THE UPCOMING FEDERAL ELECTIONS AS REPORTED BY THE NATIONAL MEDIA
In the opinion of the majority of political observers, the Federation Council’s repeated refusal to heed to the president’s request and accept the resignation of General Prosecutor Yury Skuratov marks the beginning of a new political era. As Izvestia put it, it has become clear that “political decisions are no longer made in the Kremlin.” In fact, what has happened is a change in the state system – a transformation of this country from a presidential republic to a parliamentary one. “Izvestia” does not think this promises anything good at all: the leftist tendency in the Duma is obvious, and the government’s actions which are oriented toward the left parliamentary opposition are forcing the Russian economy to become more and more socialist in nature. The political course of the government is also gradually acquiring an ominous tinge, something like “under the banner of the struggle against corruption it is possible to finish off the entire former political elite”.
Nezavisimaya Gazeta is of the opinion that, in the new situation, the threat of impeachment of the president is becoming very probable. Previously, many took the Duma opposition’s aspiration to carry out the impeachment case to its conclusion at any cost to be rather senseless, and it was considered that the upper chamber of parliament would not support the deputies’ efforts. Now, however, the left opposition in the Duma has regained not ungrounded hope for the senators’ support. By demonstrating its independence of the Kremlin, the Federation Council has made it understood that “a new powerful, independent, and absolutely unpredictable player” has entered the political field.
Kommersant-daily calls the senators’ decision “a slap in the face of the president.” The paper has strong doubts as to whether Yeltsin will resign himself to such a situation and humbly become one of “the Kremlin’s pensioners”. It is more likely, the paper predicts, that the president will decide to launch a counterattack, which may well mean dismissing the acting government at the first convenient moment. On the other hand, it is so far difficult to predict when exactly this convenient moment may happen. Currently, “Kommersant-daily” stresses, the president has nobody to support him: “He has quarreled with the government, the governors have shown utter disregard for him, and his relations with the Duma are better not mentioned at all.” Still, there is no reason to wait for a political lull: “If our memory serves, the president has frequently decided to make serious political moves not at all because he had sound support, but simply because he suddenly got bold enough.” In general, all newspapers are unanimous in the opinion that the question of the government’s possible dismissal may once again come up, depending on the results of the impeachment vote, which has been postponed until May.
Segodnya is not very enthusiastic about such a prospect. The paper takes “the rocking of the political boat” to be inappropriate – in its opinion, Yevgeny Primakov is the one and only guarantor of “a bloodless succession of power in 2000.” Therefore, Yeltsin should know better than to make any decisions which may lead to confrontation, no matter how strong his desire to get rid of the premier may be.
Nezavisimaya Gazeta, in turn, is certain that the vote of the left opposition in favor of impeaching the president may well be followed by retaliatory measures against the government. Furthermore, the paper is of the opinion that the situation may well develop into a real state catastrophe: “The current situation bears a striking resemblance to the one which developed around Mikhail Gorbachev after his 1991 captivity in Foros.” By their decision about a particular case, regional leaders have demonstrated to the center that they no longer need its promises of “great authority”, since they are capable of taking this authority by themselves. The regions are becoming less and less interested in meager federal transfers, and if, in fact, the USSR disintegrated owing to a drop in oil prices, Russia’s disintegration may be caused by anarchy in this country against the background of the general economic crisis, “Nezavisimaya Gazeta” writes.
As always, the statements of Krasnoyarsk Governor Alexander Lebed are remarkable for their laconic brevity. In an interview to Segodnya, he stated that the current situation in Russia reminds him of the revolutionary year 1917, and that the only salvation lies in strong power: “This is just Russia’s way. It was not me who invented this – Russia can have either strong power, or anarchy, arbitrariness, and bloodshed. Even if the presidential power is bad at ruling the country, it must be strong in Russia.” Lebed does not support impeachment, despite the forecasts of Boris Berezovsky, who has more than once predicted that Lebed, more than anybody else, currently has good chances for victory in a would-be pre-term presidential election. Lebed said, “I take forecasts calmly. I hate to say it, but all these ‘ifs’ do not change the situation in the slightest.” Many publications dedicated to the meeting of the Federation Council at which the senators demonstrated the new layout of the political forces in Russia to the president and his circle, pay special attention to the position taken by Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov.
Vremya MN even believes that it was none other than him on whom the results of the vote depended: “When, regardless of any conditions, 50 senators of the ‘Red belt’ a number of Russian regions with a predominantly pro-Communist population – translator’s note would vote against the president’s position, it was mainly Luzhkov and his adherents (slightly over 20 votes) who decided the question of Skuratov’s resignation.” We should remind our readers that 61 senators voted in favor of the general prosecutor’s resignation and 79 against it. Luzhkov voted against the resignation. Furthermore, in his televised interviews he advised Yeltsin to resign himself to what had happened. Nevertheless, despite Luzhkov’s ‘defection’, the media doubt that the president can afford to split with the leader of the Fatherland movement. “Nezavisimaya Gazeta” points out that “the Kremlin cannot fail to fear the possibility of finding itself all alone and face to face with all its enemies. Gone are the days when it was better to be fastidious about Luzhkov – now he is a strategic ally.”
Kommersant-daily assumes that the inconsistency of Luzhkov’s behavior can be explained by his apprehension that the president’s sudden favor of him, which has been demonstrated to him twice during the past month, may just as suddenly be replaced by irritation: “As Kremlin old-timers clearly remember, Yeltsin certainly loves to give 100% guarantees, but he likes even more to go back on his words.” Therefore, as “Kommersant-daily” asserts, Luzhkov’s advisors are strongly recommending him not to exchange the stable post of Moscow mayor for “illusory promises of becoming Yeltsin’s successor.” However, nobody doubts that Luzhkov is currently rated as one of the most likely candidates for the president’s successor on Yeltsin’s personal list.
Argumenty i Fakty notes that, since 1992, Luzhkov has demonstrated his loyalty and fidelity to Yeltsin more than once. The president and Moscow mayor have many things in common: clearly outlined charisma, an inclination toward populism, and an authoritarian style of administration. However, there are also differences between the two, and, in the paper’s opinion, those are of principal importance: as is known, Yeltsin is “an anti-Communist to the marrow,” while Luzhkov has not yet defined his ideology. Although he calls himself a centrist, his attempts to come to terms now with Yavlinsky, now with Kirienko, now with Zyuganov provoke the suspicion of the Kremlin: “Can the president feel at ease as regards his own fate and the future of his family after handing power over to such an ambiguous successor?” Luzhkov’s unpredictability and uncontrollability are the second reason why the media cannot finally recognize him as Yeltsin’s successor. The first reason being, of course, the unpredictability of Yeltsin himself: “Once he called Nemtsov his ‘political grandson’, then hinted (and keeps hinting) that Chernomyrdin is stronger and smarter than anyone else. After that he called Saratov Governor Ayatskov the future president. Luzhkov is not the first one and most likely not the last one on this list.”
Nezavisimaya Gazeta also considers Luzhkov to be one of the chief claimants for the presidency. However, the article’s author, Georgy Kozyrev, the chief of the Department for Political Relations of the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs, names another candidate, who is, in his opinion, more preferable than the capricious Moscow mayor, namely Yevgeny Primakov. Of late, the number of publications dedicated to Primakov’s chances for victory in the presidential election in 2000 has noticeably decreased, but this topic cannot be considered altogether closed. In Kozyrev’s opinion, no one but Primakov perfectly fits the image of “the father of the nation”: he is “predictable, very cautious, and ‘all-round’ when it comes to making decisions. Primakov stands for a thoroughly considered economic and political course. This is what appeals most of all to the majority of Russians today.” (By the way, this opinion was proven by the results of sociological polls reported by Yevgeny Kiselev on Sunday’s “Itogi” TV analytical program.) On the other hand, Kozyrev notes, Primakov has no opportunity to even hint at his potential intentions to participate in the election: “The president, jealous and capricious as he is, would in this case immediately dismiss the daring premier.” We can only hope, Kozyrev writes, that Yeltsin will reconsider after some time has passed and call Primakov his successor, thus relieving the latter from the obligations he gave not to run for president. On the other hand, it is also possible that the premier will receive other opportunities. These started being talked about after Luzhkov, the leader of Fatherland, Mintimer Shaimiyev, the leader of the All-Russia bloc of regional leaders, and Konstantin Titov, the leader of Voice of Russia, announced the creation of an election association.
Kommersant-daily predicts that “if this actually happens, we will have the full right to think that a real party of power has finally emerged in Russia – the party of the regions.”
The paper notes that, on the day after the vote in the Federation council on Skuratov’s resignation, which was called “the last day of the president’s power” by General Lebed, the organizational committee of All Russia movement held a meeting. The post of the movement’s leader is still vacant, and the paper assumes that it may be offered to Primakov. At any rate, Luzhkov went to the premier immediately after the unifying meeting, which was commented on in a relevant way by an anonymous representative of the presidential administration: “We are observing an attempt to glue Luzhkov to Primakov.”
On the other hand, the paper is of the opinion that, by entering such a representative alliance, Luzhkov is most likely retaining hope for “his own game” under more favorable circumstances, i.e. if Primakov takes a false step.
Luzhkov’s speech to the second congress of Fatherland in Yaroslavl served as evidence that he does not intend to miss even the smallest opportunity to strengthen his movement and his links to the regions. Vremya MN quoted Luzhkov as saying, “First we will change the legislative branch in December through democratic elections. We will finally elect normal people as legislators, ones who know what is to be done and how. And in June 2000 we will replace the president.” This time Luzhkov was severe toward the government: “We must admit that the government’s efforts are not enough to ensure stabilization and, more importantly, economic growth. The government’s program lacks clear reference points.” However, the paper writes, during a press conference immediately after the congress, Luzhkov’s statements were much milder and he once again said that Fatherland supports Primakov. In the paper’s opinion, such a sharp change of view shows that Luzhkov has no need of strategic partners: “therefore, he needs his tactical allies as required.” Nevertheless, on April 24 in Yaroslavl, Luzhkov spoke more than once about his intention to act together with Shaimiyev’s bloc. With Yabloko he admitted the possibility of “partnership”, and with Voice of Russia only the possibility of “consultations” and expressed certain doubts that Konstantin Titov’s bloc would prove itself.
Titov himself also expressed anxiety about the fate of his bloc in an interview to Nezavisimaya Gazeta. The Samara governor’s indignation was caused by the support which the presidential administration provided to Shaimiyev’s All Russia. In Titov’s words, by participating in the creation of the second regional bloc, the president’s circle “is pushing for a split.” Titov sees in this certain political intrigue: “This came rather unexpectedly to me – they are creating one more block. What for? If somebody needs leadership, let him have it. I will offer my position to him. Let him come and work instead of me.”
Vek weekly commented on these grudges of the Samara governor and admitted the possibility that the president’s circle may actually work to split the regional leaders. The ever-growing independence of the heads of Federation subjects from the center and their aspiration to pool their efforts on the eve of the election to penetrate the highest echelons of state power are causing a counteraction on the part of the president’s team. The more “regional parties”, which are so popular now, the fewer the chances of each one to come to power.
On the other hand, it is obvious that it is easier to become famous by struggling against something than by standing for a positive program. Thus, as Segodnya writes of Titov’s block’s intention to stand “for a conservative revolution and against the Moscow elite”, the majority of voters will certainly understand the second part much better. On the other hand, due to the necessity of intelligibly explaining the essence of his positions, and also since political conservatism is in vogue, Titov was forced to draw a sudden parallel between Russia of the 1990’s and the US of the 1970’s. This caused an ironic remark in “Segodnya”: “Like a bolt from the blue, we have our own Ronald Reagan.” The paper remarks that, like the former California governor who became head of the conservative revolution in the US, Titov has announced his intention to perform something of the kind by challenging “the capital’s bureaucracy, of which everybody is already sick and tired,” and first of all the bureaucracy of Luzhkov. Titov has called on his colleagues, the regional leaders, to give some breathing room to “the taciturn majority”, and in the next election to oust from power “the garish political minority,” which in fact represents the interests “of two or three parties of the Moscow Ring Road.”
It is not completely clear whether anybody actually heard Titov’s call: out of all the regional leaders, the conference of Voice of Russia was attended only by Tumen Governor Leonid Roketsky, who, however, as Vek certifies, completely shares Titov’s views: “All movements organized by Moscow are similar. We watch Moscow squabbles from the province and arrive at the conclusion that there are already too few people who care about establishing order in this country.” However, Andrei Loginov, chief of the president’s Department for Domestic Policy, who also attended the conference (as part of his duties), sees the recent active development of various parties from a different angle. In his opinion, all regional associations (he names Voice of Russia, All Russia, and perhaps some others whose names we will learn later on) are founded on one and the same principle and have “roughly one and the same electorate.” Apart from that, “of all possible types of electoral resources – ideological, organizational, communicative, financial, and administrative” – they intend to use only the last one. In this sense, Loginov asserts, Luzhkov’s Fatherland has evident advantages over these regional associations, for “it is consolidating the support of not merely one resource but of the entire gammut of resources.” Loginov explains what he means: Fatherland has much greater charismatic resources (thanks to Luzhkov) than any other movement. “The ideological resource is expounded in their program,” which is being actively propagated. As for Fatherland’s financial resources, everything is fine there, too: “No governor signing the memorandum to create a new party would seriously subsidize the electoral campaign.” And Moscow’s organizational resources considerably exceed those of Kazan or Samara. Thus, Loginov, the influential representative of the presidential administration, makes the regional leaders understand that, despite all their efforts, Moscow still leaves them far behind.
One other electoral bloc was created last week in Moscow – the bloc of Russian nationalists. It comprises Russian National Unity of Alexander Barkashov, Savior of Vladimir Davidenko, and Renaissance of Vladimir Skurlatov. Until now, none of the members of the bloc have participated in elections. According to the bloc’s leaders, NATO’s military action in the Balkans and the “patriotic wave” in Russia caused by it have given them a chance to win. The nationalists are certain that they now have their own electorate and that they no longer need “either the votes of pensioners taken away from the CPRF or those of liberal businessmen taken from the LDPR” to be victorious.
On the other hand, upon learning that Davidenko, an LDPR faction deputy, is the initiator of the National Bloc, the press service of the LDPR did not show any anxiety: “After the bombings of Yugoslavia, there will be enough space for everyone in the ‘national field’.”
The press is continuing to discuss possible sources for financing the future election campaigns. In the opinion of Kommersant-vlast weekly, one of the tasks of Nikolai Bordyuzha, the new head of the State Customs Committee, is to find money for the election. The paper published the following calculation: last year, according to official information, imports into Russia equaled $44 billion. According to unofficial calculations of customs officials, the figure must be around $90 billion including shadow business. In other words, the ratio of the circulation of legal and illegal customs is one to one. This year, after the financial crisis, imports have decreased by half. It is expected that, overall in 1999, $45 billion worth of commodities will be imported into Russia. If the ratio of official and shadow circulation remains the same, the planned budget revenues from the legal part of customs collection will amount to $7 billion. Therefore, the most customs income from the illegal part of circulation may be the same. The paper notes, “Even Vladimir Bryntsalov might get elected president if he possessed $7 billion.”