Putin Address Lambastes Opponents

APPutin addressing the 500-strong crowd Wednesday at a Luzhniki Stadium event organized by the "For Putin" movement and the United Russia party.
In one of his most aggressive attacks on opponents to date, President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday accused foreign governments and domestic opposition of seeking to turn Russia into a "weak, ill" state and warned against the possible return of oligarchs to Russia.

The crowd of about 5,000 at the event, which was organized by the "For Putin" movement and the United Russia party, heard the president call on people to rally around him and United Russia in the Dec. 2 State Duma elections and unite against foreign and domestic enemies.

"Our opponents all want to see us disunited," Putin told the crowd. "Some want to take away and divide everything, and others to plunder."

"They will now come out into the streets -- they got a crash course from foreign experts, were trained in neighboring republics and will try it here now," Putin said in a clear reference to the "colored revolutions" that brought down the previous regimes in Georgia in 2003 and Ukraine in 2004. A voice in the audience shouted "We will not let it happen" and Putin responded: "That's right."

"Those who want to confront us need a weak and ill state," he said. "They want to have a divided society, so that they can carry on their deeds behind its back."

Members of the "For Putin" movement, formed just last week with the aim of persuading the Kremlin chief to stay on as leader after his second term in office ends next year, and of United Russia were joined in the arena by pro-Kremlin youth groups and celebrities to give the event the feel of a Western-style party convention, with elements of Soviet-style propaganda thrown in. Behind Putin as he spoke was a huge banner reading "Believe in Russia! Believe in ourselves" and featuring the United Russia party logo.

Putin said he had never participated in rallies of this type before, claiming that he didn't really like them.

He called on people for their support in the Duma elections, saying it would be important for the presidential elections to follow, but gave no indication of what his plans entailed.

"If there is a victory in December, then there will be a victory next March as well," he said, referring to the presidential vote. It remains unclear who Putin would prefer to see succeed him as president, and the Kremlin has said candidates will not be announced until next month.

A survey released earlier this week by the state-controlled VTsIOM polling agency indicated that United Russia's support had jumped to 63.8 percent from the 58.9 percent in a poll conducted just a week earlier. At 7.3 percent, the Communists were the only other party that would have cleared the 7 percent threshold for representation in the parliament had the vote been held last weekend, when the latest poll was conducted.

VTsIOM said its poll had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.4 percent.

Putin was particularly animated in what turned out to be a sweeping speech Wednesday, assailing officials of a decade ago who adopted "irresponsible budgets that, at the end of the day, resulted in a default" and others who he said "made corruption the main tool of political and economic competition." He also criticized those who have called for the authorities to hold talks with terrorists and insurgents.

Alexander Natruskin / Reuters
A supporter of Putin waving a flag of the Kremlin-loyal group "Young Russia."
But it was political actors he suggested who posed the greatest danger.

"There should be no illusions. All of these people remain in the political arena," he said.

"They want to come back, to return to power, to spheres of influence, and gradually restore oligarchic rule based on corruption and lies," he said, in an apparent reference to liberal parties like the Union of Right Forces, which have been accused of accepting money from big business tycoons in the past.

Several times activists waving flags interrupted Putin's speech chanting "Russia -- Putin" and "We believe in ourselves, we believe in Russia."

Putin touched on the theme of external opponents on a few occasions, accusing foreign governments of sponsoring opposition parties and the country's internal enemies.

"Unfortunately, inside the country there are those who scrounge at foreign embassies, importune diplomatic missions, count on the support of foreign funds and governments and not the support of their own people," he said, conjuring up a term from Russian prison slang.

Before Putin took the stage, celebrities and activists took turns singing his praises as the crowd cheered and chanted.

Ivan Demidov, a well-known television personality and leader of the Young Guard movement leader, acted as master of ceremonies. He painted a grim picture of the 1990s, saying it was Putin who saved Russia from collapse, while Anatoly Kvochur, a test pilot who also spoke, credited Putin with rescuing the nation from a "deep, deadly nose dive."

Others praised him as a smart, independent leader who doesn't take his cues from the United States. "Unlike leaders of some states, Putin doesn't fly to Washington when he needs to make a principally important decision," said Vladimir Solovyov, an NTV host. "Putin loves his motherland."

The organizers even managed to arrange a video link from St. Petersburg with Putin's former schoolteacher, Vera Gurevich , who told the audience he was a decent person, so people shouldn't pressure him to stay in office for a third term, although he should definitely remain active in politics.

Other celebrities appearing included Soviet-era Olympic figure skating gold medalist Irina Rodnina, film director Fyodor Bondarchuk and weapon designer Mikhail Kalashnikov, who addressed the audience through a video link from Izhevsk.

When asked why there was such a huge outpouring of support for just one politician in Russia, unlike in many other countries, Solovyov said on the sidelines of the congress that there was nothing preventing Russians from rallying around other candidates. If OMON riot police or something else were the reasons for the absence of such rallies, it meant that candidates simply didn't have enough support, he said.

Favorite Soviet-era songs mixed with presidential-themed pop hits with choruses like "I want someone like Putin" and "Putin and Stalingrad are behind us."

Young activists, many bussed from the regions, swayed to the music sporting pins bearing Putin's picture and the Russian tricolor on their cheeks.

When two young participants, apparently getting bored, decided to sneak out of the arena during Putin's speech, a Young Guard female activist blocked their path and told them that they had to stay to the end.

Ivan Melnikov, first deputy chairman of the Communist Party, said later Wednesday that the United Russia party was turning into a "sect" describing Putin's speech as "messianic musings" and "extremely unfortunate."

"After all, if everything in our country were that right and well, if the course were so clearly correct, then the president would not have to throw himself every day on the altar of propaganda," Melnikov said.

Pavel Astakhov, who co-leads the "For Putin" movement, speaking on the sidelines of the event, denied that he was in close contact with the presidential administration, adding with a smile that the movement probably gave the Kremlin a headache.

At the end of the speech, Putin, who eschewed a tie for a dark suit and a black turtleneck, called on the audience one last time to support United Russia and continuity so that the country could become a top-five economy in a decade.

"I am counting on you," he said.

At the end of the two-hour rally, Putin made his exit, kissing a female activist on the cheek on the way out, leaving the hall to listen to patriotic songs from the band Lyube, the president's favorite.