The papers have been mentioning the figure of 48% in recent days: the president’s electoral rating. What happened to his erstwhile sky-high rating of 70% or even more? That’s no longer mentioned; now it turns out that it was an entirely different rating – the “trust rating”. As Boris Kagarlitsky points out in Rodnaya Gazeta, the electoral rating was always much lower; even in Putin’s lucky year of 2000 it was around 45%. Kagarlitsky says: “But for some reason, we weren’t told about those figures at the time. And now everyone has suddenly forgotten all about the trust rating.”

Actually, this comes as no surprise. Kagarlitsky goes on to say: “During his time in power, Putin has managed to offend many people – and he hasn’t achieved very much.”

Big business leaders are not happy about the rise of the “intelligence agents from St. Petersburg”. Regional leaders and their clans aren’t happy about regional powers being cut back, along with revenues. Also among the dissatisfied are those who were hoping for a renaissance in the Armed Forces and an upswing in the defense sector, but have seen their hopes dashed.

Of course, says Kagarlitsky, as long as the petro-dollars kept pouring in, grievances were not expressed. But now they may be recollected.

Kagarlitsky comments: “In any event, Putin’s shares are falling, and the media magnates and oligarchs – as experienced businesspeople – have started speculating on the fall.” Previously, Russia’s elite “stated with satisfaction that there is no alternative to Putin” – but now it is “asking in alarm who will be the next president.”

The range of names mentioned as likely candidates for being the next president is surprisingly wide: from Boris Gryzlov to Sergei Glaziev. And all of a sudden, the papers are once again mentioning the name of the only politician in Russia who has some experience as president: Boris Yeltsin.

For the time being, Yeltsin is only being mentioned in connection with the extraordinary congress of Liberal Russia (the Berezovsky version of the party). Boris Berezovsky’s supporters are said to have chosen Yeltsin as their symbol.

Alexander Tukaev, leader of Liberal Russia’s Astrakhan branch, told the Vremya Novostei newspaper: “Boris Yeltsin did a great deal for Russia: he defeated the totalitarian regime and developed the basis of a democratic society.” On the other hand, according to Tukaev, Putin “is leading us into Stalinism”.

Boris Berezovsky, elected as leader of Liberal Russia at the congress, was more specific. The Kommersant newspaper quotes him as saying, via a video link with London: “As a result of Putin’s three years in power, statehood and the fundamental institutions of a democratic state order are being destroyed.” The former can be seen from the broken promise to end the war in Chechnya; the rest can be seen from “the destruction of the Federation Council, the redistribution of functions from the regions to Moscow, the subordination of the Prosecutor General’s Office to the Kremlin, the restoration of total control over the media, and the expanding functions of the special services.”

Berezovsky draws the following conclusion from all this: Putin’s rule is losing legitimacy. Essentially, a “creeping revolution” is beginning in Russia. The situation can only be salvaged by a change of regime; and only an opposition can achieve that.

Needless to say, an opposition preparing to change the regime requires not only a “party symbol”, but a realistic presidential candidate of its own. Understandably enough, Berezovsky himself is unlikely to venture to aspire to that role. Of course, he’s no stranger to setting grandiose goals for himself – but there’s a limit to everything, even Berezovsky’s adventurism. Therefore, it may be no coincidence that Yeltsin’s name is being mentioned. Who knows – it may turn out that Yeltsin, refreshed after his three-year break, is ready to fight again; and Berezovsky’s party may be nurturing a plan to transform the “party symbol” into its candidate in the battle for power.

All the same, Berezovsky is clearly confident that younger candidates can also be found, given the proper efforts. No wonder the new leader of Liberal Russia is prepared to cooperate with practically anyone, as long as this gets results: “In my view, any alliance at all is worthy of our consideration.”

The papers still haven’t forgotten the scandal over Berezovsky’s “tactical alliance” with the left. But there are also some other directions for the search: alliance “with the right wing, especially the Union of Right Forces, and – if possible – with Yabloko.” These parties have leaders who are young, ambitious, and (most importantly in terms of Berezovsky’s situation) charismatic.

Vremya Novostei was rather at a loss when it commented: “The oligarch seems to have ignored the statements of URF leaders to the effect that they don’t want to form a bloc with him.” This is not surprising; one may be prepared to do anything at all in order to win over at least part of the electorate, even by outright forcible methods.

Likewise, Berezovsky is confidently ignoring certain other statements – for example, repeated assurances from Communist leader Gennadi Zyuganov that no cooperation whatsoever with Berezovsky is acceptable – especially since the left wing also has some younger leaders, quite capable of breathing new life into the Communist Party’s time-worn rhetoric. First among them is Sergei Glaziev, who is becoming more and more popular among young left-wing voters.

Valery Vyzhutovich says in Moskovskie Novosti: “Indeed, how long is it possible to continue exploiting nostalgia for the USSR, free health care, and the other delights of socialism? Isn’t it time to replace the worn-out record – and replace the person playing it?”

According to Vyzhutovich, the urgent question here is whether Zyuganov will tolerate the presence at his side of “a 42-year-old rival, splendidly educated and not lacking in communist pathos.” A conflict with Glaziev would be most disadvantageous for Zyuganov: the party rank-and-file would view it as personal rivalry and evidence that Zyuganov is incapable of uniting the opposition before the elections.

However, Zyuganov’s attempts to “choke Glaziev in the organization embraces” are no less dangerous. Having appointed Glaziev the close candidate on the party list after he had managed to head the Russian Communities Congress and the Party of Russian Regions, Zyuganov has in fact appointed him as his successor. This is very satisfying for both young voters and experienced party activists, “Both will see a real new leader in the young but rather experienced and educated politician, his ability to eventually modernize the Communist Party and to bring the left forces to the victory at the parliamentary elections.”

According to Novaya Gazeta, the participation of Sergei Glaziev in the election as the leader of an independent “left column” along with traditional communists is able to bring additional 10-12% votes. However, to form this column it is necessary to make an election list of his own and Glaziev is short of time – until mid-summer.

Meanwhile, as Boris Kagarlitsky writes in Novaya Gazeta, “Glaziev’s party list may become a successful political project and even a sensation if he is able to organize the part of the society that looks into the future rather than the past.” In fact, the author notes, “Everyone’s talking about increased leftist trends in Russia – but will Glaziev be able to express these trends politically?” Will he be able to find supporters who are influential enough, and win the intelligentsia over to his side – right now they are gradually retreating from public life; and most importantly, can he win the youth vote? Will he be able to find convincing words and slogans? All this will become clear in the immediate future. Then, it will be possible to speak not only about a change of generations in the opposition leadership, but also about an alternative to the present head of state at the next presidential elections.

It should be noted that at present all potential presidential contenders are acting extremely cautiously. Some are trying to deny any suspicions about excessive political ambitions immediately.

Recently, YUKOS leader Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who has many times been suspected by the media of great political ambitions, said confidently in his interview with Vedomosti that he is much more interested in being an observer in politics rather than a participant. At the same time, the oil magnate found it necessary to repeat that he intends to continue supporting the Union of Right Forces and Yabloko regardless of the fact that these parties “are not very influential for Duma decisions.” Consequently, pragmatically speaking, supporting them is not very reasonable.

Nonetheless, Khodorkovsky says such parties are needed – if we take into account the “construction of a democratic society which would not be left by the most qualified young specialists.”

Moreover, such parties should have at least 30% of votes in the parliament – while the communists are guaranteed to have their 30% of votes and the Duma center has 40%. Khodorkovsky says that only a third of parliamentary votes belonging to democratic parties will make it possible to speak about a “healthy balanced society.” He means the society where “social support is provided for all who need it and those who succeed are encourage for further successes.”

So far, there is nothing of the kind in Russia, “They speak much and correct about social issues – but we are ashamed to say that we need to encourage and support the successful ones.” As a result, according to the YUKOS head observations, the successful ones find more suitable countries for themselves and this causes serious issues in the Russian society.

That is why, according to Khodorkovsky, the support of the Union of Right Forces and the Yabloko, “is principally important for the development of the country.”

At the same time, it is also necessary to find some practical sense in the support. Khodorkovsky asks, “Can you imagine how much YUKOS would be worth in a Russia where Yabloko and the Union of Right Forces have just as many voters as the Communists?”

According to the oil magnate, the value of such a balance is rather high. “A rate of return of least 15, if not 18, is guaranteed.” That is why any person who has shares in any Russian enterprise should be financially interested in providing as many votes for the Union of Right Forces and the Yabloko as for the Communists.

Mikhail Khodorkovsky is probably right. However, it should be admitted that the present level of support of democratic parties demonstrates not only the level of popularity of democratic ideas in Russia, but also the level of relative material prosperity (for instance, in the form of owning several shares in an industrial enterprise.)

A recent opinion poll done by the ARPI agency and published by Novoye Vremya shows how Russian citizens view their situation and prospects of the nation.

According to the poll, 52% of respondents are convinced that Russia will be unable to reach living standards equal to those of Portugal even ten years from now; 36% of optimists disagree with them; and 12% are uncertain.

The responses to the question “When is the real improvement of the Russian population’s wellbeing possible?” turned to be even more expressive. There are people who think it is possible in a couple of years – only, there is only 1% of them, which means it can be a statistical error. At the same time, 9% of people think it may happen in the next 3-5 years under Putin’s second presidency. Optimistic realists, 14%, think that the joyful changes can take place no earlier than in 6-10 years; 25% of respondents think of 10-15 years. Of course, today, it is difficult to foresee what will happen then. The majority of respondents, 34%, do not even try to do so, “My generation will not live that long.” Twelve more percent of people say it will never happen.

It is interesting, Novoe Vremya notes that according to the same poll, supporters of the present president are even more pessimistic: 83% of them are convinced that life can improve only in a decade, after the end of Putin’s second presidency; 40% of people do not believe that this will ever happen.

Besides, according to 34% of respondents, the power in the country is already controlled by the large capital; at the same time, 33% are convinced that in the next ten years this state of affairs will remain unchanged; and a relative majority of respondents, 44%, think that tycoons will increase their influence on politics.

Taking this information into account, Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s hope for the balance of ideas in the society seem to be rather doubtful – it is unlikely that the pro-Putin majority that do not hope to improve their own lives will support the right wing. It is not an accident that, as the press says, from one election to another, the number of people who mark the “against all” box is increasing. Although, it seems this trend will not spread on the presidential elections.

However, the media say, in the country where the people are traditionally silent, the elite has to play the role of disturbers.

Today, Rodnaya Gazeta says, the objective interest of tycoons is limiting of the president’s power rather than changing the president. That is why if three years ago “we were proposed to prolong the presidential term to seven years” – the elite yearned for stability that could be provided only by a popular leader – today, “we are proposed to replace the presidential republic with a parliamentary-presidential republic.”

This version of the state structure gives the elite an opportunity to control the power and to make “political compromises between groups”. At the same time, the achieved compromises are confirmed with reliable agreements in the form o distribution of ministerial posts which reduced the risk of being “ditched” for every group is minimized.

However, this welfare requires a constitutional reform which is a very difficult thing. Besides, the paper says, the candidacy of head of the state raises doubts, “The one who is elected to be a czar, even for a limited period of time, is difficult to become an ordinary state official. That is why the power reform is most likely to require the replacement of the president as well.”

Moreover, as Sergei Shakhrai said recently at the Expert Club meeting (cited at the Versia weekly), the new-Russian elite has always been afraid of an “unpredictable president” and the “unpredictable people”. Everyone remembers both Boris Yeltsin with his love of radical decisions and sharp changes and suddenly appeared Vladimir Putin and his “Teflon” popularity rating.

As they say “the heart has a will of its own” – although it is strange to speak about the hope rating at the end of the presidential term, voters still retain their sympathies for Vladimir Putin.

However, even if we cast aside all doubts about the outcome of the elections, it is very difficult to say what will happen afterwards. Will “neo-stagnation” continue? Or, as some observers predict, will there be a series of “large-scale reforms” that will radically change the political landscape of Russia?

One way or another, it is generally admitted that over the past few years, Vladimir Putin has become a real politician – if we define politics as the “art of the possible”. From this standpoint, it will be possible to get the answers to all questions in the course of the parliamentary election campaign.