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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Hard Times Make Friends of Old Foes




Just a few days ago, few could imagine Yevgeny Primakov, Sergei Kiriyenko and Grigory Yavlinsky standing together in front of television cameras and announcing they had formed a coalition.


But that was the picture Wednesday as Fatherland-All Russia, Union of Right Forces and Yabloko continued their boycott of the State Duma and vowed to coordinate political strategy among their factions.


"We intend to coordinate our work in the area of legislation and in other areas with the goal of making the decision-making process in the Duma democratic and canceling the discriminatory measures in regard to the parliamentary minority and in regard to independent deputies," Primakov, head of the Fatherland-All Russia faction, announced when the three emerged after almost two hours of consultations.


The three factions had walked out of the Duma in protest Tuesday after being left out in the cold when the pro-government Unity party cut a deal with the Communists to elect a Communist speaker and divide up most of the committee posts among themselves.


"Our position was clear and simple: Either a package agreement takes into account the interests of all factions - and 20 million people voted for us, thank God - or there is no package agreement," Kiriyenko said.


Primakov said the factions would decide together when to begin attending Duma sessions again, but he emphasized that they would remain independent, simply coordinating their positions on "issues of principle."


Later in the day, the 99 seats belonging to the three factions were conspicuously empty as the 441-member Duma met to vote on the committee posts, which they had divided up the day before.


That agreement gave nine committees to the Communists and seven to Unity. People's Deputy, Unity's satellite faction, was handed five committees, including international affairs and defense.


The Agro-Industrial Group received the agriculture committee but failed to come up with a suitable chairman for the nationalities committee, which they were also supposed to take under the deal.


Under the plan, the Right Forces and Fatherland-All Russia were given only one committee each, but they have refused to take them in protest of the overall plan. Yabloko was to get no committees.


A fourth faction, Russia's Regions, also turned down the one committee post reserved for them. Although they attended Wednesday's Duma session, many of them had walked out Tuesday.


Faction head Oleg Morozov attended the morning's consultations among the opposition factions, but he left early, saying he was not part of the opposition coalition, "but that doesn't close any possibilities."


At the Duma session, Morozov urged the deputies to take the committees off the agenda until further consultations with all factions, but this proposal was rejected.


Kiriyenko said the three opposition factions would form working groups to coordinate legislative initiatives and participate in the lawmaking process without working in the committees.


Both sides in the conflict seemed willing to compromise. Duma speaker Gennady Seleznyov said he would meet with each faction head separately and was confident they would reach a compromise.


"I think all the factions will be here next Wednesday [at the next session]," he said.


He met privately with Primakov in the evening, Itar-Tass said. By the end of the day he also had met with Morozov and Yavlinsky, who characterized the talks as fruitless, Interfax reported.


But while Yavlinsky is famous for his unwillingness to compromise, the other factions may be easier to win over.


Right Forces member Yuly Rybakov said the Kremlin, which stands behind Unity, could still fix the situation this week. Next week would be too late, he said.


Despite their dislike of the Communists, the Right Forces are upset not with Seleznyov becoming speaker, but with "everything taken together," Rybakov said in an interview. "This is a violation of a principle of accord that was agreed upon earlier - that posts should be divided among factions according to their weight and their professional interests."


Alexander Shokhin, a member of People's Deputy, criticized the rebel factions for boycotting but said acting President Vladimir Putin needed to smooth things over with them.


"The Duma will not be functional [without the boycotters]. It can't pass constitutional acts requiring a two-thirds vote. And there is no majority in the Duma on issues of content. There is a majority only on organizational questions," he said.


One theory about the Kremlin's motivation for wooing the Communists is that the presidential administration wants to shut out its arch-enemy Primakov. If Unity had not cooperated with the Communists, the latter might have supported Primakov for speaker.


Primakov, who pledged to run for president on the eve of the Duma elections, was officially nominated Wednesday for the post by the little-known Union of Centrist Forces. But Primakov said that the nomination was "not binding" for him.


Right Forces member Rybakov said Unity's alliance with the Communists was the work of those members of the presidential administration allied with tycoon Boris Berezovsky, himself a Duma deputy.


Though not a member of Unity, Berezovsky has acknowledged that the party was his brainchild. Berezovsky is widely believed to have an ongoing conflict with another Kremlin insider, Anatoly Chubais. Chubais is the chief ideologue of the Right Forces, so the events in the Duma may reflect the internal power struggle in the Kremlin.


Many believe that Berezovsky is directly responsible for the Unity-Communist deal. On Tuesday, Berezovsky met with Communist leaders. He told journalists that as a deputy from Karachayevo-Cherkessia, where "there are Communists," it was his duty to do so.


But the alliance of the two biggest factions may simply be a marriage of convenience that will break up now that the positions are distributed.


"I have my own opinion on the longevity of the Communists' alliance with Unity," Kiriyenko told journalists. "I want to see how this alliance votes on START II. I want to see how this alliance votes on tax laws. I want to see how it votes on property issues."


But the alienation of the Right Forces, previously a staunchly pro-Putin party, could be permanent if the damage is not quickly repaired. The faction will decide by Monday at the latest whether to support Putin's presidential bid as had previously been planned, Rybakov said.


Konstantin Titov, the governor of the Saratov region and a Right Forces member, has announced his candidacy. Rybakov said many faction members had already declared their support for him.


At the boycotted Duma session, the members present elected deputy speakers in addition to committee heads.


As planned, they elected Unity member Lyubov Sliska to the post of first deputy speaker and one deputy speaker from each remaining faction.


Pyotr Romanov was elected from the Communists, Gennady Semigin from the Agro-Industrial Group and Vladimir Averchenko from People's Deputy. Russia's Regions' Morozov said his faction would meet later to choose its nominee.


The Liberal Democratic Party - which ran as the Zhirinovsky bloc but adopted its traditional name for its Duma faction - chose Vladimir Zhirinovsky as its speaker, and he was duly approved by the house.


To the amusement of the journalists looking on, Zhirinovsky announced that his son, Igor Lebedev, would replace him as faction leader.