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Someone In The Duma Is Putting On A Show

Liberal Democratic Party leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky the day of the walkout.
Liberal Democratic Party leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky the day of the walkout.
The latest events in the StateDuma seem like a long-forgotten dream. It's hard to believe this is happening.

When one sees a mass of deputies quitting the hall to protest dishonest elections, one's heart swells. Could this mean that even the "opposition" that regularly climbs into bed with the Kremlin can be moved, can be stung? And then one starts hoping that there will be a discussion, that President Dmitry Medvedev will get involved and play his role as guarantor of the constitution.

Everything would be fine, if not for one thing: Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR) leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky is no oppositionist.

It was Zhirinovsky who announced on the air over RFE/RL's Russian Service the night before the walkout that his faction would leave the chamber. During the Duma session, it was Zhirinovsky who was the most insistent, who lambasted the drowsy United Russia deputies and who threatened to seize power with the help of the army and Interior Ministry special troops.

The speeches of his deputies were obviously rehearsed note for note. Before the walkout was declared, about a dozen LDPR deputies, with a steadily rising level of pathos, stood up and attacked the party of power. Their speeches acted as a detonator and produced an explosion among the Communists (it should be noted that the Communist Party never walked out despite numerous similar elections over the last nine years) and A Just Russia deputies (apparently, they decided they are no worse than any of the others, right?).

The result of the explosion was a great spectacle. But Duma observers know well that Zhirinovsky does not stage spectacles without a reason.

Smoke, No Fire

Those who doubt the purity of the LDPR's anger (we'll leave the Communists and A Just Russia aside for now) have good reason to be skeptical. For instance, if someone wanted to prove that first deputy presidential administration head Vladislav Surkov, who is in charge of managing the country's political parties, is not doing his job properly and is only messing things up, then this incident should do the trick. Proving such a thing could perhaps play into the hands of anyone who is worried about rumors that Surkov is in line to be appointed head of the presidential administration in the near future.

As early as this summer, there were rumors going around the Duma that Medvedev was sick to death of the ever-watchful eye of current presidential administration head Sergei Naryshkin. Within the last few days, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" predicted the removal of Naryshkin -- a former deputy prime minister and a graduate of the same chekist school that Vladimir Putin attended and a former rumored possible candidate to succeed Putin as president, and generally a very influential person.

Of course, it would be a coup for the president if he were able to replace Naryshkin with his own man -- for instance, with Justice Minister Aleksandr Konovalov. But Medvedev hasn't been allowed such latitude, so it appears he has settled on Surkov. Observers saw Surkov's recent talks with Obama administration Eurasia specialist Michael McFaul as confirmation of his rising star.

Naryshkin is also close to Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin, another St. Petersburg chekist. And would Sechin really be willing to leave the Kremlin without a watchful eye? And with some sort of creative type in charge?

Different Perspectives

So let's return to the purity of the anger of the other members of the current scandal: the Communists. They definitely have an ax to grind with Surkov. Moreover, Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov recently praised the business acumen of Sechin and top counternarcotics official Viktor Ivanov. One could be forgiven for supposing these are people he could come to terms with.

There is another version of events that has been gaining popularity ever since the state-controlled first and second television channels began actively advertising the Duma rebellion. They supposedly have good ties with Surkov, and Duma observers began to get suspicious. Some remembered that Surkov has long had poor relations with Duma speaker Boris Gryzlov who, after Putin, is the second-ranking official in United Russia. Gryzlov, who was placed in his position by Putin personally, has decided that his party can do perfectly well without any orders from the Kremlin, particularly since the center of power is no longer located there.

For about a year now, Zhirinovsky has regularly been denouncing the "one-party monopoly" in the Duma and on October 14, after the stormy walkout, he called for Gryzlov's resignation as speaker. Gryzlov wasn't at the session, but he has reacted very nervously to the events, trying to create the impression that everything is under control.

So think about it. Either Surkov is being pushed aside, or he is playing a game to scare his opponents.

But all these conspiracy theories -- even if they turn out to be true -- don't reflect the real significance of what we observed in the Duma on October 14. After all, those who arranged the spectacle and those who watched it (including many tens of thousands of dissatisfied voters) may come to completely different conclusions about what has unfolded.

Danila Galperovich is a Moscow-based correspondent for RFE/RL's Russian Service. The views expressed in this commentary are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of RFE/RL