Medvedev: Extend Presidential Terms

ReutersMedvedev delivering his first state-of-the-nation address Wednesday in the Kremlin's St. George Hall, where he pledged to put new missiles in Kaliningrad.
President Dmitry Medvedev called Wednesday for the extension of presidential terms to six years and for the stationing of short-range missile systems in Kaliningrad, between Poland and Lithuania, in his first state-of-the-nation address.

Medvedev also used the 85-minute address to defend Russia's actions in its August war with Georgia, which he said was the result of the "arrogant course of the American administration," which he also accused of following a "selfish" foreign policy and of mistaken economic policies he said were behind the global financial crisis.

He said the country would overcome the effects of the crisis to emerge stronger than before and expressed hope that the administration of U.S. president-elect Barack Obama would work to improve relations with Russia. He congratulated Obama on his victory in Tuesday's election in a telegram Wednesday, a statement on the Kremlin web site said.

The proposals to change the constitution to extend presidential terms from four to six years and the gap between State Duma elections from four to five years were the biggest surprises in the speech.

"I propose increasing the constitutional terms of the president and State Duma to six and five years, respectively," Medvedev said. "We are not talking about constitutional reform but about a correction to the constitution; about important, but refining amendments that do not touch the political and legal essence of the existing institutes."

Speaking in front of around 1,000 State Duma and Federation Council deputies, top government officials, religious leaders and journalists, Medvedev said the extension was necessary to enable the government to implement reforms more effectively.

The greatest beneficiary of such a change could be Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who is still the country's most popular politician and a possible candidate for his former presidential post when Medvedev's first term ends in 2012.

Putin left office in May after having served the two consecutive terms to which he was limited by the Constitution and refusing numerous calls from federal and regional legislatures to change the rules to allow him to remain in the Kremlin.

Medvedev did not stipulate when the proposed changes would take effect, but Larisa Brychyova, head of the Kremlin's legal department, said they "would not apply to the current president and the current State Duma."

Taking a more combative stance that was a standard element of Putin's addresses, Medvedev indicated that he would defend Russia's interests assertively, saying his administration was scrapping plans to decommission three Cold War-era nuclear missile regiments, along with the deployment of the missiles in Kaliningrad.

Military officials have floated such a deployment as one possible response to U.S. plans to deploy anti-missile system elements in Central Europe.

"Earlier, we had planned to decommission three missile regiments of a missile division deployed in Kozelsk [in the Kaluga region] and to disband it by 2010," Medvedev said during the address, which was broadcast live on national television and radio. "I have decided to desist from these plans, and we won't reform anything."

The missile system in Kaliningrad "to neutralize — if necessary" anti-missile system elements would be supplemented by naval-launched weapons, and electronic jamming facilities would be built in the exclave to interfere with the operations of the facilities in question — in Poland and the Czech Republic.

Speaking confidently, Medvedev drew a parallel between the military conflict in Georgia and the troubled economy in the United States and accused Washington of using the conflict in Georgia as a pretext for advancing NATO to Russia's borders.

"The world financial crisis also began as a local emergency — on the U.S. domestic market," he said. "Being closely connected with the markets of all developed countries and, at the same time, being the most powerful of these countries, the U.S. economy caused a decline on the financial markets worldwide, and this crisis also became global."

"The conflict in the Caucasus was used as a pretext for sending NATO warships to the Black Sea and then for the forceful imposition on Europe of American anti-missile systems, which in turn will require retaliatory measures by Russia," Medvedev said, describing the war as the "consequence of a policy from the U.S. administration that is selfish and cannot tolerate criticism."

He did temper the anti-U.S. rhetoric in mentioning the impending changing of the guard in Washington.

"I stress that we have no problem with the American people, no innate anti-Americanism," Medvedev said. "We hope that our partners, the U.S. administration, will make a choice in favor of full-fledged relations with Russia."

In support of the assertion that the country's economy would emerge stronger from the crisis, Medvedev stressed the government's action plan to minimize its consequences, revive the banking sector and support individual sectors of the economy.

He said "each ruble should be spent effectively" and repeated earlier calls for it to become an international reserve currency and to be used in pricing for commodities like oil and gas.

The tone for the domestic policy section of the address was softer, with Medvedev calling for changes to election laws to make life easier for political parties. He said that he doesn't believe the 7 percent barrier parties must make it over in order to get into the Duma should be lowered, but that parties polling between five and seven percent should be guaranteed "one or two seats."

He also called for doing away with the monetary deposit parties not already in the Duma are required to pay in order to take part in elections.

"Not money but people's opinions, a party's reputation and the voters' confidence in its program have to determine whether it can run in elections or not," Medvedev said.

Medvedev also announced that 2010 will be the year of the teacher, and called for material measures to help keep good teachers in their jobs.