Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 16

Acting President Vladimir Putin finally spoke publicly about the continuing crisis in the State Duma, which arose after the two largest groups in the recently-elected legislature, the pro-Kremlin Unity faction and the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (KPRF), cut a deal to re-elect the KPRF’s Gennady Seleznev as Duma speaker and to divvy up the Duma’s main committee chairmanships. In an interview with Zerkalo, the Sunday evening news analysis program on RTR state television, Putin denied any Kremlin role in the Unity-KPRF deal. Two deputies’ groups–People’s Deputy, which is loyal to Unity, and the Agro-Industrial group, which is close to the KPRF–also supported and benefited from the deal. While deputies representing three minority factions–Fatherland-All Russia (OVR), the Union of Right-Wing Forces (SPS) and Yabloko–walked out of the Duma’s opening session on January 18 prior to the vote for speaker and subsequently declared a boycott of Duma plenary sessions, Putin played down the Duma dispute yesterday, denying that it represented a “crisis,” given that the remaining factions had enough deputies to pass “any laws.” He said that he would not intervene in the crisis on the basis of separation of powers within the government.

He also reproached SPS for criticizing him and hinting that it might support another presidential candidate after having benefited from his “indirect” support during the Duma elections. A leading SPS member, Samara Governor Konstantin Titov, recently announced that he will challenge Putin in the March 26 presidential vote. Putin did, however, extend something of a peace feeler to the alienated liberals, calling KPRF proposals to “redistribute property” or “resort to confiscation and nationalization” unacceptable, saying that pro-market legislation awaiting parliamentary approval would need their support. Putin said that while in his role as prime minister–a post he currently combines with that of acting president–he would “be interested in consolidating liberal forces and giving them more than they would normally get,” he has no right to do this as acting president “because the balance of forces in the Duma should reflect the balance of forces in the nation.” He added, however, that he hoped that negotiations among the Duma leaders would result in a compromise and the end of the minority factions’ boycott.

In the same interview, Putin also reiterated the need to strengthen the state, but stressed that the state should not interfere directly in the economy, but simply ensure that the “the rules of the game” are observed (RTR, Reuters, January 23).