Former Prime Minister Sergei Kiriyenko now says one of his large successes has been in forming an opposition movement ahead of Moscow city elections this December. Analysts add that one of Kiriyenko's motives in that campaign is to boost his own standing as a politician of national stature.
The last of President Boris Yeltsin's reforming prime ministers announced Monday he'd run for City Hall against powerful incumbent Mayor Yury Luzhkov. He confirmed that decision formally in a news conference Thursday, announcing that architect and sociologist Vycheslav Glazychev would run on his ticket as Vice Mayor.
Luzhkov is widely expected to win in a major landslide in December. The mayor oversaw a capitalist boom in Moscow, which critics say is run in a corrupt, authoritarian manner. But he remains extremely popular with Muscovites for "getting things done," and would be considered a front-runner were he to decide to run for president next year.
"If Kiriyenko gets over 5 percent, he should consider himself lucky," said Fond Politika think tank president Vycheslav Nikonov, a board member of Luzhkov's Otechestvo (Fatherland) movement. Luzhkov currently comes in at around 70 percent in public opinion polls compared to Kiriyenko's 3 percent.
Vladimir Pribylovsky, a political analyst with the Panorama research group, also echoes public opinion in saying Kiriyenko "has no chances.
"But he wants to raise his own ratings by taking part in the campaign. He has a long political future ahead of him."
If Kiriyenko receives as much as 10 percent of the vote against Luzhkov's 60 percent, that would be seen as a major blow to Luzhkov, who won over 96 percent in the previous elections in 1996.
The former premier's vehicle in the elections is Moskovskaya Alternativa (Moscow Alternative), which calls itself a "social organization" bent on facilitating the existence of an opposing voice to Luzhkov's official policies.
Kiriyenko also heads his own Novaya Sila (New Force) national political party and is at the top of the election ticket of Soyuz Pravykh Sil (the Union of Right-Wing Forces) bloc, which is running in December's parliamentary elections.
"One of Kiriyenko's goals consists of the fact that the campaign against the mayor is a good informational platform for Soyuz Pravykh Sil," Pribylovsky says.
The young and eloquent Kiri-yenko was appointed prime minister in April 1998 and fired from that post in August of the same year, on the heels of an effective ruble devaluation and domestic debt default that led to Russia's financial collapse and ongoing economic crisis.
Kiriyenko now says Moscow's administration is chiefly engaged in a political fight with the Kremlin ahead of presidential elections next year. "As a result, Moscow residents suffer," Kiriyenko said Monday. "Luzhkov is now concerned with his political future, so we are left in essence without a mayor while city funds are going into something that has nothing to do with Moscow."
Kiriyenko said he'd in fact be running not against Luzhkov but Vice Mayor Valery Shantsev, who would automatically serve out the mayor's term were Luzhkov to leave office. "Shantsev is now Luzhkov's heir," Kiriyenko said. "But do we want a Communist as mayor?"
Kiriyenko says Moscow is run partly by force of fear. "I can't tell you how many people come to me and say 'It's right what you're doing. I fully support it and am ready to help, only please don't disclose my name.' Muscovites are oppressed, aggressively oppressed," he said.
"But the whole idea of politics is for people to have a choice," Kiriyenko added. "That's why we have to show the way as an example for others to follow. Ours is not just a fight for the mayor's office, but for Russia."
As the election nears, observers say Kiriyenko has chosen a fertile field on which to transform himself from a technocrat briefly appointed premier into a long-term political figure.
"Taking part in the elections is a good opportunity for him," Petrov said. "All the more so since there are many tactical partners in that situation who are ready to oppose Luzhkov."