Kouchner criticises 'prime minister' Putin

3rd October 2007, Comments 0 comments

3 October 2007, BRUSSELS (AFP) - French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner expressed concern Tuesday at Russian President Vladimir Putin's plans to take the post of prime minister, although the EU said it was an "internal" matter.

3 October 2007

BRUSSELS (AFP) - French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner expressed concern Tuesday at Russian President Vladimir Putin's plans to take the post of prime minister, although the EU said it was an "internal" matter.

Kouchner, one of the few senior international politicians to publicly express misgivings, told Europe 1 radio that there were not enough counterweights to the power of the Kremlin in Russia.

He said US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had been right to express reservations in a newspaper interview about the political situation in Russia.

"Condi Rice was absolutely right to highlight that this is an 'unprecedented procedure'," he said.

Asked about the absence of counterveiling powers to the Kremlin, Kouchner -- who paid an official visit to Russia last month -- said: "Unfortunately, there is not enough.

"The opposition is not taken sufficiently seriously, the country has lots of difficulties and the whole world knows it."

Rice told Monday's New York Post she was worried about the concentration of power in Russia.

It was not clear if she was speaking before or after Putin's announcement to delighted delegates of the United Russia group Monday that he would lead them into December's parliamentary election.

That makes him a frontrunner for the prime minister's position. The constitution prevents him from running for a third term as president and some observers see this as his way of staying in power.

After the announcement, the White House said only that this was an "internal affair" so long as the elections were free and fair.

The European Commission, currently locked in tense negotiations with Moscow over the EU's dependence on Russian gas, also preferred to keep a diplomatic silence on what it also described Tuesday as an internal matter.

"The commission has no comment to make on that particular situation," said spokesman Johannes Laitenberger.

"That is internal Russian business," he told a press conference in Brussels.

According to Michael Emerson of the Centre for European Political Studies in Brussels, Monday's move by the president should not have come as such a political earthquake.

"Everybody should have been expecting some twist to enable Putin to stay in power virtually indefinitely," he said.

"He is not quite president for life -- but he's not doing that badly. It's obviously a perversion of the intentions of the Russian constitution but he will get a mandate to become PM, and then president for another two terms."

"That gives us another 10 or 12 years [of Putin]," he said.

Emerson added: "They [the West] are not saying anything because they are not enthusiastic at this latest demonstration of Russia's non-democracy, but there's nothing much they can do about it."

For Tanguy Struye, professor of geopolitics as the Royal Military School in Brussels, Putin's real intentions are still not clear.

"There is also talk of Putin becoming president of (energy giant) Gazprom: nobody is really sure what he wants to do, so perhaps this is a ruse, albeit a very cunning one," warned the expert.

"The only thing that is certain is that he will continue to play a paramount role in the future of the country."

AFP

Subject: French news

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