Putin strikes back at critical Russian lawmakers

May 8, 2012 - 12:57 PM
APTOPIX Russia Politics

Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, and former President Dmitry Medvedev attend a meeting of the State Duma, Russian parliament's lower house, in Moscow, Russia, Tuesday, May 8, 2012. Russia's parliament has approved former President Dmitry Medvedev as prime minister with a vote of 299-144. He will serve under Vladimir Putin, the former prime minister who began a third presidential term on Monday. (AP Photo/Mikhail Metzel)

MOSCOW (AP) — Russian President Vladimir Putin had no trouble getting the Kremlin-controlled parliament to approve former President Dmitry Medvedev as his prime minister Tuesday, but he did not much like the startlingly critical questions Medvedev faced from lawmakers before the vote.

Communists and leftists challenged Medvedev over his failed reforms and the lack of progress on modernizing Russia's economy, the stated priority of his four years as president.

In characteristically colorful language, Putin struck back by blaming the economic difficulties on the Communists who ruled the Soviet Union until 1991. The Soviet economy was based on heavy industry and produced shoddy consumer goods.

"Yes, my dears, there's no need to discuss this," Putin said. "The point is that what we produced — and no need to wave your arms — no one needed. No one bought our galoshes except for Africans who had to walk on hot sand."

Putin, who had just exited the prime minister's office, began a third presidential term on Monday and immediately fulfilled his promise to nominate Medvedev for his old job.

The job switch, which was announced in September, offended many Russians by its implication that their votes were no more than a formality in the highly controlled political system that Putin created after coming to power in 2000. This anger helped galvanize a protest movement that brought tens of thousands of protesters onto the streets of Moscow for a series of unprecedented demonstrations.

Parliament, where the Kremlin party has a majority, approved Medvedev's appointment on Tuesday with a vote of 299-144.

But before the vote, lawmakers from all four factions were allowed to question Medvedev.

The harshest criticism came from Just Russia, a leftist party created by the Kremlin, which has become more critical in recent months as some of its members have joined the anti-Putin protest movement.

Just Russia lawmaker Nikolai Levichev reminded Medvedev of his promise in 2008 to promote innovation, investment, institutions and infrastructure as part of a program called the four I's.

"These did not become the bases of the economic development of the country," Levichev said. "Instead of this a fifth 'I' appeared: the imitation of all these reforms."

The Communists also have become more willing to oppose the Kremlin, although the party has maintained its distance from the protesters.

Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov, who ran a distant second to Putin in the presidential race, told Medvedev that it had become more profitable for people in Russia to "drink, steal and speculate" than to work or study.

After the vote, the mild-mannered Medvedev thanked the parliament members for their support. He said his first thought was to address the criticism, but then decided that would not be "humane." The lawmakers responded with laughter and applause.

Putin then took the floor and called for quiet. He proceeded to shoot down their arguments one by one.