HOW THE UPCOMING PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS ARE INTERPRETED BY THE CENTRAL MEDIA
Last week, Premier Yevgeny Primakov, one might say the latent candidate for president, was once again in the limelight of the media’s attention. In the opinion of Moskovsky Komsomolets, the premier has taken several steps which make his presidential aspirations fairly obvious. The first step was the well-known about-face turn of Primakov’s plane over the Atlantic. By doing this, the paper asserts, Primakov “raised the banner of national pride and consciousness” and therefore “has become an absolutely central figure” in the political elite. This episode was followed by the scandal surrounding General Prosecutor Yury Skuratov, in which Primakov apparently supported the president, but did not immediately declare his position in public, thus raising ungrounded hopes among Duma Communists that “Primakov could possibly be won over.” However, the paper is of the opinion that that time Primakov was also pursuing goals of his own, which he proved “by exchanging Skuratov for Berezovsky.” As a result, Moskovsky Komsomolets maintains, the situation has developed in an extremely favorable way for Primakov and his cabinet. Berezovsky “may be regarded in Russia as arrested, but he does not have to testify,” which suits many representatives of the political establishment perfectly well. (“He knows too much and has paid too many people.”) Apart from that, everybody has come to realize that if, of all people, Berezovsky was given such treatment, anyone may be next. The most essential point is that “the security ministers, who have now been given opportunities that they could not even dream of previously, will, no doubt, from now on regard Primakov as their recognized leader. If earlier this only went for the Foreign Intelligence Service and the Main Intelligence Department, now all the special services have realized that ‘Primakov is super-ours’.” In addition, according to polls of the National Center for the Study of Public Opinion (NCSPO) published by Trud, it turns out that the premier still enjoys the support of the population: his activities were approved by 64% of the respondents, whereas those of president Yeltsin were only supported by 6%. In addition, 67% of those polled did not agree that if Primakov comes to power in Russia it would mean a Communist coup d’etat. On the other hand, 8% not only agreed with this but even expressed their support of such a scenario. Apparently, Primakov’s main opponent – Berezovsky – has also felt that the premier’s influence on the situation in Russia is growing. At any rate, the former Executive Secretary of the CIS dedicated all his interviews last week to Primakov to a great extent. In one of them, given to Moscow News weekly while in Kiev (when Berezovsky, in his words, was not allowed to leave for Moscow and his plane was refused an air corridor), he asserted that the path chosen by Primakov’s government is “the most fallacious and most tragic” for this country. “Currently, even the Communists are less dangerous than Primakov.” In Berezovsky’s opinion, the Communists have no chance of coming to power because for Russia they and their program are already in the past. On the other hand, Primakov, to all appearances, has prospects, although they are very dubious: “He wants to build an empire. This will again cost tens of millions of peoples’ lives. We have already had all this before, and the result of such construction is also well known. In this sense, Primakov is certainly not a person of his time. Russia is now living in a different epoch.” In addition, Berezovsky maintains that the construction of a new empire, which is impossible to perform on the basis of Communist ideology, is fairly possible on the grounds of Russian nazism, and, according to Berezovsky’s logic, it turns out that Nazism is not an obstacle to Primakov’s intentions. In another interview to Segodnya, Berezovsky reproached Primakov for his loyal attitude towards anti-Semitism: “Anti-Semitism has never threatened the existence of the Russian state structure. Primakov is solely interested in what is cementing the empire.” Like “Moskovsky Komsomolets”, Berezovsky asserts that “Primakov’s main power lies with the security services.” It is them, and not at all the Communists in the Duma and the government, who are the premier’s chief support force: “Primakov is the leader of the remnants of the special services, which are fighting the reforms. I am not afraid of Primakov, but I know what he is capable of.”
On the other hand, when discussing the history of the warrant for the arrest of Berezovsky, Segodnya does not discount the possibility that the relevant decision was made not by the White House but by the Kremlin. Segodnya is of the opinion that it is quite possible that the president’s inner circle “surrendered” Berezovsky to the General Prosecutor’s Office. “After all, Yeltsin is already used to parting with his comrades-in-arms. Cynically speaking, this might indeed be a strong move on the eve of the vote on impeachment.” According to the media, the president has taken many such anticipatory steps in the past several days. Last week, the would-be impeachment was one of the main topics of discussion in the Russian print media. On April 9, the majority of publications quoted Primakov’s statement which he made during his closed meeting with the leaders of the Duma factions, at which great attention was devoted to the impeachment problem. Primakov said, “I do not think that we need it at this juncture.” According to Nezavisimaya Gazeta, this form of argumentation made the president’s inner circle very indignant and, to all appearances, this indignation was conveyed to the president himself. At any rate, during a meeting with the heads of Federation republics, Yeltsin, in turn, remarked that at this juncture he does not intend to dismiss Primakov: “Time will tell, but currently Primakov is useful to us.” Thus, the tension in the relations between the president and premier has evidently grown. On the other hand, Segodnya asserts that the Duma, in fact, is preparing the impeachment not so much of the president as to the premier: the presidential administration already has a plan of counterattack against the left majority in parliament. The first paragraph of this plan stipulates firing the Communist ministers, which will inevitably provoke the premier’s dismissal. “The government’s dismissal will raise a storm in the Duma, and the Kremlin will aquire a parallel opposition center of power and, thereby, a disturbance.” The paper admits that, “knowing the president’s character,” he is fairly ready to resort to non-standard methods of liquidating the current crisis, including forceful ones. This topic – the increasing threat of a forceful resolution of the political crisis – was also widely reported by practically all central media outlets. According to Nezavisimaya Gazeta, Gennady Zyuganov, in one of his speeches, stated that he considered it necessary to caution the security ministries “against participating in any actions connected with the introduction of a state of emergency in this country.” The CPRF leader stressed that “any attempt at actions like those of 1993 will lead to the disintegration of Russia.” On the other hand, the paper notes that, if the situation develops according to the worst-case emergency scenario, the Communists may take advantage of the dissolution of the Duma and the following election: “To all appearances, the left is certain that nobody will be able to prevent them from winning in the upcoming parliamentary election any longer, whether it is held on time or ahead of schedule. Undoubtedly, a large party such as the CPRF may act much more rapidly in a time trouble than all the rest.” Perhaps that is the reason why, according to Vremya MN, it appears that the Kremlin is overestimating the degree of the Duma’s interest in the preservation of Primakov’s government. The “barter” proposed by the presidential administration – “we will not disturb your government if you do not impeach the president” – is considered unworthy. The paper reports that Mr. Reshulsky, coordinator of the CPRF faction, has once again confirmed the invariability of the party’s plans. The paper poses a question: in this case, who is the addressee of the Kremlin’s threats concerning dismissing the government? Perhaps Primakov himself, whom the Kremlin is trying to “provoke into doing something really unforgettable, after which he would be forced to leave with a lot of door-slamming and the Communists would be accused of sloppiness in the coalition government.” “Vek” weekly also discusses the topic of impeachment of the president and the danger of the dismissal of the government connected with it and poses the following question: why is it, then, that the premier is staying so serene? The paper notes that, despite all the twists and turns of the political situation, Primakov is so far the unquestioned potential leader in the presidential race. “If the premier is ousted from the White House it would automatically equate his further political career with that of Yeltsin in 1989-1991, which would only strengthen his authority in society.” As Yeltsin remarked at the aforementioned meeting with the leaders of Russian republics (his words are quoted by Kommersant-daily), “People in Russia are compassionate and pity those who are offended.” On the other hand, these words were spoken regarding not Primakov but the Communists: this was how the president explained why it would be senseless to ban the CPRF.