Old Saint Basil's Cathedral in MoscowJohnson's Russia List title and scenes of Saint Petersburg
Excerpts from the JRL E-Mail Community :: Founded and Edited by David Johnson

#10 - JRL 7169
No. 17
May 5 - 11, 2003
Author: Yuri Chernega
[from WPS Monitoring Agency, www.wps.ru/e_index.html]



The task, which Russian politicians faced in the initial phase of the election campaign, has been implemented. All political parties represented in the Duma proved to the Kremlin's utter satisfaction that all of them are worthy of the status of fully-fledged participants of the upcoming race. Phase two puts forth some new tasks. It is voters who become objects of propaganda. To win them over, every political party has concentrated on a single sphere it views as paramount and particularly promising. Kommersant-VLAST is going to try and evaluate effectiveness of these efforts.


All through its history United Russia has presented itself as a "party of all Russians" and a party inseparable from Vladimir Putin. As it turned out eventually, the president never entertained the thought of joining the party and that United Russia's popularity with the population was anything but growing. All of that persuaded its Kremlin supervisors in late 2002 that a light tint of opposition would not harm the party. Calling itself presidential, the party could not join opposition to the president by definition. Criticism of the government was the only alternative. United Russia proclaimed itself a "party of socially-oriented conservatism" and accepted responsibility for social policy of the state.

This emphasis in the election campaign may actually lead United Russia into a trap. The Russians who think that it is bad ministers who constantly stand in the good president's way may really appreciate the party's desire to protect the people from the government. On the other hand, smarter Russians who understand that it is the "good president" who appointed the "bad government" will hardly swallow all of that.

United Russia may get rid of this ambivalence in one case only - if the government is actually dismissed closer to the election. Provided the population is successfully brainwashed into thinking that it was United Russia's criticism that led to the Cabinet resignation, the party's rating may actually go up. It will not even be difficult to accomplish, what with the informational resources in United Russia's possession. The party's political enemies, on the other hand, are unlikely to miss the chance to explain to voters that when a party headed by Minister Boris Gryzlov initiates resignation of the government, all of it should be put in a cell with padded walls. In other words, to be successful United Russia will need some cunning maneuvering and perception. The party itself is clearly short of men possessing such traits. If, however, adepts of intrigue help it - Director of the Presidential Administration Alexander Voloshin and Deputy Director Vladislav Surkov - the "anti-government combination" may actually be pulled off.


Unlike United Russia, the Communist Party is quite comfortable with and used to being in opposition. These last several months, however, communists were forced to abandon their struggle against the regime and turn to the internal crisis. The matter concerns the conflict between supporters of the CPRF leader Gennadi Zyuganov and followers of Gennadi Semigin, Chairman of the Executive Committee of the People's Patriotic Front. Hard-liners accuse Semigin of collaboration with the Kremlin, which is out to split the party through the use of renegades. When the conflict flared up, Zyuganov and Co actually decided that time had come to become more than just an opposition. What they needed, they decided, was becoming an opposition harassed by the regime.

As of early spring the Communist Party has been actively talking about the informational blockade it is allegedly in due to the authorities. The fake rally in defense of Boris Berezovsky on April 2 became a perfect excuse for the communist campaign. State TV-channels covered the rally. Communists immediately announced that they had had absolutely nothing to do with it and even threatened to sue ORT and RTR channels. The subject of informational blockade was regularly referred to at party plenums and conferences. A picket was organized near the Ostankino TV complex. Funds were raised to "lift the blockade".

Constantly complaining of the lack of finances, communists nevertheless found enough money to realize a large-scale IT program in regional organizations. They believe that the Internet may be used to coordinate activities of the party and for parallel evaluation of the outcome of elections.

Communists are unlikely to remain in the focus of attention of the media only due to their complaints. After all, the blockade Zyuganov regularly berates from TV screens sounds somewhat odd. But the information net will remain. If the Communist Party raises money to complete its installation nationwide, it may elevate its regional organization to a wholly new level of cooperation with the central party apparatus. It will broaden capacities of the party in other spheres of election work - propaganda, optimization of resources management, and control over elections.


The party spent the last several months concentrating on the living and communal services reforms. Back in January, Yabloko began promoting its own program in this sphere. But since everyone else constantly refers to these particular reforms - from United Russia to communists - Yabloko found itself in need of some fresh ideas. Logically enough, it switched over to another safe subject that will necessarily be discussed in the media.

On April 26, bureau of the Yabloko federal council instructed the faction to put forth the idea of a vote of no confidence in the government. The party found itself in a somewhat delicate position. Commenting on communists' proposal of a vote of no confidence last summer and earlier this year, Yabloko functionaries inevitably emphasized that the idea did not stand a chance in the current Duma. It seems, however, that Grigori Yavlinsky and his followers do not care about such trifles anymore. They have to be in a hurry to make sure that communists do not "privatize" the idea.

The vote of no confidence is probably the cheapest and the most effective means of reminding general public of one's own existence. It does not take rallies or pickets; it does not take "diligent work" with the media. What it takes is referring to the idea in the Duma as frequently as possible. Whether or not the matter is put to vote does not really count because the failure may always be ascribed to "centrist dictatorship". The only con is that it is next to impossible to delay with the procedure. If the centrists see through Yabloko's intentions and bring up the matter so as to kill it in the Duma, Yabloko will only have less than two months for free anti-government propaganda.


It was difficult for the Union of Right Forces to choose the proper line of conduct because of the numerous statements of its leaders to the effect that Putin had been essentially implementing their policy (at least in economy). That is why the party's room for maneuvering was fairly restricted. It could only castigate the Cabinet for the slow or inconsistent reforms. Unfortunately for the Union of Right Forces, voters do not really care about high-flown macroeconomics. The party needed something else, some subject where it could put up a fight.

Struggle with the generals over faster military reforms moved into the foreground. Union leader Boris Nemtsov never misses a chance to remind society that he is the most steadfast advocate of a professional army. On a visit to the Pskov Airborne Division the Defense Ministry is experimenting with last September, Nemtsov pronounced the military reforms sabotaged. This spring the Union of Right Forces came up with its own plan of military reform - reduction of service by conscription to six months, higher salaries for servicemen by contract, and privileges in the sphere of flats.

Election actions of the Union of Right Forces are particularly effective because its leaders synchronize their statements pertaining the military reforms with official functions like Cabinet meetings or president-chaired conferences. On the one hand, the Union of Right Forces is guaranteed attention of the media to its statements in this manner. On the other, it emphasizes its oppositionist role. Moreover, the Right does not bear any responsibility for its proposals because it is the government that makes all decisions. It is therefore the government that all failures may be blamed on.

This tactic irritates the army that accuses the Union of Right Forces of cheap populism but voters of the Union of Right Forces do not trust generals. Besides, the military reforms will last more than a year. It means that the subject will be quite sufficient for the Union of Right Forces for the duration of at least one parliament campaign.


At first, the People's Party tried to stand out against the background of its colleagues from United Russia. It is because of this that the party came up with some scandalous but not particularly promising initiatives - on capital punishment and harassment of gays. Gradually, however, the circle of its interests narrowed down. The People's Party eventually concentrated on the social sphere, like United Russia.

The People's Party does not have broad organizational and administrative capacities and has been forced therefore to concentrate on a single subject (but one of paramount importance for the population). The matter concerns its war on the reforms in the energy production sphere. Party leader Gennadi Raikov became Anatoly Chubais' main public antagonist. Raikov's People's Deputy group in the Duma sabotaged adoption of the "energy package" in the lower house of the parliament.


Vladimir Zhirinovsky's party is not like other political parties in Russia. It does not have to look for any niches because its leader is doing everything all on his own. The LDPR has spent this decade in the Duma only because of Zhirinovsky's unmatched ability to attract voters with his shocking escapades and because of his political perception. Take the episode with the tape where a man in Baghdad resembling the LDPR leader defames US President George W. Bush. Unless Zhirinovsky loses his abilities, his liberal democrats will be represented in the next Duma too. Particularly since LDPR faction in the Duma never votes against the regime on principal matters. It knows all too well that the Kremlin does not forgive escapades of this sort. (Translated by A. Ignatkin

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