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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

For Voters Sour On Rodina, Za Rodinu

Voters disenchanted by the planned merger of the nationalist Rodina party and the pro-Kremlin Party of Life will soon have an alternative -- of sorts.

The Russian Union of Afghanistan Veterans and the National Patriotic Forces, a populist political organization, have joined to form a new political party -- Za Rodinu, or For the Motherland -- aimed at disaffected Rodina supporters.

The two parties not only have extremely similar names, but Za Rodinu plans to siphon off 80 percent of Rodina's current members, Vladimir Kostyuchenko, head of the new party, said Monday.

Rodina dismissed this claim as laughable. "Statements like this can't be taken seriously," said Viktor Dmitriyev, spokesman for Rodina chairman Alexander Babakov.

The Afghanistan veterans' union has some 470,000 members and plenty of financial muscle, said Kostyuchenko, who is also a senior official in the union. Companies created by union members made fortunes in the 1990s, when the union enjoyed tax breaks on tobacco and alcohol imports, he said. The owners of these companies have offered to back the new party.

The Afghanistan veterans' union was instrumental in creating Rodina several years ago, but they did not support the party's recent merger with Federation Council Speaker Sergei Mironov's Party of Life, Kostyuchenko said. Vets were also displeased by Rodina's nationalist stance, he said.

Za Rodinu has no pretensions to becoming an opposition party, however. Kostyuchenko said the party would focus on backing President Vladimir Putin and promoting tolerance in society.

"We will support our president," Kostyuchenko said. "He needs real support from army and navy combat veterans."

Before going public, the party's founders secured a promise from the presidential administration that they would have no problems registering with the Justice Ministry, Kostyuchenko said.

A Kremlin spokeswoman said she had no information about assurances made to the party's organizers, however.

Kostyuchenko tried to establish Za Rodinu's opposition credentials by noting that it would oppose the so-called party of power, United Russia, which he said bred bureaucracy and had proven incapable of fighting corruption. Yet the chairman of the Afghanistan veterans' union, Frants Klintsevich, is the deputy head of United Russia's faction in the State Duma.

Kostyuchenko dismissed Klintsevich's dual role as a coincidence. "We are friends. He defends the interests of Afghan veterans in United Russia," he said.

Klintsevich could not be reached for comment Monday. A secretary at the Afghanistan veterans' union said Klintsevich was on vacation in Sochi and could not be reached by telephone until September.

Shmidt Dzoblayev, head of the National Patriotic Forces, was also unavailable for comment Monday.

In addition to Rodina members, Za Rodinu plans to draw support from communists and voters disappointed with liberal parties such as Yabloko and the Union of Right Forces, Kostyuchenko said.

Communist State Duma deputy Oleg Kulikov brushed aside this claim. "Too many parties are after our voters," he said. "Our communists are set in their views" and are not tempted by approaches from other parties, he said.

Yury Korgunyuk, a political analyst at the Indem think tank, said Za Rodinu stood no chance at the polls. "Their leaders are political nobodies," he said. "It's hard to understand what they're counting on."

Boris Makarenko, a political analyst at the Center for Political Technologies, noted that members of the Afghanistan veterans' union have traditionally supported United Russia.