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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Parties Merging Into a Loyal Opposition

The tiny, pro-Kremlin Party of Life is set to absorb a former opposition party in what appears to be an effort to create a left-wing party loyal to the Kremlin.

Officials from the Party of Life and the Pensioners' Party are in talks and expect to announce a final deal within a month, Party of Life spokeswoman Maria Romanova said Tuesday.

Igor Zotov, head of the Pensioners' Party, denied Tuesday that any talks were in progress but said that a future alliance between his party and the Party of Life was likely.

"We both play on the left wing," Zotov explained.

Romanova said: "Several small parties approached us with proposals for a merger after the Party of Life merger with Rodina last month."

The Party of Life is headed by Federation Council Speaker Sergei Mironov, an old friend of President Vladimir Putin. The ostensibly center-left party has been widely seen as a Kremlin creation meant to siphon votes away from the Communists.

Rodina, too, was created by the Kremlin to capture votes from the Communists. In the 2003 parliamentary elections, Rodina won 9 percent of the vote, and this year Kremlin officials, worried about Rodina's charismatic leader, Dmitry Rogozin, replaced him with loyalist Alexander Babakov.

Fusing the Party of Life and the Pensioners' Party would create a small but noticeable voice: In the 2003 elections, the Party of Life garnered less than 2 percent of the vote, but the Pensioners' Party, allied with the Social Justice Party, won slightly more than 3 percent.

In subsequent regional elections, the Pensioners' Party did even better, which analysts attributed to party leader Valery Gartung's harsh criticism of the state. Gartung was later replaced by the more Kremlin-friendly Zotov.

Putin met with Zotov on Monday at his Sochi residence -- an unusual move given that the Pensioners' Party has no seats in the State Duma.

On Tuesday, Zotov also dismissed speculation that his party was joining the pro-Kremlin United Russia. The Pensioners' Party was mentioned by pundits, among others, when United Russia leader Vyacheslav Volodin said last week that his party was looking to acquire a smaller party.

Gartung explained that, by merging several smaller parties together under the rubric of the Party of Life, the Kremlin hoped to create a loyal, center-left alternative to United Russia. This party would continue channeling votes away from the Communists and help create the guise of a Western-style, two-party system.

But Gartung speculated that sustaining this center-left party would be hard. "The popular support for such an alliance will only be driven by criticism of the government, and this is exactly what the Kremlin will not tolerate," he said. Conversely, if left-wing parties like the Party of Life and the Pensioners' Party "continue declaring their cooperation with the authorities like they are doing now, in the eyes of the voters they will be no better than United Russia."

The tiny People's Party, with its social-democratic base, is also looking to join the Party of Life, Romanova said. She cited ongoing talks with the People's Party's Gennady Gudkov, who sits in the Duma on the United Russia ticket. Gudkov could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

Sergei Mikheyev of the Center for Political Technologies and Yuri Korgunyuk, an analyst with the think tank Indem, agreed with Gartung that merging the Party of Life, Pensioners' Party and Rodina into one large party stemmed from Kremlin fears of a rebellion from one of these parties -- even though the Kremlin has already replaced maverick leaders of these parties with loyal lieutenants.

Referring to the Pensioners' Party and Rodina, Korgunyuk said: "Each of these two parties is bigger and has better prospects at the ballot than does the Party of Life, but they are being forced into mergers because the Kremlin wants their brand names to disappear."