Russian communists flirt with Medvedev

MOSCOW Sat Nov 7, 2009 9:36am EST

Russia's President Dmitry Medvedev speaks with German journalists at the Gorki residence outside Moscow, November 7, 2009. REUTERS/Ria Novosti/Kremlin/Mikhail Klimentyev

Russia's President Dmitry Medvedev speaks with German journalists at the Gorki residence outside Moscow, November 7, 2009.

Credit: Reuters/Ria Novosti/Kremlin/Mikhail Klimentyev

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MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia's communist party denounced powerful Prime Minister Vladimir Putin while cautiously praising President Dmitry Medvedev on Saturday as a man who had brought 'certain hopes' to the country.

Putin, who has ruled as "first among equals" with his hand- picked successor, was the chief focus of anger in communist marches on the anniversary of the 1917 Bolshevik revolution.

"Medvedev should not look back at Putin," said protester Yakub Saidullayev, who held a banner reading 'Putin is the main hurdle for the progress of Russia'.

"He should come out from Putin's shadow."

Thousands waving red flags and banners criticizing corruption and poverty worsened by global economic crisis marched along Moscow's central thoroughfare toward the Kremlin amid heavy police presence.

The Communist Party of the Soviet Union ruled Russia for 74 years until its collapse after a failed hardline coup in 1991. The successor Russian party remains the best organized force and in polls usually scores second to the pro-Kremlin United Russia.

As in Soviet times, the general theme of banners and slogans at demonstrations is agreed in advance by the party leadership.

The "tandem" relationship between Putin and Medvedev has come under scrutiny for cracks that may signal growing instability in the vast country; but both men have said they are comfortable working with each other and will decide among themselves who will run for president in 2012.

Putin enjoys overwhelming support from his United Russia party, which has grown to become Russia's dominant political force during his presidency.

"Medvedev has honestly confessed that the country has come to a dead end," Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov told the crowd in reference to Medvedev's attempt to assess Russia's harsh post-crisis realities in his article "Russia, forward."

"Medvedev has brought certain hopes," Zyuganov later told Reuters, declining to say whether communists were ready to throw their weight behind the president, who lacks his own political base and is often seen sidelined by Putin in decision-making.

ANTI-CORRUPTION DRIVE

Communists, who claim to be the biggest victim of alleged fraud in regional elections last month, staged a walkout in the State Duma lower house of parliament together with smaller opposition parties and later held a meeting with Medvedev.

Communists call for mass nationalization, progressive income tax and a state monopoly on alcohol production and sales -- goals unlikely to be shared by the liberal-leaning president.

But Zyuganov said his party was ready to support Medvedev's anti-corruption drive.

Putin became Russia's prime minister after stepping down as president under constitutional rules limiting a presidency to two consecutive terms.

Medvedev, due to address the parliament this month, admitted in his article that the crisis, which has hit Russia harder than any other major emerging economy, demonstrated a failure to develop and diversify the Russian economy.

"The fish rots from the head, from Putin," said unemployed Valentina Ostapenko, who held a banner reading: 'We need a new Gulag' in reference to Soviet leader Josef Stalin's system of prison camps.

"All Putin's corrupt bureaucrats should go to the Gulag," she said.

(Writing by Gleb Bryanski; editing by Ralph Boulton)

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