Putin hits out at ultra-nationalists
Moscow - Prime Minister Vladimir Putin cautioned on Monday against attempts to incite ethnic discord and called for tougher immigration legislation as he stepped up his electoral campaign for the Russian presidency.
In a far-ranging article published on his official campaign website, Putin extolled a historic mission of the Russian people and warned that nationalist-leaning political parties would be banned.
"I am deeply convinced that attempts to preach ideas about building a Russian 'national', mono-ethnic state contradict our entire millenium-long history," he said. "If a multinational society is hit by bacilli of nationalism it loses its strength and durability."
Putin, who is seeking to win back his old Kremlin job in a presidential election on March 4, is struggling with the worst legitimacy crisis of his 12-year rule.
Tens of thousands took to the streets last month in a wave of protest unseen since the early 1990s.
Nationalist movements of all hues have joined the nascent protest movement, and many have openly called for a withdrawal from the unrest-infested North Caucasus where Russia has fought two bloody wars against Chechen separatists in the past 20 years.
Tougher immigration legislation
Putin slammed attempts to inflame nationalist sentiments, saying the Russian people throughout centuries served as the backbone of Russia's multi-ethnic, multi-confessional state.
"The Russians' great mission is to unite, bind together a civilisation. We've lived together for centuries," he wrote.
"And we will live together in the future. And those who want or are trying to divide us, I can say just one thing - keep waiting," he said in the article also published in the broadsheet newspaper Nezavisimaya Gazeta.
But he also said Russia would further toughen up immigration legislation, and migrants who want to work would have from next year to pass exams testing their knowledge of the Russian language, history, literature and law.
The strongman prime minister also said nationalist-leaning parties in the country's various ethnic regions would be banned despite a recent drive to simplify legislation for political parties.
"We of course should develop our democratic, multi-party system," he said. "But we can't allow one thing - opportunities to create regional parties including in the national republics.
"This is a direct path to separatism," he said, warning that the same fate would await regional governors seeking to play the ethnic card.