Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 182

Unity, the new political bloc led by Sergei Shoigu, Russia’s minister for emergency situations, appears to have opted for a populist, anti-Moscow strategy as a way of widening its electoral base and challenging Fatherland-All Russia, the bloc led by Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov and former Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov. Addressing the first congress of the new bloc yesterday, Shoigu said that Unity would go into the upcoming parliamentary vote, scheduled for December 19, with the goal of handing over power “to real representatives of Russian regions and therefore of Russia itself, to sweep away Moscow-dwelling politicians of whom people will remember nothing but their responsibility.” Shoigu said that the new bloc “is being built by people who have got tired of hypocrisy and lies,” and would be an alternative to “an obsolete political leadership,” on the one hand, and “a strange opposition mostly made up of the same nomenklatura” on the other (Russian agencies, Reuters, October 3). Unity has garnered the support of the leaders of thirty-one of Russia’s eighty-nine regions, putting it in direct competition with Fatherland-All Russia, which also boasts the support of influential regional leaders.

Shoigu also announced that only three candidates will run on the new bloc’s federal party list of candidates, while the rest will run in single-mandate districts. The third member of Unity’s party-list troika, joining Shoigu himself and champion wrestler Aleksandr Karelin, is Aleksandr Gurov, a former Interior Minister officer and crime investigator known for his anti-organized crime activities and writings dating back to the Soviet period. Gurov called for measures which would prevent criminals from ending up in the next Duma, and said that Unity would provide an alternative to those candidates “financed by economic and gangster mafiosi structures” (NTV, October 3).

At first blush, Unity’s apparent decision to adopt a populist, anti-Moscow establishment strategy seems strange, given that the bloc’s creation appears to have been initiated by the Kremlin and/or the cabinet of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, and that Shoigu, its leader, is a veteran Yeltsinite. There are other anomalies in the new bloc. It could be argued, for example, that Gurov’s anticrime and anticorruption message clashes with the presence of certain regional leaders in Unity’s ranks, such as Kursk Governor Aleksandr Rutskoi and Kalmykia President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, who have been dogged by accusations of financial graft and worse. (Indeed, some observers believe the Kalmyk government was behind the June 1998 murder of investigative reporter Laris Yudina, who had been looking into the alleged illegal use of federal budget funds in the republic.) On the other hand, such charges have neither stopped nor appeared to cause great harm to Luzhkov, nor prevented him from adopting an anti-establishment strategy–running against City Hall, so to speak.