Andrew Osborn

 

 

Chief Russia Correspondent

 

Deputy Bureau Chief Russia/CIS

 

Reuters

 

 

Vladimir Putin's critics spoil presidential campaign launch

The Daily Telegraph, 13th January 2012 18:26

By Andrew Osborn in Moscow

Critics of Vladimir Putin spoiled the launch of his presidential campaign on Thursday by flooding his new website with calls for him to leave politics.

Setting out his stall before a March 4 presidential election which he is on course to comfortably win, the Russian prime minister published a wide-ranging policy manifesto.

He pledged to end repressive policing, as part of an attempt to cast himself as a liberal reformer, an image he has not previously embraced.

"We need to rethink the whole system of public security and need to stop the extremely repressive tendency (of the security forces)," he wrote.

"This situation is deforming our society and making it morally unhealthy."

However his presidential campaign launch was dismissed by restive Russians yesterday.

Mr Putin's website, which was first registered in 2009, two years before he said he would run for president, came under attack from his critics.

In an apparent oversight, the site's moderators initially failed to vet a section allowing voters to leave suggestions for Mr Putin.

It was therefore initially bombarded with hostile comments urging him to leave politics which were rated as the most popular before the site's administrators began deleting some of them.

"Leave politics please," wrote one man. "We understand that power is a drug but it would be a dignified act." Mr Putin's spokesman denied the negative comments had been deleted however, claiming the site had "frozen" for a few hours because it was so popular.

Even though he remains Russia's most popular politician and would easily win a presidential election if it was held tomorrow (albeit in the second round), Mr Putin is facing an unprecedented wave of discontent over his dominance of political life.

Tens of thousands of Russians took to the streets to protest against his United Russia party's victory in a parliamentary election last month, alleging the contest was heavily rigged in its favour.

Middle class voters in Moscow and St. Petersburg in particular appear to have become disenchanted with the glacial pace of political reform and have started vocally demanding that Mr Putin step down.

But the 59-year-old former KGB agent, who was president from 2000-2008 and has been prime minister for the last four years, appears unfazed.

His spokesman said on Thursday it was unlikely he would even take part in televised political debates with his opponents because he was apparently too busy.

"Participating in TV debates calls for certain actions like formally taking time-off (from his job as prime minister) but that would interfere with his duties and you know how busy his programme is," said Dmitry Peskov, the spokesman.

Mr Putin's opponents accused him of political cowardice with Gennady Zyuganov, the Communist party leader, saying he was keen to debate the major issues of the day with Mr Putin.