Nikita Belykh, the leader of the Union of Right Forces (SPS), announced on September 26 that he was resigning over proposals by top party leaders to cooperate with the Kremlin. According to a number of observers, Belykh’s resignation is part of an effort being led by Anatoly Chubais, the former United Energy System (UES) head and privatization czar, to turn the SPS into a “liberal” pro-Kremlin party. Last week, President Dmitry Medvedev named Chubais, who is a member of the SPS political council, to head the recently-created State Nanotechnology Corporation (Rosnanotech).
The Moscow Times quoted Belykh as saying that some SPS members believed that the party “should reach a compromise with the Kremlin,” adding: “I don’t agree. This is the reason behind my decision [to quit]. I don’t believe that we should keep the party at all costs.” SPS deputy head Leonid Gozman will take over for Belykh until October 2, when the party’s leadership will meet to determine the party’s future. Gozman said that the SPS is “considering the option of cooperating with the Kremlin” and that this would be discussed at the October 2 party conference (The Moscow Times, September 29). Belykh was elected to succeed former Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov as SPS leader in May 2005 and adopted a line of strong opposition to then-President Vladimir Putin that included joining the opposition coalition headed by former chess champion Garry Kasparov.
Vedomosti quoted SPS political council member Boris Nadezhdin as saying that the party was being urged to abandon “radical opposition” and to “build constructive relations with the presidential administration.” Nadezhdin added that the party had also been promised that it would be permitted to participate in future elections, noting that not a single SPS candidate succeeded in registering to run in the regional elections set for October 12. The newspaper quoted Gozman as saying that the party would change its name, given that it was twice unable to win parliamentary elections under its current name, but that it would not merge with either the Democratic Party or Civil Force (Grazhdanskaya Sila). Gozman stressed that Anatoly Chubais was “absolutely inside the situation and fully supports the decision to remain in the legitimate sphere.” The newspaper quoted a source “close to the presidential administration” as saying that one of the tasks of the party’s new leadership would be to attract “an intelligentsia loyal to the Kremlin.”
Vedomosti also quoted Igor Yurgens, the vice president of the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs who also heads the Institute of Contemporary Development, a think-tank that advises President Medvedev, as saying that Russian business would once again sponsor the SPS if it were headed by Gozman. Yurgens said Gozman was a person capable of agreement and that Chubais was standing behind him (Vedomosti, September 29).
Pavel Salin of the Center for Current Politics in Russia wrote that Anatoly Chubais’s promotion to the post of general director of the State Nanotechnology Corporation was part of an agreement with the Kremlin that included the SPS’s transformation into a loyalist party. “It is fully possible that Belykh’s departure from the SPS and the party’s reorientation toward dialogue with the government under the banner of ‘liberal patriotism’ was one of the components of a ‘package deal’ on Anatoly Chubais’s appointment to the post of head of Rosnanotech,” Salin wrote. “Evidence in favor of this is the fact that the acting head of the SPS is his [Chubais’s] protégé Leonid Gozman, who will probably become the main coordinator for the change in the party’s ideological vector” (www.ancentr.ru, September 26).
It is worth noting that the State Nanotechnology Corporation has already received $5.1 billion in federal budget funds and that Chubais was also named to the international advisory board of JPMorgan Chase bank on September 26 (The Moscow Times, September 29).
A source in the SPS leadership was quoted by www.grani.ru as saying that the decision to participate in a project to create a united pro-Kremlin right-of-center party was the result of “inter-party discussions” that took into account both the party’s difficult financial situation and the fact that SPS members in the regions were facing pressure, including problems in their careers. The website quoted SPS sources as saying that “the anti-Putin mood is stronger in the party leadership than in the regions” and that the SPS’s merger with the anti-system opposition would inevitably have led to its deregistration as a political party (www.grani.ru, September 28).
Meanwhile, Mikhail Kasyanov, the former prime minister who heads the opposition Russian People’s Democratic Union, said that the SPS’s apparent decision “to participate in the Kremlin project to create a so-called new right-of-center party” was “shameful.” Kasyanov called on democrats “not to take part in destructive Kremlin imitation projects” (www.grani.ru, September 28).
Vremya novostei reported that Nikita Belykh would continue to work at uniting opposition democratic forces. To that end, an All-Russian Congress of the Democratic Opposition is planned for December 13. Its organizing committee includes representatives of the SPS, Garry Kasparov’s United Civil Front, the St. Petersburg branch of Yabloko, and various human rights groups, along with Boris Nemtsov and former Deputy Energy Minister Vladimir Milov (Vremya novostei, September 29).