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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

United Russia and the Toilet Brush Syndrome

The pro-Kremlin United Russia party last week all but announced the start of its 2003 parliamentary election campaign. At a press conference called for this purpose, party leader Boris Gryzlov said United Russia planned "to put in place a system for fielding complaints from each and every citizen." "We will find the means to put pressure on those sorry administrators who choose not to respond to the party's inquiries," Gryzlov added. Given that Gryzlov also heads the Interior Ministry, an organization with long experience in fielding complaints, his announcement seemed to carry a lot of weight. But it's just possible that even a campaign strategy as ingenious as encouraging a flood of denunciations won't do much to boost United Russia's poll numbers.

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President Vladimir Putin has the same problem with United Russia that the Roman emperors had with the army. If you put an incompetent general in charge of the army, he will lose the battle. If you put a competent general in charge, he will win the battle, but what's to stop him casting his eye on the throne afterwards? What do you do with the general? At best, you quietly sideline him, as happened with Sergei Shoigu. At worst things get ugly, as they did with Boris Berezovsky, who, as they say, came up with the idea of the party in the first place. If I were Dmitry Rogozin, currently on loan from the People's Deputy faction, I would think twice about becoming the new face of United Russia. After the elections that face might well take it on the chin.

Apart from that, United Russia is very well designed as an obedient instrument for delivering votes in the State Duma. This is said to be the handiwork of Vladislav Surkov, deputy chief of the presidential administration. It was he who seized the banner dropped by Berezovsky, securing an absolute parliamentary majority for the Kremlin by merging the Unity and Fatherland parties on a common platform of doing the Kremlin's bidding. But the laws of political biology dictate that obedient parties don't fare well at the polls. Toilet brushes just won't fly.

The president could salvage this situation if he would lend the "United Russians" a little charisma. But that's not likely to happen. Lending anything to those people is a dangerous proposition. They'll just drag it through the mud, break it and then return it insisting it was broken and filthy when they got it. Just as important, their envious rivals won't allow it.

The thing is, it's not quite correct to call United Russia the party of the Kremlin. Experts say that the party is run by a specific clan: Surkov and Alexander Voloshin. And the Kremlin has many other clans. The top priority of all these clans is not to ensure an election victory for Putin, but to trip up the competition. A lot of Kremlin insiders would be pleased as punch if United Russia falls on its face. "Surkov and Voloshin couldn't deliver the goods," they'll say. "But we'll make everything right before the presidential election."

This doesn't mean that United Russia will fail. There are plenty of wonderful places in our country like Tatarstan and Kalmykia that can be counted on to deliver 108 percent of the vote for the party of power if necessary. But you get the feeling that these are the very same places that will generate the most complaints. What would Gryzlov do, for instance, if he received a complaint about a regional interior minister offering protection to the narcotics trade. On the one hand, Interior Minister Gryzlov is bound by his promise to find some way to lean on the "sorry administrator" in question. On the other hand, as head of United Russia Gryzlov depends on these same administrators to deliver the vote.

One last thought. At the same press conference, Gryzlov announced that things are looking up in Chechnya. "We are seeing an increasing number of political intrigues in the Chechen republic. People are beginning to forget about blood feuds, and a normal political situation is taking shape," Interfax reported Gryzlov as saying. For the head of the main pro-government party, Gryzlov has an interesting notion of "the normal political situation."

Yulia Latynina is host of "Yest Mneniye" on TVS.