Russia's Communist party candidate Pavel Grudinin is proving too popular for the Kremlin's liking

Russia's Communist party candidate Pavel Grudinin is proving too popular for the Kremlin's liking

Russia's Communist party candidate Pavel Grudinin is proving too popular for the Kremlin's liking

Updated 8 March 2018, 10:25 AEDT

Pavel Grudinin, the surprise Communist party candidate for Russia's presidency, poses a threat to the Kremlin as he looks to take votes away from Vladimir Putin's populist base.

On Moscow's outskirts lies a modern incarnation of an old Soviet dream.

The Lenin Sovkhoz or cooperative farm, churns out strawberries and other fruit and vegetables, turning over some $90 million dollars a year.

The administration says workers there earn wages more than twice the national average, while their children are educated for free at a brand-spanking new kindergarten and middle school.

Aesthetically, the jumble of play equipment spread across the territory and the peaked princess towers of the play school make it look like an aquarium with the gravel taken out.

The cooperative farm's success and socially responsible policies have become the calling card for its director of 22 years, Pavel Grudinin, the surprise Communist party candidate for Russia's presidency.

He has got charisma, poise and a certain ease in front of the cameras.

"The authorities are always criticising the opposition by saying they have nothing to offer," Mr Gudinin said on a press visit to his farm.

"But we on the other hand, are proposing to develop Russia in the same way we've developed this business."

It's about justice, he says.

"Free education, free healthcare, help for young families and giving people the possibility to improve themselves and rise in society."

With his entrepreneurial roots, Mr Grudinin may seem an unorthodox choice for the Communist party, but his business nose has gone down well with Communist party members.

"I'm not against the markets," party member Vyacheslav Kyznetsov, 70, said at an event to mark the 65th anniversary of the death of Joseph Stalin, next to the Kremlin walls.

"Businesses should be set up to compete with the state — that creates growth. That's Grudinin's approach — and there's none else like him."

The Communist candidate had already developed a strong online following before he was selected.

Some of his speeches at run-of-the-mill political events, where he would accuse the authorities of failing to fight corruption and fix bad roads attracted hundreds of thousands of views.

And he's not afraid to target the men at the top.

"Who says [corruption] can't be controlled?" Mr Grudinin said to a crowd of voters in the Siberian city of Irkutsk, on Sunday (local time).

"[It can be controlled] if the President starts with himself and his friends, if these people and their children stop receiving jobs, becoming top managers in state companies and the most successful bankers and investors."

Mr Grudinin has long been critical of authorities.

Journalist Andrey Pertsev of think tank Moscow Carnegie Centre believes he was only selected because the Kremlin permitted it.

"Why was he allowed to run? To boost turnout. He's a new figure who would bring people to the polls by getting them interested," Mr Pertsev said.

For the Communists though his selection is tantamount to revolution: the party's first secretary, Gennady Zuganev has run for president four times.

Right up until December, it was thought the 73-year-old would put himself forward again.

Now state pollsters credit Mr Grudinin with just over 7 per cent of the vote, making him the second most popular candidate, just two-and-a-half months after he burst onto the national scene.

His success appears to have taken the Kremlin's political operators by surprise, and turned him into a target for state media.

While coverage of the other presidential candidates is largely neutral or positive, allegations Mr Grudinin has property and wealth overseas get a nightly review.

"Most likely the Kremlin considered that he was taking some of the voters they were counting on and taking votes from Vladimir Putin himself," said Mr Pertsev.

"They saw Grudinin was occupying the populist terrain, whereas Putin is our only populist. So this dirt on him aims to stem the flow of votes."

The onslaught stepped up a notch this week, when the Electoral Commission alleged the Communist party candidate had 11 undeclared bank accounts in Switzerland that contain almost 56 million ruble ($1.3 million) and nearly 5 kilograms of gold.

Mr Grudinin has denied the charges, insinuating they were cooked up to give state media more ammunition against him.