The Union of Right-Wing Forces (SPS), the coalition headed by former Prime Minister Sergei Kirienko which includes United Energy Systems head Anatoly Chubais and former Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov, voted yesterday to back Acting President Vladimir Putin in the March 26 presidential election. The decision came during a joint meeting of the SPS’s six-man coordinating council and its thirty-two-member faction in the State Duma. Last month, the coordinating council, which includes Kirienko, Chubais and Nemtsov, approved a decision not to endorse any candidate. Yesterday’s decision was apparently initiated by Kirienko and Chubais. Three other members of the coordinating council–Nemtsov, Irina Khakamada and Yegor Gaidar–abstained, while four SPS leaders opposed the endorsement, among them Samara Governor Konstantin Titov, himself a presidential candidate. Kirienko said yesterday that the SPS decided to back Putin to ensure that he wins in a first round of voting rather than having to face off against Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov in a run-off (Moscow Times, March 15).
SPS’s original decision not to back any candidate was its attempt to avoid splits over the issue of whom to endorse (see the Monitor, February 22). Chubais and Kirienko have strongly backed Putin, while others, particularly the long-time democratic and human rights activists in the SPS’s ranks, are strongly opposed to Putin on the basis of his KGB past and suspected authoritarian leanings. Many among the latter are backing Titov’s bid, while others support Yabloko leader Grigory Yavlinsky. One leading SPS member, Yuly Rybakov, a State Duma deputy and human rights activist, said yesterday that those within the coalition who voted to back Putin “want to jump on the running board of the last car [of a train] which is already packed” (Moscow Times, March 15). According to rumors, Kirienko and Chubais are hoping to get posts in Putin’s postelection cabinet.
IS YEREVAN INCHING AWAY FROM RUSSIA’S ORBIT?