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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Kasyanov Steps Up Criticism of Putin

ReutersFormer Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov
Former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov stepped up his criticism of President Vladimir Putin on Thursday, warning that unless pro-democratic political forces unite, the nation could revert to "a Soviet system with elements of state capitalism."

"The country is going in the wrong direction. Unfortunately the speed of movement in this negative direction is increasing," Kasyanov told a news conference.

Kasyanov, who now heads his own consulting company, MK_Analytica, also said that he is in talks with various political figures to create a united democratic front.

Although he refused to name names, Kasyanov said that in his view democratic forces are not limited to liberals but include certain leftist and social democratic elements.

Putin's plan to change the way State Duma elections are held is one of the greatest dangers to Russian democracy, Kasyanov said. On Thursday, Putin signed into law a change effectively blocking independent lawmakers without party affiliations from taking office.

Kasyanov also reiterated his criticism of the state's legal onslaught on the Yukos oil empire and its founders Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Platon Lebedev.

The two men face up to 10 years in jail on fraud, embezzlement and tax evasion charges if convicted. The reading of the verdict started on Monday and is expected to last several more days.

"This trial is a farce," Kasyanov said. "The Khodorkovsky case has brought Russia to a turning point, while the verdict could mean that the point of no return will be passed."

Kasyanov, whom Putin abruptly fired a month before the March 2004 presidential elections, also repeated that he may run for president in 2008. He added that his final decision would depend on the support of the people.

"This depends on you," he said, addressing reporters. "If there is a [public] desire and need for me to do it, I will. If not, I will find other business for myself. There are plenty of interesting things to do."

Kasyanov said that a Ukrainian-style revolution would not be a suitable path for Russia. Instead, he said, the main goal for the democratic opposition was to achieve fair and transparent Duma and presidential elections in 2007 and 2008, respectively.

In February, when Kasyanov reappeared after vanishing from public life for a year, he dropped his first hint that he would rung for president in 2008. At the time he also said that he planned to work on uniting the opposition.

Kasyanov said there have been only two pieces of good news for Russia over the past month -- CSKA soccer club's winning of the UEFA Cup in the early hours of Thursday and the government striking a deal with the Paris Club to repay $15 billion of debt without any penalties or extra charges.