Posted on July 22, 2011 - by Venik
Russian prime minister’s increasingly unpopular United Russia party attempts to attract new supporters
They tottered nervously on high heels and wore pink shirts emblazoned with the likeness of their hero: Vladimir Putin. Meet Putin’s Army, a new group aiming to get their man back into the Kremlin.
About 20 of Putin’s teenage “soldiers” gathered in Pushkin Square in central Moscow at rush hour on Friday, shouting his name and singing the 2006 hit A Man Like Putin.
The gathering came less than a week after the group, organised via a Russian social network, released a racy video calling on “young, smart and beautiful girls” to join their ranks and support Putin for president – by tearing their shirts – in a provocative move renewing the debate on Putin’s potential return to the Kremlin.
With parliamentary elections less than five months away, and a presidential vote set for next March, Russia’s version of electioneering has entered full swing. In addition to social media-originated movements – another, called I Really Do Like Putin, held a carwash only for Russian-made vehicles on Thursday – full attention has been put on the All-Russia People’s Front, an amorphous group created by Putin in May.
Even its members have difficulty defining the group; analysts describe it as a means of rebranding Putin’s increasingly unpopular United Russia party. It is unregistered and therefore subject to no laws. But that also means its members cannot stand for election without linking up with United Russia first.
“It’s not an organisation,” said Kirill Schitov, a prominent United Russia deputy and a leader of its Young Guard youth wing. “It’s a platform for dialogue.” Analysts see it as Putin’s direct link to voters.
Two months after its creation, the front now comprises hundreds of trade unions and social organisations, as well as entire village streets.
The steel giant Severstal said its trade union, which has more than 20,000 members, joined this week. Russian Railways, which employs more than 1 million people, joined last month, along with the 415,000 men and women who work at the Russian Post. Banking and media tycoon Alexander Lebedev has also joined, via his Our Capital anti-corruption movement.
This week, the front began to hold a month-long series of “primaries”, in co-operation with United Russia, to see which candidates would be put forward for December’s parliamentary vote.
Schitov denied the front was simply a means of rebranding United Russia, which has seen its support fade as concerns over corruption and stagnation grow. “You rebrand when a brand loses popularity,” he said. “United Russia is strong and well-known.”
Yet its popularity, like Putin’s, is slipping. A new poll by the Levada Centre, an independent pollster, showed Putin’s approval rating had fallen to 68%, That puts him above any other Russian politician, including current president Dmitri Medvedev, but well below the 80% the prime minister garnered in early 2010 and even the 77% he got in July 2010. Of those polled, 31% said they disapproved of his work.
Groups such as Putin’s Army and I Really Do Like Putin were designed to boost the prime minister’s popularity with young people, said Nikolai Petrov, an analyst at Moscow’s Carnegie Centre.
Nikita Borovikov, the head of Kremlin youth group Nashi, said his group was not involved.
The front’s blossoming comes as members of Russia’s elite begin to publicly announce their presidential preferences, even while Putin and Medvedev continue to say they will jointly decide which one of them will run.
Igor Komarov, the head of Avtovaz, Russia’s biggest carmaker, said on Wednesday he preferred Putin – “the most realistic option” – breaking a taboo of keeping quiet on the matter and prompting some to think a decision had been made.
Petrov said: “Even if the president is not Putin, he will be Putin’s man, and a man much weaker than Putin and not Medvedev. Medvedev has already served his positive role – improving the image of Russia. But further on, those words have to be changed into action.”