Putin sees only 'fine line' between opposition and treachery
Putin said Thursday he saw "very" little difference between opposition to him and a "fifth column" of traitors and spies, as several journalists confronted him on his use of the term.
Speaking at his annual end-of-year news conference, Putin said he saw only a "very fine line" between legitimate opposition and that funded from overseas in the interests of another country.
"It's probably hard to give a scientific definition where the opposition ends and the fifth column begins," Putin said.
An opposition politician fights for the interests of his country while fifth columnists are used to forward the interests of "political ideas alien to us," he added.
Putin has cracked down on the political opposition since his return to the Kremlin in 2012, imposing the label "foreign agent" on non-governmental groups involved in politics that have international funding, while dozens of activists who took part in mass protest rallies ahead of Putin's inauguration have been imprisoned.
The president faced unusually tough questioning from several journalists about his use of the term "fifth column", dating back to the Spanish Civil War, which he has used in at least four major appearances this year.
"Thanks to you, the term 'fifth column' has re-entered the active political lexicon," a journalist from Gazeta.ru news website confronted Putin, saying the term "only reinforces hostility and polarisation in society".
A journalist for TV Rain independent channel asked him why he so starkly divided society into those for and against him.
"Are you not afraid of such a degree of hatred in society?" asked the journalist Ksenia Sobchak, daughter of early political mentor to Putin.
Putin said he felt no "responsibility" but conceded: "Seemingly I should be more careful in my public statements. I will have a think about that."
He first used the term fifth columnist this year after the annexation of Crimea, warning the West might whip up a protest mood by using "fifth columnists" inside Russia on top of imposing sanctions.
Earlier this month in an interview with Russia's TASS news agency, Putin reiterated that he believed some opposition politicians were "not too squeamish" to take foreign money.
Putin "wants to stress the difference between those who criticise him but do not damage the system and those revolutionaries from the fifth column who want a change of regime," said political analyst Olga Kryshtanovskaya.
"In general, he is keen on returning to the terms of the Soviet era."
© 2014 AFP