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Russia: Creation Of New Political Bloc Surprises

Kazan, 30 April 1999 (RFE/RL) -- Last week's announcement by a number of influential Russian regional leaders of the creation of a new political bloc, "All Russia," was greeted with surprise not only in Moscow.

One of the most prominent leaders of the bloc is Tatarstan President Mintimer Shaimiev.

One official in the government of Tatarstan said that "nobody" in the republic "was aware of the initiative ahead of its announcement." Another added that the announcement "was a complete surprise."

Surprise, however, does not mean the creation of the new bloc has prompted criticism in Kazan.

The officials who spoke with RFE/RL praised the initiative as a way to promote regional interests ahead of parliamentary elections scheduled for December.

Shaimiev is considered the informal leader of "All Russia." Other influential participants are Bashkortostan President Murtaza Rakhimov; the president of Ingushetia, Ruslan Aushev; the presidents of the republics of Adygeya and Chuvashya; and a number of influential governors.

According to Saint Petersburg Governor Vladimir Yakovlev, the bloc will not have a formal leader and will not put forward a candidate for next year's presidential elections.

The new bloc announced on April 22 an alliance with "Fatherland," the movement led by powerful Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov, one of the strongest presidential hopefuls. Kazan officials say it could be seen as a possible reaction by regional leaders to a statement by Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov earlier this year.

Primakov said a "vertical of power" should be re-established in Russia. He talked about the possibility of appointing, rather then electing, regional leaders and called for imposing more discipline on governors.

One Tatar official told our correspondent that "Primakov's proposal did not raise any enthusiasm in Kazan. On the contrary, people started asking themselves questions about Primakov's political intentions and orientations."

According to political analysts, other regional leaders probably had a similar reaction, fearing the return of Soviet-era-oriented structures of power.

Samara Governor Konstantin Titov leads another electoral movement called "Voice of Russia" that has announced its intention to join with "All Russia." He said on April 21 that Moscow should grant more power to the regions. According to Titov, excessive centralization of power in the federal government is one of the main causes of Russia's current crisis.

The day before, Russian President Boris Yeltsin -- whose relations with Primakov are reportedly rapidly worsening -- met with the governors of several Russian regions and offered them more autonomy in exchange for their support.

And this week, the deputy head of the presidential administration, Oleg Sysuev, said the merger of "All Russia" and "Fatherland" would be a "step in a constructive direction."

Attending "Fatherland's" second congress on April 24, Luzhkov reconfirmed his willingness to form an alliance with "All Russia." According to Luzhkov, the two movements share, among other things, the need to elect a new State Duma that will try to achieve "practical results."

In an interview with the daily "Kommersant" one day before the congress, Luzhkov addressed concerns raised by some observers about his ability to co-exist with other political leaders. Luzhkov said the alliance would not entail the absorption of one movement by another.

However, Luzhkov did not say if he is willing to review previously voiced positions on what Russia's federal structure should look like.

Fandas Safiullin -- the leader of the "Volga Is Our Home" faction in Tatarstan's legislative assembly -- told RFE/RL's Kazan office this week that Luzhkov is in favor of liquidating the national republics, while Shaimiev is a federalist who favors retaining the republics' sovereignty.

Safiullin also said that -- once the two blocs have jointly achieved their main goal of keeping Communists out of the State Duma -- they will likely go their separate ways.

Other officials in Kazan were less categorical.

In conversations with our correspondent, they stressed the coalition of "All Russia" and "Fatherland" has been announced ahead of the parliamentary elections. "After that," they said, "we'll see."

However, they added that Luzhkov and Shaimiev can be considered "compatible, as one cannot be considered more important than the other."

Hinting that the support of regional leaders participating in "All Russia" will be key for Luzhkov's "Fatherland," the officials said that after December it will become clear which of the movements will have played the main role during the parliamentary campaign. That, they concluded, will "help to prepare the ground for further talks among regional leaders and Luzhkov."