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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Youth Group Ditches Communists

APA member of the pro-Kremlin group Young Guard clashing on Monday with Communist Party activists in Moscow.
The former youth wing of the Communist Party voted to support A Just Russia on Monday in a move that could chip away at the Communists' support base in December's State Duma elections.

Delegates from the Communist Youth Union, which presents itself as the successor to the Soviet-era Komsomol, voted 98-1 to back A Just Russia, the pro-Kremlin, center-left party headed by Federation Council Speaker Sergei Mironov, in a congress at the Izmailovo Vega hotel in northwest Moscow.

After the vote, delegates sang "The Internationale," the traditional anthem of the communist movement, in a hall decorated with red banners and a portrait of Lenin.

"We're red, and [A Just Russia] is pink," Konstantin Zhukov, the union's leader, said in an interview. "And there's hope that they will unite the left and become a more or less normal left-wing party that people can rally around."

Formed last year, A Just Russia has sought to position itself as a left-of-center alternative to the dominant United Russia party, which also supports the Kremlin. Mironov has said he hopes to unite all of Russia's left-wing groups into A Just Russia and rename it the Russian Socialist Party following the presidential election in March.

Communist Party leaders were quick to condemn the decision by the youth organization, accusing its leaders of selling out to the highest bidder.

"Today they'll sell themselves to one party, tomorrow to another," Oleg Kulikov, a Communist Duma deputy, said by telephone.

Yury Afonin, head of a rival organization that also calls itself the Communist Youth Union, said in a statement that Monday's congress was a "farce" and accused Zhukov and his allies of selling out for "30 pieces of silver," a biblical reference to Judas Iscariot's betrayal of Christ.

Afonin, whose organization split from Zhukov's in 2004 and remains loyal to the Communist Party, could not be reached at his office Monday.

Both Zhukov and representatives of A Just Russia denied the charges.

"Nobody can buy us," Zhukov said. "If we had been bought by A Just Russia, we'd be sitting in a much larger hall and they would have rounded up 1,000 people."

Alexander Morozov, a spokesman for A Just Russia, denied that his party had bought the support of Zhukov's Communist Youth Union and said the organization had approached the party first, and not the other way around.

"We believe that all these left-wing organizations that previously worked with the Communist Party, that wanted to reform the party and attract younger supporters, have grown tired of waiting," he said. "So it's perfectly fitting that they should leave the aegis of the Communist Party and join A Just Russia."

Alexei Makarkin, an analyst at the Center for Political Technologies, characterized the decision by Zhukov's Communist Youth Union as a public-relations success for A Just Russia.

Oxana Onipko / mt
Zhukov speaking at a congress of the Communist Youth Union on Monday.

"Any defection of Communist figures to A Just Russia will be interpreted as a victory for A Just Russia and a defeat for the Communists," Makarkin said.

He said, however, that Zhukov's defection did not mean he was bringing all left-wing youth into A Just Russia, since the members of Afonin's youth union have remained loyal to the Communist Party, led by Gennady Zyuganov.

Zhukov estimated that his union had 10,000 active members. The membership of Afonin's rival union has been reported at 26,000, although Zhukov said he thought that number was inflated.

Since Zhukov's union broke with Zyuganov in 2004, at a time when the Communist Party was going through a major split, its departure is unlikely to have much impact on the party's support, said Vladimir Pribylovsky, head of the Panorama think tank.

Still, the move could boost A Just Russia's efforts to unite left-leaning voters, Pribylovsky said.

"Konstantin Zhukov does have some authority among left-wing youth," he said.

Speaking beneath a red-and-yellow banner, Zhukov said it was a "painful" decision to break with the Communist Party, but that it was necessary because the party leadership was incapable of modernizing its program or broadening its appeal to younger voters.

"The party has been stagnating for several years now," he said.

The Communists do have a problem with young voters, Makarkin said, although he characterized it as a long-term issue that would have little impact on December's vote.

"Many Communist politicians are at retirement age," he said.

Kulikov, the Duma deputy, rejected the claim that A Just Russia could take votes from the Communists and said his party did not need Zhukov's youth union anyway.

"If Mironov really wants to get such an acquisition, he should by all means go ahead and take it," he said.

n Sergei Udaltsov, leader of the Red Youth Vanguard, was arrested Monday afternoon following a scuffle with activists from a pro-Kremlin youth group, Interfax reported.

About 30 members of Young Guard were picketing outside the office of a Communist organization when Udaltsov came out and a fight began, the news agency reported. The incident took place at about 1:00 p.m. near the Sukharevskaya metro station.

Red Youth Vanguard is a left-wing group that has participated in anti-Kremlin street protests.