Russia on Edge
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|Bernard Banks||October 21st 2012|
From RFE/RL and agencies
On the eve of Russia's presidential election, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has criticized nationalist attempts to stir up ethnic discord while and the same time called for tougher immigration laws. In a lengthy article published in the daily "Nezavisimaya gazeta" and reprinted on his official campaign website, Putin put forth a vision of a multiethnic and multiconfessional Russia and decried nationalists for promoting a vision of the country as a “national” and “mono-ethnic” state. He also dismissed a nationalist opposition slogan championed by anticorruption crusader Aleksei Navalny, saying that “Stop Feeding the Caucasus” is as senseless as calls for the Kremlin to stop subsidizing Siberia or the Moscow Region. "We have lived together for centuries. We fought together in the worst war. And we will live together in the future. And those who want or are trying to divide us, I can say just one thing -- keep waiting," Putin wrote.
As he prepares for the March 4 presidential election, Putin is facing the largest wave of popular discontent since he came to power as Boris Yeltsin's hand-picked successor 13 years ago. The "Nezavisimaya gazeta" article is his second publication in a major Russian daily ahead of the vote. An earlier article, published in "Izvestiya," earlier this month, appealed to the middle class aid out his reasons for seeking to return to the Kremlin. Migrants gathered in Moscow in November 2007 to show their support for then-President Vladimir Putin and his policies.
Putin balanced his critique of nationalists with calls for tougher laws on migrants, proposing that they be required by law to register with the authorities and pass exams in Russian language, history, and literature. "Very often -- not just often, but in fact always -- ethnic tensions are caused by the uneven economic development of Russia's territories, followed by mass immigration, the inability of local authorities and law enforcement to maintain order, by corruption, poverty, lack of social prospects, and a sense of injustice and vulnerability," Putin told a Forum of the Peoples of the South of Russia in Kislovodsk on January 23.
Popular author Boris Akunin, a fierce Putin critic, lauded the call for ethnic tolerance but noted that rhetoric and reality do not match in Russia. The Kremlin has often been criticized for exploiting the threat of rising nationalism to suit its interests even as it exploits nationalist sentiments. Last week, for example, Putin questioned the motives behind Akunin's role in Russia’s protest movement on the grounds of his Georgian ethnicity. The premier said Akunin may bear resentment toward Russia for its 2008 war with Georgia. “The one thing that often happens with Vladimir Putin is that his theoretical constructs don’t go into practice very well," Akunin told RFE/RL's Russian Service. "Against the backdrop of this article, I can’t really understand him speaking out about ethnic roots, while basing people’s political affinities on their ethnicities. These two things just don’t go together.”
Masha Lipman, an analyst at Carnegie Moscow Center, also welcomed the article's call for tolerance but assailed its proposal for migrants to register. “Many things [in this] are contradictory," Lipman said. "There is, for instance, his suggestion to toughen up laws requiring migrants to register. Putin himself spoke about this during his video call-in with Russian citizens; the practice of registering belongs to the Soviet police state. Toughening up registration requirements of course limits mobility around the country, which of course contravenes the constitution or at least its spirit.” He was prevented from serving a third consecutive presidential term by the Russian Constitution but maintained a tight grip on the levers of power as prime minister throughout Dmitry Medvedev's four years as president.