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UNITED BEHIND A PUTIN THIRD TERM

The Moscow Times, 12/11/2007


     Monday, November 12, 2007. Page 3. United Behind a Putin Third Term By Natalya Krainova Staff Writer Francesca Mereu / MT People carrying Russian and United Russia flags on Thursday at a demonstration in support of Putin in Priozersk.

Dozens of regional political groups calling for President Vladimir Putin to stay on after his second term finishes next year are planning to meet in Tver on Thursday to unite into a national movement, prominent lawyer and media personality Pavel Astakhov said Friday.

Meetings of this type, however, and even a web site allowing people to vote for Putin to stay, may be as much about boosting United Russia‘s popularity ahead of the Dec. 2 State Duma elections as they are about getting Putin to stay.

Groups from regions where these rallies have been held will form a movement called "Za Putina," or "For Putin," Astakhov, one of the movement‘s founders, said Friday.

"I have personally made sure that no party or state money was used," Astakhov said, adding that United Russia would not be allowed to take part in the founding congress. He said money would come from nongovernmental organizations and private businesspeople.

Meanwhile, six days after it opened, 27,000 people have already voted on a web site, Zaputina.ru, calling for Putin to stay on despite the constitutional limit of two consecutive terms.

Zaputina.ru did not provide any information regarding its creators, while a United Russia spokesman denied any official party involvement Friday.

"If there is no party‘s logo on the web site, then it‘s not the party‘s project," he said on condition of anonymity, because only the party‘s chief spokesman was authorized to comment.

Gazeta.ru, however, has identified the site‘s creator as Konstantin Rykov, who is on the United Russia party list in the Nizhny Novgorod region.

"This could have been a personal initiative on Rykov‘s part," the party spokesman said.

Gazeta.ru identified Alexei Zharich as the web–site project manager, and the Nic.ru domain registration center said it was registered in his name in October 2004. Zharich is listed by the web site Vybory.ru as the general director of the Political Technologies company and a former Interior Ministry employee.

A secretary who answered the joint work telephone number for Rykov and Zharich said Friday that both were too busy to talk.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, reached on his cell phone Friday, said the presidential administration had no relation to the site.

On Thursday, about 100 people gathered in Lenin Square in the center of Priozersk, a town of about 20,000 located 145 kilometers north of St. Petersburg, in an example of the type of sentiment the Za Putina project says it is trying to tap.

At the meeting, which was organized by the Priozersk City Administration and the local branch of United Russia, members of the party appealed to Putin to stay.

"Vladimir Vladimirovich our country will be lost without you," one local member said from the dais. "Please stay with us. We still need you." People applauded and young members of United Russia raised and waved the party‘s flags chanting, "Putin for president." "Things have improved so much under Putin," 15–year–old student Igor Ryazansky said.

When asked why he came to the event, Ryazansky, who was wearing a United Russia T–shirt and waving a party flag, said he had been asked to do so.

"Everyone from my class is here. We were asked to attend the meeting," he said.

"But I also like the president," he added. "United Russia‘s traces can be found everywhere in one or another form," Alexei Mukhin of the Center for Political Information said Friday. "Because the party has put Putin on top of its federal list, everything done in support of Putin is done in support of United Russia." Mukhin said the regional rallies and Za Putina, despite United Russia‘s denials of involvement, could be aimed at pushing United Russia‘s share of the vote on Dec. 2 to 80 percent and "not permitting any other party pass the 7 percent barrier" to get into the Duma.

Staff Writer Francesca Mereu contributed to this report from Priozersk. «