Liberals Form Party With State Support

In what is widely seen as a Kremlin attempt to round out the political spectrum with obedient parties, three liberal parties voted Sunday to merge into a new pro-business party called Right Cause.

A Right Cause leader, Leonid Gozman, acknowledged that the party had been created with the Kremlin's support.

"In Russia, it is impossible to create a party without the backing of the powers that be. This is a shame, I know," Gozman said on the sidelines of the founding congress.

"What kind of backing are we going to get [from the Kremlin]? That no one will upset the founding of our party?" said Gozman, former chairman of the Union of Right Forces, or SPS.

Right Cause is comprised of SPS and the Kremlin-connected Civil Force and Democratic Party. Its other two leaders are Boris Titov, head of the business lobby group Delovaya Rossia, and political commentator Georgy Bovt, a columnist for The Moscow Times.

Gozman said Right Cause would not be similar to other pro-Kremlin movements, which filled a Kremlin need during election seasons and later were abandoned or merged into other projects. "I'm sure that there will be people who want that. ... But we won't allow this," he said.

The nationalist Rodina party was created two months before the State Duma elections in 2003, but its independent-minded leader was replaced and the party was dissolved when it emerged as a strong political force in 2006.

SPS had long been viewed as pro-Kremlin because of its tacit support of Kremlin policies. All that changed in the middle of last year's Duma campaign. Party sources told The Moscow Times during the campaign that they had been promised seats in the Duma but decided to go fiercely opposition when they learned that the Kremlin would break its promise. SPS garnered less than 1 percent of the vote in December; parties have to get 7 percent to win seats. "Our voters don't like confrontations with the powers that be," Gozman said Sunday.

Former senior SPS official Boris Nadezhdin said Right Cause's congress reminded him of SPS's founding congress in 1999. "It was the same. Even then it was a Kremlin project," he said.

On Saturday, SPS agreed to disband and join Right Cause in a 97-11 vote. SPS co-founder Boris Nemtsov spoke out against the disbandment, offering to lead the party and find financing. "This will be like a union of wolves and sheep," Nemtsov told the delegates.

Grigory Tomchin, head of Right Cause's St. Petersburg branch, said the party planned to get 15 percent of the vote in the 2011 Duma elections.