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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

New Campaign Game

Russian political leaders are concentrating their forces before the presidential elections. The registration of 49 action committees with the Central Election Committee revealed most of the candidates who would come forward. For the time being, however, there are basically only four candidates: President Boris Yeltsin, Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov, LDPR leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky and Yabloko leader Grigory Yavlinsky. It is still not clear what Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin's role will be. Among the other probable candidates of interest are retired general Alexander Lebed and possibly Workers' Self Government leader Svyatoslav Fyodorov.

In January, Yeltsin outlined the shape the course of reform would take. However, it will not be easy to adapt his populist rhetoric to the real results of reform. His pre-election campaign has begun. The dismissal of high-level officials from the government had been decided on earlier, so the Duma elections were merely a means of carrying them out.

It now appears that the pressures exerted on the president by members of his circle have had more of an effect than any wavering on his part. The team of top presidential aide Viktor Ilyushin and Yeltsin's chief bodyguard, Alexander Korzhakov, have closed ranks, forgotten the dangers of internal strife, and begun to gather around themselves the necessary resources -- above all, political personnel. The series of dismissals and nominations of officials to both clear and shady positions in January is essential for understanding the coming six months.

Former chief of staff Sergei Filatov, foreign minister Andrei Kozyrev and deputy prime minister Anatoly Chubais have been replaced by Nikolai Yegorov, Yevgeny Primakov and Viktor Kadannikov, respectively. The director of the Russian Archive, Rudolf Pikhoi, also resigned, despite the fact that his wife headed a group of speechwriters for the president. This coincided with the voluntary withdrawal of Yegor Gaidar, Sergei Kovalyov and Otto Latsis from the presidential council.

How the new Yeltsin team will collaborate can be laid out as follows: Viktor Ilyushin will head the presidential aides; Alexander Korzhakov will be responsible for mobilizing people throughout the country; Oleg Soskovets will be in charge of contacts with industry, especially with the defense industry; and Yury Luzhkov will deal with the construction industry and the city of Moscow. Filatov will take care of the "ideological work," particularly among the intelligentsia. But Filatov's role is not well defined. He might be charged with the special task of uniting various political forces, including Gaidar and Yavlinsky. His weak position, together with the recent steps of Gaidar and others against Yeltsin, however, signal a schism between members currently in the president's circle, who are near to him personally -- such as Ilyushin and Korzhakov -- and former members of that circle, for whom the idea of a reformist presidency is more important.

It is not surprising that some democrats such as Galina Starovoitova are looking to Chernomyrdin to carry out such reformist ideas, since Yavlinsky has sown discord among the reformers. Chernomyrdin is seen as a potential presidential candidate despite the fact that he has not yet stood for election or, if he did run, could withdraw his candidacy at the last moment in support of Yeltsin.

When government officials began to be dismissed in January, the prime minister said that these dismissals were not tied to the results of the December elections. This statement was not much noticed at the time, but now it is clear what was meant. Both Soskovets and Kadannikov are seen as potential successors to Chernomyrdin, whose control over the government has been seriously weakened. It is conceivable that the prime minister will be forced to take a leave of absence to reconcile the interests of various groups around Yeltsin.

Unlike Chernomyrdin's "party of power," which for the time being is acting as a wedge between various figures associated with the president and putting its hopes on one person, the opposition chose a tactic that was more all-encompassing. The plan is for all, including Aman Tuleyev, who will campaign for the election, to rally their supporters around one candidate to win in the first round. However, as the second part of January showed, a change in this tactic should not yet be ruled out given Zyuganov's clear ambition to set himself above all the other political leaders of the left. In such circumstances, much will depend on how firm a hold Zyuganov has on the party and, more generally, how much support he has among the opposition electorate. On the other hand, the maneuvering of the executive authorities will also play a part.

Against this background, the attempts to increase Zhirinovsky's popularity among the electorate are curious. The LDPR leader's own strategy has been to give his election campaign a festive and carnival-like atmosphere. He will be relying on his charisma and rhetoric about the "defense of people who are deprived of their fair share."

The campaign strategy of the president is determined by three factors. It is important that Yeltsin 1) enter the second round of elections; 2) pair himself off against a candidate whom he can easily beat, and 3) avoid running against Zyuganov. Among the likely candidates, the optimal rival for Yeltsin in the second round would be Zhirinovsky. There have already been hints that Our Home Is Russia had been cooperating with the LDPR during the elections of the new speaker to the State Duma, when Zhirinovsky was unexpectedly allowed to appear on the television station ORT on the same program, "Vremya," as the Our Home leader Sergei Belyayev, in order to express his views in opposition to the Communist candidate. It should not be ruled out that pro-government forces will try to engage in a similar game of cooperation.

Dmitry Olshansky is director of the Center of Strategic Analysis and Forecasts. He contributed this comment to The Moscow Times.