Prime Minister Vladimir Putin appears to have an unlikely supporter in his camp ahead of Russia's March 4 presidential election -- or does he?
A video lauding Putin's leadership has gone viral, which is not so remarkable. But that it features a male singer with distinct Tajik features has some -- considering the intolerance suffered by Tajik migrant workers
in Russia under Putin's watch -- wondering whether his ode is genuine.
A message accompanying the video uploaded to YouTube describes the singer only as "Tolibjon Kurbankhanov from Tajikistan." Nobody seems to know any more about him, but the lyrics in his song make clear that he considers Putin a "godsend" who saved Russia and ensured stability.
With landmarks of the Russian capital such as the Kremlin and the White House serving as a backdrop, the artist hails Putin as the "best sportsman" and "son of the nation." He lauds Putin's economic policies, alludes to his former career in the KGB by describing the prime minister and former president as an "agent," and calls on voters to make the right choice in the upcoming polls.
Each chorus begins with "VVP" -- the initials of the prime minister's full name, Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin. VVP, as the listener learns, came to power at the beginning of the new century and millennium, when the country was amid "crisis" and the nation was "suffering." Everything changed for the better, according to the tune.
The music video has become quite a hit on Russian websites, and found its way to more serious media, such as the Ekho Moskvy radio station's website, prompting many different comments and reactions along the way.
Going After The Minority Vote?
Putin has been very active on the issue of migrant workers and immigration in Russia, recently addressing a session of the Federal Migration Service with his proposals for tightening immigration law, including language tests and cracking down on the use of fictitious registration addresses.
Following his lead, legislation on language tests is working its way through the Russian parliament.
On February 7, during a meeting with campaign representatives, Putin gave his support to lawyers who want to impose criminal liability on multiple offenders of immigration rules.
"Otherwise this process will never end," Interfax quoted him as saying. "The person will know that he will go to prison instead of his home country."
Considering that nearly one in seven make the trek to Russia every year for seasonal work, such legislation would affect many Tajiks.
This has led some to question whether the singer Kurbankhanov is indeed Tajik, or whether the song might have been planted by Putin's campaign team as a way of attracting minority votes.
According to Muhammadnazar Mirzoda, the head of an officially registered NGO called the Tajik Diaspora in St. Petersburg, Kurbankhanov is indeed a Tajik citizen, is 28 years old, and resides in Ufa, the capital of Russia's Republic of Bashkortostan. RFE/RL has not independently verified Kurbankhanov's identity or his ethnicity.
He's Down With VVP
Not everyone seems to be convinced that it matters, or that the song by Putin's Tajik admirer will yield any benefits for the prime minister or his presidential campaign. And some say it will have the opposite effect.
Prominent Russian blogger Aleksandr Plyushev
has dubbed the video the "best anti-Putin video in history."
And well-known Russian anticorruption blogger and opposition figure Aleksei Navalny, who himself is known for his nationalist leanings, has also weighed in.
In a February 6 post on his blog
, Navalny wrote that "I don't know whether this video has been paid for by Putin's election camp, but in any case I suggest that it be distributed wherever possible."
Based on the number of hits "VVP" is now getting, it looks like Kurbankhanov is poised for stardom.
-- Farangis Najibullah