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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Artists Draft Letter Opposing Putin's Third Term

Possibly emboldened by President Vladimir Putin's huge approval ratings, a group of renowned artists claimed to represent all 65,000 of their colleagues in an open letter asking him to stay in office for a third term.

But since the letter's publication in Rossiiskaya Gazeta earlier this month, others have publicized their objections to the suggestion that all of the country's artists approve of Putin.

Alexei Devotchenko, a well-known actor from St. Petersburg and a member of Garry Kasparov's United Civil Front, penned a cynical reply to the letter, which was signed by painter and sculptor Zurab Tsereteli and three others.

"On what basis did you decide that you can take it upon yourself to speak on behalf of all representatives of the creative professions of Russia?" Devotchenko wrote, addressing Tsereteli and Nikita Mikhalkov, head of the Russian Culture Foundation, among others.

"Can you not comprehend that it is a true sign of cowardice, of weakness and of the desire to err on the conservative side in appealing to the noble master not in your own name, but in the name of some arbitrary 'artistic community of Russia'?" he said, brushing aside the suggestion that the artists' opinions had been canvassed.

The letter that Devotchenko found unpalatable appeared in the government newspaper Oct. 16 and ended with a plea to Putin.

"We hope that you will take into account the opinion of hundreds of thousands of artists ... that it is necessary for you to remain in the post of the head of the Russian state after 2008. Russia needs your talent and political wisdom," the artists wrote.

Hot on the heels of Devotchenko, who took part in the Dissenters' Marches in St. Petersburg this year, was a group of 53 artists, led by Marietta Chudakova, a literary historian, and Alexander Gelman, an actor and publicist.

"Such a letter throws a shadow not only upon those who signed it, but also upon you as a president, whose reign over the years has, unfortunately, seen a resumption in many Soviet-style ideas," said their reply, posted on the Ekho Moskvy web site.

Chudakova said Sunday that she joined in the protest because she thought it was a complete disgrace that [the artists] are calling for Putin to go against the Constitution.

The publication of Tsereteli's letter came days before tens of thousands of people from Kamchatka to Pskov took to the streets last week in support of a third term for Putin, which he has repeatedly ruled out, citing the constitutional limit of two consecutive terms.

Putin himself insisted at an EU-Russia summit Friday that he would not seek to retain presidential powers and that he would leave the Constitution untouched.

But the recent outburst of support from the streets and the stars alike has led some to wonder whether it is all part of the Kremlin's battle plan ahead of December's State Duma elections and next year's presidential vote.

"The United Russia forces close to Putin want him to stay in the Kremlin in some capacity," said Sergei Mikheyev, an analyst at the Center for Political Technologies.

"So local authorities are acting on their behalf by bringing the people to the streets in support of a third term," Mikheyev said Friday.

But the artists could have thought up the idea of a letter to Putin themselves. "It is hard to judge," he said.