Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and other “dictators” may be “nervous” after the death of Libya’s Muammar Qaddafi, U.S. Senator John McCain said.
“I think dictators all over the world, including Bashar al-Assad, maybe even Mr. Putin, maybe some Chinese, maybe all of them, may be a little bit more nervous,” McCain said in an interview with the British Broadcasting Corp. late yesterday. “It’s the spring, not just the Arab spring.”
Qaddafi was killed yesterday after an eight-month armed conflict that left thousands dead.
Putin, 59, a former KGB officer who has been in power since 2000, may be at the helm for as long as 24 years after deciding to seek a return to the Kremlin next year to replace his protege, President Dmitry Medvedev, a former corporate lawyer. This would make Putin Russia’s longest-serving leader since the Soviet Union’s Josef Stalin.
“It’s very possible that you will see people protesting a government that is clearly one that is not democratic in a fashion that I think the Russian people had the hopes and aspirations for once the Soviet Union collapsed,” said McCain, the Arizona Republican who was his party’s presidential candidate against Democrat Barack Obama in 2008.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov dismissed the comments by McCain, who criticized Putin and called for Russia’s expulsion from the Group of Eight industrial nations during the U.S. presidential campaign three years ago.
“This isn’t the first time we have heard such exotic remarks from Mr. McCain,” Lavrov said in an interview today with three Russian radio stations. “I don’t think they deserve serious comment. He’s got his phobias.”
Russian citizens “always have a choice” in selecting their leaders, Putin said in an interview with Russian state television, broadcast on Oct. 17. He also said he wants his ruling United Russia party to keep its dominant role in the country in December legislative elections.
Putin centralized power and sidelined opposition after becoming president in 2000, with pro-government parties now controlling 87 percent of seats in parliament, including a two-thirds majority held by United Russia.
He stepped down in 2008 after serving the maximum two consecutive terms as president and became prime minister. Putin will run in March presidential elections and Medvedev, 46, may become premier as he will lead the United Russia list in the Dec. 4 parliamentary election.
‘People Won’t Understand’
Russia may risk unrest similar to the wave that shook the Middle East unless Medvedev stays in the Kremlin, Igor Yurgens, an adviser to the president, said in January after Tunisia’s former President Zine El Abidine Ali fled to Saudi Arabia amid protests sparked by rising food costs and unemployment.
“People won’t understand why Russia can’t choose a new, more modern-looking person who is more open to the outside world,” Yurgens, who heads a research institute set up by Medvedev, said in an interview on Jan. 17. “Everyone is fed up at seeing the same face.”
Putin has a popularity rating of 49 percent, down from a peak of 70 percent in 2008, according to the latest poll carried out by the Public Opinion Foundation, also known by its Russian acronym FOM. The survey, based on interviews with 3,000 people Oct. 15-16, was published yesterday. No margin of error was given.
Obama’s approval rating remains at a low of 42 percent, according to a Washington Post-ABC News poll released on Oct. 4. The poll was conducted Sept. 29 to Oct. 2 among 1,002 adults with a margin of sampling error of plus or minus four percentage points.
McCain, who has co-sponsored legislation that would impose a U.S. visa ban and asset freeze on Russian officials guilty of human rights abuses, said Putin may face “significant” unrest.
“I cannot predict an armed uprising or anything like that, but I can certainly see significant protests in a lot of countries,” he said when asked about what may happen in Russia.