According to an April poll done by the National Public Opinion Research Center (VTsIOM), only 45% of respondents are aware that parliamentary elections will be held this year.

The remaining 55% either don’t know about this at all, or have heard something vague about it.

The Izvestia newspaper commented on these figures as follows: “Over the last few years Russia’s political class has done everything it can to discredit the institutions of parliamentary democracy and elections. So where can political mobilization and at least curiosity in relation to the electoral process be taken from?”

In addition to this, the newspaper reasons, although elections already do not possess that quality of a decision determining the whole fate of the nation, which they had in 1996, they still “determine something in our lives”. In any case, the observer of Izvestia, Andrei Kolesnikov, remarks, the results can be counted as a quite authoritative sociological survey, which the authorities will not be able to ignore.

And for this reason, in the author’s view, “the Russian people has still not received the right to political apathy.”

By the way, it is impossible to say with certainty for the time being that this people really thinks about the main personalities on the Russian political stage.

Even data of such authoritative research centers as the Public Opinion Foundation and VTsIOM differs to a great degree.

According to the former, the Communist Party has 21% support, while United Russia 19%. According to the data of the second, the Communist Party could receive 28% of votes and United Russia just 21%.

Admittedly, as Izvestia clarified itself, there is a difference in the method of calculation: The Public Opinion Foundation calculates the ratings of parties in percent from the number of all those surveyed, while VTsIOM calculates them only from those who on the day of being surveyed firmly intended to vote. However, the gap by which United Russia is behind the Communists is perceptible in both cases.

That is not even talking about the right-wingers, whom the same Public Opinion Foundation promises no more than 3% of votes! Clearly, something had to be done about this.

For a start, United Russia and the Union of Right Forces (URF) decided to move the date of the elections from December 14 to December 7 – in order not to take risks with the turnout of their electors. The Press gave the necessary explanations about this: in Russia the “winter holidays” start on the 12th December, on Constitution Day, and end not earlier than old New Year’s Day, and hence it is very important to have the elections in time, before citizens forget about everything in the procession of traditional Russian festive dinners.

It is true, as the publication Gazeta reported, that Deputy Leader of the URF faction Boris Nadezhdin considered it necessary to defend his electorate. “Our electors are mainly non-drinkers,” Nadezhdin explained, “but they will travel out of the country for three days, since this will be the week before Christmas.”

Nadezhdin did not resist the temptation to take a shot at his political opponents either: “Voting on December 14 would only be advantageous for the Communists – you see, their electorate comes out to the polling stations in any kind of condition.”

The Communists, incidentally, have demonstrated an enviable self-discipline in this situation. According to the testimony of the newspaper Kommersant, Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (CPRF) Oleg Kulikov called the amendments of the centrists and right-wingers (United Russia insists that it is no other than them that can claim ownership of the idea of moving the elections) “a pre-election urge which has no prospects” and which would not help their competitors anyway.

There are sufficient reasons for optimism among the leftists. Dmitry Oreshkin, head of the Merkator company, told Kommersant: “The Communists have a very well-disciplined electorate. Older voters are accustomed to turning out at elections.” And accustomed to voting, naturally, in conformance with their habit of many years.

The head of the Effective Policy Foundation, Gleb Pavlovsky, spoke still more unambiguously on this topic: “If the elections are not moved, the new Duma will be elected by those who always turn out to vote and who have nothing to do” – that is, the older generation.

So the interests of the “young and zealous” could suffer and, what is more, through their own fault. For, as Izvestia noted, “it only seems that the values of the bourgeois revolution of the 1990s having been won have become basic for the whole population of the country.” And so, “de-politicized post-Soviet yuppies” are profoundly wrong when they show interest exclusively in the financial news and stock market quotes: “In Russia, politics still for the time being defines economics, and not the other way round.”

Nezavisimaya Gazeta published an article by the leader of the URF, Boris Nemtsov, the other day, in which he tries to formulate for his followers the essence of political conflict in Russia in an election year.

From the point of view of the right, the main question which has to be answered by supporters of a liberal path of development is roughly like this today: is it possible under the conditions of Putin’s regime of “soft authoritarianism” to reach the most important goal which every kind of regime has – the flourishing of the country economically?

Today among the right, Nemtsov writes, two diametrically opposed conceptions about the role of the authorities have formed: “One group says that it is possible to build the road to a democratic future with authoritarian methods in combination with a free-market policy. The other claims that that kind of path leads to a dead-end.” Which is right?

Having studied the historical experience of the countries of Europe, Asia, and Latin America, the leader of the URF makes a firm conclusion: all the examples of authoritarian construction of capitalism had similar results. In all these cases it is possible to talk only about the flourishing of a corporative-bureaucratic class alone. What you get is a “governmental capitalism for those in government”. A glaring gap between the levels of income of the upper and lower classes of the population forms. Practically total absence of a middle class is noticeable, the necessity of which for increasing of social stability has been talked about so much and for so long.

There is no hope for the formation of a middle class, in Boris Nemtsov’s opinion, in Russia either.

“The present-day Russian regime,” the leader of the URF writes, “is supported by two monsters. On one side – by oligarchic capitalism, on the other – by the bureaucracy, including the special services. This, by all appearances, is the underlying Putin formula.”

So, as the author stresses, the country is hit by a double blow: “The oligarchy and bureaucracy smother the free market and small business, while graduates of the KGB “cleanse” civil society and democratic freedoms”. In such a situation, you can forget about a middle class and about the economic flourishing of the country. For greater clarity, as an example, of the unfortunate consequences of “economic stagnation, bureaucratic capitalism, monstrous centralization, and the absence of civil institutions” Boris Nemtsov even cites the situation with wages payment in the Russian regions.

This, we plainly state, is a non-traditional argument for a leader of the right-wingers.

Nevertheless, the monstrous figure of 3.5 billion rubles (exactly this was the amount of indebtedness at January 1, 2003) serves as a fine illustration for the following passage addressed with sympathy towards the “Russian regions, having fallen into poverty”: “Under President Yeltsin the federal center took 50% of funds away from the regions, while today it is taking 63% already. And there is simply no one to fight for the rights of millions of people, who do not receive their money, and the rights of regions: in a normal society a strong parliament, a free press, and an independent judiciary have to do this.”

As the saying goes, if you have ears – from “post-Soviet yuppies” to budget employees not receiving their pay – hear!

In the meantime, as Izvestia reported, at the meeting of the political council of the URF having taken place last Friday, it suddenly became clear that the party has a very weak position in the regions. Continual scandals and court battles also came up in the discussion.

One day before the political council meeting, the head of the party’s Rostov branch, Boris Titenko, having accused the federal leadership of the URF of the “loss of moral orientation”, worshiping of “the golden calf”, and even of “political cannibalism”, departed from the URF team. As a result, according to Titenko’s opinion, “the intelligentsia has turned away from the party.”

Apart from this, as Izvestia reported, in the URF apparatus the leaders of the party have been unhappy about Titenko for a long time; he was even denied the first place on the regional balloting list. Now, after his departure, a “young and strong” party member will occupy his place. Admittedly, there are concerns that hot on the heels of Titenko up to 300 people (out of a total number of up to 1000) may leave the local branch of the URF.

There is a similar situation in Ulyanovsk as well. After a “young and strong” local businessman, Sergei Gerasimov, took up the leadership of the regional branch, half of it abandoned the party’s ranks. Basically, Izvestia reports, “representatives of the intelligentsia that are respected in the city: professors, teachers, doctors, journalists”. In a collective announcement about their departure they wrote that “Gerasimov is implanting the same approaches that there are in big business in the branch.” And in particular: the businessman has registered the names of employees of his enterprise in the place of the people having left, “by this, also achieving a majority of votes at any meeting of the organization”.

A scandal is also continuing in the URF’s Tula branch, where the former head of the branch, Yevgeny Gorshkov, having left a year ago, led away with him part of the people and is now seeking damages through court and the Justice Ministry and recognition of his branch as being the legitimate one.

His opponent, Vyacheslav Kuznetsov, who presently is leader of the regional branch, thinks that the URF “is drifting in the direction of pragmatism”, having freed itself of people who “can talk, but cannot do”. “The time of democrat-romantics of the first wave is over”, Kuznetsov stated to Izvestia.

The newspaper’s experts consider that, apart from a banal struggle for power, these processes signify a tendency having become marked in the ranks of the URF: the part of its electorate of a “defender of rights” and “democratic” nature, basically the intelligentsia of the old style, working in the budget sphere, is splitting from the party.

“The party’s leaders, it seems, in fact have staked on regional business, counting it as being its basis of support and its electorate. Correspondingly, the techniques of party work are being changed: business approaches are actively being added to it.”

The new campaign staff manager of the right-wingers, Alfred Kokh, will be active in introducing “business approaches”.

According to rumor, Alfred Reingoldovich by no means agreed to take this post straight away. As the weekly Moskovskie Novosti reports, the condition for him working at the URF was some mysterious “Kokh condition” connected, as they say, with party balloting lists.

Sources of Moskovskie Novosti report: Kokh is far from delighted that the party balloting list, as is surmised, is going to be headed once again by Boris Nemtsov. What is more, Kokh wanted to go into the leading part of the list himself.

In combination with management of the campaign staff of the party it is possible to make him, according to the expression of Moskovskie novosti, “in a certain sense a manager more highly placed than the official leader Boris Nemtsov”. Which, naturally, does not facilitate the growth of solidarity within the leadership of the right-wingers on the eve of the elections.

The left have their own reasons for worrying as well – the same publication, Moskovskie Novosti, reports about them.

On Monday Sergei Glazyev (“the last hope of our left”, as the Press calls him) assembled “a kind of scientific conference” under the title “From Opposition – to Social Responsibility”. Representatives of the Congress of Russian Communes, the CPRF, the Military-Power Union, the Eurasian Party, the Party of Labor, the Russian Communist Workers’ Party, and other organizations took part in the conference.

Discussion went on about the possibility of unification of the efforts of the left opposition at the elections. A decision was made about the creation of a coordinating organ of left-opposition organizations under the leadership of Glazyev.

Gennady Zyuganov, as Moskovskie Novosti reports, ignored the event under the pretext that allegedly at that very moment the leaders of the CPRF were discussing their campaign strategy. In his place, he sent the Secretary of the Central Committee for Agriculture, Vladimir Kashin, who reminded Glazyev’s supporters as well that the Communist Party intends to go to the elections independently, without any kind of helpers.

In the meantime rumors cropped up that left-inclined members of the government under the leadership of Pavel Borodin (the Eurasian Party, as has already been said, took part in the conference) are prepared to support Glazyev. “In general, Moskovskie Novosti remarked, “everything looked as though Glazyev had set about forming his own block, not accountable to the CPRF”.

As a result, in order to stop the talk having started about a final split in the left, the usually circumspect and impressive Zyuganov was forced to show haste uncharacteristic for him. Acting in advance of a decision of the official party organs, Zyuganov announced for all to hear that Sergei Glazyev would be put into the top three of the CPRF’s party balloting list.

And so as to finally stop the flow of rumors, Zyuganov added that “we hold about ten of this kind of conference a year.”

At the same time, as observer of Novaya Gazeta Boris Kagarlitskiy remarked, the Glazyev conference left more questions than answers.

As the author thinks, a consolidated showing of the left at the Duma elections cannot be by itself the ultimate goal of the union. As far as the role of the parliament in contemporary Russia is “the legitimization of initiatives launched from the Presidential Administration”.

So the ultimate aim of the event, as Novaya Gazeta supposes, could only be the nomination of a single candidate of the left at the presidential elections.

Zyuganov cannot be such a candidate: “He did not use his good chances for victory in 1996, and now his time is past.”

The question is to what extent Glazyev fits this role, the favorite saying of whom is: “Personal ambitions are the main thing which is causing problems for us today.”

However, there is another side to the coin. As Boris Kagarlitskiy writes, for the duration of the three years of Vladimir Putin’s presidency Russian “opposition” politicians have been contesting fiercely on the grounds of demonstration of their loyalty to the Kremlin. Nevertheless, recently the situation has been starting to change strikingly. Everyone has started talking about disagreements with the political and economic decisions of the authorities.

In the author’s opinion, it is not just a matter of the approach of the parliamentary elections, but also of a change in the general situation in the country.

“From the very first months of the “Putin era” it was obvious that this plan had exactly as long to live as high oil prices lasted.” They lasted for the whole of these 3 years – right up to the end of the Iraq war.

However, now the times in which it was possible to maintain the impression of stability and order, while doing absolutely nothing about this (it is precisely in this, in the author’s opinion, that the “Putin model” has its essence), have gone, never to return.

Oil prices have started falling and the confidence of the Russian political elite in their cloudless future is decreasing respectively. Apparently, Kagarlitsky makes it more precise, so far there has not been a disaster. However, the anxiety is increasing, “The Russian elite knows the real state of affairs too well.”

Election intrigues are only a part of the general election anxiety in the political class, “Suddenly, there is demand for opposition in the country.”

It will be rather difficult to satisfy this demand. Novaya Gazeta says caustically that the Union of Right Forces that likes criticizing the government so much like to sit in the government even more. Due to this reason, the Yabloko that traditionally retains its “decent modesty” image, does not suit the role of a passionate power opponent.

There is only the left wing left. Once the press called them the “department for providing oppositional services for the population.” However, these are rather doubtful services. At the same time, Glazyev’s initiatives also leave much to be desired.

Novaya Gazeta says that the marginal left wing parties that have supported Glazyev are hardly likely to be a success at the elections. The communists are also unlikely to support his ideas – this would means a radical change of not only their methods but also ideology.

Hence, it occurs that if Glazyev want to be a success, him and his surrounding will “in fact, have to build a movement from the very beginning, basing not on people used in the 1990s but on the political resource of the society, where the oppositional left wing trends are growing stronger.”

The newspaper does not forecast whether he will dare to do this.

London exile Boris Berezovsky is also announcing his growing intention to create a “real effective opposition” to the power. Berezovsky keeps insisting that the end justifies the means and after the scandalous publications about his alliance with the left wing, he has decided to comment on his proposals on uniting the Liberal Russia and the Union of Right Forces in his interview with the Argumenty i Fakty newspaper.

Berezovsky said, “I have repeated that today we have a clear goal – to prevent a constitutional majority of supporters of the new power in the parliament. This requires a consolidation of all sensible forces, both left and right wing.” That is why Berezovsky’s Liberal Russia needs a consolidation with the Union of Right Forces, the most active force in the right wing, “As if this works out, the remaining right forces will join us as well.”

According to Berezovsky, right leaders “mentally” agree with him. Moreover, some of them – Berezovsky refused to reveal the names “not to do harm” – even came to London to discuss this opportunity. “But they are afraid of the Kremlin’s response that decides everything in today’s Russia.”

At the same time, Berezovsky says most private members of the party support the idea of uniting. That is why, Berezovsky adds, “Probably, it will be necessary to restructure the Union of Right Forces.”

According to Berezovsky, Anatoly Chubais can be one of the most consequent supporter of uniting liberal democratic forces, “For the sake of the Union of Right Forces and Yabloko he agreed to withdraw from the Union of Right Forces.” It is not his fault that the two parties have never united.

As for Boris Nemtsov, things are more complicated here, “You should notice that all initial statements of Nemtsov on any events are very correct and true. However, with time he starts losing the main idea.” Berezovsky explains this with the same fear of the almighty Kremlin, “No wonder, it directly depends on the presidential administration whether the Union of Right Forces will get to the next Duma. That is why they are afraid to stand in its way.”

As for Irina Khakamada, Berezovsky calls her a “trimmer”. “That’s why her statements are not a political move but a consequence of the political considerations of the moment”. This creates the fear for concrete decisions, which cannot be approved by the Kremlin, “This is the main issue: the Union of Right Forces is tied with the fear of the power unlike its private members.”

“How does Berezovsky know about the trends among private members of the party?” Argumenty I Fakty asks, “Why does he want to slender dirt on all its leaders and simultaneously think of uniting with them? Where is the logic?” Argumenty i Fakty presumes that there is no logic here – it is just a desire to remind the country of itself and to dispel the London boredom.

At the same time, it is quite possible to be a special political “intuition” of the former “gray cardinal” of the Kremlin.

After the UN Security Council cancels anti-Iraqi sanctions, oil prices will definitely fall.

As Berezovsky’s Nezavisimaya Gazeta forecasts, “troubles can flood the Russian economy this summer”. Of course, the troubles will not be great from the very beginning – the “currency bag” of the Central Bank is today about $60 billion which, according to expert appraisals, will make it possible for the authorities to live without much trouble for some time in the unfavorable oil conjuncture. Most likely, this money will be enough until the end of the year, until the Duma elections. “While the next Duma candidates will have more difficult times, although they will make something up.”

It will not be very difficult to “make something up”. The Rossiiskie Vesti weekly has published very demonstrative results of latest polls.

According to VTsIOM, about a third of respondents are uncertain which issues define which political parties. Moreover, a quarter of respondents think that political parties do not deal with serious issues at all. Only 12% of respondents have noticed the high activity of the Union of Right Forces concerning the military reform. It is very offending that 17% of respondents think that United Russia is the major promoter of the military reform. It is the leader in other areas as well, except for the social issues and conflict, where it lags behind the Communist Party.

This data is a good addition to the recent data of the Public Opinion Foundation, also published in Rossiiskie Vesti.

The Public Opinion Foundation made up a non-existent “Party of Justice and Order” to determine the extent to which voters would be prepared to vote for a deliberately attractive brand-name without knowing its contents.

The results are very impressive: 11% of respondents said confidently that they were aware of this party; 6% of them said they liked it, and 14% (an incredible figure for the Union of Right Forces) said they might vote for it.

Overall, those who call the Russian electorate “fallow soil” are evidently right. It may be said that seven months before the elections, there is still vast scope for the activities of the most diverse political parties, as well as for ambitious politicians, political consultants, and political intriguers.

We will see all of them!