Putin says Russia faces 'uncertainties and risks'
Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said Wednesday in advance of parliamentary elections that the government needed to tighten its grip on power as Russia faced numerous risks in the future.
Putin told the year's last session of the lower house of parliament ahead of December 4 elections that Russia's economy would struggle in any new global economic downturn.
"We are still facing very many uncertainty factors and risks," Putin said in televised remarks in the State Duma.
"And in case of a storm, a gale, a crisis, it is very important for the entire team to work in a cohesive manner, for the boat not to capsize."
Russia's economy is on course to grow about four percent this year thanks to relatively strong prices on its energy exports and expanding domestic demand.
But the figure is only half the rate seen prior to the 2008-2009 global financial crisis and economic officials have warned repeatedly that Russia needed much stronger performance to catch up to the world's developed states.
Putin has served as prime minister since the crisis began after completing a 2000-2008 reign as president and then stepping down in favour of his hand-picked successor Dmitry Medvedev.
He is now eyeing a return to the Kremlin in March presidential polls and also lobbying support for the ruling United Russia party in legislative elections to the Duma in which it has strong majority control.
This near-monopoly on power has seen a backlash from Russia's fractured opposition groups and drawn comparisons to Soviet times. But Putin thanked the Duma's pro-Kremlin bloc for helping avoid economic collapse in 2009.
"Our country's enormous advantage over other governments during the crisis was this cohesion between the work of the government and parliament," Putin said.
United Russia however now faces shrinking voter approval ratings and Putin has on past occasions also argued that Russia could not afford to have a strong opposition that can block various laws at a time of economic uncertainty.
Putin said on Wednesday that "in these circumstances, the ruling party always expects the opposition to behave in a calm manner and not to rock the boat. But these are vain hopes.
"The opposition exists to make sure that the ruling party, the ruling authorities could hold on to the levers of power more strongly and prove to society the correctness of the country's development course," he concluded as deputies rose from their seats to applaud.
The Duma election will be most closely watched for signs of voter fatigue with the dominance that Putin's team has established over all the ministries and other decision-making posts in the past decade.
United Russia is expected to retain its majority in parliament but may struggle to keep the nearly two-thirds of the seats it now holds -- a majority that makes all Duma debates largely irrelevant.
Some in the opposition meanwhile have called on voters to stay home in protest at a system that makes it especially difficult for non-Kremlin groups to win registration and receive sufficient funds to campaign.
Voter turnout in the 2007 Duma election reached 63.7 percent.
© 2011 AFP