5,000 to Attend Gathering for Putin

At least 5,000 supporters of President Vladimir Putin will attend a demonstration in his honor at Luzhniki Stadium on Wednesday, said Pavel Astakhov, the lawyer-cum-celebrity who leads the nascent "For Putin" movement, on Monday.

"Very famous people" will take the floor to sing Putin's praises and list the main achievements of his eight-year presidency, Astakhov said at a news conference.

Putin himself has also been invited, though it remains unclear whether he will attend; Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said "it should not be ruled out."

The movement, known formally as the All-Russian Council of Initiative Groups to Support Putin, is at least partly funded by United Russia, whose election list the president heads.

Claiming to be born out of grassroots support for Putin, its mission is to see that he remains the leader of the country -- in whatever capacity -- after his second and constitutionally last term ends in May.

Natalya Virtuozova, a United Russia spokeswoman, said Monday that there would be no comment from the party about its links to the movement until after Wednesday's demonstration.

A half-page color advertisement for the movement ran in the major national dailies, calling for people to vote for Putin. It carried a footnote saying it had been paid for from United Russia's campaign budget.

Putin's supporters praise him for what they see as his rescuing of Russia from the robber capitalism of the 1990s and giving the country a better image internationally.

"I believe there is reason to say 'Thank you'" to Putin, Astakhov said.

The demonstration comes at a politically strategic moment, with State Duma elections less than two weeks away and campaigning for March's presidential vote beginning not long after.

The movement claims to have collected over 30 million signatures in support of "Putin's course," Astakhov said.

Wednesday's event will be the movement's second large meeting in the space of a week.

Hundreds of activists from across the country packed a theater hall in Tver on Friday to pledge their allegiance to Putin and help ensure that he continues running the country after his second term ends.

Kommersant reported Friday that most of the activists were, in fact, local United Russia officials.

The Kremlin has denied conjuring the movement, which has conducted a recent wave of pro-Putin demonstrations across Russia.

Some analysts believe it to be the brainchild of Vladislav Surkov, the powerful deputy head of the presidential administration.