THE UPCOMING FEDERAL ELECTIONS AS REPORTED BY THE CENTRAL MEDIA
During the past week, the chief topic of the electoral battle has been the clash between the two parties of power, namely Unity and Fatherland-All Russia. This opposition now appears to be approaching the bitter end for the supporters of Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov and former Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov. Rossiyskii Izbiratel notes in this connection that “the hopes for Medved “the Bear”, another name of Unity – translator’s note to enter hibernation were not justified.” In addition, as was to be expected, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, President Yeltsin’s so-far-official successor, has sided with Unity. Putin’s words of support for the bloc headed by Emergency Minister Sergei Shoigu became a guide to action for regional leaders, the enlistment of whose support was actually the major goal of both blocs’ foundation. Novoe Vremya weekly writes that Bashkirian President Murtaza Rakhimov’s anti-Kremlin attitude was instantaneously replaced by respect for the Russian Constitution after President Yeltsin intervened in the situation over the ban on transmitting ORT network programs in the republic, enforced by the Bashkirian authorities. As for the Tatarstan president, the paper notes that Mintimer Shaimiev has always “sided with the powers that be, not with Luzhkov”. Governors of budget-dependent regions are loyal to the Kremlin (and, therefore, to Unity) as it is. Fatherland-All Russia has completely lost the media battle. The most annoying thing, Novye Izvestia states, is that the bloc lost “not to Yeltsin, not even to Voloshin and Berezovsky, but to the swaggering Kremlin youngsters.” The Fatherland-All Russia leaders’ habit of operating in the atmosphere of Soviet-style bureaucratic respect for rank has played a dirty trick on them. Matters have even gone so far that the Kremlin has started wondering how, after its shattering victories in the electoral game called Get Luzhkov, the Presidential Administration will ever manage to come to terms with the new Duma, which is expected to be formed mostly of Communists – whose de-facto alliance with Fatherland-All Russia has recently been widely commented on by the pro-Kremlin press.
“Funny and horrible, but in general somewhat silly”: that is Moskovsky Komsomolets weekly’s description of the ongoing parliamentary election campaign. In the weekly’s opinion, the style of campaign advertising reflects the politicians’ attitude towards the people: potential voters are being treated as complete fools. The fact that the scandalous ORT host Sergei Dorenko has out-rated the reserved NTV analyst Yevgeny Kiselev proves that the choice of position was generally appropriate: “Indeed, who would watch a respectable analytical program when they can get live ‘hot’ stories on another TV channel?” Impertinent attacks by certain unscrupulous journalists might be fought with the help of real ideas; however, according to the paper, those ideas first need to be found, and there is nowhere to find them. Naturally, “it is stupid to retaliate, but that is the only choice.” Therefore, the mayor of Moscow stoops down to the TV “hitman’s” level: “The lower Dorenko stoops in small-mindedly calculating Luzhkov’s alleged political popularity, the lower Luzhkov’s real status becomes. Dorenko is falling, and carrying his enemy with him.” Meanwhile, the entire election campaign is turning into buffoonery.
Expert” magazine believes that Fatherland-All Russia’s failure has been predetermined by the bloc’s faulty campaign strategy, which was based “on a well-known technique, namely the counterblow method” (according to the principle: “We are the good guys because we are fighing the bad guys.”). The hopelessness of this strategy is obvious, notes the magazine: the niche of “fighters against the inhuman regime” has long been filled by the Communists, who were criticizing Yeltsin even before he became Chairman of the Supreme Council of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic – unlike Luzhkov, whose fervent statements of support for the President are all too memorable for voters (and Dorenko will make sure that those who have already forgotten this fact recall it again). Apart from that, in the magazine’s viewpoint Luzhkov should consider that his real rivals “are not to be found in the Kremlin at all, but elsewhere”.
As for Yeltsin, whom Luzhkov has been quarreling with so deliberately and purposefully during the past several months, he “is leaving his post in six months’ time anyway, but he is fairly capable of ruining anyone’s career before then – as demonstrated by recent events,” Expert” remarks. In the magazine’s opinion, the Fatherland-All Russia leaders might attempt to change this situation, for which purpose they should take the counterblow strategy through to its logical end: “i.e. respond to the attack with a resolute counterattack.” However, both Luzhkov and Primakov are people with political habits absolutely different from those of their opponents: they are absolutely not prepared to risk everything.
Instead, Luzhkov and Primakov have attempted more than once to come to terms with Putin, and complain to him about those who have offended them. Primakov has repeatedly stressed in his interviews (such as the latest interview with Tribuna) that he has been treated “in an obscene manner”, but he cannot indulge in striking back: “Regardless of the times, I must still look my fellow citizens in the eye without shame. Elections come and go, but people must live on…” At the same time, Expert” notes that Primakov never misses a chance to stress the difference between himself and Luzhkov; suffice to recall his already widely known phrase: “I do not criticize my president when abroad,” which, if needed, can be interpreted as an attack against Luzhkov.
Kompania” magazine expresses a peculiar viewpoint. On the one hand, the magazine warns the rivals of Fatherland-All Russia against going too far with their persecutions of the bloc’s leaders, because Russians love the underdog, and this time the protest vote may well take the form of support for the bloc most hated by the Kremlin. On the other hand, the magazine informs its readers that professionals believe that the real chances of Unity and Fatherland-All Russia in the election campaign are equal, since “both blocs are in fact part of one and the same system”. In fact, the electorate is offered “an alternative-free choice between two parties of power”. In this situation, from the voter’s viewpoint the difference between the two blocs is immaterial. In essence, the jostling and debate between the two versions of the party of power “exhaust the electorate’s freedom of choice”.
The Communists are watching indifferently the battle of “the party of power’s two units” – at least, this assertion is made by Alexander Tsipko, one of the ideologists of Fatherland-All Russia, in Literaturnaya Gazeta. Tsipko is certain that the CPRF “will once again win the election unconditionally”, and that this development will be a direct result of the Kremlin’s current tactics. That is the reason why the left-wing opposition is providing the current government with both covert and open assistance, and the Communists are far from planning to ally with Fatherland-All Russia in order to “dethrone Putin”.
Tsipko is warning those ready to believe in the idea about an alliance of Fatherland-All Russia and the CPRF, which is currently being animatedly discussed by the pro-Kremlin media, against being so naive: “There is no sense whatsoever for Zyuganov to give up power in Russia in favor of Primakov,” now that Zyuganov can come to power himself thanks to the Kremlin.
Unlike Tsipko and Literaturnaya Gazeta, Nezavisimaya Gazeta states that an alliance between the Communists and Luzhkov’s supporters is now only a matter of time: “What Luzhkov has been publicly repudiating is now becoming his major means of fighting for power… There is too little time left before the election, and the Fatherland-All Russia leaders are simply being forced to unmask.” According to the paper, Luzhkov has made “a milestone statement”: if his bloc wins the parliamentary election it “will not only hold consultations with the CPRF, but also assume a consolidated position as regards objects of the two movements’ mutual interests,” such as the question of property – the problem that can be considered crucial for an understanding of the discords between Fatherland-All Russia and Unity.
“It is known that both the CPRF and Fatherland-All Russia are supporting the idea of revising the results of privatization in Russia,” Nezavisimaya Gazeta reminds its readers. On the other hand, the paper does not specify that the two movements’ positions on the subject do not completely coincide. As Primakov put it in the aforementioned interview with Tribuna: “We cannot start it all over again, we have no right to initiate a sweeping de-privatization, for it will certainly end in bloodshed. We should stay within the law. If somewhere privatization was conducted in a bandit-like manner with evident violations of legislation, then we can hardly put up with its results. In such individual cases, we can and must revise the results of privatization.” Still, these statements fall rather short of the opposition’s favorite slogan: “Prosecute the Yeltsin gang!”. On the other hand, Luzhkov shares the Communists’ views regarding “retrieving the stolen money” and prosecution of those behind financial pyramids.
Segodnya weekly’s observer Dmitry Bykov believes that the attempt to equate the CPRF with Fatherland-All Russia is an ingenious political move by the Presidential Administration. By the way, according to Bykov, the event that suggested this idea to the Kremlin was Luzhkov’s and Primakov’s meeting with Putin (the meeting’s goal was not to blackmail the prime minister with the idea of “a government by the parliamentary majority” but rather to “complain bitterly about the conduct of Dorenko and Svanidze”). The matter concerns not so much the upcoming parliamentary election, but the next and more important presidential one.
The Kremlin found it extremely difficult to struggle for the presidency with one of the incarnations of the party of power, which has practically no ideology. On the other hand, the Kremlin politicians are good at fighting the Communists. “Even Yeltsin, however weak a candidate he was in 1996, managed to defeat the Communists in the last election – Putin will beat them hands down.” Now that the Kremlin is asserting that Fatherland-All Russia is allied with the CPRF, it has forced the struggle into its usual framework “of a customary binary stereotype: if we do not win the election, then the Communists will win.” The only thing to be done is to preserve this situation of opposition until the presidential election, “the Kremlin knows perfectly well how to make the people choose between the evil and the monstrous.”
Despite all the electoral rush, it is becoming more and more evident that the major political forces are regarding the presidential election, rather than the parliamentary one, as the main event. All events, both in foreign and domestic politics, have long started to be considered nearly exclusively from this viewpoint. In particular, the IMF’s refusal to consider the question of granting Russia another installment of the credit unless Moscow stops the Chechen war was commented on by Segodnya as follows: “The installment or the rating? Here is the rough and tough essence of the international financial scandal connected with the Chechen war…” The paper states that the political rating of “Putin the Liberator” is directly correlated with the military campaign in the North Caucasus. Therefore, “it is beyond the powers of either the IMF, or the EU, or even Clinton himself to make the Kremlin stop the Chechen war. For if the war ends, there will be no way of keeping the prime minister at the center of the electorate’s attention.” In other words, “the successor’s rating is worth international isolation”.
When reporting about Yeltsin’s “China warning” to Clinton, which has received broad international coverage, Kommersant-daily notes that Putin was the first to respond to the president’s statement – by explaining that “Russia is on very good terms with the US” and that it would be wrong to speak about any deterioration in their relations. At any rate, Putin believes that “the statements of neither Russia nor the US are aimed at this deterioration”. Thus, the paper remarks, “Whether or not Yeltsin actually desired such a development, his statement has already allowed certain people, first of all his most probable successor, to present themselves as restrained and peace-loving politicians.”
Vremya MN holds the opinion that after Yeltsin’s Beijing demarche Putin played his role according to the old scenario, “the good cop apologizes for the bad cop’s behavior, the young successor cleverly interprets the words of the old president, the small civilized one corrects the large unrestrained one.” The question arises in this connection: was this move spontaneous on each side, or was it a well-planned action? The paper believes that most likely Putin had to improvise, “which, of course, does not detract from his political impact abroad, but at the same time leaves room for apprehension – what if the large unrestrained one dislikes the little diplomat’s actions?” On the other hand, Vremya MN does not believe that the Kremlin could manage to find another successor in the time remaining until the presidential election. In addition, Putin’s rating is outstandingly high.
Putin’s rating actually forces even the Communists to reckon with him. Alexander Prokhanov, Editor-In-Chief of Zavtra and co-Chairman of the Popular Patriotic Front (PPF), mentions rather disparagingly the “dynastic conflict” between the central authorities and the Moscow Administration and states that, despite the fact that the results of official opinion polls predict “the Kremlin grouping’s victory over the Moscow one”, it is still too early to draw any conclusions. At the same time, Prokhanov assumes with reference to “classified ratings of the Federal Agency for Governmental Liaison and Information (FAGLI) that the Communists will receive no less than 31-32% of votes in the parliamentary election, which will give them a significant advantage in the bargaining that, according to Prokhanov, is to start immediately after the election. The PPF leader believes that the main object of that bargaining will become the constitutional reform that will “radically alter the layout of power”, or, to be more exact, will transfer part of the president’s plenary powers to the government and Parliament. In that case, a victory in the struggle for the presidency (which most likely the Communists will never see) would actually cease to be a mater of life and death: “If Putin is elected president, he will not become a second Yeltsin. If Luzhkov is elected prime minister, he will not become a toy in the hands of the Presidential Administration, but will be fairly strong and independent. And if Zyuganov becomes Duma speaker and at the same time the government is formed on the basis of a parliamentary majority, Zyuganov will also turn into one of the most significant players on the Russian political stage.” Thus, on the one hand the Communists recognize Putin’s capacities in the struggle for the presidency. On the other hand, however, they are ready to ally with both parties of power for the sake of taking over the political initiative after the first stage of the political battle, i.e. after the parliamentary election. It is unlikely that the creation of such a political “triumvirate” might restrain the sides’ campaign fervor. In general, Putin’s fate and intentions are of a great interest to the press. According to Novaya Gazeta, Putin has spoilt his relations with Boris Berezovsky by refusing to support the oligarch’s idea of creating a tax haven on the territory of Karachaevo-Cherkesia. Furthermore, the paper believes that Berezovsky has every reason to fear for his fate after the election: according to predictions, 2000 will be a very difficult year (“For we are living in a country whose foreign debt alone exceeds the annual budget ten-fold”), and the possibility cannot be ruled out that the next president will be forced to offer the population circuses instead of bread. “And the most effective circuses for pacifying the aggressive poor are wars and legal action against the most odious (in the people’s eyes) representatives of the ‘fat cats’ (and Berezovsky rates highly in this category).”
Thus, Berezovsky may well be sacrificed.
Versia weekly offers its readers a slightly different vision of the same scenario. According to the paper’s sources, Berezovsky as “a master of financial and political machinations” has managed to invent just another “brilliant trick which will allow Putin to attain a surefire victory in the 2000 presidential election.” One month prior to the election, Putin is to arrest Berezovsky. Taking into account the public’s well-known attitude towards the crafty oligarch, this move will irreversibly make Putin a national hero. “Russia will make Putin its president; after which, according to plan, Berezovsky is to be released.” Versia notes in this connection that the said plan has only one weak link: “Will President Putin want to free Berezovsky?”
Meanwhile, Novaya Gazeta maintains that the political actions of the past year – the failure of the presidential impeachment, the appointments and dismissals of prime ministers – all bear the trace of “Chubais’ style, rather than that of Berezovsky”. And now it is none other than Putin “who is Chubais’ major weapon in the struggle for dominance in Russian politics after Yeltsin’s departure”. However, since, as was already mentioned, Russia is facing an extremely difficult financial year, and taking into account that the part of the Russian establishment that proved economically unsound has already started to “urgently erect an ‘iron curtain’ to fence off their creditors”, to preserve Putin’s popularity on the current level until the presidential election appears to be a difficult task. Therefore, the paper predicts, “In early January 2000 Chubais may venture another move in the style of controlled chaos – Putin may be dismissed.” From the viewpoint of Chubais, an experienced manager of presidential campaigns, it may be more secure “not to turn Putin from prime minister directly into president, but rather maintain his popularity with the aid of a dismissal (‘obviously unfair’ in the eyes of ordinary voters) on the eve of the election’s active phase.”
Vek weekly likewise notes Chubais’ phenomenal capability to shape a leader out of even an outsider, let alone an acting prime minister – of course, “by means of advanced political techniques and with a complete lack of sentimentalism”. For instance, after Chubais’ visit to Kazan, Shaimiev, one of the leaders and founders of Fatherland-All Russia, made a sensational statement about his support for the Union of Right Forces. When in Samara, Chubais spoke with sympathy of Shoigu but with doubt of “Unity and Fatherland-All Russia, the two squabbling parts of the current power base.” Despite the fact that Chubais, the head of Russian Joint Energy Systems, officially denies reports that he has become Putin’s campaign manager, he and the prime minister have practically not parted company during all of the past week, “the joint visit to Chechnya, the joint mine-clearing of the power lines, the joint instantaneous electrification of Gudermes, the joint participation in Leonid Kuchma’s inauguration, joint working consultations in the White House.” There was also a joint visit to Mordovia, where Putin and Chubais attended the meeting of the Greater Volga association. The paper assumes that such active contacts between Chubais and the prime minister are promising “considerable alterations in the political lineup in Russia on the eve of the election.” Indeed, on Monday the first reports came in about Putin having supported the right-wing forces’ program. On the other hand, Vek holds the opinion that Chubais is most likely working for long-term results: “Chubais would not be spending so much time and energy now solely for the benefit of the Union of Right Forces.”
In a detailed interview with Novoye Vremya, Chubais explains his allegiance to the current prime minister in the following peculiar way: “Let us count the options: Putin, Primakov, Luzhkov, Zyuganov. Now make your choice, you have three tries. And I personally in this situation name Putin on the first try.” This understanding of the situation’s real opportunities, and also of the fact that “any presidential candidate is a compromise”, is additionally reinforced by Chubais’ certainty that it is possible to come to terms with the current prime minister: “He is a representative of another generation… What would take me an hour to explain to Yevgeny Primakov, without being sure that he really understands me, would take only a couple of phrases with Putin – and everything is clear.”
Even the fact that it is not always possible to win Putin over to his side pleases Chubais: “He has an inner core, which is extremely important. In fact, this inner core is his enormous advantage, for there will be millions of my ilk around him, apart from me… That is the only way for a president to be. Any other type of person is very dangerous.”
Chubais also stresses that the prime minister looks effective against the background of other presidential candidates, who “are prepared to sacrifice their own lives in order to attain the presidency.” And for Putin the presidency “is absolutely not the goal his entire life, he is not one of those who are ready to go to any extreme just to get into the Kremlin. And for me this is another plus.”
In other words, Putin is practically the ideal presidential candidate. He is sociable and receptive to the ideas of others, but at the same time has his own opinion. Taking into account his high approval rating, influenced by the Chechen war, we may assume that Putin is capable of satisfying the voters’ yearning for a “strong arm”, but at the same time, according to Chubais, he does not turn power into a fetish.
This peculiar panegyric to Putin appears somewhat unexpected after Chubais’ fairly reserved statements in Vedomosti about the Union of Right Forces attitude towards the prime minister: “We have our own system of values, our own experience and program. Proceeding from all this, we judge which actions are correct in our eyes and which are not. We consider what Putin is currently doing in politics to be correct.” Perhaps the increase in Chubais’ support (if we can put it that way) of Putin is being influenced by the speedy approach of the date of the parliamentary election. Indeed, mere days are left before December 19.
This last stage of the political struggle may well become especially hard, not only for the candidates and their political advisors, but also for voters. AiF-Moskva gives several examples of non-standard ways of conducting election campaigns. The paper states that two lawsuits have already been recorded in Moscow over cases of “electoral graffiti”: writing on the walls of Moscow buildings which denigrates Duma candidates. A third case was connected with distribution of leaflets “with defamatory content” which, by the way, were printed not without help of the Union of Right Forces. However, in all three cases it is not politicians who are threatened with legal action, but the hired participants of the election campaign – graffiti-writers and distributors of printed matter. Such tricks as sticking a rival’s leaflet on the windscreen of a voter’s car with strong glue, or night visits to residential apartments with an invitation to vote for the hated opponent, have been widely used in Moscow during previous election campaigns. This year, according to the paper, the “electoral techniques” have developed still further – for instance, voters of one of the capital’s districts were invited on behalf of one of the candidates to attend a campaign meeting with him at… a convent. Naturally, neither the candidate himself nor the convent’s inhabitants had known anything about this.