Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Questions Surround Rodina

RodinaAlexander Babakov
Four months after the ouster of its outspoken leader, Dmitry Rogozin, Rodina has been transformed from a popular nationalist party into what is being described as a toothless "sister" of United Russia.

The replacement of Rogozin with wealthy businessman Alexander Babakov has in effect made it forbidden to criticize the Kremlin or United Russia leaders, said Mikhail Delyagin, a former senior party member.

"Rodina is not in the opposition anymore," Delyagin said. "It is a puppet in the Kremlin's hands, like United Russia. The only difference is that United Russia does something, while Rodina doesn't do anything at all."

Delyagin, a former architect of Rodina's platform, was expelled from the party after he made it known he planned to attend a meeting of opposition parties and human rights activists last week in Moscow.

"Under Babakov, Rodina has stopped saying anything," Delyagin continued. "The party is afraid of doing anything that might annoy the presidential administration."

Babakov, a State Duma deputy who is president of the CSKA Moscow football club and owns several Ukrainian businesses, denied Rodina had lost its opposition stance.

"How do you decide if it belongs in the opposition? By the number of street demonstrations? How?" Babakov said by e-mail.

The "primitive power-opposition scheme" that applied in 1996, when President Boris Yeltsin was reelected, is out of date, Babakov said. Today, he said, "political constructions have a more complicated character."

Rogozin's ouster was widely seen as a Kremlin effort to rein in a monster, as some saw it, of the Kremlin's own making. The party was slapped together before the 2003 parliamentary elections to channel votes away from the Communists but subsequently emerged as an independent force.

Rogozin, who used to serve as the link between the party and the Kremlin, apparently raised eyebrows in the presidential administration by cultivating a persona as a passionate opposition leader. He particularly upset Kremlin officials last year when he took to the streets with the Communists and Yabloko members to protest the replacement of state benefits with cash payments.

Babakov, who is believed to be the main financier behind Rodina, said the party's rivals had been stoking speculation about the party's political orientation. "Rodina has become more visible because of what it believes in and its refusal to compromise," he said.

But Rodina deputies in the State Duma have started collaborating on bills with United Russia deputies, including on a measure banning "extremists" from running for office. Opposition figures say the measure, which doesn't define extremist, will help United Russia solidify its lock on power.

Rogozin said that, at the moment, Rodina faces something of an identity crisis, with President Vladimir Putin pushing many initiatives that had been embraced by Rodina such as the president's call for stronger defense and for Russians living abroad to come home.

"We are still in the opposition," Rogozin said by telephone. "And we are carefully watching that what the president says will be translated into action."

But the former party leader acknowledged that the opposition was a shadow of its former self. "Politics doesn't exist anymore in Russia," he said. "We have a monoparty system. The problem of the Russian opposition is that it is unable to unite. We badly need a united democratic opposition that includes patriotic Communists and liberals."

Mark Urnov, a political scientist at Moscow's Higher School of Economics, said Rodina would form the moderate opposition, which would criticize the government but never the president.

"Babakov is a businessman, and he is used to finding compromises with the powers that be," Urnov said.