THE UPCOMING FEDERAL ELECTIONS AS REPORTED BY THE CENTRAL MEDIA
On August 19, the parliamentary electoral campaign is expected to officially start. All political forces are trying to use the time left before the publication of the relevant presidential decree to their maximum of profit. Of late, “coalition” has become one of the most frequent words in articles dedicated to electoral topics. As Anatoly Chubais put it in an interview to Kommersant-daily, what is going on is “the process of bloc-forming”. Depending on their political scales and capacities, the future rivals are solving different tasks: some are hoping to expand their sphere of influence and break through to new tempting electorate vistas, while to others an influential ally is a question of 5% life in Parliament or political death.
For these reasons, Kommersant-vlast’ weekly believes, the majority of Russian parties are sure to meet President Yeltsin’s decree on the start of the electoral campaign “not in the same composition and not with the same allies they currently have.”
The past week has already brought many surprises. The possibility of an alliance between Fatherland and All Russia, which has been passionately discussed recently, has not yet become reality, and observers appraise the chances of such an alliance being formed at all as rather slim. A hint about such a development was contained in reports about the creation of All Russia’s Moscow Regional Coordination Council. These reports paid most attention to the speeches delivered by Fatherland representatives Georgy Boos and Artur Chilingarov, who, after congratulating the friendly centrist movement on the creation of another regional branch, this time in the capital, expressed the hope that the two parties would run together in the parliamentary election.
However, as Vremya MN notes, All Russia’s reaction to these speeches was more than reserved. Oleg Morozov, the leader of the Russian Regions Duma faction and an influential activist in All Russia, responded evasively that so far no solution to the problem of unification had been found.
According to Novye Izvestia, another All Russia representative, St. Petersburg Governor Vladimir Yakovlev, considered it necessary to deny the rumors that, during a meeting with Premier Stepashin, Tatarstan President Mintimer Shaimiev was advised to “regard the idea of integrating with Fatherland with caution.” On the other hand, later on during the same press conference, Yakovlev stated that “the powers that be are exerting pressure on the centrist parties.”
As always, Nezavisimaya Gazeta was categorical: “Governors will think twice about whether or not they need another strong leader with presidential ambitions. Luzhkov is fully aware of this, and perhaps such caution on both sides makes the plans for the integration of Fatherland and All Russia impracticable.”
Well, it appears that Nezavisimaya Gazeta hit the nail on the head. Last Sunday, Shaimiev announced that an alliance between Fatherland and All Russia is unlikely. According to him, Luzhkov’s movement comprises “many different parties and movements” with “ambitious leaders” (quoted from Vremya MN). And although Shaimiev has no problems with coming to terms with Luzhkov himself, so far it is impossible for him to reach an understanding with Luzhkov’s team.
Shaimiev did not specify whom exactly he meant. However, on the same day as he gave his interview to Vremya MN, Rossiyskaya Gazeta published a large interview with another failed ally of Luzhkov’s, Dmitry Rogozin, Chairman of the Congress of Russian Communities. When explaining the reasons for his split with Fatherland, Rogozin said that it was caused by Luzhkov’s inclination to form an alliance with Shaimiev, which the Congress of Russian Communities categorically opposes. Rogozin said, “All Russia is managed by leaders of national republics, and the Congress has many grudges against them in connection with their policy of ousting Russians from all managing posts. In my opinion, Fatherland’s Duma faction should comprise Fatherland’s confederates, not high-profile names of national leaders.” Rogozin takes this position of Luzhkov to be unprincipled, and therefore has left the ranks of Fatherland’s supporters, along with the Congress of Russian Communities.
It is possible that, when speaking about the mayor of Moscow’s team with which he could not reach an understanding, Shaimiev meant one of the “young Luzhkovites” (a term coined by Novye Izvestia). The press is of the opinion that the new figures in Fatherland are taking over political initiative and jostling for power within the movement with the activists of the “first wave”.
This observation may be well grounded, too: at any rate, it was from one of the “young Luzhkovites”, namely Boos, Chief of Fatherland’s Electoral Staff, that Sergei Ivanenko, Deputy Chairman of Yabloko’s Duma faction, learned that Fatherland does not intend to coordinate its list of candidates for the Duma in single-mandate districts with Grigory Yavlinsky’s movement. At the same time, as Kommersant-daily reports, Luzhkov himself asserts that his movement has not received any official offers from Yabloko. In this connection, the assumption that the two leaders failed to agree first of all on the question of Moscow candidates for Parliament in single-mandate districts is probably correct. This assumption was indirectly confirmed by Boos himself: “Think for yourself, Luzhkov enjoys immense authority in Moscow, and why should we let anyone else pasture in this field?” The chairman of Luzhkov’s electoral staff was likewise straightforward in an interview to Echo of Moscow radio: “Fatherland is not Yabloko’s regional branch.” (This statement was quoted by all central papers.)
Novye Izvestia gives another example of deviation in the views of the mayor of Moscow and “the cheerful leader of Fatherland’s brains department”. The paper reports that the other day Luzhkov stated in a radio interview that he categorically objects to the prohibition of the CPRF, takes the CPRF to be “a serious parliamentary party”, regards Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov with respect, and regularly meets and holds political consultations with him. The next day Novye Izvestia asserted that “young Luzhkovite” Boos categorically denied his boss’ words and stressed that Fatherland has not and is not holding any consultations or negotiations with the CPRF. Thus, “It is of no importance what exactly Luzhkov did – spilled the beans or just talked nonsense; what is of importance is that Boos facetiously corrected him.”
Novye Izvestia believes that, as a result of the actions of Boos and other politicians of his generation, relations among Fatherland’s members are acquiring “Turgenev-esque tension”. It is difficult to say whether a “conflict of fathers and sons” is actually what is happening in Luzhkov’s movement (as is known, the mayor of Moscow has a reputation for not tolerating non-conformity in his team). More likely, Novye Izvestia’s caustic remarks concerning the morals and manners of Luzhkov’s young political supporters is another combat action of the raging “second information war” of the oligarchs.
Novye Izvestia, as part of Boris Berezovsky’s information empire about which so much has been spoken and written of late, certainly is not missing a single opportunity to cause damage to the major opponent of the oligarch-politician, namely the mayor of Moscow.
Other examples of military operations can easily be found. The scandal surrounding the Inteco firm, which is owned by Luzhkov’s wife Yelena Baturina, has caused a wide reaction, especially in the media which is unfriendly towards the mayor of Moscow. Komsomolskaya Pravda, which provoked the scandal in the first place, immediately asserted that, despite Luzhkov’s statements, there are no reasons whatsoever for the investigation to be politicized, since “there are no politics at all in Baturina’s case.” This statement is of special weight since it was made by V. Komatovsky, chief of the Investigation Department of the Vladimir regional department of the FSS, the one who is conducting the investigation of Inteco’s case. Komsomolskaya Pravda insists that the case of money which was illegally exported abroad is a purely criminal case, no matter how insistently the mayor of Moscow hints about intrigues of his political opponents.
Kommersant-daily, on the contrary, is of the opinion that the case in question is obviously political, or at any rate became so after President Yeltsin intervened in the affair and called on politicians to refrain from making “provocative statements”. This remark obviously had to do with Luzhkov’s stern statements addressed to his spouse’s offenders. In this connection, the paper notes in a distressed tone, “It has been recommended to the Presidential Administration many times that if it does not want to let Luzhkov score additional political points it should wipe his boots.” However, the Kremlin foes could not resist the temptation of kicking Luzhkov just one more time – if not directly, then in concealed form. Komsomolskaya Pravda played the role of the opponent in the case and explained that, of course, “the Kremlin is acting unreasonably.” All recent anti-Luzhkov actions have either failed or played into the hands of Fatherland’s leader. Still, these actions seem senseless only if we assume that their goal is to “hound Luzhkov to death”. But their aim is completely different, namely “to tire out the mayor of Moscow out in order to make him obedient.” Given this approach, everything falls in place immediately.
The former premier Yevgeny Primakov remains the figure which arouses universal political interest. Segodnya asserts that Primakov is the one whom “everybody – from Communists to liberals – is dreaming of seeing among them.” This situation is rather strange: “We observe either a dimensionless politician or dimensionless parties.” The paper believes that both are true.
Segodnya is of the opinion that it is currently quite senseless to speak about any sort of political spectrum in Russia, about the existence of, say, right-centrist or left-centrist parties. All these parties, as they are called by Segodnya observer Leonid Radzikhovsky, are “small Primakovites” – in the sense that practically all of them are aspiring to continue “Yeltsin’s stagnation”. “Nobody opposes Russia’s superiority complex and semi-concealed Russian nationalism, everybody accepts the established situation of stolen property, everybody is against Yeltsin’s ‘inner circle’, and everybody is ready to solemnly contrast one of his own to it.” This is, in fact, the Russian “national idea”, which is currently being sought with such great pains.
It is because Russian political parties are ideologically empty that they decide to negotiate about various coalitions with such ease (“there are no reasons for ideological discords”). And for the same reason these negotiations frequently end in nothing (“there are no reasons to ideological unification”).
The paper states that Primakov embodies the extra-ideological myth: “the myth of decency, stability, power, and Soviet-ness.” Speaking about ideology, the current major dilemma – whether to opt for the free market or strict state control – has nothing to do with Primakov. “The Soviet-like conservator” will in any case be accepted with enthusiasm.
In short, as Profil magazine remarked in continuation of the Primakov topic, “Both the left and the right need him.” This idea is shared by all observers without exception. As for all the remaining issues, first of all the probability of the former premier’s return to power and the technology and goals of this action, opinions differ greatly.
According to Profil, the mechanism of Primakov’s return is currently being developed by a certain structure comprising Primakov’s former subordinates – former officers of security services (on the other hand, it is an open secret that once a person has gotten inside the “System” he never becomes “former”). Profil maintains that “owing to his character”, Primakov cannot possibly return to high politics at the invitation of another politician, but only “by popular demand”. This is the exact reason for the creation of a certain “committee for the return”, which is currently allegedly busy organizing the relevant actions of future voters. One example of this activity was the collection of signatures in support of Primakov in the Sverdlovsk region organized by the May movement. If this already functioning committee is also properly and legally registered (which, according to rumors, the former premier does not object to), Primakov will receive his own structure which will allow him to feel at ease in any coalition. “And then a very peculiar thing may happen: it will not be Primakov who will become member of the team of Luzhkov, Shaimiyev, etc., but to the contrary – Luzhkov, Shaimiev, etc. will become members of Primakov’s team.” On the other hand, it is not totally clear why such a complicated technology is needed, since Primakov is likely to take the top rating position as it is in any alliance he may be offered.
Expert magazine appraises the current situation in a different manner altogether. It considers the fact that, for instance, Luzhkov’s team is willing to discuss joint actions with Primakov only in December and is keeping silent on the topic of possible joint strategy in the presidential election, to be very significant. Primakov’s fate immediately after the parliamentary election, in which he has been invited to decorate Fatherland’s electoral list, is immaterial to Luzhkov’s confederates. One of them expressed his interpretation of the situation in the following way: “If we fail to prevent Primakov from running in the parliamentary election, we should at least turn him from a rival into an ally.” Most likely, this very obvious readiness to strangle a rival in a friendly embrace is putting Primakov on his guard and preventing him from easily accepting Fatherland’s offer.
Perhaps Primakov will consider the All Russia movement a more suitable structure: the absence of a charismatic leader within this movement opens vast possibilities for him. And although the more active governors are members of two movements (the more so as the choice is wide: All Russia, Our Home is Russia NDR, Fatherland, and Voice of Russia), it is evident that once the favorite among these movements is determined all regional leaders will defect to its side. “And Primakov is the wild card in this game.”
Naturally, the Communists also have not failed to pay attention to Primakov. Vladimir Semago, a former member of the CPRF Duma faction, cautions the former premier against an alliance with the Communists in an article published in Novye Izvestia. Semago believes that, for the Communists, winning Primakov over to their side will mean only an attempt to “change their image”: “At bottom of things, they do not need Primakov as a person, they simply want to use him.” Indeed, what can Primakov gain from such an alliance? It is unlikely that the post of speaker of the Duma is the limit of his ambitions. And Primakov certainly cannot expect any sort of support from the Communists in the presidential election. Therefore, Semago believes that the Communists have no chances of winning Primakov’s benevolence.
The Communists themselves became no less enthusiastic about “bloc-forming” than any other party. According to Vremya MN, having visited Mt. Elbrus and returned to Moscow, Zyuganov expressed his shock at the “political bickering” he saw from the mountain’s summit, and said that, with a new perspective, it now seems especially petty and trifling to him.
In this connection, the CPRF leader suggested the idea of “unification of Russia’s hale forces.” Apart from Primkov, who recently recovered from his radiculitis, Zyuganov also ascribed to such “hale forces” Luzhkov’s Fatherland, Shaimiev’s All Russia, and his own Popular Patriotic Front (PPF). Vremya MN, meanwhile, appraises Zyuganov’s chances of concluding an alliance with any of the aforementioned political forces as very slim, and this includes the PPF, all of whose members have either already announced that they will run independently in the election or “are searching for allies outside the CPRF and in spite of its desire.”
Zyuganov’s sensational announcement about the left-wing electoral march in a single patriotic column (instead of the previously announced three columns) caused bewilderment on the part of the possible participants in this action. In particular, Mikhail Lapshin, the leader of the Russian Agrarian Party, stated directly that “the time for building one column has passed, and the Communists should have thought about it much earlier.”
Alexei Podberyozkin, leader of Spiritual Heritage Foundation, assumed that the CPRF simply fears competition and is trying, by making such statements, to disintegrate already developed patriotic blocs and steal their electorate. “And all arguments about unity mean only one thing: not to nominate our own candidates and support only the CPRF’s nominees.”
On the other hand, the radical left may receive support from an absolutely unexpected direction. Kommersant-daily states that the Moscow branch of the Islamic Committee, which coordinates the activities of radical Islamic organizations, such as the Chechen Wolves of Islam, the Dagestani Wahhabis, etc., intends to run for the Duma and for this purpose is ready to conclude an alliance with the Movement to Support the Army lead by Viktor Ilyukhin and Albert Makashov. This intention has been declared by Geidar Dzhemal, the leader of the Committee’s Moscow branch. According to him, like radical Communists, radical Muslims are not pleased by “Yeltsin’s pro-Western policy”. His compatriots’ bid for parliament is pursuing an absolutely concrete goal: “Russia should be prepared to wage the next world war on the side of the Muslim world.”
Finally, a less exotic but no less sensational alliance: Kommersant-daily has reported the creation of an electoral bloc comprising Right Cause, New Force, and Voice of Russia. However, so far the matter concerns only a preliminary agreement – the final agreement on the alliance must still be confirmed by the managing organs of all three movements. Nevertheless, unlike the “Salzburg agreement”, this one has been declared to be final and irreversible. Anatoly Chubais called this event a pivotal point. He believes that it is hardly possible that the sides will back down now: “I am used to trusting my partners.” Konstantin Titov was more reserved: “We have taken a rather serious step in the direction determined in Salzburg.” Sergei Kirienko abstained from making any comments: he had come to Moscow with an entirely different goal – namely, to send President Yeltsin his long-promised letter containing a plan for a peaceful succession of power – and entered the sensational alliance while he was at it.
So far, NDR leaders have not decided whether to participate in the coalition. Their sluggishness can be explained first and foremost by Viktor Chernomyrdin’s inability to “picture himself attending one and the same congress with Novodvorskaya, Borovoi, and Yushenkov.” However, so far NDR’s sympathetic attitude alone towards the new bloc has been enough to oppose possible rivals, the paper assumes, and adds, “Chubais, Kirienko, and Titov have achieved the impossible – they have united.”
These are only some of the recent attempts to find political allies. Izvestia writes that Russia’s political map currently resembles pictures from a children’s encyclopedia illustrating the changes in the configuration of the Earth’s continents throughout the millennia of its history. Like geological formations, political parties are constantly changing shape, now absorbing new parts, now getting rid of their former components. It is quite understandable that the public consciousness does not have enough time to react to this permanent movement, and basically keeps orientating itself toward well-known figures: the ratings of the leading Russian politicians vacillate very insignificantly, and the scale of the electorate’s preferences remains the same. On the other hand, there is no doubt that, even prior to August 19, the day on which the president’s electoral decree is to be issued, we will learn about yet new political sensations.