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

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

'Putin's Plan' Will Go Up For a Vote

MTA United Russia billboard in Moscow: "Putin's Plan Is Russia's Triumph!"
United Russia is to kick off its election campaign Monday with a convention that party leaders say will be attended by President Vladimir Putin.

Party members from across the country will gather at Gostiny Dvor, just a few hundred meters from the Kremlin, for the two-day conference, where the party will finalize the candidates on its federal and regional tickets for the Dec. 2 State Duma elections.

Duma speaker and United Russia leader Boris Gryzlov is expected to outline the party's campaign strategy based on its pro-Kremlin platform, unsubtly titled "Putin's Plan."

One of the party's comparably blunt campaign slogans says: "Putin's Plan Is Russia's Triumph!"

Putin has consistently thrown his support behind United Russia, and Gryzlov said this week's event would be no exception.

"I am sure he will be at our convention," Gryzlov said Thursday, Interfax reported. "And this will be a very bold way of supporting our party."

Putin has allowed United Russia to use his image in campaign advertising, senior party official and campaign chief Andrei Vorobyov said.

Photographs of Putin will figure prominently in the party's campaign, Vorobyov said.

Kremlin spokeswoman Natalya Timakova said that she could not confirm Putin's attendance at the convention or the president's permission to United Russia to use his image in its campaign.

Putin is not a member of any party, but United Russia is the only party whose conventions he has attended.

At a 2003 United Russia convention, Putin praised the party's work, and he told a news conference earlier this year that he was one of the party's founding fathers.

Speculation has swirled that Putin could join United Russia shortly before the March presidential election, paving the way for him to become the party's leader and then a powerful prime minister.

Under this scenario -- given his immense popularity at home and his deft skills as a powerbroker between competing Kremlin clans -- Putin could then run the country from behind the scenes while his weak presidential successor would be largely a figurehead.

Putin told a meeting of foreign academics and journalists in Sochi two weeks ago that his support for United Russia in the Duma elections would be only a matter of degree: "More rigid or less rigid," Putin said, according to a transcript of the meeting posted on the Kremlin's web site.

Political analysts said there was no doubt Putin would make an appearance at the convention.

"Putin's personal popularity is United Russia's biggest asset going into the elections," said Yury Korgunyuk an analyst at the Indem think tank. "The president cannot simply fail them now."

United Russia currently enjoys a constitutional majority in the Duma, a status it could lose in the next Duma due to the fact that single-mandate seats have been scrapped since the last elections.

Several single-mandate deputies joined the party's Duma faction after the 2003 elections to give it a two-thirds majority.

Those candidates will now have to find spots on party tickets and many are signing up with the other pro-Kremlin party, A Just Russia.

Pollsters predict that United Russia will secure 45 to 55 percent of the Duma's 450 seats.

The final list of candidates on the party's federal and regional tickets is to be announced Tuesday evening, and the biggest question is who will take the No. 3 spot behind Gryzlov and Emergency Situations Minister Sergei Shoigu on the federal ticket.

For months, rumors have swirled that first deputy prime minister and presidential front-runner Sergei Ivanov would be included on the United Russia list to raise his profile ahead of a run for president, although the talk subsided in August as party officials identified Olympic speed skating champion Svetlana Zhurova as the party's potential No. 3 candidate.

But a senior United Russia official said in an interview Thursday that Ivanov could be included in the top three of the federal list.

Vorobyov, the party campaign chief, said St. Petersburg Governor Valentina Matviyenko and First Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev -- seen by many as another potential contender to succeed Putin -- were also being considered for inclusion in the top three on the federal ticket.

Ivanov and Medvedev do not plan to attend the convention, their aides said.

More than 500 delegates and 2,500 guests, including dignitaries from 20 foreign countries, are expected to attend, Gryzlov said. More than 800 journalists have been accredited to the event.