Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 134

Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov revealed yesterday that he met over the weekend with former Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov. Luzhkov’s comments came just on the heels of the news that the political council of his political movement Fatherland (Otechestvo) had decided to invite Primakov to head its list of candidates for December’s parliamentary vote. Luzhkov said that he and Primakov had a “very interesting discussion” but denied that he had personally asked Primakov to head Fatherland’s ticket. Luzhkov did say, however, that “it would be the dream of any political organization that such an authoritative and influential statesman as Primakov would join it or head it.” Luzhkov said that Fatherland would continue its “consultations” with the former prime minister (Russian agencies, July 13).

Some political observers are speculating that Luzhkov could decide to put his own presidential ambitions on hold and become Primakov’s de facto running mate in the 2000 presidential vote, with the understanding that Luzhkov would be named prime minister and receive greater powers than those who previously occupied the post. Stepping aside for Primakov now would, in the words of Komsomolskaya pravda’s Sergei Chugaev, “widen Luzhkov’s electorate” and most importantly, create a “trampoline for a practically unimpeded landing in the presidential post in 2004” (Komsomolskaya pravda, July 13). Primakov, clearly holding his cards close to his chest, has made no comments on his political plans, if any, since returning several weeks ago from Switzerland, where he had back surgery and read lectures.

An alliance with Primakov, however, would come with a price for Luzhkov, given that a significant portion of the current financial-political elite–particularly that part closely connected to the “Family,” President Boris Yeltsin’s inner circle–would see Primakov as a direct threat to their interests and even personal security. This means that should Primakov decide to throw his hat in the ring, it would, in Chugaev’s view, increase the possibility of extra-constitutional steps from the Kremlin insiders, including the imposition of a state of emergency, using the pretext of unrest connected to instability in the North Caucasus or a ban on the Communist Party (Komsomolskaya pravda, July 13). And despite the fact that the Kremlin and the Moscow mayor are currently the two major opposing camps in Russian politics, it cannot be ruled out that they may in the end cut a deal. The Kremlin could agree to allow Luzhkov to become President Boris Yeltsin’s successor in the event, say, that a Russia-Belarus union was completed and some of the power of the Russian executive was shifted over to the union leadership, with Yeltsin occupying the position of union leader or commander-in-chief.