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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Huddling Reds Sound Pessimistic

Gennady Zyuganov's election team went into a huddle Tuesday to work out a new strategy for the presidential campaign after Alexander Lebed joined forces with the competition, while the Communist Party leader himself seemed almost defeatist.

When buttonholed at the State Duma on Tuesday morning, Zyuganov talked of compromise rather than victory in a way that suggested he already doubted his chances of winning the coming second-round vote.

"[We are] prepared for immediate negotiations between presidential candidates and the authorities to discuss the situation and find a way out through compromises and dialogues," Interfax reported Zyuganov as saying.

"I am backed by a huge bloc of popular-patriotic forces and 25 million voters, which means that every responsible politician in this country, starting with the president and not to mention the secretary of the Security Council and members of government, understands this and will speak to us."

According to the latest, still unofficial, tallies, Zyuganov picked up 31.96 percent of the party officials by surprise.

The Communists had publicly announced they would meet Tuesday with Lebed, and Agrarian Party chief Mikhail Lapshin, among others, had hinted Zyuganov would offer Lebed the post of prime minister in return for his support. Lebed apparently stood them up.

Zyuganov said Tuesday he would nevertheless continue to court Lebed. Indeed, the retired army general told NTV Independent Television he would meet Zyuganov on Wednesday. But, he said, he had "chosen my path" and would not accept any Communist offers.

Zyuganov remained hopeful Tuesday of swaying him. "I don't think it's too late," he said.

Although it is not clear if or for whom Lebed's supporters will vote, his defection to the opposition is bad news for Zyuganov. Lebed got 14.7 percent of the vote and liberal economist Grigory Yavlinsky 7.41 percent. If even a portion of these voters go to the polls in the second round and vote for Yeltsin, his chances look much improved.Yavlinsky made it quite clear Tuesday that he would not support Zyuganov in the second round. "There can be no doubt about it," he said at a press conference.

This leaves only the wildcard ultranationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky, who won 5.76 percent of the vote, for Zyuganov to court.

How the Zyuganov campaign will respond to the new developments, however, was not clear by Tuesday evening.

Zyuganov led a closed-door meeting of the Communist Party's Duma faction in the morning, after which Nikolai Ryzhkov, a former Soviet prime minister and top ally, summoned an evening meeting of Zyuganov's Peoples Patriotic Bloc to be held at a top secret location.

Alexei Podberyozoin, the head of Spiritual Heritage, a nationalist organization that handles much of Zyuganov's campaigning, said in a telephone interview that Zyuganov's team would announce its runoff strategy Wednesday. He declined to comment further.

Zyuganov's vague talk of compromise echoed efforts spearheaded by Podberyozkin earlier in the election campaign to strike a deal ahead of the vote that would at least undermine the importance of the elections, on grounds that they are too divisive for society.

Alexander Korzhakov, Yeltsin's chief of Kremlin security, was the first to suggest such a power-sharing deal with the Communists, vigorously supported by Podberyozkin and by 13 bankers and businessmen who wrote a widely published open letter on the subject in April.

While Lebed's decision to join Yeltsin clearly had Zyuganov's campaign team flumoxed, they also dismissed its importance, echoing the opinion of many analysts that where Lebed goes, his voters will not necessarily follow.

"The main thing is that the uncertainty is ended, and we shall waste no time on negotiations with Lebed," Viktor Ilyukhin, a leading Communist and the chairman of the Duma's security committee, told Interfax.

"We shall get the votes of those in the general's electorate for whom his union with President Yeltsin is unacceptable," Ilyukhin said.

When asked if he thought Lebed's electorate would follow him in backing Yeltsin, Zyuganov had said sarcastically, "I'm afraid not."

He was cautious on criticizing the general, however, noting only that Lebed had portrayed himself as an alternative to Yeltsin during the campaign.

Other top Communists made up for Zyuganov's reserve. "Lebed is finished as a politician," Duma Speaker Gennady Seleznyov told Interfax.

"There is no party or mass organization behind Lebed. He only has his name. His rise in the elections is a phenomenon that occurs once every three years: The same happened with Zhirinovsky in 1993," Seleznyov said.

Ilyukhin was still more damning. Interfax quoted him as saying Lebed might "repeat the destiny of Russia's former vice president, Alexander Rutskoi, who also began by combating crime, then monitored farming and ended his career in prison."

Korzhakov and Podberyozkin both have strong ties to the security services, and both have the ears of their bosses.