The most important article of the past several days concerning the elections was, of course, Boris Yeltsin’s interview to Izvestia. The interview’s key phrase, “I will not run,” was turned into the article’s headline. The context of this statement is of interest: Editor-in-Chief of “Izvestia” Mikhail Kozhokin asked the president whether or not he knew how low his rating was. Yeltsin answered in the affirmative, but added that he does not worry much about his rating since he would not run for president again. Yeltsin said that he has “other tasks”, which he intends to fulfill regardless of his rating, or, in other words, without any significant regard to public opinion. This statement sounds fairly promising. Even if, as Obschaya Gazeta asserts, the interview in question was made up by speechwriters from the first question to the last answer, we must admit that it was written in Yeltsin’s style.

Practically all observers paid attention to the president’s firm promise to “bury Lenin” – in other words to put into practice the Communists’ permanent nightmare – as well as to the president’s statement – perhaps a little premature, but also very typical of Yeltsin – that the Communists have “closed” their party with their own hands, i.e. suffered a political fiasco (and therefore are now raising hell in order to attract everybody’s attention). The finale of Yeltsin’s interview is also peculiar: the president, who has recently been written about rather often with contempt or sympathy and accused of incapacity and sometimes of inadequacy, answered the question about his possible memoirs in the following manner: so far there is no time for this, there are still so many things to take care of. All of the things “to be taken care of” are mentioned throughout the interview. We must note that the article in question provides much food for thought as regards the events awaiting us during the next several months.

Two days after Yeltsin’s interview, on July 8, Obschaya Gazeta explained to its readers that in reality there had been no interview, that the entire article had been made up by Yeltsin’s speechwriters in the all-hands-on-deck mode. The idea behind this, according to the paper, was not to first make up a question and then compose somewhat sensible answers for the hibernating head of state, but on the contrary to soften Yeltsin’s most radical ideas. “Obschaya Gazeta” maintains that “prohibition of the CPRF and the withdrawal of Lenin’s body from the Mausoleum are the two idees fixees which have not given Yeltsin any peace for several years now.” Naturally, the president did not want to miss such a beautiful opportunity to announce to the world that the complex task of “burying the CPRF along with the mummy of its creator” would finally be fulfilled. Yeltsin’s supporters, who realize that the Communists are currently in need of a high-profile advertising campaign (the best variant of which would be a high-profile departure for the underground) like never before, had much difficulty talking the president out of this idea. “Obschaya Gazeta” certifies that they likewise managed to talk Yeltsin out of organizing the political funeral of Yury Luzhkov, who was initially doomed to the same fate as the Communists. Specially for Luzhkov, a truly merciless technology had been invented called “strangling in Yeltsin’s embrace”: Yeltsin was about to proclaim Luzhkov his possible successor, which, as the mayor of Moscow himself has noted in an interviews, would be no favor in the upcoming election, given the extremely low level of authority of the powers that be. Having done everything possible for his political opponents, the president started packing his belongings for a vacation. Before his departure he did not forget the premier, either, promising Sergei Stepashin that “he will have a vacation later – the time of his vacation will be determined later on” (excerpt from “Kommersant”). On the other hand, the people who are concerned about the premier’s fate calmed down somewhat after Stepashin said that he would only be able to relax “after the presidential election”. Yeltsin, “despite his good tradition”, did not start promising that he would fire the premier by 2000. “This means that so far Stepashin’s position is not hopeless,” “Kommersant” concludes.

Meanwhile, the left is absolutely not ready to agree that it has “closed itself”. In his interview to “Segodnya, leader of the Spiritual Heritage movement Alexei Podberyozkin reveals the electoral strategy of the CPRF and its allies (who are extremely dissatisfied with Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov’s indifference to their demands) and proceeds from the assumption that the protest electorate still totals 40% of the total number of voters. “And what does 40% mean? It means 60% of the seats in Parliament.” But even if in the upcoming parliamentary election the CPRF does not manage to repeat its success of 1996, Podberyozkin is of the opinion that this will in no way affect Zyuganov’s position as the leader of the Communists, and, therefore, will not hamper the prospects of his running for president.

On the other hand, Podberyozkin even sees the idea of prohibiting the CPRF with a certain amount of enthusiasm, taking this action (if it is ever carried out) to become a powerful incentive for the party, which has been stagnant for the past several years, to revamp itself. He says, “If the party is prohibited, it will get powerful support from the opposition protest.” On this the Communists’ friends and foes see eye to eye: banning the CPRF would be the best possible electoral present for the Communists.

Perhaps this very consideration is forcing the president to play with the opposition like a cat with a mouse (Nezavisimaya Gazeta’s metaphor), “now releasing the grip of threat, now making the Communists treble their caution.”

Vladimir Zhirinovsky is only too happy to add fuel to the fire – at every convenient occasion he states with confidence that Lenin and the Communists are already done for and that “as a result of a provoked nervous breakdown on the part of the CPRF” (quoted from Segodnya) a state of emergency will soon be introduced in Russia, along with cancellation or at least postponement of all elections.

Meanwhile, according to Nezavisimaya Gazeta, there is no need to introduce a state of emergency in order to prolong Yeltsin’s reign. The paper remains loyal to its supervisor Boris Berezovsky’s manner of introducing certain ominous clarity to the situation in the heat of debates and explains in detail three fairly constitutional ways for Yeltsin to retain his post after June 1999. The first, most somber option is the following: according to the Constitution, the new president receives his authority only when he takes a vow. Before that, the previous president retains all the authority. In accordance with the Constitution, the period of time between the announcement of the results of the election and the new president’s assumption of office is 30 days. “And what if the newly elected president is simply not allowed to take the vow, especially since Art. 82 of the Constitution states that it must be done ‘in ceremonial circumstances, in the presence of members of the Federation Council, deputies of the Duma, and members of the Constitutional Court’? Who will guarantee that nothing will happen to the new president during these 30 days?” And if the vow is not taken, the old president will automatically remain on his post. Furthermore, a strict interpretation of the law does not allow for a second election in this case, since the new president will have been elected according to the rules.

On the other hand, there are other, much more peaceful and purely formal possibilities of leaving things as they are, or at least dawdling. For instance, the election may be declared invalid if it is held in violation of electoral law. The paper absolutely justly notes that this alternative is very easy carry out, and that the only thing that would have to be done would be “to stop overlooking the actual violations” which are commonplace in any Russian election. This option is especially attractive because candidates accused of violations are automatically deprived of the right to run in following elections. Thus, the alternative in question gives the Kremlin a good chance to get rid of the most unpleasant figures.

The second method is to declare the election invalid if less than 50% of voters participate in it. It is very easy to secure such a result, taking into account the arbitrary treatment of various numerical information which is traditional for Russia. After wrecking the election by means of the aforementioned methods, the next election could be organized only four months after the first one, “and throughout all this time, of course, Yeltsin would continue to rule the country.” And after that nothing would prevent experienced political manipulators from repeating one of these or similar tricks until the population finally realizes, as it was the case in the Primorye territory, that it is simply being led down the garden path and actually refuses to participate in any more elections. “Nezavisimaya Gazeta” warns that there may such Kafka-esque variations on the theme of the election may be invented on the basis of acting legislation.

Last week, former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev also entered into the discussion of the possibility of canceling or postponing the elections. In an interview to Segodnya he expressed surety that the Kremlin would not dare either prohibit the CPRF or dissolve the Duma: “These risky schemes will show that in reality the president is only concerned about retaining power.” Instead, it is necessary to find a measure which would demonstrate that “Yeltsin cares for the state’s interests first and foremost.” The needed measure, Gorbachev is convinced, is integration with Belarus: “I know for sure that a plan to postpone the elections is being worked on in connection with the possible creation of a new united state.” Gorbachev believes that “all these games are far from necessities of life… Yeltsin’s epoch is over, it has finished in a dramatic way, and we should get rid of its remnants.” Nevertheless, Gorbachev considers the integration of the two post-Soviet states (although in the form of a confederation) to be very positive and even hopes that later they will be joined by Kazakhstan and Ukraine, of course provided that the “integrators” do not make a mess of things, which Russia, as usual, can easily do unintentionally.

Yabloko leader Grigory Yavlinsky, in turn, takes the integration of Russia and Belarus into a uniform state to be “a thoughtless political venture”. He says, “There are things which simply must not be undertaken in politics! Belorussians are our brothers! This is the same as telling a relative, ‘I like you, give me your passport – from now on we will share it.'” Referring to the possible integration, Yavlinsky even used the word “Anschluess”, which historically means Austria’s incorporation into Hitler’s Germany in 1938. In Yavlinsky’s opinion, integration poses an extreme danger for Russia, for it may lead to this country turning into a confederation, “which is far worse than cordoning off Chechnya with a full-fledged state border.”

One of the main news items of the past week was the meeting between the leaders of the Right Cause, New Force, Our Home is Russia (NDR), and Voice of Russia movements in Salzburg, as a result of which a fledgling agreement was reached on the creation of a right-centrist bloc, which has long since been insisted on by the Kremlin. Kommersant took the question of “against whom” the members of the bloc (if it is formed). The paper quotes Voice of Russia leader Konstantin Titov’s straightforward statement: “If we do not run in the parliamentary election as a united front, then Fatherland will win.” On the other hand, after the Salzburg meeting each of its members told the media that so far only the agreement on intentions had been reached, and that the major work of merging the movements is still ahead.

Vremya MN believes that no alliances between political movements are possible until the political situation becomes clear: “Until the Kremlin’s desires and intentions, as well as those of Yeltsin’s, are absolutely clear, until it becomes evident whether or not Sergei Stepashin will run for president and whether or not he will retain the post of premier by September, no serious bets will be made.”

On the other hand, Sergei Kirienko considers the creation of a new bloc fairly practicable “if political ‘heavyweights’ move to the background.” (An excerpt from Kirienko’s interview to Segodnya.) The top three candidates in the parliamentary election, according to Kirienko, are “Kirienko, Ryzhkov, and Nemtsov”. Chernomyrdin and Titov, both politicians of the older generation, must retire to the background for the sake of the new bloc’s viability, although Kirienko admits the possibility that one of them may become speaker of the Duma after the election.

Obschaya Gazeta appraises the would-be bloc’s prospects in a much more pessimistic way, even provided that integration of the right-wing movements is a success. According to the paper’s calculations, in the long run the right-centrists, who have taken it into their heads to restore “the party of power”, will comprise 22 governors, five chairmen of regional legislative assemblies, and mayors of several Russian cities. “This composition appears to be much weaker than that of NDR back in 1993.” In order for the “Salzburg VIP club” to have good chances in the election, the paper believes, it needs an alliance with another large regional formations, namely the All Russia movement headed by Mintimer Shaimiyev. However, according to “Obschaya Gazeta”, even if Shaimiyev’s bloc decides to unite with any other political force it will certainly not opt for the right movements, “And in that case the right forces will only be able to seek an alliance with Fatherland.” To all appearances, the Presidential Administration has arrived at the same distressing conclusions, because on the eve of Yeltsin’s departure for vacation seven regional leaders of All Russia received invitations to visit the Kremlin. According to “Kommersant”, during the meeting with the president the governors ventured “a slight blackmail” by stating that it is high time an electoral coalition was formed to counter the left opposition. In the governors’ opinion, apart from All Russia, Voice of Russia, and NDR, the would-be coalition should comprise Fatherland as well. Yeltsin hardly found such statements pleasing, but he promised the governors to do everything in his power to ensure “a favorable social and political climate for the election,” and the presence of Premier Stepashin added the necessary weight to the president’s words. Nevertheless, Kommersant assumes that “it is unlikely that anything will hamper the governors’ friendship with Luzhkov.” Furthermore, one of the participants in the meeting in the Kremlin told a “Kommersant” correspondent, “We hope that our integration with Fatherland will gain the support of the president.” Such lobbying for the interests of Luzhkov’s movement on the part of the governors serves as evidence of soundness of their relations with the mayor of Moscow.

Luzhkov himself visited Bavaria last week. There, according to Moskovskie Novosti, he was received as a candidate for president. At a meeting with the local business and intellectual elite Luzhkov said, “I am speaking to you as a politician.” This statement was not perceived by the audience as something sensational. Instead, it was appreciated in Russia “by those who have long and insistently been preparing this improvisation by grooming the mayor of Moscow to become the Russian president.” The lecture Luzhkov was to deliver at the Kwandt Foundation in Munich was written in such a way as to be read by an economist, not a politician. Therefore, the paper states, Luzhkov refused the polished speech in favor of a 50-minute improvisation, the most garish phrase of which, which later turned into headlines in the German press, was “President Yeltsin is afraid of me.” According to “Moskovskie Novosti”, Luzhkov gave different answers to repeated questions about the possibility of him running for president, “from the categorical ‘No’ to Russian journalists to the ambiguous ‘never say never’ to the German paper ‘Bild am Sonntag.'”Still, the paper quotes from the aforementioned Munich speech of Luzhkov, “I will not run in the presidential election if I see that there is not a person among the candidates who might destroy Russia and neglects the values which Russia has obtained with such difficulty.” In this connection many media asked him to repeat himself in amazement: what, only if there is not a single candidate “who neglects the values…”, etc.? Such a safe situation is hardly possible in Russia, and therefore there is no doubt that Luzhkov’s running in the presidential election is predetermined. And his visit to Bavaria only confirmed this assumption.

“Moskovskie Novosti” describes all the diversity and splendor of the program made specially for Luzhkov and concludes, “The citizens of Bavaria cannot recall another such visit. Instead, they remember all too well that even the Japanese Emperor was not received in such a way during his visit. On the other hand, the Japanese Emperor did not wish to run for president of Russia, did he?”

Another hotly debated topic of the past week was the creation of the Ministry for the Affairs of the Press, Television, and Mass Communications. The Russian media reacted rather unanimously to this innovation: “the Ministry of Truth has once again appeared in Russia” (Obschaya Gazeta), “The Ministry for Electoral Affairs” (Segodnya), “Mikhail Lesin will explain whom we are to vote for with our heart” (Kommersant-daily), “Master of advertising technologies Mikhail Lesin becomes head of the Ministry of Truth” (Vremya MN), etc. All observers are confident that the creation of the new ministry is just another step in the Kremlin administration’s preparation for the upcoming elections.

Komsomolskaya Pravda believes that creation of the new ministry only supplemented “the Salzburg collusion” of those who, on the Kremlin’s initiative, are trying to create the current party of power prior to the elections. The paper draws its readers’ attention to the fact that all leaders of the would-be right-centrist bloc are heads or representatives of natural monopolies: “Anatoly Chubais is chief of RJES, Viktor Chernomyrdin represents Gazprom, Sergei Kirienko represents Transneft.” The paper does not take this to be a coincidence: “The political alliance to which the public’s attention has been being drawn is secondary, whereas the major goal is to integrate nothing but the natural monopolies on the eve of the elections.” In the paper’s opinion, until recently there was a breech only in the informational direction. Now that the new ministry – in the paper’s terms “the ministry for information monopoly” – has been formed, the breech has disappeared. In this context, the head of the new ministry is also fairly logical: “Mikhail Lesin has been ‘a man of the inner circle’ for already many years, and he played a key role in the last presidential campaign.” Apparently, Lesin will make full use of his experience in the 1996 campaign in the upcoming struggle.

So, despite the summer holidays, the flow of information about politicians’ and parties’ preparations for the elections is not weakening. On the other hand, some articles insert a certain dissonance into this powerful choir. Thus, Segodnya published an article headlined “Games for grown-ups,” in which it is reported that the Center for Sociological Research of Moscow State University conducted another poll among students to assess their political inclinations. The results of the poll do not differ from those obtained during earlier research: 63.6% of students do not participate in political life, and 18.9% do not participate not out of indifference but on principle. Sociologists are of the opinion that the reason for this attitude toward politics among youth is that the tasks and goals of “grown-up” social and political organizations do not correspond to young people’s interests. At the same time, every one in ten students polled considers the existence of youth political organizations necessary. The paper believes that such aloofness from political life has its merits: “In the near future no student disorders a la South Korea threaten Russia.” At the same time, MGU professors are not at all indifferent as regards politics. Thus, MGU Rector Viktor Sadovnichii is simultaneously head of the Moscow city branch of the Fatherland movement and, to all appearances, is hoping to get his students interested in the ideas of Luzhkov’s program prior to the elections. The paper, however, appraises this possibility with much skepticism. In its opinion, “There will be certainly no more, if not even fewer, young people at polling stations than four years ago. Well, they just take no interest in current politicians…”