The Krasnoyarsk front is open
Analysts are unanimous in saying that the death of Krasnoyarsk Gov. Alexander Lebed last week will open a new front in the battle between oligarchs and the clans linked to them. This new conflict could spark major personnel changes in the government and the presidential administration.
Krasnoyarsk Krai is a meeting point for the interests of all of Russia's most powerful business groups. Aside from industrial giants such as Russian Aluminum and Norilsk Nickel, the region is home to dozens of companies belonging to rival business groups. Entrepreneurs close to Yeltsin "Family" oligarchs Roman Abramovich and Oleg Deripaska; businesspeople tied to Alexander Mamut and Andrei Melnichenko, with his aggressive expansion of MDM Bank; and people connected to the Petersburgers, Mezhprombank, Alfa Group or Unified Energy Systems chief Anatoly Chubais all have an interest in the resource-rich region, with its cheap and highly qualified work force.
Moscow and Krasnoyarsk spin doctors will have a busy time ahead. The intrigue around what will happen to Slavneft without Mikhail Gutseriyev looks like child's play compared to the upcoming battle of aluminum, nickel, coal and other interests expected in Krasnoyarsk.
In the Yeltsin years of titans and heroes, Lebed managed to keep a lid on the battles between clans in Krasnoyarsk. But now one of the juiciest morsels of the pie that is Russia has no owner. The shock of Lebed's death in a helicopter crash has caught all the players off guard and the media are already talking about the race for a successor.
Rumors from the Kremlin say the search is already on for a successor to Lebed. The late governor's brother, Alexei Lebed, governor of Khakassia, is said to be set to try his luck in neighboring Krasnoyarsk. In the State Duma, there is half-joking that the chamber's speaker, Communist Gennady Seleznyov, will run for the office. Some even say Abramovich has already lost interest in being governor of Chukotka in the Far East and would now like to move to Krasnoyarsk to better protect his considerable interests there. The "hard-line Petersburgers" are also said to be actively searching for suitable candidates.
What is clear is that the anti-Lebed opposition, united only by its desire to stop his re-election, has now fallen apart.
Much depends now on who in the Kremlin will direct events in Krasnoyarsk. If the presidential administration's chief territorial department takes control, this will give the edge to those close to Abramovich and Deripaska on the one hand and Alfa Group on the other. But if the Kremlin turns to Leonid Drachevsky, the presidential representative in the Siberian federal region, to build relations with the new Krasnoyarsk authorities, the advantage will go to oligarchs closer to the St. Petersburg forces.
A left turn for Voloshin?
The Communists promised mass protests for May Day but failed to deliver. Weakened by the loss of their Duma committee chairmanships and now unused to street politics, the party can no longer draw wrathful, red flag-waving crowds into the streets. Most people celebrated their solidarity with workers by taking advantage of the fine weather to do some gardening at their dachas. But the left is on the march; the workers just can't see that yet.
The left in question is a new center-left political force that would act as a counterweight to United Russia. After being fattened up by Yeltsin "Family" bankers, promoted by Igor Shabdurasulov and Gleb Pavlovsky, and nurtured by Vladislav Surkov, the Unity component of United Russia lately has come under the influence of the "Petersburgers" and is slipping out of the control of Alexander Voloshin, head of the presidential administration. The remnants of the Family in the Kremlin now need a new party that will look after them.
Voloshin has long been rumored to be unhappy with United Russia. Some of the party's activists say privately that the presidential administration now prefers OVR (Fatherland-All Russia) and has even given state television network RTR the go-ahead to promote OVR Duma leader Vyacheslav Volodin over Unity counterpart Vladimir Pekhtin.
The future political force called to bring some balance back into the picture is provisionally being called "Putin's left." A number of blocs are tipped to become part of the new organization, including include various Eurasian groups, the Party of Justice and Order, Refakh, Orthodox Unity, Chechen Solidarity and regional movements such as the Petersburg Patriots and Young Moscow.
Another rumor names Seleznyov, the Duma speaker, the potential leader of a calmer, pro-Putin left that would definitively push Gennady Zyuganov and his Communist Party off the political stage. More recent whispers have Deputy Prime Minister Valentina Matviyenko becoming leader of the new party. Matviyenko's image is linked to social issues the Communists usually play on: pensions, salaries, homeless children and population decline. Some observers say a woman leader could be a good choice to emphasize the new party's consensus-seeking role and ability to fit in with Putin's dominant, "paternalist" image.
If reports from Pavlovsky's office are to be believed, work is also under way to revive the trade union movement, with the aim of establishing a new socialist party. Creating such a party in Russia that would break with traditional communist vision looks paradoxical, however, given the failure of the left in France and the continued mass public relations campaign over the neo-Nazi threat in Russia itself.
(Natalia Mironova is filling in for Ekaterina Larina, who is on maternity leave. E-mail Larina at firstname.lastname@example.org)