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New Russian Leader Talks of Reform

As president-elect of Russia, Dmitri Medvedev has made several public statements about the rule of law and importance of civil society, private property, and free media for the people of his nation. His remarks imply a basic lack of freedom in his country. VOA Moscow Correspondent Peter Fedynsky examines Mr. Medvedev's words about freedom and whether he can translate them into deeds after his inauguration on Wednesday.

In February before he won the presidential election, Dmitri Medvedev said freedom in all its forms - personal, economic and expressive - is better than no freedom. He also pledged to fight corruption, which he characterized as Russia's worst disease.

"It is very important to understand that availability of justice, the general right to freedom and achievements in fighting corruption are integral to the right citizens have to get true information," he said. "We must defend the real independence of mass media, which provides feedback between civil society and various branches of power."

Viktor Kremenyuk, Deputy Director of Moscow's USA-Canada Institute, says Mr. Medvedev's remarks differ from those made by outgoing President Vladimir Putin.

"He sounded like Thomas Jefferson. Freedom is the top value," said Kremenyuk. "This is something different from what we have heard the last eight years, so I say if he is serious, that means, of course, there will be an attempt to change the sequence of events."

Dmitri Medvedev says Russia needs to reform its infrastructure and institutions. But independent Moscow political analyst Alexander Konovalov notes a paradox: Mr. Medvedev seeks to change entrenched bureaucratic interests that are not only opposed to reform, but which also brought him to power.

"He cannot be unaware how dubious the last parliamentary election was; how dubious the last presidential election was," Konovalov said. "He won't commit political suicide by destroying the system which elevated him to the pinnacle of power."

While Mr. Medvedev has called for media reforms, Alexander Konovalov notes that Russian print journalism is already surprisingly free of censorship. Television, however, remains under tight Kremlin control.

"Control of public perceptions means television," he said. "Authorities today are convinced of that and they maintain very strict control over television."

Members of the Russian opposition have been seeking access to television, saying it would give them an opportunity to compete for power.

Russian radio talk show host Yevgenia Albats says it is difficult to predict whether Mr. Medvedev will be able to keep his reform promises.

"It's really hard to say whether we do, whether we are going to have a new president, whether we are going to have a puppet in the Kremlin and president Putin who will become prime minister will keep a grip over all power structures in this country. I don't know the answer yet," said Albats.

The answer will slowly emerge after Mr. Medvedev gains presidential power. He will, however, have less of it than his predecessor. Vladimir Putin, transferred some presidential powers to the office of prime minister, which Mr. Putin will assume after leaving Kremlin.