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What's behind Putin's drive for a 'unified civil front' in Russia

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin called for merger of political parties and social groups. Some observers say it's a bid to boost poll numbers, while others see it as throwback to Soviet-era engineering.

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Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin (r.) are pictured during the Victory Day parade in Moscow, on Monday, May 9. Putin called for a 'unified civil front' of political parties and social groups in Russia.

Alexei Druzhinin/Presidential Press Service/RIA Novosti/AP

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Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has observers scratching their heads over his dramatic appeal to build a "unified civil front" of political parties and social groups to confront an unspecified national dilemma.

The idea sounds baffling since Russia, despite its various issues, does not appear to face a looming crisis that would justify putting aside political differences for the common good.

Some experts scoff that the unmentioned emergency is Mr. Putin's own poll numbers. Putin, who is widely suspected to be eyeing a return to the presidency, saw his numbers plunge in recent polls and rating for the party he leads, United Russia, also dropped.

But a few critics warn darkly that Putin may be seeking to reshape Russian political culture into one of forced social unity similar to the former Soviet system, in which all of civil society – including media, trade unions, the church, youth, women's groups, even sports clubs – were held in captive orbits around the all-powerful ruling party.

"I propose the creation of something that in practical politics is called a unified civil front, an organization to unify the efforts of various political forces ahead of major events of political character," Putin told a conference of United Russia in the central Russian city of Volgograd last Friday.

'Fresh ideas, fresh proposals'

The front should recruit into its ranks all organizations and people "who are united by the idea to strengthen our country and by the wish to search for the most optimal ways of solving current problems," he added.

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