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Russia: Moscow's Mayor Luzhkov Aims To Join Regional Leaders

Moscow, 26 April 1999 (RFE/RL) -- Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov seems to have strengthened his political position in Russia as a result of two significant developments this week.

On Wednesday, the Federation Council rebuffed for the second time the Kremlin's request to replace Russia's prosecutor general. Luzhkov, a presidential hopeful whose intervention reportedly influenced the house's decision, thereby dealt a new blow to President Boris Yeltsin.

Not long after the vote in the Federation Council, Luzhkov again took the initiative. He announced that the leadership of the party he founded last year, "Fatherland," had approved his proposal to join a new political bloc, called "All Russia," including 16 influential regional leaders.

For the moment, the bloc includes the presidents of a number of ethnic republics, including Mintimer Shaimiyev of Tatarstan, Murtaza Rakhimov of Bashkortostan and Ruslan Aushev of Ingushetia, as well as the governors of Khabarovsk, Astrakhan, Perm and Khanty-Mansiisk and others. Another politician aiming at playing a key role in the bloc is Oleg Morozov, the leader of the "Russian regions" faction in the State Duma.

Luzhkov unexpectedly showed up at the first meeting of "All-Russia" organizing committee on Thursday (April 22). The new bloc's founding congress is tentatively scheduled for May 22.

Luzhkov added that the political council of his party had taken the decision to join the evening before. Officials close to Luzhkov told Russian media that the fact that the decision had immediately followed the vote in the Federation Council was a "pure coincidence," but few believed that.

NTV commercial television commented that "the outcome of the vote on the prosecutor general has clearly changed Luzhkov's tactics."

Samara Governor Konstantin Titov, the leader of another regional bloc, "Voice of Russia," said he may also join "All Russia."

Sergei Markov, director of the Moscow Institute of Political Studies, says regional leaders of centrist political orientation aim at funding broad coalitions that would allow them increase their influence in the lower house of parliament, so far dominated by the communists and their allies.

"It is absolutely clear why they join forces. They have enough of the fact that the Duma is more and more under the influence of left forces and they have very few ways to influence it. They would like to create a 'party of power' from below, based on parties of power concretely existing, that they have already built up in their regions. In this way they would consolidate what they already have and get more."

For the regional leaders, an alliance with Luzhkov's "Fatherland," a party that has admitted it wants to become Russia's future 'party of power,' could help them build a strong faction in the next Duma.

For Luzhkov, the possible benefit of such an alliance are even more evident. Luzhkov enjoys broad popularity in Moscow. However, his ability to attract votes in the regions, where many people resent Moscow's higher standard of living, has remained untested.

Many observers have warned that resentment toward Moscow could hamper Luzhkov's effort to obtain enough support for "Fatherland" in the parliamentary election, as well as for himself in the presidential one. Pooling efforts with powerful regional leaders would clearly help Luzhkov expand his appeal in the provinces. Luzhkov and Shaimiyev, who is seen as "All Russia's" most influential leader, so far have pledged to coordinate efforts ahead of parliamentary election scheduled for December.

But some political analysts are rising doubts about whether the alliance could achieve more. Markov is one of those expressing skepticism:

"If they [different blocs] manage to join forces all together, this will be the political force that could win both parliamentary and presidential elections. But for them to get together will be difficult, because there are serious obstacles. One is the problem of leadership. It is not that they will fight for leadership. The leader can clearly be only one: Yuri Luzhkov. The problem is another: Luzhkov's style is such that he does not tolerate beside himself collaborators and partners. He tolerates only subordinates. And it is not a given fact that the other governors will want to join forces with him on such a basis. This is the first problem. The second is that Luzhkov and the presidents of ethnic republics have very different approaches to what should be Russia's federal structure."

For the moment, "Fatherland" was set to hold a congress in the central Russian region of Yaroslavl at the weekend and some have seen Luzhkov's move also as a successful public-relations action ahead of the event.