He is the only member of the ruling United Russia Party who openly proclaims that members of the Pussy Riot punk band should never go to jail.
He also publicly disapproves of the Kremlin’s recent political legislation. And he calls for United Russia to do away with its administrative resource.
“The longer we stay silent, the worse for the party,” said Valery Fedotov, 42, the head of United Russia’s district branch in St. Petersburg who made the public spotlight when he voiced support for Pussy Riot in a blog post addressed to the group on Monday.
“I support your immediate release wholeheartedly,” Fedotov wrote, adding that the case was discrediting Russia’s judiciary.
Three group members are currently on trial in Moscow over a “punk prayer” slamming then-Prime Minister and United Russia head Vladimir Putin that they performed in a downtown Orthodox Christian cathedral. They face up to seven years on hooliganism charges.
Speaking to RIA Novosti, Fedotov said the group members, all female twenty-somethings, should have gotten away with community service, but nothing worse.
United Russia leaders have never voiced support for Pussy Riot. The party’s current leader, Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, admitted this week that the group members were undergoing “a serious test,” but said their fate was for the court to decide.
Fedotov said he was trying to nudge the party in the right direction.
Party bosses maintained silence about his escapade, with a telephoned request for comment from United Russia’s central office on Tuesday going unanswered in time for publication. But Fedotov said he received some 700 letters of support from rank-and-file members.
He admitted he was still thinking hard about what to do in case the group members are convicted.
Yet Fedotov said he was not quitting United Russia and would rather campaign to change it from within, a task he calls his “moral obligation.”
From Plumbing to Politics
A successful businessman selling plumbing equipment, Fedotov came onboard when United Russia, traditionally viewed as a party for officials, launched a drive for new faces in 2010.
“I was naïve in thinking they need good professionals like me. But I welcome a challenge,” Fedotov said.
He admitted that his friends were puzzled and even outraged when he joined United Russia, where he is paid a whopping 5,500 rubles a month ($170).
Fedotov unsuccessfully ran for St. Petersburg city legislature in December. He also applied to run in the upcoming vote for the party’s Central Executive Committee, but said party bosses ensured only United Russia’s nomenclature stood a chance of winning the internal elections.
United Russia struggled to maintain a majority in the federal legislature, the State Duma, during elections in December, but the victory came complete with fraud allegations. Critics slammed it as “the party of crooks and thieves,” a slogan that caught on like wildfire. Party support ratings slid from 49 percent in December to 44 percent in July, according to state-run pollster VTsIOM.
‘Creative Class’ Inside
The party needs to change to survive, abandoning its authoritarian management style and unfair political competition, Fedotov said.
“We won’t be a party of power anymore, but at least we’d return to real politics,” he said.
He also criticized United Russia’s rubberstamping recent political legislation on defamation, nongovernmental organizations and Internet blacklists that gives the Kremlin more leverage for a crackdown on opposition.
Fedotov’s rhetoric sounds indistinguishable from speeches by moderate oppositionists championing the “creative class,” or well-off educated urbanites – Fedotov’s own social group, which formed the backbone of recent mass protests in Moscow.
Fedotov is “not a typical character” for the party, admitted opposition veteran Olga Kurnosova, who attended his public debate with oppositional Just Russia’s lawmaker Dmitry Gudkov in St. Petersburg in June.
But his stance is full of internal contradictions, Kurnosova said.
Fedotov is not an isolated case within the party, which unites people with varying political views on the basis of their loyalty to the government, said sociologist Olga Kryshtanovskaya, a former senior United Russia member.
But Fedotov’s crusade is unlikely to transform United Russia, which was specially doctored from the beginning to be the Kremlin’s tool and not an independent political entity, said Yury Korgunyuk, an expert on Russian political parties with the INDEM think tank.
“Good luck to him if he wants to change it from the inside,” Korgunyuk said. “But you can’t change this party.”