Kasyanov Chosen Kremlin Hopeful

APMikhail Kasyanov celebrating his nomination as a presidential candidate with supporters at a conference Saturday.
Despite having difficulties with holding a congress the night before, the Russian People's Democratic Union managed to select its leader, Mikhail Kasyanov, as its candidate in the March presidential election.

Kasyanov, a former prime minister, was approved unanimously Saturday by an initiative group of 692 members at the Moscow Palace of Youth. He told the meeting that the country faced an important choice in the presidential vote.

"We are approaching a decisive moment: Either we follow the mainstream path of building a civilized state, or we continue to roll into the abyss where the current authorities are taking us -- the dead end of totalitarianism," Kasyanov said Saturday, Interfax reported.

On Friday evening, the delegates to the planned congress were denied entry to a conference hall that had been rented in Moscow's International Investment Bank, and a smaller group was forced to hold their meeting in its offices, Yelena Dikun, an adviser to Kasyanov, said Friday.

"The owners of the conference hall told us that we could not use it, because our meeting was of a political nature," Dikun said Friday.

This was not the first time that Kasyanov's movement has run into venue difficulties. In early November, delegates were prevented from meeting in Tver when a conference hall booked there was closed for fire-safety reasons. Two weeks earlier, in October, a similar gathering was forced to evacuate a cultural center in Ufa after a telephone bomb threat. Delegates trooped over to a nearby hotel, which received a telephone call about a bomb minutes later.

Dikun said the incidents were politically motivated.

She said the movement would now collect the 2 million signatures necessary to have Kasyanov's candidacy registered. Parties represented in the State Duma are entitled to register a presidential candidate with the Central Elections Commission automatically. All other candidates must gather the necessary signatures.

Dikun said, however, that the ultimate decision would rest with the Kremlin.

"Even if you gather 4 million signatures, it doesn't mean anything. If the Kremlin says no, there is no way that the Central Elections Commission registers a candidate," she said.

"They always say that the signatures are fake and you can't do anything about it," she added.

On Friday, Sergei Mironov, the head of the pro-Kremlin A Just Russia party, said it "won't nominate its own candidate for president, but will make a decision on supporting one or another of the other aspirants," Interfax reported.

Mironov -- whose party backs Putin but has been critical of United Russia, the pro-Putin party that dominates the Duma -- said A Just Russia was very likely to support the same candidate United Russia backs.

The only condition, Mironov said, is that the candidate should not be a member of any party.

Others who have declared their intention to run include Yabloko leader Grigory Yavlinsky and Garry Kasparov, the former world chess champion who leads the Other Russia opposition coalition.

The Communist Party is to decide on its candidate Saturday. Party leader Gennady Zyuganov has said he intends to run.

Last week Eduard Limonov, a dissident writer and one of the leaders of The Other Russia, told Kommersant that had the Communists nominated Ivan Melnikov, the chairman of the party's central committee, as their candidate, The Other Russia would have backed him.