The scramble for a grip on the bumper of Vladimir Putin’s merrily Kremlin-bound bandwagon is a bit unseemly. The six-man coordinating council of the Union of Right-Wing Forces (SPS), an alliance of anticommunist and generally liberal political movements, met yesterday with the party’s parliamentary delegation and voted to support Putin’s bid in the March 26 presidential election. Putin’s candidacy is a wedge that is splitting the SPS into wings that may be labeled ideological and pragmatic (if you are a pragmatist), or principled and opportunistic (if you are principled). The split seems likely to endure and to guarantee that Russia’s pro-democracy, pro-market politicians get no closer to the halls of power than the anteroom to the vestibule of the foyer.

The decision to back Putin reverses a decision taken just three weeks ago to support no candidate in the March 26 balloting. That stand was as much as anything a reaction to Putin’s stunning repudiation of the SPS in the State Duma. In December of last year, the newly organized SPS took almost 9 percent of the votes cast nationwide in the parliamentary elections and secured thirty-two seats in the 450-seat Duma. The SPS leadership expected a role with the pro-Putin Unity bloc (seventy-two seats) in building a center-right coalition that would put the Communists (123 seats) into the minority. But with Putin’s blessing, the Unity party formed a political alliance with the Communists and others on the left that elected a Communist speaker and froze the SPS out of committee chairmanships.