Putin's United Russia looks to soldiers for votes

MOSCOW Fri Dec 2, 2011 1:22am IST

New Russian draftees sit during a ceremony to celebrate ''Recruit Day'' in the southern Russian city of Stavropol November 16, 2011. REUTERS/Eduard Korniyenko/Files

New Russian draftees sit during a ceremony to celebrate ''Recruit Day'' in the southern Russian city of Stavropol November 16, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Eduard Korniyenko/Files

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MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russian officers have been ordered to wake soldiers with "pleasant music" before they go to vote on Sunday in parliamentary elections, and to encourage them to watch state television.

Russia's one-million strong military is a traditional stronghold for ex-KGB agent Vladimir Putin's ruling United Russia party, which is expected to see its parliamentary majority cut and will be counting on the military vote.

Scattered across Russia, the military can make or break a party's performance, especially in the scarcely populated Siberian and Far East regions.

Newspaper Izvestia reported on Thursday that officials at the Defence Ministry visited barracks across Russia before elections, advising officers to feed soldiers with a "celebratory breakfast" before letting them go off to the polls.

Izvestia, citing unnamed sources, said no orders were given, only suggestions. Both Defence Ministry and army spokesmen were unavailable to comment on Thursday.

State TV is dominated by coverage of the Kremlin and the country's top leaders.

A poll published last week showed United Russia was likely to receive 252-253 places in the 450 seat parliament, down from the 315 it currently holds.

In what has been seen by some analysts as an attempt to court the military vote, Moscow has promised to boost defence spending to 20 trillion roubles through 2020.

While some soldiers may vote for the nationalist-minded Liberal Democratic Party of Russia, which polls show as gaining the third largest number of votes in Sunday's vote, most will back United Russia, analysts say.

"The army is a well-controlled, conservative, patriotic institution, and Putin is seen as a (security forces officer) who impresses officers and embodies the understanding of a professional soldier and a good leader," said Mikhail Barabanov, editor-in-chief of CAST's Moscow Defence Brief magazine.

(Reporting By Thomas Grove; editing by Andrew Roche)

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