THE UPCOMING FEDERAL ELECTIONS AS REPORTED BY THE CENTRAL MEDIA
At the first attempts of subjecting the political consequences of the terrorist acts in Moscow to a thorough analysis, the prospect of the declaration of a state of emergency, which has long been the hit of electoral discussions, was once again brought to the fore of the Russian media’s attention.
The press published selections of opinions expressed by leading Russian politicians – all of them unanimously stated that they see no reason to declare a state of emergency, but are, indeed, discontent with the actions of the powers that be and demand that “measures be taken”. For instance, in an interview to Segodnya Viktor Chernomyrdin, the leader of the Our Home is Russia (NDR) movement, stressed the necessity of “raising the level of vigilance and toughening the regulations to protect strategic objects”, but at the same time stated that “Operative and preventive measures are not enough to counteract terrorism any more. What we need are stern strategic decisions.”
Boris Nemtsov, the leader of the Union of Right Forces and, if we are allowed to put it this way, Chernomyrdin’s political antipode, shared the NDR leader’s opinion in the same newspaper and even rendered it more concrete. In Nemtsov’s opinion, the current problem is that “the acting authorities are incapable and should be replaced by means of the parliamentary and presidential elections, which are to be held according to schedule.”
Vyacheslav Nikonov, a well-known political analyst, reminds the readers of Izvestia that “a state of emergency means not only cancellation of the elections, which would serve certain inhabitants of the Kremlin as a means of prolonging their uncontrolled omnipotence. A state of emergency, in accordance with the Russian Constitution, also means suspension of a number of articles of that Constitution, first of all those which ensure human rights and freedoms.” Meanwhile, restriction of human rights has nothing to do with counteracting terrorism: “All we need is a capable and responsible government, which can be obtained by holding democratic elections in the name of securing human rights, not by means of abolishing those rights.”
The question of the government’s capabilities and the traditional belief that this government is able to act only in the manner of a bull in a china shop, i.e. crushing everything around it and not discriminating between the innocent and the guilty, affected even the results of a sociological poll published in Vremya MN. According to these results, even after the recent terrorist acts in Moscow 68.8% of Muscovites still disapprove of the idea of declaring a state of emergency. Grigory Pashkov, Director of the Mnenie (Opinion) Research Institute Service, commented on these results in the following way: “Russian citizens regard the notion of a state of emergency with great apprehension. We believe that this reaction is a consequence of the August 1991 putsch.”
Naturally, the opposition regards the prospect of the declaration of a state of emergency with even greater apprehension. Nezavisimaya Gazeta told its readers about a statement made by CPRF Leader Gennady Zyuganov, who “has seen with his own eyes…a text containing the relevant proposals prepared by the Presidential Administration.” Zyuganov explained that “they are preparing a state of emergency for the sole purpose of evading responsibility for what is going on in this country and disrupting the elections.” Nezavisimaya Gazeta shares the CPRF leader’s fear: in the paper’s opinion, the logic of the recent events serves as evidence that “the specter of a state of emergency, which has been haunting Russia for the past several months, is currently closer to being realized than ever before.”
Vedomosti, a new-born paper, appraised the current situation in nearly the same words by headlining an article of Mikhail Delyagin, Director of the Institute for the Problems of Globalization, in the following way: “A State of Emergency: Is its Specter Haunting Russia?” In his article, Delyagin tries to answer the question of who might profit from the declaration of a state of emergency. He is sure that the president can be counted out in this connection: “If Yeltsin declares a state of emergency he will turn into a blend of Marcos and Milosevic in the eyes of the international community. Even without violating the law he, in that case, would become a hostage of the security ministers. Therefore, for Yeltsin a state of emergency means a protracted suicide.” The possibility cannot be ruled out that conversations about the possibility of declaring a state of emergency will be continued in the Kremlin, but they will only be “an informational phantom” expected to “intimidate, exhaust, and curb the Kremlin’s opponents”.
The situation with the prime minister, however, is a different matter altogether. Delyagin maintains that after the parliamentary election the Duma of the new convocation will inevitably disband the government of “the Kremlin’s protegees”. “Which means that, regardless of the prime minister’s desires and perceptions, he is interested in cancellation of the elections.” There are opportunities to do this, too: namely, the Caucasus war and the internal situation in Russia. “Several terrorist acts on the eve of the gubernatorial elections will be enough for the Federation Council to vote in favor of declaring a state of emergency.”
Profil journal takes the Caucasus scenario to be the more probable one: “At this juncture, Vladimir Putin must win a victory in the Caucasus in order to raise his rating and prove that he is capable of managing Russia in a tough manner.” However, the journal goes even further in its assumptions: “The possibility cannot be ruled out that the current Dagestani events were planned by the Kremlin from the very beginning for the purpose of maneuvering before the elections, and were provoked by operations of the Russian Ministry of the Interior on the border with Chechnya, or even ordered in the extremist centers of Saudi Arabia and Jordan, to which Chechen field commanders Shamil Basaev and Khattab are directly subordinate.”
We should note that, since Putin’s very first days in office, many people have been expecting certain manifestations of his specific professional experience from him. Apparently, unlike Stepashin, who always wore a smile, Putin complies to a much greater extent with the conventional stereotype of an officer of the special services. The journal Novoye Vremya” asserts that Putin has deliberately kept to the “patented” manner of behavior typical of security officers. Putin has learned one lesson from the sad experience of his predecessor: “The Kremlin, i.e. President Yeltsin, does not tolerate even the slightest manifestation of personal affectations and desires from a prime minister.” Correspondingly, he has started to “play the role of prime minister and the president’s successor in accordance with what his experience as an intelligence officer warrants: keeping strictly to the cover worked out by the center and abstaining from taking any steps without the prior permission of Moscow.”
However, Putin has proved to be too talented a performer while playing (“with the diligence of a novice”) the role designed for him by the Kremlin playwrights. Apparently, in the extremely difficult situation which took shape when Putin entered the political arena, his capability of gathering and retaining information and his talent for formulating a plan of action with due regard to his audience’s interests and perceptive abilities – both abilities typical of an officer of the special services – did him an ill turn.
As it turns out, Putin’s image as “a man able to do a deed” makes an extremely favorable impression on the Duma, the center of the Kremlin’s foes. Vremya MN headlined an article dedicated to Putin’s speech to deputies “A Real Colonel”. The paper stresses that his concrete and tough plan to counteract terrorism simply “won the deputies’ hearts”. Against the background of Putin’s speech, the paper states, Yury Luzhkov looked absolutely unconvincing. The mayor of Moscow, who demanded that the federal power organs be held responsible for what happened, was easily rebuffed by the prime minister and left the meeting prior to its conclusion.
Kommersant-daily also wrote about the deputies’ “exalted” reaction to the prime minister’s speech: “It is difficult to say whether Putin studied the deputies’ opinion beforehand or foresaw it, but the majority of his suggestions coincided with the requests of the deputies themselves and with the provisions of their resolution.” The paper even makes an assumption about the possibility of “achieving unity in all branches of government to counteract terrorism”.
However, all these hypertrophied manifestations of delight on the part of the press automatically cause a feeling of a certain political deja vu. We can compare former Prime Minister Stepashin’s first foreign political success in the US to Putin’s meeting with President Clinton in Auckland, New Zealand. The Russian deputies’ warm welcome of the current premier also resembles the Duma’s fairly benevolent reaction to his predecessor. A question arises: how are Putin’s achievements threatening him?
The answer to this question was published on September 18 in Segodnya. The paper announced that Yeltsin’s close circle is discontent with Putin and is already planning to replace him with Krasnoyarsk Governor Alexander Lebed, who incautiously mentioned the possibility of being called to the government in the near future. On the other hand, the paper states, the president’s role in this specific intrigue has been reduced to a minimum owing to a sharp worsening of his state of health. According to rumors, Yeltsin “has given his close circle carte blanche to do ‘at least something’ in order to save the situation, which is currently critical no matter how you look at it.” It is of interest that, according to Segodnya, the intention to replace the prime minister emerged exactly at the moment when the executive branch had finally started to act. The paper remarks philosophically: “Perhaps this just-started activity provokes even greater irritation than if the current prime minister were all thumbs and could not do anything at all.” Furthermore, we may assume that this is exactly the reason for the Kremlin’s would-be disfavor of Putin.
According to Segodnya, Boris Berezovsky is intent on returning to power along with General Lebed, Yeltsin’s possible new successor. The paper maintains that BAB (an off-color nickname for Boris Abramovich Berezovsky which is currently used by practically all Russian media, including Nezavisimaya Gazeta, which is controlled by him) is again trying to claim the post of deputy secretary of the Security Council. As such, he is planning to supervise Russia’s policy in the Caucasus. The paper remarks sarcastically: “Apparently, Berezovsky’s specific experience in the Caucasus has been taken into account,” and explains the idea: “Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov told the newspaper ‘Le Mond’ about the participation of the former (and perhaps future) secretary of the Russian Security Council i.e. Berezovsky in the development of the Caucasus slave trade.”
On the other hand, Berezovsky’s return (as well as Lebed’s appointment as Yeltsin’s successor) has not yet happened. In this connection, a statement of Alexei Mitrofanov, Chairman of the Duma Geopolitics Committee, is of interest. In an interview to the journal Profil” Mitrofanov gave a vivid characterization of Berezovsky, or “the great intriguer”: “Berezovsky is a Meyerhold a famous Russian theater director in politics, a person constantly bursting with ideas. He wants to stage them, but never brings any of them to their logical end. Berezovsky has no theater of his own… He does not even have a criminal grouping of his own. Currently, the Kremlin has no time to deal with Berezovsky: it is preoccupied with the task of meeting the next century with a president nominated by itself, and so far there is no place for Berezovsky in this game. Thus, he is running to and fro and looking for a place of his own.”
Vek weekly describes Berezovsky and his aspirations in no less vivid a manner: “A restless wanderer, rich rather than happy, a rolling stone of the epoch of open state borders… He seems to have not yet decided for himself where his place is… Berezovsky the politician is guided by a dangerous combination of sincere resentment and enormous ambition.” The paper continues, “It is not that Berezovsky does not care for the fate of President Yeltsin and the first family. However, apparently he has already stepped over them in his mind and worked out a new draft scenario of the continuation of his own game.”
Not even one scenario, at that. Last week Slovo announced that Berezovsky had promised Kursk Governor Alexander Rutskoi to support him financially in the regional election in exchange for the creation of an electoral gubernatorial bloc (among other would-be members of the said bloc, the paper names Yevgeny Nazdratenko, Eduard Rossel, and over 30 other regional leaders).
Simultaneously, the media promulgated a version of Berezovsky’s new plan “coordinated with Movladi Udugov and Basaev: to nominate Berezovsky for…the Nobel Peace Prize (!) in exchange for the would-be recognition of Chechnya by the European Union and the ‘reconciliation’ of the Caucasus.” Tribuna, which was one of the first papers to announce this sensation, exclaims: “Truly they say: impudence is another form of happiness. But this form of happiness should not have lasted that long.”
Well, it depends: at every meeting with journalists Berezovsky does not fail to confirm his intention to run in the parliamentary election – and if he obtains parliamentary immunity he is sure to strike everybody with his “theatrical gestures”.
Meanwhile, not only the keen Berezovsky, but even a political heavyweight such as Federation Council Speaker Yegor Stroev has felt the irreversible alterations of “the political configuration” and the inevitability of changes connected with this process. Stroev’s statement in “The New York Times” that Yeltsin’s pre-term resignation would benefit this country became a real sensation.
Nezavisimaya Gazeta quoted Stroev’s statement: “If Yeltsin left today it would be better for the people and for the political parties, and, well, for himself… Yeltsin’s authority does not go beyond the Kremlin walls. Nobody needs such a power system. If it remains we will lose Russia.” According to Nezavisimaya Gazeta, during a later press conference Stroev neither confirmed nor denied his words, and even later, in an interview to Obshchaya Gazeta, stated that resignation “in accordance with the Constitution is the right of the president himself and not anyone else.”
Segodnya is of the opinion that Stroev’s statement serves as evidence that “the elite is not just tired of Yeltsin – it is not afraid of him any longer, which means that the president’s power has expired.” A lamentable picture, the paper admits, “But nobody sympathizes with Yeltsin, because he did not sympathize with anybody in his time. Everybody is now guessing: who will become the next president?”
According to Obshchaya Gazeta, this question continues to torment the Presidential Administration, too. “On the other hand, nobody believes that the president is already prepared to resign… The only thing that is known for sure is that… Yeltsin’s close circle has considered this variant and approved of it.” And although the president’s press secretary Dmitry Yakushkin keeps on assuring journalists at each and every press conference that Yeltsin is not considering the possibility of a pre-term resignation, the paper explains such assurances exclusively by the fact that no braveheart has yet been found to “inform the boss of this plan”, i.e. there is still no kamikaze “who would mount the scaffold of his own accord.”
The paper concludes: now the president has turned into a problem for his close circle, too. “It turns out that even Yeltsin’s team now regards him as a burden.” For Yeltsin’s confidantes, his further retention of power is becoming dangerous, for it cannot guarantee the succession of power by a reliable person. “To the contrary, now Yeltsin’s close circle feels that the best guarantee of making its nominee president is a pre-term election.”
On the other hand, Obshchaya Gazeta remarks, “It is doubtful that Yeltsin’s team wishes to send him packing already in September… There is no sound reason to combine the parliamentary and presidential elections.”
Alexander Shokhin, a universally recognized expert on the political situation, created a real furor among analysts by stating in Segodnya: “Yeltsin will resign on October 19.” Shokhin explains his statement in the following way: if the president had announced his resignation on September 19 (as was recently predicted by a great number of Russian media), the pre-term presidential election would have been scheduled for December 19. In that case, even if the leaders of electoral blocs preferred to run in the presidential election rather than the parliamentary one and dropped out of their blocs, the latter would still have enough time to rectify the situation: to once again organize party congresses, compile new electoral lists, etc. “In other words, the plan for Yeltsin to resign on September 19 would actually not have helped realize the ‘treacherous plans’ the Kremlin is suspected of harboring.” A much more treacherous move would be an announcement of Yeltsin’s resignation on October 19 – or, to be more exact, after the date when the Central Electoral Committee stops receiving documents from candidates in the parliamentary election and when nothing can be changed any more. In that case, only those who do not run in the parliamentary election will have a chance to run for president.
Of course, Shokhin notes, political leaders may opt to run in the presidential election and order their blocs to give up the parliamentary race. “In that case, the composition of the Duma of the next convocation would be rather exotic, to say the least: in the absence of leading parties, seats in parliament may be won by Anpilov, Ilyukhin, Tul’kin, and leaders of small parties of other orientations. Such a parliament would be of little use, but it would be easier to command owing to its motley composition and absence of eminent activists.”
We should say that other media also noted the restoration (unexplainable at first glance) of electoral hopes on the part of “minor” political parties. Among other political associations which have suddenly revived, Vremya MN names the Socialist Party of Russia headed by Ivan Rybkin, the New Left, Alexei Podberyozkin’s Spiritual Heritage, the Congress of Russian Communities, the Russian National Union, and also the Women of Russia movement, which recently dropped out of the Fatherland-All Russia bloc.
To explain this activation of small parties, leaders of large electoral blocs name the Kremlin’s financial support of them. Vremya MN believes this explanation is fairly likely: “‘Minor’ parties actually did obtain money recently, and big money at that… On the other hand, in accordance with the law, a bloc which fails to win 2% of votes has to return the budget funds it spent on the electoral campaign, and also pay for the free time on TV and radio it received for advertisement during the campaign… However, the ‘minor’ parties are risking it and do not seem to be afraid of the prosecution which the law stipulates for defeat in an election.”
The possibility cannot be ruled out that these reports indirectly prove Shokhin’s assumption about the new plan of Kremlin electoral technologists. Thus, if after the registration of candidates in the parliamentary election is completed “Yeltsin announces his pre-term resignation – under the pretext of, for instance, an operation which, as rumors have it, he has been recommended to undergo somewhere in Germany – the door will slam shut, and in that case there will be very few ‘successors’: Putin, Lebed…”
On the other hand, as we have already said, Putin’s prospects are greatly doubted by the Kremlin. As for Lebed, he, according to the media, is eager to engage into the electoral battle. Obshchaya Gazeta remarks that General Lebed, “the exiled emperor”, has grown bored by life in the provinces. Of course, Lebed takes himself to be a politician on the federal scale, not the gubernatorial one, about which he reminds us from time to time via the media.
In addition, according to Izvestia, the West is lobbying for the confirmation of Lebed as Yeltsin’s new successor. Lebed himself explains this benevolent attitude very simply: “The international community is afraid lest a revolt should happen in Russia. Many people in the West are prepared to pay to prevent such a development.” Apart from that, Izvestia maintains that the Republicans in Congress who support the idea of strengthening NATO’s position in Europe are convinced that “if they have a belligerent general as the head of Russia they will find it easier to talk US taxpayers into paying up for NATO’s eastward expansion.” Berezovsky, who seems to be omnipresent, is of the opinion that Lebed is the only one who will manage to cope with the ever-growing chaos in this country. However, in the opinion of Izvestia, if one attempts to project Lebed’s performance in the Krasnoyarsk territory on the entire country, the result will be stunning for the Kremlin. “The general has demonstrated his skill of using the internationally recognized technology of coming to power with the help of rich sponsors… and later on making short work of those to whom he owes something.”