Cautious criticism by Federation Council Speaker Sergei Mironov of several Putin initiatives has provoked an angry squabble between two pro-Kremlin parties in what analysts called political posturing ahead of March regional elections.
Mironov, leader of A Just Russia party, said in an interview with Channel One television host Vladimir Pozner on Monday night that his party "strongly objects" to the 2010 budget compiled by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and several of Putin's anti-crisis measures.
Mironov — a fierce Putin loyalist who ran against Putin in the 2004 presidential election in what he described as an effort to support Putin's bid — also told Pozner that the idea that he and his party backed Putin in everything was "outdated," A Just Russia said on its web site.
A senior United Russia official, State Duma Deputy Speaker Vyacheslav Volodin, denounced Mironov's remarks as "a display of [his] disrespect and inconsistency toward Putin, who has done a lot for the country, society and Mironov himself," United Russia said in a statement published on its web site late Tuesday.
Duma Deputy Andrei Isayev, in a separate statement on United Russia's web site late Tuesday, accused Mironov of "lying" about supporting Putin.
He also said: "Mironov thinks that the situation has become shaky because of the crisis, and he is trying to run from the ship like a rat. But he has forgotten that the ship is not sinking."
A Just Russia fired back Wednesday, with the leader of its Duma faction, Nikolai Levichev, suggesting that Isayev "drink less" in order to "hallucinate less about rats and cockroaches," according to a statement on its web site.
Mironov, also in a statement on A Just Russia's web site Wednesday, declared that his party was in the opposition and said it was "like a red cloth for a bull."
Meanwhile, Isayev, Volodin and Duma Deputy Andrei Vorobyov have called on the St. Petersburg Legislative Assembly, which Mironov represents in the Federation Council, to dismiss Mironov, but local United Russia and Just Russia leaders said the assembly lacked the legal authority to act, Interfax reported.
While political analysts were divided about whether Mironov had really joined the opposition, they agreed that his statements Monday were an attempt to attract the protest vote ahead of regional elections March 14.
Alexei Mukhin, an analyst with the Center for Political Information, said Mironov had launched his election campaign but still supported Putin.
Alexander Morozov, a former spokesman for A Just Russia, said Mironov was hoping to steal votes from United Russia in both the March elections as well as October regional elections and the 2011 Duma election.
United Russia swept the last regional elections on Oct. 11 in a victory that opposition parties — and Mironov — have criticized as unfair.
United Russia, headed by Putin, dominates the State Duma and most regional legislatures. A Just Russia was created in 2006 in what is widely believed to be a Kremlin project aimed at stealing votes from the Communist Party.