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Putin touts coalition of supporters as new power base

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday promoted a coalition of his supporters as his new power base as he appeared to distance himself from the scandal-tainted ruling party during his new term in office.

“We are the Popular Front. We are for Russia,” Putin told thousands of supporters at the founding congress of a movement called the All-Russia Popular Front.

“The All-Russia Popular Front should become a truly encompassing public movement,” he said, his speech interrupted by chants of “Russia” and “The people — Russia — Putin”.

Analysts say Putin has long been keen to distance himself from the ruling United Russia party, plagued by a host of corruption and other scandals and dubbed by the opposition as the party of “swindlers and thieves”.

Putin, who has never been a card-carrying member of United Russia, delegated the responsibility of heading the ruling party to his protege Dmitry Medvedev after being elected to a third presidential term last year.

Putin first called for the establishment of the loose All-Russia Popular Front coalition in 2011, in a move analysts called a sign of his rivalry with Medvedev, who was president at the time.

The coalition appeared aimed at co-opting political and social forces and boosting Putin’s standing ahead of parliamentary polls followed by presidential elections.

Independent poll monitors said 2011 parliamentary elections were skewed in favour of the ruling United Russia party, and reports of wholesale fraud during the polls brought tens of thousands of people into the streets.

The opposition has called for the State Duma, Russia’s lower house of parliament which is dominated by United Russia, to be disbanded but Putin has insisted the parliament is legitimate.

Upon Putin’s return tot the Kremlin for a third term last May, the Duma fast-tracked a series of tough laws critics say were designed to crack down on dissenters.

Some Putin critics are now detained or jailed, while others such as liberal economist Sergei Guriyev and chess great Garry Kasparov have fled Russia.

The huge protests have since died down, although the protest movement seeks to maintain the momentum by staging regular rallies.

Earlier on Wednesday several thousand people marched through central Moscow to support detained or jailed anti-Kremlin protesters, a day after Putin accused Washington of supporting the protest movement against him.

On Wednesday, the Russian president appeared to reiterate that he would not tolerate interference from abroad.

“We are a great nation and our future depends only on us. Only we will decide what we can do, what we are capable of and what we should do,” Putin said to applause from the audience.