The Moscow Times reports:
Human rights are likely to suffer if President Vladimir Putin cements his grip on power by becoming prime minister next year, activists told reporters in Brussels on Wednesday. If Putin takes the position, it would represent a shift back to a single-party Soviet system, the activists said at the news conference, commemorating the murder of journalist Anna Politkovskaya on Oct. 7 last year. "With Putin's announcement ... the presidential elections lost whatever meaning they could have possibly had," said Tanya Lokshina, of the rights group Demos, referring to the March vote. "The Russian Federation will not vote for a president, it will vote for an assistant to Mr. Putin who will remain the boss," she said. "The negative tendencies that we have witnessed over the years of Putin's rule are only going to be reinforced."
Putin agreed at a United Russia conference Monday to head its federal list in State Duma elections in December and said he might become prime minister -- the clearest signal yet about how he might hold on to power after stepping down as president. Oleg Orlov, leader of Memorial, said that if Putin were to become prime minister, it would mark an effective shift back toward the one-party system. "Formally speaking, we will certainly have several parties in the parliament, but in fact we now have a center of power within one single party, that is the United Russia," he said. "Now it appears that we are turning back to something that is strikingly reminiscent of our Communist Soviet past."
Lokshina said none of the three men seen as Putin's preferred candidates to succeed him -- First Deputy Prime Ministers Dmitry Medvedev and Sergei Ivanov and Prime Minister Viktor Zubkov -- could be described as sympathetic toward human rights. Speaking at the same briefing, Western rights groups Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the International Federation for Human Rights urged the European Union to be more consistent and transparent in promoting rights in Russia. A spokeswoman for the EU's executive commission declined to comment on the possibility of Putin being a prime ministerial candidate but said Brussels had stressed to Moscow the hope that the Duma elections would be held in an atmosphere that would allow full participation by all political parties.
The EU side has also expressed hope that the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe will be permitted to monitor the voting, said the spokeswoman, Christiana Hohmann.
In Moscow, meanwhile, about 5,000 pro-Kremlin youth rallied on Manezh Square in support of "Putin's Plan" -- United Russia's platform for the Duma elections approved at the party's conference this week. The youth rally, called "Everything Is Going to Plan," kicked off election campaigning by pro-Putin youth organizations Nashi and Young Guard.