THE UPCOMING FEDERAL ELECTIONS AS REPORTED BY THE CENTRAL MEDIA
President Yeltsin’s sudden ailment raised the degree of the already-heated electoral atmosphere in Russia still more. On October 9, prior to the president’s hospitalization and Yevgeny Kiselev’s insistent attempts to prove on the information and analytical program Itogi that in case of the president’s (even temporary) incapacitation he must hand his plenary powers over to the prime minister, Segodnya posed the question of in exactly whose hands are Russia and the nuclear button? According to the paper’s sources, in October Yeltsin will have to undergo another heart operation. “Rumors have it that a relevant agreement has already been reached with Germany.”
Two days later, Moskovsky Komsomolets offered its readers additional details of “the congress of eminent foreign cardiologists” in the Moscow Cardiological Center. We will remind our readers that after that consultation Professor Debeike categorically denied any “problems with the president’s heart”. “Of course, after this announcement nobody believes any longer that the president had a flu. According to rumors, the problem is in the valves in Yeltsin’s heart,” the paper concludes.
However, Segodnya is interested not in the secrets of the president’s state of health but in something absolutely different, namely who is ruling this country during Yeltsin’s ailment. The paper does not believe that Russian Premier Minister Vladimir Putin, “a hostage of Chechnya”, can be the right person. At the same time, the Duma deputies are busy with the “electoral squabble”, the defense minister is under the permanent threat of dismissal, and the post of chairman of the Security Council is currently vacant. The paper has no doubt that the personnel reshuffles which have decapitated the powers that be have resulted in real power being seized by the president’s family, first of all by Tatiana Dyachenko. Of course, this situation is absolutely in violation of the Constitution. Segodnya does not rule out the possibility that in the current situation Yeltsin’s family will stake its all on his illness: “the pre-term resignation of the president and the simultaneous disruption of all electoral plans of all current candidates for president may be just the right card to play.” If, according to the paper’s prediction, Yeltsin announces his resignation on October 19, everybody except the Kremlin’s protegees will prove to be unprepared for a pre-term election. It is of interest that the paper talks about “the Kremlin’s protegees” in the plural and does not mention any specific names.
Moskovskie Novosti weekly states that the Presidential Administration staffers who are rivals of Putin, the current official successor of Yeltsin, are not sitting with their arms folded. According to the paper’s sources, Chief of the Presidential Administration Alexander Voloshin has not given up his attempts to convince Yeltsin that “the prime minister has no chances of winning in the presidential election, therefore the Kremlin should search for a new, more eminent candidate.” In fact, there are eminent figures in abundance. Although the president has irreversibly declined the candidacy of Alexander Lebed, the paper asserts that three Russian governors at once are seeking the Kremlin’s assistance in the upcoming presidential election. They are Samara Governor Konstantin Titov, Novgorod Governor Mikhail Prusak, and Saratov Governor Dmitry Ayatskov. However, none of the three has influential patrons in the Presidential Administration so far. Voloshin continues to lobby for film director Nikita Mikhalkov, whose presidential campaign may allegedly be sponsored by the Road and Transportation Ministry and the Transneft oil company. Nevertheless, Moskovsky Komsomolets asserts that so far Putin’s position remains relatively firm: “He enjoys the support of Tatiana Dyachenko and Valentin Yumashev, the two people dearest to Yeltsin.”
Apparently, an even more important circumstance is that Putin so far enjoys the support of the Russian people. When reporting about Putin’s meeting with journalists, during which the prime minister asked Russian citizens to support the government’s efforts to settle the Chechen crisis, Komsomolskaya Pravda noted, “If the Putin government exterminates guerrillas and ensures a normal situation in Russia (at least without terrorist acts), Putin will enter the Kremlin on the people’s arms.”
At the same time, the paper has no doubt that if the ground operation in Chechnya lasts for long and the number of casualties keeps growing the prime minister is running the risk of losing the public support.
Segodnya is of the opinion that Putin has until mid-November to settle the Chechen conflict. If the ground operation is not completed by that time, the weather will worsen and the chances of winning the war will reduce to zero. In that case the government may well get dismissed. Andrei Fyodorov, Director of Political Programs of the Council of Foreign and Defense Policy, told the paper that Putin’s would-be dismissal is unlikely to cause any social upheavals, “He is the prime minister in charge of military operations. His dismissal would not influence the economic situation.”
Novaya Gazeta likewise comments on a sharp growth of Putin’s rating and poses the question as to the reasons of his popularity among Russians. Although the Putin government has failed to improve the economic situation, repay Russia’s enormous debts, create favorable conditions for domestic manufacturers, etc., so far people do not blame these failures on the prime minister, “He cannot deal with economics right now. Instead, he promised to beat the hell out of Chechens. And the people believed him when they saw how gloriously Russian aviation was bombing Chechnya.”
Here lies the secret of Putin’s popularity, “The impotent authorities and frightened people were waiting for a new political messiah to emerge… The one who emerged was the first person in the past several years to promise to establish order. Naturally, everybody supports him now.”
Nevertheless, such kind of popularity is very unstable. Novye Izvestia notes philosophically in this connection, “Military fortune is changeable.” In addition, to attain a stable political success the government needs to succeed “not in a single, even very important sphere, but in the entire range of the major social problems.” The paper published the results of a poll carried out by the Agency of Regional Political Research (ARPI). The poll serves as evidence that the August 1998 economic crisis still influences the electorate’s moods: 66% of the respondents do not trust anybody – either political parties, or acting authorities, or the Armed Forces, or even the Church. The paper is of the opinion that the party or bloc that manages to win at least part of these disillusioned people over to its side will win the parliamentary election.
The famous political analyst Igor Bunin states in his interview to Interfax-vremya weekly that Russian society, which has survived a series of painful reforms, is so far not ready to withtand any more changes and needs “a milder leader of Brezhnev’s type, the one who might pacify society a bit.” Apparently, Yevgeny Primakov is the best candidate to meet these requirements, Bunin is of the opinion that in reality Primakov is fairly capable of continuing the reforms – for instance, the communal reform, the land reform, etc., but at the same time he personifies “a new psychological line in society”, he represents stability and by this pacifies people. “To the active part of the population a certain return to the past or a pause in development seem to be dangerous, but for the majority of people this is just what they wish.”
As far as Putin is concerned, Bunin believes that the prime minister personifies “a brawny system of values: the power, the will, the discipline, the collective, the enemy, the fortress under siege, etc.” Despite the Russian electorate’s yearning for safety, the fear still remains “that this safety will liquidate the voter as a personality.”
Meanwhile, there also exists a different opinion of Primakov’s role and prospects. Novye Izvestia published what is known as “Primakov’s list” – the list containing 162 names of people suspected of having committed economic crimes. The paper explains that Primakov, then the prime minister, received this list from the General Prosecutor’s Office. Novye Izvestia does not qustion the authenticity of the published document. The top three positions on the list feature Berezovsky, Abramovich, and Aksenenko. The list includes nearly all well-known Russian political activists – from Yeltsin and Tatiana Dyachenko to Gusinsky, Kobzon, and Bryntsalov. The reason for the compilation of the list is obvious to the paper, “It would be very useful for the future savior of Russia to organize a couple of show trials of parasite oligarchs.” However, the fulfillment of these plans was ruined by Primakov’s unexpected dismissal. On the other hand, according to the paper, the former prime minister believes that not everything is lost yet: while his compatriots in Fatherland-All Russia “are forced to ward off various attacks”, Primakov “is peacefully bidding his time at his personal dacha and waiting for the struggle to finish, after which he would be able to enter the empty political arena on a white steed.” It is at that very moment, according to Novye Izvestia, that “Primakov’s list” will come in handy. It is noteworthy that this model of Russia’s future under President Primakov does not comply with the hopes for a serene period of adaptation to the new situation in this country.
The press continues to analyze the reasons for the foundation of Unity electoral bloc and also the political prospects of its leader Sergei Shoigu. Versia weekly is of the opinion that the Russian regions’ fairly positive reaction to the emergence of the new bloc can be explained by its anti-Moscow orientation. “The people who have promoted Shoigu as Unity’s leader are from the provinces. In their opinion, the political forces are to be divided not into the right and left wings but into the central and regional parties… Today, the policy of the federal center is the policy of Moscow.” Correspondingly, according to Versia, Unity is an anti-Moscow party. That is why the new bloc has so many supporters: the governors take Moscow to be “the center of empire robbing its colonies.”
The journal Expert also writes about “the regional leaders’ prejudice against Moscow” which was skillfully used by the founders of Unity. When forming Fatherland-All Russia, Yury Luzhkov “laid his hands on the most powerful republican leaders – Mintimer Shaimiev and others, – who managed to bargain the most favorable fiscal relieves out of the federal center with help of nationalist slogans.” For this reason the said republican leaders are hated in the Federation Council “perhaps even more than Luzhkov himself.” Therefore, the journal states, it is little wonder that Unity’s party documents reflect all “gubernatorial phobias”: the bloc’s charter emphasizes that people “suffering from exorbitant ambitions” and also the leaders of those Russian regions “which are living according to exclusive rules” cannot be Unity’s leaders. Apparently, here lies the reason for the rather strange composition of the top three of the new bloc: a rescuer, a sportsman, and a police officer, but not a single regional leader. This time, the Kremlin imagemakers have learned a lesson from the sad experience of Konstantin Titov, whose failure with the foundation of the Voice of Russia bloc was caused by his excessive political ambitions, “By nature, governors are jealous to other people’s success; they hate to pull chestnuts out of the fire for their likes.”
Vek weekly calls Unity “the Union of the poor against the rich”. The paper states, “The leaders of depressive regions that have returned to natural economy regard their more successful colleagues with unhealthy distrust.” And although the governors of the regions which are dependent on the federal center realize that even the creation of an influential Duma faction is not going to solve their numerous problems, they do not want to put up with the current state of the affairs. Vek states that “the foundation of the block of backward regions serves as evidence that sprouts of a new tough, equalizing, and just ideology of overcoming the crisis have emerged in the regions.” According to the paper, the leader of the new bloc was picked out specially to match this new ideology. Shoigu is “one of those who will never admit their weakness.”
Versia speaks of Shoigu in an even more exalted manner, “Shoigu is perhaps the only honest and competent person in the current government. He has survived the dismissal of all the previous cabinets: from Gaidar to Chernomyrdin, from Kirienko to Putin… In general, if there had not been Shoigu it would have been worth inventing him.” The paper even refers to the methods of work of American imagemakers, “First you must understand exactly what kind of a person the country needs at this very juncture, and then you must find that person. That is why all US presidents are so charming.” If we proceed from this principle, then, naturally, “the first thing that comes to mind is that Russia needs to be rescued from the current emergency situation. And the second thought that will appear without fail will be that Shoigu is just the right man here Shoigu is the minister of emergency situations in the Russian government – translator’s note.”
On the other hand, this enthusiastic mood sharply contrasts with much more skeptical appraisals of the journal “Profil”, which always opposes to initiatives of Boris Berezovsky (Berezovsky is said to be Unity’s founder). The journal quotes Chairman of the Duma Committee for Geopolitics Alexei Mitrofanov, who called Shoigu “a manager of the British type”. This is not an insulting characteristic, Mitrofanov explains, “It is simply that in the past ten years a certain type of ‘new political Russians’ has emerged in Russian politics.” Mitrofanov takes Shoigu to be a convincing embodiment of this type, “He might have grown up in your block. He talks business and his talk is understood to people in the street. He is the kind of fella Russia is going to love.”
According to the same journal, Oleg Morozov, the leader of the “Russian Regions” deputy group, believes that Shoigu’s main problem is that his own plans may well not coincide with those of the Kremlin playwrights who have placed him in the center of a new political show, “Those who have invented the Shoigu project will certainly want to manipulate him, but Shoigu himself obviously believes that he can rebuff any attempts of such manipulation.” On the other hand, so far it is clear to everybody that Shoigu has not yet grasped the essence of the high politics.
Novaya Gazeta expressed its opinion concerning Shoigu entering the political arena in a yet more sarcastic manner, “Another brilliant professional has collapsed into the political quagmire.” The most regretful thing, in the paper’s opinion, is not even that Shoigu has decided to go into high politics, “Such things can happen to anyone”, but that he aspires to make it to the political Olympus “using the free ticket issued by the Kremlin.” However, Shoigu has found himself “in the virtual reality of high politics, which is practically unknown to him”, and, just like in a videogame, even if he makes it to the highest level he has all good chances of falling all the way down because of one incautious move. “And there will be no one to rescue him in that case, for the Emergency Situations Ministry itself will be beheaded. What a pity!”
Apart from that, in the opinion of Novaya Gazeta, Shoigu’s case serves as evidence that “the president’s inner circle, who have become nearly forgotten because of the mishaps and wars that have recently befallen this country, still believe with all their heart that they can elect anyone to any post, provided that there is money for that.” In this connection an article in Moskovsky Komsomolets is of interest. The article states that Jacques Segela, a well-known French specialist in electoral technologies and the author of electoral victories of Mitteran in France and Kvasnevsky in Poland, “is planning to participate in the electoral campaign in Russia”. The paper states that Segela has recently arrived in Moscow at invitation of Sergei Lisovsky to participate in the presidential campaign of Mayor of Moscow Yury Luzhkov. However, Luzhkov declined the famous imagemaker’s offer of help, and said, “What does Segela understand in our electoral situation? Russia is not the West. There is so much intrigue implied here…” In addition, as it turned out, a professional of Segela’s level charges no less than $1,000 per hour. Luzhkov decided that he cannot afford such expenses. However, Segela was not left without work: he met with the president’s Press Secretary Dmitry Yakushkin, an old acquaintance of his and a former Paris corerspondent of Novosti information agency. “During the meeting, the two old friends allegedly discussed the possibility of Selega helping the Kremlin promote Yeltsin’s successor to the Russian political Olympus. The matter concerned not Putin, the official successor, but Shoigu, the unofficial one.” Moskovsky Komsomolets states that it will be easy to say whether or not Segela has started to work with Shoigu – rumors have it that a candidate supervised by Segela starts to permit himself escapades which he would have never ventured by himself. They say that Lisovsky used Segela’s methods when working as Yeltsin’s imagemaker in 1996… So, the paper recommends its readers to watch Shoigu intently.
Kommersant-vlast’ weekly also writes about Segela. According to it, the famous Frenchman visited Russia to attend the presentation of his book “National Peculiarities of Vote-Hunting.” The paper states that Segela has not yet learned Putin’s name. As far as Luzhkov and Primakov are concerned, the virtuoso of electoral technologies maintains that their symbiosis is the ideal option for Russia, although neither of them taken separately makes an ideal candidate, “Luzhkov has the reputation of a corruptionist in the West, and Primakov – the reputation of a Soviet-time bureaucrat, but their merger sums up only their merits, not their shortcomings.” As for the information wars currently raging in Russia and so far causing the greatest damage to precisely the two leaders of Fatherland-All Russia, Segala appraises their effectiveness as low: “When there are many compromising materials, as is currently the case in Russia, these information wars simply entertain the public and do not influence the image of competing politicians in any way.”
This opinion is shared by Vladimir Rimsky, a Russian expert on political technologies and a consultant with the Informatics for Democracy Foundation. His viewpoint is published by Kommersant-vlast’ weekly in an article dedicated to the “Contemporary Electoral Technologies” conference which was organized recently in Moscow. According to Rimsky, as a rule compromising materials make an impression only on members of the political elite, “who can easily picture themselves in the victim’s shoes.” As for the Russian electorate, the majority of it usually sympathizes with those persecuted, and therefore more often than not all denunciations lead to a result which is exactly the opposite of the expected one. Not to mention the fact that Russian voters usually “vote with their hearts” and are not guided by any sort of logic whatsoever. The paper states that, according to the results of a recent poll, the majority of respondents expressed their desire to see a “young and dynamic” next president. And in answer to the direct question of exactly whom they want to elect those polled replied: Primakov or Luzhkov.
On the other hand, the well-known writer Viktor Pelevin maintains in the same paper that “by nature any politician is nothing more than a TV program.”