Moscow chief prepares bid for Kremlin

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The Independent Online
BORIS YELTSIN'S dream of determining his successor as Russia's president was badly dented yesterday with the birth of a formidable political coalition intent on winning control of parliament and laying the ground for an attempt on the Kremlin itself.

It is dominated by Yuri Luzhkov, one of Russia's most ruthless and successful politicians, who is viewed with suspicion by Mr Yeltsin's inner circle and with open distaste within the depleted ranks of Russia's genuine liberals.

Yesterday, Mr Luzhkov, 62 and Mayor of Moscow, took a further step along the path to power, forging an alliance between his political movement, Fatherland, and All Russia, a group comprising highly influential regional leaders.

The alliance's sights will be trained on establishing a strong power base in parliament in the December elections. But its ultimate goal will be to win control of the Kremlin when Mr Yeltsin's final term ends next year.

Its credentials are impressive. The mayor is a brilliant self-publicist who has used his office to build a city-run business and media empire and who, as head of Russia's capital, can whistle up plenty of campaign cash.

He was returned as mayor in 1996 with a vote of about 90 per cent, after campaigning alongside Mr Yeltsin - with whom he has since fallen out. But his power base is Moscow; building support in the provinces has proved harder. The regional leaders, a powerful bloc who include such heavyweights as Mintimer Shaimiyev - President of the semi-autonomous Tatarstan - will ease that task.

"There is no other political force, if we think about it," Mr Shaimiyev said."Somebody has to assume the responsibility now."

Exactly who that somebody will be is certain to be a matter of intense debate in Moscow's political circles. In a further jab at the Kremlin, Mr Luzhkov said he intended to recruit the former prime minister Yevgeny Primakov, who was sacked by Mr Yeltsin in May after nine months in office in which he became the country's most trusted politician.

Mr Primakov could lead the coalition's list of candidates for parliament, the mayor said. A line-up including the mayor and Mr Primakov, 69, would stand a strong chance of being overall victors in December's elections, setting the scene for an attempt on the Kremlin by Mr Primakov.

But Mr Luzhkov undoubtedly has his own presidential ambitions. These are eyed unhappily by his foes. Free market economists dislike his interventionism; Western policymakers look suspiciously at his nationalist streak; liberals fret over his patchy human rights record; and the corrupt among Russia's wealthy elite do not relish his threat to review the results of the privatisation programme. Nor will the Communists welcome the arrival of a Luzhkov-led coalition that could bite deep into their vote.

As the battle lines begin to form, the Kremlin's inner circle is showing every sign of preparing for an intense struggle. Newspaper editors from across the spectrum publicly complained to Mr Yeltsin this week that senior officials were subjecting them to improper pressure.

Yesterday, there was further evidence of the Kremlin election machine swinging into action. Mr Yeltsin's chief-of-staff, Alexander Voloshin, told Komsomolskaya Pravda newspaper Mr Luzhkov "is not the best alternative for the country". If he was elected, "we can expect plenty of unpleasant surprises", he added.

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