Earlier today pro-Putin forces in the State Duma took a walk to defeat a Communist-sponsored vote of no confidence in the government of Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov. The final tally was 127 for no confidence, well short of the 226 required for passage. Seventy-six deputies opposed the motion, five abstained, and about 240 failed to show.

The Communists and their allies put this vote on the calendar a month ago. But some Kremlin supporters in the Unity party saw a chance for a parliamentary flimflam: If Unity (84 votes) joined the Communist and their AgroIndustrial allies (130 votes), they would be only twelve votes short of a majority in the 450-seat lower house. If Unity could engineer two successful no-confidence votes in a month, then under Article 117 of the Constitution President Putin could dismiss the parliament and call new elections–nd Unity would have a crack at pulling a few more seats out from under the Communists’ complacent behinds. This corkscrew scenario made great steam-room gossip, but in the last few days more level-headed pols prevailed. Several Unity leaders, including party chairman Sergei Shoigu, said that a pro-Putin, pro-Kremlin party should not be voting to turn out the government (of which, as minister for emergency situations, he is a member). The head of the Fatherland-All Russia coalition, former Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov, also came out against a no-confidence vote. Regional leaders, including the governors of Samara and Saratov and Orel Governor and Federation Council President Yegor Stroev, also opposed the Communist initiative.

Oddly, the vote’s political fallout probably favors the Communists, who have managed to burnish their faded image as the implacable opposition. The Unity movement, and especially its parliamentary leader Boris Gryzlov, was exposed as gormless and inept. Look for a reprise of the no-confidence vote when Kasyanov’s team presents the 2002 budget this fall.