Mikhail Kasyanov as a contender in 2008: an attractive investment project

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Contrary to the calendar’s stubborn reminders that we’re still in 2005, election fever in Russia continues to rise. The number of contenders for the roles of opposition leaders – and thus potential candidates in the next elections – is growing with every day, although by no means all of them are taken seriously even within the political community, let alone among voters.

Only the Kremlin seems to be taking all potential rivals seriously. According to Novoye Vremya magazine, it is “so aftraid of the very word ‘opposition’ that it’s prepared to shoot down anyone who makes an unsanctioned declaration of intent to run in the parliamentary, let alone presidential, elections.”

Nevertheless, the press is noting that the Kremlin itself has proved this increased activity by politicians who take a confrontational stance with regard to the authorities. As Nezavisimaya Gazeta points out, “the Kremlin’s social policy moves have been assessed by many observers as preparations for the election campaign of 2008, which is highly likely to follow the Successor 2008 scenario.” It would be strange if the opposition failed to take advantage of such a convenient moment to announce its plans.

At any rate, this moment has not been wasted by the politically sophisticated Mikhail Kasyanov, former prime minister.

Besides, he expressed his hope that in consolidation of democratic forces would happen in the next year December already, “I consider creation of a democratic coalition in Russia possible and proper.” Certainly, it would be impossible not to acknowledge the fact that democratic leaders have “serous disagreements.” Still Mikhail Kasyanov stressed he doesn’t consider them to be “fundamental.”

However, as Gazeta says, the right-wing parties (and Kasyanov is definitely counting on becoming the presidential candidate for these parties) have not responded enthusiastically to his statement.

Union of Right Forces federal policy council member Boris Nadezhdin said to Gazeta that Kasyanov “declares his intention to run for president every six months.” As Nadezhdin believes, “concrete political steps are needed: entering a party, organizing a congress about further ways of Russia’s development, for instance.”

Though, as Nezavisimaya Gazeta reports, Kasyanov had a meeting with Union of Right Forces policy council member Boris Nemtsov (it was Nemtsov, Nezavisimaya Gazeta reminds, who in his time suggested regarding of the former prime minister as a politician capable of uniting the liberals). Still, Union of Right Forces leader Nikita Belykh explained to the newspaper at once that the meetings with Kasyanov was Nemtsov’s personal initiative, “They may interact, consult with each other, talk over some options, but this is by no means a position of the party.”

Kasyanov’s chances in the presidential election are assessed even more severely by his opponents. “Let’s get real here,” said United Russia faction first deputy chairman Vladimir Pekhtin to Vremya Novostei. “Kasyanov had every opportunity to prove himself while he was prime minister, but he didn’t. The government he headed was dismissed.” Pekhtin considers “Kasyanov’s statement to be nothing but another attempt at self-promotion.”

Ivan Melnikov, first deputy chairman of the Communist Party Central Committee, noted skeptically that Kasyanov sees “his resource and reserve” in the opposition’s unit. However, this union, in the Communists’ point of view, should not become a goal in and of themselves and turn into “a milk cow for weak-grounded ambitions.” For the left Kasyanov is “a principal ideological opponent.” As the party’s leader Gennadi Zyuganov stated, “This will be not a democratic opposition, but an oligarchic one. And we will never join it.”

The only politician, Nezavisimaya Gazeta says, who agreed that Kasyanov is “a proper figure for uniting the democratic forces,” turned out to be Our Choice movement’s leader Irina Khakamada.

As Khakamada noted, “still, our ideology differs from that of the left.” And in spite of Kasyanov’s readiness to negotiate with all the oppositional political forces, “one should begin with his program, and his program is social-liberal.”

Yabloko party deputy leader Sergei Mitrokhin even admitted that Yabloko members are “in the regime of constant consultations with Kasyanov,” “Grigory Yavlinsky, Sergei Ivanenko and I have met with him. However, we still have no agreements which could have matched the hope that there would be a union of democrats with him as the leader.”

National Strategy Council co-chairman Iosif Diskin is most pragmatic about the former prime minister’s statements; he is sure Kasyanov doesn’t intend to take part in the election campaign.

“As far as I understand, he wants to make the authorities negotiate with him,” said Iosif Diskin to Vremya Novostei newspaper. “He assumes that the authorities, in order to avoid dealing with all this stuff, will try negotiating with him, which will give him an opportunity for a quiet life without being asked stupid questions. Now he looks somehow not entirely serious – a head of some consultancy!” While he has always tend to a position “of either the chairman of the Central Bank, or the president of a large investment bank, or the head of Russian Railroads.”

Kasyanov has always been a skilled negotiator, Diskin notes, and these are the skills he counts on now, “He has found a weakness of the authorities – their fears that a strong presidential candidate will emerge – and he’s putting pressure on this point.” Hoping that the authorities will prefer a peace agreement to confrontation with such a substantial rival.

Alexei Makarkin, deputy director general of the Political Techniques Center, says Kasyanov can have chances to be elected, or at least to hold a worthy election campaign, only in one case. It will happen “if different forces in the Kremlin do not manage to agree upon the successor’s figure by 2008, if confrontation in the power intensifies,” Makarkin told Gazeta.

That’s why Kasyanov does his best to be taken seriously. Nezavisimaya Gazeta described his criticism of President Vladimir Putin’s actions as unprecedently harsh.

Kasyanov declared that “the current policy course is different from that of the first presidential term,” that “democratic freedoms are being reduced now.” What’s more, in his opinion, political reforms, started by the president a year ago (after the terrorist act in Beslan), are sure to tell negatively on the social and economic development of the country. And this will happen in the nearest time, “For the time being there are no serious negative things, but only a year passed, and very soon there’ll be negative effect.”

Besides, as Nezavisimaya Gazeta emphasizes, Mikhail Kasyanov essentially accused the country’s leadership of sanctioning corruption, “a most serious outburst of corruption has happened now… Earlier there were some things that couldn’t be settled without bribing. These days everything can be achieved with money.”

And this is said by a man “who worked side by side with Vladimir Putin for four years, a man who was the second-highest-ranking official in Russia.” Besides, for the whole of the period of his work with the head of state Kasyanov was never publicly criticized by Putin – “even after resignation.”

When the president is criticized not by a status opposition member, but by a former “comrade-in-arms,” says Nezavisimaya Gazeta, this is an evident sign that “the struggle for the highest office in the country is going to be extremely violent. And Putin won’t be able to transfer power to his successor as easily as it happened in 2000.” However, the authorities are not going to surrender without a fight. The other day, well-known investigator of the “dacha affair” of Mikhail Kasyanov, Duma member Alexander Khinshtein, publicly recalled the popular saying “Don’t rule out a prison cell, a begging bowl may come as well,” promising that in the near future the Prosecutor General’s Office may take an interest in the former prime minister, says the Izvestia newspaper.

According to Khinshtein, the total value of the real estate in Kasyanov’s possession is $200 million. Khinshtein notes that Kasyanov was in state service until February 2004. All the property was acquired by Kasianov immediately after his dismissal. “I’d be happy to attend Mikhail Kasyanov’s lectures, if he ever gives any, to learn how to make $200 million in two or three months,” noted Khinshtein.

In the Echo of Moscow Radio interview, Kasyanov admitted that he does own some other real estate properties besides the notorious Sosnovka dacha; and Khinshtein declared that he has started investigating these other properties, which, as he claims, “will be identified and made public before the presidential election campaign starts.”

These accusations against Kasyanov haven’t surprised anyone. As independent Duma member Vladimir Ryzhkov noted to Vremya Novostei, “any politician who declares ambitions of this kind should be ready to have every closet in his house searched and the whole of his past brought to light. That’s why it seems to me that the authorities and the press haven’t yet taken Mikhail Kasyanov seriously. And if they do, it’s impossible to predict where that would lead.”

However, the whole of the dirt on Kasyanov seems to be known, says Newsweek Russia magazine. Apart from “Sosnovka,” thanks to which the former prime minister became “the most famous dacha-owner in Russia,” there is also the affair of embezzlement of an export loan of $231 million, given to MiG state company for airplane supplies to India.

However, it’ll be difficult to prove Kasyanov’s involvement in disappearance of this loan (in 1996, the “wild capitalism” era in Russia). Naturally, there are no traces of his participation in the conspiracy aiming at embezzling the loan. So, he can be charged merely with the fact that he “didn’t demand a proper investigation by the Prosecutor General’s Office” (though there was an investigation, and someone was even put imprisoned).

Something of this kind about the dacha: “Sosnovka,” as Newsweek Russia explains, was registered on the balance of the FSO and could have been sold to Kasyanov without Vladimir Putin’s personal approval.

In general, as the magazines’ sources believe, Kasyanov was caught with the dacha extremely stupidly, “Either you have a luxurious expensive dacha, or you go into politics.” And though the evidence revealed by Alexander Khinshtein is not sufficient to imprison Kasyanov, the disclosing efforts bring the fruits expected. Newsweek Russia magazine, referring to some “near Kremlin interlocutors,” reports that “with Putin’s sanction, his aide Igor Sechin treats Kasyanov, and head of the presidential administration Dmitry Medvedev doesn’t interfere with the affair.” As Kasyanov went against Putin without “declaring war” – in spite of the agreements earlier achieved. What’s more, he delivered his first statements at the time of Putin’s meeting with Bush in Bratislava. Before this Kasyanov visited the United States. Now, the magazine says, according to the Federal Security Service’s information, the former prime minister “coordinate in advance all his opposition statements in the US Embassy.”

Overall, as Russian Newsweek says, Putin is offended with Kasyanov, while Kasyanov is offended with Putin (especially after former Prime Minister was deprived of the opportunity to realize his best plan – to establish his own bank of Europe and CIS with the stock of 5-6 billion euro).

However, they are not only offended with Kasyanov in the Kremlin, they are even afraid of him – primarily because he is, as political scientist Alexei Makarkin, “attractive from the investment standpoint.”

Still, for the public he is not a significant figure, since all the voters have forgotten him.

However, as columnist of Vremya Novostei Semyon Novoprudsky maintains, there is a plus in that.

According to the Levada Center, Novoprudsky says, only 1% of respondents say they trust Kasyanov, while 4% distrust him. That means 95% of respondents have not made up their minds about the prospect of Kasyanov as their future president.

Besides, as Novoprudsky notes, the first personal presidential rating of Putin was only 2%. “In my opinion, if the presidential election were held now, Kasyanov would have the same figures,” Novoprudsky notes.

Famous journalist and political scientist Leonid Radzikhovsky considers that under the conditions of complete absence of any serious candidates for participating in Operation Successor 2008, Mikhail Kasyanov would be useful for Putin’s team.

Indeed, Radzikhovsky says in Versiya weekly, the Former Prime Minister responds to almost all claims for the candidate. The main of these clams is that the successor must be a “convenient grant” for Putin (as Putin was a grant for Yeltsin).

Besides, he must be a competent politician – in order to charge his concerns with the country.

No one is likely to question Mikhail Kasyanov’s competence, since he is “an experienced bureaucrat, having worked his way up the ladder to the post of prime minister.” He seemed to be a good prime minister – “it is hard to say to anyone was better.”

Besides, in spite of his latest quite sharp statements, he is not a saboteur – even mass media called his statements not a challenge, but “an invitation to the dialogue.”

Besides, it is important, that Kasyanov is not a charismatic leader, but a normal bureaucrat from the Kremlin. As Radzikhovsky says, “he will never be upstairs at the expense of people’s anger.” And that is one of the main pawning of fidelity to the Kremlin and succession of the authorities.

Overall, Leonid Radzikhovsky considers the “Kasyanov as successor” option not entirely incredible. “Moreover,” Radzikhovsky insists, “I think that Kasyanov himself does not rule out such a decision. Indeed, what has he come back for?”

Indeed, what for?

As Versiya says, he does not look like either a masochist or “seized with a messianic pride of Khodorkovsky.” Many consider that he resembles Viktor Yushchenko. However, as Ogonyek magazine notes, for acquainting the complete similarity with the leader of the “orange revolution,” Kasyanov lacks two things – bloc and Timoshenko. Neither of them could be seen now.

“Evidently, Kasyanov does not have chances to win now,” notes Kommersant-Vlast magazine, “but they might appear by 2008.”

This is possible in the case if the New Guard, intoxicated by the victory over YUKOS, will continue the attack in all fronts – on both bureaucratic and oligarchic.

If the St. Petersburg people continue redistributing property, the Yeltsin-era oligarchs who still make up the majority in big business might overcome their fear of persecution (accepting it as inevitable in any case) and resolve to fund an opposition candidate.

Here, the “investment allure of Kasyanov in the eyes of the business-elite will play a role.”

Now, Kommersant-Vlast specifies, as rumors say, Kasyanov is backed “only by Alexander Mamut, the other oligarchs are taking a wait-and-see approach.”

Nevertheless, many maintain relations with the rebellious former prime minister. In particular, in August, in the heat of the “dacha scandal” Kasyanov was a guest on one of the famous yachts of Roman Abramovich, who used to be considered one of the key people in Yeltsin’s team. And if at least part of the elites back Kasyanov, the democratic party masses will adjust themselves to him, says Kommersant-Vlast – they’ll need money for election campaigns, anyway.

Then Kasyanov will lack only a Timoshenko of his own. That would hardly stop him. Rather the contrary.

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