- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 26, 2007

12:51 p.m.

MOSCOW — President Vladimir Putin charged in a combative speech today that foreigners seeking to thwart Russia’s resurgence are increasingly interfering in its affairs.

Mr. Putin also called for imposing a moratorium on Moscow’s participation in a key Soviet-era arms control deal, which regulates the deployment of non-nuclear heavy weapons around the continent, until the United States and other NATO members ratify it.

In his annual state of the nation speech that was delayed two days by the death of his predecessor, Boris Yeltsin, Mr. Putin declared that he will not seek a third term, but refused to suggest a successor and said nothing to quell speculation that he seeks to remain in power behind the scenes.

Mr. Putin’s second term in office ends in 2008, and he is constitutionally barred from seeking a third. While many observers have suggested he would try to stay in office, Mr. Putin again dismissed the idea.

“The next state of the nation address will be given by another head of state,” he said.

Russia enters a high-stakes political season this year with parliamentary elections in December, followed by presidential elections in March. Russian officials in recent months have complained that Western countries are trying to meddle in the political process by funding pro-democracy organizations, and Mr. Putin echoed those claims.

“There is a growth in the flow of money from abroad for direct interference in our internal affairs,” Mr. Putin said in his address, delivered to members of both houses or parliament.

“There are those who, skillfully using pseudo-democratic rhetoric, would like to return to the recent past — some to loot the country’s national riches, to rob the people and the state; others to strip us of economic and political independence,” Mr. Putin said.

He did not cite specific countries as sources of the funding. The Foreign Ministry this month complained extensively about U.S. funding of democracy-promoting organizations in Russia.

Officials contend that such funding aims to provoke mass opposition protests such as those that helped propel pro-Western leaders into power in neighboring Georgia and Ukraine in recent years.

Police have cracked down on a series of opposition protests this year, beating some demonstrators and detaining hundreds.

Opposition forces charge that Mr. Putin is strangling democracy through an array of measures to centralize power and increase the influence of large political parties such as his allied United Russia party, which dominates the Russian parliament.

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