The almost unthinkable happened today–Russian President Dmitry Medvedev met with leaders from what the Kremlin calls the “unregistered opposition.” That is not only big news in itself but a further signal that the government of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin is beginning to take the opposition seriously.
Forget the Moscow police estimate of 150 opposition cars in yesterday’s car rally, hundreds of cars were counted and the unregistered opposition is finally earning the right to be heard.
There are those Kremlin watchers who will say that this is nothing more than an attempt to co-opt and pacify a group of unorganized protesters. The reality however is that the new umbrella organization called the League of Voters has begun to succeed in uniting the opposition into a single cohesive voice.
Many will say that Prime Minister Putin will use this meeting as a way to pacify the protest leaders until after the March 4 presidential election has taken place. That is his style and often it is successful. Regardless, we are seeing a sense of urgency in the Putin camp now; absentee voting and voting in isolated regions began late last week the Putin campaign feels the need to lessen the heat on Mr. Putin’s candidacy.
If anyone has some measure of remaining credibility and the political will to give the opposition a voice, it is Medvedev. So today the presidential residence in the Moscow suburb of Gorki played host to the leaders of “the unregistered opposition.” Taking part in the meeting were:
– Konstantin Babkin (Party of Action)
– Sergei Baburin (Russian National Union)
– Mikhail Lermontov (For Our Fatherland Party)
– Yury Moskalyov (Path of Truth and Unity)
– Boris Nemtsov, former Deputy Prime Minister (Party of People’s Freedom for Russia without Arbitrariness and Corruption)
– Anatoly Panfilov (The Greens)
– Vladimir Ryzhkov (Republican Party of Russia, PARNAS)
– Gennady Seleznyov (Russia’s Renaissance)
– Sergei Udaltsov (Russian United Labour Front (ROT Front))
– Galina Khavrayeva (For Russia’s Women)
along with Vyacheslav Volodin, President Medvedev’s First Deputy Chief of Staff.
What is significant about this meeting is that Mr. Medvedev invited them to participate in the thought process about how to frame Russia’s political system in the future. The meeting today was the first known direct high-level contact between the Kremlin and leaders of the opposition since the wave of protests that began in December immediately following the Duma (parliamentary) elections.
Some of the criticisms of the current system have been harsh and the president acknowledged their frustrations by saying, “Our political system is far from ideal of course, and most of you here criticize it, sometimes in very harsh terms. But at the same time, if we want to change it, it is best to come to some common notions of where we want to take it. I think the time is ripe for this…the time is right now to pursue this work more actively.”
The president also told those present that, “It might sound strange, but I think that you here today will likely have some words of support for these proposals. You do not have official registration for your parties yet after all, and so an easing of the registration rules and general liberalization of our political life are no doubt much bigger issues for you than for the political parties that have already long since established themselves in the political firmament.”
Some opposition figures were not invited to the meeting, the most noticeable being anti-corruption blogger Alexei Navalny whose presence has helped drive the opposition forces forward.
Russian language readers may view the President’s comments via the First Channel at this video link.