Will Putin invite the patriarch?
With only days to go before the presidential inauguration ceremony, there’s still no clear information on where it’s going to take place. Not that anyone is particularly worried. Everyone seems so used to the new Russian autocrat now that even the March 26 election looked like just another formality. The inauguration ceremony is just a matter of protocol.
But recent statements by Central Election Committee head Alexander Veshnyakov sent a few ripples through informed circles. In a newspaper interview, Veshnyakov said the ceremony would be little different from 1996, other than that there would perhaps be fewer people on the stage. He added that this meant only those who, according to the Constitution, are directly involved. Veshnyakov especially underlined Boris Yeltsin’s participation.
The rumor goes that Veshnyakov could have had Patriarch Alexii II in mind. Certain forces are trying to ensure that Alexii II does not participate in the ceremony. They say there are too many Muslims and members of other religions in Russia who could feel offended at such public preference displayed toward the Orthodox patriarch.
Originally, it was taken as given that the Patriarch would bless the new president and that leaders of other religions would also be present. It will be interesting to see what decision President-elect Vladimir Putin finally makes.
Everyone, it seemed, understood that he was Orthodox by religion. Indeed, a number of Kremlin offices have been blessed recently, with believers among officials inviting priests to come and carry out the ritual. And all members of the presidential administration were given chocolate eggs and congratulated for the Easter holiday.
Stepashin plotting round-about maneuvers?
As predicted, no sooner was he appointed chairman of the court of auditors, than former Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin made it clear he’s ready to launch a war on corruption. He also announced the first target – St. Petersburg.
This, too, could be seen coming, though no one imagined that the offensive (even if only psychological at this point) against Petersburg Gov. Vladimir Yakovlev would begin so publicly and so soon. Yakovlev himself was taken by surprise, it seems, having imagined he’d finally got a chance to catch his breath.
Versions differ as to what will happen next. Yakovlev could be re-elected governor and then be arrested, or he could be forced to retire, or again, elections could at least be pushed to a second round. One thing is clear: Putin doesn’t forgive past wrongs, nor does he surrender cities.
Clearly, it is his shadow to be glimpsed behind this whole cunning setup, in which those who looked like players at first glance turn out to be mere pawns. Putin impassively draws his fighter near, sends him away, exposes him, seems to surrender, and then suddenly gets the cavalry racing out from behind enemy lines, swords flying – all the while looking on with his ever-so-honest gaze. That’s real professionalism. All that’s missing is the Jesuit’s smile.
Where to now, Zhirik?
Russia could be on the verge of losing one of its most colorful modern myths – the political party created by Vladimir Zhirinovsky – son of a Russian mother and a lawyer father.
The demise of the Liberal Democratic Party has been predicted for a long time now, almost since the party’s birth. And now, just when everyone had accepted it was here to stay, it’s deflating like a punctured tire.
It’s no secret that the LDPR was always a purely commercial party. Zhirinovsky’s attention-grabbing antics were designed for sponsors as much as voters, and party officials all shared the aim of getting their share of financial spoils. But following poor election results, Zhirinovsky decided it was time to get rid of some ballast and cast overboard party organizations in regions where the LDPR performed badly.
This is being presented as a thinning of the ranks in the name of a strategic aim, but unofficial talk is more of a self-liquidation process under way. This won’t be easy – Zhirinovsky’s former allies are so upset at the thought of losing their cozy jobs that they’ll protest and heap blame on the leader himself. What cheek!
Ekaterina Larina is The Russia Journal's assistant editor
(E-mail Katya at email@example.com)