Last month, the Democratic Party of Russia (DPR) emerged from its early- 90s ashes to propose a nationwide referendum on Russian membership in the EU. What? Who? In the cynical world of Russian politics, the sudden emergence of a liberal political party tripped the eXile's bullshit-detector alarm.
It turned out DPR isn't so mysterious after all. It hasn't been covered much by the media, but in the political arena it's an open secret that the resuscitated DPR is another Kremlin project. While the Just Russia project was created in part to steal votes from the Communist Party, the DPR's goal is to fragment the liberal votes which might otherwise go to the Union of Right Forces, or SPS and, to a lesser degree, to Yabloko
A bit of history: the DPR is Russia's second-oldest political party, an on-again off-again veteran of post-perestoika politics. According to Yuri Korgunyuk, a political analyst at the INDEM Foundation, a Moscow think tank, the DPR was hatched in 1990 by Nikolai Travkin as an alternative to the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. (Travkin was a popular democrat figure who later ditched his party to join Yabloko, and now is a member of opposition leader and former prime minister Mikhail Kasyanov's National Democratic Union party.) In its early years, the DPR was a formidable - and authentic - political force, commanding 12 to 14 seats in the first State Duma, and featuring the well-known director Stanislav Govorukhin and Sergei Glazev. The DPR acted as a sort of independent party, opposing both Yeltsin's "criminal regime" and the Communists. But it didn't last. Travkin joined Yeltsin's government in 1994 and fell out of favor with the party. Sergei Glazev (who later went on to become co-chairman of Rodina until he was ousted by the Kremlin) was elected as its new leader. By the time the next Duma elections rolled around at the end of 1995, the DPR had all but disappeared.
The DPR had been resting in a political coma until 2001, when it was suddenly revived as part of a half-hearted Kremlin project foretelling its fate today. Back then, Putin was consolidating his grip on power, and that meant creating a pliant liberal party. Mikhail Prusak, who at the time was being touted as the future of Russia's pro-Western democrats, was chosen to lead the virtual-party, but as interest waned, he was quietly pushed aside and the party went back into suspended animation.
Last year, Kasyanov tried to claim it for his own opposition movement. After getting dumped by Putin as Russia's prime minister, Kasyanov remade himself into an anti-Putin Western-style liberal with presidential aspirations. His plan was to reinvent the DPR as a political base from which he'd launch his 2008 bid. In 2005, a year after being laid off from the White House, Kasyanov pumped the party with cash and brought it back to life. According to both INDEM's Korgonyuk as well as other sources, Kasyanov essentially tried buying out the party by paying off key people within the DPR's presidium. But his takeover plan was foiled.
Last December, on the day when the DPR was expected to anoint Kasyanov as the party's new leader, instead a surprise rebellion left him literally out on the streets, while a new leader, Andrei Bogdanov, was named leader instead. Bogdanov, 35, was a veteran member of the DPR, having joined the party back when he was still a student.
Kasyanov accused the Kremlin of hijacking the party by paying people for their votes, and ranted about Russia's creeping authoritarianism under Putin. He was right on all counts, but his hypocrisy was so over-the-top that it was almost endearing. Kasyanov's own corrupt backroom deals within the party were no more democratic than the one that ousted him; he was just pissed that the Kremlin won the payoff bidding war. At the time the Moscow Times reported that DPR officials were offered about $10,000 each to turn against Kasyanov, and that's on top of whatever Kasyanov had already paid them. According to Russkii Zhurnal, Bogdanov's election was a double betrayal, since Bogdanov was the one who organized the DPR's previous sale to Kasyanov. Double-agenting had never been so lucrative.