Ex-premier, Moscow mayor form alliance

Primakov-Luzhkov union could undercut Yeltsin, Communists in parliament

August 18, 1999|By KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

MOSCOW -- Former Prime Minister Yevgeny M. Primakov united with Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov yesterday in a broad-based coalition that many analysts say is positioned to dominate Russia's parliamentary elections in December and undercut President Boris N. Yeltsin's hopes of installing his chosen successor in next year's presidential elections.

The union of Primakov and Luzhkov, two of the best-known political figures in Russia, could enable the new Fatherland-All Russia political movement to capture control of the now-Communist-dominated State Duma, the lower house of parliament, then vault toward the 2000 presidential elections, analysts said.

Primakov, 69, who served for eight months as Yeltsin's prime minister before he was ousted May 12, announced that he would head the alliance in the Duma elections but said it was too early to discuss any plans for the presidency.

"I can say that I have not taken any decision on that because it will all depend on whether I feel the trust and support of the people," he told reporters.

Primakov, a former KGB spy chief, has been vague about running for president, but the ambitious Luzhkov has made no secret of his intentions. It remained unclear which one would emerge as the coalition's standard-bearer in the presidential elections, tentatively scheduled for July 9.

The emergence of Primakov, whom polls consistently show as Russia's most popular politician, gave a powerful boost to the coalition, which Luzhkov recently formed by blending his Fatherland party with the All-Russia movement, comprising dozens of governors who command immense influence throughout the country.

"The Kremlin is absolutely on the ropes," said Alan Rousso, director of the Moscow Carnegie Center. "All their political allies have disappeared, and the Kremlin is fighting for its life."

Once hailed as a hero for leading Russia out of communism, Yeltsin is widely despised by voters, particularly after instigating four government shake-ups in 17 months that created the perception that he is more interested in preserving his legacy than addressing Russia's immense social and economic problems.

Newly installed Prime Minister Vladimir V. Putin, who must rapidly develop a campaign persona in his fledgling presidential bid, is handicapped by his ties to Yeltsin.

In addition to the Kremlin, the political movement poses a threat to Communists, who constitute a plurality in the Duma but have been in disarray in recent months. One Duma faction aligned with the Communists, the Agrarian Party, defected to the new coalition after Primakov joined.

But the alliance could unravel if it falls short of expectations in the parliamentary elections -- or if a power struggle develops over whether Primakov or Luzhkov runs for president.

Although Primakov's announcement drew most of the attention, newly ousted Prime Minister Sergei V. Stepashin also unveiled his political plans yesterday, announcing that he would seek a Duma seat from his hometown of St. Petersburg. He told the Interfax news agency that he might form a right-of-center coalition.

For his part, Yeltsin spent yesterday in the Kremlin cautioning Putin not to stray from his political line.

"It is better to work together, respecting one another, taking counsel on important questions when necessary, including with me," Yeltsin said in televised remarks as he met with Putin, confirmed in office Monday by the Duma.

Yeltsin reminded Putin that former premiers who failed to cooperate with the president ended up losing their job.

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