A surprise deal Tuesday between President Vladimir Putin's Unity party and the Communists has outraged the pro-reform opposition -- and seems to have given it new energy. After storming out of the Duma, three parties have banded together in an alliance. But in an analysis from Moscow, RFE/RL correspondent Sophie Lambroschini reports that this new opposition grouping is bound to be fragile.
Moscow, 19 January 2000 (RFE/RL) -- The Duma plunged into political dispute Tuesday when an alliance between Vladimir Putin's party, Unity, and the Communist Party provoked an uprising among smaller, reformist factions.
The alliance between the Communists and the pro-Kremlin Unity group makes sense, from their point of view. With a solid majority between them -- around 285 votes out of 449 -- the two parties can dole out committee posts. In the first move by the new alliance, Communist Gennady Seleznev was re-elected speaker.
Boris Berezovsky, the self-styled Kremlin insider whom the Russian media suspects of being behind the implicit alliance, explained the move Tuesday. He said an alliance with the Communists is in line with Putin's repeated calls for consolidation and cooperation between the Duma and the government.
"[The Communists] are a real political force in the country. And despite the fact that I often said that in the previous period their role was essentially negative, I think that in many cases [now] the Duma won't be in opposition to the authorities. And that's the most important question for Russia today -- consolidation of power."
To counter this new majority, those of Russia's main democratic reformers who were not supporters of Putin have banded together. When the alliance became apparent during the Duma session on Tuesday, members of Yabloko, Fatherland, and the Union of Right Forces got up and left the Duma. The three parties withdrew their candidates for speaker and walked out of the session.
Grigory Yavlinsky of the Yabloko party and Yevgeny Primakov of Fatherland announced Tuesday that they were joining forces together. Sergei Kirienko of the Union of Right Forces also joined the bloc, although he expressed his support more hesitantly.
Together, the three groups have created what they call a "common coordination council" in the Duma. On Tuesday Yavlinsky and Kirienko used the word "union." But today (Wednesday), Primakov seemed more restrained, explaining that the council will not be superior to the parties but will work for "consultation and coordination on legislative issues." The council seems to be emerging as a cooperation agreement, not a coalition.
The three parties boycotted Wednesday's Duma session, which was dedicated to assigning committees, but it is unclear whether they will refuse committee assignments if they are given.
Yavlinsky has already expressed the hope that the discontent with Unity's move may spur a united opposition into presenting a single candidate for president, to run against the heavily favored Putin.
But those expectations of a united front may be too optimistic, as the three parties do not agree on who their enemy is. They have different views as to whether they oppose the pro-Putin Unity party, or whether they oppose the Communists, or whether it is the idea of a Unity-Communist alliance that they oppose.
By boycotting the Duma vote, Yavlinsky was set on denouncing both the Communists and the Kremlin as opponents of democracy. On a talk show Tuesday night (NTV's "Vox Populi"), Yavlinsky said the alliance was a public demonstration of the communists' long-standing cooperation with the Kremlin. In a statement today (Wednesday) he directly accused Putin of being responsible for what he called the first parliamentary crisis since 1993.
Kirienko, however, is mostly opposed to the Communists, as his Union of Right Forces promotes an aggressive platform of market reform that is incompatible with communist ideas. Kirienko said he will continue to support Putin as a presidential candidate as long as the president does not change his economic views under Communist influence.
Primakov, on the other hand, had good relations with the Communists in the Duma when he was prime minister in 1998 and 1999. His response to the Unity-Communist alliance was simply to express disgust with the secret wheeling and dealing. He said Tuesday that if such practices continue, parliament will lose credibility.
"This deal of one group of deputies trying to impose [their decisions] on another group of deputies. In these conditions, the Duma cannot work for the well-being of society. You can applaud if the Duma is not pushed to a state where no one will take it into account anymore."
Ironically, during parliamentary elections the Kremlin tried to win over voters to Unity by discrediting the very thing it is now doing. Unity campaigned partly by criticizing Primakov's working relationship with the Communists. Primakov was presented as a communist in disguise, who would give up his democratic views after elections and form an alliance with the Communists.
Presumably, Putin will not use that campaign tactic in his run for president in March.