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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Furor Over Mironov Taking Spotlight From Kaliningrad Rally

The ongoing war of words between Sergei Mironov, head of the Just Russia quasi-opposition party, and his political opponents from United Russia looks like a diversion from real political problems, particularly last weekend's rally in Kaliningrad, political analysts said Thursday.

The protests, in which more than 10,000 people rallied and many called for Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's resignation, took the authorities by surprise, said Mikhail Chesalin, who represents the opposition Patriots Party in the Kaliningrad regional legislature.

After the protest Saturday, he was among a group of local lawmakers invited to meet with Kremlin political gurus, who flew hastily to Kaliningrad to investigate the situation.

“I explained to them that the politics of the ruling party prepared the grounds for such a demonstration,” Chesalin told The Moscow Times.

And just as the Kremlin’s envoys were scrambling to find a strategy to offset the fallout from the protest, the squabble between A Just Russia and United Russia — both of which were conceived by Kremlin spin doctors — erupted in the national media.

Mironov, the soft-spoken speaker of the Federation Council and a longtime ally of Putin, cautiously criticized the 2010 budget prepared by Putin's Cabinet and its anti-crisis measures on state television Monday evening.

Senior officials from United Russia were at his throat the next day, accusing him in very strongly worded statements of betraying the national leader and calling for him to be ousted as head of the upper chamber of the parliament.

A Just Russia responded by blaming United Russia's political monopoly and accusing it of fearing all political dissent.

National newspapers including Nezavisimaya Gazeta suggested Thursday that the quarrel was senseless because Mironov poses no threat to Putin or United Russia, suggesting that the sudden scandal was in fact an attempt to move the media spotlight away from Kaliningrad.

A senior member of the Communist Party, Duma Deputy Sergei Obukhov, told Echo Moskvy radio that "two boys are imitating a fight to get public attention away from the problems that led to the mass protest erupting in the Kaliningrad region."

Meanwhile, the Kremlin seems to have taken the situation there rather seriously, firing Oleg Matveichev, the Kremlin official responsible for domestic politics in northwestern Russia, where the Kaliningrad exclave is located.

A Just Russia stayed away from the protest, and its leaders there made no comments afterward about the protesters or Governor Georgy Boos, a top United Russia official who was also criticized during the rally, Chesalin said.

But the head of the Just Russia faction in the State Duma, Nikolai Levichev, said Boos' administration bore some responsibility for the public display of anger.

“When you have a demonstration of 12,000 people, this is a very threatening sign that the authorities couldn’t establish a dialog with the people," he told The Moscow Times.

Sources close to A Just Russia told The Moscow Times that Mironov was having a difficult time being the leader of an opposition party ahead of regional elections in March while still remaining loyal to Putin.

Several of United Russia's top members have demanded to remove Mironov as speaker, but the current legal procedures prevent any party from doing this.

“He is a very useful man for the Kremlin, who’s role is to balance United Russia,” said Stanislav Belkovsky, an independent political expert, adding that Kremlin strategists still consider A Just Russia a loyal party.

The post of the Federation Council speaker is highly important for Mironov as the party's leader, Belkovsky said. “If he ceases to be chairman of the council, his party will collapse like a house of cards.”