Publication: Prism Volume: 5 Issue: 19

By Elena Dikun

At the end of October the leaders of the Fatherland–All Russia bloc (OVR) wrote an open letter to the Russian president demanding that Boris Yeltsin and his administration refrain from meddling in the electoral process. In making this demand, former Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov and Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov were in effect trying to stop the administration doing any work at all. They may as well have tried to insist that the Kremlin administration be dismissed before the middle of the year 2000. The fact is, Yeltsin’s team–accepting that the Duma campaign has already been lost–is concentrating its entire intellectual and financial resources on the presidential election. The elaborate schemes and cunning plans being hatched in the corridors of the administration have but one aim: to clear a path to the throne for the president’s successor-elect Vladimir Putin.

Kremlin analysts believe that the job of neutralizing the most dangerous opponent–Luzhkov–is to all intents and purposes accomplished. The activities of the television journalist Sergei Dorenko and others who wore the Moscow boss down and forced him to abandon the presidential race are being assessed in a positive light. The Kremlin is convinced that Luzhkov is not planning to run for any post other than that of Moscow mayor. But even here they want to have a good crack at him. As the anti-Luzhkov campaign draws to a close, they have come up with a plan to ensure that the mayoral election is not a walkover for him, that victory proves a truly bitter experience. The heavy guns have been brought out in the shape of the president’s executive secretary, Pavel Borodin. Borodin was not at all keen to get bogged down in a campaign he could not win. Indeed, given his delicate position as the central figure in the Mabetex scandal, it would have been more sensible for him to keep quiet rather than expose himself to public scrutiny, under which he will have to make a declaration of his property and disclose his income. Several months’ work went into preparing Borodin morally for the task ahead. They rubbed salt in his wounds, persuading him that it was Luzhkov who had whipped up the hullabaloo about Mabetex, so it was a question of honor for him to take Luzhkov on. But Borodin was still prevaricating, so the courtiers got Yeltsin to put pressure on him.

After two long meetings with the president, who firmly instructed Borodin to announce his intention to run for mayor of Moscow, Borodin was forced to fall into line. The Kremlin strategists reckon that they can keep Luzhkov busy fighting Borodin until the end of the year, meaning that they can throw extra effort into the war with Primakov, the only remaining realistic rival to the official presidential candidate. We are informed that a creative group has recently been set up in the Kremlin, with the task of formulating a plan to discredit Primakov. The team is headed by the Kremlin’s political expert, Effective Policy Foundation chief Gleb Pavlovsky, with support from the deputy head of the president’s administration, Dzhakhan Polliev. Presidential adviser Valentin Yumashev is coordinating the project. Their subversion tactics have three prongs. First, a well-aimed blow is to be directed at Primakov’s image. Here the main emphasis is on his weak spot–his excessive sensitivity to what is being said and written about him. We can expect to see a major attack on Primakov from the Kremlin-controlled media in the near future. Several specialists have been assigned research work: Their task is to root about in the Primakov’s books and articles and dig out relevant passages exposing him as a campaigner against Zionism and imperialism. These “cuttings” are to be immediately submitted to the friendly media, which will give them wide coverage.

The second part of the job involves working with the communists. We understand that Yeltsin’s administration has signed a “nonaggression pact” with the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (KPRF), entailing support for the communists in the state media. This alliance is based not on mutual affection, but on the common enemy, which both partners consider Fatherland–All Russia to be. It is in the communists’ interests to win more seats in the State Duma, and only the Luzhkov-Primakov bloc can seriously disrupt their plans. The Kremlin is thus a welcome ally for them. For the Kremlin, meanwhile, it is important to groom an acceptable rival for the official presidential candidate, Vladimir Putin. Sociologist reports suggest that the worst opponent for Putin would be Primakov, and the most acceptable Gennady Zyuganov. The problem with Primakov is that if he wins through to the final round of elections, he may gain the backing of those who support Zyuganov, Luzhkov, Yavlinsky and Chernomyrdin, ensuring him the top prize. Zyuganov, on the other hand, cannot rely on supplementing his vote in this way; the most he can expect is 40 percent of the vote and an honorable mention. This is what makes him good news for the Kremlin. However, to ensure a repeat of 1996, they need the KPRF leader to make it through to the second round. It will not be as easy to do this in 2000 as in previous elections: Primakov is clearly ahead of Zyuganov. So the Kremlin needs to help Zyuganov. To start with, they will help Zyuganov improve his rating at the Duma elections. Then they will make sure that he qualifies for the second round of the presidential election. After that the voters themselves will work out which is the lesser of two evils–Zyuganov or Putin.

We have discovered that one of the provisions in this secret agreement between the Kremlin and the communists is that the KPRF faction in the new Duma will not attack Putin’s government. Kremlin officials are worried that Fatherland–All Russia will call for a vote of no confidence in the cabinet, and that the communists and Yabloko will support them. They are therefore doing all they can to destroy the antigovernment coalition in advance. Clearly, if Putin is not prime minister it is unlikely that he will be a serious challenge to Primakov. The communists, however, are concerned about confidentiality. The problem is that too many people are involved in the negotiations. The KPRF leaders–Zyuganov, Valentin Kuptsov and Viktor Peshkov–have been approached by a whole crowd of Kremlin officials. One after the other, they ring up or drop by: the deputy heads of the president’s administration Igor Shabdurasulov and Vladislav Surkov, the head of operations Andrei Loginov, the president’s representative in the Duma Alexander Kotenkov… Boris Berezovsky is also heavily involved. Naturally, with so many people party to it, the cat is bound to be let out of the bag.

The third aspect of the anti-Primakov group’s activities is nominally termed the “path of diplomacy.” War is all very well, but the Kremlin realizes that it would not be sensible to sever all links with their main rival, particularly when local analysts predict that OVR is soon to shift the focus of their criticism, making the prime minister rather than the president the main target. For this reason, informal contacts between Putin and Primakov have been officially sanctioned from on high; it is thought that this may restrain Primakov from criticizing the government. Every couple of weeks or so the prime minister telephones his predecessor for a friendly chat, and not so long ago he visited him at his dacha. A second such meeting is planned.

Our observations suggest that Primakov’s team is fully aware of the ammunition and targets the Kremlin is planning to use in its attacks, but they is not going to be rushed into taking any countermeasures. One prominent figure from Fatherland-All Russia explained their position: “We need to let the enemy show their hand first. If the Kremlin manages to come to an agreement with the Communists, then we will expose it. But if the deal falls through, there is no point getting worked up about it.” But the main hope rests on the possibility that, with the war in Chechnya, Vladimir Putin will engineer his own downfall without any help from outside. It is no coincidence that Fatherland-All Russia is gradually distancing itself from the Chechen campaign. During his recent visit to Vilnius, for example, Primakov stated openly that the OVR leadership did not support the federal government’s actions in Chechnya.

Elena Dikun is a political columnist with Obshchaya gazeta.