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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Communists Bow to Budget Pressure




"The budget is bad, it must be approved" goes the current mantra of the Communists in the State Duma. And it will be approved, in a final reading Feb. 4.


In recent years, the Communists have blasted the budget, but the ending to the yearly saga was always the same: It was approved, sometimes with a fireworks display of threats and compromises. But the Communists - the historical opposition to the governments under President Boris Yeltsin - have never forced a showdown.


The budget for 1999 was approved on the second of four readings on Tuesday by a vote of 296 to 54, with five abstentions. In the Communist faction, five voted against - a figure that will drop when it comes time to approve the whole budget. In recent years, at least 15 or 20 voted against on the final ballot, said Communist whip Sergei Reshulsky.


This year, even though the budget is condemned across the board as financial fiction for its economic predictions, and pet Communist interests have never been so underfunded, the process of Communist surrender to the government is more peaceful than ever.


"The only difference in their position this year is that they will support any, any government proposal on the budget at all," said Sergei Ivanenko, deputy head of the liberal Yabloko Duma faction.


But even Ivanenko, whose faction has a bitter rivalry with the Communists, says it makes sense this year for the Communists to quietly give in.


They face a brutal choice. They can break the budget to serve their interests, abandoning a government they helped install and scaring off international lending institutions whose cash they are counting on. Or they can take a deep breath and put on a show of approving an austerity budget they bitterly refer to as a "budget of survival."


The total figure is tiny - a mere $22 billion - and since a huge percentage of it will go to servicing Russia's internal and external debts, there is little to haggle over. The government has budgeted $9.5 billion for debt servicing this year.


"We could break the government," Communist Deputy Leonid Kanayev, a former factory director from Ryazan, boasted Thursday. "We could force the government to give more for education and culture and so on. We could create a budget deficit. But if we did this, the ruble would be worth not 21.5 rubles but 30 rubles" to the dollar. ... "We must explain to the voters why we don't stand up for this more firmly."


Kanayev has voted against the budget twice now. He says he will vote against it again - and on the final reading he will vote to approve.


Reasons for the Communists' failure as an opposition party this year can also be found in the White House: Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov is the Communists' man. But more importantly, when the Duma approved him (on a 300-majority vote) he took along top Communist economic adviser Yury Maslyukov, then a Duma deputy, now first deputy prime minister in charge of the economy.


Now, to oppose Maslyukov's budget would be to oppose one of their own. And Maslyukov, who has acted as the government's wedge in the Duma on more than one occasion, is largely responsible for the faction's acquiescence to IMF demands for a budget.


"The very presence of Maslyukov was enough to convince the Communists," said political analyst Boris Kagarlitsky, adding that the former head of the Soviet state planning agency is increasingly accepting the IMF's authority.