Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 201

The three top figures in the Fatherland-All Russia coalition yesterday circulated an open letter to President Boris Yeltsin accusing the Kremlin administration of “open interference” in the parliamentary election campaign, which, they said, “contradicts the law and generally accepted democratic norms.” The letter’s signatories–former Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov, Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov and St. Petersburg Governor Vladimir Yakovlev–also accused Yeltsin’s inner circle of pressuring both private and state-controlled media, stating that evidence of “political censorship originating from your subordinates working in your name is becoming more and more obvious.” They called on Yeltsin to break out of his “political and informational isolation” and dismiss those members of his administration who “have compromised themselves” (Russian agencies, October 29). While the signatories did not specifically name whom were they were accusing, Luzhkov subsequently mentioned Kremlin administration chief Aleksandr Voloshin and the tycoon Boris Berezovsky, who is said to control Russia’s main television channel–the 51-percent state owned Russian Public Television (ORT) (NTV, October 28).

Kremlin reaction to the open letter was swift. Presidential spokesman Dmitri Yakushkin accused its authors of trying to split society by creating “a before-the-storm feeling of civil war.” He also said it was illogical for Primakov to send Yeltsin, who is currently vacationing in Sochi, such a letter after rejecting an invitation to meet with the president last week. For his part, Luzhkov said that he hoped the letter reached Yeltsin and that the president would respond to it (Russian agencies, October 28). Meanwhile, Igor Shabdurasulov, first deputy presidential administration chief, said that it was useless to make “ultimatums” to Yeltsin, and the letter “will not require a public speech or reaction of the president to its content.” Shabdurasulov, who previously served as ORT’s general director, also suggested that in signing the letter. Primakov may either have been given bad advice or was trying to raise flagging poll ratings (Russian agencies, ORT, October 28). Recent surveys have showed Prime Minister Vladimir Putin pulling even with, or even ahead of Primakov, while Luzhkov’s rating has dropped steadily.

ORT has been leading a full-blown campaign to discredit Fatherland-All Russia and its leaders, including Yakovlev. On October 24, for instance, ORT anchor Sergei Dorenko included in his weekly “analysis” program a long segment on the St. Petersburg governor’s alleged underworld ties (ORT, October 24).

The Kremlin’s enemies have been responding in kind. For example, Aleksandr Korzhakov, Yeltsin’s former bodyguard and confidant, said on October 27 that Berezovsky had repeatedly asked him to murder Luzhkov, Most Bank and NTV founder Vladimir Gusinsky and Iosif Kobzon (singer, Duma deputy and Luzhkov ally). Korzhakov said that he had taped some of his conversations with Berezovsky on this subject, and had turned the tape over to the Moscow city prosecutor’s office. Korzhakov also said that he believed that the terrorist bombings last month in Moscow and other Russian cities were orchestrated by the Kremlin to create the conditions for a state of emergency and canceling the upcoming elections (Russian agencies, October 27).