Russian President Vladimir Putin has urged Russians to vote for his party in parliamentary elections or risk a return to “humiliation”.
Mr Putin warned voters Russia would plunge into the “humiliation, dependency and disintegration” of the post Soviet era of the 1990’s if the Liberal opposition was returned to power.
The Kremlin leader spoke just hours before former chess champion turned Kremlin critic Garry Kasparov, just released after five days in prison, denounced Putin's leadership.
“This regime is entering a very dangerous phase that is turning it into a dictatorship,” Kasparov told journalists.
United Russia is forecast to win a big majority in the State Duma lower-house of parliament in general elections on Sunday.
The tiny liberal parties are not expected to win a single seat and complain they are victims of heavy-handed Kremlin tactics.
“We should not allow back into power the people who… want to change and muddle Russia's development plans,” Mr Putin says ahead of the vote.
The 55-year-old Kremlin leader warned against the “dangerous illusion” of believing his legacy was safe and also appeared to confirm he would step down next year.
The television address had been closely watched for any sign of Putin's plans after he completes his second term next year, when the constitution requires he must relinquish the presidency.
Chess champion to continue fight
Former chess world champion Kasparov who now leads The Other Russia opposition coalition has vowed to continue fighting Putin's policies and accused him of resorting to fear and repression ahead of the weekend vote.
“Fear is the only chance this regime has to survive.”
Kasparov complained that he has been denied free access to a lawyer during the five days that he spent in a Moscow prison for taking part in an unauthorized rally at the weekend.
Controversy over the fairness of Sunday's polls was growing amid what Kremlin opponents describe as a crackdown aimed at fixing the election results.
US President George W. Bush says he is “deeply concerned” at the break-up of rallies in Moscow and elsewhere in the country.
EU countries and Amnesty International have also criticised the Kremlin.
Although as president he cannot actually take a Duma seat, Mr Putin heads the electoral list of United Russia, which is presenting the parliamentary election as a referendum on the ex-KGB officer's highly popular rule.
Mr Putin has repeatedly said he intends to retain a major role, prompting speculation that he might hang on to power, or at least retain influence through a handpicked successor.
“The result of the election will be the preliminary stage for Putin to make decisions,” says Putin critic Kasparov.