THE "PLOT OF THE OLIGARCHS": THE PARLIAMENTARY CAMPAIGN STARTS ON BASTILLE DAY

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The elections are gradually becoming the dominant topic in the medial The number of articles directly related to party campaign tactics and strategies, alliances, sponsors, policy programs, electoral lists and so on is snowballing.

However, articles on other significant issues are no less connected with the election campaign topic – domestic politics, foreign policy, the economy, social problems, the media industry. It’s as if all this is being discussed against the backdrop of this year’s main event: compared to it, tied to it, explained by it.

The main characters have been known long before the beginning of the election performance. Traditionally, it is the communists, who until recently determined the mise en scene of any Russian political performance. Today, they have lost some of their passion, but they are still among leaders of the political process.

Their major rival is the new party of power, representatives of which voluntarily use any opportunity provided by Russia’s intricate realities to display themselves to people, and to show that they are needed on the Russian political scene.

However, so far, the results of their efforts have not been very impressive.

According to different agencies, the popularity rating of United Russia is currently 12-19% and it continues decreasing. Moreover, as the Vremya Novostei newspaper noted, “the number of United Russia’s voters is substantially falling when interviewers name leaders of the party and start listing their “cares about people”.

Rumor says about the Kremlin’s disappointed in United Russia and about the attempts to create a “new electoral project” at the very top.

In particular, some observers use this rumor to explain the sudden political activity of Sergey Glazyev, a co-chairman of the People-Patriotic Union of Russia and the chairman of the Congress of Russian Communes, in May. Unexpectedly, Glazyev headed the Party of Russian regions. A part of political scientists have interpreted this move as a beginning of forming a new left centrist bloc alternative for the Communist Party.

Vremya Novostei wrote about Glazyev’s “unmeasured ambitions” and the “impossibility to meet them in the Communist Party”. However, the paper notes, in order to start an independent political game, Glazyev needs to at least agree with someone, “either the Kremlin or tycoons – otherwise, it is a pure adventure”.

As everyone know, Gennady Zyuganov found it necessary to immediately interfere with the situation and announce the unity of the left wing forces on the threshold of elections – to prove this, he named three left wing leaders who will top the party list. Naturally, Zyuganov himself is the first leader; Glazyev is the second one; and Nobel Prize winner Zhores Alferov is the third, although they say there are other options.

It is interesting that even in this far from being the most significant election situation there was immediately an alternative force beside the Kremlin that also has a decisive influence on the outcome of the parliamentary race: tycoons. Vremya Novostei says today they are far the most interested in strengthening any opposition to the Kremlin, “as the presence of a strong opposition makes the Kremlin more compliant”, and consequently makes it possible to influence the further development of the situation in the country.

According to the paper, it is not an accident that the episode with Glazyev appeared simultaneously with the scandal concerning the so called “anti-Putin tycoon’s plot”.

In particular, Vremya Novostei says the theory about the appearance of an “anti-Putin coalition of tycoons and Communist leaders is rather plausible.”

The newspaper reminds to its leaders about a recent scandal concerning the negotiations between Alexander Prokhanov and Boris Berezovsky. Vremya Novostei says that then Gennady Zyuganov immediately “repudiated Prokhanov” – however, there is no smoke without fire.

It should be taken into account that the Russian communists follow Lenin’s principles and his doctrine on the political fight tactics that says the achievement of one’s goal allows a temporary alliance “even with devil”.

On the other hand, it should not be ruled out that in these terms, tycoons are on the Kremlin’s side – they have got a permission to “fund (buy up) left wing leaders” in order to make the left wing opposition more controlled or even disintegrate it to make the victory for United Russia easier.

By the way, the latter is trying to fight the communists on its own and at the communists’ field.

After the Communist Party and the Yabloko announced their intention to initiate a vote of no confidence in the government, they have deprived United Russia of its trump card – the possibility to accuse ministers of lobbying tycoons’ interests. Since then, the centrists have had to look for a new “sparring partner”.

Vremya Novostei says United Russia has been absorbed with his last weekend at the meeting of the party’s regional branches in Ryazan. The participants of the meeting were heads of United Russia’s local branches from the so-called “red-belt” regions headed by communist governors.

According to the centrists, in these regions the party’s branches are subjected to administrative pressure and their activists are being persecuted. However, the authorities were accused of not only these not very interesting from the viewpoint of an ordinary voter facts. According to the Vedomosti newspaper, governors were also charged with “different abuses, destruction of the economy and the social sector in the regions they head, and even the demographic crisis.”

Deputy chairman of the Unity Duma faction Frants Klintsevich commented on the activities of communist governors and said that in fact “it is the work of enemies”. Secretary of the United Russia general council Valery Bogomolov publicly accused the communists of contacts with tycoons: he called to “denounce demagogues, those who say they defend workers while in fact they are receiving money from tycoons’ capitals.”

However, regional governors ignored the accusations. The leadership of the Communist Party was rather ironic about them. Deputy chairman of the Communist Party central committee Ivan Melnikov said in his interview with Vedomosti that he cannot imagine United Russia facing pressure on its administrative resource. According to him, the party of power has “sunk so far into laziness that it has started looking for enemies.” He thinks the idea of the centrists is nonsense: “All their economic grievances can be readdressed to the federal government.”

Vedomosti analysts, in turn, think the anti-gubernatorial action of the centrists is dangerous for themselves. They say that the “attacks on communists will not lead United Russia to the first place but rather will antagonize the voters.”

Head of the Center for Political Consulting Igor Bunin also commented to the Gazeta periodical on the centrists’ demarche, “The United Russia has a usual issue – they are trying to find and practice at least some idea.” Apparently, the party of power that is trying to win votes over to its side with the criticism of its own ministers causes nothing but perplexity. That is why United Russia started using the well-tested technique: it has started accusing the communists. The only new thing here is that now the left wing is also accused of defending tycoons’ interests.

However, as Mark Urnov said recently at the seminar at the Center for Political Consulting (cited in the Vremya MN newspaper), in regions, Russia has long transformed into a double-party system: hardly different by the mentality communists and the party of power simply replace one another at helm of power. However, Urnov thinks “the retranslation of such a system to the whole country is a death for the European future of our state.”

However, at the same seminar Georgy Chizhov, an expert of the Regional Issues Institute, said that the programs of all political parties differ only by preambles. As a rule, Russian voters vote not for programs but for the image of this or that party. That is why the major attention is given to the image of the party.

Meanwhile, there is truly no smoke without fire: information on financial support of the communists by YUKOS and other large corporations recently was added with the rumor about the contacts between the communist leadership with Russia’s main monopolist Gazprom.

From the viewpoint of Vremya MN observer Andrei Ryabov the actually open talks about funding the opposition by tycoons are a symptom of serious political changes in the society. It is especially true when “public support is being entirely directed to the only new-style party, United Russia.”

According to Ryabov, such intentions of large corporations can mean only one thing, “Those, who currently control the Russian economy do not want a new leading and ruling party. It is expensive and bulky. Most importantly, it is inefficient, as this political project does not stipulate a direct influence of tycoons on the decisions made with the help of this political structure.”

In fact, why is a new-style party needed today? The prior historical aim to force the rich to share their wealth with the poor is no longer actual today, if not take the election PR campaign of the Unite Russia seriously.

As for the opposite goal – to protect the rich from the indignation and encroachment by lower social layers – it is no longer actual today. Andrei Ryabov says “All these talks about the possibility to restore the communists are pure bluff. This historical possibility has been irrevocably missed. No one believes in restoration.”

Russia’s rich are not concerned about the opposition, realizing that even if the opposition does win the elections, nothing will change substantially in Russia: “The economic order will remain the same, and the rest is of no importance.”

That is why, says Ryabov, Russian companies are starting to choosing targets for political investment without really consulting the Kremlin. This demonstrates “considerable changes in the essence of Russia’s state-bureaucratic capitalism; until recently, politics has been determined by the state and the regime.”

It is not surprising that a report by the National Strategy Council on a “tycoons’ plot” against the present administration, published the end of May, has caused such a lasting scandal. President of the Panorama research center Vladimir Pribylovsky says in the Russky Kurier newspaper: the National Strategy Council think-tank was established in 2002; it involves “twenty-three analysts of various political views” – including Iosif Diskin, Valery Khomyakov, Sergey Markov, Andrei Ryabov, Mark Urnov, Dmitry Oreshkin, Valery Fedorov, Andrei Fedorov, Leonid Smirnyagin, Vladimir Rubanov, and others, all well-known in Russia.

The main idea of the report is that representatives of big business are preparing a “transformation of the nation’s government structure with the aim of guaranteeing a union between big business and the executive branch”.

According to their plan, Russky Kuryer quotes further, “as early as in 2004 a new government could be formed, subordinate and accountable to parliament. The top candidate for prime minister in such a government, formed in accordance with a new Constitution, is thought to be Mikhail Khodorkovsky.”

In practice, as is claimed in the National Strategy Council report, “Russia has found itself facing a slowly-approaching oligarchic coup.”

At the same time, says Vladimir Pribylovsky, it should be known that in Russia, even at the start of the 1990s, there was a conceptual change. As early as in the Yeltsin era, it was certainly not business leaders who were called oligarchs, but “Yeltsin’s court”. That is, the oligarchs were more likely to be Chernomyrdin, Soskovets, Korzhakov, and all those who made up the “Yeltsin team”; not the infamous “seven bankers” headed by Berezovsky.

Later, however, the offensive label of “oligarchs” was deliberately redirected to business leaders – while the real nomenklatura oligarchy was left in the shadows, something that it was very happy about.

And still, Pribylovsky explains, oligarchs in the true, classical understanding of this word – are exactly those who have succeeded in uniting in one person money and power.

In this sense, the author explains, Potanin and Berezovsky are rather former oligarchs, because today they have no access to the levers of power. At the present time, it is possible to name, for example, Abramovich and Khloponin as oligarchs, “having bought (practically) for themselves governmental office with their money.” While Khodorkovsky and Deripaska for the time being are not oligarchs at all, since they do not have governmental posts.

“The famous maxim to the effect that oligarchs should be ‘located at equal distances away from power’ is an oxymoron,” writes Pribylovsky. “Oligarchs located at equal distances away from power are hockey players, located at equal distances away from hockey.” It is another thing that today (as also in all post-Soviet countries) “an administrative, officialdom, nomenclature-bureaucratic oligarchy” is ruling as a collective in our country.

Pribylovsky agrees that the Russian oligarchy is divided into influential administrative-economic clans: “old Kremlin”, “old St. Petersburg”, “new St. Petersburg”, and “the capital’s” (in the sense of being associated with Luzhkov). “However, the administrative wing is the leading one, while the economic one is subordinated.”

Furthermore, Vladimir Pribylovsky emphasizes, it is precisely the administrative oligarchy that actually “created the magnates of business, monitors them, and can wipe any one of them from the face of the earth with a flick of the finger.” Precisely for this reason the magnates of business are rushing with all their strength to get into the executive branch of power – “they want to become real oligarchs.” And, of course, they strive with all their might to beat their competitors to this – or, in a degree corresponding to the possibility, to damage them.

So Pribylovsky suggests that the Council for National Strategy report should be viewed “as an ideological-propagandistic diversion of one of the oligarchic clans, in which the economic wing is almost unnoticeable in comparison with the bureaucratic (let us say for this clan, the “new St. Petersburg”, “security structure men”), against another clan, the connection of which to business magnates is clear to see (“old Kremlin”, “the Family”).” That is, people from the clan with clearly marked loyalty to the regime who wish the Kremlin well are warning it about the danger threatening it.

In this way, the report is directed above all against Khodorkovsky, allegedly “already having bought up whole parliamentary parties, including the communists”.

And in the meanwhile, Pribylovsky clarifies, Khodorkovsky has never admitted that he sponsors the Communist Party. He has talked more than once about his preparedness to finance the election campaigns of “Yabloko” and the Union of right Forces, but also reminded listeners that one of his partners in “YUKOS” sympathizes with the communists and invests his personal funds in their stock.

One way or the other, the tumultuous reaction of political society to the appearance of the “anti-oligarch” report has forced observers to stop and think: are the representatives of big business happy with the top managers of the country?

Actually, if you start out from the postulates of the Council for National Strategy, Rodnaya Gazeta writes, in Russia confrontation between the regime and the class of major entrepreneurs has come to notice which is no laughing matter. It could be resolved in one of two ways: “Either the oligarchs will try to remove Vladimir Putin from power in the near future, or the regime, I the person of Putin, will begin to squeeze the oligarchs again, using all the repressive power of the governmental machinery.”

The authors of the report, the newspaper writes, are inviting all interested people to play at an entertaining game – to put a bet on one or the other team, on the governmental bureaucracy or on big business. In the meantime, the question of “Vladimir Putin’s place in the political-economic model of government having developed ” is becoming the most important issue in this situation.

It is easy to find a motive for the dissatisfaction of big business with the policies of the federal center, Rodnaya Gazeta writes: “the economic strategy having led to the strengthening of the ruble is clearly hitting the raw materials sector lobby in the hip pocket.” Oil companies sustained significant losses in connection to the foreign policy strategy of the regime in the Iraq conflict – “and this is a zone in which the Kremlin has direct responsibility”. It is also worth remembering the dissatisfaction of the military lobby over the development of the situation in Chechnya and the impending military reforms. Apart from this, as Rodnaya Gazeta considers, big business could perfectly well use “Putin’s own admission that Russia, as before, is standing on the brink of disappearance from the map of the world, which could be read between the lines in the last presidential address” in order to go on a search for a “more effective manager”.

The following approach can be considered quite conceivable, in the opinion of the newspaper, if you are talking about oligarchs: “Putin its them in a general sense, but, as they say, it’s nothing personal… A movement to a new, more efficient mass-production model is a law of the political market.” In this sense the Council for National Strategy’s report is nothing more than “a sign of a change in the state of affairs”.

According to the view of the magazine Expert, all the threats for the presidential authority described in the report should be regarded as imaginary. “You can start, the magazine writes, from the fact that the making of amendments to the Constitution is such a difficult procedure that in order to carry it through even the power and funds of all our representatives in the Forbes list taken as a whole would not be enough.” And while the constitution is unchanged, the levers of power remain with the President.

In the opinion of the writers of Expert, the start of the development of parliamentary democracy is possible at the present day only under the condition that the Head of State decides to take this course. It is true that in the future the process quite possibly could start to develop according to its own logic – to what actually is democracy – but at the least it is premature to talk about this.

So what is the true reason for the great scandal? In the opinion of Pavel Voshchanov, observer of Novaya Gazeta, in recent months an excessive rise in the President’s approval rating played a dirty trick for the court political advisers. These efforts of the loyal subjects, Voshchanov writes, could turn into a big scandal, if the results of voting at the presidential elections of 2004 turn out not to be so brilliant as is expected in exulted circles.

At the same time, consolidating society and achieving the unconditional support of those holding power will not be easy. There is no reason for unification. The communists, as has already been said, do not represent any danger for the regime. There is no external threat either – “which is proved by the demonstrative fraternization with the strong of this world at the celebration of St. Petersburg’s anniversary”. Chechen terrorists, according to the assurances of the Kremlin itself, have practically been crushed. And Chechnya in general is a painful topic which is better not to make use of excessively. For the salvation of the situation, as the author claims, there is only one recipe – “a plot of the oligarchs”.

Actually, the author reminds, those in power have won all past elections with scaring the population: in 1993 – with civil war. In 1996 – with the return of the communists (many remember the sign with a depiction of a sullen Zyuganov and the caption “Buy Food for the Last Time”). In 2000 – they scared people with Chechen terror, which the explosion of apartment blocks in Moscow and Volgodonsk forced them to start believing in. “Fear became the main instrument of political PR,” writes Pavel Voshchanov. What can the electorate be scared with today, though? With the oligarchs, of course: “It is they, the villains, having pocketed all our property, who have plotted to pilfer political power as well. So that they are the owners of absolutely everything, you know.”

From this point of view the reports having started to shine out in the Press about the political ambitions of Khodorkovsky could not have been more timely: “the oil baron itching for power is an ideal monster in any electoral scenario.” They say to the elector: “there’s what you will get if you don’t support our dear candidate!” Here, how could you not support…

Of course, reasons Voshchanov, it may quite possibly be that Khodorkovsky is an ambitious person indeed: “But isn’t he mad?” It follows that he either “is voluntarily playing some role that has been assigned to him by somebody, or they are simply forcing it on him.” Incidentally, for the goal that has been set this is irrelevant: what is important is that an impression of reality of the threat is created.

You do not have to be as wise as Solomon, says Voshchanov, to predict that the next Duma will break records in terms of how many members are representing big business. Hence the theme of “the domination of capitalists and their henchmen in the parliament” will become one of the main ones – and not only for the left. The elector is obliged to feel on the eve of the presidential elections that “the leaking of information” on the score of an oligarchic plot are not completely unfounded: “and then he will forget about Chechnya, about the fruitless talk about military reform, about the unstoppable growth of charges for electricity and housing services, about the self-satisfaction of the multitude of St. Petersburg comrades.”

The central thesis of the presidential campaign is again going to be “As long as it won’t be…” this time – as long as it won’t be someone from the “Yeltsin oligarchs”.

Incidentally, this is still not going to happen any time soon. Officially, we are still on the eve of the 2003 Duma campaign: it starts, as the newspaper Vremya MN noted recently, on July 14.

It starts on the day when the Bastille fell in 1789; at the time, that was the symbol of the absolute power of the head of state.

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