* Russia's powerful PM Putin meets local rappers
* Rappers chant: "Respect, Vladimir Vladimirovich"
By Darya Korsunskaya
MOSCOW, Nov 13 Russian Prime Minister Vladimir
Putin rubbed shoulders with rappers and was hailed with
"respect" in a television show on Friday that could help boost
his flagging ratings.
Putin, wearing a turtleneck sweater and jacket, went on
stage to present awards to participants in "Battle for Respect",
a hip-hop music contest run by Muz TV, a Russian rival to MTV.
"It would have been cool to record a joint track with
Vladimir Putin because he is a legendary man and our idol," sang
rapper Zhigan who won the contest. "Let's make so much noise in
his honour that the whole world can hear."
A presenter told the audience of about 100 young rappers in
a makeshift television studio in an abandoned Moscow factory
building that he wanted "smiles to stay on your faces throughout
Despite hip-hop's violent image, Putin had a stern message
for the rappers about healthy living.
"I do not think that 'top-rock' or 'down-rock' breakdance
technique is compatible with alcohol or drugs," Putin told
cheering hip-hoppers who responded with chants of "Respect,
Putin's approval ratings last month had the sharpest fall
since he stepped down as Kremlin chief in May 2008. His rating
fell 6 percentage points to 66 percent on Oct. 24-25, according
to leading pollster FOM. [ID:nL2370140]
Putin's aides responded with plans for a flurry of prime
ministerial appearances, including a televised
question-and-answer session with the Russian people this month.
Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov denied there was a link
between the hip-hop appearance and the ratings fall.
"Putin has a high and stable rating which does not require
any support," said Peskov. "The main goal of this event was to
contribute to the promotion of a healthy lifestyle."
Putin, who stepped down as president last year, remains
Russia's most popular and powerful politician. Most Russians
believe he will run for President again in 2012.
Putin's carefully orchestrated image also include
bare-chested photos on fishing trips in Siberia, appearances
with rare animals such as Siberian tigers, leopards and beluga
whales and encounters with fringe social groups like bikers.
"He communicates to all social groups. Hip-hop culture is
very popular and youths from all corners of our country are fans
of this culture," Peskov said.
(Writing by Gleb Bryanski; Editing by Jon Hemming)