February 6, 2009 / 5:11 PM / 10 years ago

Opposition says Russia's main economic problem is Putin

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russian opposition leaders accused Prime Minister Vladimir Putin on Friday of wasting billions of dollars in public funds and said he was Russia’s main obstacle to coping with the global financial crisis.

At a news briefing largely ignored by state media, two former deputy ministers and former world chess champion Garry Kasparov said the government had lied about the country’s economic problems and laid out their alternative strategy.

“To begin with we need the resignation of Vladimir Putin’s government which in this crisis has already demonstrated its complete helplessness and ridiculous incompetence,” the opposition movement Solidarity said in a statement.

Solidarity, an umbrella movement supported by anti-government liberals, includes former deputy prime minister Boris Nemtsov, former deputy energy minister Vladimir Milov and Kasparov, who hosted the briefing.

Last weekend Russia’s opposition held a series of anti-government marches across Russia, which attracted a few thousand people — mainly old communists and young radicals.

But the opposition expects a weakening economy to generate more support and undermine the government.

Since last summer Russia’s stock market has dived by 80 percent, the rouble has dropped by around 35 percent and reserves have shrunk by 40 percent to about $385 billion (260.8 billion pound) due to currency support and the low price of oil.

“This is wrong,” said Milov. “We don’t want to waste the money on defending the rouble which will devalue anyway. We want to give the money directly to the people to compensate for the negative consequences of rouble depreciation.”

The financial downturn has halted a decade-long, commodity-driven economic boom in Russia.

But the boom also created a huge wealth divide. Most Russians earn only a few hundred dollars a month and the opposition said they wanted to direct the oil wealth to the poorest Russians — a section of society they need to woo.

“We want to use the reserves to help with the social consequences and not burn them at this stage (on the defence of the rouble),” Milov said.

Putin and President Dmitry Medvedev remain popular in Russia despite the economic downturn, while support for opposition groups is low.

But Kasparov said it was just a matter of time until support for anti-government opposition gathered momentum.

“We debate among ourselves when the support will come, but there is no doubt it will happen,” he said.

Edited by Dominic Evans

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