|Zyuganov (left) is the leader of the Communist Party, while Mironov (right) leads the A Just Russia party [Reuters]
Gennady Zyuganov, the Communist Party’s leader, and Sergey Mironov, leader of the A Just Russia party, both represent a threat from the political left to Vladimir Putin for the Russian presidency.
Zyuganov, a veteran leader of the communist party, serving in leadership positions for the party both before and after the break-up of the Soviet Union, has already run in three presidential elections, placing second each time.
Mironov, meanwhile, is considered by many to be less of a threat - during his 2004 presidential bid, the former long-time ally of Putin famously said: "We all want Vladimir Putin to be the next president."
This time around he has again predicted a Putin victory, though he says he will throw his support behind Zyuganov in the case of a run-off.
Veteran opposition leader
Gennady Andreyevich Zyuganov, 67, is regarded by many as Vladimir Putin’s main rival for the Russia's top job.
The veteran leader of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (CPRF) has run for president three times previously (1996, 2000 and 2008), each time placing second. He came closest in 1996, when he won 32 per cent of the vote but eventually lost out to Boris Yeltsin. Last time out, in 2008, he won 18 per cent of the vote, in an election won by Dmitry Medvedev.
Zyuganov was born in Russia’s Oryol region, and spent his early career as a teacher, before being selected to join the Soviet Radiation, Chemical and Biological Intelligence Unit serving in Germany. It was during his tenure in the army that he was recommended by superior officers for a position within the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU). He served in various party positions in Oryol, all the while continuing his studies and finally completing his PhD in 1980.
In 1983, Zyuganov joined the CPSU’s central committee as Instructor in charge of Ideology and Propaganda.
A vocal critic of then President Mikhail Gorbachev’s glasnost and perestroika policies, Zyuganov made a name for himself in politics criticising the liberalisation of the Russian political sphere, fiercely opposing the policies that led to the collapse of the Soviet Union and the move away from communism. He was a co-signatory to the famous "A word to the people" open letter published in 1991.
In the early 1990s, Zyuganov played a key role in the formation of the new Communist Party of the Russian Federation, and rose to become its chairman in 1993. Since then he has been a central opposition figure, serving in various roles both in and out of parliament.
When launching his current bid for the presidency, Zyuganov said that the election was a referendum on "a 20-year experiment", referring to the liberalisation of the political sphere. Referring to the current government as "a gang of folks who ... have humiliated the country", he promised to usher in reforms that would halt an economic decline and put Russia back on the path of socialism.
The Communist party leader, who has in the past called for the "re-Stalinisation" of Russia, has also taken a strong stance on foreign policy, calling for NATO’s influence to be diminished and for Russia to strengthen its alliances in order to "counter the aggressive policies of imperialist circles". He has particularly singled out Belarus and Kazakhstan as states where Russia must consolidate its alliances.
He has also stated a desire to distance Russia from the World Trade Organisation, in direct contrast to Putin's current policy, and for the role of the United Nations to be strengthened.
Zyuganov’s economic agenda focuses on nationalising struggling industries, including agriculture and the defence sector. Significantly, he has said that were he to be elected he would renationalise Russia’s large natural resource productions sector.
He has also promised a new era of industrialisation, to lower taxes for most people through the implementation of a new progressive taxation regime and to institute new government price-control mechanisms for necessities.
A call for 'justice'
Sergey Mikhaylovich Mironov, the chairman of the A Just Russia party, has been a stalwart ally of Prime Minister Putin in the past, and has struggled to shed that moniker, despite working to distance himself from the United Russia leader in the last year.
A geophysicist by training, Mironov was the speaker of Russia’s upper house of parliament (the Federation Council) from 2001 until mid-2011, spending half of that time as the leader of the opposition Russian Party of Life.
He ran against Putin in the 2004 presidential campaign, but was never considered to be a serious candidate. Final results gave him less than one per cent of the vote, and he had endorsed Putin’s presidency during his own campaign.
In 2006, he presided over the merger of several opposition forces, including Rodina, the Russian Pensioner’s Party and his own Party of Life, into the United Russia party.
Mironov has been more publically critical of Putin since he was purged from his post as speaker of the Federation Council, and has based his campaign on strong anti-corruption rhetoric and promises of implementing wide-ranging social reforms.
He has promised to nationalise Russian natural resource production, and to invest in infrastructure in order to consolidate Russia's industrial economic base. He has also promised to institute a 20 per cent tax on all capital outflows.
Mironov has said that he plans to institute a progressive taxation regime if elected, with a new luxury tax to be imposed. Additionally, he has called for the overhaul of the country's pension system.
On foreign policy, Mironov is in favour of protecting ethnic Russian communities in former Soviet states, and supported the Russian intervention in Georgia and South Ossetia in 2008.
"I think it’s necessary to further integration processes in the post-Soviet space, including with the aim to establish a confederation of Slavic states (uniting Russia, Ukraine and Belarus)," Mironov has said. "The creation of a Eurasian Union is also necessary."
Overall, Mironov positions himself as being in favour of pragmatic relations based on a policy of protecting Russia's national interests.
"I am sure that Russia and the USA are doomed to agreements, collaboration and partnership. There is no other way," Mironov writes on his website.