Putin shrugs off emigration mood
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who plans a Kremlin comeback, on Thursday dismissed polling figures showing one in five Russians wanted to emigrate, saying "the grass is always greener."
Speaking to foreign investors in his first major public speech since announcing last month that he may stay in power until 2024, Putin warned 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 Russian saying that can also be roughly translated as "the grass is always greener on the other side."
He spoke in response to one Russian conference attendee, who cited a poll saying around one in five Russians wanted to leave the country.
"That people are sort of giving a signal that they don't like something, that's understandable," Putin said.
According to a recent study by the Levada Centre pollster, 22 percent of Russians wanted to leave Russia.
Putin made light of the figures, saying he paid attention to opinion polls but took them with a grain 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 added, noting that he himself would divide such figures by a factor of 100.
Putin spoke after President Dmitry Medvedev, seen as a more liberal figure, stunned Russia last month 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 and turns 59 on Friday, to remain head of state until 2024.
His critics are concerned that his comeback could plunge the country's economy into decline and stagnation and speed up the brain drain.
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 ended with his death in 1982.
A blog titled "Pora valit?" (Time to shove off) has recently gained fame among local Internet users.
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 break anything.
"We have too many political rushers," he said, adding that political haste was dangerous and could lead to the country's downfall similar to the Soviet collapse.
At the forum, Putin reassured investors that Russia was now better positioned to weather an economic slowdown than it was before the 2008 global meltdown and pledged that his government would continue to modernise the economy.
Putin said former finance minister Alexei Kudrin, who had been admired for his fiscal prudence before his decision to resign in protest of Russia's new government succession plan, would remain part of his team.
Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov, responding to growing criticism that Putin's third term would lead to stagnation, said this week the prime minister was no Brezhnev and that Brezhnev's rule was "a huge plus" for Russia anyway.
Some critics saw it as a startling apologia for a Kremlin leader whose rule historians say helped trigger the Soviet collapse.
The business daily Vedomosti slammed that line of thought, saying Brezhnev's rule was "a road to the abyss."
"It was a time of managing a rich and potentially great country in a monstrously ignorant way," it said.
© 2011 AFP