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Official Warns Russia May Collapse

CBS News | April 4, 2005

Infighting among top Russian political leaders, rattled by popular uprisings in three ex-Soviet republics, may cause a rift that puts Russia at risk of breaking up, President Vladimir Putin's chief of staff warned in an interview published Monday.
ARCHIVE:
Russian official warns political infighting could lead to collapse

Analysts said the rare public comments by Dmitry Medvedev, a powerful member of Putin's inner circle, appeared to be an attempt to bolster the authority of Putin's administration.

In the interview published in the magazine Expert, Medvedev said infighting among politicians may cause Russia to collapse, leading to "horrible consequences" and making the 1991 breakup of the Soviet Union seem like a "kindergarten party."

"If we do not manage to consolidate elites, Russia may disappear as a unified state," Medvedev was quoted as saying. "And then everybody will be in trouble, including our immediate and distant neighbors."

Several political experts said his statements, which were featured prominently on evening newscasts on state-run television, were aimed at portraying the current leadership as the only one capable of effectively governing Russia.

"His message was that 'We are the Russian authorities, we are Russia's state interest and if we are forced to go, Russia will disintegrate,"' said Igor Bunin, head of the Center for Political Technologies, a Moscow think tank.

Medvedev appeared to be trying to win over people who might potentially support popular uprisings similar to those that toppled longtime rulers in the ex-Soviet republics of Georgia, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan, Bunin said.

Nikolai Petrov, a political analyst at the Carnegie Moscow Center, said Medvedev was trying to shift attention away from the Kremlin's unfilled promises - increased economic growth, foremost among them.

"The idea is that we must forget about all the promises that have been made - including the president's goal of doubling the GDP - and concentrate on preserving what we have," Petrov said.

Medvedev's statements were a "scream for help" by a Kremlin weakened by recent embarrassments in foreign and domestic policy, he said - among them in Ukraine, where the Kremlin backed a candidate in elections that were tainted by fraud and eventually led to Western-leaning opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko gaining the presidency.

The comments were a call on political elites both in Moscow and in the regions "to stop political battles and focus on what we have achieved," Petrov said.

Medvedev also said terrorism and corruption plaguing Russia may turn the 2008 presidential election into a challenge, especially since Russia "has never had an easy legal transfer of power."

"Today, serious problems remain that are capable of destabilizing the society and leading to a series of social cataclysms: they are terrorism, poverty and crime," Medvedev was quoted as saying.

Petrov said the comments showed the Kremlin was uncertain about the upcoming election, since post-Soviet Russia has yet to work out a clear mechanism of transferring power.

The constitution bans Putin, now in his second term, from running again and he has repeatedly denied he will. But skeptics worry the Kremlin may use its supporters - who hold a majority in parliament- to keep Putin in power beyond 2008.

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