Publication: Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 183

Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov continues to act very much like a man bent on becoming Russia’s head of state. Luzhkov, who called last week for the formation of a left-center coalition, made positive noises about Grigory Yavlinsky, head of the reformist Yabloko movement, during a meeting today (October 6) of the East-West Institute, a group uniting major industrialists, politicians and cultural figures. Luzhkov said Yavlinsky was “the closest of all current politicians and economists to the ideas of untarnished market transformations.” He said that were Yavlinsky to add knowledge of “concrete business” to his understanding of macroeconomics, he would become “priceless.”

Luzhkov–previously coy about his presidential ambitions–said during his visit to Britain last week that he would consider a bid for the presidency in 2000 if there were no other candidates capable of leading the country. He made much the same point at today’s meeting of the East-West Institute, saying he would wait and see who the presidential candidates would be. “If they are serious people who continue reforms on the basis of democracy and freedom, I will support one of them,” Luzhkov said. “If the danger appears that power may be seized by a person incapable of carrying out tasks on a national scale, I will join the competition” (Russian agencies, October 6).

Luzhkov’s unmistakable signals about a planned presidential bid have sparked jockeying between his potential coalition partners. His initial comments last week about a left-center coalition were greeted with approval by Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov. Likewise, Mikhail Lapshin, head of the Agrarian Party, which is closely allied with the Communists, said Luzhkov could become the head of a coalition of left-centrist forces and the “popular patriotic” opposition. Lapshin said he and Luzhkov had discussed Russia’s economic crisis (Russian agencies, October 2).

Luzhkov’s coalition has also received strong support from Andrei Nikolaev, a Duma deputy and former head of the Federal Border Guards Service. Not long ago, Nikolaev founded the Union of Popular Rule and Labor, which is widely seen as a vehicle for Luzhkov.

On October 5, Nikolaev took a swipe at Zyuganov. Zyuganov over the weekend had said the Communist opposition was prepared to start a civil disobedience campaign if the authorities did not heed “popular demands”–particularly the one that Yeltsin resign. Nikolaev charged during a press conference that the Communists’ call for “civil disobedience” suggested that they were pursuing a the-worse-the-better strategy. During the same press conference, however, Nikolaev also called on Yeltsin to step down (Russian agencies, October 5).

Today (October 6), a senior Agrarian Party official suggested the party was reconsidering its support for Luzhkov. Nikolai Kharitonov, head of the Agrarians’ faction in the State Duma, said the Moscow mayor cannot be regarded as the potential leader of a left-center bloc because it is “still not clear on which political forces he relies.” Kharitonov said Nikolaev’s Union of Popular Rule and Labor was “still too small to be considered a full-fledged partner of the Communist Party or other much stronger leftist associations” (Russian agencies, October 6).