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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Senators Form Pro-Kremlin Caucus

In a move further tightening the Kremlin's control over the legislative branch, a group of senators in parliament's upper house has formed an informal caucus whose only stated political goal is to support bills submitted by the president.

By the end of last week, the group, which was formed Wednesday, already included around 50 of the Federation Council's 178 senators, Oleg Yevstigneyev, deputy head of the chamber's press office, said in a telephone interview Friday.

He added that around two-thirds of the group's members are new senators — those who joined the Federation Council on the basis of a new law introduced by President Vladimir Putin, which came into effect last summer. The law stipulated that the upper chamber would be made up not of regional leaders but of their appointees.

According to press reports, the initiative to form the group, called simply Federation, came from the presidential administration.

Yevstigneyev said one of the main initiators and "activists" in forming the group was the newly appointed representative from Pskov, Kremlin-connected public relations specialist Mikhail Margelov.

The move is a "logical step in the Kremlin's bid to monopolize power on the federal level," said Alexei Zudin, a regional policy analyst at the Moscow-based Center for Political Technologies.

According to Zudin, the new members of the Federation Council may have less political weight than their predecessors, but they are still capable of forming regional lobbies.

"The Kremlin is trying to prevent this by offering them the opportunity for a closer connection with the presidential administration early in the day. It's a perfectly logical step."

Some of the chamber's most prominent old-timers were unhappy with the new group, but showed their displeasure by emphasizing their own loyalty to the Kremlin.

"The Federation Council always supported the president and never waged war against him," the Segodnya daily quoted the chamber's speaker, Yegor Stroyev, as saying.

One of the group's initiators, head of the Ulyanovsk regional parliament Sergei Ryabukhin, told Segodnya the reason for forming Federation was "to ease the way for the package of presidential budget and financial laws that will pass through the chamber soon." He did not elaborate.

The caucus does not have an official status yet since the Federation Council's regulations forbid forming political factions.

"But the regulations are not holy scripture," said press spokesman Yevstigneyev, "and they can be changed."