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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Luzhkov, Primakov in 'Good Mood'




Their joint appearance was scheduled and postponed several times as the disappointing elections results trickled in.


It was not until well past midnight Sunday that Fatherland-All Russia's numbers started climbing out of the single-digit cellar, and the two leaders of the Fatherland-All Russia bloc - Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov, dressed in a casual yellow corduroy shirt and roomy black sweater, and former Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov, clad in an immaculate gray suit - appeared at their campaign headquarters to face defeat in public.


Having started as the front-runner, expected to score well over 20 percent of the vote and perhaps get the largest bloc of seats in the State Duma, Fatherland-All Russia wilted under a ferocious Kremlin propaganda assault on state television, aimed mainly at Luzhkov.


The war in Chechnya boosted the government's floundering fortunes. The public, which had made Primakov the highest rated politician in the country after his eight months as prime minister, found a new hero, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.


Primakov and Luzhkov, who presented themselves as pragmatic, experienced leaders, were stuck with an unwanted image as outsiders and oppositionists.


In the end, the Kremlin's success on the battlefield and at media manipulation left Fatherland-All Russia with 12.6 percent of the vote. It was the Communists who led with 24.2, closely followed by pro-Kremlin Unity with 23.4 percent. Fatherland-All Russia will probably be the third largest group in the Duma, with some 65 to 70 seats.


For a while Sunday, it looked like Fatherland-All Russia might not even finish third, as the party lagged badly in early returns.


"We are in a very good mood," Primakov said, sounding a far cry from his usual witty and alert self, pointing to the 71 percent victory Luzhkov enjoyed in his bid for re-election as Moscow mayor. "We are optimists."


But the mayor's race was a bit beside the point. Fatherland-All Russia was seen as a launching pad for Primakov's presidential drive. Primakov declared he will run for the presidency Friday, on the very last day campaigning was allowed under Russian law. But the poor performance Sunday cannot help Primakov in his presidential quest.


Early on, it looked even worse for Fatherland, with their results at 6 percent with a small share of votes counted.


But that changed when votes came in from Moscow, and from Tatarstan and Bashkortostan, ruled by Luzhkov's coalition partners Mintimer Shaimiyev and Murtaza Rakhimov. According to the preliminary results, 40 percent of Muscovites voted for Fatherland. In Tatarstan, the bloc got 73 percent and in Bashkortostan about 40 percent.


Primakov even lost his cool on the Fatherland-friendly NTV television channel. "Who is the host here?" he snapped at NTV anchor Yevgeny Kiselyov. "What sort of questions are these?"


"I know perfectly well what will pour from your mouth," said the former spymaster, interrupting journalist Yevgenia Albats, author of a book critical of the KGB. "You will talk about the KGB!"


The questions died and silence hung in the air.


Even before the elections, Fatherland-All Russia functionaries were sensing the approaching blow and busied themselves trying to soften it.


"The sole fact that we reached the end of this campaign as a bloc is - by all means - an unquestionable victory," Fatherland official Sergei Yastrzhembsky said three days before the elections. "We were not destroyed. They didn't manage to buy us off or scare us off."


The future of the bloc as a Duma faction was unclear. Bloc officials discounted speculation about an alliance with the Communists to capture the Duma speaker's post as a Kremlin hoax.


But the troubles may just be beginning. The Kremlin may try to break up the group by luring away its members. Boris Kagarlitsky, a political analyst at the Institute of Comparative Political Studies at the Russian Academy of Sciences, said some Fatherland-All Russia deputies will shift to Unity. "Some will do so openly, and some quietly," he said.


"It is apparent that Luzhkov will try to keep Fatherland together, but it is unclear what sort of resources he will have at hand to do so.


"[Fatherland] is a strange animal. They are all nachalniki and they expect to be rewarded," Kagarlitsky said. "Many of them already have better positions than the Duma seats they will get."


Sarah Karush contributed to this report.