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Analysis: Russian Communist Party Coup Strikes On Eve Of Congress

Communist Party Chairman Zyuganov (file photo) By Julie Corwin

Not one, but two Communist Party plenums took place in Moscow on 1 July, just two days before the party's 10th congress. The first, convened by a faction within the party that opposes current party leader Gennadii Zyuganov, voted him out and elected in his place Ivanovo Governor Vladimir Tikhonov, Russian news agencies reported. Meanwhile, elsewhere in Moscow, Zyuganov's supporters convened a second plenum at which Zyuganov said that only the presidium of the party's Central Committee can convene a plenum, and "they are all here," "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 2 July. Even Tikhonov himself acknowledged in comments to RBK that only a party congress can elect a new Central Committee and a new party chairman.

Zyuganov had been on track for a smooth reelection on 3 July. The majority of the delegates selected for the 10th congress had already expressed their support for Zyuganov, who has headed the party since February 1993. Now the possibility exists that two congresses will take place and the party that dominated the State Duma in the last decade will be split in two, "Kommersant-Daily" concluded on 2 July.

In March, Zyuganov let it be known that he would decline to be renominated at the July congress, clearing the way for someone younger. One month later, however, he changed his mind. Among the various explanations suggested for his change of heart, two were most prominent, "Rodnaya gazeta," No. 16, reported. One was that presidential administration told him not to let go of the reins. Another was he never intended to resign anyway, and that his hints were just a ploy designed to consolidate the support of his backers.
It is not hard to guess which side the Kremlin prefers in the struggle between the two factions. Semigin has frequently been accused of being a Kremlin "mole."

Whatever the reason, Zyuganov, who turned 60 last week, currently shows no signs of wishing to retire. At the same time, his long-time rival, State Duma Deputy Gennadii Semigin, demonstrated by organizing the alternative plenum on 1 July that he too is unwilling to give up, despite his ouster from the party in May. Last year, when the party gathered barely half the amount of votes in the State Duma election that it had in the previous race in 1999, deputy presidential-administration head Vladislav Surkov declared the "end" of the Communist Party, "Kommersant-Daily" recalled, noting that it is not hard to guess which side the Kremlin prefers in the struggle between the two factions. Semigin has frequently been accused of being a Kremlin "mole."

Meanwhile, the timing of the coup against Zyuganov could not be more opportune from the perspective of the government, which is trying to push through a social-benefits reform that the Communist Party and its electorate strongly oppose. Preoccupied with its own leadership struggles, the party will hardly be in a position to organize nationwide protests.