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Russia

Defiant Putin Mocks And Praises Opposition, Touts Vague Reform

Putin Addresses Public On Live TV Show (English subtitles)i
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December 15, 2011
During his annual nationally televised call-in session with Russian citizens on December 15, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said that the results of the recent parliamentary elections reflect public opinion. He also responded for the first time to protesters who rallied on Moscow’s Bolotnaya Square on December 10 against alleged election fraud. Video courtesy of Reuters
By Tom Balmforth
MOSCOW -- Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin on December 15 alternately praised and mocked opposition protestors and accused the West of meddling in his country's affairs, as he tried to woo the public with a trademark macho style in his annual televised call-in program.
 
In the choreographed marathon phone-in broadcast on national television, Putin was in boisterous form, firing off quips to thunderous applause, but he disappointed expectations that he would seek to assuage rising discontent with his rule that has led to mass anti-Kremlin rallies.
 
Dmitry Oreshkin, a political analyst spoke to RFE/RL's Russian service after Putin's broadcast:
 
 “Putin 2.0 did not make an appearance today," he said. "We saw the old Putin, with his old gestures, his old jumping and antics and his old sidestepping difficult questions by discussing the great tasks that lie before us."
 
Wearing a dark suit and red tie, Putin swaggered onto the podium cheerfully and cut to the chase by immediately talking about the recent antigovernment protests that are thought to signify the awakening of civil society after years of political apathy.
 
Putin first praised the protests for being peaceful.
 
“That people want to express their opinion about what is happening in the country and the economic, social and political sphere is an entirely normal thing as long as they adhere to the letter of the law, of course,"  he said.
 
"I am counting on it staying that way," he added. "I saw the clips on television of the mainly young, active people formulating their opinion clearly. It pleases me. If this is the result of the Putin regime, then that’s good!”
 
Ironic Quips And Snide Jokes
 
But he then followed this up with snide jokes and ironic asides.
 
Putin quipped that he initially thought that the protesters’ badges of solidarity -- a white ribbon pinned to their lapel -- had been condoms that were part of an anti-AIDS campaign.
 
He claimed that some protesters were paid to attend the demonstrations and implored others not to be roped in and manipulated by opposition leaders.
 
Yevgenia Chirikova, a key opposition leader, claimed that Putin’s speech showed he is “laughably” out of touch with people.
 
Russian opposition leader Yevgenia ChirikovaRussian opposition leader Yevgenia Chirikova
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Russian opposition leader Yevgenia Chirikova
Russian opposition leader Yevgenia Chirikova
“It’s the beginning of the end," she said. "I’ve been around for quite a while. I’m 35 years old. I remember how, as a little girl, I used to watch my parents as they laughed at [Soviet leader Leonid] Brezhnev’s speeches.

"Well now my two children watch me laughing at Putin’s speeches. The thing is that it must be nearly over. He just simply doesn’t respect us.”
 
The opposition has demanded that the disputed December 4 elections be annulled and new ones scheduled. 
 
They have also called for the sacking of senior Electoral Commission officials and the relaxing of restrictions that have seen many opposition parties barred from running.
 
Opposition leaders have threatened to bring more people onto the streets and they hope to assemble 50,000 antigovernment protesters in central Moscow on December 24.
 
But Putin simply dismissed allegations that election fraud distorted the final results, which handed the United Russia party just under 50 percent despite the party’s precipitous fall in popularity this year.  
 
"Uncomfortable' Political Questions
 
"In my opinion, the election results unconditionally reflect the real balance of forces in the country," he said. "And the fact that the ruling power, United Russia, has lost some of its support is nothing unusual either. Listen, we've gone through a very complicated period of crisis. Look at what's going on in other countries."
 
Putin said that cameras would be installed in polling stations to ensure against fraud at the March presidential elections, “so that the country can see -- all this has to be put on the Internet -- what is happening around every ballot box, and thus discourage all claims for falsifications."
 
Putin also hinted that parties would be allowed to register more freely, although offered no concrete indications of how this would happen.
 
He also suggested that regional governors would be elected rather than appointed by the Kremlin -- but only after the president had approved candidates proposed by political parties.
 
Pavel Salin from the independent Center of Political Assessments said that these kinds of responses were typical of a cosmetically improved annual call-in session, but one that still lacked substance.
 
Salin admitted that previous phone-ins had focused on socioeconomic issues, but that this one broached “uncomfortable” political questions, even if it was ultimately to little avail.
 
 “They changed from the usual script, but they needed to make the second step of convincing people that they are serious about real dialogue and making real concessions," he said.
 
"They didn’t convince me of this in the slightest. Either he declared extremely half-hearted moves such as what he said about governors, or he simply said things like they are happy to register opposition parties.
 
"I heard nothing about how they actually intend to do this. So, they made the first step – making cosmetic changes and changing the style of the format, but I was completely unconvinced by the second step – making concessions.”
 
Trademark Showman Style
 
Oleg Kozyrev, a blogger close to the opposition movement, wrote on Twitter: "That's it. It's the end. Putin is completely out of touch. And this is becoming more obvious to everyone. You had to think hard to insult the people like this.”
 
In his trademark showman style, Putin also hit back at Senator John McCain who has commented on Twitter that the Arab Spring uprisings have come to Russia.
 
“I remind you that he fought in Vietnam! He has people’s blood on his hands," Putin said about McCain, who spent more than five years as a prisoner of war in North Vietnam where he was tortured. "He likes to see bloody pictures on screens. Just like [the ones shown when] they killed Qaddafi.”
 
In comments that will trouble supporters of “reset” relations between United States and Russia, Putin said: "Sometimes it seems to me that America does not need allies, it needs vassals."
 
Putin added that Russia would like to be an ally of the United States but that "people are tired of the dictates of one country."
 
Asked by the presenter whether he would continue to hold these Q&A sessions if he wins the presidential elections in March, Putin replied “we’ve been meeting for ten years. Of course, we’ll continue this format too.”
This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Anonymous from: USA
December 15, 2011 16:36
Like him or hate him, McCain is a REAL war veteran and POW. He has more courage and passion in his smallest finger than Putin has in his whole body. Putin's comments only make himself look weaker.

BTW: I did not support McCain during the 2008 elections...sometimes I wish I had....
In Response

by: Eugenio from: Vienna
December 15, 2011 17:08
No problem you did not vote for McCain the last time - you will have a whole selection of McCain-like gringo monkeys the next year. Please select one of them to make sure they drag you in a few more wars that you will lose, like you did in the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan :-)).
In Response

by: Ivan the terrible from: god knows where
December 15, 2011 21:55
Onegin,cut down on the tax-free vodka,please!!!And take your pokhmelin!!!
In Response

by: Jack from: US
December 16, 2011 01:20
right on!
Republicans or Democrats, they are two faces of the same mafia which holds this nation hostage.
In Response

by: matvei from: Tbilisi
December 16, 2011 08:00
What loss, Eugenio? The last time I noted, Hussein has gone to his reward and a democracy exists in Iraq. Try again.

by: Bill Webb from: Phoenix AZ
December 15, 2011 18:32
The fact that Putin hosts these annual live call-in sessions confirms my good feelings about him being the leader of a potential adversary of the United States. It should have read "Russia's constitution limits consecutive presidential terms to two."
In Response

by: Anonymous from: USA
December 16, 2011 07:28
Please leave Phoenix and go try to live in Russia. You won't have an easy life living in a kleptocratic country with a xenophobic population. That is, if you are even allowed a visa.

by: stephen blank from: carlisle barracks pa
December 16, 2011 00:30
this is the beginning of the end although nobody can say how or when it will end but Putin is succeeding in doing the one thing that is intolerable to the system, i.e. making Russian state power ridiculous

by: Jack from: US
December 16, 2011 02:01
Putin is right about McCain. McCain is criminally insane schizo. His mental health was obviously affected by his time in a Vietnamese pithole. He wanted to start wars not just in Iraq and Afghanistan, but also against Iran and against Serbia. McCain is also a big friend of Pakistan and Saudi Arabia
In Response

by: Eugenio from: Vienna
December 16, 2011 09:35
Good point, Jack!
In Response

by: matvei from: Tbilisi
December 16, 2011 12:27
Jack calls Anna Politkovskaya a Judas on another RFL/RE article. It's pretty clear who pays him to praise Putin. Check in the mail yet, Jack ol' boy?

by: Ray F. from: Lawrence, KS
December 16, 2011 18:57
I watched about an hour of this performance and can imagine that most Russians are getting sorely tired of this polit-theater. I suspect that most have begun to understand that despite his tough talk and energetic language, there is a vast abyss between his ‘concerned’ words and the grim reality. Four plus hours-my God! He ought to have a competition with Hugo Chavez. If you weren’t brain-dead before watching, you’d have to be a zombie by the time this blab-fest was completed.

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