Parliamentary elections are two weeks away, on December 19. Four hundred and fifty seats in the Duma are at stake. Half the seats go to winners in electoral districts. The other half is apportioned among political parties according to their shares of the nationwide vote, with a 5 percent minimum required for representation. The commanding position once occupied by the coalition of Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov, former Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov, and Tatarstan President Mintimer Shaimiev has apparently eroded. Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who takes political credit for the still popular war in Chechnya, is now by every poll the most trusted politician in the country, but he is not running in this election. Putin says that as a “private citizen” he will vote for the Unity slate, a new coalition organized by the Kremlin. In turn, Unity leaders say “our goal is a pro-Putin majority in the Duma.”

Putin has a pretty good majority right now. The Duma last week voted 356-0 for a bill to allow the Federal Security Service (FSB) to seal off entire regions of the country to prevent terrorism, as the FSB itself may define it. The FSB, which Putin headed and in which he spent his career, is the successor agency to the Soviet KGB. Call this the Police State Revitalization Act of 1999.

The Duma, which in past years challenged presidential authority by denying approval to the budget, was a pussycat for Putin on this issue as well. The budget passed its fourth and final vote in the Duma and should win easy passage in the Federation Council before the end of the year. The budget calls for revenues of 797 billion rubles ($30 billion at current exchange rates) and outlays of 855 billion rubles ($33 billion at current exchange rates), including 146 billion rubles ($5.6 billion) for defense. The budget projects gross domestic product at about 5.4 trillion rubles ($207 billion) and inflation at 18 percent. The U.S. defense budget of $275 billion for fiscal year 2000 is one-third larger than Russia’s entire economic output.