27 Dec 2011

Putin says Russian protesters want ‘chaos’

Leaderless groups wanting to sow chaos – that’s what Vladimir Putin thinks of recent protests against his rule in Russia. But an ex-ambassador tells Channel 4 News Russian politics is on the move.

Putin says Russian protesters want 'chaos' (Getty)

In his first comments since mass protests on Christmas Eve, the Russian prime minister said protesters were more interested in sowing chaos than implementing a concrete set of ideas for Russia‘s future.

Tens of thousands took to the streets in the bleak Russian winter on Saturday to demand a re-run of the disputed parliamentary elections, increasing pressure on Mr Putin as he seeks a new term as president in the March elections next year.

One placard (pictured left) read: “Get tired! Leave!”

The Christmas Eve protests followed other major demonstrations throughout December, the biggest since Putin rose to power in 1999.

Get tired! Leave! Placard at the Christmas Eve protests

Speaking to members of his All Russia People’s Front, an umbrella movement of supporters, at his presidential election campaign headquarters in Moscow on Tuesday, Mr Putin dismissed the protesters, saying: “They have many individual programmes, but no unified one and no clear way to reach their goals, which are also not clear, and there are no people who would be able to do anything concrete.”

However there have been signs he is taking the unrest seriously, saying the protesters deserved respect and announcing a reshuffle of top advisers. He maintains that it would be impossible to annul the disputed 4 December elections but promised on Tuesday that the March presidential vote – in which he aims to take back his old job from current president, Dmitry Medvedev – will be transparent.

Mr Putin also presented himself as a leader able to secure stability – an appealing strategy for a country which has been racked by crises and political chaos since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991.

Read more: What does the future hold for Russia?

Former ambassador Sir Rodric Braithwaite, who was the British ambassador in Moscow in 1991, told Channel 4 News Mr Putin’s response to the protests was important.

“It does depend on how Putin handles the current crisis – how he deals with all these demands for a re-run of the elections. One thing that he seems not to be doing – either because he is baffled or because he is being sensible – is not using the forcible methods his enemies in the west would have expected him to use,” he said.

He said the popular movement could have a real impact in Russia.

“I believe Russian politics is on the move again. I assume, though nothing is certain, that Putin will win in March, and I also assume that he won’t do two terms. But I don’t know what will happen which brings about that result – who will arise to challenge him?”

And he dismissed suggestions that, because protests have mostly taken place in the major cities, nothing will change.

“The answer is, how many people knew they were going to storm the Bastille in France in 1789? Provided you get critical mass in the critical places, you have got what you need and the rest will follow.”