The Other Russia’s existence in question

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With less than six months to go until the Duma election, the uncoordinated jigsaw puzzle of the opposition is coming together into a pleasing picture for the Kremlin, according to Gazeta.ru. Among those jigsaw-pieces is the fact that several opposition politicians have already declared intentions to run for president – in an unequal contest with President Putin’s powerful, if still unknown, designated successor. Moreover, two registered opposition parties – the Union of Right Forces (SPS) and Yabloko – have stated categorically that they will go into the parliamentary election separately.

Another part of the mosaic is a conflict within the Other Russia opposition coalition. It has now led to a split. Former prime minister Mikhail Kasyanov, leader of the People’s Democratic Union (NDS), has announced that he will no longer cooperate with the Other Russia. NDS activists are claiming that due to this move, the coalition “no longer exists.” Many experts quoted in the media are also saying that the coalition will soon fall apart.

According to the Novaya Gazeta newspaper, the last straw for Kasyanov was “an open appeal to presidential candidates” issued by the All-Russian Civil Congress, one of the Other Russia’s founding movements. Kasyanov saw himself listed alongside others – not only Viktor Gerashchenko and Sergei Gulyaev, but also former Arkhangelsk mayor Alexander Donskoy, dissident emigre Vladimir Bukovsky, Yabloko leader Grigori Yavlinsky, and even unrepentant communist Oleg Shenin, former SKP-KPSS leader. Novaya Gazeta comments: “When the congress met on December 12, 2005, Kasyanov alone was seen as the head of the democrats. The person now leaving the field of debate is an entirely different Kasyanov: he’s gained experience in street battles, but he has failed to become the undisputed leader.”

Kasyanov explained that differences within the Other Russia concern procedures for deciding on a common presidential candidate.

Nezavisimaya Gazeta quotes Kasyanov as saying that the opposition’s main priority should be to concentrate its efforts with an aim to winning the presidential election. This requires complete consensus on campaign policies and procedures for selecting a common candidate. Yet the Other Russia has been unable to reach consensus. Kasyanov said: “We are not claiming the Other Russia name – we are slightly different – but for us it’s always been important to form a coalition.”

Kasyanov intends to form another political coalition by autumn, but as yet he doesn’t know whom he can manage to secure as an ally. According to Kasyanov, the NDS held some consultations with the Communist Party (CPRF), but the Communists refused to work with “Orange” forces. Talks with the SPS and Yabloko are now under way, with the aim of uniting to endorse a common candidate; Kasyanov claims to have many supporters in those two parties.

“Given our lack of access to the media, it will be hard for us to inform citizens that we have a common candidate. That’s why I have insisted that we should decide on a candidate as soon as possible,” says Kasyanov. He doesn’t rule out the possibility of reaching agreement within the former coalition’s framework.

The Kommersant newspaper asked NDS advisor Elena Dikun whether Kasyanov and his movement have quit the Other Russia. Dikun replied: “It was a coalition. As long as the participants were of one mind, they were together. No consensus, no coalition. At this point, the Other Russia coalition doesn’t exist.”

This view is shared by Alexander Konovalov, president of the Strategic Evaluations Institute. In an interview with the Vremya Novostei newspaper, he commented on the coalition’s future as follows: “We may say that the Other Russia has ceased to exist. It united a number of disparate forces through the strength of one destructive idea: bringing down the Putin regime. Beyond that point, all the coalition participants had very different goals. But any coalition that lacks a positive agenda is doomed.”

Konovalov went on to say: “The Kremlin might have told Mikhail Kasyanov: if you disassociate yourself from those hooligans, we’ll let you register your party and participate in the presidential election. And the presidential election is more important for Kasyanov than the Duma election – but the coalition wasn’t helping him become the undisputed common candidate representing all pro-democracy forces.”

Igor Bunin, head of the Political Techniques Center, told the Vedomosti newspaper that Kasyanov’s participation in Dissenter March protests was giving him a “street politician” image – almost a Bolshevik – clashing with his established image as a respectable politician, acceptable to part of the 1990s elite. Bunin sees Kasyanov’s withdrawal from the coalition as an attempt to repair his image. Unlike Konovalov, however, Bunin does not see this as an indication that Kasaynov has found some support within the Kremlin. Bunin maintains that the Kremlin still can’t stand Kasyanov.

The Vremya Novostei newspaper notes a point in favor of the Kremlin theory. The Justice Ministry rejected the NDS movement’s application for registration in October 2006, citing irregular documentation and inaccurate information. But now, for some reason, Kasyanov is hoping to register a new party – not for the Duma election, but for his own nomination as a presidential candidate.

Vladimir Lysenko, president of the Contemporary Politics Institute, says that the split between Kasyanov and the Other Russia was bound to happen. Lysenko told Novye Izvestia: “Right from the start, there were apprehensions that this coalition would survive up to a certain point – and then either cease to exist or transform itself into something new.”

Stanislav Belkovsky, president of the National Strategy Institute, says that the conflict was caused by Kasyanov’s personal ambitions. Belkovsky told Novye Izvestia: “When Kasyanov joined the Other Russia, he saw it as nothing more than a tool to ensure his own nomination as the sole presidential candidate representing the opposition.” But once it became clear that Kasyanov isn’t the most popular candidate, even within the Other Russia itself, “he no longer needed the coalition.”

Belkovsky’s own role in the Other Russia is highly ambiguous, says political analyst Sergei Ilyinsky. In an article for Izvestia, Ilyinsky notes that in autumn of 2006, Belkovsky was trying to position himself as the Other Russia’s chief ideologue. Now he seems to be setting up a “business rival”: the National Russian Liberation Movement – abbreviated as Narod (The People). A key figure in Narod is Sergei Gulyaev, also an activist in the Other Russia, who might become yet another opposition presidential candidate.

In late May, former Central Bank chairman Viktor Gerashchenko also declared his intention to run for president – at an event organized by Belkovsky. Ilyinsky concludes: “Thus, with regard to the Other Russia, Belkovsky seems to have adopted the principle of ‘if you can’t control it, destroy it.'”

A pessimistic view of the Other Russia’s current situation is shared by Irina Khakamada, Our Choice Fund president and NDS deputy chairwoman, as well as independent Duma member Vladimir Ryzhkov.

Khakamada told Novyi Region: “The coalition’s primary objective was to unite various opposition groups and demonstrate protest. The Other Russia has done so. Now it faces the task of selecting and nominating a common presidential candidate. Consensus on this question has not been reached – so the coalition doesn’t exist.”

Nezavisimaya Gazeta notes that Ryzhkov has expressed similar ideas, describing the Other Russia as “a crumbling coalition” which is “incapable of nominating a common candidate.”

But Khakamada added that the Other Russia can be revived: “Our coalition will come back to life when it starts reaching consensus on something. If there is consensus, the Other Russia exists. No consensus, no coalition. It’s a kind of expanded round-table conference.”

Boris Nemtsov, member of the SPS federal political council, remarks that no one expected the coalition to fall apart so soon. In an interview with The Times (translated into Russia at Inopressa.ru), he said the anti-Kremlin opposition would undermine what little chance it has by fielding rival candidates in next year’s presidential election. Nemtsov called on all opposition forces to endorse the same candidate – because Putin is leading Russia to disaster by reviving authoritarian government.

Nemtsov takes the view that the opposition has no chance of winning the presidential election, but argues that “the election should be used to explain our position – the idea that Putin’s policies are leading Russia in the direction of the Third Reich.”

Khakamada agrees with Nemtsov’s point about the need for a common candidate to represent the opposition, but maintains that success in the presidential election is possible if the common candidate is Kasyanov. In an interview with Novyi Region, Khakamada said: “Success is assured if Kasyanov is the common candidate representing all opposition forces, including the leftists and the mild opposition parties represented in parliament. That is, if he is endorsed by everyone – Ryzhkov, Yavlinsky, Belykh, Zyuganov, Kasparov, and others. Eveyone. And if there’s no alternative.”

Garry Kasparov’s allies from the United Civil Front maintain that the coalition still exists. They attribute Kasyanov’s departure to the weakness of his position.

A source from Kasparov’s team told Kommersant: “Kasyanov was the first to announce his intention to run for president, and he thinks he should have priority. He doesn’t want to be ranked alongside any other candidates. By contrast, Garry Kasparov has stated repeatedly that the selection and nomination procedure should be as transparent and democratic as possible, and he intended to discuss this question at the forum.”

Kasparov’s people aren’t too distressed about Kasyanov’s departure. “It looks like he made a sober assessment of his chances within the Other Russia and decided that he shouldn’t tempt fate – it would be better to move ahead on his own,” says Denis Bilunov, executive director of the United Civil Front – promising that Kasyanov’s name will be on the list of potential candidates anyway.

The Gazeta newspaper quotes Bilunov as saying that the coalition will continue to exist and its July 7-8 conference in Moscow will go ahead. Now that the People’s Democratic Union is out, the coalition includes Kasparov’s United Civil Front, Limonov’s National Bolshevik Party, and Lysenko’s Republicans.

“The conference will set the primaries process in motion,” Bilunov promised. “There will be dozens of regional conferences, to select delegates for the nationwide conference in autumn where a common presidential candidate will be chosen.”

RIA Novosti observer Andrei Kolesnikov maintains that none of these candidates are capable of uniting the opposition: “Mikhail Kasyanov is all too much a member of the nomenklatura. Viktor Gerashchenko might compromise himself again by undiscerning contacts with Dmitri Rogozin. Vladimir Bukovsky, alas, is a candidate for the elderly progressive intelligentsia. Sergei Gulyaev is a package of frozen food from the supermarket of political consulting.”

Kolesnikov notes that if it’s a matter of choosing the most popular liberal politician, opinion poll results indicate that the common candidate should be Irina Khakamada – but “she hasn’t had any public ambitions for some time.”

According to Kolesnikov, Russian citizens have forgotten how to exercise free choice. They have forgotten how to vote. Leaders and moral authority figures have vanished. However, all is not lost: “The people still retain a physical memory – a conscious voting reflex – which can be revived by means of regular exercise.”

Kolesnikov says: “For a start, we can practise on what we have. The potential successors might not even suffice for a bland diabetic meal – but perhaps the rumored third successor will turn out to have some salt and pepper. We could also try a retro-menu at state prices: Zyuganov, Yavlinsky. For those who like things hot and spicy – sometimes over-salted or over-cooked – there are the candidates from the opposition outside the system. They’re worth a taste. And before you know it, the working class will develop a taste for it. And within a couple of presidential cycles, a new national leader will emerge in Russia.”

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