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Russia's Number-Three Politician Condemned for Criticizing Number One

Public criticism of Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin by the speaker of the country's Upper House of Parliament, has prompted members of Mr. Putin's political party to demand the lawmaker's dismissal. Sergei Mironov, who is number three in the Russian power structure, is responding with a call for respect of minority rights in parliament.

The ruling United Russia Party has launched a full scale attack on Parliament Speaker Sergei Mironov after he told a national television talk show that he and his Just Russia Party categorically disagree with Mr. Putin's budget and economic-crisis plan.

Mironov also characterized United Russia's program as one of "doubtful conservatism." Mr. Putin has the unusual distinction of heading United Russia, without being a member.

The United Russia Party has called for Mironov to resign. Its Web site is filled with scores of comments by party members who denounce the lawmaker as, among other things, a traitor, cynic, rat, threat to political stability, and a person of easy virtue.

A member of the party's presidium, Andrei Isayev, told VOA Mironov owes his position to backing by United Russia. He says a speaker should support, not criticize the government, adding that partisan factions are prohibited in the Upper House.

Isayev says one cannot be an opposition leader and also occupy a key position of authority. He adds that Mironov has enjoyed all of the perks of power - driving around in an armored Mercedes with a special traffic privileges, a security detail, offices, and the right to order governors to deliver certain percentages for his party. And yet, says Isayev, he declares himself part of the opposition with responsibility for nothing.

Mironov writes in Saint Petersburg's Nevskoe Vremya online newspaper that Russians who live below the poverty line, unemployed workers, small businessmen victimized by corrupt bureaucrats, impoverished teachers and others cannot be interested in the status quo. He notes that Just Russia's legislative minority is supported by millions of people.

Mironov also challenges United Russia to observe last year's law "On Guarantees of Parliamentary Activity," saying the party will need its legal safeguards if it ends up in the minority.

The head of the Just Russia faction in the Lower House, Nikolai Levichev, told VOA that United Russia is blocking the party's legislative program.

Levichev says instead of directing its energy and passion toward what Mironov may or may not say about Putin, it would be better for the country if United Russia publicly examined Just Russia's legislative initiatives.

Political analyst Masha Lipman of the Carnegie Moscow Center explains public criticism of Prime Minister Putin is unusual.

Lipman says Mr. Putin is never criticized by name at such a high level and on television. She notes that when President Dmitriy Medvedev rather harshly criticizes policies of the preceding period and the country's state of affairs, he never mentions Putin's name.

In January, President Medvedev said opposition parties and increased political competition can help modernize Russia. He issued the call for reform in a live, nationally-televised meeting of the State Council, in which representatives of small Russian parties condemned media censorship and United Russia.

Sergei Mironov claims in his online article that the ruling party also persecutes members of Just Russia at the municipal level, where its members are intimidated and even fired from their jobs. He concludes by saying it is time for everyone to understand that political diversity and a multi-party system is not someone's whim, but a constitutional principle guaranteed by the Russian constitution.