Controlled Opposition for a New Generation

In the Russian electoral system candidates cannot register until they present a nomination petition signed by a specific number of voters. The threshold for qualification varies from one jurisdiction to another and from one level of government to another. This is meant to disqualify candidates who have no real support among the public, but in practice the threshold restricts candidacy to machine politicians.

An exemption from this rule is given to candidates from parties already represented in parliament: United Russia, A Just Russia, the Communist Party of the Russian Federation, and the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia. This system naturally gives preference to established parties and presents an entry barrier to new parties.

Party “New People”

New People is one of the parties of note in the Russian Elections Monitor’s article on the 2022 Regional elections. It is the first party outside of the “big four” to enter the Duma since 2007.

New People is a political party in Russia , formed in Moscow on March 1, 2020. The New People is a conservative-liberal party, and observers call it center-right.

Wikipedia

Russian Elections Monitor notes that New People was granted an exemption to signature collection, having won 13 seats in the State Duma elections of 2020. In that year New People had won more than 5% of the vote total and was granted its seats based on proportional representation.

The party was founded at the initiative of entrepreneur Alexei Nechaev. The founding Congress of New People resolved to establish branches in 55 of the 85 Federal Subjects of Russia. The party was officially registered with the Ministry of Justice by the end of March 2020, apparently without the kinds of delays and interference that other aspiring political forces have faced. By 1 July 2020 the party had succeeded in establishing all 55 branches.

The Business Model

Of course, Nechaev did not spring out of nowhere. He is not a dedicated activist who built a party to pursue shared ideals. He is a businessman who made a fortune by founding a cosmetics company in 1997. That company, now called Faberlic, is one of the largest cosmetics companies in Russia and one of the largest businesses operating on a Direct Sales model worldwide.

Faberlic liquid soap “Party New People” handed out in Yekaterinburg in 2021. From Wikimedia.

Before politics Nechayev had shown an interest in cultivating entrepreneurialism among aspiring businessmen. Nechaev opened the “Captains” educational program and Foundation in 2012; in 2016 this program moved into the entrepreneurship faculty at Plekhanov Russian University of Economics thanks to a grant from Nechaev.

When the new party was formed Nechaev used the direct sales network of his business to establish the party branches. According to Meduza the party’s original Chairman was “the director of Faberlic’s Network Development department, Irena Lukiyanova.” Nechaev recruited graduates of his Captains program to head these branches. According to an article on About Russia these branch leaders are all between 24 to 30 years old and use the branches to provide entrepreneurial education and support to young voters.

Essentially “New People” is a multi-level marketing operation.

Putin’s Party of Protest

Putin and Nechaev having a working meeting on 15 October 2021. From Kremlin.ru.

The About Russia article is supportive of New People and explicitly says that the party is meant to co-opt the energy of the street protest movement:

Then everyone began to argue for what and why the New People party overcame the 5% barrier and became a parliamentary party. It’s just as simple. Carefully selected candidates, plus an agreement with the regional authorities and the Presidential Administration, allowed him to enter the State Duma. Why the New People party is needed is not a secret, as it seems to everyone. Work to involve the non-systemic opposition in its ranks, work with it and neutralize street politics by translating it into normal debate. Today, the party has experienced politicians in its ranks, who used to be in various parties, and today represent the New People.

New People exists to transform a section of the Opposition movement into constructive criticism for the government. It may have even been created with the express permission of the President of Russia.

Nechaev at a New People event. From Meduza.

The Meduza report goes much further than simply suggesting that New People is useful to the Presidential Administration. The outlet says that New People was invented by Kremlin technologists who then sought out a well-heeled sponsor to run their creation:

In December 2019, members of the presidential administration’s internal political bloc began discussing the creation of a new political party. United Russia’s approval ratings had fallen after the increase of the pension age, and the other pro-government parties’ ratings hadn’t risen to make up for it.

The Kremlin bureaucrats’ idea was simple: certain large groups of Russian voters — including urban young people, citizens concerned about the environment, patriots, Internet users, pensioners, and so on — felt there was no political party representing their interests.

“If there were someone speaking to their interests from the Duma podium, or at least a party expressing ideas they care about, social well-being would be higher and protest support would be lower. People aren’t represented politically,” said a source close to Putin’s executive office.

Political managers in the Kremlin decided that the solution would be to create new parties that would express specific and easy-to-grasp ideas; they’d be patriotic, ecological, and moderately liberal. It was assumed that these parties would be funded by the businessmen close to the Kremlin — “as a form of charity.”

It should not be surprising to find that Nechaev had accepted the offer to lead this party for the purpose of suppressing dissent; he had joined the central headquarters of the All-Russian Popular Front in 2019.

Image
It’s astroturf!

The ONF is a formal coalition initiated by Prime Minister Putin in May 2011. It brings together political parties and non-government organizations which support the United Russia government. The coalition brings new ideas and recruits to United Russia and provides member organizations with access to power: ONF members can nominate candidates on United Russia’s electoral lists.

Petty Platforms

So we ask, what has New People done since entering the Duma two years ago?

Alexei Nechaev at a 2020 election event. From Meduza.

From their first day in office the New People faction offered itself as a platform for small political forces to propose legislation:

The leader of the New People party, Aleksey Nechaev , invited the new parties that did not enter the State Duma to submit their ideas and bills to the lower house of parliament through the New People, with the preservation of authorship, the party leader said during a press conference.

RIA Novosti

The party is not indiscriminately platforming small forces, either. Its policy proposals show that it represents a certain layer of society, the small capitalists:

March 2022, the party sent more than 70 proposals to the government of the Russian Federation aimed at protecting the economy and preserving the income of citizens in the face of sanctions pressure. The party proposed freezing fines and penalties for businesses for three months, canceling fines for small and medium-sized businesses for 2021, fixing excises and duties, canceling coronavirus restrictions, introducing a new program of soft loans, supporting imports from friendly countries, reducing taxes and insurance premiums. give a deferment on taxes and fees until the end of 2022. Later, party representatives said that most of the proposals were implemented in one form or another by the government.

Wikipedia, citing Lenta

They even opposed COVID lockdowns and public health measures, just like the small business owners and pyramid schemers behind the North American protests.

Anti-lockdown protests in the administrative center of North Ossetia, 20 April 2021. From The Moscow Times.

New People also proposed the world’s first NFT law, which would amend “article 12.25 of part 4 of the Civil Code of the Russian Federation in terms of expanding the list of protected intellectujusal property objects in the form of a non-fungible token and a unique digital asset such as NFT”. Bitcoin.com reported on 22 July 2022 that this is not an isolated proposal: the Russian government is actively studying a regulatory framework for cryptocurrencies and tokens.

Seems like a party of yuppies, grifters, and small business tyrants! New People’s role is to unify them in pursuit of their petty bourgeois class interests, and to reconcile those class interests with the state:

According to Open Media sources, the party leadership, Nechaev’s entourage and the presidential administration, the new composition of the campaign headquarters should adjust the party’s strategy so that the constitutional majority in the State Duma remains with United Russia , and the New People return to their electoral niche – the educated middle class 18− 30 years.

Wikipedia, “New People (party)”

As we will see, “New People” is only the latest generation of controlled opposition parties in the Russian Federation. The faces may be fresh but the strategy is well-worn.

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