Putin in broadside against his critics and opponents


THE RUSSIAN prime minister has lambasted his country’s liberal opposition, media outlets and oligarchs, with a diatribe that showed that the biggest protests of his decade in power, and looming elections, have not softened his stance towards critics.

Vladimir Putin unleashed his verbal attack a day after state television derided the new US ambassador to Moscow and as opposition leaders accused the secret services of recording, editing and releasing their private conversations in a bid to discredit them.

“I see that you are upset with me . . . Why? I am not getting upset with you when you pour diarrhoea all over me from dawn to dusk,” Mr Putin told Alexei Venediktov, the chief editor of radio station Ekho Moskvy, which often criticises Russia’s rulers.

At the meeting with leading journalists, Mr Putin said he had been appalled by a recent Ekho Moskvy programme about US plans to build a missile defence system in eastern Europe, because it had “served the interests of another country at the expense of the Russian Federation”.

Moving on to why many Russians are disillusioned with the free market and why many foreign investors shun Russia, Mr Putin blamed tycoons who “after unfair privatisations [spend] millions and billions on sports clubs overseas instead of investing in Russian sports”.

That would have made uncomfortable listening for Chelsea Football Club owner Roman Abramovich and Mikhail Prokhorov, the billionaire owner of the New Jersey Nets basketball team and who plans to run against Mr Putin in a March 4th presidential election.

Mr Putin is under unprecedented pressure after a much narrower-than-expected victory for his party in last month’s general election and a series of rallies that brought tens of thousands of people on to Moscow’s streets to protest against ballot fraud, corruption and government policies.

“It’s important for me to know my real support,” Mr Putin said of the March vote. “I want our elections to be as transparent and fair as possible.

“It’s only possible to work at this level when you have the real trust and support of the citizens. Then you can carry out what you planned.”

He claimed he was ready to hold talks with opposition leaders, but complained that “we invited them, but they did not come even once”.

“This raises the question – what do they want? Do they want to show that there are no talks or that they do not want to talk?”

Mr Putin has derided the opposition as devoid of real leaders and policies. He told the assembled editors that one prominent dissenter, writer Boris Akunin, was only critical of the government because he was of Georgian origin and was still angry over Russia’s 2008 war with Georgia.

“I don’t see any willingness by Putin to change the political system,” said Sergei Mironov, a former ally of the prime minister, who will run against him in March. “He believes monopoly of power is good.”

Gennady Gudkov, a leading supporter of Mr Mironov, was this week heard in a secretly recorded conversation with liberal politician Vladimir Ryzhkov apparently discussing how to sideline other opposition figures. Both men said this was a scheme to split the anti-Putin movement.

“We are being constantly followed and listened to . . .This is the Kremlin and special services,” Mr Ryzhkov said.

State television, meanwhile, has accused new US ambassador to Moscow Michael McFaul of intending to support opposition leaders and undermine Mr Putin’s administration.

“The fact is that McFaul is not an expert on Russia,” said Channel One analyst Mikhail Leontyev. “He is a specialist purely in the promotion of democracy.”