Putin, ahead of election, says opposition would destabilize Russia

Putin, ahead of election, says opposition would destabilize Russia


Putin, who is running for re-election in March, was answering a question at his annual news conference about opposition leader Alexei Navalny who looks unlikely to be allowed to contest the election due to what Navalny says is a trumped up criminal case.

The question was put to him to Ksenia Sobchak, a television personality who has said she plans to run against Putin in the same election, which polls suggest Putin will comfortably win.

Putin, in response, accused Sobchak, who has said she wants to attract voters who are "against all candidates," of not offering any positive solutions to the problems facing Russia.

He likened Navalny to former Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili who came to power in his own country in 2004 after a peaceful revolution and is now heavily involved in politics in Ukraine, where he is calling for the impeachment of Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko.

"Do you want tens of people like Saakashvili to be running around public squares?" Putin asked Sobchak, when asked about Navalny not being allowed to take part in the election.

"Those who you've named (Navalny) are the same as Saakashvili, only the Russian version. And you want these Saakashvilis to destabilize the situation in the country? Do you want attempted coups d'etat? We've lived through all that. Do you really want to go back to all that? I am sure that the overwhelming majority of Russian citizens do not want this."

Putin said the authorities were not afraid of genuine political competition and promised such competition would exist.

Navalny, commenting on social media, said Putin's response showed the reasons for barring him from taking part in next year's presidential election were due to "a political decision."

"It's like he's saying we're in power and we've decided that it (Navalny running) is a bad idea," Navalny said.

(Reporting by Jack Stubbs, Vladimir Soldatkin and Denis Pinchuk; Writing by Andrew Osborn; Editing by Christian Lowe)