May 11, 2011 / 1:46 PM / in 7 years

Russia's Putin polishes image in row over war hero

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.

<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>

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 www.life.ru 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

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