At 84, grandmother of Russian rights movement battles on

Mon Jul 2, 2012 5:54am EDT
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By Timothy Heritage

MOSCOW (Reuters) - It took Lyudmila Alexeyeva just over four years to come to the conclusion that Vladimir Putin wants Russia to be more like the Soviet Union.

When the grandmother of Russia's human rights movement first met Putin in November 2002, she was impressed by his humility and willingness to listen to activists like herself after less than three years as president.

By the time they met again in December 2006, Putin was riding high and walking with a swagger after on an oil-fuelled economic boom that made him hugely popular in Russia. He was, she said, no longer listening.

"He was a different man, a caricature of himself. I took one look and wanted to leave the room," said Alexeyeva, who has been challenging the authorities over human rights since the start of the Soviet dissident movement in the 1960s and is still a force to be reckoned with at the age of 84.

"Putin came to believe that everyone wants him to stay in power ... He doesn't understand. It's a terrible thing to have power. Very few people can handle it properly," she said in an interview in her light central Moscow apartment.

Alexeyeva, who met Putin in her role as a member of the presidential human rights council, decided not to walk out of the room on that occasion.

She also resisted the temptation to show her disdain for the former KGB spy by quitting the advisory council, because doing so might limit her ability to defend human rights.

But nearly six years later, Putin is back as president after four years as prime minister and her patience has snapped. She resigned from the council last week, saying Kremlin interference in the choice of new members made its work pointless.   Continued...