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

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Kremlin Opens a Hot Line

The presidential property department has set up a hot line in a bid to stop impostors claiming to have the Kremlin's clout behind them.

Department spokesman Viktor Khrekov said Tuesday that the hot line had received dozens of calls in its first two days. About half of the calls concerned organizations that have no relation with the department, he said.

"We did this to stop misuse and manipulation of our good name," he said.

The hot line (206-3078) appears to be part of a drive by President Vladimir Putin, who served as its deputy head in the late 1990s, to clean up of the property department's image, analysts said.

Khrekov said the department has shed about 40 firms over the past two years but several of them had continued to use stamps and letterheads linking them to the department. One criminal case has been opened. "There have also been cases of people or organizations that have never had any relations at all claiming a link," Khrekov said.

The property department was created in 1993 to manage property that had belonged to the Communist Party. Its first head, Pavel Borodin, once valued its assets in Russia and abroad at $600 billion. Putin fired Borodin, who was tainted by allegations of misappropriating money, in early 2000.

Yevgeny Volk, an analyst with the Heritage Fund, said the hot line appeared to be the latest sign that Borodin's successor, Vladimir Kozhin, is acting under instructions from Putin to make the government more open and effective. "Putin understands that problems with the property department reflect on his own reputation," he said.

Vladimir Pribylovsky, president of the Panorama think tank, said people claiming they have the Kremlin behind them is nothing new. "It's a very widespread practice. People will tell gangsters, 'Don't touch us, we are under the protection of the Kremlin,' and the gangsters can't check this and leave them alone," he said. "Bluffing is an ordinary Russian business practice and does little harm. Of course, it's a different thing if they claim to be part of the presidential property department and use it to their advantage."