Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin urged on Friday his challengers in the presidential race to drop nationalist slogans, warning of the possibly “fatal” consequences of fuelling Russian chauvinism, according to RIA Novosti.

The nationalist problem does exist in Russia, and it should be addressed properly, Putin said during a meeting with WWII veterans in St. Petersburg.

However, “instead of proposing solution to these problems... our politicians have started to exploit these difficulties” in order to achieve “selfish political goals,” the premier said.

“For such a multi-ethnic country as Russia, such behavior can be fatal and lead to the destruction of the country,” he added.

Putin was responding to a veteran who expressed concern over slogans such as “Russia for Russians” that he said have been frequently heard in Russia, including in the media.

Putin said he believed Russia’s multi-ethnicity was an advantage: “The broader and richer the genetic code is, the stronger the nation is.”

The most obvious addressee of Putin’s remarks is Vladimir Zhirinovsky, the leader of the ultra-nationalist LDPR party, who will challenge Putin in the March 4 elections along with three other candidates.

Meanwhile, critics say both Russia’s ruling elites and the opposition benefit from flirting with nationalist sentiment.

On Thursday, Putin pleased Russian nationalists by proposing an array of robust measures, including stiff laws, to deal with soaring numbers of illegal immigrants in Russia. The issue has long been a source of huge public discontent among Russians who fear being “overrun” by people from former Soviet republics.

Speaking during a meeting with the Federal Migration Service, Putin said his friends told him that “in some large cities people are afraid of leaving their homes on holidays” because of the fear of “strangers.”

Putin’s proposals come less than a week after he wrote an article on modern problems of multiethnic Russia as part of his election program. He said migrants should respect the customs and traditions of regions they come to live in, and that any aggressive or disrespectful behavior should be properly addressed by the authorities.

On Thursday, the prime minister proposed making exams in Russian, history and the basics of Russian law mandatory for migrants from 2013. That, he said, will help them to adapt in society.