Hoping to stifle growing speculation that he would rather cancel presidential elections than lose them, Russian President Boris Yeltsin said Monday voting will take place in June as scheduled.
Yeltsin rebuked Maj. Gen. Alexander Korzhakov, his chief bodyguard and closest confidant, who set off a political furor Sunday by calling for the elections to be postponed.
The president said Monday, “I have told Korzhakov that he must not get involved with politics anymore and make such statements.”
But Yeltsin did not disavow Korzhakov’s sentiments completely. “Korzhakov is not alone in thinking that a (Gennadi) Zyuganov victory would start a civil war,” Yeltsin said, referring to the Communist Party candidate. “But I still believe in the wisdom of Russian voters. That is why the election will take place according to the constitution.”
Yeltsin seemed to be echoing the two clashing views within his campaign: His team is divided between aides who insist that Yeltsin must run - and can win - and others, most prominently Korzhakov, who fear he cannot win and should postpone the elections to prevent Communists from taking over.
Monday, Yeltsin came down on the side of those who favor a constitutional approach. But given the confusion, suspicion and fear driving this pivotal presidential race, the matter is far from settled.
Korzhakov, who rarely is seen in public, stunned the Russian political world Sunday by stating in two interviews that elections should be postponed because a Communist victory would lead to bloodshed. He said he was speaking as a “private citizen,” but his closeness to the president sharpened the widely held perception that a powerful faction within the Kremlin is pondering ways to derail the elections.
Yeltsin was not completely sincere when he said he ordered Korzhakov to stay out of politics. The chief of security, who has amassed unparalleled access and power in his five years in the Kremlin, is one of the top aides running Yeltsin’s re-election campaign. He not only accompanies the president on every trip, issuing instructions by car phone while Yeltsin works the crowds, but he is intimately involved in all aspects of scheduling, strategy and planning.
Korzhakov has his own team of analysts and polling experts working in tandem - and sometimes in conflict - with other Kremlin aides and campaign workers.
Few inside the campaign think Korzhakov’s role is likely to diminish anytime soon. “I doubt it,” said one top campaign aide, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “he is far too close to the president, the president relies more on his judgment than almost anyone else.”
But Yeltsin was correct in saying that Korzhakov is not alone in his thinking, either inside the Kremlin or just beyond its walls. On April 26, a group of 13 leading bankers and businessmen, whose personal fortunes and businesses are tightly tied to the Kremlin and could collapse under a Communist regime, wrote an open appeal to all politicians, but most particularly to Communist leader Gennadi Zyuganov, imploring them to seek a “political compromise” with Yeltsin before the elections to head off “acute conflicts that threaten the basic interests of Russia.”
They did not add that the elections most imminently threaten their own business interests, but that much was clear at the outset.
In an interview Monday, one of the main authors of the letter, Boris A. Beresovsky, the director of Logovaz, the nation’s largest car dealership, and a major shareholder in ORT, the formerly government-owned television network that was partially privatized last year, clarified what the business lobby views as an acceptable “compromise.”
He explained that in lieu of elections, he and his cohorts favored either a “coalition” government formed by Yeltsin and Zyuganov, or the creation of an emergency “state council,” grouping all the major political parties, which would govern the country for 2 to 5 years pending new elections.
“The question is not whether or not to postpone elections,” Beresovsky said. “The problem is finding a legal way to do it.” He said that the choice facing Russia was clear. “Either we find a compromise, or we have civil war.”
He said violence could erupt no matter who won the election, but he also made it clear that a Communist victory would prove far worse. “The Communists will nationalize even small shops. They will not be able to retain power if there are rich and independent interests in Russia.”
By overruling Korzhakov, Yeltsin sought to calm down the overheated political climate. But his main campaign strategy is to stir undecided voters’ deepest fears. In an interview published in this week’s issue of the business magazine, Deloviye Lyudi, Yeltsin warned that democracy and economic reforms could be reversed if he is defeated.
“I don’t think anyone could stop those who dream about the past from imposing their own order if they come to power,” he said. “Moreover, I am convinced that they are preparing to act without limits of any sort, just like after 1917.”