Three groups belonging to the Union of Right-Wing Forces (SPS) coalition today endorsed Samara Governor Konstantin Titov, who is a candidate in the rapidly approaching March 26 presidential election. The groups are the Democratic Russia party (led by State Duma deputy Yuli Rybakov), the Democratic Russia movement (led by Lev Ponomarev), and the Free Democrats of Russia group (led by Marina Salye). The three leaders said in a statement that it was impossible for adherents of democratic and liberal reforms to support Acting President Vladimir Putin, the front-runner, and that they viewed Titov as the leader of the “liberal opposition.”
On March 14, the SPS’s coordinating council and faction in the State Duma jointly voted to endorse Putin, thereby nullifying an earlier decision by the SPS leadership not to endorse anyone. This decision was reportedly pushed by SPS leader Sergei Kirienko and United Energy Systems chief Anatoly Chubais, who is one the SPS’s most influential members and reportedly the major source of its funding (see the Monitor, March 15). In their statement today, Rybakov, Ponomarev and Salye said that they “emphatically disagreed” with the March 14 decision to endorse Putin, which, they said, “violated the existing agreement between members of the bloc not to formally express support for one candidate or another in the name of the Union of Right-Wing Forces.” The three said the decision should have been made by the SPS political council, not its coordinating and Duma faction (Russian agencies, March 16).
Marina Salye, a St. Petersburg democratic activist, has alleged in the media that Putin was involved in various questionable business deals when he was a deputy to the late Anatoly Sobchak, a former mayor of St. Petersburg. Salye was quoted as saying that in 1991-1992, when she headed a working group of the St. Petersburg city council, she came across documents concerning the involvement of the St. Petersburg mayor’s office, and Putin himself, in various financial machinations. Some of these allegedly involved skimming off money from the sale of Russian natural resources, the proceeds from which were supposed to be used for the purchase abroad of food supplies for the city (Novaya gazeta, March 13; Moscow Times, March 4).
Meanwhile, Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov, who heads the Fatherland movement and is a leader of the Fatherland-All Russia coalition, hinted that he would endorse Putin. Luzhkov, who was sharply critical last year of then President Boris Yeltsin and his inner circle, suggested that the Kremlin had extended a hand of friendship and that “we are prepared to shake it as a sign of our partnership” (Russian agencies, March 15).
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