Left, right…

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A new alliance of parties has emerged in Russia. The People’s Party, the Patriots of Russia, the Russia’s Renaissance Party, the Social Justice Party (SJP), and the Social-Democratic Party of Russia (SDPR) will go into the March 2007 round of regional elections as the second center-left coalition.

As RBK Daily reports, to spite Sergei Mironov’s “relevant left” party, the new alliance is calling itself the “correct left.” Political analysts have already dubbed this coalition the “third leg” – since Just Russia (Spravedlivaya Rossiya) was introduced as the “second leg” party by Vladislav Surkov, deputy head of the Kremlin administration.

The “newest leftists” will use the same unification technique as the “relevant left,” says the Gazeta newspaper. People’s Party leader Gennadi Gudkov said: “We shall choose one of the parties – the one with the most developed regional branches and the most stable structure. The other four parties will then merge with it.”

RBK Daily discusses which of the parties will head the new alliance: “Mr. Gudkov’s People’s Party might claim the role of base, in principle, but it owes the state $1 million for television airtime in the last election campaign. Under the law, a party with an outstanding debt to television channels has no right to any further airtime. And expecting to win votes without any television exposure wouldn’t be realistic.”

So a more suitable option, according to RBK Daily, is the Patriots of Russia, headed by Gennadi Semigin. “They have everything the big parties have: branches in 75 regions, and their own lawmakers in the Duma and regional parliaments. And party leader Gennadi Semigin recently acquired a national idea: ‘Justice for all, happiness for every person.'”

When Nezavisimaya Gazeta asked Russia’s Renaissance Party leader Gennadi Seleznev whom the “newest leftists” regard as their chief rival, he answered: “Above all, our battle on the electoral field will be against the new party created by Sergei Mironov.” SDPR leader Alexander Kishenin noted that he would like to see a two-party system in Russia: “One party being the party of social-democracy and constructive opposition, and the other party being the two Kremlin parties.”

“As soon as they announced their unification plans, the ‘newest leftists’ made haste to deny being another Kremlin project,” Gazeta notes. Gennadi Gudkov said: “Russia has very few real parties these days – instead, it has party projects. Today’s policy course is shaped within the Kremlin, and in relation to that we are a constructive opposition.” But Ilya Konstantinov, SJP secretary for ideology, added: “This doesn’t mean that any steps taken by the authorities won’t meet with resistance from us.”

“This isn’t a Kremlin project,” says Dmitri Oreshkin, head of the Mercator Group, in an interview with RBK Daily. “They won’t have administrative resources working for them, so their chances of making it into the Duma aren’t very high.”

Polit.ru has a theory that the new left-wing coalition might be a response from disgruntled Kremlin political strategists to the Just Russia alliance (Russian Party of Life, Motherland party, Russian Party of Pensioners). This project is supposed to dilute the left-wing vote and take away some of Just Russia’s support base. The United Russia party was extremely displeased with the outcome of the recent mayoral election in the city of Samara. Deputy Duma Speaker Vladimir Zhirinovsky has also launched an anti-Mironov campaign. Thus, the new left-wing alliance – essentially an alternative to Just Russia – completes the counter-measures taken by United Russia’s Kremlin handlers.

Political analyst Vladimir Pribylovsky said in an interview with Polit.ru that this project could well compete with the recently-formed Just Russia, and should attract left-wing Putin-supporters.

Pribylovsky said: “The new alliance could really succeed if it manages to secure some administrative resources – and it is likely to do so, since not all Kremlin factions are happy with Sergei Mironov and his project. Earlier, Vyacheslav Surkov attempted to lobby for the interests of the Party of Pensioners within Just Russia, in order to prevent Mironov gaining control of the party. Now Surkov might decide to help the new political entity.”

But Pribylovsky doesn’t believe that Surkov came up with the idea of the new left-wing project. In his view, “this project seems to have arisen of its own accord, since some of its participants simply have nowhere else to go in the current political circumstances.”

In an interview with Kommersant, Boris Makarenko, deputy general director of the Political Techniques Center, points out that these parties are “fighting for survival.” In his view, the new movement can only “acquire a functional role” if the Kremlin finds that it needs “a second left leg” in order to “prevent the first one from developing too much muscle.”

Meanwhile, the “newest leftists” are busy negotiating with other potential merger partners – including Sergei Glaziev and his For a Decent Life movement. Glaziev himself told Kommersant that he’s “very positive” about such a union: “If this coalition were to form an alliance with Just Russia, they would undoubtedly win an absolute majority in the next Duma election.”

According to Kommersant, Glaziev “said he would be prepared to head such an alliance if it chooses to uphold ‘the people’s interests,’ since the current regime’s policies are incompatible with them.” Glaziev added: “But if the whole idea is to become a tame organization directed from above, they can leave me out of it.”

According to Nezavisimaya Gazeta, the new alliance has also been talking to the Agrarian Party: Gudkov invited the Agrarians to join the new coalition’s coordination council.

“In contrast, the question of cooperating with Sergei Baburin and his People’s Will party, or former Motherland (Rodina) leader Dmitri Rogozin, isn’t even being considered,” says Nezavisimaya Gazeta. Gudkov said: “I think very highly of Sergei Baburin, but he’s been emphasizing lately that he isn’t a social-democrat.” As for Rogozin, Gudkov noted that the social-democrats consider nationalist rhetoric unacceptable.

Not waiting for any proposals from the new coalition, Dmitri Rogozin himself has announced his intention to revive the Congress of Russian Communities (CRC) and turn it into a haven for Motherland members who don’t want to join Just Russia. Gazeta reports that Rogozin’s group also expects to recruit some activists from the Movement Against Illegal Immigration (DPNI) and some other nationalist-patriotic organizations.

Gazeta quotes Rogozin as saying: “For our supporters, this movement will offer an opportunity to continue the line that was initially set down in Motherland’s policy program.”

There has been a proposal to change the CRC’s title to Motherland – Congress of Russian Communities. “The new-look movement will be the place where Motherland’s most active members will go,” said Duma member Andrei Saveliev. Rogozin added: “I have no doubts whatsoever that the healthiest part of Motherland will end up in the CRC.”

All the same, Saveliev and Rogozin say it’s still too soon to transform the CRC into a party. Saveliev told Gazeta: “We can’t set ourselves that goal at present, since the Kremlin is still pursuing a repressive policy with regard to independent parties and creating its own projects to replace them.”

Sergei Glaziev seems to be popular with others besides the “newest leftists.” Rogozin didn’t rule out the possibility of Glaziev becoming one of the CRC’s leaders. (Note that Glaziev was the CRC’s founder and a co-leader of the initial version of Motherland.)

But Glaziev himself doesn’t sound too thrilled about this prospect. Here is what he said in an interview with the KM.ru website: “At the last organizational meeting of the CRC, I voluntarily resigned as chairman, since this is no longer a core activity for us, and Rogozin himself can cope with organizing the CRC’s operations. It’s entirely inaccurate to speak of reuniting myself and Rogozin now. We are both members of the Motherland faction, and we cooperate with each other in the course of our work in parliament, but nothing more than that.”

Saveliev and Rogozin said that some members of the DPNI will join the CRC.

DPNI leader Alexander Belov told Ekspert Online: “We have indeed discussed this matter. I offered my assistance in a number of regions, and I’ll definitely join the organization committee, and probably the CRC leadership as well.” But Belov stressed that this certainly isn’t a merger – only cooperation, long-planned and entirely to be expected. “Legislative obstacles prevent us from forming a party at present, but other forms of influence and impact are available,” said Belov, adding that the CRC’s purpose is to “assist Russian people” and defend their rights.

Experts differ in their views on the prospects for the CRC’s revival. Sergei Mikheyev, deputy general director of the Political Techniques Center, told the Vek newspaper that if Rogozin is acting on the Kremlin’s instructions, he probably won’t have any trouble reviving the CRC as some sort of political force that unites the pro-nationalist electorate. But if Rogozin has decided to do this on his own (unlikely as that may be), he will have serious problems with management, finances, and other concerns – which is sure to have an impact on the CRC’s membership numbers.

All the same, in Mikheyev’s view, the revived CRC is quite likely to be a success. Vek notes: “Substantial demand for ‘enlightened’ nationalism has emerged in our society. As yet, this sector of politics lacks any parties capable of fully expressing the interests of this part of society.”

Stanislav Belkovsky, president of the National Strategy Institute, told Ekspert Online: “This is undoubtedly a purely nationalist project, tailored to fit one individual – in this case, Rogozin.” Belkovsky agrees that the CRC will be able to attract pro-nationalist Motherland activists from the regions, but only on one condition: if they are convinced that they are being called to participate in a real force, not just another “game with the Kremlin.”

In Belkovsky’s view, the CRC can’t possibly compete with Just Russia (they’re social-democrats, after all) on the field of ideology, but it might well succeed in drawing away some regional nationalists. Belkovsky maintains that this project’s success will depend on Rogozin’s resolve to follow through on his break with the Kremlin.

Alexei Makarkin, head of the analysis department at the Political Techniques Center, disagrees with this way of posing the question. In an interview with Ekspert Online, Makarkin said: “For Motherland’s regional activists, the top priority is to participate in elections and get elected. Just Russia will give them that opportunity. Joining various alliances, unions, or congresses – even if they agree with their ideologies – won’t give them that opportunity. Hence, few Motherland activists will choose to do so.”

According to Ekspert Online, the new alliance might make a fairly good “killer movement,” gobbling up the electorate of the “new leftists.” At any rate, it’s safe to say that the political landscape in the lead-up to campaign battles is becoming more crowded with every passing day.

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