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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

2 Parties Lay Out Their Opposition

MTYavlinsky speaking at the congress Saturday. He said he agreed with Putin's policy goals but disagreed with his reform methods.
Two liberal opposition parties -- well-established moderate Yabloko and start-up radical Liberal Russia -- held congresses over the weekend that underscored the differences in their attitudes toward the Kremlin.

More than 500 Yabloko delegates representing 12,700 members agreed to transform the movement into a political party Saturday according to a new law on political parties. The backdrop of the festively decorated Gorky Art Theater, where the congress was held, mirrored the change -- the banner that on Saturday read "The 10th Congress of the Yabloko Public Movement" had by Sunday been switched to "The Russian Democratic Party Yabloko."

Across town, a much smaller group of 78 delegates -- mostly defectors from the Union of Right Forces party, or SPS, which they accuse of becoming increasingly pro-Kremlin -- elected Boris Berezovsky as a co-chairman of Liberal Russia. The vote fulfills the self-exiled tycoon's long-time desire to lead an opposition movement.

Liberal Russia declared a readiness to fight any government pressure and said they hoped to reach the membership necessary to become a full-fledged party by their next congress in March.

Grigory Yavlinsky, who was re-elected as Yabloko leader for another three years, said he embraced many of President Vladimir Putin's policy goals but disagreed with the methods.

"The president is trying to act relying exclusively on bureaucratic structures," said Yavlinsky, who met with Putin on the eve of the congress. "He is trying to establish control over the main political and public processes in the country. I think that it is a mistake to pick such a path for reforms.

"We want to carry out a dialogue [with the Kremlin] under two conditions: when we are independent and when we ourselves define the degree of compromise," Yavlinsky said.

Liberal Russia positioned itself as an openly oppositionist party that sees its main goal as preventing Putin from building an "autocratic-bureaucratic state." Delegates said the Kremlin's liberal rhetoric was a smokescreen covering up the fact that secret services are ruling the nation.

Among the delegates were a number of human rights advocates and early 1990s democrats whose influence has since faded.

"The state is a predator that society has to domesticate and turn into a watchdog while keeping one's throat covered," Liberal Russia co-chairman Viktor Pokhmelkin told the congress.

Pokhmelkin, a deputy SPS head in the State Duma, announced with another prominent liberal deputy, human rights advocate Yuly Rybakov, that the two lawmakers would quit SPS last week. They accused SPS of toeing the Kremlin line and failing to become a true liberal party.

The new law on parties prohibits membership in two parties at the same time.

Liberal Russia leader Sergei Yushenkov suggested that the Kremlin is already trying to put pressure on the new party. He said federal authorities were responsible for a break-in at party headquarters last week and for the launch of a criminal case against one of its co-chairmen, Vladimir Golovlyov.

Yushenkov said Liberal Russia has more than 5,000 members. Organizers want to raise the number to the minimum of 10,000 set by law by March.

Other politicians expressed doubt about the future of Liberal Russia.

SPS founder Anatoly Chubais, who also heads electricity monopoly Unified Energy Systems, said his party's prospects in the next Duma elections have only been boosted with the creation of "a hopeless liberal party."

"As a radical liberal, Berezovsky will push us up from the right," Chubais said at a news conference Friday. "It is hard to imagine a more discredited, more hopeless and more criticized [rival party]."

Berezovsky, who fell out of favor with the Kremlin last year, said in May that he planned to form an opposition party. Later that month, Yushenkov and Golovlyov, who refused to join SPS at the party's founding congress in May, met with Berezovsky in France and announced that he would finance their new party.

Several delegates abstained during the vote to elect Berezovsky as a co-chairman. No one voted against.

"The fact that he is a solid liberal and that he is not afraid to support opposition allows us to elect him," Yushenkov said.

Viktor Shlyakhin, a delegate from Ryazan who also defected from SPS, said that the party may profit from Berezovsky's "intellectual and financial support."

"In our city, the attitude toward Chubais and Berezovsky is equally bad," Shlyakhin said. "Chubais is even more often blamed for energy shortages, while Berezovsky has been absent long enough to be a little forgotten."

On the sidelines of the Liberal Russia congress, SPS ideologist Leonid Gozman tried to convince some delegates that they had made a mistake by defecting.

"There are many people here who are -- justifiably or unjustifiably -- dissatisfied with the position they got in SPS in the process of its transformation into a political party," Gozman said in an interview. "It would be better if they did not defect into other structures that have no chance of electoral success."