President Dmitry Medvedev says Russia could modernize faster than his predecessor Vladimir Putin thinks, but he remains coy about whether he plans to seek a second term.
The president expressed a clear difference of opinion with his powerful prime minister on Wednesday as he sought to project an image of a strong and modern leader with tough statements on foreign policy and domestic issues.
Mr. Medvedev was speaking at a business school - one of his pet projects - in the Moscow suburb of Skolkovo. It was his largest ever news conference.
Asked by a reporter if the release of jailed oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky would pose any threat to the public, Mr. Medvedev only said it would pose “absolutely no danger,” but stopped short of saying if he plans to pardon him.
Russian liberals and rights activists have long called on Mr. Medvedev to pardon Khodorkovsky, whose trial and imprisonment has been broadly seen as a vendetta by Mr. Putin for his challenging of the Kremlin political and economic power. The case has stained Russia’s image abroad.
Mr. Putin has called Khodorkovsky a thief, and said he should stay in prison just before the tycoon’s latest conviction last December.
Mr. Medvedev also said on Wednesday that his view of Russia’s modernization differs from Mr. Putin’s.
“He believes that modernization is a calm, gradual movement,” Mr. Medvedev said. “But I think that we have a chance and enough forces to conduct that modernization faster.”
Mr. Medvedev also emphasized that he and Mr. Putin share the same strategic goals and similar policy approaches.
Despite leaving the presidency after two terms in 2008 to become prime minister, Mr. Putin has remained Russia’s most powerful politician.
Mr. Putin and Mr. Medvedev have both been evasive about their plans for next March’s presidential elections - both saying they would decide later which of the two of them would run, but most analysts expect Mr. Putin to reclaim the nation’s top job.
Mr. Medvedev told a news conference on Wednesday it is too early to announce his plans.