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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

SAY WHAT? :Putin Inspires Loader to Run ... and Run

Sergei Vasilyev is running for president. But Vasilyev, a gruzshchik who hauls boxes in and out of a grocery store in Pechora, a small town in the northwest Komi Republic, has no intention of ruling this nation of 150 million, of picking his own Cabinet, of negotiating with the parliament or of vetting and vetoing the laws. He is running for president literally: He plans to run a 2,000-kilometer marathon in honor of acting President Vladimir Putin.

Vasilyev likes to run.

Once, he says he ran a 5-kilometer track in temperatures of minus 50-degree Celsius, wearing only his trunks. Another time, he says he covered a 1,300-kilometer distance in just eight days.

He also likes to do other sports-related things. Once, he says, he did 39,000 sit-ups in 30 hours - just for fun.

Vasilyev's extravagant exercises have no purpose. If they do, Vasilyev can't quite put his finger on what they are.

"I simply wanted to do it, that's all," he says.

But this time, everything is different, says the terse gruzshchik, who sees the marathon as a way to express his deep feelings towards Putin.

"I like him. I like him a lot," Vasilyev, 40, said last week in a telephone conversation from his current workplace, Pechora's "Apollon" grocery store. "I think he is Russia's last hope. He is the only person who is capable of getting Russia out of the crisis."

Vasilyev acknowledged that the planned marathon - a 12- to 14-day-long pilgrimage set to start this week in Komi's capital city, Syktyvkar - will have no influence on the outcome of the March 26 presidential elections, of which, Vasilyev says, Putin is a "100 percent winner."

However, it looks like the runner secretly hopes to work some kind of election voodoo on the voting ballots with his marathon, since he pointed out that it was "very important" for him to be in Moscow on the election day.

Putin seems to ignite rather bizarre expressions of loyalty among people. Last month, during the acting president's telephone chat with "the people of Russia" organized by Komsomolskaya Pravda newspaper, a teenage girl called to ask what she could do to make his election easier. Also last month, a group of middle-aged St. Petersburg professors attacked a television muppet show for showing Putin in an unfavorable light. And this week, a runner from Komi will launch a marathon in his honor.

What is it about Putin that makes these people think that he needs their help and protection? Is it love? Is it Putin's intelligent St. Petersburg accent? Is it a fear that if they don't lick his feet today, tomorrow he will stomp them - "waste them in the outhouse," to use his own words?

Unfortunately, Putin does not always seem to be aware of such extraordinary expressions of support. Even after Russian news agencies sent dispatches about Vasilyev's marathon, members of Putin's press office said they had no idea about the 2,000-kilometer run. "It has nothing to do with Putin's official activities," they said.

I hope Vasilyev still has time to change his mind about the run. It looks like Putin couldn't care less.

And wouldn't the people of Pechora appreciate it more if the runner hauled a couple of thousand boxes of food instead?