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Russian Opposition Leader Says Putin, Saakashvili 'Like Twins'

Saakashvili (left) and Putin -- twins under the skin?
RIGA -- Russian opposition politician Boris Nemtsov says he sees a lot of similarities between Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili and Russia's autocratic Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

Nemtsov made his comments in an interview with RFE/RL's Georgian Service at a conference in the Latvian capital, Riga.

"My position is not popular in the West and it is not popular in Russia. I think that Putin and Saakashvili resemble each other," Nemtsov said.

Nemtsov compared Saakashvili's decision to use force against separatist South Ossetia in August to Putin's shelling of the Chechen capital Grozny in 1999. He said the Georgian government's assault on the television station Imedi last year resembled Putin's takeover of Russia's NTV and TV-6. He drew parallels between Russian authorities' habit of breaking up opposition marches to Saakashvili's decision in November 2007 to crack down on antigovernment demonstrators in Tbilisi. And according to Nemtsov, both leaders have packed their respective parliaments with supporters.

"They are not identical twins, but they are still like twins nonetheless," Nemtsov said. "I don't look at them and say this one is good and that one is bad. Maybe it seems that way from Washington, but it seems different for me looking at it from Moscow."

Nemtsov also suggested that the Russian and Georgian opposition begin talking to each other.

"There is no dialogue between the Kremlin and official Tbilisi, and there probably won't be as long as Putin and Saakashvili are in power. But a dialogue among the opposition would be healthy," Nemtsov said.

But while Nemtsov was harsh in his criticism of the Georgian president, he also called Russia's decision in August to recognize the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia a "gigantic stupid mistake" that could come back to haunt Moscow in the long run.

Nemtsov said that despite the close ties between the Kremlin and pro-Moscow Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov, that relationship could easily sour with widespread implications for the North Caucasus.

"There isn't such disintegration now because Putin is giving Kadyrov money in exchange for loyalty," Nemtsov said. "But due to the [global financial] crisis, that money can run out. And then the Chechens may ask: 'Why are we worse than the Ossetians and the Abkhaz? You gave them independence, now give it to us.'"

Koba Liklikadze of RFE/RL's Georgian Service contributed to this report