THE UPCOMING FEDERAL ELECTIONS AS REPORTED BY THE CENTRAL MEDIA
The process of Russian electoral bloc-construction may be considered finished. The press celebrated its conclusion with skeptical comments and sarcastic remarks. All media without exception touched on the abundance of professional politicians and retired state officials in electoral blocs. Vremya MN” notes that mutual reproaches are already being heard in this connection, something like “You are suggesting a change of power while simultaneously being part of that very power.” On the other hand, the paper is of the opinion that the three blocs which have recently enjoyed the most attention, namely Our Home is Russia (NDR), Fatherland-All Russia, and the Union of Right Forces, are indeed nothing other than three generations of the party of power. “In this context, it does not matter at all that some representatives of these three generations may still be in power and some have already retired,” the paper concludes.
Izvestia, in turn, is full of the most ominous premonitions: “To all appearances, the current election campaign is promising to be the most violent and merciless in the entire short history of post-Perestroika Russia.” The reason for this, as the paper sees it, is simple: Yeltsin is leaving. The political elite is losing its usual resting point (“Whatever the attitude towards the first Russian president, we must pay him his due and note that he has never been into cannibalism and never finished off his opponents, even when they were defeated.”) and is seeking new support. Izvestia is of the opinion that this is the exact reason for the great demand for representatives of special services. During the entire election campaign, “the major political players are to be former security officers, namely Primakov, Stepashin, and Putin (so far, in that order).” In “Izvestia’s” opinion, the main question which is worrying all inhabitants of “the corridors of power” is whether or not the Russian special services will have enough forces to “control the upcoming redistribution of influence and property.”
Leonid Radzikhovsky, a Segodnya observer, thinks that the current situation is of a grotesque character. He believes that the current election campaign is remarkable for “somewhat childish spontaneity”. The rumors that the second position on the LDPR’s electoral list is reserved for the notorious Anatoly Bykov, who has recently been charged with murder, are unlikely to stun the electorate, who are already accustomed to Zhirinovsky’s escapades. This alliance is fairly typical of “the power which gave birth to Bykov’s likes and which is supported by them,” Radzikhovsky remarks. However, other politicians behave in a manner no less risky: “On the day of his dismissal Stepashin vowed to always support the president (he might as well add ‘as becomes an officer’). What president? President Yavlinsky?.. Boldyrev, a model democrat, decides on allying with the model nationalist Baburin. Rogozin defects from Luzhkov and joins the CPRF, Lapshin does exactly the opposite,” etc. Radzikhovsky is of the opinion that the reason for the political indiscrimination which is so characteristic of Russian politicians is quite simple: they “sincerely fail to realize” how they look. “They have gotten too used to themselves to feel sick of themselves. And they are right, too, for the electorate likewise does not feel sick of them, which means that everything is all right.”
Novye Izvestia notices another distinctive peculiarity of Russian politicians – their desire to turn the electoral race into “a kind of entertainment”. Popular party events include “congresses-banquets, conferences-festivals, meetings-concerts,” etc. The paper asserts, “Everybody eats and dances in public – flexible Communists; centrists headed by the academic who has just been operated on; the Right Cause members, wet behind their ears; the NDR folks with their leader the accordion player…” These new electoral technologies, which conceal the complete absence of any sensible election programs altogether, are meant to play on “the high degree of naivete among citizens,” the paper notes. Russian voters are regarded as “a flock of sheep who must meekly vote for the shepherd of any political persuasion.” The results of the election will show whether this approach is valid.
Maksim Sokolov, an Izvestia political observer: “‘The new rightists’ are making a serious mistake by orienting themselves around a set of slogans which are sure to please the electorate instead of real political ideas. The slogans are as follows: establishment of a parliamentary republic, universal renewal of the official staff, Give Way to Youth, etc.” According to Sokolov’s observations, some like the “old rightists” (Gaidar and Chubais), while others hate them, “for they see a certain ideology lurking behind them.” As for the new liberals, they are simply not taken seriously by anyone. Their aspiration to “offer the electorate ‘good guys’ – young, cheerful, and uninhibited folks” is understandable. However, nothing good will come out of it, because it is much more convenient to “conduct left-wing, or, as they call it today, centrist policy” with “a stupid flock” instead of the people, whereas freedom and free market demand from a citizen “realization of what awaits him.” And if those who currently pass for the rightists do not dare open the electorate’s eyes to the sad truth of the situation and are instead engaged in singing and dancing, thus amusing the people, “Well, in that case is it worth being engaged in rightists politics at all?”
One of those who frown upon the electoral behavior of the leaders of the right-wing bloc is Boris Fyodorov, their former ally, who admitted in an interview to Kommersant-vlast” weekly, “I do not like their concerts.” However, there is one thing he likes even less – recently Fyodorov “discovered” that “Chubais is organizing all of this. However, I am not a member of Chubais’ party, although I regard him with respect.” According to Fyodorov, he decided to drop out of the rightist coalition when it became clear that it was Chubais who was holding the negotiations with NDR, “The one holding the talks is the leader. Do you still question Chubais’ leadership in the right-wing coalition? Well, I don’t.”
The idea that the rightist bloc is in fact headed by the chief of RJES has long since been voiced in the media. According to Kommersant-daily, the only thing political technologists regret is that they failed to talk Chubais into becoming the official leader of the right-wing movement. Public relations specialists are convinced that “only by proposing a ‘barefaced anti-people program’ (i.e. a tough program of market reforms) can the liberals have a chance of gaining enough votes in the election.” According to the paper’s information, up to 34% of respondents are ready to cast their votes in favor of “a bloc of democratic parties”, whereas the surefire electorate of the left-wing movement totals no more than 26%. “On the other hand, no ‘bloc of democratic parties’ exists so far,” the paper notes. To all appearances, the Kremlin has not yet lost its faith in Chubais’ capacities. During the past several days papers have been writing insistently about the possibility of Chubais’ return to the post of chief of the Presidential Administration. The electoral year demands settlement of complicated tasks equal only to such a “universally recognized strategist of presidential campaigns” (“Moskovskie Novosti’s” definition) as Chubais. According to the weekly, the Presidential Administration intends to act in three directions at once. First of all, there is support for the Kremlin’s “natural” allies, to which Yabloko and the NDR are ascribed. Secondly, there is support for the Kremlin’s protegees in single-mandate districts. Finally, there are new attempts to split the Fatherland-All Russia bloc: the Kremlin is hoping to lure Mintimer Shaimiev and Murtaza Rakhimov out of the movement, for it believes that “by depriving Luzhkov of such ‘zones of controlled voting’ as Tatarstan and Bashkiria it will render the mayor of Moscow harmless.” Furthermore, Moskovskie Novosti maintains that the Kremlin is ready to ally even with the Communists, i.e. to support left-wing candidates in single-mandate districts, just to prevent Luzhkov’s candidates from winning the election there.
The situation with the presidential election is even more problematic. Moskovskie Novosti maintains that the Kremlin still does not know “whom to nominate for president”. So far, Vladimir Putin is not perceived by the Kremlin as Yeltsin’s successor. The political elite is still waiting to see real proof that it is Putin whom the president would like to see as his heir after 2000. Such a proof, among other possibilities, might be if the president hands out some presidential plenary powers to the current prime minister.
However, the Kremlin may find it too difficult to decide on such a move. Obshchaya Gazeta is of the opinion that, for instance, it would be wiser not to officially announce the handing out of plenary powers but to “give the prime minister a chance to gradually and tactfully take over part after careful part of Yeltsin’s powers without harming the president’s ambitions.” The paper believes in the possibility of “a sort of concealed dismissal of the head of state.” According to the paper’s information, a special program for Putin to “seize the Kremlin” has already been worked out by the Kremlin and is called “the 12 labors of the successor.” Against the background of the political thoughtlessness of the majority of Russian politicians, the prime minister should present himself as a serious person and one of substance. A special schedule has even been compiled, according to which Putin “should make his labors no rarer than two times a month, if not every day.” Furthermore, his “labors” have already started to be counted: the prime minister’s victory in Dagestan counts as a labor (apparently prematurely), and the rescue of the Kommersant publishing house from fire inspectors and the proposal to reduce taxes count as two more. When election comes closer, Putin will have to raise pensions, social relief payments, and the wages of state employees. Obshchaya Gazeta believes that, in order to make a move which is bound to be a success, the prime minister will have to undertake another attempt to cancel universal liability for military service and create a professional armed forces. “The Duma is sure to turn this initiative down, of course, but the prime minister will win the hearts of all conscripts, their mothers and brides.” The Kremlin’s electoral staff also has the tasks of neutralizing its political rivals under the slogan “Are you the electorate not tired of THEM yet?” In accordance with the plan, the age, health problems, and peculiarities of the biographies of the leaders of the Fatherland-All Russia opposition bloc are to be accentuated by the Kremlin’s political technologies. There are also plans to provoke conflicts within the bloc’s leadership (there are already rumors about Georgy Boos’ unsatisfied ambitions). All of these tasks demand skillful fulfillment, of course.
No wonder, then, that the Kremlin is hoping for “the second advent of Chubais” (the definition of Komsomolskaya Pravda). The paper asserts that the president has long been discontent with Alexander Voloshin and the Presidential Administration of which he is in charge, “which has consecutively been wrecking one most important commission after another” (Skuratov’s case, Primakov joining Luzhkov’s bloc, etc.). The international scandal surrounding the Bank of New York also played a role, for it resulted in Yeltsin finding himself “regarded as being close to the chief Russian corruptioner”. Komsomolskaya Pravda is of the opinion that Yeltsin is currently facing the following choice: “either to play according to the rules and first of all dissociate himself from the ill-reputed oligarchs or lose the West’s support.” In other words, either Yeltsin pushes his way through, “directly towards establishing dictatorship”, or he signals his readiness to negotiate. Komsomolskaya Pravda believes that the most convincing signal of readiness to negotiate should be Yeltsin’s public split with Berezovsky. “From this viewpoint, replacing Voloshin, who has up till now been considered Berezovsky’s protegee, with Chubais, who is very respected in the West, would be the most successful demonstration of Yeltsin’s readiness for concordance,” Komsomolskaya Pravda establishes.
Nezavisimaya Gazeta is likewise inclined believe in the inevitability of Voloshin’s dismissal in an article headlined “The Kremlin is seeking scapegoat for its failures in domestic and foreign policy.” The paper does not doubt that one of the top officials will be held responsible for the Dagestani conflict, the international financial scandal, and another set of economic problems which is threatening Russia with “winterkill and another round of depreciation of the ruble.” Of course, Putin, who was just recently appointed prime minister, will happily escape the execution. To all appearances, it is Voloshin who will become the next scapegoat. According to Nezavisimaya Gazeta, Voloshin’s most probable successors are his current deputy Sergei Prikhodko and Chubais. Prikhodko, if appointed after Voloshin’s would-be dismissal, will symbolize a serene scenario of further developments, whereas Chubais will be appointed if the Kremlin “finally decides on ‘a strong move’, like declaring a state of emergency in individual Russian regions, announcing a union of Russia and Belarus, or re-scheduling the presidential election for an earlier date.” The paper takes Chubais to be the ideal candidate for chief of the Presidential Administration in case of an emergency situation.
On the other hand, so far the Presidential Administration is reinforced by Igor Shabdurasulov, who has returned to it from a TV channel and, according to Nezavisimaya Gazeta, will supervise the parliamentary election.
The events of the past several days gave the press more than one occasion to remember the old fears about the possibility of the political regime in Russia being toughened. For instance, Vek makes guesses about who might profit from the recent explosion in Moscow and arrives at the conclusion that, apart from the criminal explanations of the terrorist act, there may also be political explanations. In particular, the explosion might be a good means of discrediting the mayor of Moscow: “The main argument in favor of Luzhkov is that there is peace and order in the capital. But if such provocations are repeated in Moscow once or twice more, what will become of Luzhkov’s image and what will the consequences for his electoral bloc be?”
And, certainly, the paper could not fail to mention the terrorist act in Moscow as a good occasion for declaring a state of emergency in Russia, which might be followed by postponement or even cancellation of the parliamentary and presidential elections: “The president has announced his intention to leave his post in due time and see to it that fair elections are held. However, his close circle, which has cloaked the power system like a thick layer of barnacles cloaks the bottom of a ship, wants the situation to develop in a different way… Terrorist acts may become a pretext for the implementation of their own scenario of further developments.”
The current war in Dagestan also provides occasions for a radical alternative of future developments. According to Argumenty i Fakty, “senior officers of the FSS and the Armed Forces” believe that Shamil Basaev received “the notorious $25 million” for the Dagestani operation “not at all from exotic Islamists in Saudi Arabia but allegedly from a much more prosaic source – Boris Berezovsky.” According to the paper, the Russian special services wiretapped a phone conversation between Berezovsky and Movladi Udugov. The subject of the conversation concerned the continuation of the war in Dagestan for the purpose of “declaring a state of emergssia at an opportune moment and canceling the upcoming election under the pretext of instability in the North Caucasus.” The paper remarks that the demonization of Berezovsky continues.
On the other hand, Moskovsky Komsomolets believes that Berezovsky was recently “ousted from participation in the political game and is currently simply imitating his importance.” And since the well-known “political intriguer” has the sole purpose in life of “participating in the process”, to attain that goal he is ready to do everything, and in particular instigate any aggravation of the situation.
Part of the media also accuses Berezovsky of allegedly having handed over to the Western press the materials which triggered the recent international banking scandal. Moskovsky Komsomolets, for instance, noted that the press controlled by Berezovsky has not made a single attempt to protect the president – contrary to expectations. Instead, Kommersant-daily assiduously reprinted all of the most scandalous Western articles defaming the president and the first family. Moskovsky Komsomolets states, “Very interesting things are also being said about the origin of all the articles published in the Western media. According to the assertions of locals in the know, the information was received not from Western special services, but from ‘certain forces in Moscow’.” The paper’s article is headlined “Is Berezovsky willing to raze the Kremlin to the ground?”
At the same time, strange as it may seem, Segodnya, a paper which is difficult to be suspected of having sympathies for the oligarch, did not share the idea of Berezovsky having had anything to do with the origin of the compromising materials against Yeltsin. To the contrary, the paper quotes a US analyst Ariel Cohen, “What we are currently witnessing is a desperate attack by an ousted senior representatives of Yeltsin’s Presidential Administration and officers of law enforcement agencies and security services who are loyal to Primakov… Russian special services and security ministries have learned to use analogous Western institutions and media as conductors of information leaks for the purpose of compromising their own rivals.”
In the same issue of Segodnya, Cohen’s viewpoint is shared by Alexei Mitrofanov, Chairman of the Duma’s Committee for Geopolitics, who says, “As for the Russian side, this campaign is headed by a person connected with the Foreign Intelligence Service – you understand whom I mean… According to my information, he recently met with representatives of the Kremlin who provided him with the evidence of Russian sources and channels of information which triggered the banking scandal…”
One way or another, “Russiagate” has resulted in such a blemish on the reputation of the Russian powers that be on the eve of the elections that the question of the necessity of complete renewal of the power structures is practically not being discussed at all currently. Apparently the problem lies in a different field – who will replace the acting state officials? The prospects are not at all cheering. Novoye Vremya analyzes the program of the Fatherland-All Russia bloc, which is recognized as the current party of power (unlike the former party of power, NDR, and the future one, which the right-wing parties claim they will become) and arrives at the conclusion that “this party, as well as its leader, has no ideology and cannot have one.” (It seems that ideology – or its absence, rather – is the weakest point of nearly all contemporary Russian political parties.) In addition, the bloc has no plan of state construction, “apart from redistribution of property”. On the other hand, Obshchaya Gazeta maintains that Russian voters, who are already tired of the surprises which Yeltsin’s regime is so rich in, are interested in the possibility of “a non-confrontational transition to the post-Yeltsin epoch” much more than in any programs or ideologies. An indirect proof of this assertion the paper sees in “the Primakov phenomenon” – the conventional belief that Primakov’s main merit is his ability to evade conflicts. By the way, the rather high popularity of another former prime minister – Sergei Stepashin – can be explained by a similar factor. Obshchaya Gazeta arrives at the following conclusion, “Currently, paradoxical as it may seem, society is interested in forming a ‘party of power’ to a much greater degree than the political elites, which are pursuing their clan and narrow group interests. In addition, Russians care little about the personnel composition and ideological coloring of the would-be ‘party of power’.” And since it is mainly the Fatherland-All Russia bloc that claims the right to be regarded as the current party of power, the label “party of bosses”, which has been pinned on it by its opponents, becomes completely devoid of its incriminating meaning and in fact becomes rather attractive to the electorate. Which, naturally, serves as evidence of complete backwardness of Russian society.