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The Communists’ libertarian leader How a 32-year-old became the most important KPRF deputy in the Komi Republic’s parliament

Source: Meduza
Viktor Vorobyov’s personal archive

The Russian Communist Party’s faction in the Komi Republic’s State Council has a new, unlikely leader: Viktor Vorobyov, a 32-year-old politician who is not a party member or even a leftist. Before he started working with the Communists, Vorobyov tried to register a wing of Alexey Navalny’s political party in St. Petersburg, ran for a seat in the State Duma as a Just Russia candidate, and was once a card-carrying member of the liberal opposition party Yabloko. Meduza special correspondent Andrey Pertsev examines how this man with libertarian views and a turbulent political career ended up the leading Communist in Komi’s parliament.

Viktor Vorobyov got his higher education in St. Petersburg, where he also cut his teeth as an activist, leading his university’s independent student union. The friends and colleagues he made doing this work in the early 2010s would later become the core St. Petersburg members of Alexey Navalny’s unregistered political party (known between 2012 and 2014 as “the People’s Alliance”). Armed with two master’s degrees, one in political science and the other in jurisprudence, Vorobyov represented the party in lawsuits against the Justice Ministry. In the spring of 2014, he achieved the unthinkable and won a case, getting the St. Petersburg Oktyabrsky District Court to declare illegal the Justice Ministry’s refusal to register the local branch of the People’s Alliance, but it made no difference, in the end.

Three years later, Vorobyov was working with another opposition group: the “United Democrats” project led by Dmitry Gudkov and Maxim Katz, which endorsed and supported candidates running for seats in Moscow’s municipal councils. They snagged a majority in the city’s Khamovniki District, and Vorobyov went to work as a lawyer for the local government. He told Meduza that he took the job with two specific goals in mind: to put the house in order on legal issues and to fire Sergey Bocharov, a legal advisor to the district’s administration.

Though he managed to oust Bocharov on corruption allegations, Vorobyov didn’t last long in Khamovniki. Journalist Ilya Azar, who serves on the council now, told Meduza that Vorobyov was in over his head in Moscow. “An inexperienced, simple-minded guy” who landed in the position “by mistake,” recalled Azar, adding that Vorobyov “did almost no work, spending his time in Komi, including on election campaigns.”

Vorobyov described his exit from Moscow in slightly loftier terms, saying he left the big city to make a difference in Russia’s heartland.

Viktor Vorobyov at Moscow’s “March of Millions” protest on May 6, 2012
Viktor Vorobyov’s personal archive

The long road to Communism

In early 2021, the leaders of the Komi branch of Russia’s Communist Party (KPRF) set about capturing a majority in the republic’s State Council in the September elections, hoping to capitalize on environmentalist protests and enduring outrage about raised retirement ages.

Two years before he shacked up with the Communists, Viktor Vorobyov made a failed run for Komi’s State Council with the opposition party Just Russia. His own political views align most closely with libertarianism, but he says his current collaboration with KPRF has been smooth, arguing that the party’s branch in Komi is busy with everyday issues, not Stalin worship or “revisions of the Soviet legacy.” In 2021, he was elected on the Communists’ territorial party list in a region that included the industrial city of Syktyvkar. During the campaign, men followed and harassed Vorobyov and his staff. At one point, someone even sprayed green antiseptic into his face, repeating a tactic used against opposition figures Alexey Navalny and Mikhail Kasyanov.

Thanks to his place on the party list, Vorobyov inherited the mandate won by KPRF’s local leader, Oleg Mikhailov, who passed on the job to take a seat in the State Duma. Vorobyov told Meduza that he worked hard to facilitate Mikhailov’s Duma campaign, helping as a member of the republic’s election commission to organize election monitors. Even though Vorobyov isn’t a party member, KPRF then selected him as the faction’s leader in Komi’s State Council (two of the other three KPRF State Council deputies are also nonpartisans).

Oleg Mikhailov acknowledged to Meduza that it was unusual for KPRF to appoint a non-member to serve as its faction leader in a regional parliament, but he insists that Vorobyov is the right person for the job. “It doesn’t matter what color the cat is, so long as he’s good at catching mice,” said Mikhailov.

Meduza spoke to several political analysts who offered their own interpretations of Viktor Vorobyov’s significance to the Communist Party. Pyotr Bystrov says Mikhailov’s support for the libertarian politician is based on “personal loyalty” and the fact that appointing Vorobyov as faction leader preserved Mikhailov’s own influence in the State Council.

Campaign materials for Viktor Vorobyov’s 2018 Komi State Council run.
Viktor Vorobyov’s personal archive

Alexander Pozhalov told Meduza that the Komi Republic lacks the kind of regional political bloc that exists in other parts of Russia to dominate and control the democratic process. Vladimir Slatinov, meanwhile, points out that KPRF has become a “more or less strong umbrella” for regional activists who need a formal political party to participate in politics. Attacks on prominent Communist politicians (like the current felony case against KPRF State Duma deputy Valery Rashkin) only boost the party’s oppositionist credibility.

In his new role as a Communist leader in Komi, Vorobyov is already grasping at issues with nationwide oppositionist appeal; one of his first acts in the State Council was to submit formal criticism of a legislative project to institute QR-code vaccine passports.

A source close to the Putin administration told Meduza that the Kremlin has no plans to counter Vorobyov or the Komi Republic’s Communists. “That doesn’t rise to a presidential issue,” said Meduza’s source.

Update: After Meduza published this story, it became known that Viktor Vorobyov’s ex-wife, Alexandra Semyonova, has accused him of domestic abuse. Vorobyov denies the allegations and has filed lawsuits demanding the retraction of social-media posts claiming that he beat Semyonova. This litigation has been ongoing for several years. Meduza believes that any biography of Viktor Vorobyov is incomplete without this information, and we apologize for omitting it initially.

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Story by Andrey Pertsev

Summary by Kevin Rothrock