Publication: Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 77

Along with the Kremlin’s ongoing assault on Vladimir Gusinsky’s Media-Most group, the main development in Russian politics this month has been moves by two formerly hostile political groups, the pro-Putin Unity party and the Fatherland-All Russia movement, to merge into a broad “centrist” bloc. Unity’s leader, Emergency Situations Minister Sergei Shoigu, and Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov–who, along with former Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov, heads Fatherland-All Russia–announced the merger plans on April 12, with Luzhkov declaring that the two groups’ “basic principles and political goals” were “very similar,” and that this would allow them to seek “deeper consolidation.” The Moscow mayor’s comments were in one sense remarkable, given the way that media loyal to Unity and Fatherland-All Russia hurled bitter invective at each other’s patrons during the autumn 1999 parliamentary election campaign. Indeed, the merger of Unity and Fatherland-All Russia is all the more ironic given that one of the ostensible reasons for the Kremlin-inspired assault on Media-Most and its owner was their support for Luzhkov and Primakov. In any case, Luzhkov and Shoigu confirmed on April 12 that the two groups had created a joint committee to help move the merger forward and said they would hold a joint congress in November of this year to elect a leader of the new group (ORT, April 12; Moscow Times, April 13).

The announced merger of Unity and Fatherland-All Russia again underscores the nonideological and corporatist nature of Russia’s political system and the regime’s continued efforts to create a de facto ruling party or group of ruling parties under an all-powerful executive branch and the guise of democratic pluralism–something Boris Yeltsin’s Kremlin tried and failed to do in the mid-1990s with Russia is Our Home and the already long-forgotten Ivan Rybkin bloc (named after the then State Duma speaker). “Yes, of course, the planned party frighteningly resembles the KPSS [Communist Party of the Soviet Union],” wrote Anatoly Kostyukov this week in Obshchaya Gazeta. “Not ideologically, of course, but structurally and functionally–as the… party of the nomenklatura. But what’s so special here? You would think that the country has been living under some other kind of party up until now! The gathering together of the propresidential forces is not a redrawing of the political map, just a simplification of it” (Obshchaya Gazeta, April 19).