MOSCOW (AFP) — The Kremlin on Wednesday celebrated Time magazine's decision to name President Vladimir Putin person of the year, saying this reflected his transformation of Russia and his big global impact.
"It's very good news for us, very good news. We treat it as an acknowledgement of the role that was played by President Putin in helping to pull Russia out of the social troubles and economic troubles of the 1990s," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told journalists.
"The trace that Mr. Putin has left on the world stage and especially in Russia is worth mentioning and worth appreciation," Peskov said in a telephone conference call. "He has managed to return Russia to the role of major players in the world."
The magazine said it picked Putin because of his role in making Moscow "a critical linchpin of the 21st century."
However, the magazine highlighted a dark side to Putin's success.
"Putin is not a boy scout. He is not a democrat in any way that the West would define it. He is not a paragon of free speech," the managing editor, Richard Stengel, wrote.
"He stands, above all, for stability -- stability before freedom, stability before choice, stability in a country that has hardly seen it for a hundred years."
Chess legend and Kremlin political opponent Garry Kasparov said the magazine's choice followed "the Kremlin's official propaganda".
He mocked the decision, saying: "Russia has righted itself and has come a long way. There are certainly problems here and there with human rights, a few problems related to freedom of expression, a small amount of corruption, but the country is moving in the right direction, and the main architect of that is President Putin himself."
Putin taunted Kasparov in an interview with Time, saying the former chess champion should speak in Russian rather than English when in Russia.
"If you aspire to be a leader of your own country, you must speak your own language, for God's sake," Putin said.
Kasparov ended his long-shot bid for Russia's presidency last week, saying his challenge had been crushed by Kremlin meddling.
Peskov rejected criticism of Russian political and media freedoms, which critics say have been destroyed under Putin's eight-year rule.
Peskov said that criticism was "based sometimes on totally pre-engaged approaches full of stereotypes of the past."
For example, he said that the media is "acting in a free atmosphere," while parliamentary elections earlier this month took place after "a very active campaign... when all the parties and all the candidates were extremely active."
The White House declined to comment on the magazine's decision, but a spokeswoman agreed that the Kremlin chief was "intriguing."
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