Alexander Lebedev to join forces with Vladimir Putin

Russian tycoon to join Putin's All-Russia People's Front

Alexander Lebedev, owner of the Independent and Evening Standard newspapers, has announced he is quitting business in Russia to join Vladimir Putin's latest political initiative as the country prepares for presidential elections.

Lebedev said security service pressure on his banking business had become so great it was impossible to continue. Yet he failed to explain why, after years of positioning himself as an opposition figure, he had decided to side with the powers that be.

"I don't think it's possible to continue the banking business," Lebedev said in an interview with, Russia's most respected online news portal. "Within two months, I plan to leave the field and become an ordinary citizen." The tycoon posted a statement on his website on Friday saying his Our Capital movement had decided to join the All-Russia People's Front created by Putin earlier this month.

The move comes after pressure has been building on National Reserve Bank, the jewel in Lebedev's empire. Its headquarters were raided by masked police late last year, allegedly as part of an investigation into fraud at a small failed bank acquired by NRB in 2008. Lebedev has blamed the pressure on his public statements.

The announcement came one day after Lebedev released a video detailing the raid and alleged corruption by the Federal Security Service officers involved. He later said the video had been uploaded to his website "by mistake" and would be re-released once it was finished.

"That version was meant for closed viewing by the government, Central Bank and FSB," he said.

Lebedev has been allowed to acquire great wealth in Russia despite his oft-critical statements of the country's leadership. Novaya Gazeta, the newspaper he co-owns with former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, is Russia's leading opposition newspaper. He once proposed outfitting its journalists with guns, following the latest in a line of high-profile killings of journalists at the paper.

Lebedev said in a statement that Our Capital, a social organisation he founded to oppose the politics of ousted Moscow mayor Yury Luzhkov, had decided to join Putin's new movement.

"Today we are ready not only to co-operate with the [new] Moscow leadership but also to support the People's Front created upon Vladimir Putin's initiative," Lebedev said, adding that he hoped to focus on the fight against corruption.

Putin announced the creation of the All Russia People's Front on 6 May at a congress of the increasingly unpopular ruling United Russia party, saying it would unite social organisations such as NGOs, trade unions and youth groups. Many analysts took the move as a sign Putin was seeking to build popular support ahead of parliamentary elections at the end of the year. The movement could also provide a base of support should Putin seek to distance himself from United Russia, whose approval ratings have fallen to near record lows, should he decide to return to the presidency next year.


Miriam Elder in Moscow

The GuardianTramp

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