All week, the Russian press zealously discussed who among the candidates for president can be seen as the main support of the Kremlin in the current situation, if such a figure exists at all, and what chances other participants in the presidential campaign have.

Izvestia, in one and the same issue of June 8, presented two different points of view. On page one, the paper cites the words of Presidential Administration Director Alexander Voloshin that the most likely successor to the throne is Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin. On page two, in the article entitled “The Heirs” by Vyacheslav Nikonov, the President of the Politika fund, the author notes that the first family has an affection for Senior Vice Premier Nikolai Aksenenko, whose main merits are generally considered to be “iron character, the absence of an inferiority complex, and readiness to move ahead like a steam engine.”

Kommersant-daily also notes that Aksenenko has the first place in the “first family primaries”. In this connection, Kommersant-daily supposes that Voloshin’s mention of Stepashin allegedly having presidential ambitions is merely a cunning step to clear the road for the first family’s minion. It is well known that premiers with presidential ambitions are doomed to be dismissed very quickly.

Kommersant-Vlast considers the same question: who of these two figures is the Kremlin’s protege. The weekly comes to the conclusion that both of them will be promoted. Of course, currently Stepashin has better chances, and if he manages to maintain his current position until the election he has a good chance to win. However, there can be little hope for such a development of events, for the “Yeltsin instinct to retain power may kick into gear.” For all that, Tatiana Dyachenko, the president’s beloved daughter, prefers Aksenenko to Stepashin. Therefore, confrontation between the two applicants for Yeltsin’s protection is inevitable, and it is impossible to forecast now which of them will win. If neither of them win the president’s confidence for some reason, the formula “the premier today is the president tomorrow” may acquire a new variable. According to the weekly, the main conclusion the president drew from Primakov’s dismissal was that “no one should consider himself indispensable.” Meanwhile, experts in electoral technologies are already calculating what the promotion of both candidates will cost. The figures are different, but all participants in the discussion agree that Aksenenko’s promotion will cost much more. Liquidating the image of an “evil genius” which has been created for Aksenenko by the central media will be more expensive than sponging on the “strategic image” of his boss. Aksenenko’s chances are currently assessed as minimal, and “the price of his unattractiveness is between $10 and $50 million”, according to Igor Mintusov, head of the Niccolo-M political consulting center. Meanwhile, Stepashin is a desired client for any PR company, as Vladimir Piliya, a manager of the Tainy Sovetnik agency, holds.

Novoye Vremya also analyzes the new electoral incarnation of Yeltsin’s notorious system of checks and balances in the guise of the two leaders of the government. But the conclusions Novoye Vremya draws are different. According to the weekly, “Sergei Stepashin, an inconspicuous man in goggles, has two important merits: moderation and accuracy. His main task, as well as that of all his predecessors, is to try to heal all the old illnesses of the Russian economy. He does not have good chances of doing that, and therefore he should not be regarded as a real candidate for president.” Novoye Vremya says that Nikolai Aksenenko does not have good chances either, being “a typical railroad administrator of an epoch of disorders”. His ability to solve economic problems is limited to a very narrow framework. Giving a brief account of Aksenenko’s administrative life, the weekly raises a question: “Is there any public servant who has not helped his children or sold something to Chechnya? Is there any one who has not founded commercial structures which make money out of thin air?” Not much else should be expected from a “typical railroad administrator”. Therefore, the president needs him today, but tomorrow he may sink into oblivion, like many politicians of his type. It turns out that the Kremlin does not have any candidate who suits its requirements and could be elected in 2000. “It is a desert, and a familiar mirage is looming over the horizon: Gennady Zyuganov.”

As for the Communist leader, he recently gave an extended interview to Valentin Chikin, Editor-in-Chief of Sovetskaya Rossiya (an ultra-left Stalinist newspaper), in which he announced that the main hope of the Communists is to foil the plans for a coup d’etat which is allegedly being elaborated by the oligarchs. According to Zyuganov, the first stage of the plan was Primakov’s dismissal, which will be followed by prohibition of the Communist party and dissolution of the Duma, the majority of which “does not wish to serve to interests of bankers.” If the Communists fail to foil the coup d’etat, they want to face it with dignity and be ready for anything, “up to going underground.” Zyuganov appeals to Stepashin’s military ethics and honor, to servicemen of all ranks, and, oddly enough, to the Russian Orthodox Church: “Perhaps a threat of the Church’s anathema toward the ‘usurper’, whoever he may be, will be a protective measure for Russia.”

At the same time, Zyuganov assesses the chances of his party as better than before. There is no talk about any splits in the party, nor even about the three notorious “electoral columns” of the left. “Anti-Yeltsin nihilism unites a wide spectrum of forces. Under these circumstances, when Yeltsin has become a general symbol of catastrophe, it is time for us to reconsider our plans regarding the separate branches of the left movement which have formed for the elections.” Zyuganov is of the opinion that it is now possible to unite the efforts of opposing forces and “run in the election as a national-patriotic monolith.”

This fantastic picture of the advancing monolith of the left may have impressed many of the liberal media. For instance, Nezavisimaya Gazeta displays uneasiness about the current dissociation of “those with power and money”. The Presidential Administration and the government are weakened by the recent personnel purges, “the Duma cannot come to itself after the blow it received while trying to impeach the president”, and senators are busy creating their own electoral blocs or are waiting until a favorite party appears in order to join it immediately. As for the oligarchs, they are anxious about the recent attempts of the executive branch to subdue them. “Berezovsky’s newspaper” (a nickname for Nezavisimaya Gazeta – translator’s note) adds that “even if the Presidential Administration compels the oligarchs to unite and make something like the famous Davos agreement of 1966, they will not consolidate their resources.”

Rossiya, influenced by Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov, considers that there is a possibility of consolidating the power elites in case of Boris Yeltsin’s withdrawal from the political stage. In this case, the necessity of preserving political stability and preventing panic on the securities market will force all members of the elite to sit down at a roundtable and consider the issue of the political successor. It is noteworthy that Rossiya says that among those who will decide on the successor will be Federation Council Speaker Yegor Stroev, Duma Speaker Gennady Seleznev, Yury Lyzhkov, Vladimir Gusinsky, Sergei Stepashin, and Viktor Chernomyrdin, although the weekly notes that Stepashin will participate in this process only if he remains premier. As for the “home politburo”, i.e. the first family and its circles that have “privatized” both presidential and governmental power, it will have to “make concessions to the overwhelming majority of political and financial elites.”

However, according to “Rossiya”, if Yeltsin retains his position, the question cited as the title of the article will remain vital: “Will Berezovsky’s team let a new president be elected?” According to the logic of the weekly, this question is mere rhetoric, for Berezovsky, “who has more than once lost his political profits”, does not currently have any serious political rivals who could oust him from the Olympus of political power. The weekly is of the opinion that the myth about “Roman Abramovich as the power behind the throne” is not true, since “real influence over the first family, and, consequently, Russia as a whole, still belongs to Berezovsky alone.” At this juncture, “only a lunatic would play democratic games, such as democratic elections. There can be no talk about succession of power or another president.” The weekly is sure that there is no point in discussing problems of the 2000 democratic election if the current “family politburo” retains power.

Scenarios of the prolongation of Yeltsin’s presidential powers are still being discussed in newspapers. For instance, “Izvestia” considers that the idea of uniting with Belarus is currently unprofitable, for in this case Alexander Lukashenka would have to be allowed into the powerful elite, for instance as vice president. The very idea of this “makes the blood of the Kremlin chiefs run cold.”

According to Novye Izvestia, it is not a mere coincidence that Leonid Drachevsky, the Minister for CIS Affairs, has announced that the draft union treaty between Russia and Belarus does not stipulate posts such as president and vice president of the union state. The session of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Russia-Belarus Union initially scheduled for May 11 was postponed until June, and then forgotten. A coordinated draft treaty has not been worked out. However, Novye Izvestia notes that this does not mean that the project of creating the union state is forgotten for good: “Under certain circumstances this project may be restarted.”

Segodnya has a very curious point of view about the upcoming elections. Mentioning the difficulties in finding a suitable successor to the current president and the anxiety of the first family caused by their fear of “sharing Gorbachev’s fate” after the presidential election, the newspaper asserts that the idea that the notorious first family is a unified monolith is erroneous. In reality, power belongs to two different groups, which will have different fates after the 2000 election. In the newspaper’s opinion, only Tatiana Dyachenko is doomed to definite political death. “Gusinsky’s newspaper” (“Segodnya”), unlike most of the central media, is absolutely sure that Yeltsin will not manage to stay in the Kremlin after 2000 “for political, legal, and physiological reasons”. The rest of the “politburo”, Berezovsky, Abramovich, Yumashev, and Voloshin have good chances of retaining power by making friends with the new president. However, they will be able to preserve their power only if the president is elected “correctly”, and this is their main business now, on which they are sparing no effort.

In another article, Segodnya notes that the first family is not actually aware of its hopelessness. This accounts for the fuss surrounding the personnel purges, the distribution of financial flows, etc. “Even clever people are sometimes blind to the weakness of their own position after having reached the echelon of state power.” The newspaper notes that “it is not worthwhile for the first family to count on the benevolence of any successor, even if he is hand picked. Russian politicians have learned Stalin’s thesis that gratitude is a dog’s disease well.” Therefore, the current battle for influence over the government and financial flows that could subsidize the electoral campaign of the president’s circles makes sense only to those who have decided to be “saviors of the first family”. These “saviors” are taking advantage of the fears of the president’s circle, evidently guided by the principle “after us the deluge.”

Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov, who acquired the title of the Kremlin’s worst enemy after Primakov’s dismissal, is currently resisting the attacks of Right Cause leader Sergei Kirienko, who has dared question what Luzhkov is used to taking pride in, i.e. the economic policy of the Moscow government. In his interview to Moskovsky Komsomolets, Luzhkov said that all his political enemies stand behind Kirienko. He added: “But the fact that they chose Kirienko as the alternative to me proves that they do not have any more serious candidates.”

On the whole, the media agree that Kirienko is fulfilling the Kremlin’s orders. However, Kommersant-daily holds that this action is more profitable for Kirienko than for those who are behind it: “Most political analysts and image-makers have called it a promotion, even if he is defeated.”

At the same time, Novye Izvestia, which is notorious for its dependence on Berezovsky, asserts that, as a result of Kirienko’s attack, Luzhkov’s image as an impeccable city administrator has been considerably damaged. According to the newspaper, “The Moscow mayor is unable to withstand not just a strike but even the touch of a pin.” Luzhkov’s announcement that Kirienko is allegedly not grown up enough for Moscow makes the newspaper raise another question concerning the “phenomenon of Russian teenager politics”: “If Kirienko is not grown-up enough for Moscow, is Luzhkov grown up enough for all of Russia?”

Anatoly Chubais, one of the leaders of Right Cause and Luzhkov’s permanent opponent, has also made an unpleasant announcement regarding Luzhkov. Answering a question about the reasons for the support of Luzhkov’s Fatherland by a lot of business structures, Chubais said: “Indeed, a lot of business structures currently support Luzhkov. Their motivation is that, although Luzhkov is an unappealing figure, it is better to get rid of him and give him money, since he is the most likely to win.” At the same time, according to Chubais, those who subsidize Right Cause have a different motivation. They allegedly realize that things will change in their favor in the end. Furthermore, Chubais asserts that the right bloc also enjoys the support of regional leaders. “Many governors, even if they apparently stick to Communist ideals, say in private talks: ‘we will do our best for support, you just tell us whom we should support and how.’ This position is accounted for by the desire of governors to prevent the formation of another Communist Duma. Governors have changed. Their main interest is political stability.”

On the whole, Chubais, a former director of the Presidential Administration, a former senior vice premier, and current head of Russian Joint Energy Systems, considers that the main merit of Right Cause is that its leaders are the most experienced figures in the political field and are at the same time the youngest politicians. In general, in the atmosphere of various fears and misgivings Chubais displays extraordinary optimism: “We will do even more, unlike our opponents. Look at the respectable Yury Mikhailovich Luzhkov and Gennady Andreevich Zyuganov: they are good guys, but it is obvious that the current campaign is their last chance. Who will need them in 2004? And now imagine Nemtsov, Fedorov, Khakamada, Kirienko, and Gaidar in 2004.” Chubais’ interview is published under the title: “Everything Will Be Ours All the Same.”

Another young politician, Vladimir Ryzhkov, the leader of the Duma Our Home is Russia faction, also displayed unusual optimism in his interview to Dom i Otechestvo, a supplement to Rossiyskaya Gazeta. Ryzhkov holds that, even if the left wins in the upcoming parliamentary election, which is likely due to the bad socio-economic situation, and then forms a Communist government (Ryzhkov is a supporter of the idea of forming the government on the basis of parliamentary majority), this will not deprive the country of a bright future. “Time will show whether such a choice is justified. The right-wing would then form the opposition, and thus have an opportunity to prove its points of view. Once we have decided to live in a democratic state, we have to trust people.”

However, judging from the latest events, the main player on the Russian political field, Boris Yeltsin, is far from this serenity. In an article devoted to the latest events in Yugoslavia, namely the scandalous march of Russian landing troops from Bosnia to Pristina, Segodnya expresses confidence that this action was performed in order to impress the president’s political opponents, since the foreign political consequences of this action were not forecast. “The truce that came after the failed impeachment and the painless adoption of the government has begun to annoy the president. Yeltsin needed a scandalous affair in order to deprive the opposition of its ground. Now he has a success. The opposition is in disgrace.” Furthermore, according to the newspaper, the Kosovo action should be regarded as a result of the heated discussion about whom the Kremlin depends on.” Now it is evident that the Kremlin depends on generals. All public phobias have been lavishly nourished by Yeltsin’s legendary unpredictability.