THE UPCOMING FEDERAL ELECTIONS AS REPORTED BY THE CENTRAL MEDIA
The Istanbul OSCE summit had the greatest influence upon the development of the electoral situation in Russia. Media belonging to different political coalitions offered diametrically opposite appraisals of the summit’s results.
Nezavisimaya Gazeta”, for instance, is certain that Russia “held out and won”, whereas the West “finally realized and recognized the fact that it is not so easy to put pressure on Moscow”. The paper believes that the chief contribution to this victory belongs to President Yeltsin, who “showed good form” in Istanbul, “at least in the meeting room and during the bilateral talks”.
Segodnya, on the contrary, believes that the victorious mood of the official comments can be explained merely by the fact that the Kremlin has realized that “it is harmful to upset the electorate on the eve of the election.” As for the statement that “Russia has managed a powerful breakthrough in foreign politics”, it absolutely does not correspond to reality: in fact, as had been predicted before the summit, Russia’s participation in it turned out to be just another failure – of course, due to the Chechen war, “the main sphere of Prime Minister Putin’s work”. Yeltsin’s presence at the summit did not improve the situation but, according to the paper, only slightly softened the West’s attacks against Moscow. Russia’s compliance with the demands that the OSCE chairman visit the North Caucasus should be perceived as the most important result of the summit: “Moscow is interpreting this consent as a consensus, whereas the Western media are speaking about Russia’s humiliation.” From the paper’s viewpoint, the Russian audience is being told only half of the truth, and the consequences of such an attitude may be most tragic.
Vremya MN is certain that the results of the Istanbul summit must not be ascribed to such categories as victory or defeat: “Even if Yeltsin had burst into tears at the summit and begged the audience’s pardon for everything, this would not have sufficiently affected Russia’s reputation in the eyes of the international community. At bottom, this reputation is determined not by the competence of Russia’s politicians, but rather by the number of its warheads and generals, the volume of oil and gas reserves, and the herds of hungry consumers.” In terms of all these figures, the paper states, Russia still remains one of “the greatest world powers”.
As for the Russian internal politics, Vremya MN writes, the results of the Istanbul summit are to be considered first of all as “a great imagemaking victory of the Russian authorities”. Of course, first and foremost this thesis applies to Yeltsin, “It has been a long time since the Tsar Yeltsin was so convincing, competent, effective, and severe in an amicable way.” Naturally, Yeltsin’s success at the summit contributes much to the image of Vladimir Putin, his official successor and “the holder of an unprecedented approval rating”. “Now we have a marvelous tandem – what a pity the presidential election will not be held right now!”
Kommersant-daily, in turn, reports that when Yeltsin was leaving Istanbul he addressed Minister of Foreign Affairs Igor Ivanov, who was left at the summit to sign the conclusive documents, with a fairly serious political hint. “I trust in you, you are holding Russia’s future in your hands!” the president said. According to the paper, as soon as Russian journalists, “already grown used to the fast-paced kaleidoscope of the Kremlin’s most improbable scenarios”, learned about Yeltsin’s words, rumors were immediately spread that Ivanov is in fact the president’s “spare successor”. CIS Executive Secretary Yury Yarov “even hastened to deny these vicious rumors about Ivanov”. However, Kommersant-daily notes, in the end Yarov “remarked philosophically that ‘Putin has yet to go through many upheavals…'”.
Izvestia states that after the summit the internal political picture in Russia has been completed. Now Russia has “not only a clearly-defined internal enemy but also an external opponent – the West, which apparently does not comprehend Russia’s problems.” The electorate is unanimously supporting “the Chechen campaign and the subtle anti-Western sentiments”. This “semi-cold war”, the paper predicts, will last until the presidential election in Russia, after which relations between Russia and the West will start to revive, regardless of who – Primakov or Putin – becomes the next president. “Neither of the two leaders is likely to venture to lead Russia even deeper into international isolation. They are both experienced politicians, and cannot fail to realize that Russia will not be able to survive under an authoritarian regime.”
Komsomolskaya Pravda, in turn, asserts that the Russian government’s tough position with regard to the West is connected with the fact that Russia “has practically nothing to lose”. Furthermore, if the situation worsens to a break in relations between Moscow and the West, the possibility cannot be ruled out that the current major candidate for president, whose ever-growing rating continues to amaze the Russian national media, “will easily make the anti-Western part of the population (and that part is numerous) work in his interests”. Like other media, the paper poses the question: How is the prime minister managing to keep aloof from the information warfare currently raging in this country? Komsomolskaya Pravda believes in this regard that Putin has deliberately assumed such an attitude: “In other words, even prior to his appointment as prime minister, Putin told himself: I must not get involved in any showdowns. There are lots of those who want to get involved – let them do so, but my task is to win the presidential election.” The paper notes that, to all appearances, the prime minister’s chief slogan is: Don’t Harm Yourself!
Putin’s position “above the tumult” did not go unregarded by other media. Versty weekly asks with indignation: “How can a person who is seriously planning to become Russian president overlook the machinations that are being used in his game? The prime minister who has declared a war on terrorists is calmly observing information terrorism.” The majority of other politicians also remain silent: “Apparently, they are simply happy that they are not the targets of the mud-slinging.” At the same time, the paper does not rule out the possibility that “the well-tuned information machine called to grind disagreeable politicians into dust” will sooner or later backfire on Putin himself. “Despite his expectations and the certainty of his prominent political future, Putin may well become a victim of the information warfare himself, and for this to happen he only has to become a former prime minister. Russian history has many such examples.”
Meanwhile, even the Communists admit the firmness and stability of Putin’s current position. Viktor Linnik, Slovo Editor-in-Chief, reminds his readers that only three months ago Duma Speaker Gennady Seleznev, his colleague in the CPRF, expressed everybody’s opinion that Putin’s “appointment” as Yeltsin’s official successor was in fact a kiss of death for the prime minister. As it turned out, the situation is not so hopeless: in the past 100 days the prime minister has managed to enlist the people’s support, including that of the left-wing forces. Linnik states, “Putin gives the impression of a person who is capable of intelligibly formulating our national interests at this point in time.”
There was a strong media response to the statement of Yaroslavl Governor Anatoly Lisitsyn, one of the active supporters of Fatherland-All Russia, that, in his strong opinion, the bloc of Primakov and Luzhkov and the Unity movement will nominate a common candidate for president – and that this candidate will be Putin. At the same time, as Nezavisimaya Gazeta reports exultantly, Lisitsyn recommended Yevgeny Primakov to intensify his political activity and stressed his dissatisfaction with the “relative inactivity” with which the former prime minister is conducting the election campaign.
In this move of Lisitsyn’s the paper sees evidence of Putin having managed to win over to his side the sympathies of “not only the population but also the Kremlin’s political rivals”. If this trend continues, Nezavisimaya Gazeta maintains, Luzhkov and Primakov may well lose all their most precious supporters – the governors – even prior to the election, for the governors have already realized that Primakov, the one whom they already all but started promoting as president, is gradually losing his once-high rating “and they are starting to wonder whether there is any sense in spending their financial and propaganda resources on an outsider.”
As for Putin, he is far from shunning his political rivals. Not only does he regularly meet with them, but he also discusses with them the electoral situation in Russia, the progress of the election campaign, etc. Izvestia takes this behavior of the prime minister to be a crafty tactical move: “It is known that to neutralize an enemy you must first make him your ally. Putin does as much when he agrees with the economic and political suggestions of other politicians.” The paper states that by doing this the prime minister is settling two problems at once: he is averting attempts at an open confrontation with the government (“Indeed, what politician will call himself Putin’s opponent after such constructive dialogs?”) and at the same time winning “all the right-wing and centrist forces” over to his side.
Izvestia continues that if all these forces actually reach a consensus in the end and nominate a common candidate (naturally, Putin), “then the 1996 situation will repeat itself: a Communist candidate will compete with a non-Communist in the presidential race.”
Vek weekly also writes about the possibility of a repetition of the 1996 election. On the other hand, the paper asserts that this time the platform for consolidation of the Russian elite will be “not the struggle against Communism but other ideas altogether”. Vek asserts that the possibility of such consolidation is proved first of all by the emergence of a political leader Putin who proposed a topical national idea: “The idea of protecting national interests and defending the national security system from international terrorism, that insidious and merciless enemy.”
The paper notes that although consolidating a nation with the help of an image of the enemy is an old political technique, it still works perfectly in Russia.
However, one hero will not be enough to stage the “Putin For President” scenario: “The entire troupe must play this piece.” So, Mayor of Moscow Yury Luzhkov, Putin’s major rival, suddenly states that he supports both the prime minister and his policy. Vek maintains that Luzhkov changed his opinion under pressure from “big-time Moscow businessmen who are actively working with the Moscow City Administration and are experiencing great anxiety in connection with the protracted squabble between Luzhkov and the president’s team.”
Primakov followed Luzhkov’s example and also changed his position in a certain way. He stated for the first time that he might not run for president. The paper believes that if neither Luzhkov nor Primakov struggle with Putin for the post of president, the prime minister will not have any other serious rivals. “Indeed, nobody perceives Zyuganov as a real presidential candidate any more.” The oligarchs are also ready to support Putin’s would-be candidacy: according to rumors, Berezovsky “is allegedly ready to sell out Sibneft’s shares and even gradually wind up his entire business… in exchange for stability and peace in the form of parliamentary immunity”. According to Vek’s sources, oil magnate Roman Abramovich “is all but preparing for a merger of Sibneft, which is controlled by him, and the Sidanco oil company controlled by Vladimir Potanin.” In other words, the paper believes that there are the first signs that the oligarchs “are gradually beginning to incorporate their businesses into the new political and economic system – on a mutually beneficial contract basis.” Thus, we may assume that Putin is being surrounded by an artificial atmosphere of the greatest political favor.
Obshchaya Gazeta even believes that the operation to promote and advertise Yeltsin’s successor is going too fast to be normal: “Putin’s rating is already as high as it needs to be, and if the presidential election were held today we would have all grounds to congratulate him and the Federal Security Service on a really wonderful success. However, many things may yet happen in the time still left before the election.”
In the opinion of Obshchaya Gazeta, Putin, with his ironical treatment of the law which is characteristic of officers of the Russian (Soviet) special services (they have always regarded the law as an obstacle on their professional path), will not at all be a 100% guarantor of a safe and comfortable future for the members of Yeltsin’s inner circle – who “for some unknown reason believe that Putin will ‘save and preserve’ them”. The paper states that Putin’s toughness is more likely to arouse fear in Yeltsin’s inner circle, therefore his political prospects cannot be regarded as fairly obvious: “Of course, the capacities of the president and his team have already diminished, but the inner circle is still strong enough to have Putin dismissed and his rating eliminated.”
Profil likewise takes Putin’s dismissal to be fairly plausible: according to the magazine’s sources, the “invulnerable oligarch” Berezovsky is interested in such a development. Despite the fact that the president himself has called Putin his successor more than once, “there are no other successors for Berezovsky apart from Alexander Lebed – for some reason Berezovsky believes that Lebed is the one and only person to guarantee him a problem-free life after 2000.”
In addition, the magazine maintains, Putin has wrecked the plans of the Chechen campaign worked out by the president’s team. Profil cites an anonymous “interlocutor in the Presidential Administration”: “As regards this war, Voloshin instructed the prime minister not to let federal troops cross the Terek River. However, Putin disobeyed the instruction, obtained an audience with the president, and talked Yeltsin into pressing on with the advance. Now his rating is skyrocketing; apart from that, his authority among the military has increased enormously, which is especially dangerous.”
However, Putin cannot be dismissed before the parliamentary election: it is still unknown which bloc – Unity or Fatherland-All Russia – his current supporters would defect to if that happened. A dismissal after the parliamentary campaign, however, is a different matter altogether. And in that case the situation in Chechnya might well become a good pretext for the dismissal, “not because of the West’s excessive concern for the suffering Chechens, but owing to the losses among federal troops and other expenses of the empire in the too-protracted war.”
As far as Berezovsky is concerned, Profil has managed to learn from sources close to the oligarch that he is hoping to not only become a Duma deputy, but also get into Parliament a “more or less weighty faction of the Unity movement” and become its head. “If Berezovsky’s plans succeed, he will become a truly indispensable person in the Kremlin’s eyes, taking into account his unlimited influence on ORT.”
And as for the Duma of the future convocation, its prospects are appraised with much skepticism by the press. Alexander Bovin writes in Izvestia: “The upcoming parliamentary and presidential elections are in fact interim elections, so to speak. They will not result in either radical political changes or any noticeable changes in the composition of the ruling elite.” Therefore, the best that can be expected from the next Duma is “for it not to be worse than the current one, i.e. not to be more leftist.”
From Bovin’s viewpoint, all the drawbacks of work of the current Duma are connected in one way or another with it containing “a rather powerful left wing”. As examples of the negative influence of that wing’s activity on the Duma’s performance, Bovin names the constant increase of budget expenditures by request of left-wing deputies, non-adoption of bills designed to protect business, and the failure of anti-fascist legislation. Not to mention deputies’ exotic customs whose manifestations invariably become hits on all TV channels. “Another such Duma will cost Russia dearly,” Bovin maintains. Therefore, in his opinion, it is not so important whom to vote for in the election – in the current situation the difference between, say, Yabloko and Unity, or between the Union of Right Forces and Fatherland-All Russia, is much smaller than politicians think. “Whom not to vote for is more important.” Thus, the electorate is sure to face the good old Russian dilemma: either the Communists or all the others. Centrists, social democrats, rightist forces – “all of them are better” than the threat of a Communist revenge.
As the date of the election draws nearer, the press is paying more and more attention to campaign techniques, the electorate’s moods, and politicians’ ratings. Izvestia poses the following question: why don’t the reports about the popularity of parties and their leaders correspond to the results of elections? Political analysts explain this discrepancy by the existence of a “party of the discontented” – those who do not intend to vote at all, or do not know for sure whether or not they will vote. This “party” accounts for no less than about a quarter of the Russian electorate; and comprises those who do not believe that anything actually depends on their participation in the voting (29% of those “discontented”), those who do not believe any of the politicians (26%), those who have not yet decided whom to vote for (15%), those who have generally grown tired of politics (10%), those who are convinced beforehand that the election will be unfair (10%), etc. Pollsters assert that a great part of these people will in the end vote for radical politicians such as Anpilov, whereas the rest – mainly former supporters of Lebed, the Congress of Russian Communes, and Our Home is Russia – may well vote for a “strong arm” – which is currently personified by Putin and, correspondingly, for the organization he will join before the election.
Meanwhile, the media are continuing the attack against Luzhkov. To all appearances, not all capabilities of the press and TV channels have been exhausted yet in this connection. Argumenty i Fakty weekly believes that Luzhkov “has missed the moment for the beginning of the self-cleansing of the entire Moscow bureaucratic system.” Sergei Kirienko availed himself of this brilliant opportunity. Until mid-November Kirienko was “artificially underrating his mental capacities and talking political rubbish of various kinds.” Now the former prime minister has published a fairly respectable and well-considered economic program for Moscow.
The reports about the draft law on creation of a federal tax district in Moscow look even more serious. If the bill is adopted, it will most likely mean the end of the much-discussed financial welfare of the Russian capital. “Billions of rubles of fiscal payments from the largest corporations and nationwide structures will bypass the city budget in that case…” Some analysts assume that in that case the capital will go into recession, and the mayor of Moscow will not manage to survive such a strike. The weekly reports that, according to sources in opposition to Luzhkov, “he is doomed…” On the other hand, the possibility cannot be ruled out that the electoral tactic of the Presidential Administration will soon change. Slovo quoted Berezovsky as saying: “Luzhkov must be driven into the ground first, and then pulled out again, centimeter by careful centimeter – for him to be glad he is still the mayor after all.”