Don't destabilize Russia, Putin warns foes

MOSCOW Sat Dec 20, 2008 1:39am EST

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin speaks at the United Russia party congress in Moscow, November 20, 2008. REUTERS/Alexander Natruskin

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin speaks at the United Russia party congress in Moscow, November 20, 2008.

Credit: Reuters/Alexander Natruskin

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MOSCOW (Reuters) - Prime Minister Vladimir Putin warned Russia's foes on Friday against trying to destabilize a country facing broadening economic crisis, Russian news agencies reported.

Putin did not specify who might pose a threat to Russia's stability. But in the past, he has often blamed Western security services of trying to destabilize the country using opposition groups and non-governmental organizations as their instruments.

"Any attempts to weaken or destabilize Russia, harm the interests of the country will be toughly suppressed," they quoted ex-KGB spy Putin as telling an annual meeting of top spies and security officers ahead of their professional holiday.

Putin, who was the Russian president in 2000-08, has contributed greatly to the growth of influence of Russia's FSB federal security service, a successor of the Soviet-era KGB.

Many ex-KGB officers became key government and regional officials during his presidency forming his power base, which largely remained intact after Putin handed over powers to his successor Dmitry Medvedev in May.

Critics say that under Putin, security services have become excessively influential and expressed fears Russia could one day become a police state.

Rights campaigners have urged Medvedev to veto a cabinet bill ordering that professional judges rather than juries run trials involving terrorism, civil unrest and several other serious crimes.

They also urged Medvedev to block government attempts to impose high treason charges on people accused of "harming the constitutional order," which critics believe could lead to a political witch-hunt.

Analysts say the role of the security services is likely to grow even further as Russia plunges into an economic crisis marked by rising unemployment and financial woes that threaten the popularity of the government.

Avoiding civil unrest and maintaining political stability is viewed by the government as a top priority.

MEDVEDEV ABSENT

The Day of Security Officers is marked annually on December 20, a day when in 1917 Bolshevik rulers created the CheKa secret police to suppress their foes. After a string of transformations, the Cheka became the KGB.

As president, Putin always personally attended the holiday meetings of security officials. Medvedev, a former corporate lawyer with no security background, stayed away and sent his chief of staff Sergei Naryshkin to deliver his greetings.

Medvedev, who faced the challenge of a brief war with Georgia soon after becoming president which soured Russia's ties with the West, said security concerns remained paramount.

"In the past 20 years the world has changed but has not become a quieter place," Naryshkin said, reading out his letter, according to Interfax.

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