Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev on Friday defended recent laws against Kremlin critics while appearing to ignore the passing by the U.S. Senate of the so-called Magnitsky bill that blacklists human rights abusers.
Speaking in a live television interview, Medvedev also said the country had began the "arduous work" of rooting out corruption, referring to a series of high-profile graft scandals that have shaken the country over the past month.
Medvedev spoke hours after the U.S. Senate drew a furious response from Moscow Thursday by passing legislation that targeted officials deemed to have been implicated in the 2009 prison death of whistle-blower lawyer Sergei Magnitsky.
The Russian foreign ministry called the adoption of the legislation that would compel the U.S. government to freeze the assets of anyone linked to Magnitsky's death and deny them entry to the United States, a "theater of the absurd."
Medvedev, who had previously called the vote a "mistake", did not remark on the U.S. move throughout the 90-minute interview with five television channels, instead insisting that Russia under Vladimir Putin was moving in the right direction.
He defended the recent laws that re-criminalized slander, raised fines for unsanctioned opposition protests and forced non-governmental organizations that receive foreign funding to carry a "foreign agent" tag.
"I do not believe these laws to be reactionary," said Medvedev who many critics say has turned into a largely nominal figure after agreeing to cede the top Kremin post to Putin without a fight last year.
Medvedev argued that no-one could so far prove that the legislation critics say is a crackdown on dissenters after huge anti-Kremlin protests would spawn abuses.
"I believe that one can judge a political regime, and what is happening with a political system in the country only by real actions, by the actions that become the result of these laws," Medvedev said.
Addressing the sacking by Putin of defense minister Anatoly Serdyukov, which observers say triggered a full-blown anti-corruption purge, Medvedev said authorities had begun the "arduous work of rooting out corruption in our country."
"People want the authorities to cleanse themselves," he added.
Some analysts have warned that the anti-corruption campaign will damage Putin by alienating the elites. Medvedev admitted it could backfire and cast a shadow over the government which allowed corruption to take root.
"You know, you have to sustain some reputational risks," he said. "We don't have any other choice."
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