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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

United Russia Plans a Left Wing as Well

Two days after a group of United Russia politicians unveiled plans to form a liberal wing within the party, a group of the party's State Duma deputies said they were setting up a left wing in what appeared to be a Kremlin-inspired effort to dominate the whole political landscape.

Sixteen deputies -- including Andrei Isayev, chairman of the Duma's Labor and Social Policy Committee; Gennady Kulik, chairman of the Agriculture Committee; Alexei Sigutkin, deputy chairman of the Defense Committee; and Igor Igoshin, deputy chairman of the Budget and Taxes Committee -- said in a statement Thursday that the party should adopt an ideology based on "social conservatism."

"We support the efforts of our party colleagues to defend civil and political freedom, but we do not agree with the appeal to make United Russia a right-wing liberal party," said Isayev, RosBusinessConsulting reported.

Isayev, who is also a deputy chairman of the pro-Kremlin Federation of Independent Labor Unions, said United Russia should have a "left wing" that takes care of social issues and "reinforces the social component to move toward a socially oriented market economy."

The formation of a second wing within United Russia appeared to be in line with frustration expressed recently by some leading members that the party was losing its appeal. Earlier this month, Mayor Yury Luzhkov, a member of the party's high council, called United Russia "a fat bird with only one wing." "Such birds are unable to fly," he said.

On Tuesday, another group of United Russia politicians called for the party to adopt a more liberal platform, which they said would help it win more than 35 percent of the vote in the 2007 Duma elections.

Isayev said, however, that liberal ideas had not helped the Union of Right Forces party, or SPS, to get into the Duma last time around.

"In the past Duma elections, SPS got 3 percent of the vote, while United Russia received almost 40 percent. To swap our ideology now for that of SPS would be a mistake," he said.

Another signatory of the statement, Duma Deputy Konstantin Zatulin, said that a discussion about ideology did not mean there was a split in the party. "Different wings, programs and factions within United Russia do not threaten party unity," he said, Interfax reported.

Isayev, a member of the presidium of the party's high council, said the party leadership should be reshuffled.

"It is necessary to think about changing cadres, including the leadership of our party. ... If at the beginning we had a strict vertical ... now it is necessary to try all ways to widen democracy inside the party," Isayev told Interfax.

Izvestia newspaper reported Thursday that a United Russia conference Saturday would likely make some changes the party's leadership. The secretary of the party's general council, Valery Bogomolov, and the head of the executive committee, Yury Volkov, had already resigned from their posts, Izvestia said. Vyacheslav Volodin, deputy chairman of the party's Duma faction, would likely take Bogomolov's post, while the head of the executive committee would likely be a "technical figure," the paper said.

Political analysts said that the creation of two different wings within the party was an attempt to woo voters away from liberal and leftist opposition parties and to crack down on opposition that was not under strict Kremlin control.

Worried about United Russia's falling popularity after the party's approval of controversial social reforms, the Kremlin is determined to maintain its grip on the Duma, said Yury Korgunyuk, an analyst with the Indem think tank.

"Kremlin officials understand that United Russia -- the way it looks now -- has lost all hope of repeating its good performance in the last Duma elections. They hope that by having two different wings, with different ideologies, they will be able to remedy the situation," Korgunyuk said.

By having two different wings within the party, the Kremlin wants to kill two birds with one stone, said Nikolai Petrov, a regional politics specialist with the Carnegie Moscow Center.

"One the one hand they want to gather votes from the whole political spectrum and on the other they want to avoid any opposition voices growing up outside United Russia," he said.