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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Can't Beat 'Em, So Zyuganov Joins 'Em

It was almost exactly a year ago that Gennady Zyuganov's Communist Party swept elections to the State Duma, prompting panic in the executive and mutterings of doom and impending constitutional crisis among observers.


Twelve months on, those predictions and fears could hardly look more misplaced.


Since Zyuganov lost the presidential election in the summer, he has brought his opposition coalition into comfortable engagement with the government of Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin, and is looking to take a seat at the table of power rather to overturn it.


"The opposition has entered the ruling power, it has become a part of that power, albeit not yet the decisive part," said Alexei Podberyozkin, the academic and close Zyuganov adviser who is widely seen as the force behind the Communist Party's new strategy.


Under a constitution which gives parliament limited scope for putting pressure on the government, cooperation is the only pragmatic option, he said. "We act according to the real, objective possibilities given us in the constitution."


Evidence of the new comfort strategy is overwhelming and starts with the decision, made shortly after the election results, to support Chernomyrdin's confirmation as prime minister. The there was the backpedalling on threats to impeach President Boris Yeltsin over the peace deal in Chechnya.


Most recently, there was the decision to deal rather than grandstand over the budget -- the one area in which the Duma has real leverage over the


government -- and to pass it by a comfortable margin Sunday.


Podberyozkin is not having everything his own way, however. He is being fiercely resisted by more orthodox Communists who believe that it is the job of the party to overthrow the government, not work hand in glove with it.


And that resistance is not confined to the party's radical fringe. Even Valentin Kuptsov, No. 2 in the party leadership, wears his dislike for Podberyozkin and his policies on his sleeve.


"I have told him more than once that he shouldn't interfere in the internal affairs of the party," was Kuptsov's testy reaction Tuesday when he heard Podberyozkin's comments on partnership with the government.


In fact, Podberyozkin is not a Communist Party member. But his Spiritual Heritage movement is part of Zyuganov's Union of Patriotic Forces and he has Zyuganov's ear -- which is what counts.


Zyuganov's justification for the conciliatory line he has been taking with the executive bears an uncanny resemblance to Podberyozkin's.


Confrontation is "not our idea of politics," Zyuganov told reporters Monday. "Today we [are looking for] a constructive policy, aimed at taking the country out of its dire straits. No one accepts just screams and criticism." Zyuganov's by-now-ritual invectives against Kremlin chief of staff Anatoly Chubais are increasingly seen as a smokescreen, designed to hide the Communist Party's cozy relations with the executive.


In his office at the Moscow think-tank he founded, Podberyozkin said Tuesday that the policy of cooperation had already forced a change in the government's economic policy.


The Communists are also finding partners in the cabinet, he said, naming Interior Minister Anatoly Kulikov, who was again rumored in an Interfax report Tuesday to be headed for a deputy prime ministership in charge of all security ministries.


Podberyozkin also included Nationalities Minister Vyacheslav Mikhailov and Economics Minister Yevgeny Yasin as "forces with whom we can work." And, said Podberyozkin, that cooperation should be taken further, to include key government posts for Communist deputies, and even a coalition government.


Communist economics guru Yury Maslyukov is already rumored to be in line for a cabinet job, possibly with oversight for government economic strategy.


None of this is new for Podberyozkin. Even before the summer's presidential elections, he was agitating for the creation of a government of national salvation that would make the vote redundant, touting a philosophy of "statism" that crossed ideological boundaries.


However, far from being a fait accompli, this new ideology has become the subject of a bitter battle within the Communist Party.


Teimuraz Avalyani, an outspoken Communist hardliner, will not even hear of cooperation with the Yeltsin administration, and predicts that the party rank-and-file will soon oust Podberyozkin and Zyuganov over the issue.


"Podberyozkin ingratiated his way into the party," said Avalyani. "He is not in it because of ideological convictions but for purely mercenary reasons."


But with Zyuganov's patronage, it is the pragmatists in the opposition coalition that are holding sway, at least for the time being.


According to one legislator who was at Saturday's secret plenum of the Party Central Committee, all 26 speeches from the floor were directed against Podberyozkin. However, Zyuganov put a halt to the criticism by speaking out in support of his adviser.


The result is that with the 149-strong Communist faction toeing the government line in the State Duma, the parliamentary opposition has, to all intents and purposes, ceased to exist.


The Kremlin can already count on the support of the Agrarian faction, Our Home Is Russia, the Russia's Regions group and Vladimir Zhirinovsky's noisy but ultimately compliant LDPR. Allied with the Communists, this creates a total of around 340 pro-government votes


That leaves a puny opposition made up of Grigory Yavlinsky's liberal Yabloko, Sergei Baburin's Power to the People faction and perhaps a handful of Communist rebels -- total strength: under 100 deputies.