Publication: Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 79

Russia’s Fatherland movement and Unity party took their first steps toward unification yesterday. In separate meetings, the political councils of both movements approved the plans to merge the two groups. Each picked eight representatives to sit on an interparty coordinating council, which will work out the specifics prior to a joint congress set for November, during which the merger will be consummated and a leader of the new party picked. The coordinating council, which is scheduled to meet on April 26, will work on such issues as creating a charter, program and structure for the new organization, the mechanics of merging the two groups’ regional branches, and, as the pro-Kremlin Strana.ru put it, “issues of party discipline.” Among those representing Unity on the coordinating council are its leader, Emergency Situations Minister Sergei Shoigu and Deputy State Duma Speaker Lyubov Sliska, while Fatherland will be represented by, among others, its leader, Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov, and Deputy State Duma Speaker Artur Chilingarov. Yesterday’s steps simply formalized the merger plans Luzhkov and Shoigu had jointly announced earlier this month (Kommersant, April 24; see also the Monitor, April 20).

Luzhkov has been picked to head the work of the coordinating committee until the founding congress of the new party is held in November, but there is no guarantee he will become the leader of the amalgamated group. Indeed, while he insisted once again yesterday that the merger would be carried out according to “the principle of equality,” most observers believe the move is essentially a capitulation on Luzhkov’s part in the face of overwhelming pressure from the Kremlin and federal authorities. The Moscow mayor began feeling the squeeze from the center in late 1999, when his Fatherland movement formed a coalition with former Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov’s All Russia movement and challenged Unity in the December 1999 elections. Both Luzhkov and Primakov were trashed in pro-Kremlin media, and the federal authorities took other measures against Luzhkov, including dismissing the Moscow city police chief, Nikolai Kulikov. Earlier this year, the Prosecutor General’s Office charged the Moscow city government’s finance minister, Yury Korostelyov, with abuse of power and negligence for having agreed to covert US$200 million in municipal funds into Media-Most promissory notes (see the Monitor, February 22). The notes were meant to cover the US$200 million the Moscow city government had kept in Most Bank, which, like the Media-Most group, was founded by Vladimir Gusinsky. The bank was unable to return the deposits following the August 1998 financial collapse and has since gone bankrupt (Moscow Times, April 18). Luzhkov, a former Gusinsky ally, not only did not condemn the Kremlin-inspired assault on Media-Most, but at one point also even said that he saw nothing wrong in the Prosecutor General’s probe (see the Monitor, December 18, 2000).

According to some reports, the Kremlin is poised to take further steps to ensure Luzhkov’s complete subordination and loyalty. The magazine Profil this week quoted an unnamed source in the presidential administration as saying that it is working on a draft law which would place the Russian capital under the control not of an elected mayor, but a federal official with the rank of deputy prime minister who would be named by the president (Profil, April 23).