Putin aide woos Russia's middle-class voters

Reuters News
Posted: Oct 04, 2011 9:04 PM
Putin aide woos Russia's middle-class voters

By Gleb Bryanski

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin is seeking to build bridges with middle class voters disillusioned by the near certain prospect of his return to the Kremlin after 2012 presidential elections.

Twice within a week Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov has appeared on television stations favored by intellectuals and Russia's burgeoning middle class in an effort to persuade them that their views will be heard, should Putin win March polls.

Putin, Russia's paramount leader even in the lesser post of prime minister, is expected to easily win a March presidential poll after President Dmitry Medvedev's decision to stand aside in favor of his mentor.

Most expect Putin to be in the Kremlin for 12 years, serving two six-year terms.

As prime minister, Putin has continued to cultivate the macho, action man image he cultivated in his 2000-2008 stint as president, leaving Dmitry Medvedev, his hand-picked successor in the Kremlin, to court middle class intellectuals.

"It is impossible not to take their opinion into account. It would have been absurd. And we have some explaining to do," Peskov told the pro-opposition Rain cable television station, which is popular among educated urban viewers.

Russia's nascent middle class is less enamored with Putin's rule and liken the prospect of a second Putin stint in the Kremlin to the period of stagnation under Soviet ruler Leonid Brezhnev, which ultimately led to the collapse of the USSR.

Many middle class Russians felt betrayed when Medvedev, whose agenda in office included modernization of the economy, fighting corruption and liberalization of political life, decided not to run for president in 2012.

The disgruntled middle class pose a potential danger for the Russian rulers in the longer term as they can evolve into protest movements.

Peskov said Putin had yet to outline the main elements of his election program, but it would "show that Putin should not be taken for the late Brezhnev."

However, he said that the gloom of the Moscow intelligentsia was not shared outside the capital.

"There are people who think that the atmosphere in the country is suffocating and it is time to escape to the banks of River Thames while others want three percentage points off their taxes to get their farm going," Peskov said.

"But we are all united by one goal -- we want our country to leap forward," he added, defending Putin's record in rebuilding the economy and fighting the country's worst economic crisis in a decade.

"We very much like to explain it to people who sit in expensive restaurants where there are no free tables left, eat expensive Italian meals costing 1,200 roubles ($36) per plate and fret about the fate of their country," Peskov said.

(Reporting By Gleb Bryanski; Editing by Jon Boyle)