Russia's Medvedev evokes Stalin ahead of polls
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev on Saturday evoked Stalin-era executions in an emotional pre-election vow to punish those responsible for a recent string of costly space mishaps.
Medvedev's message came just a week before legislative polls in which the ruling party's strong performance could help secure his own standing once Vladimir Putin takes over the presidency in a planned job swap in March.
Russia's only one-term president -- a tech-savvy attorney by training who previously served as a state company executive -- has lacked Putin's boyish charisma and has been criticised for insufficient toughness in some polls.
But the 46-year-old came out swinging on Saturday when asked by a reporter in a live television exchange about why Russia's rockets were starting to crash and burn at an alarming rate.
"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 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.
But they 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 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 Medvedev still heads the United Russia lists and the group's strong performance in elections should help secure his future as Putin's preferred choice of prime minister.
Putin has vowed to appoint Medvedev as prime minister under a private agreement the two old Saint Petersburg friends struck several years ago.
But the post is also coveted by such internationally-respected officials as the ex-finance minister Alexei Kudrin. Some analysts expect Putin to eventually dump Medvedev as a result.
Medvedev for his part argued on Saturday that his main worry was how Russia's financial stability could be affected by the recent space accidents.
"It is quite obvious that we have to promote our products on international markets and create new models of a higher quality," he said.
© 2011 AFP