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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

'Young Reformers' Link Up With Unity




In one of the more curious developments of the State Duma campaign, the Union of Right Forces of the so-called young reformers is emerging as the youth wing of the Kremlin-created Unity bloc.


"After the Union demonstrated that they had real chances to make the 5 percent barrier, they got the support, although I should say the partial support, of [Prime Minister Vladimir] Putin," said Igor Bunin, director of the Center for Political Technologies.


Putin met earlier this week with Sergei Kiriyenko, a former prime minister and the Union leader. After the meeting, Putin said the Union's program was "a document that needed additional scrupulous work," but "a lot of its points could already be adopted." He said he liked the Union's economic program and its proposals to bring a younger generation of people into power.


So far, according to the polls, six parties are likely to get the 5 percent of the vote necessary to make it into the Duma, parliament's lower house. In addition to Unity and the Union of Right Forces, they are the Communist Party, Fatherland-All Russia, Yabloko and the Zhirinovsky Bloc. Vladimir Zhirinovsky's supporters in the Duma also have tended to support the Kremlin in crucial votes.


Putin has said he will vote for Unity, an announcement that fueled the bloc's meteoric rise in the polls. Union is the second bloc to get his support.


"After they [the Kremlin] brought Unity up to 17 percent in the polls, they decided to make a second bet," Bunin said. "It is not 'the young wing of Unity,' but is simply another part of the coalition they are building up for Putin."


Kommersant, a business daily recently bought by Kremlin-connected tycoon Boris Berezovsky, carried the story about Putin receiving Kiriyenko on the front page Tuesday, accompanied by a large photo of Union's new billboard.


The billboard's slogan, which the paper said had the prime minister's approval, was: "Young Generation. Putin f for President, Kiriyenko f for the Duma. We need the young."


The paper also speculated that it was Anatoly Chubais, the chief of Unified Energy Systems and the main organizer and strategist of the Union of the Right Forces, who arranged the meeting.


Chubais and Berezovsky, two political power brokers, have had falling-outs in the past but seem to come together at election time for the Kremlin's benefit.


All the signs indicate that Berezovsky and Chubais are back in business together again. Berezovsky-controlled ORT television grants generous air time to the Union, while Chubais has said Berezovsky is the best in Russia at generating ideas.


"He also fulfills them in a classy way," Chubais said in a lengthy interview with the Argumenty i Fakty weekly published Wednesday.


Berezovsky is the reported mastermind behind the Unity bloc.


Chubais went on to suggest there should be someone "comparable to Berezovsky" standing by him to sort out his great ideas from the dangerous ones. "So far, there is no such a person," he added.


"It looks like he is offering himself," Bunin said.


Chubais said Kiriyenko would make a good prime minister under a President Putin.


"Kiriyenko and Putin make a good match. Kiriyenko would be responsible for the economy, finance and the market methodology. And Putin would look after security, the power ministries and the matters of the state," Chubais was quoted as saying. He said it was important for leaders "to belong to the same generation and speak the same language." Putin is 47, and Kiriyenko is 37.


Chubais said the problem with Fatherland-All Russia leader Yevgeny Primakov is that, at 70, he is too old: "He is a smart, normal, cultured man, who has seen a lot in his life. But the language is different. It would take a lot of work for him to understand me and for me to understand him."


Kiriyenko f who aside from running for the Duma is challenging Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov, another Fatherland-All Russia leader, in the mayoral race f is up-front about his readiness to ally with the Kremlin's party.


He said Wednesday the Union would like to form a majority in the new Duma with Yabloko and Unity, Interfax reported. He said the blocs were already holding talks. "This majority would be able to provide support for Putin's government and make parliament's work constructive," he said.


Chubais and the Union have supported the Kremlin's war in Chechnya f to the distaste of some of their more liberal supporters. Shortly after the Russian military began bombing Chechnya in late September, Chubais persuaded the federal government to cut off electricity supplies to the republic.


The move only helped the Union's ratings. From about 3 percent in mid-summer, the Union's ratings have climbed to 5 percent, according to the All-Russia Center for Public Opinion Research, or VTsIOM.


Leonid Sedov, a political analyst with VTsIOM, said the Union made a calculated move to tap into the militaristic and "hurrah-patriotic" mood. "The Union is perfectly in tune with their voters' attitudes," he said.


"In the long term, it is a strategic and human mistake on their part," Sedov said, since the bloc has alienated some of its liberal core supporters. "But as far as the math goes, they made some gains."


Sedov said the intermarriage between the tough prime minister and the Union's group of liberal economists has a larger symbolic meaning. "Putin is styling himself as a Pinochet-style leader who runs a police state, but is liberal in economic matters."