Publication: Prism Volume: 1 Issue: 21

Profiles of Political Parties: The Congress of Russian Communities

by Andrei Zhukov

This is the first in a series of Prism articles profiling Russianpolitical parties.

The Congress of Russian Communities (KRO) is the "dark horse"of this year’s parliamentary election campaign. In spite of theorganization’s youth and its still-narrow name recognition, itwas ranked among the favorites in the electoral race as of theend of September. According to an all-Russian poll by the "PublicOpinion" fund, about 4 percent of the voters supported theKRO — not a high percentage but enough to place it sixth in popularity. And many analysts (such as political scientists Andrei Fadinand Dmitri Olshansky) and politicians (such as Vladimir Lukin,a leader of the Yabloko bloc) expect the KRO to be amongthe big winners in December’s election.

The Congress of Russian Communities was created in March 1993by the young and promising Russian politician Dmitri Rogozin. The major to defend the interests of the Russian and Russian-speakingpopulation in the CIS republics. Until recently, the KRO wasnever ranked among the favorites and even failed to collect therequisite number of signatures in the December 1993 electionsto the State Duma, when it , together with the Socialist Workers’Party, entered the "Fatherland" bloc,.

The Congress’ new life is linked with the appearance in its ranksof former security council secretary Yuri Skokov. This April,the so-called "Russian KRO" was created (Skokov headedit), and Rogozin’s old organization was called the "InternationalKRO." Today the "Congress of Russian Communities"bloc is made up of the "Russian KRO," two semi-mythicalorganizations also headed by Skokov, the Union of the Peoplesof Russia and the Federation of Producers, and also part of theDemocratic Party of Russia (led by chairman of the State Duma’seconomic committee, Sergei Glazyev) and the Socialist Workers’Party (led by former chief of the Analytical Center of the StateDuma Lyudmila Vartazarova.) In addition, Spetsnaz veterans havesigned an agreement to participate in the election campaign aspart of the KRO.

In its views, the KRO claims a place to the left of center. Itproclaims the value of economic power and state paternalism. TheKRO leaders harshly criticize the present government for an absenceof economic priorities, for forgetting the interests of the domesticproducer, and for insufficient solicitude for the Russian-speakingpopulation in the near-abroad. (This last item in the KRO platformis particularly timely, especially since "Russia is Our Home"bloc has no new post-Soviet national ideology.)

The KRO unites statist and nationalist slogans: moderate nationalismis proclaimed, within the framework of "a strong state"– state regulation of the economy and support for the domesticproducer. It is interesting to note that Lebed’s great-powerrhetoric coexists with the social-paternalist world-views of Skokov,Glazyev, and Vartazarova. The KRO produces the impression ofa civilized great-power-nationalist movement, within the boundsof common sense, without posturing, hysterics and exotic behavior(like Zhirinovsky’s.)

The KRO also has appeal because, unlike "Russia is Our Home"and other parties, it is seen as a true opposition party,not one which is manipulated by the state. (But during his recentvisit to the US, Yuri Skokov, on one hand, sharply criticizedthe executive branch, and on the other hand, hinted at his readinessto become premier and come to terms with President Yeltsin.)

The KRO’s natural electorate is made up of people who are dissatisfiedwith what is going on in the country, but cannot find a decentparty to join –one which is oppositionist, but not revolutionary(such as Zhirinovsky’s LDPR). But the paradox of Russian politicsis that the voter looks, not at slogans or planks in party platforms,but at leaders. Therefore it is appropriate to look more closelyat the leadership of the bloc. The movement’s first "troika"is: Yuri Skokov, popular army Gen. Aleksandr Lebed, and SergeiGlazyev.

Ex-Security Council secretary Yuri Skokov enjoys the reputationof a "gray eminence" and an "apparat politician."The commercial structures supporting him include Unikombank, AMBI-Bank,Tveruniversalbank, and also several regional banks, in particular,branches of the Sberbank. There are reports that Kredobank issupporting Skokov. Among the industrial concerns "NorilskNickel," that part of the Russian military-industrial complexconnected with the production of electronics and high-technology,and a whole list of regional financial-industrial groups supportSkokov. Several regional leaders support him–in particular, theleaders of Mordovia, the Mariy-El republic, Tatarstan, Bashkiriya,Karelia, Udmurtia and Chuvashia. Skokov’s personal friendshipswith defense minister Pavel Grachev and President Yeltsin’s firstassistant Viktor Ilyushin are well-known. Let us also note thatin his memoirs, Boris Yeltsin called Skokov "the Premierin reserve," and this definition, according to informationfrom the President’s administration, has not lost its meaning.

Much has been written about the out-of-favor commander of the14th Army, stationed in Transdniester, General Lebed, who is atypical charismatic leader. His image carries with it an enormousnumber of stereotypes and expectations in the mass consciousness– the thirst for "a strong hand" and order, peace andstability, and the like. To a certain degree, Lebed today remindsone of the figure of Yeltsin himself in its 1989 model. And, inthe opinion of analysts, it could guarantee the KRO’s successeven in spite of any miscalculation on its part.

Today, the KRO is swiftly catching up to Zhirinovsky’s LiberalDemocrats and Zyuganov’s Communists in popularity among the army.According to information published in the weekly Moskovskienovosti, 16 percent of senior officers, 12 percent of juniorofficers, and 15 percent of warrant officers are ready to votefor "Lebed’s bloc." And this is not just because ofLebed, whom many military men see as an alternative to the presentMinister of Defense, Grachev, but also because of the connectionsof Skokov himself, who, in his time, headed the board which passedon the efficiency reports of the highest-ranking military officers.Those who owe their stripes to Skokov probably haven’t forgottenit. If one takes into account that people connected in some wayor other with the army make up about 40 million people in Russia,(together with veterans, members of servicemen’s families, etc.)then it becomes clear that these votes could substantially influencethe results of the election in December 1995.

In fact, the Skokov-Lebed team is one of the strongest on thepresent political scene. These politicians are able to attractdistinct and complementary constituencies, which improves theKRO’s chances for victory in December. The information leakingout about Viktor Ilyushin’s "curatorship" of the KROand the KRO’s rapidly-growing contacts, in particular, DmitriRogozin’s with the Patriarch of Moscow Aleksii II, give reasonto suppose that the KRO could successfully replace the bloc ofState Duma Speaker Ivan Rybkin in the left of center.

The danger which this bloc faces, like all others in Russia,is the possibility of a split in the KRO leadership. Accordingto some reports, disagreements have recently intensified betweenYuri Skokov and the two other bloc leaders, Glazyev and Lebed.The reason: Glazyev and Lebed find themselves in opposition notonly to the government but also to the president, with whom Skokovprudently maintains contacts (their last meeting was at the endof August). In addition, General Lebed will hardly be contentwith his second place on the KRO list: after all, the bloc’s donorsare putting their money "on Lebed." It is likely thatLebed will abandon the KRO if his comrades behave incorrectly.It is noteworthy that Lebed, in recent days, has begun to sendout feelers to other organizations on the subject of his participationin them. In particular, according to one of the organizers ofthe "We Serve Russia!" bloc, Vadim Smishchenko, Lebedheld such conversations with his bloc. On the other hand, thereis information that Skokov himself is trying to create a broadercoalition. At the Yabloko movement’s headquarters, it wasreported that in Nizhny Novgorod and several other regions, Skokov’sorganizations united with former Vice-President Aleksandr Rutskoi’ssocial-patriotic Derzhava movement, and with Sverdlovskoblast governor Eduard Rossel’s "Transfigured Fatherland"movement.

The KRO’s main problem, like that of the majority of Russianparties, is its absence of peripheral structures, which can guaranteework with the voters. Thus, all its hope lies in the help of thedirectors of large enterprises and General Lebed’s charisma.

Andrei Zhukov is a reporter for Obshchaya gazeta.