THOSE WHO WOULD BE PRESIDENT

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Potential presidential candidates – from Kasianov to Lebedev

Who will join the battle for the “post-Putin” Kremlin? This question is becoming more and more of a preoccupation for politicians. The ranks of those who aspire to conquer the Kremlin are multiplying. So who are the opposition candidates?Who will join the battle for the “post-Putin” Kremlin? This question is becoming more and more of a preoccupation for politicians – even with all the talk of constitutional reform and a possibly reduced role for the presidency.


The United Russia party’s candidates have already been mentioned repeatedly: Sergei Ivanov, Boris Gryzlov, Alexei Kudrin. There’s even a dark horse: Governor Alexander Tkachev of the Krasnodar territory.

They’re all taking note of the “Putin factor,” of course – believing that Putin will seek to prolong his time in office. Meanwhile, Putin himself is repeating with enviable stubbornness that the Constitution should not be amended: two consecutive terms is the limit. In response, a Putin loyalist – Federation Council Speaker Sergei Mironov – has already proposed that Putin should become prime minister in 2008.

In such a favorable atmosphere, the ranks of those who aspire to conquer the Kremlin are multiplying. So who are the opposition candidates?

They can be divided into two groups: irreconcilables and loyalists.

Off the leash

Obviously, the “irreconcilable” presidential candidates are backed by well-known figures such as Boris Berezovsky, Leonid Nevzlin, and Mikhail Khodorkovsky. Plus a number of silent oligarchs – friends of Yeltsin’s Family. These oligarchs, such as Roman Abramovich, are demonstrating loyalty to the Kremlin at present. Their candidate might be someone like Khodorkovsky, for example; therefore, the Kremlin’s objective is to keep him out of the election – by keeping him behind bars for another three years or so.

Meanwhile, Mikhail Kasianov has already expressed his wish to run for president. Then again, it might turn out that he is following orders to divert attention from the real candidate; especially since the Yeltsin’s Family oligarchs have always believed that “even a puppet” can be elected president if enough money is spent.

The right-wing liberals are another segment of the opposition. Due to their over-confidence, they are not represented in the Duma at present. However, liberal ideas do have some support in Russia, so a right-wing liberal presidential candidate – such as chess champion Garry Kasparov – would have a chance. Still, the same condition applies: only if a great deal of money is available.

Neither can we discount potential left-wing candidates, of course. These would include the Communist Party’s usual candidate, Gennadi Zyuganov, or one of his younger supporters. Another “new leftist” is Dmitri Rogozin, leader of the Motherland (Rodina) party. He has expanded his political presence over the past year, shedding the “Kremlin-made” label. Thus, he still has time to become a true “defender of the common people.” The Voronezh region elections proved this.

Tame

The other part of the opposition is called “tame.” These are the leftists who are tolerated by the Kremlin. Snapping at Zyuganov’s heels is a prominent splitter from the Communist Party – Gennadi Semigin, now leader of the Russian Patriots coalition. He has already got a head start by announcing the formation of a shadow government. This group is extremely diverse, with the aim of appealing to as many voters as possible. The Kremlin isn’t doing anything to stop Semigin, though it clearly isn’t helping him either. In fact, he has already achieved his purpose: stirring up scandal and conflict for Zyuganov.

More recently, a timid response was heard from somewhere behind the scenes: former Duma speaker Gennadi Seleznev saying, “Me too!” Like Semigin, he has done a great deal to split the leftists in the Duma. In return for this, he naturally has the right to expect a certain amount of support from the “king-makers.”

Perhaps the most unexpected figure in the forthcoming Presidential Election Drama is a new Duma member: Alexander Lebedev, billionaire banker and former spy. He has already attracted the Kremlin’s attention by nominating himself in an election to spite Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov.

Lebedev has started making many public statements, and activating the sluggish National Investment Council. This is reminiscent of what Khodorkovsky did in the past – buying up many analysts and experts.

Lebedev the banker, along with the wealthy candidates from the irreconcilable opposition, would also have an advantage in the event of Russia becoming a parliamentary republic. Obviously, it’s much cheaper to buy up 450 Duma members who elect a powerful prime minister than it is to buy up 100 million voters.

However, another question arises: what does the Kremlin think of all this? What is Putin’s own opinion? Which path will he take, and what kind of genies will he be releasing from bottles in the immediate future?

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