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Sergei Mironov's Last Stand: How Far Will United Russia Go to Bring Down A Just Russia?

United Russia is setting up a knockout punch against the unofficial head of A Just Russia, Sergei Mironov. The blow could relieve him of his position as the chairman of the Federation Council, a role which makes him the fourth most influential person in the Russian government. Despite citing official reasons behind the petition to have Mironov recalled from the Federation Council, however, United Russia's motives are more political than procedural. Having already ceded his official position as party head, Mironov may now lose his most important position in Russian national politics.

On May 18 a vote will be held in the Saint Petersburg regional parliament, where Mironov serves as a deputy, about whether to recall him as the parliament's delegate to the Federation Council, the upper chamber in its two-tiered national parliament. The nominal reason behind the recall of Mironov was his call for United Russia member and Governor of St. Petersburg Valentina Matviyenko, to step down from her position. Citing Mironov's lackluster performance in supporting local St. Petersburg interests in the Federation Council, United Russia delegates, led by Petersburg Parliamentary Speaker Vadim Tyulpanov, are attempting to pull the rug out from under Mironov at the local level.

Mironov has been in a transition period since mid April, when he stepped down as the head of the Just Russia party, a position he had held since its formation in 2006. With his position as the head of the Federation Council, and his political future, now in jeopardy, Mironov is fighting back, although his criticism of his opponents' charges seems to be mixed with a weary sense of fatalism about the coming political struggle. "The Saint Petersburg parliament can easily strip me of my authority as a member of the Federation Council, but if any aspersions are cast on my work as a part of this process, then I'll state clearly, it simply isn't true," he said.

Experts have agreed that United Russia's reasoning behind the attack is blatantly political. "The grounds for the recall are almost immaterial and in any case you can come up with any reason to demand Mironov's recall," said Olga Mefodyeva, an analyst on Russian internal politics from the Moscow-based Center for Political Technologies. "The motivations behind this attack are of course purely political because United Russia sees that they have a chance to gain an advantage because Mironov is weak right now and the elections are coming up." The stakes for Mironov are extremely high, added Mefodyeva, and if he loses he may be looking at the end of his political career. "He already stepped down as the head of the party, and if he loses his post in the council, it will be an extremely damaging political defeat. It's unlikely that he'll be offered any sort of compensation position if he loses now."

The announcement of the possible recall comes less than a month after Mironov resigned from his post as the formal leader of A Just Russia, although by many accounts he maintains de facto control over the party and has installed a close ally, Nikolai Levichev, at the party's head. One explanation for Mironov's decision to step down was that he had been pressured by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, United Russia's unofficial leader, to choose between his party role in A Just Russia and his political post in the Federation Council. Vedomosti last month cited political commentators arguing that Putin used Mironov's reliance on a majority United Russia parliament in Saint Petersburg to approve his role in the Federation Council as a means to leverage him out of A Just Russia's official leadership.

The continuing pressure from United Russia either discounts the possibility that such a deal ever existed or shows that it has probably been broken. Part of the reason for this confusion is that it is unclear to what degree the Saint Petersburg United Russia delegates are acting on their own initiative and to what degree they may be taking their cues from the Kremlin. Mikhail Vinogradov, a political analyst from the Petersburg Politics think-tank said that the possibility of "heightened activity" from the Petersburg United Russia delegates could be a result of "the nervous atmosphere throughout the party right now, which makes it a definite possibility that this action could be separate from United Russia's national strategy."

Mironov's supporters in the Federation Council and in A Just Russia begun to speak out in his defense, but United Russia's drive to dismember A Just Russia may overwhelm any defense Mironov can put up. Most expect that United Russia's aggressiveness is partially fuelled by an embarrassing showing in this March's regional parliamentary elections. Worried that the once "pocket opposition" may now be cannibalizing their base, United Russia has A Just Russia and the party's de facto leader in their sights. Mironov, facing possible political exile, remarked resignedly about the process "whatever will be decided will be decided. Whatever will be will be."

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