You think this is a democracy?
Forbes November 16, 1998
Who will be the next ruler of Russia?
The slick city boss, or the rough-edged populist general?
By Paul Klebnikov
The parking lot of the fancy tennis club is cluttered with $150,000 Mercedes
sedans, each of which costs more than the average Russian could hope to earn
in a lifetime. Thuggish-looking bodyguards swarm in the darkness. Inside,
the playing courts are empty, but several dozen important men chat nervously
among themselves. They are an eclectic mix: trade union bosses, bankers,
pols, government ministers, ethnic chieftains.
Then he comes.
Yuri Luzhkov, mayor of Moscow, strides into the club, trailed by guards and
a small army of hangers-on. He is more than mayor-he is the city’s virtually
unchallenged dictator. A stocky, pugnacious 62-year-old, Luzhkov is in tennis
gear, a purple bandanna around his head. It is his birthday-but this is theater
more than a birthday party. The boss is here to show the troops how vigorous
he is. Against a pair of former tennis champs Luzhkov plays a fierce game.
The attending courtiers cheer his every shot.
No surprise: Luzhkov wins.
After the match, Luzhkov emerges from the shower room dressed in an immaculately
tailored suit. Sycophants thrust bouquets and gifts at him. Rich bankers
sidle up to mutter their respects, and thrust on his attendants shopping
bags from fancy French boutiques. “Do not forget us, your loyal friends,”
one of them implores.
Russia’s next presidential elections are scheduled for the summer of 2000,
but Boris Yeltsin, far gone to booze and ill health, may not last out the
rest of his term-in which case elections must be held within six months.
The tennis club courtiers are kowtowing to the man they expect will be the
next president of Russia, perhaps more than president-czar, almost.
Russia has dismantled communism but has not erected anything lasting in its
place. Yeltsin is a pitiful, weak figure, incapable of bringing order out
of chaos. This stocky Moscow politician, Luzhkov, could be the man on horseback
many Russians pray for. But Luzhkov is not every Russian’s candidate. Standing
between him and power is General Alexander Lebed, a popular and populist
figure who currently serves as elected governor of Siberia’s giant Krasnoyarsk
From his modest Moscow surroundings you wouldn’t realize that Lebed is a
powerful rival to Luzhkov. To interview Lebed, FORBES went one evening to
a large, rather nondescript building across from Moscow’s famous Tretyakov
Gallery. The Lebed campaign leases several rooms on the second floor. No
fancy meeting rooms here-just cheap linoleum and fluorescent lighting. The
offices are empty except for a disheveled security guard. “Please wait here,”
he says. “The general will be arriving shortly.”
We wait. Suddenly in the darkened windows, there is the sound of powerful
motors. A black Volvo pulls up, followed briskly by a black Chevy Suburban.
Inside the Volvo, General Lebed sits grimly in the darkness. He is in a bad
mood. A week ago he was passed over for the post of prime minister, and his
only power base is a remote and frigid Siberian province. Early in the interview
he complains about his rival’s high-handedness. “Luzhkov is trying to evict
us,” growls Lebed in his rumbling, low-pitched voice. “The building has been
declared an architectural monument and we’ve been told we have to go.”
In person, Lebed is much more impressive than his surroundings. “Russia has
long been sick with symptoms of a dinosaur-a huge body and tiny head,” he
begins in a slap at domination of the country by Moscow, his chief rival’s
base. “By the time a signal from the head passes through the body and reaches
the tail, it is already time to turn in the other direction.”
Lebed says that Moscow ruled in the past by controlling patronage. “The political
system has always been based on one principle: the distribution of favors,”
he told FORBES earlier this year. “But there are very few favors left to
give. The different regions of Russia are spinning off from the center.”
In almost every way, these powerful rivals are a study in contrasts.
Lebed is a soldier and a hero to a certain segment of the Russian population.
A paratroop general, he participated in some of the biggest battles of the
Soviet Union’s war in Afghanistan. He later led his paratroops in bloody
suppressions of ethnic uprisings in the U.S.S.R.’s southern republics. But
Lebed earned his democratic credentials in 1991, when he saved the Gorbachev
regime from a coup by Communist hard-liners. His paratroopers were ordered
to Moscow to help overthrow Gorbachev, but Lebed switched sides and joined
Boris Yeltsin in support of the reformers.
Running as an independent in 1996, Lebed won a surprising 15% of the vote,
and in the second round threw his support behind Yeltsin against the Communist
candidate. A grateful Yeltsin appointed the general his chief of national
security. Lebed distinguished himself by negotiating an end to the disastrous
war in Chechnya. Four months after he was appointed, Lebed was fired.
The blunt soldier refused to hold his tongue about the rape of the nation’s
assets by the kleptocrats surrounding Yeltsin. Lebed is no diplomat. He chose
exile to compromise.
Luzhkov would be unlikely to make that stark, either/or choice. He is a
consummate politician. Under his iron-fisted rule Moscow has become an oasis
of prosperity in a ravaged nation. In 1996 Luzhkov was reelected mayor with
90% of the vote. Whereas Lebed clashed with the kleptocrats, Luzhkov coexists
with them in the Russian capital, but makes them cough up big money in return.
You could say that Luzhkov not only rules Moscow-he owns it as well. Here,
privatization proceeds according to his rules, not those of the Yeltsin
government. You want government property here, you pay real money for it.
And Luzhkov decides how the money should be spent.
Several days after the birthday on the tennis courts, Forbes met with Luzhkov
in the mayor’s opulent office. He explained why the city government has retained
so much economic control:
“We say that privatization is necessary to create new owners who will manage
the factories better than the old, but that is possible only if the factories
are sold for real money, so the new owner has to work to make a return on
As communism collapsed, Luzhkov simply grabbed many of the best Moscow
enterprises and properties for the city government. He has assembled a great
business empire with more than half the working population of Moscow directly-or
indirectly-on the municipal payroll. The City of Moscow owns and operates
two big auto plants, an oil company, several big construction firms, part
of the local phone and electric utilities, a TV network, two fast food chains
(including part of the local McDonald’s), dozens of food processing plants,
several big hotels, and hundreds of shops and restaurants.
Real capitalism this may not be, but it keeps Moscow solvent while the rest
of the country is bankrupt. The city gets more than $1 billion annually from
renting or selling its properties; its rental revenues alone are 14 times
greater than the rents the Russian government gets from its holdings all
over the country.
If Luzhkov becomes president, expect some renationalization of recently
privatized businesses. He favors, for example, renationalizing the vodka
monopoly privatized early in the Yeltsin era. Profits from the sale of vodka
accounted for 23% of government revenues in Soviet days and once again could
be a pillar of state finance. Luzhkov says he doesn’t believe in price
controls, but favors a highly interventionist government policy to spur Russia’s
industrial revival. He wants to use the government’s position as monopoly
supplier of electricity, gas and rail transport to run those businesses-at
a loss, if necessary-in order to bring down the basic costs of living and
doing business. No free trader, he advocates tariffs to protect inefficient
And he has a sophisticated understanding of finance. Consider his suggestion
for dealing with the debt default that has left foreigners with $12 billion
of worthless Russian T-bills. Luzhkov suggests renationalizing oil and metals
companies that were sold for a song and offering shares in them to the foreign
banks in a debt-for-equity swap.
You can see why the bankers and oligarchs kowtow to this man. He understands
their game. He cites the chemicals institute where he began his career: The
institute, which employed scores of skilled technicians, was auctioned off
for just $200,000. “The new owner,” recalls Luzhkov, “simply fired everybody
and is renting out the premises for $500,000 a year.”
Luzhkov’s election could be bad news for the plutocrats who virtually stole
the best assets of the old Communist government. You can bet that he would-as
he has in Moscow-make them cough up taxes and become at least somewhat
accountable for the way they run their business. But Luzhkov is a pragmatist.
As he put it to Forbes: “We have to have a flexible policy. If an enterprise
is working well and improving itself, don’t touch it. Forget about how the
new owner obtained it.”
What about General Lebed and the kleptos? While he has been scathing about
the way a handful of people have plundered the country, he may end up in
bed with some of the kleptocrats. To run for president, Lebed needs lots
of money and media coverage. Only the kleptocrats can supply him with what
he needs. And they may figure that his relative ignorance of economics will
make him more pliable than the sophisticated Luzhkov.
One oligarch who has placed his bets on General Lebed is the notorious Boris
Berezovsky, the billionaire car dealer turned oil-and-TV magnate who once
tried to sue Forbes for writing about his illicit activities. Lebed is
uncomfortable with the association-but does not deny it. “Berezovsky didn’t
give a single ruble to my campaign,” Lebed says scornfully. “He only declared
his support.” But when was the last time you met Berezovsky? “Today,”
Lebed admits. “We discussed the shipment of oil into Krasnoyarsk. Sibneft
[a Berezovsky property] is the main supplier.” “Lebed and Berezovsky are
travelling in the same railroad car, but they are getting off at different
stops,” quips Alexander Treshchov, a former military attorney who now serves
as Lebed’s unofficial ambassador to the U.S.
Treshchov’s qualification might be persuasive but for this: Lebed has publicly
declared he would not crack down on Berezovsky and his fellow kleptocrats.
“We need to declare an amnesty on all flight capital,” Lebed says. “To redivide
property today would mean unleashing civil war.”
The bottom line probably is this: No matter which man wins the presidency
of Russia, compromise with the kleptocrats is inevitable. Unjust though it
may seem, their money and control of the media makes them hard to dislodge.
Nevertheless, the next president is not going to let them get away with
murder-literally in some cases-the way Yeltsin has.
It is easier to see how Luzhkov would run the country than how Lebed would.
You need only observe how Luzhkov rules Moscow. A product of the old
Soviet bureaucracy, Luzhkov was a chemicals industry manager in 1987 when
he was tapped by Boris Yeltsin-then Moscow’s Communist party boss-to keep
the city supplied with fruit and vegetables.
Produce warehouses were prime breeding grounds for black-market fortunes.
A shipment of apples or melons would arrive from the provinces in fine condition.
But crooked bureaucrats would declare half the produce spoiled. They would
sell the “spoiled” goods to a private trader who would then sell them to
traders at full price. This was typical of the cynical relationship between
corrupt bureaucrats and unscrupulous businesspeople that has reduced Russia
to its present low state.
Luzhkov didn’t so much end the corruption as manage it. He built new warehouses
for the produce and saw to it that the shops were well stocked, but he didn’t
ask too many questions about how the goods got there.
In the late 1980s Luzhkov was placed in charge of developing Moscow’s new
network of cooperatives, joint ventures and other small private businesses.
That gave him an opportunity to build the city government, officially and
unofficially, into a lucrative business conglomerate whose profits and resources
he could tap. Like an old-line U.S. political boss (and rather unlike the
new financial bosses of Russia), he saw to it that a good part of the loot
would be spent to benefit the city and its citizens. Under his regime public
works have flourished and Moscow is a prosperous place, compared with the
rest of the country.
Luzhkov went out of his way to bring in foreign capital. Under him, the city
has attracted $12 billion in direct investment and credits, the lion’s share
of all such funds invested in Russia. The city is home to some 5,000 foreign
companies and joint ventures. Luzhkov likes to refer to himself as
a khoziaistvenik (business manager). He is visibly at ease discussing business
plans and financial flows. Unlike most Russian managers, he has a good head
for facts and figures. Even more unusual for a Russian, he neither smokes
To attract foreign money Luzhkov gives it protection against the frequently
capricious actions of the bureaucracy. Five years ago Japanese trading company
Seio Corp. spent $30 million to build a modern office building on the Moscow
River. This summer Russian tax authorities decided that Seio had violated
some obscure currency regulations in repatriating some of its profits and
fined the company $1.5 million. Seio turned to Luzhkov. The mayor saw to
it that the fine was revoked. When you buy protection from Luzhkov, Inc.
you buy genuine protection.
At a time when the Russian government and Russian banks are defaulting on
debts, Moscow is current with its payments to foreign lenders.
What’s the secret of Luzhkov’s success? Simply understanding the brute fact
that possession is nine-tenths of the law. He has managed to grab some of
Russia’s best real estate and most lucrative sources of tax revenue. Most
of the biggest Russian companies pay their taxes in Moscow-and most of the
money never leaves the city. Consider Gazprom, the gigantic natural gas utility.
It pumps its gas from Western Siberia, pipes it across the length of European
Russia and sells it in Germany, Italy and France. Gazprom pays its taxes
in Moscow and there most of the money stays.
It is as though all the money raised by New York City’s investment bankers
stayed on the island of Manhattan rather than being spread out across the
50 states. Or as if the city of Washington kept most of the tax revenues
raised by the federal government.
Like a Tammany boss of old, Luzhkov can claim credit for making his town
prosperous. He can’t make any claim on behalf of law and order, however.
Moscow seems like a cross between Las Vegas and Dodge City- prostitutes,
garish advertising, casinos, shoot-outs on the streets. The Russian police
estimated several years ago that half the Russian banks were linked to organized
crime. Instead of busting the mafia, Luzhkov taxes it. The mobsters
made their money in the informal economy? Well, let them pay taxes informally,
too. Luzhkov has managed to tap even the shadiest Russian businesses for
hundreds of millions of dollars to finance his civic projects.
One of the most visible is the Cathedral of Christ the Savior, blown up by
Stalin in 1931. Luzhkov has restored it as an immense edifice, on top of
a sprawling new underground office complex. The construction process itself
was inspiring to a demoralized Russia: The men could be seen working three
shifts a day, six or seven days a week. It may end up costing as much as
The financing of the cathedral is interesting. Half of the funds were
“contributed” by big business; almost all of Russia’s 200 largest banks felt
obliged to kick in. Another chunk came from Moscow’s retailers, restaurants
and casinos, as well as local construction companies donating free labor
and materials. A quarter of the funds ($80 million, according to the low
official estimates) have come from “nonbudget revenues.”
Nonbudget revenues? Forbes asked a Moscow official what that meant. He
volunteered to explain, provided we let him remain anonymous. “Take the rental
revenues of a Moscow-owned office building,” he says. “The official revenues
noted down in the government budget are $50/square foot, but the actual revenues
are $90/square foot. That difference-$40/square foot-is a ‘nonbudget revenue,’
which is then directed to the Cathedral.”
Muscovites are well-off by Russian standards. Most have bought themselves
new refrigerators, TVs, perhaps even a secondhand European car. With his
mixed capitalist/Tammany Hall/socialist economy, Luzhkov has kept housing
and energy prices low. Luzhkov runs Moscow on a two-tier basis. Apart
from the $8 billion official budget, there is an “unofficial” budget, where
revenues from city-owned businesses and buildings get directed to construction
of new apartment blocks, schools, shopping malls, stadiums and roads. Moscow
officials put the size of this budget at about $4 billion. Most people think
it’s a lot bigger than that.
Luzhkov’s most ambitious project is Moscow’s new financial district, known
as Siti (as in “the Siti of London”). The 280-acre project is expected to
cost $8 billion and be crowned by the 115-floor Russia Tower, designed by
Chicago architects Skidmore, Owings & Merrill. The Siti will take 10
to 30 years to complete.
Luzhkov can campaign for president as the guy who gets things done.
How will that play in the rest of the country? Perhaps not well. “In Soviet
times,” General Lebed says, “the city streets were lined with tall green
fences. From the outside everything looked neat, but behind the fences was
all the squalor. Today Moscow is such a green fence.” The people on
the good side of the green fence will obviously vote for Luzhkov. How about
the people on the other side? Says Lebed: “On the one hand, there’s the whole
political apparatus, big business, mass media and that megalopolis, Moscow.
On the other hand, there is all the rest of Russia.”
“Luzhkov is a good city manager, but he does not have clout in the provinces,”
agrees Rem Vyakhirev, chairman of natural gas monopoly Gazprom.
What Vyakhirev says counts. Gazprom provides highly subsidized heat to most
of Russia’s cities and towns in the bitter arctic winters. It has lots of
money and plenty of political clout. At the moment, Gazprom officially endorses
former premier Viktor Chernomyrdin for president-but this old bureaucrat
is a nonstarter as a candidate. Gazprom has not declared itself for either
Lebed or Luzhkov, but Gazprom’s man, Chernomyrdin, has recently been cozying
up to General Lebed.
The notoriously unreliable Russian opinion polls show Luzhkov and Lebed neck
and neck, each with approval ratings of about 17%. Lebed has his strengths:
Most Russians hate Moscow and all it stands for, and Lebed is a man of the
provinces. He is a protest candidate in a country with a lot to protest about.
But Luzhkov looks to Forbes like the favorite at this point. As Mussolini
made the trains run on time, never mind the cost, so Luzhkov gussied up Moscow,
never mind the cost. He can sell himself as the guy who gets things done
in a country where not much is getting done. Moreover, Luzhkov has a huge
political machine, well greased with patronage, and no one gets in line more
quickly than Russians when they see a big authority coming down the road.
Which of the two would do the most for Russia-and, through Russia, for the
world? Each has his strengths and his weaknesses.
Lebed is a blunt, sincere man. Like a good military commander who takes care
of his men, he is concerned with the welfare of his constituents: He is both
a populist and something of a sentimentalist. In an interview with Forbes,
General Lebed suddenly begins to speak of the fate of Russia’s huge convict
population. “There has never been an effort to rehabilitate people
in prisons, where they are kept worse than cattle,” he says. “You enter the
prison system as a man and you leave it either as an animal or as excrement.”
There’s real sincerity in his voice when he says: “We have to prevent
the country from exploding and falling apart.”
True, but Lebed has little political and administrative experience. He lacks
any real team of advisers. His political party-People’s Republican Party-is
almost invisible except for its leader. Except for Berezovsky, he has few
big-money backers. While Berezovsky has apparently taken out an insurance
policy with the former general, most of the kleptocrats seem reluctant to
anger Luzhkov. In fact, the powerful mayor has little need of their support-he
has his own financial and media empire.
On some issues both General Lebed and Mayor Luzhkov agree. Both walk gingerly
around the unpopular issue of allowing private ownership of land-they say
it should be introduced gradually, on the local level. Both are scathing
about the reforms that misfired and created an even worse mess than communism
was. A superpower a decade ago, Russia today is counting on international
handouts to feed its people. Much of the population is clad in rags; in some
provincial towns, people eat dog food for protein. Without decent food or
medicine, Russian male life expectancy declined by seven years between 1988
and 1995. There has been an epidemic of suicides among army officers ashamed
that they could not feed their families.
Yet here is a vast, potentially rich country with a talented population.
Whichever of these flawed leaders wins-Lebed or Luzhkov-he will be a vast
improvement over the present leaderless chaos. Look for no neat solutions,
but Russia has nowhere to go but up. After the coming election-nasty though
it will be-the winner has a real chance to get Russia back on its feet
Financial Times (UK) 4 November 1998
Pretenders to the presidency
As Yeltsin fades, a centre-left coalition is emerging as the country’s main
By John Thornhill.
Boris Yeltsin has so dominated Russia that for the past seven years almost
all public life has revolved around him. It is not merely that he blotted
out any politician who trespassed too far into the presidential limelight.
More important, he polarised the country so that all other politicians have
been forced to orient themselves around him: broadly, in a crisis, you were
either for Mr Yeltsin or against him. It was the defining feature of political
But it is no longer true. With Mr Yeltsin recuperating from “nervous exhaustion”
at a seaside retreat, the 67-year-old president is not a focal point of other
people’s concerns. In the short term, the consequences are relatively
predictable. Last week, the Kremlin confirmed what many had long suspected:
the day-to-day management of the world’s biggest country has passed into
the hands of Yevgeny Primakov, the adroit and politically cautious prime
But the longer term consequences are perhaps more intriguing. Freed from
Mr Yeltsin’s thrall, Russia’s politicians – and especially its future
presidential contenders – are starting to define themselves anew.
The past few months have been filled with a flurry of activity
from Russia’s fractious political groupings. These could change the fundamental
orientation of Russian politics as soon as Mr Yeltsin’s term expires in the
summer of 2000 – if not before. And of all the developments, the fitful evolution
of a broad centre-left alliance has been by far the most significant.
This bloc’s supporters span a broad array of Communists, trade unionists,
and nationalists. From the left, Russia’s largest political force,
the Communist party under Gennady Zyuganov, has regrouped its forces and
rethought its philosophy. In the centre, General Andrei Nikolayev, the former
head of the federal border guards turned telegenic nationalist MP, has been
busily marshalling the country’s moderate trade unionists and Social Democrats,
signing them up to his Union of People’s Power and Labour. An influential
MP, Alexei Podberyozkin, compares the strategy of this putative centre-left
alliance to two armies converging on the same, distant field.
Certainly, these forces could be powerful electorally if they really combined.
The bloc’s supporters exultantly predict they will win 70 per cent of the
vote at the next parliamentary elections in December 1999. That would ensure
whoever is their general would vault into the Kremlin the following year
in the presidential election. That figure could well be Yuri Luzhkov, Moscow’s
ambitious mayor. Many political observers believe the bloc could form the
national power base for Mr Luzhkov, who has long been greedily eyeing the
presidency. After conspicuously flirting with the Communists in recent weeks,
he has also been tipped as the most likely single presidential candidate
from this centre-left grouping.
With so much at stake, it is all the more important to understand what this
centre-left alliance is really like, what it stands for, whether it has a
coherent policy and how united its members are. Konstantin Borovoi, a prominent
liberal MP, argues the centre-left alliance is just a grouping of political
opportunists which lacks any coherent plan of action, other than a vague
hankering after the failed Soviet policies of the past. “It is an artificial
attempt to create a political force without a political idea,” he claims.
“You might just as well have a party of sportsmen.”
Mr Podberyozkin, who is the leader of the nationalist Spiritual Heritage
movement, which has played an important role in trying to make the opposition
something more than merely anti-Yeltsin, dismisses the claim. Like much of
the rest of Europe, he says, Russia is embarking on its own quest for a “middle
“The future will not be about communism or liberalism or social democracy.
Instead there will be a search for new political methods and at the same
time a return to our traditional roots and heritage,” Mr Podberyozkin explains
in his office, decorated with icons and littered with pamphlets explaining
the workings of investment funds.
“But the most important development is that we have had a revolution in social
consciousness and now the left idea is dominant. I am therefore 100 per cent
sure that the centre-left will win,” he says. In other words, much of the
centre-left’s appeal lies in the current popular reaction against market
reform. Given how widespread the reaction is, that is a solid base on which
to rest a public appeal, though it is vulnerable to a further swing in public
mood if the current government brings about further economic chaos. After
all, the centre-left’s policies, do not sound all that different from Mr
Primakov’s, at least as Mr Podberyozkin recounts them.
In his view, the four defining beliefs of the centre-left bloc are: strengthening
the social welfare net; increased state regulation of the “irresponsible”
market economy; a return to traditional and national values; and the priority
of education and culture.
In seeking to ally itself with political forces in the centre, the mainstream
of Russia’s Communist party has moved a long way from its Marxist-Leninist
roots. In a recent interview with the Financial Times, Mr Zyuganov, the party’s
leader, displayed a remarkable ideological eclecticism saying he personally
drew inspiration from figures as varied as Charles de Gaulle, Stalin, and
Tsars Alexander I, II, and even III (who has been demonised by most Communists
as the executioner of Lenin’s elder brother).
Mr Zyuganov’s latest tome, The Geography of Victory, which he hands out to
visitors, contains barely a mention of Lenin but expounds at length on Russia’s
unique historical mission. He speaks in favour of freedom of speech and religion,
a multi-party democracy, and Chinese-style economic reforms, preserving a
strong role for the state while allowing private trade to flourish beneath.
Mr Zyuganov has had kind words to say about Mr Luzhkov. The Moscow mayor
was a “well-known and authoritative man” who had shown his ability to manage
Russia’s biggest city, the Communist party leader claimed. “We support the
idea of a coalition,” Mr Zyuganov said. “The coalition should suggest not
only a candidate for presidency, but a whole team, which would include a
vice-president, a prime minister, and other key ministers.”
He has good reason to seek such an alliance. Moderate party strategists argue
that unless the Communists broaden their political base they will be doomed
to perpetual opposition. Although the party can count on a core of support
– perhaps 20 per cent of the electorate – it cannot by itself win enough
votes to claim the presidency. In the presidential elections in 1996, Mr
Zyuganov conspicuously failed to win many “cross-over” voters from other
parties and was crushed by Mr Yeltsin in the second round. It would be better
to link up with a potentially powerful presidential candidate, such as Mr
Luzhkov, than to remain forever on the political sidelines.
From Mr Luzhkov’s perspective, there is an equally compelling electoral logic
to trying to corral the Communists behind his cause. The Moscow mayor has
proved his appeal in the capital, winning more than 90 per cent of the vote
in the 1996 mayoral elections. But he remains weak in the rest of Russia.
The backing of the Communist party would bolster his support across the country
at a stroke. Mr Luzhkov’s arguments for an end to untrammelled capitalism,
the return to a strong, interventionist state, and an assertive foreign policy,
are close to much modern-day Communist rhetoric.
Yet, however strong the electoral calculus, the creation of a centre-left
bloc is far from a done deal. Mr Zyuganov’s bridge-building strategy received
something of a rebuff at a meeting of the Communist party leadership last
week. The party plenum, which still dictates official policy, concluded that
the Communists should contest the 1999 parliamentary elections under their
own banner. Hardline Communists still remember, with great bitterness, Mr
Luzhkov’s role in supporting Mr Yeltsin’s bloody suppression of the Soviet-era
parliament in October 1993.
Many radical Communists also criticise Mr Zyuganov’s conciliatory style of
leadership. “I do not consider the Communist party leadership to be real
Communists,” says Rafik Aliev, chief research fellow at the Moscow State
Institute for International Relations. “They think that reform can improve
what has already been created. It is not possible to be a revolutionary if
you drive to work in a Mercedes and have a big flat and a dacha.”
More generally, Russia’s political landscape is changing with bewildering
speed. Alliances rarely last all that long in such a world. Many political
calculations are already being thrown askew by the emergence of Mr Primakov
as a serious presidential contender in his own right. The prime minister
is a centre-left figure himself and the supporters of the Communist party
could easily ally themselves behind him. But in fact he draws support from
across the political spectrum, including many reformers, so the Communist
leadership might not necessarily want him as their candidate. Anyway, he
would seriously spoil Mr Luzhkov’s presidential pitch.
Even so, compared with their opponents, the centre-left looks like a model
of disciplined organisation. Grigory Yavlinsky, the leader of the liberal
Yabloko party, has strong – though narrow – electoral appeal but seems
disinclined to ally himself with anyone else. Alexander Lebed, the former
general turned governor of Krasnoyarsk, is a great populist but is widely
viewed as a loose cannon. Some of Russia’s most powerful bankers even appear
to be toying with the idea of running Nikita Mikhalkov, the handsome and
staunchly anti-Communist film director and actor, who would, they believe,
win the hearts and votes of every Russian woman.
That looks rather like a sign of desperation. Unless Russia’s centre-right
forces move towards their own united platform in short order, they risk losing
the argument about Russia’s political future by default.
Baltimore Sun November 2, 1998
New democracy, old tricks
Russian politicians have quickly mastered the art of strategic confusion
where candidates’ names are concerned.
By Kathy Lally
ST. PETERSBURG, Russia — This westward-longing city cultivates an image
of being eager to embrace democratic principles, and in remarkably little
time it has grasped one of the most cherished arts of America’s political
system: the dirty trick.
Elections are coming up Dec. 6 for St. Petersburg’s 50-member city council,
and the 16th District is full of eager candidates circulating petitions to
run. Four of them are named Sergei Andreyev. Like generations of Baltimore
politicians before them, they have discovered the name’s-the-same game.
The 6th District has its own enthusiastic democrats offering themselves
up for public service. Two of them are named Sergei Mironov and one is named
Alexei Mironov. Another district has three Oleg Sergeyevs.
The city council members operate out of a magnificent building reminiscent
of Baltimore’s ornate City Hall, only more so. Both buildings have a beautiful
rotunda, but St. Petersburg’s was a palace finished in 1844 as a present
for the czar’s daughter. Baltimore’s imposing edifice went up a little later
in the century, with less opulent means.
In search of the parallels, a call went out Friday from Russia to the Waterfront
Hotel in Baltimore’s Fells Point. “Miss Kathy if you don’t mind waiting a
minute,” a young man’s voice said as he disappeared into the urgent background
noise in search of Gene M. Raynor. Raynor has run elections for years,
first as the head of the city’s Board of Elections Supervisors, then as head
of state elections and now as head of William Donald Schaefer’s election
campaign for state comptroller.
“They’re learning fast,” Raynor said about the St. Petersburg race. He
thought back to one Baltimore City Council election in 1962, when William
Donald Schaefer filed, and so did Donald William Schaefer. “Of course, everyone
knew William Donald Schaefer as Don,” Raynor said. “That was back in the
Pollack days. We had an awful time getting that fella out of the race.”
The Pollack days occurred during the reign of one of Baltimore’s last illustrious
political bosses, James H. “Jack” Pollack. He’s dead now, and so are the
machine politics that he ran as resolutely as any emperor. But the memories
live on. “They might be new at democracy,” laughed state Sen. George
W. Della Jr., “but they’re playing some old-time politics.”
Della remembers another Pollack-era maneuver. “He filed a guy named Kaplan,
I think. He was a cabdriver, but he had the same name as a well-known candidate.
The cabdriver won! He got elected to the legislature, but when he got down
to Annapolis he didn’t like it and he resigned.” Then there was a DiPietro
who won a legislative seat because everyone thought he was Dominic “Mimi”
DiPietro, the famous East Baltimore politician. “We’ve had lots of
them,” Raynor said. “The very best thing is to confront them right away and
try to get them out of the race.”
Conflict with mayor
The St. Petersburg candidates will have to do a lot of talking. Something
funny is going on in at least five of the races, and the incumbents in those
districts all have one thing in common: They have run afoul of the city’s
mayor, who has the title governor here. “I could have predicted some dirty
tricks,” said Sergei Mikhailovich Mironov, the first deputy chairman of the
city council, “but I never expected such a large scale.”
The five city council members organized and campaigned for a city charter,
adopted in January, that expanded the powers of the council — officially
called the Legislative Assembly — at the expense of the governor, Vladimir
“The charter was adopted but the administration of the city was very much
against it,” Mironov said. “Only those deputies who were very involved in
that have these doubles in their districts. So we should ask who profits
by that.” Mironov stops short of accusing the governor. “It seems the
conclusion is absolutely clear,” he said, “but I’m sure the governor himself
is not the initiator. But there is a great deal of opportunity for people
surrounding the governor to produce such initiatives. Maybe they think they
will please him. Or maybe someone is setting the governor up.”
Mironov thinks there may be as many as nine candidates in his race, and the
alphabet will put him at No. 8, after Alexei Yuriyevich Mironov and Sergei
Titles count, too
The job title is listed after the name, and the incumbent Mironov’s begins
“first deputy to the chairman .” Alexei Mironov is trying to get his job
listed as first deputy to the chairman of the small company where he works.
“This makes the campaign very difficult,” the incumbent said. “I have
to explain my program, what I’ve done and what I hope to do. Then I have
to tell voters, `If you agree with my program, if you are satisfied with
my work, please don’t forget, my number is eight and my patronymic is
Mikhailovich.” Reached by telephone, the other Sergei Mironov said
his program was a secret. “Now I can say nothing,” he said. “Now I am doing
Another incumbent, Sergei Yu. Andreyev, is running against a plumber named
Sergei Yu. Andreyev and two others with different middle names, one a night
watchman in a garage and another who has a small business.
The incumbent Andreyev, who visited Baltimore recently to study city budgeting,
has started to do what Raynor advises. He is running a campaign to get residents
of his districts to retract their signatures from the petitions of his opponents,
hoping to disqualify them from the ballot. Andreyev said he was honored
with three Andreyev opponents because it is well- known he hopes to run against
the governor in two years. He is curious about the activities of the governor’s
entourage, especially his image maker. (The Russian word sounds like eemadge
maker, and the man’s last name translates as “Nightmare.”) The governor’s
office referred a reporter to Alexei Koshmarov (Nightmare) for comment, but
he was not available.
Another incumbent has the good fortune of an unusual patronymic — or middle
name. He is Oleg Yelizarovich Sergeyev. Two of his prospective opponents
are Oleg Yevgeniyevich Sergeyev, a retired military officer, and Oleg
Gennadiyevich Sergeyev, who is unemployed. “They couldn’t find a
Yelizarovich,” Sergeyev said. In another district, he said, the dirty tricksters
couldn’t find a Liverovsky to run against the incumbent, so they chose a
Yuri Boldyrev, who has the same name as a greatly loved city politician.
There’s another Yuri Boldyrev in another district.
“It smells very bad,” Sergeyev said.
Costs of reform
Sergeyev heads the council’s health committee. In April, after he led a
successful effort to change regulations covering pharmaceutical sales —
which he said cut down on corruption — his skull was cracked as he left
his apartment building by someone swinging a tire iron. He spent four months
recovering from serious injuries. “I stopped a stream of money going
to someone’s pocket,” he said.
In Baltimore, the campaigning sounds safer, more settled, predictable even.
“Excellent,” was the way Raynor described it. “William Donald Schaefer
is going to win big-time.”
Then again, he’s the only William Donald Schaefer on the ballot.