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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

A Just Russia Facing Defections in the Regions

At least four regional figures from the A Just Russia party have defected to United Russia in recent months in what analysts describe as a further consolidation of power by the country's dominant pro-Kremlin party.

The most recent figure to jump ship is Voronezh Mayor Boris Skrynnikov, who said last week that he would back United Russia in the upcoming State Duma elections because he was dissatisfied with A Just Russia's ticket in his region.

"They are all businessmen and people who make their business using politics," Skrynnikov said by telephone Friday. "They aren't going to build a third [version of] socialism, and they won't do anything for the city."

A Just Russia, led by Federation Council Speaker Sergei Mironov, was created last year as a center-left -- but still pro-Kremlin -- alternative to United Russia.

The party has appeared to be in serious trouble ever since President Vladimir Putin, the country's most popular politician, announced that he would head the United Russia party list in the Duma elections on Dec. 2.

A survey released by the VTsIOM polling center Tuesday found that only 3 percent of respondents were planning to vote for A Just Russia, while 54 percent favored United Russia. Parties must get at least 7 percent to make it into the Duma.

Analysts said the defections by regional leaders from A Just Russia demonstrate that United Russia is the only game in town for regional politicians.

"Putin's decision to join United Russia destroyed any other alternatives for regional elites," said Tatyana Stanovaya, an analyst with the Center for Political Technologies.

Regional officials are rushing toward the only remaining party of power after Putin's decision, said Rostislav Turovsky, a political analyst with the Agency for Regional Information.

"Joining United Russia now is perhaps the only way to prolong their careers," Turovsky said.

Besides Skrynnikov, other party figures who have defected in recent months include Vasily Krolevets, leader of A Just Russia's Omsk branch; Mikhail Sadovoi, leader of its Novosibirsk branch; and Pyotr Guzhvin, leader of the Astrakhan branch of the Rodina party, which was folded into A Just Russia at the party's creation.

Also, the leader of the party's Chelyabinsk branch, Vladimir Dubrovsky, quit his post earlier this month amid reports that he was unhappy about not getting a spot on the Chelyabinsk regional ticket.

Krolevets, Sadovoi and Guzhvin have all joined United Russia, said an official in United Russia's headquarters who asked not to be named.

"A Just Russia's deputies in regional legislatures and the heads of administrations who sympathized with A Just Russia now understand the lack of prospects for those who stay with that party," the official said.

Many of the defectors left because they were not chosen to represent A Just Russia in the upcoming Duma election, the United Russia official said.

"It began when A Just Russia's headquarters started planting its own candidates in its regional lists, edging out local figures," he said.

Alexander Morozov, a spokesman for A Just Russia, admitted that the defections had occurred but denied that they were part of a larger trend.

"Naturally, after Oct. 1, when [Putin] said he would head the United Russia ticket, some people hesitated, such as Skrynnikov," Morozov said. "But on the whole we can't talk about any kind of trend."

Morozov defended the party's approach to choosing Duma candidates and said he still believed it would make it past the 7 percent barrier in order to gain seats in the legislature.

A Just Russia had to place its national leaders on regional tickets in order to avoid being too closely tied to regional interests, he said, although he admitted that some party members were unhappy about the results.

"In such a large process, involving so many regional groups, you can't escape this sort of thing," Morozov said.

One choice that proved controversial was the decision to place Alexander Babakov, a businessman and senior party official, on the Voronezh ticket. The choice prompted Skrynnikov, the mayor of the southern city and the deputy head of A Just Russia's regional branch there, to break with the party.

A spokesman for Babakov said he was traveling and unavailable for comment Friday.

Skrynnikov said he had made up his mind to leave A Just Russia even before Putin's decision to go with United Russia but that the president's move had confirmed his belief that joining United Russia was the right thing to do.

"I believe the president's decision to head the ticket is a serious guarantee that Russia will continue to develop along the lines of the past few years, with no radical changes," he said.

n The Central Elections Commission announced Friday that it had removed State Duma Deputy Valentin Varennikov from the head of the A Just Russia party list in the Saratov region, Kommersant reported Saturday.

The commission said the move came at Varennikov's own request.

Varennikov himself did not comment on his decision, but according to the Saratov branch of the Communist Party, the Communists had convinced Varennikov, a party member and former-Soviet deputy defense minister, to make the move, Kommersant said.