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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Nationalist Risks Duma Freeze Out

As Russia's parliamentary opposition warms up to the Kremlin, people like outspoken nationalist Sergei Baburin are getting frozen out.

Baburin, a deputy speaker in the State Duma and a charismatic agitator for his neo-imperialist views, has fallen afoul of the increasingly moderate communists in a development that suggests oppositionists like him are out of fashion in Russia's new political landscape.

Until this week, Baburin was a member in good standing of the Duma's opposition leadership, which is dominated by communist groups in partnership with nationalists. But his stance against Kremlin-negotiated treaties with three former Soviet republics led the Duma leadership to decide to dump him from his post overseeing issues related to the Commonwealth of Independent States -- his passion in the Duma -- and to threaten to strip him of his deputy speaker post.

"If they have become all of a sudden saturated with love and respect for Chernomyrdin and Chubais and company, fine," Baburin said Thursday in his Duma office, referring to Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin and First Deputy Prime Minister Anatoly Chubais.

"But it's their problem. Let them explain to rank-and-file communists why they did this, why their slogans to change the current economic and social course have been replaced by love of joining the ruling regime," he added.

Since late last year, Communist Party officials such as Duma Speaker Gennady Seleznyov and party leader Gennady Zyuganov have sought closer ties with Yeltsin, agreeing to speed passage of the Kremlin's budget in return for consultations with the executive branch.

Baburin, 38, is co-leader of the parliament's Narodovlastiye group, a mix of communists and nationalists. As a faction leader, he is one of several deputy speakers and sits on the Duma Council, an influential body that sets the legislative agenda.

Zyganov rejected Baburin's complaints, pointing out that the communists support him for deputy speaker if he consults with them on important votes. "He did not fulfill that condition," said Zyuganov, who added that the Duma Council might go further and dump Baburin from his deputy speaker post.

Baburin's passion for CIS affairs stems from his belief that breaking up the Soviet Union was a mistake. Though the Soviet Union can't be put back together, he says, Russia should seek "reintegration" -- his favorite buzzword -- with its former republics.

He argues that a proposed treaty with Ukraine, for instance, should wait until Ukraine offers Russia a settlement on the Black Sea city of Sevastopol in Crimea, which used to be part of Russia but was transferred to Ukraine in 1954.

Elected to the Soviet-era Supreme Soviet in 1990, Baburin was one of the opposition parliamentarians who barricaded themselves in the White House during a constitutional confrontation with Yeltsin, who used tanks to blast them into submission.

Political analyst Vladimir Pribylovsky, president of the Panorama think tank, said Baburin and his group of about 10 followers are, along with the social-democratic Yabloko movement headed by Grigory Yavlinsky, the only genuine opposition left in the Duma.

"There is a consensus, concealed from the voters but a consensus nonetheless, between the party of Chernomyrdin and the party of Zyuganov," Pribylovsky said. "The communists only talk about reintegration and restoring the Soviet Union, but in fact join with the government."

For Seleznyov and Zyuganov, Pribylovsky said, the treaties with the former republics offer some limited economic and cultural ties but for Baburin represent a sellout.

Baburin said he's not going to change course, even at the risk of losing his deputy speaker's post.

"I don't consider being a deputy speaker as my prime goal in life," he said. "For me, it's just an instrument for achieving political goals. ... If I lose this instrument, I will find another."