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Russia's Putin slams opposition as tool of foreign influence

MOSCOW, December 19 (RIA Novosti) - President Vladimir Putin said the Russian radical opposition was an instrument used by some countries to influence Russia, which provoked the authorities into taking tough measures against its activists.

In an interview with Time Magazine, which named the Russian president its Person of the Year 2007, Putin said the opposition posed no threat to the government.

"Look at the election results. They failed to gain even 1% of the vote. Should it cause any concerns? There is no anxiety in political terms. But I regard this [opposition] as a tool foreign states use to meddle in Russia's internal political affairs."

The liberal opposition party Union of Right Forces, or SPS, gained 0.9% of the December 2 parliamentary vote, which saw a landslide victory for the ruling United Russia party with the popular President Putin topping its election list.

Russia's parliamentary polls were condemned as undemocratic by Western monitors, who among other things said Putin had used administrative resources to promote the pro-Kremlin party. Opposition groups accused the authorities of hampering their access to the media and pressurizing them.

Shortly before the polls, two anti-Putin meetings in Moscow and St. Petersburg were dispelled by riot police and several opposition figures arrested. One of these, former world chess champion Garry Kasparov, was jailed for five days.

But Putin dismissed the accusations saying all the players had received media access as stipulated in the election legislation, and in turn charged the opposition with provoking the authorities.

"The thing is they simply do not want to express their opinion, they want to be arrested, they incite authorities to take tough measures," Putin told the magazine, adding opposition groups had deliberately chosen unauthorized venues for their meetings.

"They deliberately commit violations, and then the authorities are forced to respond accordingly. And I am telling you with full responsibility that the authorities will continue responding in this manner," the president said.

He said Kasparov, whose arrest has been widely discussed in Western media, would never enjoy vast support among Russians as his rhetoric and activities targeted the West.

"Why do you think Mr. Kasparov spoke English during his arrest? ... I believe because all his enthusiasm was directed at Western audiences, not the Russian people," Putin said.

"A man working to please a foreign audience will never be called a political leader in his country. The one who seeks to be a leader in his country should focus on his nation's interests and speak the language spoken in this country," Putin said.

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