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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Putin's PR Guru Warns of Sabotage

He was the brains behind the whitewashing of Communist candidate Gennady Zyuganov in the 1996 presidential elections, and he masterminded the campaign to discredit Security Council chief Alexander Lebed the same year. He was an architect of the Svyazinvest information wars in 1997, and lost.

But one of Russia's most influential PR gurus and master of the art of information war, Gleb Pavlovsky, made a comeback last year with the successful State Duma campaign for Unity.

Now he's firmly installed as one of the chief engineers of acting President Vladimir Putin's election campaign, and in an interview Wednesday he said there was a fifth column within the Kremlin administration and government that is opposing Putin's vault into the presidency.

"There are members of old oligarchic circles, others from the regional elite and a significant part of the old Yeltsin apparatus who fear losing their posts and old corrupt ways should Putin come to power," Pavlovsky said.

"The main obstacles that could come in the way of a Putin victory could be provoked by them. There might be an attempt to torpedo the elections through a boycott," he said.

"Officials could also attempt to provoke legal claims on Putin's candidacy by agitating local leaders into showing too much loyalty to Putin so that they eventually break election laws," he said.

Pavlovsky, however, refused to name who the members of this fifth column might be, and analysts cautioned that his remarks could be part of his game plan.

Putin and his circle have sent out signals they might try to quash the power of arch oligarch Boris Berezovsky.

On Tuesday, German Gref - the first deputy head of the State Property Ministry and the head of Putin's

economic research center, said the government planned to create a new state airline in competition with Aeroflot, which has been linked to Berezovsky in corruption allegations.

Almost simultaneously, Press Minister Mikhail Lesin said the broadcasting license of ORT television would be up for grabs at an auction in May. Berezovsky is said to wield control over the station.

Pavlovsky was cautious in discussing Putin's relations with the so-called oligarchs. But he conceded it was unlikely Putin would break off relations with the powerful financial-industrial groups.

"The old oligarchy has been undergoing its own revolution. New groups of businesses are coming out on top and Putin will work with them as a normal part of the political process," he said.

Pavlovsky would not elaborate further on which groups are coming out on top of the pile. However, he said that Putin likes to keep Berezovsky at the distance he is now - "which is indeed an extremely significant distance."

"Putin sees him as a major politician and as one of Russia's major businessmen. But he is a private citizen and does not have any official position - continuing relations with Berezovsky on these levels does not hold any political risk for Putin," he said.

Pavlovsky first hinted all was not well within the Putin campaign team in a front-page interview with Segodnya published Tuesday. He was interpreted as saying there was a conspiracy to oust Putin from within his campaign staff.

Pavlovsk said his words had been exaggerated by Segodnya, owned by anti-Kremlin oligarch Vladimir Gusinsky.

"There are bound to be some members of the Kremlin administration who will be sacked under a new President Putin. It makes no sense for them to play an active role in his campaign," said Yevgeny Volk, an analyst at the Heritage Foundation.

"But there is very little they can actively do to oppose the Putin campaign. The fact that Pavlovsky publicly revealed details about infighting within the Kremlin is probably just part of the battle for influence over Putin among the political elite," he said.

"It may also be an attempt to persuade those who think a Putin win is a forgone conclusion that they have to go to the ballot box anyway," he added.