In one of his most aggressive attacks on opponents to date, President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday accused foreign governments and his domestic opponents of seeking to turn Russia into a "weak and ill" state and warned against the return of oligarchs and other figures from the 1990s, when the Russian economy indeed was feeble.
"Our opponents want to see us disunited," Putin told about 5,000 supporters gathered in a sports stadium to rally around the man who has presided over eight years of oil-based growth and is leading the dominant United Russia party into Dec. 2 parliamentary elections. "Some want to take away and divide everything, and others to plunder," Putin said.
"They will now come out into the streets - got a crash course from foreign experts, got trained in neighboring republics and will try here now," Putin said, apparently referring to opposition activists who plan to take to the streets this weekend. Putin and his government have long accused the West of training the organizers of successful anti-government revolutions in recent years in Ukraine and Georgia.
An audience member shouted: "We will not let this happen!" Putin responded, "That's right."
"Those who want to confront us need a weak and ill state," he said. "They want to have a divided society, in order to do their deeds behind its back."
He described his foes with a Russian word that translates roughly as "jackals."
Putin was speaking at an event organized by the For Putin movement, which denies strong ties to the Kremlin but aims to persuade the president to stay on as leader after his second term in office ends next spring. Behind him was a huge banner reading, "Believe in Russia! Believe in Ourselves!" and featuring a United Russia logo.
The carefully choreographed event, attended by about 5,000 activists from youth movements like Nashi [see a previous post on the Nashi] and the Young Guard, party functionaries and celebrities, followed various other mass events that had cast the popular president as indispensable.
Putin stressed that he had not participated in such rallies before and did not particularly like to do so. He called on the audience to vote for United Russia. "If there's a victory in December, then there will be a victory in March of next year, too," he said, referring to the presidential vote.
Putin is not eligible to run and has said he will not try to have the Constitution amended to allow him a third term as president. It thus remains unclear who has a real shot at running; the Kremlin has said candidates will be announced next month.
In his half-hour speech, Putin said that Russia's current achievements had come amid an "acute political struggle" and that unidentified forces were trying to speculate on the country's hardships.
A poll by the state-controlled Vtsiom polling agency this week showed that support for United Russia had increased to 63.8 percent from 50 percent in the previous survey conducted Nov. 3-4 - a surge in popularity that has occurred despite inflation-fueled increases in food prices...
Putin assailed unnamed former officials who, a decade ago, adopted "irresponsible budgets" that led to the collapse of the ruble and a debt default, and those who "made corruption the main tool of political and economic competition."
"There should be no illusions. All of these people have not left the political arena," he said. "They want to come back, to return to power, to spheres of influence. And gradually restore the oligarchic rule based on corruption and lies."
Putin was interrupted several times by activists waving flags and chanting, "Russia - Putin!" and "We believe in ourselves! We believe in Russia!"
He repeated criticism of foreign governments who he suggested sponsor opposition parties and internal foes.
"Unfortunately, inside the country there are those who scrounge at foreign embassies, importune diplomatic missions, count on support of foreign funds and governments and not the support of their own people," he said.
Before Putin took the stage, celebrities and activists took turns eulogizing him before the cheering crowd.
Ivan Demidov, a well-known television personality and a Young Guard leader who headed up the event, painted a grim picture of the 1990s, saying it was Putin who had saved Russia from collapse. A test pilot, Anatoly Kvochur, told the crowd that Putin had rescued the nation from a "deep, deathly nose-dive."
Other speakers praised Putin as a smart, independent leader who does not look up to the West. "Unlike leaders of some states, Putin doesn't fly to Washington when he needs to make a principally important decision," said Vladimir Solovyov, a television host. "Putin loves the motherland..."
Other celebrities at the event included the Soviet-era figure skating champion Irina Rodnina; the film director Fyodor Bondarchuk and the arms designer Mikhail Kalashnikov [the designer of the AK-47], who spoke via video link from Izhevsk.
The Wednesday rally at the Luzhniki stadium was a strange blend of Russian and Soviet-style propaganda and - as some like Solovyov pointed out - American-style political conventions.
When asked why there was such a massive outpouring for Putin, Solovyov said that nothing prevented Russians from rallying around other candidates. Speaking to journalists, he said that if the riot police or unspecified other factors were the reasons for the absence of such rallies, then the candidates simply did not have enough support.
Ivan Melnikov, first deputy chairman of the Communist Party, said later Wednesday that United Russia was turning into a "sect" and called Putin's speech "extremely unfortunate."
"After all, if everything in our country were that well and right, if the course were evidently correct, then the president would not have to throw himself every day on the altar of propaganda," Melnikov said.
♠ Posted by Emmanuel in Europe at 11/22/2007 01:56:00 AMRussian President Vladimir Putin is keen on keeping the political economy of Russia the way it is now. You know how this story goes: Those vile Westerners tried to foist privatization on Russia to make it succumb to the West's will, vote for my party in the upcoming elections instead of those traitorous Western sympathizers, Russia was rescued just in time by standing up to American imperialism, etc. It's standard-issue demagoguery, but given America's ill-fated attempts at pseudo-empire, kicking Uncle Sam while he's down is pretty easy nowadays as he is in the gutter together with his little girlie man currency. Maybe our fearless leader of the free world Dubya should take another look into Putin's