MOSCOW -- Russian President Vladimir Putin has promised billions of rubles in additional spending in the months remaining before legislative elections in September.
Putin was addressing a congress of the ruling United Russia party in Moscow on June 19. Although Putin is technically not a member of the party, United Russia's main platform is to support Putin and it is the mechanism by which the Kremlin maintains a near monopoly on all levels of political power.
Putin praised United Russia for its "ability to renew and constantly develop" in a speech in which he promised to boost spending on infrastructure, education, and health care.
"I'm sure that United Russia sets for itself the highest bar, which is to confirm its leadership position and to secure victory in the elections," Putin said.
Putin also proposed that United Russia's national party list feature prominent figures including Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. His proposal was later accepted by the party.
The relatively unpopular former president, Dmitry Medvedev, who headed the party’s federal list in 2011 and 2016, was not among the top five candidates.
Party lists are designed to attract attention by featuring popular figures who usually do not end up actually accepting legislative mandates.
With the country mired in economic woes that have seen a decline in real incomes and rising inflation, United Russia has been polling at historic lows. According to the Levada Center polling outfit, just 27 percent of Russians support the party, down from 31 percent last August.
In the run-up to the elections, during which all 450 seats in the lower house of parliament, the State Duma, will be up for grabs, the Kremlin has cracked down -- sometimes brutally -- on opposition political figures and independent media.
In the 2016 Duma elections, United Russia won 90 percent of the 225 single-mandate seats despite winning just over 50 percent of the vote. Political analysts say that many of these seats could be vulnerable if popular opposition figures were able to participate in the elections.
Opposition leader Aleksei Navalny, who suffered a near-fatal nerve-agent poisoning last August that he blames on Putin, was imprisoned in January. His network of regional offices closed down after the government declared them to be an "extremist" organization.
Other potential independent candidates have also been persecuted. Former State Duma Deputy Dmitry Gudkov fled the country earlier this month after police opened a fraud investigation against him and a relative.
Moscow municipal lawmaker Ketevan Kharaidze, of the Yabloko party, and St. Petersburg municipal deputy Maksim Reznik were both detained on June 18.
In his remarks at the United Russia congress, Putin said that "our common task is to do our utmost to ensure that the election is held openly and honestly in accordance with the law so that its results can reflect the true will of the nation."