Moscow President Vladimir V. Putin has made it clear that he does not tolerate dissent, but a new opposition party has flourished.
And this party, with interest, has spoken on the same topics of fighting corruption and oppression that have made opposition leader Alexei A. Navalny the Kremlin’s number one enemy, with the government about to send him to a criminal colony.
The new party thrives even after Mr Navalnys’s own party has been banned. The reasons, say Russian analysts, are to undermine Mr. Navalny, to divert attention from his movement and divide the liberal opposition, providing a veneer of multiparty politics in a country where there are few meaningful electoral elections.
The new party, called Young People, seems to have been set up to attract Mr Navalnys’s followers.
For two decades we lived in a situation of a false choice: either freedom or order, declares its platform. The government, she says, must first stop enemies and traitors to those who have other views.
The Kremlin has worked on many fronts to destroy Mr. Navalnys movement by arresting his supporters in protest and, according to Mr. Navalny and Western governments, trying to kill him last year. Government officials have tarnished it as a hoax by Western intelligence agencies and government-backed flash mobs have come out to support Mr Putin.
But Mr Navalny has also faced a steady stream of competitive anti-corruption reforms who appear to be working with governments that have recently blessed the Young People, which has revived its campaign for the September parliamentary elections, when Mr Navalny will be in a criminal colony.
The founder of a cosmetics company, Alexei Nechayev, founded the party last year to channel what he described as the feeling of opposition in society, just like Mr. Navalny has done. But Mr Nechayev refrains from direct criticism of Mr Putin and is not calling for his ouster.
Mr Navalny and his allies hailed the arrival of the Young People with contempt, identifying Mr Nechayev as the last in a long line of political duos united by the Kremlin in an attempt to oust Mr. Navalny from his leadership of dissatisfied young professionals.
“They are trying to feed us the line that these young people will now be the real competition for a United Russia,” Lyubov Sobol, a Navalny ally, told the pro-Putin ruling party in a YouTube analysis following the launch of the new parties. last year.
Kind is kind of funny, she added. They say the right things, more or less, but obviously they will do nothing. They are simply destructive.
Russia’s political system is sometimes called managed democracy, for the practice of Kremlin political advisers who create, instruct, or fund alleged opposition figures and parties and tolerate some others as long as they do not directly criticize Mr. Putin.
These parties are allowed to compete with each other, inflating a small population, while providing the losers needed to create an election illusion in the election that the ruling party wins the most.
Variants of such democratic systems of fig leaves exist all over the world in autocratic countries. Outside of some monarchies in the Middle East and the remaining communist dictatorships like North Korea, elections, even if rigged, are the only accepted way to legitimize power today.
This splendor of Russia’s iron fist rule appeared in the early 2000s under a former Mr Putin’s domestic political adviser, Vladislav Y. Surkov, although Mr Surkov has since been sidelined. In the last presidential election in 2018, Ksenia Sobchak, a socialist who is considered to be a goddess of Mr. Putin, filled the role of the ersatz opposition while Mr. Navalny was barred from running.
Similarly, Young People let the Russians who support Mr. Navalny’s modernization agenda vote for a legal alternative, without the headaches of arrests and repression.
Mr Nechayev denied that he had consulted with the Kremlin before forming the party, which now has 72 regional offices, having added two in just last week and actually won a seat in the regional elections last fall.
Still, political analysts have dismissed the idea that the party emerged without the Kremlin’s blessing. In Russia, the real opposition is unregistered parties, Andrei Kolesnikov, a political scientist at the Carnegie Center in Moscow, said in a telephone interview.
In an interview at the party headquarters in a tower of wealthy offices in Moscow, Mr. Nechayev listed three conditions for registering a political party: refrain from criticizing Mr. Putin or his family, avoiding foreign funding and abstaining from unsanctioned street protests.
We do not violate these three red lines, he said.
Often, and especially in the West, Russia is presented as just Putin and Navalny, but many Russians want a moderate opposition, he said. Most people realize that the world is not black and white.
However useful in blunting movements like Mr. Navalnys, managed democracy has not always gone normally. On rare occasions, politicians are ridiculed as Kremlin puppets are concentrated in real opposition.
Members of Right Russia, a party that Mr. Surkov helped form in 2006 to fill the false seat of the center-left opposition in Russian politics, did exactly that in 2011 with an endorsement of an earlier protest movement on the streets. led by Mr. Navalny.
One of those politicians, Gennady Gudkov, has since left Russia and speaks openly about the Kremlin’s hand in the faux opposition parties, a threat facing the opposition in parallel with police crackdowns.
There were no secrets about Mr Surkovs’ key role in creating a Righteous Russia, Mr Gudkov said in a telephone interview from Bulgaria.
In a macabre twist, a political figure believed to have been born as a fake, or managed, copy of Mr. Navalny has even died in what Bellingcat, the open source research organization, has documented as a possible poison assassination.
As an anti-corruption blogger, Nikita Isayev and his group New Russia had mimicked many of Mr. Navalny’s tactics, exposing corruption among low-level officials. He was called the New Navalny. He refrained from criticizing Putin, however.
Mr Isayev died suddenly at the age of 41 on an overnight train journey in 2019. Among the possible motives identified by Bellingcat was the palace intrigue. Mr Isayev was seen as linked to Mr Surkov, so when Mr Surkov fell out of favor, according to this theory, his Kremlin rivals arranged to eliminate his fake Mr Navalny as well.
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