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Russia Report: April 29, 2002

29 April 2002, Volume 2, Number 14
By Laura Belin

By the time a helicopter crash ended his life on 28 April, Aleksandr Lebed had long ceased to be a major player on the Russian political scene. As Security Council secretary in the autumn of 1996, Lebed topped the opinion polls when Boris Yeltsin's impending heart surgery made early presidential elections a distinct possibility. Although his popularity waned after Yeltsin removed him from the cabinet, he still looked like a contender. In fact, Boris Berezovsky backed Lebed's campaign for governor of Krasnoyarsk Krai in 1998 hoping that post would help Lebed defeat Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov for the presidency. But in 1999, the renewed (and popular) military campaign in Chechnya took the shine off what had appeared to be Lebed's major achievement: negotiating the deal that led to the withdrawal of Russian troops from Chechnya in the autumn of 1996.

Lebed's political stock may have fallen in recent years, but his career left a lasting mark on Russian campaign strategy. Both Unity and Vladimir Putin later benefited from techniques that propelled Lebed to a surprisingly strong third-place finish in June 1996.

Russian commentators long sensed the potential of the paratroop general who did not deploy his troops against the defenders of the White House during the August 1991 coup attempt and who later commanded the 14th Russian Army in Moldova. But the December 1995 State Duma elections showed that Lebed's presence on the ballot was not enough to deliver victory. The Congress of Russian Communities, for which he was the number-two candidate, was a huge underachiever. Expected to finish second or third in the party-list voting, it failed even to clear the 5 percent barrier. Lebed's easy victory in a single-member district in Tula Oblast confirmed his personal appeal, however.

Lebed struck a secret deal with Yeltsin in the spring of 1996, promising to back the president in his runoff against Communist candidate Gennadii Zyuganov in exchange for a senior cabinet post. Bankers who were supporting Yeltsin financed Lebed's campaign. More important, during the last few weeks before the first round Lebed received massive favorable exposure on Russian Public Television, the Channel 1 network controlled by Boris Berezovsky, and on NTV, the leading private television network controlled by Vladimir Gusinsky.

That money and media resources win elections may seem axiomatic, but it was not always so in post-Soviet Russia. Opposition parties outperformed the Kremlin's chosen "parties of power" (Russia's Choice and Our Home Is Russia) in the 1993 and 1995 parliamentary elections. Spending lots of money to shove a preferred candidate down the public's throat was not enough. The image-makers working on Lebed's campaign used a sophisticated strategy to sell the general to the voters.

Nonpolitical themes dominated Lebed's campaign advertising, both in the videos shown during free air time and in the paid commercials that saturated the airwaves during the final weeks of the campaign. The slick ads portrayed Lebed as a born leader, a man with the will and character to bring order to Russia, a politically inexperienced man whom citizens instinctively recognized as one of their own ("svoi"). Instead of using his free air time for monologues, a la Liberal Democratic Party of Russia leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky or Yabloko leader Grigorii Yavlinskii, Lebed rarely spoke to the camera. Some of his videos consisted entirely of striking images accompanied by a voice-over. (For lengthy excerpts from one pro-Lebed video, see "OMRI Special Report: Presidential Election Survey," 12 June 1996, available at

Lebed voiced a few lines in his impressive bass voice for some campaign spots. However, the slogan that became one of the catch phrases of 1996 came from a different series of advertisements, featuring actors playing ordinary people (fishermen, construction workers, blacksmiths, and sailors). In each of those commercials, a character would complain that Russia had no truth, no leader who could be trusted, no one capable of restoring order. A friend would then counter, "There is such a person. You know him," and the clip would end with a picture of Lebed.

Yeltsin's campaign strategists recognized that Lebed had credibility with many voters who loathed the president. They sought to use him to draw nationalist voters away from Zhirinovsky and, to a lesser extent, from Zyuganov. To make that strategy succeed, it was imperative to hush up Lebed's close links to the president's allies.

The Russian media's broad cooperation with the Yeltsin campaign assisted that task. From March through May 1996, news reports played up the "third force" negotiations between Lebed, Yavlinskii, and eye surgeon Svyatoslav Fedorov, which appear to have been a sham (at least on Lebed's part). Russian publications profiled Lebed's campaign manager, Aleksei Golovkov, only after the first round of the presidential election. Had voters known that Golovkov ran for the Duma on the Russia's Choice ticket in 1993 and the Our Home Is Russia list in 1995, Lebed's image as an opposition candidate would have taken a hit. Needless to say, the media did not report that some of Russia's leading "oligarchs" were bankrolling Lebed's campaign.

Another innovation was the use of Lebed to make the case against the Communist candidate. For instance, during a lengthy interview on NTV's "Itogi" two weeks before the first round, anchorman Yevgenii Kiselev and Lebed spent several minutes discussing a 1962 atrocity, in which Soviet law enforcement authorities shot dead at least eight workers demonstrating in Lebed's home town of Novocherkassk. Anticommunism was the linchpin of Yeltsin's strategy; news reports as well as campaign commercials dwelled on the Communists' past crimes and alleged nefarious plans for the future. By adding his voice to the chorus, Lebed reinforced the idea that staunch opponents of the Yeltsin regime need not feel ashamed to prefer the president over Zyuganov.

Many people who promoted Lebed in 1996 shaped the Kremlin's campaign strategy during the 1999/2000 electoral cycle, most notably Berezovsky (who boosted Putin's career and helped form Unity) and Golovkov (who was Unity's campaign manager). The media's treatment of Unity during the 1999 parliamentary campaign drew substantially from the favorable coverage of Lebed in 1996. The leadership qualities of Unity's top candidates (famous for nonpolitical activities) took center stage. Unity's free air-time videos and paid advertisements focused almost entirely on the movement's leaders, mostly with wordless footage of their impressive deeds. When the candidates did speak, they mouthed platitudes about "order" and "honesty," as Lebed had done. In addition, television networks controlled by the state or by Berezovsky used politicians who were ostensibly Kremlin opponents, such as Zhirinovsky, to help make the case against Fatherland-All Russia, the primary target of 1999's great "information war."

Putin's victory in the 2000 presidential race was such a foregone conclusion that he did not avail himself of free air time or paid commercials. Nevertheless, news and analytical programs, as well as sympathetic newspapers, crafted an image of the acting president very much like Lebed's in 1996. Footage showed Putin surrounded by admirers from all walks of life. Newscasts depicted him as a strong man of action, who instinctively knew the right path for Russia. Putin is not as physically imposing as was Lebed, but his blunt (and sometimes vulgar) way of speaking recalled some of Lebed's public remarks, and sympathetic media played up those comments. The same media played down Putin's close ties to the so-called Yeltsin "family" of advisers.

Whether Lebed could have revived his career to become a presidential contender again will never be known. But the approach his handlers developed during his 1996 campaign will likely influence many Russian elections to come.

Laura Belin, a doctoral student at Oxford, has written about Russian politics and media issues since 1995.

State Duma deputies adopted a bill amending the law on electoral rights of citizens in its second reading on 26 April. The vote was almost unanimous with 326 in favor, one abstention, and zero opposed, ITAR-TASS reported. According to political analyst Mikhail Sokolov of RFE/RL's Moscow bureau, the new version of the bill represents progress. Candidates' registration may be canceled only by a court of law, and no later than five days before the vote is held, according to The method of selecting local election commissions also changed under the bill: The Central Election Commission will recommend candidates for the chairmanship of the regional commissions, Sokolov reported. Also required is that governors be elected in elections with at least two rounds, and that no less than half of the members of regional parliaments be elected according to party lists. JAC

Deputies also gave their final approval to two more bills that are part of the presidential administration's reform of Russia's legal systems. The law on lawyers' activities and lawyers passed in its third and final reading, and a bill amending the Criminal Procedural Code passed in its second and third readings. The law on lawyers received 336 votes in favor, with 50 against and two abstentions, according to ITAR-TASS. The latter bill gives courts rather than prosecutors the right to approve arrests. If the bill passes the Federation Council and is signed into law by the president, arrests will require a court warrant beginning on 1 July, according to deputy presidential administration head Dmitrii Kozak. Another element of the presidential administration's judicial reforms was approved on 24 April. The bill, adopted in its first reading, amends the law on prosecutors and on additional guarantees of the social defense of judges and workers in the court apparatus, so that court workers and prosecutors are no longer eligible for a series of exemptions and special privileges, such as discounts on rent, but will instead receive a higher wage, ITAR-TASS reported. JAC

Deputies on 24 April also adopted amendments to the law on government in its first reading, under which the country's prime minister should be at least 35 years old and a citizen of Russia who has been living there for no less than 10 years. The vote on the bill was 306 in favor to two against, with two abstentions, according to ITAR-TASS. The government's representative in the Duma, Andrei Loginov, spoke out against the bill, arguing that no country in the world has such a legislative norm and, in any case, such a requirement should be made only by introducing changes to the constitution. However, the president's representative in the Duma, Aleksandr Kotenkov, supported the bill except for the 10-year residency requirement. JAC

At the government's request, deputies also voted unanimously with 366 votes in favor on 26 April to return the law on the Central Bank to its second reading, Interfax reported. Prior to that vote, an attempt to pass the bill in its third reading failed. The government's representative to the Duma, Andrei Loginov, explained that before the third reading certain conceptual changes need to be introduced, according to ITAR-TASS. On 24 April, deputies finally adopted the Pension Fund's budget for 2002 in its third reading. The vote was unanimously in favor, according to Under the budget, the fund has 783.4 billion rubles ($25 billion) in revenues and 739.1 billion rubles in expenditures. A bill "on credit cooperation" was also approved in its first reading on 24 April. The vote was 351 in favor, according to RIA-Novosti. Before the vote was held, First Deputy Agriculture Minister Anatolii Mikhalev explained that the bill creates a legal basis for the organization and activities of credit cooperatives, oriented mainly for servicing small businesses and entrepreneurs. JAC


Name of law____________Date adopted___________# of reading

On the electoral rights______26 April_______________2nd
of citizens

On lawyers' activities_______26 April_______________3rd
and lawyers

Criminal Procedure Code____26 April_______________2nd
(on arrests)______________26 April_______________3rd

On the government________24 April_______________1st

On prosecutors____________24 April_______________1st

On additional guarantees_____24 April______________1st
of social defense for judges
and court workers

On the budget of the________24 April_______________3rd
Pension Fund

OUT: Former President of Ingushetia Ruslan Aushev resigned his position as a representative of the executive of that region in the Federation Council on 23 April. The Federation Council's Commission on Regulations and Procedural Problems has sent a letter that he will remain a senator until the next session of the Federation Council, when a simple majority of the members of the council will have to vote in favor of Aushev's resignation.

IN: Valerii Golubev was selected on 23 April by the Leningrad Oblast legislature to represent it in the Federation Council. Golubev, according to Interfax-Northwest, had headed the committee on tourism and recreation of the administration of St. Petersburg since 1999. According to "Kommersant-Daily" on 24 April, Golubev also headed former St. Petersburg Mayor Anatolii Sobchak's secretariat when President Putin headed the mayor's international-affairs committee. And from 1979 to 1991, Golubev was a KGB officer.

IN: Vladimir Strekozov has been selected to replace Tatyana Morshchakova as deputy chair of the Constitutional Court, reported on 23 April. Strekozov has been on the court since 1994.

IN: Vladimir Kolesnikov was confirmed by the Federation Council on 23 April as deputy prosecutor-general. According to "Kommersant-Daily" on 24 April, Kolesnikov has worked in internal-affairs organs for some 30 years, including having once served as first deputy minister of internal affairs.

OUT: Aleksandr Fedulov has been expelled from the Fatherland-All Russia (OVR) faction following his introduction of legislation that would have banned the Communist Party. The bill was supported by neither the presidential administration nor OVR. Fedulov originally entered the Duma on Unity's party list.

OUT: State Duma Deputy Aleksandr Vereteno drowned on 20 April in a boating accident, ITAR-TASS reported on 22 April. Vereteno's speedboat hit an ice floe on the Irtush River in Omsk Oblast. Vereteno, who was a member of the People's Deputy group, had been elected from a single-mandate district in the oblast. JAC

1 May: Russian Agriculture Ministry will present the U.S. with a draft of new Russian-U.S. protocol on U.S. poultry imports, according to Agriculture Minister Aleksei Gordeev on 25 April

1 May: Deadline by which commissions for organizing the nationwide census should be formed in each of the seven federal districts, according to Interfax on 15 April.

14-15 May: Foreign ministers of NATO countries and Russia will meet in Reykjavik

15 May: State Duma to consider draft law on the Central Bank in its third reading

16 May: State Duma will hold an additional unscheduled plenary meeting

17 May: Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Maher to visit Moscow

19 May: By-elections to be held in Altai Republic for State Duma seat left vacant by newly elected Altai Republic President Mikhail Lapshin

19 May: Gubernatorial elections in Smolensk Oblast

20 May: International press center for the 300th anniversary in St. Petersburg will open

21 May: A conference of transportation ministers from the countries that are signatories to the Agreement on North-South International Transportation Corridor will take place in St. Petersburg

23-26 May: U.S. President George W. Bush to visit Russia

23 May: State Duma will hold an additional unscheduled plenary meeting

26 May: Channel 6 will come back on the air, according to Channel Six General Director Aleksandr Levin on 25 April

27 May: NATO Secretary-General Lord George Robertson will visit Moscow to open NATO's first permanent military mission there

28 May: World Bank's Board of Directors to discuss its Russia strategy

29 May: Russia-EU summit to be held in Moscow

31 May: CIS summit to be held in Chisinau, Moldova

First half of June: Communist Party will hold a party plenum, according to Interfax on 19 April.

June: Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit to take place in St. Petersburg, ITAR-TASS reported

June: Baltic Sea State Council meeting to be held in St. Petersburg

June: Government will have drafted a federal program for putting Russia's armed forces on a professional basis, according to Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov on 7 December

June: Russia and the U.S. will have drafted an agreement on radical cuts in strategic offensive weapons, according to Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov on 18 December

2 June: NTV's broadcasting license is set to expire, according to Ekho Moskvy on 23 April

9 June: Repeat elections for legislature of Primorskii Krai

17 June: Trial against former Aeroflot executives for embezzlement to resume, according to ITAR-TASS on 25 April

23 June: Presidential and parliamentary elections scheduled for Buryatia

26-28 June: Group of Seven summit to be held in Canada

1 July: Russia will complete its withdrawal from the military base at Cam Rahn Bay, Vietnam

1 August: Russia's first full-scale facility for the destruction of chemical weapons will be launched in Gorny in Saratov Oblast, according to presidential envoy Kirienko

12 August: Second anniversary of the sinking of the "Kursk" submarine

September: Symposium and investment fair for nuclear power plants to take place in Vladivostok

10-11 September: The fourth annual conference of the regional administrations of countries in Northeast Asia will take place in Khabarovsk

9-16 October: All-Russia census

26-27 October: Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit to be held in Las Cabos, Mexico

7 November: Day of Reconciliation and Agreement.