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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

When Push Comes to Shove

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The Unity faction announced Tuesday that it would not support a vote of no confidence in Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov's government. All last week, this vote, and Unity's wavering stand on it, was Russia's lead news item.

Deputies from the Union of Right Forces, Fatherland and the Communist Party — all poorly hiding their confusion — sharply attacked Unity for initially supporting the idea, which transformed the Communists' harmless effort to win political capital through the appearance of opposition into a full-blown parliamentary crisis.

Imagine for yourselves the feelings of people who invested heavily during the last election and received in return a four-year lease on the production of the nation's laws only to learn now that instead of collecting dividends, they are now being asked to invest still more.

From the beginning, Unity leaders emphasized that their stand was not a revolt against the government, but a flanking maneuver against the cocky Communists. It was, I imagine, the first time in history that a secret maneuver received so much open advance billing, which in itself is enough to raise doubts about the sincerity of the announcements.

Unity argued that it is now in a position to garner more votes than it did in December 1999. This is doubtful. I think that the really important point is that Duma elections are now two years off and the presidential election — three.

Parliamentary elections immediately before a presidential vote can be problematic, especially in 2003, when it is likely that our debts will be greater and world energy prices will be lower.

It would be to the Kremlin's advantage to hold the Duma elections now: Even if it ends up with basically the same Duma, it eliminates a major headache in 2003.

That the next Duma will be pro-presidential is a certainty. President Vladimir Putin is equally popular among the people, the oligarchs and the governors, and under these conditions any election will quickly be transformed into a presidential loyalty contest. In Tatarstan and Bashkortostan, for instance, where the populations followed the advice of their local leaders and turned out strongly for Fatherland, voters will be eager to correct their error.

But it is less clear whether Unity will be the party to benefit from this. From the Kremlin's point of view, it would make sense to create not one, but two or three pro-presidential parties. How to do that is just a matter of tactics: In order to create Unity, the Kremlin needed the political genius of Boris Berezovsky, but it will only take a few PR hacks to clone it.

What is still more certain is that the present make-up of the Unity faction will undergo serious changes. When the 1999 campaign began, Fatherland was the heavy favorite. According to my sources, people paid as much as $400,000 for a high place on the Fatherland list, while Unity had a hard time giving its slots away.

Now, however, regional and national forces have coalesced around the Kremlin, and a seat in the Unity ranks will cost a pretty penny indeed.

Paradoxically, then, it was in the Kremlin's interests for Unity to support the no-confidence vote, and it was in the interest of Unity deputies and the party itself to oppose it. It came down to a matter of whether the party's strategic interests could overcome the self-interest of Unity deputies. The vote not to support the motion, then, was certainly a foregone conclusion.

Yulia Latynina is a journalist for ORT.