Publication: Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 216

Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov was unanimously elected yesterday to chair the organizing committee of “Otechestvo” (Fatherland), a new political movement. Luzhkov said the movement “will aspire to power”–meaning, presumably, run candidates in next year’s parliamentary elections. He declared that the movement will aim at the “golden mean” between the right and left, and be open to all Russians who want “common sense” solutions and reject those tried in 1917–the year of the Bolshevik revolution–and in 1992–the year President Boris Yeltsin and acting Premier Yegor Gaidar launched economic reforms. Luzhkov repeated past statements that he will join the presidential race if he believes candidates “dangerous for the future of Russia” are likely to win (Russian agencies, November 19).

Among those who participated in Otechestvo’s inaugural meeting were Arkady Volsky, head of the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs, which has strongly backed the government of Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov; former Interior Minister Anatoly Kulikov, who in early 1996 called for a number of large Russian corporations to be nationalized; former Security Council Chairman Andrei Kokoshin and former presidential press secretary Sergei Yastrzhembsky, both of whom lost their Kremlin jobs earlier this year, reportedly after urging Yeltsin to appoint Luzhkov as prime minister; and Oleg Morozov, leader of the Russian Regions faction in the State Duma (Russian agencies, November 20). One notable absence was that of Andrei Nikolaev, the former Border Service chief who now heads the Union for Popular Rule and Labor, which is widely seen as a pro-Luzhkov group. While Nikolaev is not on Otechestvo’s organizing committee, Luzhkov spoke of possible “future consolidation” of the two groups (Moscow Times, November 20).

To the surprise of some observers, Viktor Chernomyrdin, the former prime minister and founder of the Russia is Our Home movement, said he would likely support Luzhkov if the Moscow mayor were to formally declare his candidacy for president. For his part, Luzhkov said he was ready to join forces with Russia is Our Home if it shared Otechestvo’s goals of “constructive work” and support for the “real sector” of the economy. Aleksandr Shokhin, who heads the Russia is Our Home faction in the Duma, also said his party was ready to join forces with Otechestvo (Russian agencies, November 19).

The emergence of Otechestvo ran parallel with the appearance of growing splits within the Popular Patriotic Union, the leftist coalition headed by Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov. The Communist Party recently announced that it will run its own candidates, separately from those of the Popular Patriotic Union, in next year’s parliamentary elections. On Thursday (November 19), Aleksei Podberezkin–head of the Dukhovnoye Naslediye (Spiritual Heritage) movement, which was holding its own congress in Moscow–warned that the communists’ decision to run by themselves could lead to the leftist coalition breaking up. Meanwhile the Agrarian Party, traditionally tied closely to the communists, has announced that it will not back Zyuganov for president in 2000, but will run its own candidate instead (Russian agencies, November 19). Some observers believe the disarray in the leftist coalition could lead supporters to defect to Luzhkov’s camp. Political commentator Leonid Radzikhovsky said Thursday night that Luzhkov’s new centrist movement might gain 25 percent of the seats in parliament in the next elections (NTV, November 19).