, in recent years ... people used to curse the government," he said. "They would say, 'Why are you pumping so much money into the Reserve Fund? ... You only live once, and you need to spend as fast as possible to get results more quickly.'"

The Reserve Fund and the National Welfare Fund -- successors to the stabilization fund created in 2004 -- have been a key resource for the government's anti-crisis measures. The Finance Ministry has steadfastly defended the funds, which are intended to cover possible budget deficits and boost pension spending.

Medvedev said Russia was in a much better position than governments that "thoughtlessly spent" instead of creating similar reserves.

"They're now nearly bankrupt, whereas our financial and economic situation is entirely stable," he said.

Medvedev's informal approach with the new television program echoes a longstanding tradition of radio addresses by U.S. presidents, begun by Franklin D. Roosevelt during the Great Depression. The monologues, which he called his "fireside chats," became a weekly fixture in the 1980s under Ronald Reagan, and George W. Bush began releasing a podcast during his tenure.

Natalya Timakova, Medvedev's spokeswoman, said the interviews would be held every three to four weeks and there would be no set format, Reuters reported. She said, however, that they would not be monologues.

The reassurances from Medvedev could be needed as the economy is facing its first recession in a decade and rapidly rising unemployment rates.

Critics of the government have accused it of being slow to recognize the full extent of the economic crisis, and opposition groups have been protesting more regularly in Moscow and the regions.

Medvedev also discussed the devaluation of the ruble, the government's efforts to fight inflation and unemployment and bailout measures for industry and the financial sector.

Medvedev appeared to cast a pall over the accomplishments of the past decade of booming growth, calling the crisis "an opportunity for everyone to test himself, to find out what he's capable of."

"It's easy to work when there's lots of revenue, above all from oil and gas exports," he said. "It's like you're not really doing anything yourself, and the profit just keeps coming in. That's great. But now it's important, first, to show that we can learn to spend money -- budget money -- rationally, and second, to be a competent manager."