Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 153

Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov has for the first time publicly suggested that he will put aside his presidential ambitions–temporarily, at least–and support the candidacy of Yevgeny Primakov, should the former prime minister throw his hat into the race to succeed President Boris Yeltsin. In an interview last night on Zerkalo, RTR state television’s weekly news analysis program, Luzhkov stated: “Do I consider Primakov capable of solving the highest level state tasks? Yes, I do. If Yevgeny Maksimovich [Primakov] decides to put forward his candidacy, I will support him” (RTR, August 22). Luzhkov noted that he has previously denied having presidential ambitions and has said that he would support a worthy candidate. Few observers, however, have doubted that Luzhkov founded his political movement Fatherland as a vehicle for a presidential bid.

In the same television interview, Luzhkov ratcheted up his criticism of the Kremlin, calling it a “regime” which uses the security forces to pressure opponents–an apparent reference to a Federal Security Service (FSB) investigation earlier this summer into his wife’s businesses–and “names its successors”–a clear reference to Yeltsin’s statement earlier this month anointing Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, the former FSB chief, as his heir apparent (RTR, August 22).

Luzhkov’s apparent decision to defer to Primakov follows Primakov’s August 17 announcement that he would join the newly formed electoral coalition of Luzhkov’s Fatherland movement and All Russia, the movement made up of influential regional leaders. Primakov also said that he would head the coalition’s unified list of candidates for December’s parliamentary vote, but that he had not yet made up his mind whether he would run for president in next summer’s scheduled presidential election. He did, however, call for reinstating the post of vice president, which Yeltsin abolished after the October 1993 parliamentary rebellion, and proposed amending Russia’s constitution so that some of the president’s powers would devolve to the prime minister, the cabinet and the parliament (Russian agencies, August 17). Primakov’s proposals suggest that he is ready to give Luzhkov either the vice presidency or a prime ministerial portfolio with enhanced powers. Further, Luzhkov’s apparent willingness to support a Primakov presidential bid suggests that the Moscow mayor would settle for a second-among-equals role.

Luzhkov’s apparent willingness to let Primakov play first fiddle would appear to dash the hopes of Kremlin inner circle members, some of whom were reportedly banking on the rival ambitions of the two men to split their alliance. Officially, however, the Kremlin is trying to put the best possible spin on the developments of last week. Presidential spokesman Dmitry Yakushkin said in a radio interview yesterday that “President Boris Yeltsin believes that if the centrist bloc which has just formed [were to grab] votes from the left part of the political spectrum, which now represents the majority in the State Duma, [it would be] a positive factor, and he hails it” (Russian agencies, August 22).