Russia's Medvedev evokes Stalin ahead of elections
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev on Saturday evoked the executions of the Stalin era in a pre-election vow to punish those responsible for a recent string of costly space mishaps.
"The recent failures are a big blow to our competitiveness. This does not mean that anything fatal happened. It just means that we have to find those responsible and punish them," Medvedev said in nationally televised remarks.
"I am not suggesting that we line people up against the wall like we did when Joseph Vissarionovich was in power," he added in reference to the firing squads that Stalin used to execute his political foes in 1930s purges.
"Nevertheless, we have to punish them seriously."
Russia's once-proud space programme was hit by a shocking series of setbacks this year that included the loss of an International Space Station cargo craft and a Mars moon probe that became stuck in an low Earth orbit upon launch.
The Roscosmos programme has also been forced to write off costly commercial satellites and order several manned launch delays that questioned Russia's status as the only nation still able to safely ferry crews to space and back.
The various snags have underscored the troubles that Russia's underfunded scientists have experienced since beating their US rivals to space with Yuri Gagarin's historic flight aboard the tiny Sputnik capsule 50 years ago.
Space analysts said today's mistakes could come back to haunt Russia in the future as its richer clients look to more reliable emerging space programmes such as China's to launch their various craft in the decades to come.
But the crashes have also proved an embarrassment to the government ahead of December 4 elections to the State Duma lower house of parliament in which the ruling United Russia party is already expected to suffer unprecedented loses.
Medvedev has been been making daily television appearances in the past week in which he has been tried to rally support for the party and defend his record against charges of financial mismanagement and waste.
The Russian head state has agreed to step down next year and allow Vladimir Putin -- his old mentor and elder and current prime minister -- to reclaim the presidency he held in 2000-2008 in national election on March 4.
But he still heads the United Russia lists and the group's strong performance in elections should help his standing as Putin's preferred choice of prime minister.
© 2011 AFP