Publication: Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 163

In a fresh lesson on how little ideology, principles or capacity for shame play a role in Russian politics, Sergei Dorenko, the erstwhile enfant terrible of Russian Public Television (ORT), announced this week that he plans to create a coalition called “In Defense of Putin and Luzhkov” for the Moscow City Duma elections, which are set for this December. Dorenko, who said that he will run for a seat in the capital’s city council, said that the goal of his coalition would be “to allow the president to turn the country into a European state, establish distinct rules that everyone would follow” and “put an end to the corrupt Moscow bureaucracy.” Dorenko said he was sure that Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov would join his coalition and hoped to meet with him to discuss the idea. He also claimed that Yevgeny Primakov, the former prime minister and head of the All Russia movement, which merged with Luzhkov’s Fatherland movement for the 1999 parliamentary elections to form Fatherland-All Russia (OVR), was trying to push forward another top OVR official, Georgy Boos, to challenge Luzhkov for the Moscow mayor’s post. Dorenko said he thought that Luzhkov should remain Moscow’s mayor for a third term, and attacked Primakov, who stepped down this week as the head of OVR’s faction in the State Duma. Dorenko charged that the former prime minister embodied “feudal communist” and “clan” values (Radio Ekho Moskvy, September 5).

What is remarkable about Dorenko’s announcement is his strange new respect for Luzhkov. In the weeks leading up to the December 1999 parliamentary election, Dorenko, who was then top news anchor on ORT (which Boris Berezovsky controlled at the time) led a smear campaign against the Moscow mayor. That campaign was clearly aimed at destroying the prospects for success of the OVR coalition, which was going up against the Kremlin-backed Unity group, and at dissuading Luzhkov from seeking to succeed then President Boris Yeltsin. Dorenko, among other things, accused Luzhkov and his wife, Yelena Baturina, of having received money from Mabetex, the Swiss firm that allegedly paid kickbacks to top Russian officials, and of owning a home in New York. Dorenko also charged that Luzhkov was worth US$300-$400 million, repeatedly aired accusations that Luzhkov was involved in the 1996 murder of U.S. businessman Paul Tatum, and alleged that Luzhkov’s lawyer was a scientologist and that Baturina’s brother held foreign bank accounts–though both the man identified as being Baturina’s brother and Baturina herself denied they were related (see the Monitor, October 11, December 6, 1999).

Last year, after Vladimir Putin succeeded Yeltsin, and Berezovsky apparently fell out with the new president, Dorenko began attacking Putin, accusing him of “destroying the state,” “finishing off” society and the press, “destroying everyone who is higher, more brilliant, stronger” (Moskovsky Komsomolets, September 6). Dorenko’s show on ORT was canceled in September of last year. Earlier this year, Dorenko was accused of running over a navy captain with his motorcycle and breaking his rib. The former anchor denied the charges, calling them a “political provocation” and saying that he himself had been the victim of an attack. He was later charged with “hooliganism with a weapon.” Last month the Moscow city prosecutor’s office suspended its preliminary investigation into the charges after Dorenko went into the hospital with an unspecified illness (Russian agencies, April 16, May 22, August 20). Dorenko and his lawyer said this week that he would refuse to familiarize himself with the case against him because prosecutors had not responded to a request they made more than a month ago to drop the charges on the grounds of insufficient evidence that a crime was committed. Dorenko, meanwhile, again claimed that he was a victim of “repression,” this time comparing himself to former South African President Nelson Mandela. Some observers suspect that his bid to run for the Moscow City Duma is aimed at the immunity from criminal prosecution he would get with a city council seat, but Dorenko denied this (, September 6).

As for his sudden admiration for Luzhkov, the website quoted a source “close to Dorenko” as saying the journalist had very “flexible principles.” For its part, the newspaper Moskovsky Komsomolets, which is traditionally close to Luzhkov, claimed that Moscow prostitutes, after hearing about Dorenko’s new election initiatives, had called for September 5 to be declared “Prostitutes’ Day” (Moskovsky Komsomolets, September 6). Luzhkov has thus far not commented on Dorenko’s initiatives.