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Back in the U.S.S.R. with pro-Putin party?

14/04/2008 - 17:58

By Guy Faulconbridge

MOSCOW (Reuters) - President Vladimir Putin's favouriteparty rejects any comparison with the Communist Party of theSoviet Union (CPSU), but at United Russia's Ninth Conference onMonday it looked just the part.

Delegates held up white cards to rubberstamp every singleone of the party leadership's proposals, including the creationof a new post of party chairman to offer to Putin on Tuesday.

United Russia, which boasts nearly 2 million members,describes itself as "the party of power", controls parliamentand proclaims itself a key driver of reform in Russia, just asthe CPSU presented itself as the arbiter of political life.

Books of Putin's speeches were given away free, alongside anew collection of speeches by president-elect Dmitry Medvedev,who is due to be sworn in on May 7.

Party members spent hours on Monday in debates about how tomake Russia a "great power" with an innovative economy with nocorruption and a large middle class.

It was unclear whether they were humming the Sovietnational anthem or the reworked Russian version -- with thesame music -- when they stood up later to open the conference.

"I would like to say that Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin, oneof the founders of the party, has always been beside UnitedRussia and the party has always supported VladimirVladimirovich Putin," United Russia chief Boris Gryzlov tolddelegates.

Gryzlov, a former Interior Minister who often looks uneasyin public, asked them to support the creation of a new post ofparty chairman to offer to Putin.

"If we support these changes and additions then tomorrow wecan at our conference offer Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin tobecome the chairman and lead our party," Gryzlov said, before asea of white cards were held up in support of the motion.

"Who is against, who is abstaining? This was passedunanimously," Gryzlov said in a monotone under a banner reading"We will be victorious together".

THE RULING PARTY?

The Kremlin has given no indications about whether Putinwill take a role in the party's leadership. Putin is expectedto attend the second day of the conference on Tuesday.

Delegates, many taking pictures of themselves inside agiant hall in central Moscow, said Putin's leadership wasessential to maintain stability. Some whispered that he couldrevamp the party into a force for stability in the future.

Critics say Putin could become a new General Secretary, areference to Soviet leaders, if he accepts the post of partychairman.

In Soviet times, all policy decisions were taken by theCommunist Party's Politburo and the General Secretary wieldedenormous power.

United Russia delegates said Putin was more akin to TsarAlexander II than to any Soviet leader.

United Russia was founded in last days of former PresidentBoris Yeltsin's rule to ensure the Kremlin's control ofparliament.

Opponents say the party has become a frail alliance ofofficials and businessmen that would implode without Kremlinsupport, just as the Soviet Communist party imploded after thefall of the Soviet Union.

Under Putin, the party HAS enjoyed lavish funding from aseries of pro-Kremlin businessmen. It says it supports all ofPutin's policies.

But some leading businessmen looked bored and yawned openlyat one long discussion about innovation in an economy which isstill heavily reliant on the export of oil, gas andcommodities.

(Editing by Matthew Jones)


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