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Russia: Analysts Believe Primakov Has Presidential Ambitions

After months of silence, the politician Russians say they respect the most, former Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov, has announced his agreement to lead the "Fatherland-All Russia" bloc. The move gives a powerful boost to the bloc's future success. Now, many in Moscow are discussing the implications for Primakov's presidential aspirations.

Moscow, 19 August 1999 (RFE/RL) -- Exactly one year after Russia's financial collapse, many of Russia's political elite have joined forces to create a new so-called "party of power."

Former Russian Premier Yevgeny Primakov yesterday officially announced his decision to join the "Fatherland-All Russia" political bloc, led by Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov and by some regional bosses, including St. Petersburg Governor Vladimir Yakovlev and Tatarstan President Mintimer Shaimiev.

Primakov, speaking at a press conference packed with reporters and regional dignitaries, said he will lead the bloc's candidate list in December's parliamentary elections.

Primakov's long-awaited decision is expected to give a huge boost to the bloc's electoral chances. Besides Primakov, the bloc's leading troika will include Luzhkov and Yakovlev.

However, Luzhkov said today that he, Primakov and Yakovlev will likely renounce their parliamentary mandates in case of their election. According to Luzhkov, "the first three names in the list are mainly symbols" for the electorate.

Luzhkov's surprising words -- immediately following Primakov's announcement -- underline a political culture in which voters are seen not so much as choosing politicians to represent them but simply as endorsing already-made political decisions.

Primakov, for his part, yesterday concentrated on clarifying some of the bloc's priorities. Primakov said the bloc stands for the creation of what he called an "organic link" between the State Duma and the government. He said the cabinet must reflect the majority in the Duma and could include representatives of parties not included in the majority. He said the bloc stands for changes in the constitution aimed at "strengthening state power."

Primakov also said Russia's next president should keep the right to be the top commander of the country's military forces. Primakov said:

"[The president] should continue overseeing directly security forces and the security council. He should be the main leader representing Russia abroad. However, he should transfer part of his powers to the government and the Federal Assembly. It is indispensable to introduce the post of vice-president."

Primakov said he also advocates amending the constitution or approving a special bill that would guarantee a "secure and dignified life" for Russian presidents after their term ends. He said such a move would stabilize the political situation in Russia, especially ahead of elections.

Many analysts in Moscow say such a program will appeal to many Russians tired of Russian President Boris Yeltsin's mercurial style of rule. However, some say that, more than being a party platform ahead of a parliamentary vote, it seems to reflect a possible attempt by Primakov and Luzhkov to agree on their plans for the June 2000 presidential race.

Both politicians deny having presidential ambitions. However, their names are routinely included in opinion polls concerning presidential hopefuls, and no one doubts that one of them will run for the post.

The question is, Which one of them?

Primakov yesterday admitted he's considering the issue:

"I can tell you frankly that I have not made up my mind on the issue. Much will depend on whether I feel the support of the people. This for me is very important."

Asked how he and Luzhkov will decide who should run, Primakov smiled and said that they "will agree." Luzhkov has said he would be prepared to give up any presidential ambitions in Primakov's favor if it came down to that.

Moscow pundits are divided on whether Primakov made the right move by joining "Fatherland-All Russia." Some believe he would have had a good chance of running successfully on his own. Others believe Luzhkov may be trying to "use" Primakov to enhance his own bid for the presidency.

Political analyst Sergei Karaganov -- who is close to Primakov -- told our Moscow correspondent that "this is the spin that those who are afraid of us would like to give to the latest developments."

Andrei Piantkovsky is director of the Moscow Center for Strategic Studies. He told RFE/RL that Primakov is certainly doing a great favor for Luzhkov:

"Primakov is simply saving the 'Fatherland' venture. I think that Luzhkov, as a presidential candidate, had made a mistake taking the burden of the party. Primakov's official support enhances now the bloc's hope to obtain a good result [in December] and therefore save the presidential election."

Piantkovsky believes Primakov is clearly aiming at the Russian presidency and sees two reasons that could have motivated Primakov to join the bloc. Piantkovsky says: "He may have obtained the firmest guarantees from Luzhkov that they will be in tandem for the presidential election. [This scenario would see] Primakov running for president, while Luzhkov would become prime minister and enjoy new broad powers. I do not think it is by chance that Primakov in his press conference talked about constitutional changes in this direction."

According to Piantkovsky, Primakov could also have decided that pre-empting efforts by the Kremlin to stop the creation of the new powerful bloc was of paramount importance.