A political party for entrepreneurs in Russia will be led by a political figure close to the Kremlin, leading to speculation that this party will become just another way to siphon votes away from the opposition.

Russian President Vladimir Putin (right) listens to Russia's commissioner for entrepreneurs' rights Boris Titov in the Novo-Ogaryovo residence outside Moscow, Russia on Oct. 11, 2012. Photo: AP

Based on Russian media reports, Boris Titov, the authorized deputy of entrepreneurs’ rights under the President of Russia, could take part in upcoming elections to the State Duma and become the head of a pro-business political party supporting the interests of entrepreneurs. Experts consider that by such means the Kremlin wants to create a controllable power, an alternative to the real political opposition

According to a highly placed source in a leading business lobbying organization, Business Russia, Boris Titov is negotiating with several of the leading right-wing parties to head their list of candidates in the Duma elections in September. As the editors of business and economics publication RBC point out, a successful conclusion of the negotiations could be reported in the nearest future.

Depending on the choice of party, Titov could be planning to unite entrepreneurs under a common banner. The main platform of the party would be supporting the idea of developing a new economy in Russia that is not just based on commodities, according to media sources. At the same time, it’s clear that a person occupying a high position under the President will be supportive of the existing political regime. 

Who is Titov? 

Since April 2012, Boris Titov has been the authorized deputy of entrepreneurs’ rights under the President of the Russian Federation. Previously, he dealt with petrochemicals, the production of fertilizers, as well as their transportation and sales.

Titov was the controlling shareholder of the most famous Russian champagne house, Abrau-Dyurso, and the owner of one of its French chateaus. As an official government position in Russia does not presuppose simultaneously conducting entrepreneurship, the champagne dealership is now in the hands of Titov’s son Pavel.

As for public activities, Boris Titov used to head the all-Russia business association Business Russia, was a member of the Public Chamber and still remains the chairman of the board of the Union of Winegrowers and Winemakers of Russia.

In politics, he was a member of the ruling party United Russia, later was a leader of the right-wing party Civilian Power, and when a number of right-wing political parties united and created the party Right Cause, he became one of the three co-chairpersons of the party. 

Before the last presidential elections, Titov quit the party leadership and his chair was taken by the well-known billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov, who later ran for president of Russia and lost the election.

Some time later, Prokhorov quit politics altogether. Experts often say that Prokhorov was necessary to pull away the protest votes and not let the people who disagreed with the results engage in street protests.

Making sense of the intrigue

Creating a new party now to take part in September elections is impossible due to the current legislation. There is just too little time left, explains political scientist Pavel Salin.

“Titov will head one of the already existing right-wing parties. There’s certain sense in that. The government is trying to avert any of the possible alternative powers. For example, right now a patriotic power is being formed,” the political scientist explains. “The government is making a play to break up the opposition that may be out of its reach. Now there’s a fear that the business will start sponsoring projects that are not loyal to the government.”

He notes that, in the previous elections, Prokhorov was used for that purpose, and now another person is needed. “Titov has authority and it’s expected that business will start sponsoring him, loyal to the government, and not oppositionist Alexey Navalny and his party Parnas.”

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Salin is convinced that the voters may as well see through the intrigue, but to make this political combination less evident, it was Titov who got invited to play the “businessman” sympathizing the government, and not Prokhorov, who’s still remembered as being not at his best. 

Titov’s former colleague Leonid Gozman believes that the business ombudsman’s goal is to take away votes from Parnas.

“That has already happened and I think it won’t be possible to take away a lot of votes. Because everybody understands that the structure led by a person occupying a government position cannot be an independent organization, but is a part of the Kremlin’s political game,” says Gozman.

Gozman is sure that Titov’s party – whichever one he chooses - won’t be taken as a serious player. 

“If the Kremlin says go, then of course there’s going to be a list and Titov will be on its top, the signatures will be collected and the party registered for the elections. But it will be a spoiler party, not a real one,” he explains. “A party is a union of people who share the same point of view, and, most importantly, is independent. What Titov can create now will be a pocket structure of the Kremlin which will be used to fight the real opposition.”

Gozman believes that right now only one party fits these parameters within the political arena – Parnas. However, it has few chances to become a parliamentary party. “I think Parnas won’t be let into the Duma, but they do have a chance to gain a serious percentage of votes,” the politician concluded.

Criticism is unavoidable

From the point of view of political scientist Pavel Salin, the government is betting on the overall loyalty of the parties. If the loyalty of the current parliamentary parties – the Communists, LDPR and A Just Russia - is obvious, all that is left is to entice the entrepreneurs to their side. “It’s about tying up business not by administrative, but by political engineering means,” notes Salin.

But full loyalty is hardly possible to achieve, says Alexander Shershukov, leader of the Labor Union party, which plans to take part in the elections. He explained that in the current economic conditions even the pro-government United Russia party would be criticizing the government.

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“Last year the first deputy head of the administration of the president Vyacheslav Volodin announced that United Russia would go to the elections with a liberal agenda. I think the party of power will also be criticizing the government in some way,” he explains. “Right now the situation is that the actions of the government suit only the members of the government themselves. And that’s why Titov is not that necessary to voice that criticism.”

Finding a platform that resonates with voters

The leader of Labor Union is convinced that United Russia won’t gain a majority of votes this time. “I think in the new State Duma United Russia won’t have more than 50 percent of the seats,” Shershukov says.

According to Shershukov, in contemporary Russia the right has a hard time galvanizing voters, with simply too much inertia to overcome to make a meaningful difference at the polls.   

“What will happen to the left wing in the upcoming elections isn’t clear at the moment, but it’s clear about the right. An appearance of surprise parties that will get a lot of votes is most likely an impossibility,” says Shershukov. “For instance, the right-wing Yabloko party was created long ago and is governed by well-known people, but it’s still not in the parliament.”

He explained that the right takes a stand that most Russians don’t understand. “There’s a term invented by the Czech writer Yaroslav Gashek: a party of moderate progress within the scope of the law, it’s like Yabloko’s format. They’re not interesting and not enticing for our voters.”

There’s only one question left: Why does Titov, a man in love with making champagne, need all those political movements? Shershukov suggests that the reason might be to promote his interests, commercial ones included.