Zyuganov Says Not Pulling Out of Race

Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov on Wednesday denied reports that he was pulling out of the March 2 presidential election over the lack of media coverage his campaign is receiving, despite comments from party officials that the option was being considered.

Zyuganov did complain that a media campaign was being waged against him ahead of the vote but said no decision on pulling out had been made.

"We will make team decisions on strategy for my further participation in the presidential election," he said, Interfax reported.

Analysts have called the withdrawal scenario unlikely, saying Zyuganov's candidacy was crucial to both his own political survival and to the Kremlin.

But not everyone in his own party seems convinced. Communist Party secretary Oleg Kulikov said Wednesday that there was a question as to whether there was any point in running.

"The outcome [of the elections] is almost predetermined," Kulikov said Monday. "The question is whether there is any sense in taking part in this farce."

"All of the media coverage is going to one party," he added, referring to United Russia, whose nominee, First Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, is the Kremlin's choice to replace President Vladimir Putin.

Kulikov said that if the party fails to receive media coverage equal to that of United Russia during the campaigning period, "all options will be considered," including Zyuganov's withdrawal.

The decision about a possible Zyuganov pull-out will be made in about two weeks, said Vadim Solovyev, another party secretary, Vedomosti reported Wednesday.

Whatever Zyuganov decides, it will have no impact on the legitimacy of the vote, a member of the Central Elections Commission said Wednesday, adding that he thought the announcement was just a ruse to draw attention.

"It is probably just a publicity stunt," commission member Siyapshakh Shapiyev said, Interfax reported Wednesday.

Alexei Mukhin, an analyst at the Center for Political Information, said Zyuganov, whose support has fallen in recent polls, has to run if he hopes to avoid losing the post of party leader to his first deputy, Ivan Melnikov.

He said Zyuganov was looking to "present himself as a person who determines the nature of the elections" and "get additional concessions from the Kremlin," adding that his participation was important for the Kremlin to create the appearance of competitive elections.

According to Russian election laws, a presidential candidate can withdraw from a race up to the day before the vote. If the candidate pulls out less than five days before the official campaign period begins -- Feb. 2 this time around -- he or she is required to pay for the otherwise free-of-charge television time provided to candidates for campaigning.

The elections commission has registered three presidential candidates to date: Zyuganov, Medvedev and Liberal Democratic Party leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky. Democratic Party leader Andrei Bogdanov is expected to be added by 6 p.m. Saturday, when the official registration period ends, while former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov has come under scrutiny for the authenticity of signatures his campaign has gathered to back his candidacy. Kasyanov's campaign has said he is being deliberately targeted by the authorities to prevent him from running.