Putin in low-key campaign

2012-02-21 13:02
Komsomolsk - In recent days Vladimir Putin has flown thousands of kilometres across Russia, attended a top economic forum, dealt with the after effects of an earthquake and visited a massive aircraft factory.

All without once mentioning his bid for a historic third term as Russian president in March 4 elections.

Putin's team insist that an almost week-long swing out to Siberia then the Far East then back to Moscow, again via Siberia, is not part of an election campaign but his daily work as prime minister.

With his opponents battling it out in talkshows in Moscow, Putin himself has been zooming off to distant cities like the aircraft-building hub of Komsomolsk-on-Amur around 8 200km east of Moscow.

Yet with the election less than two weeks away, promises - often involving large chunks of federal funds - have never been far away.

"He doesn't need to talk to the people, he is too busy!" said Tatiana Alexeyeva, a retired radio specialist in Komsomolsk-on-Amur, the kind of Soviet industrial outpost where Putin's message of Russian power finds a ready audience.

All-action image

For many residents of this city lying seven time zones east of Moscow and making its living largely by producing military aircraft and ships, Putin does not need to campaign - he is already regarded as a problem-solver.

Jetting around far-flung locales, Putin has lived up to his all-action image.

He swept into an economic forum in Krasnoyarsk, where he promised a firm making plastic gas tanks to tweak an unfavourable technical regulation.

He then flew 400km to the city of Abakan, where he pledged $13.3m to the neighbouring Tyva region which was battered by a serious earthquake last year.

On Monday, he was walking along assembly lines of the Sukhoi military aircraft maker, the Komsomolsk-on-Amur aviation plant (KnAAPO), whose workers were more than happy to express their support for the Russian strongman.

"In the '90s there was wind blowing in and out of this assembly shop, and there was snow on the floor," KnAAPO's head of production Sergey Limanov said in the giant hangar containing semi-assembled Sukhoi fighter jets and adorned with Soviet-era motivational posters.

Era of unemployment

"Without state support there would be none of this," he said.

Putin's campaign has relied heavily on contrasting the relatively wealthy decade of his rule to the 1990s, when oil prices were considerably lower, and people saw their savings wiped out by multiple devaluations.

In Komsomolsk-on-Amur, many of those working for the defence industry shudder in unison when they think back to what they remember as a dark era of unemployment and poverty brought on by a lack of orders.

"We had no jobs, I made a living collecting glass bottles," said Galina, an engineer at the Amur Shipyard, who declined to give her last name.

The city's main streets today are lined with wide pavements and pretty pastel-coloured buildings that hide from view some less presentable sagging wooden barracks.

And the workers of the ship and aircraft-building plants see Putin as the man who rescued them with military contracts.

Massive rally

"Now our city is alive again, the plant has orders. If someone other than Putin is president, it will die again," said Galina. "Both I and my daughter will vote for him, he proved himself by his actions."

At the government meeting on Monday that discussed Russia's defence industry, Putin promised Galina's employer and other defence builders more money.

Putin's aides say that to campaign he has to take an official day's holiday from his work as prime minister, and is expected to address a massive pre-election rally in Moscow on February 23.

However this has not stopped the publication of voluminous articles by Putin every Monday for the last month in the Russian press outlining his vision for Russia in every aspect of life, from the economy to the military.

He can also count on loyal sidekicks to get in the thick of the pre-election mudslinging like campaign chief Stanislav Govorukhin, who last week called protestors and the opposition "monkeys" and "the shit of the nation".

"Why would [Putin] need to campaign? He has enough deputies that talk," said Sergei Petrov, a carpenter in Komsomolsk-on-Amur.

Read more on:    vladimir putin  |  russia

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