Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 139

As the clans battle on, a question increasingly on the minds of political observers and players is what role, if any, former Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov might play in the parliamentary elections scheduled for this December and the presidential election set for next year. Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov said on July 18 that a Primakov presidency would “suit” him. While Luzhkov has not announced himself as a presidential candidate and has said that he would only run if no other “suitable” candidate appears, he is seen by most observers as the main opponent to whomever the Kremlin puts up as a candidate. Luzhkov has reportedly been courting Primakov assiduously, though last week he denied rumors that he had offered the former prime minister the top spot on the ticket of Fatherland, Luzhkov’s electoral bloc, for December’s parliamentary contest (NTV, July 18).

Luzhkov’s July 18 statement gives credence to the idea that he might put his presidential ambitions aside for four years and back a Primakov presidential run, presumably becoming prime minister in a Primakov administration.

For his part, Primakov, who retains the highest popularity ratings of any Russian politician, appears in no hurry to make a decision about what he might or might not run for, or about possible allies. Yesterday the former prime minister turned down an offer to run for the governorship of the Sverdlovsk region, where elections are set for August 29. A local movement had collected 200,000 signatures in an effort to draft Primakov into the race. In turning down the offer, Primakov wrote that the appeal had “encouraged me to dedicate my life to the people of Russia, to our fatherland.” Primakov said that he was still recuperating from surgery on his hip joint, adding: “I cannot decide anything at the moment and so do not want to consciously or subconsciously mislead people” (Russian agencies, July 20). According to one scenario, if Primakov agreed to head Fatherland’s parliamentary ticket, he would be guaranteed the post of Speaker of the State Duma, which he could use as a way-station to the presidency.

In an interview published last week, Primakov said that he viewed very favorably the idea of Luzhkov’s Fatherland merging with All Russia, the movement made up of regional leaders and unofficially led by Tatarstan President Mintimer Shaimiev. Asked whether he would participate in the Duma elections, Primakov said that this would depend mainly on whether “sound centrist forces” could be united. He also called both for constitutional amendments which would transfer some presidential powers to the prime minister and for a re-establishment of the vice presidential post, which was abolished in 1993 (Komsomolskaya pravda, July 14).

Some observers believe that it would be a tactical error for Primakov to attach himself to any one of the electoral blocs, such as Luzhkov’s Fatherland, rather than heading a coalition made up of several, including Fatherland and All Russia. In addition, some of Primakov’s supporters reportedly believe that he should steer clear of any of the existing blocs and wait to be drafted into a presidential race by “popular” demand. According to one report, Primakov’s supporters from among former security service officials are busy creating grassroots pro-Primakov structures (Profil, July 19).

Meanwhile, given Primakov’s high ratings, even President Boris Yeltsin, who fired Primakov from the premiership earlier this year, wants to meet with him. Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin, who met last week with Primakov, said that Yeltsin, after his vacation, plans to meet with Primakov to talk about how the former premier’s “rich experience” might be best applied. Stepashin noted that Primakov had neither retired from politics nor moved toward those “playing games against the president” (Russian agencies, July 15).

While it is quite possible the Kremlin would like, at a minimum, to convince Primakov, at a minimum, not to oppose their candidate for next year’s presidential contest, or even to not co-opt him again, neither would appear to have much chance of success.