Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 15

Acting President Vladimir Putin, who held forth yesterday on the federal budget and the need for a strong and effective state, has yet to comment on the stand-off in the State Duma. Meanwhile, the Russian media and other key observers have generally been critical of the Unity-KPRF alliance, viewing it as a blunder by Putin. Kommersant, which is controlled by the tycoon and Kremlin insider Boris Berezovsky, said the “new oppositionists”–meaning Yabloko, OVR and SPS–had lost the battle for Duma posts but had gained an opportunity to show their constituents that they are principled and cannot be bought. Unity and its allies, the paper wrote, won the Duma’s key posts, but opened themselves up to charges of being “unprincipled and authoritarian” (Kommersant, January 20). Another Berezovsky-controlled newspaper wrote that in backing Seleznev, the Kremlin had hoped to neutralize OVR leader Yevgeny Primakov, but had instead strengthened his position (Novae izvestia, January 20).

Vyacheslav Nikonov, head of the Politika Foundation, said that in backing Seleznev, Putin had assumed that the right (meaning, in particular, SPS) had nowhere else to go and would continue to back him for the presidential election, set for March 26. Nikonov said that Putin had miscalculated: “The right-wing electorate will not forgive him [Putin] for this” (Moskovsky komsomolets, January 20). Likewise, it was also suggested that even if the Unity-KPRF union soon falls apart, it will not be soon forgotten by the anti-Communist electorate, and that Putin should distance himself from Unity’s action (Vedemosti, January 20). It is worth noting here a theory being put forward by some analysts and observers–that the Unity-KPRF union was the brainchild of the tycoon Boris Berezovsky, aimed at diminishing the influence of SPS, whose de facto leader is Anatoly Chubais, Berezovsky’s main rival for the role of Russia’s key backstage power-broker (Moscow Times, January 21). Chubais has yet to comment on the Duma controversy.

Leonid Radzikhovsky, political commentator for the newspaper Segodnya, wrote that the Unity-KPRF alliance was surprising only at first glance. “The KPRF has been the most important constituent part of the regime–it let off the steam of popular discontent, and this work has been highly valued in the Kremlin,” he wrote. “There have been absolutely no principle disagreements between the ‘rightist liberals’ in the Kremlin and the ‘communists,’ either over the issue of nomenklatura capitalism or the issue of authoritarian rule” (Segodnya, January 20).