UNITED RUSSIA IS NOT A GRAY FACELESS MASS, BELIEVES ONE OF ITS LEADERS

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MOSCOW, February 8 (RIA Novosti, Larisa Saenko) - The unpopular monetization of benefits reform threatened the rating of the United Russia party, which was instrumental in passing the law on exchange of benefits for cash payments.

Even the United Russia faction (which has a majority in the State Duma) is divided on the issue - three deputies (one later withdrew his signature) supported the opposition's initiative to pass a no-confidence vote to the government. A group of deputies headed by vice-speaker Lyubov Sliska demanded that the "main advocate" of the reform, health minister Mikhail Zurabov must resign.

Everybody says that United Russia is a gray faceless mass. Although, United Russia is not like KPRF or Yabloko; we do not worship our leaders and we do not have uniform thinking," Valery Bogomolov, first deputy of United Russia's leader Boris Gryzlov, told RIA Novosti commenting on an unusual spread of opinions among party members.

The party and the faction leadership do not plan any reprisals against members who signed the no-confidence vote petition, he insists.

"There is no split in the party ranks. We simply have different views about state officials. Some party members have liberal views, others are more socially conservative, yet others are oriented on the West, like I am, for instance," the politician explained.

Mr. Bogomolov believes that, in a way, United Russia members fell victims of the mistakes committed by the government.

"They (the government) assured everybody that everything had been checked and re-checked...We are offended, of course," Mr. Bogomolov concedes.

At the height of social protest, United Russia became the major target of criticism on the part of opposition, which attempted to use social unrest for its own benefit.

Recently, the United Russia main headquarters were surrounded by protesters that represented practically the entire political spectrum of the Russian society.

"Our political rivals are using the crisis to steal the voters with traditional thinking from us. However, if they did not do this, I would have said that the opposition was dead and we needed a new one," Mr. Bogomolov stated.

He realizes that the reforms of the health system, education and communal services might undermine the popularity of United Russia among Russian voters in case they become a failure.

"It is a difficult situation," concedes the party boss, "but smart people learn from the mistakes of others only in books, after all."

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