THE UPCOMING FEDERAL ELECTIONS AS REPORTED BY THE CENTRAL MEDIA
All variations on the theme of the upcoming elections as expounded by the Russian central media mainly continue to focus on elements of one major problem: will the elections be held on time, will they be held at all, whether or not Boris Yeltsin is ready to hand over power to the next president, and if he is theoretically able to voluntarily resign from his post. There are as many opinions about all of this as there are publications. Obschaya Gazeta expresses its viewpoint in an article entitled “The elite sees its leader as a burden but will let him go in peace”. The paper arrives at the conclusion that currently neither the political elite, “which has already obtained everything possible from ‘democracy’ and ‘privatization'”, nor the people, “who has also grown tired of everything and wants only one thing – to receive some kind of salary”, do not need authoritarian power any longer. In the paper’s opinion, this frame of mind may explain the inexplicable popularity of Yevgeny Primakov, who merely by his outward looks managed to convince society that “the revolutionary turmoil, with its upstarts and demagogues, is over”, and that the epoch of stability had begun. However, the hope for peaceful life under the premier who, as many authors remark, resembles Leonid Brezhnev, was not justified. For lack of political popularity within Russia and financial power to allow him to participate with dignity in the solution of global-scale problems, the Russian president is seeking consolation in the only thing currently available to him – personnel reshuffles in the executive branch. The paper states, “Just like to govern meant to execute people for Stalin and to ‘reform’ something for Khrushchev, so for Yeltsin to govern means to dismiss and appoint people.” And it is highly likely that Primakov is not the last one in this lineup. “Obschaya Gazeta” sticks to the opinion that Yeltsin “is already not only not needed by the ruling elite, but even poses a direct danger to it.” Nevertheless, nobody dares take any steps whatsoever: “The scenarios of coups, putsches, and the establishment of a state of emergency in Russia which are currently being actively discussed among intellectuals and in various media are no more than chimeras which are so common for our traumatized consciousness.” The paper believes that the elite is sure to get outraged or try persuade the president to resign voluntarily (just what Kirienko is currently doing), but will not undertake anything specific: “It is waiting for the finale of a natural biological process, just like Stalin’s elite was waiting for a similar finale in its time.”
Meanwhile, Gleb Pavlovsky, President of the Foundation for Effective Politics and one of the major designers of the Kremlin’s political technologies, asserts in an interview to Argumenty i Fakty weekly that the possibility of Yeltsin remaining head of Russia after 2000 cannot be ruled out. He says, “If somebody challenges the revolutionary achievements – freedom, private property, Russia’s security – perhaps in this situation Yeltsin will start to behave in a very tough manner. Like any revolutionary, he rates the feeling of personal historical responsibility for what is going on much higher than ‘official formalities’.” Pavlovsky warns that in order to prevent this responsibility from prompting the president to take radical actions it is necessary to “let Yeltsin go in a peaceful manner and not mess with crises…the revolution will go along with him.” As for the next president, he will undertake “construction of a normal, dull state. Somebody has to stop the revolution in order to render its results harmless.” To all appearances, these promises of calm and peace tomorrow on the condition that the principle of non-intervention in the plans of the Kremlin Administration is observed today must have very concrete addressees.
Recently, the Belorussian theme has become immensely popular with the media. When after the end of the West ’99 military exercise Russian Defense Minister Igor Sergeev suggested the initiative of “merging the Russian and Belorussian Armed Forces within the framework of the operations worked out during the exercise,” despite the vagueness of the statement (what does merging “within the framework of the operations” actually mean?), Segodnya wrote that President Yeltsin had been presented a kingly gift in the form of the Belorussian army: “The idea of merging the two armies has its own logic: up till now, all attempts to unite with Belarus on the economic or administrative bases have failed because these bases are absolutely incompatible. But to merge two splinters of the former Soviet Army is a much more promising business.” In addition, the paper has already written more than once that merging with Belarus may allow Yeltsin to solve the problem of prolonging his presidential term according to the “Milosevic variant” (the possibility of assuming the post of president of a new united state).
Novye Izvestia is of the opinion that the main merit of “the Belorussian alternative” in the eyes of the Kremlin Administration is that this possibility is keeping the president’s political opponents in a state of permanent tension. The paper is confident that the ideas about Russian-Belorussian integration are a well-calculated PR campaign rather than a real plan of actions, first of all because “the political elite has adequately appraised Lukashenko and the danger he would pose if he got into the Russian political arena.” However, the opportunity to get on the nerves of not only the Communists but also the mayor of Moscow is being fully used by the Kremlin Administration: “You will agree that it is psychologically more difficult to start an election campaign without being certain that the election will actually took place.” Nezavisimaya Gazeta likewise maintains that the president has given up the idea of creating a full-fledged union with Belarus, fearing first of all Lukashenko’s possible claims to the Russian presidency, and also due to his unwillingness to worsen relations with the West. “This unwillingness and fear of integration are so strong that Yeltsin has rejected the draft Union Treaty which could have secured his dignified retirement,” the paper states, meaning the “Milosevic variant”. In addition, “Nezavisimaya Gazeta” asserts that integration with Belarus is economically disadvantageous to Russia, unlike Belarus, which would in this case obtain “access to Russian raw material resources and its marketing outlets.” Therefore, integration is currently moving forward owing mainly to pressure on the part of the Belorussian president and the Russian parliament, “who need resolution of these questions for political or economic reasons.”
Izvestia also believes that, other than his desire to retain power, Yeltsin cannot find any reason to integrate with Belarus: “In that case Russia would finally be brought down to the level of a third-rate state. In addition, Yeltsin would have to undertake responsibility for all of Lukashenko’s economic ‘experiments’.” Not to mention the fact that Lukashenko may well spoil Moscow’s image in the eyes of the international community once and for all.
On the other hand, “Izvestia” notes, Lukashenko does not at all want to merge and share his authority at the same time: “He wants Russia to maintain him.” Apparently, this is what caused Lukasheno to maintain at the 12th session of the parliamentary assembly of Russia and Belarus that “Belarus is reaching its hand out to Russia by suggesting the creation of a uniform state, and Moscow is throwing a stone into this hand… Do you really think I will keep this country in a state of suspense for nearly five years?.. I have ordered the Foreign Ministry to establish friendly relations with the West.” “Segodnya” writes that Lukashenko gave Yeltsin an ultimatum: either the integration goes according to Minsk’s draft (which, as has already been said, stipulates introducing the post of president of the Union), or else… “Lukashenko was outspokenly bluffing concerning that ‘or else…’ – he cannot help knowing that he has simply nowhere to go.” The members of the parliaments of the two countries supported Lukashenko. Russian deputies even suggested that elections to the Union parliament be held as the same time as the Russian parliamentary election in December 1999. In fact, the only thing Yeltsin is required to do is approve the preparatory work, which has already been conducted for his own benefit. Thus, Lukashenko’s ultimatum proved to be very handy and became a convenient screen for the Kremlin to solve its own problems.
Public reaction to last week’s situation with Russian Minister of Justice Pavel Krasheninnikov concerning the inspection of the CPRF’s activities also attracted the attention of the media. The majority of publications agree that he suffered for nothing – the Communist structures were indeed thoroughly inspected and no serious violations were revealed – at least nothing illegal was found. However, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes that to all appearances the president and his team do not want to put up with “imperfections” in legislation. The Kremlin obviously wants to see the Ministry of Justice as its own political police, while Krasheninnikov evidently is not cut out to play the role of “big police boss”. The paper remembers the repeated and ambiguous statements by representatives of the Presidential Administration that “the president will not be an indifferent observer of the election campaign.” We should note that, currently, the major opponents of the president are the Fatherland movement and the Communists. And while the problem of eliminating Fatherland from the electoral political spectrum can be formally resolved by holding a pre-term election (Fatherland will only be eligible to participate in elections on December 19, 1999), the situation with the CPRF is much more complicated: “In terms of securing a complete and final victory over the Communists, the only legally possible option is to liquidate the CPRF by means of a trial.” This procedure is rather complicated: the proceedings would have to be preceded by two warnings by the Ministry of Justice concerning violations of legislation committed by the party in its activities, and only then could a relevant appeal be made in court. “There is little time left until the election, and Krasheninnikov will have to do his best if he intends to win the president’s benevolence once again.”
Vremya MN believes that the minister of justice missed a beautiful opportunity to prove his diligence to the president: at the time the order to inspect parties which were in violation of legislation was issued, the CPRF had a whole network of illegal party offices at industrial enterprises. “However, instead of seizing the members of the underground organizations red-handed, Krasheninnikov proclaimed the planned raids to the ends of the earth, whereupon the quick-witted Communists transformed illegal party offices into fairly legal formations.” At the same time, the paper states, the lefts need not get too anxious: “it’s a long way” between Yeltsin’s statements and the real actions of the executive branch. Otherwise, the CPRF would have been banned long ago.
Segodnya is also convinced that, provided the procedure of abolishing the CPRF’s registration would take a rather long time, the Communists, thanks to the Presidential Administration, will get nothing more than “free advertisement during the entire election campaign and the image of a party which is ‘persecuted by the regime’.” Certainly, the president will not agree to give the Communists such a generous present on the eve of the election.
Vek weekly explains that it is only illegal to create party offices at state enterprises, “whereas all private firms have the right to do whatever they like, even try to build Communism, within their premises,” which partially explains Krasheninnikov’s failure to fulfill the president’s order. On the other hand, “Vek” asserts, the Kremlin has already given up its intention to ban the CPRF and arrived at the conclusion that suspending the Communists’ activities by presidential decree would be a much brighter idea. The relevant decree was prepared long ago and is ready to take effect at any moment. After that the Duma will lose one-third of its current deputies (the deputy mandates of CPRF members will be canceled), court examinations will ensue, and as a result the CPRF will not have time to register its federal list. At the same time, the paper warns that many other leftist parties will still remain after that, and that each of them will be happy to take care of “the Communists, who have been deprived of their party but not of their electorate” on the eve of the election.
Sergei Stepashin has also started dealing with the problems of the upcoming elections. In a speech at the second nationwide meeting of FSS organs, the Russian premier stated that “the threat to the Constitutional system in Russia is growing. In particular, the development of the election campaign is worsening the situation in this country.” (Quoted from Nezavisimaya Gazeta.) Stepashin’s anxiety is caused by the processes of integration which are being observed among various parties and movements of extremist orientation which do not rule out “the possibility of forceful change of the Constitutional system in Russia.” “Nezavisimaya Gazeta” observes that Stepashin delivered his speech at the same moment as Yeltsin was reprimanding Krasheninnikov for his mistakes during the inspection of the CPRF’s activities. And although the premier did not openly mention the Communists, the very fact of the coincidence “may be considered a serious warning to the CPRF.”
The media reacted in various ways to Stepashin’s speech. Vremya MN noted that the FSS is intent on legally intervening in the political process in Russia for the first time in several years. And although the declared purposes of this intervention are quite respectable – protecting citizens’ voting rights, preventing criminal elements from seizing power – it is well known, the paper writes, that “having been let out of authorities’ offices at random, abstract ideas tend to take on lives of their own.” According to “Vremya MN”, the emergence of the idea of recruiting security services to prevent criminal elements from getting into parliament is fairly explainable, but the result of its fulfillment will depend greatly on further developments of the situation. “The temptation to make up an original interpretation of the notion ‘political extremist’ will grow as the date of election draws near. And not only for the Presidential Administration, but for the opposition as well. By the way, the security services may also get carried away by this task.”
Novye Izvestia straightforwardly asserts that “half a year prior to the parliamentary election and one year prior to the presidential one, the government publicly notified the population that the period of rowdy political pluralism has approached its end, along with the hopes for changes in this country.” This, in the paper’s opinion, serves as evidence of the seriousness of the intentions of those who have decided to retain power at all costs, even by means of establishing a regime of “manageable democracy”, the main instrument of which would be the security services.
On the other hand, Kommersant-daily appraises the fact of Stepashin’s address to FSS officers in a much less dramatic way. The paper is of the opinion that the premier is to a great extent solving his own problems – in reality, “he cares for the opinion of only one listener – President Yeltsin.” Since the president’s inner circle has its doubts that the acting head of government will be able to secure the interests of “the inner circle” in the parliamentary and presidential election, Stepashin’s major task is to prove that the president did not make a mistake in May 1999 by choosing him over Aksenenko. And the struggle for “honest elections” is the best way to achieve this goal.
The majority of print media write about Stepashin in a fairly sympathetic manner: Vek formulates the objective reasons why Stepashin is being forced to follow Primakov’s cautious tactics and, like his predecessor, give up radical reforms: “The only corridor of political, economic, and social possibilities is so narrow that there is no room for choosing. Ensuring stability and supporting the interests of various elite and non-elite groups is indispensable, otherwise everything will collapse.”
Novoe Vremya magazine even asserts that the appointment of Stepashin as head of the government serves as evidence of the beginning of a new stage in the life of post-Perestroyka Russia – a stage which will open up possibilities for political careers “of the normal, non-heartrending type.” If we remember that in the early 1990’s secretaries of regional CPRF committees could become governors and that “economists with higher degrees and experience in managing a research group of three” became ministers, the appearance in the Russian political system of someone “with no serious Soviet career behind him but with at least five years on the ministerial level” cannot fail to bring joy to the heart. “Novoe Vremya” believes that only now is the government able to receive a head who “will not cause deep internal protest among either the old or the new elite or the Russian people.”
Still, Nezavisimaya Gazeta maintains that the already loud talk about the possible dismissal of the government is now being heard in the White House. “August is mentioned as the month of the allegedly upcoming event.” The paper states that the president regularly makes it clear to Stepashin that he is a temporary premier. Furthermore, Stepashin himself has hinted more than once at the possibility of leaving his post soon. And although for the majority of observers the possible reasons for the future dismissal remain an enigma, “everybody has by now gotten so used to the complete absence of logic in the actions of the president’s inner circle – at least as regards government dismissals and appointments – that no one is likely to be amazed at another reshuffle in the cabinet of ministers.”
Interfax-vremya daily directly relates Stepashin’s prospects to whether or not the premier is capable of securing Yeltsin’s security after the parliamentary election. If doubts remain, the cabinet will be replaced in late summer-early fall, “for there must be time left for advertising and promoting a new premier.”
The draft presidential decree introducing a state of emergency in Russia which was published in Novaya Gazeta serves as evidence that the president’s inner circle has reserve methods which are quite unexpected to society of ensuring its own security and “succession of power”. According to the famous journalist Yury Tschekochikhin, the decree should have been signed on May 13, 1999, the day after the impeachment vote in the Duma – in case the impeachment had been confirmed. According to the published information, Stepashin was supposed to become head of the temporary administration and Alexander Lebed his deputy. Tschekochikhin writes, “When state power is powerless to preserve itself, it has only one way out – to preserve itself by force. Military power… But what for? For the sake of whom? What is hanging in the balance – the country’s peace or the peace of the inner circle?”
Tschekockikhin is convinced that the decree is still waiting for its hour. Currently, two possibilities for introducing a state of emergency are being considered: the Caucasian option (“surgical” strikes against bases of Chechen guerrillas which will, as usual, be responded to by terrorist acts, which, in turn, will be an excuse to introduce a state of emergency) and the “Lenin option” (this option has already been expounded by Zhirinovsky, who suggested the following: taking into consideration the inevitable, as he believes them to be, mass disorders during the burial of Lenin’s body, they should be used as an excuse to postpone both the parliamentary and the presidential elections). Tschekochikhin writes, “Let us hope that Stepashin listens to his common sense. However, we see it as our duty to warn people what this country might find itself thrown back to.”
It should be noted that “Novaya Gazeta”‘s anxiety concerning the possible social reaction to withdrawing Lenin’s body from the Mausoleum is shared by far from all observers. For instance, as Leonid Radzikhovsky writes in “Segodnya”, “Russia has changed greatly. Currently, people do not raise joyous hullabaloos at the sight of the destruction of cathedrals or the obliteration of relics. We can also stop losing sleep about possible ‘nationwide indignation’ owing to the reasonable indifference of the tired and traditionally law-abiding people. Thus, the political sense of ‘withdrawing Lenin’s body from the Mausoleum’ will in fact equal zero.” Radzikhovsky is of the opinion that this undertaking may go down in history only as “a show grandiose in its own stupidity.”
On the other hand, judging from the great variety of electoral materials circulating in the media, currently, in mid-summer, the participants in the upcoming election campaigns are short neither of ideas, nor of ways to fulfill them.