ERA OF GOOD FEELING….
If Vladimir Putin hired James Monroe’s publicist, he might now claim to be “rising above faction.” The hundreds of public figures in the nonparty “initiative group” that will formally register Putin’s candidacy with the Central Election Commission include big-money boys like Rem Vyakhirev, head of gas monopoly Gazprom; self-styled rightwingers like Yeltsin loyalist Anatoly Chubais, who runs the state-controlled power monopoly United Energy Systems; celebrities like theater director Yuri Lyubimov; and regional leaders like Dmitri Ayatskov (Saratov); Aleksandr Rutskoi (Kursk); and Mintimer Shaimiev (Tatarstan). Not in public view but also in the Putin camp–for now–are oligarchs Boris Berezovsky and Roman Abramovich, newly shielded from prosecution as elected members of the State Duma, the lower house of parliament.
Putin’s backers are resolutely without ideology. Like the hastily assembled Unity Party that finished just behind the Communists in last month’s parliamentary elections, their unity lies only in this: They have prospered under Yeltsin and they intend to hang on to what they’ve got. Their alliance is expedient and unlikely to survive a victory.
Putin’s remaining opponents are Russia’s leading democrat, Grigory Yavlinsky, who wants to open negotiations with the Chechens; flamboyant bigot Vladimir Zhirinovsky, whose usefulness to the Kremlin requires that he play the gadfly; and Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov, who, if he could, would undo most of the privatizations that created the new elite around Yeltsin and Putin. Another outsider group, led by Moscow’s Mayor Yuri Luzhkov and former Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov, may yet be co-opted. If Primakov does not run, Putin stands an excellent chance of winning a clear majority in the first round of balloting on March 26, with no need for a run-off.