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Thursday, November 15, 2007

Putin Signals Purge Before He Even Takes Power

The Moscow Times reports that before he has even taken power as a party leader Putin, like Stalin before him, has signaled the possibility of purges to keep the party subservient to its Lord and Master.

President Vladimir Putin said Tuesday that an overwhelming victory for United Russia in Dec. 2 elections would give him the "moral right" to maintain a strong influence in the country. But the president also rebuked United Russia for lacking any clear political ideology and attracting "all kinds of crooks," saying he only chose it because there were no other realistic options.

Putin announced last month that he would appear on the pro-Kremlin party's national list for the State Duma elections, a decision that appeared to be aimed at boosting the party's chances and guaranteeing the popular president a power base when his second term ends in May. The Constitution limits presidents to two consecutive terms.

"If the people vote for United Russia, whose list I lead, it means that they trust me and, in turn, means that I will have the moral right to hold those in the Duma and the Cabinet responsible for the implementation of the objectives that have been identified so far," Putin said in televised remarks from Krasnoyarsk. Putin was answering questions from workers during a visit to a road construction site after chairing a meeting with governors in Krasnoyarsk focusing on the transport sector nationwide. Although he didn't provide a direct answer to questions about his plans upon leaving office, Putin's comments were the clearest indication yet that he intends to maintain a hold on power. "In what form will I do this? I will refrain for now from providing a direct answer," Putin said. "But various possibilities exist."

National television showed Putin sitting next to workers as he delivered a stern reprimand to United Russia. "What is United Russia ,then? Is it an ideal political organization?" he asked rhetorically. "Of course it isn't."

"The party has no stable political ideology or principles for which the overwhelming majority of members are ready to fight. ... And, as a rule, being close to those in power, as United Russia is, all kind of crooks try to latch on to it, often with success," Putin said.

The explanation he offered for his choice was simple: "Because we don't have anything better," Putin said with a laugh. United Russia officials offered no defense Tuesday, saying the president's criticism was well deserved. "As usual, the president said the right thing," said Oleg Kovalyov, a senior party leader and the chairman of the Duma Rules Committee. "I'm one of the founders of United Russia and I know that the party is not perfect, but this is not a disaster. We are developing together with Russian society."

Andrei Vorobyov, chairman of United Russia's central executive committee, said Putin's remarks highlighted how important this Duma vote would be. "We are calling them a referendum on the course laid out by the national leader. The party will be a guarantee of continuity," Vorobyov said in answers sent by e-mail. "For the president, it will be the only way the law will allow him to stay in politics -- through a political party."

"The third term will involve us leading the country to victory together and implementing the strategic directions given in Putin's Plan," he said. United Russia has labeled its party platform "Putin's Plan," which is essentially a digest of the major speeches by the president. Political analysts said Tuesday that Putin's comments suggested that he had yet to decide how he would retain power. "He is not sure yet about what to do to keep power. He prefers to take his time, which is why he says his decision will depend on the results of the elections," said Andrei Ryabov, a political analyst with the Carnegie Moscow Center. "He is leaving himself space for further maneuver."

Putin's comments, which filled the first eight minutes of national evening news reports, came on his first trip inside the country since the election campaign began. He chose for his first stop a region in which he garnered below-average support in the 2004 presidential election. Although election laws prohibit government officials from using the status of their office to campaign for their parties, the trip was more reminiscent of a campaign tour than an official visit. Vladimir Pribylovsky, the director of the Panorama think tank, said that rule was never applied to high officials. "The law can be interpreted in such a way that when it is broken by high officials, it is still not a violation of the law," Pribylovsky said. "When Putin breaks the law on elections, Central Elections Commission officials always say he has the right as a citizen to express his point of view."

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