MOSCOW (Reuters) - Condemned by a leading blogger as a "party of swindlers and thieves", Russian President Vladimir Putin's ruling United Russia is looking for Internet-savvy supporters to promote its brand in Moscow, the cradle of mass anti-Kremlin protests.
The Internet has been widely used by Putin's foes in recent years as a tool for exposing corruption among officials and organizing protests. Prominent opposition figures, including anti-graft blogger Alexei Navalny, made their names online.
But United Russia, regularly satirized on the Internet, is fighting back with a bid for more positive online coverage before Moscow mayoral elections in which the incumbent Sergei Sobyanin, a close Putin ally, will seek a five-year term.
"We need the 'Jedis' of the social networks ... the idols of audiences in their thousands," United Russia's Moscow branch said in a note announcing the launch of the Summer Blogger School offering training to sympathizers.
Navalny, who coined the phrase "party of swindlers and thieves" that went viral among Moscow's urban elite, plans to challenge Sobyanin in the September 8 vote unless he is convicted before then in an ongoing trial.
He has been the face of the largest wave of protests against Putin's 13-year rule that erupted over accusations of widespread violations in parliamentary elections in 2011.
At their height, the protests brought tens of thousands of people into Moscow's streets, but they have since subsided and opposition leaders hope a march due on June 12 will again turn the tables.
(Writing by Gabriela Baczynska; editing by Mike Collett-White)