United Russia, the ruling party of President Vladimir Putin, is aiming to improve its online image with internet “Jedis”.
Famously dubbed a “party of crooks and thieves” by leading opponent Alexei Navalny, United Russia is seeking supporters to promote its brand in Moscow, the site of the majority of the anti-Kremlin protests. Demonstrations in the capital and Saint Petersburg first began in response to the Russian legislative elections in 2011.
The internet has been used regularly by Putin’s adversaries as a tool for exposing corruption and organising protests. Opposition figures have risen to prominence thanks to their online criticism, including Navalny, who used his LiveJournal blog to orchestrate large-scale demonstrations.
United Russia aims to counter the criticism with more positive online coverage before Sergei Sobyanin, an ally of the President, seeks reelection in the Moscow mayoral elections in September. Sobyanin announced he would step down before calling early elections, a surprise move that would make it difficult for his rivals to run effective campaigns.
In a note announcing the launch of the Summer Blogger School, providing training to supporters, the Moscow branch of United Russia said: “We need the ‘Jedis’ of the social networks … the idols of audiences in their thousands.”