Sun, Feb 06, 2011 - Page 4 News List

Putin’s poster girl leaves political party he leads

FED-UP CELEB:The former Bolshoi ballerina Anastasia Volochkova said she joined United Russia to save her life, but instead it had tricked and insulted her

The Guardian, MOSCOW

Anastasia Volochkova, the statuesque ballerina recruited by Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s United Russia to give the party a glamorous if heavily made-up face, has quit. The former Bolshoi dancer turned uber-celebrity and sometime nude model has accused the party of lying to advance its political agenda.

The scandal has rocked Russia’s beau monde.

Volochkova joined the party, created to support Putin, in 2003 after the Bolshoi unceremoniously fired her for gaining weight. She became one of a growing number of celebrities, including the former Olympic gymnast Alina Kabayeva, brought in to boost the party’s popular appeal, especially among Russia’s apolitical youth.

In an expletive-filled rant this week, Volochkova accused the party of tricking her into signing a letter five years ago denouncing the oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky. She said United Russia had told her the letter was in support of the jailed oligarch — even though the party has consistently been at the forefront of criticism against him.

“When the whole country told me that I’m against Khodorkovsky, you know, I cried, because they really tricked me,” she told Radio Free Europe in an interview.

Volochkova’s defection comes as United Russia’s popularity creeps ever lower. Two polls released this week found that the party would not win a 50 percent majority if elections were held tomorrow. The Levada Center found 35 percent of Russians would vote for the party, while polling institution VTsIOM said it would take 49 percent of the vote.

“In 2003, I really needed to save my life,” Volochkova said, explaining why she joined the party.

In a post on her blog, she said the party cared more about rhetoric than getting things done, noting they didn’t take up her initiative to create schools focused on the arts.

Aleksei Chesnakov, a senior member of United Russia, told Interfax that her decision was the result of “women’s unpredictability.”

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