THE UPCOMING FEDERAL ELECTIONS AS REPORTED BY THE CENTRAL MEDIA
The political scandal connected with the Federation Council vote on the resignation of General Prosecutor Yury Skuratov has made the new layout of Russian political forces evident. The refusal of regional leaders to vote as commanded, their demand for accountability from the senior executive power, greatly impressed the Russian political elite. Ruslan Orekhov, the former director of the Main State Legal Department of the President of the Russian Federation, attended the vote of the Federation Council and described his impressions to a Moskovskie Novosti reporter: “The time when it was possible to put forward something dubious, not understandable to governors, and then surreptitiously arrange things behind their backs, is over.” In Orekhov’s opinion, the case of Skuratov is only one token of the general tendency in regional electoral blocs. Having a clear picture of their interests, regional leaders intend to stick to them in the face of the federal center. “It is a normal historical challenge, but it is necessary to respond to it adequately. But no adequate response has followed from the federal center. These furtive meetings, hints, threats, etc. won’t do,” Orekhov said. Many papers wrote about failures of the Presidential Administration. Nezavisimaya Gazeta states: “The Kremlin has realized that it is losing its power, that it must do something. But the president’s assistants do not know what exactly to do, and the chaos among the president’s milieu is currently obvious.” Whereas Presidential Administration Director Alexander Voloshin blames Primakov for all recent failures, and says that the government will pay for all the wrath caused by the president’s misfortune with Skuratov, Oleg Sysuev, his deputy, and Dmitry Yakushkin, the president’s spokesman, disavow Voloshin’s statements and state that the president does not intend to quarrel with the premier. However, according to Nezavisimaya Gazeta, there is no one in reserve who could be an adequate substitute for Primakov. Furthermore, Yeltsin is unpopular today, whereas Primakov’s popularity is growing remarkably.
In connection with this, the weekly Vek discusses the grounds of stability of Primakov’s authority and comes to the conclusion that its essence is the balance of the functioning competent politician with the role of charismatic leader Yeltsin assumed on the very first day of his presidency. According to Vek, the public is already tired of this style, it does not answer its requirements.
The dismissal of Vadim Gustov and appointment of Interior Minister Sergei Stepashin to Gustov’s position was assessed by most of the media in this way: “No one gives up power easily.” Izvestia calls this appointment the last warning of the president to the Duma and the too-independent premier. “If the Duma continues to resist the president’s initiatives, he may turn to a person who is a deputy premier so far, but can easily become the premier and dissolve the Duma at any moment,” Izvestia wrote. Kommersant-daily entitled an article dedicated to the dismissal of Gustov as “The First Victim” and says that “Yeltsin will gradually oust Primakov from the White House by surrounding him with vice-premiers loyal to the Kremlin, and one of the latter will become the premier some day.” Nezavisimaya Gazeta calls Primakov’s state after Stepashin’s appointment “piquant” and holds that Stepashin may become the acting premier in the near future, for Yeltsin has asked Primakov about his health too often and advised him to take a vacation.
Novye Izvestia considers that Gustov’s dismissal showed the real price of Primakov’s promises to leave the cabinet as soon as any of his deputies is dismissed. Furthermore, by this action Yeltsin made it clear to everyone who is the boss. “Slightly showing his teeth to the left opposition, Yeltsin made them understand that he would meet the impeachment with attacks,” the paper says. However, Novye Izvestia holds that the main problem of Primakov’s government is not the political storms which it sees since the very beginning of its work but the absence of a distinct plan of getting Russia out of the crisis. “Inasmuch as the crisis is being exacerbated, the commonplace set of stabilization measures will not do any more; a somewhat unusual maneuver on a strategic scale is needed, and the current cabinet is unable to make this maneuver.” Although the government should not be blamed for this inability, since the task is much too difficult, still it ought to have explained to the public the real state of affairs, and formulated the main problems to solve. Instead, the government is involved with standard accusations against the previous authorities and complaints about insufficient state regulation. According to the newspaper, a government of such a qualification would have been acceptable 20 years ago, in the era of stagnation. “Today the solicitous question of the president about the premier’s health should be referred to the political health of the government rather than the physical health of its head.”
Yevgeny Primakov himself welcomed Stepashin’s appointment, and even called it “a rapturous phenomenon,” according to the newspaper Vremya MN. However, the newspaper is sure that “Mr. Stepashin has come to the White House with a serious purpose and for a long time, at least until the end of the electoral campaign.”
According to newspapers, Yeltsin’s numerous meetings with politicians of sundry orientations witness his intention to surround Primakov with his people. In particular, the president suggested that Primakov have a rest after Yeltsin met with Samara Governor Konstantin Titov, the leader of the Voice of Russia electoral bloc. According to Nezavisimaya Gazeta, Titov is Candidate Number One for the vice premier in charge of the economy in case of Maslyukov’s dismissal. By the way, Maslyuklov’s achievements at the negotiations with the IMF are ambiguously assessed by the media. Although Titov has not received any concrete proposals from the Kremlin so far, the title of the Honored Economist awarded to him last week by the president implies much. Moreover, according to Nezavisimaya Gazeta, meeting with Titov the president once more displayed his intention to control the political life of the country, including the course of the electoral campaign. In particular, he expressed his dissatisfaction with the amalgamation of the Otechestvo movement led by Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov and the All Russia movement led by Tatarstan President Mentimer Shaimiev. Yeltsin promised Titov to phone Shaimiev and tell him to ally with the Voice of Russia.
Meanwhile, according to Obshchaya Gazeta, All Russia analyzed all the pluses and minuses before allying with Otechestvo. On the one hand, this alliance gives All Russia a greater opportunity to obtain seats in the parliament at the Duma election. On the other hand, this alliance does not imply All Russia’s supporting Luzhkov at the presidential election. The paper notes that Luzhkov regards viewpoints of regional leaders in a very considerate way: at the congress of Otechestvo in Yaroslavl not a single word was uttered about the presidential election. At the press conference after the congress Luzhkov said that at the presidential election Otechestvo might have another candidate. “Since Luzhkov’s allies consider this other candidate to be Yevgeny Primakov, the Otechestvo leader mentioned the premier with much respect.” At the same time Luzhkov appealed to Primakov “to determine his political orientation and make clear his concept of structure of the representative power.”
The weekly Interfax-Vremya comments on Luzhkov’s statement that the Otechestvo-All Russia bloc may be led by Primakov: “Such assertions could hardly have been made without Primakov’s preliminary consent.” This consent could have come on the eve of the congress in Yaroslavl, at the meeting between Primakov and Luzhkov, to which journalists paid much attention.
Interfax-Vremya believes that, notwithstanding all political storms, the premier has more opportunities to become the president than does the Moscow Mayor. “Primakov is supported with reservations by various political forces, from Yabloko to the Communist party (CPRF). He is respected, and governors are ready to work with him.” At the same time, Primakov is the only serious rival of Luzhkov. Furthermore, Luzhkov needs an entry point into federal politics. A premiership under President Primakov would give him this opportunity. Therefore the weekly does not discount the possibility that Luzhkov’s announcement that Primakov may lead the Otechestvo-All Russia bloc is only publicizing some agreements made at the meeting between Luzhkov and Primakov.
However, impediments for Luzhkov in the cause of obtaining the presidency may appear independently of any political layouts. Last week the media said that Moscow was facing a default on its loans. In May-June the terms of repayment of the majority of foreign debts come due, and, according to Nezavisimaya Gazeta, Moscow will hardly manage to repay all the debts by itself. “If creditors do not consent to concessions and postpone payments, Moscow will have to repeat Russia’s August trick, i.e. unilaterally refuse to fulfill its financial obligations.” In such a situation Otechestvo’s slogan “We will do all over Russia what we have done in Moscow” sounds laughable, and there will be no talk of Luzhkov’s participation in the presidential race.
To all appearances, the reluctance of most governors to finally define their political orientation is mostly accounted for by the vicissitudes of the Russian economic and political situation. According to the newspaper Segodnya, “governors willingly attend party forums and even sign corresponding announcements, but they prefer not to make haste about the final decision.” The newspaper divides regional leaders into three groups. To the first group the paper assigns those who are certain about their political viewpoint. They are not very numerous: Yaroslavl Governor Anatoly Lisitsin (Otechestvo), Bryansk Governor Yury Lodkin (CPRF), and Ryazan Governor Vyacheslav Lyubimov (CPRF). Those supporting several movements at once are more numerous. For instance, Perm Governor Gennady Igumnov has joined both the Voice of Russia and the All Russia movements, simultaneously retaining membership in Our Home Is Russia (NDR). Astrakhan Governor Anatoly Guzhvin has also joined Shaimiev’s movement, retaining his membership in the NDR. Petr Sumin, head of the administration of the Chelyabinsk region, in spite of the fact that he was Zyuganov’s confidant at the 1996 presidential election, has joined two electoral blocs, the Voice of Russia and All Russia. The list may be continued.
But there is the third group. It consists of governors that have made their choice but have not forgotten to reserve an opportunity for maneuvering. For instance, Saratov Governor Dmitry Ayatskov has recently become Chernomyrdin’s deputy in the NDR. But his brother-in-arms Alexander Kharitonov, the Speaker of the regional Duma, has entered the Voice of Russia. Vyacheslav Volodin, one more ally of Ayatskov’s, was one of the founding members of Otechestvo. Kostroma Governor Viktor Shershunov is a member of the CPRF, whereas his Senior Deputy Yury Tsikunov is elected into the council of the NDR, and Kostroma regional Duma Speaker Andrei Bychkov is a member of the Voice of Russia.
According to the newspaper, governors’ positions will be clarified in autumn, when it is clear whether Otechestvo will retain its high level of support, whether the NDR manages to overcome its internal political crisis, what is the future of Titov’s project, and what will remain of All Russia.
Many political observers have doubts about the destiny of the NDR. According to Obshchaya Gazeta, the crisis of this movement was revealed in full at its recent congress, in spite of attempts by its leaders “to overcome the syndrome of the party of power and bureaucratic short-sightedness.” According to the paper, the main trouble with the NDR is that the “cream of the native bureaucracy who established the NDR are not inclined to overcome the syndrome of the party of power and create a different image,” since in this case there will be nothing left of the present movement, and NDR leaders will have to start from scratch. Perhaps it is for this reason that potential allies of the NDR enumerated by Chernomyrdin, such as Luzhkov, Shaimiev, Titov, do not show much desire to make friends with the NDR. As Obshchaya Gazeta notes, “residents of Our Home have apparently decided that it is easier to destroy this pompous dwelling than to reconstruct it.”
Nezavisimaya Gazeta regards the results of the NDR congress in a somewhat different way. It calls the new program published at the congress “unprecedented in some ways.” Nezavisimaya Gazeta notes that none of Russian political movements has been so self-critical as the NDR, which gives Our Home a chance to recover itself. According to Nezavisimaya Gazeta, such a critical self-assessment was made due to Vladimir Ryzhkov, the NDR Duma faction leader. The paper called him “unbelievably clever for his young age, for he did not abandon the sinking ship and, being true to the captain, did his best to restore the NDR.” Nezavisimaya Gazeta holds that if the NDR manages to restore its former influence, it will owe its success primarily to Ryzhkov.
Newspapers highlight the growth of nationalism in society aroused by the Balkan war. The talk is not only about the electoral National Union comprising the nationalist organizations Spas, Renascence, and the Russian National Unity led by Barkashov (whose influence, according to Moskovskie Novosti, may increase during the electoral race). Moskovskie Novosti says that “Barkashov has always emitted the odor of controllability. Preserving the reputation of the most orthodox of the orthodox, he has never dared infringe on interests of special services and the military-industrial complex.”
However, it should be taken into account that along with the traditional “brown” nationalists there are also “red” nationalists, such as the coalition between the Army Support Movement, the Russian party, and the trade union movement, which also intends to run in the election, actively propagating its views. The weekly Kommersant-Vlast writes about changes among the Russian nationalists. The viewpoints of General Albert Makashov are well known already. Kommersant-Vlast also bases its case on leaflets of the Russian party calling for “the return to Russians of all they have been robbed of by Zionists,” and “to purge Moscow from the Zionist-Caucasian mafia,” etc. However, the most curious are the conclusions made by the Itogi weekly regarding CPRF leader Gennady Zyuganov, reputed nearly a social-democrat in society and scolded by his brothers-in-arms for his conciliatory policy towards the authorities. Noting the fact that image flaws and lack of talents have not kept Zyuganov from leading the largest party in Russia for six years, Itogi comes to the conclusion that “however insipid Gennady Zyuganov may seem, it is thanks to him that the CPRF has altogether given up Marxism and ‘left’ values of old-style communists and taken up fundamentalism and nationalism as its slogans.” Zyuganov’s main theoretical postulate, “Orthodox Russia versus the Judaic West,” is embodied and explicated in his books. According to Itogi, it is difficult to find in Zyuganov’s treatises something about “change of formations,” “class struggle,” or any other vestiges of the doctrines of Marx, Engels, or Lenin. “Proletarian internationalism” is also forgotten. It is due to Zyuganov that the Communist party has shifted to extreme nationalistic positions. According to Itogi, he was elected for this very purpose, and it is naive to think that Zyuganov’s viewpoints considerably differ from those of General Makashov. The correspondent quotes a fragment from Zyuganov’s brochure “When the Fatherland Is in Danger.” It says: “Another movement distinctly and actively appeared during the last months of last year. Its leaders are prosecutor Viktor Ilukhin and General Albert Makashov. This movement appeared spontaneously in order to resist the impudent attacks of the destroyers of Russia brandishing the cudgel of ‘racism’ and ‘anti-Semitism’. This movement acts under the banner of stopping of the genocide and oppression of Russians.” Thus, the Communists stand for the elections under the banner of nationalism, according to the weekly. This is not surprising, since even before the events in Yugoslavia, according to polls held by Russian Public Opinion Study Center, some 43% of Russians supported the slogan “Russia for Russians”.