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Russia: Future Of New Pro-Reform Group Uncertain

Moscow, 1 December 1998 1998 (RFE/RL) -- In their latest bid to unite, a group of Russian pro-reform politicians announced plans for the creation of a center-right political coalition last week.

However, as cracks in the announced democratic coalition started appearing at the weekend, doubts were being raised over whether it would survive until its founding conference set for next month.

The daily "Kommersant" wrote on Saturday that the coalition was "falling apart even before it had the time to form." The Duma's communist speaker, Gennady Seleznyov, predicted that the bloc will last "no more than a month." He said it will quickly self-destruct in a battle over leadership.

Plans for the coalition took shape after the murder of Galina Starovoitova, an outspoken pro-reform Duma deputy, ten days ago in St. Petersburg.

Two former prime ministers -- Yegor Gaidar and Sergei Kiriyenko -- and two former deputy prime ministers -- Anatoly Chubais and Boris Nemtsov -- are the main organizers of the bloc. They are all top representatives of the so-called "young reformers."

Other politicians, including several regional governors, were said to have formally supported the unification call. But the most prominent, Saratov Governor Dmitry Ayatskov, immediately protested that his name had been used without his agreement.

Most analysts characterized the new bloc as a loose grouping at best. As a signal that this may be true, Kiriyenko said after the announcement of the creation of the bloc that he is setting up his own party.

Nemtsov and Chubais have said that a leader of the group will be selected later, after opinion polls show who among the top participants has the most support among voters.

But the main obstacle to the bloc's prospects is the refusal of the largest pro-reform faction in parliament, "Yabloko," to participate. Its leader, economist Grigory Yavlinsky, blasted the announced bloc as a "show of political clowns."

Unlike Gaidar and Chubais, who are deeply unpopular with ordinary Russians, Yavlinsky emerges after six years of economic reform untested by the daunting task of holding power in Russia. Analysts say that "Yabloko" will not have problems gaining the five percent required to win seats in the next parliamentary elections.

The elections are scheduled for December 1999 and the next presidential poll is scheduled for June 2000. However, as President Boris Yeltsin appears to be effectively sidelined from the day-to-day running of the country on health grounds, pressure for early presidential elections is growing.

Pressure is also mounting on Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov. In addition to dealing with Russia's economic trouble, he is struggling under the burden of increased political responsibilities.

Nemtsov has said he thinks Primakov could join the new pro-reform coalition. And top Kremlin aides have recently appeared to be pushing Primakov to agree to the role of Yeltsin's selected heir.

Primakov's response so far has been to shrug off any hint that he has presidential ambitions. The prime minister at the week-end also declined to comment on the new bloc, saying he "should be neutral".

The active courting of Primakov by Kremlin aides appears to stem from the feeling that he could be the only Russian politician able to prevent a deadly and open fight among political groups as varied as the communist-dominated parliament, regional bosses, bureaucrats and influential oligarchs and criminal structures.

Nikolai Petrov, a senior analysts at the Moscow Carnegie centre, told our correspondent that Primakov "has a good hand in a bad game." According to Petrov, Primakov, with his diplomatic skills, is the "ideal choice" that could enable the preservation of existing political order.