Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 72

In yet another sign that enmities are being put aside and old friendships renewed, Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov met yesterday with President Boris Yeltsin in the Kremlin. Luzhkov–the one-time Yeltsin loyalist who late last year formed the political movement Otechestvo (Fatherland) and who has in recent months repeatedly questioned the Russian president’s capacity to fulfill his duties–seems to have rejoined the pro-presidential camp. Following his thirty-minute meeting with Yeltsin, Luzhkov denounced Duma opposition attempts to impeach the president, saying that he and his party “oppose attempts to rock the boat” and “reject decisions which may complicate and explode today’s political structure.” Luzhkov openly noted that his relations with the president had warmed up (Russian agencies, April 13).

According to one take on possible ramifications of yesterday’s meeting, Luzhkov has basically been anointed the heir apparent to Yevgeny Primakov, who many believe will be fired as prime minister–possibly even sooner rather than later. According to this view, Luzhkov, whom Yeltsin’s inner circle has in the past viewed with suspicion, is now seen as the lesser of two evils. This change was reportedly helped by the fact that a key Luzhkov foe, former Kremlin chief of staff Valentin Yumashev, while still a powerful force in Kremlin politics, is playing a less active role. Meanwhile, the current chief of staff, Aleksandr Voloshin, has pushed for a more friendly line with the Moscow mayor (Kommersant, April 14).

One possible team to replace the Primakov cabinet would be Luzhkov as prime minister with Yabloko leader Grigory Yavlinsky replacing Yuri Maslyukov as first deputy prime minister in charge of overall economic policy (see the Monitor, March 16). It is interesting to note that Yabloko has somewhat muted its criticism of the Kremlin in recent months while maintaining its sharply critical line of the Primakov cabinet’s economic policies and its alleged corruption. It is also worth noting that Luzhkov, who originally enunciated a harshly anti-NATO line vis-a-vis the Kosovo crisis, calling for Russian technical-military assistance to the Serbs, has toned down his rhetoric on the issue in recent days, bringing his position more into line with Yeltsin’s repeated comments that Russia should not be drawn into the conflict.

The Kremlin’s apparent decision to play the Luzhkov card may have been influenced by Otechestvo’s strong performance in a recent local election. In elections held April 4 for the local parliament in Udmurtia, located in Russia’s Volga River region, Luzhkov’s movement won 42 of the 100 seats. According to some observers, this electoral victory suggests that Otechestvo may be moving ahead of its rivals–such as the Voice of Russia, the political movement recently formed by Samara Governor Konstantin Titov–in the competition to become the electoral bloc representing the regions. On the other hand, Otechestvo’s success in Udmurtia was undoubtedly helped by Moscow’s economic ties with the region, including the Udmurt National Oil Company, which is jointly owned by the authorities of both regions (Moscow Times, April 14).