MOSCOW Russian liberals launched a pro-Kremlin political party on Sunday promising to defend middle class values but rivals said it was just a tool for the authorities to suck support away from genuine opposition groups.
At a meeting in a Moscow hotel leaders of the Right Cause party said they aimed to win seats at Russia's parliamentary election in 2011 under the slogan: "Freedom, property, order."
"Our voters are independent people who know how to make money and cherish freedom but they don't want to be in opposition," one of the party's leaders, Leonid Gozman, said.
Prime Minister Vladimir Putin is hugely popular in Russia and his United Russia party dominates the Russian parliament. Other than the Communists, opposition parties have struggled to win significant support.
The Kremlin wanted to set up the Right Cause to complete its political coverage with a liberal option and cushion itself against any middle class anger triggered by a global economic crisis which has hit Russia hard, said Dmitry Badovsky, from the Institute of Social Systems at Moscow State University.
"This party is needed (by the Kremlin) to fill a black hole on the right wing of the political spectrum," he said.
The Right Cause is an amalgamation of the opposition Union of Right Forces (SPS) with the broadly pro-Kremlin Democratic Party and Civic Force.
The SPS -- set up by pro-Western reformers -- won no seats in last year's parliamentary election and did not field a candidate in the presidential election this year.
Earlier this month the SPS said it was joining the pro-Kremlin alliance because that was the only way it could survive but opponents accused the SPS of selling out.
"This marks the end of these liberal organizations and of what remained of their independence in politics," Eduard Limonov, one of the leaders of the opposition group Other Russia, told Interfax.
(Writing by James Kilner; Editing by Giles Elgood)