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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

If You Cant Win, Then Join Unity

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Irina Khakamada was in St. Petersburg last week, and it was a really depressing experience.

Deputy speaker of the State Duma, leading member of the Union of Right Forces, or SPS, and a prominent member of the "where-are-they-now-and-what-were-they-for" club of Russian liberal politicians, Khakamada was up here doing exactly what you might expect: calling news conferences, announcing changes to the party structure and pontificating on President Vladimir Putins governmental reshuffle. (True, the last event was unexpected, but Khakamadas platitudes were entirely predictable.)

That kind of politico-speak can usually be safely ignored, and apart from one or two articles the following day, the local press was distinctly underwhelmed.

But she did say one thing that, when I heard it on a short evening television piece, made me think Id misheard: SPS should team up with the pro-Kremlin Unity faction and back a joint candidate for St. Petersburg governor to replace Vladimir Yakovlev.

So I checked and, yes, she definitely said it. SPS and Unity. Unity attracts "rightists;" Unity has the resources to give a candidate some clout and SPS does not. So it is better to team up than to live life on the political margins.

In short, if you cant beat em, join em.

Whens the election? Three years away, unless Yakovlev is finally forced into that sideways move that everyone has been predicting.

Whos going to be the joint candidate? No one is saying, and I suspect thats because no one knows. Apart from these minor details, it was a timely and well-considered statement. Not.

Unity representatives and Yakovlevs office could hardly contain their indifference, and this would indeed be a yawn-yawn story if the idea werent so defeatist. First, it brings to mind the campaign for the last gubernatorial elections, dominated by a dismal effort by SPS and Yabloko to swallow their principles and support career technocrat Valentina Matviyenko as a joint candidate.

When she then backed out, the liberals set up makeshift polling booths outside metro stations and let the public determine who Yakovlevs challenger should be except that wild horses were required to get SPS to accept the results.

Meanwhile, Yakovlev (with a bit of help from Petersburg Television) quietly sat on a rating of 65 percent. But Khakamada is not only pretending that this farce never happened, she is actually advocating an alliance of her own party with The Bear.

Personally, I have problems with the idea that Unity as a faction actually exists, other than on paper. I have seen strong evidence that Unity in St. Petersburg is a loose alliance of "businessmen" scrambling over one another to well, say nice things about the president.

But I cant see any of the usual baggage, good or bad, of a political party policies, principles, personalities, internecine rivalry. All they have going for them is the presidents backing, and that damned bear.

Thats life, I suppose.

And while its easy to be rude about Unity, I can see that they loom large in Khakamadas view of where power lies. But a bid for power for powers sake is not what I thought the liberals were all about. They may have been consistently divided and naive, but one or two of them believed in something. Not Khakamada, not anymore.

Barnaby Thompson is the editor of The St. Petersburg Times.