Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 126

It is not clear whether Yeltsin has a legal basis to ban the Communist Party (KPRF) and, even if he does, whether it would make sense, even from his point of view. The Justice Ministry, in fact, said earlier this year that it had found no constitutional violations in the KPRF’s activities. Numerous checks of the party’s activities have apparently come up with the same results. Mark Urnov, who heads the Working Center for Economic Reform, a government think-tank, says that the KPRF has violated the constitution by forming cells in industrial enterprises (Nezavisimaya gazeta, June 30).

As to the political advisability of banning the KPRF, even stalwart anti-Communists such as Vladimir Ryzhkov and Mark Urnov say that it would be counterproductive. Another pro-Yeltsin analyst–Gleb Pavlovsky, head of the Foundation for Effective Politics and an unofficial Kremlin adviser–said in an interview that banning the KPRF would save the party from an embarrassing performance in the December parliamentary vote, given that, in his view, it will receive no more than 12-15 percent, well below the party’s previous totals (Argumenty I Fakty, No. 26, June 1999).

On the other hand, the talk of banning the KPRF–even if it comes to nothing–may solve several problems for the Kremlin. First, it can help unite the warring clans within the “Family”–Yeltsin’s inner circle–who have reportedly fallen out over a number of issues, including whether to back Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin as Yeltsin’s successor and what approach to take toward Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov, one of the main presidential contenders in the 2000 election. Everyone in the Kremlin opposes the KPRF. And those who are backing Stepashin as successor believe the fact that he is leading the charge to ensure that this year’s parliamentary contest will be free of “extremists, swindlers and criminals” will help build his public image as a Yeltsin-like figure, standing above the fray and protecting Russia’s “constitutional order” (Kommersant, June 30; see the Monitor, June 29).

Whatever the case, it is impossible ultimately to know what Yeltsin has in mind concerning the KPRF. One would have to be an astrologer to know that (Nezavisimaya gazeta, June 30). But upsetting the apple cart, as some have observed, may be the essence of Yeltsin’s political strategy. If so, he needs to somehow provoke a crisis.