'Grass always greener': Putin shrugs off emigration poll
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who plans a Kremlin comeback, on Thursay dismissed polling figures showing one in five Russians wanted to leave their homeland, saying "the grass was always greener on the other side."
Speaking to foreign investors in his first major public speech since announcing last month that he may stay in power until 2024, he also cautioned against rash political changes, promising instead evolutionary reforms.
"Fish always looks for deeper water, man always looks for better places," he said at a Moscow conference, citing a popular Russian saying that can also be roughly translated as "the grass is always greener on the other side."
"That people are sort of giving a signal that they don't like something, that's understandable," he said in response to one Russian conference attendee, who cited a poll saying around one in five Russians wanted to leave the country.
According to a recent study by the respected Levada Centre pollster, 22 percent of Russians wanted to leave Russia for good.
Putin dismissed the figures, saying he paid attention to opinion polls but took them with a pinch of salt.
"As far as the polls are concerned, we have to look at how many people leave Russia and how many people leave other countries," he said. "Don't trust these polls too much."
He spoke after incumbent President Dmitry Medvedev, whom investors had seen as a more liberal figure, stunned Russia by saying he would step aside to allow his mentor to return to the Kremlin.
The constitution allows the former KGB officer, who has been in power since 1999, to remain head of state until 2024, with two more six-year terms at the Kremlin.
His critics are concerned that his comeback could plunge the country's economy into decline and stagnation and speed up brain drain from Russia.
Many Russians marked the announcement of the Putin-Medvedev job swap with threats to emigrate and a fresh crop of cynical jokes, comparing Putin to the much-ridiculed Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev, whose 18-year rule helped trigger the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Speaking Thursday, Putin said Russia was an open society and much of the criticism was justified.
"But you have to tread very carefully here. Changes are certainly needed and they will happen," he said. "But this will be an evolutionary path.
"We do not need great upheavals. We need a great Russia," he said, quoting tsarist-era prime minister Pyotr Stolypin whose reforms ended with an assassin's bullet in 1911.
"Both me and incumbent President Dmitry Medvedev have sent a clear, firm message to the country: we are not going to crush, chop up or broke anything. We are going to develop our political system."
"We have too many political rushers," he said, adding that political precipitation was dangerous and could lead to the country's downfall similar to the Soviet collapse.
"We've have all seen it before. In the 90s everything collapsed.
© 2011 AFP