-By Michael Schwirtz
December 28, 2011- VLADIMIR, Russia — At first glance, Sergei N. Filippov seems an unlikely political provocateur.
A consummate insider, he is the chief executive of a regional affiliate of the government-owned energy giant, Gazprom, here in this ancient town. And he is an influential local member of Russia’s ruling party, United Russia.
But there he was at the latest session of the Vladimir Region legislature last week, disrupting scheduled debates on forest fire prevention and a transportation tax, to make an appeal to his fellow party members: acknowledge and repair the fraud that many people here believe United Russia committed in recent parliamentary elections.
“These violations must be documented,” said Mr. Filippov, who has worked in the regional government for about 15 years. “We cannot be silent about this. We will be doing a disservice if we fail to speak up today.”
The Kremlin has been shaken in recent weeks by the sudden and unexpected awakening of political life in Russia, as the middle class, angered by the election results, twice this month held huge protests in Moscow against United Russia and its leader, Vladimir V. Putin. On Tuesday, Vladislav Y. Surkov, a Kremlin official who is considered the architect of the centralized political system that has angered the protesters, was moved to a different job, in what appeared to be a sign that Mr. Putin takes the threat seriously.
But for United Russia and Mr. Putin, who has dismissed the fraud accusation and belittled the protesters, Mr. Filippov represents another, perhaps more serious threat. Mr. Filippov is just one of several officials to publicly break ranks with the party leadership in recent weeks, suggesting fraying loyalties while undermining the party’s already crumbling credibility more than any protester could.
“This is probably what United Russia is scared of most: that someone from the inside will start to talk,” said an official in the Vladimir Region government, who did not want to be identified speaking about the party.