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Russia’s Former PM Kasyanov Warns Kremlin Builds Dictatorship

Mos News | April 2 2006

A former Russian prime minister has warned that his country is slipping into a dictatorship similar to the harsh regime in neighboring Belarus, The Sunday Times reported.

Mikhail Kasyanov, 48, sacked by President Vladimir Putin in 2004 for questioning his commitment to democracy, said the Kremlin had become so despotic that people increasingly lived in fear.

“If Russia continues along the current course it will end up like the regime of Alexander Lukashenko,” he said, referring to the hardline president of Belarus, widely condemned in the West as Europe’s last dictator. “An atmosphere of fear is being created and a sense that everyone is under the state’s control. These are the first steps towards a totalitarian system. There is practically no press freedom, the judiciary is no longer independent and public opinion is manipulated.”

Kasyanov plans to challenge for the presidency in 2008, when Putin’s second and final term expires. Though his popularity rating is in single digits, the dashing politician remains the opposition’s best hope.

Many of the Kremlin’s critics believe Kasyanov can unite Russia’s fractured opposition and gain the support of some of the country’s wealthy elite, with whom he had close relations when he was in government. Others fear, however, that it is those very links that make him unpalatable to ordinary Russians, who tend to find him arrogant and too flashy. The former Kremlin fixer has vehemently denied rumors of corrupt dealings while in office, but has found it difficult to shake off the nickname “Misha 2%”, the cut he is alleged to have made on state contracts.

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