Putin wins backing of Russia's religious leaders

Putin wins backing of Russia's religious leaders

MOSCOW - Agence France-Presse
Putin wins backing of Russias religious leaders

Russian Prime Minister and presidential candidate Vladimir Putin, center, flanked by Supreme Mufti of Russia Talgat Tadzhuddin, right, Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill, second left, and Metropolitan Yuvenaly of Krutitsa and Kolomna, left, attends a meeting with Russia's religious leaders in the St. Daniel Monastery in Moscow, Wednesday, Feb. 8, 2012. AP photo

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has received the backing of Russia's powerful Orthodox Church, its chief rabbi and top Islamic leader as he seeks a return to the presidency next month.

Putin met the three religious leaders on Wednesday in the latest in a series of gatherings with leading cultural and public figures ahead of the March 4 vote.

"I would like to thank you. You once said that you are working as a slave in the galley," Patriarch Kirill said at the meeting.

"But with the only difference being that a slave lacked the degree of commitment to work that you have," Kirill said in comments posted on Putin's campaign website.

"Thanks to the Almighty, the country has been saved from ruin," added Russia's Chief Mufti Talgat Tadzhuddin. "And one must add -- with your direct involvement!" Chief Rabbi Berl Lazar for his part thanked Putin "for everything you have done for Jews." A series of mass protests that followed fraud-tainted December parliamentary election have posed the most serious challenge to Putin's 12-year domination of Russia as president and head of government.

The swelling wave of demonstrations and dip in Putin's public approval ratings have prompted his team to seek the public backing of top celebrities and clerics.

Several media outlets poured scorn on Putin's latest attempt to win public favour with the Nezavisimaya Gazeta broadsheet noting that "religious leaders have taken part in the prime minister's election campaign." Putin is seen as the overwhelming frontrunner in the election despite a recent admission that he may lack the 50-percent backing needed to win in the first round.