Putin Points to United Russia

RIA novostiPutin's image reflecting off a desk during his television broadcast Thursday.
Ignoring accusations of abuse of office, President Vladimir Putin went on national television Thursday to urge Russians to vote for United Russia in weekend elections.

Channel One aired the five-minute speech as its top news report at noon and followed it with a speech by Vladimir Zhirinovsky, leader of the Liberal Democratic Party, or the LDPR.

Rossia television aired what appeared to be a hastily recorded speech by Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov at 2 p.m. Both channels replayed all three speeches on their evening broadcasts.

The Zyuganov speech seemed to have caught some television officials by surprise. A Channel One spokeswoman said earlier in the day that all the "big" parties had been contacted about providing speeches, and only United Russia and the LDPR had replied.

A Communist official said Zyuganov only won airtime after filing multiple complaints to the Central Elections Commission about state television's lavish coverage of United Russia.

The third national channel, NTV, only showed Putin's speech.

In introducing Putin's speech, a Channel One anchor said it sought to provide "answers to many questions from journalists and citizens about the elections." But Putin's well-prepared speech looked more like a campaign ad, with no sign of questions or questioners.

Speaking with an enormous Russian flag behind him, a stern-looking Putin argued that his government was responsible for the economic boom and needed to be allowed to continue its course. "Don't, please don't think that the direction and pace of our development will be maintained automatically. That's a dangerous illusion," he said.

A United Russia spokeswoman declined to say whether the party had paid for the airtime. Putin heads United Russia's federal list, although he is not a member of the party.

The spokeswoman for Channel One, whose board is chaired by Putin press secretary Alexei Gromov, had no comment on whether United Russia had purchased the airtime.

Putin recorded the speech at the Ostankino television studios on Nov. 22.

Communist spokesman Pavel Shcherbakov suggested that the party was notified at the last minute and said Zyuganov had recorded the speech Wednesday. He noted that Putin and Zhirinovsky had rattled off well-rehearsed speeches, while Zyuganov's speech was impromptu.

He said the broadcast had been aired for free as compensation for the United Russia coverage.

Zhirinovsky's spokeswoman declined to comment when asked if the LDPR had paid for the airtime.

Putin's critics accuse him of misusing his presidential post by openly campaigning for United Russia. But Vladimir Churov, head of the Central Elections Commission and a former classmate of Putin's, said the broadcast did not necessarily break election law.

"The Constitution guarantees the right to free speech and to inform the public," he said in an e-mailed statement.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov reiterated that the address had been recorded at Ostankino rather than the Kremlin because Putin was speaking as a Duma candidate and not as the president.

He said Putin had felt it necessary to answer questions that he had received "from many sources."

Far from taking questions, the broadcast was very straightforward. "I ask you to turn out for the elections on Dec. 2 and vote for United Russia," Putin said.

In a clear reference to opponents from liberal parties, he said that by choosing United Russia, voters would opt for "stability and continuity" rather than the chaos of the 1990s. "We cannot allow the return to power of those who once tried but failed to rule the country," he said.

The liberal Union of Right Forces lambasted Thursday's speeches as unfair and in breach of the law.

"Nobody approached us about airtime," party spokeswoman Lilia Dubovaya said.

Dubovaya said that apart from Ekho Moskvy, Radio Liberty and occasional coverage on Ren-TV, the party's campaign activities have been reduced to the Internet. "We have almost nothing but our web site," she said.