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Russia: Chernomyrdin Looks For Senators' Support

Moscow, 3 September 1998 (RFE/RL) -- Under fire from the State Duma, Prime Minister-designate Viktor Chernomyrdin is looking for support from regional leaders in the Federation Council, Russia's upper house of parliament. But analysts and politicians are divided over the likelihood of the Council's support ahead of the Duma's second vote on Chernomyrdin's candidacy, scheduled for tomorrow.

Chernomyrdin was rejected in a first of three possible Duma votes. President Boris Yeltsin resubmitted his candidacy, telling visiting U.S. president Bill Clinton that he would "fight for Chernomyrdin's confirmation in the Duma."

Duma politicians, including communist leader Gennady Zyuganov and pro-reform Yabloko leader Grigory Yavlinsky have said that their factions will again vote against Chernomyrdin in tomorrow's vote. The leader of the Russian regions faction, Oleg Morozov, said that many of its deputies, who in the first vote supported Chernomyrdin, are unlikely to do so in the second vote. But, in a sudden reversal of positions, ultra-nationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky today declared his support for Chernomyrdin.

Duma speaker Gennady Seleznyov, a communist, said in a television interview that the Duma "will not approve Chernomyrdin, even if the refusal led to a dissolution of the Duma." If the Duma rejects Chernomyrdin three times, according to the Constitution Yeltsin would have to dissolve the legislature and call parliamentary election within three months.

"Such a scenario would mean a dangerous escalation of the political fight at a moment when anxiety over Russia's financial and economic paralysis is growing and bleak predictions abound" says Nikolai Petrov, a senior associate of the Moscow Carnegie centre.

According to Petrov, "the presidential administration understands that it should not rule out the possibility of switching to another candidate." Petrov said that "the most likely candidate in this case would be Luzhkov. He said Communist leaders support him and also Federation Council Speaker Yegor Stroev "at the moment seems to be putting aside his ambitions, in favor of support for Luzhkov."

In talks with U.S. officials, Yeltsin and Chernomyrdin vowed to keep Russia's economic policy-market oriented and Yeltsin yesterday approved Chernomyrdin's choice of six current ministers for posts in the proposed new cabinet. Chernomyrdin said future negotiations on those positions are to be ruled out and added that he started forming his team because the government "must start working immediately."

The list includes acting deputy Prime Minister Boris Fedorov, who backs strong free-market policies, as well as Defense Minister Igor Sergeev, Interior Minister Sergei Stepashin and Foreign Minister Evegeny Primakov.

Duma leaders have urged Chernomyrdin to withdraw his candidacy voluntarily, to avoid a resounding defeat. But the acting prime minister, saying that the country is "running out of time" and is on the edge of catastrophe, is trying instead to consolidate support from regional leaders who form the Federation Council. This body, however, has no direct mandate on the formation of the new government.

Looking for a political breakthrough, Chernomyrdin yesterday met 20 senators and had telephone conversations with other influential regional bosses, reportedly asking them to lobby Duma deputies to vote in his favor in tomorrow's vote, scheduled for the afternoon.

The daily newspaper "Vremya MN" quoted Samara governor Konstantin Titov as saying that Chernomyrdin needs the support of at least half of the 175 Federation Council members and "there are strong doubts that this will be possible." Another governor, Dmitry Ayatsokov, from Saratov, despite making clear he dislikes Chernomyrdin, predicted that "Yeltsin would stand firm" on his candidate. He added that "if Chernomyrdin comes to the Federation Council with a cabinet already formed, in which regional leaders are included, and shows a way out of the situation, then senators may support him."

According to "Kommersant Daily," the "economic and financial situation in the regions is close to collapse and the governors need someone who can assume total responsibility." The paper argues that Chernomyrdin is willing to do so.

But Seleznyov said that "two thirds of the senators do not support Chernomyrdin."

Russian Political analysts, like the politicians, are divided on the issue. Petrov says that "after two weeks of unfruitful consultations, Chernomyrdin has less and less chances to gather the support he needs from parliament." Sergei Markov, director of the Institute of Political studies, disagrees. "Chernomyrdin's chances to gather senators' support are big," he said.

Luzhkov and the communists have recently been involved in little publicized negotiations. Luzhkov and Zyuganov reportedly privately met on a number of occasions in the last few days.

This morning, Seleznyov met with the head of Yeltsin's administration, Valentin Yumashev and, according to Petrov, talks on a possible Kremlin switch from Chernomyrdin to Luzhkov cannot be ruled out.

Markov says that "this is unlikely, because there is no consensus among Kremlin aides on Luzhkov." The Moscow mayor, unlike Chernomyrdin, is not seen as likely to give Yeltsin the guarantees of a gracious exit route that the president's family is reportedly seeking.

Luzhkov last week supported Chernomyrdin's nomination, but this week sharply criticized the "powers' paralysis," saying that "new political figures are needed." Today he attacked Chernomyrdin, saying that "Duma deputies remember the six years of Chernomyrdin's ineffective government, and realize that behind Chernomyrdin is Boris Berezovsky, a figure people hate."

Berezovsky is widely believed to have helped engineer Chernomyrdin's latest nomination. But he is also supporting another possible strong-man candidate, Krasnoyarsk governor Aleksandr Lebed. Yesterday Berezovsky said in a television interview that Yeltsin, now a weak figure, may ultimately have to resign, to make place for a strong political figure. He said he believed that Chernomyrdin still has a chance to be approved by parliament. However, he also said that there are "objectively" only two strong politicians in Russia nowadays, Luzhkov and Lebed.

According to Petrov, "if Yeltsin agrees to resign, Luzhkov would agree to become prime minister-designate, because this would automatically make him the most likely candidate for the post of president in the next election."