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Wed 19 February 2020
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As Vladimir Putin moves to secure his political future, Sarah Hurst reports on the country’s new political party.

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A Russian writer who boasted about killing Ukrainians in Donbass has announced that he is launching a political party called “For Truth”.

Zakhar Prilepin was unanimously voted in as party leader at an event in Moscow that also featured naturalised Russian citizen Steven Seagal and notoriously homophobic actor Ivan Okhlobystin. This appeared to be part of a series of sweeping changes in Russian politics instigated by Russian President Vladimir Putin to secure his future in power. 

Prilepin led his own battalion in eastern Ukraine and said in an interview afterwards that it had had some of the best “results” of the war and that he wasn’t tormented at night by thoughts of all the Ukrainians he had sent to their graves. “What we created was absolute barefaced chaos and what I find particularly funny are the attacks on me saying that I was some kind of fake field commander,” he added. To the horror of Ukrainians, the Tribeca film festival gave the award for best narrative short to Phone Duty, starring Prilepin, in 2018 – which was about the war. 

At the beginning of this year, Prilepin was named by Putin as one of the celebrities to participate in a “working group” discussing his sweeping changes to the Russian constitution. Putin intends to hold a nationwide vote on the changes in the spring, although the result will not be in doubt. He has replaced Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev with Mikhail Mishustin and brought in many new cabinet members who will rubber-stamp his plans, while keeping heavyweight Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu. 

Medvedev remains as leader of the United Russia Party and has a new position on the Security Council, but Prilepin’s party may now become the newly favoured one. Putin can tell the public that he has shaken out all the “bad boyars” and only he can save the country. To further demonstrate his fairness, Putin has allowed a few miscarriages of justice to be rectified, including dropping murder charges against the Khachaturyan sisters who killed their abusive father, and jailing police officers who planted drugs on investigative journalist Ivan Golunov. 

At the launch of “For Truth”, Prilepin appeared on stage hooked up to what he claimed was a lie detector. Steven Seagal addressed the audience in English with the aid of an interpreter and said that he wanted all countries to unite for world peace. Okhlobystin, who in 2013 said that all gay people should be thrown into ovens, suggested changing the constitution to remove the ban on a state ideology. 

Putin’s plans have been aided by opposition leader Alexei Navalny’s refusal to protest against them. Navalny tweeted that there was no reason to defend the current constitution as Putin had been able to do everything he wanted under it. Other opposition activists disagreed and picketers across the country have been detained. Some hope to hold a large protest in Moscow at the end of February when there is an annual march to commemorate Putin critic Boris Nemtsov, who was shot dead in 2015. Russian exile Garry Kasparov has called Navalny’s inaction “worse than hypocrisy”.

For now, though, Zakhar Prilepin appears to be the face of Russia’s future. 


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