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Thursday, November 22, 2007

On Roosting Chickens: Putin Gets a Wakeup Call

Suddenly, Russian dictator Vladimir Putin has received a cold slap of reality in the face. After spending years directly meddling in the political affairs of the Baltics, Ukraine and Georgia, suddenly he is "shocked, shocked" to find that the West is returning the favor by supporting opposition groups in Russia. Like a tiny spoiled brat, he wants to have his cake and eat it too, and believes its possible. This is neo-Soviet government, full blown. Reuters reports:

President Vladimir Putin, using Cold War rhetoric, accused foreign governments on Wednesday of sponsoring his opponents in next month's election to weaken Russia and carry out "dirty tricks" against it. Putin warned that victory for his United Russia party in the December 2 parliamentary election was the only guarantee that the chaos that followed the collapse of the Soviet Union in the 1990s would not return. "Unfortunately there are still those people in our country who still slink through foreign embassies ... who count on the support of foreign funds and governments but not the support of their own people," Putin told thousands of cheering supporters at a raucous pro-Kremlin rally. These political enemies, he added, wanted to divide Russia. "They need a weak and feeble state. They need a disorganized and disoriented society, a split society, so that they can carry out their dirty tricks behind its back."

Thousands of young activists at the U.S.-style election rally chanted "Russia!" as Putin, dressed in a dark suit and black polo-neck sweater, boasted of soaring economic growth and strengthening the armed forces. In his harshest public attack on opposition parties to date, Putin said his political enemies had "learned a bit from Western specialists, did a bit of training in neighboring republics and will now come to try to carry out provocations." The Kremlin has constantly evoked the specter of pro-Western mass protests, like those that ushered in new governments in neighboring Georgia and Ukraine, as a fate to be avoided.

With Soviet-era songs blaring, the mostly young crowd of around 5,000 waved flags and chanted support for the 55-year-old leader, a former KGB spy who is by far Russia's most popular politician after eight years of strong economic growth. Some young women had the president's name etched across their faces. "Victory for Putin is victory for Russia!" read a huge poster at the cavernous sports arena.

'COMPLETE RENEWAL'

"I really love Vladimir Putin," Irina Bleshchova, a 20-year-old journalism student and activist of the pro-Kremlin Nashi youth movement, told Reuters. Calling him "the ideal man," she said: "I would like my future husband to be like Vladimir Putin." Before Putin spoke, a band played a racy song about how appealing Putin was. The rally was organized by United Russia and the "For Putin" movement, which aims to persuade the Kremlin chief to stay on as a "national leader" after his second term in office ends next year. The constitution prohibits a third consecutive term. Putin kept silent about his future plans, saying only that there would be a "complete renewal" at the highest levels of power with parliamentary and March presidential elections. But he appealed to people to turn out and vote for United Russia. He leads the list of candidates of the party and opinion polls show more than 60 percent of voters will back United Russia. He has said the party's expected landslide win will give him a "moral right" to influence government even after he steps down, though he has not said how.

Putin warned that his enemies wanted to return the power of the oligarchs, a group of tycoons who held great influence under former President Boris Yeltsin. "There should be no illusion, respected friends -- all these people have not left the political stage," Putin said. "They want to ... return to power and restore the oligarch regime which is based on corruption and lies."

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