Star-studded Putin ads raise unease in Russia

A host of celebrity musicians and actors have lined up to endorse Vladimir Putin`s election campaign.

Moscow: A host of celebrity musicians and
actors have lined up to endorse Vladimir Putin`s election
campaign, raising questions over their motives and rumours of
pressure on stars to back the Russian strongman.

Putin`s campaign team has broadcast advertisements on
television featuring a roll call of Russian celebrities, each
given a minute-long slot to explain "Why I am voting for
Putin" in the March 4 presidential election.

While the luminaries chosen include a number of people
who have regularly affirmed their admiration for the premier,
the surprise appearance of popular actors known for liberally
inclined views has ignited a storm of controversy.

Allegations have swirled on the Internet that some may
have been effectively forced to appear for fear of losing
official help for charities and cultural institutions in which
they are involved.

Actress Chulpan Khamatova, who has built her own
children`s charity and is something of a heroine for the
liberal intelligentsia, said in her pro-Putin video she would
be voting for him because he had always fulfilled promises.

"Vladimir Putin has not once been indifferent to the
requests of the charity," said Khamatova, known for her daring
interpretation of roles and who also won fame in the West for
her role in the hit German film "Goodbye Lenin!".

"Help must be tangible and thus I am going to vote for
Vladimir Putin," she said.

Online newspaper on Wednesday quoted a source
in her Gift of Life children`s cancer charity as alleging that
Khamatova had been blackmailed into appearing in an ad with a
threat that it risked having its funding cut.

Journalist Sergei Parkhomenko, one of the leaders of the
protest movement against Putin`s rule, wrote on his Facebook
page: "Dear, deeply-respected Chulpan, we know what they used
to blackmail you -- the fate of your charity."

Russian banking and press tycoon Alexander Lebedev, who
part-owns the opposition Novaya Gazeta newspaper, wrote on
Twitter: "Chulpan! We understand, respect and love (you). And
we know everything."

Contacted, the charity declined to comment.
Khamatova neither confirmed or denied the allegations.

"Let people say what they want. Leave every person with
their view. I`m not going to comment," she told Russian News
Service radio.

Putin`s spokesman Dmitry Peskov denied that any pressure
had been put on Khamatova and said she reiterated her support
at a visit to a children`s hospital with Putin on Wednesday,
RIA Novosti said.

The role of artists in politics has particular resonance
in Russia where cultural greats like the playwright Maxim
Gorky and the composer Dmitry Shostakovich produced works
praising the Soviet authorities while in fear of their
personal security.