(The St. Petersburg Times) - With the G8 summit two weeks away and Western criticism of Russias internal politics mounting, President Vladimir Putin over the weekend called for the state-controlled media to make sure opposition voices are heard.
The political system should be balanced and stable, Putin said at a meeting with leaders of the United Russia party at a Kremlin country facility, Lesniye Dali, outside Moscow. This means that those of our colleagues who might be in the opposition today should be provided with a forum to express their opinion.
Putin added that only through debates and discussions is it possible to find the best way to develop the state, the country and its economy.
This was not the first time Putin had called for more balanced media coverage: In his April 2005 state-of-the-nation address, the president said all parliamentary factions should get their fair share of air time. The opposition subsequently received more coverage, but it complained that the reporting was mostly negative, reports Trend.
Last month, more than 1,000 communist and Yabloko demonstrators marched on the Ostankino television tower to demand more airtime.
The St. Petersburg summit of the heads of state of the Group of Eight nations runs July 15-17.
Western leaders have been under pressure at home to criticize Putin for Russias sidelining of opposition groups, adoption of a restrictive NGO law, use of energy supplies to influence political developments in former Soviet republics and support for authoritarian Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko, among other issues.
But even as he called for more pluralistic media coverage, the president is seeking to solidify the monopoly United Russia maintains on the State Duma and regional and local legislatures across the country.
If United Russia wants to take advantage of opportunities so far unseen on the political horizon, it must play a more influential role in shaping the countrys future policy, Putin said.
Responding to Putin, United Russia Deputy Martin Shakkum suggested the president, who is not officially a member of the party, become its leader. The move would allow Putin to exercise vast powers after his term expires in 2008.
Putin has repeatedly brushed aside suggestions that the Constitution be changed to permit him to run for a third term. But he has said he plans to remain in a position of power after he leaves office. Shakkums comments evoked little more than a raised eyebrow from the president.
In his remarks, Putin noted that United Russia enjoyed widespread support, including 67 regional heads out of 88, many government ministers and more than 300 of 450 Duma deputies. United Russia head Boris Gryzlov, also the State Duma speaker, said last week that the party would field a presidential candidate in 2008.
Putins comments were broadcast at length on the state television station Rossia.
The station devoted about 10 minutes of its evening news program to United Russias meeting with the president.
It also spent about five minutes on a report about the partys support of orphanages and provincial hospitals.
In an effort to give the opposition more airtime, Rossia said it would broadcast a dispatch on the 50th anniversary of the communist newspaper Sovietskaya Rossia.
But the station failed to mention a meeting of the liberal Peoples Democratic Union that was held over the weekend. The movement is led by former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov and 2004 presidential candidate Irina Khakamada.
At the meeting in Golitsyno, 25 kilometers outside Moscow, Kasyanov confirmed he would run for president in 2008. But he said he had no plans to become the head of any political party, as some had projected.
Kasyanov and Khakamada told reporters the Peoples Democratic Union should work with all democratic oppositional parties to create a united list for the next Duma elections, in 2007.
Neither would say whether they had plans to turn the movement into an officially recognized political party or back other liberal parties. This is not a political but a technical decision, Kasyanov said.
Under a law approved by the Duma last year, parties must now have a membership of 50,000 up from 10,000 and organizations in more than half the countrys 89 regions to qualify to field candidates.
In 2005, the Duma approved a bill barring independent candidates from running and parties from forming coalitions.
This month, the Duma is expected to adopt a measure preventing parties from running candidates with other political affiliations.
To protest recent developments, opposition leaders will hold an alternative summit in Moscow less than a week before the G8 summit. Organizers include former chess champion Garry Kasparov and former presidential election adviser Andrei Illarionov. It will also include a mix of opposition figures, including Kasyanov and National Bolshevik Party head Eduard Limonov. The Different Russia summit will take place July 11-12.