SPS Finds New Place Closer to Kremlin

Union of Right Forces on Thursday opted to disband the party and join up with two others to form a new pro-business party that would seek cooperation with the Kremlin.

In what is widely seen as a Kremlin move to round out the political spectrum with obedient parties, leaders from Union of Right Forces, or SPS, and the Kremlin-connected Democratic Party and Civil Force announced that they would form a new party, whose name will be announced Nov. 16.

Acting SPS head Leonid Gozman told a news conference Thursday that continuing the party's current line of open confrontation with the Kremlin was incompatible with the country's current political realities.

"The only possible method of fighting for the existence of our party in the present system was disbanding SPS and creating a new, rightist, democratic party," Gozman told reporters.

The decision by SPS's political council represents a victory for the traditional wing of the party that has favored lobbying business interests rather than openly criticizing the Kremlin's monopolization of power, political analysts said.

Former SPS leader Nikita Belykh, a vocal Kremlin critic, tendered his resignation last week, saying cooperation with the Kremlin was unacceptable.

The new party will be led by Gozman from SPS; Boris Titov, head of the business association Delovaya Rossia; and political commentator Georgy Bovt, who is a columnist for The Moscow Times.

Titov on Tuesday acknowledged the Kremlin's approval of the new project. "[The Kremlin] asked us to back the political competition and a multiparty system," Titov told reporters.


Civil Force leader Mikhail Barshchevsky and Democratic Party leader Andrei Bogdanov -- who ran in the March 2 presidential election -- announced that they were stepping down from their posts, citing mutual animosity with several SPS members.

"There are people in SPS with whom I've had mutually hostile relations for many years," Barshchevsky said. "If my personality would have hindered the merger, I would rather step aside."

Bogdanov, widely seen as a Kremlin-backed political figure aimed at drawing votes away from traditional liberal parties like SPS and Yabloko, said some SPS members had an "ambiguous attitude" toward him.

Both Bogdanov and Barshchevsky used the word "cooperation" to describe the new party's expected relations with the Kremlin.

"It won't be whole-hearted love, but it won't be an antagonistic relationship either," Barshchevsky said.

Yabloko and SPS performed miserably in last year's State Duma elections, in which liberal parties -- particularly SPS -- were loudly smeared on state television by pro-Kremlin forces and then-President Vladimir Putin himself.

SPS garnered less than 1 percent of the vote, marking the nadir for a party that once held senior government posts under the presidency of the late Boris Yeltsin.


SPS had long been viewed as pro-Kremlin because of its tacit support of Kremlin policies. Everything changed in the middle of last year's Duma campaign. Party sources told The Moscow Times during the campaign that they had been promised some seats in the Duma. But when they learned that the Kremlin planned to break its promise, they decided to play the strong opposition card, the sources said.

There are currently four parties in the Duma: United Russia, which is headed by Putin and has a constitutional majority; A Just Russia, seen as a Kremlin project and center-left alternative to United Russia to draw votes away from the Communists; the Communist Party, which criticizes government policies but rarely criticizes the Kremlin directly; and the Liberal Democratic Party, which positions itself as an opposition party but generally backs Kremlin policies.

Should the Kremlin continue to back the new party, it could garner the 7 percent of the vote necessary to gain Duma seats in the 2011 parliamentary elections, political analysts said.

"I'm sure that they can count on the 7 percent of the vote," said Mark Urnov, a political scientist at Moscow's Higher School of Economics.

Kremlin attempts at creating servile opposition parties have backfired in the past.

The nationalist Rodina party, for example, was created just months ahead of the December 2003 Duma elections in a move seen as an attempt to win votes from the Communists' electorate.

Rodina won 9 percent of the vote in that election, but Rodina leader Dmitry Rogozin proved to be an independent-minded populist. His relationship with the Kremlin quickly soured, prompting his resignation, and Rodina was eventually incorporated into A Just Russia.

Rogozin was effectively banished from domestic politics last year, when he was appointed Russia's envoy to NATO.