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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Clash of Egos Spells Demise of 'Third Force'

Political ambition and colliding egos appeared Wednesday to have undermined the Third Force, a coalition of prominent nationalist politicians, just a week after its existence became public.

"Nothing seems to be coming of it," said Vyacheslav Smirnov, a spokesman for filmmaker, presidential candidate and prominent Third Force member Stanislav Govorukhin. "It was a good idea, but nobody wants to see it happen just because it was a good idea."

In addition to Govorukhin, other leading lights of the Third Force include retired general Alexander Lebed, eye doctor Svyatoslav Fyodorov and former vice president Alexander Rutskoi. Last week, representatives of the four said they would band together and choose one leader and three followers; the followers, so the plan went, would back the leader's presidential candidacy at the expense of their own.

The problem, according to Smirnov, is that no one wants to be a follower.

"Lebed agrees to the Third Force, as long as the Third Force is under Lebed. So I suppose you could call Lebed a Fourth Force," Smirnov quipped bitterly Wednesday afternoon. "Right now Govorukhin and Fyodorov are in a meeting about whether there will be a press conference" -- as scheduled for Thursday to announce the Third Force's official plans.

"It's not clear what they'll decide," Smirnov said. "They don't seem to have much to say."

At Lebed's headquarters -- several sparsely furnished, high-ceilinged rooms with grubby blue office carpeting and no working telephones -- campaign officials said it was only natural Lebed should lead the Third Force. Preferably, added campaign official Serafim Yushkov, a Third Force without Rutskoi.

Asked if Lebed was insisting on leading as a condition for participating, Yushkov said, "Well, of course! Objectively, Lebed is the charismatic leader here. It's obvious. No one else has his drawing power."

Charisma is about all Lebed has left these days. The party that nominated him for the presidency, and which gathered hundreds of thousands of signatures towards the 1 million he needs to be included on the ballot, has all but disowned him -- the result of a long-simmering feud between Lebed and the party's chairman Yury Skokov.

Last week Lebed lost all the signatures gathered for him by the Congress of Russian Communities, as well as all his financing and such party perks as offices, cars and bodyguards.

"We are rebuilding. Don't worry, we'll gather the signatures we need, and we'll get the phones hooked up in this office, and we'll get a vacuum cleaner in here and suck up all this dirt and fuzz off the rug," Yushkov said.

"Negotiations with Govorukhin and Fyodorov, but not Rutskoi, will continue. The idea for a Third Force may have been announced before its time. After April 16 [the deadline for turning in candidates' 1 million signatures] it will be easier to sort things out, because there will be fewer pretenders. Then we may see the Third Force."

Analysts, who have expressed little respect for the Third Force as a political power, said Wednesday they expected it was in its death throes. Nikolai Petrov of the Carnegie Foundation for International Peace said he doubted even as commanding a figure as Lebed could lead such a collection of egos.

"Keeping in mind the love they all have for themselves, it be would hard to imagine them choosing Lebed and all standing aside," Petrov said.

Wheeling and dealing between various political candidates has dominated Russian political life these past weeks. Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov has said he is courting Rutskoi, and plans to meet with Lebed, although Lebed's campaign officials say that's unlikely. Lebed, however, would not mind meeting with Yabloko leader Grigory Yavlinsky, said Yushkov.