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Kremlin's Ruling Party Boosts Ties Across The Former Soviet Union

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin is the head of Russia's United Russia party
Prime Minister Vladimir Putin is the head of Russia's United Russia party
As Kyrgyzstan gears up for crucial parliamentary elections on October 10, former Prime Minister Felix Kulov's Ar-Namys party has picked up a key endorsement from Russia's ruling United Russia party.

Ar-Namys on September 22 signed a cooperation agreement with United Russia, the colossus that controls executive and legislative branches across the Russian Federation and is headed by Russia's most powerful politician, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

Following a model that seems to have worked in Ukraine, where a pro-Western president was replaced earlier this year by a pro-Russian one, United Russia is also now working actively with friendly parties in Moldova, Ukraine, and Georgia -- all countries whose political vector is up for grabs in the next 18 months.

According to a United Russia press release, the Kyrgyzstan agreement includes not only political cooperation, but also calls for the development of "equal and mutually beneficial cooperation between Russia and Kyrgyzstan in the economic sphere, the creation of beneficial conditions for the development of entrepreneurial, investment, and scientific activity."

Further blurring the lines between party activity and national policy, the cooperation agreement was signed on United Russia's behalf by the head of the party's Supreme Council, Boris Gryzlov, who is also speaker of the Russian State Duma.

Deepening Ties

The Ar-Namys agreement is just the latest in a series of such pacts United Russia has signed with parties throughout the former Soviet space. Earlier this month, United Russia signed a similar pact with Moldova's Democratic Party, headed by former Communist Marian Lupu.

Lupu told a press conference after returning from Russia that the agreement with United Russia is part of his party's "pragmatic" view of relations with Russia.

"We need relations of cooperation, not confrontation with Russia. This is the message of the political agreement we signed. Second, Moldova cannot ignore and will not ignore the Russian Federation. Third, we have to be pragmatic and constructive if we want the best for the citizens of Moldova," Lupu said.

Moldova is expected to hold parliamentary elections in November, and analysts say Moscow hopes to split Lupu away from the pro-Western, four-party ruling coalition.

United Russia also has a cooperation agreement with the Renewal party in Moldova's breakaway Transdniester region.

In Georgia, United Russia works with the opposition For A Just Georgia movement of former Prime Minister Zurab Noghaideli, which describes itself as "having a classic right opposition orientation."

Sergei Markov, a Russian Duma deputy and United Russia official, told RFE/RL's Georgian Service that the key issue is improving relations between the two countries.

"United Russia's main goal is to support those political forces that are in favor of better relations between Georgia and Russia. Noghaideli is among them," Markov said.

"But he is not the only one coming out for such a position. Some lawmakers even from [Georgian President Mikheil] Saakashvili's party in private conversations acknowledge the insanity of his policies."

United Russia also has cooperation agreements and provides direct financial assistance to the ruling parties in the breakaway Georgian regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

In 2005, United Russia signed a cooperation agreement with the Party of Regions in Ukraine. Earlier this year, Party of Regions head Viktor Yanukovych became president of Ukraine, embarking on a noticeably more pro-Russia course than his predecessor.

Konstanin Kosachyov, who is chairman of the Russian State Duma's Foreign Affairs Committee and heads United Russia's Commission on Interparty and International Ties, told RFE/RL's Russian Service that working with Yanukovych is "simple."

"For us any president of Ukraine is absolutely fine who is realistically oriented toward the interests of Ukraine. [Former President Viktor] Yushchenko interpreted those interests in a false way. Yushchenko thought they consisted of getting as far from Russia as possible and quickly moving toward the West," Kosachyov said. "That is precisely why we had such a hard time with him. But with Viktor Yanukovych, it is simple for us. He has a significantly more precise and adequate understanding of Ukraine's interests."

United Russia's overriding concern in all of these alliances is advancing Russia's political and economic interests in the region. That is why the party, which proclaims itself in Russia as right-of-center, is comfortable working with left-leaning parties in Moldova and Ukraine, a right-leaning ally in Georgia, and parties of indeterminate ideology in Kyrgyzstan, South Ossetia, and Transdniester.

'Pragmatic Line'

The key factor in United Russia's alliances is the willingness of partner parties to adopt what it calls a "pragmatic" line in relations with Moscow.

Petre Mamradze, a spokesman for Noghaideli's For A Just Georgia party, lays out a position typical of United Russia's partners.

"We are doing everything we can to improve relations with Russia. Being realists, we see this is the ruling party of Russia. According to all opinion polls, the overwhelming majority of this enormous country supports Vladimir Putin and the party that he heads. For Georgia, this is a fact; it is reality. And if we ignore it, we will disappear," Mamradze said.

United Russia's aggressive alliance-making seems to fit into the larger pattern of Moscow's evolving foreign policy. A Foreign Ministry working paper that was leaked to the Russian version of "Newsweek" magazine earlier this month emphasizes that Russia no longer views the world in terms of "friends" and "enemies," but exclusively in the framework of "interests." It urges Moscow to create a range of formal and informal tools for advancing Russia's modernization agenda through foreign ties.

In the area of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), the concept paper emphasizes "supporting the activity of Russian economic operators in the CIS space." It sets the goal of "actively attracting Ukraine into the orbit of economic cooperation with Russia" and "facilitating the expansion of the activity of Russian business in Kyrgyzstan."

The paper does not list promoting stable democratic development in the CIS as a national interest for Russia, and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev told a conference in Yaroslavl this month that parliamentary democracy has been "a disaster" for Kyrgyzstan.

United Russia's position at the nexus of politics and business in Russia means that parties allying themselves with United Russia can expect significant material support in their election campaigns. Noghiedeli's For A Just Georgia and Lupu's Democratic Party both have slick, multimedia websites, for example.

Alexander Rondeli of the Georgian Foundation for Strategic and International Studies (GFSIS) says Moscow is "acting now often not through state channels, but through the party United Russia, which can also hardly be considered a political party."

"But if you take this as an attempt to influence the political situation inside Georgia and set up some sort of pro-Russian opposition against the current authorities, you can also assume that definitely without financial contributions this won't work," Rondeli said.

RFE/RL's Russian, Moldovan, Georgian, Ukrainian, and Kyrgyz services contributed to this report

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