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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Glazyev Opts for Hara-Kiri

Russia has a curious tradition of public political suicide during the State Duma campaign -- a sort of ritual sacrifice on the altar of managed democracy.

The politician who snuffs it is always extremely popular with the voters and seems a good bet to run for president. In theory, success in the parliamentary election -- held just before the start of the presidential campaign -- would provide the potential candidate with momentum, exposure and a broad base of support. This requires that he run for the Duma at the head of his own party list. The benefits of a strong showing in the parliamentary ballot are relative, however, while a poor showing closes the book on the candidate's presidential aspirations. The politician invariably cobbles together a party list that stands no chance of success and compromises him in the eyes of his own supporters.

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In 1995, the role of sacrificial lamb fell to Alexander Lebed. Russia's most popular politician at the time, Lebed allied himself with the marginal Congress of Russian Communities, whose party list was a non-starter at the polls. In 1999, Yevgeny Primakov went down the same path, heading the list of Fatherland-All Russia. The coalition comfortably cleared the 5 percent barrier for representation in the Duma, but it failed to win an expected majority. By joining forces with a coalition of regional bosses, Primakov's reputation for independence suffered. As a result, the 80 percent approval rating he enjoyed after Boris Yeltsin fired him as prime minister dwindled to almost nothing.

This year it is the turn of left-leaning economist Sergei Glazyev. Like his predecessors, Glazyev is running atop a party list that not only stands no chance of success, it actually serves to discredit him. This is a strange breed of opposition, filled with Kremlin loyalists such as Dmitry Rogozin, the hawkish chairman of the Duma's foreign affairs committee. Even more surprising is the inclusion of Alexander Dugin, formerly Eduard Limonov's deputy in the National Bolshevik Party, and subsequently founder of the "radical centrist" Eurasia party. Dugin's presence will no doubt help to pull in the far-right nationalist vote, but it will probably scare off everyone else. Glazyev's list contains a number of respectable figures, from Vyacheslav Igrunov to Viktor Gerashchenko, but they will not be able to save this sinking ship. By signing on, they have merely agreed to share Glazyev's political fate. The Kremlin couldn't have hoped for a better turn of events. When the dust settles, Putin will be left to face and defeat the Communists one-on-one.

Why do such popular politicians choose to commit political suicide just when they seem poised to take their careers to the next level? Lebed may have simply miscalculated. Primakov may have overestimated his partners' ability to harness the power of the government machine. But Glazyev can have no such illusions.

Why has he chosen a course of action that obviously leads to his own ruin? For one thing, all three of our heroes have been politically independent. This explains their popularity with voters fed up with the corrupt ruling elite and disillusioned by an opposition that is simply out of touch. Our heroes, however, all viewed their independence as a source of weakness. The hard work of forming their own political base proved too much for them, and they opted instead to rely on ready-made alternatives and forfeited their authority as a result.

There is also a second reason, which in Glazyev's case is even more important than the first. The opposition in Russia doesn't make a move without the Kremlin's permission. If the presidential administration wants Rogozin to run on Glazyev's party list, and it wants PR adviser Marat Gelman to keep an eye on things, Glazyev is stuck with them. And if the result of the Kremlin's efforts is that Glazyev's bloc fails to win representation in the Duma, its leader will have to content himself with a single-mandate seat and still thank the Kremlin for its efforts.

Society placed its hopes in people like Lebed, Primakov and Glazyev because it believed they were capable of throwing down a challenge to the ruling elite. People expected new ideas. But each time, the public has been deceived, and has punished the deceiver by consigning him to political oblivion.

Glazyev knows the story of his predecessors all too well, but he decided to follow in their footsteps anyway. So it goes. History repeats itself. But when Lebed and Primakov took their political lives, it was a tragedy. Glazyev's decision to join them is the stuff of low farce.

Boris Kagarlitsky is director of the Institute of Globalization Studies.