Tag Archives: 2014 Sochi Olympics

Sounds Great When You’re Dead

Russia: It might sound dodgy now, but it sounds great when you’re dead . . .

The tens of thousands of migrant workers toiling at the Olympic venues and other sites have less to celebrate, according to a 67-page report published today by Human Rights Watch. It documents multiple cases of workplace abuse and exploitation: non-payment of promised wages, 12-hour shifts with few or no days off, confiscation of travel and identity documents, and breach or withholding of employment contracts.

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Other controversies surrounding the Sochi games include cases of forced eviction from future Olympic sites with little or no compensation for those moved. The World Wildlife Fund has expressed concern about construction in protected natural habitats, suggesting that the “losses to the environment are already significant.” 

A report by the opposition activists Boris Nemtsov and Vladimir Milov in 2009 found that a big road project linking Sochi with surrounding areas cost an average of 4.8 billion rubles, or $160m, per km; world practice suggests that road construction, even in the mountains, should not cost more than $70m, they say.

Source: www.economist.com

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Our Man In The Paddy Wagon: Political Arrests in Moscow

OVD-Info Annual Report 2012

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The report covers arrests in Moscow and several nearby cities between 4 December 2011, and 31 December 2012. It presents information on 5169 politically motivated arrests during 228 events, including 1312 arrests in December 2011, and 3857 in 2012.

All events monitored by OVD-Info were entirely peaceful, except for the (authorised) March of the Millions on 6 May 2012 (which ended in violent clashes with the police).

1079 people were detained at 20 events were authorised by local government. During 208 events that were either not authorised, or required no clearance, 4090 people were detained. The picket is the most common type of street activity; during 65 pickets we have registered 682 arrests. Rallies produced the greatest numbers of detainees. At 23 rallies, 1983 people were detained. The most frequent protest topic was solidarity with political prisoners (49 events resulting in 305 arrests). The most arrests were associated with general protest themes. During 44 events with anti-Putin slogans 1773 persons were detained. During 35 events against election fraud, the number of arrestees was 1750.

According to OVD-Info’s data, the driving force behind protest is citizens and civic activists rather than particular organisations. Spontaneous events, as well as events organized by various groups of activists, form the majority of events registered by OVD-Info both in terms of their number and the number of arrestees: 137 events (60% of the total) either lack organizers, or are organized by independent activist groups; such events resulted in 2300 of detentions, or 44%.

Based on witness testimony by arrestees, we draw the following conclusions on rights violations during arrest.

  • Most arrests take place without prior warning from authorities that the detainee is in violation of the law;
  • Arresting officers fail to identify themselves or name the reason for arrest;
  • The police widely practice unreasonable and unpunished violence during detention and subsequently in police precincts;
  • Journalists present at the scene on assignment are frequently detained;
  • Authorities at police stations routinely violate both the detainees’ procedural rights, as well as substantive rights, such as the right to an attorney and to timely medical care.

Using concrete examples we show how opposition rallies are forcibly dispersed (5 March 2012, and 6 May 2012).

[…]

Source: ovdinfo.org

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Russian police detain over 270 in security sweep

Sat Feb 9, 2013 11:26am EST



ST PETERSBURG, Russia (Reuters) – Russian police have detained 271 people, most of them from the North Caucasus and central Asia, in an investigation into involvement in “terrorist activities”, authorities in St Petersburg said on Saturday.

Russia is concerned that Islamist militants could become a greater threat outside the heavily Muslim North Caucasus region, plagued by an insurgency rooted in two post-Soviet separatist wars in the republic of Chechnya.

In a statement, the regional investigative committee in St Petersburg said that most detainees were from the North Caucasus and the former Soviet republics of Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Azerbaijan. An Egyptian and an Afghan were also detained.

The committee said they were detained “in order to check if they had legal grounds for being in St Petersburg and their possible involvement in terrorist activities.”

They were detained during an overnight raid on St Petersburg’s oldest market.

Authorities said security forces had been searching for extremist literature, weapons, drugs and documents related to a recently-launched criminal case in connection with “public justification of terrorism and incitement of hatred”.

The authorities did not say whether any of those detained were suspected of involvement in plotting or carrying out attacks.

Many market traders in Russian cities are from the North Caucasus or central Asia.

Local media said police had initially detained 700 people.

Source: www.reuters.com

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Ilya Matveev, “The ‘Welfare’ State Doesn’t Get Any Better Than This”

Originally published in Russian at: http://russ.ru/Mirovaya-povestka/Social-nee-nekuda

The “Welfare” State Doesn’t Get Any Better Than This
Ilya Matveev

The 1993 Constitution boldly declares the Russian Federation a welfare state. [1] This definition is not found in every modern constitution. You will not find it in the basic laws of Poland (1997), Finland (1999) or Switzerland (1999). Among the developed countries, it seems, only Germany, France and Spain have the constitutional status of welfare states. [2]

In Russia, however, this proud moniker has always played a special role, and during the Putin period it has been even more significant. For the past decade, official propaganda has been built around “social commitments,” which the government, allegedly, fulfills and exceeds. (Moreover, it is assumed that social progress should compensate for the lack of civil rights, about which pesky humans rights activists at home and observers abroad constantly remind the regime.)

Powerful organizations and tens of thousands of “welfare” specialists stand watch over the Russian welfare state. If you counted the numbers of people on staff at the Federation of Independent Trade Unions of Russia (FNPR), its member unions and think thanks, the Russian Trilateral Commission, and other institutions and organizations engaged in the business of “social dialogue” and “decent living standards,” you would end up with several tens of thousands of people. It is possible that Russia has only one competitor in the world in terms of its elaborate “welfare” bureaucracy—China.

The system of trade unions we inherited from the Soviet Union is still remarkably integrated into all levels of government. Thus, for example, there are eight trade union representatives in the current State Duma, and MP Andrei Isayev, who sits on the executive council of the ruling United Russia party, serves as a deputy chairman of the FNPR on a voluntary basis.

The “welfare” bureaucracy is provided a permanent stage on which it habitually does battle with notional “internal enemies”—the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs, the Institute of Contemporary Development (a Medvedev-affiliated think thank) and its Strategy 2020 plan, other neoliberal think tanks, and employer lobbying organizations. In this noisy fight (which never, however, exceeds certain bounds), the “welfare” bloc often wins, because Putin frequently comes down on its side. The relations among the FNPR (the main mobilizing force in Putin’s Popular Front), the welfare wing of United Russia, and Putin resemble a veritable “symphony of powers.” It would seem that the welfare state in Russia has a bright future ahead of it.

What is really going on?

It is clear that reality on the ground has little to do with existing laws and even less to do with the solemn declarations of the authorities and the union bosses. And yet in this text I would like to focus on the legislative provisions that make up the legal architecture of our welfare state, as guaranteed by the Constitution and Putin’s programmatic articles.

The Minimum Wage

In Russia, there is no minimum wage as such. The statutory minimum wage—whose acronym in Russian is “MROT” (minimal’nyi razmer oplaty truda)—is currently 4,600 rubles a month [approx. 114 euros], which is 67% of the legal monthly subsistence minimum, now set at 6,800 rubles [approx. 169 euros].

A situation where the state-guaranteed minimum wage is below the subsistence minimum is an economic absurdity. The government declares, in effect, that this wage must not be less than a certain amount, but even by its own calculations no one can live on this amount of money. Then what, exactly, does this amount represent? Where does it comes from and what do we need it for?

Certain issues, of course, are raised by the amount of the subsistence minimum (which in any case is higher than that of the MROT). It is calculated based on the value of the “consumer goods basket,” whose particular charms (one overgarment should last a person eight years, fifty rubles a month on entertainment, etc.) are well known.

As a result of some complex shuffling, the cost of the consumer goods basket will be increased by 4.2% in 2013 to a whopping 6,016 rubles a month [approx. 150 euros]. It is clear that this figure, the subsistence minimum and the MROT have no basis in reality and cannot serve either as regulatory instruments or indices of poverty.

And yet a minimum wage is guaranteed by the Constitution (Article 7), just like the status of the “welfare” state itself. In fact, this clause of our Constitution is implemented to the same extent as the entire 1936 “Stalin” Constitution.

By comparison, in France, our partner in the “welfare” states group, the minimum wage is about 1,400 euros per month (9.2 euros per hour for a thirty-five-hour work week). In the United States, a country where entire institutions are busy trying to prove that the minimum wage is economically and socially counterproductive, there is nevertheless a minimum wage, which is set at 7.25 USD per hour (or about $1,300 a month) at the federal level. Individual states have the right to set their own minimum wage, but it cannot be lower than the federal minimum.

Interestingly, the Health and Social Development Ministry estimates the cost of raising the MROT to the level of the subsistence minimum at 55 billion rubles [approx. 1.368 billion euros], while the Ministry of Finance says this would cost 60 billion rubles [approx. 1.492 billion euros]. Nearly 300 billion rubles [approx. 7.46 billion euros] were spent on the notorious APEC summit in Vladivostok, but spending six times less than that amount to increase the MROT does not figure in the government’s plans. In 2013, the MROT will be set at 5,200 rubles [approx. 129 euros]—that is, it will still be lower than the subsistence minimum. And, as the Finance Ministry proudly notes, this figure will be achieved without additional budget expenditures.

By pursuing this policy, the authorities not only demonstrate that a situation where the minimum wage is below the threshold for physical survival is, in their opinion, all right. They also stubbornly refuse to implement their own laws, namely, the Labor Code, which contains a clause stating that the MROT may not be lower than the subsistence minimum.

It is also significant that the debate about the minimum wage in Russia is focused on the level of absolute poverty and physical survival (although the MROT, despite Isayev’s endless chatter, has not reached even this level over the past ten years), whereas in Europe the focus is on achieving a “living wage,” not a “subsistence wage.” A living wage is meant to provide a relatively decent standard of living, not merely ward off death by starvation. However, when it comes to the APEC Summit and the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics, the Russian “welfare” state has no intention of protecting its working citizens even from death by starvation. [3]

Strikes

In Russia, strikes are banned for all intents and purposes. Despite a partial change in the law in 2011, the rules on strikes and labor disputes virtually eliminate the possibility of legal protests by workers.

For some categories of workers—railroad workers and air traffic controllers—strikes are prohibited directly. For all other categories of workers, the ban is not direct, but no less effective for all that.

Protest strikes against government economic and social policy, solidarity strikes, and strikes to demand union recognition are illegal in Russia. Despite the fact that they are all mentioned in the seminal 87th Convention of the International Labour Organization, “Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise,” which was ratified by Russia, it is prohibited to carry out such strikes in Russia. The government has ignored related ILO recommendations.

Russian workers can strike only as part of a collective bargaining dispute (this is even enshrined in Article 37 of the Constitution). However, the procedure for collective bargaining disputes is so complicated that the courts can always find and do find collective bargaining units guilty of various violations. Employees must notify the employer of their intention to strike five to seven days in advance (until 2011, this period was ten days). During this time, the employer has the right to appeal to the courts, which can rule the announced strike—that is, a strike that has not yet begun—illegal.

The impact of these extremely repressive rules is as follows. In 2008, according to official data from Rosstat, there were four strikes in Russia; in 2009, one; in 2010, none; and in 2011, two. Independent analysts, such as those at the Center for Social and Labor Rights, register hundreds of labor disputes annually, some of which involve work stoppages, but the vast majority of these occur within the legal gray zone. Under current law, it is almost impossible to carry out a full-fledged strike, and the collective bargaining procedure is so complex that, according to the Center, “nine out of ten [labor] protests take place in ways not stipulated by labor laws, while only one in ten adopt legal forms.” [4]

Conclusion

A state-guaranteed minimum wage and the freedom to engage in labor disputes, including strikes, are the foundations of the welfare state. In Russia, these social rights are not implemented in practice, nor are they even fully guaranteed by law. Since Putin has come to power, the FNPR and the government’s “welfare” bloc have neither increased the MROT to the minimum subsistence level nor simplified the procedure for collective bargaining disputes and strikes, which was made extremely complicated, in fact, by the new Labor Code adopted in 2001. Workers in Russia are deprived both of a minimum guaranteed income and effective means for raising wages to acceptable levels. This makes our country more of an anti-welfare state than a welfare state.

In fact, none of the things enumerated in Article 7 of the Russian Federation Constitution—“labor and the health of the people”; “guaranteed minimum wages and salaries”; “state support […] to the family, maternity, paternity and childhood, to disabled persons and the elderly”; a “system of social services, […] state pensions, allowances and other social security guarantees”—are fully provided, even by the letter of the law, despite the massive bureaucracy employed only in solving these problems.

That is why the slogan “For the welfare state!” chanted at rallies held by a broad coalition of Russian leftist groups, independent trade unions, social movements, educators and students on October 7, the World Day for Decent Work (typically, the FNPR limited its marking of the occasion to conferences and round tables), was an offensive rather than defensive tactic. By and large, there has never been a welfare state in Russia, and this is our difference from Europe. The twentieth-century Russian state was socialist, and over the past twenty years it has been a post-socialist state, not a welfare state. Building a genuine welfare state is our primary task, and it can only be achieved by a broad and sustained mobilization of workers organized into trade unions and social movements.

Ilya Matveev is a postgraduate student in political theory at Moscow State University and an activist with the Russian Socialist Movement.

Notes

1. The exact term in Russian is a “social” (sotsial’noe) state: “The Russian Federation is a social State whose policy is aimed at creating conditions for a worthy life and a free development of man.”

2. V.E. Chirkin, “Konstitutsiia i sotsial’noe gosudarstvo,” Konstitutsionnyi vestnik, 1 (19) (2008).

3. According to official statistics, around 13% of the Russian population—approximately 18 million people—live below the poverty line. But this calculation is based, yet again, on the official subsistence minimum, unlike in the EU countries, where the poverty line is defined as 60% of median disposal household income. In Russia, the average monthly salary is 27,000 rubles [approx. 670 euros]. 60% of that figure is around 16,000 rubles: around forty to fifty percent of the Russian people have a monthly income of less than this amount. Thus, if the poverty line in Russia were calculated according to EU standards, half its population would be deemed impoverished. In addition, according to the FNPR’s statistics, around one to two million Russians have an over-the-table wage that is less than the MROT, that is, less than 4,600 rubles a month. And this despite the fact that, by law, employers are supposed to be fined by the authorities for paying their employees less than the minimum wage.

4. For more details, see Elena Gerasimova, “Zakonodatel’stvo Rossii o kollektivnykh trudovykh sporakh i zabastovkakh: problemy i napravleniia sovershenstvovaniia,” Trudovoe pravo v Rossii i za rubezhom, 1 (2012). According to the Center for Social and Labor Rights, there were 262 labor disputes in 2011 in Russia; 91 of them involved work stoppages—that is, they were essentially strikes. These statistics were compiled from reports in the mass media, but since many such conflicts are not reported by the press, their actual numbers are probably much higher.

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The Jet Set Junta

Buzz, buzz, go the brass electrodes as the flesh begins to peel…

OpenSpace.Ru
May 5, 2011
The Putin Style
Gleb Napreenko

Once, as I was walking along the Arbat after a discussion of Lacan’s ideas on the inevitable splitting of the human subject, I looked up and saw an enormous banner. In counterpoint to my own thoughts, the characters represented on the banner were marked by a perfect wholeness — and an equally perfect deadness.

A young man and young woman, both of them blond and beautiful, stand against a backdrop of neoclassical architecture. The girl is a figure skater, the boy, a snowboarder, and behind each of them is a snow-white sculpture of the appropriate sex, engaged in the corresponding sport. These statues as it were complete the mission of transforming man into cold, sterile perfection. Snow-capped mountain peaks are visible on the horizon.

There are many of these banners in Moscow now. They are part of the advertising campaign for Gorki Gorod, a resort town under construction in Krasnaya Polyana for the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics. The project is a public-private partnership: Sberbank has a 25% stake in the project, and its partners include the cities of Krasnodar and Sochi.  The advertisement was executed by Doping-Pong, a Petersburg “art group” (this is how they identify themselves). Doping-Pong is primarily a group of designers who work on commission, but they see themselves as major artists and adherents of Petersburg neoacademism. As Dmitry Mishenin, the group’s leader, told me, “Doping-Pong are in fact neoclassicists, the genuine heirs of beauty in Russian art.” Neoacademism’s fatal seriousness almost reaches the level of the grotesque in this conceit. However, as Mishenin himself admits, Timur Novikov, the leader of neoacademism, “cursed [him, Mishenin] before his death [in 2002].”

As everyone knows, the entourage of the president and prime minister are from Petersburg. Judging by new construction in Strelna [a suburb of Petersburg whose pompously restored Constantine Palace was the site of the 2006 G8 Summit] and other projects, we can surmise that this adherence to the “traditions of beauty” (to pluck an expression from the arsenal of the neoacademists) is to the liking of these folks who hail from the capital of Russian classicism. Like the design of its advertisements, the architectural commission for Gorki Gorod has been entrusted to two Petersburgers who are likewise neoclassicists — Mikhail Filippov and Maxim Atayants. Gorki Gorod is, at present, the largest of Filippov’s projects that will, apparently, be implemented.

However, beauty comes in different shapes, and even neoclassical beauty can have various ideological shades. Exactly what kind of beauty do the designers of the advertisement imagine themselves to be heirs of? Doping-Pong’s current creations are reminiscent of Nazi posters for the 1936 Olympics, official painting in the Third Reich, the sculptures of Arno Breker, and scenes from Leni Riefensthal’s films: the upward-turned gaze detached from the lower world, the Aryan statuesque beauty, the warrior-like bearing. Perhaps it is no accident that the project’s architects have themselves equated Krasnaya Polyana with an Alpine village.

However, in terms of architecture, Gorki Gorod is more likely to trigger memories of Stalinist ensembles in the minds of Russians, and in the video clip for the project we seen an enormous reproduction of an Alexander Deyneka painting placed on one of the walls of the town. But these are Stalinist ensembles that simultaneously imitate an old European mountain town: here, [faux-]historical stratifications are even reproduced in the juxtapositions of the buildings. All of this generates the scenery for a kind of averaged totalitarian style. The ubiquitous classical orders, the symmetrical plazas, and the axial street plan (one of whose compositional centers is an Orthodox church) reinforce the notion of a normalized beautiful life. The architecture only hints at all this, whereas the advertisement is maximally frank: it shows that preference has been given to the style of German (and, partly, Italian) fascism as something more European, more modernistically pure and attractive in comparison with the Asiatic, clumsily outdated, native Stalinist style.

All this might seem like conjecture were it not for the revelations made by the designers and architects. Here is a quotation from an interview with Atayants: “If everything works out, then in ten or fifteen years, when the trees grow a little, you’ll find old-timers who will say that this town has always been here. They’ll say that Krasnaya Polyana sprang up right here, and that Stalin visited the place. Such people will turn up, and that will be highest compliment for me and for all of us.” In a questionnaire published on the Italian web site Pigmag.com, when asked the question, “Who is Stalin?” Mishenin replied, with obvious sympathy, “The Fuehrer and Russian Il Duce.” Among other things, Doping-Pong’s web site is adorned with images of swastikas, and one of the group’s latest project is a series of erotic photographs in which the heroine, Fa (a young woman wearing a swastika-emblazoned t-shirt) wrestles with Antifa (another young woman) in a boxing ring (they’re naked, of course). In the end, Fa wins the bout and wraps herself in the Nazi flag. Another person who collaborates with the web site is commercial illustrator Katya Zashtopik — a pretty young thing who, from the looks of it, has publicly confessed her love for Hitler and Nazism, and whom the national-socialist community awarded a swastika-emblazoned ring for “propaganda of Nazi ideas.”

The designers of Doping-Pong assert on their web site that they “have been working for a long time, [work] very expensively, and are always right because they are the best.” This means that they are confident that the Nazi style sells well. Moreover, the patina of the totalitarian style makes a product more sellable. On the banner in question, there are two statues depicted in the background, but they are different: whereas the young woman on skates is a direct quotation from the world of Stalinist aesthetics, the snowboarder is a reference from a completely different context — contemporary mass media and advertising photos (such statues don’t exist in reality). But thanks to the marble (albeit illustrated marble), this advertising for winter sports is ennobled and raised to the level of high culture. And prices rise along with it.

This appeal to purchase real estate is primarily addressed to the younger generation, the children of the current elite. The choice of European fascism over Russian Stalinism thus has a purely commercial significance: the former is more attractive to the target audience. The associations with the Alps are likewise obligatory: they make the old Sochi-area resort capable of competing with Switzerland.

But there is also a more complex line of thinking behind all this: Stalinist (“Caucasian”) totalitarianism must become genuinely colonialist, colonialist in the western (and not Soviet) sense. In the quasi-historic development that Filippov has designed for the site and in Atayants’s dream of “old-timers” who perceive its architecture as native, dreams of reformatting history and re-educating the population with architecture shine through. Although Atayants does mention Stalin, the approach here is not at all Stalinist (that is, “national in form, socialist in content” — OpenSpace), and the advertisement is, once again, much more frank about this: the fact that this is being built in the Caucasus — not in some abstract mountains, and not in the Alps — is ignored. In the illustrations and video clips for the project we see the white-skinned proprietors of this world, the colonizers; we do not see any Circassian girls with vases on their heads dancing on command, as in Stalinist friezes. In its standardized classicism, the architecture also reminds us of a city of colonizers. It is worth noting that, in another interview, Atayants says, “Petersburg is a purely colonial European city on Russian soil.” He goes on to complain that its population has the same attitude to architecture as the inhabitants of Algeria and Libya have displayed since the countries were liberated from colonialism: they do not understand the virtues of the French- or Mussolini-era buildings and ruin them with their own utilitarian modifications. Atayants also quotes [Moscow architecture critic] Grigory Revzin, who said that “the Russian powers that be are always engaged in colonizing their own territory.” Atayants apparently believes that they should continue this colonization.

I was being ironic, of course, when I titled this article “The Putin Style”: the powers that be do not have the moxie to produce a major style that would be analogous to what Boris Groys has dubbed “the Stalin style.” The Stalinist period was utterly theatricalized: it was presented as a spectacle in which the entire nation were participants. Nowadays, such a synthesis is also taking shape, but on a minor stage. This stage is not secured by political power and certainly not by the myth of complicity in a great cause, but rather by money and the pleasure it brings. Gorki Gorod is a project for the elites, and as if in affirmation of its elitism, the project has been situated amidst mountain tops. The name itself, Gorki, also refers to the president’s official suburban residence and the [eponymous] village on the Rublevskoye Highway [outside of Moscow].

The choice of an elite stage, as opposed to Stalin’s nationwide stage, is manifested in its banishment of the theme of labor, which was central for the Stalinist age. In the world of Gorki Gorod, there is no such thing as exertion. Labor goes on somewhere in the lower world: here there is only the delectation of idleness. Hence, as Atayants puts it, there is something “facile and even amusing” in the development’s architecture. And as the ad campaign demonstrates, the town’s new inhabitants and new athletes do not strain themselves: for them, sports are a pleasant pastime. None of the totalitarian regimes of the twentieth century treated this subject so hedonistically. The Putin regime has here hit upon its own proper note.

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The new, improved “popular front,” Putin-style:

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has proposed creating a “broad popular front” ahead of Russia’s parliamentary election, in an apparent attempt to counter growing public discontent with his political party and solidify support.


Putin’s United Russia has a majority in Russia’s parliament and is the dominant party in regional legislatures and governor’s offices across the country. Polls, however, show its support declining as Russians increasingly associate the party with a corrupt bureaucracy.

Russia holds a parliamentary election in December that will set the scene for a presidential vote three months later in 2012. Putin, who stepped down as president in 2008 after serving two terms, has not said whether he will run, but his actions increasingly signal that he intends to reclaim the presidency.

Speaking Friday before hundreds of party members in the southern city of Volgograd, Putin said the new front should include not only United Russia but also other political parties, trade unions, women’s organizations, youth groups and veterans’ associations.

“It is important that everyone should have the possibility and the right not only to formulate their ideas and proposals for how best to develop Russia, but should be able to suggest their candidates, who would be able remain as independents but would be able to enter parliament on the United Russia ticket,” he said in the televised address. Party members responded with raucous applause.

The ultimate goal, as his spokesman later made clear, is to solidify support for Putin across all segments of the Russian population.

The popular front will be formed “not on the basis of the party but more likely around Putin, the author of this idea,” spokesman Dmitry Peskov told Russian reporters traveling with the prime minister.

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