Luzhkov Sets His Terms For Supporting Putin

Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov has finally given up his oppositional stance toward acting President Vladimir Putin by announcing that his Fatherland political movement will support Putin's presidential bid.

Luzhkov made it clear, however, that Fatherland's support would not be unconditional.

Addressing a meeting of Fatherland's Moscow chapter Wednesday, Luzhkov spelled out the terms of the movement's support - all of them coincide with campaign promises already made by Putin: to preserve democratic freedom; reject a dictatorship of the oligarchs; develop the economy's primary and secondary sectors and provide support for social programs, science and culture; and strengthen the state's authority.

Luzhkov sees Putin as a potential partner: "We are not rejecting his outstretched hand, and we are ready to seal our partnership with a firm handshake," said the mayor - recently a sworn enemy of the Kremlin.

Fatherland's regional branches started climbing aboard the Putin bandwagon even earlier. On March 2, the movement's St. Petersburg branch recommended that Fatherland's leadership declare its support for Putin and "adopt a political course geared toward constructive cooperation" with the pro-government Unity party.

"Many of the regional organizations espouse this position," said Vyacheslav Nikonov, a political analyst close to Luzhkov. Nikonov hinted that Fatherland's continued existence hinges on the role it can play in the remaining 10 days of Putin's election campaign.

Luzhkov's prospects at the federal level appear equally dismal. There is talk that after the elections the leader of Fatherland-All Russia's State Duma faction, former Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov, will quit his post to join the new Cabinet. If so, Luzhkov would lose his last political ally with influence at federal level.

"There has been persistent talk that [Primakov] will be offered the post of Russia's representative to the UN," said Duma Deputy Andrei Isayev, a former member of Fatherland-All Russia's coordinating council.

Primakov's deputy, Konstantin Kosachyov, would neither confirm nor deny the rumors.

Primakov, a former foreign intelligence chief, has a good personal relationship with Putin, himself a former spy who served as director of the Federal Security Service.

In a recently published book, "In the First Person: Conversations with Vladimir Putin," the acting president said he could potentially work with Luzhkov, considering the latter's influence on the country's capital, but qualified his support with comments that smacked of a veiled warning: "I'm prepared to rely on [Luzhkov] ... on condition that his actions serve to strengthen the state. Thus far, [they've focused] on satisfying his own political ambitions. ... Of course, one may guess that someone cheated during construction of the [outer] Ring Road, but at least it got built!"