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Russia: Shrugs, Scorn Greet Putin's 'Prime Minister' Plans

October 3, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Russian President Putin has announced his intention to head the Unified Russia party's list of candidates for December's elections to the State Duma. In surprise statements made at a congress of the pro-Kremlin ruling party, Putin also said he was not opposed to eventually becoming prime minister. Some policy watchers predict the move will hand Unified Russia more than 70 percent of the vote. Becoming prime minister would also enable Putin to remain in power after his second and last presidential term ends in March 2008. RFE/RL's Russian Service asked some of Russia's top opposition leaders to comment on Putin's latest move. --> /featuresarticle/2007/10/83dfc06e-18c9-4f8b-a204-b8008a756b89.html

Garry Kasparov

Head of the United Civic Front since 2005; named the presidential candidate of the Other Russia bloc in September. United Civic Front is a fairly new organization that is united primarily by its opposition to the policies of President Vladimir Putin. It advocates an open political system and grassroots participation. The United Civic Front is not officially registered and is not eligible to participate in the December 2 Duma elections.

"What we are dealing with here is a kind of referendum to measure trust in Putin, in the tsar, rather than parliamentary elections. It's obvious that this de facto referendum that will take place on [December] 2 renders the election process pointless. For us, putting forward a list was a declaratory and fundamental gesture, because it's important to develop an alternative reality. If a political crisis breaks out in the country -- and I think that's inevitable -- there needs to be an alternative source of legitimacy.

"Several scenarios are possible, but one thing is clear: Putin has decided to stay and control the situation. He represents a certain camp in the political debate, and that's something [former President Boris] Yeltsin did not do. Yeltsin's system was based on the concept of a president as the father of all Russians; he didn't directly participate in the political process. Putin will give a shape to the content that is emerging in what we can call a soft one-party dictatorship in the style of the former GDR [East Germany]."

Nikita Belykh

Chairman of the National Political Council of the Union of Rightist Forces (SPS) since May 2005. The SPS is an opposition market-oriented party made up primarily of technocrats and professionals. It generally supports the development of civil society and the expansion of individual-rights protections. Although the party generally opposes the centrist and statist policies of Putin's Kremlin, it is heavily influenced by Kremlin insider Anatoly Chubais. According to a Levada Center poll taken before Putin's decision to run with the Unified Russia ticket, the SPS polls about 2 percent of the vote.

"[Putin's decision] doesn't have any impact on our voters. The president made the right decision. The situation was deceitful because Putin, as Unified Russia's true leader and founder, has been disconnected from it during parliamentary activities. Now, in the course of the election campaign, his genuine status will be legalized.

"As an opposition party, we count on the votes of those who are dissatisfied with the course which our country is following. People who vote for SPS are generally educated and well-informed, so they fully understand that Unified Russia, the government, and the president belong to the same whole."

Grigory Yavlinsky

Head of the Yabloko party since 1995. Yabloko is an active opposition party with a strong emphasis on human rights, civil society, the rule of law, and protection of the individual. Yabloko is fairly consistent in upholding its main values and opposes political forces that operate counter to them. Yabloko has been outspoken in its criticism of the Yeltsin and Putin administrations. According to a Levada Center poll taken before Putin's decision to run with the Unified Russia ticket, Yabloko polls about 2 percent of the vote.

"I am less worried by Putin's decision and his new position than by the process in which this took place. These Stalin-type calls to be eternal, these expressions of gratefulness, these lumbering statements, the creation of this whole atmosphere, are a lot more significant than the formal validation of what everyone knew perfectly well.

"If this becomes politics and if this Unified Russia, together with its cell, becomes the country's governing system, then this is the prelude to very, very serious developments."

Vladimir Zhirinovsky

Head of the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR) since it was created in 1989. The LDPR is a nationalist-oriented party that stands for a strong central government and the dominance of ethnic Russians. Although formally an opposition party, the LDPR almost always votes with the Kremlin (both under Yeltsin and Putin). The Levada poll gave LDPR about 11 percent.

"[Unified Russia] can finally justify their 45 percent. Without Putin, their real rating was 25 percent. Now they can gather just what they are able to gather with great difficulty -- half of the votes. The other half will go to opposition parties -- LDPR and the Communist Party. A Just Russia may not get anything, because it has failed to become the second ruling party."

Fit For The Duma

READY TO RUN: Fifteen political parties have been listed by the Justice Ministry's Federal Registration Service as eligible to participate in the December 2 State Duma elections. Read these parties' Russian-language websites:

Democratic Party of Russia

Unified Russia

Peace and Unity Party

Communist Party of the Russian Federation

Union of Rightist Forces

Liberal Democratic Party of Russia


Patriots of Russia

Green Party

Agrarian Party of Russia

People's Union

Civil Force

Social Justice Party

Party of Russia's Rebirth

A Just Russia


President Vladimir Putin's September 2, 2007, decree on the State Duma elections

Russia's Central Election Commission

RFE/RL's Russian Service coverage of the Duma elections