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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

EDITORIAL: Is Kiriyenko For Real, Or Just a Tool?

Sergei Kiriyenko, the former prime minister, has said over the past several days that he will run for Moscow mayor against incumbent Yury Luzhkov, if the elections are held in December as Luzhkov apparently wants them to be. This could be a hopeful sign for Russian democracy, with two prominent politicians contesting the mayoralty of the capital.

That is, of course, if Kiriyenko is really serious about becoming mayor - and not being used as a tool of the Kremlin.

If Kiriyenko's threat to run is simply the act of a politician adrift from the structures of power, looking to find a new political home as a Kremlin ally, then it's just more of Russia's non-ideological struggles for raw power.

In any case, the liberal former oil executive - who is from Nizhny Novgorod - would face an uphill fight. For all his many flaws, Luzhkov bases his power to a considerable degree on public support, not just on economic or bureaucratic structures. He actually builds things that ordinary people understand - like the new freeway exchanges on the Outer Ring Road. He won election in 1996 with more than 90 percent of the vote.

Against that, Kiriyenko would place his own record: five months as prime minister struggling to push through economic reform legislation that, however well intended or needed, was only dimly comprehended by most people. His brief tenure was ended by the government's failure to pay its debts - not the greatest legacy to advertise.

Of course, if Kiriyenko is just a Kremlin stalking horse, the election won't be about issues, but about kompromat. Of course, two can play that game, and undoubtedly would.

It would be too bad if a Kiriyenko challenge turned out to be only a part of the Kremlin administration's effort to undermine the Moscow mayor - because they don't consider him an acceptable successor to Yeltsin as president in 2000. It would be just another war of political clans, in which the broader interests of Muscovites would not exactly be the first consideration.

Kiriyenko currently is a politician without a home. He has kept his fledgling New Force movement aloof from the liberal Right Cause coalition, and unless he hooks up with someone risks become just another of the powerless liberal splinter groups like the ones that botched the 1995 election to the State Duma.

But we wouldn't want to be spoilsports, so we'll give him the benefit of the doubt. It would be quite a spectacle. It's hard to see a walkover as a victory for democracy, either.

At the very least, it would be an instance of the warring clans using elections as their battleground, giving ordinary people a chance to have their say in the fight.