Medvedev Aiming for Low-Key Campaign

First Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev may be getting blanket coverage from state-controlled television. But it appears that his official media presence in the run-up to the March 2 presidential election will be a lot more modest.

Medvedev, all but guaranteed to win the election, is planning to run an "ascetic" presidential campaign, which officially kicks off Saturday, a United Russia official close to Medvedev's campaign said.

"This is not only because the other candidates are not serious competitors, it was also the wish of Medvedev himself," the official said on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.

Medvedev is not merely being humble, analysts say: His campaign handlers have made a pragmatic choice to ensure that his popularity does not eclipse that of President Vladimir Putin and to prevent voters from feeling manipulated.

Medvedev has been dominating -- often together with Putin -- television news broadcasts ever since Putin publicly anointed him as the president's preferred successor in a midday December broadcast.

Putin is likely to figure in Medvedev's campaign ads, the campaign official said.

"Given how Medvedev was nominated, there should be no doubt that his proximity to Putin will be reflected in the campaign materials," he said.

Putin and Medvedev, who have known each other since the early 1990s, when they worked in the St. Petersburg City Hall, will both be in the Rostov region city of Novocherkassk when the presidential campaign officially begins Saturday.

In Novocherkassk, Putin will chair a council of some 40 senior government officials, mayors and governors convening to discuss problems of local governance and the so-called national projects -- the massive and expensive social development programs in the regions, which Medvedev oversees.

Sources in United Russia and the presidential administration said Medvedev's team would produce only two television campaign ads, Vedomosti reported Wednesday.

One will show Medvedev together with Putin and the slogan "Together We Win." The other will feature teachers and social workers telling viewers about the success of the national projects, the report said.

The campaign billboards, which the sources said would be few, will also feature Medvedev and Putin together alongside the slogan "Onward Russia!" Vedomosti reported.

The campaign official told The Moscow Times that there would be more television ads and billboards than indicated in the Vedomosti report, though he declined to elaborate.

Liberal Democratic Party leader and candidate Vladimir Zhirinovsky will run 60 different television ads, the party's press service said.

The Medvedev campaign will be more "reserved" in the regions than the United Russia campaign in the run-up to the Dec. 2 State Duma elections, the campaign official said.

Medvedev, who was formally nominated by the pro-Kremlin party United Russia, is expected to win in the first round of the election, according to all major opinion polls published last month.

Analysts said Medvedev's relatively quiet campaign would be a way for the Kremlin to ensure that there is no threat of Medvedev's popularity overtaking that of Putin, who wants to remain the controlling figure after he steps down in May.

"If he gets 82 percent, as the [independent] Levada Center predicted in January, then formally Medvedev would be far more popular than Putin, who won his first term with slightly more than 50 percent of the vote in 2000," said Sergei Mikheyev, an analyst with the Center for Political Technologies.

Kremlin-connected pollsters VTsIOM and Public Opinion Fund show less support for Medvedev -- 71 percent and 50 percent, respectively, in their latest polls.

Medvedev's campaign strategists are also having difficulties developing an individual platform because he only recently became a politician, and his current platform is merely a continuation of Putin's, Mikheyev said.

An aggressive campaign by Medvedev could turn off the electorate and result in low turnout by voters already fed up with United Russia's bombastic Duma campaign last year, said Alexei Mukhin of the Center for Political Information.

Medvedev's campaign -- which is headed up by Kremlin chief of staff Sergei Sobyanin -- has demanded that regional authorities keep a check on campaign activists on the ground, Mukhin said.

A woman who answered the phone at Medvedev's campaign headquarters Thursday said media inquiries would only be accepted beginning next week.

n Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov said Thursday that he would participate in presidential debates scheduled to begin next week.

Communist officials had threatened this week that Zyuganov could refuse to debate after Medvedev's campaign announced that the first deputy prime minister would not participate.

Seventy-three percent of respondents thought Medvedev should take part in the debates, according to a Levada Center poll of 1,600 potential voters published this week.