Russia's Putin polishes image in row over war hero

Wed May 11, 2011 9:43am EDT
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MOSCOW (Reuters Life!) - Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin reprimanded local officials on Wednesday for refusing state housing to a World War Two veteran who has lived for half a century in a dilapidated cabin without running water or heating.

Putin, who has still not said whether he will run for president in next March's presidential election, has been polishing his image ahead of the vote as a leader who is willing to stand up for the people against errant officials.

Vasiliy Zasorin, an 87-year-old veteran who was wounded several times in the war, sent a complaint to Putin and enclosed all the decorations he was awarded after local officials said he did not deserve to receive subsidized housing.

"Respected Vladimir Vladimirovich!... I, a disabled serviceman of the Great Patriotic War, return my combat awards to a motherland which has been turned into an evil stepmother by the so-called 'servants of the people,'" he wrote to Putin.

Putin telephoned Alexei Gordeyev, the governor of the Voronezh region, where Zasorin lives, to demand a detailed explanation, Russian internet news site quoted Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov as saying. Local officials have begun a probe.

In 2008, President Dmitry Medvedev decreed that all World War Two veterans were entitled to state housing.

(Reporting by Guy Faulconbridge, editing by Paul Casciato)

<p>Russia's Prime Minister Vladimir Putin attends a meeting with theatre and cinema celebrities at the Penza Drama Theater in the city of Penza, some 600 km (373 miles) southeast of Moscow, April 29, 2011. REUTERS/Alexsey Druginyn/RIA Novosti/Pool</p>