President Vladimir Putin said Russians “do not want and will not stand for” a Ukraine-style coup as he responded to a question from a rival presidential candidate at his annual press conference on Thursday.
“Do you want us to have coup attempts here? We’ve already been through all that. You want to go back to that? I am sure that the overwhelming majority of Russian citizens do not want this and will not stand for it,” he told liberal journalist Ksenia Sobchak, who announced in October she would run in next year’s presidential elections.
“We don’t want a second edition of today’s Ukraine for Russia, do we?” asked Putin, referring to the pro-Western 2014 “Maidan” uprisings that culminated in the ouster of Ukraine’s pro-Russian president Viktor Yanukovych.
“We won’t let it happen.”
Putin was responding to a question from Sobchak about opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who has spent the last year gathering support for a Kremlin bid.
Navalny is ineligible to stand due to a fraud conviction in a case seen by supporters as politically motivated.
As usual, Putin did not refer to Navalny by name, instead referring to “those personages you mentioned.”
He likened him to former Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili, a hated figure in Russia, who is now under investigation in Ukraine after falling out with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko.
“The one you named is another Saakashvili, just a Russian version,” Putin said to laughter from journalists. “Do you want such Saakashvilis to destabilise the situation in Russia?”
Sobchak, a journalist for independent Dozhd channel, has declared her intent to stand in March 2018 polls against Putin, with the slogan “against them all.”
Her close relationship with Putin, who worked with her father Anatoly Sobchak when he was mayor of Saint Petersburg in the 1990s, has led many to suggest her campaign is a bid to give the polls a veneer of competitiveness.
She questioned Putin in one of the liveliest moment of his annual press conference, which lasted around four hours.
“Unfortunately today this is the only way to ask you a question since you don’t take part in debates,” she told him.
“Are you against everyone here, or just against everyone?” Putin asked her, questioning why she did not have a “positive plan of action.”
“I’m for Russians and against the lack of handover of power,” Sobchak responded. “I’ve got a question about competitive elections.”
“I might have known,” Putin responded.
She asked if “the authorities fear honest competition.”
As a result, Russians “understand that being an opposition politician in Russia means you’ll either be killed, or you’ll be jailed,” she said.
“There undoubtedly should be competition and there will be competition,” Putin said of the polls. “The question is just about the degree of radicalisation.”
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