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Russia has objected to the use of the likeness of Russian President Vladimir Putin in Likud's election campaign, and Russian Ambassador to Israel Gennady Tarassov took up the matter yesterday with Likud chairman MK Benjamin Netanyahu.

Tarassov called Netanyahu to complain about the Likud elections advertisement appearing on the Internet, and the party's official Web site, showing Putin's face morphing into that of Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. The ad, which appeared after Putin invited Hamas leaders on an official visit to Moscow, is accompanied by a caption that reads that it was Olmert, and not Putin, who had transferred money to Hamas. The ad also says that Olmert was the one who had laid out the carpet for Hamas, while Putin had only colored it red.

Officials in Russia have slammed the ad, deeming it a personal attack on the Russian president.

In his talk with Netanyahu, the Russian ambassador charged that the use of the figure of Putin was improper and unethical, while Netanyahu argued that the ad was directed against Olmert, and not the Russian leader.

Nevertheless, the ad was removed from the party's Web site, but because of the hype it generated, it has become something of a hit on Russian-language sites.

The head of Likud's immigrants headquarters, Sasha Klein, confirmed that the Russian ambassador had contacted Netanyahu vis-a-vis the ad, but denied that this was the reason for the ad's removal from the site.

"Its shelf life had expired," Klein said.

The Likud's election campaign in the Russian street appears to be an ongoing source of minor scandals. Prior to the Putin ad, the Russian sector was up in arms regarding reports that the head of Likud's team of strategists brought in from Moscow was a former KGB official, who had said in interviews that every time he works with candidates outside of Russia, he promotes the interests of his homeland.

Meanwhile, a report that appeared yesterday in the Russian-language edition of Globes has drawn a correlation between Netanyahu's Russian advisers and Putin's invitation to the Hamas leaders. The report is entitled, "Putinyahu or KGBibi," and is adorned with a caricature combining Netanyahu and Putin and wearing a kaffiyeh.