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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Unified Russia: Putin Re-election Top Priority

The powerful Unified Russia party announced Monday that one of its main goals was to ensure the re-election of President Vladimir Putin in 2004 and fended off criticism that the party was overly reliant on the Kremlin's support.

"We are the president's party because we want to support the president's policies not just in word but in deed," Alexander Bespalov, chairman of the party's general council, told reporters after a meeting of Unified Russia's central governing body.

Bespalov rejected claims that party leaders hoped the president would "pull the whole party, like a locomotive, to the heights of power, using his authority to provide party cadres with a free ride to power," Interfax reported.

Bespalov and other party officials also said they would focus on training professional policymakers and boosting the party's role in the regions.

Governors and other regional officials have turned local elections into "a theatrical performance to cover up the rise to power of people with a dubious past," State Duma Deputy and Unity faction chief Vladimir Pekhtin said.

Party officials tried to counter Unified Russia's image as a faceless organization working on the Kremlin's orders.

According to press reports, party leaders got a dressing down last month from presidential deputy chief of staff Vladislav Surkov, who accused them of showing too little initiative and hoping to benefit from ties to the Kremlin.

"The party's intellectual life is zero -- not a single interesting idea," Surkov was quoted as saying in Expert magazine. "The president could leave ... and what then?" he said. "You can't always be on artificial life support."