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Putin Confirmation as Russian Premier Sparks Verbal Fireworks

  • Peter Fedynsky

Vladimir Putin has been confirmed as Russian's new prime minister by an overwhelming vote in the lower house of Parliament. But VOA Moscow Correspondent Peter Fedynsky reports that scathing criticism and opposition to Mr. Putin by Communist lawmakers sparked verbal fireworks during a discussion of his nomination.

Vladimir Putin's confirmation as head of government was never in doubt, with 392 deputies voting in favor and 56 opposed. Mr. Putin's support came from two minority factions and the ruling United Russia Party, which he heads. Communists led the opposition.

Before the vote, Mr. Putin laid out his plans to turn Russia into a global economic leader and to improve the country's standard of living.

Russia's new head of government says creating an innovative society is impossible without constant development of the human factor and human capital and also without large investments in education, health, and secure and comfortable living conditions.

Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov recognized that Mr. Putin unified Russia during his presidency, put down revolts in the Caucasus, and improved the country's international image. But he said Russia is no longer an industrial powerhouse, and it imports half its food, while weeds have overtaken 40 million hectares of farmland.

Zyuganov also pointed to a serious demographic decline, noting that Russia's population is falling toward 135 million while that of the United States is surging over 300 million. In addition, he said that 800,000 highly trained professionals have left Russia in recent years.

"Your main failure," Gennady Zyuganov told Mr. Putin, "is that you did not develop and protect the fundamentals of democracy." He went on to say that the last election demonstrated once again that the policies of the Putin administration will get Russia nowhere and there will be stagnation even in those areas of which Mr. Putin is proud.

Zyuganov's remarks drew a sharp rebuke from Liberal Democratic Party head Vladimir Zhirinovsky, who ran for the presidency against the winner, Dmitri Medvedev.

Zhirinovsky, known as an outspoken firebrand, ripped into Zyuganov's charge that Russian factories are closing - noting that Communists forced political prisoners to build much of the country's infrastructure. Zhirinovsky said Russia's brain drain can also be traced to the Soviet era, because scientists have fled the country in search of freedom denied by the Communists.

Zhirinovsky accused Zyuganov's party of slaughtering the entire czarist police force and exterminating all of the country's engineers and government officials. Yes, bureaucrats take bribes, but who are they, asked Zhirinovsky. He answered; they came off the street during the Communist era to take over top government jobs. Zhirinovsky said things would have been different if children of the nobility, of landowners, industrialists, and scientists had ruled Russia.

Mr. Putin, whose nomination sparked the verbal fireworks, looked glum as Gennady Zyuganov attacked his record, and amused when Vladimir Zhirinovsky launched into the Communist leader.

Zhirinovsky elicited several rounds of outright laughter during his 10-minute tirade, which ended after his microphone was cutoff for exceeding a time limit.

The speeches by party leaders and Mr. Putin's lengthy address overshadowed newly inaugurated President Dmitri Medvedev, who merely introduced his nominee for the premiership and wished him well after his confirmation.

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