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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Drive Starts to Make Putin 'National Leader'

Itar-TassPutin chatting with a World War II veteran during a reception in the Kremlin's Yekaterininsky Hall on Wednesday.
With the looming mystery over President Vladimir Putin's future after his second and final term ends next year, one senior United Russia official is looking to the past -- some 400 years -- to cement Putin's status as "National Leader."

Abdul-Khakim Sultygov, who coordinates the pro-Kremlin party's policies on interethnic and interreligious relations, is calling for a nationwide Civil Council to formalize Putin's role as National Leader after he leaves office.

In an article published Tuesday on the United Russia web site, Sultygov likened the Civil Council to the Zemsky Sobor, or Land Assembly -- a collection of boyars, clerics and freemen who pledged allegiance to 15-year-old Mikhail Romanov in 1613, the beginning of Russia's last royal dynasty.

Sultygov proposed that following the Dec. 2 State Duma elections -- in which United Russia is expected to win in a landslide with Putin atop its ticket -- all political parties, officials, government bodies and public groups pledge allegiance to Putin in a so-called Pact of Civil Unity.

United Russia will then organize a nationwide Civil Council to hammer out a formal framework for the institution of National Leader, Sultygov wrote.

This will guarantee the continuation of the Putin's policies, while the council would become a permanent body through which the National Leader would guide Russia and its political elites, Sultygov said in the article.

Reached by telephone Wednesday, Sultygov denied any parallels between Putin and Romanov, however.

"Putin is not monarch, but he deserves all the respect he is getting," Sultygov said.

A better historical comparison is with former U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt or former French President Charles de Gaulle, Sultygov said.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov denied any involvement of the presidential administration in the plan.

"It is Sultygov's personal idea," Peskov said.

Even if the envisioned Civil Council is eventually convened, it is unlikely to have any constitutional power to formalize the institution of National Leader, Peskov added.

Duma speaker and United Russia head Boris Gryzlov, meanwhile, reiterated his mantra Wednesday that Putin's national leadership would extend beyond his second term.

"Putin's role as leader will be guaranteed by the party and its parliamentary majority,'' Gryzlov told party officials in Moscow in remarks posted on the party's web site.

Another senior United Russia official, Valery Ryazansky, said by telephone Wednesday that party leaders had not yet discussed Sultygov's plan.

Sultygov said the goal of his article was to stir a discussion that would eventually lead to a solution on how to secure Putin's powers after he leaves office.

"Putin cannot leave Russia in such a difficult moment, when the country has no political system," Sultygov said. "He should stay to help the political system develop in this country."

During Putin's eight-year tenure, the Kremlin has weakened civil institutions and other branches of power and greatly consolidated the president's powers.

"Russians do not have a tradition of political parties," Sultygov said. "They vote for leaders instead. People would like to vote for Putin to stay for a third term, but this is not possible because of our Constitution. This is why he should be at least our National Leader."

Other major political parties, including pro-Kremlin party A Just Russia, expressed little support for Sultygov's project, which would essentially cement United Russia's domination over the country's political landscape for years to come.

"Putin's reputation is so strong that it does not need any kind of Civil Council to help him retain influence on the country," said Natalya Narochnitskaya, a senior official with A Just Russia.

She called Sultygov's project United Russia's latest PR ploy to capitalize on Putin's popularity ahead of the Duma elections.

Senior Communist Party official Ivan Melnikov called the idea of the Civil Council and pledging allegiance to Putin "a culmination of the farce United Russia is building" around the president.

"There is a Russian proverb: Being a nice guy is not a job," Melnikov said. "Likewise, Putin's being a respected politician should not turn into an official post for him."

Asked how Putin's successor might feel with a powerful National Leader overseeing his work, Sultygov said evasively, "United Russia will only back a candidate who backs Putin's course."