Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 132

The efforts of Russia’s center-right democrats to form a united front appear to be having problems. Last week, during the World Economic Forum meeting in Salzburg, top officials from four blocs–Russia is Our Home, Right Cause, Voice of Russia and New Force–reportedly reached an agreement in principle to merge into a single coalition. But Vladimir Ryzhkov, who heads the Russia is Our Home faction in the State Duma, said yesterday that those who have been treating the coalition as a done deal are jumping the gun. Ryzhkov said that the center-right leaders had only agreed that “forces of a center-right orientation” should win seats in the new parliament following the Duma elections scheduled for December of this year. Ryzhkov said that it would be “absurd” if each of the four blocs put up a candidate to contest a given single-mandate seat. He added, however, that no decision had been made on a coalition and that the center-right leaders were simply continuing their consultations and had reached a “preliminary agreement” to meet again (Russian agencies, July 9).

Ryzhkov’s apparent reluctance to rush into the proposed four-bloc coalition makes sense. He is increasingly seen as an up-and-coming young Russian, while some of the leaders of some of the four center-right blocs–particularly those who have previously held high government posts, such as Anatoly Chubais and Viktor Chernomyrdin–have very low public opinion ratings. To associate with them would put his [Ryzhkov’s] public opinion rating at risk. On the other hand, United Energy Systems, Russia’s electricity monopoly, which Chubais heads, and Gazprom, the natural gas monopoly, of which Chernomyrdin is board chairman, are likely to play key roles in funding a center-right coalition, if it ever gets off the ground. Thus, politicians like Ryzhkov, along with former Prime Minister Sergei Kirienko, who heads New Force, must walk a fine line between maintaining their distance from unpopular figures and not alienating potential sources of campaign funding.