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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Unity Backs Matviyenko in St. Pete Gubernatorial Poll

The pro-Kremlin Unity party on Thursday threw its support behind Deputy Prime Minister Valentina Matviyenko to become the next governor of St. Petersburg.

Matviyenko, who would challenge Governor Vladimir Yakovlev in the May 14 election, has not yet agreed to run. She said she would make a decision after meeting with acting President Vladimir Putin, which she hoped to do in the next few days.

Putin is likely to want to see Yakovlev driven out of office. The two men have a fierce enmity that goes back years.

Former Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin, who had hinted that he was considering entering the race, announced Thursday that he will not run and called on Yabloko and the Union of Right Forces to support Matviyenko.

"We need a candidate who could really compete with Vladimir Yakovlev," Stepashin told a news conference in St. Petersburg.

Earlier Stepashin had said he would wait to decide whether to run for governor of St. Petersburg until Putin weighed in.

Unity, which is closely identified with Putin, announced its decision to back Matviyenko at a congress Thursday in St. Petersburg.

In addition to discussing the decision with Putin, Matviyenko said she needs to think it over herself and consult with all the political forces represented in St. Petersburg.

"Announcing that I will run is easy, but for me it is a very serious decision," Matviyenko, who is in charge of social and cultural issues in Putin's Cabinet, was quoted by Interfax as saying.

Matviyenko joined Yevgeny Primakov's Cabinet in September 1998 and kept her job first when then-President Boris Yeltsin fired Primakov and appointed Stepashin and then when Stepashin was succeeded by Putin last July.

Born in Ukraine, she said she considers herself a St. Petersburger. In the 1980s she served as a Komsomol boss in the city, then called Leningrad.

Yakovlev has made no comment about the likelihood of Matviyenko joining the gubernatorial race.

"We cannot comment on each statement politicians make about their intentions, unless they are officially registered," Yakovlev's spokesman Alexander Afanasyev said Thursday.

Registration of candidates for the governor's race starts Sunday.