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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Luzhkov, All Russia Unite to Court Primakov

Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov, who officially announced the triumphant unification of his Fatherland political movement with the All Russia movement of regional leaders Wednesday, pointedly said a place was left empty on the new bloc's three-member governing body.

The first place was occupied by Luzhkov, and the second by St. Petersburg Governor Vladimir Yakovlev.

It was obvious for whom that third seat was reserved: former Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov, the country's most popular politician and a powerful potential ally.

Primakov, who has responded with sparse statements to recent overtures from Luzhkov, called the creation of the bloc "extremely positive," Interfax reported. He did not say whether he would join it, however.

Primakov has lately signaled that he is inching closer to Luzhkov's political movement. In a recent television interview, Primakov hinted he would be willing to lead a "broad coalition" of governors and other regional political forces.

Luzhkov, who has courted Primakov with near-guarantees of political office if he runs with Fatherland, and All Russia founder Mintimer Shaimiyev unveiled just such a coalition at Wednesday's news conference.

Luzhkov again offered Primakov the top spot on the new bloc's candidate list. That would virtually guarantee him a spot in the next State Duma, parliament's lower house, due to be elected in December, and the post of speaker should the bloc earn the biggest chunk of the proportional representation vote.

Luzhkov said he would give up "any place on the bloc's list in order not to be a hindrance or an insurmountable obstacle," Interfax reported.

As prime minister, Primakov consistently denied any higher political ambitions, while observers took his candidacy for president in 2000 as a given. His candidacy for speaker of the Duma has also been a topic of much speculation.

When he was ousted in May, analysts predicted his popularity would fall rapidly if he stayed off the political stage. But the opposite has happened. In the past three weeks, his approval ratings have shot up as he kept the public guessing. A poll taken in the last week of July by the Public Opinion Foundation put his rating at 19 percent, a jump of six percentage points since he was fired.

That strategy of passive campaigning seems to suit Primakov, who shows little enthusiasm for populist electoral politics.

Using this strategy, he could hold out until late September or early October, when final party lists must be submitted to the Central Election Committee.

A Fatherland spokeswoman said she knew of no tentative date for a decision on the makeup of the Fatherland-All Russia list. When and if Primakov will join the bloc, Luzhkov said Wednesday, "you will find out in good time."

Meanwhile, Primakov and his would-be allies are trying to avoid antagonizing the political force that so far is Luzhkov's biggest opponent: the Kremlin.

President Boris Yeltsin's administration has fought a pitched battle on the air and in print with Vladimir Gusinsky, a media and financial mogul who is a key ally of the Moscow mayor. A former head of Gusinsky's Media-MOST holding, Sergei Zverev, who was fired Tuesday from the Kremlin administration, said the administration was imposing censorship on rebellious media and considering a countrywide state of emergency. Many observers consider those signs the Kremlin would like to manipulate, or even cancel, upcoming elections.

Tatar President Shamiyev rushed to Yeltsin's country residence at Gorki-9 at 8 a.m. Wednesday to discuss the new bloc with the president. Shaimiyev said Yeltsin was "not daunted" by the new political force, Itar-Tass reported.

Primakov, who as prime minister irritated Yeltsin with his independence, said he was pleased with the bloc because it "is not and should not be anti-presidential," Interfax reported.

Public figures, from controversial Primorye Governor Yevgeny Nazdratenko to pop diva Alla Pugachyova, offered enthusiastic praise for the new bloc.

"I welcome this union," Pugachyova said at a news conference, Interfax reported. She said she was "friendly" with Luzhkov and "delighted by many of his actions," adding that she was counting on Primakov joining up with the mayor.