Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin sees little scope for cooperation with the leaders of opposition protests because they lack ideas and many are uncharismatic “zeroes,” his spokesman said on Monday.
Dmitry Peskov’s comments signaled there is little chance of Putin offering an olive branch to his opponents by bringing them into government in response to the biggest protests against his domination of Russia since he rose to power 12 years ago.
The protests have faded since Putin was elected president on March 4, but the opposition plans a “march of the millions” on May 6, the day before he starts a six-year term after four years as prime minister and an earlier spell as president from 2000 to 2008.
“It is difficult to hold dialogue with people who have an unconstructive position and proceed from the principle of nihilism,” Peskov said in an interview. “To be able to discuss something, you have to have something on the agenda to discuss. That something cannot be only negative.”
“When they started being shown on television, it became clear that they are not interesting,” he added. “Many of them are zeroes. They have no political charisma and no political slogans to rally people behind them.”
Asked about one of the main opposition leaders, Alexei Navalny, Peskov said he had “extremist” leanings.
He indicated that Putin was aware of a change in society since the start of rallies that have mostly involved middle-class protesters in big cities, but did not say whether or how this might affect policy.
“He [Putin] has repeatedly said he is pleased that civil society is growing and developing in Russia ... Society is maturing. Discussions are going on and some of them will find their way into politics,” Peskov said, but gave no details.
Putin will reshuffle the government after he takes office, but has not said who will serve under Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, the ally with whom he is swapping jobs. He has not ruled out bringing in opposition politicians.
Boris Nemtsov, a liberal politician who helped organize protests that were initially sparked by public anger over alleged electoral fraud, dismissed Peskov’s criticisms.
“We do not rule out dialogue. They are the ones who do not want dialogue. Putin has shown this by his own behavior,” Nemtsov said by telephone. “These gentlemen are afraid of dialogue and are not ready for it. They are so arrogant and stupid that the only chance for dialogue to take place is to increase the pressure through protests. We have to force them.”
Nemtsov said the opposition’s demands included the abolition of political censorship, registration of opposition parties, permission for genuine opposition leaders to run for president, fair elections, the free election of governors and mayors, an independent judiciary, reform of the security services and the release of people they consider political prisoners.
Putin has offered some concessions, such as pushing through parliament a law easing rules on the registration of political parties and restoring the election of governors, who until now have been directly appointed by the Kremlin.
The opposition has dismissed these as token changes that do little to relax the Kremlin’s domination of politics.
Putin said soon after protests began in December last year that he was ready for talks, but has not met the demonstrators, although Medvedev has had talks with some of the opposition leaders.