Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 223

Almost as if by magic, Unity, the pro-Kremlin electoral coalition headed by Minister of Emergency Situations Sergei Shoigu has made a breakthrough among potential voters in the State Duma elections, which are scheduled for December 19. That, at least, is one finding among the results of the latest poll taken by the Public Opinion Foundation, which were released yesterday. Unity’s level of support reportedly jumped from 8 percent to 14 percent during the last week of November, meaning that it has edged the anti-Kremlin Fatherland-All Russia coalition, headed by Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov and former Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov, out of second place. The leading bloc, the Communist Party of the Russian Federation, received the support of 21 percent of the those polled, while Fatherland-All Russia, now in third place, got 10 percent, down 1 percent from the previous week’s poll results. This week’s poll, according to Russian agencies, was taken November 27-28 among “2,000 respondents in fifty-six urban and rural communities in twenty-nine territories of all of Russia’s regions,” and its margin of error was 2.2 percent (Russian agencies, December 1).

The newspaper Segodnya–part of Most Bank founder Vladimir Gusinsky’s media empire and sympathetic to Luzhkov–today raised doubts about the Public Opinion Foundation’s findings concerning Unity’s rise in popularity (Segodnya, December 2). It should be noted that this foundation has maintained a close relationship with the Kremlin, which hires it for polling work. In 1996, during the weeks leading up to the presidential election, the foundation was one of the main polling agencies which discovered a sudden and steady rise in Yeltsin’s approval rating. The incumbent president’s numbers rose from the single digits to slightly ahead of Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov, who was then Yeltsin’s main challenger. NTV television, which for several years used the Public Opinion Foundation to carry out its weekly polls, recently stopped doing so. Yevgeny Kiselev, host of NTV’s weekly news program Itogi, has hinted on several occasions that the results of such polls are subject to political manipulation. NTV, it should be noted, is sympathetic to Luzhkov and Fatherland-All Russia.

The pro-Kremlin mass media, not surprisingly, made much of the indications of the steep rise in Unity’s approval rating. Russian Public Television (ORT), the 51 percent state-owned television channel reportedly controlled by Boris Berezovsky, led yesterday’s evening news broadcast with the Public Opinion Foundation poll results, and cited Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s endorsement of Unity last week as a major factor in the coalition’s great leap forward (ORT, December 1). Other Russian news agencies made the same connection. Russian agencies, for example, wrote: “In free interviews throughout November, sociologists noticed that Putin’s numerous supporters expected a signal from the Prime Minister to tell them whom they should vote for at the State Duma elections. The last poll pointed to the electoral effect of such a signal” (Russian agencies, December 1).

For its part, Unity released a statement yesterday, saying that a “powerful union” between it and Putin provides the basis for creating a “a constructive majority” in the next State Duma. “Our goal is to create a pro-Putin majority in the State Duma,” the statement read (Russian agencies, December 1). Shoigu was on the campaign trail yesterday in the region of Tyumen, while another top Unity candidate, champion wrestler Aleksandr Karelin, was on the hustings in the Siberian coal-mining region of Kuzbass (ORT, December 1).

Unity, meanwhile, has received backing from an (at first glance) unexpected source. Zavtra, the flagship newspaper of the “national-patriotic” anti-Yeltsin opposition, recently endorsed the coalition, saying that the most important thing about Unity is that most of its members “are people of Russian nationality or [otherwise] indigenous peoples of Russia” (Segodnya, December 1). Translated, this means that Jews are not heavily represented in Unity. The hard-line nationalists at Zavtra might also have been attracted by Shoigu’s tough talk on Chechnya. Yesterday, for example, Shoigu laid down his conditions for a political settlement of the conflict there: “All those guys who blew up residential buildings in Russian cities must be brought in a sack. Hostages must be released from Chechnya. Furthermore, bandit formations should surrender their arms” (Russian agencies, December 1).