Last week, the political struggle in the higher echelons of power entered a new phase, which was reported by many central media. The offstage intrigues and favoritism which have been called “a battle of bulldogs under the carpet” by the Western press are old news in Russian political life. However, the frankness with which all participants in the political battles acted this time came as a shock to many political observers.

Segodnya declares that, as a result of the political maneuverings connected with the appointments and dismissals in the new government, it has finally become clear that, from now on, it is not at all the president who makes decisions but the so-called “small Kremlin politburo” (comprising Valentin Yumashev, Boris Berezovsky, Roman Abramovich, Tatiana Dyachenko, and Alexander Voloshin). Recnet events have demonstrated that this group’s power is nearly limitless, and none of its members intends to conceal this fact – the offstage political actors could not care less about public opinion. They are focusing on concrete tasks: establishing control over everything related to monetary flows and resources.

The same newspaper asserts in another article that, in fact, the task of taking control over all monetary flows has already been completed. The replacement of the managers of the Transneft oil company, the expansion at its expense of the Middle Eastern oil business of the Sibneft oil company (headed by Abramovich), the handover of Tumenenergo, the most efficient branch of Russian Joint Energy Systems (RJES) to the control of Sibneft, the ripening scandal surrounding Gazprom (it is expected that the shares parcel managed by Rem Vyakhirev will be handed given over to the management of Viktor Kalyuzhny, the new Minister of Fuel and Energy) – all of this gives the paper grounds to conclude that financial flows are being used “to replenish the Kremlin’s goblet.”

Only several days ago, some observers (for instance Leonid Radzikhovsky of Segodnya) were at a loss as to why the first family wants unlimited political power, since only 12 months remain until the presidential election. Could it be that they just want to exercise it once more, before they lose it forever?

After the adoption of Stepashin and the failure of the impeachment hearings, it seemed that the president and his circle had a brilliant chance to pack their suitcases and prepare a favorable path for Yeltsin’s successor. The new premier, Sergei Stepashin, was a good candidate, for he was faithful to the president and even had a chance of being elected president in 2000.

But now that situation has changed. Nobody seriously thinks now that the change of power in the country will be calm and democratic. Vremya MN” openly asserts that “the election may well not happen at all, if the currently acting power group is not confident that it will profit from it. If not, the authorities will try to preserve their power by force.”

In this connection, the opinion of Vitaly Tretyakov, Editor-in-Chief of Novaya Gazeta, is curious. He rebuffs those who try to defend Sergei Stepashin from the evident violations of his rights as premier and the government from the indiscriminate personnel purges. He says, “They complain about each other and the imperial ambitions of Boris Yeltsin, Nikolai Aksenenko, Boris Berezovsky, and the president’s family.” In Tretyakov’s opinion, Russian politicians remember democracy when they cannot defeat their rivals by the same imperial methods: “Only a moron could have expected that paradise was in store for Stepashin in the White House and that Boris Yeltsin would later give Stepashin the keys to his office and carte blanche for his own political life.” Tretyakov appeals to Stepashin to stick to the slogan of the Social Revolutionary party of pre-revolutionary Russia: “You’ll get your right in the fight.” In Tretyakov’s opinion, at this juncture there is nothing that can help the politician – neither the president’s love, nor the people’s love, and especially not the prudish solicitousness of the new advocates of the premier’s independence.

Kommersant-daily states that the attack on Stepashin’s government is practically over, and that the president’s family, whose interests are represented by Nikolai Aksenenko, has won the game. The newspaper predicts a new political crisis, being certain that the Duma will not cooperate with “Berezovsky’s government”. Although Berezovsky may be not the first violin in the governmental orchestra, it has been said that “Berezovsky is a profession.” Therefore, deputies may decide to vote on their trust in the government, which may be followed by the Duma’s dissolution. However, since it is already clear that the Duma of the next convocation will be even more radically against the president and his circle than the current one, “the temptation to disrupt both the parliamentary and the presidential elections is becoming simply irresistible.” “Kommersant-daily” calls the current situation in Russia a crucial moment, since whatever plea may be made to postpone the elections (integration with Belarus, the introduction of a state of emergency because of the situation in the Caucasus, or simple economizing of financial resources), it will mark a new stage in Russia’s political life, and this stage cannot be called democratic.

In its article entitled “The Election Will Complete Russia’s Disintegration”, Nezavisimaya Gazeta explains how Russian public opinion may be prepared for cancellation of the elections. The paper asserts that Russian federalism is currently in a very lamentable state as it is, and that any election, be it parliamentary or presidential, may worsen the already-powerful centrifugal tendencies in the country. Political analysts have long maintained that the fate of the elections will be decided in the provinces, and therefore that each region will support its own interests against the already-weakened federal center.

Moreover, the paper notes, so far federal laws still apply to the entire country, but if a body of legislators is elected who start working for the benefit of regional leaders, not a single law that might infringe on their interests will be adopted by the Duma. “And that will be the end of federal legislation.”

The governors’ strategy is also dangerous for the presidential election, and those who are hoping for the support of regional leaders are naive (the journalist mentions Yury Luzhkov in the article). “Governors do not want a strong president, they want a flexible and gullible person in the Kremlin who will not try to restrict the power of governors, which Luzhkov would undoubtedly try to do, judging from his powerful style.” Governors are aware of this, and it is not worthwhile for Luzhkov to count on their support in his struggle for the presidency. In short, everyone who is staking their hopes on the elections should be aware that they will not be “a triumph of federalism.” The author comes to the conclusion that the elections are threatening the country with new disasters, and therefore that there is no need to worry if the elections are canceled.

Izvestia writes about the squalor of Russian democracy. While in a normal democratic state the main task of the government is to secure economic and legal stability, the Kremlin’s policy is aimed at preserving power for power’s sake, whatever sacrifices this might necessitate. The steps planned by the senior authorities include “dismissing Stepashin,” “annihilating Luzhkov,” and “dissolving the Duma and the Communist party.” These steps are not productive from the point of view of social stability, but they are important to maintain the power of the president’s family.

For all that, “Izvestia” says that there is practically no chance for citizens who do not read newspapers and hear the news only on TV to know the actual state of affairs, since “propagandistic campaigns have replaced information.” However, these campaigns are losing their efficacy. According to “Izvestia”, if the electorate had voted on the impeachment of Boris Yeltsin, even such an ostentatious item as “Genocide of the Russian People” would have gotten at least 67% of votes. Yeltsin would have had no chance to retain his position. All this proves once again that, in a “vanishing democracy”, (the definition is that of “Izvestia”), holding elections has become unprofitable and dangerous and therefore problematic for the senior authorities.

Novaya Gazeta considers yet another scenario of the further actions of the president and his milieu. In the article “The President Decides to Run for a Third Term” it is stated that a group of analysts who participated in the 1996 campaign have proposed a certain scheme. In accordance with this scheme, the Duma and the Federation Council will be asked to prolong the powers of the Federal Assembly for two more years on any plausible pretext. “The Federation Council asks the Duma to consent, the Duma is a bit confused, but gives its assent in the end.” Then, on the eve of the presidential election, the president asks the Duma to prolong his powers the way deputies did for themselves. The president would have a moral right to do. Thus, Yeltsin’s power would be preserved for two more years. “Novaya Gazeta” does not say that this is the final plan which the president will necessarily choose, but “it is important to note that the president has already made up his mind to stay in office for another term.”

The harangues of political leaders about what kind of government reform must be carried out in Russia and why seem to be absolutely idealistic. For instance, Chairman of the Duma Our Home is Russia faction Vladimir Ryzhkov announced in his interview to “Nezavisimaya Gazeta that “the model of government typical of modern Russia is from the past.” However, according to Ryzhkov there is no political force in Russia which knows “appropriate tasks for the development of the nation” and that would propose the right strategy for Russia. Meanwhile, it is allegedly evident that the country must be changed after the elections.

In his interview to the journal Expert, Vladimir Ryzhkov develops his idea about the inadequacy of current political leaders in light of the current stage of the development of the country: “Everybody is waiting for the elections now. But are there any people who are aware that these elections are of no use for Russia?” According to Ryzhkov, even Grigory Yavlinsky is unable to explain why he wants to be elected to the Duma: “He thinks that after he is elected in December he will maneuver, and perhaps someone will appoint him premier. But is that an aim for a political party – to be elected and maneuver? It’s funny.”

As far as Yury Luzhkov is concerned, Vladimir Ryzhkov thinks that it is very difficult to comprehend what is he fighting for: “If he wants to change something, I don’t hear any ideas coming from him, and if he simply wants to get Yeltsin’s throne, that is a senseless struggle.” In reality, this throne has allegedly lost its former significance. He says that Russia needs “new roles for the Duma, the president, the Federation Council, and political parties, as well as a new culture of political relations.” Ryzhkov is also of the opinion that a shift is necessary for society to move forward.

Boris Nemtsov, the leader of the Right Cause movement, announced in his interview to Rossiyskaya Gazeta that “the epoch of Yeltsin is over.” In this connection, Nemtsov believes that the priority task for the Duma, the government, and the president himself is to arrange a peaceful transfer of power. This is difficult for Russia because of the absence of such a tradition. Nemtsov thinks that it is necessary to issue a law guaranteeing the president’s immunity after he retires: “Succeeding presidents must not have the opportunity to try their predecessors.” According to Nemtsov, in exchange for this magnanimity the president must objectively estimate his abilities, and his circle must acknowledge the futility of further struggles for power. Nemtsov says, “As for Boris Nikolaevich, he ought to face the truth: he is past the age at which it is appropriate to head the country, he has no more political prospects, and he and his family should understand that.”

Vremya MN reports that, at the May 29 constitutive congress of the Right Cause coalition, its members announced the coalition’s intention to receive no less than 10% of the votes in the parliamentary election. In addition, Boris Nemtsov announced the coalition’s intention to participate in the Moscow mayoral election: “Muscovites have the right to elect a person who supports freedom, equal rights for everybody, and the reduction of the influence of bureaucracy on this country.” Apparently, Luzhkov does not meet these requirements.

Another leader of Right Cause, Anatoly Chubais, announced in his interview to Argumenty i Fakty that Fatherland, Luzhkov’s movement, will certainly be widely represented in the Duma, chiefly at the expense of the Communists. On the other hand, Chubais highlighted Luzhkov’s demerits as a candidate for president. In particular, Chubais said that Luzhkov’s views on economic reforms are 10 years old. “What Luzhkov calls ‘anti-people monetarism’ is studied by tens of thousands of Russian students in institutes of higher education.” However, Chubais thinks that “Luzhkov is better than Zyuganov, at any rate.”

Last week the press paid a lot of attention to the proposal of the Moscow City Duma to reschedule the mayoral election for December 1999. Most periodicals think that Luzhkov is trying to insure his position by taking this step. In any event, the position of the Moscow mayor will remain his, whereas his is not guaranteed the presidency. However, Kommersant-daily is of the opinion that Luzhkov has not chosen the way of behaving yet. Chairman of the Central Electoral Committee Alexander Veshnyakov announced at his latest press conference that he has no principal objections to rescheduling the election. However, the corresponding bill not only has not been adopted yet, it has not even been even put on the agenda of the Moscow City Duma. A “Kommersant-daily” correspondent has been told that, when Luzhkov wants a bill to be adopted urgently, he introduces it himself and insists on its consideration out of turn. The paper states that “Yury Luzhkov may have decided to take his time and study public opinion and the reaction of the federal authorities to this intention.”

Nezavisimaya Gazeta reports on the preparations for the constitutive congress of a new bloc of leftist forces called For Renaissance and Unity. Aman Tuleev and Gennady Seleznev may become the heads of the bloc. In the words of the bloc’s founders, it will unite “both federal-level politicians and regional leaders under the banner of the nationwide idea of reviving Russia.” If the movement is successful, it may attract some of the voters not only of Zyuganov, but also of Luzhkov. According to “Nezavisimaya Gazeta”, this is the main goal of the founders of the movement. Gennady Seleznev, one of the most likely leaders of this bloc, has already announced his intention not only to head the Communist party but also to run for president.