MOSCOW, September 20 (RIA Novosti) – Russian President Vladimir Putin cautiously reached out to his political opponents on Thursday, welcoming new political leaders, including from opposition parties that currently do not have a place in the existing political elite, and hinting at amnesty for protesters accused of clashing with police at a political rally on Moscow’s Bolotnaya Square.
“I expect bright leaders to emerge with us. The country needs them,” the 60-year-old Putin said, fielding a question about political representation for Russia’s younger generation at a session of the Valdai Club, a Kremlin-backed international discussion forum.
The president did not give any examples, but he noted the success of fellow forum attendee Yevgeny Roizman, recently elected as mayor of Russia’s fourth-biggest city, Yekaterinburg, whom Putin attested as a representative of the so-called “un-systemic opposition” who “came and won.”
Since 2011, when a wave of anti-Kremlin protests emerged after disputed elections, the country has seen the rise of a new generation of opposition politicians, including Roizman and Moscow-based whistleblower-turned-party leader Alexei Navalny. The authorities have failed to pursue a consistent approach to the new opposition, alternatively hitting it with dubious criminal cases and tightened political legislation, and easing political rules to allow them to hold public events and run for electoral offices.
Putin weighed in on Thursday on one of the ongoing cases, which saw 12 people go on trial for allegedly attacking police at a large rally on Moscow’s Bolotnaya Square in May 2012. Police and protesters have accused one another of provoking a standoff that resulted in more than 650 detentions.
Putin said he had not ruled out utilizing presidential amnesty in regard to the defendants, which face between two and 10 years behind bars, but he added that all the legal procedures must first be completed before he would make such a decision.
But he said that violence against law enforcement officers was unacceptable and that perpetrators must be punished.
Still, Putin promoted a national dialogue between all political forces in the country in his main speech at the forum, dedicated to the long-discussed search for a Russian national idea.
“Neo-Slavophiles and neo-Westernizers, statists and the so-called liberals – all of society needs to work together to shape common development goals, to get rid of the habit of only hearing like-minded people and … dismissing any other point of view,” Putin said.
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Some people are trying to make the reality in Russia at least a bit more humane. The amnesty should apply not only to persons involved in high-profile cases, but also to individuals who are not as well-known. It is better to set free at least some of the individuals who deserve to be released than no one at all.