MOSCOW—Dmitry Rogozin is suave, smooth-talking and, his opponents say, a racist. And he is winning over voters the Kremlin wants for itself.
Rogozin’s Rodina (Motherland) party began life three years ago as a Kremlin puppet designed to poach votes from other parties, but now it has turned on its former masters and is striking a chord with its mix of populist economics and anti-immigrant slogans.
Many analysts say Motherland—not the huge Communist party or the pro-Western liberals most commonly identified with Russia’s opposition—is positioned to mount the most serious challenge to President Vladimir Putin’s Kremlin.
Motherland’s appeal was demonstrated in December in an election for Moscow’s City Council.
It ran a television advertisement portraying dark-skinned immigrants dropping litter and leering at a fair-skinned Russian woman. It ended with the slogan: “Let’s clean the city of rubbish.”
The clip tapped into widespread resentment against the millions of mainly Muslim migrants who come to Russia’s big cities from ex-Soviet republics in search of work.
Motherland missed the ballot after a Moscow court ruled the advertisement incited racial hatred.
But opinion polls showed the party—which has about 30 seats in the 450-seat national parliament—was running in second place, behind the dominant, pro-Kremlin United Russia party.
“(Motherland’s policies) are very, very popular with the Russian people,” said Masha Lipman, an analyst at the Moscow Carnegie Center, an independent think tank.