Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 9

An initiative group supporting Vladimir Putin met yesterday and put the acting head of state forward as a candidate for the March 26 presidential election. The group, made up of nearly two hundred prominent cultural, business and cultural figures, was put together by Gazprom chief Rem Vyakhirev and United Energy Systems chief Anatoly Chubais, and includes Saratov Governor Dmitri Ayatskov, Kursk Governor Aleksandr Rutskoi, Tatarstan’s President Mintimer Shaimiev and theater director Yuri Lyubimov, among others. The initiative group must now get Putin’s formal consent to be its candidate and register with the Central Election Commission (CEC), after which it can begin gathering the 500,000 signatures Russia’s election law requires each potential candidate to collect. These signatures must be registered with the CEC by February 13 (Russian agencies, January 12; Moscow Times, January 13).

Putin himself, meanwhile, was greeted enthusiastically in Petrozavodsk, the capital of the Karelia region, by governors of the Northwest Regional Association. The organization’s head, St. Petersburg Governor Vladimir Yakovlev, announced that it had decided to back Putin’s presidential bid. While Putin’s visit was not officially a campaign stop, he visited a children’s hospital, a paper factory and a helicopter base. Putin promised salary hikes for state workers, including teachers and doctors. The day before yesterday, Putin announced a 20 percent increase in pensions. Yesterday, he promised that he would not take “populist decisions” to benefit his presidential campaign, but later in the day declared it necessary to give top priority to domestic industry and the export of finished products, in order to prevent Russia from becoming a “raw-materials appendage” of its neighbors (Russian agencies, January 12). The statement was strongly reminiscent to those expressed over the years by the “national-patriotic” opposition and, more lately, by Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov.

While the governors of the northwest supported Putin, one of their southern colleagues voiced a dissenting view. Samara Governor Konstantin Titov said yesterday that the upcoming elections cannot be called democratic, considering that the candidates who have already announced their intention to run and “the conditions which now exist” (Russian agencies, January 12). Titov aligned himself with Union of Right-wing Forces (SPS)–which includes Chubais and former Prime Minister Sergei Kirienko–for last December’s State Duma election. The SPS has been unequivocal in supporting Putin.

Besides Putin, Communist Gennady Zyuganov, ultranationalist leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky and Yabloko chief Grigory Yavlinsky have announced their intention to run for president.