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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Putin Made a Name for Himself in This Village

ReutersRoad signs showing the way to the collective farm named after Putin is to the left, and that after Stalin to the right.
GORNOVKA, Altai region -- Alexander Titov says his home village owes its survival to President Vladimir Putin.

To show his gratitude, he named his farming community at the foot of the Altai mountains after the president. The farm has just had its best harvest in decades.

"I have great respect for Vladimir Vladimirovich," said Titov, 55, calling the president by his first name and patronymic. "I will vote for him in the elections. He is a good man."

The Russian tricolor flies from the top of the hut that serves as Titov's office in this village in western Siberia .

Inside, a portrait of Putin hangs on one wall and the words of the national anthem on another. The room is heated by a stove. There is an old bed and some chairs, but no telephone.

Many remote Siberian villages, starved of state handouts, have descended into poverty since the Soviet collapse.

In the Altai region, sandwiched between the Kazakh steppe and the mountains from which it takes its name, locals nickname such forlorn settlements Bear Corner or Cockroach's Darkness.

Titov, however, has taken advantage of a Kremlin initiative to restore Russia's farm sector to former glories. Agriculture is one of four priority development areas, giving farmers access to tax breaks and cheap loans from state-controlled banks.

The government contributed 68 billion rubles ($2.8 billion) from the federal budget to the agricultural sector in 2007. This will rise to 76 billion rubles in 2008.

Titov took out one of these loans, a five-year credit for 4 million to 5 million rubles, last year.

"Without this money, we would simply have gone bankrupt. So I decided to thank Putin for his support of this village."

In the 1980s, the farm -- then called 50 Years of the USSR -- raised the best sheep in the Altai region. After the Soviet Union collapsed, it fell into disrepair. Suddenly unemployed, farmers either left to find work elsewhere or turned to drink.

Titov had already set up a company called Golden Field to farm the fertile soil before turning to the national project.

"When I went to the tax inspectors with my idea, they looked at me as though I were mad. But I told them: 'I'm not opening a business. I'm preparing to support my home village.'"

He received the documents registering his farm as Joint Stock Company Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin Ltd. on Oct. 5, 2006.

"My only regret is it wasn't his birthday," Titov said. Putin turned 54 two days later.

The Putin farm employs 25 technicians earning a monthly wage of 4,000 to 5,000 rubles ($164-$205), about a third of the national average of 13,800 rubles.

Residents were amazed at the name change.

"When my husband told me he now works 'in Putin,' I laughed and thought he was pulling my leg," Svetlana Chuyeva said.

Now, seeing Putin on television gets him talking about work, she said. "And sometimes he dreams, 'When the president comes, I'll show him how well I can handle a combine harvester.'"

Farm workers say the enterprise, which grows wheat, buckwheat and flax, has turned the corner in its new guise.

"This year we were even the best workers in the region, one of the first to finish sowing and harvesting," said laborer Nikolai Parshin, 32.

Titov has big plans for the farm. He wants to replace its aging combine harvester fleet and will sow 1,500 hectares of land this year, nearly triple the area sown in 2006.

Even the local traffic police look kindly on the farm.

"I was stopped recently for speeding," Titov admits. "The inspector started to write out my fine and asked, 'Where do you work?' I said, 'The Putin Collective Farm' and he said, 'Well, why didn't you tell me straight away?'"

"But I didn't take advantage of the situation. I was at fault, so I paid."

Many of the so-called Putinites on the farm will vote for the United Russia party that Putin will lead in parliamentary polls on Dec. 2. Opinion polls show United Russia will win the election by a landslide.

"I will vote for United Russia, more than anything because the president supports this party. And Putin is a smart guy," said Yegor Malykhin, 50.

But not everyone shares this view.

"It's good working at Putin. All the same, I'm voting for the Communists because there was more order under the Soviet regime," said Oleg Zaitsev, 42.

A 21-year-old resident of Gornovka, who gave her name only as Viktoria, was more scathing. "There's no work in the village. The men drink and neither Putin nor anyone else will help. So now they've named the farm after him I'm supposed to be happy?"

As far as Titov is concerned, there is only one thing wrong with the Putin farm: Not a single resident of Gornovka shares the president's first name.

"This is a surmountable problem," Titov said. "When somebody has a son, we've already decided that he will be called Vladimir."