Rus­sian lead­ers ar­gue about Soviet model

The Pak Banker - - 6i Nternational -

MOSCOW: Rus­sian Prime Min­is­ter Vladimir Putin pointed at the Soviet model as an ex­am­ple of how var­i­ous eth­nic groups can have friendly ties, draw­ing a quick re­tort from the pres­i­dent in a rare sign of fric­tion be­tween the two lead­ers.

Putin's pro­tege and suc­ces­sor as pres­i­dent, Dmitry Medvedev, coun­tered him by say­ing that the Soviet ex­pe­ri­ence wasn't ex­actly a pos­i­tive one and it can't be re­peated, adding that Rus­sia may learn from the U.S. ex­pe­ri­ence.

The pub­lic ex­change will likely fuel spec­u­la­tion about ten­sions be­tween the two lead­ers as the nation ap­proaches the 2012 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion.

Putin and Medvedev have de­nied any rift be­tween them and said they would de­cide who would run for pres­i­dent in 2012 so that they don't com­pete against each other. Most ob­servers ex­pect that Putin, who re­mains Rus­sia's most pow­er­ful fig­ure, will re­claim the pres­i­dency.

Speak­ing at a Krem­lin meet­ing fo­cused on ways to as­suage eth­nic ten­sions that spilled into the open dur­ing ri­ots out­side the Krem­lin on Dec. 11, Putin said that Rus­sia has failed to learn from the Soviet ex­pe­ri­ence and called for cul­ti­vat­ing Rus­sian pa­tri­o­tism.

Speak­ing im­me­di­ately af­ter him, Medvedev said that the Soviet ex­pe­ri­ence can't be re­pro­duced.

"Can we re­peat what was done dur­ing the Soviet pe­riod? he said. "No, it's im­pos­si­ble. The Soviet Union was a state based on ide­ol­ogy, and, let's say it openly, quite a rigid one. Rus­sia is dif­fer­ent."

"We need to work out new ap­proaches," Medvedev said.

Dur­ing the Dec. 11 ri­ots, soc­cer fans and racists chant­ing "Rus­sia for Rus­sians!" clashed with po­lice and beat mem­bers of eth­nic mi­nor­ity groups from the Cau­ca­sus re­gion.

The vi­o­lence in Moscow raised doubts about the govern­ment's abil­ity to con­trol a ris­ing tide of xeno­pho­bia, which threat­ens the coun­try's ex­is­tence.

While eth­nic Rus­sians make up four-fifths of Rus­sia's pop­u­la­tion of 142 mil­lion, the coun­try is also home to about 180 eth­nic groups. The Cau­ca­sus re­gion, with its moun­tain­ous ter­rain and iso­lated val­leys, hosts at least 100 eth­nic­i­ties in­clud­ing Chechens, who have waged two sep­a­ratist wars against Moscow af­ter the 1991 col­lapse of the Soviet Union.

Putin sug­gested Mon­day that the au­thor­i­ties might re­store harsh Soviet era-re­stric­tions on move­ment into big cities like Moscow or St. Peters­burg. Such a move would tar­get dark-com­plex­ioned peo­ple from the Cau­ca­sus, who flee their im­pov­er­ished re­gions for big cities.

"We went for lib­eral rules of reg­is­tra­tion too early," Putin said. Medvedev, how­ever, warned against try­ing to iso­late eth­nic groups. "We can't block peo­ple from mov­ing around the coun­try, al­though we need to con­trol that," he said. "We are a sin­gle coun­try, and we must learn to live to­gether."

Medvedev warned that eth­nic ten­sions could break Rus­sia up if the govern­ment fails to stem vi­o­lent na­tion­al­ism and act more harshly to dis­perse ri­ots.

"In­tereth­nic con­flicts are deadly dan­ger­ous for Rus­sia," Medvedev said. "We mustn't al­low some dimwits to de­stroy our com­mon home."

Putin also sug­gested lim­it­ing jury tri­als, in­tro­duced all over Rus­sia in re­cent years. He said that tri­als by jury for sus­pects in mur­ders and other grave crimes should only be held on an in­ter-re­gion level in­stead of a lo­cal level to pre­vent ac­quit­tals based on clan loy­al­ties. -Ap

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