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Halonen: Situation in Russia "extremely worrying"

The former president says that the Russian opposition is not yet a credible force for change.

Tarja Halonen.
Tarja Halonen, who was president from 2000 to 2012, appeared on Yle TV1 on Saturday. Image: Henrietta Hassinen / Yle

According to former President Tarja Halonen, the situation in Russia is "extremely worrying". Interviewed on the Yle TV1 current affairs programme Ykkösaamu on Saturday morning, Halonen commented on the mass demonstrations that have followed the detention of opposition leader Aleksei Navalny in Moscow.

Halonen said that the protests began in support of Navalny but have grown to reflect "Russians' frustration with this system in general, with officials and the whole administrative culture". But she added that so far, the movement's aims and leadership remain too unclear and fragmented for it to be a credible force for change.

"Based on what I know, it's very difficult to say what the opposition would be upon which an alternative could be built. I'm not entirely convinced at the moment that it is specifically Navalny or the strong women around him," Halonen said.

"Putin has become more authoritarian"

In Halonen's view, Russia's problem is not the lack of political movements, but that its administration and independent judiciary are undeveloped. Halonen, who was president from 2000 to 2012, added that Russian President Vladimir Putin "has become more authoritarian over the years".

Halonen held talks with Putin several times during his first two terms as president until 2008 and after he became prime minister during the rest of her term. Putin resumed the presidency just after she left office in March 2012.

Halonen observed that the European Union has taken a tougher line in demanding Navalny's release than her predecessor, current Finnish President Sauli Niinistö. She noted that Niinistö and Putin have maintained a regular dialogue and that Niinistö has in that way been able to have a bit of influence.

"I have always said that we should be glad that they maintain discussions," she said of the Finnish and Russian presidents' contacts.

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