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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Regions Wait With Hands Out for Luzhkov

YAROSLAVL, Central Russia -- At 8 in the morning, outside the half-built shell of a modern hockey stadium, Vladimir Golov, deputy mayor of this poor but historic town, paces nervously, waiting for Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov.

Golov's problem is that his city owes Luzhkov money. It borrowed $8.4 million last year to help finish the $80-million venue for the World Ice Hockey Championships it will host in the year 2000. But the stadium is still not finished and Yaroslavl cannot repay.

"We want money from Yury Mikhailovich," Golov says with a smile, soon before Luzhkov's inspection tour arrives. "We would agree to anything. We just want the arena to be finished."

The ties that bind Golov to Luzhkov were typical of those of most of the 800 delegates who turned up here over the weekend for the second national congress of Otechestvo, Luzhkov's new political party. The bonds are very direct and usually financial.

Here and all across Russia, Luzhkov is using the city of Moscow's wealth and power to buy influence. He is positioning his party to run in State Duma elections in December and perhaps himself for a bid at the presidency next year.

Not surprisingly, both the city and regional governments of Yaroslavl are enthusiastic supporters of Luzhkov and Otechestvo.

While the party congress produced a smorgasbord of populist ideologies, the real glue that keeps the party together is the help Luzhkov provides to his loyal allies. It is an expensive strategy for Moscow taxpayers but it could put Luzhkov in the Kremlin.

Luzhkov scored a coup just before the congress, concluding an electoral alliance with All Russia, a key movement of leaders of Russia's national republics and many regional governors.

He has also recently been talking with President Boris Yeltsin in a manner that looks ominous for Russia's increasingly vulnerable Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov.

In his keynote speech at the congress, Luzhkov gave guarded support to Primakov but also hinted he wanted something in return. "We want our representatives to take over key high positions in the executive branch of the government," Luzhkov said.

If Otechestvo wins, it will also be thanks to Luzhkov's style as a campaigner, which was on display in the elaborately stage-managed swoop through Yaroslavl. Arriving on a train plastered with giant Otechestvo logos, Luzhkov said he had brought his comrades to this leafy Russian town overlooking the Volga River as a symbol that his was not a "Party of the Garden Ring."

This sort of rhetoric is crucial for Luzhkov's campaign since his biggest handicap in the provinces is his image as a fat cat from the capital. But donning his trademark leather cap and stepping off into a tight circle of Yaroslavl's elite, Luzhkov dismissed this image with a flourish. "We want to solve problems for all Russia and not just for the capital," he said.

After his trademark tour of the hockey construction site, Luzhkov attended a day of speeches, which repeated his usual themes: strong government, personal liberty, economic opportunities, patriotism, a new policy towards the West, common sense policies, low taxes, support for industry, protection for the poor, a green light for business, overturning of "semi-criminal privatization."

And - first and foremost - the strong and helping hand of Luzhkov.

In fact, the movement's "main trouble" so far, admitted Otechestvo head ideologist Alexander Vladislavlev, is the wide spread of political views of people rushing to come under Luzhkov's wing.

"The basis of the Otechestvo philosophy is not ideological, but pragmatic," said the deputy head of Otechestvo's campaign headquarters, Yevgeny Savostyanov, a former deputy head of the presidential administration.

Luzhkov is the man who will deliver you what you want. That was the main message coming from the movement's political program and Otechestvo spin-doctors.

"We did it in Moscow. We will do it in the whole of Russia!" promised Luzhkov from the podium to the applause of the crowd of 800 delegates and more then 200 guests and reporters.

Even the workers of the Yaroslavl museum, where the congress was held, were offered the mayor's largesse. Otechestvo party workers offered to paint the museum's dowdy facade for the occasion, a trick Luzhkov has often used to create an upbeat feel in Moscow. The museum declined the offer, however, saying they needed major renovation, not just a facelift.

Luzhkov occasionally expects something in return for his favors. As Otechestvo delegates filed in, they passed several sparkling new cars produced by the Moskvich automobile factory. Moskvich is one of Luzhkov's pet industrial pet projects, but its cars do not sell. Delegates were being offered a none too subtle sales pitch.

Mostly however Luzhkov is the giver and delegates the receivers. Rybinskiye Motory, an engine factory based in Yaroslavl region, knocked on Luzhkov's door to get a defense contract to manufacture a new jet engine. The plant's director became a member of Otechestvo's Central Council and the factory is now about to sign the deal. "Luzhkov was the one who, in the end, made the decision,"said Alexander Miklin, a spokesman for Yaroslavl's governor.