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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

United Russia Taps Khloponin for Image Boost

United Russia's proposed plan to bring in young and energetic Krasnoyarsk region Governor Alexander Khloponin is part of a strategy by the pro-Kremlin party to increase its strength in the regions and spiff up its image nationwide, analysts said.

Oleg Morozov, head of the Russia's Regions faction in the State Duma and a member of United Russia's higher council, said Tuesday that the party was weighing the idea of inviting Khloponin to join the council.


Vedomosti

Krasnoyarsk region Governor Alexander Khloponin

Calls to the press service of the Krasnoyarsk administration went unanswered Tuesday and Wednesday, and an official at the region's representation office in Moscow declined to comment. Vedomosti, which broke the news in its Tuesday issue, quoted a source in Khloponin's retinue as saying that the governor hoped to become a member of the council.

Morozov said United Russia leaders established contact with Khloponin when he was still running for the governor's seat last summer. He said Khloponin, the former general director of Norilsk Nickel, "unambiguously accepted" United Russia's recommendations on how to run his campaign.

As a member of the party's higher council, Khloponin could be expected to use his influence in Krasnoyarsk to bring in votes for United Russia, according to Vladimir Pribylovsky of the Panorama think tank and Nikolai Petrov of the Moscow Carnegie Center. Pribylovsky estimated that a governor's "administrative resources" could add an extra 5 percent to votes cast for this party of power in December's Duma elections.

United Russia already has several governors on its higher council, and analysts said they expect it to recruit more.


Vedomosti

Alexander Bespalov

Yury Luzhkov of Moscow, Mintimir Shaimiyev of Tatarstan, Murtaza Rakhimov of Bashkotarstan, St.Petersburg's Vladimir Yakovlev, Saratov's Dmitry Ayatskov and Mordovia's Nikolai Merkushkin are already on the council. Luzhkov is one of three rotating chairmen, with Interior Minister Boris Gryzlov and Emergency Situations Minister Sergei Shoigu.

Khloponin, who turns 38 on Thursday and is seen as a smart administrator, could improve United Russia's image ahead of the elections, said Yury

Korgunyuk of the Indem think tank.

This would be unlikely to be true for Dmitry Rogozin, the outspoken head of the Duma's foreign affairs committee who also may join the party, Korgunyuk and Pribylovsky said.

United Russia's higher council, which comprises both members and supporters of the party, is an advisory body. Its day-to-day operations are overseen by the general council, which has been headed by Alexander Bespalov.

After weeks of publicly trading warps with his party colleagues, Bespalov is giving up his post -- and his seat in the Federation Council -- after taking over as head of Gazprom's information department Tuesday.

He alienated party members with his authoritarian ways, according to Morozov. "We did surgery and cut off the appendix," Morozov said of Bespalov.

Petrov said the main problem was that Bespalov was ineffective in promoting the party, whose ratings have been stagnant.

"Bespalov frequently came up with poorly considered initiatives that inevitably collapsed," Petrov said. He proposed unorthodox legislation that was shot down and organized expensive public-relations campaigns that had questionable political returns. For instance, he created United Russia billboards with his face on them.

"The idea of focusing the party's PR on Bespalov's personality was counterproductive," Petrov said. "He is not a celebrity but a featureless bureaucrat, after all."

After failing to improve United Russia's ratings, he has been brought in by Gazprom to make people "like and trust the company," said Igor Plotnikov, a spokesman for the gas giant.

Bespalov will participate in shaping Gazprom's strategy for its media assets, which include NTV television, Plotnikov said. He also will probably "coordinate" Gazprom's advertising expenditures and charity donations, the spokesman said.

Plotnikov refused to disclose the budget Bespalov will have, but reports in the Russian press last week speculated that he will have tens of millions of dollars at his disposal.

The post in Gazprom's information department was the springboard for Alexander Dybal, who went on to become chairman of Gazprom-Media's board and, in January, CEO of Gazprom-Media.

Bespalov, like Dybal and Gazprom CEO Alexei Miller, is from St. Petersburg and has ties to President Vladimir Putin. Bespalov, 52, worked in St.Petersburg Mayor Anatoly Sobchak's administration as head of the city's PR department from 1993 to 1996. Putin was Sobchak's deputy.

Bespalov also was secretary of the St. Petersburg branch of what was then the party of power -- Our Home Is Russia -- which was headed by Putin.

In February 2000, Putin appointed him his representative in St. Petersburg and the following year brought him to Moscow to be the deputy presidential envoy in the newly established Central Federal District.

Bespalov quit this job in December 2001 when he was elected chairman of United Russia's general council.

Morozov said a replacement for Bespalov will be decided at a United Russia congress on March 29.