THE UPCOMING FEDERAL ELECTIONS AS REPORTED BY THE CENTRAL MEDIA
The central media, which have been reporting with enthusiasm the violent political events of the past several weeks, have suddenly faced the fact of the beginning of parliamentary summer holidays. Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes with surprise, “It appears that this time all members of the Russian political elite without exception are actually about to take a break.” The paper is of the opinion that the general holiday mood is proved by the relatively peaceful behavior of all participants in the Russian political process, starting with President Yeltsin, who recently stressed in a pointed manner his unwillingness to quarrel with the lower chamber of parliament, and by doing so forced the government to also become more well-disposed towards the Duma. As a result, despite the premier’s previous threatening statements, the deputies’ refusal to confirm the law on the gas station tax caused no unpleasant consequences. On the other hand, the deputies, in turn, having buried the law in question, confirmed all others contained in the government packet submitted to the Duma, and by doing so provided the cabinet of ministers with additional advantages in its negotiations with the IMF. Nezavisimaya Gazeta believes that one of the main reasons for this atmosphere of universal amicability is that, on the eve of the official start of the election campaign, all participants in it need a time-out, “in order to either search for allies and sponsors or advertise themselves as such.” As the paper notes, “It is universally admitted that such work is best done in silence.” Segodnya, on the other hand, appraises the current situation in a much more cautious way. Quoting deputies from the CPRF faction, it assumes that the president’s serenity is only a diversion: the Communists fear that “as soon as the deputies leave for warmer climates, Yeltsin will sign a decree on liquidating the Lenin Mausoleum and burying the chief of the proletariat in the Volkovo cemetery in St. Petersburg.” In the Communist’s opinion, this decision may cause an outburst in society and prompt the people towards spontaneous protest actions and collisions with law enforcement agencies, which would give Yeltsin the occasion to establish “a regime of personal dictatorship”. The Communists are most frightened not even by the rumors about re-burying Lenin’s body, which have been circulating for a long time, but by the fact that the official authorities do not deny them. Alexander Kotenkov, the president’s representative in the Duma, only remarked philosophically concerning the possibility of such a decree actually being signed, “When the decree is issued we will read it…” On the other hand, Segodnya notes, it is fairly possible that there will be not only no nationwide protest against it, but that it will even be impossible to call the deputies back from their holidays for an extraordinary meeting if necessary, “and in this sense the Kremlin’s plan (if any) that Lenin’s funeral will simultaneously become that of the CPRF (by means of introducing a state of emergency in Russia and banning the Communist Party) is not as hopeless as it may seem.” Still, the paper continues, speaking about the prolongation of the acting president’s term in office – and this may well be the Kremlin’s major plan – “Yeltsin may find much more powerful means to achieve this goal.” For instance, he might create and later become head of a confederation of Russia and Belarus – the relevant draft treaty is to be discussed at the upcoming session of the union of the two countries. This is known as the so-called “Milosevic variant” since, after Milosevic’s term as president of Serbia expired, he became head of a new state – the Socialist Republic of Yugoslavia.
As if to deny such assumptions, Yeltsin himself once again declared his intentions in an interview to the German weekly “Spiegel” which was reprinted by Rossiyskaya Gazeta: “My term expires in the summer of 2000. I have already stated many times that I do not intend to run for another term. I am confident that the next Russian president will preserve fidelity to the ideals of democracy and freedom.”
Still, many observers remain convinced that Yeltsin’s real plans are known by nobody but himself. The Kremlin is obviously preparing for the election and, as Moskovskie Novosti states, is dreaming of a super-bloc (the “Russia” project), although it is aware that creation of such a bloc “is an almost hopeless business”. The disagreements between parties and movements such as All Russia and Voice of Russia on one side and Right Cause and New Power on the other are too serious for that. There is a danger for these parties of not only failing to extend their influence through the proposed unification but also of losing the electorate they can currently count on.
On the other hand, the paper remarks, it would be more realistic to attempt to merge only the two regional blocs – Voice of Russia and All Russia. This task, which is smaller in scale, “has greater chances of success.” The relevant project has been named “Federation”. Nezavisimaya Gazeta asserts that the bloc is being proposed to unite first of all “opponents of Luzhkov’s unitarism” and create a counterbalance to all adherents of the mayor of Moscow. From the paper’s point of view, one more evident advantage of Federation as a purely regional bloc over a universal association such as Russia was planned to be is that “Yeltsin and his team have gotten seriously worn out over the past several years” and are no longer capable of radically influencing the decision-making of regional leaders.
On the other hand, an open alliance with the Kremlin administration would be a drawback rather than an advantage for any party in the eyes of its electorate. Everybody agrees with this. Segodnya writes that currently “dislike on the part of the Kremlin is the best present for any political figure aiming for a high post.” From this angle, the well-known opposition between the Kremlin administration and the mayor of Moscow may be interpreted as a cunning electoral maneuver: “Indeed, if the administration actually had a plan to discredit Luzhkov it would act in a different way – it would cover him with orders and medals and invite him to hunt and fish at the Kremlin dachas.”
Vremya MN believes that the sense in all the unifying efforts of the Kremlin administration lies in the creation of a new party. “The recipe of success is well known: take governors, industrialists, army generals, a few small parties, a handful of prominent culture workers, and much money and time on TV.” And the problem, the paper asserts, lies in the fact that such a coalition is being created for the first time “not by means of a decree but on the basis of compromise” among its members. Time will show whether they manage to reach the needed level of concord. In addition, the paper asserts that governors’ influence on the preferences of the electorate are very overrated: in this sense, only two acting regional leaders – namely the presidents of Tatarstan and Bashkiria – can be counted on. The paper quotes an anonymous staffer of the election headquarters of All Russia as saying that, “An ordinary governor is capable of securing the bloc no more than 20% of votes in his region.” The paper is of the opinion that it takes a unifying idea to form a really uniform bloc, and that is the weakest link in the chain: “The idea of a Communist revenge will no longer work as it did back in 1996. And so far there are no new ideas in sight.”
On the other hand, according to Obschaya Gazeta, the concentration of Yeltsin and his team on the problems of the upcoming elections is senseless and even absurd. In a conversation with the mayor of Moscow, Yegor Yakovlev, editor-in-chief of Obschaya Gazeta, appraised this situation in the following way: “The president, who is about to leave his post, his closest circle, and the administration, which will have to leave along with him, are busy making decisions about what actually does not concern them anymore – who will become the next president. I think that this situation should not exist in a democratic society.” Luzhkov agreed with Yakovlev: “Society wants to decide the issue of the next president by itself and is unlikely to tolerate any candidates who are imposed on it.” At the same time, Luzhkov, as an economist, considers this problem from the practical plane: “It is important for the president, who is leaving, not to be afraid of parting with power, not to think that by leaving his post he will be deprived of everything – his career, political influence, and also the conditions in which he used to live.” In Luzhkov’s opinion, if the president is provided after his retirement with “decent living conditions” – a proper pension, bodyguards, a car, and protection from political persecution – this may relieve the situation. At the same time, Luzhkov and his team have more than once expressed the opinion that any such guarantees to Yeltsin’s closest circle are absolutely out of the question.
The answer to the question posed by Vek – why is it that the Kremlin administration dislikes Luzhkov so much? – may lie here. The paper enumerates all the directions of the anti-Luzhkov front (the financial and economic attack against the Moscow administration, the recent “helicopter scandal” as a check of the reaction of security structures to an attempt to infringe on the interests of the mayor of Moscow, the campaign to discredit the myth of Moscow’s prosperity with the help of Sergei Kirienko) and asks: will this policy produce the needed results? According to sociologists, since the beginning of the attack on Luzhkov his rating in Moscow and the Moscow region has risen considerably. Is it worth turning Luzhkov “from a partner, even if an unloved one, into an insulted and therefore dangerous foe?”
Kommersant-vlast informs its readers about the sources of financing of the Fatherland movement. The media have long been reporting about Luzhkov’s dissatisfaction with the performance of the System media holding, which used to be the major sponsor of his programs. Now Luzhkov has found alternative sources of financing for his movement. One of these sources, the magazine maintains, is connected with the housing mortgage program, for which foreign banks are allocating a credit of $75 billion to the Moscow administration. Vladimir Resin, First Vice Premier of the Moscow Administration, is to play the leading role in working with the credit. As the paper states, “Several authorized banks of the Moscow administration will service the program. And Resin will allegedly take from them 10% to 15% of the total credit for the electoral fund of ‘Otechestvo’.”
There are other possibilities as well. The other day, the mayor of Moscow issued a decree on transferring 100% of the shares of the Central Fuel Company to the authorized capital of the newborn Moscow Oil Company, of which Luzhkov is chairman of the board of directors. By doing so, Kommersant-vlast writes, Luzhkov will be able to establish control over “a considerable part of the gasoline business, which is very profitable in Moscow.”
Vremya MN also writes about the creation of the large new oil company, the capacities of which cover all cycles of work, from oil extraction (the Moscow Oil Company controls several oil companies which possess oil deposits in western Siberia) to sales of oil products via a state-of-the-art oil base in the Moscow region. The paper emphasizes that the Moscow Oil Company is completely private, and therefore there can hardly be any problems with “Fatherland” availing itself of its funds.
The question of financing the election campaign remains one of the chief issues for its participants. Argumenty i Fakty weekly documents the current layout of political forces and economic structures which support them. Apart from Luzhkov and his financial “support team” the paper names: LUKoil, supporting All Russia; structures connected with the Roads and Transportation Ministry, which are allegedly prepared to work with the Russia bloc; “oligarchs close to the Kremlin”, in other words Boris Berezovsky and Roman Abramovich, who have also promised to support the aforementioned bloc; Vladimir Gusinsky’s financial information empire, traditionally backing Yabloko; Right Cause, which hopes to enlist the support of RJES headed by Anatoly Chubais; and “structures supporting democrats” – Alfa group, Alfred Kokh’s Montes Auri, and Maxim Boiko’s Video International. Apparently, Aman Tuleev will receive aid from the “coal-mining capital of Kuzbass,” the CPRF from “the red-belt governors,” etc. On the other hand, the Communists are also frequently supported by businessmen who fear “a red revenge”. Many sponsors would rather not put all their eggs into one basket. Thus, as is known, apart from Russia, the new project of the presidential administration, Berezovsky is prepared to support his former favorite, General Lebed.
The media also connect the possible return of Viktor Chernomyrdin, who has completed his mission in the Balkans, to Gazprom with the necessity of financing the upcoming elections. Novye Izvestia believes that Chernomyrdin, who has demonstrated his fidelity to the Presidential Administration many times, is the only person capable of guaranteeing Gazprom’s aid exclusively to those for whom the administration designates it. According to the paper’s sources, although Rem Vyakhirev, the acting chief of Gazprom, is disposed towards the governors’ blocs, which, from the Kremlin’s viewpoint, are able to successfully oppose Luzhkov, he has not yet made his final decision. “Furthermore, the Kremlin is expressing anxiety that at the last moment Vyakhirev may defect. If Chernomyrdin, who has always considered the Kremlin’s advice, returns to Gazprom, this might avert such an undesirable development.”
On the other hand, it is certainly hardly possible to foresee all unexpected events. Last week Sergei Kirienko created another sensation. Kirienko has been one of the chief political newsmakers for a rather long time already. At the very moment when the media finally decided that by criticizing the Moscow administration Kirienko was “playing ball with the Kremlin,” the leader of the New Force movement made “an original move”, in the words of Kommersant: at the Congress of the Russian Press he stated that the president should resign. He repeated the same call in the Kuzbass at a meeting with Tuleev. Furthermore, upon his return from Kemerovo the former premier called a press conference at which he suggested that Yeltsin “stand at the head of the process of his own resignation.” Kommersant reports that Kirienko intends to send Yeltsin a plan for “a peaceful succession of power” and then start to act “according to one of the two options of that plan, with or without Yeltsin’s participation.” The paper takes this to be another promotion stunt made up for Kirienko by his campaign managers. The move is a safe win since, “On the one hand, nobody will seriously consider Yeltsin’s resignation, but on the other one, Kirienko will manage to avoid accusations of having close relations with the president and his close circle.” Nezavisimaya Gazeta remarks in this connection that “Kirienko has proved himself to be not as simple as he had seemed.”