Taking Shots in the Media Dark

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It appears that Russian society is currently in the state of another post-electoral euphoria, its fourth already (after 1991, 1993, and 1996), Nezavisimaya Gazeta notes. “Having elected as president a person who demonstrates the aspiration to restore a strong non-Communist state, many now believe that this will guarantee further stable development of this country.” Meanwhile, the paper stresses, the state’s stability is determined “not so much by the president or even his team” as by the establishment’s ability “to create something constructive, protect the country from political negotiations, and, what is especially important, to provide for succession of power in case of the leader’s resignation”.

Unfortunately, Nezavisimaya Gazeta continues, the modern Russian elite which was formed in the situation of a weakened state power is destructive by nature. Therefore, the unavoidable precondition for this country’s survival is the formation of “a constructive establishment capable not exclusively of using the state’s weakness and dividing spheres of influence but also of attaining some positive results for the benefit of the Motherland”.

The final goal of the necessary alterations to be made is determined beforehand: two or three “power parties” should not “encroach on the major fundamentals of society”, in other words, from now on a change of the state system cannot be the aim of political struggle. At the same time, the paper asserts that at this stage the forming of the sought-after two-party political system will have to be started from scratch. Despite of all the current controllability of the CPRF, the Communists may still be too dangerous in the capacity of one of the ruling parties. And as for the right-wing political movements, the percentage of their supporters in society is so far insignificant, and they have practically no hope for expanding the sphere of their influence, even if they manage to avert a split within their ranks. Unity, in the paper’s opinion, “has remained a party of the momentary political necessity, and that necessity is long past, at that.” Thus, the existing political formations do not correspond in their essence to the requirements of forming a firm two- or three-party political system of Russian society.

Therefore, Nezavisimaya Gazeta concludes, the main role in this process should be handed out to representatives of large businesses, who, owing to their position in society, should be interested more than anybody else in preservation of stability in this country. However, to all appearances financial and industrial bosses have not yet come to realize that “the creation of a regular political army” instead of the “people’s militia” gathered together offhand on the eve of the election is “the very field in which they are not rivals to each other but potential allies”, and also that without such an alliance it is useless to count on stability in either politics or economy.

Meanwhile, according to Vremya MN, the work to create a new political system is currently at full swing. On the other hand, although everything is more or less clear with the future “power party” as to the claimants for this status, their allies from other blocs, and the niche the new party will fill in the entire structure, then the question of who will manage to become “her Majesty’s opposition” remains open to discussion. The Communists’ chances to assume this honorary political post are not at all indisputable, the paper states, despite the fact that the CPRF is behaving “in the manner of a member of the House of Lords to whom the opposition pew belongs by the right of birth”. This absolutely ungrounded self-confidence, Vremya MN maintains, is “a gross mistake on the part of the Communists” who have considerably weakened their positions in the past several years by a number of concessions and compromises.

The paper writes further that the CPRF and its leaders have forgotten the maxims of the scholars of Marxism-Leninism who taught that only the strong are reckoned with in the political struggle. The Communists’ defeat in the presidential election, their consent to cooperation with the executive branch “for the sake of individual gains”, and, finally the obvious inability to make “the only strategically true decision” on turning the CPRF into a social democratic party – all these mistakes have resulted in the inevitable loss of the Communists’ political authority.

Paradoxical as it may appear, the paper takes a complete cessation of all talks about the possible withdrawal of Lenin’s body from the Mausoleum to be one of the proofs of the fact that the CPRF’s political weight has reduced in the past several years. Vremya MN holds the opinion that the reason for it is not that Vladimir Putin, unlike Boris Yeltsin, “does not have an allergic reaction to everything red”. The main thing is that the Communist Party has stopped being taken seriously: earlier the Kremlin “was threatening the Communists with the destruction of the Mausoleum because it feared them. But now the CPRF is no longer fearsome to anyone.” As a result, judging from the progress of the discussion “in the left-wing political circles”, the leader of the would-be leftist opposition may well become not the CPRF, which might be granted the modest role of a rank and file member of that opposition, but the Popular Patriotic Front. And Aman Tuleev, who has been successfully demonstrating all the necessary qualities of “a real leader” to the powers-that-be, is already claiming the role of the future opposition’s chief in stead of Gennady Zyuganov.

“A relative political calm after the presidential election is only an illusion,” Parlamentskaya Gazeta states. The dreams about “a civilized two-party system are unlikely to come true for the absence of a normal political structure in this country. The existing political parties have by now turned into something like marginal groups. Social movements such as Yabloko, the Union of Right Forces, and Unity enjoy somewhat greater popularity, but when they attempt to turn into parties and thus gain political weight they attain a contrary result more often than not: by adjusting and specifying their ideologies, which is a must for any political party, they constrict their own electoral bases and, therefore, the public support for themselves. The paper explains Unity’s success in the past parliamentary election by a specific “monarchic character” of the Russian people’s conscience which, in combination with a distinct focus on the then-would-be “monarch”, secured Unity’s success. The paper arrives at a peculiar conclusion: today it is only possible to found a really influential political party “under the aegis of the powers-that-be”.

Apparently, this conception also goes for the future opposition party. In the given case, “Parlamentskaya Gazeta” contemplates, the plan of actions to be taken by “those concerned”, i.e. the Presidential Administration, may be fairly simple: to try “cause the CPRF’s leaders to quarrel with each other by incorporating part of the Communist Party into the state power structure” and then transform that incorporated part into an influential social democratic organization of the Western type, the one “not enjoying a mass public support but on the other hand not being irreconcilable”.

The paper assumes that in that situation the Kremlin may find Duma Speaker Gennady Seleznev very handy, for Seleznev “is much less orthodox than other leaders of the CPRF and is incorporated into the state power system to a much greater extent”. Seleznev has a great experience of cooperation with the state power – in other words, he is a true social democratic leader. By the way, he was re-elected as Duma speaker with the Kremlin’s direct support. The paper is convinced that “Russian political parties as they are now are the products of the transition period”, that in the near future party-building will become “the specialization of party elites” and the parties “in our, Russian sense of this word” will cease to exist.

The opposition press also writes about the Communists’ having lost a considerable part of their political influence. Zavtra recalls the former political battles with nostalgia, “In the summer of 1996 a grandiose battle was in progress between the leaders of two antagonist ideologies, and that battle was filled with hatred and passion, sincerity and hysteria.” Nothing of the kind was observed during the past presidential campaign. The Kremlin managed to cope with the Communists with help of rather simple and technologically failure-proof means: the CPRF was rendered insignificant and a little funny. The paper bitterly describes the TV images of the main characters of the 2000 “presidential battle”, “No clash of ideologies, no battle of Titans… On TV screens we saw Zyuganov eating a Russian decorative bread loaf with salt, or dancing with a folk ensemble, or tinkering with beehives – during the last three months prior to the election the Russian media formed a well-adjusted image of a harmless, impotent, and boring opposition… And just for contrast, footage of Putin flying a jet fighter, riding a submarine, looking through binoculars on the deck of a warship, or hurrying to Chechnya for the New Year celebrations.” It is clear whom the electorate would cast their votes in support of in such a situation.

Putin’s “slight figure” (not the stately figure of Zyuganov) has suddenly grown to become the personification of “the might and grandeur of the Russian state, now downtrodden but about to revive”. No wonder, then, that the Communists have felt themselves robbed. And to crown it all, the Duma has ignored their protests and ratified with a sudden easiness the START II Treaty which seemed to have already been safely stuck in the lower chamber forever thanks to the CPRF’s care for Motherland’s nuclear shield”.

The paper asks its compatriots a straightforward question: whether they are going to bear this humiliation or will fight when everyone is against them.

The paper believes that there exist two options of further developments, “Either the Communists joint the system and start playing the role of an offended minority which is not reckoned with when it comes to making the Duma adopt felonious bills, or our left-wing opposition changes sharply and radically and turns into a prominent and powerful movement of a qualitatively new type.”

Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes with a shade of gloating delight about the situation in which the Communists have found themselves. In the paper’s opinion, the CPRF leaders’ current “morbid despair” is understandable, “The demand that Boris Yeltsin resign has been the basis of the CPRF’s consolidation for the past decade. But now Yeltsin did resign, and nothing consolidates better than a common enemy.” In their despair the Communist leaders have even ventured a fairly hazardous declaration about shifting “the major bulk of work from the Duma onto the streets”. The CPRF is planning to organize “rallies, pickets, protest actions, etc.” On the other hand, Nezavisimaya Gazeta reminds its readers, under Yeltsin the Communists failed to attain any considerable concessions from the power by means of such actions, and they are likely to fail this time, too.

There also exist other plans to “undertake qualitatively new measures”, such as demonstration of intentions to improve the standards of living of the so-called “red belt” regions’ residents. In many of those regions people supported Putin, not Zyuganov, in the presidential election, and now the Communists are ready to do their best to regain the electorate’s sympathies. However, the main thing, the paper believes, is that the Communists have not yet lost hope to regain their influence in Parliament. In the CPRF’s opinion, “the oligarchic groupings” will go on supporting President-elect Putin in everything only until the new government gets formed. And once the ministerial posts have been distributed, a great number of those unsatisfied with that distribution are sure to emerge, and those denied access to the financial flows will defect to the opposition along with their teams. One of the consequences of such a process may become a split in the pro-government majority in Parliament, as a result of which the CPRF is hoping to strengthen its positions.

So, after Putin’s victory in the presidential election the only “nationwide enemy” the Communists have had fantasy to invent in order to retain their party’s integrity became “a blurred image of the oligarchs”, Nezavisimaya Gazeta concludes with irony.

Vek weekly shares the opinion that the new president’s relationships with the political elite will get determined after “the disjunction of Putin’s prime ministerial and presidential selves”, i.e. after the process of forming the government is accomplished. The main question currently occupying the minds of the players in the field of high politics is what will follow after the May 7 inauguration ceremony. “Everybody plays, and the stakes are high,” the paper writes, “and that is why on the surface the merciless fight is nearly invisible.” The essential issue of this game is not the future prime minister’s personality but rather “a correlation of positions in the future Cabinet of Ministers between nominees from different influence groups”. As is known, under Yeltsin a considerable share (one half, according to Vek’s calculations) of influence on the power belonged to “Berezovsky & Co.”, and the rest was divided between “Chubais, the Kremlin bureaucracy, and Gusinsky’s team which was trying permanently to get closer to the power”. Berezovsky’s attempts to expand his share of the sphere of influence would be suppressed by “Yeltsin’s outbursts” with help of which the president “would violently tear from time to time the strings of the web woven by Berezovsky”. The weekly states that there is nothing surprising in that the alliance of Putin’s supporters which was formed in the first several months of his appointment as Yeltsin’s successor became in its essence an alliance for the sake of a power reform. On the other hand, that reform was to be limited and exclusively internal. Naturally, the task was not to lessen the fat cats’ influence but to re-distribute the sphere of influence once again, according to a new plan. However, the paper believes, to all appearances Putin opted for another variant of actions in the end. Of course, he could not fail to feel discontent with the system formed under Yeltsin. However, Putin is unlikely to be interested in reinforcing the positions of Chubais or Gusinsky at the expense of Berezovsky, the paper states. It would be more logical to assume that “re-shaping the sectors of influence each of the oligarchs has managed to lay his hands on in the field of the Kremlin power” would suit the new president much better.

The paper believes that this very version accounts for Putin’s participation in the recent clash between Chubais and Rem Vyakhirev. The former, according to a general opinion, “has scored too many points in the past several months” and therefore deserved being put back into his place. Putin is aspiring for “equalizing” the oligarchs in order to assume the position “over the battle”, to “direct further developments with due regard for their aggregate opinion but without being forced to follow the advice of anyone in particular”. The article is headlined “The Web is Tearing Apart”.

Meanwhile, “Dengy” magazine considers that “the Presidential Administration has already had a plan worked out to seize control of the government”, and that the appointment of Andrei Illarionov, “an ultraliberal and ambitious economist”, as the president’s economic advisor is one of the already-fulfilled stages of that plan. “Illarionov does not conceal his intention to toughly control and coordinate the actions of the government’s financial and economic bloc.” Therefore, conflicts are inevitable between the president’s councilor and government officials. “For instance, Kasyanov is trying to acquire credits from the IMF and International Bank of Reconstruction and Development, while Illarionov has already stated that Russia should give up once and for all borrowing money from the IMF. So, if Kasyanov gets appointed prime minister he will yet have to fight for his independence.”

In addition, the paper believes that the oligarchs have extracted an important lesson for themselves from the story with the energy crisis, “The appeal to the president proved fruitful.” And when discords have recently emerged between Vagit Alekperov and Kirsan Ilyumzhinov over Arkhangelsk oil (the LUKoil company’s chief objects to the northern oil deposits being handed out to “a little-known-of company Kalmykneft”), Alekperov addressed Putin with the request that the latter bring about order. And although the president does not intervene so far – the problem in question is too small for the level of “a national energy crisis” Chubais threatened the powers-that-be with, – still, the magazine notes, the oligarchs with their own problems are already “queuing for an audience with Putin”.

“Literaturnaya Gazeta” has published a set of opinions under the general headline “Will Putin Surrender Berezovsky?”. A famous political analyst Konstantin Zatulin believes that Berezovsky “should be destroyed like Carthage”, and that is one of the generally anticipated events of the Russian political life. On the other hand, Zatulin believes that the problem is not as much in Berezovsky itself as it is “in what he personifies”. If Putin is seriously intent on consolidating the power, Zatulin states, he “simply must get rid of Berezovsky”. Still on the other hand, it is typical of the Russian power to deliver strikes against either side of the conflict, “to strike at TV-Center after striking ORT, or, say, if Vyakhirev has quarreled with Chubais, to strike them both.” Zatulin assumes that in the case with Berezovsky “the purifying victim” may become Gusinsky and his NTV network. At the same time, Zatulin does not believe that Berezovsky is in for a “catastrophic failure” – most likely, the oligarch will simply resort to some fall-back positions.

Konstantin Borovoi agrees with the statement that Putin will find a way to get rid of Berezovsky’s influence, “Well, the president-elect is already doing it, step by careful step.” However, there will be no show trial, “Show trials should have been resorted to during the electoral campaign, and now – why should the president-elect pretend to be a fighter against the oligarchs?” In addition, it is generally known that “fighting oligarchs may seriously harm your health”, and Putin does not need any new complications at this stage.

Such a view is shared by a well-known Duma deputy Viktor Ilyukhin, who is certain that “if Putin really wanted to surrender (Berezovsky) he would have done that long ago”.

With pragmatism fairly unexpected from the denouncer of the powers-that-be as he is, Ilyukhin notes that Putin may well find Berezovsky of some use later on, “The oligarchs have their own conception of solidarity. In the situation when the state has no money they will continue to play a significant role. Unfortunately, Putin will have to reckon with this fact.”

The Russian emigre paper Russkaya Mysl, published in France, arrives at the conclusion that the Most group has found itself in the least advantageous situation among the Russian oligarchic groups after it refused to support Putin on the eve of the presidential election.

Currently, the paper reports, nearly all experts “are ready to write off Gusinsky’s media empire from their accounts”, and the Western press has already published several articles about the Kremlin’s alleged plans to shut down NTV. “On the other hand, it is still unclear what exactly made Gusinsky refuse to support the Kremlin’s candidate for president – was it that he did not like Putin or were there some more pragmatic considerations behind that move?” Among such pragmatic considerations the paper names the chance of boosting NTV’s ratings. Having mostly recovered from a failed attempt to support Fatherland-All Russia, the TV network in question “is actually regaining its former authority”.

And Gusinsky’s claims for the role of the new opposition’s ideological leader “may become a shield for his media company: reprisals against NTV would be negatively reacted to within Russia and abroad”, the paper asserts.

Leader of the Union of Right Forces Boris Nemtsov expresses the opinion in an interview to “Komsomolskaya Pravda” that at this juncture the only thing Putin lacks for settling the existing problems is resoluteness. The president-elect “is demonstrating a surprising harshness and firmness as regards the situation in the North Caucasus, but he is extremely weak when it comes to making political or economic decisions.” This is all the more vexing as, in Nemtsov’s opinion, the new president has “unlimited political opportunities” for putting Russia in order. Nemtsov reminds the readers of Komsomolskaya Pravda that General Pinochet in his time started reforms with a ban on admitting representatives of industrial groups and lobbyist organizations into the building of the government. “In our situation, that should mean a ban on entry to the Kremlin for the limousines of the oligarchs.”

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