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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Rogozin Faces Ax at Rodina Congress

MTDmitry Rogozin
Rodina leader Dmitry Rogozin will be ousted at a party congress Saturday and replaced with Alexander Babakov, a wealthy businessman who heads the party's presidium and is closely associated with the Kremlin, senior Rodina members said.

Rogozin said Thursday that he did not know whether he would even be able to attend the congress. He said police, citing a bomb threat, broke up a Rodina meeting earlier Thursday where he was supposed to be appointed as a delegate.

The developments appear to be part of a Kremlin-sponsored initiative to regain control of the nationalist party, which by all accounts it slapped together shortly before the 2003 parliamentary elections to steal votes from the Communists.

Rodina has since emerged as a strong political force, and Rogozin clearly upset the Kremlin and fellow party members by adopting a passionate opposition voice -- particularly by hitting the streets with the Communists and Yabloko to protest the monetization of state benefits last year.

"Now that he has spoiled his relations with the presidential administration, nobody understands the use in keeping Rogozin on," said Marat Gelman, an intellectual architect behind the creation of Rodina.

Gelman said he was "cooperating" with the Kremlin to solve problems surrounding the party.

Rogozin will be given the chance to step down "to save face," but if he does not, Rodina delegates at the congress in Moscow on Saturday will remove him, said Mikhail Delyagin, who chairs Rodina's ideological council.

"There are two reasons for this decision. The main one is his xenophobic advertisement in the Moscow City Duma elections that offended many party members. The other reason, which is no less important, is that the Russian leadership has said that if Rogozin does not quit, the party's registration will be taken away," said Delyagin, an economist who joined Rodina in April 2004.

A court barred Rodina from participating in December's City Duma elections after Rogozin appeared in a campaign commercial that likened dark-skinned migrants to garbage.

Gelman also said the delegates would oust Rogozin.

Delyagin said the congress would appoint Babakov as the new leader. "Babakov is the No. 2 person in the party, and he is a Jew. This would show that our party is not nationalist," he said.

Rogozin's nationalist and opposition stance has stirred up worries among some Rodina members that the Kremlin might shut the party down.

Oleg Denisov, a State Duma deputy and member of Rodina, said the party should drop the nationalist rhetoric in favor of the social-democratic agenda that it was founded on in 2003. "The most important decision that the congress should take is to define once and for all the party's ideology," he said.

"Our party has turned into a nationalist party. It was not supposed to be like that," he said. "Our party should represent a constructive opposition. We should help the president and cooperate with him."

Rogozin, who offered earlier this month to resign for the good of the party, did not say Thursday whether he would leave by this weekend. He said he had rejected numerous job offers from the Kremlin, including a governorship, in exchange for stepping down.

He also said he was convinced that the Kremlin feared he might run for president in 2008 -- something that he said he had not seriously considered until now.

Rogozin said that even though he was the party's leader, due to bureaucratic procedures he had to be named as a delegate to attend the Saturday congress.

He said Rodina members in Rostov gathered Thursday to name him, but that police broke up the meeting. He said police said they had received a tip about a bomb in the building but after searching found only a stack of extremist literature -- which he claimed was planted.

"This is a clear provocation organized by those in power," Rogozin said by telephone.

"But I have a solution to save my party from these kinds of political repressions addressed to me personally. I can't elaborate on it now, but it will be a surprise for the Kremlin," he said.

State media have cast Rodina in a negative light in recent months. On Sunday, for example, state-controlled Channel One television aired a news report about a skinhead who decided to join Rodina because he felt it shared his ideology. News footage showed a poster of Rogozin near a poster of Hitler in the young man's bedroom.

A Kremlin spokesman refused to comment on Rogozin or Rodina on Thursday.


Alexander Babakov

Political analysts said Rogozin was a serious threat to the Kremlin because he had demonstrated that he could play both the social and the nationalism cards.

"If Rodina had been allowed to run in the Moscow city elections, it could have posed a serious threat to the pro-Kremlin United Russia party," said Vladimir Pribylovsky, head of the Panorama think tank.

Rodina was also barred from seven races for regional legislatures on March 12, but it ran in a vote for the Altai republic's legislature and placed second, just behind United Russia.

Rodina's falling out came in January 2005 when the Kremlin -- worried that someone might use the protests of thousands of pensioners over the monetization of state benefits to organize an opposition similar to that of Ukraine's Orange Revolution -- asked loyal parties to ignore the demonstrations, said Pribylovsky and Stanislav Belkovsky, a former Kremlin consultant who heads the Council for National Strategy, a think tank.

Rogozin, however, organized a hunger strike in his Duma office and joined the Communists and Yabloko in the protests.

"Rogozin has to leave the party because President [Vladimir] Putin considers him a traitor," Belkovsky said.

Rogozin -- who previously had been loyal to the presidential administration and was believed to be close to Putin -- became ambitious and hoped that the protests would destabilize the Kremlin, said Dmitry Orlov, political analyst with the Agency for Political and Economic Communications, a think tank.

"At the time, he felt that he could act as an independent politician and that he could challenge the Kremlin. He even believed that he could become the next president," Orlov said. "It was his big mistake."

Babakov, Rodina's current No. 2, is a Duma deputy, president of the CSKA Moscow football club and owner of many Ukrainian businesses, including Kiev's Premier Palace hotel.

Not much more is known about him. Analysts speculate that he is the main financier of Rodina. He is thought to hold Russian, Israeli and Slovakian passports.

Babakov was unavailable for comment this week.