Putin Meeting May Lead to New Bloc

New Prime Minister Vladimir Putin met three of his predecessors Wednesday in talks that appeared to be aimed at forging a pro-Kremlin political alliance ahead of coming elections.

Conspicuous by his absence was former Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov, who said Tuesday he would join forces with President Boris Yeltsin's rival Yury Luzhkov, Moscow's mayor, in December parliamentary elections.

Putin, a former Soviet KGB agent with little experience in electoral politics, met Viktor Chernomyrdin, Sergei Kiriyenko and Sergei Stepashin, three of four men dismissed from the post over the past year and a half, the government's press office said.

"We talked about what we will do together further on," news agencies quoted Stepashin as saying. Stepashin was expected to announce his political plans Thursday.

Yeltsin fired Stepashin and appointed loyalist Putin last week immediately after Luzhkov announced that his Fatherland party had linked forces with the All Russia group of regional leaders.

Yeltsin did not explain why he sacked Stepashin, but he was believed to have been angry over Stepashin's failure to prevent the Luzhkov alliance and anxious to shape coming elections, especially a mid-2000 presidential vote.

The Kremlin hand in the talks Wednesday was seen in the presence of presidential chief of staff Alexander Voloshin and Yeltsin adviser Anatoly Chubais, the former privatization chief.

Yeltsin has endorsed Putin, who is little known and lacks charisma, for the presidential vote, and the prime minister will clearly need other prominent allies.

In the constantly changing world of Russian politics, the Primakov-Luzhkov alliance is seen as occupying the political center-left, with Communists still the dominant force in the State Duma, the lower house of parliament.

Yeltsin is apparently seeking to build a third group to contest the elections.

Luzhkov, a potential presidential candidate, said Wednesday that he still fears that the Kremlin may try to postpone elections and introduce emergency regulations, The Associated Press reported.

"Power must be legitimately transferred," Luzhkov said.

Politicians and the news media have speculated that Yeltsin might impose emergency rule to postpone parliamentary elections or the presidential vote. Yeltsin, who cannot run for a third term next year, has insisted that elections will take place as scheduled.

But Luzhkov said Yeltsin's frequent firing of prime ministers was grounds for concern. "Even gloves are not removed as frequently as our prime ministers," Luzhkov said.