Russia’s President Vladimir Putin has been elected leader of a non-party movement called upon to provide him a new political base even as thousands of opposition activists marched through Moscow to protest against his 13-year-old rule.

Mr. Putin took the reins of the All-Russia People’s Front at its founding congress on Tuesday. The Front, set up two years ago as a loose umbrella organisation for 2,500 pro-Kremlin groups, will now have a governing body, structure and regional branches. Taking leadership of the People’s Front Mr. Putin has further distanced himself from the ruling party, United Russia, which has largely become discredited as a party of corrupt bureaucracy. Two years ago Mr. Putin handed over chairmanship of United Russia to then President Dmitry Medvedev.

The Front positions itself as a platform for civic activism and a mechanism for building direct links between the Kremlin and the people.

“We will support civic initiatives and volunteer movements, business and social projects, will promote local self-government and open the road for people’s creativities and for new leaders,” Mr. Putin said addressing the congress.

The launching of the new movement is seen as an attempt to recapture the initiative from the opposition, which over the past two years has brought out to the streets tens of thousands of protesters against Mr. Putin and his authoritarian regime.

As Mr. Putin spoke, up to 10,000 demonstrators marched less than a kilometre away to demand freedom for 12 activists accused of violence at a rally against Mr. Putin’s return to presidency just over a year ago.

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