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11 February 2011 

Opposition leader: Russia has last chance to change peacefully

euractiv.com

Parliamentary elections in December are the last chance to peacefully change the situation in Russia, prominent opposition leader Mikhail Kasyanov told the European Parliament yesterday (9 February) in Brussels. He said that the alternative would be a revolution, not with camels like in Egypt, but with pistols and sticks.

He said that any hopes that may have existed with Dmitry Medvedev's election as president in 2008 had all died, with the current head of state having failed to deliver on any of his promises on modernisation, the independence of the judiciary, tackling corruption or defending personal freedoms.

In fact, corruption in Russia was now greater than at any point in living memory, Kasyanov said. He blamed corruption for having facilitated the infiltration of foreigners into Russia, some of whom were responsible for the terrorist acts carried out on its territory.

Buying a passport is an easy job, he said, adding that this was also a threat for the EU, which is currently engaged on a path that would lead to lifting the visa regime which now exists between Russia and the 27 EU member states.

Kasyanov said his country was a long way away from holding elections recognisable by EU standards, adding that people in his country were laughing at the way in which regional elections took place in 2010, which were largely won by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's United Russia party.

He also referred to a statement by Medvedev claiming that all political parties were represented in the elections and there was no need for any new parties to be formed.

Kasyanov blasted the country's poor economic situation, the chaotic policies of the government and insecurity for foreign investors. He also deplored the fact that the middle classes were leaving Russia, at a rate of 70,000 people per year over the last five years.

The opposition leader also slammed his country's judiciary and said the recent second verdict against former oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky, which put him in prison until 2017, had nothing to do with jurisprudence.

But Russian democrats still believe that there is a chance to change society, he said, calling on the EU to stay alert not only on election day, but throughout the political developments leading to elections.

Parliament to vote on Russia resolution

EurActiv asked Guy Verhofstadt, leader of the liberal ALDE group in the European Parliament and a former prime minister of Belgium, if he would still have presided over such a meeting, putting in the limelight leaders of the Russian opposition, had he still held his country's premiership.

Verhofstadt recognised that EU leaders had not found the honesty or the courage to take such steps so far, but added that the moment had come to change things. If we all sit silent, we won't fulfill our democratic obligations, Verhofstadt said.

He added that this was the reason why he had insisted at the Conference of Presidents of the European Parliament that the assembly should hold a debate on Russia during its next session (14-17 February). On this occasion, a European Parliament resolution on the rule of law in Russia is expected to be adopted.

Verhofstadt said the initial reaction of political groups when the idea of holding such a vote was first expressed was 'we don't need this'. But he said that attitude had rapidly changed in the Parliament, and claimed there was a possibility that the same could happen in the other EU institutions.

POSITIONS

Lilia Shevtsova, senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (Washington) and chair of the Domestic Policy Programme at the Moscow Carnegie Centre described the current Russian political system as "suicidal statecraft".

She said Russia's rulers harboured no ambitions other than to preserve the status quo by using Western technology, Western money and Western stupidity.

She said the same had happened in the past under Peter the Great and under Stalin, but now Russia's rulers were more skilled.

She described as schizophrenic the fact that Russia's rulers were able to be with the West and against the West at the same time.

They are riding horses that run in opposite directions, but they do it perfectly, she said.

Shevtsova said that in order to change, the country would need massive protests but also honesty from the West. She deplored the fact that the US administration under President Barack Obama was too busy with its own affairs and appeared less interested than previous administrations in impacting upon Russia.

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