Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s announcement of his intention to support Unity in the upcoming parliamentary election caused various sorts of reaction from the press, including the pro-Kremlin papers. As Vremya MN immediately remarked, “the prime minister’s words are a right royal present for Unity.” Of course, the rating of Emergency Minister Sergei Shoigu’s movement (about 4% to 7%) cannot compare with Putin’s skyrocketing one. Meanwhile, the prime minister has long been abstaining from expressing obvious political sympathies, which provided him with the necessary freedom of maneuvering and attracted attention of politicians of various coloring to his person; in this connection Yabloko leader Grigory Yavlinsky was not an exception when, just on the eve of Putin’s revelation of his political preferences, Yavlinsky expressed his readiness to enter the government if the head of the cabinet considered it necessary to reshuffle the economic bloc of ministers.

However, Vremya MN states, owing to the rather slow progress of Unity’s election campaign, Putin had to make “a public sacrifice”, which, meanwhile, may seriously complicate the future presidential campaign of the current head of the government. “Success in the Caucasus war immediately granted Putin the chance to become an independent politician and transformed him from the heir to the throne appointed by Boris Yeltsin’s will into the elected representative of the entire people. Now Putin’s connection with the Kremlin has become more visible.”

Kommersant-daily reports, not without gloating delight, the dissatisfaction with which Fatherland-All Russia’s campaign staff received the information about Putin’s statement. The leaders of the movement, according to the paper’s expression, “were dreaming of getting a share in the prime minister’s ever-growing popularity among the electorate.” However, Putin’s inner circle warned him against an alliance with the bloc of Primakov and Luzhkov: this inner circle believes that Fatherland-All Russia’s attempts to demonstrate its amiability to the prime minister, without ceasing its attacks against the Kremlin and Unity, are nothing other than “interim tactics”; the ultimate goal of these tactics, the Kremlin believes, may be a vote of no-confidence in the government. The paper stresses that Putin’s campaign staff act on the principle: “Tell us who your enemies are, and we will understand what to expect from you tomorrow.”

In the opinion of Segodnya, by publicly expressing his electoral preferences the prime minister has directly violated the electoral law. Putin’s explanations that he supports Unity not in his capacity as a state official, but “as a citizen”, are immaterial. “It is all right for an ordinary citizen to voice his political views to his neighbors, but if this citizen is at the same time a prime minister who speaks in front of TV cameras during working hours, well, this is a different matter altogether…” In addition, it is of course annoying that “now it is already senseless for other bloc and political leaders to count on collaboration with the powers that be.”

Nezavisimaya Gazeta, in turn, connected Putin’s statement in favor of Unity with the announcement of the president’s illness the next day. As the paper has managed to learn, the Kremlin possesses trustworthy information that on January 17, during the first meeting of the Duma of the new convocation, the lawmakers will give the government an ultimatum. “What should Putin do? He should either agree with the position of those who are threatening him with a vote of no-confidence on January 17, or opt for a power play by supporting the force he can trust in the election.” Therefore, Yeltsin’s sudden sickness is connected, as the paper maintains, with the fact that “the president is giving Putin an opportunity to settle the current problem of the anti-Putin game on his own.” Both sides participating in this game have already made “their final stakes”, according to the paper’s expression, although the result of it is not evident so far. “In case of success, the president will gives his blessing to the victor, and in case of a failure he will stay out of the entire matter.”

We must add that there are approximately as many explanations and assumptions connected with the president’s sickness as there are newspapers. Vremya MN presumes that Yeltsin’s “sickness” was caused by the fact that “the Kremlin does not want to integrate with Minsk before the parliamentary election.” Kommersant-daily hints that the president’s ailment was the consequence of his “unnatural vivacity” in Istanbul caused by “artificial stimulants possessing a slight narcotic effect”.

Segodnya, in turn, states that “Yeltsin was forced to call in sick by the security ministers, who are currently actually ruling this country, under command of the Presidential Administration (the organizer and inspirer of all victories), with the silent knowledge and consent of Putin,” who is thus becoming the acting president, especially taking into account his enormous popularity rating. The paper even used the term “coup d’etat”.

Moskovsky Komsomolets, on the contrary, is scoffing at the president’s press secretary, Dmitry Yakushkin, who was so imprudent as to announce that “Boris Nikolaevich is taking hot milk with honey to overcome his ailment” against the background of rumors about everything but the president’s “clinical death”, etc., i.e. portrayed Yeltsin’s disease as a mere trifle. According to the paper’s explanation, the president’s sick leave is connected with the fact that the counter-terrorist operation in Chechnya has recently entered its third phase. “Rumor has it that Yeltsin still fears international public opinion’s possible negative reaction to the bloodiest phase of the operation – the storm of Grozny. So he was advised to come down with bronchitis and wait until the military fulfills its plans.” In general, according to Izvestia, Putin’s announcement of his support for Unity stopped “the wave of love flowing toward him from across the political spectrum, probably apart from the left-wing forces.” The paper proclaims the beginning of a new political period, the period of jostling for the right to organize the prime minister’s election campaign.

In an extensive interview wiht Kommersant-daily, Boris Berezovsky expressed his readiness to provide Putin with any help he can. Berezovsky explained this his decision by the assumption that Putin “possesses two qualities which will allow him to become a leader in Russia.” The first quality is Putin’s adherence to liberal values, and the second is “that he is a strong-willed person”. Later on, in the same interview Berezovsky puts it even more bluntly: according to Putin’s own statements, he does not intend to allow redistribution of property in Russia. “Very many people are dissatisfied with the manner in which redistribution of property was conducted,” Berezovsky states. “Furthermore, there are practically no Russians at all who would be satisfied with this redistribution… Nevertheless, Putin fully realizes that any further redistribution would mean bloodshed.”

By an amazing coincidence, Putin and Primakov, who are currently regarded by the public as the two leading presidential candidates, expressed their attitude towards redistribution of property on one and the same day. “And the bone of contention that makes the two ‘parties of power’, the Kremlin and Fatherland-All Russia, constantly squabble immediately became clear,” Segodnya notes. Putin explained his position in the White House, at a nationwide meeting dedicated to the system of management of state property: “Currently there can and must be no talk about any redistribution of property in Russia… God forbid such a development!”

Such an emotional approach to this problem on the part of the prime minister is amazing, to say the least. In Segodnya’s opinion, property has long been redistributed in this country: “The recent events in Vyborg, at the Lomonosov porcelain plant, and in Russia’s oil sector serve as evidence of the real state of affairs.”

According to the same paper, on the same day Yevgeny Primakov expressed in Rostov-on-Don a contrary opinion of the situation: “If a privatized enterprise is idling, if its resources are being misappropriated by the new owners, its workers are being fired, and some other perversions and violations of common sense take place, and, to cap it all, we find that the privatization process was carried out illegitimately, we will revise such transactions.”

Novye Izvestia remarks in this connection that revision of the results of privatization of practically any enterprise may be demanded based on this statement, and Primakov’s reservations that “we must not use extremist methods and plunge Russia into blood once again” will be of no use in that case. “Revision based on the common sense of an unknown person, instead of on the law, cannot be legitimate, it can only be extremist, and it will be impossible to curb this process by any restrictions.”

The paper believes that the only thing left for Russian citizens to do is “thank Primakov and Luzhkov – if for nothing else then for this clarification of what the electorate is to expect if they win in the election.”

Returning to the aforementioned interview with Berezovsky, we must note that Berezovsky has never spoken about his personal sympathies for Putin, and does not at all expect Putin’s love in return, “because I strongly believe that a head of state absolutely cannot proceed from emotions or moral principles (pardon my French). Furthermore, it would be hypocritical of a head of state to do so.” Berezovsky does not venture to predict the future behavior of the prime minister, a man who has been “brought up and to a great extent formed as a person by the security system”. “However, I realize that Putin is an advanced element of that system.” Therefore, Berezovsky considers it rational to support Putin and explains by the way that “stern rationalism” is the common characteristic trait of all oligarchs, which distinguishes them from other people: “Oligarchs do not do what they like or dislike – they do what is profitable for them.”

However, Berezovsky was outstripped by Anatoly Chubais, CEO of Russian Joint Energy Systems, in his aspiration to support Putin. When commenting on Chubais’ expression of readiness to become Putin’s campaign manager, “Izvestia” even assumed the possibility of Chubais’ return to high politics.

The paper states that the new phase of Chubais’ relationships with the higher authorities started with the RJES chief’s solemn statement at the Gudermes airport where he arrived for an inspection: “I have arrived on the instructions of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.” Chubais, who is universally recognized as one of the most talented Russian political managers, is ready to become a member of Putin’s team if Putin “summons” him. When answering the question of whether the prime minister will summon Chubais, Irina Khakamada, Chubais’ partner in the Union of Right Forces, assumed that this will largely depend on the results of the parliamentary election: if the rightist forces overcome the 5% barrier, Chubais will really become Putin’s campaign manager. At the same time, Izvestia notes that the Union’s would-be success in the election will be not so much the evidence of Chubais’ management capabilities (they are generally recognized as it is) as a proof of his popularity among Russian citizens. One of the metamorphoses of the recent weeks is this: after Chubais’ statement about the Russian Armed Forces’ renaissance in Chechnya “the pitch-black image of the chief Russian mischief-maker has started to brighten rapidly… Russian public opinion agrees with Chubais – for the first time in the past eight years of reforms.” This fact undoubtedly gives Chubais, who has long been hiding in the shadows, a chance to re-enter national politics.

Among other things, Chubais’ “return” was marked by his live debate with Yavlinsky on NTV. Yavlinsky called Chubais a liar, a scoundrel, and even “an ex-keeper of the president’s chamber-pot”. Chubais, in turn, compared Yavlinsky with “a pure, honest, immaculate, and incorruptible bride, with only one flaw: the bride is already going on 60.”

Komsomolskaya Pravda published excerpts from the verbatim record of these debates and noted sorrowfully that Yavlinsky and Chubais polemicized with each other as if the Russian Communists had already turned into social democrats, the threat of fascism had been totally eradicated, nobody was even thinking about hampering the reforms, and Russia was in the heat of an unprecedented political upsurge.” If that was the case, the democrats could actually afford to devote their time to settling scores.

Komsomolskaya Pravda reminds its readers that in reality Yavlinsky and Chubais are “natural allies” who will undoubtedly lose their supporters as a result of such discussions.

This assumption was immediately proved: Editor-in-Chief of Nezavisimaya Gazeta Vitaly Tretyakov publicly stated that he will never again vote for Yavlinsky, whom he used to support. From Tretyakov’s viewpoint, Yavlinsky demonstrated “shallowness and provincialism” against the background of Chubais, who, by the way, used to be one of the constant objects of Nezavisimaya Gazeta’s criticism. Now, Chubais’ viewpoint of the Chechen events is recognized as just and correct.

As for the general level of the discussion, in Tretyakov’s opinion it absolutely eliminates “the Dorenko problem” – indeed, Dorenko’s acid remarks are “dwarfed by what I heard with amazement from the man I once wanted to see as president of Russia,” i.e. from Yavlinsky.

After the public quarrel between Yavlinsky and Chubais, Novaya Gazeta also arrived at the conclusion that both politicians are “violent political rivals”. However, unlike Nezavisimaya Gazeta, the paper sides with Yavlinsky, who has always been maintaining that “we should actually get this country out of the crisis, we should work honestly, and if we cannot work honestly, we’d better not work at all – unlike Chubais, who was not loath to work under Gaidar, Chernomyrdin, Kirienko, and always under Yeltsin, only to do HIS work.” In short, “For the former, people have always been the top priority, whereas for the latter – power and authority,” the paper concludes. In this situation Novaya Gazeta sees the answer to the question of why the democrats have failed to form an alliance.

Meanwhile, the “struggle for the prime minister” started by two political luminaries – Chubais and Berezovsky – has not yet ended in any certain result. Izvestia states that so far the Kremlin simply does not need help from anyone: “The Presidential Administration has enough people and resources, and the current stability of Putin’s position makes him the only presidential candidate possible from the rightist and right-centrist political wing as it is.”

Unlike in 1996, when oligarchs and politicians supported a common candidate in order to rebuff the communist threat, nowadays they are primarily aspiring “not to find themselves on the side of the political road during the next four years.” That is why Chubais and Berezovsky are supporting Putin: “The former is counting on a ‘liberal revenge’, and the latter is simply wishing to preserve his former position in politics and business.”

As for the prime minister himself, Izvestia reports that by his treatment of Berezovsky’s offer of support Putin has once again proved his reputation as a circumspect and distrustful security officer.

Nevertheless, according to Segodnya, it is so far too early to expect that Berezovsky “has irretrievably lost the Kremlin’s favor and been ascribed to the category of people cherishing evil intentions.” The paper states that recently the contacts between the prime minister and the omnipresent oligarch have “become improperly frequent”.

In a lengthy interview with Vek weekly, Putin explained the causes of his popularity in the following way: “I believe that the current government’s actions have long been awaited by Russian citizens. Apparently, here lies the reason for the people’s support of the said actions.” However, the prime minister warned the people against excessive expectations: “The government is expected to achieve results as rapidly in the economic and social sphere as in the struggle against terrorism in Chechnya. Society obviously wants a miracle. But I have no right to promise the people a miracle.”