News / Europe

Putin Answers Public's Questions About Arrests of Nationalist Rioters

Russia's Prime Minister Vladimir Putin during a call-in session broadcast live on Russian state television and radio in Moscow, 16 Dec 2010
Russia's Prime Minister Vladimir Putin during a call-in session broadcast live on Russian state television and radio in Moscow, 16 Dec 2010
Albina Kovalyova

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin answered questions from phone-ins, letters and audience members in a marathon four-hour question and answer session with the Russian public. 

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin dominated the news agenda of Russia's media as he answered questions ranging from housing and pensions to the actions of the opposition.  One of the leading questions was about the arrests of hundreds of nationalist rioters Wednesday in Moscow.

Mr. Putin says all manifestations of extremism must be suppressed from all sides.  No matter where they stem from.  He says you cannot group all nationalists under the same color, but you have to clamp down hard on any extreme behavior.

Putin praised the security services and their importance to the state.  About 1,000 people were detained late Wednesday, according to Russian media.  The groups of mainly young people were rounded up by police amid fears their protest would lead to inter-ethnic strife.

Tensions have been running high in Moscow since 5,000 nationalists rioted outside the Kremlin on Saturday, leaving dozens injured.

The Saturday protests were headed by a group of Slavic nationalists seeking revenge for Yegor Sviridov's death, a young football fan who was killed by natives from the Caucasus.  

Mr. Putin also answered questions about Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the former oil tycoon who was jailed in 2004 on charges of tax evasion, but who many believe was destroyed simply for defying Mr Putin.  Khodorkovsky he has been on trial again, charged with stealing the oil his company produced.

The verdict was due to be read Wednesday, but when journalists made their way to the court in Moscow, they found a note taped to the court-room door that said the trial had been postponed.

The pime minister said that the there is a reason that the oligarch was in prison.

He says he, like the famous character of Vladimir Vysotsky, believes that a thief has  to be in jail.  Mr. Putin said it had been proved Khodorkovsky had stolen  money.

Masha Lipman of the Carnegie Center in Moscow says that it is strange the prime minister claimed the crime had been proven before a verdict has been announced in court.

"I think if we think about legal nihilism as a problem that Russia is facing, as the president, President Medvedev has repeatedly said, then I think what Putin says in his television communication with the public today plays up to this legal nihilism," she said.

Lipman added that there is no doubt Mr. Putin is still more influential than Russia's President, Dmitry Medvedev

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