In the run-up to next year’s presidential elections, Russian politics is a study in bizarre electioneering stunts.

For something light-hearted to end the week with, this was just too crass to be ignored.

I remember watching the news one night on television, almost 20 years ago, after the fall of the Soviet Union and the election of Russia’s first democratic government.

As I watched, in horrified amusement, the news footage showed Deputies in Russia’s Duma (or in our lingo, members of parliament) throwing furniture and fisticuffs at each other in a wild, all-in parliamentary brawl; there was also plenty of bad language being thrown about, and one didn’t need to be a speaker of Russian to understand precisely what barbs and insults were being flung around the chamber.

The “government spokesman” interviewed for the piece, in good humour and with no trace of irony, cheerily explained that Russians understood that all of this was common in democracies and that ordinary Russians accepted that such expressions of democratic practice would occur from time to time.

Of course, since then there has been less to find amusing about Russia looking from the outside; the increasingly autocratic nature of governance in Russia, and the ominous nature of some of the messages that country sends to the West, is indicative of a country — and a regime — representing precious little to joke about.

It was somewhat refreshing, therefore, to see that grassroots politicking is indeed alive and well in Russia ahead of presidential elections due early in 2012.

Former President and current Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has made no secret of his desire to claim back the office of President; his protege — current President and suspected four-year seat warmer, Dmitri Medvedev — gives increasing indication of his reluctance to get out of the way so his old boss can stand again.

And the protagonists have unearthed an unlikely new weapon in the battle for the hearts and minds of Russians: girls in skimpy bikinis.

First off the mark was “Putin’s Army” represented in clips such as this one featuring a very pretty girl called Diana with…er, rather large breasts. Lots of camera shots down her top and other sexually suggestive behaviour ensues, with a promise to “whip em’ out” for the great man Vlad. At the end, she actually begins to do just that, but the clip ends before she can get that far, fortunately.

Oh, and girls? Post your own fleshy, flashy, trashy videos online in support of Vladimir. You’ll be joining Putin’s Army, and for your support, you could even win an iPad!

Not to be outdone, we now have the arrival of the “Medvedev Girls” with a wholesome public health message wrapped into their…er, titillating…campaign to boot.

For those out of the loop regarding Russian politics, or not up to scratch on the particulars of the local bottle shop, Medvedev recently legislated an initiative designating that BEER be classified as an alcoholic beverage rather than a food.

Seriously, the measure is aimed at curbing the common sight of Russians walking to work each morning drinking beer; wandering around in public at all hours of the day and night, drinking beer; and trying to tackle Russia’s problem with alcoholism by cracking down on — yes, you guessed it — drinking beer.

(I can’t wait to see what the Vodka campaign looks like).

Anyhow, back to Medvedev’s girls.

It may be unkind to describe them as a tit-for-tat response to the onslaught of Putin’s Army, but the apparent premise of the Medvedev Girls is to roam the streets of Moscow with an oversized bucket, approaching young males drinking beer, and encouraging them to tip the beer into the bucket. “Choose us or the beer!” They cry.

Apparently when the girls are satisfied the bucket is adequately full, they tear their clothes off to reveal themselves in — just like the girls in Putin’s Army — skimpy bikinis.

You can view the Medvedev Girls here.

Sexist, ridiculous? Some commentators think so.

I’m inclined to agree, but who are we to criticise the electoral machinations in Russia?

Boobs, bikinis, beer and iPads…what a way to fight an election…

All I can say is thank God our own debates on carbon taxes, mining taxes, refugees and so forth don’t employ the same tactics.

Oh, those Russians…

Back to something more serious — and to reality — tomorrow.