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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Questions Hang Over Unity Pact

The planned merger of the pro-Kremlin Unity party and Fatherland-All Russia movement may prove to be a mixed bag for President Vladimir Putin — if indeed the alliance is ever tied up, lawmakers and analysts said.

In announcing the alliance Thursday, Emergency Situations Minister Sergei Shoigu, who heads Unity, and Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov, who leads Fatherland, sounded confident that members of their two parties saw eye to eye about the decision and that the factions would be merged by November.

But cracks in the coalition are already appearing.

Former Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov, who co-founded Fatherland, immediately expressed strong caution about the deal, saying he and his supporters would take a wait-and-see approach.

One high-ranking source in the State Duma was even more direct about Primakov's feelings. "I spoke to him and he doesn't like the idea," the source said. "Primakov was pushed to the side [in drawing up the merger] and he will be fighting to preserve his position."

Furthermore, major ideological differences apparently remain between the two parties. While Unity tends to stand behind any liberal reforms sent down to parliament from the Kremlin, Fatherland usually takes a more leftist stance, said Boris Nemtsov, head of the Union of Right Forces faction.

"Fatherland is clearly a socialist movement," Nemtsov said in an interview Friday. "They are against privatization, they have a very complicated approach toward land ownership [and] on economics issues they behave like leftists."

Legislation proposed by Putin looks more "liberal-authoritative, a combination of liberal economics and authoritative rule," he said.

Simple math suggests that a Unity-Fatherland coalition would give the Kremlin a driving force in the 450-seat State Duma. With a combined 131 deputies, the two parties would control more seats than the Communists and their close allies the Agrarians. Throw in two other factions that are pledging to back the Unity-Fatherland alliance — Russia's Regions and People's Deputy — and the Kremlin would easily have the 226 votes needed to pass most legislation.

But the matter of actually combining the parties will not be simple. All the members of Fatherland and Unity have to unanimously agree to the merger. Political observers said the vote would probably be easily passed by lawmakers in Unity, which was created in 1999 on the sole platform of getting Putin elected president. But a unanimous agreement from Fatherland, which was also formed in 1999 but as a party to put Primakov or Luzhkov in the Kremlin, may not be won without a fight.

Fatherland deputies could be forced to give up influential seats on Duma committees in order for the merger to go through, a prospect many may balk at, analysts said.

More importantly, Fatherland lawmakers would have to pledge their support for the Kremlin.

Sergei Markov, foreign editor at the Kremlin-linked Strana.ru web site, said that even if Fatherland deputies agreed to back the Kremlin, many would no doubt remain faithful to the regional authorities who helped them win their Duma seats in December 1999.

"If issues that affect the regional elite's well-being are at stake, the pro-regional deputies are likely to take a pro-regional stance," Markov said.

Legislation over land ownership, for example, could well bring about such a conflict of interest. "It is much more appealing for the regional barons to make money on the land they control now, so why would they want land to be placed in private hands at all?" Markov said.

But he and other observers pointed out that the Kremlin, as always, will have the upper hand if parliament refuses to pass laws. The Kremlin can punish a disobedient Duma by merely disbanding it and ordering new elections.