Russia is a European-style democracy, Putin aide says

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Vladimir Putin's ideologue-in-chief has used a rare public appearance to insist that Russia is a genuine European-style democracy that did not lose the Cold War.

Vladislav Surkov, the deputy head of President Putin's administration, is often referred to as "the second most powerful man in Russia" and is famous for his reluctance to appear in public. Yesterday, he did so.

He mounted a defiant defence of Russia's own brand of democracy, putting the Kremlin's critics on notice that his boss, Mr Putin, will not tolerate lectures on democracy at the G8 summit in St Petersburg. Russia is chairing the G8 for the first time this year and wants the summit, next month, to be a showcase for its booming economy.

The Kremlin has been angered by Western criticism of its democratic credentials in the run-up to the summit, notably from Dick Cheney, the US Vice-President. Mr Surkov suggested that such criticism was inspired more by the West's desire to get its hands on his country's oil and gas reserves than by a genuine concern about democracy.

"We admit our failings and we don't interfere in other people's business," he told Western reporters.

"They [the West] talk about democracy but they're thinking about our natural resources."

The 41-year-old was candid about Russia's problems but said its brand of democracy was not among them. He said Russia's "sovereign democracy" should not be called into question. "It [sovereign democracy] means we are building an open society, that we do not forget we are a free society, and that we do not want to be directed from outside."

Mr Surkov, brushing aside charges the Kremlin was exercising Soviet-style control over Russia's broadcast media and tolerated little or no political opposition, said the Russian version of European culture was not "exotic" or wildly "different" from the British variant.