Putin accuses rivals of 'sacred sacrifice' murder plot


IN A BIZARRE speech to the All Russia People’s Front, a think-tank for his United Russia Party, Vladimir Putin has accused his opponents of being ready to sacrifice a well-known person so as to blame the act on the authorities.

The prime minister said he suspected that opposition forces would “select a sacred sacrifice and bang him” in order to allege the crime had been committed by the security forces and put the blame on the government.

The use of the word grokhnut(to bang) in tough-guy slang means to kill and would be regarded as unpresidential parlance in most countries, but Mr Putin has used rough talk before, in keeping with his well-cultivated macho image.

Mr Putin also suggested his opponents were producing bogus material in advance to give the impression that the results of Sunday’s presidential election would be falsified in his favour.

These statements were not the only elements of fear to enter the campaign yesterday. A pro-Putin video appeared on the website Rutube (a Russian equivalent of YouTube) turning the slogan “Russia without Putin” against those who have taken to the streets in protest against allegedly falsified parliamentary elections.

The video called “Russia without Putin . . . Welcome to Hell” shows a country devastated by famine and war, with anti-corruption blogger Alexei Navalny as head of an extreme right-wing national TV service.

American influence becomes the dominant one in Russian society and in the end the Winter Olympics of 2014 are taken away from Russia because the venue, Sochi, has become part of Georgia. The video ends with the message “You Are Welcome” appearing in English on the screen.

Significantly Mr Putin’s speech and the propaganda video did not target the four men who will oppose Mr Putin on Sunday’s ballot paper. They were directed against “the opposition”; this phrase is used colloquially to refer to those who have taken part in street demonstrations that have continued on a massive scale in Moscow since the disputed parliamentary elections on December 4th last.

Mr Putin’s image as the person who brings stability to Russia may have been enhanced by an overnight event in the town of Mytishi near Moscow, in which a special forces operation against a gang of criminals ended in the deaths of five gangsters and the arrest of two others. The exposure of a plot to kill Mr Putin as he travelled along Moscow’s busy Kutuzovsky Prospekt will not have done him any harm either.

As for those who will be standing against him on Sunday, the campaign descended into farce on Russian TV last night when the madcap right-winger Vladimir Zhirinovsky was shown in a “debate” with Mikhail Prokhorov, the billionaire oligarch who is standing as an independent.

Mr Putin, by the way, has gone into presidential mode already and has eschewed participation in the TV debates, but Mr Zhirinovsky relishes going on TV and making bawdy statements about his opponents. “You should be ashamed of yourselves in Courchevel,” he shouted, in a reference to the arrest of Mr Prokhorov in the French ski resort on suspicion of hiring prostitutes for his guests at a Christmas party there in 2007. Mr Prokhorov was released without charge.

Mr Prokhorov’s aide, the country’s most popular singer Alla Pugacheva, threw in her own poisoned dart saying that Mr Zhirinovsky should be ashamed of “the boys in the bath”. This was temporarily ignored by Mr Zhirinovsky who kept ranting at Mr Prokhorov before finally turning on Ms Pugacheva by asking why it was her “law” that she should get married every five minutes.

The main campaign issue, the corruption that has plagued Russia at many levels of recent years, was effectively sidelined.

In a more serious vein, the former world chess champion Gary Kasparov criticised Sunday’s vote as a referendum on Mr Putin’s popularity rather than a presidential election.

It was a contest, he said, between Mr Putin and a carefully selected group of opponents who would present no real challenge.

He alleged also that the main Russian opinion poll organisations were manipulating their figures to please the Kremlin.

Russia’s most prestigious pollster the Levada Centre has forecast that Mr Putin will gain 66 per cent of Sunday’s vote.