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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Urals University Students Cash In on Putin

APBarman Yevgeny Tochilov pouring a beer Saturday in the Putin bar in Chelyabinsk.
CHELYABINSK, Ural Mountains -- Yevgenia and Yelena didn't have to search far for a theme for their bar: Every day, televisions beam the image of the most captivating Russian politician into homes and businesses across the country.

Like countless portrait painters and T-shirt vendors, the 21-year-old student entrepreneurs decided to cash in on the country's most popular brand name: Vladimir Putin.

Their bar is called simply Putin.

Students Yevgenia Borishpolskaya and Yelena Terekh have hung a judo kimono -- Putin practices the sport -- and a Russian flag at the entrance to the bar, on the edge of a park in the Urals industrial city of Chelyabinsk.

To accompany the Baltika beer on tap from Putin's hometown of St. Petersburg, the bar offers "Stasi" peanuts -- a reference to the Soviet-era secret police in East Germany, where Putin served as a KGB agent.

The menu also offers "Vertical Power" kebabs, playing off the president's shorthand for his pledge to strengthen authority in Russia from the top down, and cookies stamped with the president's initials, VVP -- for Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin.

"We're creating a myth, a legend, around Putin's image," said Borishpolskaya, a student of public relations and an unabashed presidential supporter.

She and her partner plan to do their part during Putin's re-election campaign in 2004, offering free mugs of beer to potential voters.

"What's wrong with loving Putin? He's healthy, he speaks well, and he's pleasant to look at," said Terekh, a law student.

Their only problem so far is low revenues ranging from about $100 to $200 a day, which they blame on their location in the down-at-the-heels neighborhood that is home to the city's biggest metallurgical plant.

The average monthly wage for plant workers is $162.50 and few want to shell out a steep $6.50 to quaff a beer with crackers and a vegetable salad, which they could get elsewhere for less than a quarter of the price.

Local businessmen have offered to move the bar to the center of Chelyabinsk, where daily restaurant turnover can reach $1,250. But in that case, the two students would probably lose control over their enterprise.

Alexei Slepyshev, the federal inspector for the Chelyabinsk region, said his office considered the use of Putin's name without the president's consent unethical.

"We regard the opening of the cafe-bar ... named after the president as an ethical issue, not a legal one. And, in that sense, our reaction is negative," Slepyshev was quoted by Interfax as saying.

Putin has become a favorite subject for children's books, paintings, films and web sites in a wave of what one Russian reporter called the "Putinization" of the country.

It's not clear to what extent the Kremlin's image-makers are involved: Putin himself has said he objects to the adoration, but members of a pro-presidential youth group, Moving Together, have reported receiving official funding.

Their rallies are reminiscent of Soviet-era gatherings, where citizens sent from schools and workplaces sang the praises of Communist leaders.