Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Zyuganov's Road Show: Low-Key, Low-Budget

YEKATERINBURG, Ural Mountains -- For most politicians on the campaign trail it would have been a great photo opportunity, but for Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov, it was all rather uncomfortable.

When he pulled into Nizhny Novgorod train station on a recent swing through five key Russian cities, women dressed in red and white folk costume, complete with lace halos, met him with bread and salt, then danced and sang for him on the platform.

But if rival Boris Yeltsin has been known to take over the conducting of a brass band or even swing a girl in a bikini in the air during a walk on the beach, Zyuganov was content to grin and watch.

Only when photographers desperate for a good picture shoved the women at him did Zyuganov react and even then the effect was awkward. He held up one hand and snapped in time with the music -- a lame gesture that press photographers mimicked, to each other's delight, throughout the rest of the trip.

If Yeltsin has earned a name as a flamboyant and exciting campaigner, Zyuganov projects an image that is much more low-key and low-budget.

That may not be bad: Many voters during Zyuganov's five-day five-city tour of the Urals and the Volga region last teachers -- they were almost unanimous in saying that he was very pleasant and an excellent listener.

Unlike Yeltsin -- who on the campaign trail is followed by hordes of snipers, limousines and even a special re-animation ambulance -- Zyuganov's entourage and reception provide few clues that he is a serious contender for the presidency of the world's largest country.

Monday evening, Zyuganov was bound for Bryansk, for a one-day campaign stop that was expected to differ little from last week's tour.

Then, Zyuganov was virtually unaccompanied: Other than brief cameo appearances by Agrarian Party chief Mikhail Lapshin and Aman Tuleyev, a communist hardliner from the Kuzbass region of Siberia who has been tipped as Zyuganov's vice president, there were just a handful of security guards and press handlers, an obscure folk singer and an even more obscure actor.

All rode together from city to city by normal scheduled trains, with Zyuganov occupying a regular double sleeping compartment. By the last leg of the trip -- Perm to Yekaterinburg -- the candidate was clearly tiring and opted at the last minute to take a plane, leaving most of his disgruntled bodyguards and press officers on the overnight train.

On arrival at most towns, Zyuganov was quickly hustled into his car: A yellow and white Latvian-made mini-van, clean but with rusty fenders and pink curtains in the windows: No Mercedes or government Volgas for the Communist leader.

While Yeltsin has been throwing himself into crowds, clutching a wireless microphone with which he conducts Phil Donahue-style exchanges with voters, Zyuganov has relied on a carefully scripted routine.

Each appearance followed the same formula: Zyuganov would make opening remarks and invite people to send written questions to the front of the crowd. Then, while he and his press people studied the questions, the chatty folk singer would sing a few songs, accompanied by an accordion, and give a speech about her deep religious faith. After that, the actor would read a poem about Russia.

Spontaneity rarely came from the audience either, since it so happened that Zyuganov screened the letters so he could choose to answer similar written questions at each stop.

On those moments when Zyuganov actually forayed into a crowd, there was little hand-shaking: Security guards held everyone back, and even when someone got through, Zyuganov rarely offered his hand.

In Perm, one student asked Zyuganov for permission to take a Polaroid picture together, and Zyuganov consented. But the student was apparently too chummy in throwing his arm around Zyuganov's shoulder for the taste of security guards, who afterward violently pushed him for about 20 meters into the crowd, clutching his Polaroid, as punishment.