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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Surkov Likens Putin to Franklin D. Roosevelt

Vladimir Putin has been compared to tsars and Communist Party chiefs, but a top aide has come up with an unusual precursor for the president: Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Speaking at a conference commemorating 125 years since Roosevelt's birth, Vladislav Surkov, the deputy chief of staff seen as the Kremlin's main ideologue, drew a parallel between one of the United States' most famous Democrats and a Russian leader who has been accused by Washington of backtracking on democracy.

Likening Russia following the 1991 Soviet collapse to the Depression-era United States, Surkov suggested that Putin needed to use a firm hand to put the country on the road to recovery.

"Like Roosevelt in his time, today Putin must and should strengthen administrative control and use the potential of presidential power to the maximum degree for the sake of overcoming the crisis," Surkov was quoted as saying by RIA-Novosti.

"In the 20th century, Roosevelt was our military ally, and in the 21st century, he is our ideological ally," he added.

Putin and his supporters have often evoked -- and sometimes exaggerated -- the chaos and uncertainty of the 1990s when explaining their policies and touting their achievements. At Thursday's conference, called "Lessons of the New Deal for modern Russia and the world," Surkov suggested that both Russians in that decade and Americans in the Depression struggled with a frighteningly dark vision of the future.

He said President Roosevelt prevented the United States "from slipping into socialism and from catastrophic social upheaval," and that the U.S. president "embodied the supreme power of the people."

"The ideas and emotions that are putting our society in motion seem surprisingly similar to those that moved America in Franklin Roosevelt's epoch," he said.

Surkov's remarks were particularly striking because he is known at home for promulgating the idea of "sovereign democracy," a concept that suggests Russia should pursue a brand of democracy that its national interests dictate rather than following foreign models. Critics of the concept call it an excuse for undemocratic policies.

Surkov also defended electoral reforms that Putin initiated in the name of consolidating and protecting the nation after a series of terrorist attacks in 2004, such as the abolition of gubernatorial elections. "Governors are now elected in a different way, and that's limiting democracy? That is wrong," Surkov said.

He said "democracy is flexibility" and that even "dictatorship in [ancient] Rome was a part of democracy," Itar-Tass reported.

In another defense of the electoral reforms, he evoked the Sept. 11 attacks. "I don't think that, when the United States introduced certain limitations after the attack on New York, it was a reduction of democracy -- of course not. It was the reaction of a flexible organism to a threat," he said.

"We are always being driven into a discussion about the quantity of democracy," he said. "I believe that democracy cannot be limited. It either exists or it doesn't."

Critics of Putin say democracy is on its way out, a victim of state control over the main broadcast media, suppression of dissent and electoral laws they say are choking pluralism.

In a televised remark, Surkov argued the opposite. "We are moving little by little in the right direction," he said.