Russia's Putin: Soviet Collapse a Tragedy
Monday April 25, 2005 8:31 PM
AP Photo MOSB109
By ALEX NICHOLSON
Associated Press Writer
MOSCOW (AP) - President Vladimir Putin lamented the demise of the Soviet
Union in some of his strongest language to date, saying in a nationally
televised speech before parliament Monday that it was ``the greatest
geopolitical catastrophe of the century.''
In his annual address to lawmakers, top government officials and political
leaders, Putin also sought to reassure skittish investors about Russia's
investment climate - just two days before a ruling in the tax evasion and
fraud trial of oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky.
His statements on the collapse of the Soviet Union and its effects on
Russians, at home and abroad, come as the country is awash in nostalgia just
two weeks before the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II in Europe -
a conflict Russians call the ``Great Patriotic War.''
Putin, who served as a colonel in the KGB, has resurrected some communist
symbols during his presidency, bringing back the music of the old Soviet
anthem and the Soviet-style red banner as the military's flag.
In the 50-minute address at the Kremlin, Putin avoided mentioning the need
to work more closely with other former Soviet republics - in contrast to
previous addresses - and he made passing reference to the treatment of
Russian-speaking minorities in former Soviet republics.
``First and foremost it is worth acknowledging that the demise of the Soviet
Union was the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century,'' Putin
said. ``As for the Russian people, it became a genuine tragedy. Tens of
millions of our fellow citizens and countrymen found themselves beyond the
fringes of Russian territory. The epidemic of collapse has spilled over to
Russia regularly complains about discrimination against Russian-speaking
minorities, particularly in the Baltic countries of Estonia, Lithuania and
There was no immediate reaction to Putin's speech by officials in the three
Baltic countries, which have often stormy relations with Moscow. Polish
Foreign Minister Adam Rotfeld said he disagreed with the statement.
``If I was in the place of the authors of the statement, I would say that
the biggest event of the 20th century was the collapse of the Soviet Union,
which completed the process of the emancipation of nations,'' Rotfeld said
Putin's popularity has been dented in the past year by widespread street
protests over painful social security reforms and his unsuccessful attempts
to head off a popular uprising in the former Soviet republic of Ukraine.
Critics also have slammed the Russian leader for reacting to terrorist
attacks last year by pushing through legislation ending the election of
independent lawmakers and the popular elections of provincial governors.
The Bush administration has been stepping up its criticism of Putin, albeit
gingerly so as not to alienate a partner deemed vital in the global war on
terrorism. President Bush said he raised the issue of Putin's commitment to
democracy during meetings with the Russian leader in Slovakia in February.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice voiced concern over democratic
backsliding and the need for the rule of law during a high-profile visit to
Russia last week.
The 60th anniversary Victory Day celebrations, to be held May 9 in Moscow,
will be a major celebration for Russia. Dozens of heads of state are
expected to attend, including Bush, French President Jacques Chirac and
British Prime Minister Tony Blair. Workers are frantically painting and
scrubbing the city; red, star-studded posters hailing war veterans are
plastered around the capital and vintage Soviet war films are being shown
almost nightly on television.
Much of Putin's speech centered on assuaging the fears of investors who have
been spooked by a series of contradictory and sometimes punitive legal and
He said tax inspectors do not have the right to ``terrorize business,'' and
repeated a call for the time for challenging the results of past
privatization deals to be cut to three years from the current 10. Foreign
companies need clear ``rules of the game'' on which sectors of the economy
are open to investment, Putin said. Russians should be encouraged to bring
their undeclared earnings home rather than squirrel them away abroad, he
``That money must work in our country, in our economy, and not sit in
offshore zones,'' Putin said.
Investors and analysts are closely watching how a Moscow court will rule as
early as Wednesday in the criminal case of Mikhail Khodorkovsky - once
Russia's richest man and now its most famous inmate. Many see the criminal
trial and a parallel tax assault that has dismantled his Yukos oil empire as
a Kremlin-instituted policy.
Some experts say Russia is already seeing economic growth slow as a result
of Yukos, along with other cases, such as $1 billion tax bill that
Anglo-Russian oil company TNK-BP now faces and antitrust authorities'
decision to block a bid by Germany Siemens AG to acquire Russian power
station builder Power Machines.
Liberal politician Irina Khakamada dismissed Putin's address as ``an export
product'' marked by ``liberal rhetoric and ritual statements addressed to
``Here (in Russia) we react to the actions of the prosecutor general's
office and the tax inspectors. This is what's real,'' said political analyst
Putin was to set off for Cairo on Tuesday and then continue on to Israel -
his first visit to the Middle East as Russia's president. The last Kremlin
chief to make a bilateral visit to Egypt was Nikita Khrushchev, who in 1964
inaugurated the first stage in building the Aswan High Dam.