Russia will never become a dictatorship, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said Wednesday, as he continued his bid for a third term as president despite unprecedented protests against his rule.
"We have an open country and no matter what they say or write, no matter what scary statements they make about some sort of dictatorship, we don't have that and – I hope – never will," he told students of Tomsk Polytechnic University in Siberia.
Putin, who served two consecutive presidential terms between 2000 and 2008, has sought to dispel fears he plans to impose a more authoritarian style of leadership upon his planned return to the Kremlin.
"We have an open market economy and an open country on the whole," he said in comments released by his office.
Putin is wrestling with the worst legitimacy crisis of his 12-year rule after he announced plans to seek a third term in the Kremlin in a job swap with incumbent President Dmitry Medvedev in September.
Many ordinary Russians have attacked the plan. Tens of thousands of people took to the streets in protest after December parliamentary elections that observers said were slanted in favour of Putin's ruling party.