MOSCOW – Vladimir Putin called his critics foreign-funded “jackals” and accused the West of meddling in Russian politics in a scathing speech Wednesday meant to drum up support for the main pro-Kremlin party.
The thunderous attack came as Russia heads toward Dec. 2 parliamentary elections that have turned into a plebiscite on Putin and whether he should retain power after stepping down as president next year after two consecutive terms.
Thousands of flag-waving supporters who packed a Moscow sports arena for the speech joined in chants urging Putin to remain Russia’s “national leader.”
It isn’t clear what formal title he might hold, but he heads the ticket of the dominant United Russia party and has suggested he could become prime minister. Opinion surveys suggest the party will win two-thirds of the votes and a crushing 80 percent of the lower house of parliament’s 450 seats.
With approval ratings exceeding 70 percent, Putin cast the election as a black-and-white choice between the current economic boom and the poverty and political chaos of the 1990s.
“Nothing is predetermined at all,” Putin said. “Stability and peace on our land have not fallen from the skies; they haven’t yet become absolutely, automatically secured.”
Addressing about 5,000 backers at the rally, Putin suggested his political opponents are working for Russia’s Western adversaries.
“Regrettably, there are those inside the country who feed off foreign embassies like jackals and count on support of foreign funds and governments, and not their own people,” Putin said.
He accused unidentified Russians of planning mass street protests, like those that helped usher in pro-Western governments in the former Soviet republics of Georgia and Ukraine in recent years.