Moscow, May 8 (RFE/RL) - The Russian Communist Party is threatening legal action against President Boris Yeltsin to block his courting of military votes in his re-election campaign.
Mikhail Surkov, a member of the party's presidium and deputy chief of the Duma's Defense Committee, yesterday said the Communists will file an inquiry with both the Constitutional Court and the Central Electoral Commission.
Surkov told RFE/RL that "some of our comrades plan to call for Yeltsin's withdrawal."
Opposition candidate for president, Gennady Zyuganov, is leader of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (KPRF), and generally runs ahead of Yeltsin in opinion polls in what is widely regarded as effectively a two-way race.
Surkov talked to RFE/RL in Moscow after a press conference in which he laid out Zyuganov's proposals for military reorganization. He said that Yeltsin "intentionally is violating" laws forbidding political activity within military units.
Russian defense forces comprise 1.7-million ppotential voters - with 4.5-million family members.
Surkov said that Defense Minister Pavel Grachev and the chief of the Defense Ministry's Propaganda and Drill Directorate, Sergei Zdorikov, both Yeltsin appointees, have ordered a veiled campaign for Yeltsin throughout the armed forces. Surkov is himself a former staff member of the Propaganda and Drill Directorate.
While visiting the central Russian city of Yaroslavl last week, Yeltsin openly campaigned at a local military academy. After the academy expressed support for his presidential candidacy, Yeltsin pledged to transfer the equivalent of two-million dollars to the academy's budget.
A senior commander yesterday publicly declared support for Yeltsin. Leontii Kuznetsov, chief of the Moscow Military District, told reporters that Yeltsin has led the country through difficult times. As Kuznetsov put it: "Now, when it's clear that Russia is coming out of crisis, somebody else wants to capitalize on it."
The Defense Ministry's press service Tuesday denied that the armed forces have failed to remain politically neutral. Asked about illegal military politicking, spokesman Ivan Skrylnik said, "There is nothing of the kind."
Vladimir Titov, aide to presidential candidate General Alexander Lebed, told RFE/RL that illegitimate pressure on the military acts to the advantage of Yetsin's opponents. He said that military and other voters have proved in the recent past that they opt for the opposition when pressed too hard to vote for what Titov called "the so-called party of power's candidate."
In the last Duma elections, military voters overwhelming favored Communist, ultra-nationalist or other opposition candidates.
Last week, Surkov announced that Zyuganov plans to set up a special Defense Council to ensure control over the Defense, Foreign and Interior Ministries, the Security Service, and other power ministries. Surkov called for a single body chaired, as he put it, "by the president himself," to oversee and ensure order in everything, from Chechnya to conscription, from food supplies to national security and defense industry matters.