#5 - JRL 7237
June 23, 2003
[translation from RIA Novosti for personal use only]
WHAT ON EARTH IS GOING ON IN RUSSIA?
Vyacheslav NIKONOV, president of the Politika Foundation
A foreign correspondent whom I know rather well called me the other day, asking anxiously whether great political upheavals lie in store for Russia today.
"No, as far as I know. Why?" I replied.
That was followed by listing the developments which he could not account for. The liberal Yabloko party joins hands with the communists and even with Zhirinovsky's LDPR in a vote on no confidence in the cabinet appointed by Vladimir Putin. The media, prompted by a group of well-known political analysts, discuss in earnest an alleged prospect of an oligarchic coup against the president. St. Petersburg, the second largest city in Russia, remains to be without a governor, who was urgently summoned to Moscow and given a post of deputy prime minister. It is very rarely that governors were called to Moscow before the end of their term of office.
I tried to calm down the foreign observer of developments in this country. These developments have a quite peaceful explanation. All significant events that are taking place and will take place on Russia's political scene this year will almost entirely be associated with the upcoming parliamentary and presidential elections, and election of regional authorities.
The proposed vote of no confidence in the government is most directly associated with the election campaign. Only naive people can think that Yabloko leader Grigory Yavlinsky and Communist Party chief Gennady Zyuganov really tried to bring about the cabinet's resignation. According to the Constitution, to send the government packing, the State Duma is to vote by a simple majority for its resignation twice, and the opposition has only one-third of the seats in the State Duma. After which the president has to dissolve either the cabinet or the Duma. Even if we imagine the impossible - that no confidence is voted for twice in parliament - it is unlikely that Putin will find communist arguments more convincing than the results of the cabinet's work. The results are not too impressive, but Russia is now among the five countries with the highest rate of economic development.
Behind the no-confidence vote is a clear calculation by the political technologists of the left- and right-wing opposition. They are not stupid people - they conduct their own public opinion studies and produce recommendations for their party leaderships. In recent months they recommended, first, to consolidate their electorate, which is mainly displeased with the present conditions of their life, and remind the electorate that it has not displayed its opposition attitudes for too long. It is really difficult to expect a spontaneous demonstration of opposition from the Communist Party and Yabloko - they are far from poor people and most of them are quite satisfied with their own life. Second, the consultants of the opposition are alarmed by the growing capabilities of United Russia and suggest leaving that pro-presidential party no chance to win over additional votes by feigning mild dissatisfaction with the cabinet. Having used the tactics of forestalling criticism, the Communist Party and Yabloko, and also Zhirinovsky who joined them at the last moment, may boast successful completion of one action in the election campaign.
The sally against the oligarchs is a bit more complicated game with many moves in, but it has an impressive component of the election campaign. The point is that some financial and industrial groups have become too active sponsors of various political forces, including those that clearly belong to the opposition, which alarmed both rivals and influential groups in and near the Kremlin. The present attack on the oligarchs is meant as a stern warning to the biggest businessmen that they should be more discriminating in their political preferences and tone down their ardor in the election campaign.
And the transfer of Vladimir Yakovlev from St. Petersburg to Moscow is nothing but setting the stage for the forthcoming gubernatorial elections in St. Petersburg, the hometown of the president. In recent years many people in the Kremlin considered Yakovlev to be the very Carthage that must inevitably be destroyed. Back in 1996, Yakovlev, then the first vice mayor of St. Petersburg, left the team of the then mayor Anatoly Sobchak and outstripped him in the election race. The loud scandals around Yakovlev's alleged ties with the Mafia and his improper spending of the budget money were used merely as additional arguments for making claims to him by the present presidential team. Not long ago Yakovlev was deprived of a possibility of running for another term, and then the stage was cleared for another candidate (Valentina Matviyenko is named most often as a possible one), so that the ex-governor and his team could not greatly influence the elections. And the post of vice prime minister for housing, municipal service and roads is not a place where one can display great achievements and retain this post for long. However, I would like to be mistaken here.
And may nothing surprise you during the election season.