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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

NEWS ANALYSIS: Deal Puts Power In Putin's Hands




By forming a tactical alliance with the Communists to elect Gennady Seleznyov speaker of the State Duma, acting President Vladimir Putin appears to have won substantial control of the lower house of parliament.


He did pay a price by annoying some of his supporters - but not a big one.


The deal between the pro-Putin Unity bloc and the Communists resulted in a noisy walkout by some of Putin's allies, especially the Union of Right Forces, which joined Yabloko, Fatherland-All Russia and some of Russia's Regions in protest.


The four blocs have refused, so far, to take any committee or leadership posts in the Duma. In particular, the liberals from the Union of Right Forces said they might withdraw their support from Putin for president, which could cost the front-runner votes in the March 26 election.


But, given Putin's unprecedented high ratings, control of the Duma might be worth it. In Seleznyov, he gets a speaker who has proved amenable to compromise and generally friendly to the Kremlin.


Meanwhile, Unity and the People's Deputy group, which is also seen as loyal to the Kremlin, more than just got choice committee chairmanships from their deal with the Communists. They are also positioned to form alliances that would be politically expedient for the Kremlin at any given moment, political analysts said Wednesday.


For instance, one day they could join with the Communists and on another with liberals in the Union of Right Forces and Yabloko, who have nowhere else to turn despite their annoyance at being left out of the deal between the Communists and the Kremlin.


"Seleznyov definitely suits Putin and the Kremlin," said Yevgeny Volk, director of the Heritage Foundation's Moscow office. "He is a known, tamed person who is on a short leash. What is most important, he is not a competitor for Putin in the presidential election."


Preventing former Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov, leader of the Fatherland-All Russia faction, from emerging as a compromise candidate for speaker was the chief goal for the Kremlin, which views Fatherland-All Russia as an arch-enemy, Volk said.


If Primakov had become speaker, he could have presented a serious challenge to the Kremlin whether or not he later used the post as a platform for a presidential bid.


The Communists, in turn, present less of a concern for the Kremlin. Zyuganov is almost certain to come second in the presidential race and is even useful to the Kremlin by legitimizing the election as a substantial challenger who nonetheless has little chance of winning.


At the same time, by making a deal with the Kremlin, the Communists have further eroded their opposition image. "The Communists have swallowed the bait," Yury Korgunyuk of the INDEM political research group said.


It will be much more difficult for them now to form an alliance with Fatherland-All Russia against the Kremlin. They will also have to be cautious in their behavior because the Kremlin can always threaten to reverse the deal, under which the Communists got a generous nine committee chairmanships.


Korgunyuk said the current Duma would be similar to Russia's pre-revolutionary third and fourth Dumas, where the largest faction, the centrist Octobrists, made alliances with both right and left wings depending on the issue.


Unity's faction leader, Boris Gryzlov, put it in almost the same terms Wednesday. "The first step is done toward creating a two- or three-party system," Gryzlov said. "We understood yesterday that there is the left, there is the center and perhaps there is the right."


One of the side effects of Tuesday's coup, perhaps not anticipated by the Kremlin, was the consolidation of minority factions such as Yabloko, which walked out of the session and protested loudly against what it considered the neglect of its rights in distributing committee and leadership assignments.


But how much of a united front they would be able to present remains in question. "So far, their consolidation is only that they walked out together," Korgunyuk said of the four groups. "Each of them have their own corporate interests."


None of the analysts interviewed Wednesday questioned the fact that Putin was behind Unity's deal with the Communists. But the alliance appears to be tactical rather than strategic. Only votes on concrete bills will show the true alliances in the Duma, and those are likely to shift.


As for the walkout of the opposition factions, it was a necessary move to be heard and be able to raise their bargaining position in the Duma. "If they had swallowed their second-class role in the Duma, they would have fixed their subordinate position," Volk said. "The walkout scandal was vital for their political survival."


The Duma reserved four committee chairmanships for the protesters Wednesday, including such influential ones as the finance and legislation committees - with more bargaining on the way.