Putin, in four-hour telethon, sticks to his guns on election (video)
Vladimir Putin projected his usual magisterial image in the appearance, ruling out any recount of the recent election and warning that foreign powers are behind the protesters seeking reform.
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Putin was asked about Mikhail Prokhorov, Russia's third richest man and owner of the New Jersey Nets basketball team, who today filed his official candidacy papers to run against Putin for the presidency, in polls slated for March 4. He answered that Mr. Prokhorov will be a "strong candidate", but added that he doesn't wish him success "since I'm running myself."Skip to next paragraph
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Prokhorov said that his first act as president would be to free Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the former owner of the Yukos oil empire who was jailed 8 years ago for challenging Putin politically, and was recently convicted a second time and sentenced to six more years in a Siberian penal colony.
Some experts argue that Prokhorov is really a Kremlin stalking horse, whose purpose is to channel the votes of disgruntled liberals, who wouldn't vote for Putin anyway, into a safe direction.
"Prokhorov's candidacy is just a deal with the Kremlin," says former deputy prime minister Boris Nemtsov, a leader of the liberal Party of People's Freedom, which is banned from fielding a presidential candidate. "No billionaire can run for president in this country without Putin's agreement, and no serious candidate with a chance of winning would be allowed to run. Maybe he'll be rewarded after this with a new party of his own, or some government post," he says.
Turning to foreign affairs, Putin argued that some critics in the West – he singled out Republican senator and former presidential candidate John McCain – cannot accept a strong, independent Russia. "It's Russia some people would like to get rid of," he said "They are still afraid of our nuclear deterrent. We have our own foreign policy whether they like it or not. The West isn't uniform and we have more friends than we have enemies."
"What we saw today is a Putin who is out of touch with society, and can't grasp what's going on. In his view, if people are protesting it's a colored revolution funded by foreigners and not an honest expression of civic discontent," says Andrei Kolesnikov, deputy editor of the opposition newspaper Novaya Gazeta.
"He projects this image of a guy who is absolutely sure of himself and knows he's doing everything right. So, that's how things stand today."
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