Lebed vs. Putin
Rumor has it that, long before a date was set for the presidential election, acting President Vladimir Putin's victory was assured by the 10 percent of the vote delivered via "the governors' resources," whatever the fluctuations in support for him.
Indeed, conventional wisdom was that, given Putin's unassailable lead, the governors would have no option other than to clamber over each other in an effort to display their loyalty to Putin by delivering a strong vote to the acting president in order to guarantee their own futures.
Naturally, there would be some who would not follow this line, namely Samara Governor and presidential candidate Konstantin Titov and the regions run by the Communist Party. But there were also suggestions that opposition would come from unexpected quarters.
One source of this was Krasnoyarsk Gov. Alexander Lebed. It has not gone unnoticed by political observers that Gen. Lebed had dropped out both as a newsmaker and even as a commentator on the Russian political scene. Sources say Lebed has been somewhat depressed since Putin's rise as prime minister and his subsequent ascension to the presidency after Boris Yeltsin's dramatic resignation effectively ended Lebed's Napoleonic dreams.
The same sources say Lebed will not pass up the opportunity to belittle Putin by diminishing the acting president's result in the Krasnoyarsk region.
Savostyanov's supporters couldn't get through
The decision last Tuesday night by liberal presidential candidate Yevgeny Savostyanov to bow out of the race in favor of Yabloko leader Grigory Yavlinsky on NTV Television's "Vox Populi" program was contrived for publicity purposes, sources say.
But some people felt the whole event was over the top, even disingenuous, particularly in relation to the interactive poll organized by NTV to gauge support for the democratic candidates, Yavlinsky, Titov and Savostyanov.
Three phone numbers were offered on "Vox Populi," one for each candidate, which viewers could call to register their support for one of the contenders.
Normally, the technology used in such polls ensures a telephone call is registered immediately in order to free up lines for other people trying to ring in. However, in this case, witnesses said they made repeatedly unsuccessful attempts to call through to Savostyanov's and Titov's numbers, constantly finding the line busy.
Meanwhile, political observers checking the system found that when they tried Yavlinsky's number, they got through immediately and were registered with no trouble.
The struggle for influence
Although the Russian political landscape was relatively boring in the days leading up to the presidential election, insiders say intense subterranean battles have been taking place. Indeed, one of the most savage, they say, had been going on in the camp of the likely winner, Vladimir Putin.
The source of the disputes arises from there being at least three clans inside the presidential administration. Putin inherited two of them from Yeltsin. These include Alpha Group affiliates and those tied to notorious tycoons Roman Abramovich and Boris Berezovsky, comprising what has became known as "The Family."
A third group, though, is growing rapidly, developing in both weight and influence. These are people who have been personally invited to join the Kremlin by Putin, the majority of whom hail from St. Petersburg.
The backdrop to these struggles is the widespread perception that the moment Putin was confirmed as president by popular vote, the great cleansing campaign of insiders would begin in the Kremlin. Given this threat hanging over their heads, both the Alfa people and "The Family" are gearing up for a battle to discredit each other.
Berezovsky's team will use its media resources to compromise the Alfa Group by linking it to doubtful projects and dramatically exposing a huge story about Alfa's role in the daily affairs of the Kremlin.
Meanwhile, for its part, Alfa will be pulling out all stops to make itself indispensable to the president. Rumor has it Alfa is the main channel for the Kremlin's control over the Duma through its direct financing of a significant section of parliamentary deputies with cash, so it does have an important role.
But some observers suggest that all these intrigues will be of little consequence and will end once Putin begins to enact his promise to bring order to the government. They say the political capital gained among the public from such a move could well outweigh the benefits of having each influential oligarch and tycoon prostrating himself before the president.
An anecdote currently doing the rounds has a Yeltsin aide in December. 99, announcing the oligarchs are there to see him. "Have them come in," Yeltsin says. Half a year later, an aide informs Putin the oligarchs are there. "Have them marched in," he says.
Ekaterina Larina is assistant editor of the Russia Journal.
(E-mail Katya at email@example.com)