Belykh Quits SPS Over Possible Kremlin Cooperation

Union of Right Forces leader Nikita Belykh said Friday he was quitting his post over proposals by senior party officials to cooperate with the Kremlin, while the party's leadership is to decide next week whether to disband the party altogether.

Other members of Union of Right Forces, or SPS, believe the party "should reach a compromise with the Kremlin," Belykh said in a telephone interview.

"I don't agree," he said. "This is the reason behind my decision. I don't believe that we should keep the party at all costs."

Belykh said he would take a two-week break before returning to politics.

SPS has been in a deep crisis in recent years due in large part to the painful economic reforms in the 1990s that largely discredited the liberal, free-market values at the heart of the party's platform.

The party was also the target of a vicious PR campaign led by pro-Kremlin forces in last year's State Duma elections, in which SPS garnered less than 1 percent of the vote. It was the nadir for the party, which once held senior government posts under the presidency of the late Boris Yeltsin.

Deputy SPS head Leonid Gozman will take over for Belykh until Thursday, when the SPS leadership will convene to decide the fate of the party.
"We are all very sorry that he resigned, but we respect his decision," Gozman said. "Now the most important thing for our party is to find a way to keep it in the new Russian political landscape."
 
SPS is "considering the option of cooperating with the Kremlin," Gozman said. "There is such an option, and we will discuss it at the party conference," he said.
 
A Kremlin spokeswoman reached Friday said she could not comment. "We have no information about any plans to cooperate with SPS," she said.
 
Political analysts said Friday that Belykh was attempting to save his political reputation by leaving SPS.

"It is clear that the Kremlin made SPS an offer they couldn't refuse, and Belykh had no choice," said Yury Korgunyuk, a political analyst with the Indem think tank. "He understood that this was the right moment to quit the party,"
 
"It was better for him to quit now than to die in shame after becoming another Kremlin project," Korgunyuk said, referring to an array of smaller parties on both sides of the political spectrum widely seen as created by the Kremlin to give the illusion of plurality.

The Democratic Party of Russia and Civil Force are seen as Kremlin-sponsored liberal parties.
 
Belykh's resignation is likely to further stall any possible merger of liberal-minded opposition parties, above all with Yabloko.
 
"Belykh was the only person in the SPS leadership with whom we could find common ground," Yabloko leader Sergei Mitrokhin said Friday, Interfax reported. "At the very least, his departure means that in the nearest future the question of a coalition agreement with SPS is closed."

Belykh's resignation mean that SPS choose a political path "unrelated with the opposition democratic movement," Mitrokhin was quoted as saying.