“I shall not speak of the lack of grounds for my recall, but about political freedom,” Sergei Mirnonov said on Wednesday, while speaking at the St. Petersburg Legislative Assembly.
Well, he got his freedom: 43 deputies of the municipal parliament voted at a meeting on 18 May to recall him as a senator (five voted against the motio), after which he was automatically stripped of his position as Federation Council speaker. He may receive the “consolation prize” of a State Duma deputy mandate (the current A Just Russia deputies are willing to concede it) and even the position of deputy speaker. And he has nothing to be upset about: he was appointed to the Senate “based on understandings” in the same way he was removed “based on understandings”.
Mironov’s comrades hoped right up until the last minute that he would not be ousted. Oleg Nilov, the leader of the A Fair Russia fraction in the municipal parliament, gave assurances that there was a 50% chance he would be removed because the issue of Mironov’s recall had not been included in the agenda for the decisive meeting. Oksana Dmitryeva, head of the A Fair Russia party in St. Petersburg and a State Duma deputy, did not believe at first that the United Russia members would dare to oust Mironov and that the party was simply trying to “frighten” him. She then issued a threat, saying that if Mironov were to be removed, A Fair Russia candidates would inevitably prove victorious in municipal elections in December.
As subsequent events revealed, this was only “a brave front”. A “verbal” draft resolution on recalling Mironov was made on 18 May. And when 37 deputies supported its inclusion in the agenda, it became clear that the results were a foregone conclusion. In addition, Mironov’s opponents had prepared another unpleasant surprise for hum: upheaval in the A Fair Russia fraction in the Legislative Assembly, where his opponents are now in the minority, while the majority called for removing the senator at the meeting.
Finally, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, Mironov’s patron for many years, remained silent throughout all of this, while President Dmitry Medvedev announced at his Skolkovo press conference (at the same time as the vote on his recall) that he saw nothing unusual in the resignation of Mironov.
“Today, I speak from this podium with a sense of regret, for it was I who proposed you as a candidate for the post of senator four years ago,” Vadim Tyulpanov, the Legislative Assembly speaker and head of the United Russia party in St. Petersburg. He said that Mironov failed to fulfil his promise to seek financing for the St. Petersburg metro system from the federal budget and took credit for the success of an initiative to equate residents of the besieged Leningrad with war veterans, which the deputies had put forth along with Governor Valentina Matviyenko and with the support of Vladimir Putin. He also said that the deputies had heard nothing but promises from Mironov: “I’ll look into it, I’ll ask, I’ll carefully study, I’ll support, I’ll raise this issue…”
“The verbs you use when talking about your work are mainly in the future tense,” Tyulpanov said. “And for several years the senator’s seat has been occupied by an ethereal political compromise, as a result of which you, Sergei Mikhailovich, joined the senate. Indeed, it was very easy for you to reach this compromise between opposition to the authorities, which your party declares, and the authorities themselves, in the hierarchy of which you occupy a prominent position”.
According to Tyulpanov, the decree on Mironov’s recall was not just supported by the Communist Party and the Liberal Democratic Party (LDPR), but also by a number of A Fair Russia members. And this was also demonstrated, as Oleg Nilov was voted out as leader of the A Fair Russia fraction and replaced by Vladimir Golman, who immediately began speaking critical of Mironov. This isn’t hard to figure out: another two deputies joined the six other “defectors”, who had left previously withdrawn from the A Fair Russia party, but not from the fraction so as not to lose their mandates as deputies. As a result, only five of thirteen loyal “Mironov bayonets” in remain the fraction, including the chronically absent (as well as on 18 May) figure skater Yevgeny Plushchenko. The two newly minted dissenters – Golman and Anatoly Kosterev – were immediately kicked out of the party and branded “traitors” by Mironov and Nilov, but the train had already left the station: until the end of this convocation, only former members of A Fair Russia who had de facto crossed over to the side of United Russia would speak on behalf of the party in the Legislative Assembly…
Other than his own comrades, nobody spoke out in support of Mironov.
“Is A Fair Russia really the opposition?” an astonished LDPR Deputy Speaker Gennady Ozerev said at the meeting. “It’s a project by the Kremlin! Who in Russia doesn’t understand this? Everyone knows that it’s a third leg for the authorities. But the leg failed and became lame. At least, Sergei Mikhailovich, you have the status of a senator, administrative resources, and so on. It’s a farce when the opposition occupies the third highest position in the country. There is only one opposition here – LDPR!” These last words caused Homeric laughter, and not only in the meeting hall…
“LDPR is not opposition at all,” Nilov replied. “Since the very first days, they have run out in front of the United Russia locomotive and clearing its path! I ask the communists: are you happy with United Russia’s monopoly? And I say to Vadim Tyulpanov: you are causing a great disservice to the leaders of your party! A new concept has been announced – uniting everyone around United Russia on an equal standing. And what are you demonstrating?”
Stating that he did “not want to throw stones at Sergei Mikhailovich and feels sorry for him”, Vladimir Golman reproached the senator for “allowing people like Oksana Dmitryeva to replace the constructive criticism of the authorities with demagoguery and bullying in the spirit of kitchen gossip” and “taking a cue from the Yabloko party”, he spoke at an anti-governor rally on 1 May.
Vyacheslav Makarov, leader of the United Russia fraction, also believes that the members of A Fair Russia in St. Petersburg were taking a cue, but not from the Yabloko party.
“Sergei Mikhailovich, your life isn’t being ruined by those you have criticised, but rather by those whom you failed to sweep out of A Fair Russia before it was too late,” he said. “I told your comrades many times: get rid of Dmitryeva! Don’t do her bidding like village calves! You crossed over to offensive rhetoric, but the governor doesn’t need to be defended: Matviyenko is a politician on a global scale. Her time as governor will be remembered as a golden age. You can make mistakes, but you can never betray. You betrayed Putin! The man who turned an obscure deputy into the number three person in the state…”
Finally, the leader of the Communist Party fraction, Vladimir Dmitryev, called A Fair Russia “a Kremlin project, which always played the role of blende party in the electoral field of the Communist Party” and “one of the structures designed to serve the oligarchic anti-people regime”. “After realising his ineffectiveness, the authorities decided to shut down this project,” he said.
Mironov, who spoke last, said that “it was easy and pleasant to speak the truth” and that “today, here in what was at one time the most democratic city in Russia, you are launching a witch hunt and once again raising the head of the aggressively obedient majority”.
“Today, the Legislative Assembly is not the top division of Smolny managed by the governor, whose activities are not supported by a large and the best part of St. Petersburg citizens,” Mironov declared from the podium. “I am not saying farewell to the walls of this hall, I am saying goodbye for now. Because in December of this year, while standing in this hall, I will congratulate a representative of A Fair Russia on being elected chairman of the Legislative Assembly”.
After speaking, Mironov did not just leave the hall, but Mariinsky Palace as well, without waiting for the results of the voting. Meanwhile, Dmitry Medvedev said in Skolokovo: “The fact that United Russia began questioning Mironov is an element of political competition. And if the decision is made to recall him, it would benefit both United Russia and A Fair Russia. United Russia will show that it’s a force to be reckoned with, while A Fair Russia will show that it is nevertheless the opposition. Let them engage in real politics”.
So what’s next? The United Russia supporters are confident that having been stripped of his post as the third highest official in the state as well as his administrative resources, Mironov will also lose a large share of his assets, and therefore new defections from his party are inevitable. A Fair Russia supporters boast and offer assurances that Mironov has now become “the most influential opposition leader in the country”. And the non-parliamentary opposition considers all of this a performance that is being staged for St. Petersburg residents and has nothing to do with actual problems.
“It’s fitting that Sergei Mironov did not say a single word against Vladimir Putin while speaking at the Legislative Assembly,” Mikhail Amosov, a former deputy of the municipal parliament and a member of the Yabloko party. “He criticised United Russia and the governor a little bit. But they aren’t the authors of this play! I worked with Mironov in the Legislative Assembly for many years and know for certain that it was Putin who was behind his election as senator and Federation Council speaker”.
A new senator will not be elected in Mironov’s place until December, Vadim Tyulpanov said. Alexander Torshin or Svetlana Orlova will most likely fill the seat of Federation Council speaker for now.