Putin’s ‘Front’ to Focus on Activism, Playing on Opposition’s Turf

MOSCOW, June 10 (Alexey Eremenko, RIA Novosti) – An amorphous pro-government group publicly backed by Russian President Vladimir Putin tried to distance itself from politics Monday, saying it would focus on civic activism – often the domain of opposition figures – and does not want to replace the country’s current ruling party.

The All-Russia People’s Front, known by its Russian initials, ONF, aims to be a nationwide platform for grassroots activists “with a constructive agenda,” Olga Timofeyeva, a federal lawmaker and ONF member, told journalists ahead of the group’s official founding congress.

“We’ll be calling the authorities to task,” said Timofeyeva, one of 87 ONF members elected to the lower house of Russia’s parliament, the State Duma, on the ruling United Russia ticket in 2011, in controversial elections that triggered the biggest political protests Russia had seen in 20 years.

She conceded the group could face opposition from officials it would have to target, but said it counted on the backing of the president, who held a long, televised meeting with ONF activists in March, where he urged them to create a platform for discussing the country’s most pressing issues.

Timofeyeva denied the group could turn into a political party to replace United Russia.

The group’s preliminary mission statement suggests it will venture into an area heretofore dominated by opposition figures, like whistleblowing blogger Alexei Navalny, who has become an icon of grassroots activists in Russia, publishing regular exposes of alleged corruption by officials across the nation.

An ONF-affiliated political pundit at Monday’s press conference listed a set of populist-sounding measures as some of the group’s accomplishments and even compared it to Organizing for Action, a nonprofit formed in 2012 to support US President Barack Obama’s reelection and policies.

“The group aims to put pressure on the authorities … and provide constant feedback to the president,” said analyst Dmitry Badovsky, who heads the Institute of Socioeconomic and Political Research. He said that ONF’s achievements include: work on tax hikes for owners of expensive cars; an unfinished campaign against “golden parachutes” at state-run corporations; the introduction of school uniforms nationwide; and amendments to the law on fishing.

ONF was created in 2011, ahead of that year’s protest-sparking parliamentary and presidential elections, which brought Putin back to the Kremlin for a third term after a stint as prime minister in 2008-2012.

The explicitly pro-Putin group, which boasts a membership of 2,500 organizations, has never officially registered as a movement and largely failed to become a major player on Russia’s political scene. But it plans to formalize its status and step up activity following a two-day congress in Moscow, set to start Tuesday.

Fifty-six percent of Russians knew of ONF as of June, up nine percentage points from April, according to a study by state-run pollster VTsIOM, presented Monday.

Half the respondents were indifferent toward the group, while 29 percent approved of it and 9 percent disapproved, according to the poll, which surveyed 1,600 people and had a margin of error of 3.4 percentage points.


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